Jun 11, 2009

OCD and Vampires by Jeri Smith-Ready (Guest Blogger)

update: The contest portion is now closed. Many thanks to all who visited and/or commented!

A big PVN welcome to prolific writer Jeri Smith-Ready who has recently authored two vampire novels
Wicked Game (2008) and Bad to the Bone(2009). Today she shares information discovered about OCD and the undead while researching. After reading this post you will find contest rules (very simple). Jeri is offering a signed copy of Bad to the Bone.

One fangs, two fangs...: Vampires and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Four years ago, I was developing the idea for my WVMP Radio series, about a cadre of vampire DJs who were stuck in time in the era in which they were "turned." In my desire for an original take on this classic archetype, I decided to dig a little deeper into vampire mythology. Though I was incorporating many familiar traits of the contemporary vampire, I wanted to mine the older legends to see if I could find an element untouched by fiction.

The most fascinating tidbit was an old Eastern European legend describing vampires as what we would call "Obsessive-Compulsive." In what is now Poland, people believed that to keep vampires away from your doorstep, you should scatter rice all over your front walkway. Any approaching vamps would be compelled to stop and count every grain—and with any luck would still be counting when the sun came up.

(I don't know if this is where Jim Henson got his idea for the character of Count von Count, or if his strange habit was just a play on the word "count," but if you asked me that classic interview question, “Which person, living or dead, would you have dinner with?” it would be Henson, partly to pose him this query.)

After reading this legend, I wondered why I'd never seen Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) portrayed in contemporary vampire fiction. Maybe it's because mental illness isn't terribly sexy (except for the heroes who disguise their sociopathy as "alpha maleness"). So I thought it would be fun to create a "new" twist on a very old legend.

As I began the first draft of Book One in the series, Wicked Game, the vampires' OCD behaviors were just a schtick, a source of comedy or character idiosyncrasies. Then one day in the middle of the second draft, it all came together for me.

As I mentioned above, the vampires in my universe are "stuck in time," trapped psychologically and culturally in the era in which they were made. They require both a tie to their original "Life Times" and a tie to the modern era to keep them from "fading" into mindless ghosts of the past. See, I believe that if we stop changing, stop learning to appreciate new things, if we insist on living in the past, it’s quite a lot like being dead. Hence the metaphor.

Anyway. the DJs' jobs let them keep one foot in the past (through their favorite music) and one in the present (by reading the daily news reports). But as sane as they are compared to their cohorts, the DJs are still forced to function in a world they can't fully comprehend. Their OCD behaviors give them a sense of control.

Shane, the 90s grunge DJ and the hero of the series, explains it this way:

“I know a lot of vampires have weird obsessive-compulsive behaviors. The world changes faster than we can understand, so we find something to control, some way to put things in order…It’s the only way to feel sane.”

OCD is, after all, about control. All of us exhibit these tendencies to some degree. We get stuck on a project or nervous about a conflict in our lives, and suddenly the idea of cleaning out a closet becomes hard to resist. (OK, it might be a form of procrastination on some of our parts.)

So the vampires’ OCD became more than a quirk—it reinforced the characters’ struggle to adapt to their world, and it reflected their “existential fossilization.” (Sometimes it’s downright creepy the way different elements and themes gel during the writing process. I try not to analyze it too much for fear of chasing it away—I just try to have faith that it’ll happen again and again if I put in the brain hours.)

Different characters in the WVMP series have different behaviors, of course. Shane is a sorter. In an early scene in Wicked Game, he gets distracted from seducing the heroine by his need to alphabetize her CD collection. We learn in Bad to the Bone that he has a particular method for loading the dishwasher (a method that bears an eerie resemblance to my own--go figure).

Regina, the 80s punk/Goth DJ, obsesses over numbers. She counts objects, she knows the odds of every poker hand, she calculates numerology profiles in mere seconds. And woe to anyone foolish enough to compare her to her SESAME STREET counterpart.

