When Potomac Publishers approached me to do another book in their Most Wanted series (My book Chicago’s Most Wanted was published in 2005), it seemed perfect timing. I’d just finished the fourth book in my vampire series (working title The Khan Family Saga) and vampires seemed a perfect subject for the Most Wanted series. I wasn’t aware just how perfect the subject was until I started researching Vampires’ Most Wanted: The Top Ten Book of Bloodthirsty Biters, Stake-wielding Slayers, and Other Undead Oddities.
One of the questions I’m asked while publicizing the book is, “Should vampires sparkle?” Stephenie Meyer’s curious device to keep her vampires in a dark and gloomy place has caused a slight controversy with some vampire purists (in Meyer’s series the vampires are not hurt by the sun but rather sparkle when the sun hits them)
My reply to the question is that vampires should do whatever the story calls for. There is no one true vampire. The notion of vampirism has appeared in cultures around the world as long as we could tell stories and recognized the power of blood.
At the core of the vampire is the need for the creature to take a life essence from another to survive. Sometimes this essence is given freely. Sometimes it’s stolen. But other elements that make up the story: The causes, the abilities, the weaknesses, differ per culture and time. I believe that it’s this variety that has given the vampire legend a resilience other legends just don’t have. As I say in the Forward of my book, the vampire has the ability to become what we need when we need it. From god to ghoul to innocent bystander, it’s run the gamut. It has evolved as we have, becoming more complex as our own questions of life and death have grown deeper.
The popularity has ebbed and flowed but writers usually come along to reinvigorate the genre. For example, the vampire was at one time considered little more than a walking corpse. A legend told to convince people not to break a particular taboo (or they’d return as a vampire) and while certain ideas differed from culture to culture, there was nothing sexy or sparkly about the vampire.
Then the gothic writers began exploring the dark side of life and gave us vampires with motivations beyond merely the obtaining of blood. Polidori’s vampire in “The Vampyre” seems to seek revenge as much as he seeks blood, while Le Fanu’s “Carmilla” seems to fall in love with each victim she chooses. Decades later, Stoker gave us Dracula keeping his vampire nebulous but hinting at a history filled with power and cruelty. Dracula wasn’t just a corpse, he was a count and somehow had retained the vestige of the power that he possessed centuries before.
Still there was very little sexy about the vampire in Dracula. It was Bela Lugosi, with his piercing gaze and imperious demeanor who brought a mysterious allure to the role on the stage and the screen and while he only played the character twice on film, his portrayal would provide the iconic image for Dracula and vampires for decades to come. It is perhaps why in the minds of so many the vampire seemed rooted in Eastern Europe when the legends actually cross countries and cultures.
The interest in vampires seemed to wane in the 1950s, despite the Hammer Studios’ successful take on the Dracula legend. After all, the atomic age showed us the destruction that science can cause. How frightening was a vampire in the face of that? Richard Matheson was one of the first to use science to reclaim the vampire in his 1954 novel I Am Legend. By using a disease to describe the vampiric affliction affecting his friends and neighbors, he made the notion of the vampire more plausible to a culture less inclined toward fantasy.
Still it wasn’t until Anne Rice took the focus off the vampire hunters and put it on the vampires themselves that the next great resurgence in popularity occurred. By asking the question “What goes on in the vampire’s head?” she reminded us of something that had been lost all this time. No matter how they were created, magic or science, vampires were at one time humans. Is it possible that they did not automatically give up their humanity after turning into vampires?
This theme has opened up the story telling dramatically. Where at one time the human history of “the monster” generally remained unexplained, it is now an integral element to the vampire story. We want to know what led to the conversion. That’s half the fun.
I’ve found this element particularly enjoyable to create in my own vampire fiction in which I wanted to present characters dealing with a strange, sometimes deadly disease. In my series, the morality of the vampires, good or evil, is what it was before they became vampires. Narain Khan is a good man going through the decades trying to retain his sense of morality despite the strangeness of his condition and the difficulties of the situations that arise from it. The person he was before his conversion often wars with the person he must sometimes now be to survive. As his nemesis Reg Jameson tells him, “I must say, Khan, I don’t envy you your life. You always seems as though you’re placed in situations where, no matter what you do, you stand to lose something.”
Remembering the vampire’s humanity, has made it easier to take the creature from monster to romantic hero, super hero or teen dream. Even Dracula was given a romantic facelift in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 adaptation of the novel. Love was Dracula’s motivation for going to England. He was intent on tracking down Mina Harker, who he believed to be the reincarnation of his wife.
Now novels, TV and film use this sympathy for the vampire to draw people into the universe they create.
Though that’s not to say that the idea of the vampire as deadly feeding machines is gone. Graphic novels like 30 Days of Night and the film based on it, films like “Daybreakers” and “Fright Night” (the remake a better film than the box office made it out to be) still feature the vampire as a dangerous threat. Which is great. The fact is there is room for all variations on the tale.
So while I think the idea of vampires sparkling in the sun is a weak concept (I prefer the notion that the sun is a true danger to them because I believe the character, good or bad, needs a definite vulnerability to help with dramatic tension), Meyer is simply doing what countless story tellers have done before her. She reinvented the creature to fit the universe she created and this universe has found fans. Fans who may create their own universe that will help keep interest in the vampire alive. As long as we don’t forget the sheer variety that came before, this is a good thing.
My book Vampires Most Wanted is available on Amazon and other book stores on line and in the physical world. It was a ton of fun to write though I offer the caveat that while it says “Top Ten” I make no claims that the choices I made were Top Ten in each list. The sheer volume of work out there that I wasn’t able to get to, not mention the fact that everyone’s tastes differ, keeps me from making that claim. Rather, my intention with the book was to show the incredible variety of vampires in myths, legends, and media. Some of the stuff I already knew, some was a journey of discovery, and I wanted people to have as much fun reading it as I had writing it.
Currently I’m working on finding a home for my vampire series. Along with writing Vampires’ Most Wanted, I’ve spent a good portion of the last few years writing the four books in what I plan to be an ongoing series. I also have an idea for a spin-off of the series. I’ve fallen in love with this universe I’ve created and can’t stop telling the stories.