Editor’s note: Not all of David Accomazzo’s interview with New York Times bestselling author Christine Feehan, author of the Dark Series novels, could fit into this week’s feature on vampires. Selected portions of the interview follows in Q&A form.
Boulder Weekly: What struck me as interesting about vampires in pop culture right now is that they started out as these grotesque, one-dimensionally evil monsters, and now they are the heroes of romance novels. Why do you think that happened, and why do you think vampires work so well as romantic figures?
Christine Feehan: I think a lot of it has to do with, when you’re writing about something that’s paranormal, you have a lot more scope where they can be old world and courtly and they can be arrogant and powerful and deadly but still be politically correct, which a modern-day man in a contemporary story cannot. You have to keep them very politically correct. But a vampire doesn’t have to be. He gets to bend all the rules and you can make him a good guy or a bad guy, and there’s always that edge of danger that you’re writing about.
BW: Why can’t you write a male lead with those characteristics?
CF: Here’s the thing. I write, also, a series that is called GhostWalkers. They’re also paranormal. They’re soldiers. I keep them as true as I can and I do a tremendous amount of research, but these are also men who are very deadly, very dangerous, very alpha, and they really appeal to that fantasy side of a woman, and because I have that edge of paranormal, I can stretch it a little bit, and again, being outside that edge of being politically correct, and readers will accept it. If you make it completely contemporary, say, the lead as a reporter, your hero is a reporter for a newspaper, he cannot have that side of him, because a woman in today’s society isn’t going to tolerate a guy telling her what to do too much.
I took martial arts for years, and if I hear a noise, my instinct is to not reach for the phone and call for help, because I’m thinking it’s the cat in the basement, not a serial killer. That’s just normal. Immediately, your mind doesn’t jump to, ‘This is a bad situation.’ When a reader’s reading a book, they know the serial killer’s in the basement, so they automatically jump to ‘oh my god, that heroine’s too stupid to live.’ If she calls for a guy to come rescue her, they all hate that, because she should be smart enough to take care of the situation herself. That’s what readers expect, is that in today’s society, a woman must be able to handle every situation, because that’s what we’re taught. And that’s not that fun to read about.
If you have a vampire, he’s sexy, he’s dangerous, he can do all these powerful things, it’s just a fantasy. That’s all it is. This guy who’s going to be protective and take care of you and you’re going to tame him. does that make sense? That’s pretty much why.
BW: Can you tell me about the vampires in your books?
CF: My vampires. I started about 10 years ago. Nobody was writing vampires. You couldn’t even mention it in the romance world, and I had written a series of books, or started a series of books where it’s a different species of people. I kind of asked the question that if you gave up your soul voluntarily, what would cause you to do that? And I came out with an idea that there was species of people, the man was the darkness, and the woman was the light, they had all the attributes of the vampire. They had to sleep in the ground, they couldn’t be out in the sun, the night was theirs, but they were good. After 200 years, they lost all emotion, and they lost the ability to see in color, and they only could live with their memories and their honor, unless they found this woman who would restore this other half... But their women and children had died out. So they were turning vampire. That’s what would happen to them because then they would feel that rush of the kill, for a moment they would feel almost like a drug addict. They would feel that tremendous rush, and so they began killing. The ones that were good, which were the Carpathians, would then hunt the ones that were bad that were destroying people. Eventually, they found that some human women had psychic abilities and could become their life mate, that woman that would restore their soul to them.
It’s basically books about hope and family and treasuring women and treasuring children. And I think that was the appeal of my books to women, is suddenly, here are these men that value women and value having children in a society that doesn’t that much. I think that truly that was the appeal of my particular books.
BW: What do you mean by 'soul'? Is this a physical thing? How can a soul be restored and lost?
CF: Well, in the book, it’s like they’re two halves of the same soul. It’s more spiritual. A lot of the vampire myths are based on Catholicism. You see them always with the Catholic church, and they can’t go into the church and they’ve got the cross, so I took a lot of the myths and legends that I found from around the world and basically wove them into my stories. Basically, the soul was split in two, and the man was half, and the woman was half, and the two had to be put back together.
BW: What’s your opinion on the fact that now, vampires are everywhere?
CF: I think that like anything, things become popular in cycles. Historicals were big for a long time, and you can see it in movies, the same cycle happens there. And I think right now, the vampire cycle is really big, and it’s going to be for another few years, and then it’s going to start fading.
BW: How long will vampires remain ideal romance figures?
CF: That’s hard to say. I have a huge community at my website right now with probably 25,000, 26,000 people that participate in that community from all over the world. It’s a daily thing. I’ve had my Web site crash [from too much traffic]. Literally, I have 150,000 people that are constantly writing letters about this thing, and they’re fanatical about it. I can get 10,000 letters in a month, and 90 percent of that is vampire-based. Right now, it’s a pretty fanatical subject, people want to talk about it, and they want to talk about it with each other.
BW: Have people started to write guides about your work yet?
CF: Yes, we’ve had that, and I know there’s fan fiction out there and there’s tons and tons of role-playing sites... We’ve been working for about a year putting together a comprehensive guide, and a family tree and the whole business. I actually have a language that is in the back of my books and a history of my people. I built this society sort of how Tolkien built his societies. It has a feel of realism in it. But I like that kind of thing.
That makes it way more real to your readers. They look at a language, and they see that there is a Carpathian mountains, and they see these places that they read in my books, and they see actual incidents that I’ve read about in newspapers that become incorporated into the books and articles. So things seem familiar to them, and then they’re like, ‘is this real?’ That also helps feed that frenzy of vampire lovers.
BW: By taking away the male lead’s humanity in your stories, does that allow them to become the ultimate fantasy figure for your readers?
CF: Well, they have to be human. I think the woman gives them that humanity, and so that’s maybe the fantasy. You know, it’s a very interesting thing. Women, when they write to me about this, and they’ll say, I remember one letter in particular struck me, and she was saying how her husband was so wonderful and how they had kids, and he worked two shifts, you know, and she was like, ‘but I dream about one of these Carpathians.’ And I wrote back to her, and I said, ‘That man is slaying dragons for you. He’s going out and working two shifts, and he’s doing the things that the modern man has to do. It’s not going out and slaying the dragon like in a fantasy book; it’s the reality of life. And I think everybody’s lives are very hard there’s a lot of pressure on everybody, particularly because of today’s economy, and escaping it to a fantasy, which is basically any entertainment... These are safe. They’re very, very safe. You don’t have to worry about a vampire really coming to life and biting you on the neck. Would you want to really want to live with that or sleep in the ground? I don’t think so. These are safe fantasies, and I think it’s a good way to escape into another world for a short period of time... You know, if you can’t leave your house because you can’t leave your child... I noticed with my books, very high pressure jobs, soldiers, cops, firemen, doctors who perform surgery, these are the types of people that write to me all the time, and it’s probably because they have high-stress professions... they can escape for while, and it’s a safe escape.
With a vampire, you don’t just get a love story. You’re getting the whole deal. You get action, you get suspense; it’s all there. Everything you could want is in that book. It’s a roller coaster.