SBR Martin Friday the 13th Guest Post/Giveaway ***Contest Closed***
Posted by cynthiashepp
A Friday the 13th Tribute to Mother Rice
How Vampire Fiction Influenced My Writing on Human Nature
I was first ensnared by vampires in 1994 when, like nearly every other lovelorn teenage girl in the world, I ran to the theater to see blonde beauty Brad Pitt star alongside top gun Tom Cruise in Interview with the Vampire. The film was moving—deep and disturbing, yet inviting. It made me want to be a vampire a little bit, and not just so that I could keep company with two of Hollywood’s hottest hunks.
Since I was about 12 years old, I’ve been one of those people who is deathly afraid of death. To this day, I still have severe panic attacks when I attempt to contemplate the unknown. It’s always been an immobilizing fear that’s more than taken my breath away. So the idea of immortality seemed like a good thing to me. To live forever, to never die or face the unknown, if, that is, one actually faces anything after death—this seemed like a ticket I wanted to buy.
I overlooked a vital component of Interview though. I wasn’t able to see the suffering in Pitt’s pale eyes. All I could see was the promise of something more that his character’s eternal life offered. It wasn’t until two years later, when I decided to read the book on which the movie was based, that I caught a glimpse of the immortal’s inner struggle and turmoil.
A friend gave me a copy of Anne Rice’s “Interview with the Vampire,” which I read in less than two days. In no time, I was off to the store to pick up the second installment in Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, followed by the third, the fourth, and the fifth.
Fortunately for me, I caught word of Rice’s work around the same time that she was coming out with additional books in the Vampire Chronicles and developing another bloodsucker saga, the New Tales of the Vampires. For the next few years, I spent a lot of time with my nose buried deep in any one of Rice’s books, reading, rereading, referencing, and reviewing. I’d say I was hooked, but that’s definitely an understatement.
In Rice’s volumes, I discovered something I’d never known before. The Vampire Chronicles were the first books I ever read for leisure’s sake, rather than as an academic assignment. Rice’s prose was more vivid, more alive, than anything I’d ever read in the classroom. The storylines were rich with flashbacks and side-stories so elaborate, so fascinating, that my jaw dropped several dozen times (per book).
What stood out to me most were Rice’s characters, the depth with which she explored them and the lengths to which she developed them. By far, they were the most intensely real and unquestionably human characters I’d ever encountered.
Keep in mind, however, that they weren’t actually human characters for the vast majority of pages. They were vampires.
But before they were vampires, yes, they were humans. And that humanness, that abstract idea of humanity, did not, for the most part, die when certain characters crossed over; if anything it was merely chilled to an icy cross between distraction and desperation.
The crux of my own mortal crisis was put before me via these beguiling beings. I saw in them a personification of my own greatest fears, and learned that perhaps I’d feared the wrong things.
By the time I was done with “The Vampire Lestat,” I’d already seen more than enough evidence that immortality wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The promise was not a promise, but a curse. The remaining novels in the series went on to prove just that.
The sadness that some of Rice’s characters bled—oh, the sadness! There is no beauty in an immortal life, nor even any life as life implies an end. Sinking but never reaching bottom, falling but never landing, the vampire is burdened to linger in an unceasing decline as all the world around him changes and decays. The deaths of human allies, the troubles of mankind, and disassociation from nature—war, disease, disaster—to these things the vampire bears eternal witness.
So it was that I learned not so much to fear death as to fear life, to fear all the things that one is tasked to tackle during her time on this planet, whether in a finite or infinite frame. This is not to say that Rice’s work made me afraid to live. Not at all. Indeed, it made me want to live as much as I can before my time comes.
Her references to art and music, to history and culture, to sensation and perception, remind me that this life is a mixed bag. For all the darkness one must face, so too there is light.
And I needed to be reminded of that light, and recall familiar characters to whom I could relate, when my own life’s story began to unfold. Losing my mom, my only sibling, my father, and my grandmother within seven very short years, I felt like Louis, Lestat, and a handful of my other favorite characters. I was alone, neglected, forgotten. Forsaken, perhaps. The immortality I once craved would not remedy this. It’d only make it much, much worse.
Rice’s words helped me grow, from a teen to a woman, from a happy-go-lucky idealist to an open-minded realist, and from a reader to a writer. They allowed me to take a look at the human experience, as enlivened by nonhumans, and ground my perspective as an individual and a creator.
When I began writing novels, I couldn’t help but write according to how I read. It became my goal to see the complex plots, realistic characters, dramatic story-telling, and cross-genre style of Mother Rice’s work reflected in my own fiction.
Note that the stories I write are not Horror, at least not in any traditional sense. There are absolutely no paranormal, other-than-natural elements in my work. I write about people, human beings, some of whom are far more monstrous than any preternatural inhabitant of Rice’s literary world.
Through the Vampire Chronicles, I was able to hone my understanding of what does and does not constitute a real “monster.” Lore and legend, along with pop culture notions, would have us believe that vampires are dirty, rotten beasts of prey. Evil. No good. Mean-spirited, depraved, inclined to do only harm.
This is not the typical Rice vampire. Rice vampires border on being tragic heroes, for whom the reader cannot help but feel empathy and compassion. These characters are troubled creatures. They simply are not monsters.
But some of my human characters are. Dirty, rotten beasts of prey. Evil. No good. Mean-spirited, depraved, inclined to do only harm. Yeah. These words are better suited for my characters than for Rice’s.
