Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Jane Austen, Vampires and Genre Writing

This is the lovely Anita Blake. If you haven't met her, you should.

It's been a rainy week or so in my area of the US. I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to start collecting the animals two by two if things don't let up soon. The rain has really curbed my outdoor activities, since thunderstorms and tornadoes aren't really what you'd call conducive to gardening and yard work. As a result, I've found myself reading a lot more and keeping one eye on the television when the girls are watching movies (yes, I can do both at the same time.)

I had a couple of thoughts on books this week. The first thing I was thinking about was Jane Austen. Part of that stems from me having watched and read Jane Austen Book Club reently. Botht hte bookand the movie are nice and light, so check them out if you like Jane Austen. The book is by Karen Joy Fowler.

Anywy, I'm a big Austen fan. I have multiple copies of Pride and Prejudice, and all of her other books except Northanger Abbey, which I have yet to read. I also have the BBC version of P&P on Dvd, you know, the one with Colin Firth in it. Its one of my rainy day go-tos when I'm feeling a little low.

I don't know how many Austen fans I've got out there, so I'll pose this question to you: If you do read her, love her, what3ever, do you like the storylines for what they are or do you truly identify with the characters?

That's the one thing that bothered me about JABC the book and the movie. This idea that somehow there is this Jane Austen character lurking in all of us. I don't know that I agree.

I don't think all pretty girls are waiting to make great monied love matches. I don't think that they settle for slightly less handsome but stable and proper men after being jilted by a good-looking rake. I would like to think most mothers (not mine, maybe, but most) are sensible and want to look out for their children and not push them into wedlock. I want to think that not all boorish men are bad-looking and that not all intellectual men have to be ugly or churchish.

I like the stories because they are situation comedy from I time period I love, and they are well written. I like them because I find the characters amusing and engaging. But I don't, and have never, likened myself to one of the characters.

Something to think about.

I was also thinking about vampire books this week. Say what you will, they are my guilty pleasure. I love them. I can talk classics with the best of them, but nothing pelases me more than finding someone else who hates Richard from the Anita Blake series or someone who wishes Sookie Stackhouse would stop crying and man up already.

I got to thinking about the vampire genre because in about a week the new Sookie Stackhouse book "Dead Reckoning" is being released (May 3, for those who are counting down) and in June of this year the newest Anita Blake novel "Hit List" is going to be released. These books are 11 and 20 in their series' respectively. Those are big milestones for series writers. Its a lot of books. In my opion of both these authors, its also a lot of well written books.

Now, say what you want about vampire books ingeneral, or these two series inparticular; Charlaine Harris and Laurell K. Hamilton are excellent writers. I'm not saying that the books are highbrow, or modern classics. they aren't. But they are really good for their genre, and both of them have defied traditional ideas within their genre, and branched out. Both these authors do their research, both of them write will becautiful imagery. Their characters feel human. It's part of why I am so addicted to them.

Now, I know, a lot of people would say that vampire books are actually a sub-genre for fantasy or for horror. I disagree. If I were organizing my local Barnes and Noble, or had I (dare to dream) my own bookstore, I would be shelving all of the vampire books in one section under the heading "VAMPIRE."

Vampires have moved beyond sub-genre. You can't catagorize them. There are vampire mysteries, vampire romances, vampire fantasies, there are modern vampire novels and historic vampire novels. I even saw a vampire biography a few months back. There is cross-genre within the vampire genre. There are YA vampire books and adults only vampire books. There are crossover series. I don't think you can stick vampires next to faeries (sic) or demons or princesses encased in magical jewels or dragons anymore. I think they get their own heading, and I think the authors that have worked hard to make this genre what it is deserve the credit.

I think you start with Anne Rice and thank her for making vampires sexy and modern, then you thank Laurell K Hamilton, who started plugging away at the Anita Blake series in the eighties for making vampires even sexier than before, and Charlaine Harris who made a vampire series so popular HBO picked it up and ran with the idea. And yes, I do think my hating friends, you thank Stephanie Meyer for making the Young Adult and Crossover a legitimate part of the vampire genre. I had never heard of the Nightworld Series, or The Vampire Diaries, or any of those other great(ish) YA books until I was trolling through the YA section to get Stephanie Meyer merchandies. She gets credit for that. I also think you give a nod to Elizabeth Kostova for reminding us that vampires can still scare the bejezus out of you, when done properly.

There are so many authors out there that are contributing to the vampire genre, and I think there ought to be a separate section in the bookstore just for them. You could fill aisles with vampire books. I'd wager you could probably get a whole store if you tried (maybe the next branch off for Powells City of Books in Portland?).

