Write it now, part 16: hurrah for the sensitive new age vampire

What is it about our obsession with vampires? Vampires, it seems, are where it’s at today. And I don’t mean real vampires – you know, the ones who suck self-esteem. I mean the fantasy types, currently in pop-literature and movies in their sensitive new-age guise.

Cydrean_Vampire_darkgazer_svg_medThese days, novels about these reinvented suckers are  a license to print money, if  done right. Actually, it seems to happen even if they’re the literary equivalent of dribble.

I thought I’d finish this brief series of posts on the history of novels with a few thoughts about this rather – uh – pointed genre. I think it tells us quite a bit about our own society. And that’s Step 1 on the way to writing books that sell – which doesn’t mean ‘best sellers’, but does mean books that sell enough to generate a viable living.

That, alone, is a triumph for authors. I am not kidding.

Vampires always were a part of human mythology. Their first boost into western popular psyche came during the nineteenth century – heralded by penny dreadful stories like Varney the Vampire. The whole thing was given a kind of respectability, if you could call it that, by Bram Stoker, whose Dracula of 1897 defined the genre in one best-selling shot.

Superficially it was a horror story. Actually it was about something else – tweaking the sensibilities of Victorian-age, idealism. The salacious subtext – the subversion of morality – wasn’t much hidden, and readers loved it. Vampire stories were a socially acceptable frame around which to wrap what readers really wanted.

Part of the reason why Stoker and his imitators got away with it was because the vampire was also portrayed as evil. That stereotype persisted through the twentieth centry – right up until the 1970s when Fred Saberhagen turned the genre on its head with his hilarious The Dracula Tapes.

This told the story from Dracula’s perspective. Vlad Tepes – Dracula – was a polite nobleman who wanted to set up house in Britain and live quietly and privately in the centre of civilisation for a while. He got shipwrecked at Whitby (I mean, he wouldn’t sabotage his own ship – what sort of idiot did people think he was?), then ended up being harassed by an imbecile self-appointed vampire hunter named van Helsing who couldn’t be reasoned with. Very, very funny inversion of the genre.

About the same time Anne Rice wrote Interview with a Vampire, which presented much the same concept of vampires as dimensional, multi-faceted individuals. That set off the whole new-age vampire schtik – everything since has been, to my mind, a follow up to and in many ways diminuition of her concepts.

As far as I can tell, these days the writing of it has got down to one-dimensional teen angst style romance stories along with fifty shades of – well, salacious Mills and Boon. With blood. Uh…yay…

But that stuff still sells. Why? Just like it did for Stoker, over a century ago, the genre meets an immediate need – keys into something society feels it lacks. Vampires offer the twenty-first century a style of escape that is – well, interesting.

It’s to do with the underlying psychology. It’s about validation through being attracted to power, and the ability to achieve desire (represented by the vampire) – although that attraction carries a cost (blood sucking, a metaphor for power and strength). Interesting, made more so by the fact that the vampire  is supernatural. And that begs questions about why we’ve latched on to this – what is lacking in oursociety that attracts us to validation via supernatural means instead?

What’s your take on this one?

And let’s hear it for SNAVS. They’re what might make writing profitable…

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

Next time: fantasy genres, more geekism, comedy and some other stuff. Watch this space.


9 thoughts on “Write it now, part 16: hurrah for the sensitive new age vampire

  1. I think I need to go to ‘book school’ to keep up with your dissections. As for the teen vamp genre – I find it tedious, but my other half and daughter love it!

    1. I have trouble reading those things myself – or watching any of the relentless TV adaptations. Neither you or I are the target audience, of course!

  2. An interesting discussion. Of course almost all the current vampire novels seem to be targeted at adolescent girls. On the one hand we have the shy, awkward girl who doesn’t fit in who has the perfect man completely obsessed with her (oh, and he’s a vampire). On the other we have the girl who feels powerless in her circumstances who befriends/becomes the most powerful creature on earth. Between these two we have covered the emotional state of most teenage girls (emotions which, incidentally, many women carry with them into adulthood (which also explains to a large extent the success of 50 shades)). I have yet to see a modern vampire novel that truly appeals to men.

    By the way, I’ve noticed that several agents are indicating they no longer want vampire romances. Could it be the genre has reached a saturation point?

    1. I agree. As for the market… I’m sure it is getting saturated! The question is, what’s next – and that is, quite literally, the hundred million dollar question.

      1. I think trying to predict what the publishing industry will pick next is a nigh impossible task (who could have predicted the success of a certain erotica trilogy?) I honestly think one should write what one loves (in terms of genre), rather than writing for the market (but then, I’m working on my first novel, so what do I know). Of course, if I had a time machine I might have had a different opinion…

        1. True. Who’d have ever guessed that those shades of grey would turn into so many shades of green(back)? The inevitable problem – this is why publishers run typically on a 1:10 rule – the one book that works well pays for the other ten that didn’t, except nobody quite knew before they started which would be which. There are dozens of publishers out there kicking themselves for rejecting J K Rowling, way back when. But, at the time, who knew? I mean, a mashup of some pretty standard magic tropes with a has-been genre like British boarding school stories just shouldn’t work. But it did… and brilliantly.

          A time machine would definitely be handy – personally I’ve always wanted one capable of travelling anywhere through time and relative dimensions in space… 🙂

  3. Gosh I hope the vampire genre has become saturated. I feel like creativity has become stifled. We need a new cool monster to get things going again. A new Alien or a new Predator would do just fine. Something to start up other franchises besides the same ol’ same ol’, vampire romance thing. I suppose the Greek myths got their time a few years ago. Perhaps the Grimm fairytales will see a resurgence. I think I see the signs.

    1. Absolutely! Vampire – so passe these days. So are zombies (lessee – 7 billion humans randomly become zombies, except you and – coincidentally – a couple of close friends. Statistically, what is the logic flaw with this scenario?). Definitely time for a ‘new’ monster – or at least a re-imagining of a old one. Grimm, definitely scope there – hardly kids stuff beneath the surface, and it wasn’t that well hidden in a few places.

  4. I think breaking stereotypes is usually a great way to find a new direction. Whether is an Ogre who is a family man or a vampire with a conscious. That’s partly why I love the fantasy genre. The options go on and on. I recently picked up a copy of 100 Grimm’s fairy tales because it was on sale. The potential for new ideas based on breaking the Grimm’s mold is huge.

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