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jeff ford
Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 09:34 am:   

At the end of the summer, I'll be going to the World con in Glasgow. While there, I'm going to be on a couple of panels. My panel experience is a mixed bag. I either usually talk too much shit or sit there like a big dazed doughboy, saying nothing. The best experience I've had was where I ran the question by people on this board to get some ideas and that was the ghost story panel at World Fantasy in Washington. I got a lot of good ideas from people's comments. So please, if you have any insights, let me know. Here's the topic -- Are Vampires Still Scary After 9/11?
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JV
Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 10:14 am:   

Oil Vampires are still scary.
Political Power Vampires are still scary.
Military Supplier Vampires are still scary.

Vampirism makes the whole world go round at the moment. Just a question of who is sucking what from whose throat.

Literal vampires are as tired as the phantom of the opera's grease paint.

JeffV
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MCisco
Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 11:07 am:   

The idea of vampirism will always be frightening. The cliches tend to get hung up in the minutia, like whether or not they can turn into bats or whatever, and take what is essential for granted - the horror of being parasitized and made impotent to resist by a sort of nightmarish tranquilization effect.

The panel question seems to be something like - can imaginary threats still frighten us when there are real things to be frightened of? First of all, I'm not so sure the threat of immolation at the hands of international terrorist cabals isn't an imaginary threat. It is certainly mostly imaginary, if you ask me.
Meanwhile, as JV said, there's enough real sucking going on to make vampires seem relevant anyway.

We can invent boo-scares to amuse ourselves with, or we can look at what's really frightening, but I think that distinction needs to be separated from the distinction between fiction and nonfiction. In a sense all writing is fiction. At the very least it's abbreviation. (Really bloviating now, aren't I?) 1984 and Animal Farm are politically relevant fictions, and FOX news is by far the purer fantasy.

Now I must go and kiss my reflection - assuming I can find it - in the mirror. Blah! Blah!
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al duncan
Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 12:12 pm:   

I don't think vampires were scary before 9/11.

Clowns though... Clowns are really fucking scary. With their white faces and their lips all smeared with red and... {{shudder}}

Sorry. That's not much use, is it?

Um...

A vampire clown would be scary.
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jeff ford
Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 12:30 pm:   

Al, Jeff, Michael: Thanks for writing. When I first saw this topic, I thought to myself how much I don't like Vampires. That has less to do with them being scary than with just being gross. All that sloppy eatring and matted blood, long days in the coffin, bats and rats and, ew. Right after that, I guess along the lines of what Jeff was thinking, I thought of Dick Cheney for some reason. You gotta figure the old number 2 himself is being kept alive on the blood of young virgins. He's got that vampire demeanor about him. Same goes for Tom Developmental Delay and Rummy must be a grand exalted vampire. Bush, I see more as Renfield as played by Dwight Frye in the Bella Lugosi version. But, yeah, the first thing that popped into my mind was a political connection. In that respect, I say yes, scary. I think Cisco's idea that both 9/11 as it looms in our fears and Vampires being the same kind of illusory fear is a really interesting one. Remember all the people buying duct tape to seal off their basements in case of a gas attack? Remember the color coded warning thing going up every time Bush wanted to ram through some ill legislation? How about the Weapons of Mass Destruction? All illusory and yet people acted on these things as if they were real, the same kind of impulse that had folks whistling past the graveyard at night. I'm appropriating that idea, Michael. Al, clowns are scary. I agree. Why is it that they're scary, though?
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Bob Urell
Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 12:49 pm:   

Horror tropes are metaphor for the real things that do scare us. I don't think abstract terrors will ever lose their edge, they're just too effective a replacement for the real thing that's not quite so easily dispelled. Turning all the lights on and sharing a nervous laugh won't revive our dying middle class or change the fact that those of us who once were financially comfortable are facing rising costs of living and plummeting wage-scales. Give me some vampire catharsis any day!
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T Andrews
Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 01:27 pm:   

Hello guys, I have a clown story. It's scary.

My great-great uncle was at one time a circus clown. Until he lost a leg in WW1. He terrified me, sitting in his dark brown ratty recliner in a dark brown corner of his (yes) dark brown house. On the wall hung a large portrait of him in clown costume. On my annual visits as a child, he would have me crawl under his cot and drag out the same dusty box of ancient chocolates, pick one out (lucky little girl was I) and then climb onto his oddly-distributed lap. The peck on his proffered cheek was Terrifying. His nose was an enormous, bulbuous/cancerous lump. Just like a fake red clown nose, but far, far worse. He was probably a very good man, but I'll always think of him and shudder.

