Saturday, May 15, 2004

Bloodsucking Fiends

Michael of the Blowhards discovers vampire fiction. Or, I should say, vampire fiction that existed before Dracula. Specifically, there is the fairly famous novel Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu, and there is John Polidori's The Vampire which was in turn based on an idea originally entertained by Byron before he set it aside.

I've loved vampire stuff for years (Alan Ryan's anthology The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories is one of my favorite books), although my interests in vampires don't tend to be very well-served by the vast bulk of vampire literature out there. I tend to think more along the lines of the horror of vampires and the curse inherent in their existence, whereas it seems that most vampire stories either concentrate on the religious aspects of vampirism (often with a healthy dose of Catholicism), or on the erotic nature of vampires (must be all those finely-shaped female necks).

I have written two vampire stories in my "fiction career" (encapsulated in quotes because I'm not sure that producing a body of unpublished work constitutes a career). One was the standard "Boy meets girl, girl is really vampire" tale (and it's available here); the other is quite a bit more horrific. At some point I took it into my head that maybe in Nazi Germany there was a colleague of Dr. Mengele's who wondered if he could create a vampire from scratch, using the poor souls in the concentration camps to perform his experiments. I took several whacks at this story idea before finally completing a version I titled "The Balance in the Blood", and to this date it's still the most horrific thing I've written. I'm still not sure if I like it, although it alone of the stories I've written received the most "friendly" rejections. Go figure.

Vampires are hard to do: their lore is so standardized by now that one must either tick off the standard memes of vampire stories, or at least mention why they don't work along the way. (Witness the bit in Interview with the Vampire, when Louis reveals that vampires aren't particularly afraid of crucifixes, or the hilarious scene in Love at First Bite when the guy who's convinced that George Hamilton is a vampire tries to ward him off with a Star of David.) If you skirt some of these issues, people will become confused as to whether you're writing a vampire story at all; but on the reverse side is the fact that all that vampire lore can end up making a story pretty predictable.

And yet, there they are, those blood-drinking dwellers of the night, captivating the hell out of me. I wonder what it would be like, living in a world where the graveyards lose population at night. I wonder if they'd be unthinking, zombie-like monsters or erudite, suave almost-people whose personas are tinged with profound melancholy. It's no wonder that I keep returning to vampires; it's no wonder that I keep reading about them; and it's no wonder that in my college-geek AD&D years, my favorite player character was my Necromancer whose favorite spell was "Vampiric Touch".

(The title of this post, by the way, is an allusion to a wonderfully funny vampire story by Christopher Moore.)

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