Thursday, April 26, 2012

Why we Love Vampires

For some the “vampire novel” is just a fad sparked by the ‘Twilight Craze’ that will die out as soon as a new fad takes over, such as “dystopian novels” maybe? But vampires have been around in literature for a long time and while their popularity may dwindle as something like “dystopian novels” flood the market, I don’t think they will ever die out. Vampires have been used to represent different things throughout history, from misogyny to homophobia, to addiction. But why have vampires stuck around and, what is it about vampires today that makes them so alluring? Why have authors like Bram Stoker, Anne Rice, Stephen King, and Stephanie Meyer all found an interest in vampires and written about them differently? I think it has something to do with the diversity of what the vampire can represent.

Christina VanMeter
Things vampire’s represent:

Immortality: We fear death; we wonder what happens to us after we die, so the idea of vampires, creatures that live on after death is in a way comforting. Vampires have beaten death. In a way they represent the afterlife, or at very least the idea that death is not the end.
Transformation: Vampires start out just like us, human. They’re weak, mortal, they have faults and imperfections, and then they transform into something greater. They become strong and powerful, beautiful and seductive. Vampires can represent our want to be better than we are, or maybe the want of being someone else. They can represent change and growth. This is a major theme in Stephanie Meyer’s Breaking Dawn where the meek and victimized Bella Swan finally has the ability to be the hero and not the damsel in distress. It’s empowering to think that we can grow and change in the same way.
Belief: Stakes, holy water, crosses, vampires are repelled by these otherwise ordinary objects. Myth turns a piece of wood or a glass of water into a deadly weapon. Belief makes the ordinary extraordinary. Vampires often show how belief can overcome terrible odds. This is a major theme in Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. We like to have things to believe in and vampires give us that.

Sex: Penetrating fangs, stakes through the heart, exchanging of bodily fluids; vampire myths are filled with phallic symbols and sexual undertones. This may be the reason why Vampire Romances have become so popular. The very nature of vampires is sexy.
Love: Vampires may come across as stalker-ish, obsessed, pedophiles, but there is something about the idea of a person not only willing, but able to, love another person forever that is captivating. Despite the evil these killers represent they also can represent eternal love, and maybe even the idea that love is stronger than evil. Also, the idea that a person may search the earth for eternity to find the person they love is endearing. Louis’s love for Claudia in Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice is a good example of this. I would dare to argue that Claudia was more evil then even Lestat and yet Louis loved her regardless.

Dark Desires: Vampires are essentially guilt-less. They’re soulless, they lack a conscious. This means that they’re able to do the things they want without regret. Vampires indulge themselves in their desires, they give in to their cravings, they allow themselves to be selfish and enjoy every minute of it. Vampire’s live outside of society’s rules, yet benefit from everything society has to offer. They can explore taboos un-judged and seek thrills without consequence. This idea is freeing, as is the idea of losing oneself in something as deeply as vampires do, of being free of responsibility. Vampires often represent the things we wish we had the courage to do, and the things we wish we even had the courage to admit we wanted to do. Bram Stoker’s Dracula for example looks at female sexuality, particularity the emergence of repressed female sexuality, a major taboo in the 1800’s.
Youth: Not only immortal, but eternally beautiful vampires seem to have found the fountain of youth. Everyone today is striving to be younger, and to stay young longer. Vampires perfectly represent this concept of agelessness that we seem to be seeking. What Hollywood actress wouldn’t love to be a vampire with perfect skin and perfect hair, and to never grow ‘too old’ for a part?

Tragedy: Vampires are by nature tragic. Especially when we look at a vampire/human relationship, we find that there can be no happy ending (at least not an easy one) vampires live forever and humans age and die. This is what makes a vampire/human relationship star-crossed, because it can’t work. Like Romeo and Juliet this pair is destined to die. Granted there’s always the whole ‘just turn the girl into a vampire too’ trick, but it doesn’t escape death. The girl, or guy, still dies. Even in Twilight’s fourth book Breaking Dawn, when Bella finally becomes a vampire, the transformation is bittersweet. The angst of vampire novels often makes for an intense read.

Unlike the “dystopian novel” which will always focus on the breakdown of society and a disastrous future, the “vampire novel” can be adapted to represent a number of issues from a feminist re-awaking of female desire, to exploring discrimination, or the power of addiction. Vampires are metaphors for losing one’s virginity, or the wealthy 1% feeding off the %99. Not to say that “dystopian novels” will die out when the “vampire novel” remains, just that the vampire can be used to represent a wide range of ideas. Because of this I think the vampire novel will stick around as well as grow and change as we use vampires to express or represent different things.

For a look at some of television’s favorite vampire shows like “Buffy” and “True Blood” check out this link that talks about why vampires entertain us on film as much as they do in books. How do Vampires from Twilight, Buffy, and others Compare?

If you liked this post check out "Why we Love the Supernatural"

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Will You want to Keep Reading?

What do I decide my Reviews on?

Whenever I'm looking for a new book to read the first thing I do is read through it's reviews. Usually I skim through a few that gave it a high score and then find at least one that gave it a low score. I think sometimes the reviewers who give a book only two or three stars are the ones who say the most about what I want to know, "will I want to keep reading?" Sometimes those are the most valuable reviews to me. I try to keep this in mind when I write my reviews.