I think the archetypical Clown is scary because he is a needy liar. He may have a happy face or a sad face, but the mean old man face can't help but seap through the mask of make-up.

Vampires? No longer scary. They were scary when death and burial practices were still a part of the family's responsibility. Back when you laid out your own dead and slept under the same roof as did your dearly departed. Declaring someone dead was never an exact science until recently, either. I can see the fear of vampires living quite healthily in such an age. Gone are the days when you paid extra to have an emergency bell added to your coffin in case of premature burial. Nowadays we have to sexualize our vampires to make them thrill us, I think.

9/11 has hieghtened fear in general. Fear of just about everything. Especially fear of government. Which may be the only justified fear to come out of the whole thing.
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Lucius
Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 02:04 pm:   

I'm writing a vampire novel. Will it scare you? That's not my worry. I've never been scared by a book, so why would I concern myself with scaring people? One of my characters says essentially that there are worse things than vampires in the world...and there always have been. It's nice these days, according to him, because they're off the radar. Tthe question stated by the panel is, of course, butt stupid. An excuse to waste breath. It would depend on your disposition toward them in the first place and the author's skill and intent. Are they shopworn? Only insofar as they've been used. But there's so much more to do with them. Really.

9/11 wasn't really scary, not to anyone who's grown up in the Middle East. Not to anyone who's been seen a B-52 bomb run.. To us, it's become a bugaboo, as Jeff states, but to a contemporary Palestinians, it's fairly normal. Vampires or an Arab equivalent no doubt remain quite scary to them.

What scares people is the familiar touched with the strange, the idea of change, that something beautiful can become damaged and vile and animalistic---that's at the heart of vampirism.. That's the fear it touches in us.



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jeff ford
Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 02:14 pm:   

T.: That's a great, visual paragraph you wrote there in the beginning of your post. I could see that right down to the dusty chocolates. And the clown nose that wasn't really but was just cancerous -- eegad. One question -- I was wondering about that "oddly-distributed lap." Was that an exploding cigar in his pocket or was he just happy to see you? What were you getting at with that line? I also very much appreciate the vampire paragraph.
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jeff ford
Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 02:17 pm:   

Lucius: I'm just going to lift this and read it. I'll attribute it to you. Thanks. It'll make up for all the times I talked over you at the one in Seattle. I'll still be talking, but at least now your words will be coming out. Seriously, really well put. The Golden is being reissued by Golden Gryphon next year, I think. Did you feel the same way about vampires when you wrote that book as you do writing the one you are working on now?
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jeff ford
Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 02:20 pm:   

Bob: I think these days that the Vampire has for some reason given way to the Zombie. And I don't know if the Zombie is as cathartic. Actually, speaking of clowns -- the zombie, Bub, like in Romero's Day of the Dead, is kind of a mix between the vampire and the clown -- Still wants blood but is pathetically funny.
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Lucius
Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 02:20 pm:   

I think she may referring to his one leg. :-)

I disagree. We don't have to sexualize vampires. We don't have not to....It's all in the writing and the imagination.
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Lucius
Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 02:26 pm:   

I;ve evolved since the golden, but that's the seed I've grown from. I don't want to say what I feel about my vampires, because that'll get me thinking about it and I don;t wan to think, I want to write it out.

Feel free to use...If you read the part about the panel being butt stupid, it'll be just like I'm there. :-)
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MCisco
Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 03:03 pm:   

The novel I'm working on has vampires, too! But they're sort of like zombies in that they're mindless and, most particularly, they aren't so much vampires as they are collective carriers of Vampirism, which manifests only when they get together in crowds. There's crowd-fear in the zombie - like I'll just fall in line and become One of Them.

I was here in NY when 9/11 happened - I couldn't see the WTC from my window here in Queens, seven miles away, but I could smell it. The experience had nothing much to do with anything I'd felt in connection with horror novels or movies. There wasn't really anything you could get a mental purchase on - you just walk around saying "it happened."

