Friday, March 11, 2011

Vampires and Sex


The first vampires I ever met stalked Salem’s Lot. Man, they were cool. Deadly, too, but with a disturbingly seductive and rotted beauty. The next vampire novel that I recall with fondness was Robert McCammon’s They Thirst, about some of the nastiest bloodsuckers you’d ever want to meet razing Los Angeles in search of gore. Only later did I venture back to the originators, first to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, then to the even earlier Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu.

In those days I preferred the villainous aspects of the vampire. I recognized the erotic attraction that characters like Carmilla and Dracula had for some readers, but I was far more interested in the horror than the seduction. By the mid-1980s, though, when I began to write seriously myself, a change had swept over vampire literature, initiated, perhaps, by Anne Rice’s 1976 novel Interview with the Vampire. Vamps were still dangerous, but the focus fell increasingly on their seductive and romantic qualities. The age of the antihero vampire was “dawning.”

Anthology series and magazines like Prisoners of the Night, Dead of Night, and The Vampire’s Crypt were pioneers in unleashing this new kind of vampire on the world. These were some of the magazines publishing dark fantasy and horror at the time I became interested in writing in those genres, and by then I was ready to embrace the rising trend. I began to enjoy writing about vampires who were not so much evil as they were “conflicted.” My vampires did bad things; they killed and fed. But they often struggled with the “thirst,” and with their own lost—or not quite lost—humanity.

Recently, a collection of my vampire stories was published, called Midnight in Rosary. There’s a werewolf tale or two in the collection. There’s a ghost. But mostly it’s vampires of various kinds and stripes. I was surprised when I was putting it together that I’d written so many stories about vampires in which they weren’t total villains. There are some nasty ones in there, but most of them have a lot more complexity to their characters, and I found I appreciated that.

I was also surprised that there was so much sex in the stories. Most of what I’ve written in my life would fall under the “adventure” heading, and quite often there is no sex at all, or it’s mostly implied. The stories in Midnight in Rosary are different. The sexual descriptions range from the romantic to the graphic, although I doubt anyone who has read a Laurell K. Hamilton book would be shocked. But there’s quite a lot of sex and it is generally integral in some way to the plot. I have to think that it is the vampire thing that led to this. Eroticism existed as part of the vampire equation from it’s beginnings in Carmilla and Dracula, but it has certainly become far more pronounced over the last 30 years. In the modern day it seems almost impossible to write about vampires without some kind of sexual element.

Vampires can be many things to many people, and that has gone far toward making them the most enduring “monster” in all of literature. It’s a major reason why I’ve visited and revisited them so many times in my work.

So, what do you think of vampires? Is there room for really nasty, non-sexual vamps in today's world? Would anyone read such a book?

23 comments:

Ty Johnston said...

I've not read all of his novels, but of what I've read of David Wellington's vampire work, the beasties were nasty, non-sexual vamps.

I do think there's a place for non-sexual vampires, but at least for now it's a somewhat limited audience, at least for literature. In film, I'd think there'd be a larger audience for such fare, though it tends to be B movie fare.

I don't use vampire very often, but when I do, I prefer the nasty sort.

Charles Gramlich said...

when I want to get brutal I tend to use something like the Warkind from Cold in the Light, which have a lot more in common with werewolves than vamps. but I did include some pretty nasty vamps in Midnight.

jennifer said...

I think the mainstream or Hollywood vampire almost HAS to be sexual at this point. The Cullens cinched that. When I think of a vampire I picture the hypnotic seducer.

Ann Rice did a fantastic job humanizing vampires with their conflicts and emotions instead of merely making them blood thirsty monsters. I remember I had to sit in the middle of my yard in the sunlight the last time I read one of her books. Even during the day, the walls were too close and I couldn't see what was around corners. In other words, she scared me silly!

the walking man said...

Honestly I have dealt with enough blood suckers this week to think about Vampyre sex. I have Killing Time on my kindle once I get through that I'll think about Vampyres having freaky kinky love bitten sex.

G said...

I agree with the first commenter. There is room for a non-sexual vampire, but as he says, it's probably limited to a niche market.

To be honest, most of what I've seen or read the vampires have been sexual of nature.

And of the stuff I've written so far, it definitely has been sexual of nature. I think it's easier for me to combine the two elements of sex and horror/violence into something readable than it would be to write something that I don't think I could write (horror).

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I would read it! As far as vampires go, I'd say Nosferatu was my favorite.

