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7/7/2010

The Arts

Hubbard’s vampires don’t suck …
Neither does the writer’s creative energy

 

The Season of Risks
By Susan Hubbard
Simon & Schuster,
320 pages

“It must be age,” says Susan Hubbard over the phone about the jetlag that’s been lingering since her return several days ago from Ireland. 

A couple of clues into the author’s world of fiction just dropped: The enduring preternatural characters in Hubbard’s trio of “ethical vampire novels” do not age; perhaps she has issues with growing older? And an Irish youth named Sloan pops up in The Season of Risks, the third book in the series, just released July 6 by Simon & Schuster. Mere coincidences?

When we talk in person at the UCF professor’s condo in Cape Canaveral overlooking the Banana River, it becomes clear that there are no coincidences in Hubbard’s carefully crafted stories, though her real life is full of them. For her continuing vampire novels, the experienced fiction writer deliberately lures readers with supernatural color and leaves them thinking about the responsibilities of mankind: Hubbard is a social activist, not a vamp freak. 

“Although I didn’t realize it as I was writing the first book, after it was published there was a kind of sneaky agenda, in that I got to talk about political and social and cultural questions,” Hubbard confides. “Had I been writing nonfiction or a different genre of fiction they would have seemed preachy.” 

Hubbard explains that since vampires don’t die, earth is their eternal home, and her socially responsible drinkers of blood want to preserve their natural habitat. A young and handsome independent presidential candidate devoted to environmental concerns was introduced in Hubbard’s second entry, The Year of Disappearances (2008), and he continues to beat his drum – as well as heroine Ariella Montero’s heart – in The Season of Risks.

Early in the new book, in an inner dialogue, 15-year-old Ari waxes political about her inamorato: “No third-party candidates ever got that far, and at best they were considered spoilers, stealing votes from the main-party contenders,” says the young prodigy, recalling her father’s schooling. The back story for that paragraph finds Hubbard finishing the book in the climate of the 2008 presidential campaign and, indeed, those are her personal views on Ralph Nader’s entry in the race that appear, somewhat in disguise. Such duality is Hubbard’s style.

And, yes, key character Ari is underage but lives like an adult, thanks to parental consent and funding, and a fake I.D. She is only 14 in Hubbard’s first-born The Society of S (2007). Again the writer’s own perspective comes into the character; she was a late-entry to her family, born when her elder sisters were already 16 and 17. She remembers how it feels to be ready for life but not considered old enough to live it. Hubbard is the mother of two daughters, now on their own, and she nurtures her college students, including several post-grads writing theses. She does understand the drive to be an independent individual. 

The Society of S was pushed into the market as young adult fiction a la Twilight – another coincidence, the writer says – but Hubbard’s following skews older. Though several volumes of her short stories have already published, she says there was no thrill like having two editors vying for her creative property, which eventually landed with Simon & Schuster. With reported sales of 100,000 in 15 countries for the first two books, Hubbard got a last-minute go-ahead for No. 3.

In the historical setup maintained throughout the books, Hubbard’s protagonists are drawn up as “ethical” vampires called “Sanguinists,” a society that advocates for equal rights between the living and the undead, and “subsist on blood-based sera and artificial blood.” They do not quench their thirst on human necks; half-human, half-vampire Ari and her family don’t even eat meat (and neither does Hubbard). Competing ideologies are held by two other sects: the savage “Colonists” that cultivate humans and harvest them for “food and sport” and selfish “Nebulists” that know humans are headed for extinction so they pick them off one at a time as needed to survive. All three factions have a no-war policy, until hell breaks loose in Season of Risks.

When asked about the introduction of Irish art student Sloan to the book, Hubbard says she spent a summer in the working-class Shankill neighborhood of Belfast in the summer of 1970, on assignment for the International Voluntary Service. “It was my job to keep these young people out of trouble, which turned out to be impossible,” she recalls. She won the rock-throwers over – kids, then teens, then thugs – by telling stories under a shelter on the bleak playground. She took away a lifetime fascination with Ireland and a clear memory of one rough kid who never stopped asking her for her leather belt. Her face transforms and her bright blue eyes darken as she imitates his demand to “Gimme dat belt” that she ignored. 

“I have been impressed by the power of words to make change happen – to distract, to deepen,” she says. “Stories can distract us from our everyday world as well as reveal aspects of it to us that we’ve never thought before.”

Hubbard’s sensibilities are keen for nuance, and she has been accused of “writing with her nose” because she relies heavily on her olfactory system. The first couple of paragraphs of Seasons of Risk spell it out: 

The season of risks began with the summer of love. … Those feelings came with the smell of coconut oil, worn by others to tan but by me as perfume; the sharp green scents of the ocean, always nearby; the surf sounding bass notes for wavering songs played on some distant radio; and sand damp-soft between my toes, gritty on my clothes, and on my lips the taste of salt from the sea or from tears.

Those words showcase her ability to capture local color from people and places all over the world. Hubbard is adamant that she does not create personas based upon real individuals; her characters are all “composites” and so is Sloan. It’s her feeling that trying to re-create a real-life person in fiction is “limiting,” whereas developing a character of her own can be very “liberating.” She can become obsessed with researching details, like the taste of an oyster or the delicacy of a night-blooming flower. The teacherly side of Hubbard comes out as she explains that her vampire series falls into the genre of speculative fiction – plots that really could happen. “More and more literary writers are turning to it to examine realistic questions and to use complicated realistic characters, but also to incorporate elements of the supernatural in the story,” she says.

The ideas for Hubbard’s stories are often delivered in a dream, and she’s learned to write them down and not question the mystery. She writes many notes to herself and often finds that information on a topic of interest just presents itself; she’s learned to file it away for future reference. At this moment in time, there are many scribbled notes hanging around, as Hubbard readies for book signings and promotional hoopla for Seasons of Risk. That’s because she is deep into a whole new novel and storyline that was sparked by her experiences in Ireland this summer when she met up again with an elder Irishwoman with powers of prognostication. 

“I had a conversation with … an oracle in west Cork, who says that rocks and stones speak to her,” says Hubbard, “and she is the most intuitive person I have ever met.”

Ari fans, fear not. Hubbard already has the first scene for the next vampire book clearly in her head and dreams. “The funny thing about these characters is that they are still with me,” she shares. Not a day goes by without some inspiration being dropped into her consciousness. Unlike the denizens of her short stories, who go away when the project is done, “These characters keep coming to me and not a day goes by when I don’t think, here we go again” and another intriguing tidbit gets dropped into the file. 

Susan Hubbard appears on the Out and About radio show with Jeremy Seghers, noon July 9 on WPRK-FM (91.5), and there’s a book signing 1 p.m. July 10 at Books-a-Million, 323 E. Merritt Island Causeway, Merritt Island; 

www.susanhubbard.com.

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