When I decided to write a vampire novel, I knew I could easily fall into the trap of producing another ‘Twilight/True Blood” rip off. Like most writers who take their profession seriously, however, I wanted to do something unique. So I went back to basics.
Most people, myself included until I started my research for the tale, think vampires started with Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ novel, published in 1897 in London, or maybe, what was supposed to be Stoker’s inspiration, Vlad Tepes the Impaler. I quickly found the origins of the myth were far more diffuse, both geographically and in time.
That provoked the ‘What if…?’ question. vampeyes (say it aloud)
This question is a boon to all writers searching for a story line. It lurks on the periphery of our thoughts, waiting to pounce unexpectedly onto anything we see, read or hear and kick our creative neurons into high gear.
So, ‘what if vampires were real?’ was the starting point.
Many of our legends and myths are based upon real events that have been ‘reported’ in the ‘educational’ context of their time. Imagine, for a moment, that today in the world that surrounds us, we didn’t have any knowledge of Quantum Mechanics. Yeah, I know most people don’t, yet it is something almost everyone has heard something about, even if they don’t understand it – even Morgan Freeman is talking about it on TV! But just imagine that the discoveries of the 1970’s hadn’t taken place; that CERN doesn’t have a huge Hadron Collider in Switzerland; that the Higgs Boson hasn’t just been confirmed. No one suspects that this area of physics holds the answers to the many questions we have about the subatomic world.
Now imagine we see something (or someone) that materialises in front of our eyes.
Despite our grounding in 21st Century reality, our first inclination would be to cite this as a supernatural occurrence, whilst we strive to find a rational explanation. If, instead of living in a city or town, watching flat screen TVs at night, carrying cell phone that enabled us to talk to anyone anywhere on the planet in an instant, if we were living in a hut made from cow dung and sticks in a village in Kenya’s Maasai Mara, dedicating our semi-nomadic life to cattle and goat herding (yes, we are still in the 21st Century) maybe we would consider the materialisation a magical manifestation.
It’s all about context, education and reference.
Yet scientists have teletransported photons considerable distances, and it’s only a matter of time (years at most) before this will have a major impact on our society. Teletransportation, or to give it its correct name ‘entanglement-assisted teleportation’ might eventually replace the commercial jetliner and the Postal service, to name just two applications – and, it might just do this in your lifetime! Hell, it’s even in Wikipedia, so it must be true!
Back to vampires, though.
If you look at the way a classic, pre-Dracula ‘vampire’ tale is told, and take into account the educational, contextual and referential restrictions of the time, then it’s easy to see how a myth could be born.
One of the things that happen to all myths is embellishment and manipulation. Sometimes this is the innocent making-the-tale-more-interesting addition of made-up details – who amongst us hasn’t changed our recounting of some event, especially if we have been directly involved in it, to highlight our own protagonism? (The creature, covered in the blood of his victims, chased me through the village, but I was faster and escaped the monster). Worse, when some organised body decides to use the stories for their own ends (Come to our church, brothers; we will protect you against the devil’s manifestations through the power of your belief in us).
My next step was to analyse as many cases of vampiric reports as I could find, peel away the added adornment, place the nucleus of the tale in context and look at what was left.
That gave me a basis for my creatures, yet, it didn’t explain how they came about.
One of the factors I noted was that the reported cases were generally isolated incidents. There were no vampire clans, working in the shadows, out there. So what could have made these individuals unique? Under the 21st Century looking glass, uniqueness in physical traits immediately shouts genetic mutations. Next research subject – a huge amount of data is available, far too much. I approached this by searching for documented cases of genetic mutation in humans. Some of the ones I found were cited in the novel by my fictional author in her book tour lecture. Yes, folks, these are real cases – check them out yourselves on the web.
I selected a few of the more common of these characteristics for my vampires. The bloodier side of the equation came from genetic mutations found in the animal world, and a little literary license. I also included a very real theory regarding the effect of solar-emitted Gamma radiation in a weakened terrestrial magnetic field on the evolution of our DNA.
"Et voilà, Mesdames et Messieurs, we have ze vampire!" as Poirot might have said.
When it came to how to provide the ‘backstory’ of my vampires to my readers, I chose to fall back on my own experience. Over almost forty years I had professionally prepared and presented innumerable lectures and do know a thing or two about how to talk publically about a ‘dry’ subject in an interesting manner (you should hear my ‘Critical Resource Contingency Planning for the Intelligence Community’ lecture – it brings the house down; standing ovation material!). I sat down, put myself into the shoes of the author and created a presentation, just as I had done so many times before. This formed the basis for the chapters set in the Chicago Cultural Centre.
Incidentally, just because several people have asked, here’s that slide from Jennifer Craven’s lecture:
Smiled, didn't you?