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  • Bride of the Fat White Vampire
  • Written by Andrew Fox
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  • Written by Andrew Fox
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Written by Andrew FoxAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Andrew Fox

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On Sale: August 03, 2004
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-345-47861-0
Published by : Ballantine Books Ballantine Group
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Synopsis

After morphing into 187 very large white rats in the name of self-preservation, Jules Duchon is back to his portly self, a member of that secret class of New Orleans citizens known as the undead. Though he would like nothing better than to spend his nights raising hell and biting flesh in his beloved French Quarter, duty calls when an exclusive club of blue blood vampires demands that the 450-pound cabbie find out who is attacking its young and beautiful members. Adding insult to injury, he has to enlist the help of a former foe: a black vampire named Preston.

What’s a vampire to do? Without the love of a woman to ease his pain, Jules isn’t convinced that his undead life is worth living. He doesn’t desire Doodlebug (she may be a woman now but Jules knew her back when she was just a boy) any more than he longs for Daphne, a rat catcher who nourishes a crush the size of Jules. No, only Maureen will do. Once a beautiful stripper with nothing but curve after curve to her bodacious body, now she is mere dust in a jar. But Jules will move heaven and earth to get her back . . . even if it means pulling her back from the dead.

Excerpt

ONE Rory “Doodlebug” Richelieu shivered as he walked up the dark gravel path toward the fifteen-foot-high walls surrounding the High Krewe’s compound. A vampire shouldn’t be afraid of the dark, he told himself. Yet the short walk from where a cab had let him off on Metairie Road through these gloomy woods, barely lit by a weak moon, had seriously creeped him out. He wished he’d worn a shawl. His lightweight linen dress and lace hosiery were fine for the Quarter, but here they left him feeling chilled. And the heels of his pumps sank into the gravel, nearly causing him to twist an ankle several times.

When he was ten feet from the gate, something scurried near his feet. He saw something run into the underbrush, a mouse or squirrel or maybe a small rat. Doodlebug smiled a wistful smile. The tiny mammal had made him think of Jules. As he had innumerable times during the past eight months, Doodlebug wondered how the Fates had been treating his vanished friend. He hoped with all his heart that Jules had found happiness.

The iron gates towered before him like the entrance to one of Dante’s inner circles of Hell. Doodlebug pressed the cold steel button that protruded from the marble gatepost. A disguised panel slid open, revealing a video screen. A dignified, somewhat haughty face appeared; a computer-generated image, Doodlebug realized, since the butler was himself a vampire and could not be photographed. Above him, at the top of the entrance archway, a small camera tracked his movements. All it would reveal to the viewer on the other end was a knee-length black dress, pale ivory lace hosiery, sensible black pumps, earrings, and lipstick of a modest shade of red.

“I’m Rory Richelieu,” Doodlebug said. It felt odd to call himself by his birth name; normally he went by Debbie, and whenever he’d returned to New Orleans to see Jules or Maureen, he’d always slipped back into his childhood nickname, Doodlebug. “I flew out from California. Georges Besthoff asked me to come.” Asked was too pale a word; demanded was more like it.

The face on screen appeared to be examining a list. “Yes. Mr. Richelieu. I’ve been told to expect you. Master Besthoff is awaiting you in the library.”

The massive iron gate swung open as smoothly and silently as silk on silk. The scent of pomegranates reached him on a cool breeze. Blood apples. High above, at the center of a cloud-dimpled sky, a half-moon illuminated stately groves and manicured gardens, all of which would appear quite at home surrounding the ancient fortress-estates of Moravia or Romania. Doodlebug had not set foot within the gates of the compound of the High Krewe of Vlad Tepes in decades. Not since 1968, just after he’d completed his thirteen years of study in Tibet, when he’d been planning to leave New Orleans for California to establish his Institute of Higher Alpha-Consciousness.

As grand and beautiful as this walled assemblage of mansions and gardens was, he’d never felt any fondness for this place. Most of the vampires here were far older than he was, immigrants from Eastern Europe, one of the cultural hearts of world vampirism, and had amassed their impressive fortunes over hundreds of years. The wisdom of their collective centuries had not brought them enlightenment, as it had to Doodlebug’s Tibetan monk teachers; instead, it had taught them to pursue their own narrow interests with scientific precision. As a fledgling vampire, he’d considered himself a catfish among tiger sharks in his dealings with the masters of this place. He’d always suspected they’d granted their support to his California project only because they’d judged him to be an interesting, potentially useful freak.

Doodlebug hadn’t heard a peep from the High Krewe’s masters in a quarter century. What did they want with him now? Besthoff certainly hadn’t ordered him to fly across the continent for a social call. He had been infuriatingly evasive in his communiqués, as he always was. But he’d left no doubt that he was willing to pound the stake through Doodlebug’s most precious aspirations if Doodlebug failed to comply.

Doodlebug walked briskly past fountains illuminated with beams of green, red, and white, the colors of the old Hungarian monarchy. He sensed an unfamiliar dampness under his smooth arms, despite the chill in the air; he was thankful that he’d chosen to wear black. Apprehensive as he was about the nature of his mysterious task, he was eager to get the undoubtedly sordid business over with as quickly as possible.

He climbed the broad marble stairs that led to the compound’s central building, an Italianate mansion easily twice as large as the grandest home on St. Charles Avenue. Twin twelve-foot-high doors opened soundlessly before he could knock.

“Mr. Richelieu. Welcome. It is a pleasure to see you again after all these years.”

The sentiment sounded as sincere as a local politician’s promises to fix the potholes. Doodlebug stared up at the long, sallow face of Straussman the butler. He was even haughtier and more austere than his computer-generated image; Doodlebug, an avid fan of the films of the forties, thought Straussman made Erich von Stroheim look like Lou Costello. Nevertheless, he smiled and answered Straussman’s stiff bow with a polite curtsy.

“Thank you, Straussman. The years have been good to you.”

“You are too kind, sir.”

Straussman closed the doors, polished oak eight-inches thick, with little discernible effort. “Please allow me to escort you to the library.”

They left the entrance foyer and entered a tall, wide hallway decorated with tapestries large enough to cloak elephants. Doodlebug remembered these tapestries well. Each depicted a victory of King Vlad Tepes over the marauding Turks, who were portrayed as beasts with barely human features. The largest of the tapestries showed Vlad Tepes holding court in front of a panorama of severed Turkish heads impaled on tall wooden spikes.

Just before they reached the library, Straussman paused and turned back toward Doodlebug. “We have been experiencing unsettled times within our household,” he said in a low voice, almost a whisper. Doodlebug detected a slight change in his normally imperturbable face, a hint of what might almost pass for concern. “The young masters . . .” His voice trailed off. It was fascinating and unsettling to watch Straussman struggle for words. “I do hope, sir, that you will be able to assist Master Besthoff in bringing certain matters to a satisfactory close. Bringing certain . . . foul parties to the justice they richly deserve.”

Then he turned away again, and Doodlebug watched him straighten his neck and torso to their habitual lacquered stiffness before he opened the doors of the library. “Master Besthoff,” he said, “if you would kindly forgive the intrusion, I have the pleasure of presenting Mr. Rory Richelieu.”