The only one whose compulsion remains a mystery--to our main character Ciara, at least--is Monroe, the enigmatic 40s blues player. His unique idiosyncrasy will be revealed in Book 3, tentatively titled BRING ON THE NIGHT (coming in 2010).

Like real-life OCD sufferers, the vampires know that their behaviors aren’t quite…right, but they can’t help it. Medication isn’t really an option, since vampire bodies need huge doses of a drug to have its usual effect—it takes a pot of coffee to wake them up. As for therapy? Explaining the root cause of their problem would no doubt result in a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Since hospitals have windows which let in daylight, institutionalization would be a death sentence.

The only cure is to live in isolation from the modern world, in a vampire commune where the environment can be tightly controlled to approximate that of their original Life Times. But the WVMP gang would rather inhabit and engage the real world, despite its bewildering aspects. It keeps them young, vital, and anxious. In other words: human.

Leave a comment, ask a question, or link to this post (be sure to provide the link) in order to enter to win a signed copy of the latest WVMP Radio series installment, Bad to the Bone. Contest portion ends July 13 at 11:59 PM PT.

Book One, Wicked Game, is now available in mass market paperback.

Jeri can be found at http://www.jerismithready.com and most often these days at http://twitter.com/jsmithready, along with the WVMP Radio series main characters Ciara Griffin (http://twitter.com/CiaraGriffin and Shane McAllister (http://twitter.com/ShaneMcAllister).

Thanks so much, Jeri


Valorie said...

I am a big fan of 80s Goth myself! What are your favorite 80s goth songs? And do you listen music while you write to get into the right headspace of your character? If yes, what is the best writing music?


Jo said...

How do you pronounce Ciara? Is it See-air-a, or like Keira?

I've not yet read Wicked Game, but I so want to! They sound amazing!

Email: joannestapley[at]googlemail[dot]com

Erotic Horizon said...

I am a big fan of this series.. so lovely to hear more about the author and the back ground...

" See, I believe that if we stop changing, stop learning to appreciate new things, if we insist on living in the past, it’s quite a lot like being dead"

I so agree with you - really i do..

As always Patricia - keep these lovely authors coming...

Please enter me in the contest...


Barbara Monajem said...

I love the OCD stuff! And yes, isn't it cool how it all comes together, symbolism, deep meaning and fun--the whole shebang. Congrats on a fascinating series.

Chris said...

That's definitely an aspect to having an extended lifespan I hadn't ever thought of!

Anonymous said...

Please count me in on the giveaway

I have your books on my TBR list,I've heard nothing but great reviews for the books.


Jeri said...

Valorie: Anything by Bauhaus or Peter Murphy solo (he and I have the same birthday--I was SO excited when I found out). Sisters of Mercy's "Ribbons" stands out in my memory, as far as specific songs. I always loved The Cure and saw them on their Disintegration tour. As Kyle from SOUTH PARK once said, it's the best album ever!

I listen to music when I'm writing first drafts. It can be anything from bands the characters would love to movie soundtracks (one of the best is the 300 score). When I'm revising I need silence so I can hear how the words sound in my head.

Jo: It's KEER-ah, like Keira Knightley. The proper Irish pronunciation. ;-) I hope you enjoy the books if you get a chance to try them!

Erotic Horizon: Thank you so much! I love sharing tidbits from the writing process.

Barbara: Thank you! I'm thrilled that I get to keep writing them for at least two more books. They're a ton of fun.

Chris: Hee, yeah, my vampires are technically immortal, but they aren't super-long-lived. They usually go insane by a hundred years, max.

elaing: Well, what are you waiting for? ;-) (Just kidding--I know how those lists get. I have books I bought years ago that are still waiting to be read.) Hope you enjoy it!

Riva said...

I LOVED "Wicked Game" - read it in one sitting - and can't wait to start "Bad to the Bone". Unfortunately, I have a couple other things that must be finished first. But, your interviews and blog posts are making that very difficult. I keep wanting to drop what I'm doing and grab the book . . .

