Influential Irritation: We Don’t Just Exist to Bang Fang

So a lot of work has gone in to creating my vampire stories that appear in the Big Bad anthologies. I’ve been craving to set a vampire story in the fifties for over a decade now, because I just love the juxtapositions that presents. I was almost deterred when I found out that American Vampire beat me to it, but then I realized I was being stupid and there was still plenty of room for me to play. After all, as a female author, I could look at things from a slightly different point of view. Hell, sometimes I feel like I look at the vampire genre from a slightly different point of view. I don’t know whether it’s that I’m less inclined to see things as cliches or characters as types because I’m more interested in finding the real story and playing personalities against each other. I don’t know if having a healthy interest in theme and characters has helped me keep things a little different. I don’t know if my love of taking “typical” plots and warping them fully pushed me to make the choices I did in A Family Affair and Real Wild Childe. I do know, however, that what they have in common (besides the titles that allude to songs), is that they’re my answer to a gauntlet thrown down. Maybe it was thrown down only in my mind, but it was there, and I couldn’t resist picking it up any longer.

I don’t think I have to mention (yet again) that one of my favorite vampire movies is The Lost Boys(It has to share the crown now that Only Lovers Left Alive is out).  This movie heavily inspired me once (we’ll get into that next month), and in a story-telling sense it keeps inspiring me. I honestly don’t think that people always understand why it’s such a tight, good movie. Sure, it has the Coreys, it has ultimate eighties awesomeness, the production design is sleek, the camera work tight…but there are things people tend to forget. It doesn’t show or give away anything until it has to. It’s the only movie of the franchise to not outright label the vampires as villains until the very last moment – even then, it could be argued that they were protecting their turf and didn’t really present a threat until the Frog Bros et al came and killed one of them in their own home. It’s much more of a neutral viewpoint in that respect. You actually get to see the vampires as characters, see a little of their home life, before you see them die, so it’s kind of hard to just outright write them off as token evil whatevers. It upholds vampire folklore really, really well. It also incorporates the theme of family everywhere: Max wanting one, Lucy trying to keep hers together, Michael deciding which family he’ll protect, the Frog bros protecting each other and inadvertently joining into the Emmerson clan in a way, the vampires choosing their own family members…It’s there in nearly every scene. Call it whatever you want, but this is not a stupid movie, and that’s something the sequels miss time and again.

However, there is one major irritation that I still have with it. Like everything else, it’s not perfect. There’s one aspect that has always kind of rankled me like none other. Maybe not at first viewing, maybe, but definitely once I’d seen it a few times.

The female characters are so very, incredibly lame.

I’m not talking about Jami Gertz and Diane Wiest, by the way. I adore them, they’re fantastic actresses in that movie and everything else they do. No, the problem is that those roles pretty much exist to play a type: love interest and mother. Lucy does have a lovely warmth about her, as well as a quiet desperation, but that’s more of a credit to Diane Wiest than the part. Honestly, she’s there to be an obstacle to Sam, to not believe him until the last minute, when you find out that she’s the reason for everything all along. Same with Star – she’s gorgeous, there to encourage Michael, then to have him help her escape, to bring out his white knight tendencies. Truly, without her prompting him, being a lovely reason to do the right thing, would he have still been able to save himself? Eh, maybe.

True, you could argue that EVERY character in that movie is a type, but somehow the male characters transcend this, either because they look way cooler, or their screen time counts for more. It’s a very fine line, but somehow when I’m talking to other people about the film, the female roles don’t get brought up as often as the male roles. It’s definitely a boy’s club of a movie, which is fine. That’s the way it needs to be to make the plot work, but still, man…

I will credit the novelization (yes I’m that much of a geek) with giving Lucy more of an interesting back story as a former runaway. And, in truth, she’s also a type of love interest, which is pretty novel with a mother character in any movie. Star pretty much stays the same, though, which is a shame. There’s a definite part of fandom that enjoys taking a chunk out of Star in fanfic or theory, which isn’t fair, because if anything, the character is just…there. Hell, Lucy isn’t even mentioned half the time in fan conversation or fic unless she’s there doing what she usually does: being that obstacle or something to nudge the plot along just a little bit. Both are kind of batted around by the male characters because, to a point, that’s what they’re there for.

What can I say, I get curious, I study these things.

It frustrates me because both characters, both “types” have a lot of potential that got overlooked. I get stereotyping characters (especially women) is a thing in horror, I get that it was also a thing in eighties genre movies. That was the way things were, and at the end of the day it would have been a really long movie if things had gotten more complicated. I am the first to admit that, and I really can’t see changing the film away from what it is. It’s lightning in a bottle. At the end of the day it’s Michael’s story, for the most part, a coming of age while trying to decide where his loyalties lie.  That’s fair.

But you know what’s not? Why the hell do we never see Star vamp out? She is the ONLY vampire in the movie who doesn’t. I get she’s the love interest, the pretty one, but come on, how terrifying would that be, to have to see the person you’re attracted to morph in front of your eyes because of the same darkness that you unknowingly took into yourself? And don’t tell me that was the way things were. Fright Night gladly went there with a pretty girl character, and it was AWESOME. She had the best makeup in the whole movie.

