Sunday, October 28, 2007

Down the Shore with...Eric Nuzum

Halloween treat for this installment of "Down the Shore with..." Today's victim, er, subject is Eric Nuzum, author of The Dead Travel Fast: Stalking Vampires from Nosferatu to Count Chocula.

I interviewed Eric for the October issue of Washingtonian, and he's one of the people who kicked off the idea for this series. He doesn't live in NJ or PA but still has strong ties to the South Jersey Shore. I'm going to stretch that boundary line a bit up to LBI for Eric -- I didn't cover that part of the coast in my book, but how could I pass up the opportunity to interview someone who wrote a book about vampires?

1. What do you consider "your" shore town? Why?
Long Beach Island. My family has been visiting LBI since my mother was a child. Since I was a toddler, we've spent a week there every summer. Aunts, uncles, cousins--relatives from all over come and go throughout the week. We've had as many as four generations gathered there at once. Photos from Long Beach Island really become a chronicle of our lives and our life together as a family. In many ways, whenever I think of summer, I think of LBI.

2. A lot of people go to the shore just to eat. Any place that sticks out in your mind?
The LBI Pancake House. I consider myself kind of a pancake connoisseur and often seek out the best pancakes wherever I travel. The LBI Pancake House entered the list in the Top 3, and while its position changes periodically, it's never left those top spots. If the line is terrible for LBI Pancake House, I suggest going down to Beach Haven to Uncle Will's. While they aren't stellar, their pancakes are pretty good and the rest of their menu is very yummy.

I have to say, though, that one of the best parts of going out to LBI is an excuse to eat a lot of Jersey produce. Seriously, pancakes and ice cream aside, local veggies are my favorite things to eat there. Eating New Jersey vegetables reminds you what good produce should taste like.

3. Tell our readers about one special shore memory.
It actually happened this year: finding an erect ship mast in the middle of an island forest on LBI.

Recently, I've discovered geocaching as a new (incredibly geeky) hobby. For those uninitiated into the joys of geocaching, it's kinda like playing hide and seek, but with GPS units. This past year was the first year I tried geocaching on LBI. The clue for one geocache was that the target of the hunt was something that didn't belong. That was, obviously, the ship mast.

When the Powers That Be were working to slow down the erosion at the northern tip of the island (home to old Barney--the Barnegat Lighthouse), they ended up drying out a few hundred yards of former ocean just south of the lighthouse in the process. This newly exposed bit of beachfront quickly filled in with wild trees and shrubs--forming a small forest that covers most of the land.

Many years ago, when this area was covered with water, a cargo ship got caught in a sandbar and eventually sunk. When the area became dry land--there was the ship mast, sticking up out of the sand.

Why is this a special memory? Well, because often the places that are special to us are quite static--they stay pretty much the same and we like it that way. We get upset when they change. LBI changes all the time (different businesses, new houses, etc) and I'm okay with that. What makes that alright, and why this memory is special, is that a place as rich as Long Beach Island is always revealing new facets of itself to you as you spend more and more time there.

I just totally dig that I can go to a place for 30-plus summers and still discover something completely unexpected there--like a ship mast.

4. I visited Zombie World on the Wildwood Boardwalk. Any ties between vampires and zombies?
Besides the whole blood-drinking vs brain-eating thing? I'd have to say the answer is motive. Zombies are like animals--they have a singular purpose that is built into their DNA: find and eat brains. Zombies don't put a lot of "thought' into what they do. Vampires are different. They often retain their higher functions and can combine their new fangs and lack of morality with the ability to reason. In other words, they can still make decisions (just not ones that would be shared with mortals, especially the mortals they are about to bite). I believe that's what makes the vampire such a perfect monster.

If you watch the new movie 30 Days of Night (which I recently reviewed for the DCist , you'll see that sometimes unimaginative filmmakers will make zombies and vampires pretty much the same.

5. If I were to dress up like a vampire for Halloween, what essentials would I need?
Sure, you could go the typical fang, slicked back hair, and cape look, but that isn't how vampires have looked throughout their history. Even Count Dracula, as Bram Stoker envisioned him, is much different than the Bela Lugosi icon we've all come to associate with the undead. Stoker's count was rather rat-like--with long pointy fingers, pale skin, jagged teeth, and a wild mop of hair. Going back to vampire folklore, most vampires looked like...well...they look like dead bodies. There are lots of variations: the Indian version of a vampire had six arms, the Japanese vampire looked like the Creature from the Black Lagoon. There is also an old European vampire that smears cow dung all over himself, but that probably wouldn't lend to a lot of fun at parties.

6. I just finished my book -- any advice on how to pick your next project?
I spent almost three years after my first book trying to find another book topic. I think the key was to stop trying. Once I did that, the subject literally fell into my lap. I had never given any thought to vampires beforehand, but afterwards it felt like my life would never be complete until I wrote a book about vampires. I guess the bottom line is that a good book subject is never obvious (at first) and the only way to discover it is to just forget about the book part and be curious about the world.

7. And the question we all want you to answer: how is Lolly?
Lolly is amazing. For the unaware (which is probably everyone), my wife and I just adopted a French bulldog puppy who just turned 14 weeks (and is sleeping next to me now on top of a pile of her toys). I'm sure most people think their puppies are smart and amazing, but we were very fortunate. Lolly came home just a week before the book was published, so it has been a crazy time in our house. When you are dealing with the highs and lows of putting a book out into the world, it's great to come home every day to something that is just about to flip its lid because she's so happy to see you. And since you asked, you now have to suffer through some photos.

Eric will be reading at Politics & Prose in Washington, DC on Halloween -- 7pm, so plenty of time for trick or treating. Read more about The Dead Travel Fast here.

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