“Thank you, Straussman,” a deep, fine-grained voice, tinged slightly with a Rumanian accent, answered. “You may show him in.”

Doodlebug hurriedly smoothed the wrinkles from his dress and entered the library. Of all the compound’s hundreds of rooms, this was the one that had always fascinated him the most. He was greeted by a seductive perfume of polished teak and aged paper. His mouth fell open as he craned his neck to take in the thousands of volumes, most of them more than a century old. The inhabitants of this compound had millions of empty hours to fill, particularly since they had “advanced beyond the primitive hunting and gathering stage,” to use Besthoff’s memorable phrase. What better place to spend some of those millions of hours than this cathedral of literature, open all night long?

However, apart from Doodlebug and Straussman, who hovered near the entrance in readiness for additional tasks, the library held only one occupant. Georges Besthoff sat in a high-backed, gilded Queen Anne chair beside a tall Tiffany lamp and a coffee table decorated with the wings and clawed feet of a gryphon. He was as tall as Straussman, but far broader through the chest. Untold centuries in age, he didn’t appear any older than his midforties, with only an occasional strand of silver flashing within the midnight blackness of his immaculately groomed hair. His eyes were coals that had been compressed by unnatural gravity into onyx diamonds, glowering with negative light.

Doodlebug frowned slightly as he remembered how Besthoff and the others had built their fortunes in Europe. Among the oldest of that region’s vampires, they had gradually seduced many of the neighboring noble families into the blood-sucking fraternity, convincing them to leave one aristocracy for another; then they had taken advantage of the nouveau vampires’ junior status to appropriate portions of their holdings. If it hadn’t been for the antiroyal revolutions of 1848, Besthoff, Katz, and Krauss would never have left the enriching embrace of their ancestral lands for New Orleans.

Besthoff’s smile was well rehearsed, the practiced smile of a diplomat from the age of dynastic empires. “Mr. Richelieu,” he said, gesturing for him to sit in the chair on the far side of the gryphon table, “I believe the last time you visited us, that Texan excrescence, Lyndon Johnson, was still in the White House. It has been too long.” He looked Doodlebug over with a coolly appraising glance, his eyes lingering on the swellings of his guest’s hips and bustline. “I see that you have honed your talents considerably since the last time we met. Were I ignorant of your natural sex, I would be most aroused by your display of lush, young femininity.”

Doodlebug felt hot blood rush into his face. It wasn’t a sensation he felt often. He’d grown used to being around people who accepted him as a woman, who didn’t know differently. Now, in the presence of this man who knew him to be a fellow man, who could take away his independence with the snap of his fingers, Doodlebug experienced for the first time the sense of relative powerlessness that so many women suffered. “Maintaining continual control over my form,” he said too quickly, “is a useful exercise in spiritual discipline.”

“Yes,” Besthoff said, smiling. He interlocked his long fingers, flex- ing the powerful muscles of his hands. “That must be so, I am sure.” He glanced toward Straussman and signaled with a slight tilt of his head that the butler should attend to him. “But I forget my obligations as host. You are famished after your long air journey. All those distressing changes in air pressure. Would you prefer blood or a glass of wine?”

Doodlebug took a moment to consider this. With men such as Besthoff, there were no gifts; accepting even the smallest of boons meant allowing the cords of obligation to be pulled ever tighter. There was good reason he’d air-shipped his coffin and a week’s supply of blood to a New Orleans bed-and-breakfast inn where he’d stayed before, rather than accept Besthoff’s offer of lodging in the mansion. Truthfully, a long drink of the life-giving ichor would restore his strength and possibly settle his nerves. But he couldn’t bury the thought that the less obligated he was to the High Krewe, the better off he’d be.

“Well?” Besthoff said, raising an eyebrow, a hint of amusement in his dark eyes. “What will you have, Mr. Richelieu?”

“A pot of herbal tea would be lovely,” Doodlebug said. He glanced up at Straussman’s unreadable face. “Could you fix me some chamomile?”

“I will check the pantry, sir,” Straussman said.

“Very well,” Besthoff said. He frowned and waved Straussman away. “Bring me my usual midevening cocktail.” He turned back to his guest. “How fares your Institute?” he asked, a polite smile reaffixed upon his predatory face.

To Doodlebug’s ears, his host’s expression of interest was wrapped around a core of cold condescension. It wasn’t at all surprising that, after Doodlebug declined his host’s offer of blood, Besthoff would focus on the vulnerability that granted him the greatest degree of leverage over his guest. Doodlebug closed his eyes for a second and attempted to picture a perfectly calm sea. “It fares very well, thank you,” he said, his eyes open again. “I currently have forty-two students. Twenty-three reside on my campus. The others commute from surrounding towns.”

“So the passion for Eastern mysticism has not subsided in your part of the country?”

“Apparently not, no.”

“Your students,” Besthoff continued, “they still make their monthly ‘donations’ of blood during their periods of study?”

“Every six weeks, yes. It’s part of their cycle of cleansing and purification. All of my students are strict vegetarians. The blood-letting complements their regimens of fasting and ascetic yoga.”

“Very clever,” Besthoff said, a hint of genuine admiration in his voice. “I always expected that our investment would return interesting dividends. Have any of your students expressed any opinions regarding this regimen of ‘blood-letting,’ as you call it? Do you think they suspect vampirism might be the motivating factor?”

“California is different from the rest of the country,” Doodlebug said, shifting in his seat. He pulled the edges of his dress well below his knees, then chided himself for doing so. “A combination of widespread Wiccanism and Hollywood liberalism means that blood-drinking is not as stigmatized as it would be here. All that aside, my students accept me as what I present myself to be—a spiritual mentor and a fellow learner. I’ve never overheard any whisperings of vampirism. Such suspicion and distrust are the opposite of all that my students seek to achieve.”

“Yes. Of course.” Straussman returned with a silver tray. A white china teapot, embossed with twirling roses, emitted a strong aroma of Earl Grey through its spout. Oh, well, Doodlebug thought. Close enough. Straussman set the tray down on the gryphon table and served Besthoff his cocktail, which, Doodlebug guessed from its scent, was a mixture of sherry and blood.

Besthoff took a sip of his cocktail and eyed Doodlebug evenly over the rim of the expansive goblet. “Would you expand the Institute, if you were able? Do you feel you could attract a larger number of students?”

“It’s . . . possible,” Doodlebug said, measuring his words carefully. What was Besthoff driving at? “Although I couldn’t handle many more students myself. If I allowed more students in, I’d need to train additional instructors. Additional instructors would require expanding my physical plant.”

“That could potentially be arranged.” Doodlebug felt Besthoff’s eyes drilling into his. The tall man set down his goblet and leaned closer. “Our household has been experiencing some disquietude of late. Some of the younger members have begun to . . . chafe within what they feel to be unreasonable restrictions on their liberties. You were once the child protégé of that Duchon person, were you not?”

The mention of Jules’s name brought a flood of memories. Only eight months had passed since he’d taught his friend and blood-father the skills he needed to overcome the deadly challenge posed by a group of new, young black vampires.

