Vampire Author at it Again
August 16, 2001

by Gregg Barrios
San Antonio Express-News

As a student at the University of Texas at Austin in the mid-1960s, Whitley Strieber wanted to be a filmmaker.
     “I was dying to be a moviemaker when I was 20,” Strieber said on the eve of the release of The Last Vampire, a sequel to his best-selling novel and cult movie The Hunger.
     “I got accepted to the then London School of Film Technique,” the native of San Antonio said. “I was disappointed and excited by what I found there. It was sort of a slapdash institution, but I met a lot of interesting people. I hung out at Eric Clapton's flat in King's Row.”
     After the quirky London film experience, Strieber returned to the United States for an apprenticeship at the Directors Guild, which turned out to be for an assistant director (craftsman) training.
     “I'm not good at that,” he said. “I'm a creative person. I guess I should have made underground films, but I didn't have any money or equipment. I started writing novels instead.”
     He was disheartened when a postman recovered a manuscript that had been dumped in a public mailbox. Strieber's agent apparently had discarded it. The mailman, however, read the manuscript and praised it.
     “I had my first fan and my first really stinging rejection both at the same time,” he said. “That was about the third novel I had written. I wrote seven novels over the next 10 years. All of them rejected.”
     Strieber got into the advertising business and wrote on weekends in his tiny two-room apartment. Then he met his future wife, Anne.
     The former Anne Mattocks, now Strieber's co-host on the weekly radio program “Dreamland,” vividly recalled their courtship.
     “We came to New York City separately,” she said. “I was going to be in the fashion business, a designer. We met through a computer dating service. He called me because I was the only one on his list who did not have the last name of a bird.”
     Her first impression? “He was intelligent, but he had no money, no prospects.” And now? “He has prospects.”
     “I used to give up. I would throw out my typewriter,” Strieber injected. “Four or five days later, it would reappear on my desk. She didn't give up; Annie didn't give up.”
     Strieber's break came with The Wolfen in 1977. Its inspiration was a midnight stroll in Central Park.
     “I was shadowed by this pack of dogs.” he said. “It was an innocent thing, nothing scary about it. They wanted something to eat. I realized that there were real feral animals living in Manhattan.”
     With his second novel, The Hunger, Strieber became so famous that if he showed his credit card, people would start fumbling to get an autograph. “For a person who had gravitated toward writing because it is so solitary, it had become very public instead.”
     With Communion - his nonfiction tale of being visited by extraterrestrials - came another level of fame: superstardom.
     “We got 500,000 very detailed letters from readers about this type of experience, but I have never been able to find substantive evidence that this really happens in the physical world,” he said.
     “But I have a conclusion to that part of my life. I am glad that I did not ever stray from the question: What is this? What I can say is: We don't understand the human mind. Isn't that fabulous? How exciting to be in here then. That part of my work is a testament to the mystery of the human mind.”
     Earlier, he co-wrote the apocalyptic novel Warday with fellow Texan and friend James Kunetka. In its first pages, San Antonio is destroyed. Was this a cosmic joke? Strieber, 56, demurs.
     “I figured it would be a prime target due to the military infrastructure in this city,” he said of the South Texas city that is home to several Air Force and Army installations. “Blowing it off the face of the earth was also kind of fascinating. My brother was furious at me for having incinerated him.”
     So there was no subtle critique of his hometown?
     “I was never divorced from this place,” he said. “It's so profoundly a part of me.”
     And why did he and his wife decide to return to San Antonio?
     “We spent 30 happy years in New York. San Antonio is growing not only physically but culturally. It is rapidly becoming the cultural center of Texas, whether Austin or Houston like it or not. It has always been a place where the Latino and Anglo community can come together and create a new culture landscape.”
     Son Andrew, 22, a recent graduate of New York University's film school, is turning his father's dream of being a filmmaker into a reality. They are collaborating on a bilingual feature film set in South Texas.
     For now, however, Strieber makes his national book tour to promote The Last Vampire.
     The burning question in most readers' minds undoubtedly will be why he decided to revisit The Hunger.
     “Love brought me back to Miriam,” he said, referring to seductive vampire Miriam Blaylock, his Hunger protagonist. “Being a writer is a process of discovering characters rather than telling stories. Stories emerge because characters interact with one another. When I first decided to write a book about vampires, the character had a male name. Still, it was really a woman.
     “I thought to myself, this character is trying to say something about human sexuality that is very freeing. Every one of us is seeking that same freedom inside themselves, and that's what made it a best seller. Now I know all that. When I returned to Miriam in The Last Vampire, I intentionally made her an avatar of a whole new kind of sexuality on purpose.”
     Asked about his favorite of his works, Strieber deferred to Otto Preminger, who said he liked all his works including the crippled ones.
     “Every writer who exposes himself to public scrutiny is crippled. I don't think there is a book that isn't crippled. We are imperfect beings in the sense that we can imagine ourselves as perfect.
     “So, yes, I'm crippled. Every writer is crippled. I can speak of writers I admire like Stephen King or William Burroughs because they've exposed their souls and they stand available to judgment if you wish to judge them.”
     As the interview with the vampire creator ended, one last question remained.
     Your epitaph? Strieber smiled as he looked directly at his wife. “Anne made me do it.”

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