19 January 2019

Re-Writing the Vampire Genre

In the world of vampire stories, there are two kinds: the purists who insist that vampires must be this and that, have this and that, and be able to do this and that. Or those who believe vampires can be something different than the so-called traditional creature the purists put on stage. For most of my reading life the genre of the supernatural has not very much interested me. I've read some I've seen movies, and they always seemed hokey. Yes, I went there.

As a science fiction aficionado, anything that did not seem based on science or scientific plausibility was phony and fake. I could not enjoy something that did not resonate as possible. Even fantasy novels (The Amber Chronicles, etc.) I could enjoy only if the explanations of "fantastic" phenomena made sense within the context of the setting. In my career of encountering vampire literature, mostly tangentially, I did like the story possibilities but they seemed more like "magical realism" than anything else: a realistic story that relied on one significant "magical" feature. Now, if the magical element could be explained in medical terms.... Then add cyberpunk, dystopian tales, and the push of YA literature, and the urban horror genre was born. (In my opinion.) Certain tropes became required - which is a challenge to me; I must go differently!


So in 2014 I had little interest in writing a "vampire novel". My academic colleagues had a good laugh when I stood up to announce my publication - anathema to their scholarly work, of course. The reason for A Dry Patch of Skin to even be written was my outrage (yes, outrage!) at the latest incarnation of the stock character in the Twilight novels and subsequent movies. My young daughter was hooked and I tried to explain to her the true nature of the affliction. A real disorder I had seen a report on years ago. I tried so hard to explain that I began writing a story to illustrate the transformation, basing everything on research into legends and into the medical side of it.

Most readers (including 4 doctors) have been satisfied with my realistic depiction of a normal guy being cursed with poor family genes which cause him to transform into the hideous creature visually identified as a vampire. And he was all set to start enjoying his life, with the love of his life, when the first symptoms of the transformation appeared. What a tragedy! One other feature of the book was that I was writing it in the same time and place as the story, as the story was unfolding: Oklahoma City in 2013-2014. The story literally ended a week after I finished typing the draft. (More about the research in this blog post.)

So, one and done, I thought. I had shown everyone how vampirism actually works. It had none of the supernatural powers many stories employed. But it was horrific nevertheless if the reader could empathize with the hero's tragic transformation. Satisfied, I went to work on other books in other genre. However, the ending nagged me. Tragic, yes, but what would happen to this fellow (a surrogate for myself, too obviously)? Eventually I began dabbling in the future. How would he be, say, ten years in the future from when Book I was published? More interestingly, how would the world be in ten years? Thirteen years on the calendar from when Book I ended; that is, 2027-2028.

Thus, the one-and-done became a trilogy. Once I started Book II, Sunrise, I knew it would have to be three. As any good author does, I put myself in the place of my protagonist, thinking as he would think, then allowed him to carry me through his adventures as I took dictation. I was never quite sure where he was taking me but I found the adventure interesting. As I kept to the dictum of "medically accurate", the story became more difficult to realize. I tried to keep it within the borders of biological plausibility (and I believe I succeeded), but the plausibility of world events was more unsettling in the future. (More about Book II in this blog post.)

Now Book III, Sunset (coming in February 2019), concludes the trilogy by taking readers further into the future to 2099, and with that timeline, more change in the world and less "medically accurate" elements. But I've not gone full-blown purist! In 2099 vampires are a distinct version of humanity, genetic superiors, worthy rulers of a subjugated "bloodling" underclass. Thanks to the Lord of Evil Himself, who has made the world over to benefit His vampire brethren, with help from His mistress. But that is not good enough (bad enough?) for others among the nobility of the Empire of Europa (encompassing the whole of Europe from the English Channel in the west to the Dnieper River in Ukraine, from southern Sweden south to Portugal and eastern Turkey), its skies blackened to prevent sunlight from ruining a perfectly good day. Most shocking is the abandonment of technology, the tool of surveillance and oppression of the prior generation, ugly symbols of the non-vampirian past.

However, all is not as it seems, scheme upon scheme in play, and I trust the reader will not be onto the true nature of the plot too easily. In the end, order must be restored, of course, or else there would be a fourth book. And yet, as I like to do, I left a twist upon which I might someday take up the keyboard once more....


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