Some time later there was an aircrash by JFK, and I remember the sudden rush of fright I had wondering if it was happening again. But that's about it for fear. Horror is something else in this case - when I remember the people who jumped, when I think about the people on the planes and what it must have been like for them to see the city hurtle by and realize what was about to happen.
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jeff ford
Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 05:25 pm:   

Michael: Are you talking about The Traitor? When's that coming out?
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T Andrews
Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 05:34 pm:   

Jeff: Yes, Lucius had it right about the one leg.
I'm so glad you liked my clown story. In one fell swoop, you've healed this wannabe's ego. It was hit hard by a couple of form rejections lately. :-) Maybe I'll make it out of the slush pile yet.
Best of luck with your vampire panel!
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jeff ford
Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 05:40 pm:   

Thanks, T.
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Anna Tambour
Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 06:03 pm:   

T, Great story. And Lucius, I think you summed up the panel question beautifully, when you called it 'butt stupid'.
To the majority of the people on the planet, this 'bugaboo' of 9/11 is a conceit, an arrogant conceit, in both historical terms and present day terms of relative horrors. Yes, the response is something to chill us, but then, that also, is something that is a state of continuance for most people on earth, the only big change being that there is more impunity, but there is really no need internationally, for an impunity excuse.
Take people in, say, Darfur, but you can pick out a zillion more lovely places to live. What are they going to be mulling to read next to titillate their need for a frisson of horror, at their local Borders?
Even the week after 9/11, a Mexican university lecturer in political science wrote to me that the students in her classes didn't know what the big deal was. They didn't want to know about it, as it was just another big flap the gringos were having as each of their lives are so over-precious compared to everyone else's, like not having hot water in their shower.
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AliceB
Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 06:03 pm:   

You know, to pick up from Lucius, whether 9/11 was scary depends entirely upon your perspective. Personally I was terrified--not because I thought I'd be attacked in Nowhereville Connecticut, but because I had a sister in Tower 2 (she survived, but I didn't know that until after hours of mind numbing fear). Every second of that day is etched in memory, and I didn't spend it glued to the TV. With the anthrax attack soon after--my mail came from the processing center where one of the victims was killed because of infection through their machines--I had my brain obsessively switched to news, constantly, worried that someone else I loved was going to be in danger.

So yeah, during those six months, I would've thought that vampire stories were a collosal waste of time--nothing was more frightening than reality. Time has mellowed those feelings, but now I'm much more attuned to the horrors around the world, and horror fiction kind of pales in comparison. Horror for the sake of *just* creating a frisson never had huge appeal to me. Now I am totally turned off: my reaction tends to be, isn't it bad it enough that it's already happening someplace real?

Best,
Alice
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AliceB
Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 06:10 pm:   

Anna, I guess we posted at the same time. I don't disagree that from other people's perspective 9/11 wasn't a big deal. But in the bubble of the U.S. (where all "that nastiness" happened somewhere else) it was. All of a sudden that nastiness was happening here, and as witnessed by what's happening at Abu Ghraib (sp?) is continuing to happen under so-called American values. The world didn't change, but the protective bubble of ignorance popped. And that was a big change for people within it.

Alice
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jeff ford
Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 06:40 pm:   

Anna and Alice: Thanks for the input. I will use the term "butt-stupid" in my remarks on the panel. I think this "Take people in, say, Darfur, but you can pick out a zillion more lovely places to live. What are they going to be mulling to read next to titillate their need for a frisson of horror, at their local Borders?" pretty well sums the idea up.

And this -- "The world didn't change, but the protective bubble of ignorance popped. And that was a big change for people within it." It was a big change, but the result was that a lot of people wouldn't see what the root causes were of this, so they then found themselves in a bigger bubble of ignorance. And that one's on the verge of popping now -- I hope.

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Anna Tambour
Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 07:44 pm:   

Alice, Jeff, thanks both of you for your graciousness, while I'm being obnoxious, sitting up pretty self-righteously on my high wooden horse. I do get annoyed, and obnoxious, with this continual reference to pre-and post 9/11, and I apologise. I think that the reference, if there is to be a pre- and post-, should be to Guantanamo, which is the true coffin (in the judgement of the majority of people in the world) of the American reputation (even the tissue-thin beast that it was) for an upholder of human rights and the rule of law. The 'bigger bubble of ignorance' that you speak of, Jeff, is exactly how I see the reaction to 9/11 itself, in America--both extenuated by the government which willfully blew the bubble, the congress that huddled within it, and the media, which lauded it for its beauty. The fact that you mention Abu Ghraib, Alice, illustrates part of the gap in perception between Americans and the outside world. Abu Ghraib itself was much less of a shock to the outside world than the passive acceptance and even approval of the American people and its institutions including the press, to the sleazy salesman version of justice and the flouting of all international conventions, that is Guantanamo and the whole secretive 'justice' system. Democracy must be fought for continually, especially in places where it is taken for granted. In the self-righteously 'democratic' western world, rights are being taken away and democracy demoted to a despotic popularism (as the current they-should-never-have-given-them-referendums attitude in the EU is), while 'democracy' is being promoted wherever it means rubber stamp. So that is why the Palestinian elections have just been delayed indefinitely, for instance.

