Sunday, January 21, 2007

When did Fabio Become A Vampire?

Wayne Sallee seems to think I have some kind of power. If I thought that was the case, I would put a paypal button on the blog and ask for donations. Alas.

Yesterday I strolled through Barnes and Noble, remembering Rick's comment the other day that eighty percent of the people buying books were women. I flipped through books by Charlaine Harris, Kim Harrison, Laurell K. Hamilton, and MaryJanice Davidson. These books all deal with the supernatural adventures of young women who cope with an array of monsters of the night as though they were dealing with minor, coming of age inconveniences. It's sort of like "Sex and the City" meets "Dracula".

Here is a pasting from Amazon describing one of the books:
"Parker personifies Harris's perky Southern heroine, Sookie Stackhouse, the telepathic cocktail waitress of Bon Temps, Louisiana. Parker buoyantly and cheerfully reads this engaging but bizarre tale peopled with vampires, "were people," demons, and other supernaturals."

Another book is described this way:
"Santa Claws" is a tale of Europe's most powerful werewolf falling in love with a plump, bell-ringing Santa on a Boston street corner. "Monster Love" examines interspecies love when a spinster werewolf who "hit like a Teamster. And swore like one, too" is abducted by a lonely vampire."

A spinster werewolf???? A lonely vampire????

I hate sounding like an old fuddy duddy, but this genre seems to have grown up while I wasn't paying attention. This genre, let's call it supernatural romance, seems to be the reading matter of young women raised on "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" and "The O.C.". I don't begrudge them this reading material, and if the writers are making money, and it seems they are, then more power to them.

As a horror writer though, I find myself growing a little surly over what I view as the domestication of horror. To me a vampire is a sinister creature of darkness, not the gothic hunk who moons with the sensitivity of Fabio. A werewolf is a primal thing which rends its prey apart with razor claws. It is not Laslo the Dog Boy, tamed with a biscuit and a gentle hand.

Again, I don't mind this new trend in horror literature, I just haven't really paid attention before now. If any of you have insight into this subgenre, please talk to me about its appeal and the elements that make it special for you. Even if you aren't a fan, perhaps explain it to me.


Turnbaby said...

Interesting--I think a lot of it is shabby and formulaic. Some is very good--think Ann Rice in The Witching Hour. I have always thought that there was a very sexual element to the Dracula legend. Hmmm --glad it's not just me.

Avery said...

The lonely vampire isn't exactly a new concept. Stoker's Dracula was a grieving lover, drawn to Mina because of her resemblance to his soul mate. Tucked away in his castle, brooding over his wasted, lifeless heart until he finds and subsequently fixates on the one he's projected the power of being its savior onto? Sounds pretty lonely to me.

While the novels of old (and some not so old) may have characters that mirror human conditons -- lonely (Dracula), tragic (Frankenstein) and dualistic (werewolves) -- the humans always come out with the upper hand. No matter how much their plight matches our own, these monsters invariably meet their gruesome end. The readers' sense of safety rests in that. The demon is slain, the problem is slain. Our fears are killed through the monsters.

These "new horror" novels again take human frailties and place them in the monsters, but this time the monsters mirror us in a more blatant fashion than before. They have "girl trouble." They have bad hair days. They have monetary issues. The safety net here is that the problems we sometimes find so overwhelming are placed in a supernatural character. It gives a person a sense of power in dealing with the mundane ("If a vampire can get a date, then so can I"). The fears aren't killed through killing the monster; they're destroyed through the monster's triumphs.

Along that same vein is the beauty of Buffy. Joss Whedon took everyday problems and gave them a supernatural spin. More often than not, the problem arising from the appearance of the monster of the week was actually a catalyst for change or self-reflection within a character.

Is it, "bring the torches and don't let the monster out alive" horror? Maybe not. But, 'horror' is a relative term, and sometimes daily life is more horrific than anything we writers can come up with.

Lucas Pederson said...

