Stagestruck Vampires and Other Phantasms
by Suzy McKee Charnas
Published by Tachyon
328 pages, 2004
Reviewed by Andi Shechter
Suzy McKee Charnas is one of the reasons why, when I first discovered science fiction and fantasy, I loved it. I wasn't one of those who read dragon books or Heinlein juveniles in her youth. I discovered the genre in the 1970s, while on the prowl for fiction that I could get, set in worlds that were different from mine with protagonists who meant something to me. For the most part, smart, independent women, that, of course, being what I was. Or so I hoped. And I found it in books by McIntyre and Russ, Tiptree and Le Guin, Varley and Lynn, Randall and Vinge. And Charnas.
Suzy Charnas is an immensely gifted storyteller with a wide range. I won't say I get the point of all of the work in this most recent anthology, Stagestruck Vampires. While reading it, sometimes I felt a little dim. But that's me. "Peregrines," her modern story about a post 9/11 world and a woman who meets two strange young men from some odd place is a knockout. "Boobs," which I hadn't read in a long time, is well worth reading: a new take on a puberty coming-of-age tale, for once, from the point of view of a girl.
Revisiting Charnas' work reminds me why, although I don't read a lot of "woo-woo" supernatural story lines, I do read a fair amount of vampire stuff. Her "Unicorn Tapestry," the groundbreaking novella that won her a well-deserved Nebula Award, is reprinted here. It features a vampire who is required to seek therapy. I have a massive fondness for Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse books featuring Bill the vampire, and I got to know Saint-Germain over the years, as well. I'm very much a realist and, when I read, I want realism even within my science fiction and fantasy reading. But -- go figure -- one can write realistic vampires. So to speak.
And speaking of Saint-Germain, "Advocates," the collaborative story in this collection where Weyland meets the far more romantic creation by Quinn Yarbro, is an awfully good way to spend some time. Charnas' notes on the collaboration are well-crafted, describing the process of two very distinctly different writers with distinctly different characters trying to iron out their distinctly different writing methods. The story manages both to combine the skills of both writers and gives a strong impression of the personalities of the two protagonists.
It's not all that common that a fiction writer can excel at non-fiction: the two disciplines require such different skills. But Charnas' title work, "Stagestruck Vampires," is so worth reading. I found it slightly odd at first, the title essay of the work by someone known for her fiction, but it's captivating, funny and explains so many things about the writing process, especially the work that goes into adapting from one medium -- fiction -- to another -- playwriting. Should be easy right? Especially when you're the originator and the adaptor. And you've written a novella heavy with dialogue. Perhaps I like "Stagestruck Vampires" so much because Charnas writes in a personal, revealing and casual style and because I do know the author but, trust me, if I'd never met her, I'd still be tugging on sleeves going "you gotta read this."
When I first encountered this author's novels, back in the 1970s, I had such trouble reading Walk to the End of the World that I was embarrassed. After all, I'd met the author and wanted so to say something nifty about her work. Once I read Motherlines, I could, and I did finally go back and read the first in that amazing "Holdfast" series. I've since learned that a) authors do not expect you to praise their work when you meet them and b) having a hard time with a tough book is not an insult. And by the way, if you read those books (even if you didn't but more if you did) you should not skip "They're Right, Art is Long." Oh yeah.
After the romanticization of the vampire in so many forms -- movies, television and fiction -- Vampire Tapestry was a welcome stunner of a book. Weyland ain't nice, you don't want to be lying in your four-poster bed in your diaphanous gown when he's on the prowl. So encountering him again in this book reminded me of the talents I'd so appreciated the first time around. I even enjoyed Charnas' young adult fantasy series. At a convention one time, the author read from one of the books and went on to tell where a scene came from that was so funny, those of us in the room were practically in tears and were in rapturous giggles for a very long time. If you meet Suzy, see if you can get her to tell you the story about her sister and the kitten.
So, broad range of talent, non-fiction essays, engaging fiction that dates back 20 years and that was written recently along with a spot-on collaboration. What are you waiting for? | January 2005
Andi Shechter has been a publicist, chat host, interviewer, convention-planner, essayist and reviewer. She lives in Seattle with far too many books, an old-but-cute purple computer, not enough soft toys (including a small but select hedgehog and gorilla collection), many figure skating videotapes and an esoteric collection of hot sauces. There's a Hugo Award on her mantelpiece which belongs to her partner, cartoonist and artist Stu Shiffman.