I don't know about the bubble popping. A couple of years ago I was asked to edit an essay about a Hiroshima survivor who writes peace poetry. I couldn't do it. His whole attitude to Hiroshima was that it was an 'attack' with no provocation, no history, no connection with anything other than itself. It was the equivalent of 'why do they hate us?' with not an iota of reflectiveness, regardless of the beginning of his piece asking 'what have we learned?'

I think a lot about this piece by Mona Eltahawy, 'Will women be the biggest losers?'
http://iht.com/articles/2005/01/28/opinion/edmona.html
Since this US administration has wiped out the barrier between church and state, it is peculiarly fixed to both foster anti-secular attitudes abroad, and to further put women and anyone really, who wants to live in a secular society, out in the cold. That, to me, is the scariest post-9/11 thing happening--and that only happens to be post-9/11. The attitudes toward deism were there before 9/11, and are remarkably similar to those who perpetrated the act. I am not just criticising the US. The world is in a state of low energy now when it comes to societal striving toward laudable values. In Australia, this was demonstrated this past week by the defection of a Chinese diplomat, on human rights grounds. Shit! is the true reaction of our government, but they are going to accept him, though they wanted him like the proverbial hole in the head. When it comes to our trade links vs human rights, trade links wins hands down, as Taiwan knows so well.

But where was I in this diatribe? Lost, so in a final act of obnoxiousness re horror, I think I'll post here a poem that I wrote back in 2000. I hope that one day, it is really irrelevantly old hat. Somehow, you have all affected me deeply. I don't know if this is good or bad. I thank you for it and hope that you forgive me for blarnying on.


Nightingale Kaddish



As now as the next breath but one,
as everywhere as air:
Remember Us, Remember Us.
The Holocaust and milking it is hot hot hot.
The Mother of all Victims rules aloof
her jewelry of numbers blue
not earned by other victims too insignificantly nothing
to tattoo.

Enough already of Never Again.
If this sounds like a fart in schule
maybe I better bubble out again
until I fill the holy space of ark and torah scrolls with gas enough
to force a flight outdoors
and down the marble steps
into the arms of ghosts of dead
Armenians Cambodians Tutsis Balkans mixed
Ebos as remembered as a swarm of gnats long dead.
Lebanese abandoned. For their friendship with the Jews they'll disappear
but please don't concern yourself.
Of Diasporas, again there's only one.
Not Palestinians as freshly wronged as your last breath
by the helluva rousing echo of the Song of Lebensraum.

Who can talk?
We, who must.
Those of us who are
the tribe itself.
My great-grandfather rabbi stirs.
Sing, he says. For why is our might different than
any other's might when used so wrongly?

For We, he says,
are not the only ones pogrommed against,
the only Unwilling Wanderers
the only holocaust worth a flame.
Holocausts aplenty simmer now.

Swiss banks weep now. Stolen artworks creak.
But of those who sole possession was: themselves,
not even individuals but groups of bugs exterminant
how do lawyers settle the worth of life?
They don't. Never a gain.

My great-grandfather's name was Soloveichik
(Nightingale)
In his name I sing today
a short and many-noted Kaddish for all the Holocausts that were,
lit by tribal hate or maniacal despotism towards a people by their own.
And now, Enough Already for the dead, all equal in their tragedy of death.
With all the power of one little throat
I lift my voice for all the Holocausts to come.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 08:38 pm:   

It IS a stupid topic and it was stupid when it came up soon after 9/11.

Writers were asking "how can we write anything worthwhile after this?" How can we continue to write horror stories? It's like saying once the carnage of WW I happened, nothing can compete. Once the Holocaust happened, there is nothing that can compete. Once Hiroshima happened nothing can compete, etc etc.

I don't know why the convention picked on "vampires" per se rather than any other horror staple. Vampires may not be scary but vampirism will always disturb.
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jeff ford
Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 08:59 pm:   

Anna: That's some great blarnying on and far from blarny. I appreciate the thoughts and the poem. Thanks. You're always welcome.