The distaste in Besthoff’s voice when he uttered Jules’s name was unmistakable. “Yes,” Doodlebug said. “Jules turned me in 1943, during the war. He wanted a sidekick to help him protect New Orleans’s munitions plants from Nazi saboteurs.”

“But you did not stay with him long after the war was over, did you? You began your spiritual quest, which eventually led you to Tibet. Correct?”

“That’s true. But I might have stayed longer with Jules in New Orleans if he hadn’t been so uncomfortable with my, ah, proclivities.” Doodlebug stared at the crimson-painted nails that adorned his slender fingers, now interlaced tightly on his lap.

“In any case, I expect you have some understanding of the rebellious impulses that often accompany youth. A need to break away from the often sensible lifestyle of one’s elders, to establish one’s own identity and autonomy.”

“That’s a common preoccupation of youth in all societies. Even vampiric ones. It’s not unhealthy.”

“In many cases, perhaps.” Besthoff took another sip from his goblet. He let it linger in his mouth before swallowing. “But in the case of my little society, my High Krewe, youthful rebellion and indiscretion have led to outcomes most unhealthy.” The dark red tip of his tongue brushed his lower lip. “Tragic outcomes. Events which I deeply regret, and which I cannot allow to go unaddressed.”

Doodlebug waited for him to continue. He picked up the cup of tea Straussman had poured for him. The liquid burned the roof of his mouth.

“I will speak more of this in a moment,” Besthoff said after many long seconds. “The restless energies of youth are difficult to contain, even in the face of tragedy. I may need to find a safe haven for several of our youngsters away from this compound, in a place where they can feel they have broken away from the nest, and so will not be tempted into dangerous pursuits. I believe your Institute would be an ideal place for them to ‘find themselves’ without endangering themselves.”

Doodlebug’s face tightened as the reason for his summons to the compound of the High Krewe of Vlad Tepes became clear. The Krewe had never interfered in his running of the Institute before. They’d never had reason to. Until now. But now, from the sound of things, he was expected to take in a bunch of spoiled, aristocratic vampires, most of whom probably had zero interests outside of sex, leisure, and a good meal, and try to guide them on a path toward enlightenment. “You want me to take them on as students? How would I keep them fed? Even with strict rationing, the blood donations provided by my current students would barely sustain me and one other vampire.”

“I don’t expect you to take them on as students,” Besthoff said. “I expect you to take them on as instructors. Each will need to be provided with a complement of students adequate to supply him with a steady diet. The High Krewe will provide financial support for the construc- tion of expanded facilities, advertising to attract additional students, et cetera.”

Doodlebug’s alabaster skin turned a sicklier shade of white. His dream. The great spiritual project that gave his undead existence meaning. They wanted to pervert it, to take it in their filthy hands and reshape it in their own cruel, selfish image. He’d known, of course, when he’d first acquired the monumental loan from the High Krewe to buy his twenty-five acres of oceanfront property and construct his austere campus, that a quid pro quo was likely. But he’d spent decades avoiding that possibility, pushing it into the dustiest corners of his mind.

“You ask . . . very much of me,” he managed to say at last. “This is the reason you demanded I come here? To recruit your youngsters?”

Besthoff smiled tightly. “Not exactly, no. That is more of a long-term goal. I recognize that such arrangements as I have spoken of will take time. You will need to make plans. The more restless youngsters will need to be convinced that a move to Northern California is indeed what they want.”

Besthoff stood, rising to his imposing full height of six feet and five inches. “No, Mr. Richelieu, the reason I had you come is far more pressing. Follow me, please. What I am about to show you will make my needs and your responsibility abundantly clear.”

He walked to the library’s entrance. Doodlebug set his teacup down (caffeine was the last thing he needed at this point, anyway) and followed. Besthoff motioned for Straussman to accompany them. The butler opened a set of tall French doors that led to a courtyard of formal gardens and hedges trimmed as exactingly as a nobleman’s mustache.

At the far end of the gardens, beyond the ponderous wings of the main mansion, sat a separate building much more plain and simple than the one Doodlebug had just left. Not that it was not ornate; it reminded Doodlebug of the redbrick Catholic schoolhouse he’d attended before he’d met Jules. They climbed three steps to a broad porch lined with white wooden posts. Straussman removed a large ring of keys from his coat pocket and unlocked the door.

They stepped inside the entrance foyer, and Straussman locked the door behind them. Doodlebug crinkled his elfin nose. The odor he smelled wasn’t repulsive, at least not overwhelmingly so. He remembered the odor from years ago, when he’d been a small child and a broken arm had landed him within the crowded wards of Charity Hospital for a week. It was the collective scent of dozens of people who spent their days and nights confined to bed, who bathed infrequently and changed their garments less often than they bathed and who relieved themselves in bed pans.

“You may remember our farm,” Besthoff said. “I can’t recall whether I granted you a tour the last time you visited.”

“I’ve never been inside here, no,” Doodlebug said.

“But you’re aware of the economic underpinnings of our compound, of course? Our blood-cows?”

Blood-cows. Doodlebug frowned slightly. It didn’t seem right to refer to human beings that way. Not even human beings of the sort who lived here. “So this is where the, uh, mentally handicapped individuals are cared for?”

“Yes.” He gestured for Straussman to turn on the lights in the next room. “Please forgive the slight stench. Over the past year, it has become harder and harder to get our young people to fulfill their obligations here. We threaten them with cutting back on their blood rations if they miss shifts. But one can only take such threats so far without it becoming counterproductive. And Straussman and the other household staff are limited in how much time they can take from their primary duties to tidy up here.”

They walked into the main room. The building was much deeper than it had looked from the outside, Doodlebug realized. This dormitory contained four rows of thirty beds each; the beds were about eighteen inches apart, and the aisles between rows allowed two people abreast to squeeze through. The only light was provided by three bare hanging bulbs and four video monitors, each mounted on a different wall. The monitors all played the same Woody Woodpecker cartoon. Doodlebug watched the dim primary colors play over the broad, flat faces of the men and women in the beds. They were strapped down; most had plastic tubing protruding from their arms, although whether the machines were injecting liquid nutrients or extracting blood, Doodlebug couldn’t tell. Their widely spaced, small eyes followed him as he walked past. A few smiled, revealing mouthfuls of teeth like broken shells on a dirty beach.

“This is only half of the herd,” Besthoff said. “In 1882, when we took over their care from the soon-to-be-disbanded Little Sisters of the Blessed Bayou, we started with only twenty-six. Since then, we’ve bred seven generations. They eat strictly balanced diets, to ensure that their blood is as healthful as possible. They are walked around the grounds every other evening. Due to their high fluid and nutrient intake, they can be blooded every two weeks. Every so often, we are able to train a few of the more high-functioning ones to provide basic sanitary care for their fellows.”

“Given the current situation with the young masters,” Straussman said solemnly, “perhaps it would be wise to accentuate our training efforts with the more clever of these creatures. If I may say so, I believe such a course of action would be greatly preferable to bringing in outside help.”

