Vampires, the Making of a Monster

Vampires, the Making of a Monster
 A guest post by Alan Ryker.

Not long ago, Katie and I and some other writers had a twitter conversation about different ways to hurt a vampire. Obviously sunlight. Probably a stake through the heart. But what about garlic, silver and crucifixes? The mythos of the vampire is huge. It's so big that when you decide to write about vampires, you need to select your own rule set. Can your vampires enter a home uninvited? Can they cross running water?

Some of these questions can be answered by looking at how powerful your vampires will be. The more powerful a character, the larger the weaknesses a writer should consider giving them to keep them from being overpowering (unless that's the intention). Superman has kryptonite. Batman doesn't need a version of kryptonite because knives and bullets are the equivalent for him.

Another factor is the origin of the monster. Many vampires have an origin based in religion. Vampires who are demonic or have otherwise turned their backs on the Christian God probably have an aversion to crucifixes. If your first vampire was Judas, then there's a good reason for silver to burn his offspring.

What all this highlights is the flexibility of the concept of the vampire, and I think I tested that flexibility almost to the breaking point. In Burden Kansas, vampires aren't magical. That's a rarity. Except for the antagonist, my vampires have more in common with the chupacabra than Dracula. For one thing, they're moving north out of Mexico. But also like the chupacabra they're dumb, they're not super strong, and they prefer livestock to human prey. They're afraid of people and each other, so my challenge wasn't to give them weaknesses, but to figure out how to get an antagonist out of their ranks that could stand toe-to-toe with my protagonist, a hardass old rancher named Keith Harris.

To do that, I took a page from Anne Rice and made vampire blood more potent than human blood, the difference being that it doesn't matter if the vampire being drained is older and more powerful or not. That's why my vampires naturally fear each other. That's why they carve out territories instead of working together. But the combination of vampire blood and a little–okay a lot of meth creates a new breed of vampires who are intelligent, powerful, and capable of tearing one small community apart.

I found that for my small-scale vampire invasion, I didn't need much of the mythos. In Burden Kansas, vampirism spreads when a human is bitten but not killed. Vampires burn in the sun and can be killed by decapitation. The tale is gritty and surprisingly realistic, so my vampires are toned down. But that's the great thing about the vampire mythos, and one reason why it's so popular: it can be molded to fit the agenda of the author. And while vampires may slip from the mainstream at any point, there's always going to be someone writing a fresh, new take on them.

A question for you, the readers. 

How would you make your vampires? What strengths and weaknesses would you give to them?

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Alan Ryker writes good fight scenes because he practices Muay Thai boxing, though not as often as his coach would like. He lives with his wife in Overland Park, a suburb of Kansas City, where he writes both dark and literary fiction, and tests the boundaries of each. He has previously published short fiction in a number of print anthologies and magazines.

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