And please, there are enough of us twisted little girls who would have loved to have seen that. Once we got over our fear of vampires, there were enough of us who fully admitted that it was an awesome metaphor to explain the maelstrom of emotions that came with growing up.

Look, I get vampires are hot, but not every female character in any sort of vampire story has to be a stereotype or a self-insert. They don’t just have to be pretty, sexy, classy, whatevers that are either smexy vamp or the smexy lady the vamp goes for. We don’t just exist to bang fang, people.

So, sigh, Lost Boys. You disappoint me there. I still love you, but come on…you could at least given us gals something to strive for, besides the obvious, heh.

It’s interesting, though, that the things that irritate us can also egg us on. I tend to take things like that…not personally, but I want to see if I can make them work where others haven’t. While the movie is definitely 1980’s horror, you could also really argue that it was something of an introduction to urban fantasy, as well, and if you go at it like that, oh man, the possibilities.

The character of Sin has been around for a long time. Rave is a hybrid of a few things, because a 9K word count is not enough to truly world build for intricate vampire fiction. In some ways, this was probably good in that it made me strip things down to characters’ core personalities. Asha came as a slight surprise, but I am so very glad she did. She and Sin gave me a chance to really, really refocus on female vampire characters as something other than sex objects, token love interests, or victims. True, that’s more of a go-to in the movies. There’s some awesome female characters in vampire fiction, but nothing quite like what I wanted to do.

I’ve always thought writing the bad-boy type was a lot of fun. Maybe I have problems, but it’s so much easier to get away with some of the dialogue and plot points in my head with male characters. And maybe, just maybe, that irritated little part of me wanted to take a Lost Boys-type vamp and put him with an obnoxious sister, overbearing mother, and sudden, real-life obligations. Because that’s freakin’ hilarious, no matter where you’re from. I have absolutely no regrets there. Poor Rave. He cannot catch a break from me, but that’s what makes it fun. He’s so determined to stay the same, to live up to his image, that he doesn’t even try to make his situation better until he absolutely has to…then it’s like he’s suddenly hit by a freight train of choices. Obviously, he doesn’t handle them well.

Asha became the clothes horse, sassy sibling, but she’s also a former victim of their sire, someone who’s had to learn to stand on her own and is most likely still secretly traumatized by things she’s had to do. She’s also the grown up one of the two siblings, wanting to establish a life, full-well knowing that if they keep up their runaway lifestyle forever, nothing will ever get better for them. She loves Rave despite his immaturity-probably even because of it because she has that aspect, as well-but can also wrap him around her finger…to a point. She’s also fun to write when she’s pissed off, because oh man does she do some ballsy things. The first time you see her in Real Wilde Child, she’s bloody, confronting her brother right after she’s made a kill. You see her vamp out a few times, but you also get a sense of who she was before she was turned…and how bratty she can be now that she’s a vampire.

Sin was because I’m not anti-love interest. I’m not anti-romance, I just think you can have that and some bloodshed in the same story and people will be okay with it. I want a love interest character (male or female) who isn’t a carbon copy of everyone else and wasn’t created solely for that purpose – someone who you can believe has had an eventful life up until the point you first see them, someone who will challenge the person they’re paired with. She’s human, and stuck in her own situation. A little too fearless for her own good at times, she’s willing to work with the vampire siblings to save her own hide and hopefully come out ahead. Talented, but with a past, she probably lets her guard down a little too easily. A bad girl exterior with a soft center, she keeps Rave guessing, and represents everything that’s attractive and repulsive to him. She’s a fun mix of strength and vulnerability, and she definitely doesn’t let Rave intimidate her, which is awesome. While paranormal romance has made vampire dude meets human girl a thing, for me it was fun to turn that on its head in ways the reader probably won’t see coming-at least I hope not. While her ending has a twist and isn’t quite an ending, it also makes me look forward to writing her in the future, because oh my god there is so much more to do with her.

And then there’s Amanda. While she started out as the crazy sire in Real Wilde Child, I felt compelled to go and write her back story in A Family Affair. What would make a woman, a parent, control her children to the nth degree, especially for all eternity? What I found was a twisted mix of love and self-preservation, the desire for control and power that outweighed the want to do right by her children. Views of a woman’s place in the 1950’s fed the fire, and I soon found myself with a deliciously angry, amazingly manipulative character on my hands. She essentially tries to manipulate the head of the vampire cult in my universe, as well as treats her family like living puppets for her own convenience. She has no regard for friendship, for her human ties, for anything except what she wants. I’ve referred to her as an anti-Lucy at times, but that’s not quite right. I don’t know what she really would be, because underneath the disguise of good intention there are so many twisted hurt feelings, so much anger, and so much cunning that she’s actually pretty terrifying when left to her own devices. And don’t I love her for it.

If anything, Lucy and Star fit their universe, but they’ve also inspired me to take a look at their “types” and run with them. For every stock role there are a thousand ways you could slant it. Not only have I had a lot of fun jumping away from the typical and coming up with my own strong female characters in my vampire universe, but I’ve also had so many other ideas for other characters springboarding from the same types. I suppose my irritation is the gift that keeps on giving. Or maybe, sometimes when your influences disappoint you just a little, it really serves to make you think and push you further along your own path.

And, to smooth this out, I’m totally going to go into why this movie inspired me in the first place next month, so stay tuned.



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