Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Guest blogger, Susan Kelley, On Vampires

Is it me or is the vampire craze out control?

First there were an invasion of the cold, blood suckers into in the adult romance market. Then most recently they've moved into the young adult market. My own daughter was crazy waiting for Stephanie Meyer's latest. Yes, I did read them and I too found the main character vampire to be indeed heroic, sensitive and even sexy. But enough already. I want a warm body in my romances. A warm body with a beating heart and blood in his veins. I want a hero that's very much alive, not undead. The vampire is historically the enemy of mankind, of humans, so how did we get to this point of seeing him as attractive and desirable?

My two fantasy series have plenty of both. I can only tell you about one of them. I don't want to jinx that other series before I sell it. In my upcoming fantasy novel, The Keepers of Sulbreth, the hero is a bastard swordsman living in a medieval world and fighting demons and prejudice. He's handsome, arrogant and angry at the privileged nobility including his king. All that can only land him in trouble.

In my current romance series consisting of the books, The Greater Good, The Lesser Evil and the recently released third book, A Ruthless Good, my heroes have hot bodies and absolutely no paranormal powers. They don't drink blood either. If you too want like your men and women to have those thudding hearts in their chests so they can be broken and healed, there are many books out there.

If you're like my daughter, there's always 'Twilight' to watch over and over again now that it's available on dvd.

Read excerpts of my novels and previews of upcoming releases on my website and blog.

Admin note:
Thanks to Susan Kelley for sharing a guest blog.
Thanks to Jacqueline Lichtenberg for offering her regular day to a guest in her absence this week.


  1. I miss Jacqueline! But, I totally understand. This is an important time for our family too.

    I, too, was sick of Blood Sucking Dead Guys, but then I came realize it isn't vampires that I'm actually sick of.

    It's the knock-offs of bestselling vampire novels, like TWILIGHT and INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE.

    It seems to me what those responsibile for the knock-offs deluging the New Release shelves miss is that those bestselling novels didn't succeed simply because they have vampires in them. They succeeded because the authors struck a nerve deep inside the readers through character and plot. They appealed to deep emotional and/or psychological needs. It's the difference between regular and decaffeinated coffee. Sure, decaf is fine, but it leaves you missing that extra 'kick' you get from the real thing.
    I'm hoping to read THOSE OF MY BLOOD SOON. I just have to get my hands on a copy.

  2. Superb point, Kimber An, and I think your observation may apply to all genres.

  3. I Kimber does have a point. I liked Tanya Huff's Blood Price series, and I enjoyed the heck out of Lost Boys, but after vampires became the new black, I lost interest in most vampire stories.

    Have not read Twilight, but I caught the movie on a plane a few weeks ago. Other than being a showcase for some non-stereotyped parts for non-anglo actors, I thought it was a real yawn. Edward is a personl space invader who had a stalker quality that really tripped my creep trigger. I found the actor playing Edward just this side of repulsive in the looks department so that might have influenced me.

    The thing about vampire fiction that really gets to me is that it has completely taken over the urban/modern fantasy. It is hard to find urban fantasy without vampires or were-somethings, and there are so many cookie cutter vamp/shape shifter books out there that I think it has really hurt the image of the sub-genre. They made it hard for good Urban Fantasy books outside that mold like Spiral Hunt by Margaret Ronald to get the attention they deserve.

  4. Because I love vampires and have ever since I read DRACULA at the age of 12 (I wanted to know what the vampire thought of the events of the story -- Fred Saberhagen's delightful DRACULA TAPE, narrated in the first person by the Count telling what "really" happened, was the book I always wanted to write), I maintain that you can't have too many vampires. My essay "Love, Lust, and the Literary Vampire" on strangehorizons.com goes into much more detail than I could in a short comment, so I'll just refer you there if interested.

    Still, I must confess that I'm far more selective than I used to be about which vampire novels I read. The titles go into my annual bibliography update, but there are so MANY that one person couldn't possibly have time or money for READING them all. And some of them are, well, better than others, to put it tactfully.

    I never accepted the concept that turning into a vampire would obliterate the individual's personality. I don't find "vampire as demon-possessed corpse" interesting as a character. My interest has always been in how a person would adjust to this major change. Also, blood-drinking can be erotic (in fiction, not real life! -- sharing blood symbolizes the ultimate intimacy). For those who don't like to contemplate intimacy with the walking dead, there are many approaches to vampires that define them in other ways -- for instance, another species, as in Suzy McKee Charnas' THE VAMPIRE TAPESTRY and Jacqueline's THOSE OF MY BLOOD. That's what my own vampires are.

    I've even written a whole book on this kind of fiction, from the mid-19th century to the 1990s, DIFFERENT BLOOD: THE VAMPIRE AS ALIEN from Amber Quill Press (www.amberquill.com). Another thing I like about the vampire theme is that there are so many variations, most of which you can justify with reference to some kind of folklore somewhere in the world.

