New Book Sinks Teeth into Vampire Tales In his new book, The Dead Travel Fast: Stalking Vampires from Nosferatu to Count Chocula, Eric Nuzum recounts his travels across Transylvania and explains what it's like to spend hours in a coffin.
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New Book Sinks Teeth into Vampire Tales

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. And Happy Halloween.

As the time it took to eat a bowl of cereal one morning, Eric Nuzum read or heard three references to vampire in July. Figuring there had to be something special in an idea that universal, he started a quest that included a trip to Transylvania, made a vow to watch every vampire movie ever made, and he drank some blood - his own.

So, how have vampires affected your life and your imagination? And if you're one of the undead, why? And what are you doing up at this time of the day? Our number is 800-989-8255, e-mail is talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.

Later in the program, the strange story behind today's resignation of the district attorney in New Orleans, and the looming battle of the unbeatens in Indianapolis this weekend.

But first, Eric Nuzum joins us here in Studio 3A. By day a mild-mannered program executive here at National Public Radio, by night a pop culture critic and author of "The Dead Travel Fast: Stalking Vampires from Nosferatu to Count Chocula."

And Eric, thanks very much for coming in.

ERIC NUZUM: Thank you very much.

CONAN: And I don't think people heard an awful lot after that line about drinking your own blood.

NUZUM: Yes. Everybody has these episodes in their life that they're kind of ashamed of.

CONAN: Most of us don't write books about it.

NUZUM: Yeah, it's like a tattoo somebody has of a rock star or somebody's name, or they dye their hair blue or pink or something. I just happen to - my bad decision making - including this - what started off as a really reasonable idea and kind of progressed to be drinking my own blood with kind of unfortunate results.

CONAN: Why, you wanted to have the vampire experience.

NUZUM: Well, you know, I kept coming back to that, Neal, that people would - people that I would talk to would either be - who have blood fetishes or who claim to consume other people's blood and would talk about the - what it made them feel like and what the power it had over them. Most of it was probably nonsense, but it - this is what they claimed.

And I kept coming back to the idea of what if there is even a kernel of truth to this that there is some sort of power when you're drinking someone else's blood, their life force in short. And so I kept thinking, you know, I remember getting the idea I should try drinking blood, and then I immediately discarded it, mostly because anyone who would let me drink their blood probably isn't someone whose blood I should be drinking.

CONAN: That's right. There's a direct correlation there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NUZUM: Yeah. And - there is. And so I got the idea of drinking my own blood.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And you happen to be in a doctor's office, where you purloined a needle and, you know, all the associated gear?

NUZUM: Yeah.

CONAN: Breaking the law, I might add.

NUZUM: Yeah, probably - unfortunately, that's the truth. I asked him to do it. I asked him, would he draw a vial of my own blood, and tried to explain to this gentleman.

CONAN: It's for research.

NUZUM: No, I did. I did. I explained it. He got confused as to what I was - he thought I wanted, like, you know, how Billy Bob Thornton and Angelina Jolie…

CONAN: Oh, for that vial of the other partner's blood. Yeah.

NUZUM: He though that's what I wanted. And he said, no. And he got up and walked out and I was thinking, well, that's it. I'm kind of done. And then I saw the needles and the vials and the alcohol pads, and said I just watched him do this five minutes ago, how difficult can it be?

CONAN: Aha. And actually extracting the blood was not the hard part?

NUZUM: No. It actually was surprisingly easy. I just did what I saw him do. I know this is terrible. People think I'm an idiot for doing this, and I am an idiot. But this is kind of how I got led to this. I took - went home and duplicated by an inch down what I'd seen him do. It was - it worked well. I was worried that I wouldn't be able to stop it once it started.

CONAN: Uh-huh. But that works too.

NUZUM: Works fine.

CONAN: Yup.

NUZUM: And then I had read on a - some vampire Web sites that blood taste better chilled.

CONAN: Aha. Where else are you going to go for a recipe?

NUZUM: Right. So I took our cocktail shaker at home, which we - washed but still used to this day.

CONAN: Aha.

NUZUM: And I put some ice in (unintelligible).

CONAN: I'll have some the Martini's next time I'm on…

NUZUM: Yeah, exactly. Strained it out into a cup and said, you know, if I think about this for another second, I won't do it.

CONAN: And you did it.

NUZUM: And I did it.

