Rightly renowned comedic author Christopher Moore rolled into terrifying Toronto a couple of weeks ago to talk up Bite Me, his final instalment of his unintentional Bay Area vampire trilogy.
Bite Me is the follow-up to 2007’s You Suck which is itself a sequel to 1995’s Bloodsucking Fiends. Briefly, Bite Me follows the misadventures of Jody and Tommy, newly-turned San Franciscan vampires who, in the last instalment, found themselves encased in a bronze statue by their wannabe servant, teen Goth temptress Abigail Von Normal, “Emergency Back-up Mistress of the Greater Bay Area Night.” Newly-released, the couple are separated and must mount any number of challenges, including clouds of vampire cats and ancient vampire hunters, to be reunited.
Here, Moore, who began his career as a horror writer but switched gears when he found more readers were snickering at his work than shivering, talks about vampirism as a useless metaphor, stalking Goth blogs, and the importance of humour in his horror. The DLB interviewed Mr. Moore in the Lobby Bar of the swank Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto.
I understand that you began your career writing horror fiction. Were you disappointed initially that people were laughing at your work?
That was basically it.
That’s gotta suck!
No, no, it was okay! I hadn’t turned a phrase by accident. I was trying to write in a way that I was turning a phrase cleverly, but I was writing horror stories. And what people were laughing at was the way I turned a phrase, and I just went with that. So it wasn’t the shock that ‘oh, you’re stuff’s not scary, it’s funny,’ it was that the funny stuff was funnier than I thought it was. And whether the horror was effective or not, it wasn’t as effective as the funny stuff was. So that’s sort of the direction I went in. You go with what you’re good at, and that’s what I discovered I was good at.
Who were your favourite horror authors growing up?
Richard Matheson, who wrote I Am Legend and The Incredible Shrinking Man and almost all the Twilight Zones; great short story writer. Robert Bloch, who I loved and also had that grim sense of humour. His most famous work is Psycho, but his short stories are brilliant. Ray Bradbury really early on was an influence. And then as I got into my teens, I was actually reading Stephen King. I think Salem’s Lot was… ‘Oh, that’s how you do suspense!’ device-wise.
I read everybody. Poe and Lord Dunsany and all those guys. H.P. Lovecraft and so forth.
Do you have any interest in trying to write a serious horror novel at some point? Do you think that is even possible?
I don’t think it’s possible for me. I certainly couldn’t maintain it for a novel. I might be able to write a straight horror short story, but that’s how I react, that’s my default setting for the world. So I don’t think I could write a whole novel that didn’t have humour in it.
I recently interviewed Joe Hill, Stephen King’s son, and he described humour and horror as “very close allies.” Would you agree?
Well, there’s a relief factor to it. You can take it so high. When you’re writing a novel there’s sort of a – not to sound too high-minded about it – there’s sort of a symphonic structure to it where you go up and down and up and down. It’s not like a short story where you have one effect and that’s all you want to do.
And so the relief, the counterpoint a lot of times is the humour, and the suspense, let’s say, is the engine that drives the story, but the humour are the beats that go along and the counterpoint to the horror. So I think they’re entwined in that way. It’s an interesting observation. I don’t think I thought it as beats before, but the metaphor certainly works, and that’s why.
Chris Moore in Toronto
Your character Abby gets a lot of time in Bite Me. At what point did she start to take over the narrative?
I think I decided for this book that it would be her book because she sort of took over the last one (You Suck). I didn’t design that to happen in the last one, but she became really the vehicle for… Most of the humour in the last one was rhetorical because of the way she talks and reacts. So with this one I decided she was going to be the engine for the book and it was going to be more of her story than the other two books had been, and so right from the get go on this book I knew it was Abby’s book, basically.
Abby is an iconic Goth teen, and I understand that you read a bunch of goth blogs to help flesh out her character.
I did. When I wrote You Suck I read Goth blogs for about 40 minutes every day before I wrote any of Abby’s parts, just to get it by year, sort of to get the idiom by ear. And there were a lot of clever kids writing blogs then, and so there was material to draw from. It was obviously a different vocabulary and syntax than I was accustomed to using, and it wasn’t something where I was going to go hang out with a bunch of kids on the bus to listen to them.
