Still out for blood: his first novel, about a gay Roman vampire in love with Jesus, landed him in hot water with the religious right. But author Michael Schiefelbein is back—and so is his unholy hero – Summer Reading
Adam B. Vary
“I wanted Jesus.” It’s the opening line of Vampire Vow, Michael Schiefelbein’s pulpy first novel about Victor Decimus, a Roman officer under Pontius Pilate who becomes a vampire after he is refused by a young and nubile Jesus Christ. After spending the next two millennia seeking revenge in the monasteries of Europe, Victor falls for and ultimately loses an American monk. The sequel, Vampire Thrall, due this June from Alyson Books, sends Victor back to a monastery in his native Rome, where he seduces a young American artist who has secrets of his own.
Both books mix spicy beach reading with some serious spiritual matters, and Schiefelbein certainly knows from the latter. He enrolled in a seminary when he was just 14 and studied to be a priest for 10 years. A self-professed “effeminate” kid with five siblings and a distant father, the Kansas native, now 45, saw seminary life as “this great Emerald City: a place of order, of beauty, where you got a lot of attention.”
The shine, however, faded. After two years at a seminary just outside the Vatican (the setting of Thrall is based on this facility), and just two years away from ordination as a priest, Schiefelbein began to question his faith rigorously for the first time.
“I was studying about salvation and incarnation and redemption–all those ‘tions,’ I guess,” he says now with a chuckle, “and a lot of them didn’t make sense to me. And more than that too, of course, I was struggling with sexuality.”
He left the church and turned to teaching, earning a Ph.D. in English and spending the past 12 years as a professor at a Catholic college in the Memphis, Tenn., area. Openly gay at his job (and his new church), Schiefelbein found few problems–until he published Vampire Vow in 2001. Schiefelbein encountered protesters at his book signings and received “spawn of Satan” hate mail, and the controversy almost cost him his job, although he says many of his colleagues and students were actually very supportive of the book.
“It was really so obviously a matter of homophobia,” he says, “that I would have the nerve to have Jesus associate with a gay character, let alone maybe be gay.”
This, of course, raises the question: Did Schiefelbein ever have the hots for the big guy? “No, I was never conscious of sexual feelings for Jesus,” he laughs, “but spirituality is very erotic. I mean, you’re becoming one with Jesus!”
Vary also writes for Entertainment Weekly and Alternative Press.
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