Yeah. I've never even noticed these books before. Wierd, they did just sort of pop out of nowhere didn't they? Definitly not something I'd read, personally, I hated Buffy the series and loath the O.C., just not my thing.
I agree with the werewolf, vampire stuff. I think of vampires as sinister, intelligent and utterly evil, vicious. Werewolves, yeah, more primal, feral. Hell, they're baically a wild animal with a vague human structure, at least that's how I envision them.
But hey, whatever trips peoples triggers more power to them.

Avery said...

Oh, and it's not just paranormal romance doing it, either.

Check out Gil's All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez, or Fat White Vampire Blues by Andrew Fox.

Charles Gramlich said...

I think supernatural romance is the proper designation for this type of story. I definetely don't consider it horror, although some of it has a respectable amount of action in it.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I can't help you, Stewart. I avoid bookstore shelves that crawl with these offerings, and would not read anything with Fabio on the cover, with or without fangs.

SQT said...

Okay, I'm going to put myself out there. I LOVE Charlaine Harris' Southern Vampire novels.

There. I said it.

I think Harris kicks Laurel K. Hamilton's butt all day long.

Maybe they're meant for women who like "chick lit" ((horrors)) but they're actually quite good.

They're not exactly romances (thank God) they're more along the lines of supernatural fiction. And they're not reminicent of Buffy.

Harris' series focuses on a woman who has the ability to read minds (she calls it her deformity) and the only minds she cannot read are those of vampires. Since she's tired of hearing about the daily mean spirited junk of regular folks she finds this kind of refreshing and develops a relationship with a local vampire. Of course, it doesn't take long before she discovers the rest of the supernatural world and the very dark side of the vampire culture.

It starts out light hearted but Harris doesn't shy away from the violence of the vampire myth and there are times when the books do handle some dark material.

Personally, I think they're great. I think Harris writes with great humor and fun and still manages to make her stories suspensful and sometimes yes, violent.

Ok. I'm done being Harris' cheerleader.

jedimerc said...

I have trouble with romance novels (though I lean to the romantic in writing) and mixing it with horror does seem a little... strange, but whatever works I suppose.

Oh, like the change to the template.

whimsicalnbrainpan said...

Some people are just entranced by dark things and mistake the pull for something romantic. I think it all started with Anne Rice (don't get me wrong I loved the first few books in the Interview series).

Vwriter said...

As I usually do when confronted by an issue beyond my comprehension, I asked my cat for advice. Although she is a firm believer that there is a limit to any human being can grasp, this night she graciously explained to me what the root problem was to the questions you have posed. The blame, she made clear to me by knocking over a stuffed dog, can be put solely at the feet of one Clifford the Big Red Dog.

First, she made it clear that dogs are ALWAYS wrong.

“But what,” I asked, “specifically has Clifford done?”

Her answer was to lay her paw on this sentence in article that I was reading in the December Journal of Gas Compressibility Laws: “It’s a Dog’s Life, and Dogs are our Best Friends” was the sentence.

I was perplexed.

She sat on a book on writing that I had recently purchased titled “Too Lazy to Work, Too Nervous to Steal.”

It became clear.

Writers have, like dogs, become domesticated. We are housebroken.

Domesticated dogs rarely go outside in search of brave new worlds. They stay inside where it’s warm and safe. They take few risks. Neither do today’s writers. Today’s writers rarely push the envelope unless they are told that pushing the envelope is what’s expected of them. A cat, on the other hand, goes where it pleases.

Domesticated dogs, despite occasional outbursts, keep quiet when told they must. Dogs that bark incessantly are told that they are bad dogs. Good dogs bark when told. They must be friendly, polite barks, of course. They must not disturb their owners or their neighbors. Dogs, in the main, speak only within the limits of acceptability. If readers aren’t rushing out to by a certain type of book, we keep quiet and don’t write it. So we don’t. A cat, being more intelligent, rarely speaks to Philistines and never worries about when it speaks.

Dogs are trainable. Writers have become like their best friends. Writers are now trainable. Writing instructors tell us what is best. We must focus on themes, bark, bark. Don’t forget to plot your character arc, bark, bark. Watch the length of your stories, bark, bark. Economy of words is critical, bark, bark. Only minimalists are good writers, bark, bark. Is that word absolutely necessary? A big bark, bark.

