Oct 24 2008 5:46pm

O Demon Lover! Why the Vampire Romance is Taking Over Your Grocery Market Shelf

O demon lover! O gentle demon lover!
Nature’s soft nurse, how I have frighted thee.1

The demon lover has come a long way since he was thrown off limits to innocent young gals by polite society. He’s been, shall we say, demonized through the ages by both religion and historical ballads, which still resurface even beyond the 18th century—Bob Dylan resurrected the morality tale of “The Daemon Lover” through the lyrics of House Carpenter. But despite all that, the “other” lover—the one whom society disapproves of; the mysterious shadow in the corner, endowed with a dark past—is making quite good sales these days as the sub-genre of paranormal romance explodes across your local grocery store rack.

Even before paranormal romance was making a killing in book sales, the theme of the demon lover was returning with a vengeance across science fiction and fantasy. These weren’t the highly successful vampires of Anne Rice, tortured and elegant souls living across the tormented centuries of drama and emo vamping. They were the vampires of Anne Rice supercharged with sexual context. Think Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter and the main character’s relationship with Jean-Claude, a 400-year old vampire. While undoubtedly successful, the audiences for Anita Blake and similar series did not reach out across an audience of millions.

No. That honor definitely goes to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which through humorous and unremitting pastiche, yet serious character relationships, yielded the best arena to field the vampire lover to the fans of one of the most successful television series. For many, the tension-filled relationship between Buffy and the vampire Angel, fraught with disapproval, contradictions, and literal moral consequences, became the epitome of vampire romance. And those years in the 90s hailed the true birth of the modern demon lover—the vampiric lover. And yes, to be politically correct, also the lycanthorpically challenged, but while is well-established, I don’t see anywhere.

(I sense domain sitting in 5, 4, 3...)

Some of us may be wondering: What’s up with this? Haven’t we gotten over the bad boy rhetoric already?

I come not, friends, to steal away your demon lover.2

Where romance is concerned, the traditional bad boy is truly out of popular fashion, and has been for a while now. The evil, experienced, risque lover is bad for your health, while the nice guy actually cares about you. And since abuse and murder are not the ingredients for a healthy relationship, the nice guy wins in the end (even tragedies prove that the Nice Guy was the Right Choice).

The vampire lover, on the other hand...if timed right, you can have your cake and eat it, too. You can have both adventure and the Right Choice. Generally, these days vampire romances turn out well, unlike the tales of yore.

The best vampire candidates for love have the following:

Centuries of experience

New vampires tend to be out of control and stupid, like the human bad boy, by around page 176. Their urges are out of line with their restraint. But centuries of living in vampire society, often portrayed as actively predatory amongst itself with power plays that end in servitude and/or permanent death, tends to whittle down the herd after the first couple centuries. It’s possible to remain both shallow and stupid after 500 years, but it’s also highly unlikely.

Plus, centuries in a hierarchical, aristocratic, and above all deadly society tends to teach older vampires manners, persuasion, and suavity. You don’t get this out of your stereotypical nice guy. Or your bad boy.

Do not take after Nosefuratu

Nosefuratu and/or his line: ugly vulture-like wrinkled bastards. Kind of like Alan Greenspan in the aughts.

The best vampire lovers are in their 20s to 30s forever. We shouldn’t be swayed by looks and skin quality. And yet we are. More importantly, this characteristic gets over age discrimination and lets us block out “centuries old” from the equation.

Tempted by redemption that may destroy him

And that’s where the vampire lover really wins. To flirt with him is already risking death, because, well, he’s a vampire. But it’s not assured destruction (and, hey, it’s supernatural and thus ultimately cool, and he’s a vampire).

And yes, the darkness in him because he is a vampire also encompasses that ever important provocation of the desire to turn him to the good, which also applies to human bad boys. This, in novels and in real life, is often a deadly trap. However, the story of the vampire is—thanks to Anne Rice—threaded with the theme of regret and redemption. There’s no guarantees, but he’s had some centuries to think it over. He usually regrets the terrible things he’s done. He knows that redemption may kill him (either the act itself, or the other vampires if they find out, or both, or something). He’s actively seeking it.

