I passed on sleeping in an icy tent four nights running to see the midnight opening of this final movie of a series I love. I let younger people buy those tickets because, to be frank, I couldn’t have stayed awake. Instead, I hit the first showing the next day, and the film didn’t disappoint. Patrons oohed and ahhed when Edward Cullen first appeared on the screen, and we heard wolf calls for Jacob Black. Old and young alike, we broke into applause when the movie was over.
I didn’t want it to end.
Reading Stephanie Meyer’s four volume Twilight saga—and the Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris—triggered a fascination with vampires for the first time in my life. The incredible imaginations and storytelling skills of these authors ignited an urgent need to create my own living dead hero.
I had already promised my publisher—Amber Allure—a novella set somewhere in Italy. In searching for a title I hit on Night Train, an old rhythm and blues song from long before my time. Night Train To Naples became my title because I liked the alliteration. Now I had to decide who would be on that train at night…and why.
Although some of my author friends tell me they hear their characters clamoring to have their stories told, I never hear mine. I see them. Feel them. My mind filled with a vision of Alexandros Nicolaides–a tall, strong, Greek vrykolakas, his long blond hair streaming, the emerald of his eyes deepened by the experiences of seven hundred years of being undead.
…Alex boarded the night train to Naples in Rome and chose a seat at the back of the car facing the door. To help hide his pale face, he pulled the collar of his suit jacket up before settling into the humming, slick sway of the brightly colored train, feeling satisfied at how yesterday had gone. After successfully delivering a grouping of matched diamonds and a remarkable ruby spinel to a new customer in Lyons, he’d flown to Rome today on the company plane…
As you can see, my Greek vamp lives in contemporary times, and, because I love gems and precious stones, he is a gemologist and a diamond courier. Intended as a standalone, the story evolved into the Night Train paperback series collection.
At the time I was developing this first novella, one of my friends told me she had no interest in weaving a tale of the living dead. “I don’t know the rules for writing them anyway.”
Were there rules for what the mythological creatures we call vampire, vrykolakas or the Romanian strigoi are like? If so, I needed to find out before I wrote anything more.
My research revealed man as a fearful and superstitious being. Almost every culture seems to have had a demon or spirit—or both—that sustains its life by sucking the “essence” out of a person, usually by the drinking of their blood or sucking out their soul. The creatures have similarities, but differences as well. For us in the Western world, gothic horror films and books have set the tone for us to see vamps as horrifying, blood-thirsty creatures both cruel and impersonal. They include fanged male and female undead beings who cast no shadow, whose images can’t be captured in a photograph or seen in a mirror, and who can only be killed by decapitation, fire, sunlight, silver, or wooden stakes, etc. Even displaying the cross of Christ in the face of this evil can’t protect you, but garlic or waving a branch of wild rose or hawthorn can. (Go figure.)
Despite such evil figments of man’s imagination in the mists of time, it was only in the early seventeen hundreds that records in southeastern Europe detailed the folkloric fear that the dead could return as revenants, a possible result of suicide, evil beings inhabiting the body, witches, or the bite of what today would be called vampires. In some areas, mass hysteria resulted in weird treatments of corpses to prevent this. Suspected revenants were executed in public.
John Polidori coined the word vampire with his 1819 book, The Vampyre; A Tale. He was Lord Byron’s physician, and three years earlier the two of them had joined Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley (of Frankenstein fame) and Claire Claremont, the mother of Byron’s daughter Allegra, in Geneva. Shut indoors by rainy weather, they spent the days spinning horror tales. Polidori’s book emerged from this setting, the idea triggered in part by an unfinished novella by Byron. (The Vampyre; A Tale is free on Amazon/Kindle.)
Lord Ruthven, Polidori’s vampyre, is charismatic and suave. The killings aren’t graphic. The story meanders, but what would you expect from something written two hundred years ago?
Many of today’s tropes about vampires, such as fangs, began in 1846, with Varney the Vampire; or, The Feast of Blood. It was a Victorian penny dreadful series of pamphlets released by James Malcolm Rymer over the next year. It was later published in book form. For $1.99 you can buy it for your Kindle, but the only reviewer describes it as repetitive and “boring, boring, boring.” I have not read it. It’s more expensive for the Nook.
In Dracula, fifty years later, Wikipedia credits Irishman Bram Stoker as having drawn on werewolf and demon lore to voice the “anxieties of an age,” which would be the Victorian age. It spawned the horror genre, and fits in the categories of vampire, gothic, horror and invasion literature.
Queen of the horror genre Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire, the first book in The Vampire Chronicles, was released in 1976. Long before I’d imagined writing about them, or had even heard of Anne Rice and what she wrote, I saw this film. Shallow me went only because it starred Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Christian Slater and Antonio Banderas.
It scared me spitless, and I rushed out to the lobby for a few minutes to recover, forcing myself to return only because I wanted to see how it ended—rather depressingly, I might add.
Later, I slogged through a large number of audio CDs of the Chronicles’ richly woven Blackwood Farm. Right out of my nightmares, it depressed me even more. I am obviously too timid for tales of horror.
Thank the good Lord, vampires are not real. All of which means the ideas of what they are and what they do originated in the minds of storytellers, writers…and a few crazies too, I’m thinking. Fortunately, the wonderfully imaginative Meyers and Harris have shown us we can alter the historical picture and any “rules” regarding the vicious nature of the living dead. We can continue to break the mold.
Twlight’s vampires live secretly among humans, and some avoid the gothic horror of ripping out human throats by confining themselves to a quick, merciful kill to slake the blood of big game animals. They never sleep because they never tire. They avoid sunlight only because their skin sparkles like diamonds in it, and humans seeing that effect would realize what they were. The discovery would incite vampire hunts to rival those of the revenants in the seventeenth century.
By contrast, the vamps in Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse books have come out of the “closet.” They live openly among humans in southern Louisiana, and can be seen in a mirror and photographed. They sleep, but only during the day because sunlight is deadly. Silver can burn, and even small exposures are toxic over time. Stakes and knives are among several things that destroy them. Only rogues murder humans and drink their blood. The others drink synthetic blood, or “true blood” (thus the name of the TV series) donated by humans.
Twilight is a teen romance with its share of suspense and danger, loosely and imaginatively based on Romeo and Juliette’s tragic love and the story of feuding families. If you’ve followed the series, you know another “vampire rule” bit the dust—our stories are allowed to end happily ever after now. We can thank Ms. Meyer for smashing that barrier.
It was important in crafting my three Night Train novellas that the vampires be my vampires, not those of someone else. I plucked the traits I wanted from the stereotypes, and then made up a few of my own.
If you’re interested in writing about vampires, my advice is to forget about rules. They don’t exist. As long as you make your vampires believable, they may be anything you wish them to be.
Go for it.
Beware when you hook up with a vampire. Your life will never be the same. Fabulous adventures may be thrust in your path, and the loving may be beyond hot, steamy and sensual, but you could be seduced into a darkness as annihilating as the black hole formed by the death of a star…
Previously available only in electronic format, these three tales of sizzling gay romance have now been combined for a paperback edition. Included are the tales…
Night Train To Naples – The hot passion of an immortal for his human lover; the vengeful vampire who wants to kill them; and the world of precious stones. Download of this one story: http://www.amberallure.com/NightTrainToNaples.com
Night Train To New Orleans – A stalking killer; the world of precious stones; and the passion of an immortal for his human lover. Download this one story: http://www.amberallure.com/NightTrainNewOrleans.html
Diamonds may be a collector’s best friend, but for a courier of precious stones and metals the next delivery could mean death. Download this one story: http://www.amberallure.com/NightTrainVenice.html