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Mystery Writer Flashes Fangs

Elaine Viets displays her favorite expense account item in her husband's favorite picture. Viets dons her fangs for Key West's Fantasy Fest every year. Her husband, wearing a suitably bloody shirt, accompanies her -- just in case she needs a snack. (Photo by Kay Gordy, courtesy Elaine Viets)

Accounting departments expect reporters and mystery writers to get very creative on their expense accounts, but custom-made vampire fangs? Elaine Viets, reporter, mystery writer and creator of St. Louis sleuth Francesca Vierling, swears nothing else would do.

"I lived on Capitol Hill in the days of [former Washington, D.C., mayor] Marion Barry, when there were drug dealers, slashers and all that sort of stuff in the area. But I really didn't want to carry a gun," Viets said. An advertisement for custom-made vampire fangs seemed the perfect answer.

The fang-maker operated out of a piercing parlor in the less-than-upscale neighborhood of Mount Vernon Square. In order to cover any eventuality, Viets brought along her husband and a librarian friend for moral support. But the piercing parlor still managed to surprise them.

"Inside it looked like the kind of office where you'd get your taxes done," Viets said. "It had a gray carpet and a very nice sofa, but not overdone.

'If I smile, this entire kindergarten class is going to be in therapy for the rest of their lives!”

"There was a guy at the counter who was dressed like lawyer -- pin-stripe suit, tassels on his shoes, the whole bit. He said he wanted to buy a three-eighth inch dumbbell for a part which you and I do not have," Viets continued.

The very thought of what "Mr. Pin-stripe" wanted to do turned Viets' husband faint. On the other hand, Viets' librarian friend developed a keen interest in some "very educational" piercing catalogues scattered around the shop. Viets' fang-fitting came across as tame by comparison.

The fang-maker took a mold of Viets' teeth using the same materials and tools as a dentist. Crafted from the same kind of material used to make dentures, the resulting fangs -- canines, because Viets is a traditionalist in such matters -- matched the color of Viets' own teeth exactly.

"The first time I put [the fangs] in, I didn't know how to wear them," Viets said. "They're long, and I didn't know whether to put them in or out. I think I looked retarded the first time I wore them."

Elaine Viets at Malice Domestic 2001 (Photo by Jean Marie Ward)

But to Viets' surprise, the fangs did not cause her to lisp. "The real problem was, after a while, the teeth cut the inside of your mouth. They're very sharp. But they look very cool, and men find them oddly erotic."

The men of Viets' choice, that is. Washington's mashers and muggers viewed Viets' after-dark fashion statement the same way traditional vampires view garlic and holy water. Viets noted, "I don't care how strung out on crack you are, if you see a six-foot-tall woman in black wearing fangs, you stay away from her. I would always get a seat on the Metro, no matter how late it was -- especially when it was late.

"My favorite incident happened on a street in Washington. I was going to be photographed, so I was in full make-up with fangs, but I had my mouth shut. You know how sometimes guys come up and mumble ugly things to you? Well, this guy mumbled ugly things to me."

Viets just smiled. "The guy jumped backwards. He's never going to do that to another woman. But the greatest temptation of my life was when there was a kindergarten class crossing the street. I thought, 'If I smile, this entire kindergarten class is going to be in therapy for the rest of their lives!' I really, really thought about it, but at the last minute I just couldn't bring myself to do it."

Viets did, however, bring her fangs with her when she and her husband moved to Florida. If nothing else, the fangs make an annual appearance the Key West Fantasy Fest, which Viets describes as similar to Mardi Gras, only with fewer clothes.

"One year, there was a man -- at least, I think it was a man -- dressed as Count Dracula, and he had fangs. He saw me on the street, and I was wearing black leather and fangs. He took his cape, and he bowed to me, and I bowed back -- two vampires saluting each other. Everyone applauded…in the middle of the day!" Viets said.

Jean Marie Ward

Click here to learn more about Elaine Viets.

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