Dogs, according to my cat, are easily misled. A dog can be misled by a simple, “Come in here, Fido. Good dog.” The door slams and the dog is left behind while the family goes out shopping. Dogs are an easy mark. Writers are easily misled, too. We are told that to make a story different and even interesting, we should experiment with serious techniques to make stories compelling like switching the gender of a character. That tough cop is a grandmother. Wow. Good dog. Change the setting to make your drab story different- try setting it in Africa. Wow. Just because it is boring in Detroit doesn’t mean it won’t be dazzling in Ethiopia. Think of it. E. E. Cummings was breaking daunting ground when he wrote “Christmas Tree” and made the whole poem text-arranged in the shape of a Christmas tree. Dynamite. Clifford would have loved it.

Dogs are impressed with new things. New is great. Throw a box in a room and a dog is so excited by the change, it will almost pee on it. Create tons of new genres and a dog/writer is thrilled forever and must play with them.

Dogs are lazy (Remember the book?) Dogs like to lay around and do not much. Writers, in our quest to emulate the fine role models, write easy stories. Character, plot, and mood tension and dynamism are a lot of work. Time to collapse on the couch. Write an easy story.

Further to this last point, dogs are pack animals. Writers are too. It’s easy (see above) to be a pack animal. Where the pack goes, the writer must follow. If a writer sees a book about a spinster werewolf in the story, that writer thinks, “I’ve got to go there, too.”

Clifford is the big dog (sorry) on the block. We all look up to him. His creator ran out of ideas to make an interesting story, and since his writing instructor had long ago advised him in the simple techniques of making a story great by just distorting the character’s size (or change the gender, etc.) to make a truly great story, why, he did just that. Now he’s rich and famous and royalties flow in his door like a river down the path of least resistance.

Now, the cat’s out of the bag.

ShadowFalcon said...

I've tired some of those books, my friends Love them but I'm just not sold. I've said it before, but most of the women in sci-fi tend to be either boring background characters or too "tough". I just can't relate to either.

I used to like Anne Rice, but got bored of her...maybe I'm just too hard to please

Stewart Sternberg said...

Avery, Dracula, from the novel, was not a lonely vampire. He was the personification of evil. The turning of Dracula into a sympathetic figure was something that occurred later, mostly through the films. The vampire had no stated emotional connection with Mina, except for maybe an object to control the men, and also as a vehicle for revenge.

Now, here's my question to you, and by the thanks for that response, it gave me food for thought: if we give the monsters all the characteristics of our own flawed selves, are we doing so at the expense of the horror? Can we really even call these horror stories? I agree horror is a relative term, but when does it stop being horror?

Stewart Sternberg said...

turnbaby, Ann Rice is amazingly popular, although I think people are starting to turn to people who are influenced by her, forgetting the source.

Avery, I have FAT WHITE VAMPIRE, I'm going to have to read it. It's been sort of sitting on my shelf. I think I read a page or two, sighed, and put it back, thinking not yet.

Interesting though, there's one writer I love who has done the thing with the vampires as you describe: Christopher Moore in Blood Sucking Fiends. Moore is brilliant. He also wrote something called "The Gospel According To Biff, Jesus' Childhood Friend". It is one of the funniest books I've ever read.

Stewart Sternberg said...

supernatural romance, I agree with that term, Charles.

SQT, I haven't read Harris, or most of these, I was just puzzled by them. I will pick up a couple the next time I make it to the library.

Lucas, I guess we're more traditionalists.

jedi...I agree, whatever floats boats. I try and expose myself to different writing though. So, I will soon be dipping in.

whimsi...I think Rice was a big factor in the field. I am not sure it all started with her, but she definitely gave it a shove.I think Avery nailed the idea that the story moved away from the monster with the frailty being killed eventually, to overcoming the frailty.

Rick..great comment. Great. I love the analogy. Now, as you were writing this, weren't you thinking: God, this would make a great posting on my blog (which hasn't been updated since they rolled back the stone from J.C.'s grave?)