Ellen: Yeah, if you look at it one way, it is stupid. I agree with you and Lucius and Anna. But maybe that's the idea of it, not to be stupid, but as a format to bring these ideas, as expressed here, up. This could be interesting, not that gassing about this subject at an SF convention is going to mean squat to Reality. Or it could be one of those, among other things, America Sucks panels. Lucius ran into one of those over in France. And if I remember, I think I'm the only American on this one. Maybe I'm the whipping boy. Should be a blast either way.
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MarcL
Posted on Sunday, June 12, 2005 - 12:35 am:   

Sufficiently terrible events immediately give rise to stories that attempt to borrow some of that horror and try to magnify or compound it into something that has more to do with the fictional retelling than with the original event. Post 9/11 I remember a bunch of apocryphal, urban legend type stories that seemed like attempts to piggyback the disaster for the sake of inducing an even greater shock. No matter how bad things get, people are always going to be able to imagine something worse.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Sunday, June 12, 2005 - 01:49 am:   

9/11 of what year? 1953? Jesus.
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Brendan
Posted on Sunday, June 12, 2005 - 03:57 am:   

Were vampires ever scary, that is the question.

If they ever were, they certainly stopped being so before 9/11.

Scary___AIDS in Africa___the Bedroom Secrets of George Bush___Cars___HalfEducated Middle Class.
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StephenB
Posted on Sunday, June 12, 2005 - 05:28 am:   

I think Lucius is pretty bang on with his points about vampires in fiction. Personally, I still like vampire stories if they're done well. Vampires have a romantic appeal as these Byronic lost souls, often consumed by their own pleasure/pain paradox. They can make for good anti-heroes or villains.

The Golden is an example of a really good modern vampire novel. As a vampire story, I think it's fantastic. As a detective story, I don't think it's quite as strong, but that's a minor problem considering the strength of the writing.

"My Dear Emily" by Joanna Russ, is another example of a somewhat modern (1960s) vampire classic.

I found George R.R. Martin's vampire novel, Fevre Dream, at a second hand book store which I'll get to eventually.


Vampires are a powerful symbol which have taken many forms in various cultures and periods. To say that they're tired or irrelevant today is silly, because in the right hands a lot can still be said and done.

And the funny thing is, things like aids and capitalism are entirely relevant to themes in vampire fiction today.

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StephenB
Posted on Sunday, June 12, 2005 - 05:37 am:   

Were vampires ever scary, that is the question.

Of course they were. At first some people really thought they were evil spirits which could rise from the grave and kill them.

And stories like Dracula and Carmilla certainly would have scared some people who read them.

It takes a bit of imagination to put yourself there, but wouldn't you be afraid of a sexy creature which could wield complete power and control over you and suck away your life force?

But, you could say that that could never actually happen. It's not a real threat. Are you sure though? What does the mass media do to some people?
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al duncan
Posted on Sunday, June 12, 2005 - 06:44 am:   

...wouldn't you be afraid of a sexy creature which could wield complete power and control over you and suck away your life force?

[Insert extremely crude comment here, preferably involving the phrases "sixty-nine" and "niiiiice!", in order to entirely lower the tone of the conversation.]

More seriously, it's exactly that Victorian goth-wankery that I find just risible in the "Byronic" school of vampire fiction. I just don't have the buttons that they set out to push, I think. But then, like Lucius, I don't really find books scary, so I'm not really interested in scaring people with one of my books. Especially by twiddling around with folk's Sexual Guilt Dial.

There is mileage in the trope, I think (I happily look forward to reading Lucius's vampire novel) but not as a dumbass, frilly-cuff-flopping, oogy-boogy-man with pouty lips and big doe-eyes. And vampirism as metaphor for economic / political exploitation? For AIDS? Aaaaaargh! Geeza break! Aren't those as hoary as Adam And Eve stories? Surely, the editors here must see that same story in the slush pile every other month, no?

Maybe my biggest problem when you come down to it, is that it seems such a superficial, self-serving metaphor -- as often as not it just comes down to demonising the Bad People. If a left-wing person writes a vampire=capitalist-leech story, to me, it's exactly like a right-winger doing a vampire=welfare-sponge story. A safe, cosy reaffirmation of one's own values. It doesn't have to be, I mean, but the crudeness of the metaphor predicates for that unconsidered, unsophisticated, "X = Y and Y is EVIL!!!" moralism. Yawn.

Sure, a good writer will get beyond that, but how? Make the vampire sympathetic because poor diddums didn't choose to be a vampire, because they're a poor, tortured "lost" soul, because they're so arch and witty and "cool" even in their cruelty? Yawn, yawn and thrice yawn. No, you'd have to find a really individual angle on it to make that old chestnut work, I think.
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StephenB
Posted on Sunday, June 12, 2005 - 07:07 am:   

There is mileage in the trope, I think (I happily look forward to reading Lucius's vampire novel) but not as a dumbass, frilly-cuff-flopping, oogy-boogy-man with pouty lips and big doe-eyes.

