New York Times best-selling author Mike Chen’s most recent release is the buzzy Star Wars novel Brotherhood that gives us a glimpse of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker in happier times. But he is still best known for his heartfelt science fiction, stories that are much about the power of love in all its forms as it is traditional tropes like time travel. (This is absolutely a recommendation that you should absolutely go read Here And Now And Then if you haven’t yet, by the way.)
As you might be able to tell from the title, Chen’s next book, Vampire Weekend i aims to tackle another familiar literary trope—the vampire story—with the same deft and unexpected emotional touch we find in his other novels, turning a story of the undead into an all too human meditation on connection, belonging and found family. Described as What We Do in the Shadows meets About a Boy, it follows the story of a jaded and disillusioned vampire who must learn to relate to the world again when her surly teenaged grand-nephew needs her—and her music—to get him through a tough time.
Here’s how the publisher describes the story.
Being a vampire is far from glamorous…but it can be pretty punk rock.
Everything you’ve heard about vampires is a lie. In fact, vampire life is really just a lot of blood bags and night jobs. For Louise Chao, it’s also lonely, since she swore off family ages ago—until a long-lost teenage relative shows up at her door. Whether it’s Ian’s love of music or his bad attitude, for the first time in ages, Louise feels a connection.
But as Ian uncovers Louise’s true identity, things get dangerous—especially when he asks her for the ultimate favor. One that goes beyond family…one that might just change everything vampires know about life and death forever. Louise discovers that caring about someone else is the most punk rock thing in the world. Especially for a vampire.
Vampire Weekend won’t hit shelves until January 2023, but we’re thrilled to be able to exclusively reveal the (beautiful!) cover to you right now—and give you a special sneak peek to help tide you over until then: The entire first chapter of the novel!
There’s one rule we vampires live by: Never reveal your true nature to a human.
Which made sneezing blood during band practice kind of a problem.
Nose tickles are rare for vampires, but something triggered it here, at a really inopportune moment. My face squinched, a full-body tension to successfully hold it in, and I continued without missing a beat. My left hand pressed guitar strings taut against frets, my right hand strummed at a steady rhythm, switching to single plucks as notes rang out until going back to chords for the song’s outro.
For the moment, I abided by the cardinal rule for vampires. Because as scattered as we were, exposure was really frowned upon, enough that rumors of so-called “fixers” swirled—vampires that put others back in line if they got a little too flippant with community secrets. So it probably wasn’t great that I’d revealed the truth twice already, first to my late aunt Laura, and second by being honest with my best friend/bandmate Marshall.
And though that last time ended in all sorts of heartache and misery, I vowed this time would be different. I’d get close enough to humans to play in a band while being a good vampire citizen.
Because for a vampire like me, music was nearly as important as blood. And I’d starved myself of it for too long. That’s why I was here, trying out for Copper Beach—the third band I’d auditioned for in two months.
We sped through the audition set, every beat and note building dreams of jam sessions, set lists, earsplitting drums, and crashing guitars in a shitty empty bar. With each passing second, my whole body felt more in sync, the vitality of band life becoming part of me once again. In movies, vampires were desiccated husks until they drank gallons of blood; I’d starved myself of other musicians for so long that I felt that way, and every chord strummed restored me to full strength.
A cymbal crashed to end the set’s final song and our collective noise faded, leaving only the muffled rumbles from adjacent rooms. The run-down Oakland warehouse was filled with bands stuffed into similarly tiny practice rooms, sound-insulated spaces where magic happened despite bad ventilation and faulty electrical outlets. Glances exchanged, an unspoken vibe that seemed to acknowledge that my guitar work fit them well.
The drummer, a scientist-looking guy named Josh, nodded at me while adjusting a snare bolt, and I offered a smile so pleasant my fangs likely showed.
“I think that sounded pretty—” I started before the worst possible thing happened:
Another sneeze came. A full explosion, a clear allergic reaction to something in the air too powerful to stifle.
Suddenly, blood sprayed all over David—David, as in my white Epiphone guitar. I named all my guitars, and in this case, the Epiphone’s bright crunchy tone matched the glam sound of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust/Aladdin Sane period to earn the name. And, in that moment, covered in blood: a light splatter over David’s smooth body and the black pickguard.
But what triggered it? Not many odors affected me these days, at least not in the allergic way that plagued my human youth. Vampire life meant that our bodies traded things like functioning digestive and sex organs for a diet of blood, which then increased our immune responses and metabolism to the level of “fairly freaking awesome.” Immortal wasn’t indestructible, though; crossing the street or swimming still required precautions.
Perhaps more so—at least humans in car wrecks could go to any old hospital rather than a community’s secret vampire doctors.
