By, Derek Clendening
Since the 18th century, the vampire has played a significant role in all areas of literature. The foundation for the vampire literature canon could already be found in the major works of legendary writers such as Rudyard Kipling, S. T. Coleridge and Lord Byron — well before a theatre manager named Bram Stoker published Dracula in 1897.
In the 1970s, there was a dramatic, game-changing shift in the literary vampire with the publication of Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot (Doubleday, 1975) and Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire (Knopf, 1976). This shift removed vampires from gloomy European castles and placed them in the United States. ‘Salem’s Lot integrated vampires into the landscape of a rural Maine town, while Rice’s now-classic novel placed vampires historically in the Southern aristocracy. While both authors remained fairly faithful to traditional lore, they built upon the foundation and changed some of the rules along the way, laying the groundwork for the evolution of the modern vampire.
Although eroticism and desire, as well as LGBT themes, have been explored in vampire literature in the last few decades, the more things change, the more they seem to stay the same. A handful of symbols instantly associated with the vampire have been constants through the centuries – the cross, holy water, garlic – while stakes, hammers, and sunlight have remained dependable as deadly deterrents for the vampire. So just how dramatic has the vampire’s evolution really been?
Nancy Kilpatrick – often dubbed “Canada’s Vampire Queen” – wanted to edit an anthology that examined the evolution of the vampire in literature. And her plan came to fruition when the anthology Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undead was published by Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy. Dark Scribe Magazine traveled to England for World Horror Convention 2010 and caught up with Nancy Kilpatrick and a handful of contributors at the Evolve launch party to discuss the evolution of this legendary literary figure.
Nancy Kilpatrick is the author of eighteen novels, ten anthologies, one non-fiction book and more than two hundred short stories. In 2007, she was writer guest of honor of the Toronto World Horror Convention. She lives in Montreal.
Kelley Armstrong hails from Aylmer, Ontario and is known for her acclaimed Women of the Underworld series.
Rio Youers is originally from England, but now calls Cambridge, Ontario home. His novel Everdead was published by Graveside Tales and his next novel End Times will be released by PS Publishing.
Bev Vincent is the Bram Stoker award-nominated author of The Stephen King Illustrated Companion from Fall River Press. Originally from Eastern Canada, he now resides in Texas.
Gemma Files was born in England and now lives in Toronto. Several of her short stories were adapted for The Hunger television series. A Book of Tongues: Volume One in the Hexlinger Series has been released by ChiZine publications.
Steve Vernon is a Nova Scotia writer and tarot reader. His collection Do-Overs is forthcoming from Dark Regions Press, and he will also appear in the four novella collection Four Rode Out, forthcoming from Cemetery Dance.
Dark Scribe Magazine: What are the subtle changes that have occurred in vampire literature over the centuries?
Rio Youers: The vampire story has essentially had to evolve over the years even though it’s retained the intrinsic values that make it a vampire story. I wanted to move away from those classic vampire rules. What I wanted to do with “Soulfinger” was not to have the vampire with fangs and garlic but to have a story with a vampiric feel and soul-sucking element. Rather than have the vampire as a physical being, I wanted it to be an emotional being.
Bev Vincent: Nancy gave us a wide open tablet to interpret evolution however we individually wanted to do it. There was no big picture plan. The basic concept was that vampires are part of civilization, vampires exist, and that’s your starting point. My idea was what happens to sub cultures? One story in the anthology took vampires as a sign of positive change. I went in the other direction and said: sub cultures tend to get marginalized…are subject to prejudice and exploitation and are ghettoized. That was the framework I imagined for “A Murder of Vampires”.
Gemma Files: The most striking change in vampire literature is the mainstreaming of the vampire, most egregiously in Twilight. Even when you look at True Blood, which is a good show, where the vampire is supposed to be sexual and creepy and violent, there is still an admiration for the vampire. There is the idea that vampires are beautiful, different and bigger than you and me. I trace it back to Anne Rice where the vampire is a predator, but a predator from above, like an angel. They just take our blood and maybe give us a good time while they’re at it. They can kill us, but we don’t care because they’re so great. This is very much getting away from the original intent. There’s something to be said for the idea that vampires can be sexual and beautiful and still be undead and creepy. There’s something really awful about that. I think you can’t get away from the awfulness, because otherwise you get away from the trope.
Kelley Armstrong: There are actually lots of changes, from when I was young. Then, as I was older, I read Dracula and then Anne Rice. You had the sympathetic vampire and now today you the vampire as the alpha hero. And you have the vampire that sparkles!
Nancy Kilpatrick: The vampire has changed over the centuries because it’s part of the culture that has revised it. What we’re seeing now is a lot of young adult and romance. It’s really taking something from Dracula and aiming it at a younger audience, because Dracula had that erotic undertone anyway. I don’t think it’s dramatically different now, just that it’s aimed at young adults.
Steve Vernon: I promise not to make any wisecracks along the lines of, "Well, they glitter now I guess." Or have I already broken that promise? Speaking from the traditional vampire mythos, the changes have been taking place all along. Various writers have decided to modify the "rules” of the vampire. For example, Anne Rice in Interview with the Vampire has Louis remark, "Actually, I am quite fond of looking at crucifixes". Remember, the birthplace of the modern vampire is in the heart of a writer — and writers love to make shit up. It is what we do best. In my own take on the vampire, Gypsy Blood, (Five Star Press), I tackle the vampire in a completely different fashion. And then I remade the rules when I wrote the story "The Greatest Trick" for Evolve.