You may not like The Golden then.

Maybe my biggest problem when you come down to it, is that it seems such a superficial, self-serving metaphor -- as often as not it just comes down to demonising the Bad People. If a left-wing person writes a vampire=capitalist-leech story, to me, it's exactly like a right-winger doing a vampire=welfare-sponge story. A safe, cosy reaffirmation of one's own values. It doesn't have to be, I mean, but the crudeness of the metaphor predicates for that unconsidered, unsophisticated, "X = Y and Y is EVIL!!!" moralism. Yawn.

Who says it would be so black and white? You're just making assumptions. That's the thing about vampires as monsters in literature. They're among the more humane and sympathetic monsters. You may see DRACULA as, "goth-wankery", but he's clearly a sympathetic and complex character who isn't just pure evil.

Maybe vampires don't resonate with you, but if you approach the sub-genre so simplisticly, you're closing youself off to it from the get-go.

Especially by twiddling around with folk's Sexual Guilt Dial.

As pointed out, the sexual aspect of vampires is just one area to explore. Vampires can also be viewed as sexual liberators. It all depends on how it's approached.

Have you read "My Dear Emily"? It takes the victorian conventions of the vampire as a male sexual deviant figure, and gives it a lesbian twist.
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StephenB
Posted on Sunday, June 12, 2005 - 07:12 am:   

There is mileage in the trope, I think (I happily look forward to reading Lucius's vampire novel) but not as a dumbass, frilly-cuff-flopping, oogy-boogy-man with pouty lips and big doe-eyes.

You may not like The Golden then.


Not that it's dumb ass by any means.
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StephenB
Posted on Sunday, June 12, 2005 - 07:26 am:   

And another thing AL. I wasn't necessarily saying that vampires should be directly used as metaphor's for capitalism or aids. Just that the threats that vampires can represent, such as hypnotic control, are still relevant. Vampires being both sexually threatening and enticing at the same time, is still relevent because of things like AIDS. Not because of some silly Victorian guilt complex (but I don't know, how many people are still raised traditionally Catholic? as an example). I'm not talking about political satire here. This is stuff that can cut deep.
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Sunday, June 12, 2005 - 08:45 am:   

Jeff---

I probably said this at the New Paltz conference last year, but it's worth repeating here: for 2-3 years after 9/11/01, we got droves of stories about the dead returning in one form or another. Lots of zombie stories, lots of ghosts, several other variations I can't recall now. Most of them were not explicitly written in reaction to the events of 9/11, but it seemed obvious to me that writers were reacting to the fall of the towers, etc., in much the same way that George Romero was reacting to the Viet Nam war and the US rioting when he made DAWN OF THE DEAD.

I know a writer who lost his nephew on 9/11, the nephew worked in Windows on the World. The story that I got from this writer wasn't a story, it was an essay on how fucking senseless this world is.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Sunday, June 12, 2005 - 10:34 am:   

One thing I thought of is the possible connection of safety rituals.

Over in Ikaria, where my family is from, people don't believe in vrykolakas but on the other hand everyone hangs garlic by their kitchen window and marks their doorjambs with smoke and soot crosses by holding up their church candle every weekend just to keep them away.

And over in Jersey City, right over the water from the WTC, where I lived at the time, people did all sorts of the same thing. Obviously, the massive donations of blood were simply a ritual, and that became very clear by the morning of 9/12 -- the lines to donate stretched around the block for two weeks anyway.

Thanks to wind and location, my neighborhood experienced a rain of various papers, print-outs, and memos, plus other little flakes and bits of trash (some of it was on the ground before 9/11, but afterward, every little pebble "was from the Towers") drifing over the Hudson. The immediately emergent folk belief was that if a paper or something like it fell in your yard, or if you saw one in the street, you should grab it and put it in a folder or an envelope, "for when the government comes to collect them." They were clues, you see, and even if they weren't, they were very very important papers, to be sure.

Then there were the nightly stand-offs at the ferry and later, when the PATH reopened, the train stations, between the group of people who wanted to beat up the Muslims who were coming home from work in the city, those who wanted to defend them against the beaters, and the very much larger number of sympathizers on both sides who were just there "to see what would happen." Happily, the Walk Ya Home Squad was generally larger and more carefully organized than the Kick Yer Ass Corps, but it did remind me of the endless formations of torch-wielding peasants at in various Hammer flicks.

