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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

 

Check out this groovy mention! Also, vampires.

The Guardian says I'm excellent. Specifically, the magnificent Alison Flood does. Does not this rock? Let's all take a moment to appreciate this fine person.

She reckons that vampire fiction is on its way out and werewolf fiction will be the next big thing. It's an interesting thought.

My husband once saw an entire bookcase at Murder One headed 'Vampire Romance', which sounds pretty much like a market boom - though as that was a few years ago, it may well be true that vampire fiction is a saturated market and should fade away after a while.

Do I think this is likely? To tell the truth, I don't have much of an opinion. I've read and seen the odd vampire thing, some of which were good and some of which were bad, but I have to admit that my expertise when it comes to vampires is pretty limited. On a general principle, I'd be prepared to bet that Ms Flood - and Neil Gaiman, whom she was quoting - have a point when they say that vampire tropes are getting tired. Massive imitative booms generally lead to a lot of bad product; there are two possible explanations:

1. People with basically copycat imaginations are likely to follow whatever's in.

2. There are always bad books being written about every conceivable subject at any given moment; if there's a market boom for a particular subject, the bar lowers and worse stuff gets published.

Probably it's a bit of both, with more of my money on 2.

On the other hand, when it comes to booms, imitation comes in two forms: taking inspiration from what you now see is possible, and copying the furniture. The latter is common, the former is where good stuff comes from. For instance: in the wake of J.K. Rowling's amazing success, British children's fiction enjoyed a tremendous heyday in the late nineties and early noughties. This didn't mean it was a huge wave of stories about wizarding schools; it was more that children had become a promising-looking market, grand stories for that market looked like fun, and a lot of good stuff got published. That's inspiration about what looks possible. 

Copying the furniture is easier to do, but it produces more ephemeral stuff. I saw a documentary the other day arguing that The Wire has changed everyone's ideas about what television drama can be. If this means people start reaching for drama that's broad-ranging, ambitious, subtly characterised, complex and passionately engaged with the world - all qualities The Wire has in abundance - that'll be excellent. If it means people start churning out capital-C Cynical cop shows, they'll just be copying the furniture, and the results will range from adequate to dross. The inspiration method may produce something that looks very different from The Wire in everything except quality; the furniture method will produce stuff that looks very similar in everything except quality. I know which I'd rather watch.

So, will lycanthropy stories will be In as Alison Flood suggests? If they are, I'll probably have drifted out of the fashion by the time it hits - I've already published another book that has nothing to do with lycanthropy. (Though I suppose I could always pretend to be a trendsetter.) Since I am sworn to tell the truth, I have to admit it might be pretty pleasant to have written a book that anticipates a sudden fashion, because then I might become rich rich rich and you'd all have to be nice to me, but if somebody read my book and decided they wanted to be influenced by it, that wouldn't necessarily have to mean a werewolf book - and in fact, I'd probably be more interested if they wrote something that wasn't about werewolves. 

Has anyone been following the vampire thing? If so, what do you think of it? I know Twilight's been a big production - curiosity led me to read the first one, an interesting experience about which I may blog when I can get round to it (I'm technically on holiday this week) - and I know it's a series much slammed by bloggers round the world, to the extent that I don't want to hop on that bandwagon too fiercely, but how about the broader trend? I'd be very interested to hear opinions.

In any event, let's raise a glass to the Guardian and all who sail in her.

Comments:
I've noticed that a lot of literary agent website submission pages say specifically 'no vampires'. So presumably, they think that the vampire boom is coming to an end.
 
It's kind of amusing, really, seeing people go on about what vampires are 'supposed' to be. They are creatures of myth--they are whatever we damn well feel like making them out to be. (Vampires walking around in the daylight? Who came up with that preposterous notion? Er, that would be Bram Stoker in his book Dracula. The notion of vampires going poof in daylight didn't really take hold until the film Nosferatu, and cinematic vampires have been dodging daylight ever since.)

It's funny, there seems to be a subtle undercurrent in some of the criticisms that, dammit, vampires used to be cool when only people like me read about them, but now everybody's into them and it's lame--as if vampires are that indie rock band that got all popular all of the sudden. The notion that werewolves will be the 'next big thing' tends to reinforce that notion.

My attitude is who the heck cares? Write what you want to write, read what you want to read and let the market do its usual thing.
 
t's kind of amusing, really, seeing people go on about what vampires are 'supposed' to be. They are creatures of myth--they are whatever we damn well feel like making them out to be.

Quite so.

Am I the only one who sometimes hears a possessive note in 'It's supposed to be like that?' It sounds like a confusion of descriptive and proscriptive - conflating with 'It generally works like this' with 'It should always work like this.' If someone spends a lot of their time reading a particular trope, they can wind up sort of an expert on it, and once you're an expert it's tempting to start acting like an arbiter.

