City Paper is not for tourists
In the category of dudes with day-jobs who write books, the scary travelogue/ history of vampires/Gothic New England/haunted houses seems to be the genre of choice. So when I got the new paper back edition of Eric Nuzum’s treatise on vampires, The Dead Travel Fast, I expected little more than an entertaining gift book. I made this assumption (a bad habit of mine) even though I already knew Nuzum was an intelligent and curious guy. And he had invited me to his birthday party. Also in attendance were: an Elvis impersonator from Potomac and the ashes of Nuzum’s cat. It takes a kind of mischievous fortitude to celebrate a shitty year (death of cat) by serenading your friends with a man in sequins.
Anyway. As soon as I brought the book home, my boyfriend ganked it, which of course made me want to read it. And it was very good. Nuzum possesses a rare willingness to endure awful things for the pleasure and enlightenment of the reader. So, in order to understand what it was like to be a vampire, he drank his own blood. He also watched every vampire movie he could find, 605 of them, including Rape of the Vampire, which has no rape.
I recently talked to Nuzum about his next book, Bring Me to Heaven: A ghost story about friendship, the search for truth, the downside of recreational drug use, guilt, punishment, a little girl in a blue dress, finding and losing true love, and one irrational fear. The book centers around the story of how Nuzum lost his mind during his freshman year of college. A lot of factors were at play: drug use, depression, social isolation. He also lost touch with reality, giving way to a delusion that haunted him for many years to come. Living in his parents’ attic, he became convinced that the ghost of a little girl (the Little Girl in the Blue Dress) was hiding in the next room, waiting to kill him. His fear and paranoia spun out of control, resulting in lost friendships, suicide attempts and hospitalization.
What’s interesting is Nuzum’s refusal to blame any person or trauma for his breakdown. Drugs and a pinch of mental illness may have pushed his unhinging along, but mostly, he walked himself over the edge. He says it all started with a fanciful childhood explanation for a thudding noise upstairs. Instead of forgetting the goof as he grew older, he slowly talked himself into believing it was true.
Nuzum got his shit together eventually, and went on to have a successful career in radio (he’s now an acquisitions executive at NPR). But he never got over that pesky fear of ghosts. So, he’s trying to get to the bottom of the phobia by visiting haunted places and writing about his experiences. His trips so far include stops in a town run by spiritualists in New York, a haunted hotel room in D.C. and the creepy Clinton Road in Newark, New Jersey. He has plans to visit an Ohio penitentiary, Rose Hall in Jamaica and even that attic in his hometown.
Nuzum is almost totally sick of talking about vampires. He’ll indulge the curious once more, on October 30 at the Barnes and Noble in Georgetown.