“That is so obvious as to be barely worth mentioning,” Besthoff snapped, irritation coloring his usually imperturbable voice. He clasped his hands behind his slender waist and took a lingering look at the hundred-and-twenty beds and their occupants. Pride and apprehension seemed to battle for control of his sharply handsome features. Pride won. “How ironic,” he said, “that the Vatican, when they shut down one of their faltering nunneries here in the hinterlands, should have provided our High Krewe with the greatest boon we ever received.” His smile faded, and he slowly shook his head. His next words were so low that Doodlebug barely heard them. “How they could even consider leaving this behind . . . I cannot understand it.”

Doodlebug wasn’t sure which they Besthoff referred to. He didn’t have long to ponder, however, because the grim-faced vampire motioned them forward again. “Come, Mr. Richelieu. This is not what I brought you to see.”

They reached the far end of the dormitory. Three doors were set within the blue plastered wall. Besthoff directed Straussman to unlock the far-right door. Doodlebug noticed that the key to this door was on a separate, smaller key ring that Straussman removed from a buttoned pocket inside his coat. Both Straussman and Besthoff ducked their heads upon entering the room. Doodlebug was able to walk through the doorway without ducking, although barely two inches separated his pulled-back hair from the beam above.

The space they entered was completely dark. The air smelled dusty and stale. Doodlebug heard the sound of a light fixture’s chain being pulled. A forty-watt bulb dimly illuminated what was originally a storage room, bare brick walls windowless and gloomy. Only now it was being used as a bedroom, or perhaps an infirmary.

Two young women slept within coffins placed on narrow iron beds identical to those in use outside. Or they appeared to sleep. Doodlebug walked closer to one of the women, a pale, pretty brunette whose mouth looked hard, even in slumber. Her breathing was so shallow and so slow that she seemed not to breathe at all. She was covered, from the neck down, with a light linen blanket. Doodlebug noticed that an intravenous-drip machine, the same type that stood next to many of the imbeciles outside, fed a dark red substance through a plastic tube that disappeared beneath the blanket. But that wasn’t all that disappeared beneath the blanket. Doodlebug’s eyes followed the graceful curves of her torso from her bust to her flat stomach. Below her pelvis, the blanket fell to the floor of the coffin. As if her body suddenly . . . ended.

Doodlebug felt Besthoff’s eyes on him. “Go ahead,” his host commanded. “Lift the blanket and look. You will not awaken her.”

Doodlebug held his breath as he lifted the blanket’s lower edge. The woman was dressed in a plain white nightgown. Its unoccupied lower reaches lay flat on the thin layer of earth at the bottom of the coffin, like an airless balloon. She had no legs.

Doodlebug let the blanket fall and stepped back from the coffin. “How—how long has she been like this?”

“Little less than a week,” Besthoff said. Doodlebug detected a note of weary sadness in his voice; of mourning and of anger. “Victoria was one of our finest dancers. So graceful; you should have seen her pirouetting through the gardens, making leaps that would shame a gazelle. Watching her dance was one of my most reliable pleasures. Unfortunately, the two dozen of us here within the compound were not audience enough for her. She insisted on seeking thrills and pleasures beyond our walls. And now she will dance no more.”

“Do you have any idea what happened to her?”

“She went outside,” Besthoff said. “Like so many of the young ones have been doing of late. It is impossible to stop them. The lure of that damnable city”—Doodlebug saw his host’s face darken like a thundercloud—“is too strong. Straussman took a call last Thursday. The anonymous caller instructed him to enter the woods outside the gates, that there was a ‘lost treasure’ waiting there. He went outside with two of the other servants. They found her, wrapped in a bed sheet. As you see her now.”

“Has she regained consciousness? Spoken to anyone?”

“No. She seems to be in a very deep coma. Extremely deep. Not even my powers of hypnotism—not even the combined powers of myself, Katz, and Krauss—have been up to the task of bringing her out of the mental cavern she has been forced to retreat within.”

Doodlebug took a second look at the blood-drip apparatus. “A mutilation of that magnitude”—he shivered, then blushed with embarrassment— “. . . she must have lost a tremendous volume of blood.”

“You would not have known it, sir,” Straussman interjected, “from her condition when we found her. Her wounds were sealed. Completely. The flesh at the bottom of her, ah, pelvis, it was without blemish or scar. As though she had been born . . . legless.”

“Show him Alexandra,” Besthoff commanded.

Straussman approached the open coffin of the other woman, who was elegantly tall, with long platinum tresses and striking Eurasian features. She made Doodlebug think of a Siberian wolf, white-furred and gorgeously savage. Straussman pulled back her blanket. Unlike the first woman’s mutilation, Alexandra’s was not hidden by her nightgown. Lacy spaghetti straps rested on pale, beautifully formed shoulders that simply ended. The slight protrusions of her shoulder blades sloped in a graceful, unbroken curve into the concavities of her armpits, and then into the swellings of her breasts and the subtle undulations of her rib cage.

“Two nights ago,” Besthoff said, “we received a second call. This time, Krauss and I accompanied Straussman outside the walls. Alexandra was left for us farther away from the compound than Victoria had been. The assailant must have suspected that we would line our walls and the surrounding woods with surveillance cameras, as we indeed had done. She was left for us in the Metairie Cemetery, to the north of Metairie Road. We found her next to the crypt of a Confederate captain of artillery.”

“She was left the same as Victoria?”

“Yes. Wrapped in a bed sheet, unstained with blood or any sign of violence. Trapped in the deepest of comas.”

Straussman carefully rearranged the blanket beneath Alexandra’s chin. With the blanket covering her shallowly breathing form, she looked virtually normal; certainly more so than Victoria. Doodlebug was not as surprised by the absence of fleshy derangement where the women’s limbs were missing as he imagined Besthoff and company had been. His thirteen years with the monks in Tibet had taught him much about the wonders of vampiric physiognomy, the astounding supernatural plasticity that was not at all limited to the traditional European transformational varieties of bat, wolf, and mist.

“Who knows about this?” Doodlebug asked.

“Straussman and two of the other servants,” Besthoff said. “And Katz, Krauss, and myself.”

“The police haven’t become involved?”

“Of course not,” Besthoff snapped. “Who here would have called them?”

“No one, I’m sure,” Doodlebug said; Besthoff’s fierce gaze had him feeling defensive. “But it’s possible that an outsider could’ve seen you removing Alexandra from Metairie Cemetery and alerted the authorities.”

“We were exceptionally discreet.”

“I see,” Doodlebug said. “So what are your plans for investigating . . .” The question died on his tongue. He was their plan. Determining who was behind this violence and, presumably, ensuring that it wasn’t repeated—this was the reason he’d been summoned from California. The High Krewe couldn’t dirty their hands with such matters. More likely, they simply weren’t up to the job—they’d spent so many decades living in splendid isolation behind these high walls, they’d lost the ability to deal effectively with the outside world.

He glanced back at Victoria’s legless figure. Detective work certainly wasn’t his strong suit. But if he could hunt down the culprit, deliver him to justice (Doodlebug did not want to imagine what the High Krewe would consider “justice” under these circumstances), and restore these young women, he might be able to avoid having his Institute overrun by amoral, spoiled refugees. He turned back to Besthoff, who was still waiting for him to finish his earlier question. “I take it that you’d like me to investigate these crimes,” Doodlebug said.