Please enter me in the contest.


Jess said...

Neat, Jeri. I love the use of less mined mythos.

Now I'm struggling to remember the other DJ's quirks. Gah. Ok, my question: what are they? haha

(obv don't enter me in the contest)

Anonymous said...

Great post and interesting concept. I'm off to look for book one now.


Tina Christopher


Bridget said...

No need to enter me; just posted about this on Win A Book.

Jeri said...

Riva: I'm so glad you enjoyed Wicked Game! What could possibly be more important than reading Bad to the Bone? ;-)

Jess: Let's see, Jim hoards facts (trivia, etc.), Noah has a thing about walking with the carpet patterns and not stepping on cracks (gee, I don't know where I got THAT from), and Spencer is obsessively precise (remember his handwriting?). Elizabeth collects weird stuff.

The only one whose obsession/compulsion we don't know is Monroe. That'll be revealed in Book 3, where he plays a huge role.

Tina: Thank you! Hope you enjoy it. :-)

Bridget: Thanks for helping to spread the word!

Caliban said...

As with all fictional species, the real work is extrapolating the psyche.
How would they think?
Would humanity be a factor at all?

Time itself would either completely incapacitate a mentally distressed creature, or flatten the disorder into an unbreakable habit on autopilot, perhaps with no conscious reason. Both cases would spell doom for the creature. One by lunacy, one by predictability. So, would a disturbed vampire survive long?

Why stop at OCD? Paranoid, Schizophrenic, Bi-polar, perhaps? The standard perception of a vampire would be indistinguishable from sociopathic behavior.

Monsters with baggage...I think I like it. Thanks

Michael Malone said...

Actually there was an X-Files, the only one on classic Vampires, that used the OCD aspect of Vampires for comedy.

Fox was trapped in a trailer about to be killed by a vampire. He tosses a bunch of matches, as I recall, at the vampire, spreading them about the floor.

The vampire looks at him, calls him a name, and starts picking up the matches one at a time. Fox makes his escape. Sorta. I think other Vampires catch him. Then leave him in his car as the group makes THEIR escape from discovery by the feds.

It was funny, and I should remember it better. But I don't. Sorry!

wildwitch said...

Just out of curiosity...do you know anyone with OCD or did you learn about it through another source?


Vampire Sighs said...

Thanks - I liked your stuff about process

Sandra Sookoo said...

Nice post and love the link with Henson. he'd be a awesome person to chat with :-)

I have also written a vamp novel and mine's not the traditional take on the species. :-) It goes a long way in setting work apart.

I'll check out your book!

Anonymous said...

Loved the posted - I shared it over at facebook.


I am an 80's fan too, well since I grew up in the 80s and all lol.

Liked the link on Henson.

I have been a fan of vamps for along time and have you on my to get list; looking forward to reading your books.

Pam S

FatalisFortuna said...

What a great idea! I love to read old vampire legends as well as the new novels, and I've wondered why no one's gone back to use ideas like this that have been mostly ignored in the mythology.

Thanks for the giveaway!

screamingicecube at bellsouth dot net

Marie said...

What a great concept, I like going back to the older ideas of vampires.


bridget3420 said...

I really want to read this book.

chey said...

The WVMP series sounds intriguing. Lots of stuff I never thought about! Looking forward to reading the books!

chey127 at hotmail dot com

Mardel said...

OCD vampires! I love it. I have a certain way of loading the dishwasher. I really want to know how Shane does it now. And washing dishes? First I have to stack them in a certain order, then I have to wash them in a certain order! I now try to avoid washing dishes altogether.

Jeri said...

Caliban: Well, my vampires actually *don't* live that long. Like you said, they're pretty much doomed. They still live longer than humans, and they can't die of disease or most injuries, but there are a lot of tradeoffs, the mental decline being one of them. Of course, in the ways important to a predator, they grow mentally sharper.

