Saturday, March 14, 2009

Let Me Tell You a Story About Vampires

I've had several people ask me the same question over the last few weeks that I think bears answering.

"Celina, why are you writing a vampire novel? The vampire craze is dead."

They blame it all on Twilight. I haven't read Twilight so I can't really comment on that. But here's the story of how the Vampire Covenants Trilogy came about.

I was talking to Sandra Hicks one afternoon (she's the publisher of Aspen Mountain Press) and mentioned that I thought it would be a good idea if some of the AMP writers got together and co-wrote novels. My first thought was that if writing a romance, we should pair a female writer and a male writer--the woman would write the heroine's point of view and the man the hero's. She thought that was a great idea and followed it up with, "So, who are you going to write with?"

I didn't even have to think about it. Rob Graham is a friend of mine, we'd talked online and done chats together and I liked his unique writing style. So I said, "Rob Graham." Her reply was, "So, set it up."

I contacted Rob and he was not only willing, he was enthusiastic. As I was a fan of his vampire novel "In the Dark," I suggested a vampire romance novel--but a historical one. I wanted to go back to the era where vampire lore was running rampant throughout Europe and base our story there. So that put us in eighteenth century Europe--just in time for the French Revolution. He knew he didn't want to write a stereotypical vampire for his hero; he wanted a German, a warrior from Saxony--not a high noble like a Count, but a member of the lower nobility. Rob named his hero Gunther von Wittershiem, a vampire some two centuries old. In order to balance that out, I created Marguerite Giffard--a twenty year old English widow reemerging into Court society in Georgian England. She was of higher rank than Gunther and, as a widow and an orphan, had learned to administer both the estates of her family and her late husband who'd died a few months after she married him at the age of sixteen. I based her in a lot of ways personality wise on Emma Harte, the mistress of Lord Hamilton, particularly when I saw this portrait of her:

That mischievous beauty so enchanted the painter George Romney that Emma became his Muse. Marguerite was born out of Emma's character traits and it helped that Rob absolutely became enamoured of Emma's portrait.

So we had our characters. Now we needed a conflict. Rob created our villain, the French Comte de Condé sur Víre, Alphonse de Brunel. With a rivalry between the two vampires that had lasted for centuries, de Brunel was naturally drawn to Marguerite when it became apparent that Gunther, despite the laws that governed the vampires, was falling in love with her. As Gunther and Alphonse continue their private war, Marguerite, unaware that the man courting her was an immortal, is put into great danger.

Considering the turbulent politics of Europe at the time, including the incipient madness of King George, there were all sorts of opportunities for fun in numerous cities across the continent. Our hero and heroine would romp through London, Paris and St. Petersburg as the story unfolded--three cities with dangerous political problems. So we enhanced that, creating the Conclave of vampires that enforce the Covenants--a group of laws all vampires must answer to. If a vampire is found to have broken one of the Covenants--just one--the punishment is destruction. The politics within the Conclave are just as turbulent as the mortal ones. Paris is led by the vampiric Benedictine monk Augustin Calmet (who is a historical character, the author of a treatise on vampires in the early eighteenth century) and assisted by the devious Marcellin Dautin. Calmet's rival in the Conclave is a Moorish warrior in Madrid, Fausto Oleastro. These two immortals have been at odds for hundreds of years and the Conclave is divided between their supporters.

So now, our stage was set. Before we'd even written a word, we had a rich tapestry of elements to work with. As a fantasy writer by nature, world building is important to me--and one of my favorite things to do. Writing the beginning of Breaking the Covenants was exciting. It was fun. While our character flirted and went through their forbidden courtship, we played in the great houses of London and had a ball.
So here's the answer to that question, and the point of this story. The vampire novel is NOT dead. It's a sub genre of literature that has thrived since Bram Stoker wrote Dracula and stemmed from a hysteria so great that the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria (Marie Antoinette's mother) issued an edict forbidding the disinterment of bodies checking for signs of vampirism. The vampire novel is a classic archetypal story, one of seduction and sex, violence and evil, danger and sometimes even redemption. No matter how you dress your vampires up, whether in the panniers of the last few doomed years of Marie Antoinette's court, as a rock star based in New Orleans, or as sparkly teenagers in a high school--the vampire is still there. He is iconic and classic, the personification of physical urges discouraged by the staid rules of society (at least until the fifties or so), the silent watcher in the shadows who gauges his prey, the tortured soul who needs the blood of life to maintain the immortality of his death. The vampire is beautiful, desirable, charismatic and ultimately, unattainable. There is a gothic loveliness to his isolation and just as the vampire turns his victims into creatures of the night, there is always one potential victim who turns him in some way--turns him into a protector, turns him into a monster, turns him into a man willing to sacrifice himself for her. There is always the hope that she can somehow redeem him...from God, from society, from himself. As these are motivations that all of us can relate to, the vampire and his literature lives, will always live.
Much like the vampire himself is immortal, so is his story. And that, my children, is why I decided to write a vampire story. It seduced me, like the vampire does his victim, and now I am helpless in its grasp. I'm even keeping vampire hours these days.
Congratulate us, by the way. The second book of the trilogy, Warding the Covenants, will be completed this weekend. The first book, Breaking the Covenants will be released in a little over a month. And then the vampire--our vampires--will have their way with you all.
Sleep, for now.