Very simply, when I review, a book that I give 5 stars is a book I couldn’t put down. The plot of the story really is everything for me. I take note of editing, clichés, voice, all of that. But, at the end of the day what I consider a good book is one that I want to read.
Now on that note, there have been some books that I couldn’t put down that didn’t have the greatest writing. Twilight is a good example of this. The story sucked me in and I gave Twilight 4 stars, however this does not mean I consider Stephanie Meyer a “great writer,” she’s not, but she told a wonderfully intriguing story. Twilight wasn’t completely original, it didn’t have amazing imagery, but I couldn’t put it down. It made me want to read more. I was enthralled in the plot even despite some weak sentence structure and overused phrases.

So I don’t review writing, I review stories. In contrast to Twilight I recently read Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi. I think she is a much better writer then Stephanie Meyer, still not the “greatest writer,” but better.  She had wonderful imagery in this book even though it was more descriptive then lyrical, and less clichés; but I gave Under the Never Sky 3 stars because I found the plot had a slow start, lackluster ending, and overall needed to be more concise. At the end of this book I didn’t want to read its sequel, and I won’t. Veronica Rossi has some writing skill, but she didn’t tell a story that made me want to keep reading.
Some of the stories I find I like the most are written by indie authors. They don’t have the best editing and often read a little rough, but some have wonderful story lines. Samantha Young’s Fire Spirits series is a perfect example of this. I hated some of the language in the first book, Smokeless Fire. Juvenile words like “Sooo,” were annoying. But, her characters were deep, well developed, and the story line was amazing. I’ve so far given this series 4 stars and will continue reading it.
What I think makes a good book is more than good grammar. I seek good stories; I want a good plot and compelling dialogue. Good writing and good editing are very important. I don’t want anyone to think that I don’t find these two things crucial. They are just not what I’m reviewing when I look at a book. I review the story, not the author. I will always comment on my pet peeves in my reviews, but there are enough people out there reviewing on some systematic scale where they break down what they think makes a good book. This is wonderfully consistent, but to me it doesn’t necessarily tell me what I want to know about a book, and that is “Will I want to keep reading?”

To read more about what I thought of Under the Never Sky, click here, and to read my reviews click here.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Beauty of Beta Readers

There was a short period of time after I finished typing the first draft of my novel that I thought, “I can do this all myself.” Luckily I only spent a few stubborn days thinking that I could do all my own editing and rely solely on the advice of family and friends to perfect my book. The truth is you can’t get the unbiased, critical evaluation of your book that you need doing only this.

I spent a few days searching the web, reading any article or blog that I could find that talked about self-publishing. The one thing they all had in common was that good editing is crucial to having a good book. The only problem with good editing is that the rates many editors charge is higher than I’d like. I have yet to hire a professional editor, but I have realized that getting a fresh set of eyes on my novel is absolutely necessary. I just needed to find a way to do it that wasn’t going to make me go broke. So, I decided to start by finding someone to beta my novel.
A beta reader is basically someone, usually not a professional editor, who looks over your work for free. They offer a critical eye to help fix spelling and grammar mistakes, and to offer suggestions on the story line. I found a beta reader just by talking to other aspiring authors online in forums. is a great place for authors and readers alike to connect with people who share the same interests in books. Both my beta reader and I were looking for help on our manuscripts so we decided to swap and beta for each other.
Having another person read over your unpublished work can be a scary thing. Just the thought of someone telling you that any piece of your book, your baby, isn’t done perfectly is enough to break your heart. Even though you know you have mistakes; even though the reason you gave your book to another person for the purpose of finding those mistakes, it still stings every time they point one out to you. I think, besides the cost, this fear is what may keep many authors from hiring an editor. But in reality you simply can’t edit your own work. We all know that we’ll miss things in our own work. But, until you actually have someone point out to you all those little mistakes that need to be corrected you won’t really understand. And, it’s those little mistakes that can turn a great story into something unreadable.
Writing the book is the easy part, that’s the part where you can feel free to skip over details or say things a little sloppy because you’re trying to get it done. You just keep writing not wanting to lose the rhythm, but once it’s finished that feeling of accomplishment for actually having it complete can make you forget that you glossed over things just to get it out. There are so many things I said that became quickly overused phrases. It was like I got a phrase in my head and then kept forgetting that I’d already used it. I needed someone else to read my book and point out to me that there was something I said too often. When you read your own book you can’t catch overused phrases, they don’t stand out as familiar because the entire story is familiar to you.
So, despite the mild discomfort that reading someone else’s criticisms brought me, I found having a beta reader to be a worthwhile experience. I know my novel is better because of my beta's advice. And, of course it’s not all negative. The little comments, “I liked this,” “good imagery here,” “this made me laugh,” it’s these notes among all the corrections that remind you why you wrote the story in the first place; for someone else to enjoy it.
My novel still has a lot of work that needs to be done to it. However, I’m still planning to publish Into the Deep this summer, but with the motivation to do it right.
As for my experience of being a beta reader, I have to say I enjoyed that as well. I had the opportunity to read a book for free and actually tell the author about the things that I wished would have happened differently or what I wished I had more details about. If I could have done that with all the books I’ve read Mocking Jay may have had a happier ending and the honeymoon scene in Breaking Dawn would have been more than a paragraph.  I know I didn't catch every mistake in her manuscript, but even with having little editing experience just by reading her book for the first time I was able to find things that she missed.
It’s a great feeling to finish a book and feel a part of the literary world; it’s also a great, but entirely different feeling to have been part of another piece of work and give your feedback to another person in hope of making their novel better. All around I think beta readers are a wonderful tool for authors.

Indie Book Goal 2018