CONAN: Aha.

NUZUM: And about, probably, 15 seconds later, I knew I was going to get sick.

CONAN: Aha.

NUZUM: And ran towards the bathroom, got sick. And because I was moving at that time, it kind of went out and went all over the bathroom in a click, like a horror movie has just been filmed in this place. And I was, like, oh, my wife is going to find this tonight. She's going to be mad. So, after I got done cleaning it, you could have sent the CSI team in there and they wouldn't have found it.

CONAN: No, they got that spray, it will show.

NUZUM: No, no, no, not after I was done. It took me a year to admit to her what I did.

CONAN: Not only did you end up drinking your own blood - an unfortunate experience it was - you, at one point, played a vampire in a show in "Haunted House."

NUZUM: Yeah. I had actually decided that would be a fun way to kind of experience things, and went through this process of applying for the "Haunted House," which was a strange experience in it of itself. It was very, very - I had a lot of fun doing it. Then, they didn't want me. And I was thinking, you know, how - what did I do wrong in this process that all these other people who sat there for 50 minutes trying to recall their address were able to do that I couldn't do.

CONAN: Yeah, the 75 MENSA candidates (unintelligible) left.

NUZUM: Yeah. Right, right, right. Who are these people that had got hired and that I missed of all that day. And they did make everyone scream during the interview.

CONAN: As a test.

NUZUM: Yes. I was sitting, waiting to do my interview and I kept hearing all this screaming. And I got into the room and had no idea what it was and they said that, you know, you have to be a great actor in a haunted house, you have to give us good a performance to the last person as he did to the first. They asked me to scream and it…

CONAN: All right, let's give the engineers a little bit of warning because Eric is about to scream.

NUZUM: No, I'm not going to do this.

CONAN: Oh, yes you are.

NUZUM: No, I'm not.

CONAN: Yes, you are.

NUZUM: It was kind of like this.

(Soundbite of screaming)

CONAN: No wonder you didn't get hired.

NUZUM: Yeah. So they thought that sounded like I was scared rather than scary and decided…

CONAN: But somebody phoned in sick one day and…

NUZUM: Well, yeah, somebody didn't show up, which I think was a pretty common occurrence with this group. And I kept pounding them and they let me come in. They wanted me to be a mummy at first, and I kind of said, okay. But as the evening went on they said, no, no, no, we can - if you want to be a vampire, you can do that. And so they set me up in this coffin and I was supposed to get up and wave a stake at people…

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

NUZUM: …and I…

CONAN: And scream.

NUZUM: And scream. And I asked, I'm supposed to wave a stake at them or are they supposed to wave a stake at me?

CONAN: Is that what you should be scared of? Is that (unintelligible)…

NUZUM: Right.

CONAN: …anyway.

NUZUM: Right. So, they did not want this logic stuff in this conversation at all. I, also, was still wearing the makeup from being the mummy so my face was really dark, like I've been tanning or something like that. And I…

CONAN: Yup. Something varied from what vampires do.

NUZUM: Yeah. I complained about that and they didn't want…

CONAN: Oh, they didn't want to hear about that either.

NUZUM: So, I did this, and when you think about opening a coffin, sitting up, screaming and laying back down, you're basically doing a sit-up. So about the first 10, were no problem, like when you're doing sit-ups, and then it became my girlie scream kind of - eventually became like a…

(Soundbite of noise)

…and I would slowly rise out of this coffin, waved the stake around and lay back down.

CONAN: So not the transformative experience you might have hoped.

NUZUM: No, it was really fun. I mean, it was - I did it for one night. I decided I would bring some additional props with me the second night, and they called and said we're not going have you come back the next weekend.

CONAN: We're talking about vampires with Eric Nuzum, who's the author of a new book "The Dead Travel Fast: Stalking Vampires from Nosferatu to Count Chocula."

If you'd like to join the conversation give us call: 800-989-8255, e-mail us: talk@npr.org.

And let's see if we can get Lily(ph) on the line, and Lily is with us from Westerville in Ohio.

LILY (Caller): Hi. I was calling to ask if you're going to talk about energetic vampires at all.

CONAN: Energetic vampires?

NUZUM: You mean energy vampires or psychic vampires?

LILY: Sort of those. They're people who will drain off other people's energies…

NUZUM: Yeah, those are - I've heard those kinds were referred to as psychic vampires.

