Thursday, October 14, 2010

[Interview] Nancy Kilpatrick, editor of EVOLVE

After the eight parts of the EVOLVE anthology nicely stacked in my archives, I'm now taking on the master mind behind the anthology, Nancy Kilpatrick.

BIO: Award-winning author Nancy Kilpatrick has published eighteen novels, over one hundred and ninety short stories, five collections of stories, and has edited nine other anthologies. Much of her body of work involves vampires. Nancy writes dark fantasy, horror, mysteries and erotic horror, under her own name, her nom de plume Amarantha Knight, and her newest pen name Desirée Knight (Amarantha’s younger sister!) Besides writing novels and short stories, and editing anthologies, she has scripted four issues of VampErotic comics. As well, she’s penned radio scripts, a stage-play, and the non-fiction book The Goth Bible: A Compendium for the Darkly Inclined (St. Martin’s Press — October 2004).

Nancy won the Arthur Ellis Award for best mystery story, is a three times Bram Stoker finalist and a five times finalist for the Aurora Award.


Harry Markov: Hello, Miss Kilpatrick and thank you for the opportunity to do this interview. It’s a pleasure to have you on Temple Library Reviews. Your anthology EVOLVE collects stories, which show the next step in the evolution for vampires. One more time for our readers, what was the inspiration behind this theme?

Nancy Kilpatrick: It’s a pleasure to be here, Harry.. Thanks for having me.

I’ve been a huge fan of vampire literature and mythology for most of my life, and a collector of books, magazines, movie posters, and general vampirobilia. I know quite a bit about the undead and have also written quite a bit on the motif.

Last year, I edited an anthology with David Morrell called Tesseracts Thirteen, horror and dark fantasy stories, and because of the way that anthology headed and also because David and I had to both agree to include a story, no vampire fiction appeared in that book. Tesseracts Thirteen was an open anthology and we had close to 200 submissions. There were seven vampire stories I thought were exceptional and which showed the vampire that we are going to be seeing in the very near future. I felt it was a shame to let these stories go, although I had no doubt that they would all find a home eventually. David wasn’t free to edit another anthology so I approached the publisher (Edge SF&F) and asked if I could edit an all-vampire anthology that included these stories and a bunch more. I wanted to call it Evolve. The publisher had only done one horror/dark fantasy book before, the anthology David and I co-edited, but he jumped right in with both feet for Evolve.

Over the years, I’ve always been asking myself ‘What next?” when it comes to vampires. A lot of my writing is slightly ahead of the curve because of that ongoing question. I’d had in the back of my mind for quite a while to edit another vampire anthology (I edited Love Bites, an erotic vampire anthology in 1995), and when everything fell into place for Evolve it seemed like the right subject, the right angle on that subject, and perfect timing.

HM: Linked to the same question, why is there a need to show evolution? Vampires have usurped the throne as the most popular creature in pop culture and don’t seem to let it go.

NK: I think it’s innate to us human beings to always want to know what happens next. Vampires have indeed jumped to most-popular-supernatural and I think that position is secure for a while, at least until the end of the Twilight movie series and True Blood TV program.

For me, because I’ve studied vampires from the first stories in English and French, and the mythologies that go back to the Epic of Gilgamesh, I have seen the evolution of the vampire over many centuries. The creature has evolved along with the humans that have envisioned it. Just as everyone is wanting to know what will happen in the future, what about 2012, and beyond?, I think the vampire also has a future and some people will be fascinated to learn more about it.

HM: Nowadays, we can’t talk about vampires without mentioning Meyer. I’ve read accusations that vampires have been officially defanged by Meyer. Same accusations claim that vamps have gone too mainstream to be considered horrifying.

NK: I see the Twilight version of the undead as just one type of vampire. This isn’t the entire picture. Twilight is not the history of the undead, and it won’t be the future. Edward Cullen has been called The Good Boyfriend, the one who is kind, understanding, and focuses on the safety and care of the girlfriend (Bella), and who possesses superior self-control. This, of course, appeals to girls and young women. What female wouldn’t want such a lover? He is the fantasy, the ideal, the dream boyfriend. For older women, Cullen is a rekindling of a girlish fantasy. This is romance fiction at its best and that’s the reader/viewer that has been snagged. Don’t forget, the publisher Harlequin is an empire with an enormous chunk of the print market--I’ve heard it said 80% worldwide. That’s a lot of romance and a lot of women are interested in romance. The romantic hero today just happens to be a vampire.