There were also all sorts of hare-brained schemes to flush out the terrorists, most of them involving pork or nudity. I was very much reminded of the ritual and nonsensical witch-finding tests.

Anyway, I thought the idea of a population that thinks itself under siege and what they do to feel safe might offer a decent springboard for your panel.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Sunday, June 12, 2005 - 10:58 am:   

A good horror story will hopefully at least disturb if not scare a reader during the reading of the story. If it doesn't, then there seems no point in reading horror, yet millions of people in the world do (I'm not talking about what we may call strictly "in genre" horror stories). If the story isn't written well enough to evoke certain emotions, don't blame the "idea" or "Trope" on that but the writer.

Most stories that lead directly from vampire to AIDS or capitalism, etc are likely superficial and bad. When it comes to vampirism (IMO) subtlety works better as a scare tactic. Whether any kind of fiction affects reality is another issue entirely.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Sunday, June 12, 2005 - 10:59 am:   

By the way, what day and time is your panel. I may ask to be on it as I've taken myself off a panel in which I had no interest.
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StephenB
Posted on Sunday, June 12, 2005 - 11:42 am:   

That's a really good juxstapostion Nick!

Ellen: I agree. I think to experience the emotion of fear when reading horror, it takes a bit of an emotional investment from the reader. Sometimes you have to let the mood of the story guide how you feel as the suspense builds up. Absorb the atmosphere and mood into your head and let your own childlike imagination loose. If you are too absorbed in your rational awareness it can ruin the mood. If that makes sense?

Like you said, most good horror is either disturbing or unsettling. It's not the same as a fight or flight response to immediate danger. (Although, maybe some people could get themselves psychologically worked up enough, even for that?).

The first thing I read by Stephen King was Salem's Lot in junior high. I remember at some point, reading late at night, it did give me the uneasy feeling of subtle fear -- looking around, thinking what could be lurking around the corner, even though rationally I knew nothing was. I was like -- ok, now I get why Stephen King's so popular. And in that novel, the vampires are pretty much popular culture cliches and totally evil. It goes to show that even though there's nothing new, it still works because it's a well told story, with good characterization, that keeps you turning pages. It wasn't about making a statement or breaking new ground.

I think some people are too used to getting scares from movies, which mostly rely on the visuals and the jump responses. When reading, it takes more work. It's like how many people are more likely to cry during a movie.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Sunday, June 12, 2005 - 11:53 am:   

When I read Salem's Lot I was reading it in a large apt as dusk was falling. I was actually scared and had to put all the lights on. That usually does not happen to me. ;-)
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StephenB
Posted on Sunday, June 12, 2005 - 12:03 pm:   

Yep. He did a good job with that one. Scared me too.
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Anna Tambour
Posted on Sunday, June 12, 2005 - 05:56 pm:   

Jeff, you don't need to worry about being a whipping boy. All nations are glass houses,and the citizens live in glass houses in them, as far as I'm concerned. Blaming the US is as easy as filling up that frog with stones, and watching it lose the hopping race. It's a displacement exercise instead of doing something about one's own 'dirty washing', as one Latin American pessimist I know calls the state of their mess at home. And Ellen, I so much agree with your statement, "It's like saying once the carnage of WW I happened, nothing can compete. Once the Holocaust happened, there is nothing that can compete. Once Hiroshima happened nothing can compete, etc etc."
Often events do become a reference point in a person's or a generation's life. The Great Depression defined many lives more than a World War. It certainly defined my grandmother's, who could never get the image of a man plunging to his death out of her mind, though she never talked about her own struggle, which was one like so many. Nick, a fascinating post from you.
As for vampires, I see the question in a different, and possibly wildly irrelevant way. I see space as future past in Sci/Fi, while I think the future and the most challenging issues to be all stemming from a space of the most minute order--cellular and molecular if you will. So if I were to pose a question about vampires for a session, it would be 'Are vampires still scary, given trends in biotechnology?'
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Sunday, June 12, 2005 - 06:47 pm:   

Anna,
I like your alternate take on the panel topic. :-)
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Lucius
Posted on Sunday, June 12, 2005 - 07:24 pm:   

I f you lived in a world where bioengineering ran rampant, and you met a man or a woman who was a bioengineered vampire and who took you where no one could find you and drained you of blood over a period of a few weeks, would that be scary..to you, personally?

