Tuesday 3 October 2017

Interview with Elisa Hansen "The Maven of the Eventide" By David Kempf

Elisa Hansen is a writer, editor, actor, singer, vampire scholar, and media critic. She is co-founder of Chez Apocalypse and hosts the humorously analytical video essay webseries Vampire Reviews in character as the gothic Maven of the Eventide. She has a BA in Theatre Arts from Pace University, and is a member of American Mensa.

When did you first become interested in vampires?

They were always in my childhood consciousness as Awesome Things, perhaps because my mom was a gothic horror fan. But the first that really hooked me was Christopher Pike’s The Last Vampire series when I was in middle school. Reading about this amazing, powerful 6000 year old vampire who looked like a teenage girl with blond hair and green eyes like me made me feel like I could accomplish anything. She was unstoppable and dark, yet vulnerable and lovable, and I wanted to BE her.

What gave you the idea for your characters and getting on YouTube?

Lindsay Ellis helped me develop the concept for my show to be a spinoff of The Nostalgia Chick. I didn’t often appear as myself on her show (usually I played other characters), but I was there a few times as just me, Elisa, so we wanted to keep the continuity between our shows. Maven is supposed to be the same me that was on her show, just indulging in my gothic sensibilities that I normally have too much social anxiety to show in public.

At the time, I was working as sort of a staff writer for Nostalgia Chick and helping Lindsay with ideas and such. But I had a lot of ideas she wasn’t interested in pursuing, and decided to try my hand at pursuing them myself. My original show idea was one where I compared books to their film adaptations. But as I was making a list of all the books/films I wanted to talk about, I realized the bulk of them were vampire stories.
I have an old friend who does a YouTube show where he just reviews versions of Phantom of the Opera (The Phantom Reviewer), and that gave me the idea to do a show where I talk about just vampires. I scoured the internet to make sure no one else was already doing it, and I was in luck!

I liked Lindsay’s idea to do it “in character” as a shtick to add humor and framing to the concept, similar to how Nostalgia Chick was a “character” version of her critical persona. I decided my character would be a lonely, pathetic wanna-be Elvira so I could indulge in my dorkiest side, and I came up with the name Maven of the Eventide as a play on Elvira’s title Mistress of the Dark.

I love the roommate character insisting you pay your share of the rent. What made you decide to mix the real world creeping into your fantasy world you created?

When I started the show, I lived in NYC in close proximity to a lot of my fellow video-makers, and we loved incorporating skits and cutaway gags into our reviews. We had already established our characterized versions of ourselves as zany dysfunctional roommates in Nostalgia Chick. It was Lindsay’s idea to add the part with her in it to the end of my very first video as a way to connect our shows and add a framing context for how I fit into Channel Awesome with the whole Team NChick shared universe we were building at the time that eventually became Chez Apocalypse.

But now that our shows have developed into (even)more analytical video essays, the cutaway storyline bits don’t feel like they fit as well. Also, I’ve sadly moved away from NYC and am no longer near any of the friends who used to appear in my videos. So I’ll have to do with using my toddler for comedic cutaways from now on.

How did you develop an interest in fantasy/horror?

I can recall playing pretend super heroes as a tiny kid with my little brothers, and though they always played the white ninjas, I insisted on being the lord of darkness. I wrapped a heavy dark grey blanket around my shoulders as a cloak. My mother used to read me Edgar Allen Poe as bedtime stories (amid other lighter things, of course). She also had this amazing popup book of classic Victorian horror that I loved to play with. I was big into Nancy Drew at a tender age, and the stories where she went to haunted houses with creepy secret passages were my absolute favorite.

But I think it really started with Phantom of the Opera. I can remember a day on the playground when I was 5 years old. Another girl was talking about seeing the Phantom musical, and how scary it was, and I was fascinated. From then on I had this mentality that Phantom was the Epitome of All Things. When I was 11, I finally got a CD of the musical. I liked it all right, but I went and bought the book and after reading it, I was obsessed. Phantom led me to other spooky gothic classics, and it was a rapid spiral from there.

Is this a full time job?

Yes, in a sense that it’s the only thing I do that pays the bills (Thank you Patreon patrons!!!) . But I’m also a novelist. I’m currently shopping a finished novel with agents for publication (yes it has vampires in it). Meanwhile I’m writing a new novel about a YouTuber that I plan to finish by the end of the year, as well as working on the sequel for the novel I’m shopping. I spend about 2 weeks a month working on Vampire Reviews and the rest of the time writing fiction. I also sometimes do work for Lindsay.

Do you have any plans to write vampire fiction yourself?

Though vampires are a part of my novel (and the two other books in that trilogy), I wouldn’t really consider it a “vampire story.” It’s actually a monster mash where I include several different supernatural elements, and vampires are just one of them. I’ve often said that with how over-done vampires are in fiction after all these years, it takes some amazing geniuses to come up with awesome fresh original ways to tell vampire stories. I am not an amazing genius. But I do like to have fun with vampires for whatever that’s worth, so I toss them in when I can and try to do my best by them.

I have another novel outlined I haven’t started on writing yet that is an actual “vampire story” where the vampires are a humanoid species that evolved alongside Homo sapiens. I plan to get working on that book as soon as I finish my current projects as well as (yet) another novel I have outlined that’s more futuristic scifi with monsters, but no vampires.

Why do you think horror and fantasy books remain so popular?

They provide allegories for ourselves in an exciting, fun way. The concept of The Other is something a lot more people can relate to than not. On some level, most people feel like they don’t quite fit in with other people, they have some deep inner self that nobody fully understands. Even the most socially-accepted popular people often have secret insecurities. Some horror and fantasy show these dark forces as being defeated, and that gives people hope that they can conquer their own demons. Other stories show the dark forces as being relatable and sympathetic, and that gives people a connection and understanding they don’t get from other media.

What do you think the difference between American horror and British horror is?

The first thing that comes to mind is the Hammer Dracula films compared to the Universal Studios ones. The original American interpretation of Dracula was sterilized and snooty. It had a nouveau riche pretention to it, tried to be “glamorous,” clean. Whereas the British interpretation was sexier, bloodier, and took more risks. Some might call it “trashy,” and yet the Hammer films still have this much more widespread reputation for being “classy” because of their Britishness. Due to the stereotype that anything British is automatically “sophisticated,” they could get away with digging much deeper into the dark corners of Dracula and still attract acclaim from a widespread international audience.

What are your favorite horror books?

I’m assuming Dracula, Carmilla, Frankenstein, Phantom, Dorian Grey, etc. are too obvious to mention?

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
World War Z by Max Brooks
The Shadow Out of Time by H.P. Lovecraft

What are some of your favorite horror movies?

The Phantom of the Opera (1989, starring Robert Englund)—It is not anywhere close to being accurate to Phantom canon, but it is so much fun from a fandom perspective. The Phantom is made into this grotesque superhero badass, but he’s also head over heels in love. So much my aesthetic.

Interview with the Vampire—unlike my mixed opinion on the book, there’s no denying the film is fantastic and an awesomely seminal work in pivoting the modern popular relationship with vampires and everything I personally love about what they can represent.

Crimson Peak—This definitely isn’t Guillermo del Toro’s best film, and I had some big issues with parts of its script, but it is SO BEAUTIFUAL to look at. The most aesthetically pleasing creepy spooky gothic film of the modern era.

Pan’s Labrynth—Now this is de Toro’s best film. The horror elements are a lesser part of it, but when they’re on screen, they’re life-affirming.

Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire is my favorite novel of all time. It sounds like it might be yours as well. Is it?

I think it’s probably the most IMPORTANT novel of all time to me. If it wasn’t for that novel, I absolutely wouldn’t exist as I do, and my show for sure wouldn’t be a thing. I’ve been a Vampire Chronicles fan for decades and it significantly shaped my emotional and personal development. There’s definitely still fanfiction of mine out there on the internet for it. But I’m a Lestat fan, and Interview isn’t good to him. He wasn’t fully developed yet in that novel. It’s probably Anne Rice’s BEST book, but not my favorite. I love The Vampire Lestat more.

But my favorite novel of ALL TIME would have to be Wuthering Heigths, followed very closely by The Phantom of the Opera. I love intricately twisted character dynamics and inevitable tragic inability for resolution, and I’m all about the classic gothic aesthetic of oldy times. Modern novels just don’t reach me as deeply. My favorite characters are Gothic Villains In Love, and those two books are the apex of that.

Do you have any advice for folks who want to create YouTube character?

I don’t think creating a character is necessary. There are tons of successful YouTube personalities who are just Being Themselves. People find them relatable and can connect to their realness.

But if you really do want to create a “character,” look to yourself as well. Take something about yourself that’s sincere and heighten and exaggerate it. You can use hyperbole to make points in whatever your discussing, but if it’s rooted in something personal, then it will be that much more impactful. The best parody comes out of love. You can’t joke about something in a truly enjoyable and engaging way if you don’t have some level of appreciation for it to grant you nuanced understanding of its significance. Hatefulness and cruelty do not make for good characters.

Do you have any advice for new writers?

First of all, finish what you’re writing. If you haven’t finished a Thing yet, sit your butt down and WRITE. Don’t write what you think other people would like. Write what YOU like. The best story you can write is something that no one else has yet, but you wish existed. If you haven’t finished anything yet, stop looking for advice, because it’s distracting you from writing.

But after you’ve written a Thing, get feedback, and LISTEN to that feedback without “explaining” anything. Ask several people you trust, and if more than one person says the same thing, they’re probably right. Listen for repeated criticism, and take lots of notes. Do a word search of your manuscript for “had” and “that” and delete every last one you possibly can. Kill 99.9% of adverbs. Replace dialogue tags with actions and descriptions. And then write more. Writers are people who write. Have you written lately?

What is your opinion of the new self-publishing trend?

I think it’s great. It takes a lot of work, and you have to be comfortable (and savvy) with self-promotion to succeed at it. But it offers opportunities for so many writers to get their work out there that traditional publishing will not support. An agent isn’t going to take a chance on a book if they think they can’t make money off it even if they think the book is amazing. But an author in a niche market can do very well with a book like that if they know how to reach their target audience. If you’re interested in self-publishing, do invest in having your book professionally edited, though. Don’t put it out there until you’ve revised, revised, and revised again. Get professional feedback and follow it. So many people are self-publishing their first drafts, and that’s just self-sabotage.

What are your current projects?

Aside from the novels I’m working on, I’ve got a list of upcoming Vampire Reviews based on my Patreon pledge requests. I’m really enjoying working on a request basis because it presents a challenge to come up with ideas I normally wouldn’t have been inspired to otherwise. Kind of like getting an assignment to write an essay with a deadline. I keep my list private as a perk for my patrons, but I can let you know there are some very popular vampire films on it as well as some totally obscure things.

Thank you for joining us, and anyone interested in finding out more can check out the links below.