But vampires are bigger than this. They have been around a LONG time and have appeared in various forms, in many different countries and cultures, in fact almost every country and culture. Mostly, they have been super dangerous to human beings. That is the core of the undead: they are predators, we are the prey. That won’t change regardless of how they manifest currently. Anyone who wants to see the dangerous vampire should just hang on--that creature will be back in a new and more deadly way.

HM: But shouldn’t vampires remain a horror icon. The vampire started its career as a monster and it would seem logical to stay true to its roots by scaring and not flirting with its victim.

NK: Maybe in a perfect world that would be so. But if you think of various incarnations of vampires, some have been humorous—Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (the movie has Lugosi playing Dracula); The Fearless Vampire Killers; Warhol’s Dracula—to name a few. You could say that vampires (and other supernaturals) shouldn’t be humorous, it goes against the monster being scary. But they have been humorous. There are always variations on a theme, that’s part of any icon.

HM: You hinted that the vampire has not lost its edge, even despite the sex symbol status and crossover to romance. Can you name a few authors from the 00s, who write a mean and scary vampire?

NK: I think anyone who reads Evolve will fund some pretty frightening vampire stories. Check out Gemma Files’ story for starters.

HM: With so many bold writers changing the mythos, surrounding vampires, are you concerned about them losing their identity. I am referring to vampires being psychic, walk during day light, be a rare gene and suffer no harm from holy symbols.

NK: The mythos has changed with every writer since vampires have seen print.. The vampire we tend to think of as the archetypal vampire is really a Hollywood invention. Don’t forget, Bram Stoker’s Dracula walked in daylight in London. There have been many vampires who have not been harmed by holy symbols. The idea of the vampire being psychic is an old one too, and they have pretty well always had mesmerizing abilities, even if it’s only to scare their victim into a paralyzed state. Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, written in 1954, presents a world where much of the population has died from a pandemic and only one human being survives-- all other survivors have been infected by a virus and are now vampires. Fritz Leiber’s short story “The Girl With the Hungry Eyes” is a classic, written in 1949, and the vampire has the ability to create an obsession in a photographer.

I think it’s the job of writers to bend and shape and expand on mythos. We always need to push the envelope and create something new. As long as an author sets up the fictional tropes and sticks to the mythological elements he/she has created and makes them believable to the reader, the writer can change the vampire to conform to this new reality and it will work. After all, what’s the point of writing Dracula over and over?

Now, having said that, there are purists out there who are hell-bent on preserving Dracula as the be-all and end-all of vampires. But if you view the vampire as an archetypal energy, which I do, then you have to accept that the energy shifts and alters, changing with the times while still maintaining its essence, the core of what it is to be a vampire. If the vampire can’t be part of the time frame in which it is written, it has no relevance.

HM: Speaking of the psychic, what do you think of the energy vampire? These are a lot less connected with the actual vampire per se, but they share a name.

NK: If you think of vampire as predator, that predatory quality can take any form. Whatever keeps the undead alive, so to speak, is what they want human beings for. That could be blood, it could be sex, it could be energy, it could be souls. I wrote a story called “Leesville, LA” which was published in Freak Show (ed. F. Paul Wilson) that featured a vampire that stole dreams from people. And people can relate to vampires that drain our energy because we’ve all met people like that and we secretly call them vampires.

HM: Speaking of all the conceptions connected with vampires, which is your favorite? The stake through the heart? The garlic? Or maybe the no reflection?

NK: I’m not sure I have a favorite. A lot depends on how these ideas are presented in fiction and film. If the means of dispatch makes sense and is cleverly put forth in the story, then it should work for me. What doesn’t work for me is something silly and illogical, out of left-field, tossed in by a sloppy writer who can’t be bothered to make all the parts fit seamlessly in the plot.

HM: With all this empowerment and ever-growing sexappeal, can you say that people are projecting a wish fulfillment fantasy with the vampire as an ultimate human: eternal, alluring and undefeatable?

NK: Absolutely. That’s the time-frame we live in. Everyone wants to live forever, and eternal youth means botoxing your way through life, I guess, for those who indulge. Everyone wants sex appeal, so alluring is up on the want list. We all know that sex gets you a lot in this world. Undefeatable? Well, you don’t need to go far to find people who want to be all powerful, to vanquish those who would harm them. There are lots of ego-maniacs walking the streets, in case you hadn’t noticed!

There is definitely wish fulfillment in the vampire fantasy. It looks pretty appealing to be a vampire. All the benefits and just this one itty bitty drawback--you have to kill people for their blood. Of course, the modern retelling has virtually eliminated that negative so that vampires can live on animal blood, they can live on synthetic blood, they can take some blood without killing and they can even fast for ferociously long periods of time. What a win-win state of being? But this is where we have to ask the question: if the vampire is not a threat to human beings, is he/she a vampire? Personally, I think that even Edward Cullen, under the right circumstances, would kill Bella. And anyone who has read the last book in the series and/or knows what’s coming in the final films knows what he’s capable of.

HM: And wouldn’t the book be a bit more satisfying, if Edward did kill and eat Bella? A small reminder that while the vampire has learned to kiss, he always bites.

NK: It would be satisfying for some. But the readers of the Twilight books are looking for something else, aren’t they, something more than the vicious vampire? I think what we have to realize is that now, in the 21st century, the vampire has altered. Nothing lasts forever and this version of the vampire won’t go on forever, but it’s here now. And there’s a more adult approach is in the TV series True Blood, based on Charlaine Harris’ books, where you get eroticism AND blood drinking, so there’s a further evolution.

HM: Focusing on the sexappeal, vampires have progressed from nightmares to the perfected to-die-for lovers. Why was the vampire chosen as a sex symbol? It’s a corpse, after all. You are an expert on vampires in popular culture. Have you pondered on this?

NK: The vampire hasn’t looked like a corpse for almost 200 years, in fiction anyway. In the first stories in English: “The Vampyre” by John Polidore; Varney the Vampire by Thomas Preskett Prest; Dracula by Bram Stoker; Carmilla by Sheridan LeFanu, none of these vampires look like a cadaver. They don’t smell bad or reek of the grave. They are, in fact, aristocrats, cultured, moving around in society, which really is what makes them more dangerous than the mythological vampires that preceded them, who did crawl from the grave, dirt still clinging, reeking of putrefaction. The 4 vampires mentioned above are flirty. They are seductive creatures, which is how they charm victims into their realm. Said the spider to the fly! What we see today is not so different. Of course, we no longer have counts and countesses galloping around the countryside in horse-drawn carriages. Now we have special families or groupings that are often wealthy because, after all, if one lives more than one lifetime, finances are generally sorted out.

HM: The fascination with vampires has crossed into our own world with live, actual vampires, emulating the fictitious life style. Have you ever met one of these individuals?

NK: I’ve met people who dress as vampires, people who wear vampire contacts and have their eye teeth filed to points. I’ve met people who are blood fetishists who drink blood (a little). And lots of people who make the Goth/vampiric crossover in terms of clothing. All this is pretty common and has been for the last 15 years or so in most major cities. Have I ever met a real vampire, as in the live-forever, back-from-the-dead vampire? No.

HM: Also, do you believe this to be taking fiction a tad too seriously?