I turned my back to the band, and as I pulled David’s cord from the extra amp they let me use for the audition, I caught a distinct smell.
Garlic. One of the few things that triggered a universal allergic response in our bodies.
Behind me, lead singer Aidan and bassist Sally talked about how to minimize microphone feedback while Josh carefully tore down each piece of his kit. “Bless you,” Josh said without a glance. I looked up to find a vent in the corner of the small practice space, the clear origin of the smell. Though soundproof insulation lined the walls, I heard the distinctive thunk-thunk of a microwave, and I remembered that when I loaded in, Copper Beach’s practice space sat right next to the break room.
Someone microwaved garlic fries or something similar, a dish so strong it would make humans sweat out the odor.
Another nose tickle arrived, causing my eyes to twitch. My hands clenched as I forced it away, a burst going mute before it could escape. I squeezed my eyes tight, and after several moments, everything relaxed. No one even noticed me wiping the front of David with the bottom of my black shirt, a quick, awkward tug-and-scrub—it didn’t restore my gear’s usual pristine condition, but that could wait until after work tonight. Some of the blood-snot absorbed into my T-shirt, enough to hide what happened and focus on the much bigger deal:
This audition went really, really well. It might actually work, as long as I left without anyone noticing the blood smears on my guitar.
David’s strings pressed against my body as I carried him over to the case in the corner. A few clicks later and he sat nestled in its fuzzy lining.
Audition done. Mission accomplished. I took a breath and hoisted my backpack of pedals and cables. Though an hour remained before my work shift started, it seemed best to escape any lingering smell.
Except a pocket of garlic hit me again after two steps, the ventilation clearly not upgraded to post-COVID standards. That devastating pandemic didn’t affect vampires; our immune response proved to be too strong. Garlic, on the other hand, would easily give me fits of bloody sneezes for hours with one good inhale. I fought the oncoming nose tickles before picking up David’s case. “Well, I thought that we sounded good together—”
“What the fuck?” Sally asked. Then Aidan glanced over his keyboard rig. Then Josh looked.
“Oh,” I said, mind seeking excuses. I’d wiped up David with my shirt, maybe the bloodstains were more obvious than I thought. “You know what? I’d spilled some cranberry sauce on this shirt earlier today, I think—”
“Louise, your eyes are bleeding.”
My eyes. I’d been so concerned with David I’d totally forgotten my eyes.
“Shit, shit, shit,” Sally said. She walked with purpose, keeping a wide perimeter before throwing the door open.
“Oh, you know what, it’s, um, allergies. I have a garlic allergy.” Which was technically true. The garlic attack must have produced some tears during my sneezing fit; like snot and saliva, tears mixed with blood for us, and against my paler-than-usual skin, the contrast certainly stood out. “You smell that? I must have, um, burst a blood vessel when I sneezed. It happens,” I said, riffing on the fly. “I’ve got very sensitive blood vessels—”
“I don’t care what it is. I’m not dealing with any weird health stuff again.” She reached down and put on a mask, then pointed at me. “I’m not taking any risks—get the fuck out. I can’t believe you didn’t tell us about this.”
I blinked, and as I did, I felt the slightest of tears trickle from my left eye, no doubt streaking blood down the side of my face. My knuckles rubbed against it, a poor stab at appearing casual, though the repeated swipes probably didn’t help. “I’m serious, it’s allergies—”
Not only was I blowing my shot with Copper Beach, if this got out to the vampire community, I could be in serious trouble. I might even find out if the whole fixer thing was real. I turned to hide my blood tears, just in case anyone got the urge to snap a photo of it.
“Get your shit and go,” Sally said.
“Wait, I think we sounded great and—”
“Go. Leave now.”
Given the state of blood on my face, I tried not to face the band, and instead walked in a slow, awkward gait, holding my guitar case. “Hey, um, look, I understand where you’re coming from, but can you do me a favor and not say anything about my allergy…like, anywhere?”
And just like that, I was forced out, blood smeared across my face. From behind, an argument between Copper Beach broke out, Sally yelling about how she refused to take any health chances while Aidan lobbied that they should give it a try and Josh read off things he’d googled about bloody tears and whether they were contagious or a sign of any infection.
Vampirism wasn’t infectious, of course. I couldn’t even turn people if I wanted to.
In the end, though, it didn’t matter. Yet another chance with human musicians failed, a pattern that was becoming so consistent that I wondered if the universe was telling me something, like I was destined to record at home, the only other living creature in the studio with me being my dog. But, as adorable as Lola the corgi was, she didn’t exactly excel at drums.
I blew out a sigh and headed through a thankfully empty hallway out to my car, the hatchback of my white Prius popping open with a beep. The case slid in the back, then I tossed a blanket and several empty reusable bags on top of it. I wouldn’t normally leave my gear hidden in my car, but the audition and my work schedule didn’t provide a lot of breathing room.
