DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
From seersucker to bloodsuckers. Literary vampires have come a long way since Bram Stoker's classic "Dracula." "Interview with the Vampire" by Anne Rice transformed our view of them from bloodthirsty European monsters into trendy Goths with an eating disorder.
From member station KUSP, Rick Kleffel has this roundup of a new generation of authors who put their vampires into contemporary settings - with fang-in-cheek.
RICK KLEFFEL: There's been an infusion of new blood into the genre of vampire literature. And these writers have found that the best way to get a laugh out of vampires is to take their living-dead situation seriously.
Though humorous vampire fiction might seem like a narrow genre, Christopher Moore, John Marks, Charlaine Harris and Charlie Huston managed to span the entirety of literature from hardboiled noir to romantic comedy, from workplace satire to urban fantasy.
Christopher Moore is the bestselling author of "Bloodsucking Fiends" and "You Suck: A Love Story."
Mr. CHRISTOPHER MOORE (Author, "Bloodsucking Fiends"; "You Suck: A Love Story"): There were certain cliches in the genre that I wanted to address and I didn't want to play into. And one is, there always seems to be the Van Helsing character who says, and vampires can do this and this is what kills them and lays the rules out for the audience.
I basically wanted someone to get turned into a vampire who didn't get the instruction book, and who has to sort of deal with all the insecurities that she had in her day-to-day life and sort of react how a real person would - you know, they still have to do their laundry. Nobody ever says anything about that.
KLEFFEL: The novel "Fangland" by John Marks is a modern media update of the Dracula legend. "Fangland" is part showbiz satire but also a serious meditation on the ability of humans to kill one another.
Mr. JOHN MARKS (Author, "Fangland"): First thing that has to go, for me - the cape and fangs. I mean, for me, I needed a vampire who would somehow reflect the murder, the atrocity, the barbarity of the race being dug up out of the ground.
KLEFFEL: Barbarity is all in a day's work for Joe Pitt, the vampire detective featured in a series of casebooks by noir author Charlie Huston. In this reading from Houston's novel "Already Dead," private eye Joe Pitt has a close encounter with an informer.
Mr. CHARLIE HUSTON (Author, "Already Dead"): (Reading) He spills his scotch and stares at it on the floor. What the hell? Then he looks up and sees that it's me. Oh, Joe - Jesus - Joe, what happened to your face, man? And I start twisting his neck trying to decide if I should pop his head off. The thing is, it's not as easy to pop up someone's head as you might think.
Ms. CHARLAINE HARRIS (Author, "All Together Dead"): I decided that it would have to be very manner-of-fact.
KLEFFEL: Charlaine Harris is the author of "All Together Dead," the seventh Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Mystery.
Ms. HARRIS: I thought vampires would have to be legally recognized citizens of the United States. Though they're not completely citizens, there's still a lot of pending legislation. Of course, they get taxed. You can't tax the dead.
KLEFFEL: Her series offers an unusual take on the vampire.
Ms. HARRIS: They are romantic comedy - who's going to get the girl. But then, you know, there'll be a spray of arterial blood on the wall.
KLEFFEL: Complicated romantic relationships also drive the characters in Christopher Moore's "Bloodsucking Fiends." Jody is a 20-something secretary who pretends to be an ancient vampire queen.
Mr. MOORE: And she takes on a minion who is Tommy, this 19-year-old guy who works nights at the Marina Safeway. And they have arguments that, sort of, are the domestic issues that any couple faces except theirs are why-should-I-buy-toilet-paper-I-don't-go-anymore.
KLEFFEL: But old habits die hard even for the undead.
Mr. HUSTON: There's absurdity in hippie-vegan vampires.
KLEFFEL: Charlie Huston, author of the Joe Pitt casebooks.
Mr. HUSTON: These are people whose values are so intense and so strong that the concern isn't about the grotequestery of how they survived. Their concern is how to find a morally acceptable way to drink blood.
KLEFFEL: Huston's next Joe Pitt novel is titled "Half the Blood of Brooklyn."
Mr. HUSTON: I've got the front page of the New York Times right now and I had to - when I opened it up in my hotel room over my breakfast this morning, I had to refold it because right there on the front page is the latest series of bombings in Baghdad. And the photograph is - got gutters full of blood. So how hard is it to write about gutters full of bloods.
KLEFFEL: The cutthroat business and network news informs "Fangland." John Marks based the novel on his experiences as a producer for "60 Minutes."
Mr. MARKS: I went to shoot a "60 Minutes" piece with Morley Safer about the Dracula tourism industry in Romania. And we shot absolutely stunning footage in Transylvania. We had a moment where Morley was in a graveyard at dusk with dogs howling. My lead cameraman put that tape on an airplane and it disappeared. When I called, the ancient Dracula scholar, Radu Florescu, who we'd interviewed in his home in Romania to tell him, he didn't miss a beat, and he said Dracula's curse.
KLEFFE: In the world of vampires, Marks found an apt metaphor for the undercurrents of emotional violence in the television business.
Mr. MARKS: Satirizing a world that is already satirizing itself every single day is a very difficult prospect, so how do you do that? How do you go into a world and try to write about it and get the ridiculousness of it? But we are making the book itself ridiculous. And lo and behold, I was reading Stoker's "Dracula" and I thought, you know, this is a way to tell a story about the place where I work.
KLEFFEL: Vampires have a very different symbolic significance in the work of Charlaine Harris. There are reflection and exaggeration of our unease with those different from ourselves.
Ms. HARRIS: I'm a Christian myself, an Episcopalian. And I see the church being ripped by so many issues that I think should be easily resolved by people of goodwill and reason. I thought, let's really give them something to think about. Let's give them vampires to think about. Maybe that would unite them.
(Soundbite of laughter)
KLEFFEL: From the romantic comedy of Charlaine Harris to the mean streets of Charlie Huston, from the domestic humor of Christopher Moore to the incisive satire of John Marks, the true power of the vampire archetype is its adaptability.
Whenever we put a stake through the heart of the literary vampires, they rise again in the clothes of a new generation.
For NPR News, I'm Rick Kleffel.
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