Which is setting yourself up to be disproved, of course, because there's always another way to do things and really no 'right' way, just ways that work and ways that don't. But does anyone else sometimes encounter that possessive vibe?

I've noticed that a lot of literary agent website submission pages say specifically 'no vampires'. So presumably, they think that the vampire boom is coming to an end.

Very interesting; I didn't know that! Thanks for the info.

I'd speculate that it might be less a belief that the boom is ending and more a general feeling of 'If I have to read one more of these ****ing vampire stories I'll start biting people myself.' Having been a slush pile reader myself, I can well believe that desperation is as strong a motivator as business acumen.

It might be, perhaps, that agents have simply had so many vampire submissions that they just can't stand to look at any more. It might be that they've had so many bad vampire submissions that they've acquired some low expectations of vampire writers. It might be that they're just bored to death with vampires themselves - which is a way for booms to end, of course, when too many people lose interest.

It might, of course, be that they feel they can't sell any vampire stuff too, even good stuff. Which might be because editors are sick of it or because the market's become saturated.

Are there any agents here who can enlighten us?
 
"I've noticed that a lot of literary agent website submission pages say specifically 'no vampires'. So presumably, they think that the vampire boom is coming to an end."

Maybe, but my theory would be more along the lines that, when something *is* in a boom, you get a lot of people, like Kit said, "copying the furniture", and just writing about something they think is cool without really putting a great deal of thought into the fact that, if you want to make a vampire novel work, it's not enough just to put in vampires; you'll also be needing things like believable characters and an interesting plot. So it could also be that they don't feel like the chance of someone having written a good and original vampire novel is high enough that it makes it worthwhile wading through the inevitable pile of rubbish they'd be getting.

And Kit, congrats! Well done the Grauniad for having the taste to recognise quality!
 
The notion that werewolves will be the 'next big thing' tends to reinforce that notion.

In fairness to Alison Flood, I don't think she was trying to hop on a bandwagon; I think she was just doing what journalists do, which is try to anticipate what's going to happen next...
 
Hi Kit, glad you liked my blog - I loved your book! Sad to hear there are to be no more werewolves forthcoming from you though... What's next?
 
Funny, I've seen the "vampires are dead" line around the internet a few times this week, usually followed by an "Oh no they're not!" response.

Personally I prefer werewolves in any case, and have struggled for years to find vampire books I really enjoy as they seem to be more angsty people with fangs than monsters at the moment. I do think the genre is oversaturated, but I doubt it's going anywhere just yet, not with another Twilight film due out this year and two more in the works. Not to mention the success of True Blood and an upcoming Anita Blake movie (although if anything is going to kill off the vampire genre, I suspect Anita Blake will be it).

I'd love werewolves to be the next big thing, but I expect urban fantasy and paranormal romance will always keep vampires as Monster Number One, with werewolves in second place. I just think that the quality of the books will ebb and flow.
 
Hi Alison! Nice of you to drop by - I tried e-mailing to say thank you a couple of times, but the e-mails kept bouncing...

Well, a second book has come out called In Great Waters, which you can read about in 'The Books' section at the top of the blog page - different from Bareback, but personally I slightly prefer it. Currently wrestling with a redraft of a third book, which is trying to kill me in various intriguing ways... :-)

Anyway, thanks very much for the mention, which is greatly appreciated, and I hope you're having an excellent day.



@Naomi - I think there may be several reasons why vampires stick around. First, you can do more with the eroticism, which is always a way to shift books; lycanthropy or stories of that kind can work well with eroticism, Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber being a case in point, but if you're not a magic realist like Carter, eroticising lycanthropy is, shall we say, a niche market.

There's also the fact that traditional once-a-month lycanthropy creates certain restrictions on the plot, as I discovered when trying to write it. You can't skip full moon nights even if the plot is busy doing something else, and similarly you can't do wolf stuff the rest of the time. Of course, there's no law that says you have to stick to the lunar cycle. I actually found it productive, in the end: dealing with certain restrictions can push you in interesting directions. But it puts up certain obstacles.

Plus, if someone is being a wolf, you can't hold a conversation with them. Vampires can be vampiric and engage in dialogue at the same time, but with werewolves it's rather an either-or proposition.* Which places some limitations. Again, I found it productive to work with that and treat lycanthropy as a form of altered consciousness, but it's something you have to think about.

