On October 9, 2021 Kasie and Rex started a Scary Series for October with a popular horror story villain: the vampire. Here are the show notes:
Theme for the day
Scary Series: Vampires
- SCWA Upcoming events and goings-on
- It’s October! Let’s Halloween!
- Vampires aren’t scary
- How to write a convincing vampire (no sparkling!)
Last October we did a single episode on horror, scary stories, and the like. This year we’re doing three. Today is vampires (because YES!), next week we’ll do serial killers, and October 23rd we’re taking a break from the scary to do a special LGBTQ+ episode in honor of Columbia’s Pride festival. (Although we think our guest might actually be an LGBTQ+ Horror writer so that’ll be amaze-balls.) Finally, on the day before Halloween, October 30th, we’re doing a thriller special that focuses on writing the tension, the surprise, the stomach-butterfly-inducing anticipation of a truly scary scene. We’ll probably call it something like “pee your pants.”
In the meantime, SCWA is in board recruitment mode so if you’re an SCWA member and excited about all the work we’re doing and want to lend a hand, consider joining the Board of Directors for a two year term beginning in January 2022. Send Kasie a note — firstname.lastname@example.org — and let her know you’d like more information.
October’s Become an Author event will feature literary agent Amy Collins and address all those questions you have about getting an agent and getting published. Register here. Also free and open to the public when it’s live. But the recordings are only available to SCWA members. That’s this coming Tuesday, October 12th at 7 p.m.
Finally, SCWA has announced a new event “Diversity in Publishing” that will take place November 11th at 7 p.m. and feature Felice Laverne, Agent, Author, and Editor. Register here.
Ready to admit you’re a writer and want to be an author? Find a local chapter. Get your work critiqued. Live all of your wildest authorial dreams.
Lastly, I want to mention Taffeta.com and our new partnership with them. Their audience — GenX women — is my audience. So find them on Instagram and Facebook and follow them. The editor, Laura Ellsworth, and publisher, Tom Lynch, attended my livestream session in Northern Virginia and it was awesome to get to know them and swap 9/11 stories.
Okay. Let’s talk vampires.
I found a How Stuff Works (yeah, the science site) entry for How Vampires Work which is just awesome. Here’s the link. Here are the highlights:
- They were once human
- They died and “rose again” which makes them “undead”
- Can be attractive, highly sexual beings
- Can also transform into animals (most commonly a bat)
- Death by beheading, stake to heart, fire, and direct sunlight
- Injured by crucifixes, holy water, and garlic
- Immortal and do not visibly age
- Cannot cast a reflection
- Have superhuman strength (and speed)
Not on the list, but part of current lore:
- Origins are beyond one’s control — radium deposits in the Carpathians, victimization
- Can’t enter without being invited in
The version detailed above was actually relatively recent, Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula. Some of the earliest roots of vampire lore include:
- Demi-god or child of a god and human
- Killed babies (think SIDS, miscarriage, other unexplainable (at the time) risks to pregnancy and infants)
- Birdlike talons
- Succubus (highly-sexual female demon)
- The Lilith legend — the first woman who refused to serve Adam and was expelled from Eden, God sent three angels to retrieve her and she refused to return; she was cursed and so killed humans in retribution
- Head of woman, body of snake
- Seduced shepherds in the fields
- Preys on children
- Glowing red eyes
- Could fly
- Born of rejection and bent on revenge
So, what makes vampires scary?
- They’re stronger and faster than you. So you can’t fight them off.
- They’re deceptive — they look human so we are fooled by them.
- They’re seductive or beautiful so we’re attracted to them (sometimes).
- They’re savage and desperate — bloodthirsty.
In this “brief history” article, by Anno Dracula creator Kim Newman, we get The Vampyre (Polidori) through Interview with a Vampire (Anne Rice).
Newman closes her article with the point that while Anne Rice (forgive the pun) breathed new life into vampires by getting their perspective, we still have very few books from the vampire’s point of view. So let’s talk POV.
Examples of vampire novels with human point-of-view (POV) main characters: Twilight (Bella), Dracula (Jonathan Harkness), The Vampyre (Aubrey),
Advantages of using a human POV / main character:
- They have to discover the vampire rules — like the reader.
- They have an inside track to forgiveness and heaven because they’re human.
- They have an immediate risk — they are at a disadvantage and could “become” a vampire.
- They are fragile and immediately empathetic.
Disadvantages to the human POV / main character:
- Self righteousness abounds
- They’re dumb. Just dumb.
- They usually either despise our vampire or want to become one, there’s no in-between.
- It’s the same danger in every iteration. Snooze.
- They have to decide whether to keep the vampire’s secret. Another trite conflict.
In the “how-to” we’ll talk about ways to make your human POV character less annoying.
Advantages to a vampire POV / main character:
- S/he knows how the vampire thing works (unless they’re new)
- S/he can give the reader direct feelings and sensations
- S/he can give the reader direct access to morality and emotions around killing, etc.
- S/he has all the magical powers the human character would lack
- S/he can reveal vulnerabilities that might not be “vampire” vulnerabilities
Disadvantages to the vampire POV / main character:
- S/he knows how the vampire thing works — so how do you justify explaining it to the reader?
- S/he will be less empathetic if s/he eats people — so how do you make the reader okay with the vampire being a murderer?
- S/he has all the magical powers and might have a kind of fake agency — they can do anything, right? So the moral compass would need to be established.
Literary themes in vampire fiction from this link:
- Wealth & depravity — the vampire character can do anything, so he does.
- Youth and the willingness to do anything to preserve it
- Night and darkness are not to be trusted
- Faith and lightness are holy and can protect you from the dark side
- Self-loathing and guilt make one vulnerable to monsters
- Redemption is a mortal conundrum but determines one’s immortal salvation
- Erotic subtext — a holdover from the gothic era of literature that contributed heavily to vampire lore.
So how do you convincingly write a vampire? Depends on your audience. Working on the “old vs. new” debate, this link identifies the audience as the primary determinant of the vampire book’s prevailing climate.
- What is your audience’s tolerance for adult themes? Eroticism? Gore? Violence?
- What is the gender of your audience? Are you writing for women who might romanticize the handsome or sexy vampire? i.e. Twilight? Or are your writing for men who might respond to the filth or challenge of the eradicating the vampire? i.e. The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires.
- What level of agency will you assign to your female characters? Old stories tend to be male-led with female victims, but even Twilight leaves Bella in a role of lovesick human instead of proactive lead. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, on the other hand, is unapologetically anti-vampire even after she falls for Angel (who has a soul) and Spike (who gets one as well — via demon trials to earn his soul back).
- What is the sexuality and gender identity of your audience? Are they interested in the sexuality of the vampire? The complications thereof? Or are they less preoccupied with that part of the story?
- How does your audience view the morality of death? Is there a Christian connection there in terms of salvation and redemption? Or a utilitarianism about survival?
- How does your audience feel about people choosing immortality? Would it be easier to stomach a vampire who became one by choice or by accident?
- Should you consider making vampirism a disease? Something uncontrollable? A weakness? Or a magical superpower?
- How does your audience receive race, classicism, and xenophobia? Should your vampires be “other” in the sense of degenerates that deserve suffering? Or should they be punished by the religious self-righteous? Is the wealthy, aristocratic vampire who gets his deserved destruction (Dracula) at the hands of a regular Joe a commentary on socio-economics?