Vampires. How the hell could I write about vampires? It was a challenge I’d set myself back in 2002, just three short years after I started writing. They were and remain the most popular and pervasive horror trope on the planet. In high school, I had friends who loved Anne Rice and Poppy Z. Brite. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was becoming a pop culture phenomenon. Paranormal Romance was taking over the planet!
But as far as I was concerned, vampires sucked donkey shit. At least how they were presented in the sampling I’d seen. They were like elves, a glorified aristocracy. They actually were stronger and faster and more deadly by virtue of their existence; they were, if you will, born better than you! And the image of the romantic vampire, or repentant kind, with distant stares and brooding intensity? Snore . . .
I mulled on that a bit when someone asked me why I didn’t write about vampires. “They seem popular! Everyone likes them! Why not write about them instead of wrestlers or gutter drunks or junkie musicians?”
But the unexamined life is not worth living, so I mulled about it. I didn’t just dislike them. I hated them. Enough that I wanted nothing to do with them. Not Dracula, though. He was awesome in either movie or comics. Hell, I wanted that villain to win! And it came to me: it’s not vampires per se, but how most of them are portrayed. Take the film version of INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE, a story about how pretty people are tragically made immortal and powerful. On no! I look like Brad Pitt in his 20s for eternity! The horror! The horror!
But what if you got bit and you weren’t pretty? I thought. What if you were just some shlub, forty pounds hanging over your belt, with a comb-over and bad acne scars? What if that guy, not Tom Cruise or Antonio Banderas, got bit? And his physical body froze. He couldn’t lose that gut. He couldn’t get surgery to fix his skin. He couldn’t shave his head to look like a bad ass.
I smiled. Now how the hell would that guy make a living, after becoming as strong as Hercules and vicious as Wolverine? Would his ego get huge? Would he take vengeance on his enemies? If you lived the life of a regular guy with small dreams and self-defeat as your common companion, what kind of life would you choose once you became Johnny Bad ass . . . but looked like Dilbert on a bender?
It’s an old theme, or at least as old as Spider Man. What would that guy do with power?
At the same time, I was reading a lot about the history of pro wrestling, how it became fake in the 1920s and how the illusion of a real bout was sold with new moves, etc. And how certain storylines became very successful, like beauty vs. beast, and Davey vs. Goliath matches. And how in boxing or MMA, it’s much harder to “construct” these kinds of storylines. If a guy is good looking, bully for him, but unless he can actually kick ass it won’t help him much against a jujitsu machine with the face like a busted pineapple.
But what about the reverse? What if a guy looked like a fat loser with weak arms, and he got himself in a prize fight. Would people believe it when he knocked the guy’s lights out? Or would they cry foul?
With these thoughts in mind, I set myself the task of writing my first vampire tale. Told my way. No pretty boys with sad eyes here. This was a Ridler story. It was going to be gritty, ugly, funny and gripping. The result was a tale of a fat vampire who takes a beating and keeps on ticking, and a young, powerless kid who convinces him to go for broke. The short story was called “Blood and Sawdust” (available in my collection KNOCKOUTS), and it was the first story I wrote where I could hear my own storytelling voice rising above those of my influences. After twenty one rejections, this blackjack story sold to a little horror mag in 2006 that’s currently six feet under. But I knew I had to continue the story of Malcolm (the kid) and Milkwood (the vamp). And when I finally slew the beast that was my doctoral thesis, I wrote fast and furious about their big adventure.
But I still loved the title of the short story, so tomorrow, the novel BLOOD & SAWDUST will be out on kindle. This Halloween, if you need a dose of fun and gritty with your frights, look no further. My vampires may not be pretty, but they kick more ass than a legion of Lestats, a bevy of Angels, and when the dust settles, and their comb-over is slapped back in place, I hope you’ll be cheering their name. Because in my world, the vamps are the underdogs. And they’re itching to get even. Ring the bell, chief. Milkwood is back for another round!