The question stated by the panel is bullshit because it's general. If the question is made specific, as it aways is between an author and a reader, it becomes a different question.

And then, of course, we're into the author's purpose....
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Anna Tambour
Posted on Sunday, June 12, 2005 - 08:57 pm:   

Ha, Lucius! You're so right. Specificity does change perspective. If a family of future Martians drops in on me this afternoon . . .
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jeff ford
Posted on Monday, June 13, 2005 - 11:48 am:   

Hey, this is all great stuff and plenty of ideas to help me survive. My thanks to everyone.

Nick: I'm stealing that story about after 911 in Jersey City for the panel, but I will attribute it to you, if that's ok.
Gordon: Same thing with the story about the writer and the "essay" you got. That's a telling detail.

Ellen: Just sent you the stuff about the panel.

Anna: Are you going to Glasgow? I'd gladly give my spot up to you on the panel and sit in the audience. Great stuff.
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Monday, June 13, 2005 - 12:26 pm:   

Jeff---

Check out this review by Michael Dirda---it's completely relevant:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/06/10/AR2005061000550. html

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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Monday, June 13, 2005 - 01:20 pm:   

Jeff, please do! You can even pretend that it happened to you if you like.
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Lucius
Posted on Monday, June 13, 2005 - 01:33 pm:   

Anna T, isn't Oz on Mars?
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Anna Tambour
Posted on Monday, June 13, 2005 - 10:23 pm:   

Jeff, I'm not going to Glasgow, but what a kind offer. If I were going, though, I would want to be a creature in the audience, as you'll be great. Is there any chance of a tape being made, or a transcript? This has been such an interesting conversation that this strange topic will be sure to be a jumping wild-card of a talk-about-worthy success. And Lucius, are you trying to pull my slime-dripping appendage? Actually, Mars is on Oz.
http://wired-vig.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,48176,00.html
and
http://www.abc.net.au/science/news/stories/s1071845.htm
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Anna Tambour
Posted on Tuesday, June 14, 2005 - 01:33 am:   

Nick Gifford (Keith Brooke in the adult world) would be a natural for this panel, as anyone who's read his top-holes (and scary) PIGGIES would know. The cover says 'In a nightmare world where vampires are the norm, what does it mean to be human?'
The book is marketed for youf, but that just means that adults who haven't read it are missing a great book. It is engrossing, creepy, and a deep and memorable think.
Here's more about it.
http://www.nickgifford.co.uk/piggies/
and there's a movie in the making
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Tuesday, June 14, 2005 - 10:18 am:   

Anna,
Gee, that sounds like Matheson's I am Legend.:-)
I'm trying to get onto the panel.
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des
Posted on Tuesday, June 14, 2005 - 12:03 pm:   

PIGGIES is a great novel - and scared me more than most *adult* vampire books!

It also (sort of) takes place in the part of coastal Essex, England where I (& Keith) live.
des
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Anna Tambour
Posted on Tuesday, June 14, 2005 - 08:24 pm:   

Luckily, Ellen, there are good reviews such as
http://www.sfsite.com/02b/iam98.htm
around to paper over my ignorance of Matheson, let alone his apparently classic 'I am Legend'.
PIGGIES is different, but I'm sure no less compelling.
I hope you get on that panel. It should be a great session.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Thursday, June 16, 2005 - 01:09 pm:   

Jeff,
Just heard back from Interaction and I'm on your panel. Ta da!!

Anna.
thanks. The title sounds really familiar--Piggies, I mean.
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KeithB/NickG
Posted on Friday, June 17, 2005 - 11:45 am:   

Hello all. Just picked up on this thread rather late in the day. Thanks to Anna for mentioning Piggies!

Ellen: yes, people have made the I Am Legend comparison before, and I'm afraid I have to plead ignorance, too - it's one of the many on my stack of books still to read... So I couldn't say whether there really are any more similarities than the blurb might suggest.

This thread... makes me realise why I don't do too many panels - everyone else is so much more interesting!
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Friday, June 17, 2005 - 12:10 pm:   

Keith/Nick,
From the description of your book, I am Legend sounds completely different. It's a terrific short novel, and I highly recommend it.
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Keith/Nick
Posted on Saturday, June 18, 2005 - 10:42 am:   

I have a copy of I Am Legend just waiting for me, and now that I've just finished the first draft of the latest Nick Gifford novel I'm aiming to catch up on my fiction reading! (And reviewing ... and unanswered emails ... and all the other things I've been neglecting.)

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