Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Guest Blogger: Susan Hubbard

The winner of one of Susan's books (you can choose) is Jessica! Congratulations, Jessica. Send me your snail mail infor and your book choice and I'll pass it along. Thanks to everyone who participated.


In June 2005 I had a dream set in Savannah, a city I'd visited briefly, twice. Like many writers, I've learned to listen to my dreams, and I wrote this one down: the story of a man and woman meeting in a Savannah café, told from the point of view of their daughter. The daughter's voice was what I remembered best when I awoke; it was fresh yet bittersweet, with a measured cadence that lingered with me.

I read the narrative to my family, and a day later to my agent, over the phone. They were as haunted by the narrator's voice as I was, and they wanted to hear more.

That dream became the preface of The Society of S. After the preface came a chapter. And then, to my surprise, came vampires.

No, I didn't plan to write a vampire novel. But there I was, writing a novel in which some characters were vampires. Maybe I should backtrack here to explain that my day job is teaching creative writing in a university that traditionally doesn't respect genre fiction. Faculty members actively discourage students from writing it. But they do sanction "magical realism" and acknowledge that many writers incorporate elements of the fantastic into "literary novels." Academia simply isn't comfortable with terms such as "paranormal" and "sci fi."

Forgive the quotation marks. For me, all of these terms have blurred and become nearly meaningless. If I'd obsessed about them then as I'm doing now, the book would never have been written.

Anyway, once the vampires came along, I found my book wanted to write itself. It was surprisingly easy to assemble an outline of the plot -- something I'd never written when working on previous books. Two more chapters followed. I sent the nine-page outline and three chapters to my agent, and on January 24, 2006, she sold the uncompleted book to Simon & Schuster. (Selling a partial book hadn't happened before, either.) A sequel, The Year of Disappearances, was published last spring.

My protagonist is Ariella Montero, a 13 (going on 30)-year-old home-schooled resident of Saratoga Springs, taught by her father, Raphael (who, in the author's mind, bears an uncanny resemblance to Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor). What is Raphael doing in the basement? Biomedical research! Or is it? Why does the local mortician make regular house calls?

The Society of S traces Ari's journey to find the mother she has never known, from upstate New York to Asheville and Savannah and on to Florida. In assembling the narratives of her father and mother, Ariella constructs her own story, inspired in part by the works of Edgar Allan Poe, Bertrand Russell, T.S. Eliot, and Jack Kerouac.

My vampires have turned out to be complicated characters. For starters, they're synesthetes, and they're able to turn invisible. Sadly, they can't shift shapes or fly.

Some of them, aware that they might be around forever, care about saving what's left of our environment and promoting social justice. Others are as callow and greedy as most humans. But their great appeal to me has been their "otherness," which allows me to explore questions about ethics and politics and culture.

At the time of my dream, I'd read very little vampire fiction; as a teenager I'd read Bram Stoker and later skimmed two or three of Anne Rice's Lestat novels. I was afraid to read the many contemporary vampire novels, because I didn't want to be influenced by them. But I loved ghost stories, and I'd always had a penchant for the dark side. As some of my students, and one of my daughters, flirted with Goth culture, I found myself similarly intrigued. What led them, and me, to prefer the dark corners of the imagination to the neon-lit strip-mall reality of suburban America? Why did we feel more revulsion at the increasingly casual use of the word "evil" by politicians and news commentators than at the thought of drinking human blood?

That's my question for you, readers. What draws us to the dark fantastic, and what keeps us coming back? The best response wins a hard-cover copy of The Society of S or The Year of Disappearances, and, with your permission, will be featured on

Having established my own vampire world, I'm more comfortable exploring those created by others, and I've read a range of wonderful books. Reading the series of blogs on this website makes me want to read even more. What a motley crew we are! Each of us is drawn to read and write speculative fiction -- the dark fantastic -- but why?

Susan Hubbard is the author of six books and winner of the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize and the AWP Short Fiction Prize.
Susan will select a winner on Friday evening. The name will be posted here.


Blogger Liviania said...

I was first drawn to the dark side of fiction by Disney. I fell in love with the stories told in those movies and began reading the fairy tales they were based on. Then I discovered mythology. Then I discovered that I was reading little kid versions of this stuff and the real versions had more everything.

My parents helped by taking me to the library every Wednesday night. I picked whatever had a cool cover, title, or blurb. My parents pointed me to books they enjoyed in their youth. By third grade I was hunting in the adult section as well as the kids'. (Strangely, I found the YA section last. It was in a corner.)

I'm not sure what the first vampire book I picked up was. I know I enjoyed Bruce Coville's tales of unicorns, aliens, and other beasties. I went crazy for K. A. Applegate's Animorphs, a surprisingly dark series, in hindsight. But I know vampires were part of my transition from being a total SF girl to being an SF/F girl.