  5. First of all, thank you, Rowena for inviting me to guest blog today. Kimber does make an excellent point. I remember my high school friends and I being ga-ga over 'Dark Shadows.' And I did read the 'Twilight' books to share the experience with my daughter, but it seems every YA book and all the urban fantasy romances are about vampires. I'm not sure I remember any other paranormal or fantasy element in romance taking on such a huge presence and holding onto it for so long.

  6. Anonymous6:31 PM EDT

    Hi Susan. Wandered over from Twitter (see your tweet did work!) You mentioned Dark Shadows...I never missed it..NEVER. But I'm not a vampire lover. Let me explain. I've read some vampire stories that were hot and sensual and grabbed me. But then there were others that just left me cold. So I think it's the STORY and the vampire character is simply a stand-in for an Alpha character.

    For me? Give me a hot blooded, heart pounding cowboy! :)

  7. Twilight has nothing to do with the vampire boom. It really started over 20 years ago--I remember reading vampire romances in the Silhouette Shadows line--though there was probably a bit of a break when paranormal romance hit the skids in the late 90s.

    Quality is just like any genre--there are some good vampire books and some not-so-good ones, and there have been a variety of takes on the mythology and modernization, though I think it's getting harder and harder to be fresh.

    I, personally, am really, really tired of them. But that's a personal thing. I'm tired of other types of romances, too, while there are some that I'll never get enough of! :)

    Looking forward to your fantasy, Sue!

  8. Mfitz, thanks for illustrating my point by explaining your reaction to TWILIGHT. As far as I know, neither one of us fits into the target readership, teenage girls. Regardless of our perceptions, Stephanie Meyer nailed it for them. Rather than crank out another vampire novel, I think authors should be trying to figure how she did it and emulate that intuitive ability instead.

    Yeah, I know some people are just born intuitive, but anyone can learn to listen if they really put their minds to it.

  9. Hi Sue! I'm not a fan of the undead either. Something about animated corpses that just doesn't do it for me. Can't figure out why. Great post!

    Oh, and I really liked Dark Shadows too!

  10. I like the numerous points made that it's about the story and characters and not what fantastical being they are. Good stories and writing can make any type attractive. Still for me, an author really has to work to make me fall in love with a dead guy who wants to drink my blood. LOL
    There was a good line in 'Twilight' about the lamb falling in love with the lion. Stupid lamb.
    And thanks Cyndi for letting me know 'twittering' worked.

  11. Susan,

    If you are interested in non-vampire Urban Fantasy you should look around and try to find copies of the Bordertown anthologies edited by Terri Windling from the late 80's early 90's. Bordertown, Borderland, Life on the Border. I think you can get used copies at least on Amazon.

    They define the sub-genre for me, but it could just be they were my first into to that sort of fiction.

    Then there is War for the Oaks by Emma Bull, Classic Urban Fantasy. The pop-culture references are slightly dated, so it's sort of an 80's period piece, but I just re-read it a year ago and the story still grabbed me.

    On another topic - I second The Dracula Tape as a must read. Even if you loathe Vampire fiction it is a wonderful example of a plot that takes a story the reader thinks they know and turns it on its ear.

  12. Hi Susan -- I wandered over from The Wild Rose Press loop. I checked out your website, and I LOVE your bookcovers. Wow!

    Regarding the vamp craze -- I love a romance hero who's fierce, passionate, and crazy in love with his heroine, so much so that he's willing to move the world for her. Whether he's dead or undead makes little difference to me. As in all genres, there are some good, some bad, and that is highly subjective.

    Really enjoyed your post ;).


  13. Margaret, have you read Susan Squires' first vampire novel, Sacrament? In her version, vampirism is caused by a parasite that lives off of blood and constantly regenerates its host.

  14. It always seems when someone comes up with a hit, then the writing world tries to follow on it's coat tails. To me a well written book is what matters. I never wanted to be blood sucked but I don't mind a kiss on the neck. (grin)

  15. Yes, I've read all the books in that series by Susan Squires. She has an ingenious "theory of vampirism" not quite like any other I've seen.

    I don't doubt that many readers are attracted to vampires because they're the ultimate alpha figures, but that isn't their appeal for me. I like them partly for the same reason I like Spock on STAR TREK -- as an "alien," a being who's outwardly human but different from us in intriguing ways. I want to discover how a "monster" views the world and humanity. The eroticism of blood-sharing gives the vampire an extra layer of allure. (An energy vampire would do as well for that purpose as a blood-drinker; the symbiosis with a willing donor is what attracts me.)

  16. Lots of different takes on vampires and what can make them sexy or interesting. I've made a list of some books I'm going to check out. Vampirism as a parasitc disease is interesting. It kind of reminds me of the Stargate g'ould things.