This is not just the desire to help him. Turning to good, for a vampire, is a decision more involved than commitment. In a way, it’s the ultimate commitment. Now that’s just downright attractive.

As an extra, usually the woman needs to kick butt to help him achieve this. And it’s righteous butt-kicking. You aren’t waiting around for the nice guy to rescue you from your wicked mistakes. You’re helping a nice guy in a bad guy position, and you must overcome boundaries above and beyond the norm. (And sometimes not. That’s why Twilight gets panned as badly as it does among experienced romance readers: it’s more in the traditional bad boy mode than not, except that there is no nice guy. Not even inside the bad boy.)

And that’s why the paranormal romance, often replete with vampires, is taking over your grocery rack.

But that does leave some questions. Or rather, a few variations on the same question.

She’s beautiful and therefore to be wooed;
She is a demon lover, therefore to be won.3

You might wonder: what about vampire romances for lesbians? Or gay men? Or transsexuals? Or, omg, straight guys?

There’s not much, if any, in the world of vampire romance for GLBT. Then again, there’s less in the world of romance for GLBT in general, at least in the West (over in the East, you’ve got your Yaoi and your Yuri manga). This makes me very sad. On the other hand, it’s a wide open narrative door, if you could ever get someone to publish you.

Tackling the straight guys: it’s said that guys don’t read romance, but adventure. And also that they don’t play with dolls (just G.I. Joes). Yet the vampire romance can offer much in the way of adventure—but for some reason the redemption curve doesn’t seem to hit female vampires. Perhaps it’s the nature of adventure, but I’m afraid guys still get stuck with the dichotomy of the dark, evil temptress and the pure, good girl. And vampiric women solidly get tossed into the first category.

It’s a double-standard! No cake and eating-it-too for you guys! And that’s another wide open narrative door that shouldn’t stay open.

I’m sure it’ll happen some day. Or at least that I have managed to induce a new kind of manuscript meme torture for editors and agents everywhere.

Thus the whirligig of time brings in his demon lover.4

With many apologies to Shakespeare, and possibly not enough:

1 King Henry IV part II, III.i
2 Julius Caesar, III.ii
3 Henry VI part I, V.iii
4 Twelfth Night, V.i -- and yes, “whirligig” is actually part of the original quote.

A Note

Elsewheres on I said that I hated vampires. This is mostly because I ODed on them. You can probably tell.

[Images of vampire with candle by DerrickT and vampire with car by Joe Shlabotnik, CC-licensed for commercial use.]

Jordan Summers
1. Jordan Summers
Actually, a lot of erotic epublishers like Loose Id, Ellora's Cave, Changeling, and Samhain put out gay vampire/paranormal romances. Loose Id and Changeling have been publishing them for a few years now. EC and Samhain have for the last couple of years, so it's out there. The publishers say straight women are the biggest consumers of those genres.
Arachne Jericho
2. arachnejericho
Thanks for the correction, Jordan.

I'm not surprised about the straight women/biggest consumers trend. Similar patterns occur in manga.
Jordan Summers
3. joelfinkle
Actually, I find the Buffy/Spike romance to be more of the seriously twisted than the Buffy/Angel stuff -- Angel never was really bad... leading to this conversation, during Buffy's inconvenient bout of invisibility:

Xander: Exercising? Naked? In bed?
Spike: A man shouldn't use immortality as an excuse to let himself go ...
Arachne Jericho
4. arachnejericho
joelfinkle, yes, Buffy/Spike is way more twisted. But Buffy/Angel is, how you say, more romantic but still tense and with a slight edge to it---and I think Buffy/Angel is more the spiritual template of most vampire romances than Buffy/Spike. Although you do see Buffy/Spike around and abouts. It's a tougher and longer course towards redemption.

Plus Angel lost his soul for one night of passion. That was a nasty turn, like the guy you loved turning around and beating you. An extremely, extremely nasty turn.
Blue Tyson
5. BlueTyson
Dark, evil, temptresses? Not necessarily.

Vampirella has been around for a long, long, time.

Lis Riba
6. lisriba
I think you may be slighting the B in GLBT.