CONAN: I've also heard them referred to as buzz kills, but go ahead.

NUZUM: There's kind of three different categories of people who have some sort of personal attachment to vampires. There are people that are called posers, who are basically just Goth kids to dress up like vampires and then they go work at Merrill Lynch the next day.

CONAN: Do they have their teeth filed?

NUZUM: No, no, no. Those are people called lifestylers.

CONAN: Ah.

NUZUM: Who really do, in many ways, try to walk and conduct their life as if they were a vampire.

CONAN: Walk the walk as well as talk.

NUZUM: Yeah, yeah. There's some that even will not go out during the daytime than most of them do. They have day jobs, but then they hang out with their friends at night and pretend like they're vampires.

CONAN: Go out to some blood bars?

NUZUM: Bars? I don't know. You have - I think the whole blood drinking thing is really overstated that many people claim to do it - when you actually try to sought out who actually does it that number gets very, very, very, very small.

CONAN: And then there's what Lily is talking about…

NUZUM: Which is psychic vampires, which is actually as much or more of a tradition in vampire lore than blood-drinking vampires…

CONAN: Hmm.

NUZUM: …which is something where - someone can, just by looking at you or even thinking about you, attack you and drain your energy or life force. And many of the people who I encountered, who claimed to be vampires, actually consider themselves to be psychic vampires.

CONAN: Hmm.

Lily, are you any one of those categories?

LILY: No, I'm not a vampire myself. I was just calling to ask if you are going to talk about it at all.

CONAN: Okay and we're glad you did.

NUZUM: Check that box.

CONAN: Are you going out trick-or-treating later tonight?

LILY: Yes, I am.

CONAN: As?

LILY: A witch.

CONAN: A witch. All right

LILY: I'm going as a vampire next year, though.

CONAN: Next year as a vampire. Thanks very much.

LILY: Okay.

CONAN: And Happy Halloween.

Eric, it's interesting. You write in the book that, in fact, of all the monsters that mankind has ever invented - and we're an imaginative lot - the vampire is the only one that people actually wants to become.

NUZUM: Right. Nobody wants to be a zombie. Nobody wants to be a mummy, especially me, in a haunted house. But people do have a desire. They think that vampires are sexy. They think that vampires are kind of dark and mysterious.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

NUZUM: And, you know, the vampire - the whole structure of a vampire, the reason that it's endured for so long throughout so many different cultures and variations is because it's like the perfect metaphor for people. You can take it and apply what scares you, what frightens you, what titillates you - things you don't understand - and you can kind of put fangs on it and that becomes your vampire.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

NUZUM: And that's why you see vampires expressed so many different ways -looking so many different ways, even having different powers and skills, because people kind of gravitated towards what frightens them.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And also the critical element you find in a vampire - it can't be just a mindless animal doing instinctually…

NUZUM: No, it has choice and…

CONAN: Reason.

NUZUM: Yeah. And the ability to reason and make choices. If you look at any kind of creature that is - attacks people like the Blob or something. The Blob doesn't sit around and think, you know, I'm - this is what I'm going to do.

CONAN: Or make it this one is opposed to that one.

NUZUM: Right, right, right. But a vampire does make those choices. In fact, I argue that vampires make a choice even to be vampires because they could - much like someone who's a drug addict. Addict chooses whether or not they're going to take drugs.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

NUZUM: And I think that a vampire is in that same category. They can stop anytime they want, of course, that would mean the end of their ability.

CONAN: Existential question for them.

NUZUM: Right. But they could say if I felt that this is morally wrong, I could stop right now.

CONAN: So but without that question of morality, there's nothing…

NUZUM: It's freedom.

CONAN: It's freedom, yeah.

NUZUM: Yeah. It's a restrict - it's a removal of all moral obligation and taboo that you can do anything you want.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

NUZUM: And I think that is a very powerful archetype for people.

CONAN: We're going to talk more about vampires and the choices they make and why one of their choices, if they had to make it, would be not to watch every vampire movie ever made. Our guest is Eric Nuzum. He is the author "The Dead Travel Fast: Stalking Vampires from Nosferatu to Count Chocula."

If you'd like to join us: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. You could also send us e-mail: talk@npr.org. I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. We're too old to trick or treat, but never too old for a good vampire story. Eric Nuzum is our guest today on Halloween. He wrote the book "The Dead Travel Fast: Stalking Vampires from Nosferatu to Count Chocula." You can read an excerpt of the book at our Web site in npr.org.

