The atmosphere was what you’d expect: muted lighting, clothes the color of a moonless night, and cocktails with fog rising from each glass. One pleasant surprise was a low fi recording of Siouxsie & the Banshees that I’d swear was from a cassette tape.
“So, you’re that author.” Lilith Lamia, president of the LRAS, greeted me. Her silver hair stood out radiantly against her off-the-shoulder gown and choker with dangling daggers. She glanced at my oxford shirt, blue jeans, and penny loafers. “Darling,” she turned to her date clad in a leather vest and ripped jeans. “This is how normal people look. Don’t ever be like that.” Her gaze returned to me. “Welcome, and thanks for coming.” Then she resumed talking with Mr. Cougar Bait.
Normal people? I don’t think a normal person would write a vampire novel like mine. And thanks for coming? My invitation did not include a prompt to RSVP or even a chance to reschedule. I was given a date, time, and place — that’s all. However, since I’d just moved to town and knew nobody, I was kind of grateful to receive this summons:
A tap on the shoulder. I turned to see a young woman with a face the shape and color of a full moon, and eyes painted like Tutankhamun’s. She extended a hand that was unexpectedly warm. “I’m Morgana Ruthven, secretary of this society. I’m reading your novel for Book Club. It’s nice to meet you.”
I’m reading your novel. Many authors find these words panic-inducing, but I managed a decent deflection. “So, tell me about the book club. How many members do you have?”
“We’re up to ten, I think.” She inhaled excitedly. “This month it’s Dracula, The Un-Dead, by Dacre Stoker. Do you know it?”
Dacre Stoker, for the uninitiated, is the great grandnephew of Bram Stoker, author of the original Dracula. Dacre’s book has its fans but lately it’s been pummeled on Goodreads, resulting in a 3.14 rating. My novel is faring much better, at least right now, so I’m looking forward to the verdict from Morgana and her fellow readers.
“Yes, it’s on my list,” I half-lied. I mean, I intend to read the book but haven’t ordered it yet. “So, when are you all discussing my book?”
“Let’s ask the selection mistress.” Morgana reached over to pull another young woman toward us. “Anna Boleyn, meet Dan Kelfstad, author of Fiona’s Guardians.”
Most people mispronounce my last name. At least she got the book’s title right.
“Oh hello, Mr. 4.34 on Goodreads and…” A long curved fingernail commanded silence while she checked her phone. “4.7 on Amazon. You got some nice reviews there.”
I accepted the compliment but here I’ll reveal why Goodreads ratings and Amazon stars are so misleading. The law of averages guarantees that the more readers rate your book, the more that rating will decline. It’s only a matter of time before my novel descends into Dacre Stoker territory. Anyway, back to my conversation with the selection mistress. I felt I needed to ramp up to the “My book, when?” question:
“So how do you choose books? Do you poll the members to see what they like?”
Both women rolled their eyes. “Oh no.” Anna laughed. “You do not want the group involved at this stage. I just look for new titles, or recent ones, and check the reviews. That way, if anyone complains, I can say, ‘But this one got five stars.’”
Morgana chimed in: “And then follow up with, ‘Maybe you’re the problem. Don’t like it, here’s a glass of wine. Now shut up.’”
I waited for their laughter to recede before speaking again. “So, Anna, if any members have questions about my book, I’ll be happy to answer them in person or on Zoom. Just give me a date.”
“No authors allowed.” Anna’s curved nail sliced the air between us. “It’s really for the best. We’re a tough group.”
“But I’m here now. What’s the difference?”
Morgana put a hand on my arm. “Here, you’re a civilian. It’s a party and you’re our guest.”
Anna grabbed two smoking drinks from a passing tray. “Book Club is a lion’s den and everyone’s hungry for meat.” She handed a drink to me. “You’re safe here.”
“Not for long.” Morgana nodded toward their left. “Here comes the treasurer.”
“Mr. Klefstad, very nice to meet you.” I shook hands with a portly fellow wearing a top hat, three-piece suit, and monocle. “Bruno Kinski. I collect the money for this group. Want to become a member?”
“He can’t — not yet anyway.” Anna intervened. “We’re reading his novel for Book Club.”
“Ah yes, a pesky rule enacted by my predecessor.” Bruno wriggled his mustache. “I guess it keeps you girls honest, eh?”
Anna wrapped an arm around Morgana. “We don’t need a rule to keep us honest.”
“We’re very free about our opinions.” Morgana agreed.
Just then, everyone turned their head as the president, Lilith Lamia, queen-waved to the group and placed her hand inside her date’s bicep. Both headed for the door as Bauhaus played “She’s in Parties.” Morgana and Anna exchanged glances, and this seemed a good time to ask Anna when my book will be up for discussion. But, alas. Both quickly made for the deejay, a non-binary 20-something with bright green hair sticking out around their headphones. The skeleton on their t shirt bent sideways as they leaned down and exposed an ear. Finally, they nodded and the “girls,” as Bruno called them, moved to the center of the room and danced to “Run Away from the Sun,” by Ville Valo.
I’ll admit, I prefer the older tracks but it was nice to see gothic culture, in all its shades, flourishing in my new hometown. To be clear, I have no plans to change my clothing or hairstyle. But I’m with them in spirit — that gloomy, adumbral, give-no-fucks kind of spirit. Also, from a marketing perspective, this is my target audience. So, like a revenant, I shall return hungry for input.
Here’s hoping the next generation keeps my Goodreads rating higher than Dacre Stoker’s and that of his great-granduncle Bram. But if not, I’ll take solace in knowing I’m in very good company.
Dan Klefstad is a longtime radio host and newscaster. His latest novel, Fiona’s Guardians, is about humans who work for a beautiful vampire named Fiona. The book was adapted by Artists’ Ensemble Theater for their Mysterious Journey podcast. A short film adaptation is currently in pre-production with a release date in 2024.
Dan is currently working on the sequel. He writes in Louisville, Kentucky.