Why not? They had violence and most of the sex was wrapped up in sensuality and subtle-to-blatant allusion rather than the actual act. This suited me well, as I was under thirteen and had no interest whatsoever in those boring books filled with sex.

And I didn't have to stop at books! Buffy was in its heyday and Charmed had just begun. I not only got a vampire fix, but there were all the beasties I read in fairy tales and mythology.

I must've been born at the right time because these shows helped spur the urban fantasy boom - all the paranormal fiction a growing girl could want. I could read Amelia Atwater-Rhodes's teen oriented tales and Anne Rice's revitalization of the genre (skipping the sexy bits) all at once. If it had a vampire, werewolf, whatever in it, I was there.

I've become a bit more discerning at the ripe old age of 19. I've got schoolwork! I can't just spend my time reading any and everything. Now I need to truly care about the characters to finish a novel. But that's one thing paranormal writers do very, very well.

After all, one of the most important themes in paranormal fiction is what it means to be human. What fundamentals are there that make these "other" characters human? Or what is lacking that prevents them from being human? It's a theme in SF too, which I never could leave.

But paranormal has a rawness SF lacks. It's here and now, lying alongside our world. A few tweaks and everything we know is unrecognizable.

I blame Disney, of course, for starting me down the path, but I don't know what it is in my own nature that makes the dark fantastic fascinating. My mom can't stand paranormal. My dad likes it as much or more than me.

I don't even want to approach why I like speculative fiction as a whole. It has too many faces and I've met it in too many different ways. I suppose I could say I like it because it allows me to face the truth of things, but it often puts that bow of "other" on it that makes it easier to take in and experience. You can take it as a simple tale or acknowledge what it represents.

Wow, this is disorganized. I shouldn't be allowed to write after midnight.

12:33 AM  
Blogger Brooke Reviews said...

I just woke up so I apologize in advance for anything that doesn't make sense. :)

My first books as a kid were Little Women and the Secret Garden. The Secret Garden was so exciting to me, because they had this lovely, overgrown, secret place that was all there own. I then moved onto R.L. Stine/Christopher Pike books, I loved solving the teenage murders along with the characters. I also loved scarying myself until I couldn't fall asleep!

Later in about 7th grade I picked up my first copy of Interview with a Vampire. That was it. I was totally hooked on everything dark. I think it's because it's not the "norm", and it's easy to fantasize about the what ifs. :)

5:25 AM  
Blogger Pamela K. Kinney said...

It's the darkness that resides in all mankind, the monsters hidden just beneath the skin. I think I always sensed this. It's the reason I write myself, the need to exorcise my own monsters, by writing their stories down.
It's that same forbidden knowledge of terror and yet also, majesty, that makes me buys these kind of books. Of course, I read them with a lamp on, in the warmth and safety of my home. Maybe , just maybe, out of the corner of my eye, I know the darkness is waiting. But in keep reading, maybe as a hope to banish the darkness.

7:49 AM  
Blogger Ruth Schaller said...

I have always loved the darker side of life. Ever since I was little I have always been a fan of horror and gore. But now I like the romance that is added into the stories, especially the ones with vampires. Whether they are evil or good - I love 'em.

Although with my love of vampires, I love stories about the apocolypse with zombies and such, but I find the vampire stories entice me more. They bring me to a world that is still the same as the one I live in but its so much different and darker!

I love it!

9:04 AM  
Blogger -.- said...

I think the main reason why I’m drawn to dark fantastic are because of it talks about the fear of the unknown. I’m not afraid of these books, but what I mean is that vampires, ghosts, werewolves, etc... All of these creatures and beings are scary. If they were real and lived next door to me, I’d be slightly fearful of them. Would the vampire come to my bedroom for a bedtime snack? Would I enjoy it, or would it be painful? Would the ghost next door, slip into my room and quietly watch me while I’m sleeping?

All these questions and more would be running through my head if the creatures were real, and yet, despite how scary it might be I’d still be drawn to them, wondering if the rumours are true. So with books, I’m able to see how the author envisaged a world with these creatures. Are they scary, like the vampires in 30 Days of Night, or are they abiding citizens who simply have a few interesting perks? Until they come out of hiding, we’ll never know the truth, but at least we have books to fill up the void of not knowing.

1:57 PM  
Blogger wildflower said...

It is a chance to nurse our dark side, to imagine giving into things that are considered wrong. In fanstasy we can do pretend without guilt.

We don't actually believe these things, we wouldn't actually do this things. It is just make believe.

Or so we convince ourselves.

5:13 PM  
Blogger Candace said...

I like to think of it as my dormant side. I wonder about evil and nefarious things in the world, except I wonder what it would be like if I was immersed in that world. The idea that there is this whole world out there composed of things that we don't experience, or we don't know we experience, in our everyday lie is so intriguing. And all these creatures of the dark can be so different from each other yet they share the same inherent quality: that darkness. You can read about a vampire and think 'wow he's hot' but you still have to remember that he is a vampire and he is most likely a hundred times stronger than you are.