Middle-aged white men.
I know. Creepy. Deeply, deeply creepy. There was a point where my girlfriend would come into my office and look at what was on the screen and she’d go, ‘Oh, the FBI is just going to break the door down, aren’t they?’ And I’d say, ‘Well, no. I’m not really interacting, I’m just lurking like a big creepy perv so it’s fine.’
But basically I think the interesting part of that is when I went back in 2009 to do the next book, the blogs were gone. The world had changed, and everybody was texting or Facebook, updating, and those good writers that I had encountered three years before were not writing, at least not online. So I don’t know what that says about the evolution of the human language, but it didn’t look good to me.
What other research went into writing this book versus, say, the first one?
I did worry about the city having changed because the neighbourhood the main characters Tommy and Jody live in, SoMa, was a lot of industrial lofts and Pakistani restaurants and transmission shops and artists’ lofts and stuff like that when I wrote the first book. And it also turns out to be where the Internet happened. So by the time I went to do the second book, that’s where all the original offices of Google and Anthead.com and all these other places had renovated that area of the city, and they’d become these upscale, modern loft areas and office lofts.
And I was concerned about it, and I actually met with a book group in San Francisco from a book store named Borderlands. They read a different science fiction or horror book every month and discuss it. And I was living in Hawaii at the time. I teleconferenced with them and said, ‘Okay, guys. You live in the neighbourhoods. What should I do about this intervening twelve years?’ And they said, ‘Just ignore it. Just act like it didn’t happen and go on forward.’ So I said, ‘Okay.’ That’s what I did. I went forward as if, well, it doesn’t really matter. It’s not relevant.
Fortunately there weren’t that many cultural references as far as music and things that would really date the first book and the second book because it’s just that any musical references that I’d used in the first were classic rock when they might have been cutting edge at the time.
Was this story always conceived of as a trilogy?
I did the first one basically as part of a multi-book contract. But when I finished writing it I thought I would like to do this again because a vampire story really isn’t really a vehicle for big themes and serious philosophical treatises. It’s just a lot of fun with funny characters. And I thought, ‘I’d like to do this again.’ But my publisher at the time didn’t print many of them, and the book consequently didn’t do that well. And I wanted to keep my career on an upward vector so I couldn’t really write the second one until I had an audience that would buy anything that I’d write. So by the time I wrote You Suck I had that, and they did.
And I just thought You Suck needed… The ending wasn’t as satisfying as I thought it should be, so Bite Me is to wrap it up. And so it became a trilogy sort of on its own. But I’d always wanted to do a second one. It just took career moves to be able to do it.
What was your opinion of vampire fiction prior to writing the first one?
I sort of self-educated in the whole genre – writing in general – but, sure, I had read Stoker’s Dracula when I was fourteen and then all of the things you have to read: Camilla by Sheridan Le Fanu, and you have to read [John] Polidori’s The Vampyre.
And by the time I wrote Bloodsucking Fiends Anne Rice already had, I think, five or six books out, and she had written the history of the vampire race. And I told my editor that when he picked this idea as one of the ones I submitted. I said, ‘Look, she’s already done the vampire history thing. I don’t know that I can do that. And he goes, ‘Well, are her books funny?’ And I said, ‘No,’ and he said, ‘Well, there you go’ and so the decision was made.
But I had a pretty good background, and I think the first story I ever won an award for at a writer conference was a vampirish story about a girl vampire who sort of turns the whole predator thing back on men who are preying on young girls.
Do people put too much importance on vampirism as a metaphor?
Well, they’re looking for it. I know every interview I do somebody asks me why do I think it’s so popular. Typically I’ll say it’s a superhero you can be. Or everybody likes the bad boy. Whatever. It’s an interesting, fun genre to write in because you really are writing about a superhero and he’s got built-in kryptonite of daylight or whatever box of tools you decide to use, whether it’s garlic or stakes or holy water, and that’s always interesting is to have this built-in weakness to either a hero or a villain that has powers. But I don’t think it’s a serious metaphor for life period, no matter how much you want to stretch it. It’s just entertainment and to try to make it anything else is disingenuous.