Shadowfalcon, I think you are correct about the role of women in much of the male dominated field of scifi.

gugon said...

Stewart - amen, brother.

Actually, this stuff doesn't weigh on my mind much. I don't think of it as horror. I think of it as romance with a supernatural twist.

For us old-school horror guys, there's still plenty out there for us.

SaM-GiRL said...

Nice blog. interesting.

Sidney said...

I think there are two strands of this genre - paranormal fantasy and paranormal romance. I'm not sure which came first, but it's true they're not really horror. They don't take things to quite as dark a place. They play on more the fascination with being in touch with super human beings, I believe. There was a show on History Channel or somewhere recently that explored some of that feeling in an examination of vampires.

I enjoyed Karen Chance's "Touch the Dark," which blends vampires and werewolves, ghosts and lots of other creatures, so I think they can be a lot of fun.

Avery said...

You're right, Stewart. I went back to my copy of Dracula and realized I was confusing the movie's plot line with the book's. You'll have to forgive me, sometimes I think things I've read or heard on my TV were conversations I had with real people -- it's a problem I'm working on (luckily, I can conveniently blame major head trauma from when I was a teenager). Nonetheless, I stand by the rest of my argument.

As for your question, we've always projected our fears onto monsters. The Windigo is the personification of the fear of cannibalism. If a person eats the flesh of another, he will become Windigo. The evolution of that story not only transferred the group's fear onto a being they could loathe and blame when cannibalism DID happen, it also helped keep those morally ambiguous few who started to get the rumblies in the winter from picking up the fork and going after grandma.

Back then, cannibalism was an ever- present (in winter) fear. Not so much to the modern reader. So, what, then, do we have to fear now? What do we project onto our ooglie-booglies? Common fears (just like our ancestors). But because of modern comforts, modern, day-to-day fears are somewhat less horrific. Yeah, we occasionally worry we'll all go up in a mushroom cloud, or that birds will wipe out millions of the population in one great plague, but those aren't our most conscious concerns. Our "tame doggy" mindset that Vwriter so brilliantly brought up extends to life itself. Our worries are that the sycophant in the next cubicle has dinner plans with the boss, or that the hairdresser will someday soon confuse 'caramel' highlights with straight bleach. With so few dark places left in which to set our monsters loose, some have found places for them in the daylight.

I suppose horror stops being horror exactly when it fails to produce the sensation it's named for. Since that varies per person, who can say where the line is? I honestly don't care. Labels suck. But, people need labels to order their society, so what's a rebel to do, other than ignore them?

The funny thing is, I don't read much of these supernatural romances. I tend to become annoyed when my action is interrupted by too much sex or romantic involvement. I'm defending the genre because the vast majority of writers have no intention of even trying to understand it. They simply brush it off as "not horror," poo-pooing it before they even pick up a copy and turn the first page. I have stacks of Hamilton and Harris, Armstrong and Harrison. I've taken the time to read and study the genre before deciding it's (generally) not for me. But, because I don't like it doesn't mean it's not a valid art form. And it doesn't mean it's not horror. Hell, I have an ex-sister-in-law who would most likely equate a bad dye job with being attacked by a werewolf any day of the week.

miller580 said...

About ten years ago, maybe more, a friend of mine (female) knew I like Stephen King and recommended Anne Rice. She said, Rice writes just like him. So I read some "mummy" book. The book was a cross between lite horror and cheesy romance. I remember one scene where the live human falls in love with the mummy and grabs his monster hardness...or something to that effect. It was stereotypical romance. (no offence to fans of Rice or romance is intended) but it was nothing like King. It was the only book I read by her and now there are clones to this? That alone scares me.

cs harris said...

