Combining Mythology and Imagination to make Vampires.
This post was originally featured at Pulling Teeth with author Alan Ryker. He asked me to talk about the ways we authors try and create something new in a flooded market filled with vampire stories. With the third installment of the Immortalis series nearing publication, I thought I'd re-post this for the new readers, to give you a little background on how I created the vampires in this world.
Vampires have been legend since the dawn of time. Stories and myths can be found in the most ancient of civilizations. They have proven time and time again that they a have sticking power. They go through cycles of hot and cold but over the centuries, they’ve never gone away.
I think one of the things that keeps the vampire genre so popular, is the fact that they grow with the times. The vampire is so versatile. They can be both good and evil and on many occasions, some shade of grey in-between. They can be a sexy heartthrob or a ghoulish monster. It all depends on what the author decides to do with them.
Of course, with the recent surge in vampire popularity, it’s not enough to just write a vampire story. You have to give a little oomph to it. Lots of people make fun of the “sparkly vampires in Twilight. Like them or not, they’re a perfect example of this concept. Mrs. Meyers did something different. She took an old idea and added a fresh twist, something no one had seen before. And for her, it worked!
Point being, the market is hugely competitive at the moment; so, to stand out, you have to have something to give your audience that they might not get with another story. And that was what I tried to do in my own subtle way.
To do this, I needed to take a step back and look at some of the origins of vampires. Look at the legends that have already been used and see if I could come up with something a little different.
The word “vampire” is a relatively new term (circa 1800’s), the idea of bloodsucking undead has been around since the dawn of time. Some legends state that simply being buried improperly can cause a human to reanimate as a vampire, Slavic legends for example. Other legends stat that one must have committed a heinous crime to become the undead. There are other legends about animals jumping over a corpse. Some popular ideas that have been adapted to fiction, have vampires as the children of Cain or Lilith. Still more involve demonic spirits and possessions. If we seek far back into mythology you’ll find the Greeks and Romans believed in demonic spirits themselves and in many ways they were the prototype of the common vampire of today.
That hooked me! I love ancient mythology and happened across some very interesting similarities between creatures of the ancient Greek world and the vampires I wanted to create. The Keres, in fact were dead ringers for what I had in mind. Daughters of Nyx, goddess of the night, these creatures are described as winged female death spirits with an insatiable lust for human blood. Perfect!
According to my research they were also one of the evils released when Pandora opened the fabled box. While they sound fearsome and probably would be, they weren’t exactly evil. They existed in a murky gray area of morality. They survived off of blood and they had to get it from somewhere. They were agents of the fates, also known as Death Fates. They did not attack people openly or without reason. They did however; hang around battles waiting for someone to fall. That’s when they swarmed, finishing the poor dying man off, savoring their blood as they sent his soul to Hades. They essentially sped a person’s fate on to its course. If you were going to die, they’d be there to do it and drink your blood at the same time.
I fell in love, not literally of course, with the creature and knew I just had to base my vampire legend off of them somehow. So I created a union between human and Keres. The child from that union was the first vampire in history (in the Immortalis world).
Once I had a basis, a history for my vampires, I continued to flesh out what I thought those creatures should be like. They’re cursed beings, part demigod (at least in the Immortalis world) and part human, but belonging to neither world entirely. That brought up so many questions that would need answers. The answers of course, helped to shape the story.
What is blood lust like? The simple answer is, it’s a basic need like hunger or thirst, but because these creatures are different from humans, it needed to be taken to a different level. For that, I explored addiction and how addicts “need” their fix. Combining the two gave me a way to explain how important the blood was and how it would feel to need it.
What happens when the vampires are exposed to sunlight? In my vampire mythology, I use Nyx (goddess of the night) as a parental figure to my new creatures. She curses them to avoid light so she could always watch over them. That gave me a new angle to work with. Instead of it being simply deadly, it is more unpleasant. My vampires lack the melanin in their skin and eyes to protect them from the sun. This makes them extremely photosensitive. Rather than bursting into flames, the sun acts as more of a painful reminder of the curse. They are light-blinded and their skin begins to sunburn immediately.
Another question I wanted to challenge with my new take was the age old fear of holy relics. Since my vampires are not based in Christian mythology, these things would have no effect on them.
As I came up with the answers to the standard vampire tropes I saw a story forming around them. What would it be like to go from human to vampire? Most books gloss over the actual transition from human to vampire, but I wanted to really focus on that change. I wanted to try and depict the actual hardship involved in the transition. And that is where Immortalis was born. Through this series, you get a firsthand account of what it’s like for a normal human being to change and learn to adapt to this new way of life.