Jules Duchon is a vampire in New Orleans. That in and of itself illicit thoughts of leather and lace, historic mansions, beautiful women falling at his feet and a high, rich lifestyle a vampire in the Big Easy tends to live.
Well, it would be if that vampire were written by one writer in particular. But Jules Duchon does not run with the Lestat crew by any means. Jules is a cabdriver, who loves his big Cadalliac, still enjoys good cup of coffee, doesn’t like many of the other vampires in town — save for his beloved Maureen, a true vamp in the guise of a stripper of size — and Mr. Duchon weighs in somewhere in the vicinity of 450 pounds. And Jules doesn’t know how to take advantage of being a vampire; he know the traditions, he knows what he’s supposed to do, but — Lord love him — even his transformations are portly.
“The whole reason when Jules in Fat White Vampire Blues, is transforming into his other forms, the bat to the wolf, the reason those forms are also incredibly obese and clumsy is that’s how Jules saw himself,” author Andrew Fox explains. “The reason that he was coming down with what he figured were the symptoms of diabetes, arthritis, slipped disc and this that and the other thing, was because for years, he’d been reading and watching stories on TV that this is what’s going to happen to morbidly obese people and he just accepted that; that’s how his subconscious worked.”
Fox, who by day works for the Louisiana Office of Public Health and is primarily concerned with matters of nutrition and malnutrition, took his knowledge and merged it with New Orleans’ tendency to be a “truth is stranger than fiction” kinda town.
Having a front row seat to Ann Rice’s antics during the 1990s, Fox drew inspiration from her public fight with Popeye’s Chicken founder Al Copeland, as well as her tendency to buy up as much of historic New Orleans as she could, her occasional “High Gothic” books signings and even her serious weight gain, which was later diagnosed as diabetes. As much as Rice became a fixture for New Orleans gossip and tourism, she became a source of material for Fox and his first two Fat White Vampire books, Blues and the second, released this summer, Bride of the Fat White Vampire. (“I’m trying to base my titles on the Universal horror and of course there was a Ghost of Frankenstein, and a Ghost of the Fat White Vampire, eventually they’ll be a Son of the Fat White Vampire of course. One title that somebody suggested is The Fat White Vampire Walks Among Us; have to use that. And I figure is the series ever goes seriously down hill, and I want to write the book that absolutely will kill the series for all time, it will be The Fat White Vampire meets Abbot and Costello.”)
“They say, nothing good ever comes of gossip, and I generally agree with that,” Fox notes, having picked up a lot of gossip through a short network of a landlady and former girlfriend. “But I think getting the spark for Fat White Vampire Blues from this gossip has to be one of the few instances which malicious gossip lead to something positive. I started thinking if there really were vampires in New Orleans and they spent 100 or 150 years or more sucking the blood of people who eat the New Orleans diet, people who eat this incredibly rich, cream laden, deep fried incredibly high calorie food, wouldn’t these vampires be sucking down over the years gallons of cholesterol, gallons of fatty lipids and overtime would really become people of size; that a New Orleans vampire who had really been around a while would not look like Tom Cruise, maybe John Goodman, maybe Rosanne Barr, but not Tom Cruise.”
Fox is obviously having fun. And so should the readers. Jules’ antics are humorous, and sometimes may make one cringe. As he flops and frets his way from victim to victim, from his car to his coffin, Jules Duchon is laughing stock of a vampire. Both Maureen, and the vampire Jules’ turned, Doodlebug, feel sorry for him and try to help him — Maureen through love, Doodlebug through Zen training — but Jules is not one for pity. There’s nothing but pity, though, when Malice X and his vamps zero in on Jules and his feeding habits, and Fox brings forth some of New Orleans, a writers town to be sure, to his tale.
“I came up with the notion, given the racial development of New Orleans over the past 50-60 years,” Fox explains, “here I got a vampire who was born in 1895 and just think about the changes he would have seen in the 100 years he’d be around. There’s a lot more harmony than you might expect but there’s also a heck of a lot of friction. So, just as there is a rising black middle class in the city, what if there were a rising black vampire class and how would they react to this sort of left-over white working class vampire in their midst? That‘s how I came up with the notion of Malice X being an antagonist for Jules. I figured that way I could play it in a satirical way, sort of explore the racial, ethnic and class tension in the city. That’s also why I also included the High Krewe of Vlad Tepes. We really have three main socio-economic groups in the city and relationships between these groups are quite complicated and interesting so I wanted build myself a little vampire subculture that would also be split in the same way and use that vampire subculture to well, kind of comment and satirize actual community relations in the city.”
Jules and company make their way through the two books in their own particular style. There’s great loss, as all good vampire stories have, there’s knowledge gained, there’s frustrations and agony and comedy and insanity. And in Blues, there’s one hell of a confrontation, and in Bride, there’s a great murder mystery. The city and the characters even inspired that particular turn for the writer.
