The Tale of a Temporary Vampire

Once upon a time I started out to write a creepy story about mimes in Barcelona, one of whom performs Dracula. My idea quickly outgrew story form, and I put it aside.

But I love mime, and the central idea stuck in my head: The night, the costume, plus there had been a woman who took up the vampire poses too….

During a holiday gathering, I retired to the edge of the room while others watched a movie and drafted half this story, refocused around a beautiful mime, now performing in Jackson Square to allay her fears of the real thing…. I finished the draft on the plane home. It was the absolutely easiest thing I’ve ever done.

Confluence: I was working with an agent interested in a different WIP, who also happened to be editing an anthology of vampire romance stories. I asked if she’d look at it, and she included my story, “Temporary Vampire.”

Consequences: This collection had a big distribution. I still come across it in libraries.

Further confluence/consequence: I had for years taught a class on horror literature, and because vamps had become so hot, I then taught it entirely on vampire tales. Without the class, I might not ever have thought about vamp mimes at all. Because of the class, I was able to persuade the mall bookstore into a talk/launch, and the local paper covered it. Here’s a sample of what I read, from my mime’s viewpoint:

from “Temporary Vampire”

Letitia Condit, aged 22, was making her move. Actually, her first move had been to go to college, even though her family, who didn’t have a nickel, couldn’t see the point. During the year she’d majored in theater and gotten by on scholarships and part-time work, and during the summers, on top of a full-time job, she’d gone to what its students called the university of silence, the mime school.

Now she had graduated, it was time for the next step, which was professional experience. She’d always seen her best choice was character parts, but they were more limited for women mimes. She’d avoided the sexy parts like Lady Godiva (but you have the hair for it, her teacher said) or any other role that wasn’t dignified.

A sexier character, but not about sex per se, and so she had studied the Quarter and its hordes, and come up with the vampire. The sexual implication was there, but the power was hers, and she liked that balance. She needed that balance since miming the vamp was a kind of dare too, a floating challenge to everything and everyone that challenged her. She’d bite their hearts out! And then the tour company bought it as closure for their jaunt.

Some nights she was too restless to sleep afterwards, and some of those nights she concocted plans, because this was a summer gig. When the rains came for real, she needed another move altogether. It was possible to take the act into a bar, but that felt too close to other acts. She’d talked to a manager at one of the likelier places, but even he had suggested removing some clothing along the way.

Some nights she went for a long walk into the Garden District. She often walked down St. Charles and then over by Anne Rice’s house as a kind of talisman, sympathy for the vampire. Loners, they were, outcasts, some of whom hadn’t chosen their lot. All of it went into her performance. That was where she’d first seen the guy she thought of as “the count.”

Back to the story’s tale:
Of course I started turning this story into a novel. Hadn’t I gotten a four star review on Amazon? Hadn’t I gotten email asking if it was a novel?

The momentum shifts: During the same time, I sold a proposal for a nonfiction book about two mystery writers. I say “sold,” though academic books rarely get advances or earn big royalties. But I had a contract for it and in short order also got a leave to write the book, which I worked on for a solid year. Occasionally I refreshed myself with my vampires, but they had been heavily bumped.

I finished the nonfiction mss., revised it while teaching full time, and eventually mailed off the last of the required copies, after which I sat in my car and cried. At this point my vampires were, well, cold.

Further Confluence: Yet as I returned to teaching, out of the blue an editor asked to reprint the vampire story in an anthology of Louisiana vampires. I got paid a bit more, with royalties from this too, and the first anthology had been translated into Italian and Russian, for which I also got paid a bit extra.

I thought again of my mostly abandoned manuscript and began to rework the ending. The novel became more about illusion, not only on the part of the mime, but of several vampires as well.
I got interested in some of my secondary characters and let them reshape the ending.

PS: You can still find the full story in either The Mammoth Book of Vampire Romance Stories (Constable/Running Press) or Louisiana Vampires (Barnes & Noble).

PPS: The nonfiction book is Wilkie Collins, Vera Caspary and the Evolution of the Casebook Novel (McFarland 2011), which was an Agatha and Macavity finalist.

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