The Trouble with Vampires
(aka Vampires and Zombies and Werewolves! Oh My!)
By Antony J. Stanton
The trouble with vampires is not, as far as I am concerned, all the associated killing and mayhem, and suchlike. After all, everybody knows that they are only fictitious beings. Everyone, that is, apart from the few who believe they are real, living, breathing creatures, and one lady called Tiana – whom I had the fascinating pleasure of interviewing – who actually claims to be a real life, bona fide, immortal and blood-sucking vampire. But that, my friends, is another story for another article. No, the trouble with vampires – and zombies and werewolves – is, like the devil, in the detail.
Regardless of the genre or the medium, be it cinema, TV or literature, the writer of the book or screenplay has a duty. That duty encompasses many things, but uppermost amongst them is to write a believable story that does not treat the audience like a fool, be they sat on the edge of their seat in the cinema noisily munching popcorn, or reclining in their favourite armchair, engrossed to the exclusion of all else within the pages of their latest book. I have always upheld that principle, and I kept that maxim close to my heart as I wrote my post-apocalyptic gothic thriller trilogy, the first of which, “Once Bitten, Twice Die” was published in November last year, and the second, “Once Bitten, Twice Live” has only just been unleashed upon the literary public last week.
A story must be true to itself. Whatever premises or governing laws of nature it sets out to adhere to, it must uphold those rules and maintain credibility. If it is a story about magic, then magical, fantastical things can happen. If it is a story based in the real world, then nature and science apply. The audience is, generally, not stupid and will, generally, spot any lapses. Take the film ‘The Matrix’ starring Keanu Reeves. This film had people jumping off buildings, dodging bullets and flying. Yet it explained the reasons behind all of this. It stated right from the outset that the normal rules governing the world do not apply, and it stuck accurately to its premise. The film worked extremely well because of it, in my humble… The most recent Star Wars movie, ‘The Force Awakens’, whilst being an enjoyable romp and a welcome return to long-lost form, fell down on a number of issues. For example, having the young and inexperienced Stormtrooper, Finn, almost matching the evil dark lord Kylo Ren in a lightsabre dual was patently ridiculous and showed, not so much a lack, as an apathetic absence of imagination bordering on insulting on the part of the writers. I felt scripturally violated.
My thrillogy is largely based in a post-apocalyptic world, but a world that is essentially real nevertheless. Hence it must adhere to the general laws of nature. The infected humans rampaging unchecked are similar to zombies but with as scientific a basis as the subject matter permits. Thrown into the mix, the survivors must also battle against a predominantly hostile vampire clan. Vampires are, after all, often combined in literature and cinema with werewolves, occasionally with ‘Frankenstein’s Monster’, or even ‘The Mummy’. But rarely do vampires ever encounter zombies. I was curious to explore the possibilities. Is the enemy of my enemy my friend, or should I totally annihilate them both? What would happen if the usually suave, sexy and lone vampire was cornered by a horde of enraged infected? How would he – or she – deal with the irony that being bitten by another creature would not be in its best interest? How many zombies would it take to bring down an all-powerful vamp in a darkened, abandoned building? These were questions that, clearly, needed an answer, but had to be dealt with correctly.
I accept that this is a field, with the exclusion of the aforementioned Tiana et al, which is not based in reality. It is purely fictitious. Yet I still wanted to make it as authentic and plausible as possible. Vampire and zombie stories are typically set in a version of the real world; real, that is, apart from the inclusion of the fictitious protagonists. The people that populate it live with the normal governing rules of science. Zombies tend to have come from a radioactive leak, a mystery virus, or some medical disaster that has caused their condition. I wanted my ‘zombies’ – though I am somewhat reluctant to use that label – to be as realistic as they could be. In my books their cause is almost possible; and that ‘almost’ is a most important word to include there. And how they behave, post-infection, is about as convincing and accurate as I think you will have read anywhere. To do less would be to insult you, the reader.