And tell us, how have vampires affected your life and your imagination? And if you are one of the undead, give us a call, 800-989-8255. E-mail us: talk@npr.org.

And let's go to John(ph), and John's on the line with us from Greenville in South Carolina.

JEN (Caller): Hi, actually my name is Jen(ph).

CONAN: Jen, if I could read vowels, I'd be in radio.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JEN: I was just calling because I was wondering about - and it seems like Hollywood vampires are always so sexy like "Blade" or "Interview with a Vampire." And I was wondering if that is just the Hollywood thing or is there a history of them being very, you know, sexy kind of creatures?

CONAN: Hmm.

NUZUM: It was a very interesting question. I think the answer would be that Hollywood has made them glamorous. If you look throughout history, vampires tend to resemble dead people because that's really what they thought they were like spirits or apparitions or dead bodies. They - Bram Stoker himself envisioned Count Dracula to be very, very different than he has been usually portrayed.

CONAN: As like that of a ghost is.

NUZUM: Yeah, yeah, which is - that's what people assume that Dracula look like, but in a Stoker's novel, he was actually - he say he had a rat-like appearance and pointy teeth, pointy ears, a long nose and bushy mustache and hair protruded from everywhere a hair could come from and very, very goth-looking and very unsexy.

Ms. SULLIVINE: You know that…

NUZUM: And it was - when Dracula was put on the stage after Stoker's death, before it became a movie, that's when you started to see this idea of sophisticated, romantic aristocrat kind of…

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

NUZUM: …being played into this.

CONAN: Interesting. Thanks very much.

Ms. SULLIVINE: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye, Jen. Happy Halloween.

Ms. SULLIVINE: You too.

CONAN: Okay. You do say that, though, not all - you vowed in part of this quest to see every vampire ever made, and soon…

NUZUM: Vampire movie ever made…

CONAN: Every vampire movie ever made and soon came to realize, as you said, that one thing that holds them all together is that vampire movies stink.

NUZUM: Yes, that's true. They do. The - it's kind of like they represent their time. I guess it's the easiest way to put it. In a way, it's kind of like a cheetah pattern or acid wash jeans, you know, things that seems kind of cool at one time…

CONAN: At that moment.

NUZUM: …end up not seeming cool later. And vampires are the same way. They -you see if you sit through Nosferatu, which is probably going to be on television 900 times today.

CONAN: Right.

NUZUM: It's actually - when you watch it, it's not scary at all. It's a little spooky, a little weird, but just the whole idea of what scares someone today compared to what scared someone in the 1920s when that movie was made, far, far, far, far different.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

NUZUM: And the - so I think that if you look at even vampire movies that were made in the '80s, they're kind of like campy and kind of cheesy now, and it just seems like the lower the budget and of longer period of time since it was made until you watch it, the worse it is.

CONAN: Tell us about "Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter."

NUZUM: That's my favorite vampire movie because it's so bad.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: In "Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter," Jesus comes back from - for the second coming to find that a vampire - group of vampires is now in control of the world. So to save the world, Jesus has to enlist El Santo, the Mexican masked wrestler…

(Soundbite of laughter)

NUZUM: …and here's a little fun fact about Jesus - he's a kung fu master, too. So, they used kung fu to fight against these vampires…

CONAN: Well, of course.

NUZUM: …and it's a musical, too.

CONAN: And it's a musical.

NUZUM: It's musical.

CONAN: Okay. All right. So if you want to take issue with the vampire movies or other Eric Nuzum's assertions: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK.

This is Ann(ph) - and with us from Indianapolis.

ANN (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi.

ANN: Great show. I just wanted to comment - I'm still in deep mourning over the last "Buffy" and "Angel." And what did you think about those programs? Is there any program that you know of that are going to be coming out like that? I haven't watched the new one that - I think it just debuted this year. Just what are your comments on those programs, because I thought they were great.

NUZUM: It's interesting - thank you for that question - the more vampire movies I watched, the less I like them. Even the ones I initially started liking, I ended up, kind of, revising my opinions of them. "Buffy" was the exact opposite to me. I had never seen it as a television show. I never paid any attention to it. I knew it's important to people, so I - right when I was working on this book, the box set of all the seasons came out, 40 DVDs, 144 episodes and I said…

ANN: Yes.

