A comparison and definition of the genres
I was recently quoted in the Independent with Neil Gaiman and Graham Marks, voicing our opinions on the glut of Paranormal Romance and Teen Vampire stories that are taking the bite, and the fright, out of a genre that I love very much. I'd like to elaborate on the problem as I see it.
There seems to be much confusion between Vampires in Horror/Fantasy novels and those in Paranormal Romance when actually they are completely different genres.
Horror, quite simply, contains content that is frightening and/or horrific. It can contain supernatural elements or it can feature a serial killer. What makes a piece of writing effective as horror is the psychological element. Often it plays on the mind of the reader. A classic example of this is Richard Laymon's novel Endless Night. There is no supernatural element in this story at all; it's about a group of men working together to break into houses to kill people. They do unspeakable, vile and horrific things to their victims. It is an utterly terrifying and realistic story, mostly because it could actually happen!
Fantasy is usually writing that features 'other worlds', or as in the case of Urban Fantasy, the world depicted is recognisable as our own, but there are supernatural beings living in it. Fantasy stories are usually epic. The characters can have a journey or a quest to follow. There may be magicians, warriors, vampires, demons, fairies or angels. To find out more about this I recommend Rhetorics of Fantasy by Farah Mendlesohn. (The book explores in detail the four main categories that fantasy novels fall into: The Portal-Quest, The Immersive, The Intrusion, The Liminal; in a fascinating and informative analysis of the genre.)
Often though, Horror and Fantasy become merged together, which is certainly what I do in my books. For example Futile Flame begins in the guise of a traditional gothic novel but has a deliberate fantasy twist at the end that is the start of the Portal-Quest Fantasy that takes place in Demon Dance.
Paranormal Romance, on the other hand, tends to be foremost a romantic story but which has a paranormal or supernatural element, such as a vampire, werewolf, ghost and so on. Usually the story is one of boy meets girl. One of them is human, the other is a vampire, werewolf or ghost. There will be angst, a little lust (sometimes a lot of lust) and then boy and girl will be united at the end. The formula never really changes beyond that and other than names and places, these stories tend to be very alike and generally unoriginal.
The problem with the genre at the moment is that, with the popularity of the Twilight series, publishers have seen an equation in their minds which reads: Teenage Romance Novel + Supernatural Creatures = Money. The authorial and publishing intent behind all these books is to present a romantic story which, they hope, will capture the romantic notions of teenage girls. The intent is not to scare, or to create unease, or to provoke a horrified reaction ... any and all of which would perhaps be elements that true horror novels would set out to achieve. Speaking for myself, my first novel, Killing Kiss, was written to explore the loneliness of a vampire who has lived for 400 years; illuminating his life through sequences where the reader can experience the events he has lived through, and with that perhaps understand and sympathise with my leading man, even though he is a monster.
Let's Give Vampires Back Their Fangs!
As I said in The Independent piece, vampires shouldn't be vegetarian (which is an oxymoron). They are blood sucking monsters. They may feel a little guilty when they kill, but mostly they don't care. As Graham Marks said, Vampires should be scary and sexy. The thing we've loved about them all these years is the danger they represent as well as the seductive element. There is nothing more terrifying than a strange man entering your bedroom and then biting you on the neck - there's nothing sexier either.
I believe that we shouldn't stop writing Vampire fiction. What should happen is that publishers should be actively looking for good vampire fiction - not the trashy formulaic romance stuff that's basically taken the heart and horror out of our vampires.
For this reason, to show the difference between the wimps and the fanged fiends, here's a sneak preview of Demon Dance. This is something I've never done before prior to publication, but I want to show you how my vampire Lilly gives into her monstrous nature with no regrets. I have slightly tweaked this to ensure that it stands alone here, but I hope you enjoy what you read ... and maybe are slightly chilled too.
Present – The Trinity Klub
The club is heaving. I push my way through the bodies, brushing against auras. The proximity of so many humans almost makes my stomach retch. I hate crowds. I am by nature a loner these days. And the gyrating sexual energy that flows through the crowd repulses me. The consolation prize is the blood. It floods the air along with the hot scent of perspiration.
