BUILDING THE VAMPIRE WORLD
When a writer’s setting up to tackle the subject of vampires, there are a lot of decisions to make. Sexy monster, or monstrous monster? Dead in the day or simply photosensitive? Human blood required, or just preferred? Modern or traditional? If traditional, how traditional? And which tradition?
Then of course, there’s the menu.
Let me back up a sec.
My name’s Sarah Zettel, and I write the Vampire Chef mysteries (Hi, Sarah). This was not my idea. Seriously. The credit for that belongs to the late-great editor and publisher Marty Greenberg, but as soon as I got offered the chance to write a book based around that idea, I jumped at it. Which says rather a lot about me. I mean, when some people hear, “Vampire Chef,” they say “why?” Me, I say “Why didn’t somebody do this years ago?” Probably the fact that I am a great fan of the old Bela Lugosi “Dracula” movie and a Food Network Junkie has something to do with it.
There’s also another reaction to such a project. This one comes from looking at the huge range of vampire fiction on the shelves. Everything from the gothic to the hilarious to the kitschy and back again. What could possibly be left to present about vampires and a world where they existed?
It was pretty clear from the outset the Vampire Chef books would have an urban fantasy bent (I mean it is vampires, after all), but not a grim one. Probably you could take a concept like “vampire chef” and make it serious, but would you want to? So, going with the idea these books would be humorous, I decided the first place a restaurant for vampires would open would be New York City. I mean, where else would such an establishment exist but the foodie capital of the country? The heroine, Charlotte Caine, would not herself be a vampire, she’d just cook for them.
So, there was the groundwork. Charlotte runs a New York City restaurant called “Nightlife” which is a place where humans and paranormals, such as vampires, can eat together without anybody getting hurt. Hijinks, of course, quickly ensue. Including, but not limited to, a range of dead bodies dropped uncomfortably close to Charlotte, her friends, and family (including her vampire brother Chet).
But all these decisions still left me with a problem I had not encountered in all my time as a professional author.
What, exactly, do you put on a vampire friendly menu?
Vampires, as we all know, traditionally subsist on blood. So, what are you going to set up? A tasting menu? Dollar shots? That would be pretty funny. But, when trying to build a fully-rounded world, humor only goes so far.
Now, it turns out there’s a number of cuisines that use blood as a basis for some perfectly Vamp friendly dishes. In Poland, there’s a traditional soup made from duck’s blood. Traditional Chinese cuisine uses blood from a number of different animals for assorted medicinal dishes. And Sangria, the famous Spanish beverage traditionally did have bull’s blood in it.
Still, that’s not a lot to round out a menu, and New York diners are nothing if not picky. They expect variety and quality. Plus, there are regulations in the US about serving snake blood and other traditional medicinal ingredients. There’s also the question of not making one’s editor go “Ewww!”
So, then what?
Well, let’s see…What’s the nature of blood (leaving aside mystical connections with life and birth and resurrection, etc.)? It’s liquid protein. Is there another animal based product that is both liquid and high in protein?
Why yes. Milk.
That would mean vampires could drink milk shakes. If they could drink milk shakes, they could drink hot chocolate. And frozen hot chocolate. And cafe au lait. They could dine on cream gravy, and cream soups. And if they could tolerate milk, why not broths? Chicken, beef, pork, fish stocks, with or without wine and actual blood, form the basis of a huge range of soups and sauces. The fabulous, flexible, spicy molè sauce, for example, frequently has chicken stock as part of their bases, And what about honey? If broth and milk, why not honey?
All of a sudden, we are off to the races. And the vampire-friendly menu was too. If you can have vampire restaurants, after all, you can have vampire catering for a vampire wedding, and what about the old idea of a vampire bar? Could you have a vampire tourist-trap bar? It’s New York, you know if there’s a dollar in it, somebody would do it.
And of course, you know somebody would be trying to make money off the trade in human blood.
Remember those hijinks I mentioned?
Welcome to Nightlife. We have your reservation and your table is ready. I hope you enjoy.
SARAH ZETTEL is the author of over twenty novels, including the Vampire Chef mysteries – A TASTE OF THE NIGHTLIFE and LET THEM EAT STAKE, the award-winning BITTER ANGELS (as C.L. Anderson) and the upcoming YA paranormal DUST GIRL. She lives in Michigan with her husband, her son and her cat, Buffy the Vermin Slayer. You can read exerpts of her work (and buy the books), and find her Facebook info all at www.sarahzettel.com.