Something that bothers me about zombie stories and movies is when they refuse to call the reanimated corpses zombies. The Walking Dead being the most obvious example, calling them “walkers” or “biters” or “geeks” or anything but zombies. They approach the story as though the concept of zombies in pop culture never existed and there’s nothing they can reference as an example of what it is they’re dealing with. Which I understand, from a storytelling standpoint, why they do that. Especially with zombies. These are typically disaster stories and one of the key elements of a disaster story is not knowing the hell is going on. Plus, if they’re offering a scientific foundation for why the zombies exist, then it would be an amazing coincidence if some virus comes along that brings dead people back to life and makes them behave exactly the same way as a fictional monster, with the same rules and tropes. I get it, that’s a big leap.
At the same time, it still bothers me a bit. It just strikes me as kind of arrogant and pretentious. As though they think they’re somehow above the genre. Too good to call their reanimated corpses zombies, even though that’s clearly what they are. And it’s not like the writers aren’t calling them zombies outside of the story, or acting like they’re anything but zombies. It’s just that in their world, they don’t call them zombies. And that bothers me.
The reason I bring it up is because when I first wrote this story, there was no stigma around vampires. People weren’t completely and utterly sick of them. There was no Twilight or Sookie Stackhouse or ten million knock-offs. I wrote the story because I had these characters and because nobody was telling the kind of vampire stories I liked. So it never occurred to me to call them anything but vampires. I wrote a vampire story, because I like vampires. When they’re done well, vampires are a lot of fun. I like the sexual subtext and the allure of immortality and the power dynamics. I think all of that creates a lot of opportunities for interesting character choices.
My vampires exist in a world where vampires exist pop culture, just like they do in real life. They’re self aware and they exist along side the pop culture interpretation of what a vampire is. The way I see it, just enough information about them has popped up here and there to create the vampire myth as it is in the real world, and the “real” vampires tolerate it and continue doing what they’re doing out of sight. So it never occurred to me to not call them vampires. I have them call themselves vampires because it would bother me to not call them that. They are vampires, so they call themselves vampires. Sure, they exist outside of the public’s idea of what a vampire is, and yes, they’ve been around longer than the mythology. They have their own ancient names for what they are, but those names are obsolete by the time my story takes place. They’ve adopted the word and use it because it’s not that far off from what they are.
I bring all of this up because when I wrote this story, it didn’t occur to me that one day “vampire” would be a dirty word in popular fiction. We’ve hit a saturation point where people are rejecting vampire stories sight unseen. They see the word “vampire” and they immediately move on without consideration. I’m not even complaining about that. I don’t blame them. I don’t read vampire stories either. The vast majority of vampire stories, in movies, TV or literature, are completely uninteresting to me.
To be fair, I’ve also actively avoided vampire stories/movies for the last year that I’ve been writing the Bloodletting series, because I don’t want to be influenced by anything happening now. Most of the influences I’ve channeled into Bloodletting have come from non-vampire stories, and that’s by design.
My point is that I’m concerned that I’m turning a huge portion of my potential audience away by putting the word “vampire” right in the title of the story. I called it “Bloodletting: A Vampire Movie” as a play on the Concrete Blonde song “Bloodletting: The Vampire Song” which I thought was cute back in the 90s when I first started writing the screenplay. It stuck and I’ve kept it and carried it over to the books, changing it to “a vampire story.” I’m already strongly considering going back and changing the title, taking out the “A Vampire Story” from the covers and title pages. I’ve pretty much decided that I’m going to do that. I’ve also taken the word “vampire” out of some of the descriptions on Amazon. I don’t want to be dishonest about what the story is, but I also feel like if people can get past that first hurdle, they’ll be entertained enough to get over the fact that it’s a vampire story. Also, because these are novellas and short stories, some of them barely have vampires in them at all. The first two Charlie stories have almost no vampire interaction at all. It’s mostly a story about a teenage girl running away from home, her relationship with her mother and dealing with pregnancy and depression. Those first two Charlie stories are basically dramas. There’s vampire stuff going on in the background, and by the time you get to the third Charlie story, you can see where there was more vampire stuff going on than you might have known. But yeah, those stories could be sold as non-vampire stories. Bette 4.0 is more of a noir crime story than it is a vampire story. There’s are vampire elements to it, but it’s not the focus at all.
I’m just wondering now if I haven’t made a mistake in calling them vampires at all. Maybe I should have come up with some other goofy thing for them to call themselves. I mean, they clearly are vampires, but at this point, I’ve made enough changes that I could probably have gotten away with calling them something else and letting be a little more vague.
For example, there was a movie called Under the Skin that I watched not too long ago. It was about an alien (played by Scarlett Johansson) picking up hitchhikers and processing them as food for other aliens. It was, essentially, a vampire movie. A lot of the rules and key elements were different, but the tone was very much vampire. It hit a lot of the same notes. Lately I’ve been adding a bit of an HP Lovecraft style cosmic horror element and, exploring just how different the older vampires are from living people. It wouldn’t be that crazy to not call them vampires. Between vampirey things I’ve taken away and the things I’ve added that aren’t typically found in vampires, it’s not so crazy that I could call them something other than vampires.
Though, again, clearly that’s what they are. They’re drinking blood, they’re immortal and they can’t go in the sun. They’re vampires.
Either way, it’s too late now. I would have to go back and rewrite a ton of shit to accommodate that change. It wouldn’t just be cleaning up the odd grammar mistake or reworking a line or two (which I do from time to time with the older stuff) but fully retelling the story in parts, which I don’t want to do. Besides, I like calling them vampires. If I changed it, it would be because of a marketing decision, and that totally uncool. I’d hate it.
So I’m stuck with the fact that I’m writing vampire stories in an environment that’s quite hostile toward vampire stories. I just have to figure out a way to prove to people that these vampire stories are not only good, but totally different from other vampire stories. Right now, I’m just focusing on getting to the end of the story, then I’ll start my next series and, hopefully, maybe, if people like it, they’ll go back and check out Bloodletting.