Editor's note: My interview with Seth Grahame-Smith originally appeared in the Register-Star Newspaper March 14, 2010.
A new novel set in Rhinebeck reimagines America’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, “the Great Emancipator,” as a vampire hunter and the Civil War as a battleground for the undead.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by New York Times best-selling author Seth Grahame-Smith, follows the life of Lincoln from his early days in Kentucky, where he first takes up his ax to slay vampires, to his death at the hands of John Wilkes Booth, and yes, Booth is not of this world.
The novel opens in Rhinebeck, NY, and tells of how a mysterious man named Henry leaves the narrator, who happens to have the same name as the author, a package containing the secret diaries of the 16th president, revealing for the first time Lincoln’s lifelong quest to rid the world of vampires.
The narrator is an author who has quit writing and is running a five-and-dime in the town when his life is changed by Henry’s revelations.
Grahame-Smith, 34, said he chose to set the book in Rhinebeck and in a five-and-dime based on an actual store—Stickle’s—for a number of reasons.
His wife and in-laws are from there, he said.
“All of our relatives live in the Hudson Valley,” he said, “All within five miles of downtown Rhinebeck. They’ve owned Stickle’s for generations.”
Grahame-Smith was staying in Rhinebeck at the time he began working on the novel.
“I knew it inside and out,” he said of the setting.
The author is originally from Connecticut, but has lived in California for the pat 12 years.
The novel took about six months to write.
He spent the first two months intensely researching Lincoln’s life and times.
“You can’t become a Lincoln scholar in two months,” he admitted, adding that he was able to gain “a solid grasp of his life. I wanted to make it as accurate as possible.”
Grahame-Smith then outlined Lincoln’s life and was able to insert the vampire narrative within it.
“I had a really detailed outline,” he said.
The book subtly combines the real and the fictional and often reads like a true Lincoln biography, right down to footnotes, some actual, some not, and altered historical photographs that accompany the text.
“I wanted to give it the look and feel of a real biography,” he said. “I had the help of some really talented Photoshop people.”
He said he worked hard to get period details correct to add to the illusion, from nailing down the correct street names in 1820s New Orleans to a realistic depiction of frontier life.
“It was fun to write,” he said.
Grahame-Smith began work on “Lincoln” before his first book, the million selling “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” came out this past year.
His first book combines Jane Austen’s classic 1813 novel “Pride and Prejudice” with contemporary horror fiction.
He said it was part of the wave of mash-ups that are becoming popular.
“I don’t know if I’ll do another mash-up,” he said. “I don’t want to be the last guy to jump off the sinking ship.”
He said his next novel would most likely be straight horror. He did hedge his bets while speaking with me, admitting that if he gets an idea for a mash-up that he can’t get out of his head, he would write it.
Grahame-Smith is currently working on a number of other projects, including a new show for MTV: “The Hard Times of R. J. Berger,” which he described as a more mature version of “The Wonder Years,” a television show from the late 1980s.
“It’s coming out in June,” he said. “I’m working to get that ready for air.”
He’s also writing the screenplay for “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” which is set to be produced by Tim Burton.
Burton, best known as a director, has had a string of hit films, beginning with 1985’s Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, right up to “Alice in Wonderland,” currently in theaters.
The film will be co-produced by Timur Bekmambetov, director of 2008’s “Wanted.”
Burton and Bekmambetov recently co-produced the film “9.”
Grahame-Smith came up with the idea for the book after spending time in a number of bookstores.
He said they always seemed to be filled with both Lincoln biographies and vampire literature.
“They were the two things people couldn’t get enough of,” he said. “That’s how it began.”