Lately, I’ve been thinking about vampires.
Last year, I wrote a vampire story for the Sycamore Hill writing workshop. While I was writing it, I was thinking specifically about how one could write a vampire story now, after all the vampire stories we’ve been inundated with. In my story, vampirism was a purely medical condition. In a way, the story was really about a laboratory, the research that went on in it, the problems that could occur. It was inspired by what I know about laboratory work from all the scientists in my family.
I didn’t do anything with that story. It’s still sitting on my computer, the only story I’ve written that I haven’t sold. It’s long, and I haven’t had time to work on it so that I can sent it out anywhere. It’s called “Life, With Vampires,” but that needs to change. Talk about an uninspired title!
Then, I talked to Nathan Ballingrud about a vampire story he wrote recently, called “Sunbleached.” It’s going to be in Teeth, a YA vampire anthology edited by Ellen Datlow. Nathan sent me his story, which is of course very good indeed, and definitely a different take on the vampire.
And then I wrote my Folkroots column on vampires. I sent it off to Doug Cohen, the editor of Realms of Fantasy, several days ago. I did quite a lot of research for it, mostly on vampire folklore. I also talked a lot about the literary vampire, since the vampire as we know it really is a creature of literature. I included Lord Ruthven, Sir Frances Varney, Carmilla, Count Dracula, and of course mentioned more modern vampires as well.
The question I kept asking myself, as I was writing it, was whether there is anything more we can do with vampires. Particularly after Twilight, which I have to admit rather destroyed vampires for me. I read the book because I felt as though I had to, and I found it compulsively readable. But I’ve never encountered such boring vampires in my life. After Lord Ruthven, Carmilla, Dracula, Lestat, Angel and Spike – we get Edward? That’s sad.
I don’t know if we can make the vampire interesting again. Oh, granted, there’s still a lot of interest in vampires. They’re all over YA fiction. But can we make the vampire interesting again as a literary creation?
The answer is that I don’t know. I do have a vampire story I’ve always wanted to tell, which is very much the sort of story I do tell – a story on the margin of another story, which is something I realize I do frequently. I’ve always wanted to retell Dracula from Mina’s perspective. But to tell the story of her life, and to show that the story Bram Stoker told is only part of a larger story. In other words, I’ve always wanted to write The Secret Diary of Mina Harker. That would be a fun project, I think.
If I were to write a vampire story, I would strip away much of what has been added to the vampire: the fear of garlic, daylight, religious symbols. I would take the vampire back to where it was in “Carmilla,” as a sort of top predator. That’s what Carmilla really is, a predator who both seduces and feeds off her prey. She is a biological creature with a life cycle that is different from ours.
In fact, Carmilla tells us that herself. I didn’t quote this in my Folkroots column, but I’ve always found it a fascinating passage. Carmilla says to Laura,
“Girls are caterpillars while they live in the world, to be finally butterflies when the summer comes; but in the meantime there are grubs and larvae, don’t you see – each with their peculiar propensities, necessities, and structure. So says Monsieur Buffon, in his big book, in the next room.”
Monsieur Buffon is Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, who wrote Histoire Naturelle, Générale et Particulière, which was essentially the biology textbook of the eighteenth century. (This is where my fiction and my scholarship touch, because I mention Buffon in my dissertation, which actually has a section on “Carmilla.”) What Carmilla is claiming here is that vampires are a natural species, as natural as any included in Buffon’s book. She is also claiming that vampires have a natural life-cycle, like the life-cycle of the butterfly, in which a girl is the caterpillar who is transformed into the butterfly-vampire. Recall that the butterfly is the reproductive form of the caterpillar. The purpose of the vampire girl, then, is to reproduce, to create new vampire girls. And, of course, to be beautiful.
Come to think of it, that actually is a novel idea for a vampire story. Maybe I’ll write that one as well.
All I need is time. Which I would have a lot more of, if I were a vampire.
Because of our conversation, Nathan is also blogging about vampires today. Go look at his post, “Vampires in the Sun.” About “Sunbleached,” Nathan writes,
“When I was asked to write a story about vampires for Teeth I saw it as a chance to reclaim – for myself if for no one else; for that terrified, deliriously excited little boy I used to be – the terror of a vampire. My vampire would burn in the sun. My vampire ached to open your veins. My vampire would be beautiful, but not in the way we had come to expect them to be. My vampire would be beautiful the way a great white shark is beautiful.
“I wanted to acknowledge, in a small way, what the vampire has become. I thought that if a vampire would be forced to live in our world it would have to rely on seduction as a means to snare prey. But there are so many modes of seduction beyond the sexual. I also wanted to show how psychologically dangerous they were. That no matter how they looked or what their circumstance, they were predators to the end. Finally, my vampire had to be scary. A thing that haunts the darkness and breathes fear.”
That sounds a bit like what I was saying above: the vampire as top predator. Sharks, wolves, eagles. They’re beautiful, deadly, and terrifying when you’re the prey. That’s one way, and a very good way, to go forward with vampires. If indeed we want to go forward with vampires. But they never seem to go away, do they? The pesky creatures.