As for the vampires, the various portrayals over the years have generally given them similar characteristics, with a few notable exceptions. Personally, as with all such beasts of fiction, I think it is up to the author to define them how they wish. Unlike most of my fellow vampyric enthusiasts – and please don’t judge me for saying this – but I do not have a major problem with vampires that sparkle, per se, a la ‘Twilight’. If that is what the author wants then so be it, as long as there is a good reason for it. You can give them paisley spots on their cheeks and a third nipple if you wish, but I’d quite like a reasonable explanation, if you please. If a shiny vamp does not appeal to the die-hard fans (pun intended) then they do not have to read those books, but I do not believe they detract from the genre as a whole. More, they possibly broaden its appeal and fan-base. But what does bother me is when the vampire is set in the supposed ‘real’ world with humans who eat and sleep and breathe, with medicines and machines that work as they should, and the general laws of science chuntering along quietly in the background, and yet suddenly these laws are set aside without explanation. Am I, the reader, supposed to understand that this is the real world? Or is this a magical fantasy world where the rules are different? There are various vampyric traits that trouble me in particular, and I was determined to put things straight in my books.
For example, why do vampires cast no reflection? We are led to understand that they are tangible beings, are we not? They have substance and form. Light photons bounces off them and hence our eyes can see them. So how can it possibly be that they cast no reflection? That makes no sense. Also, how do they fly? Have they not heard of Sir Isaac Newton? And why is it that a vampire can only be killed with a stake through the heart? Or sometimes by the exposure to sunlight?
In my books I treated vampires with the same dose of realism that the zombies received. I have looked at the subject as though they are indeed real. I do like a healthy dose of the gothic as much as the next vampyric enthusiast, but I would like it to make sense and this was my standpoint in my books. Why then would such myths about these factual beings have developed? Surely these characteristics would have been traits that the passage of time has leant exaggeration to? For me, for example, the reason a vampire might avoid mirrors is not because they cast no reflection. More, due to their appearance altering over the aeons, they perhaps do not want to be reminded how they now look. This then gets elaborated into the belief of their lacking reflectivity. The myth that they must avoid sunlight might possibly have been to do with their reluctance to go out during the day for fear of being discovered. Or possibly the vampyric condition might make their eyes more photo-sensitive. And as for the limited methods by which one can kill a vampire, what about decapitation? Surely that would work? Or being submerged in an acid bath? Or countless other methods of expiration. I have considered the vampire like any other creature upon the earth. Whilst they are powerful and strong and beguiling, they do drink blood and they are most certainly enigmatic and eerie, they do not have magical powers, because my stories are set in the real world where the normal laws of nature apply; ish… And they definitely have no element of shininess to them, so the die-hards need not fear.
It is hard to know how my books are being received but I guess they must be doing something right. Book 1 is currently residing at #3 on the Amazon chart for vampire books, and a Hollywood producer is very interested in making a TV series out of them. As I write, he is in discussions with directors and financiers. I’m thinking Monica Bellucci or Angelina Jolie as the lead vampiress: thoughts? I like to hope that the books would appeal to fans of the vampire, zombie or general dystopian/post-apocalyptic genres, but also to anyone who just likes a damn good, page-turning thriller. At least the reviews thus far on Amazon seem to support that. Many people have commented that although they initially thought this was not their normal type of book, nevertheless they loved it. I know this is a subject that has been done almost to death recently, but I hope to have breathed new life into the undead. I hope I have treated the audience at the very least like intellectual equals, given a fresh angle to the genre and brought a much-needed element of realism to these poor maligned creatures. And whilst my books are almost certainly still not realistic enough for Tiana, I hope she is not too disappointed. I just don’t think that even I am ready for her level of realism. Yet…
Happy page-turning and viewing,
Antony J. Stanton
For more info, also to have the chance of winning a competition to have a character in book 3 named after you, forever to immortalised in the pages of the book and on screen when the film or TV series is made, go to: http://bit.ly/1OjFyQ2
Book 1, “Once Bitten, Twice Die” is available as paperback and ebook on Amazon with this link: http://amzn.to/1MrY3AW And as ebook on B&N, Apple iBook, Nook, Kobo, scribd, oyster, textr and all major retailers here: http://bit.ly/1SaivhS
Book 2, “Once Bitten, Twice Live” was published 01 May and is available as paperback and ebook on Amazon here: http://amzn.to/1TmRFPp And as ebook with all major retailers here: http://bit.ly/1rxUuHk
Book 3, “Twice Bitten, Twice Die” will be published in time for Halloween 2016. The TV series of the books is in the latter planning stages. Hope springs eternal. Watch this space…