BOOKS: Vampire State Building


Otto Penzler is a well-known editor of mystery fiction in the United States, and proprietor of The Mysterious Bookshop in New York City, where he lives. Located in Tribeca, The Mysterious Bookshop is one of the oldest and largest mystery specialist bookstores in America. Penzler is the author of 101 Greatest Movies of Mystery and Suspense (2000). For the New York Sun, he wrote The Crime Scene, a popular weekly mystery fiction column that ran for several years. He has worked with several outstanding authors including Elmore Leonard, Nelson DeMille, Joyce Carol Oates, Sue Grafton, Mary Higgins Clark, Robert Crais, Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke and Thomas H. Cook. He is currently series editor of The Best American Mystery Stories Of The Year and has edited several anthologies, including, most recently, the New York Times Best Seller The Black Lizard Big Book of American Pulps. His newest anthology, just in time for Halloween, is The Vampire Archives.

PHAWKER: What inspired you to create “The Most Complete Volume of Vampire Tales Ever Published”? Why vampires, and why now?

OTTO PENZLER: The initial impetus for the book was the great success of my previous Vintage anthology, The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps. My editor vampire_bat_flying.gifsaid let’s do another book–what should it be? I suggested Horror. He’s smarter than I am, so fine-tuned it to Vampires. I’ve read a great number of vampire stories over the course of a long reading life and knew there was a deliciously large trove of first-rate stories from which to choose. Why now? Are you kidding? The staggering success of Stephanie Meyers, Charlaine Harris, the HBO series, etc., etc. Vampires are everywhere.

PHAWKER: Between Twilight, True Blood and rumors of a remake of Buffy: Vampire Slayer, it seems we’re experiencing a vampire heyday. Why do you think that is?

OTTO PENZLER: The image of the male vampire underwent a major shift with Anne Rice, and a still greater image maker-over with the Twilight books and film. Vampires are seen, more than ever, as handsome, romantic, loving. They are so much cooler than the dorks who spend their waking hours hanging out at the mall, doing meth, and texting.

PHAWKER: Do you think any of these modern vampire tales will ever take precedence over the original Dracula?

OTTO PENZLER: That’s like asking if Agatha Christie took precedence over Arthur Conan Doyle, or if Michael Connelly is taking precedence over Agatha Christie. They are all excellent, and unique in their own way. Count Dracula will live forever. Certainly the more recent books are more accessible, with a faster pace and less baroque language, especially to younger readers. Whether they will stand the test of a century remains to be seen.

PHAWKER: As a follow-up, in all your research for THE VAMPIRE ARCHIVES, did you notice any trends about the popularity and content of vampire tales throughout history?

OTTO PENZLER: The early stories, those beautiful Victorian and Edwardian tales of terror, tended more often to feature castles, cathedrals, old country vampire_bat_flying.gifmanors, and, of course, the ever-popular graveyards and tombs, frequently crumbling, while contemporary tales find vampires walking among us in ordinary settings, dressed like everyone else. Stories written before World War I tend to be quietly creepy and scary, while later stories are often more overtly violent or, starngely, humorous. There are plenty of exceptions to both eras, of course.

PHAWKER: Do you have any favorite stories?

OTTO PENZLER: Inevitably, among 84 stories, some will resonate more than others. A few of the most famous stories and authors wouldn’t make the top of my list, probably because of over-familiarity. If you want to read some truly memorable tales, try Gahan Wilson’s “The Sea Was Wet as Wet Could Be,” the two very short stories by Hume Nisbet, “The Old Portrait” and “The Vampire Maid,” and the chilling story by Gardner Dozois and Jack Dann, “Down Among the Dead Men.” Oh, and Lisa Tuttle’s “Replacements.” Oh, and…so many more.

PHAWKER: Do you prefer the Bram Stoker Dracula vampire, or the Stephanie Meyer Twilight vampire? 

OTTO PENZLER: Give me the guy with a castle and a tuxedo any day.

PHAWKER: The vampire myth has changed so much over time—why do you think vampires persist, and why do you think their mythology keeps getting rewritten?

OTTO PENZLER: It hasn’t changed as much as you think. Vampires remain, for the most part, immortal blood-drinkers. There are truly evil ones today, as vampire_bat_flying.gifthere always have been, and there are also some who try to do the right thing, who are smarter than ordinary humans (one advantage of living for centuries is you get to learn a lot of stuff, especially history), and who are relatively benign. This is as true in contemporary fiction as it was in the 19th century. With so many millions of readers for so many years, clearly there are numerous reasons for the enduring popularity of these creatures. People love to be frightened, just so long as they know they really are safe. Roller coasters, bungee jumping, ghost stories, eating in an authentic Chinese restaurant–all scary, all popular. Vampire stories are mostly scary. I think there is also the appeal of immortality. It is common for readers to identify with the hero or heroine of a book or movie. So here is someone who will live forever. Not unattractive.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *