Year’s Best 2012: Norman Partridge on “Vampire Lake”

An Interview by Stacey Friedberg

“Vampire Lake” by Norman Partridge will be appearing in Prime’s forthcoming Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2012 edited by Paula Guran. Pre-order here!

This is a fantastic hybrid of horror and western. Why did you choose to combine these two genres?

I love them both, and have since I saw an old Universal weird western called Curse of the Undead as a kid. That one featured the star of TV’s Rawhide against a gunslinging vampire who put a whole different spin on the “Man in Black” character you saw in most westerns. Though CotU would probably be a low-buck disappointment to modern viewers, I’d never seen anything like it. I started looking for more stories like that, most of which I found in comics or on TV shows like The Twilight Zone.

These days, one of the things I like most about writing weird westerns is the opportunity to twist up the western voice with fantastic imagery. For me, that’s a chance to make some dark music that really sings.

In your mind, what would prompt someone to voluntarily go down to hell?

In “Vampire Lake” there’s only one guy with a real reason to make the trip. The others go along for the simple thing that motivates most people—money. The stretch of ground between those two motivations pretty much lays out the breadth of human nature for me.

The preacher here is everything that a preacher shouldn’t be—foul-mouthed, cruel, greedy and corrupt. What was the inspiration for this character?

No particular inspiration… or maybe just about every other person you see who uses religion or a social cause or a political agenda to line his or her pockets. Human nature hasn’t changed all that much in a hundred years. In this story, bad preachers just ride horses instead of Cadillacs.

The mythology behind Vampire Lake is fantastic – almost Lovecraftian – as it constantly hints at something bigger and much worse, even though we never learn explicitly what that might be. How did you come up with this hellish setting and its inhabitants?

The initial inspiration was a song of the same title by The Builders and the Butchers. It lit a fire under me. Of course, songs and stories are very different animals. Apart from the weird western aspect “Vampire Lake” is at heart the tale of a quest. One of the great things about writing a quest story is designing the (in this case literal) hell through which your characters journey. I had fun riffing off legends of the Old West—lost Conquistadors and hidden gold, etc. I tossed in an underground lake, albino gators, dead men made of shadows, and a vampire queen. Since I was writing about a cave, there was plenty of room down there and I did my best to fill it up. But I find it’s often effective to leave some of those shadows undisturbed, and I don’t mind leaving the mechanics of whatever particular horror I’m writing about just a little bit mysterious. The way I see it, life doesn’t usually hand out engraved blueprints or explanations. Why should fiction be any different?