Lavie: I feel you have an unfair advantage, in that you actually wrote a vampire novel and I didn’t! I know whatever we do people will say, “How could you not mention . . . ?” So, yes, Richard Matheson’s “I Am Legend” (1954) is a vampire novel — a very good one. But we like to focus on books that have gotten less notice. So, from Russia, there’s Sergei Lukyanenko’s “Night Watch” (and its sequels), translated by Andrew Bromfield. The book isn’t about vampires exclusively, but the ones that are there are great. In modern-day Moscow, supernatural creatures battle each other, some taking the side of the dark and some of the light. Huge bestsellers in Russia, I came to them through the two Timur Bekmambetov film adaptations.
Meanwhile, I think it was you who turned me on to Kazuki Sakuraba’s “A Small Charred Face” (2017), translated by Jocelyne Allen, a terrific Japanese vampire novel told in three parts. It’s very different from typical Western fare — not only because of the biology of the vampires, but the tone of the book — and all the better for it. So is José Luis Zárate’s “The Route of Ice and Salt,” translated by David Bowles, the Mexican novella you managed to bring into English recently through your micro-press, Innsmouth Free Press. I thought it was wonderful, a queer exploration of Dracula’s journey on board ship to England that is full of haunting Gothic imagery.
Silvia: So many of our conversations involve me asking: “Have you read this vampire book?” But if you are not a vampire junkie, where do you start? I recommend anthologies as a gateway. Ellen Datlow edited several of these, including, “Blood and Other Cravings” (2011) and “Blood is Not Enough” (1989). Datlow also famously ran Omni magazine, where a vampire novella titled “Carrion Comfort” by Dan Simmons first appeared. It was expanded in 1989 into an award-winning novel with the same title. In a nutshell, it’s about wealthy, psychic vampires who control the world and hunt humans for sport.
More recently, there’s “Slay: Stories of the Vampire Noire” (2020), edited by Nicole Givens Kurtz. Although traditionally vampires have tended to be pasty and European, this volume centers on Black characters. “The Gilda Stories” (1991) by Jewelle L. Gómez is another book that focuses on Black protagonists, following a former enslaved person turned vampire through the centuries.
One of the weirdest vampires I’ve encountered appears in “The Wisdom of Crocodiles” (2000) by Paul Hoffman. This is an odd novel that follows a wide cast of characters. The most compelling story line, for me, was that of Steven Grlscz, an emotional vampire whose relationships culminate in murder. As I said, this is an odd novel that is not really about vampires, it’s more of a literary exercise that just happens to have a vampire dangling there. But boy is it worth reading for him.
Last but not least, I must mention Billy Martin, who writes as Poppy Z. Brite. He still utilizes the pen name but has moved on to nonfiction. Now you can find him on Patreon where he posts bits of “Water If God Wills It: Religion and Spirituality in the Work of Stephen King,” his latest project. Back in the ’90s, Martin was focused on novels. “Lost Souls,” his debut, is a blood-soaked gem about vampires that seem to follow the mantra of “Sleep all day. Party all night” in all its violent, decadent glory. It would be lovely to see this, along with the collection “Wormwood” (1993), which contains the excellent vampire short story “His Mouth Will Taste of Wormwood” in new editions.
Lavie: I would be remiss not to mention one of my favorite vampires of recent years, Christopher Farnsworth’s Nathaniel Cade in “Blood Oath” (2010) and its sequels. It takes politics into horror — and horror into politics — in such an awe-inspiring over the top way that I wanted to applaud. Cade is a vampire in service to the president of the United States, and in the first book, he must stop an al-Qaeda zombie invasion while worrying about the Deep State and its Lovecraftian end-of-the-world plans. I think American political reality eventually got too weird even for Farnsworth, though Cade’s been popping up in shorter works, including “Deep State” (2017). All in all, I’d say there’s still plenty of life in the undead — and what sweet music they make!