Best book title ever, wasted: The Traveling Vampire Show.

Since I had my dream, about a hypnotist clown working in a traveling haunted house, I’ve repeatedly caught myself outlining a new novel inside my head.

This is not a good thing. I was warned that this would happen:

From Chapter After Chapter by Heather Sellers, Chapter 20 —

 “When you’re working on your book, you will undoubtedly be tempted by Fresh Start Sirens. Gorgeous, tantalizing new book ideas will arrive, making juicy promises. These new ideas are going to pop up, assuring you a baggage-free new beginning. They want to lure you away from your existing project, those boring bad days of writing month after month, no end in sight. The Sexy New Book idea always promises it will never be difficult; it will never be a burden. It says it’s way, way more publishable, plus more fun. It whispers, Take me now. I’m all yours.

When this happens: Run. Run as fast as you can in the other direction. Do no get involved with this book!”

I remember reading those words, many months ago, and thinking there was no way I would ever feel the urge to cheat on my beloved baby-witch, Lizzy.

Lately though, Lizzy has been a bitch.

This clown on the other hand – with his smeared greasepaint and his insecurities – is seductive. I’ve been imagining a world in which he could live – a world populated by tattooed, pierced prop artist / roadies, and an acting troupe made up from self-identified vampires, their consenting blood dolls, militant pagans, and other societal drop-outs. There’s a middle-aged, asexual couple with fluid gender-identities too – I think they design the special effects, create the makeups and manage the books. I am in love with them all.

I never have trouble coming up with characters. When it comes to plot, though, it’s a different story. Where’s the conflict? What’s the story arc?

Which brings me to The Traveling Vampire Show. I am pissed off by it’s very existence. The title suggests a brilliant premise – one that encapsulates conflict. We all know carnivals and traveling troupes are creepy. The idea that such a show could conceal real monsters behind nothing more than gel lights and face powder is stunning. The book should write itself.

Years ago, I bought the promisingly titled paperback, rushed home, slipped into a hot bath, and started reading. I vividly remember throwing the damn thing across the bathroom an hour later, thinking: “I could write a better book than THAT!” (‘Turns out that doing so is harder than I thought it would be. I should take this opportunity to offer up a sincere apology to Mr. Laymon, may he rest in peace.)

Even then, I knew I was furious because Richard Laymon didn’t allow the book to write itself. Instead he imposed a graphically violent, verging-on-pornographic, coming-of-age story on it, forever ruining the best title ever conceived.

So now I have my hypnotist clown, and I know he is perfectly suited to being a monster keeper, but his story is stillborn. It doesn’t matter that I want to write The Traveling Vampire Show. It’s been done. And done well enough, by an author famous enough, to win a Bram Stoker award. (How that happened is beyond my ken.) Oh, and it looks like there’s a movie version in production too.

But, I guess, that is a good thing. Because I have to put aside my brown-eyed hypnotist anyway, so that I can crawl back to Lizzy, with declarations of faithfulness on my fingertips.

Maybe I could give him a cameo.

carny photo from Library of Congress

Dreaming of a hypnotist clown.

I had the most wonderful nightmare – one too long and involved to relate in full because … well, because they always are, aren’t they? An aspect of it, though, has been niggling at me all evening. My attention may be partially on the movie (Sometimes They Come Back) I’m streaming from Netflix, but, in truth, mostly I’ve been surfing the web, looking at hundreds of images of clowns.

My dream, you see, ended abruptly in the middle of an encounter with an intriguing haunted house performer: a clown / hypnotist.

[For an interesting look at the perils of working as a haunted house performer, check out this post at Huffington Post’s Weird News.]

gangster clown photo

I want to give proper credit for this photo, but can’t find the artist info. I had to use it though, because it’s the closest approximation of my dream clown that I could find.


He was beautiful in a way that isn’t to my usual taste – small, dark, wiry and of some indeterminate, but fully adult, age. His eyes were his most striking feature – with amber-brown irises which had the clear depth of a sunlit pond. He wore a shabby tailcoat, done up in a faded orange and yellow fabric which would have been better suited to upholstering a ’70s era chair. Under the coat, he wore a dirt-smudged, cream-colored Henley shirt and jeans – modern clothes which nonetheless invoked early 20th century carny garb. An untrimmed peacock feather was tucked into the water-stained, citrus-toned ribbon band on his fedora. His makeup was minimal – just a suggestion of traditional paint.

Guiding my group through his tunnel-like section of the fun house, he seemed to take an interest in me, and I caught him marking the hem of my jacket with chalk. When we emerged from the tunnel into a room lined with large, spinning spirals, he launched into a hypnotist’s patter. I deliberately led him to believe I’d be a good target for his schtick – even though I was certain I was unhypnotizable.

Meaning to play along, I was surprised when he was able to partially mesmerize me – a fact I became aware of when I realized he was causing me to have hallucinations even as he thought he was failing to affect me. When I didn’t cooperate he shifted his attention to someone else. I sensed he was embarrassed – perhaps even feeling duped – as he struggled to refocus the crowd on another mark.

I was left to come out of my semi-trance on my own. When my head finally cleared, he was gone. I felt guilty. Amazed that he had been able to affect me at all, I wanted to congratulate him and apologize for making him look bad. I went back to the beginning of his section, but a different clown was waiting at the entrance to the tunnel. Disappointed, I scanned the crowd, but failed to locate him. I was about to leave when I heard his voice bidding the replacement clown a good night. His face was devoid of paint and he had stripped out of the tailcoat and hat, but I recognized his eyes. I realized, then, that I must have been been disoriented for far longer than the few minutes I had thought.

Pocket watch with chain

As he swept past, I reached out to stop him. It was too loud for him to hear my apology. I pulled him toward a nearby bench, suddenly convinced I had need of his skill in a paranormal investigation I was conducting. I was about to explain exactly what I needed to him when I woke up.

It’s bugging me. What use would a hypnotist be in a ghost hunt? There’s gotta be a story in there somewhere.

Facts to guide the discussion:

  • I am not sensitive to clowns; I neither fear them nor particularly enjoy them.
  • I do not believe I can be hypnotized. And I’m not sure if I believe the phenomena is real for anyone.
  • The early part of the dream was more traditionally nightmare-ish: fleeing a murderous psycho, a “real” haunted house (as opposed to a fun house), etc. All very exciting.

Let the psychoanalysis begin 🙂

This is a detail of an Emmett Kelly portrait, painted by D. L. Rust. (I’ve linked the picture to the artist’s gallery site.) Rust also paints some awesome pin-up girls. (Check out the ‘Artist’s Choice’ tab.)