“Well, the wonderful thing about living in a writer’s town like New Orleans is that you have so many fascinating predecessors to sort of bounce off of. For example, in Fat White Vampire Blues, I was bouncing off John Kennedy Toole [A Confederacy of Dunces] I never read a book with better comic dialogue, and it just nails New Orleans’ sensibility so well. I’ve just always admired the book so much. For the second book, I really wanted to try and do something different and I figured, Jules, being a young adult in the 20s, 30s, 40s would have been a big fan of the pulp magazines, detective pulps, would have been a fan of Dashiell Hammet, Ray Chandler, and I tried to give that kind of a flavor to the second book.
“I wanted the two books to feel like a complete story. Much of the first book was Jules’ small circle of family and friends getting smaller and smaller, his enemies were really whittling down his family and friends until the very end when he felt like he had no reason to remain a human being anymore. So that’s when he transformed into187 white rats, to allow himself to stay in the city and enjoy some of the things he enjoyed most, but avoid all of this conflict and service and avoiding being hunted and having to hunt. But the second book, in a lot of ways, is the reverse of that, is Jules through his own efforts, and through the mysterious workings of chance, finding his circle of family and friends getting larger and larger again until finally at the end at the wedding scene he actually has a pretty decent circle built around himself again and he gives up the idea of giving up his human existence and kind of accepts responsibility, the joys and the burdens of being a human being again.”
The untraditional nature of Fox’s vampires partly stem from his admiration of certain vampire movies. “I never found the glamorous vampires to be at all interesting as characters for me to read about or to watch. The vampires that I preferred were much more the tragic haunted vampires A couple of my favorites are Lon Chaney, Jr’s Son of Dracula because he was not at all comfortable portraying a vampire and he looked totally out of place and it really came across on screen and in a lot of ways it was very endearing.
”And also William Marshall, the actor who portrayed Blacula. I love the way the scripts were written you were really rooting for Blacula to win out and recover his lost love. The poor guy had been such wonderful African nobleman, tricked into becoming a vampire by Dracula. When he came back in Harlem centuries later you just wanted him to win and get what he wanted and the hell with everyone else. It was one of the first vampire movies written that portrayed the vampire as a tragic anti-hero.”
Fox does know his stuff. He’s a long-time fan of the old horror movies like King Kong and Brideof Frankenstein, of Tomb of Dracula, Ray Bradbury, I am Legend, The Curse of Dr. Lau, and of just about every science fiction writer of the last 50 years. He knows all the genres’ conventions and uses them, playing with them like Tinker Toys, building what he want out of them. In Bride of the Fat White Vampire, he toys with something that always bugged him. “In terms of why so many characters were killed off in the first book coming back in the second book, that’s just a little commentary on all the vampire movies I watched as a kid,” he explains. “Because how many different ways did you see Dracula done in at the end of the movie, and the next week, they would find a way to bring him back! They always came back, Dracula always came back, no matter what the heck happened to him at the end of the previous movie. So that’s my sense of vampires: You can’t keep a good vampire down, you can’t even keep a bad vampire down, they always come back.”
More Fat White Vampire stories are percolating in Fox’s brain. “If there’s going to be a demand, I have a third Jules book, Ghost of the Fat White Vampire, totally plotted out. If I had to describe it in one line or less it would have to be ‘Jules’ wild, crazy time travel adventure’ and another way to describe it would be ‘a vampire’s It’s a Wonderful Life’.”
Beyond the possible continuing series, Fox has a science fiction black comedy under consideration. Called Calorie 3501, the book predicts a future where the government bans high calorie food due to escalating health cost push them to the brink of bankruptcy. Good Humor men, taking the place of Ray Bradbury’s firemen in this Fahrenheit 451 homage, go through towns confiscating and burning banned food. Enter Dr. Louis Schamlzberg, retired plastic surgeon. Fox lays out the story: “He gets involved in a hunt for a family heirloom which he was forced to sell. This particular family heirloom is the lipo-suctioned belly fat of Elvis Presley. This becomes the Maltese Falcon of my story, the great sacred object of power that numerous shadowy organizations and foreign agents are trying desperately to recover, and Louis gets sucked into all this, and ends up in the story having to dust off his old canula and reuse his ancient liposuction skills. And of course, the books’ big question is ‘Can Elvis Save the World 64 years after he died?’”
Fox does love this gig, he enjoys going science fiction and comic book conventions, talking with the fans and other professionals. He didn’t set out wanted to write vampire novels, he acknowledges that falling in love with New Orleans and the dearth of vampire wannabes the city attracted over the years has as much to do with the movies he watched over and over, and one particular co-worker on whom Jules Duchon was based. The real Jules “was a real local character. Just seeing him in the morning made the day job bearable,” Fox admits. And though he friend Jules passed away before the first book was published, Fox was able to share some of it with him, and acknowledge him in it. His wife “really appreciated it” the writer proudly and gladly admits.
“Vampires made a big impression on me,” Andrew Fox says of subject matter but concedes, “New Orleans is a fabulous place for a writer because all you have to do in open up the daily paper, turn on the evening news, and practically almost any day of the year, you’ll have enough material for a book or at least a darned good short story,” he laughs. “Things go on here that probably don’t go on anywhere else in the United States.”