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Why Does the South Inspire Vampire Writers?

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I’m at the World Horror Conference 2015. Tonight I was on a discussion panel, the topic Weird South: I Will Never Go Hungry Again: Why are So Many Contemporary Vampire Novels Set in the South?

Good Question!

My fellow panelists were:

Charlaine Harris, a native Southerner and author of the Sookie Stackhouse vampire series on which the TV hit True Blood was based. Her latest novel is Dayshift, the second in her new Midnight Texas series.

Dacre Stoker, co-author of Dracula, the Un-dead (a sequel to Dracula , written by his great-grand uncle, Bram Stoker) and co-author of an England/Romania travel guide. A Southerner by marriage, his wife is from Charleston, South Carolina.

Carl Alves, author of Blood Street, a vampire mobster blood feud novel set in Philadelphia.

Jess Peacock, author of Such a Dark Thing, a theology of the vampire narrative in popular culture.

Andrew Greenberg, one of White Wolf’s original game developers on Vampire: The Masquerade — and a Southerner.

And me! Author of Bloodroom and The Bad Death, vampire novels set in South Carolina — and a damned yankee (a yankee who stayed, since I was 11 years old).

Ok, what is it about the South that inspires vampire writers? Charlaine Harris pointed out that the South is often economically depressed; really chronically depressed, and that people in peril develop rich, supernatural beliefs to explain the unpredictability of the human experience. (Charlaine doesn’t really speak this way; this is me paraphrasing her. She’s much more plain spoken, charming, and funny. When describing Southern traditions, such as “the nice lie”, her turn of phrase made us and the audience laugh out loud.) Dacre Stoker compared Romania to the Southeast US, in that their cultures were infused and enriched by immigrants over the centuries — Romania by Romans, Turks, Romany gypsies, and Europeans; and the South by Scots, Irish, Native Americans, Africans, French, and West Indians — and suggested that the influx of so many different cultures brought a crazy quilt of legends. Andrew Greenberg stressed that the influx of cultures did not make the South a melting pot; rather these cultures, by not blending, created tension that results in legends built (as all good novels are) on conflict and tragedy (and sometimes, though rarely, triumph). Jess Peacock built on this idea, emphasizing the vampire as the Other; an invading entity that is foreign, mysterious, dangerous, and tempting; saying that Southerners’ clannish nature identifies anyone whose great-grandparents weren’t born in the South as a suspicious Other. (I can attest that this is true — after living here for 25 years, they’d still say to me, “You’re not from around here, are you?”) Carl Alves suggested that the Southern personality itself — reckless, passionate, and romantic — embodies the traditional vampire mystique. He invited us to imagine Bram Stoker’s Dracula coming of age and being turned into a vampire in urban London instead of isolated, exotic Romania (Transylvania). It would have been a completely different novel! I suggested that the vampire’s obsession with his (or her) prey — that hypnotic, relentless, possessive hunger — mirrored the South’s climate and nature, its vibe. There is something about the South that gets inside you, clings and holds you, just as the Kudzu vine grows until it completely covers the building in its clutches, pulling it to the ground in the span of a few years. I have found that the South, though maddening in many ways, has wound itself around my heart. I will probably never move away. Like a vampire, the South is beguiling, entrancing, and seductive. There are logical reasons to run from a vampire, but logic can’t hold out against his allure.

Why do you think the South is so inspiring to vampire writers?


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