I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for vampires, as odd as that sentence sounds. I came of age when Lost Boys was all the rage, and spent more than a few evenings playing Vampire: The Masquerade with friends in college. (No, I wasn’t goth, so you can stop picturing me in velvet and makeup, thanks. You’re only hurting yourself.)
Unfortunately, vampires seem to be one of those collective myths that regularly get reinvented, then beaten into the ground. They’ve been monstrous, romantic, angst-ridden and…sparkly. Taking on something that’s as iconic and over-used as the vampire requires a great degree of intestinal fortitude as well as a very creative angle. M.L. Brennan, author of Generation V, which debuted Tuesday, thinks she’s got an answer to that and, not coincidentally, to the guest blog theme question.
So, what makes my book so gosh-darn special, anyway?
That’s a good question, and not just since I’m buttering up Michael like a roll right now (Hi Michael!). Urban fantasy has become a very crowded genre over the past few years, and I don’t think there’s a single person who would suggest that vampires are underexposed. So when a reader learns that my urban fantasy novel is starring a vampire, I think they’d be well within their rights to ask what in the name of heaven I’ve done to make my book stand out from the pack. “Go on,” I can imagine my bored and jaded potential reader say, “Surprise me.”
Don’t mind if I do.
We’re all familiar with the standard urban fantasy vampire. Recent writers (*cough* Rice *cough* Meyers) have left very deep marks in how we view what a vampire is – a vampire is immortal, night-dwelling, with the kind of hair usually only seen on bad guys in Die Hard. The vampire is probably European, and very cultured. He (and this vampire is usually going to be male) is a very stylish dresser. At some point in time this vampire was human – the glossy-haired ne’er-do-well who pouted in French cafes in a bygone era before being changed into his current, immortal, form. The pouting has evolved into brooding. Maybe a little whining. Sometimes he will make some special human into a vampire like himself – this process involves just a few drops of blood, a little slo-mo camera work, and possibly a hot oil treatment to make the hair look more fabulous. This vampire is centuries old, impossibly jaded… until he meets a certain female human between the ages of sixteen and twenty-four, at which point he will fall hopelessly in love and try to convince her to join him for an eternity of… you know, whatever the hell he’s been filling his time with. Yahtzee?
Let’s start with the basics – this vampire is going to live forever and never age? Well, there went most of my interest, and basically 90% of the character’s motivation. Growing up, growing old, having ambitions and desires and a limited span of time to make those happen? That’s where conflict comes from! That’s where characters start becoming stressed, or taking action, or doing something. So the first change I made was that my vampires were not going to be immortal – there was a time limit here. They age, and will eventually die.
Also, that turning-humans-into-vampires stuff? That sounds like a population explosion waiting to happen. While I’m sure most of these wafting, elitist, European vampires choose only the very classiest people to change, and are so selective that they will change only one or two people per century, we’re going past any point of rationality not to assume that there wasn’t some vampire Jim-Bob at some point in time who just started turning people like crazy. How many humans can a vampire turn per night? One? Two? Three on the outside? Do you realize how many that becomes in a year? There were medieval kings who had literally hundreds of illegitimate children – vampires could top that! So the next big change was simple – vampires aren’t turned humans. They are a completely separate species, with their own biology.
Two changes, and suddenly my vampires are very different than just about anything you’ll see today on an urban fantasy shelf. And I didn’t stop at two changes – once you start constructing a species by taking ideas from the natural world, things get really interesting. After all, if vampires are the natural predators of humans, then that means that vampires = grizzly bears and humans = salmon. What are some other differences? Bears reach sexual maturity later than salmon, and have lower reproductive peaks over a lifetime. Bears live longer than salmon. Also, that bear is probably not going to be particularly inclined to fall in love with the salmon, and even if he did, he can’t turn the salmon into a bear. Eventually that beloved salmon will become beloved dinner.
That was my starting point, and after that, things started getting very interesting and fun. And, I’ll just say it – gosh-darned special.
Generation V is on shelves May 7. Come check out what other changes I made!
Be sure to check out Generation V, as well as M.L.’s blog and Twitter. And if you’re an author interested in a guest post on this blog, here are the rules and regs.