Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Aliens Who Give Rise to Vampire Legends


Cindy Holby wrote Friday June 15th:
So after I had a morning meltdown we put our heads together. And what did we come up with?
Aliens. Aliens who are the reason there is a vampire legend. Actually it was pretty cool to come up with a new concept on an old tale. Plus we made up lots of slang and my heroine only lost a few of her really snarky lines.
And in the comments Linnea wrote:
Jacqueline Lichtenberg beat you to that, darling. Read her THOSE OF MY BLOOD if you want to learn about aliens and vampires and why they're on this planet. ;-) Then read her DREAM SPY which is awesome. ~Linnea

Whee! Thank you Linnea and thank you Margaret for mentioning THOSE OF MY BLOOD and DREAMSPY and noting all the decades of history behind the "vampires are aliens from outer space" tradition.

I first got the idea from, Black Destroyer the short story -- A. E. Van Vogt? I remember the story, but I have also heard it described by many people when doing panels and none of them read the story I read! They think it's horror, and I think it's Intimate Adventure.

I do however believe that Black Destroyer was the originator of this vast and fascinating SF/Fantasy cross-genre concept. That story is one of the (many) reasons I became an SF writer.

I'm sure that Cindy originated the idea, too. Just because it's been practically done to death (ahem) doesn't mean that someone can't create it originally.

It is a logical extension of both the vampire myths and SF lore.

Think about Stargate (the movie, and then the series) and Stargate: Atlantis. Stargate (the movie) just extended this 1940's traditional SF approach from some select myths to ALL the gods in Earth's mythologies, and tied them all together in a Ragnarok of the Stars.

So I wanted to point out to those reading my comments on screenwriting something that many beginning writers don't understand.

In Hollywood, this happens all the time -- that an established, working screenwriter faced with a deadline and a monkey wrench such as Cindy describes for us would reach out for a logical extension of a concept and latch onto something a new writer has CREATED ORIGINALLY out of their own imagination.

Perhaps that author has written and even submitted the script -- or just shopped the idea around, possibly on an internet site.

A few years later a TV episode or theatrical release appears based on this new writer's original concept and the writer is absolutely convinced the established pro stole the idea.

But the pro did not steal the idea any more than Cindy and her editor stole MY idea.

(OK not quite the same. Mine has been published and re-published and widely reviewed and discussed -- and I know I was writing in an established sub-genre with its own rules.)

So back to my hypothetical story of the new screenwriter: The pro re-originated the idea. He didn't have to steal it. He just had to be well read enough and artist enough to synthesize the ingredients.

This is why you can't copyright an idea.

But here's where the new writer who thinks his idea is original can get in trouble. And it's where Cindy could get in trouble if she's unfamiliar with this huge and seething sub-genre (one of the first cross-genre genres).

When I wrote THOSE OF MY BLOOD and DREAMSPY, I already knew this SF/Fantasy/Horror hybrid genre like the back of my hand. All of its bits and pieces are part of my Sime~Gen universe premise on the thematic level (in fact Black Destroyer is one of the foundation bits of Sime~Gen).

Before writing THOSE OF MY BLOOD. I also updated my state-of-the-art research into the hybrid genre (cross-genre didn't exist at that time, and it was impossible to sell cross-genre books. THOSE OF MY BLOOD got 22 rejections and finally was published as SF because there was no SF-Romance category at that time, though a few vampire-romances had begun to appear. Rewrites had to tone down the romance and bring the SF to the fore.)

I did the worldbuilding behind THOSE OF MY BLOOD and DREAMSPY to carefully enumerate, point by point, all the thematic statements and details used by other novels (see Margaret Carter's various publications on the Vampire genre -- she's SUCH a scholar!).

I was careful not to copy or infringe or take as my own anything that had been used before. Most writers don't do that. It's too much trouble, too time consuming. And trust me, it is NOT done in Hollywood. They don't care.

They don't care because they aren't legally bound to avoid using ideas others have pioneered.
And there's a very good reason that you can't copyright AN IDEA (vampire legends originate with aliens from outer-space is an IDEA; all the little gods people have worshipped through the ages were just Go'auld mining Earth for hosts is an IDEA (and not an original one).)

The most incredibly commercial ideas in Hollywood are commercial because they aren't original -- even if the scriptwriter originates the idea without direct exposure to the literature where it's been pioneered.