I also believe that there is some sort of appeal in reading about suffering, darkness, and evil and then triumphing over that. Our reality is littered with crime and evil but it is so hard to eradicate it in our world. in the literary world we can control the evil, we can control it all, and I think that is a key part: control. It will never get so out of hand that we don't know how to make it right.

Another thing for me is that I scare easily. Very easily. If I write about what scares me, and what is dark, I do run the risk of frightening myself to the point of sleeping with the lights on but there is also that moment of confrontation, and knowing that what because I created it I have control over it.

So for me, in a nutshell, it is about writing what is terrible and frightens me the most but knowing that I still have control over the entire thing.


10:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The attraction of the dark side seems to begin in early childhood, perhaps a need for children to frighten themselves in order to survive the scare and thereby prove their control over their new worlds. At that early time of life, we were all entranced by fairy tale horrors, which were displacements of our ogre-under-the-bed fears.

5:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the first vampire book I ever read was by Christopher Pike. That was about the age of 12 or 13 when I stopped reading romance as much and went full out for fantasy/ sci fi. I think we enjoy reading about the dark side of fiction because it is what we could be if we're not careful. I like reading books like this because often you're not guaranteed a HEA but you might get a Happy for now.

12:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the dark side fascinates us because it is the unknown. Could these things like vampires really exist? The stories take us into a realm where anything can happen - and it usually does! They take us to that unknown place, but in a safe way. It is a way to explore a new world within your head while still remaining safe in the real world. I feel that if there really was an alternative universe where vampires and such exist, most people would not want to venture there as that safe feeling would go away. (I on the other hand would be first in line!) It's a way to explore death and what happens to you when you die.

12:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Things that cannot be seen, that are shrouded in darkness and whose forms take shape and become specific only in our minds are our intangible, experience-specific access to the underworld. Something physical happens to us when we encounter the dark fantastic, when we know something exists without seeing it or being able to understand it. It's that shiver down the spine that both excites us and makes us cringe, the unmistakable feeling that there are energies unexplained encircling us, keeping us humble, sometimes afraid, more often curious and excited about the middle ground-- gray areas between life and death. Thank you, Susan, for giving us another portal into the dark unknown.

1:58 PM  
Blogger Susan Hubbard said...

I love these responses--so thoughtful. Thanks for weighing in, and please continue to do so.

Cheryl, I should put you in touch with some of the people who emailed the books' myspace pages, saying that they ARE vampires and that I got things more or less right!

Fascinating to hear the early readings stories, too. When I was nine or so I was given a few of the Alfred Hitchcock collections of spooky stories; took one to a pajama party and read some aloud, and not one girl slept a wink that night. Even at that age, there were vast differences between the girls who liked the dark side and the ones who read only Nancy Drew (who was just too nice for me).

2:08 PM  
Blogger M. Brown said...

I tried to post here last night, but I don't see it here. Oh well. Story of my life.

But I did want to weigh in and say this: Who wants to be on the inside, when it's so much better outside looking in? That's the appeal of the "others" Ms. Hubbard is talking about. Writers tend to be on the outside, with the vampires and the other freaks. I prefer their company.

2:29 PM  
Blogger Jessica said...

I think that in all walks of life there are two types of people: those that are content with the way things appear on the surface with all the little details laid out and neatly labeled for them, and those that question what lies beneath and in the shadowy corners of the imagination. Neither way of thinking is better than the other, but it can begin to explain why some are drawn to the world of the paranormal and the more macabre art and literature in life time and time again.

From a psychological standpoint, I think that we as humans are always on the hunt for something to startle us out of the mundane. As small children, we twirl about in circles until we collapse in a frenzy with the world spinning at an unnatural angle and it's all very thrilling for about ten seconds. When we get older, it's not as easy to be taken out of ourselves, so what could be more enchanting than to reach a little higher, to the hidden, mystical things that inspire a transportation of the spirit? I grew up being transfixed with ghost stories, and as I got older I became addicted to the thrill of the unknown. It's a safe adrenaline rush in a way, to allow your mind to do its' worst and then to open your eyes and all is as you left it. On an intellectual level, you could also look at storybook villains as an example. As I aged, I began to look at these seemingly two dimensional characters in a different light. Once you can allow your own experiences to seep into even a simple story, the characters gain a motivation and humanity that they probably didn't possess before, making them all the more intriguing.

I think the reasons are different for everyone in the end, but I believe at the core it has to do with an unwillingness to accept the mortal journey as is, without any thought to what lies beneath. I personally would be bored to tears without at least the possibility of ghouls and ghosties and long legged beasties, and things that go bump in the night....

7:52 PM  

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