NK: Fiction is, first and foremost, storytelling. People live in stories. Stories capture readers and allow them to live in their imagination for a while. There’s so much about the vampire that is intriguing and it’s understandable that with the popularity of books like Interview with the Vampire, cultural imaginations were charged up, especially among teenagers and young people. And that has lasted 40 years! Youth is the time of trying things on for size, like lifestyles. It’s learning how to relate outside the familiar world of family, school, religion and community, relating to the larger world. It’s the time when the idea that there IS a larger world becomes apparent. White Wolf created Vampire: The Masquerade, a role-playing game, where the gamers could go and act out a vampire persona and interact with others acting out roles. Kind of like ad-lib theater but within the strictures of the imaginary world. I co-wrote a novel in that world, As One Dead. I see this role-playing as fun. And I see people acting and dressing like vampires as fun. Just like people who go to Formula One races dressed like the race-car drivers, or drive their own Honda fast through the streets, pretending they are competing at the Indy 500. They are pretending to be racers because that’s fun, and I think there are a lot of people right now, especially youth, wanting to be part of what looks to be an exciting and amazing world, the world of the vampire.

Are there people who take it too far? Of course. There always are. Just like the race-car enthusiast who breaks the speed limit and hits a pedestrian. There’s always a fine line and one hopes most people know the difference between fantasy and reality. But not everyone does, sadly. And that makes them a danger, often but not only always, to themselves.

HM: While you were editing your anthology did you hesitate as to which stories to keep and whether to substitute them with others? I imagine this being a normal occurrence in the making of an anthology.

NK: Evolve was an invitational anthology, so not really (an open anthology like Tesseracts Thirteen is different). I had the original seven stories and I then approached specific writers whose work I knew and asked them for stories. Partly I did this because we wanted to do a world launch at the 2010 World Horror Convention in England, and to get the book to the printer required a speedy compilation.

Word spreads and I did have a couple of stories sent to me by people I didn’t know. If the stories had worked, they would have been in the book, but sadly, they didn’t. As it turned out, because I gave the writers strict parameters as to what I wanted, and also gave them a quickie history lesson on the vampire up to what we are seeing now, the contributors were able to see where I was coming from and want I wanted and, amazingly, they came through and met my vision.

HM: As far as anthologies go, I always imagined that the editor has a certain inner rhythm, which he/she follows to arrange the stories within the pages. Did you have an exact pattern behind the order? Can you perhaps mention a few of the tricks you use to order all the stories?

NK: It’s interesting that you mention an inner rhythm. In a sense, that’s exactly how I order stories. There are, of course, more conscious factors to take into consideration, for instance, I don’t want a bunch of long stories together, or a bunch of short stories together. As an editor, I want to have a flow so that more serious stories are broken up with lighter pieces, otherwise the tone gets set too strongly and the reader can’t make the leap to a light piece. Generally I order an anthology so that it can be read from front to back. Readers don’t always read that way. Sometimes they pick out shorter or longer stories to read because of the time they have available. Sometimes they will immediately select stories from authors whose work they know. But many people do read from start to finish and that has to have a rhythm to it, a movement, so that by the end there’s a feeling that these stories do make a whole. I think a lot of the ordering is unknown until much later in the process, at least for me. As I reread stories I’ve chosen, I begin to get a feel for what the anthology is really about and I try to lay out the stories in a way that speaks to that larger idea. I generally have a good idea of which story should lead and which should end, and these are set for many different reasons but mainly because they are strong stories that set the tone or conclude the tone. The process involves a lot of thought but, at the end, it seems magical to me in that somehow, all of these stories are ordered in a way that works for me and, I hope, for readers.

HM: What is the importance of the first story in an anthology and what is the role of the last one? What did you want to convey with your choices?

NK: The first story should set the tone for what follows and tell readers, okay, you can expect stories that are generally like this one. If there is a major name in an anthology and their story fits that criteria, that story will usually go first for name recognition among readers. Most people seem to go into a store, open a book, look at the first story and read a bit, so it has to grab people enough that they will buy the book. The last story also has prominence in that it sets up a feeling that the reader will take away with him or her, that allows the reader to feel the whole was worthwhile because it led to this type of conclusion which, in fact, rounds off everything they’ve read.

HM: A last parting question. What would you do, if you meet a live vampire face to face?

NK: That depends. If they had that look in the eye that I was potential food, I’d run. If there was some sentience there and some desire for communication, I’d take advantage of this unique opportunity and learn what I could about what it’s like to be undead.

HM: Thank you for the time.

NK: It’s been my pleasure, Harry. Thank you!

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