I recently had the privilege of connecting with David Wellington, a horror writer and author of a number of books including Monster Island, Monster Nation, 13 Bullets, 99 Coffins, and the forthcoming book Vampire Zero. David made some time in his writing schedule to discuss his passion for horror fiction and Vampire Zero.
TheoFantastique: David, thanks for the opportunity to talk about your writing, including your forthcoming book. I'd like to begin with some personal considerations. What is your attraction to horror, and how did you come to work your passions in this area as a horror writer specifically tackling the figure of the vampire?
David Wellington: My mother is a big reader--maybe five books a week--and a staunch enemy of censorship. Back in the 70s, when I was growing up, she would check books out of the library, devour them, and then put them on the coffee table in case I wanted to read them, too. When she started reading Stephen King and Peter Straub, she decided to let me make my own choices, as usual, but with one warning: "If you read this, it's going to give you nightmares. So think carefully before you decide." As you can imagine, with an introduction like that, the horror novels were the first things I read! And of course, they did give me nightmares... and of course, that just made me want more. I graduated from Salem's Lot to Dracula pretty quickly, got my own library card and started devouring all the horror I could get my hands on. There was one thing I noticed back then about vampires: they were scary! I worry that people coming to vampire stories today are going to get the wrong ideas about vampires. They're going to think they're sexy, and romantic, and that they never bite anybody. Clearly somebody had to remind them why vampires should never be invited into your home. That's why I chose to write 13 Bullets, the first volume of my vampire series.
TheoFantastique: To probe another aspect related to the last part of my previous question, the zombie seems to be the most popular monster figure or archetype in Western culture at the moment, perhaps having pushed ahead of the vampire. In Monster Island you produced a piece of zombie fiction. What is it about the zombie and the vampire that make them so compelling for readers and for storytellers like you?
David Wellington: Well, everyone is afraid of death. None of us want to die--if there was a way to live forever, there would be a line around the block to get it. So our mythology, our folklore, our popular fiction is full of stories about people who get to live again after the die, one way or another. Horror fiction is inherently pessimistic. It's based on the idea that the universe is Not a Nice Place, and that it runs on rules that say not everybody gets a happy ending. The zombie and the vampire (and the ghost, and the ghoul, and the revenant and the fetch and the banshee, etc.) represent our worries that if you could live on after your death, you really, really wouldn't want to. Zombies are an interesting case. There have always been stories about reanimated corpses, going back to the first horror stories, told around campfires long before the invention of writing. The zombie as it exists today, however, is the most contemporary of archetypal monsters. Werewolves and witches date back to the Renaissance, if not earlier. Vampires (in their modern form) and Frankenstein's Monster were specifically nineteenth century creations. But George Romero's zombies have a distinctly twentieth century feel to them, and they've been updated for this century numerous times by various writers and film-makers. They aren't driven off by crucifixes, or garlic, or silver bullets. They don't represent some kind of deeply repressed sexual desire. They're consumers, plain and simple. They exist to eat, to devour everything they see, and they just don't stop. They are a mirror for our society at its worst, and that's why it makes us squirm to look at them.
TheoFantastique: Let's talk about your forthcoming book, Vampire Zero: A Gruesome Vampire Tale (Three Rivers Press, 2008). Can you summarize the storyline?
David Wellington: Spoiler alert! Vampire Zero is a direct continuation of the events of 13 Bullets and 99 Coffins. Former highway patrol trooper Laura Caxton has come into her own at this point, having learned everything she could about how to kill vampires from her mentor, Jameson Arkeley. At the end of the last book, to save her life he became a vampire himself... and then realized that no matter how noble your intentions might be, once you drink blood you only ever want more. Now he's stalking Pennsylvania, slaughtering innocent people and Laura has to stop him. The problem is that he taught her everything she knows--but not everything he knows. He still has secrets up his sleeves and he's not afraid to use them.
TheoFantastique: How much of the corpus of vampire mythology serves as a backdrop and foundation for this book and your other vampire fiction? And in what ways might your vampires be part of the new breed of vampires in the modern refinement of the mythology?
David Wellington: I like to draw on older stories in my fiction, but always I have to give them my own twist or they just aren't interesting to me. George Romero made the perfect zombie movie, so I had to change my zombies to make a good story of my own. I've done the same with my vampires here. These are not anything like the vampires Anita Blake or Sookie Stackhouse have sex with. My vampires are huge, hairless, and snowy white. They have glowing red eyes and mouths full of razor-sharp teeth. If one kissed you, you would lose flesh, but of course they don't have any interest in kissing you. They don't want to read you poetry, either. They want to rip your head off and drink out of your bleeding stump. They're actually very similar to the original vampire stories out of Eastern Europe, but with some very contemporary twists. There are no wooden stakes in these books, just lots of guns.
TheoFantastique: Is there anything special that you'd like to mention in Vampire Zero as a 'sneak peak' for readers? What's going to keep them up at night as they read this?
David Wellington: It's getting cold outside here in New York, and I want everyone to make sure they wear proper footwear outside. You would not want to get frostbite of the toes. When you're reading Vampire Zero, keep that in mind.
TheoFantastique: David, thanks again for the conversation about your work. I hope Vampire Zero is as well received by readers as your previous works have been. All the best with this new volume.
David Wellington: Thank you, John.