Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Stoker Poker

I think being the mortal lover of a vampire would be like being somebody’s pet goat.

Baby goats are very cute. As they get older they get less cute. They start to smell gamey, act stubborn and ornery, and look more and more like food. All your happy little goat life, the human who owns you is very nice to you, feeds you, hugs and pets you, plays with you. Then one fateful day, he comes up to you with something shiny in his hand and he’s suddenly not very nice to you. No, not very nice at all.

We'll come back to that, but first let's talk about the rules of Stoker Poker.

Writing vampire stories is a lot like starting a poker game, you announce the rules before you start, Five Card Stud, jacks wild. You can do this, but you can’t do that. Bram Stoker vampires are not Stephanie Meyer vampires. Meyer’s vampires sparkle charmingly in sunlight, and pose and sulk like unemployed Abercrombie and Fitch models. Stoker’s vampires burn up in sunlight, sometimes explosively. A stake in the heart is terminal. Not big on garlic. They can snack on a human, or drain them to death. Stoker Rules, to “turn” a human you have to deliberately give them vampiric blood to drink, just biting them is not enough. In some mythos such as Lingqvist’s “Let The Right One In” just being bitten, dead or alive, is all it takes. “Sookie Stackhouse” vampires are made according to Stoker Rules, “Anita Blake” vampires are Stoker Rules, more or less, and so are Anne Rice vampires. Stoker Rules vampires are usually intensely erotic on the outside but only for show. Eroticism is bait for the hook. Once they get you alone – aiiee! I approached the relationship with my Nixie and her lover Dan with Stoker Rules. Deal the cards. Play the cards you’re dealt. Seven Stud, Stoker Rules.

In the story “The Lady and the Unicorn”, things begin with Nixie telling the story to the reader as she walks down a lonely dirt road at night in the dark. Like an exquisite bloodhound she is trailing her runaway mortal lover’s scent in the air and has almost caught up with him.

“. . . He left me during the day in a trail of strewn clothes and broken dishes all through our little house. And other things also, which he left behind and I have brought with me in a little gym bag I carry in my hand as I walk down the dirt road following his scent. Because of what is carried in this bag, I know he loves me still. He could not have left behind a sweeter valentine.”

Ooooo! A valentine! Perfume? Godiva chocolates? Fruit flavored condoms? Much later in the story, Nixie shows us the kind of valentine Daniel left behind for her:

" . . . I move in close to him, touching him again – and oh the joy to feel him against me, the heat of him - still holding my bag, but stepping close enough for my breasts to aggressively brush up against him. I’m trying to get him to put his arms around me, but he steps back and I feel his fear. “Why?” I say.

“I got to know if you’re all right.”

“No – why did you not want to be there, alone? You were afraid.”

He looks down, ashamed. And afraid.

“Why, my love? Why were you afraid?”

“I thought you might be looking for me.”

“Of course I was looking for you,” I say soft and slow, feeling the bag in my hand grow heavy. “Why would I not look for you? Why would you not want me to find you alone? I’m still your woman. Don’t you want to be alone with me?”

“I thought. . .” He is really sweating it now. It is miserable to see. “I thought you’d be pissed.”

Whispering. “Why would I pissed? Hmn. Now, let me think.”

He only looks at me with those angry frightened eyes, and I wish I were blind. This is not the Daniel I came to find.

“Why would I be pissed, kuschelbaer?” He is looking at the bag now. He knows. “Oh, I wanted to give you these. Look what I found beside my little bed.” I put the bag on the ground, unzip it and reach in. One in each hand, I show him. A hammer in one hand, I show him. A sharpened piece of wooden broom handle in the other, I show him. I hold them out to him. “Is this why I would be pissed at you? You think?”

“Dammit Nixie!”

I thrust them out to him. “What are these? What are these?

He turns away. He can’t look at me, but I am trembling now. I can’t stop myself or what I feel. “What is this?” I shake them at him. I stamp my feet. I know I’m ruining everything, and I can’t help it. I love him so terribly I want to bite his nose. “Is it a sexy new game you want to play? You can dress up and be the fearless Mr. Van Helsing, jah? And I will be sexy little Miss Lucy, in my nightgown in my toy coffin, and you will climb in with the hammer and the stake, yes? - and we will play and do the rinky-tink together and have some fun, jah? Would you like to maybe do that now? Now is a good time. Let’s play Van Helsing – “

“Shut up! Shut up!”

Now he is almost crying and I am almost crying too. I shake them at him, screaming “What were you thinking?” I hate this, to be cruel to him. I try to calm myself and remember what it really means, finding there the hammer and the stake discarded beside my bed. “You couldn’t do it, could you?”