Especially on the second Friday of the month. Also known as blood bag day. I couldn’t miss one of those.
As I settled into the driver’s seat, I pulled a metal thermos from a small ice-filled cooler on the passenger seat and unscrewed the top, picking off the loose corgi fur that wrapped around the lid. Those stumpy legs were adorable, and the unwavering loyalty was nice, but no one warned me about how much fur corgis shed.
That was the life of Louise Chao, Very Ordinary Vampire: blood and dog hair. In some parallel universe, vampires actually existed like those in movies or Anne Rice’s books: cool powers and ornate living while prancing around with luscious hair and Victorian clothes. Here, I dressed like Joan Jett circa the late 1970s, except with Lola’s fur clinging to my pants. The closest thing about me to Louis from Interview with the Vampire was my name and maybe that one time I traveled in search of kindred spirits. Except, unlike Louis’s global search for vampires, I’d followed the Ramones on a few dates of their 1996 farewell tour—until I ran out of money and had to drive for two days to get back to San Francisco.
Not quite as glamorous. But way more punk rock.
The viscous flow hit my lips, a blend of nutrition and hydration that would get me through most of the night. I drank a little slower than normal—blood wasn’t particularly tasty, so savoring it mostly wasted time. Here, the mere act of drinking gave space to ruminate, along with the simple rhythm of inhale/exhale to calm my nerves. I watched the building’s entrance, hoping a member of Copper Beach would sprint out and breathlessly say it was all a misunderstanding.
I took another sip, watching the small circle of people smoking outside of the building’s entrance. Seconds counted by, eventually leading to me finding anything on my phone as a distraction. Except the first news headline caused me to pause in a completely different way.
12 Vampire Powers We Wish We Had
Did my phone know I was a vampire? Why else would it pop up? Another semiofficial vampire rule forbade any online mentions of what we were, not even dumb blood puns. I nearly went scorched earth with a factory reset to protect my privacy when the truth hit me.
Of course tech companies didn’t know about vampires. Because vampires were superboring. Most of us worried about balancing night jobs (they’re not that easy to find) and getting weekly blood needs met without biting people (really not as common as pop culture would have you believe) rather than wielding uncanny powers.
I clicked the link, and it became clear that this had nothing to do with real vampires. Everything people assumed about vampires was wrong.
Case in point, the first vampire power myth from this article: superspeed.
Which I obviously didn’t have, otherwise I might have been able to wipe the blood tears so fast they would have appeared a trick of the light.
I skimmed the list, then purged it from my thoughts once I confirmed an algorithm hadn’t identified my biology, though it did pull up the related headline of Victim Hospitalized in Bay Area’s Third “Vampire” Attack.
I pondered the headline when my phone interrupted with a buzz, a notification appearing on the screen. But instead of Copper Beach inviting back via text, the name Eric appeared. Eric, as in San Francisco’s vampire community leader; if there was a fixer, it would have been him. I gave the message a frantic skim, but thankfully he hadn’t found out about my bloody tears already. Instead, he wrote about an upcoming meeting, something that I never bothered with.
I ignored the text, then resumed watching the practice space’s front door. Another ten minutes passed before my phone flashed a reminder that my 9:00 p.m. shift started soon.
Time was up. And this band wasn’t happening.
But it was more than that. I’d auditioned for three straight bands, three really good bands that offered the exact blend of melody and rage that I wanted. And each time, something caused it to fall apart. One band wanted to shoot for opening daytime slots at upcoming local festivals. Another was even worse—needing to meet for weekend daytime practices. And now, an accidental encounter with garlic.
Every time I found a good fit, being a vampire got in the way.
And with my last true band? Being a vampire didn’t just get in the way, it destroyed everything.
Marshall didn’t deserve what happened to him or what I said to him. Perhaps this was my karmic kickback, a purgatory where I never found another band again, let alone another best friend.
I shook off the thought, a conscious pushback at the guilt that had burned for three years. Right now, none of that mattered because I had to get to work. It was a blood day.
My car’s battery-powered engine awoke with the lightest of hums while I thumbed through my saved library of music, a snapshot of all of the important stages of my life: Bowie, punk, postpunk, new wave, Madchester, lo-fi and so on. All pieces of my identity; but for now, I needed a warm hug in the form of dance beats contradicting dark emotions. The bouncy synths and thumping bass of New Order’s seven-minute classic, “Temptation” began blasting, a wall of melancholy lyrics disguised as pop music, enveloping me as I rolled away, still bandless, in my very practical hybrid car.
By Mike Chen
Available January 2023 from MIRA.
Copyright © 2023 by Mike Chen
Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.