I have an enormous respect for authors who take an age-old concept and make it new, fresh and riveting. I love that Charliane Harris is using the concept of modern technology to make me wonder whether or not in a few years I might actually meet a real vampire. I think it kicks ass that every time I am in Branson, MO I go down a specific road I get the heebie-jeebies because I know that there's a master vampire lair there because Laurell K Hamilton took the time to find that spot somehow in her research. I love that in any one of her given books I can see where exactly in St. Louis Anita is, because she knows that on the corner of this street there's a Union Planter's Bank and a Burger King, and she puts it in. They are taking the old mythology and making it new again. They are creating completely new universes set in our universe. I think that's a talent every writer should envy.

In light of the upcoming book releases, I'm probably going to go reread the last few in those serieses, because I like to remember what's going on.

Have a creepy, awesome night.

I also need to disclaim that I do not own Jane Austen, Charlaine Harris, Elizabeth Kostova, Karen Joy Fowler, Laurell K Hamilton, Stephanie Meyer nor any of their characters or books,nor any other book I might have mentioned in this post, as much as I might like to. I also got the lovely image at the top of the page from, which has a wonderful index of all things Anita Blake, check them out. Oh, and I'm pretty sure that image is from one of the Marvel Comics of Anita Blake. I don't own Marvel either.


  1. I identified with Elizabeth Bennet a lot when reading P&P. Coming from a town where you're an old maid if you're not tied down by 21, her reluctance to throw herself immediately into the arms of the first man who asked made me feel damned good.

    Also, I think Darcy's first proposal is one of the most gloriously awkward scenes ever written. She was damned right to turn him down that time, but oh, I felt for him. Who hasn't tried to say something nice and gotten lost in the explanation?

    No comment on the vampire genre, as I barely read it. I will say Stephanie Meyer did bring it into YA first, but I think the other vampire books could have easily been the first as well.

  2. First things first, I have to cross-post a comment from Bobcat on my facebook, because she is travelling and can't comment from her phone on this blog:

    Bobcat sez "I love the vampire genre. I have been reading it for years. In fact my own, sadly neglected novel is in the vampire genre. You know I tbhink the Twilight series was a waste of paper, but I can accept the contribution she made to the genre. And I too hate Richard. He is a whiney bitch. I prefer Nathaniel and Micah myself. =)"


    As far as P&P goes, I agree that as a modern "old maid" she is totally relatable. I have to disagree with the comment about Darcy, though. It was meant to be written that way, not as an akward thing, but as a comentary on Darcy as a landed gentleman. That's a completely appropriate, and sadly, almost romantic proposal, given the time period. for that time period.

    And, to be honest, I won't give Stephanie Meyer credit where it isn't due. I don't think she is even close to the first person to do vampire as a YA crossover, but I do think she is the first person who has done it well enough it spawned a YA boom in the genre. That's all I'm saying about her.

    And, Bobcat, if you're reading, you should read one of the Nightworld books. It gives a whole new meaning to waste of paper. At least Stephanie Meyer could get a whole book out of one idea. That series has to settle for a crapload of short stories. Okay, I suppose, if you have the attention span of a five year old, but aren't we supposed to be able to focus and read chapter books once we hit Jr High?

    Also, glad to know that someone else out there gets sick of Richard's whining. The vote in our household is, if it wouldn't kill Anita, we wish he would die.

  3. I like Austen well enough, but I think when people talk about her proto-feminist sub-text, they're overstating the case somewha. I enjoyed P&P, S&S and a couple of the other ones, but really struggled with Emma. I enjoyed it in the end, but the main character is pretty hard to like, I thought.

    Genre books are often viewed snobbily, although Terry Pratchett - writing in perhaps the least fashionable genre of them all - has started getting deserved acclaim for his writing as people realise that his characters capture human archetypes in a way that is reminiscent of Dickens, even though these characters are often dwarves or zombies or what have you.

    We have a section in our local bookshop called "dark desires", btw. All the vampire lit is filed there! I agree that Anne Rice helped to bring the vampire back, but you only have to read Stoker to see that it was all about sex right from the very beginning....

  4. I agree Swiss. Emma is probably my least favorite book of her. I think it is because Emma is so unlikeable. She annoys me.

    I need to see your local bookstore. If we had one with anything titled "dark desires" the natives would riot. Even our LGBTQ section is modestly filed, with a small heading, right between African American Studies and Civil War histories. Why there, I have no idea...

  5. Austen is one of my favorite authors. Like you, I enjoy the social satire. I don't know that we've all got a little of her characters in us, I have to say that I've always identified with Eliza Bennett.

    I also like vampire novels, although mainly YA. I loved Twilight, and some of the others. There's one YA series you might like, The House of Night series. It's a completely different take on vampires, with the women holding most of the power and all worshiping the goddess Nyx. My big problem with it is Zoey's inability to commit, often having as many as 4 boyfriends at a time. When I can ignore that, however, the story arc is fresh and interesting. I'd recommend these as library loans rather than purchases.