Paranormal fiction continues to be very popular right now, which is good for me since I’m now writing the third in my Milagro De Los Santos series. The last thing I need is for vampires to lose favor with the public, thereby forcing me to do something unpleasant, like getting a real job. (The New York Observer just ran a story in which writers confessed the hardship of being successful. Honestly, it made me want to smack these whining nitwits upside the head with an unabridged volume of Shakespeare’s tragedies.)
As fictional characters, vampires have it all over other paranormal creatures. Mummies are always unraveling, and you can’t understand a thing they say through all that fabric. Cannibal zombies smell bad, have rotting flesh, and want to eat your brains. Don’t even try to write a clever conversation with a zombie; it can’t be done. Demons are too metaphysically ambiguous, and ghosts are useless as love interests since they lack corporeal being. Werewolves have a following, but writers constantly struggle with the perplexing problem of clothing. Half of werewolf books are devoted to the shapeshifters’ ripping off their clothing during transformations, and then finding themselves stark nekkid behind the 7-11 dumpster.
There are miscellaneous faeries, warlocks, elves, and mermen in paranormal fiction, but they just don’t have the allure of the vampire. The modern vampire is eloquent, attractive, well-dressed, and successful. You can take them to just about any social event so long as you keep them from sunlight, crosses, stakes through the heart, and garlic-laden Mediterranean cuisine.
They’re powerful and have a seductive undercurrent of danger, but they’re not so crass that they’ll drain you of blood in the middle of amusing banter. Nope, a writer may let the conversation flow when vampires are in a scene. And if a writer is given to ornate dialog, there’s no better spouter of such chat than 400-year-old vamp. Many popular vampires spend an inordinate amount of time being melancholy and thinking about sex, which readers find intriguing. In real life, someone melancholy who thinks a lot about sex is probably trolling chat rooms for underage girls and claiming he likes strolls on the beach and cuddling. But I digress.
A cultural anthropologist could probably tell you why our society is now drawn to paranormal stories. I sat in on an anthropology class once (I left when I found out there would be no field trips to dig up bones and artifacts), so I feel qualified to propose my own theories.
Theory One. In the post-9/11 world, we want to know that heroes and heroines will protect us from unexpected and powerful dangers. This doesn’t quite work when you consider that Anne Rice rocked the book world long before 9/11.
Theory Two: Reading scary stories makes our adrenaline kick in, good for a cheap thrill. This is true for the really scary stories, but most paranormal fiction doesn’t come close to the spine-tingliness of most horror books.
Theory Three: People want to fantasize about having their blood sucked. Well, I think more people fantasize about winning the lottery, yet there’s not a “Lottery Winner” genre of fiction.
Theory Four: In our banal, sanitized “Paper or plastic?” lives, we yearn for characters with more primitive appetites for sustenance, sex, and power.
Theory Four: Paranormal fiction presents characters with dilemmas that are not easily resolved by standard means. They can’t run to the police about an elf, file a lawsuit to stop harassment by a vampire, or talk to a therapist about a were attack. They’ve got to be self-reliant, imaginative, and brave, and readers enjoy those qualities in a lead character.
Okay, Theories Three and Four work for me.
When I wrote Happy Hour at Casa Dracula, I intended my book to be a romantic comedy wherein an impoverished, yet appealing heroine, Milagro, has to deal with people who think she is beneath them. The characters needed to successful, attractive, and sophisticated; modern vampires fit my needs perfectly as the rich snobby family that treats Milagro as if she’s an unaccomplished, tacky skank. She proves herself, but learns that their sophistication is a veneer for darker instincts; there’s a delicious frisson of sex, danger, and power.
Well, when you’re at the top, you get to look down, and vampires are definitely at the top of the paranormal food chain.
Marta Acosta is the author of Happy Hour at Casa Dracula, a Fresh Pick of the Day, a BookSense Pick, and Catalina Magazine’s Humor Book of 2006. Her second novel, Midnight Brunch, was released in April 2007. Her website is www.martaacosta.com.