NUZUM: …I'm going to watch them all. And about five weeks, I got to the whole thing and I loved it. I was really blown away by how clever it was. And if not - except the…

ANN: Exciting.

NUZUM: Except for the last couple of seasons.

CONAN: Right. But, well, every show jumps the shark.

NUZUM: Yeah. It does. And I can tell you a specific point that it jumped the shark in the fourth season. But when the - they kind of made it into a Schwarzenegger movie with this thing called the Initiative, which was a secret government operation to capture vampires. It was totally ridiculous. But the show had a sense of fun and a cleverness and a way to use - you know, it used monsters and vampires to the - the good people versus the monsters…

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

NUZUM: …the same way, and mixed together with how teenagers interact with the adult world. And that's - that really was astounding, kind of metaphor in principle. And these play with each other all the time, and - throughout the series - and it's just very, very clever.

CONAN: Hmm. You should know, by the way, Ann, that there is a comic book put out by Joss Whedon, the creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" called "Season Eight," in which he picks up the thread of the story after the - well, I don't want to give it away - the destruction of Sunnydale. Anyway - but…

ANN: Oh.

CONAN: So, that's available at your local comic book store.

ANN: Well, thank you.

CONAN: All right. Thank…

ANN: Great show.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call.

Let's see if we can talk now with Ken, Ken is with us from Lebanon, Indiana.

KEN (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi there.

KEN: My question is about - if your guest has heard of the role-playing game called "Vampire: The Masquerade."

NUZUM: Yeah. Yeah.

CONAN: Of course, Dracula's gone online.

NUZUM: Yeah. Well, although it's actually - if you're familiar with "Dungeons and Dragons," you know, traditionally those kind of games were played on a grid of paper and people would roll dice and they would assume roles.

Well, "Vampire: The Masquerade" was one of the first to become what's called a LARP, which is a live action role play, where instead of playing it almost like in a board or a piece of grid paper, people would act it out, like pen in my mouth, this game.

And there was - I don't - I wouldn't actually play it. It did make into the book, but I wouldn't play it with some people. And the rule book is like 450 pages of eight-point type, and there's 13 different categories of players, it's like crazy.

CONAN: Huh.

NUZUM: And since they don't have dice, you know, that they can throw because they're acting things out…

CONAN: Right.

NUZUM: …A lot of the groups use hand gestures, almost like paper, scissors, rock. So they'll come up to you and they'll say, I challenge you to a duel. And then, they start flipping their hands.

CONAN: Flipping their hands.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NUZUM: As if there's doing paper, scissors, rock. And it's ridiculous. It's a lot of fun to watch, though.

CONAN: Uh-huh. All right. Do you play the game, Ken?

KEN: Actually, I used to. Yes.

CONAN: Uh-huh.

KEN: I played the (unintelligible).

CONAN: And how did you do in it?

KEN: I ended up losing the game. I was very poor at it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NUZUM: Yeah. I was killed off in 15 minutes of playing because the game I went to - you couldn't go watch; you had to go play.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

NUZUM: So…

CONAN: And Ken, are you dressing up this evening?

KEN: No. Actually, I'm traveling across the United States.

CONAN: Well, in that case, drive carefully.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEN: All right. You, gentlemen, have a great day.

CONAN: You, too. Let's talk now with - this is Lisa. Lisa's with us from Alaska.

LISA (Caller): Yes. Happy Halloween.

CONAN: Happy Halloween.

LISA: Yes. You know, the whole vampire thing always annoyed me so badly because it didn't make any sense. But then, I read an article in a magazine one time that explained that the myth of the vampire came from the rabies.

NUZUM: That's true.

LISA: That the guy got bit by a bat and then he couldn't stand the daylight and he was blood-thirsty or, you know, and aggressive.

NUZUM: You know, it's interesting. I agree with you with the first part of that. I don't know if it's as specific as one guy getting bit by a bat. But I - if you look at a lot of European vampire lore, it has a lot in common with disease that was possibly - at the present time, tuberculosis, the plague - and rabies was one of them. The whole aversion to garlic, the aversion to water, the aversion to anything that's - the bright light or loud sounds or smells is because…

CONAN: The smell of garlic.