“Actually, no.”

“No?”

Besthoff smiled slightly. “No. You are too valuable to us. Investigating this villain’s crimes is likely to be a hazardous business. There is also the factor of your unfamiliarity with the city. Although you grew up here, you have been mostly absent from New Orleans for the past fifty years. We need someone who knows this filthy, misbegotten city intimately. Someone who has trafficked with the lower classes of both races, who frequents the despicable taverns and brothels, who knows the trash-strewn alleyways because he regularly dines in them. Someone powerful, in his way. But expendable.”

“Who?” Doodlebug asked in a small voice. His spirits sank. He already knew the answer.

“We need Duchon. Jules Duchon.” Besthoff’s iron gaze belied the polite cordiality of his smile. “He has not been h
Author Q&A

Author Q&A

A conversatipn with Andrew Fox author of Bride of the Fat White Vampire


Del Rey:Okay, let’s get the inevitable Anne Rice questions out of the way! Your books are obviously influenced by her; she even appears–under another name and not entirely flatteringly–as a minor character . . . who happens to live in New Orleans and write vampire novels. Why did you decide to write her into your work in this way? Is there any, so to speak, bad blood between you?

Andrew Fox:I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Anne personally, although I once explored her home on First Street in New Orleans with a Christmas tour of Garden District mansions. Plus, I did a mime and improv show in college at St. Elizabeth’s Girls’ Home for the residents there, but that was years before Anne purchased the building (which she’s now sold; the place is being split up into luxury condos). However, even though I’ve never met her face to face, I feel like I KNOW Anne–having lived in New Orleans continuously since 1990, she has been a part of my environment, the buzz and background noise and talk-radio chatter that is all but unavoidable here. In the mid-1990s, when New Orleans had reached a nadir in terms of crime and police corruption and everyone I knew was thinking about moving to Colorado, Anne was involved in a series of real estate controversies that provided lots of much-needed comic relief for the city. The very best one was her pissing match with the founder of Popeye’s Fried Chicken, local hero Al Copeland, who is just as bigger-than-life as Anne herself. Al planned to buy a closed Mercedes Benz dealership on St. Charles Avenue and turn it into a neon-encrusted bistro called Straya’s. Anne had a sentimental attachment to this building, having featured it in one of her vampire books, and, more importantly, the idea of grand St. Charles Avenue being defaced by a nouveau-riche yat’s idea of a pleasure palace made her see red. So she rallied opposition to Al’s building plans in city government, and the two of them took turns blasting each other with full-page ads in the Sunday Times-Picayune during Carnival season. Their feud didn’t end until Al served Anne with a defamation lawsuit, which got thrown out of court, and he then noticed that all the controversy had significantly improved attendance at Straya’s (now called Cheesecake Bistro). I remember sitting in a breakfast joint during Carnival season with some friendly strangers and marveling at these gigantic, expensive broadsides in the newspaper, Al and Anne just pummeling each other, and commenting to my neighbors, “Ahh, a gift from the gods to us little people.” We really needed the distraction from all the terrible local news in the papers that season. Much of the plot of Bride of the Fat White Vampire revolves around real estate redevelopment shenanigans, and I tried to capture much of the flavor of the “Anne versus Al” war in the book.

Our paths crossed in other, more intimate ways. I’ve lived in several homes very close to one or more of Anne’s properties, and I was around when she made her infamous trip down Prytania Street inside a pine coffin in a mule-drawn hearse to a book signing at Garden District Bookshop (what a great publicity stunt . . . gotta remember that one!). One of my good friends, a musician and songwriter, got blackballed in the local charity scene after he penned a satirical song about Anne and her husband Stan that got played on WWOZ public radio. Plus, back in 1997 I dated a gal whose landlady went to the same beauty parlor as Anne did, so I received regular gossipy updates whenever the landlady shared a hair-styling day with Anne. In fact, it was gossip about Anne’s late-1990s problems with her weight (since addressed by a stomach-reduction surgery) that provided the creative spark which led to Fat White Vampire Blues.

On a purely literary level, I think it would be both dishonest and nearly impossible to write a satire focusing on vampires and the vampire craze in New Orleans without featuring, or at least alluding to, a local horror novelist much like Anne Rice. She’s too big a part of New Orleans culture, particularly New Orleans horror and literary culture, to avoid including in a portrait of the city. It would be like writing about the French Quarter and forgetting Jackson Square . . . or writing about the Mississippi and never mentioning mud.

Come back to New Orleans, Anne Rice! We miss you! All is forgiven!!!

DR:Your first novel, Fat White Vampire Blues, was also compared to John Kennedy Toole’s classic black comedy, A Confederacy of Dunces–especially its overweight and overwrought hero, Ignatius O’Reilly. Was Ignatius the inspiration for your hefty vampire hero, Jules Duchon?

AF:Just as one can’t write a satire on vampirism in New Orleans without referencing Anne Rice and her influence, one really can’t set out to write a sprawling, slapstick, comic picturesque set in New Orleans without confronting the gargantuan shadow of Ignatius O’Reilly. Ignatius has become part of New Orleans’s DNA, almost as much as Louis Armstrong has. Confederacy has been one of my favorite books for years–I don’t think any American novel has ever deployed better comic dialogue–so when the notion occurred to me to write a book about the trials and tribulations of an obese vampire in New Orleans, naturally my thoughts turned to the original Oliver Hardy of New Orleans literature. I didn’t want to make Jules a “vampire Ignatius”–not only wasn’t that my vision of Jules’s personality, but to try to do so and do John Kennedy Toole’s creation justice was, I felt, beyond my reach. What I did want to evoke was the spirit of Toole’s novel and Toole’s New Orleans . . . that peculiar combination of self-centeredness, inflated self-regard, and a nagging sense of inferiority and failure that Toole portrayed as being emblematic of New Orleans (a portrayal which I think hits close to the bull’s-eye). The typical New Orleans native (if there is such as thing) will spend hours listing the horrendous failings of his hometown, but he wouldn’t live anywhere else. And if anyone from the outside dares to deride New Orleans in comparison with, say, Houston, that same New Orleanian who was previously so down on his home will spring fiercely to the Big Easy’s defense with the passion of Arthur protecting Camelot.

Admittedly, Jules and Ignatius share numerous personality traits: slothfulness; a reverence for home and all things connected with home; devotion to traditional religion; living in their mothers’ homes and shadows; and, above all, a bullheaded assurance that their way is the right way. But Ignatius has a vocabulary, education, and, most likely, an I.Q. far beyond Jules’s, and if they ever met, he’d probably consider Jules the sort of uncouth, ignorant lout Ignatius’s mother would enjoy having a beer with. Jules, on the other hand, would deride Ignatius as a pointy-headed intellectual, almost as stuck up as the aristocratic vampires of the High Krewe of Vlad Tepes . . . but he would certainly consider Ignatius a tempting meal.

DR:What else has influenced your portrayal of vampires?