Take, for example, Bender, the male antagonist in my most recent release, “pig.” He’s not a very nice guy. He beats his wife, calls her despicable names, and makes her live under his thumb. He drinks too much, shoves chewing tobacco in his mouth every chance he gets, and is generally pissed off because he never found fame.
Let’s look at Louis now—the vampire who was interviewed in the first title of Rice’s series. Louis didn’t too much like the idea of killing humans for blood, so he’d drink from rats when he had the chance. With limited exception, he never wanted to pass his Dark Gift on to others, because he didn’t want another to suffer as he’d done for centuries without end.
Louis could deliver a world of hurt if he wanted to. But he doesn’t want to. Now, Bender, on the other hand, he’s lookin’ to give far more pain than he’s willing to receive. Louis’ immortal existence brought suffering and torture mainly to Louis himself, while it was others who suffered and were tortured during Bender’s mortal stint. So who’s the loathsome swine here?
This post is live online as of Friday, July 13, 2012. That’s right—Friday the 13th. It’s a day we think of Jason Voorhees, the undead, and other things that go “Boo!” But these aren’t the scariest things in this world.
We, the humans, must endure a human condition not unlike the inescapable humanness and humanity embodied in the plights of the vampires in Rice’s series. Life, loss, death, upheaval, decline, and lots of other scary shit goes on around us, unstoppable forces eroding our very existence as if we stood as timeless pillars on a plane of perpetual fast motion.
We, the humans, have in our genetic code a primal disposition toward the gruesome, an uncanny ability to turn human circumstances into inhumane situations. Abuse, adultery, alcoholism, asshole-ism run rampant on this planet. We are the victims and the aggressors of the most heinous acts imaginable.
A scorned wife cuts off her cheating husband’s penis. A militant extremist storms into a youth camp and opens fire. Shoe bombs on airplanes and child molesters next door. You name it. The world of supernatural fiction suddenly seems so much more appealing. It’s easier to assign such base emotions and actions to something that is not human or living. We don’t want to confront the realities we are capable of, or have already committed, so we look for a scapegoat, something nonhuman to absorb our more prurient human inclinations.
Vlad Tepes had a penchant for impaling his captives on wooden stakes and is rumored to have feasted on their remains. Countess Elizabeth Bathory liked to take nice warm baths in the blood of young virgins. History has noted these blood-lusters, and they were human. But talking about Dracula as a fictitious supernatural character, rather than as none other than Vlad Tepes, heir to the Dracul reign, allows us to think that we humans are better than we really are.
Just as blind faith has been argued as an opiate for the masses, so too can be unyielding interest in the preternatural. We need something to dilute the truth and shade us from the inevitable, the unsavory, and the unknown. Immortality quashes the quandary of an afterlife. Nonhuman monsters allow us to sidestep human accountability, while simultaneously engorging the ever-present imp of our universal perverse.
But what of the fictitious bad guys like my Bender?
Writing him does the same thing that writing a vampire does, by putting real fears into fiction. But it does something else as well—or, rather, doesn’t do something else.
It doesn’t allow the reader to shift focus away from human instinct and incident. It tells the reader that shit happens, and that it happens because of people just like you and just like me. People. A man whose artistic ambitions failed, who is unhappy in his marriage, who looks at sex as a disgraceful and distasteful act is capable of cruel things. And his battered wife is capable of murder.
Have you ever cheated on a significant other? Ever slapped or hit a loved one? Ever wished somebody dead or called them a foul name? If you did these things, how’d you feel afterwards? I’m guessing you probably felt bad. Maybe you felt a little freakish, kinda like a monster.
And if you felt that way, if you did these things or merely contemplated them, guess what: You’re not alone. You’re one of millions upon millions of other likeminded people, though you’ll find only a small fraction willing to admit to these primitive impulses.
You can step into my fiction to confront those parts of yourself that are human, that you don’t necessarily like. Find a character to relate to—a victim or a perpetrator—and hunker down with human nature. See real life threads mimicked and woven into fictitious elaborations. Embrace what you are, what you were, and what you never want to be. Hide from yourself no longer.
In closing, I feel the need to issue a disclaimer. I love me a good vampire novel! The first half of this post should show just how much I’ve been influenced and affected by the work of the mother of all vampire yarns, the Queen of the Damned herself, Anne Rice. So don’t think for one second that I’m dismissing the subgenre. We need these types of stories to function as a society. Alls I’m sayin’ is that we need my brand too.
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Up for grabs is one free digital copy of “pig” by sbr martin. A .mobi file of the title will be sent to a winner selected at random from specific comments to this post.
What the heck does that mean?
Here’s how it works:
1) This is MANDATORY to be entered for a chance to win: Leave a comment below where you name a human character (from a book) who you find scarier or more loathsome than the average “monster,” and write a sentence or two about why that character frightens you.
2) Like SBR Martin on facebook for a second entry. Click HERE to like her. Make sure you leave a comment here saying you did. If you already have, just leave a comment on here saying you already did.
3) If you would like to up those odds, like ME on facebook for a third entry. Click HERE to like me on facebook. Make sure you leave a comment saying you liked me for a chance to win! If you already liked me on facebook before, just leave a comment telling me you already did and you will get your third entry.
Easy-Peasy! The names will go in a random name generator. I will put all the names in there 1, 2, or 3 times depending on the number of times you entered. I will hit the button and it will give us a winner! The contest closes at 8 a.m CST 7/16. Winners will be announced shortly afterwards. GOOD LUCK!