ON A TABLE at Laurell K. Hamilton's home in Jefferson County are a boom box, a stack of CDs, a laptop computer, a mug of hot tea and notes she has jotted to herself. Nearby, Snoopy, the parrot, squawks. Pugsley, the pug, is napping.
As for Hamilton, she's tending to her 15-month-old daughter, Trinity, but shortly she will magically move herself into a world of make-believe. She's about to begin another day of vampire hunting and depicting activities of werewolves in a book she is writing. All this and ghoulish bloodsucking, too, on a weekday morning.
At once, Hamilton's brown eyes, riveted on the computer screen, may dance or narrow to a piercing stare. Her moods depend on the pictures and places that occupy her imagination as the story builds. In her fancy, she creates a room that brims with hints of vamps and werewolves. Is that a hissing, 200-year-old zombie in the corner? Visitors dare not press the issue, knowing full well the irresistible urge a vampire has to nibble on one's neck. A wise policy is to never take your eyes off the vampire in front of you to glance at the werewolf in back of you.
Her most recent book is "The Lunatic Cafe" (Ace, $5.99), the fourth in a series. Each book is set in St. Louis, and each is narrated by chief character Anita Blake, who raises the dead for a living. Blake moonlights as a legal vampire executioner whose skills are in demand by police units from Belleville to Eureka. She has more than a dozen vampire kills under her belt.
In all, Hamilton, 32, has sold nine books. "Guilty Pleasures," the first book in the Blake series, is in its third printing. "The Laughing Corpse," "Circus of the Damned" and "The Lunatic Cafe" are in their second printing. Her publisher wants a new book completed every six to nine months.
Hamilton had made vampires and werewolves her writing specialty long before a recent growth in popularity among vampire cults. Books, films and role-playing vampire games contributed to the surge in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In "From Dusk Till Dawn," a current film on the topic, Quentin Tarantino and George Clooney happen into a biker bar run by vampires.
The books in Hamilton's Blake series are all mysteries. They don't follow Dracula folklore perfectly - they're fun and unpretentious. At times, breezy.
"I get letters from people who say, `I've never read books like this,' " says Hamilton, who writes with stereo earphones clamped to her head while listening to CDs of Depeche Mode and U2.
"Anita's world is pretty much our world. In other words, everything that goes bump in the night is what you have to deal with day by day."
This means you could very well meet up with vampires or werewolves at the Lunatic Cafe, in University City, or at Guilty Pleasures, a male strip bar (sort of a Chippendales with fangs) in the heart of the vampire district on Laclede's Landing. All fictional, of course.
According to legend, holy items can be used for protection from vampires and other mythological creatures that are evil. At Guilty Pleasures, no crosses or crucifixes are allowed inside. You've got to give them to the holy-item check girl at the door.
In Anita's world, Guilty Pleasures doesn't advertise itself because, as Hamilton explains, "People discriminate against werewolves. Werewolves could lose their jobs. They're still in the closet. The few who aren't walk around in black leather. Remember, it only takes one werewolf to eat a few people and it sets back the cause. Vampires get much better press."
In large measure, Hamilton's grandmother, Laura Gentry, 84, was responsible for Laurell's interest in vampire fangs and lycanthropy (taking the shape and behavior of the animal that bites you), not to mention an urge to plunge into the bewitching fantasy world of shapeshifters, wererats, sweet-tasting blood and humans who are transformed into furry beings. …