  17. This whole thing has me thinking of the dynamics of Vampire fiction.

    I think that part of what bothers me about vampire fiction is that it is inharently about unequal relationships. Male vamps are always super-alpha and dominate their women in a way I find distasteful.

    It is a relationship where the women always had everything to loose and only the male attention to gain.

    If he is immortal and she isn't than she is basically a consumable disposable item to him., or she is prey and he is playing with his food. On top of that in this sort of plot the woman is always weak, inexperiences, and childlike compared to the immortal vamp. Which makes this sort of like pedophilia with a mature person taking advantage of an unformed person and calling it love.

    If they can stay together if she becomes a vamp then you are saying the only way a woman can be happy is if she transforms herself on every level and gives up her old life completely to be with her man, and he has the ability to force her to do that. In a way this is a mental form of rape fantasy.

    If it is one of the very few plots where true love can "cure" the vamp then it is basically the "If he loves me enough he will change" plot and that is maybe the most dangerous of all because being fed that sort of nonsense leads women to being the enablers of men's bad behavior and to staying with men who are abusive.

    I admit I want through a brief vampire fiction phase in my 20's when I hung out with theater people, had purple hair and dressed in black. But since I have become and adult I just don't see why any healthy well adjusted woman would want that sort of relationships that vampire fiction are all about. I may have to do a post about this on my blog to go into this some more.

  18. "But since I have become and adult I just don't see why any healthy well adjusted woman would want that sort of relationships that vampire fiction are all about."

    Precisely what I mean.

    However, the author's job is to intuit how the readers feel and think, rather than tell the reader how she ought to feel and think.

    The difference is huge.

    Take Young Adult fiction. Most adults look back on adolescence with bitterness or through rose-colored glasses. Either way, they cannot remember or comprehend what it's like to really feel and *be* in that place again. And they fail to connect with the readership as a result.

    I don't believe this is an excuse to feed off a readership's vulnerablities, however. I do believe understanding on the author's part can lead to the creation of stories which both empathize and *empower* the readership without judgmentalism or preaching. I do believe each reader has the potential for great strength, just like any human. The key is helping her find it.

  19. Your description does apply to quite a lot of vampire romance, but not all. I don't care much for stories in which either the vampire gets "cured" or the human partner gets transformed -- although I've read some good ones by skilled writers -- because what appeals to me is the allure of the Other, the challenge of building a relationship across a bridge of differences. The human partner need not be weak and dependent; if the vampire is bound by a code of ethics and truly loves his partner, so that he will never take her blood against her will, HE is the less powerful one (although his superhuman abilities make it look otherwise from the outside). What he requires to survive (or at least thrive, depending on one's theory of vampirism) relies completely on the donor's willingness to share her life essence with him.

    This principle controls Sime-Gen relationships in Jacqueline's fictional universe. Although the Sime is the predator and has superior speed, strength, etc., the Gen has the REAL power in the energy exchange.

  20. Margaret,
    I sort of see your point. I also love the whole "other" character, especially when a plot plays with who or what is the "other" it is why I love SF and SFR. But I still has a problem with

    "if the vampire is bound by a code of ethics and truly loves his partner, so that he will never take her blood against her will, HE is the less powerful one"

    The woman still has to surrender contol of her destiny to the Vampire's willpower. To me that is just a variation of the "If he loves me he will change" plot. It says it is OK to be with someone who could hurt you at any moment if he really loves you. That just does not feel healthy to me.

  21. "The woman still has to surrender control of her destiny to the Vampire's willpower. To me that is just a variation of the 'If he loves me he will change' plot. It says it is OK to be with someone who could hurt you at any moment if he really loves you."

    I've never thought of it quite that way, since the vampires I like to read and write about aren't demonic, but rather are "people" with a different set of temptations and problems from the rest of us. I see the validity of your point, however.

    But -- isn't that the case in every love relationship? We are always taking the risk of putting our life in the hands of someone who could hurt us terribly just because of the total extent of the mutual commitment. Hmm -- I never consciously thought of the symbiotic vampirism in my favorite fiction as a metaphor for that. Interesting. And as for greater physical strength, etc., creating a power imbalance, isn't that the case in most human male-female unions? Yet relatively few women in our culture (fortunately) have reason to fear their men will tyrannize over them or turn on them and become violent.

    Also, while I can see the danger in the "if he loves me he will change" theme -- which was one of the charges leveled against the Disney "Beauty and the Beast" (and I don't consider it valid, because the Beast clearly SHOWED he was learning to love and beginning to change BEFORE Beauty gave him her trust) -- I do believe love has the potential to transform people. So I don't consider the theme a Bad Thing in itself. It all depends how a particular work handles it.

    On the third hand, as characters in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series proverbally say, "I am not the keeper of your conscience." So there's that dimension of the issue, too.