Monthly Archives: June 2011

Bringing Rock n’ Roll Back to YA Lit

In my best Dracula voice, “Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you, Van Helsing!”

Photo Credit Julia Guzman


No? What? It’s actually Jason Henderson (shown here)? Perhaps I messed that one up again, but don’t hold it against me. The two are easily confused. After all, the worlds they live in are essentially the same. Henderson has been described as a writer of the supernatural who wears his darkness within. His first young adult novel, 2010’s Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising has been named by the Texas Library Association to the 2011 Lone Star Reading List, a list of the top 20 books for young readers.

His character Alex, is described as James Bond meets the quintessential vampire hunter, a 14-year-old badass. Henderson is also the writer of the Sword of Dracula comic miniseries and his new Alex Van Helsing novel, Voice of the Undead is out July 26. I spoke with Henderson to discuss his fascination with vampires, paranormal pop culture and how both impact his work in YA fiction.

Q: What is it that so draws you to horror and the supernatural?

A: I don’t necessarily really even know if I believe in the supernatural at all but I’m drawn to the stories about it. I think I like it because of the opportunity for allegory. I get bored when a story is just about one thing, when it’s just about “this woman or this man grapple with whether or not they’re going to get a divorce.” That’s the kind of movie that makes me want to claw my eyes out. But then you say “a man and a woman are struggling over the decision of whether to get divorced and they discover a well that goes to Hell in their living room.” That becomes interesting to me. Are they going to get divorced? And also, demons!

Q: So why vampires more specifically?

A: I like vampires because they are these wonderful go-to fantasy symbols of a million different facets of humanity; how we sustain ourselves off of one another, how we can be gangsters, seducers, rapists, killers. You can have a facet of the vampire that reflects all of those or you can be a hero who fights against those.

Q: Do you find that your writing environment influences the kind of stories you’re writing?

A: When I’m really busy, on a deadline, I’ll go to the University of Dallas – where I actually graduated – and I’ll spend my time tucked away in an empty lecture hall or empty classroom. Sometimes it makes me feel very scholarly, which helps me to concentrate more and work hard but on the other hand, if I get rid of that feeling, it can be completely without personality, and so whatever music you start playing kind of defines the experience of writing. So if I’m writing a scene where Alex has to break onto a cruise ship by climbing a chain and knocking out some people, then I can play some James Bond music and the whole place becomes James Bond in a sense. But then if I’m writing a giant motorcycle action scene and I’m playing a lot of Rob Zombie, the whole place has a very rock and roll feel.

Q: A vampire novelist who listens to Zombie? Obviously you’re doing something right! Speaking of, your name is starting to come up more and more in connection to your work as far as awards and lists go, what is it about your work that’s standing out beyond the action and fangs? What defines it?

A: Well thank you! What makes my work mine is that I like to go several layers deep so that you can read the book and totally just enjoy the action and adventure but the more you know about the subject matter the more you catch little references and dependencies that make the book even deeper and more enjoyable for you the more that you know. If you know more about vampire literature, you will catch all this minor stuff. I really want people to catch a million different Easter Eggs in the book.

Q: Where did Alex Van Helsing come from? 

A: Alex was a character in Sword of Dracula, my comic book. It starred Veronica Van Helsing, a woman who was leading a group of commandos – the Polidorum, the same ones Alex was a part of. And it was her chasing the most powerful vampire on the planet, the Osama Bin Laden of vampires, Dracula himself, who was hiding out in France. This was an awesome comic book miniseries; it was very popular. Then a couple years ago my agent said, hey what if we tried to do a YA novel based on a comic book. I intended it to be about Ronnie Van Helsing only she was going to be 14 years-old. But by the time we were done with the development process, we decided to save the Ronnie story for later and left the rest to be about her brother, Alex. So the two stories are in the same universe.
Q: How are you planning on continuing the series? Seven books? Three? A whole series?

A: Well we know for sure that there will be a third book coming out in 2012, but beyond that is up to Harper Collins. A huge part is how wellVoice of the Undead does and how much people are looking forward to the third book, so there’s no telling. It’s up to the readers!

Q: Finally before we go, vampires; do you believe in them?

A: I have not yet encountered an actual vampire. But my mind is open!