Although the primary protagonist in Tanya Huff's series is female, the vampire Henry Fitzroy character is attracted to both men and women. And Henry does establish an ongoing relationship with a street kid named Tony.

And even the Buffyverse has teased the slashers with innuendo between Spike and Angel.
Arachne Jericho
7. arachnejericho

Ah, Vampirella. You know, I tend to edit her out because she wears practically no clothing, but that's not being very fair of me, is it?

Which brings a question to me: is there romance or just adventure? Because if she's basically Lara Croft (a standin for the guy who also happens to simply look hot) then I don't think she quite fits in with what I'm thinking of here. Are there Vampirella novels that guys would read and involve romance?


I don't mean to disrespect GLBT vampire love stories, only to wonder where they are---and obviously I haven't read Tanya Huff. I do wish I had now, before I OD'd on bloodsuckers in general. I myself lean on a "B".

Today I also stumbled across a definite "G"---I didn't know that Poppy Z. Brite had a vampire horror series that involved an openly gay relationship between two vampires (and apparently there's definitely an equal weight on the horror and love story).
Arachne Jericho
8. arachnejericho

Addendum about Angel/Spike baiting: I never know what to think about producers anymore with respect to such things. They *enjoy* toying around with the slashers. Angel/Spike, House/Wilson, and even Holmes/Watson if you listen to the Bert Coules radio show ("The Devil's Foot" was an out and out tease, rather more extreme than I've seen in any TV show, and that's something).

And in the end it's just a tease.

Now, I'm all for creators being as cruel as they want to be, because it's fun and I'd do the exact same thing if I were in their position, but it makes me wonder whether to regard such as canon or simply Meta Teasation.
Blue Tyson
9. BlueTyson

No, it isn't being fair. Particularly if you aren't going to criticise the sort of stuff from #1, which is mostly about no clothes.

For example, there's a lot less clothes on this cover than Vampirella wears :-

Isn't it also sexist to suggest that female adventurers not interested in swooning over the pale-skinned (or whoever) are male? Doesn't that suggest that women are too wussy for that role, in that case? Women must act in a certain way to be accepted as female?

Involve romance yes, not are romances in the sense of books with no plot only about that.

There's certainly an ongoing romantic relationship between Adam Van Helsing and Vampirella in the books.

The same thing goes for Sonja Blue - has a boyfriend, too, in those stories. However, she deliberately sets out, geared up to slaughter monsters - that makes her a man?
Blue Tyson
10. BlueTyson
As far as bi vampire 'romance' goes, Anne Rice would be pretty obvious?

As far as Tanya Huff goes, Vicki Nelson is also someone you'd be categorising as 'male'? A pretty typical monster hunter type, where the case is the thing - although I haven't read all of them.
Jordan Summers
11. Georgiana
I'm confused by your comments about Twilight. Now this may be because I'm not an experienced enough romance reader - I've only been reading romances since 1976.

What exactly makes Edward a bad boy? I can't see that he qualifies as a traditional bad boy in the rake sense or the classic vampire sense.

Points against him being bad are 1) he's a virgin. 2) He never pressures Bella for either sex or blood, in fact he is the one who is always telling her no. 3) He treats Bella carefully, both physically and emotionally, as best as he can, given that she's a different species and weirdly fragile, not to mention his perfect prey. 4) He is (mostly) able to resist her despite the perfect prey thing, which much take tremendous strength of character. 5) He doesn't drink human blood. I don't think that he ever has, in his century long existence.

Yeah, he ditches school, has a nice car and likes to drive fast but if that's all it takes to be a bad boy then qualify as a bad boy myself...
Arachne Jericho
12. arachnejericho
@ BlueTyson #9

Yes, but not all romance books are like that. Whereas all Vampirella graphic novels that I know of are like that. So I truly was wondering if there were Vampirella novels out there.

And if not Vampirella, if there were some other vampire adventures/romances where the gal was the unearthly, mysterious lover and the guy the human who finds her fascinating and helps her out.

Isn't it also sexist to suggest that female adventurers not interested in swooning over the pale-skinned (or whoever) are male?