“I couldn’t do it. God help me, I couldn’t do it.”

I hate myself for doing this, but this is the road I must lead him down, until he is tame again. “Why?” Softly I speak, because I would be his lover again and he is almost mine. “Why not?”

He shakes his head.

“I want to hear it. Please say it. Say for it for me, please. Why couldn’t you kill me in my sleep?”

“Because I couldn’t. I love you. God forgive me.”

“Why God forgive you? What’s wrong with being in love with me?”

Nordchen, I love you with all my soul and I always will. But. But, you need. . . That is. Somebody needs to . . . You need to be put down.”

So there it is. There’s the dynamic. Each one in this relationship has a hold over the other. Each is deadly in their element. Each is vulnerable out of their element. At night, if you’re Daniel and she takes a notion to kill you, she’s going to haul off and kill you and there’s not a damn thing you can do that would stop her. She’s been killing people for a hundred years and she’s good at it. You will die at her leisure. But in the daytime, she is helpless. At your mercy. She sleeps in the same room as you and she has placed herself willingly in your hands. No secret vault. No locked coffin. No gimmicks. You’re her lover, her man, she trusts you to behave yourself in the day as you trust her with your life at night. Its not the fearless vampire hunters who could kill her, she knows how to handle them. She’ll see them coming before they see her. Its you who could kill her. Lovers are supposed to trust each other, but this is trust on a special level. She trusts you with her life in the day. You trust her with your life in the night.

It's not so obvious in the stories, but when Daniel has sex with Nixie, his semen has an unusual composition that replaces the need for blood. I made this part of the deal in order to set up a moral dilemma. This always seemed like an intriguing sexual fantasy to me, one that was never explored by other writers. What if you were a man with unique semen that could replace a lady vampire’s need to steal blood from the living? Maybe a small harem of lady vampires? Oh, baby. For a lady vampire who doesn’t want to kill, this could be very liberating. So as long as she’s keeping you happy and keeping you coming, she doesn’t need to hunt. This is the unspoken theme under the surface of the story “Singing In The Dark”, in which Nixie struggles with her urge to attack a man in a rail yard at night. Daniel’s been fucking her regularly for a year and keeping her off the streets, so the practical need for blood isn’t the problem. But what Nixie has discovered is that she is addicted, beyond blood, to the need to kill. For its own sake.

A vampire is a serial killer with style. Nixie is a specific creature, she has a specific nature that goes with being that creature. What she discovers about herself is that she is addicted to the act itself of killing prey. She needs to roam the night and hunt and experience death because this is who she is and who she must be. Daniel’s semen has replaced her need for blood, but not her bloodlust.

Now this is a moral problem for Daniel, when he realizes this is her nature and she can’t change it. That makes him morally responsible. If your lover, the passionate love of your life, is sneaking out at night and killing people, shouldn’t you turn her in? Or “put her down” as he says. Even if the wolf loves you, don’t you have an obligation to your fellow sheep to deliver them from her? But the wolf loves you. Trusts you with her life. What are your moral responsibilities when she comes home one night covered with blood and tells you its pigs blood? You want to believe her, but isn’t that blood on your hands also? For some reason this never seems to come up much in vampire romances. You're harboring a skilled serial killer who is perfectly capable of turning on you. And you know it. You're responsible for keeping her in business. Wouldn't that be a problem? It'd scare shit out of me.

Its hard for Nixie too, because the fact is loving one goat very much makes you not want to kill goats. Part of her wants to kill people, but now a new part of her doesn’t. So she’s in great turmoil over what has become a dual nature. This is why she says to the reader in Lady and the Unicorn, that for one of her kind to fall in love is a disaster, a fatal catastrophe. It is a crippling experience for a predator to fall in love with its prey. This is also why in “Singing in the Dark” she practically slaps the man in the railyard to death as she yells philosophical questions at him, deciding his fate. His fate is in fact her fate, to live or to die based on his proof of innocence.

So this character dynamics business has more than one level. There’s the more obvious “I love you, please don’t kill me.” And then there’s the one under the surface, of a higher or more universal moral question. It can get as twisted as you want to make it.

Somehow the idea of a vampire lover, or any non-human lover is very romantic and erotic. Why? Why is it not in fact a huge pain in the ass? I asked this question to Charlane Harris, author of the hugely popular Sookie Stackhouse novels which became HBO’s “Trueblood” series. She didn’t know. And you’d think she’d know, because this has made her a very rich writer. She doesn’t. I asked Dacre Stoker, author of the international best seller “Dracula: The Undead”. He didn’t know either.

