These remarks about Whitley Strieber's novel The Last Vampire are excerpted from a lengthy interview with Katherine Ramsland, author of Piercing the Darkness: Undercover with Vampires In America Today. The interview was conducted by Whitley Strieber on Dreamland; Katherine Ramsland was the guest on the program. Much to Ms. Ramsland's terror, the excerpts I selected essentially reverse the interview (presenting only the parts of the discussion that focused on The Last Vampire, creating the erroneous impression that Whitley only talked about his own book). My apologies to Ms. Ramsland, whose book Whitley recommends, and actually spent most of the time talking about. Two excerpts from The Last Vampire that Whitley read during the program are presented within this discussion. Dreamland aired the night of 30 October 2000.
WHITLEY STRIEBER: When I picked
up Piercing the Darkness, because it was about vampires
and it was nonfiction, I picked it up immediately. I thought,
God, could any of this be real? As you know from reading
some of my books, I had some imagery from my own background in
horror fiction sort of come to life around me one night, and I
have never been the same since.
There aren't any real vampires, are there? ... I have wondered often. Miriam Blaylock has been so much a part of my soul for so long. She is (for those who don't know) the vampire that was in The Hunger and is the main character of The Last Vampire, my new vampire novel. I have always been curious because one of the oddest things in my close encounter experiences is that in my first two novels, The Wolfen and The Hunger, there is in the imagery some kind of connection to the kind of visitors I had and described in Communion and Transformation, in that the wolfen were grey and brilliant creatures of the night with huge dark eyes, and then Miriam Blaylock was this cool, blond being who looked human but was actually completely different inside ...
Some theorized that she must have human blood in her family. The idea that there could be interbreeding was absurd, of course nothing but an old husband's tale. She despised the narrowness of her kind, hated what in recent centuries their lives had become. They had once been princes, but now they lived behind walls, kept to the shadows, appeared in the human world only to hunt. They had opted out of man's technological society. They knew human breeding, but human technology was simply too intimidating for them.
Miriam owned a thriving nightclub in New York and she had book keepers and assistants and bartenders, all humans. She had computers to run her accounts. She could access her stock portfolio using her Palm Pilot, and she made money on the markets, plenty of it. She had a cell phone and GPS in her car. They didn't even have cars. Once the buggy no longer bounced along behind the horse, they had simply stopped riding. The same with sails. When ships lost their sails, her kind stopped traveling the world. And airplanes well, some of them probably weren't even aware that they existed.
The other rulers of the world were now just shadows hiding in their dens, their numbers slowly declining due to accidents. They called themselves the Keepers, but what did that mean nowadays? Gone was the time when they were the secret masters of human kind, keeping man as man keeps cattle.
That's from the first chapter of The Last Vampire. This is Whitley Strieber, and when we get back we will be talking with Katherine Ramsland about vampires in America today... Catherine is reporting to us from the day of the dead in Awaka, Mexico
Mr. STRIEBER: Do you remember
a club down in you mentioned the meat packing district
in Manhattan a little while ago called the Hellfire Club?
KATHERINE RAMSLAND: Yeah, it's still there. They've reopened.
Mr. STRIEBER: They've reopened?
Ms. RAMSLAND: In fact that's where the vampires often meet now.
Mr. STRIEBER: So is there an S&M kind of connection in the vampire community then?
Ms. RAMSLAND: Well the vampire subculture actually overlaps of a number of subcultures, like the pagan subculture, the Wiccans, the goths and the S&M world. I went to one vampire gathering that was at an S&M dungeon/penthouse suite called the, it was called the Nutcracker Suite [laughter]. It was wild. Seven rooms full of torture instruments that were quite authentic. Not all of the vampires wanted to do that, but there was certainly a number of them who saw in the vampire image the total sexual license and experimentation that often will go on in the S&M world. So there was some overlap.
Mr. STRIEBER: Yeah, there's incredible intensity. When I was doing research for that club that appears in The Last Vampire, Miriam's club The Veils, I did not go myself to the Hellfire club because I had thought it was closed.