I don't see where I suggested that, especially since I mentioned some women kick-butting precisely because of their pale, beautiful, vampiric lovers. And as far as I know, a lot of male adventurers kick-butt because of their beautiful lovers, too.

@BlueTyson #10

As far as bi vampire 'romance' goes, Anne Rice would be pretty obvious?

Anne Rice is very obviously so, and some would say she introduced the bisexual aspects of vampirism to fiction.

As far as Tanya Huff goes, Vicki Nelson is also someone you'd be categorising as 'male'?

Nope, since she's female. And I'm not being sexist by saying that, I'm pretty sure.
Arachne Jericho
13. arachnejericho
@Georgiana #11

That's not my definition of bad boy (the fast cars etc).

My definition of bad boy depends on stalking and control. Edward stalks and controls Bella---as far as he's concerned, she's his (except when she isn't). He sits in her bedroom while she's sleeping, when she doesn't know he's there. He keeps an eye on her at all times (except when he's feeling mopey). He spies on her. He has an emo kind of passive-aggressiveness that can turn into aggression.

That is the wrong kind of guy to be with.

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books sums it up far better than I could. Edit: And here is the link.
Blue Tyson
14. BlueTyson

Yes, there are Vampirella books, I mentioned that in the last post more than once. There are 6 of them, in fact.

You said that Lara Croft is 'just a guy' explicitly? So why, because she is an action hero? Because she doesn't act 'female'?

Not just the absurd video game version. There are comics, movies, and yes, novels here too. Some of which were written by Mike Resnick, James Alan Gardner and E. E. Knight.

Obviously Vicki Nelson is female, but so is Lara Croft? That is the point. The former follows the standard occult detective pattern, the latter, the pulp adventurer.
Arachne Jericho
15. arachnejericho
@BlueTyson #14

Yes, there are Vampirella books, I mentioned that in the last post more than once. There are 6 of them, in fact.

Thanks for the reminder. (And I do not mean that sarcastically.)

You said that Lara Croft is 'just a guy' explicitly? So why, because she is an action hero? Because she doesn't act 'female'?

Oh, I see. Let me be clearer, then: Lara Croft began life as a video game character, a third-person adventure game. As a result, for a long time she was the substitute for the player---and that included men and women. But there are certain cheat codes you can execute in the games so that Lara Croft will wander around naked.

Not saying that there are things wrong about running through a tomb naked, or that there are women who aren't attracted to such things, but Lara Croft is not just aimed at guys, they get to manipulate her. It is, in a way, a strange sort of porn.

That's very meta, but that was the origin of the character---and as far as I know, those cheat codes existed in every Lara Croft game.

If the novels and comics have changed her and expanded on her, so that the video game subtext is no longer applicable, that's cool with me. I just remember watching the movie and thinking, gods, it's the video game all over again, please just shoot me.
Blue Tyson
16. BlueTyson
Ok, thanks. I am aware of the video game, of course, but have never played it, so didn't know that. Not a video gamer as such for quite a while.

Obviously lots of us wouldn't have been upset if they disrobed Ms Jolie in the movie. However :-

Objectification doesn't equal sex transfer, though, to me. The Ellora's Cave books mentioned above aren't just a strange sort of porn, they are porn.
Arachne Jericho
17. arachnejericho
Actually, hmmm, apparently that cheat code was actually a trap in the earlier games. It just explodes her---well. If the guy is supposedly to mentally be Lara Croft for game purposes, then I guess that works, although I wonder why it could just be that *nothing happens* or she gives you the finger, rather than dying in messy ways.

Although the Anniversary edition allows for hijinks, you'd need to actually implement those yourself (of course, the patches exist).

Quote from guys who've played both the "innocent" and the, ah, risque patched Anniversary: "And yes, they bounce." Sometimes they'd have her jump around extraneously for "the bounce." Perhaps it's a bit harsh of me, but I thought that was rather crude.

I'm not sure what to think about all that.

Objectification doesn't equal sex transfer, though, to me. The Ellora's Cave books mentioned above aren't just a strange sort of porn, they are porn.

