Like a lot of people I arrived at my interest in vampires early on. For me it wasn’t the horror elements of that genre that appealed to me. I’ve never been a big fan of horror, which I suppose is odd if one likes vampires. But frightening myself was never a big preoccupation of mine. There were lots of other pieces of the undead puzzle which captivated me. For one, I glommed onto the immortality thing, the powerful nature of the creature, the ability to plant suggestions that get attention and the other advantages of being undead. But at the top of my list of favorite vampire traits is immortality. Vampires can live forever (well, as long as they don’t get staked). Living forever would give a person a great chance to indulge one of my other extreme interests: history. What could be better?
Then there are all those other powers (who doesn’t want to be able to dissolve into mist and sneak around places and under doors?) and that whole sexy side of vampire life, all those sensuous moments that just seem to fall into a vampire’s… um… lap.
Is there a kid who could resist the temptations of immortality, power, money, and the rest? Maybe there are a few. And maybe if I’d actually been given the chance to go down that undead path, who knows how I’d have responded? But no one offered to bite my neck back then or since. I’m still open to the idea.
My fascination with vampires continued well after my pre-adolescent years. I continued reading novels and academic studies of the literature and the phenomenon. All the reading confirmed what I felt in the first place: It wasn’t the blood and the horror of undead life that held my attention. It was the “otherness” of vampires that spoke to me.
The marginality of the creature is a quality lots of people can identify with. Being an outsider among humans, the vampire speaks to anyone who finds himself or herself on the margins of society. Gays, other minorities, and young adults all share that feeling of not belonging, of having to exist on the margins.
The sheer power of the vampire attracts anyone who feels powerless or marginal and offers them a way to overcome those feelings.
You can scan down the list of vampire traits and all of them have a special attraction, for one reason or another, to those who follow their exploits.
When I became the head librarian at an exclusive private school, I paid attention to the reading habits of the students. And, no surprise, vampire novels were among the faster moving leisure reading books. This led me to wonder about the possible connection between vampire literature and adolescent development. I wondered if vampire literature connected in some visceral way with the developmental stages of a young adult.
I see the link between the YA reader and vampire literature as one key to understanding the world of the adolescent. Knowing the literature and the reasons it is in tune with young adult thought and development is important to providing services which adolescents will see as valuable and meaningful. And to developing readers.
For those of us who write, this kind of research provides some insight into what readers like and why.
Not that we should write to spec. But just as it is valuable to know about story structure, about the steps of the hero’s journey in storytelling, and about a zillion other things with regard to craft, it’s equally important to know what appeals to readers. Not so that we can manipulate but so that perhaps we can give our work more depth and make it more satisfying.
It’s a good day when a researcher can combine subject matter he’s fascinated with and a project that can be academically useful and even meaningful. The nexus between the elements of the vampire’s nature and the stages of a young adult’s development was one such project for me.
I began reading and rereading vampire novels. Both those written especially for a YA audience and those that young adults enjoyed but were not classified as YA. I also had to revisit all the young adult development literature.
I approached the research I did with an academic purpose: to get some scholarly and semi-scholarly papers and articles written. At the time, I wasn’t thinking about producing a vampire novel. Well, okay, it was simmering on a back burner.
Initially, I did get the academic benefit from my research. I presented papers at conferences (one of which was in Worcester, England and is something I won’t soon forget). I also had several papers and articles published in journals and magazines geared to the librarian.
After I’d done what I could with the subject academically, I took a break from the study of vampires and went back to enjoying the literature for its own sake.
But you never really stop thinking about things and even while enjoying the books and TV shows and movies, I kept wondering about the power of the vampire to connect with people.
I eventually came to understand that vampires appeal to more than just young adults. The vampire figure may represent all the problems of the young adult reader but it also represents some of the problems that stick with us long after our YA years.
The adolescent is in a period of awakening to sexual feelings and to the sense that they can both control themselves and sometimes be out of control, awakening to a world in which they feel they no longer really fit. Because of these feelings, the adolescent finds in the vampire an almost perfect fantasy figure with which to identify. The vampire is suave and sexy, with immense strength which can be used both for aggressive impulses, for hunting, for control of others, but also for self-control. And, the vampire is an outsider just because of who he or she is.
But adolescents are not the only ones who identify so well with these creatures of the night. Which explains why there are so many readers of vampire literature who keep the genre wildly popular.
What I didn’t realize while doing the academic work, was that the information I learned would stick with me and help form some of my notions about vampires and how the live their undead lives as well as help inform my writing.
As I’m finding with my current work in progress, the vampire figure has a hypnotic and transformative power over the writer as well as it’s victims and our readers. Many writers try their hand at a vampire novel. They may start out to write one kind of novel but something strange happens: their work is transformed by the presence of the vampire in it – particularly if they take the creature seriously. This is so because the vampire powerfully represents humanity’s interior issues – the struggle with self, differentness, marginality, identity, and more.
The story I began to create started out as one simple thing, then suddenly became something completely different. The vampire on the pages of my manuscript became something larger than I’d originally intended.
I’m glad that happened and happy that it is still evolving as I work, because it’s made for something a lot more fun and interesting. Something I can get my fangs… err… my teeth into.
Joseph R.G. DeMarco
www.MurderOnCamac.com), A Body on Pine (www.ABodyOnPine.com), and Crimes on Latimer (www.CrimesOnLatimer.com), and more waiting to be birthed. He has also edited a Sherlock Holmes collection, A Study in Lavender: Queering Sherlock Holmes. He is also Publisher/Editor of Mysterical-E (www.mystericale.com) and prior to that was editor of The Weekly Gayzette, NGL Magazine, Il Don Gennaro, and Kater Street. He has also been a columnist for The Advocate, In Touch, and Gaysweek (NY). His article, “Gay Racism”, which first appeared in PGN, won the Best Feature writing award from the Gay Press Association and is anthologized in We Are Everywhere, BlackMen WhiteMen, and Men’s Lives. His stories and essays have been published in the Arsenal Pulp Press “Quickies” series, Men Seeking Men, Charmed Lives, Gay Life, Hey Paisan!, Paws and Reflect, Heat of the Moment, The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, The International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family, The Encyclopedia of Men and Masculinities, The journal of homosexuality, and others. His plays have been produced in Philadelphia, NY, and elsewhere. Though mystery is among his first loves, he also has an abiding interest in alternate history, vampires, werewolves, science fiction, the supernatural, mythology, and more. You can learn more at www.josephdemarco.com