When I was a little girl, I watched a film that introduced me to vampires. It was the 80s, the film was a bit on the cheeky side, and I probably should have just gone to bed. Yet I was allowed to stay awake and watch. I have no recollection of the title of the film or who starred in it. I just know that it introduced me to vampires. To the myth itself. The concept of the vampire was way more exciting to me than the film.
I fell asleep in my bed with my covers pulled right up to my neck. I kept my rosary near. When I woke in the middle of the night, realizing that my neck was cold and the covers had fallen down to my abdomen I was terrified. What if a vampire found me? What if they watched people, while they slept, waiting for the sleeping person’s throat to be exposed. Turned at just the right angle so as to be irresistible to a creature who survives off of blood.
I also discovered my writing ability when I was a little girl. Back in the good old 80s. Yet the vampire story wasn’t something I even thought about penning until recently.
The combination of death and seductiveness really works for some people. A lot of people actually. Yet the reality behind the myth is gruesome at the very least.
Remaining physically fit, with superhuman strength and being immortal is pretty appealing. Despite it meaning being immortal unless someone cuts off your head, drives a stake through your heart and burns you. Then you’re not immortal anymore.
Let’s break down the history of why people may have believed in vampires. Basic superstitions. Believing that those who were horrible in life might continue to be so in death. So, if diseases or tragedies came about in a village, a recently deceased jerk might have been thought to be the culprit. Burial customs that might have meant accidentally interring some alive, thus finding claw marks on the inside of coffins near graves where people reported heard noises. Horrid. Exhuming bodies thought to be vampires and finding they hadn’t decomposed as much as expected. The body may have made a noise when touched. Natural gases could have caused this. The process of decomposition after death wasn’t completely understood some time ago.
And of course, serial killers. Real life monsters with deranged minds obsessed with blood.
Most people know Vlad the Impaler is the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In Bram Stoker’s Dracula he is portrayed as a frightening yet enticing character. To some folks in Romania, Vlad The Impaler isn’t seen as a murderer, rather as a national hero who defended his territory using brutal methods. Some believe that he kept order through the use of torture. That he used ‘necessarily harsh’ ways of punishment and establishing authority. Like impaling Turkish envoys. And soldiers. And women and children. And boiling people alive. History can be very subjective.
As for the Hungarian Countess Elisabeth Bathory…she has been portrayed in some popular culture as a bit on the sexy side. A sultry, powerful woman. Personally I don’t have much time for depicting her as some sort of wicked seductress. Wicked seductresses are cool. I like them. Disturbed women who liked to torture little girls I don’t like. That’s not being a wicked seductress. Her nickname ‘The Blood Countess’ came after it was discovered that she believed the blood of young, virginal girls made her skin softer and smoother. And that she enjoyed tormenting children by sticking needles beneath their nails. The Countess was one for brutal ways of punishment too. She had a thief sewed alive inside a horse. This might not shock you but Erzsebet, (the Hungarian version of Elisabeth), suffered from severe mental instability.
Tales of graphically torturing the innocent are not my preferred form of entertainment. However, there have been books that have used Bathory’s ‘legend’ that have been well done.
Linda Lafferty’s House of Bathory is an example. Taking into account the humanity and identity of the poor young ladies who found themselves employed by the Blood Countess. Poor village girls whose murders long went unacknowledged due to the powerful status of the Bathory name. Also acknowledging Erzsebet’s tragic mental state.
There are a host of other murderers who were into very unfortunate ways of ending people’s lives…involving blood drinking. But….let’s leave that there. You get the idea. *goes to wash hands*
One vampire legend ‘adaptation’ I really enjoyed was Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire. New Orleans is a wonderful, gothic setting for a vampire story. It’s rife with paranormal history and legends. Including vampiric ones. I think part of this could be because of the area’s history. Deep in the slave holding south, where all manner of decadence and cruelty resided. For me, I’ll leave the New Orleans scene to native folks. I think people who have lived in and/or extensively visited AND studied a place are the ones best to write about it. Still, it doesn’t stop people who know bugger all about something from writing about it. Fiction…is unbelievably subjective.
Twilight..*cringe*…*groan*…*hiss*…say the haters. I’ve heard people say that Twilight insulted the vampire genre by its very existence with its sparkly, vegetarian vampires and metaphor for chastity. I comprehend the sentiment. I get it. However, let me just say now….I enjoyed the movies…and the books afterwards. Bored housewife desperate to escape back into her loved up youth comments aside, I wouldn’t say they were the ‘best’ out of the vampire genre and representative of it as a whole. But they were enjoyable. For me. A bored housewife, (*cough* writer), desperate to escape back into her youth. And like…millions of others of fans of different ages.
How old are you?
How long have you been 35?
I would have perhaps liked something a bit darker. Not involving teenage characters and perhaps a love story between an innocent young woman and a powerful, intensely attractive man with a taste for dark things…I suppose it would almost be like fan fiction…oh…oh wait…no? No? Has that been done? And people hated it for condoning abusive controlling relationships? Yet others loved it for it’s ‘edgy’ theme and it was a huge best seller despite being poorly written and blatantly feeding off of the atmosphere of obsessive love and sexual tension in Twilight? Damn.
I’m joking. The practice of BDSM could be viewed as a ‘dark’ and ‘mysterious’ world that you could compare to (and in fact, combine with) the lore of vampirism. And this has and is being done in many popular ‘steamy’ paranormal romance books. Personally, like New Orleans…I think I will leave it to people who actually know a thing or to about it.
Whether you like it or not, sex, murder and the abuse of power are inevitable things that a writer will have to deal with if they want to write about vampires.
The whole romance thing just makes it all a bit more bearable. And I freaking love romance. And no, I am not into the fluffy, sunny, romantic comedy type stuff. I need a bit of darkness or I just get damned bored.
Like the wine swilling, bourgeois, tiny brained woman that I am.
I currently have two other large manuscripts requiring my attention. One a dystopian story I came up with the concept of when pondering how A-list celebrities are like a modern aristocracy of sorts. The other, a historical romance beginning in early 1900s Austria-Hungary. Winding up in modern day North Dakota. I’m focusing more on the historical romance at the moment…rather determined to get it right before I head back to the dystopian. My Mom read a draft and said she liked it. So there.
Yet there is a vampire story waiting in the background. Patiently. Maybe watching me sleep at night. Wearing a cape or period dress of some description.
Or maybe it’s the one with heavy footsteps across the floorboards chasing me in my dreams, having come from some dark, dark place. To do very bad, bad things. The one that finds me hiding in the attic. The one that scares the sh*# out of me.
At any rate, I don’t doubt that the vampire story I haven’t written yet will come to me. This is how it all starts, isn’t it? Most authors would agree. A story lurks in your head. People start to come alive. You can see the way they move. You know what their childhood was like. You’ve watched them sleep.
And, like a vampire it starts to pull you from your human life. You find sunlight and living people tiresome. They keep bothering you with mundane, every day life problems. They want to eat normal food and stuff.
When all you want to do is go into the shadows and see what the damn vampire wants.
When you wake up and the covers have fallen down to your waist. And your head has been turned just the right way. Your throat has been exposed for so long your skin is cold. You sit up and it’s there on the other side of the glass. The vampire. Do you let it in?
One side of me says yes.
The other says no, don’t do it Jessica. Write about mermaids. You used to like mermaids in the 80s too.
All the cruelties of Vlad Tepes and Elizabeth Bathory and all their coverage and adaptations disintegrate into the background.
The agonized screams of soldiers and children fade away into the night.
It’s just me and the vampire. And the story I haven’t written yet.