Interview: Christopher Buehlman, author of The Lesser Dead

As you may know, I read Christopher Buehlman’s Those Across the River and The Necromancer’s House one after another, and LOVED them, so I’m very excited to have him on the blog today to talk about his brand new vamp fest, The Lesser Dead-please give him a warm welcome!

chrisbuehlmanI got my copy of The Lesser Dead today, and can’t wait to dig in! Will you tell us a little about it and what inspired you to write it?
I had mixed feelings about telling a vampire story. As your readers well know, it’s a very popular mythos and has been for some time, so it’s almost impossible to start a narrative without stepping on familiar territory. On the other hand, vampires are some of my favorite supernatural antagonists, and the idea of unleashing them in the subways in New York in the late 1970’s struck me as being wonderfully evocative. Vampires in Manhattan are nothing new, however, so I knew I had to find a fresh voice, invoke setting in dramatic ways and come up with some new planks to add to the myth. Of course, it’s up to readers to decide if I succeeded.

Why are your vamps different? Will you tell us more about your particular mythology?
First of all, these critters wind the clock back a bit…they are not the pleather-wearing sexpots popular culture has exploded with. They’re nasty. They’re not particularly cool. They sleep on filthy old sleeping bags and in defunct refrigerators; they wash their clothes with bar soap and it’s clear those clothes have been bled through; if they don’t sleep in boxes or bind themselves, bugs crawl in them. They coat their tracks and tunnels in rat poison because they’re not affected by toxins. And I had some fun ideas about vampire lifespans–it turns out they’re not immortal. They just get maybe another decimal point or so.

Joey is physically young, but he’s technically in his 50s. How did you go about writing his character? Why do you think readers will root for him?
I’m not at all confident that readers will root for him–I think the idea that our protagonist must be our friend is misguided. I have actual friends who (presumably) aren’t pedophiles or hooligans, so I don’t need to feel affection for Humbert Humbert (Lolita) or Alex (A Clockwork Orange) in order to follow their misadventures. All a protagonist needs to do is to be unforgettable.

What kind of research did you do for the book?
I went to Manhattan and killed a few people in Alphabet City.

thelesserdeadWhat are some of your biggest literary influences?
Aside from the two previously mentioned heavyweights (Nabokov and Burgess), Stephen King was a huge influence; I’m certain I read him too often, too young, and got my machinery a bit twisted in the process. But I had fun doing it. Hemingway cast his spell over me in my twenties, and from him I learned not only a bigotry towards adverbs but a largely useless ethic that married creativity to drink.

If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
Great question. If you’ll permit me to bend the rules and name a series rather than a single book, I’ll tell you that I drive a great deal for my other career (insulting people at renaissance festivals), and that I listen to metric tons of audiobooks. Over the course of 2012, I devoured the Game of Thrones books one after the other. I can remember exactly where I was at key moments in the narrative (***spoiler alert***). Brienne of Tarth defeated Ser Loras in a tourney as I prowled Waco, Texas, looking for coffee, for example. Jaime Lannister was behanded on a rainy night near some truly seedy Kansas City motel, and his sister/lover Cersei finally overplayed her hand in a Milwaukee parking lot. Regarding the fate of another powerful woman in the series, I sat idling in Fair Haven, New York saying “A lich? You made her a fucking lich?” I would do almost anything to have Roy Dotrice read me all that nonsense afresh.

I love your books, and you’re truly a master of the scaries. That said, what is something that truly terrifies you?
The idea of society permanently breaking down. The dark ages were called ‘dark’ for a reason, and, however enjoyable end-of-times literature might be, civilization unraveling means the ascendancy of the cruel and banal. It won’t be quirky, bohemian enclaves of well-dressed warlords and well-spoken heroes…it will be hell. Bad food and assholes with guns, a circus of rape and beef jerky. Spare me the epilogue–I’ll fight like hell to keep things from going that way, but, if they do, I’d rather be at ground zero with coffee and a good book.

In the spirit of Halloween, are there any scary books (or films) that you’d recommend? Any that you’re looking forward to?
On the subject of apocalypse, I just read Colson Whitehead’s delightful zombie novel, Zone One. Literary horror isn’t exactly falling on us in an avalanche (I wish!), but this is the real thing. If you don’t mind your scary with a side-dish of philosophy and self-conscious urbanity, check this book out.

As for film, if you want a retro horror treat, go watch The Sentinel, a classic good vs. evil yarn with some truly ghoulish moments. It doubles as an impressive star vehicle. Aside from Burgess Meredith creeping us out as a dead, pet-loving killer, we get glimpses of a baby-faced Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum, Chris Sarandon and Beverly D’Angelo. I particularly enjoy Jerry Orbach as a frustrated commercial director who is definitely ¬ready to put baby in a corner.

What’s next for you?
I think I see more vampires…I’m not a series guy, but, sticking to the same rules and world I create in The Lesser Dead, I’m eager to see how our bloodsucking friends lived and died on the interstates a decade earlier. Think muscle cars, revenge, and abandoned places in the desert.

Working title, The Suicide Motor Club.

Keep up with Christopher: Twitter

The secret is, vampires are real and I am one.
The secret is, I’m stealing from you what is most truly yours and I’m not sorry…

New York City in 1978 is a dirty, dangerous place to live. And die. Joey Peacock knows this as well as anybody—he has spent the last forty years as an adolescent vampire, perfecting the routine he now enjoys: womanizing in punk clubs and discotheques, feeding by night, and sleeping by day with others of his kind in the macabre labyrinth under the city’s sidewalks.

The subways are his playground and his highway, shuttling him throughout Manhattan to bleed the unsuspecting in the Sheep Meadow of Central Park or in the backseats of Checker cabs, or even those in their own apartments who are too hypnotized by sitcoms to notice him opening their windows. It’s almost too easy.

Until one night he sees them hunting on his beloved subway. The children with the merry eyes. Vampires, like him…or not like him. Whatever they are, whatever their appearance means, the undead in the tunnels of Manhattan are not as safe as they once were.

And neither are the rest of us.

One Comment:

  1. Just finished listening to this one with Buehlman doing all of the narration. The book was excellent on both counts. I also loved the audio version of Between Two Fires.

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