Yes, some romance books are porn. Some are softcore, some are rather hardcore. But most romance books, believe it or not, are neither soft- nor hard-core porn. There are quite a lot of non-porn ones, actually; romance covers everything from bodice-rippers to chaste Twilight to a series of rich tycoons falling in love with women (and so far it remains at the, ah, PG-13 level) to Jane Austen's Price and Prejudice.

Sometimes it's all about the courtship, sometimes it's all about the sex, and usually it's somewhere inbetween.
Jordan Summers
18. Georgiana
arachne @ 13 - that's an interesting take but I never found myself nodding my head in agreement. I felt more like the author of the piece you linked me to read a different draft than I did.

I haven't read Midnight Sun, and won't be reading it since it's a fragment of a first draft that was released behind the author's back, so I can't say how much it influenced the interpretation I just read. I don't remember Edward spying on Bella in Twilight, but it's been a couple of years since I read it. Maybe I've forgotten.

I think a lot of adults have a visceral aversion to the books because of the addiction Bella has for Edward and the bizarre lengths she goes to for him. I can imagine any mother reading Bella's description of how she planned the meeting in the woods so that if Edward kills her he's not going to look like a suspect and worrying about what her daughter will take away from the book.

I went to a panel a couple of years ago about timid YA heroines and I said that I think the appeal of characters like Bella might have something to do with the reader feeling superior to the character. Sure, maybe I flunked my algebra today but at least I'm not such an idiot that I'm planning to meet a monster in the woods and get eaten. Maybe I broke up with my sweetie and I feel awful but I'm still functioning. I haven't collapsed in the woods and I'm not going to spend the next few months practically in a coma...

It's possible that I'm just not able to see Edward clearly because I'm so weirded out by Bella's complete lack of self esteem and other issues.

Incidentally, my favorite character from the series is Jacob, the werewolf. He's very young for his age but he struck me as more together than just about anyone else in the books.
Blue Tyson
19. BlueTyson
Video game death, as far as I can remember gets ever more 'splosive and graphic. Probably still does.

Ok, well here's some old school Vampirella - which I am not sure if you have ever seen, of course :-

Arachne Jericho
20. arachnejericho
@Georgiana #18 -

I think that Bella's placidity is part of her attraction to many, too. She's so very placid and esteem-less that you could be anybody and still identify with her and enjoy the fantasy world for whatever it is (it is fantasy anyways, and not reality). It might even go beyond identification and into self-insertion.

I do agree that Jacob had it far more together than Edward. Although Jacob had his bad moments too (breaking Bella's hand. Sigh...).

@BlueTyson #19

Video game death is rather graphic these days. Still though.

I've only ever seen the color comics for Vampirella. The ones you show remind me of something (I mean, something other than Vampirella), but I can't recall what it is.
Blue Tyson
21. BlueTyson
Yep, well I dunno either, although the last one could come from Modesty Blaise, if it was the right strip panel format.

The old Vampirella is far superior, at least as far as artwork goes, anyway.

Jordan Summers
23. j h woodyatt
I hate vampires too, but I'm not generally opposed to the "demonic lover" device. I suspect there are good stories to be told for straight guys that involve the demonic lover device, but I have a hard time plugging the vampire mythology into that jack. Fortunately, there are plenty of alternatives to consider. I'll have to think.
Debbie Moorhouse
24. GUDsqrl
I doubt it'll happen over here, but at least vampires would be a change from abuse porn.
Kevin Riggle
25. kevinr
lisriba @6: Also Elizabeth Bear's excellent New Amsterdam, which has a (male!) bisexual vampire protagonist. Though I guess it's not really a "vampire romance" in the traditional sense, for all that the romantic relationships between the characters are important to the action of the book.
Arachne Jericho
26. arachnejericho
@kevinr #25 -

And that's where what I was thinking about including things as actual romances became a bit fuzzy.

Buffy isn't all about Buffy/Angel, after all, and quite a lot of paranormal romance involves adventure more than "traditional romance." But the relationship of Buffy/Angel, and even Buffy/Spike, has just about become an archetype, even if the show itself is likely not a romance.