I took only a little blood from my last victim and so I’m still hungry. As I look around the club I don’t see anything I fancy eating. Harry has found a pale, slender redhead. She looks like Nicola Roberts from the pop group Girls Aloud, complete with Plaster of Paris make-up. She’s wearing hot pants and a cropped top that barely covers her tiny breasts. I use the blanket of the crowd on the dance floor as an excuse to brush the damp bare flesh on her waist with my hand. I lift my fingers to my lips and taste her sweet perspiration. Colours burst into the air before my vampiric gaze, lines of heritage. The lines stretch up and out and stop several feet above her head. I’ve seen this before. She is a long way from her home and there is no nearby connection to her lineage.
It is good news for Harry because there is no trace of our bloodline in her gene code. I meet Harry’s eyes and nod. He moves in rapidly meeting her eyes. Within minutes he’s pulled the girl close and their hips bump together as they dance. Before long he leads her away from the crowd. Unconcerned I watch them leave, assured she is safe for any kind of fun he wishes to have with her.
Across the room a group of boys part to reveal a gorgeous blond. Even from this distance I can see the green twinkle of his eyes, see the seductive dimples in his cheeks and chin. I turn away rapidly. He reminds me too much of all that I have lost. Everywhere I go in Stockholm there are constant reminders of my one time lover. How can I still hold a torch for him, after all this time?
He’s in his late thirties. Cute. Dark hair and nothing like Gabriele or any other male from my gene pool. But none of that makes a difference; what does is the fact that he has his hand on my waist and he’s stroking me. He’s skilled. His fingers weave hypnotic patterns over my skin. I am frozen to the spot. A bitter chill pierces me.
Strike one; I don’t like to be touched.
‘Want to get some air?’ he asks.
I let him take my hand and lead me outside onto the balcony. It’s a cold night and we are alone except for a tall, stocky, bouncer taking a cigarette break. We look out over the city. Multi-coloured lights litter the streets. I am mesmerised by the beauty of the cold air, of my breath huffing out like steam. It is one of those silly delights that my vampiric sense really enjoys.
‘I’m Stephan,’ he tells me as he places a joint in his mouth and flicks his lighter expertly.
He takes a long pull into his lungs and then offers it to me.
‘I don’t smoke,’ I answer but I don’t bother giving him the lecture that smoking will kill him eventually. He’ll be dead long before then anyway.
‘I watched you inside the club. Your boyfriend went off with a redhead.’
‘He’s not my boyfriend.’
‘Ah. Good. Because I think you are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.’
I raise a cynical brow. The fluency of his words tells me how often Stephan has used them. I sniff the air around him as he inhales the weed again. He smells of sex. Cigarettes. Weed. And something else. Cocaine. Then I see the particles of white powder, briefly reflected in the moonlight, around his nostrils. I turn to walk away. He’s too boring to bother with.
‘I want you,’ he says catching hold of my arm.
I glance down at his hand. ‘Let go,’ I say calmly.
‘I always have what I want.’
‘You’re not my type. Sorry.’ He tightens his grip.
Stephan chuckles. It is a dark sound and it implies hidden knowledge. I turn just in time to see the bouncer heading my way.
‘You’ve got to be kidding me …’
The bouncer grabs my arms and they pull me towards another door at the other end of the balcony. I don’t resist, even though I could shake them off easily if I wanted to. But there are too many people around and I’m curious to see how far this will go. I let them pull me into the other room. The glass door is closed behind us and I find myself in a small office which contains a desk and a futon covered in luxurious cushions in various shades of red silk. I look around. Other than the balcony, two doors lead off from the room. One, I suspect leads back into the club; the other is probably a bathroom.
‘Leave us,’ Stephan says and the bouncer departs.
‘Is this how you get all your dates?’ I laugh. ‘You could just try wining and dining a girl; it might well have saved your life.’
He chuckles. ‘Saved my life? Young lady, I don’t think you realise who you are dealing with. I own this club.’
I run my finger along his desk as I recall the rumours I’d heard about the Trinity Klub and the mafia who owned it. Stephan’s name and face float behind my eyes as I recall a scandal in the newspaper recently. The report flashes before my eyes. The curse of a photographic memory.
Young woman throws herself from club owner’s balcony … Investigation inconclusive.
