LIANE HANSEN, host:
Imagine if among the tired, poor and huddled masses, there was another group of immigrants who yearned to be free in America - vampires. Now, suppose there was such persecution in Europe that the new land was just as attractive to the undead as it was to the pilgrims. Now, stay with me here. There are good and bad mortals, right? So, consider that the forces of good and evil are at work in the immortal world and that in 19th-century America, those forces battled for the soul of the new republic - we know it as the Civil War.
Seth Grahame-Smith explores the premise in a new book you can really sink your teeth into. It's called "Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter." He's in our NPR West studio.
And, Seth, just how much disbelief must be suspended while we're reading your book?
Mr. SETH GRAHAME-SMITH (Author): Well, a great deal because the premise of the book is absurd. It's "Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter." I mean, you know, my goal in writing the book was to add as much real, factual history as possible and weave it in as seamlessly as possible to make people - to actually trick people into thinking that they are reading a real biography in the style of, say, David McCullough or Doris Kearns Goodwin.
HANSEN: Sure. Your premise actually rests on quote/unquote "journals kept by Lincoln." Are these entries completely created by you?
Mr. GRAHAME-SMITH: They are. Lincoln never really kept a journal, definitely not a secret journal about his lifelong battle with the undead. But the premise of the book is that, I, as a struggling writer, was granted exclusive access to these long-lost journals.
HANSEN: Give us some example of elements of actual fact that you used as a jumping off place for the fiction.
Mr. GRAHAME-SMITH: Well, really, most of the seminal events of Lincoln's life, starting with the death of his mother when he was nine years old, a death that greatly affected him the rest of his life. But in this case, I attribute that death to vampires. And so, as he finds this out as a young man, he swears vengeance against the bloodsucking immortals.
HANSEN: Like many biographies, there are actual pictures in here. And there is a picture and you write about Lincoln and the poet Edgar Allan Poe. Did they ever really meet?
Mr. GRAHAME-SMITH: They never did, although Lincoln was a great admirer of all things gothic - gothic literature and he could recite "The Raven" from memory at one point in his life. So he was a fan of Poe's work. And as we all know, Lincoln could be a particularly morbid in his sort of darker days. But it just seemed like it would be a lot of fun for them to sort of partner up in the fight against the undead.
HANSEN: Sure. And using the factual interest in all things gothic, it was sort of natural that you go him involved in vampires?
Mr. GRAHAME-SMITH: Right, and he's this very tall sunken eyes and, you know, he's the original Goth.
HANSEN: Let's go back to the premise, the battle for a United States. Abraham Lincoln finds out that he's a designated slayer, essentially. And his undead mentor is a character called Henry Sturges. Give us a nutshell bio of this vampire.
Mr. GRAHAME-SMITH: He's this very cool Englishman who was made against his will into a vampire when he was in his early 20's, and so he's this perpetually youthful but very old, very wise soul. And he, like a small number of vampires, believes in the coexistence between man and vampire. You know, he doesnt believe, like so many vampires in this book do, of the enslavement of all mankind because, you know, vampires see themselves as superior beings. And so, Henry acts as the advisor to Abe. He teaches him how to fight vampires. He tells him the history of vampires. He reveals these secrets throughout the book.
HANSEN: Why doesnt he feast on Lincoln?
Mr. GRAHAME-SMITH: Well, because he thinks that Abe is too interesting to kill. He sees something special in him and he senses that there's a greatness in him from early on. And actually, Henry plays a big role in sort of propelling Abe forward in his political career later in life, as well.
HANSEN: Right. Slavery is one of the main political issues that the book revolves around. Now did this get wrapped up in your vampire plot because vampires see themselves as masters?
Mr. GRAHAME-SMITH: Yeah. I mean, one of the central themes of the book is tying vampirism and slaveholding together. I see them as sort of one and the same. I mean, both creatures, basically slaveholders and vampires, steal the lives -take the blood of others to enrich themselves. So it made sense to me that the bad vampires in this book would be in league with some of the slaveholders.
HANSEN: You know, your first book was a publishing sensation, "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," and "Abe Lincoln, Vampire Hunter" follows the same direction, only this one's based on historical record - not the vampire part, but historical record. Was it more or less difficult for you, as a writer, to blend the fantastic with fact, as opposed to doing it with fiction as you did before?
Mr. GRAHAME-SMITH: It was more difficult to write Lincoln, by far. I mean not just because of the word count. You know, I probably added all in about 25,000 words to Jane Austin's original "Pride and Prejudice."
Mr. GRAHAME-SMITH: And the challenge there was to blend in with the spirit and the tone and the style of Austin's writing, and it was a big challenge, but there really just one text to work with. Here, youre working from multiple histories. Youre working from letters and speeches and biographies and Web sites. And youre sort of having to create an entire picture of Lincoln to work from, and then twist that picture into something fictional. And it was significantly more difficult and more rewarding to work on Lincoln.
HANSEN: So, will you continue to mine this rich vein? In other words, can we expect a "Great Gatsby, Ghost Whisperer" or "PT109 in Poltergeist"?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. GRAHAME-SMITH: Right. Or maybe, you know, "Wuthering Heights Reloaded." You could go on and on. I dont think so. I think that we are still sort of in this mash-up moment in literature that, you know, was spawned in large part by the success of "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies." And, you know, that was a great exorcise and I think it was something new that people responded to. And I think I want to keep moving forward.
I think that, you know, I'll always write with a little bit of supernatural, a little bit of history, maybe some pop culture. But the more books I do, the more I want to get into original storytelling and still keep those elements alive.
HANSEN: Seth Grahame-Smith is the author of the new book "Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter." He joined us from NPR West. Thanks a lot.
Mr. GRAHAME-SMITH: Thanks for having me.
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