Books that Go Bump in the Night: A Conversation

What goes up must come down…mustn’t it? Everything that begins has an ending…right? I’ve been thinking about things like climbing and reaching the top. Been debating the idea of what it takes to stay afloat, what really matters in the ebb and flow of life. Flying through the atmosphere and contemplating the next sit down with a sage seller of knowledge; searching daily for the perfect scoop of satisfaction on a scorcher like today.

OK What the hell is she saying? I see words, but I just don’t get it.

Imagine as you re-read that paragraph that you’ve spent the week just as I have: reading best seller lists and seeing that the same titles are on top of them, and wondering what it will take to make them budge. Then picture climbing among treetops through an aerial obstacle course that leads to an adrenaline charged zip line. Add a tubing trip down the Delaware River and two flights in the past month. What would you do when you got home? Well, I went to a local bookstore and had some ice cream.

Make sense now?

Here is the challenge, which version sounds better? Which is more imaginative? And which took the most analysis? This is the one that you prefer. You like it because it’s either simple, or it challenges your gray matter.

So why should I care whether she rambles on in poetry or prose?

Well, you should care because when you know what you like, you can make an educated guess at what you should read. If that’s not reason enough, I don’t know what is.

For example, I thoroughly enjoy: True Blood, Daybreakers, Anne Rice, The Lost Boys, Bram Stoker, I Am Legend, Bella Lugosi, Frank Langella and Nosferatu. However, these annoy the poop out of me: Twilight, Fright Night, spoofs of Twilight, The Count from Sesame Street, Count Chocula, the mullets in The Lost Boys, Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker and the ass-shaped hairdo on Dracula in the same flick.

Why should it matter if she likes some vampires and not others?

My logic is based on reality…I swear! Teaching college students to write about themselves is what spurs these descriptions when I look at something. I look at a bookstore and think “sage sellers of knowledge” or gaze at a river and contemplate “the ebb and flow of life.” Creative writing is all about imagery. Taking that imagery with me since I left my own graduate classroom years ago has been the one factor that continually works when I write.

That said, I do appreciate the evolution of vampires. Nosferatu was a silent terror filled flick that had me turning on lamps galore each night after watching it at about eight years old with my dad—in black and white. I was terrified of vampires, and thought I would see long fingers ticking their way up my bedcovers if I dared to open my eyes in the dark. But I also loved the thrill of being scared. In the eighties, I fell for both the Coreys and embraced The Lost Boys, replaying the scene in the cave when they get high drinking blood until my VHS tape warped and melted. Interview with a Vampire found me in the 90s still addicted to the night dwellers, just like they were to humans. If the books weren’t enough (and believe me I wanted more even after reading all of them) throwing Brad Pitt into the mix when the film arrived further fed my obsession.

Everyone has a love/hate relationship with fear. Who gives a flying stake about vampire’s appearances?

It isn’t only because Alexander Skarsgård is smokin’ hot that I continue to drink in vamps till I thirst no more. The fact that Richard Matheson’s protagonist describes the desolate world he dwells in as a lone survivor has a bit more pull for me. The way that Anne Rice frames Lestat’s face with a cravat and frilly collar and later puts him on stage in leather pants was what kept me thirsty. Films made the creepy long fingers evolve into graceful digits with Tom Cruise’s silver thimble poking a delicate hole in the wrist of an unsuspecting, voluptuous young miss. But it was Rice’s description of forlorn Louis wandering the earth without his maker that kept my teeth a-twitch. It was Stoker’s visual of Harker arriving at Vlad’s castle that ensured nails bitten to the quick and…well…bloody.

I tell my young scholars to write what they know. It dawned on me (actually its dusk, but who besides the vamps would really need to know?) that we do well to follow our own advice as writers. So I thought I’d share my examples here and see what happens. The result, I think will be a lesson for me.

What IS the point of all this bloody Vamp Talk?

Simple; there are things I love to read because of how I came into reading.

I’d love to say that the children’s books I remember most fondly are pink and purple with hearts and flowers on em…not a chance! Bunnicula was presented to me when I had scarlet fever as a kid. I read it in one day and just like Rice’s Claudia after her first sip of warm human nectar, I whispered “I want some more.” It all began with a rabbit that drained the juice from veggies in local gardens. Then I began to read beyond my years and got a library card—the heavens opened up and blood rained down! Well on the pages at least.

I met King and Koontz, who I now know were writing since I was born, but I couldn’t believe the amount of horror I had stumbled upon. I looked for new murders, old ghost stories, anything that warned readers of scary content by skull and crossbones on the spine. Any hassle from a librarian and I’d get my mom to walk down and school them about how I watched The Invasion of the Body Snatchers before I was old enough to read a novel and asked her where the pod people really live without a lick of fear; just curiosity. She would also tell a story of how at seven I told a sixteen year old that her mother had “bought” something for her, not “buyed” it. And then there was the story of how I told a roomful of adults that I needed paper that was perforated didn’t they know? (I was four) Let’s not forget that I declared at six that I didn’t think they used real people to make Soylent Green on the set of the film.

Is she bragging about being smart as a child? What’s up with that?

Not at all. I simply acknowledge that without reading everything I could get my hands on, and writing as soon as I could hold a crayon, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I read what I enjoy, always expanding those parameters and surprising myself. I write what I know; whether it be vampires or poems about sex, drugs and Randall’s Island.

In short, there is something to be said for starting out with what you like, grabbing a pen and seeing what happens. This weekend I thought a lot about treetops while in them, and pondered how HBO gets the spatter to look so realistic…corn syrup and water? Maybe… but as I considered what I would share this week, I thought that all the bookish people may see things just like I do: in their own way.

Most things are open to interpretation. I find myself using those very words daily. “There are no wrong answers in writing” is a favorite phrase of mine. Lies you say? Nope, that would be fiction. TMI you grumble?  Actually it’s called a memoir. “Oh the language on this one…” says a woman in the crowd at a street fair. Well, this is the land of free speech and we didn’t invite any children to our poetry slam, so…

Why should I listen to someone else’s suggestions? I will write what I want to write about.

Exactly! You have gotten this week’s point. Keep writing what you know, and be sure to take notice of your preferences. They will undoubtedly help you down the line. And whatever you do, don’t let anyone tell you what to read or write unless you want their advice. If you like vampire bunnies, go for it. If you like tween sparkly vegetarians, that’s cool too. Identify your passions and drink them all in!

2 replies
  1. FMAnderson
    FMAnderson says:

    That’s crazy! I just wrote about how Bunnicula inspired me as a kid. Strange world! I’d put a link here, but that seems shilly. 🙂 Plus, since I put it in the little field when I wrote this, I’m guessing people can get to it.

    Dark things just drew me to them as a kid. My favorite picture book was a dinosaur book that showed the life cycle. Like, from baby to one dead dino that left behind a different baby. You know, to go live then die too.

    No wonder I’m… Different.

    Reply
    • Keri English
      Keri English says:

      Who doesn’t love a good vampire bunny?! Bunnicula rocked my childhood 🙂 Glad to hear I’ve got company!

      Reply

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