AF:My earliest exposure to vampires was all movie vampires–on TV, late-night showings of the old Universal horror flicks, particularly the ones starring John Carradine as Dracula, and at the drive-in, a double-feature of Scream, Blacula, Scream! and The Return of Count Yorga made a huge early impression. Also highly influential in my early vampire education was a subscription to Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan’s fantastic Tomb of Dracula Marvel Comics series (now, happily, available again as Marvel Essential reprints).

Jules has very little in common, character-wise, with the majority of literary vampires or with Bela Lugosi’s or Christopher Lee’s Draculas; they’re all much too well put together and self-assured. Jules’s primary predecessor in films would be Lon Chaney, Jr.’s Count Alucard–pudgy in the face, not too smooth or suave, embarrassed by his corny dialogue, looking like he wants to be anywhere but in this god-awful movie. That little nebbishy Jewish vampire in The Fearless Vampire Killers, him Jules could probably claim as a relative. Maybe if Leslie Neilson’s vampire had had a tragic, melancholy side to him, he could be considered a precursor, too.

DR:What makes New Orleans the vampire capital of the world?

AF:Two words–ANNE RICE!!!

Seriously, though, how many cities in North America can claim the same combination of long history, exotic culture, historic architecture, and connections to the supernatural as New Orleans? The only strong rival candidate would be San Francisco, with New York, Boston, Quebec City, Mexico City, and maybe Santa Fe as runner-up possibilities. New Orleans claims in its favor its powerful connections to Spain, France, Haiti and the Caribbean (and thus its voodoo roots), its unique cuisine, its status as the home city of jazz, its many distinct neighborhoods, all with their own personalities, and its unsavory reputation as a den of iniquity and crime. Decadence, in a word. What does all this have to do with vampires, in particular? Nothing much, but taken together these factors make New Orleans a compelling setting for any kind of fiction that requires a colorful, exotic locale and off-beat characters. Who would want to read about vampires in Houston or Jacksonville, shopping at Wal-Mart and Target, hanging out behind the Olive Garden and International House of Pancakes for unsuspecting victims? (Well, now that I read that back to myself, the satirical possibilities are at least a little interesting . . .)

Why vampires? They certainly worked for Anne Rice, and a number of very capable writers followed her trail to even more interesting work in the horror realm–Nancy Collins and Poppy Z. Brite pop to mind. What has taken matters to a whole different level are the vampire groupies/cultists who have made New Orleans their home, or at least their favorite vacation destination (although now that Anne Rice has relocated to the burbs, who knows if that will continue to be the case?). The hordes of “wannabes” drive Jules nuts in both books; this is an aspect of New Orleans culture that I’ve had a lot of fun portraying (and poking fun at).

DR:The vampires you write about are different in many interesting ways from the traditional sort. Can you talk a bit about some of those differences, and how they came about?

AF:The vampire is a very plastic concept. Almost every region of the world has its own legends of vampire-like creatures, and all those international vampires have their own characteristic habits, needs, powers, and weaknesses. The reason we, the American audience, are accustomed to our vampires having certain characteristics–vulnerability to sunlight, crosses, and other Christian religious symbols; a need to rest in a coffin or enclosure atop a layer of native earth; abilities to transform into certain lower animals and control the minds of such lower animals–is that early writers of popular vampire fiction, most significantly Bram Stoker, selected those characteristics from a full basket of various Middle European and Eastern European vampire legends. Then decades of filmmakers added another layer of legend and invention atop the folkloric materials writers like Stoker picked for us . . . how about that notion that a vampire killed by having a wooden stake driven through his heart can be resurrected by the removal of that stake from his skeleton? That’s no ancient legend–it first appeared in House of Frankenstein in the 1940s; the scriptwriter needed a nice, visual way to get Count Dracula up and walking again. Our notion of the werewolf is even more a result of a screenwriter’s whims. Nearly everything we consider central to the myth of the werewolf–his transformations during the nights of the full moon; his weakness to silver bullets or other weapons made of silver–was invented from whole cloth by Kurt Siodmak, the man who wrote the script for Lon Chaney, Jr.’s The Wolf Man.

That’s why I get such a laugh from negative critiques of Fat White Vampire on Amazon that complain that I haven’t been faithful to historically accurate vampire legends. Which “historically accurate” vampire legends? The “legends” concocted by the guys who wrote the scripts for Dracula’s Daughter or The Vampire Lovers or Blacula? Every vampire author of the last hundred and fifty years has added or subtracted bits and pieces to the vampire mosaic. The vampire is a cultural artifact shared around the world, an artifact continually “under construction.” It’s a smorgasbord–you get to pick whichever salad and entry and side dishes you want.

As the roux of my vampire gumbo (since I live in New Orleans I get to use those trite culinary metaphors, one of the advantages of living here), I picked the vampire characteristics I was most familiar with and fond of–those of the Universal Studios vampires of the 1930s and 1940s. But to spice things up a bit, I decided to apply a little science-fictional reasoning to some of the more outré fantasy elements. Vampires can transform into bats? Fine. But if my 450-pound vampire transforms into an obese 20-pound bat, where does all that extra mass go? It doesn’t just disappear; he gets it all back when he transforms back into his human form. So where does it go in the meantime? It made sense to me that the unutilized mass would return to the last place the vampire had rested, which would explain the need for that layer of earth in the bottom of the coffin–nutrients in the soil would keep the undifferentiated blob of mass from drying out. The next thing I wondered was, if Jules transforms into a 20-pound bat and frees up 430 pounds of mass, why couldn’t he learn to use that “spare” mass to form other bodies? Another bat? Why not twenty other bats? But surely controlling multiple bodies at the same time would present problems, particularly to an intellect as limited and concrete as Jules’s . . . and the story ideas just flowed from there.

One aspect of commonly accepted vampire legend that I’ve always had a problem with is that, when vampires transform into something else, their clothes disappear, only to conveniently reappear, nicely pressed, once they return to human form. To me, this was a much more impressive supernatural power than shifting their own form to that of a bat or a wolf. Whoa! Neat trick with the clothes! But applying Occam’s Razor to this aspect of the myth made the bit with the clothes seem too far out. I mean, I could accept a vampire having control of his own physical form, but why should he have the additional power of being able to make matter separate from himself disappear and reappear at will? If a vampire could do something like that, make anything he touches disappear, why couldn’t Dracula dispose of Van Helsing simply by touching him? If I granted that ability to my vampires, wouldn’t they be entirely too powerful? So, when my vampires transform, the clothes stay right where they were, and the vampires have to deal with that. Since I was writing a comedy, this turned out to be a plus. Especially since it’s not easy for someone of Jules’s size to find a pair of pants that fit him just anywhere.

DR:Were you surprised by the success of Fat White Vampire? Are you a full-time writer now?

AF:Let’s just say I haven’t yet traded in my Ford Focus hatchback for a Bimmer convertible. However, I’ve certainly been pleased by the majority of reviews and by the enthusiastic responses of readers I’ve met at various science fiction conventions. Having the book selected by the Lord Ruthven Assembly as Best Vampire Fiction of 2003 was a wonderful surprise. Even more gratifying has been feedback I’ve gotten on the book from writers whose stories and novels I’ve admired since I was a teen. Of course, I’m very, very happy that the powers at Ballantine liked Fat White Vampire enough to request a sequel. I’ve always had faith in Jules’s versatility as a comic protagonist.

