I always knew that I wanted to write. When I was in Grade 4 I had a teacher who wasn’t all that fond of me. Or at least that’s how my childish mind perceived her concern over my “sickly” nature. But there was one thing that she always praised about me: my capacity to write creatively and well. Mostly I remember there being a lot of ellipses and exclamation marks in my work then; so I still haven’t worked out all the kinks, I guess…
I started with poetry when I remembered how much praise writing had brought me, and moved onto prose when I was about ten. So while I credit my creative endeavours in most part to my favourite authors, I don’t blame them entirely for my forays into the written word. That being said, it wasn’t until I read the Vampire Chronicles that I gave any thought to writing about vampires. Sure, the topic had always fascinated me, there were other authors that I read who wrote primarily about vampires, I watched (and read) a lot of Buffy fiction, and I found my niche in contemplating life and meaning when I was in my early teens – something that I credit primarily to the vampire in literature – but it was the concept of the “romantic vampire” that spurred me to write not just small snippets, excerpts, and stories of dark castles and midnight kidnappings, but things that made me think. And in thinking, I hoped I would provoke others to do the same.
I was young, but I didn’t need the themes explained to me: the questionable nature of evil, the danger of beauty, the simple existentialism of being alive and never being entirely certain that there’s more purpose to it than eating, sleeping, procreation, scrabbling to find meaning in what seems completely meaningless. I couldn’t put fancy words to it, but I recognised a lot of what the perspective characters felt from what I felt in my own life. The metaphor of the vampire as “the outsider” has started to seem cliched, but it’s not, it’s archetypal. Why else would vampire fiction be so popular with teenagers? Everything is urgent and every feeling seems like its the end; not just of the world, but the universe, life, the soul, all of it. I wanted to explore the same themes, other themes even. I wanted to look at the world not through the eyes of the non-fiction perspective character, someone I knew, myself even. It was too close to home. I wanted to put myself int he shoes of someone that wasn’t me, and let them walk a mile, let them find the answers I couldn’t find.
You could say, I learnt lessons from the Vampire Chronicles. Not just about life, but about how to create literary life. how to take a cutout character and breathe into him, make him move and dance and sing, make him list and sway and follow the path towards his own truth. Books aren’t always about the story. Without the characters, there wouldn’t be one. I like the characters. The characters give a tale life and meaning. I applied the lessons I learnt from each book in the Vampire Chronicles to my own writing, and I believe that I won my own internal challenge, to chisel characters from nothing and make them real.
The realest thing a character can do, is run away with the story and ignore my planning.
Lessons from Interview
Lesson one: What I think I enjoyed most about Interview with the Vampire was Louis’ wandering, seeking the same answers and never getting them. Even when his story came to a close and Daniel stared at him waiting for more, it was very clear that the story was never going to end. Because the question hasn’t been answered. If the question is “what is the meaning of life?” no one can answer it but the wanderer. And in every novel thus far, I don’t think that Louis has ever really found that. You can live for someone (Lestat, maybe Claudia?), but it’s not really living in the end. It’s surviving for that one last look that they give you, like the sun slipping behind the clouds. One day (or night) you wake up and find that it isn’t enough, and then, you start to wander again. It’s a romance, but not romantic; not, traditionally anyway. It’s a horror, but the horror is so perfumed that the reader can’t see it until the spilt odour is choking him. Interview was dark. It was like the novels I read just prior to the Vampire Chronicles, in authors like Jeanne Kalogridis and her vile Prince.
Not one of my own characters, no matter how old, is a fully-fledged person. There is always room to grow. Always. Saskia D’Asur is older than the shadow that animates her, but she still hasn’t found her answers, and she keeps moving through time, trying to find reason. I suppose she even embodies the darkness I felt in Interview, the clammy fear, the brooding sincerity. She handles everything badly, everything wrong, but she keeps doing what is in front of her, in hopes that whatever comes next, will give her life meaning.
Lesson two: People look for meaning in religion, because without a God the world is terrifying, bleak and, well basically, meaningless. With no deity, there is no afterlife, and with no afterlife, what are we toiling for? Is everything for nothing in the end? Where do we go? Do our voices echo in our own skulls for eternity? I’m not sure it’s a question vampires can answer, but, I think it’s one that they’re more afraid of than any human. Why could Louis never end his “miserable” existence (we’re barring later books here)? Was he exaggerating about his anguish, or was it that much worse: after being immortal, death was less palatable than sleepwalking through night after night like a sad, old ghost.
Our characters struggle with religion. Human, vampire, whatever their physical attributes, religion is a harsh reality that is built on something they can’t see or verify. Not everyone believes. Not everyone has to. But the ones that do face their own challenges: defining evil, coming to terms with being evil, and fighting theistically evil intent. Evil is a very Christian structure, but Christianity is the forerunning religion of the modern age, and it features distinctly in the Gas Light Victorian Vamp setting of the Sanguinem Emere novels.
And the last lesson I learnt from Interview was, possibly, the most important one: A successful character, is a relatable character. Being a bloodsucking beast doesn’t make a character obscure, but being inhuman does. It’s difficult not to relate to Louis for all the reasons previously mentioned. Lestat and Claudia, however, on occasion behave with such monstrous abandon, that Louis’ horror seems perfectly well placed. Later on, from Lestat’s perspective, the horrors he commits seems almost justifiable, definitely understandable. And it’s a charming truth of all fiction, that a perspective character is not God, and that he can lie, if he chooses, and as the avid reader, we’ll never know the difference.
~It will be too long of a post to put each of the novels in here, but I will make separate blog posts for them. Hopefully one a day ~