As summer starts to come to a close, many of us are trying to hold on to those vacation feelings. We long to travel to far off places, eat sweets without regret, and really live. Margie Fuston’s fantastic debut Vampires, Hearts, and Other Dead Things sweeps us away to New Orleans, Louisiana, where her heroine, Victoria, must prove she loves life enough to live forever.
Victoria and her dad have always been big fans of all things vampire, watching every movie together a million times and even celebrating the anniversary of Gerald, the man who came out and claimed to be a real life vampire, each year with red drizzled sugar cookies. When her dad is diagnosed with cancer, Victoria knows finding a real vampire is the only way to save him.
Dragging her estranged childhood best friend Henry along, she travels to New Orleans on a mission. Finding the vampire is surprisingly easy—the hard part is convincing him to turn her. He insists on a series of challenges to prove her zeal for life. But it feels wrong to eat beignets while her father suffers. Conflicting feelings war inside her, but Victoria is nothing if not determined.
Vampires are coming back in a big way as we step into a new decade. Margie kindly spoke to The Young Folks about her personal affinity for the sparkly, supernatural species, and even tackled harder questions like how to write about grief.
Vampires play a huge role in your novel. What is the appeal of vampires for you?
On a very basic level, I love that they can be sexy or terrifying or, ideally, a little of both! On a deeper level, I experienced loss for the first time at a fairly young age, six or seven if I remember correctly, and I became pretty obsessed as a kid about when I would lose the next person. So reading about vampires was the ultimate escape. Why wouldn’t you want the people you love to live forever and be almost indestructible? I was really drawn to that idea, and how much I wanted that to be possible. Victoria has a lot of that same draw that’s pushing her in the book.
I love how you put a specific quote from a different vampire story before each chapter. They fit so perfectly! What was your process for finding and choosing them?
Thank you! That actually took an enormous amount of time. I wanted to use quotes from shows and movies that Victoria mentions, so I made a list of those and then tried to think of other ones that might have similar themes to the book.
I started by searching popular quotes from those movies and if anything I liked popped up, I’d watch that movie/episode to verify the quote and find any other promising lines. I ended up with a long list of quotes that felt right for different moments of the book and then it was just a matter of matching them with the chapter. I had so many quotes I loved that each chapter has about one quote that didn’t get used.
Can you share some of your favorite vampire books, movies, and TV shows?
Oh yes! My favorite question. The Vampire Diaries remains my favorite show even though it let me down so much in the end. I’m still mad about how they treated Bonnie! And I’m still team Damon even though I wouldn’t have forgiven him for snapping my sibling’s neck.
For movies, I love What We Do in the Shadows. It’s so hilarious and bloody, but it also has so much heart. I don’t know if there’s another movies as achingly beautiful as A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. It has one of my favorite lines that I used in the book. And like Victoria, I never get tired of Underworld because, as she points out, what’s not to love about Kate Beckinsale kicking butt in leather?
The setting in your novel is so vibrant! The streets of New Orleans practically come alive on its pages! How do you do it?
When I first had the idea for the book, I knew I wouldn’t be able to pull it off without going there because setting is actually one of my weak spots as a writer. I needed to feel that muggy air and taste those beignets to do it justice. (Okay, I really just wanted to go eat all the food.)
Luckily, I had the ability to go and a friend who was willing to go with me. New Orleans has become my favorite place on the planet. I could wander the French Quarter all day, every day and not get tired of it.
One of my favorite parts of the novel was the relationship between Victoria and Henry. I love the friends to lovers trope! What inspired you to write this kind of relationship?
I love Henry so much! I knew Victoria needed to take someone with her on the trip, and I wanted it to be someone who believed in her but didn’t believe in what she was doing. Henry pushes her a lot in the story, and she pushes him away a lot too, and I wanted to have that deep bond of friendship to carry them both through the hurt the other one causes.
You dealt with some heavy topics in your novel. How did you make sure you were being sensitive to the subject material, and how did you protect your own mental health while writing it?
This was a hard book to write. I chose pancreatic cancer because I’ve watched it take someone from me. I don’t know if I did protect my mental health while writing it. Actually, I know I didn’t, but I hope it resonates with people and makes someone else feel less alone if they’re feeling stuck in that same desperate kind of grief. I cried a lot writing it and editing it, but I also laughed too, and I think that was important.
Vampires, Hearts, and Other Dead Things was released on August 24, 2021.