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Hungry for vampires

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They want your body. Your blood. Your soul. In the meantime, they’ll settle for your time and money. Vampires have risen again — and in astonishing numbers. They haunt bookstores, television, and movies. Why has pop culture thrown open its door and invited them in? ”The traditional vampire story, with monsters and victims, chases and chills, is pure plain fun,” says True Blood‘s executive producer Alan Ball. ”But they can often reveal the general state of the cultural psyche.”

The vampire trope is as old as the dirt in a bloodsucker’s coffin. But the modern mold was created by the now-forgotten John William Polidori, whose 1819 gothic novella The Vampyre concerned a supernatural sexual predator — a withering riff (according to literary legend) on Polidori’s friend, the womanizing poet Lord Byron. Then Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) laid bare the pride, prejudices, and prudishness of Victorian London. Contemporary vampire stories have been more open-minded, often presenting the ghouls as misunderstood misfits. Beginning in the 1980s, the vampire became the symbol of choice for ”issues” — feminism, drug addiction, and AIDS. ”Vampirism basically came out of the closet as metaphor, not particularly for gay sex, but for an act of love that kills,” says author Neil Gaiman.

Vamps are such versatile symbols now that they can express both conservative and liberal views. Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight novels are steeped in her Mormon values. Conversely, True Blood speaks in part for gays and, as Ball puts it, ”eight years of institutionalized demonization of pretty much any group that wasn’t on the bus with Mr. Bush.” And vampires, of course, have always embodied more timeless themes, such as the fear of death, the veneration of youth, and the conflict between faith and reason. Just as Stoker’s Dracula reflected the tensions of a society being transformed by scientific and industrial revolutions, Chuck Hogan, who coauthored The Strain with Guillermo del Toro, believes that our vampire outbreak is symptomatic of similar anxiety: ”A big part of the vampire myth — and maybe why it’s so popular now — is that it’s a counterbalance to the technological wave we’ve been riding. We’ve made so many advances, but there’s that shadow part of the psyche that wants to pull you back and say, ‘Do we really have control of everything?”’

Before we get too philosophical, we should also note that many new vampires are young, male, and smoking hot. Behold the grand new subject of vampire fiction: The Boyfriend. Vampire stories give everyone a glimpse of what women want — a deep romance of the soul. They have always been written mostly for women and, lately, by women. The abundance of them now speaks to how much current pop culture skews female in general. Quips Chris Moore, author of the comic vampire novel You Suck: ”The ultimate in chick lit would be a vampire who’s a shoe whore. It seems like the logical next step.” If that particular fantasy doesn’t work for you, check out the following pages. Pop culture has given all of us a vampire to sink our teeth into.

Stephanie Meyer
Author of the Twilight series

It may come as a surprise to learn that Meyer — reigning queen of pop culture’s vampire coven — has an uneasy relationship with the toothy buggers. Back in 2003, when she was tapping out the first draft of Twilight, she refused to show it to her husband. ”I was embarrassed,” she said. ”It was about vampires.”

In 2007, as Twilight propelled her from a surprise YA best-seller to a multigenerational superstar, she admitted to EW that she had never read Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Reading other people’s vampire stories made her too ”neurotic,” she explained. As a Mormon, Meyer doesn’t watch R-rated movies, so that eliminated a whole other swatch of the canon. (She has seen bits of Interview With the Vampire and The Lost Boys on late-night TV. Her respective reviews: ”Yuck!” and ”Creepy!”)

Before the movie adaptation of Twilight premiered last fall, EW caught up with Meyer on the book tour for her first adult novel, The Host. A well-reviewed sci-fi romance that has been on best-seller lists for nearly 60 weeks, the book offered Meyer a chance to move on from Edward. Her voracious fans weren’t as ready to let go. As they continue to swarm Twilight conventions, and Robert Pattinson is routinely attacked on the street by ponytailed neck nibblers, Meyer has taken a vow of media silence. Last year she told EW that her great wish was to reclaim some time to write something new. ”Look, I’m not just a vampire girl,” she said emphatically. ”I can do other worlds.”

Melissa de la Cruz
Author of the Blue Bloods series

Who’s your favorite vampire that’s not your own?
Anne Rice’s Lestat. He’s Socratic and flawed and sexy — and evil, but in a really good way.

What’s unique about your vision of vampires?
I wanted to have a little bit of a creation myth, explain how they came to be, so my big twist is that vampires are fallen angels. They’re cast out of heaven with Lucifer, and that’s how they were cursed to become vampires. And they’ve been trying to gain redemption by being good, so I have good vampires and bad vampires. I also wanted to tie the mythology into American history, so I have vampires come over on the Mayflower.

What are your thoughts on the Twilight phenomenon?
Her book came out a year before mine. I was worried. But it did so well, it lifted all the vampire and paranormal genres. So thank God for Twilight! I finally actually read the book. Her vamps and her mythology are so different from mine that I never should have been worried.

Who’s the scariest vampire in film or literature?
Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot just scared the s— out of me. It was really real. King’s vampires are not sexy or fabulous or attractive; they’re horrible, evil creatures. I don’t write that much horror. People tell me my books are scary, but they’re not really; I don’t go there.

Why do people find vampires so appealing?
They have something we don’t have: immortality. But because they’re immortal, they’re cursed. We all want to live forever, but we don’t want to suck blood to do it, right? I think people like to have these deep moral questions that don’t come up in real life.

Are vampires a metaphor for anything?
I always thought of vampires, especially the young-adult ones, as a metaphor for sex — sucking blood, forbidden, taboo. I think they just ooze sex. Vampires are all the big themes in life in one attractive, bloodsucking package.

NEXT: Talking with the authors of Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter and the Sookie Stackhouse series