Arts and Culture

Westword Book Club: Lynda Hilburn on vampires, erotica and literary escapism

Reading is about more than following a narrative or learning facts; it can also be a profound shared experience that culminates in a better understanding of ourselves and each other. In that spirit, welcome to the Westword Book Club, a weekly feature that celebrates the books that inspire Denver artists.

Lynda Hilburn, an author and psychotherapist based in the Boulder area, specializes in paranormal tales of romance with titles like Diary of Narcissistic Bloodsucker. Blending genre elements before such literary mash-ups were in vogue, Hilburn believes that escaping into literature is a vital coping mechanism. Westword recently met up with Hilburn to discuss her love of disappearing into paranormal narratives, vampires and the erotic fiction business.

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Westword: Where did you get the inspiration for the Vampire Shrink series?

Lynda Hilburn: Well psychology; that's what I do, so Kismet Knight, the series' protagonist, is basically me. A younger, prettier version of me who's having a lot more fun.

I have a lot of alien abductees in my private practice, people who claim to have experienced abduction phenomena. There was a woman I was speaking to who was telling me the she didn't want to be human anymore and she wanted to go off with the aliens, and it reminded me of a lot of the vampire fiction I'd read, and I thought, "Wouldn't it be cool if there was this hunky vampire in my waiting room?" Then I started working on Vampire Shrink.

Did you have any inclination to write fiction before that? I didn't start writing fiction until 2003. Prior to that, I had written non-fiction. I had a column in Boulder for four years called the psychic counselor, do you remember the Boulder Planet? It was notoriously cool, and I got have a column published in it for the entirety of its existence, and then I worked at Colorado Daily for a while. Psychology, psychic stuff, women's stuff, academic stuff, a bit of training, but no fiction until later on. I leapt into the self-help movement right away because at first -- and I think this is true for a lot of the people in my field -- I was just trying to figure me out.

Fiction can offer a great catharsis. Sometimes life feels unbearable if we can't find a way to escape it. I read constantly. Life can really suck, so I totally get the appeal of disappearing into a universe where cooler things can happen. The human story is really similar, no matter how you dress it up. I've come to the conclusion, after being in practice for years, that there's really only a few stories. It's the same few stories over and over again, only some of them are dressed up in a hat, while others are wearing pink shoes and not immediately recognizable as the same tropes and archetypes. I like to write about Vampires; they're a favorite archetype of mine, all the way back to Bram Stoker. What I've noticed from years of my practice and my patients is that living can be very difficult. As the economy falls and fears rise, people want escape. As the world itself gets scarier, the demand for stories of the paranormal increases.

You mentioned that Dracula was an early influence?

Yes, much to my mother's horror. I was really young; it was before I was ten that I started reading that book. My mom was an avid reader, too, but I think she'd have preferred it if I were reading nursery rhymes and Nancy Drew. I did read and enjoy that stuff, but right away I wanted something darker. I've always been attracted to the shadow. I am drawn to the conflict of attempting to feel compassion for fearsome things. I was also really influenced later on by Anne Rice, surprise, surprise. I loved all her books.

What about non-vampire-related fiction?

I started reading a lot of Tom Robbins when I was a teenager. His weird, quirky, metaphorical, metaphysical, philosophical way of looking at the world was incredibly influential to me. Do you know who Carlos Castaneda is?

I don't.

Carlos Castaneda wrote these anthropological studies and people have been debating for years whether or not they were fiction or anthropology. He claimed that it was all true, that he went down to Mexico to visit this Brujo, named Don Juan, who taught him about other dimensions. The idea that there's something more out there is key for me. Feminine Mystique. I'm a strident, dyed-in-the-wool feminist, and that was a great book to get ahold of growing up.

What are you currently reading?

Currently, I've been reading more erotica. I'm trying to get back into writing it because, frankly, it sells so well. So I've been reading a lot of that, even though so much of it is ridiculous. It's strictly for research.

I'm sure it's all very high-minded.

Yeah, yeah. Well, if you look at the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon, EL James really tapped into those archetypes we talked about. No matter what you think of her writing style, the story was excellent; it really captured an appeal for people. She liberally borrowed from so many other stories, it's just Pretty Woman and Twilight blatantly combined, which is probably what annoys authors the most about her. But she really struck a nerve, she tapped into what her audience desired.

Do you think the proliferation of e-books and tablets have something to do with the success of erotica, particularly stories written by and for women?

That's such a key. To all the folks who are too embarrassed, they can just download it an read it on their Kindle.

Maybe it's something about not having to go into a smutty store off Colfax to buy it, or have its steamy cover art facing outward.

Exactly. That's why all my stories go straight to e-book. I self-publish, and so the profit from the sales goes directly into my bank account. After I get my final advance payment from a traditional publisher, I'll never see another dime. I use a company called Hot Damn that designs for my steamy covers. They're doing pretty well because romance and erotica are the hottest self-published markets. Lynda Hilburn is featured at tonight's Special Evening of Writerly Madness; the readings start at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 13 at the Boulder Bookstore. For more information about Hilburn's books and her upcoming readings, visit her official website.

Follow Byron Graham on Twitter at @ByronFG

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Byron Graham is a writer, comedian and gentleman thief from Denver. Co-host of Designated Drunkard: A Comedy Drinking Game, the deathless Lion's Lair open mic and the Mutiny Book Club podcast, Byron also writes about comedy for Westword. He cannot abide cowardice, and he's never been defeated in an open duel.
Contact: Byron Graham

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