Michael: Ha! I've never seen that episode, I swear. (If you read WICKED GAME, you'll understand why I make that statement. ;-)

Wildwitch: I don't know anyone who officially has OCD, to the point where it's a debilitating disorder that messes with their lives. But I know a lot of people (including myself) who have obsessive thoughts and, er, habits (the dishwasher scene in BTTB? I am Shane.). So it's easy to extrapolate.

Also, I do lots of research. Combine that with empathy and a little thing called an imagination, and I hope I can portray most situations and people.

Vampire Sighs: Thanks! I enjoy reading about other authors' processes, so I hope that my own can provide some interest as well.

Sandra: Yeah, the world really lost a jewel when Henson died. It would be wonderful to speak with him again.

Pam: Thanks for spreading the word! Be sure to let me know what you think if you get a chance to read them. :-)

FatalisFortuna: I think the reason why no one has used it is exactly what I said in the essay: OCD isn't sexy. Shane is hot in his own way(s), but he's not the typical alpha male romance hero. So he and I VERY much appreciate the fans he does have. ;-)

Marie: Thanks! I like to think of it as combining the old with the new. Often what seems new is actually old. Does that make sense? Like a fashion being so Out it's In.

Bridget & Chey: I hope you enjoy them if you get a chance to check them out some time. Good luck in the drawing!

Jeri said...

Mardel: Me, too! The funny thing is, my mom taught me how to load the dishwasher, and whenever she comes to my house, she does it in a brand-new way that is completely different from what she taught me. Makes my head spin.

Believe me, Shane will explain his dishwasher-loading method in great detail if you get a chance to read BAD TO THE BONE.

mindy said...

this sounds terrific thanks

minsthins at optonline dot net

Alexia561 said...

What a fascinating premise! Never heard of a vampire with OCD, but love the idea!

Heather B. said...

I love 80's goth. I love this series. I can't wait till the new book comes out.


Calliope said...

I read WICKED GAME and was so pleased to such a unique and orignal take...addition...to the vampire. I think I would've staked Shane if he'd suddenly decided CD collection > Girl. Smart boy made right choice in the end though.

And it had practical uses too!

Jeri said...

Mindy: Thanks, and good luck!

Alexia: It's a lot of fun, and sometimes tricky to keep it realistic and not too "schticky". :-)

Heather: Thank you! When you say the new book, you mean Bad to the Bone? It's out now. :-) Book 3 will be out next year some time.

Calliope: Thanks! Yeah, Shane wised up once Ciara took things into her own hands. ;-)

Anonymous said...

I have yet to read Wicked Game but I am all for 80s goth and vampires!


SkipMDMan said...

Many years ago at a SF convention in Brighton, Clive Barker, William Gibson and I had a lunch where we talked about necrophiliac vampires.

So OCD seems fun enough

NL6369 said...

My summer reading list is getting longer and longer. I now have your series on my list. It sounds like a fun read. I love the OCD concept, new and interesting

Anonymous said...

zenrei57 (at) hotmail (dot) com

Now, THAT OCD take is very, very interesting! (some of my family has experienced a little ocd, too). You know, I've also read that the very first (?) vampire was Judas who betrayed Christ, and thus condemned his line of progeny to the curse/disease of vampirism.

Anonymous said...

I remember back in my vampire obsession days when I read everything I could find on the subject, I read the same stories. I remember cracking up at the thought of the frightening Count Dracula stopping in the doorway to count grains of rice or something. Yeah, I for one am very glad that little detail is not used too much, since most stories couldn't use it well.


Barbara said...

Please enter me in the drawing.

Book Butterfly said...

I love the OCD stuff and the 80's Goth music. I went through a phase in my early twenties where it was all about Peter Murphy and Bauhaus, so that made me smile. I confess, I have not read Wicked Game, but now I am definitely going to check it out and I'm sure I will enjoy it. Great post and contest!
Please enter me! :)

Nickolay said...