Repeat after me: Rules are made to be broken.
Speaking as a working writer, the vampire has definitely found a successful niche in the realm of paranormal romance. Today's vampire is often considerably softened to make them more romantic and alluring and sexy.
Just like writers.
Dark Scribe: What was your greatest challenge in trying to stay original and how did you avoid rehashing overworked themes?
Rio Youers: My greatest challenge was in wanting to tell a really good story that people would enjoy, first and foremost. I was never worried about rehashing ideas because I felt my story had enough vampiric elements and the story itself was original in its own way. What I wanted to do was to write a story that would fit in with a vampire evolving.
Bev Vincent: I haven’t written much vampire fiction, so I didn’t have to worry about covering my own old ground. The way I approached the story was to ask what spin can I put on it that’s in the same vein of what I’m writing so I can separate it from the rest of the pack? So I said, okay let’s write a crime story. “A Murder of Vampires” is essentially a murder story with a detective protagonist who is investigating a series of murders and the victims in this case so happen to be vampires. Rather than having the vampires as the exploiters, they are the exploited. I thought that would be a twist that would offer a fresh approach to a fairly common concept of vampires. So it’s a little bit noir and I resisted the temptation to call it vampire noir, but for all intents and purposes, it’s a crime story.
Gemma Files: I was kind of rehashing a theme — not an overworked theme — but definitely a primal theme of vampire literature because I chose to focus on Renfield. He’s an enabler, a ghoul, one of those people who serve vampires because he hopes to become a vampire. That character has always been an attractive character to me possibly because of his masochistic impulse that’s barely sublimated in a relationship like that. The thing that I wanted to explore that I don’t see explored much is to ask: Why would someone be attracted to that? And what would happen if you finally made the connection that most Renfields don’t seem to make? That is to understand that no vampire will make you into a vampire. To some degree, I was influenced by having seen 30 Days of Night recently, which was a beautiful portrait of a Reinfield character. I thought Man, that guy couldn’t just walk to Alaska and not end up dead! Unless there was something weird about him too. So what would that be about?
Kelley Armstrong: My greatest challenge was trying to do something that was just a little bit different, but not vastly different. What I was doing you could say was a rehash on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Nancy Kilpatrick: I did give people connections to what is happening now, such as Twilight and True Blood and other things. I did talk to specific people who were having trouble getting a grip on this, or who didn’t write about vampires much. I tried to guide the writers, to think of something like Dracula and where they go with that. The thing is that vampires are no longer separate from human society. They’re a part of human society. It’s what we do with it that makes it an interesting game.
Steve Vernon: My first challenge was learning how to count. The first story I wrote for submission turned into a novella of hockey and vampires — weighing in at a good 24000 words. I contacted Nancy and asked if it was alright if a writer went a little over her initial limit (which, if I recollect correctly, was about 9000 words).
"How little?" she asked.
So after she slammed my manuscript over my head three or forty times I shook my brains out a little and tackled another story. Because I wanted to be in this collection in a very bad way. I had come out on the wrong end of the short list for the last few Tesseracts collections and I really wanted to work with Edge Publishing.
Dark Scribe Magazine: Based on this anthology and other current works, in what direction do you think vampire literature is headed?
Rio Youers: Good question. Vampire lit has been around for over two hundred years and it’ll be around for as long as people are reading books. It will reinvent itself. It’s very popular with young people, and I believe it will go in cycles and we will probably return to Dracula-type vampires that don’t sparkle. I don’t think there will be a massive change but there might be a steady change of ideas.
Bev Vincent: To be honest, I haven’t followed the trends that much. I’ve almost deliberately avoided Twilight even though my daughter has read them all. I’m aware of True Blood. Being unaware of these stories is liberating when you’re writing vampire fiction because you’re not influenced by them, and you’re carving your own path. My story gave me the opportunity to write about a location I’ve never been in Eastern Canada, and I’ve been writing a lot of crime fiction lately. As far as what other people are doing, they seem to harken back to traditional vampires like [those] in The Historian. There are so many possibilities, like writing science fiction with vampires. Vampires fit in any genre.
Gemma Files: Probably in the same direction it’s been going in. The old tropes are very familiar and easier to sell. People always joke about how the vampire rises from the grave again and again and everyone says “No, not another vampire!” something always comes up that’s a hit and suddenly the vampire is popular again. I think they will continue to be popular and I hope that authors aren’t afraid to experiment. I would like to see vampire crossovers in science fiction or political thrillers.
Kelley Armstrong: I think how we will see the vampire change will depend on the market trends, such as a sparkling vampire. The vampire [of the future] will depend on how people create vampires of their own.
Nancy Kilpatrick: I think the vampire has been emerging as a romantic and sexual being for a while. Since Anne Rice’s novels, vampires have been very erotic. They don’t necessarily act on it in a sexual way though. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s series of Count St. Germain novels are very erotic, too. So I think the vampire has already been going that way, and writers have to decide how young adults can plug into this idea. Teenage girls might be looking for something that is sexual but safe in the same way, like a dangerous but good boyfriend. But we still have a great variety of vampires, such as vampires that are still killers. The teenage girls are going to grow up and the market could start to wane. We just have to hope they can still hang in there with horror and with vampires.
Purchase Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undead edited by Nancy Kilpatrick.