What makes a concept commercial in Hollywood is that the audience is already familiar with it.
After nearly thirty years of developing the "vampires can be accounted for as visiting aliens" concept, it became a Hollywood original in Stargate where "all gods were just aliens".

(note how Stargate stays away from Christian, Moslem and Jewish beliefs -- haven't done Buddha or any LIVING religion but just pick on "old superstitions.")

(also note Stargate is being cancelled, but Atlantis will continue a while.)

So if you set out to write a script that will make you a Name in Hollywood, and you come up with something truly original that's never been done before, or a twist such as the Vampire-Alien combo, don't think that you can copyright that idea. You can't even Register it with the Guild's script-registration service. They only take completed screenplays.

An IDEA somehow exists "out there" external to our minds, and when the time is right, that IDEA inserts itself into dozens and dozens of minds (maybe millions) at about the same time. It isn't a race between you and all other originators, either.

Remember Thomas Edison wasn't the first to invent the lightbulb. But he got the historical credit because he had the commercialization machinery behind him.

After an idea has come out a few times, and failed -- THEN the big commercial success happens. So let others go ahead of you -- but to maintain your artistic integrity, if you get a chance to write the book out of the screenplay, be sure to note their names in your acknowledgements and that you walk in their footsteps.

If you think someone has stolen YOUR idea -- just remember that you stole it from the same place they got it from.

It's not the idea that becomes successful -- it's the commercial machinery behind the idea that makes the idea successful.

So it's entirely possible that because of THOSE OF MY BLOOD and DREAMSPY winnowing the ground first, Cindy's book may become the hottest commercial success of this very old idea and she may get the credit for originating it just as Thomas Edison got credit for the lightbulb.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. It always takes me a while to digest your columns, Jacqueline. Thank you!

    I understand about there being no new stories, only new ways of telling them. I've always loved mythology, after all.

    I got my books on screenwriting and finished reading them. Turned out, I wasn't too far off in my novel structures. Maybe I've internalized a lot without realizing it, just as I internalized all the mythology I've read. It won't be a whole lot of work to re-structure my novels, but I can see how it will make a huge difference.

    It's probably too late for the Star Captains' Daughter, since I have no idea what I'd do with it afterwards anyway. I married the Hero's Journey to the Boy-Meets-Girl/Boy-Loses/Girl Story and it doesn't fit anywhere in SFR that I can tell. Nevertheless, restructuring it is excellent practice for everything else. Meanwhile, I'm still revising the Holy Bennu.

    Thank you so much for setting me on the path to enlightenment! It was just the help I needed to find my way! I'm not there yet, but at least I know which direction to go now.

  2. With my books, first copyrighted in 1997, I've always mentioned somewhere that my inspiration came from Erich Von Daeniken, who also posited that all mythological and religious groups' gods originated as aliens.

    Stargate must be well aware of Von Daeniken.

    Best wishes,

  3. Ideas are just like plots. There's only so many of them. For years I kept saying someone should make a live action Spiderman movie. Yep, I had the idea, unfortunately I didn't have the financial clout to do it. Now I'm on the someone should make Johnny Quest into a live action movie. And if someone gets the idea from reading this blog then hey you stole my idea.

    When incorporating the alien/vampire legend there was some laziness on my part. ACtually I was half way through the book and I was in love with the fact that my hero was a vampire. Add to that the premise that he had to be alive one hundred years from now and the fact that I've only got six weeks to finish this book in and you've got to get creative fast.

    So here's the take on my alien/vampires. They're an ancient race called Chronolotians. They've been on earth for thousands of years. They literally suck time from your life with a hollow bone type protrusion that comes out of the palm of their hand. They can make others into Chono's or Ticks as they're called in the story but a made chrono can't make another one. To feed they jab the bone type protrusion into your heart and literally suck the life out of you. Thus the term Ticks. So technically they're not vampires. However in my world, their existence gave birth to the vampire legend.

    Just my Twist on an idea. And that's what makes us all so different. We can all take the same tale and add out own voice to it to make it a totally different story.

  4. Cindy:

    That sounds very interesting - the hollow bone in the palm thing.

    Stargate: Atlantis has the Wraith which are like that -- and so very Sime-like.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg