Wednesday, May 12, 2010

I love vampires, and I'm not afraid to admit it

I am perfectly comfortable admitting it: I love vampires. I’ve been reading vampire romance for as long as I can remember. I devoured every Anne Rice novel I could in high school and college, reading some of her Vampire Chronicles novels two and three times to fill the gap between publication of the books. While I’ve always been drawn to paranormal elements in general, the vampire was always my supernatural creature of choice.

And now I’m writing them. I was twenty-five pages into a ghost story when my first novel, Forever Freed, slammed into my head nearly fully formed – character names, plot points, setting, and all. And I fought it. Because it was a vampire story. And that’s been done, and done, and done, right? Wrong, I say.

As a reader, I keep picking them up, enjoying how different authors reinterpret the genre (to my mind, vampire romance has arguably become its own genre). J.R. Ward made them leather-wearing, food-eating, molten hot warriors. Christine Feehan made them a separate species, the good-guys-gone-bad, former ancient Carpathian males who lost their struggle against evil when they couldn’t find their rare female life mates in time. Stephenie Meyer made them venomous marble-skinned high school students whom the sun doesn’t harm. Lara Adrian made them the descendants of an extinct (or are they?) alien race that coupled with human females, and has the good Breed warriors fighting against the evil Rogues who gave into their darkest nature. These days, vampires are more than just the blood-thirsty undead with pointy teeth, if they have fangs at all (Meyer’s vampires don’t).

So what is it that attracts me and so many others to vampire romance? What makes these stories so compelling despite the fact that it’s increasingly hard to find or write an original take? What makes vampires as characters engaging and interesting and attractive, to both readers and writers. Here’s what I’ve come up with, so far:

Forbidden romance. The usual construct pairs a male vampire with a human female. Right from the beginning, the relationship is characterized by conflict. He wants her blood, but he also wants her heart. He craves her companionship, but the rules of his world forbid him from revealing his true nature (usually). He’s immortal, and she comes with an expiration date. He’s killed, and she’s an innocent. He’s the bad boy. The one we’re supposed to stay away from but just absolutely can not. The forbidden nature of it all is a huge draw.

Brooding, tortured souls. Most of our vampire heroes didn’t want to become vampires, feel guilty and possibly even shamed over their natures, and don’t feel worthy of the human women they come to love. Not that they usually reveal these feelings, at least not until push comes to shove, but we feel for them. Becoming a vampire doesn’t usually change the essence of who they were as a human – if they were good alive, then they’re still fundamentally good undead. Yet, they’re so good, they often can’t perceive their own worth. And it makes the reader their biggest cheerleader.

Transformations. Vampire stories are full of transformations. Vampires who discover their worth through their lovers’ eyes. Vampires who struggle against huge obstacles to overcome their dark natures. Vampires who manage to control their darkest needs rather than give into them. Vampires who fight for the good against evil. And, then, of course, there are the actual transformations, that is, from human to vampire. And boy does imagining that raise all kinds of interesting questions: Does losing your mortality necessitate the loss of your humanity? And what does it mean to become immortal? What would that life really be like? What would it be like to know you didn’t necessarily have to live every day to the fullest, because there would be a never-ending supply of them? Where would meaning come from if life was no longer as precious?

Sensuality. They move with preternatural grace. Their features are breathtakingly beautiful. Their mere presence sets your heart to racing and your breathing into pants. By their very nature, vampires can charm you, or dazzle you, or glamour you, or mesmerize you. At root, all of these are about their innate and unfailing power to seduce you. To sweep you right off your feet. To show you untold pleasure. And who doesn’t fantasize about that happening?

Darkness. A lot of what I’ve said is more about the “good vampires.” But the recent trend in the genre has been to go dark, dark, dark (and even the good ones can be dark sometimes). And, let’s just cut right to the chase, this darkness is often just as important if not more so inside the bedroom (or the dungeon, or the dark alley, or the seedy nightclub…) as out of it. So now we’re talking about sex involving biting, blood play, growling, snarling, feral instincts, possessiveness, dominance and submission, and kinks of all kinds. And it’s all okay. It’s perfectly normal. Because they’re not human. They’re not beholden to the same set of morals and norms as us. And, while we’re reading their stories, neither are we. And we’re right back to the forbidden again….

So, are you a lover like me? What is it that draws you to read (or write) vampire romance?

Thanks for reading, 


Jen said...

Am I a lover of vampires? HECK yeah, baby. They play a large part in my writing as well, and you're right. The forbidden love thing, it's symbolic on so many levels. It's just a supernatural thing. It's a "you love who you love, and you can't judge the emotion" thing. Also, that hint of possible risk is sexy.

Karen Holloway said...

I have always loved vampires except for once when I watched that Roman Polanski movie which scared the crap out of me as a child..but I was still drawn to them anyway. I think and it is especially true since I am is the fact that they do live forever and can experience so much more if they stay alive. Twilight vampires made it easier for me to be ok with how they live. I couldn't kill another human, or could I? Well, and the best part of a vampire is they always have the energy when you are in the mood...I like that alot...

Suzanne said...

I have to admit I didn't much like the emasculated vampires of Twilight, but an adult vampire? Oh,yeah. You summed it up beautifully--it's dark, it's forbidden, it's intense, it's hot!

Laura Kaye said...

From Jordan Rose via email:

Hi Laura. Great post. I also love vampires and have been reading vampire stories for as long as I can remember. I've also watched every movie that would scare me into insomnia! Vampires play into most of my writing as well. They are such a versatile being. In my romance about a woman traveling through time to save her vampire husband's soul the vampires go out in daylight. They just don't look very good. In my urban fantasy comedy about a slightly obsessed, very opinionated, tenderhearted female vampire they do not go out in sunlight. And in this story, when vampires are angry, they become the monsters from horror stories instead of the sexy creatures of romance. So, overall I find the vampire to be lots and lots of fun! Jordan Rose

Laura Kaye said...

Jen and Karen--passion tinged with fear/risk and stamina! How could I miss those good vampire elements?!

And Suzanne--As much as I'm a fan of Twilight (and Edward Cullen), I have to agree. Please don't defang my vampires! Or make them quite so emo. LOL

Lisa Kessler said...

I like my vampires dangerous and brooding and dark... :)

I think I'm drawn to them because they've lived so long and seen the world change so much. I like that you can take a contemporary setting and still infuse the story with a touch of historical flare...

And something about knowing he could kill you, but instead he'd die to love you is very attractive...

Lisa :)

Laura Kaye said...

So many good reasons to love vampires! Thanks for stopping by everyone!