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