Ms. RAMSLAND: It was, and then it reopened.
Mr. STRIEBER: But I talked to someone who had been there quite a bit, and I sort of modeled the dungeon in my book on that club.
Ms. RAMSLAND: Yeah, it reminded me sort of the Hellfire Club, but it also reminded me of The Tunnel, which is another club the vampires hang out in.
Mr. STRIEBER: Tell us about the tunnel.
Ms. RAMSLAND: It was an old train tunnel, that's why it's called the tunnel. and there was this kind of feeling of great secrecy, that while there was a club going on with bands and stuff, there was really much more in the depths of it. And I felt that about the club that you had was very much like the Tunnel.
Mr. STRIEBER: What did you think of The Last Vampire? I'm just curious, I've never really asked you that question.
Ms. RAMSLAND: What I really liked about it the most, I think I've obviously read lots of vampire fiction, and so much of it is sounding all the same. Lots of rip-offs of Anne Rice or Poppy Brite, just so much the same stuff. I was getting tired of it. So when I read yours, it was like, oh my God, finally something interesting coming along, that really was, even though we were looking back at a lot of stuff from The Hunger, that in itself was quite an innovative book in its time, and I think this one brings back that whole feeling that the vampire really is an Other. Not us.
Mr. STRIEBER: Yes.
Ms. RAMSLAND: We've gotten too close to the idea that the vampire is just another version of us, only a little darker. And it was really great to have the vampire really be an Other with real powers, and a real set-apart-ness, and with all the sort of mystical kind of I don't want to call it a community, but you know, the Keepers, the sort of society with the rules and the codes. I just thought it was great to be able to step back into an exotic world of vampires again.
Mr. STRIEBER: Well thanks. I sure had fun. I was trying to be as innovative with this one as I had been with The Hunger, because I read a lot of vampire literature and frankly there's not too much of it. I mean, you mentioned all of the great vampire writers alive in just one breath. Poppy Brite, Steven King, Anne Rice, you know there's not that much. And they are quite wonderful; I remember Interview with A Vampire was one of those books that just inspired me to death. I thought it was fabulous. As her subsequent works have been. It is a wonderful way with the vampire mythology.
Ms. RAMSLAND: Well back in the seventies and eighties we were getting a number of people who were original, all at once. And then it seemed like everybody was just copying that.
Mr. STRIEBER: Yeah, now it is sort of repeating itself and it is not nearly as much fun as it used to be. But it is going to be fun again come August, I think.
Ms. RAMSLAND: Good.
Miriam at this point is deep beneath the city of Chang-Mi in Thailand. She is going to a meeting, a conclave of vampires from all over Asia and this is what happens:
Then she saw, lying in a corner beneath the ruins of a shattered bookcase, a familiar red shape. She caught her breath, because what she was seeing was impossible. Her skin grew taut, her muscles stirred the predator sensed danger.
She picked up the red leather book cover and held it in reverent, shaking hands. From the time their eyes came open, Keepers were taught that the Books of Names were sacred. By these books, a whole species knew itself, all who lived and had died, and all its works and days.
That red leather was unmistakable, as was the inscription in the blooded glyphs of their own tongue, glyphs that no human knew. The Names of the Keepers and the Keepings. ...
She ran her fingers over the heavy leather. It had been cured from the skin of a human when they were still coarse, primitive creatures. These books were begun 30,000 years ago a long time even in the world of the Keepers. But not all that long. Her great-great grandfather, for example, had been able to imitate the cries of the Neanderthals. Buried in the Prime Keep in Egypt were careful wax paintings of the human figure going back to the beginning.
She crouched to the crumpled mass of parchment, tried to smooth it, to somehow make it right. But roaches had eaten the ink, what hadn't been smeared by the vile uses to which the paper had apparently been put. She laid the page down on the dirty floor, laid it down as she might lay to rest the body of a beloved friend.
