Interview in Oakland Local

Oakland author AJ Harper creates vampires, werewolves that speak to diverse readers (Review)

Venus Thu, 4 Nov at 8:29am

Werewolves the Mixtape

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQRo-zbz5Ow&feature=player_embedded

The Bay Area is one of the most diverse places in the world, so it stands to reason that if vampires and werewolves roamed the street of Oakland, they would be reflective of that diversity.

Oakland author AJ Harper thinks so, at least, and in his first two novels, “Night Biters” and “Werewolves the Mix Tape,” he writes about an Oakland filled with African-American, Latino and Asian vampires and Filipino werewolves.

Anita Johnson, host of the KPFA’s Hard knock Radio says, “A J Harper has created a multi-ethnic underworld of street tribes all positioning for power, set against the gritty backdrop of Oakland.”

“The Tales of Urban Horror” novels re-examine and provide twists to the traditional vampire and werewolf myths. While the vampires and werewolves are still blood driven and possess supernatural powers, they are plagued with challenges that are all too human in nature like peer pressure and drug addiction. The manner in which they deal with and solve these dilemmas is completely new and refreshing.

Harper says his decision to write a horror story filled with multi-ethnic characters came from the dearth of books that feature monsters in urban settings. He recalls asking a bookstore clerk, did the store have any books equivalent to at the time of the Goosebumps series that featured a protagonist of color or took place in an urban setting. The clerk’s response was, “No.” When Harper asked what would have to be done to get such a book? The clerk answered, “You will have to write it.”

The result is a series of young adult novels targeted toward readers who enjoyed Harry Potter and the Twilight series, but yearn to read about characters that reflect their own rich diversity.

Middle school teacher, Christina Villarreal – Ms. V – of Oakland’s Elmhurst Preparatory Academy, wrote in her Amazon review of “Night Biters”: “My students LOVE the story. It’s filled with action, suspense, teenage drama, family triumphs and struggles, and of course, horror. This book is amazing in that it speaks to each and every one of my students. The characters in the book represent various ethnic, racial and cultural backgrounds – all of which mirror one of the few places that could be so diverse – the Bay Area. The students get excited and proud when we read a scene that set in their local neighborhood. Moreover, Harper does an excellent job of capturing the ups and downs of adolescent development in an urban setting, specifically in Oakland. Harper’s story perfectly reflects the issues that teenagers face growing up in Oakland, only he throws vampires into the mix!”

Merritt College English professor Todd Johnson says that “Harper has managed to combine horror, specific knowledge of the Bay Area’s multi-cultural populations, hip hop and DJ cultures, in a kind of postmodern parable.”

When asked does he believe in vampires and werewolves? Harper smiles.

“Oakland is a magical place, anything is possible,” he says with a laugh.

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