Tuesday, July 25

Author explores thriving vampire culture


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Friday, October 30, 1998

Author explores thriving vampire culture

BOOKS: Phenomenon captivates scholars, younger crowds alike

By Stacy Sare

Daily Bruin Contributor

Perched in a Westwood hotel room, author Katherine Ramsland (who
calls herself Malefika) wears a pewter skeleton head with red,
piercing eyes around her neck and a ring from a vampire ghost on
her finger. She points to the vampire personal ad that she includes
in her newly published Harper Prism book, "Piercing the Darkness:
Undercover with Vampires in America Today."

The personal ad reads: "Desperately Seeking Vampire. Must be
sensual and seductive, drink blood, thrive in the shadows, and know
how to stir my inner chaos into an erotic charge that will propel
me into ecstasies heretofore unknown. Experience with immortality
necessary. Only serious applicants need apply."

Ramsland, an Anne Rice biographer, clinical psychologist and
former Rutger’s University instructor, recalls her childhood
fascination with the vampire image.

"I’ve been interested in vampires since I was a kid. I read
Dracula when I was 10 or 11 and all kinds of vampire short
stories," Ramsland recalls. "I thought that I could go to sleep and
wake up a vampire. I was fascinated with the image."

Watching the scene for almost a decade, Ramsland began
researching vampires in 1989 when she wrote a cover story for the
magazine "Psychology Today" on the culture’s fascination with
vampires. Ramsland says her experience writing Anne Rice’s
biography helped her research.

"Because of my work on Anne Rice, I’ve been the recipient of
people’s letters and confessions – people wanted to tell me about
themselves," says Ramsland. "They thought I would be sympathetic,
because I love the vampire and because I have a clinical background
and worked with dark subjects."

After writing Anne Rice’s and Dean Koontz’s biographies,
Ramsland decided to take a stab at a new genre.

She decided to complete a journalistic investigation after she
learned that reporter Susan Walsh, who was researching New York
City’s underground vampire scene, vanished.

"In a way, I wanted to do a book on the scene in the ’90s,"
Ramsland says. "Then Susan Walsh disappeared."

In "Piercing the Darkness," Ramsland discusses her findings in
trying to locate Walsh, who was never found. Although some sources
believed the subculture was connected to Walsh’s disappearance,
Ramsland says she doubts the vampire community had anything to do
with her it.

"It’s very unlikely the vampires did anything to her. She had
been in an S&M (sadomasochism) scene. She danced topless at a
go-go bar allegedly owned by the mafia," Ramsland says.

Ramsland dug through the pages of research notes that Walsh had
written for her book, "Red Light: Inside the Sex Industry," a book
about the pornography trade seen through the eyes of insiders,
hoping to find more clues.

Nothing in this book offered clues about Walsh’s whereabouts,
except perhaps a cryptic remark from one go-go club manager,
Ramsland says.

"The girls you ‘don’t see around any more’ are the ones who
‘found something out that was going down.’ In other words, there
are some dangerous customers and dancers who get too close, (they)
may end up sorry … or worse," Ramsland says.

During Ramsland’s venture into the vampire scene, she traveled
across the country to learn the customs, rituals and traditions of
the vampire world.

"What really surprised me was the great diversity in the vampire
culture and how the vampire is manifested in people’s lives,"
Ramsland explains. "What the vampire means is different from person
to person."

In "Piercing the Darkness," Ramsland discusses role-players, the
vampire wannabees, the people who believe they’re real vampires and
the blood-curdling predators who take it too far.

She also writes about blood, AIDS and the protective practices
of "psychic vampires," "feeding circles" and the secret surrenders
of "the glorious exit."

But Ramsland isn’t the only scholar delving into the vampire
culture. English instructor Paula Gunn Allen, who is teaching her
second vampire fiction class at UCLA, says she first became
interested in vampire culture in the ’80s.

"I was teaching a creative writing class at Berkeley. We were
doing a group short story and they wanted to do a vampire
narrative, so we did. It was fun," Gunn says. "And then the
phenomena kept going, and going, and going. After ten years it was
still (becoming) more and more trendy. I decided I just had to find
out what was going on and the best way for me to do it was to teach
it."

Gunn, who has taught science fiction, cyber fiction, gothic
fiction and Native American literature at UCLA, says she is very
interested in popular culture, and believes that Gothic culture
plays a significant role in contemporary society.

"The Gothic thing is a major part of popular culture. There’s
something going on in the youth culture," Gunn explains.

"It’s some kind of cultural phenomenon; a very major part of our
popular culture. This is valuable because it reflects youth," she
says.

Gunn says she’s heard good things about "Piercing the Darkness"
and she’s looking forward to reading it.

Ramsland’s journalist memoir investigates the reality of the
vampire subculture; its dark and sensual mystique and its nocturnal
and seductive lifestyles.

Ramsland says the vampires of the ’90s defy the traditional
images posed in the literary and cinematic vampire stereotype she
knew as a child.

"Vampires can be in the daylight, they can eat food, they can
have families, they can be nurturing," Ramsland says.

"None of the usual things like garlic or crucifixes make any
difference to them."PATIL ARMENIAN

Katherine Ramsland wears vampire fangs at an October
book-signing.

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© 1998 ASUCLA Communications Board[Home]

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