Basically I'd say a big advantage of vampires is that they can combine vamping and normal behaviour simultaneously, which gives you a lot more flexibility in the story. Working out ways to deal with the inflexibility can give good story - I've yet to see a vampire story that really gets to grips with the whole phototoxicity* issue in a way that generates plot, for instance. If your characters really can't go out in the day, and you'd expect modern-day lights to have some issues as well, how does that affect how they live? Who they interact with? (Their notions of humanity would be likely rather off-beam, given that the people they'd meet would largely be clubbers and homeless people.) How they navigate? (Do they have excellent night vision, in which case do they dazzle easily? Or do they go by sound, smell, sonar or what? I rather like the idea of vampires who have to keep making small noises to get a feel for the echoes myself.) Are they social? In which case, how does nocturnality affect them, particularly their ideas of privacy - sight being an issue there? Night being quieter than day, are they easily deafened? And so on and so on. Once you start thinking of the problems a particular quirk creates, you can do some interesting stuff - but you need to start from scratch rather than accepting tropes at face value.


*This is a problem I faced with In Great Waters, in fact: if you have sea people, they can't talk like normal people: it doesn't work underwater. So you'd need an entirely different language group. Which required different vocal apparatus. Which creates an unbridgeable language barrier between landsmen and deepsmen - which is the foundation stone of about two-thirds of that book's plot. Thinking about the problems forces you to come up with solutions, and the solutions drive your story.

**This is not a real word, as far as I know.


Word: daying. I swear.
 
Plus, if someone is being a wolf, you can't hold a conversation with them

Yes, big problem for me in my current WIP! My werewolves are expert body language readers by necessity, but then my werewolves are also a lot more like natural wolves in their animal form than lyncathropes as such. Anyway.

I absolutely agree with you on the eroticism aspect of vampire lore; I think that will always keep it selling well. Whether this is the place to debate the merits of implied necrophilia over implied bestiality, I don't know ;) I do know that the Harlequin Nocturne Bites ebook series are awash with shapeshifter romances at the moment, but they generally have the same problem I have with a lot of "monsters" at the moment - they're not monstrous enough. One of the reasons I loved Bareback so much was that the lyncanthropes were very definitely and distinctly not human. Perhaps that's down to genre more than anything else - I suppose a romance in which the hero eats the heroine after sex isn't going to have much commercial appeal...
 
My werewolves are expert body language readers by necessity, but then my werewolves are also a lot more like natural wolves in their animal form than lyncathropes as such.

Have you read Temple Grandin's Animals In Translation? Fascinating book. Anyway, one of the things she points out is that canine and human body language are so similar that even small children can figure out a dog's basic body language and facial expressions. So that idea seems entirely plausible to me, if setting yourself a pretty big challenge when it comes to describing it. Grandin considers people and canines effectively symbiotic, to the extent that we've affected each others' evolution. If you're looking to study up, I'd highly recommend it.

I do know that the Harlequin Nocturne Bites ebook series are awash with shapeshifter romances at the moment, but they generally have the same problem I have with a lot of "monsters" at the moment - they're not monstrous enough.

Interesting. How do they handle the transformation stuff? Metaphor for arousal, a la Carter, or something else?
 
Re: Nocturnes - there's definitely the arousal metaphor. I think they're also playing off the differences between how vampires and werewolves are percieved in the romance genre. Whereas the vampire is the cool, suave lover who sweeps you off your feet, the werewolf is the hot-blooded, animal-passion lover who fights for you.

That's my impression anyway, and I think the fact that wolves tend to mate for life is part of the package, as it ties into that whole "fated-to-mate" angle that parts of the romance audience love. For the some reason, the idea that only one person in the whole world could possibly be right for you is very attractive. Not sure why myself, but there we are.
 
For the some reason, the idea that only one person in the whole world could possibly be right for you is very attractive. Not sure why myself, but there we are.

Ah. I'm actually working on a post right now that addresses that very issue, talking about Twilight as promised. Stay tuned...
 
Great, looking forward to that! It's a concept that bugs the hell out of me in a genre I otherwise generally enjoy.
 
You know, I've been hoping for over a decade - since the early nineties, if not earlier - that werewolves would reach the same level of popularity as vampires. While I'm not a romance reader, I'm pleased to see them getting some attention; I find it both funny and interesting that the genre transplant has done so much to expand their literary range.

(That's not to say that interesting things have never been done with werewolves in the horror genre, just that I've always felt that vampires were given a much wider variety of treatments, and - possibly as a consequence - much more interesting treatments. As a side note, there were a few years there where I was just certain that if I saw one more book labelled with, "Does for werewolves what Anne Rice did for vampires," I was going to hunt down the reviewer and beat them, extensively, with a rolled up newspaper.)

As a prediction, though, I just don't think it's going to happen. Vampires are too well established, and they serve such a broad range of literary functions, that werewolves would be hard-pressed to keep up.
 
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