1o November 2010
The global best seller lists are teeming with paranormal romance titles from Melissa de la Cruz’s Blue Bloods and PC Cast’s House of Night series to Maggie Stiefvater’s werewolf love-fest Shiver. Speculative teen fiction is big business. Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight saga has sold over 100 million copies globally and has been adapted into three equally record-breaking films, with two more on the way.
The love affair with vampires can be traced back to Hollywood. Joel Schumacher’s 1987 film Lost Boys, starring Kiefer Sutherland as the bad boy vampire David, became a cult classic, reinventing the tired vampire genre made popular by Hammer Films. The movie created a thirst for sexy new vampires, and soon the market was flooded with films like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Interview with a Vampire, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Vampire in Brooklyn and Blade to satisfy eager teen mobs. The desire for vamps soon spread to television with the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series hitting screens in 1992, followed by its spin-off, Angel.
Vampires have been around since the turn of the century. In fiction they can be traced back to that fateful night at Lord Byron’s house in 1816 when Jon Polidori first came up with the idea for his story, The Vampyre. Sheridan Le Fanu wrote Carmilla in 1872, while Bram Stoker penned Dracula in 1897. Vampires have had an upgrade since then. Anne Rice modernised the genre with Interview with a Vampire in 1976, while teen novelist L.J. Smith has been writing teen paranormal romance since 1987. Her Night World series has captured the imagination of millions of teens around the world. Readers fell for characters like James and Ash in Night World; drop dead gorgeous vampires whose soul mates are mortal girls. In 1991 Smith released her Vampire Diaries series, which saw vampire brothers Stefan and Damon, competing for the attention of high school student, Elena Gilbert. The series has found new life as a television series, now in its second season.
Contemporary vampires are charismatic, larger than life, and more often than not, indestructible. Psychologists tell us that teens have no sense of their own mortality. Why wouldn’t they identify with a creature that can’t die? Smith believes it is the allure of forbidden love that appeals to teens. “Romantics of all ages crave stories of forbidden love, but as we break down many of the old rules about class, race, religion, and color, it becomes harder and harder to find a kind of forbidden love that is acceptable to your average, normal reader.”
This is where the necessity for vampires comes in. In her Night World series, it is a fundamental rule that no Night Person (paranormal) is allowed to fall in love with a human, on penalty of death. “Writing about vampires these days allows one to do a little satire about teenage values,” says Smith. “For instance Damon, of The Vampire Diaries, genuinely doesn’t understand why there wouldn’t be “Hope You Aren’t Dead” cards in a Hallmark store.”
Smith says the need to be loved is an element that readers of any age can identify with. “Everyone, teenagers especially, wants to be completely loved, completely known, and completely accepted. However no matter how hard people try, we never seem to achieve this kind of unequivocal adoration. But it is possible to imagine that with a vampire, this might be a matter of course.”
The bad boy vampire is a character that people love to hate. Like Dracula and Lestat, he’s been around as long as the genre itself. Does the attraction go back to every girl’s desire to change the guy from the wrong side of the tracks? Smith believes bad boys are not confined to vampire fiction. “The fascinating villain is often what makes a story fly. Look at Heathcliff or Richard III.”
A better question would be whether romance novels aimed at teens manipulate their fascination with bad boys, and their need for acceptance? Smith defends her novels, by admitting her villains are still redeemable. They may not be beyond the pale, but they still stir the heart strings of younger readers.
Another aspect of vampire romance that appeals to teens is the act of being bitten itself, which is a metaphor for physical intimacy. “By writing about vampires I can finish a seductive scene with a bite rather than anything inappropriate for teenagers,” she says.
Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy is yet another best-selling teen vampire series that’s about to be adapted for the big screen. The sixth and final book, Last Sacrifice, will be released in December. Many websites, including Mead’s publisher Penguin, have set up counters for fans to count down the days till its release.
What makes Vampire Academy different to the other countless vampire novels in the market is that it merges several elements to create something entirely different. Mead has reshaped the vampire myth to suit her own ends. St Vladimir’s Academy is peopled with Moroi and their guardians in training, who have to protect their charges from the Strigoi, undead vampires who have all but depleted the Moroi (living vampire) numbers. Nor are her books run of the mill paranormal romances. They are intriguing, action-packed stories that tackle real issues, like responsibility, bullying and teenage promiscuity.
Mead believes a young adult novel should include the same elements as any other good novel should: relatable characters, strong writing, and a well-formed plot. “Young people read different genres, just as adults do. Relatable characters are probably one of the most important things young adults are attracted to, but I think that holds true for adults as well,” she says.
Sex may play a part, but Mead is adamant that she doesn’t condone unhealthy behaviour. “I’m not trying to teach or lecture in my books. If any of those issues come up as part of the story, then I address them in a realistic way that fits with the plot and the characters. Sex may play a major part or no part at all. What’s important is that if sex is there, it’s necessary for the story and not being thrown in just to make the book look flashy,” she explains.
What makes it worthwhile for the New York Times bestselling author, are the readers themselves. “My favourite part is actually meeting and talking to teens after they’ve read the books. They’re some of my most passionate readers, and it’s so amazing to actually see that enthusiasm in someone and understand just how big an impact my writing has had on them.”
Melissa de la Cruz has also reshaped the vampire genre, this time setting it in the glitzy and glamorous world of Manhattan. Like Cecily von Ziegessar’s Gossip Girl, Blue Bloods brims with rich kids, fashion and biting wit.
De la Cruz penned Blue Bloods in 2004, before Twilight hit the market, creating a vampire craze. “I thought I was the only one reinventing the genre. I’ve always loved vampires. I was a huge Stephen King and Anne Rice fan as a teen,” she says.
She admits that as a writer it starts getting tricky when a genre trends, resulting in a market deluge. “After Twilight was released there was a huge glut of paranormal romance in the market, and it became harder for writers to make a mark. A lot of mediocre books get published when publishers buy into a trend,” she explains. “It’s like the Chick Lit days, after Bridget Jones, there was a deluge, and after that the market tanked. Whenever there is a flood, it does make one apprehensive. Chasing trends is never a good idea.”
De la Cruz has weathered the flood well, claiming that paying attention to what’s happening in the market without letting it become too much of an influence, has been her recipe for success. But as much as she’d like to admit that its good writing that makes a best seller, she admits that word of mouth is key. “Rick Riordan’s Lightning Thief sold about 30,000 copies in hardcover, and then went on to sell millions. You can’t buy word of mouth.”
If De la Cruz is right, then we’re likely to see a dip in demand for paranormal romance in the near future. After all, the Twilight saga is over, the last Vampire Academy novel is about to hit the shelves, and with an ever aging readership, teen trends only last until the final year of high school. Who knows, maybe its time for a revival of teenage wizards in young adult literature?
This article first appeared in Itch.