NUZUM: Well, yes. Right - which is because of what happened to a human when they were exposed to rabies. And the weird thing about rabies was when the human gets it, it takes awhile for it to manifest and kind of make them all muddy. And so people would not know how this happened to these persons. So, they theorized, ah, he's a vampire.

LISA: Interesting.

CONAN: Lisa, you're going out partying tonight?

LISA: Oh, I don't know yet.

CONAN: Okay. Well, keep your options open then.

LISA: Okay. Thank you.

CONAN: Have a happy Halloween.

LISA: And you, too.

CONAN: Oh, let's see if we can go now to - this is Scott. Scott's calling us from Milwaukee.

SCOTT (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi.

SCOTT: Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Yeah.

SCOTT: I was actually curious as to the guest's thoughts on - one caller commented earlier on the sexual and erotic aspects of the vampire lore, particularly in the last handful of decades. I'm wondering what the writer's thoughts - or the guest's thoughts are on - that being, at least, contributed to by Gen-X's discovery of Anne Rice back in the, you know, '70s and '80s?

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

NUZUM: There's another thing that happens, in addition to - Ann Rice, obviously, was a huge, huge groundswell of interest in vampires, in general. But something else happened during that time: AIDS.

When you look at the number of vampire movies and the number of vampire novels that were published in the early part of the '80s compared to the late part of the '80s and the early '90s, the number is - doubles itself, practically during the number of movies that were made because with, you know - Frank Rich in New York Times wrote a column, actually, about this, which is what, kind of, keyed me into this.

That's - all of a sudden, you know, blood is the ultimate taboo. And who has the ability to interact with blood in a very powerful way? It's Dracula and vampires.

CONAN: Hmm.

CONAN: Thanks very mush for the call, Scott.

SCOTT: Thank you.

CONAN: All right. Appreciate it. Here is a line from your book. Topless show, classic rock, vampires - how could you go wrong?

(Soundbite of laughter)

NUZUM: Yeah. That's from a topless review in Vegas that I went to that my dad actually found for me and wanted to go with me until I talked him out of it. It's called "Bite." It's still playing at the Stratosphere - a theater where it a topless review, where everybody is a vampire.

CONAN: And the point of this is being?

NUZUM: A very good question. I said to the guy who developed the show, who I interviewed and he walked me around the set before the show started - I'm like, you have got a bunch of beautiful girls were taking their clothes off. You know, why the fangs? Do they really going to notice the fangs. And he's like, oh, it's just provides us with structure in which to do this whether this kind is a sense of power and empowerment.

And it seems really silly and it was - it was very silly and I - they don't take it terribly seriously to themselves. But it was better than expected it to be.

CONAN: Hmm. Again, low expectations…

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: …to pick this help and these sorts of thing. We can get Ruth on the line. Ruth is calling us from Davis, California.

RUTH (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi Ruth. You're on the air.

RUTH: Hi, hi, excuse me. One of the things you asked, I believe, was how have Vampires affected your life?

CONAN: And your imagination, yes?

RUTH: And your imagination. I have to tell you. When I was a little girl about 13 or 14, there was a show on TV called "Dark Shadows."

CONAN: Oh, yeah.

NUZUM: Oh, yeah.

RUTH: Does everybody remember that? Oh, yeah.

Well, I would watch that. I would hurry home from school and sit in front of the TV and I would wrap towels around my wrist, a towel on each wrist, and a big towel on my neck. And I would sit there, howled in front of the TV, terrified and obsessed. And at night, I would go to sleep - I even made myself a chain of garlic to wear around and…

CONAN: At night.

RUTH: At night and sometimes I was in the house and at night I would sleep with a big towel on my neck, and I was so scared of them…

NUZUM: Because the towel's really going to do a lot to protect you from a vampire.

RUTH: Right. But in a child's mind. And then, there was one night when I actually snug in to my parents' room. I think we had a pre-teen upset, and I was watching my mother while she was sleeping to see if fangs would grow…

NUZUM: Your mother?

CONAN: And did they?

RUTH: I'm serious. And then for all my life, they've just scared the crap out of me, the thought and concept of vampires. And another question. Is there any - I thought that maybe some of the - there was some vampire folklore that had to do with like African voodoo or witch doctors or people taking form of animals and other creatures and spirits, the voodoo doctors to, you know…

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

RUTH: …go after their enemies. And that was my question.