Which then proceeds to: how much relationship circling is involved in a romance versus other types of books? In paranormal romances, at least, there's usually more plot involved. Twilight is unusual in that it centers around Edward and Bella so much. Their relationship is the beginning and end of the plot, and while there are usually hijinx added, they're something of an afterthought (vampire antagonists/armies suddenly appear 75% through the novels at times).

(Of course, when I say that Twilight is unusual, I mean inside paranormal romance; it's much more traditional romance than not, which is interesting in itself.)

It's odd; I classify New Amsterdam as fantasy/mystery more than fantasy/romance, or even fantasy/romance/mystery. Relationships are important in many novels that aren't considered romances, simply because when you have characters jostling around, relationships need to happen. Romantic relationships are part of that as well.

I think that in romances, the romance is the lynchpin of the book, if not necessarily of the plot (Twilight lynchpins the plot as well). If that makes any sense. The relationship renewed or destroyed is the most important result. Saving the world, if present, is a plus. It's not quite the same as the plot revolving around the romance---or at least, I don't think so.
Nathalie Gray
27. Nat
"Some of us may be wondering: What’s up with this? Haven’t we gotten over the bad boy rhetoric already?"

Dude. Of course not! Mfft!
Laura Grover
28. LauraG
I don't know, but I've wondered if the allure of the vampire lover isn't the second-hand control it gives the (for lack of a better word) "lovee" over the world and all its scary bits. As the beloved of a vampire you won't ever have to lie awake at night wondering where the rent money is coming from - your vampire lover has accumulated centuries of wealth. Worried about someone breaking into your house and assaulting you? Not with a vampire lover watching over you. Scared that maybe your grey hair and softening body will make your lover wish for someone new? Not a chance! Your vampire lover is obsessed with you - and only you - he wants no one else. Ever. A vampire lover can even erase the ultimate human fear - death. He loves you so much that he can actually stop it from happening. With him, death will really be what we all spend most of our lives secretly believing: something that happens to other people.

Plus, he's had centuries of great sexual experiences, so the sex will always be great. No unromantic awkwardness or "unsatisfying" endings. This guy is a sex machine and he is all about you. Bonus!

As a footnote, my other theory is that the vampire "lovee" is usually female because traditionally men have been encouraged to take control of life by themselves, not through relationships with others. A female "lovee" can take pride in the fact that she's earned the love of this powerful vampire who will protect her. That's not something men are traditionally encouraged to be proud of earning. They're supposed to do it for themselves.
Arachne Jericho
29. arachnejericho
@ LauraG #28 - Interesting analysis, on both the main and the footnote. I like it!
Megan Messinger
30. thumbelinablues
arachnejericho @ 6 -- Any idea where I could listen to "The Devil's Foot" radio play? I'm kind of loving the samples of this series I can find online....

LauraG @ 28 -- I think what you say is spot-on. Reading vampire books (Tanya Huff and Laurell K. Hamilton, mostly) I go back and forth between enjoying the fantasy and stepping outside the fantasy and enjoying how the author is dealing with the conventions and problems of a vampire/mortal relationships.
Arachne Jericho
31. arachnejericho
thumbelinablues @ 6 - The only way I know of to do so legally is to order a set from good olde England ( for instance).

I kind of wish someone was allowed to stream it. It would be a great hit, I think.
Blue Tyson
32. BlueTyson

The wants no-one else but you thing doesn't really fit with the centuries of sex machine experience, of course. Given that means said new female is the latest in a long, long line for him to be such. That is where the fantasy romance bit comes in I guess.
Laura Grover
33. LauraG
thumbelinablues @ 30 - I think one of the reasons I enjoy the early (pre-Narcissus in Chains) Anita Blake stories is because they (sometimes) step outside the traditional relationship. A lot of Anita's control of the world is first person - she does it herself. The first time I read Guilty Pleasures I kept waiting for Jean-Claude to appear and rescue her but instead she rescues him. And then punches him in the face.

BlueTyson @ 32 - Ah, but all those other women were nothing but futile attempts to fill the emptiness before his One True Love was found. Now that he has, that's all behind him.
Blue Tyson
34. BlueTyson

Yep, sounds like what he said to the last 167. ;-)

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