I have a confession to make: I love vampires.
I’ve loved them since I was a teenager, my experiences with vampires prior to that involving George Hamilton comedies and Christopher Lee hissing into the camera. Looking back, the first one I really vividly remember liking was The Hunger, which I watched as a Freshmen in High School with some friends from the Drama Club (which mom most certainly didn’t know about.) Sexy vampires, Egyptian ankhs and not a trace of fang to be seen anywhere. I was hooked.
Then I read Count Dracula, which I borrowed from my brother Jim when I went back to Washington DC to meet him (for what seemed to me to be the first time) and I read it from cover to cover sitting in his living room. I remember a sense of surprise, because the vampire that Bram Stoker described was quite a bit different from the vampire that I had grown up with as an aspect of the common zeitgeist and dim memories of Hammer Horror films. He ran around in sunlight, he didn’t bite Mina Harker three times to turn her into a vampire, and in the end he was killed not be a stake through the heart but by decapitation with a bowie-knife. Cool, right?
Okay, pedigree established: I dig vampires. Let’s move on.
A few years back, something happened: vampires became popular. Incredibly popular on a level normally only reserved for celebrity imports from England (4-piece boy bands from Liverpool, Princess Diana, soccer players, young orphan wizards.) A feeding frenzy of epic proportions resulted as publishers realized that an important demographic that would most certainly have turned their noses up on traditional romance novels was willing to gobble up vampire stories by the truckload. It’s a significant demographic — remember when bookstores didn’t even have an urban fantasy section? (You usually find it nestled between fantasy/science fiction and romance, and there’s a reason for that.)
Stephanie Meyers is not solely responsible for this: it’s a phenomena that’s been building for years, fueled by Anne Rice, Anita Blake, Charlaine Harris, Joss Whedon and others who realized the same thing the Victorians knew all along — that any story about vampires is a story about sex, and a story about vampires and sex is better still. Men and women who aren’t ready to stare the dark side of their sexuality full in the face may vicariously do so through the metaphor of the vampire in relative safety. Parents who would completely lose their shit at the idea of their teenage child reading a book on submission/domination will hardly bat an eye at the idea of a vampire story. (Please note that I’m not saying all vampires stories are BDSM analogs — I firmly believe vampire stories are popular because they are being recognized for their potential to be all things to all people, whether it’s someone looking for an allegory of resisting the dark side of the psyche, a memento mori reflection of humanity’s longing for immortality, or a pent-up attraction to bad boys.)
It must be said, however, that this stuff isn’t cool. Vampires have never, to my mind anyway, been cool. Sexy? Sure. Popular? Always. Publicly admitted? …not so much. Vampire stories were a guilty pleasure from the moment that Dr. Polidori wrote the first one, designed to shock and titilate. The stuff of penny dreadfuls and b-movies,vampires touch something very primal in the human psyche, which is I think why we are torn between liking them and not wanting to admit we do. Even as it’s become okay to admit that one likes vampire stories, I personally have a lot of friends who would be mocked if they admitted to being a fan of the Twilight series. That shit is not cool.
But I liked that. I liked that most people didn’t get it, that it was something not talked about, that most people did not understand. I’ve always been something of an outsider — I’ve long ago inoculated myself against the idea that the things I like are not mainstream and will never be mainstream. Yes, I’m a goth geek and I’m proud. All I can feel when I think of the riotous mass of women flocking to see Twilight (I used to work two blocks from the theater where they had the world premiere of New Moon, and the line was, no joke, a half-mile long and started a week before the opening) is a kind of dull resentment, like a child who realizes that the other kids in the neighborhood are playing with their toys. Stupid kids, get out of my sandbox!
It’s all pretty profoundly stupid, but there you have it. As a writer it’s even worse. What do you do when you like vampires and consequently want to write about vampires, but vampires have been written to death? (No pun intended — honest.)
I hate the idea that as an artist, as a writer, as someone who wants to share with others stories that I think are neat, I’ll be discouraged from doing that because something I like is currently a fad and thus ‘cliché.’ It all reminds me a little of the indie music fans who won’t listen to an artist after they land the big music contract because they’ve officially gone commercial — and because they can’t seem to stand the idea that other people like the same thing they like.
Perhaps I’m doing to the equivalent — denigrating a theme as cliche because people seem to like urban fantasy so much when in fact I should be grateful vampires are popular because it means that publishers are much less likely to pass up my own vampire story because of its overused subject matter. Maybe I shouldn’t worry about being ‘original’ and should simply concentrate on being ‘good.’ Full disclosure compels me to admit that I’ve done it myself: told people that I liked their story but found their use of elves/drow/dwarves/orcs/the cast of LOTRO to be cliché. Hypocrite that I am, I bitterly resent the idea that some author is allowed to call out ‘dibs!’ and lay claim to a thematic concept like they just replied ‘first’ to a post of 4Chan.
I really did let this idea of originality bother me far more than it should have for a very long time. Mike and I decided to reinvent vampires. I did a lot of research, uncovering just how much of common vampire mythology has been created from Hollywood, and how little of it seems to stem from the actual myths of the region from where the word originates. There is, it turns out, a fair amount of wiggle room to make new rules. We’d start from scratch, create their biology and history, describe their culture and provide good covers for many of the problems with vampires that are traditionally written in red sharpie marker on the very large elephant in the room. We came up with something that we both liked a lot, so much so that we’re both in the middle of writing books set in this universe (Mike with Blood Fury and me with Blood Chimera.)
Then one day I realized that someone had already beaten us to the punch: this man. He doesn’t even write fiction! (Okay, I guess that’s debatable.)
The funny-ha-ha part about this was how close the details were — right down to the Babylonian naming conventions and the breeding programs designed to allow hybrid children to do the things their reptilian parents can’t. It was like David Icke was reading our minds! But of course where I thought this was fantasy world-building, Icke seems to be completely serious. If someday David Icke should ever denounce our books as part of the Zionist global vampiric reptilian conspiracy? Ah, that will be a very special day indeed.
And I’ll want a cake with this on it to celebrate.