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Throughout the realm of paranormal fiction, one finds an element of plot that is consistently present: vampires. You doubt? Just take a look at the category of "paranormal" on Goodreads: fifty of the first fifty listings for paranormal books have fangs attached to their storylines. One book of the fifty takes the smallest of departures and describes her character as "half vampire"--whatever that might be. Maybe a vampire who only sucks blood on odd days of the week or only drains a quart of blood per sitting.
Where are the break-away-from-the-crowd writers? Those who don't need their characters to hang upside down from the rafters during daylight, those who want to embark on the journey of fresh writing instead of fresh blood?
Here's where some of my puzzlement comes from. I'm someone who lives with the paranormal on a daily basis. Not as a reader, mind you, but as a psychic medium. Never once have I seen a vampire. Demons, yes, dark entities in all their shadowy forms, yes, ghosts aplenty, too, but zilch on the vampires. Real-life paranormal "bad guys" would beat the crap out of a vampire any day, and the "good entities" as I call them, well, I can't see any vampire heroes besting them in the winner's circle of goodness.
Taking my puzzlement one step further, vampires are not real. Sure, there are probably a few people out there snarling in protest as they flout their filed-down incisors, yet, as a whole, we know vampires are a figment of some rich imaginations. On the other hand, abundant proof exists for many of the areas I'll call true paranormal. Prophecies that came true, for example, or remote viewing--even the government is on board with that one. With less-substantiated areas such as the presence of ghosts or messages from those who have passed, there are plenty of people who will admit to having seen a ghost or gotten a message that couldn't have come from anyone other than their beloved. So here's where I'm coming from with this: paranormal by definition means "beside" or "side by side" that which is normal. That would mean that the vampires had to be, although possibly unseen, standing beside that which is normal. T'aint so. True paranormal entities are doing just that, each and every day.
Now I don't take issue with writers for the poor definition of the category. I'd imagine some publisher came up with that as a genre title. I'd just suggest that writers let old vampires lie. Come up with ripe scariness, something that makes your readers want to question their perceptions and hide under the covers. No more of that over-baked good-vampire nonsense either. Bring in some real-life after-dead who hurry to help your hero or heroine conquer the darkness and shine with joy when they succeed. Time to step outside of your casket-brooding love affair and freshen up those storylines.
Don't even get me started on zombies.
First, I couldn't agree more with her point on the definition of "paranormal". I've struggled for years trying to figure out what my work (I'm writing a novel with vampires and werewolves) fits in. The way I see it, it could fall into fantasy, scifi, or paranormal, though I generally choose paranormal since that is the convention. And I whole-heartedly agree with Linda's point on spreading your wings, breaking convention, and coming up with something new for once. If my dreams are any example, I am perfectly capable of coming up with some of the strangest things I've ever heard of...
But there is a certain value to using categories like these. People search for things they are interested in, so having a novel about a well established category like vampires can automatically help you when it comes to Amazon searches and finding new readers. And it's all about the readers. There will be readers who check you out simply because it's a new vampire novel. Plus, as I've read so many times, there are no new stories, only new twists on them. There are no new ideas out there. And if there were, I imagine they'd be pretty off the wall.
People read what they can relate to and, however symbolically, people can relate to vampires. Vampires represent our fear of death, of sexuality, our yearning for the immortal. Things we all can relate to.
And vampire myths have been around for a long time, long before the book categorizations we now use for them. In far more superstitious times, creatures reminescent of vampires plagued the common people, likely the result of outcasts or various diseases (porphyria, the "vampire" disease, not being one of them as sensitivity to light in the myths only arose in the last hundred years due to popular fiction). By Linda's definition, vampires once were paranormal, once were along side the norm.
And, yeah, I really don't get the zombie fixation, though I loved Joss Whedon's zombie video: Whedon On Romney - YouTube...
P.S. Someone who is half-vampire (aka Dhampir) is generally someone half-human and half-vampire (though I read a story with a chick that was half-werewolf and half-vampire and wasn't that a trip) and generally does not have the same restrictions or needs as vampires. They only appear in certain lines of fiction that allow them because, really, how else are you supposed to get a Dhampir except with a daddy-vamp and a mommy-human?
Linda Stirling is the author of eight books, though only Confessions of a Reluctant Psychic is about her journeys in the psychic realm. In years past, she was the Executive Editor of one publishing house and co-owned another. As such, she says she saw every type of writing and every level of skill.
"I like to toss out a challenge. We can't always write something no one has written about before, but what we can do is put some genuine energy into crafting the unexpected, use descriptions that hum, and choose to fall outside the pattern of what's hot right now and carve our own super-book. I really have no bias against vampires, I simply want the books I read in any genre to rise beyond the well-chewed pablum of sameness. I strongly believe in order to be a better writer, one has to read outside one's genre and go beyond one's comfort zone.
"In Confessions of a Sunday School Psychic I put my personal life up for inspection. I think if you don't risk anything, you're not being true to yourself or the reader, whether that's in writing non-fiction or in fiction. The ultimate goal is to have everyone enjoy the book because of how it's crafted, whether they like the genre or not. Can we as writers do that every time? No. But I'd suggest we want to hold that thought as we go about creating new worlds on paper.
"I see a lot of writers trying to cash in on eBooks and quickly churning out books that aren't anything they can take pride in writing. Books live on. Yes, even the bad ones. Make them representative of how you want to present yourself in the world, either as someone who's shoddy or someone who's thoughtful. Writers have incredible power. They can whisk someone away from reality, challenge their thinking, and so much more. If I could embed one thought in each writer's brain, it would be 'you're a creator, and there's magic in that, so use that power to the best of your ability.' "
Linda Stirling lives in Camas, WA. She began writing professionally in the 1970s, and has penned everything from radio commercials to books. She teaches marketing to writers and also works as a book editor. This fall, she launches her new publishing house, Circle of Light Books.
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Email her: linda@YourLovingSpirit.com