The good news about being a professional writer is that all sorts of oddball things become tax deductible: book purchases (market research), movie tickets (review essays), office supplies, the new computer (equipment).
The bad news: I have to read books that I don’t necessarily enjoy, in order to understand what’s going on in the Zeitgeist.
Twilight was one such read. I’ll be frank: my first introduction was a parody, the video mashup Buffy versus Edward. It was November 2009, and me and about 12 of my closest NaNoPosse were at a write-in at the Coffee Gallery in the Open Book literary center. Devin Harnois was laughing over something at halftime and she said, “Hey, you’ve got to see this.”
So I watched the video, which is an inspired masterpiece of remix, throwing into high relief the conflict between two very different notions of gender roles and romance.
And then an on-line buddy said, “You’re writing fantasy and you haven’t read Twilight? You gotta.”
The Zeitgeist had spoken.
I went to my local library and asked for the book. “It’s homework,” I said. “I’m a fantasy writer and I don’t think I’m going to be able to write vampires without knowing this.”
He said, “You’ll need context.”
Unspoken: and some relief from the nonsense. I’d already read Dracula, and some of its contemporary texts, including Carmilla, which interestingly showed up in an anthology of nineteenth-and-twentieth-century literature by and about lesbians. (Big surprise: vampires and other supernatural critters play out contemporary anxieties about sex and sexuality, gender roles, and class.)
Librarians, by the way, are literary superheroes. Did I mention that?
As for Twilight, I’ll be candid: I did not enjoy it.
No, I didn’t enjoy it. Not the zombified pacing, not the weird passivity and banality of the viewpoint character, not the coldness (literal coldness, like ice or marble) of the putative romantic interest, not the dubious relationship dynamics …
… oh yes, and the author never, ever convinced me of the attraction between the two. And it’s sick and twisted, and abusive. This blogger nails why Twilight is dangerous, not just stupid: it’s a handbook for predators.
Then my Brain Sister sent me this article from Bitch Magazine. Halfway through a read-through of the comments, I got the germ of the story that turned into Erika and the Vampire: what does the girl with a crush on a vampire bad boy look like from the point of view of her sensible friend?
I discover that I’m not the only one who’s working this angle. There’s Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sara Rees Brennan. You can read the first chapter here. I laughed all the way through that excerpt and promptly went to pre-order it. (You can expect a review here when I’m done.)
Coincidentally, we’re both issuing our vampire stories in July 2012. Theirs is funny; mine is grim. Both depend upon a seismic shift in the vampire story as a genre, precipitated by Twilight as a mass phenomenon. The Big One might have made a splash, but alongside is riding a whole cohort of paranormal romance tales that conflate folkloric monsters with the brooding-Byronic-bad-boy of category romance.
Twilight has spawned other brainchildren, including the regrettable Fifty Shades of Gray. (We’ll be taking this on in later posts, but for the moment let it be said: I have no objection to erotic writing, but this work is neither erotic nor is it writing. No work that claims to be erotica should use the locution “down there.”)