Charles Gramlich said...

jennifer, I especially like those “Atmospheric” qualities of the modern vampire stories. They often times do create some powerful emotional reactions that play with the line between excitement and fear.

Mark, lol. Like the song says, get me in a fight, I like the dirty tricks.


G, There’s definitely a difference between true horror vampires and the more romantic kind, although I do see some writers who put together an interesting mix.


Alex J. Cavanaugh, don’t you just love that name? Nosferatu. Sounds pretty evil

X. Dell said...

I dunno. I know that--especially among female friends--that the eroticism about vampires is what really draws them not only into the stories, but sometimes into the "lifestyle" (i.e., people running around, pretending to be vampires, drinking blood from some source, and so on).

To write about non-erotic vampires would probably yield something artistically fascinating. I'd wonder if some numbnuts might think, however, if taking the erotica out you're attempting to appeal to a class of reader who, by-and-large-, doesn't go for such stories (yourself notwithstanding). They might also worry that the traditional audience for vampire stories might be turned off.

In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the book took awhile to find an audience. But if you would like such stories, chances are that others would as well. After all, you're not from Mars. And human tastes only vary so much.

BernardL said...

Although I read 'Dracula' as a kid and really enjoyed King's 'Salem's Lot', like you Anne Rice's vampires were my first glimpse at something beyond the horror. Frankly, I didn't care much for the vampire erotica because all I could envision was love with a cold, walking corpse. The writing touches by authors making the vamps warm to the touch and more interested in keeping their 'happy meals' as donors helped somewhat but I've always been more fond of Van Helsing. :)

Charles Gramlich said...

X-Dell, In the 80s there were a number of really brutal vampire books out with no real sexuality. Today it's more rare, although 30 days of night comes to mind as a graphic novel. Not sure when it was written though.

Bernardl, I found when I started putting this collection together that I'd explored both sides of the coin. I'm kind of aching to do a really brutal vamp tale but who knows when I'll get a chance to write it.

Steve Malley said...

Check out DRACULAS by JA Konrath and Blake Crouch. Those vampires are a loooonnnnng way from sexy, and that e-book was some of the most fun I had reading last year. :-)

(And no, they didn't pay me for that plug!)

Erik Donald France said...

I tend to like the trend of going in this direction . . . in some ways it's scarier. Has anyone written about Mafia Vampies? Mob stuff like The Sopranos is not far off from vampire tales. Salem's Lot was good, indeed; I also liked The Hunger, which had both elements, and Werner Herzog's Nosferatu. Sharp topic!

Charles Gramlich said...

Steve Malley, I'll keep that one in mind. thanks.

Erik, The hunger. I'd almost forgotten taht one. Loved the movie and I actually read the book only a couple of years ago.

Jewel Amethyst said...

I'm definitely not a fan of vampires, but adding a little romance and humanistic attributes to them make them appeal to a wider audience than just those who love blood and gore.

As for the abundance of sex in Vampire stories, well you know what they say, sex sells. Most the vampire stories I saw in my more youthful days when I still had the stomach for them, the sex was implied. But I believe extraordinary virility has always been associated with Vampires. Must be something to do with the blood diet...

Charles Gramlich said...

Jewel, they definitely seem to have that preternatural lasting power. I may want to look at the phenomenon a bit more at some point.

Tyhitia Green said...

Yes, I'd like to read about nasty, scary vampires. This is why I loved 30 Days of Night so much. The romantic ones are okay, but I prefer mine scary. :-D And the two elements can co-exist if done well.

Liane Spicer said...

I haven't quite acquired a taste for vampires and I tend to avoid reading or watching gore-fests of any sort. If I did read vampires (I'd never even try to write them) I'd probably want them to be straight up nasty. I don't get the sexy vampire craze at all. For me, blood, death, corpses and sex just don't mix.

That said, I loved the updated Nosferatu interpretation, Shadow of the Vampire. But then I'd watch Willem Dafoe in just about anything.

Charles Gramlich said...

vampires are definitely not for everyone But I guess that's true of just about every kind of story or character. I'm happy for the differences.

David Cranmer said...

I'm looking forward to Midnight in Rosary. I'm a kid of crime and westerns but Charles continues to pull me to the dark corner of the horror/fantasy aisle.

laughingwolf said...

ok... who ate my post?

Charles Gramlich said...

David, One thing I haven't written a lot of in my day is crime fiction. I need to remedy that.

Laughingwolf, given the nature of things it would probably have to be a vampire eh? :)

laughingwolf said...

lol... could very well be ;)

Charles Gramlich said...

Laughingwolf, thumbs up.