See this post in original and far, far more at

A Darkness in Itself

Yesterday evening I finally began John Langan’s House of Windows, and managed to knock out a good seventy pages, a reading feat I hadn’t remembered since I read the Shining a month before, and before that – well, I’m not sure I can even remember. It’s been one of those books that I picked up after seeing an author – Peter Straub, if I remember correctly – commenting on it with good reviews, and has since never fully ceased screaming at me from its place on my shelf. Perhaps it was the similarity in title, and to some similar extent, premise, to Danielewski’s utterly brilliant House of Leaves, but I’ve been excited to dive into it.

Finally getting to the haunted house prompt and one scene in particular, where the narrator, Veronica, and her husband, Roger experience a strange, hallucinogenic-like happening, separate for both, but prompting similarities in a kind of stretching imminence, a darkness, a god-like totality of consciousness that speaks of sheer humbling power, in much the same way as the endless hallways of House of Leaves and the arguably derivative Grave Encounters. 

yes, there are bats hanging from my ceiling.

It reminded me of the first week I spent here in my new townhouse apartment. Though the apartment itself is part of a cozy complex and, while close enough to the foothills and arid Fort Collins area approaching those hills, there’s no sense of eeriness or desolation about the apartment itself. While for the first few weeks here, I did have to become accustomed to new bangs and rattles and my roommates leaving kitchen drawers open in the mornings, I don’t believe this place to be haunted. (I have had small experiences of fleeting figures, and one surprisingly detailed shadow figure, but I’m not sure I believe those to be of the house).

What prompted the blog post had little to do with ghosts per se, but that humbling fear of vast empty space. On the fifth night sleeping in this house (alone, my girlfriend was crashing at her own apartment that night), I finally had to dig out my small fountain and shuffle a place for it on one of my bookshelves to give me some sense of sound and light in the room. The basement bedroom is easily twice as big as my last closet (okay, it was a “room” by name only I suppose, which I constantly look back on with awe for how I managed to fit so many books and shelves along the walls in addition to my desk and bed), and my first few nights brought very little awareness of the room when the lights were off. Flip the switch, and despite the touch of blue moonlight from the window well, my room could have been any space, and could have gone on for as long as my imagination could sustain it. Like my bed was lifted at the feet, my head dropped so that I couldn’t make out anything from floor level, only the ceiling, I had the sense of detachment. Of course my things were still here, but they felt far. The quiet almost seemed to echo.

I want to defend myself, to justify that it wasn’t quite a fear of the dark, no, but that’s close to exactly what it was. Perhaps not fear in the traditional sense, I had no desire to leave my new room, nor did I worry for my safety, but it was essentially a reaction to the darkness, not the darkness that hides boogeymen, but that darkness that in itself is a boogeyman, a pressing force, a kind of eternal blanket where all space and time and perspective stops, in which we could lose even our very most basic nature, our humanity, were we to float in it for long enough.

They talk of men going insane, locked inside small dark holes, confined solitarily in prisons across the world, oubliettes, forgotten. How many of them simply walked away into that abyss?

It’s the infinite, the fear itself, the godlike, alien nature of the universe. There’s a cosmic irony somewhere deep down that I appreciate. If indeed the vastness of the universe as we know it was created necessarily to produce that spark of life on our little planet, and beyond that the spark of consciousness found in our recognition of ourselves, then in some way we should look to this sea of the dark and the unknown the way we’d look into the eyes of our parents, with a kind of appreciation and familiarity.

It’s these realizations and ironies I want to express in my writing and my work, but beyond that it’s the experience of looking into this cosmic eyeball, this infinite terror, that I want to capture in my stories and my writing. I want to capture the moment I lay in bed, awake because the quiet was too loud, turn it up to a point of mortal fear, where life and death come into a kind of epic intersection as one, and bring that to revelation.

But just the same, I turned on my fountain, filled it with water, and to my satisfaction, heard it trickle into life a few minutes later. I’ve left it on ever since.

Electric Stills

Thought you guys might appreciate some stills from the time lapse video I posted last week! 

Something tells might I might yet get a few more this summer. 

Copyright 2011 Karl Pfeiffer

Electrical Storm Time Lapses

Thoughts from the severe thunderstorms rolling through the area two evenings ago.