NUZUM: Well, yeah. There are African versions of vampires. There are Egyptian versions of vampires. There are Chinese versions of vampires. They're not all the same. They're not - in some instances, they don't necessarily drink blood. Some of them pull a life force. But the idea of some undead creature coming back in order to haunt, to possess or bother someone, and sometimes in drawing off of their life force is like a ubiquitous thing throughout cultures.

CONAN: And especially around Davis, California this time of the year.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUTH: Well, thank you so much. I'm really enjoying the show.

CONAN: Okay, thanks very much for the call, and have a happy Halloween.

NUZUM: And to her point about "Dark Shadows," they actually have a gathering every year of "Dark Shadows" enthusiasts. It's here in New York or L.A. Every year, they still have it, yeah.

CONAN: Hmm. My problem with that was that it was a soap opera and nothing ever happened.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NUZUM: It was a terrible show. They will be sitting there. And as someone were leaning at tree and the tree would fall over.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: We're talking with Eric Nuzum about his book "The Dead Travel Fast," a Halloween show on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's see, we got Scot on the line. Scott with us from Iowa.

SCOTT (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi.

SCOTT: I have another question. I mean, I have my Spirit creatures mixed up. I thought that maybe - I heard that Dracula originally came from the original person who was a count who actually tortured people by rounding large spheres and place them on top of the sphere by their behind. And as they wriggle, they would actually impale themselves on that sphere and it would kill them. And that's where some of the fear of vampires - maybe I'm having my creatures wrong though.

CONAN: No…

NUZUM: No, no, no, you're on to something, but it's not quite 100 percent accurate. The name Dracula came from a man named Vlad Dracula who lived in the 15th century. He was a ruler of Wallachia in Transylvania. If you put them together, they're now pretty much what is known as Romania. And he was given by his father to be like a ransom when he was a teenager and lived for his entire teen years with a threat everyday of being impaled, which was at that time, a torture, art form, where the body was put onto a stake, but done so in a way that it didn't damage the internal organs so that the person would slowly die from this painful, you know, exposure or water or bleeding to death, but it was not meant to be a quick death. It's meant to be a torture…

CONAN: Slow, agonizing death, yeah.

NUZUM: And when he moved back to Transylvania to become its ruler, eventually he ruled for six years, and the most conservative estimate I've heard is that he impaled 10,000 people. The most outrageous one I've ever heard is that he impaled a 100,000 people.

The number is probably somewhere in the middle. This is in a country of 500,000 people. He did it some six years. He would punish people for shoplifting by impaling them. And he - this is just the way he kind of kept his country in order…

CONAN: …and revered by some today as a national hero who prevented the invasion…

NUZUM: The communist side thought he was a hero because he had kept the Turks at bay.

CONAN: Uh-huh.

NUZUM: But, yeah, he - only thing he is sure is he was not a vampire. He didn't drink blood. He didn't eat flesh. He wasn't a devil.

He was basically a name, and Bram Stoker knew nothing about him, outside of a one mention that he had seen and had never been to or knew practically nothing about Transylvania when he wrote the book.

CONAN: Hmm. But closer - righter than wronger, Scott.

SCOTT: Thanks.

CONAN: I appreciate the phone call and…

SCOTT: (Unintelligible) your show.

CONAN: Thank you very much. And before you go, we do have to mention that in his travels, well, Eric went to Transylvania on a trip with a celebrity host.

NUZUM: Yeah, Butch Patrick, who played Eddie Munster on "The Munsters" who's now in his '50s. He was our celebrity host, which pretty much meant he had to come along with us and hang out and do things with us and…

CONAN: One great scene where he's sitting in a - I think in a cemetery, trying to convince two young ladies that he really was Eddie Munster.

NUZUM: Yeah, he would go - he was actually in those beer garden, went 10:30 in the morning, and he was saying, you know, I'm Eddie Munster. I played the monster - on "The Munsters." And the Swedish girl who had seen it, goes, you are not Eddie Munster…

(Soundbite of laughter)

NUZUM: Like, no, I am Eddie Munster.

CONAN: Well, he is Eric Nuzum and he's the author of "The Dead Travel Fast: Stalking Vampires from Nosferatu to Count Chocula." And he was kind enough to join us here today in studio 3A. What are you going as tonight, Eric?

NUZUM: I'm going as a tired author doing a reading in the bookstore.

(Soundbite of laughter)

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