Looks like a great book. Thanks for the chance


Llehn said...

It's always great to hear an author's insights! Thanks for sharing.


Daelith said...

I love the dog on the cover of Bad to the Bone. I really do need to get book 1 in this series.

Belinda said...

This sounds interesting. It's certainly a different take on vampires.
1bmore @ gmail . com

Anonymous said...

I heard of those books before and they seems great. They are on my amazon.ca wish list!

Tynga85 at hotmail .com

Katherine E. Hazen said...

I love when an idea like that falls into the right spot in another draft and just fits like it was always supposed to be there. Makes you wonder what your subconscious brain is up to while you're pounding out that first draft.

BreiaB said...

Enjoyed this post. Its always nice to get insight into an author and their books. Cool contest also.

Alexa said...

This book sounds great and I love the cover.


Seadiver said...

I am a vampire researcher from Bulgaria and I like this blog very much. There are certain Eastern European folklore beliefs which might be interesting to you. Some but not all of them are explained in my blog entry called "Count Dracula. There and back again" I would appreciate your comment.

Sarah Z said...

I love reading series so this would be great!
believedreamcourage (at) gmail.com

Ladytink_534 said...

I think this sounds SO cool. If you could have your characters visit another author's world where would you like them to go and who would they visit while there?


Penny Ehrenkranz said...

What a refreshing new take on an old theme. Vampires seem to come in many flavors these days and it appears as though you've created a unique concept. I'm looking forward to reading the series.


Brooke Reviews said...

This is my favorite vampire series! But you already knew that didn't you Jeri! :D

Please, don't enter me as I already have copies! I did post on my blog though.

Kytaira said...

I love when authors look for historical fact or lore to use in their books. Thanks!

I also love the idea of vamps with OCD. One of my favorite characters in a tv show is Monk, a detective with OCD.

Ash H. said...

Always looking for a good vampire read. Brooke has mentioned the greatness of Jerri's books. :)

Tina said...

I just saw those books for the first time at Borders. I love anything paranormal. Can't wait to check these out.


Nicole D. said...

Twilight got me hooked on vampires - would love to check these books out.

Susan Blexrud said...

As a vampire writer myself, I've never considered my undead hotties having OCD. I insist my vampires have hearts, so why not OCD? Kudos to you! It's certainly a concept I understand. Now, if I can just keep myself from obsessive cleaning before I travel...

susan said...

oh I was into the eighties goth.. it was a crazy times!

Jeri said...

Hey everyone, thank you so much for commenting, and congrats to the winner! Your copy of Bad to the Bone will be on its way soon.

I'll try to answer the remaining questions/comments now, in between making dinner for my dog and husband. ;-)

texasheartland: I think it was 80s goth that got me into vampires--that was when I first read Anne Rice. Completely sucked in! (so to speak ;-)

SkipMDMan: Well, I guess if vampires are dead, they're pretty much all necrophiliac, unless they only sleep with humans. And those are the biophiliacs. (life-lovers?)

NL6339: Glad to hear this intrigued you! Hope you have a wonderful summer of reading.

Mary: That's an interesting take on it, especially given the blood-drinking overtones (well, not really overtones, pretty blatant) of the Last Supper.

olympianlady: Well, I like to think I've used it here without being too ridiculous. That was my aim, anyway. :-)

OK, dinner's ready--I'll be back shortly!

Jeri said...

Book Butterfly: I was (still am) a HUGE Bauhaus fan. When I found out last year that I share a birthday with Peter Murphy, I was exceedingly pleased (until then, the only ones I knew about were Yul Brynner and John Quincy Adams).

Barbara, Nickolay, Belinda, tynga: Thanks for stopping by! Glad you enjoyed it.

Llehn: Thank you! It's fun to share a little bit about the process. I learn a lot when I analyze it myself.

Daelith: Bad to the Bone can probably stand alone in an emergency, but it's best to read Wicked Game first. Luckily, most stores seem to still be carrying it.