You can definitely credit--or blame--Anne Rice and Buffy. Or, rather, the movie of Anne's book. I suspect it's a visual thing. Women saw these hot stars playing vampires, and they thought, Wow, bad boys times ten! I knew a woman back in 1996 who was writing a vampire romance (I went, Huh? Just goes to show how good I am at spotting trends); it slowly gathered steam from then. Now, it's the hottest thing in the romance genre. Not my cup of tea, but then, the genre needed some new blood (sorry!). The old forms were dying. The paranormal romances do attract a younger audience. Some readers like both "straight" horror and fantasy, and paranormal romance; many others read only the romance variety. Even once it got big, I expected it to disappear after a few years--it all seemed so derivative. I always forget that people LIKE derivative.

molly said...

i work in a library and i encounter a lot of interesting fantasy-science fiction paperbacks. my favorite, i forget the title, has a picture of a princess kissing a frog and a caption reading "sometimes a frog is just a frog"

SQT said...

These books are definitely geared more towards women. Kelley Armstrong is another one I like, her series is called "Women of the Underworld" and the main character in the first one is the only existing female werewolf. The other characters featured have been witches and a ghost.

Some of them do focus heavily on the romance factor, and those are the one's I tend to stay away from. I think that's why I can't stand Laurell K. Hamilton, her books have become thinly veiled erotica and that's about it.

I read Rice years ago and liked the Vampire books at first, but after awhile I got tired of her attempts to romanticize the subject. So I would definitely say that Rice is probably a huge reason the genre has become so popular.

There is one more Vampire series I read years ago, that came out way before the current crop. It's called the "Vampire Files" by P.N. Elrod and I thought they were pretty good. I knew lots of guys who liked the series so it isn't geared just toward women.

Rach said...

Buffy the vampire slayer is exactly what I was thinking. This doesn't sound interesting at all, but I'm with you on the issue. I love horror novels/movies where the vampire, werewolf, etc is actually meant to be scary.

I'll stick with Steven King and Dean Koontz.

Kate S said...

Ok, I'll put my two cents in here as someone who reads AND writes this kind of stuff.

The reading: it's escapism; fun, sexy and entertaining, and sometimes with just a tiny thrill of horror thrown in, but not so much that I can't turn out the light and get a good night's sleep.

The writing: if my character is a shapeshifting purple alien with a bra fetish that he developed from looking at Sears catalogs, I can get away with it. He's not supposed be a "normal guy."

I can write a paranormal romance and not have some voice in the back of my head saying, "oh, no way would he/she say/do that!" The characters can do whatever I darn well decide they can do because they aren't human with all the foibles inherent to that.

Actually, that's also why I can read them without too much eye-rolling. I can buy a vampire saying "I want to be with you for eternity", but Joe Blow down the street, not so much. :)

Stewart Sternberg said...

Kate, you say 'bra fetish' like its a bad thing...

molly, working in a library or bookstore would be my fantasy job. of course, I'd have to hide all the books written by OReilly, Hannity, and Coulter.

Rach, Gugon..yeah, I like being scared stupid. I like something reaching into my pschye and messing it up.

Avery, I admire your openmindedness. I'm going to go the library and get some of these books. I'm actually outlining a romantic fantasy/supernatural story right now. Faeries and dragons.

Ormondroyd's Encyclopedia Esoterica said...

I think the "cute and cuddly" monsters-- I was just about to blog a review of the "Boneyard" comics by Richard Moore-- and a lot of the goth girl subculture-- are an unconscious response to the realization that it's not the outcast monsters that have created the greatest atrocities of the past hundred years, it was the "normal", upright citizens of Germany, Cambodia, China, Russia (and if we keep this up, the good old USA will surpass its genocides of the 19th century)... it's the peasants with their torches and pitchforks that we have to be afraid of...

Christina Rundle said...

I am a victim of all those writers! I love them! I'm reading a short story by Kim Harrison as we speak. I think it's the fact that these "women" young, old, whatever, are not the damsel in distress. They put that Knight in Dark Armor, in distress.

I'm just a fan of paranormal romance. There is something sad to these creatures. If you read Laurell Hamilton, she has an Alpha who despises being a werewolf and he puts his people in trouble all the time because he won't step up to the plate. Like Avery said, these weaknesses in creatures make them seem more real. It gets a reader to thinking that these creatures seem so logical in position that they might actually exist.