She made another circuit of the chamber, looking into its recesses and crannies, but not a page remained. ...
She slumped against a wall. Had man somehow done this, simple, weak little man?
Keepers could be hurt by man witness her mother and father but they couldn't be destroyed by man, not this way. They owned man!
She looked from empty wall to empty wall and fully grasped the fact that the Asian Keepers must have been destroyed. If even one was left alive, this book would be safe.
When she grasped the enormous reality, something so rare happened to Miriam that she lifted her long, tapering fingers to her cheeks in amazement.
Far below the crazy streets in the fetid ruin of this holy place, a vampire wept. [Click here for MP3 audio of this excerpt]
Mr. STRIEBER: I wonder if we
are endangering ourselves spiritually by being so interested in
Ms. RAMSLAND: I don't think we are.
Mr. STRIEBER: I suspect you're right.
Ms. RAMSLAND: The reason I don't think so is because the danger really lies in obsession and isolation. I don't think it lies in exploration. and I think if you can be very grounded and centered, looking into the darkness can actually bring a lot of spiritual growth. I have certainly found that as a psychologist working with people.
Mr. STRIEBER: Oh, absolutely. I think you are dead-on right. I think it can too.
Mr. STRIEBER: It is so interesting.
We're right at the edge of this other world, and many people from
our world also populate - like you were talking about people who
work at taco bell by day and by night were in the vampire subculture
and it is true also of the S&M subculture, you just
never know who is going to end up in whips and chains or wearing
fangs at night.
Ms. RAMSLAND: You don't, but I think it is people who are looking for more. They don't like the numbness of the mundane normal experience. They are trying to find an edge. They are trying to push past boundaries and really experience things to the utmost.
Mr. STRIEBER: Trying to find the edge.
Ms. RAMSLAND: And being very creative about it. Our culture doesn't allow a lot of outlets for creativity, especially not dark creativity.
Mr. STRIEBER: No, it doesn't. Anne Rice has certainly been in that area, under the name of, which one of her names did she use?
Ms. RAMSLAND: A. N. Roquelaure, but I think she's been a lot darker than she is anymore.
Mr. STRIEBER: Than she's been in the past, you mean.
Ms. RAMSLAND: Yeah, in the past I think she's been a lot darker. And that was because she herself was in darkness.
Mr. STRIEBER: What name did she write Exit to Eden under?
Ms. RAMSLAND: She wrote as Anne Rampling and A. N. Roquelaure.
Mr. STRIEBER: Yeah, Anne Rampling, that was Exit to Eden. Well that was about some real people; I knew both of them. At least I think it was. Certainly they were both friends of Anne Rice's, or at least one of them was friends with Anne Rice, and she was certainly profoundly involved in that S&M subculture and the other one was too. And I just had the thought that Anne was searching in that dark milieu.
Ms. RAMSLAND: She was only searching in it mentally. She herself would never have ventured into it. She would not have done that.
Mr. STRIEBER: And in the position she's in, it is something she could not afford to do.
Ms. RAMSLAND: No, because she wasn't famous when she wrote those books.
Mr. STRIEBER: Oh, I see. I thought she was.
Ms. RAMSLAND: No. She wrote Interview with a Vampire, and then she wrote two historical novels which really didn't sell well at all. And then she decided to go underground and write these other books [under a pen name] because she wanted the freedom to just explore things without anyone thinking anything about it. But she didn't really get famous until The Vampire Lestat, which wasn't written until after those books.
Mr. STRIEBER: Which was an astonishing achievement. Interview was a wonderful book.
Ms. RAMSLAND: And she found the voice for that book through writing the pornography.
Mr. STRIEBER: I see.
Ms. RAMSLAND: I knew several friends of hers who would try to get her to venture out, and she just wouldn't do it.
Mr. STRIEBER: Oh, well, too bad. I think it would be fascinating to hear that she had done it.
Ms. RAMSLAND: She wanted to explore it mentally, that was more exciting to her.
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