I’m not a full-time writer at this point. I’ve retained my day job as manager for the Louisiana Commodity Supplemental Food Program, a nutrition program for low-income senior citizens, the job I’ve been working since 1992. However, I’m currently finagling things so that, as of this October, I should be able to devote half of each workday to my writing. Writing four to five hours a day is as close to being a full-time writer as I want to be. With a growing family, I can’t afford the risk of completely stepping away from a regular paycheck. Nor dare I step away from access to “affordable” health insurance coverage . . . I’ve witnessed or heard of too many cases of writers’ lives getting mangled because they were without health coverage. Giving up even half my day job is a risk, of course. But Barry Malzberg has told me that if I don’t give my writing career my best shot at this point, no matter what the ultimate outcome, I’ll come to regret it down the road. And I believe him.

DR:Tell us about the new novel, Bride of the Fat White Vampire. The way the first book ended made a sequel seem somewhat problematic, to say the least.

AF:When I wrote Fat White Vampire Blues, I already had the story for Bride of the Fat White Vampire worked out, and I plotted the first book with the needs of the second book in mind. However, I realized that there might never be a demand for a second book, so I tried to ensure that the first book could be read and enjoyed as a complete story on its own. Thus, the ending of the first book leaves Jules in a place and situation which, I hope, satisfy readers and feel “right” for the character. Luckily for me (and for readers, too, if I’m not being too immodest), Ballantine wanted a second book. So Jules doesn’t get to stay in that relatively happy place he ends up in at the end of Fat White Vampire Blues. No rest for the wicked.

Here’s a little teaser for Bride of the Fat White Vampire:

Who is kidnapping and dismembering the fetching young vampiresses of the High Krewe of Vlad Tepes? Who is draining the blood of black preachers and dumping their bodies in the French Quarter and City Park lagoons? And why is any of this Jules Duchon’s problem?
Because the High Krewe and the black vampires who live beneath the Canal Street casino say it is!
Thanks to the forced intercession of his friend and protege, Doodlebug Richelieu, Jules is back, whole but less-than-hardy, on the streets of New Orleans. But he sure isn’t happy about it. Having discovered a way to enjoy the delights of New Orleans and avoid a stake through the heart, even though it meant the loss of much of his personality and humanity, Jules was enjoying his unique nirvana. But the complicated politics and intrigues of New Orleans’s vampire world won’t let him rest. Now, forced into the unfamiliar role of private detective, stripped of his vampiric powers by a most unfortunate accident (but still possessing all his vampiric vulnerabilities), pining for Maureen, his lost love, Jules faces his most harrowing test yet. Compelled to work for the hated aristocratic vampires of the High Krewe, shanghaied into an uneasy partnership with black vampire Preston, who killed Jules’s ex-boss, the nearly 500-pound vampire is forced to rely upon his wits to survive.
But will a century’s worth of Big Easy street smarts be enough? In quick succession, Jules finds himself contending with the High Krewe’s scheming youngsters, a reclusive and nefarious Cajun-Goth shock-rock musician, the dirty politics of neighborhood redevelopment, a vandalized Cadillac convertible, the possible return of one of his worst enemies, several bad whacks to the head, and the desecration of his mother’s grave. And if he somehow manages to survive all this . . . he just may find himself walking down the aisle!

DR:Jules is missing a portion of his anatomy through much of the novel. In fact, you could almost say that he’s like Melville’s crippled Captain Ahab, on a quest for the great white whale, except in his case it’s a great white rat . . . sort of.

AF:This is probably my favorite aspect of the book. I got to write about two Juleses–“Big Jules” and “Little Jules,” each with his own agenda, each working in his own way on solving the mysteries at the center of the book. It’s always a fun challenge to write scenes from the viewpoint of an animal, more so that of a peculiarly intelligent animal such as “Little Jules.” I got to portray characters and situations from two very distinct but connected viewpoints, dropping additional hints to the reader about my mysteries, but in a none-too-straightforward way. Plus, by the end of Fat White Vampire Blues, Jules had achieved mastery, or at least partial mastery, of some pretty impressive new abilities. In the second book, I didn’t want things to be too easy for him–I wanted him to stay the underdog. So dividing him up into two very unequal bodies was a way to strip him of all those handy-dandy vampire powers . . . but without giving him respite from the usual vampiric weaknesses.

DR:I was intrigued by the character of Doodlebug, a vampire who has studied with a group of monks in the Far East–vampires who have learned to do without blood altogether. What is the religious backdrop for your conception of vampires? It obviously embraces traditions other than Christianity.

AF:Doodlebug came of age, so to speak (physically, he’s stuck with the body of a twelve-year-old boy forever, although he’s learned how to make adjustments), during the late 1940s and 1950s, the same years during which poets and Bohemians like Allen Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac, and Gregory Corso were discovering the attractions of Eastern religious traditions. Doodlebug, who became increasingly ill-at-ease with Jules’s patronage and oversight as he discovered his own tendencies towards transsexualism and bisexuality, experienced the same wanderlust and religious yearnings as his contemporaries, the Beat poets. Traditional Catholicism didn’t seem to offer him much of a welcome anymore, especially now that he was a male vampire who’d begun experimenting with transforming his body into that of a young woman. So he made his way, first to Eastern Europe, one of the world’s great centers of vampirism, and then to Tibet, where his European contacts had told him lived a group of vampire monks who had attained complete control over their physical forms and, even more impressively, had managed to survive for millennia without imbibing blood. Doodlebug became a junior student of the monks for a dozen years, limited in rank and status by the fact that he’d already irrevocably headed down the blood path–only those vampires who’d avoided from the first night of their vampirism ever drinking blood could survive without it. Even though he never was allowed to enter their inner circle, he learned many of their skills of body manipulation and creating multiple forms, skills that, decades later, he is able to pass on to his blood-father, Jules. Also, Doodlebug has put his spiritual vocation to a very practical end. After he relocated to California, he opened his Center for Higher Alpha-Consciousness, a New Age spiritual retreat center whose students pay for their lessons with regular blood donations.

DR:What happens to vampires who, as it were, go “cold-turkey”?

AF:For a new vampire who manages to avoid his first blood feast through a supreme act of will and self-control, the experience of blood deprivation is mind-bendingly agonizing, but survivable. Those vampires who are able to reach the far end of that tunnel never completely rid themselves of their blood-thirst–it is always present, always at play in the back of their minds, waiting for that moment when willpower fails–but they are able to physically survive by consuming the same foods that normal humans nourish themselves with. However, once a vampire indulges in that first draught of blood, his system quickly comes to depend upon regular blood nourishment. Over time, if a vampire frequently overindulges in particularly rich, fatty blood (such as Jules and Maureen have), his body loses the ability to easily process the complicated nutrients of standard foodstuffs and beverages. Horrible gastric upset results. At that point, the only way the vampire can consume normal foods without immediately shooting them out one end or the other is to transform to an animal form whose gastro-intestinal system hasn’t been corrupted by decades of processing gallon upon gallon of lipid-rich blood. However, “cheating” in this way is considered way beneath a vampire’s dignity, a major social faux pas that could result in the offender being blackballed from polite vampire company.