I think this is something hard wired into us as human beings, because its so ancient. In the old stories of Greek mythology the gods and goddesses very often came to earth and took mortal lovers into their beds, and when they wouldn’t cooperate they just raped them, resulting in semi-divine children such as Perseus and Hercules. Jesus Christ no less was the offspring of a mysterious relationship between God almighty and the otherwise Virgin Mary. In 1978 in the movies Superman flew with Lois Lane above the clouds and set women’s hearts a flutter all around the world. Nobody seems to be able to explain it, but it’s a part of being human somehow. To be chosen from the common herd of goats by the gods or the supernatural sets you apart, it means you must be somebody special.

Everyone wants to be special.

Especially if the gods and goddesses like to eat goats.


  1. I am not a reader of vampire novels, but you certainly have thought this relationship through. And yes, there does seem to be in us a need to be special, a need to be chosen. I have no explanation either.

  2. Garce - very nice post.

    My theory on vamp lovin' is that it's a paradigm shift of the danger of sex. Up until very recently, and in many places still on earth, 30% of women died in childbirth. That makes sex a super high stakes proposition for women. A vampire can't get a lover pregnant, so a woman's free to enjoy sex, but there's another potential price to be paid. There are many women who find the challenge to be that special goat, er, one for an emotionally distant man a huge turn-on. I suspect they are the vamp fans.

  3. "Meyer’s vampires sparkle charmingly in sunlight, and pose and sulk like unemployed Abercrombie and Fitch models."

    I loved that. Very funny, very true.

    And I think the appeal of having a supernatural lover is that it makes the mortal feel powerful. Really, you're sleeping with someone who could snap your neck in two without another thought--someone who's used to doing that--but you, a simple little mortal, are making them think twice. They hold incredible physical power over you, but you hold extreme mental power over them. It's like being a lion tamer. Knowing you hold (almost) total control over that wild animal would be such a rush.

  4. Garce,

    You offer some good suggestions, and there have been some pertinent comments already made on the subject.

    Personally, I think the reason why paranormal lovers embody romance and eroticism is because they're representative of the exotic.



  5. Hi CD Echo

    Yeah, I wish there was an explantion so I could make it work. Oh well. Thanks for reading my stuff!


  6. Hi Kathleen

    This is interesting, I;ve never heard before of women being attracted to emotionally distant men. I would have thought the opposite, unless this goes with what Lisabet said about "dark poets" types. Is this true? I wonder how that works . . .


  7. Hi Heather

    Now you said something interesting here about lion tamers. I hadn;t thought of it till you mentioned it, but yes, there is something very sexy about large animal taming. And its not just the danger, its something about the dominance over a dangerous creature. That's interesting.


  8. Hi Ash

    I think vampires represent something more than exotic, something unobtainable. One of the earliest vampire stories is "Carmilla" which it turns out is a lesbian vampire story, and this was well before Bram Stoker.

    Also in Japan there are vampire stories, including a famous one called "Woman of the Snow" where the young man marries the vampire without knowing it.

    That interview, that's probably going to be the most spazzed out looking interview you've ever seen. If you need to go over it with me and make any changes let me know. I'm okay with that.


  9. Hey Garce,

    Your analysis of vampire rules of engagement is fascinating and right on. I'm reading Ash's vampire story right now, and find that the thing about garlic is totally a myth in his world.

    Nixie and Daniel have more than "dynamics". They have a moral dilemma, on both sides. This certainly sets them apart from most vampire romance characters, where morality hardly ever rears its nasty little head.

    Why is the notion of having a vampire lover sexy? There are many levels; I think the explanations offered above are all part of the appeal. In addition, I think that the concept of surrender plays a role, surrender to overwhelming power and to ecstasy. Almost everyone who describes being fed upon agrees that after the initial struggle, the experience might be painful but it's also joyful, a kind of release. Sort of like going into sub-space ;^)

    And yes, my comments about the "dark poet" type a few weeks ago is along the same lines as Kathleen's comments. Why did so many women swoon over Spock? They wanted to be the one to touch his heart.

    Excellent post!


  10. Garce,

    Unreal that Carmilla should be about lesbian vampires. Stoker followed up Dracula with Lair of the White Worm, which can be read to have obvious sapphic overtones.

    I'd still argue that this makes the paranormal exotic because it's a such an intriguing blend of the known and the unknown. However, if I continue with this argument, I'm going to end up reading Jacques Lacan again, trying to get my head around the complexities of 'differance.'

    I'm delighted with the interview and can't see anything I'd want to change. It's intelligent, insightful and 100% you. Thank you.



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