To be more precise, Seth Grahame-Smith is not himself a vampire (to the best of my knowledge -I didn’t think to ask him that), but the best selling author of several mashups featuring zombies and vampires, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and his latest, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Although he’s rather busy with the release of his new novel just a few weeks ago, Seth made the time to answer a few questions.
I reviewed Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter a month or so ago. The novel hit the shelves on March 2 and, as of this writing, was Number 4 on the New York Times Bestseller List for hardcover fiction and Number 91 overall on Amazon. As part of the book promotion, a film clip has been produced and an accompanying iPhone app released. The film clip, depicting Abraham Lincoln as you’ve never seen him before, is below. Please note that it’s inappropriate for young children (vampire hunting is a bloody business).
And now, the interview.
GeekDad: You’ve had your fingers in a wide range of entertainment related pursuits: TV producer, non-fiction writer, blogger, comic book writer and novelist. Are you developing a preference toward focusing on one of these areas, or do you see yourself remaining active in all?
Seth Grahame-Smith: Ideally I’d love to keep doing it all. I love working in movies and TV (<plug>my new show, “The Hard Times of RJ Berger,” premiers in June on MTV </plug>). I love sitting in a room with nine guys trying to one-up each other’s fart jokes – just as much as I love sitting alone writing a gothic horror novel in the middle of the night, or being on set, or ranting about politics on a blog. At some point, I’m sure I’ll have a massive, massive heart attack. I mean an explode-right-through-my-ribcage heart attack. Either that, or wind up a lonely old man who neglected all the truly important things in life – crying out for some long-forgotten sled. But hey – till either of those things happens, I’m all smiles.
GD: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has to be the classic definition of a “surprise” hit. That’s not saying it wasn’t good, but that the book came more or less out of left field and seemed to catch the industry by surprise. Were you also caught off guard by this success, or did you feel you might be on to something?
SGS: No, I was totally caught off guard. We all were. My hopes for PPZ (just like all the books I’d written to that point) amounted to: “Please God…let it break even.” There were no illusions of selling a million books or creating a genre. There were no dreams of movies or graphic novels or Mandarin editions. There was only the certainty of epic failure that precedes every release date I’m a part of.
GD: Were you at all concerned about tackling a real historical figure this time around, especially someone as prominent as Abraham Lincoln? Messing about with Jane Austen’s fictional characters (as unsettling as that may have been to literary types) is one thing, but one of America’s most beloved presidents is potentially stepping on a whole lot more toes.
SGS: I was very concerned – especially since I’d experienced the wrath of a few of Jane’s staunchest guardians (to be fair, the vast majority of Austen fans are exceptionally cool and have embraced the book). When I was writing ALVH, I kept reminding myself: Hey, idiot – this guy’s on Mt. Rushmore, OK? He’s on the $5 bill. He literally saved our nation from self-destruction. DON’T make him look bad. And I tried my best not to. I intended vampire-hunting Abe to be the same brilliant, honest, idealistic self-made man he was in real life. Only a tad more violent.
GD: Tying together slavery and vampire culture was a clever and plausible way to explain the predominance of both during (fictional) Lincoln’s lifetime, but were you concerned that messing with such an emotionally charged part of America’s history carried real risk in terms of press and/or reader backlash?
SGS: Of course – just as concerned as I was with portraying Lincoln in a positive light. To be clear, the book doesn’t suggest that slavery only existed to feed America’s vampires. It was a pre-existing American evil that vampires took advantage of. It also points out that Abe was anti-slavery even before he knew that vampires were associated with it. And without giving too much away, the book begins and ends with a pair of speeches that touch on America’s shameful slavery past. So yes, I was very concerned with treading as lightly as possible, and paying respect to the real-life suffering of millions of slaves.
GD: You’ve already had some fun with George W. Bush (with Pardon My President…); what are the chances of Bush getting the Lincoln treatment?
SGS: Making Bush seem cool is beyond my capabilities as a writer…so no.
GD: When it comes to the concept of literary mashups, do you see the market expanding? You’ve established that there’s an appetite for combining horror with literary classics and horror with the historical biography, but is this an evolutionary dead end in the commercial market, or do you see it continuing to grow?
SGS: I think it’ll continue until readers collectively roll their eyes when somebody announces “A Creature in the Rye,” or “War and Peace and More War” (neither of which, to my knowledge, have been announced). I don’t think the mashup wave will last forever – but I’m rooting for it last as long as possible. Not just because I’ve written a couple of books in that genre, but because whatever gets people excited about reading books is a good thing.
GD: Balancing fatherhood and geek interests can be a burden. I was stockpiling LEGO Star Wars sets from the time my kids were images on an ultrasound, and waiting until they were old enough to allow me to legitimately open the hoard of bricks drove me a little crazy at times. Now we’re trading comic books, playing Rock Band together, building LEGO models and generally feeding off each other’s enthusiasm. What elements of your interests are you enjoying, or looking forward to enjoying, with your offspring?
SGS: My son is 15 months old as I write this. When he turned 1, I sat him on my lap and tried to watch the original trilogy with him. I think we made it halfway through the opening crawl of “A New Hope” before he started squirming and crying. I was a real downer, you know? I mean, I took it personally. I’m looking forward to everything you mentioned: LEGOs, video games, Star Wars and so on. I can’t wait to introduce my son to Stephen King novels, too. You can do that when they’re like 6 or 7, right?
GD: I’ve often wondered how the likes of Pamela Anderson deal with some of their “back catalogue” of work when their children inevitably discover it. Any concerns about your 2005 book The Big Book of Porn… coming back to haunt you as a parent?
SGS: Hey – I embrace my pornographic past. If you were a struggling freelance writer and somebody said: “we’ll pay you to hang out on porn sets for six months, travel to conventions, go clubbing with the world’s biggest porn starlets, watch a bunch of dvd’s and write a funny book about it,” what would YOU say?
GD: Natalie Portman and Richard Kelly are reportedly working on a film adaptation of your book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Thoughts? Any place for Colin Firth in the movie (sorry, my wife made me ask that)?
SGS: Man…the ladies LOVE Colin Firth, huh? Yeah – Lionsgate is making the PPZ movie with Richard Kelly producing, Natalie Portman producing and starring as Elizabeth, and David O. Russell adapting and directing. Not too shabby if you ask me.