‘Mmmm. Yes. I do. But do you know who you are dealing with?’ I meet his eyes.
He steps back when he sees the venom in my expression. He blinks. Swallows. Then smiles. Never smile at a crocodile … I smile back.
‘Come here,’ he orders.
‘What if I scream?’
‘This room is sound-proofed,’ his smile widens.
‘Your biggest mistake of course was touching me,’ I say stepping towards him. ‘I really don’t like to be touched. Especially when I haven’t given my permission.’
‘You better get used to it bitch. I’m going to touch all I want in the next few hours.’ He reaches for me and I let him grab me; his fingers bite into my arms.
‘You’re going to do everything I ask. Okay?’
I laugh in his face. Then flick my tongue out over his cheek, testing him. His heritage lines stretch out, far away from Stockholm and no hint of my DNA. Very, very safe. It seems Stephan is of Russian decent. He pulls me close. He’s taken my tasting as a sign that I like him after all. Foolish mortal.
My fangs burst free of my gums as I rear and strike in one fluid movement. I bury my teeth in his face and rip back, taking a strip of his cheek with me. There is a sickening tear as his face shreds. Stephan screams. His hand flies to his face and he stares in shock at the blood covering his fingers. As he tries to push the flapping skin back in place. If he survives our encounter his looks will be ruined. But he won’t need to worry about that.
‘What the fuck …?’ He staggers towards his desk, shocked and dazed.
I see the alarm button just in time. I grab him, snatching his hand away from the desk and crush his fingers in mine. I squeeze. Bones cracked in my grasp, his knuckles pop like bubble wrap. He screams again. I sigh. It’s getting boring again.
‘Where you going honey? I thought you wanted to fuck? Oops. My bad. You wanted to rape, didn’t you? Is that how you get it up, Stephan? You have to have the rough and tumble first?’
I throw him back on the futon and reach for the zipper on his trousers.
‘Well let’s see what you have in there then. I’m feeling hungry.’
Stephan screams like a girl. His hands beat at me, but his blows have no more impact than that of an insect. I laugh when he pulls back his uninjured arm, fist clenched. His blow lands on my cheek. The fingers in his hand snap like twigs and his knuckles crumble. Both of his hands are now destroyed and with it the fight goes out of him. I bet this is the first time he has ever been bested by anyone, never mind a female. I slash away his pale cream trousers; his blood has ruined them anyway. Stephan cries and sobs as I expose his stomach.
‘Please … Mercy.’
‘Did you have mercy for that poor little girl you raped and threw from the balcony Stephan?’
I smile, all fangs and Stephan recoils, ‘Wha … t are … you?’
‘I could come out with “I’m your worst nightmare” or some clichéd crap like that. But I reckon that would be lost on an arsehole like you. So I’ll tell you this, that blood-sucking monster you had childhood nightmares about exists. It’s real. I’m the bogeyman. I’m going to eat you, because you’ve been a bad, bad man.’
His cries become incoherent as I get to work on him. I bite, scratch and tear until his guts are smeared all over the futon. The red silk cushions darken and change colour to a deep, black purple. Blood falls onto the cream carpet in an interesting splatter pattern.
‘Your biggest mistake was touching me,’ I say again as I lick at an open wound finally drinking my fill. ‘I really don’t like to be groped. Maybe in death you will learn some manners.’
His eyes bleed tears as his mouth leaks gory saliva. He’s dying; it will be slow and agonising. And as much as I’d like to, I can’t afford the luxury of leaving here unless I finish him. I reach down. Taking his mangled face between my hands I twist his head sharply, snapping his neck. But I’m aware of the valuable lesson he has just learned about life and death. Power is a tenuous possession. You are only strong if there are others weaker than you.
I’m Lilly. I’m Lillith. I’m the oldest woman alive and I’m stronger than anything human or otherwise. I won’t be fucking trifled with.
Blood-soaked, I open the balcony door and walk up to the rail. Gazing out over the bright city I feel a sense of freedom. I leap into the air and soar into the night as Stephan’s blood strengthens my limbs into further invulnerability. No one can touch me; unless I want them to. And I don’t want anyone to.
If you ask me why I kill, my answer is this: Because I can.