The Really Big Idea: Allison Dickson
I can see how vampires can be funny. Anyone who has ever seen the movie Vampyre can’t believe otherwise. (Strangely, I can’t find any evidence on the internet that that film ever existed. I will admit that I was very drunk when I saw it, but I did see it.) Creating funny vampires on film merely requires a lack of talent and a lot of money. On paper, it’s a different story. Here’s author Allison Dickson explaining how she came to write a story about a Vampire Mailman:
Vampires in Chagrin Falls
I never would have thought to sit down and write a funny vampire book if it hadn’t been for two things: my husband and Douglas Adams. The former is a huge fan of the latter, and it was because of this (and the certainty I was missing out on a whole treasure trove of his inside jokes) that I finally cracked open Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and proceeded to laugh my ass off.
I started to think about the concept of the book and how I could adapt it to my particular writing style. I love satire, so that part was going to be easy, but I needed a meaty target. I decided on vampires because they’re so damn ripe for it. There are so many well-established tropes and “rules” to bend, break, or adapt to whatever social commentary you want to make. I also wanted to do my own version of a “book within a book” that Adams did so well in Hitchhiker’s Guide, so I created Dexter Bloodgood’s Guide for Modern Vampires and included little snippets of it at the beginning of each chapter.
The next hurdle was to come up with characters. Louis Cross is the sort of “Arthur Dent” character, a hapless everyman who has all of these crazy things happening to him and is surrounded by eccentric people who are ultimately far more interesting than he is. Some people criticize this method of character building, but I think it works well for certain types of stories. The secret is that the main character has to know he’s boring. It also increased Louis’s sense of confusion and exasperation when all these nutty things started happening to him. Like becoming a vampire and discovering his doctor injected him with it. And then there is of course his lovable redneck intellectual best friend, Stan, who never seems surprised by much. And that’s a mean feat considering some of the shocking things that happen over the course of the book. You’ll have to read it to find out.
That brings me to what I think was the biggest hurdle with Scarlet Letters: the plot. It’s frustrating to have this concept and these characters and these funny jokes, and then have no clue what to do with them. There had to be a hook to pull the conflict along, and try as I might, I couldn’t find it. It had to mean something, and it absolutely had to have a certain level of action. It was why, after starting the book, I ended up putting it down for a year and focus on something else. Sometimes that’s necessary. I don’t believe in forcing the issue. If you do, it’s a bit like stripping a screw.
When I did finally come back to it, I read what I had from the beginning, and the plot suddenly revealed itself to me. It was like one of those hidden 3D objects in a picture that you don’t see unless you’re staring at it a certain way. I wound up cutting out most of the first act and rewriting the second act. A few more pivotal scenes and character revelations later, Scarlet Letters: The Tale of the Vampire Mailman was born. And it was a particularly wonderful feeling, because it was my first completed novel. It underwent a lot of edits after that. Sometimes I feel like I could recite it word for word.
Anyway, I was lucky to have a lot of fans of the story. Enough to make me consider writing a sequel to it sometime later this year. And because I’ve had more practice writing books since then, I pretty much have the plot mapped out. At any rate, I can’t wait to meet my friends in Chagrin Falls again, and I hope more folks out there discover it.