Katherine: I think you're right--the subconscious works on these little projects when we're thinking of other things. My husband (the astronomer) says that stars are brighter when you see them with averted vision. Sometimes I think creative problems and puzzles are the same way--the answers come when you're not looking directly at it. :-)

Jeri said...

BreiaB: Thank you! I get so much out of hearing about how other authors work through the creative process, so I hope that I can help (or at least entertain) others the same way. :-)

Alexa: Isn't it a fantastic cover? I have really lucked out with all my books, but this one is probably the best yet. I <3 my publisher. :-)

Seadiver: Thank you for sharing your blog with us! I might be in touch with some questions, as I'm doing some research on Eastern Europe for the third vampire book.

Sarah: Thanks for stopping by!

Ladytink: Aha! I think you asked this question at my previous guest blog, and I finally have an answer: Ciara would love to be #14 if there's ever an OCEAN'S 14 movie. I think she'd be a great asset, and she wouldn't at all mind having to look at all those cute guys. :-)

Penny: Thanks! I hope it's original--unfortunately I didn't have time to read every vampire book out there, so I always wonder if I've accidentally copied something. *fingers crossed* ;-)

Wow, I got an actual word for my verification: astral!

Jeri said...

Brooke: Aww, thanks! And I'll be stopping by your blog soon--I've almost got those interview questions done (finally!).

Kytaira: I keep meaning to watch MONK. I love Tony Shalhoub, and of course the OCD is dear to my heart, thanks to the vampires. :-)

Ash: Isn't Brooke wonderful? :-) I hope you enjoy them if you get a chance to pick them up.

Tina: Woo-hoo to Borders! I'm a huge paranormal fan, too. I can't keep up with all the books I want to read, but that doesn't stop me from buying them with all due speed.

Nicole: I could not put those Twilight books down! I'm glad that they've gotten lots of people interested in reading about vampires.

Susan Blexrud: LOL, well, it's very nice to come home to a clean house. We usually clean before we go away, for the sake of the petsitter. ;-)

Susan: Me, too! I was lucky enough to spend six months in London in 1990. Goth was waning by then, but there were significant pockets remaining in some of the Camden clubs. :-)

Jessica said...

I've been addicted to vampires since roughly the 7th grade when I started out small with Amelia Atwater-Rhodes. Vampires were generally bad or evil, but surprising the rare few can actually be good. Vampires can be the good guys and the hunters can be the bad guys.

This series is new to me and since I'm coming across it early, it looks like a good time to start!!

tetewa said...

I loved Wicked Game and I'm looking forward to the latest release!

malleycc said...

Thanks for the giveaway. AT what age did you start writing? I would love to try to write a book.

Caffey said...

Love these books Jeri! Too the Luna ones! Do you think you'll be venturing to write another series or related to the Aspect Of The Crow books? Are there other fantasy and/or paranormal themes you'd like to explore writing?


Jeri said...

Ooh, new comments!

Jessica: As David puts it in Wicked Game, vampires are like humans: some are good, some are bad, but most are somewhere in between. (and thanks for reminding me to pick up Atwater-Rhodes--I've had HAWKSONG on my TBR pile for a while)

Tetewa: Thanks! Hope you enjoy Bad to the Bone just as much if not more. :-)

MalleyCC: I started writing when I was 25. I always loved to read since I was 3, but for some reason it never occurred to me to try writing until I was long out of school. I wanted to be an editor for a while, but didn't want to move to New York. ;-)

Caffey: Thank you! I'm pretty much finished with the Aspect of Crow universe. I set out to write a trilogy, and was privileged to write a trilogy plus two short stories, so hey, not bad. :-)

I do have two other paranormal ideas percolating in the back of my head, but they will have to wait until either the vampire series or my YA projects are finished (in 2011). One of them is a bit of a spinoff on an Aspect of Crow character's magic power, though--that's all I can say right now. ;-)