Vampires deprived of all nourishment eventually waste away, just as normal humans would. The wasting may not completely snuff out their continued existence, but if it is severe enough, it can reduce them to a state of vegetative immobility and mindlessness. Not pleasant.

DR:Racial conflicts between black and white vampires played a major role in Fat White Vampire and continue to do so in the sequel. I found it interesting and unusual that racial distinctions continued to be of importance to vampires.

AF:My take on the matter is that vampires remain, for the most part, the same people they were before they were transformed. They retain the same likes and dislikes, the same prejudices and general worldview they had as mortal human beings–with the important difference, of course, that they are now immortal and require blood to thrive.

New Orleans is a city that has always been defined by the interplay, conflict, cross-cultural influences, and familial intermingling of its white and black citizenries. In the space of hardly more than a generation, it has gone from a white majority of sixty percent to a black majority of seventy percent. Its surrounding suburbs, mainly white, have grown both richer and more populous, while the central city has grown blacker and poorer. This is the situation in many American metropolitan areas, but in New Orleans the situation is a bit more complicated. Much of the city’s and region’s economy rests on cultural tourism, and the area’s culture is a gumbo of French, Spanish, and Italian customs, cuisine, and architecture and African-Caribbean cuisine, architecture, and music. So black and white influences are interdependent and oftentimes inseparable. Also, unlike other cities or suburbs I’ve lived in, blacks and whites, dirt-poor and millionaires alike, live in very close physical proximity to one another. Mansions on St. Charles Avenue worth multiple millions sit within a block or two of dilapidated crack houses in Central City. There are virtually no “good” or “bad” neighborhoods in the city; most neighborhoods, unless they are completely impoverished, are checkerboards of “good” and “bad” blocks, streets of lovingly restored historic homes cheek-by-jowl with streets of abandoned shotgun shacks and falling-down camelbacks.

Political power rests primarily with the black majority. Economic power continues to rest primarily with the white minority. Cultural kudos are split or shared. Alliances between the communities are necessary for things to work even half-well, but resentments and fears on both sides often prevent alliances from being formed. Just about every controversy and social issue in the city has a racial aspect. But even so, on the whole, black and white New Orleanians are far more neighborly with each other, at least on a person-to-person basis, than are black and white residents of South Florida or Long Island, other places I’ve lived. Jules’s experiences in the new book reflect this–particularly his fast-developing friendship and partnership, initially forced by outside pressure, with Preston. No matter their color, accent, or skin tone, all residents of this city face the same long, humid summers, the same swarms of termites, the same crummy roads and hurricanes, and the same disappointing football seasons from our Saints. These shared trials tend to meld us all into a community of New Orleanians.

DR:Have the movie rights to Fat White Vampire been sold? I can’t help thinking of the Coen brothers as directors, with John Goodman in title role . . .

AF:All you directors and producers out there–movie rights to Fat White Vampire Blues are STILL AVAILABLE!!! Amazing, but true! A couple of low-budget filmmakers have inquired about rights, but no deals have been inked as of this date. I definitely like your thinking, though. The Coen Brothers and John Goodman would be perfect.

DR:What’s next for Jules Duchon and Andrew Fox?

AF:I have a third Jules book, Ghost of the Fat White Vampire, completely planned out. In a nutshell, it’s “Jules’s Big, Crazy Time-Travel Adventure.” Vampires have a major problem with long-term memory; as one might imagine, any being that exists for more than several hundred years begins to forget what its early years felt like. Doodlebug’s Tibetan vampire monks have discovered a remedy, however. With the proper training, a vampire can send his present-day consciousness back through the time stream to co-inhabit his more youthful body, mortal or vampire, along with that body’s consciousness. The present day consciousness remains a “tourist spirit,” unable to affect decisions or events in the past, but this special skill allows vampires to refresh their memories of significant moments of their earlier lives. Doodlebug decides to teach Jules and his new bride (no names allowed just yet–I don’t want to spoil the climax of my second book!) this time-travel skill as a wedding present, allowing them a special vampiric honeymoon. Unfortunately, Doodlebug’s sweet intentions are being guided by a malevolent outside influence . . . and, of course, the honeymoon goes horribly awry. Jules is robbed of his opportunity to ever become a vampire, and the subsequent history of New Orleans and the entire world is changed in surprising (and not at all positive) ways. Think of the book’s second half as a vampire’s It’s a Wonderful Life, with Jules playing the heroic-but-downtrodden Jimmy Stewart role and Malice X taking the boards as Lionel Barrymore’s evil Mr. Potter.

Beyond Ghost, if readers cry “More! More!”, I have a couple of additional books planned for our friend Jules Duchon. After all, vampires are immortal, frequently return from oblivion, and make excellent long-term companions. Especially big, cuddly ones like Jules.

DR:Will we be seeing any non-vampire books from you any time soon?

AF:I’ve completed a manuscript that I’ve been working on, in one form or another, since 1996, a science fiction black comedy called Calorie 3501. As the title implies, the book begins as an homage to and variant of Ray Bradbury’s classic Fahrenheit 451 (and yes, I came up with my title years before Michael Moore ever dreamed up Fahrenheit 9/11, but with his superior resources–no need to hold down a day job–he was able to get his product to market faster). The book falls into the category of an “if this goes on…” SF novel, the premise being, “What if America’s obsession with dieting and loathing of obesity are taken to their ultimate conclusion?” (3500, by the way, is the number of calories that, if consumed and not utilized as energy, suffice to add one pound of fat to the human body.) Rather than firemen setting banned books aflame, in my novel, Good Humor Men roam the nation in faux—ice cream trucks, searching for banned high-calorie foods to confiscate and destroy. Incidentally, the book also answers the burning question, “Can Elvis save America after he’s already been dead sixty-four years?”

Not all my projects center around dieting and obesity, by the way. I’ve outlined a science fiction religious comic novel, somewhat in the wonderful tradition of James Morrow’s and Robert Sheckley’s books. And I’ve begun working on a proposed series of Young Adult science-fantasy novels based on my school experiences heading up traveling mime, improvisation, and theater gaming troupes.

DR:Any advice for aspiring novelists–or vampires–in the audience?

AF:For the aspiring writers, the advice is simple–read a lot of good writers, writers you enjoy so much you can’t wait until their next book comes out, and figure out what it is about what they do that allows their work to have such a powerful connection to you. Also, write as much and as often and as regularly as you can. The most common estimate I’ve heard from experienced professionals is that the average beginner has a quarter-million words of crap to get out of his or her system–so the quicker you write those first few awful novels, the faster you get past those first 250,000 words of reeking prose.

For the aspiring vampires? Go for the prosthetic, removable fangs, not the natural ones. Most people’s lifestyle and fashion choices change with time. A shaved head can easily re-grow hair. Piercings will heal once studs or bolts are removed. Tattoos can be effaced with laser treatments. But shaved canine teeth, filed to sharp points? You’re stuck with those, buddy. Unless you like wearing dentures.


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