For all the talk about dystopia being the new paranormal, it’s not like paranormal is going anywhere. Paranormal (whether or not you tag “romance” on to the end of that) goes through periodic waves of resistance, usually by people rolling their eyes at a large number of similar book covers – funnily enough, regular readers of the genre don’t tend to be the ones complaining at how many titles they have to choose from.
But as a writer, I find that even a hugely popular trope tends not to be overly inspiring unless … well, unless it is. If I’m going to do something with vampires or werewolves or ghosts or whatever, it has to have enough of a unique twist on the concept to keep me interested.
I’m not claiming that my work is especially original, or that better-read paranormal readers will automatically think I’m the best thing since sliced bread (don’t you hate authors who promote their book by constantly harping on about how cliched all the other books are?) but my ideas have to feel fresh and new to me when I am writing them, or I can’t sustain my own interest long enough to produce an entire story.
When I wrote Siren Beat, I was deliberately trying to write urban fantasy without vampires and werewolves because it was intended for an anthology, and I thought my best chance of making it to the top of the pile was to do something a little left of centre, rather than compete with everyone else’s sexy dead lords and dog boys. (hence: one kraken and one sexy sea pony)
With Love and Romanpunk, I wanted to create a universe where the kinds of monsters you find in historical bestiaries roam the earth – so manticores and basilisks were the order of the day. I didn’t have vampires as such but I built on the Roman concept of the ‘lamia’ (a very similar species though one largely made up of slinky women drinking the blood of boys) and in one story let it collide sharply with the traditional Byronic legend of the vampire.
Still, the book was mostly about manticores.
The truth is, when working on both of those universes, I wasn’t working against the weight of vampire fiction so much as I was working against myself, because I already had a fictional universe that was all about vampires … right?
The Creature Court are not vampires, just as they’re not werewolves (even though at least two of them take wolf form). They’re not fairies, either, or elves – it always makes me giggle when reviewers proclaim that they are. To create the mythology behind the Creature Court, I pretty much took my favourite bits of so many of these paranormal creatures and hurled them into a melting pot. Everything I find interesting about vampires – the false aristocracy, the sexiness, the symbolic exchange of blood, the night world only a few people know about, the idea of being eternal and yet constantly vulnerable, being the end of your line – is there, in the Creature Court.
But everything I like about shapechangers is in there too, and possibly a bit of fairy lore (certainly the importance of oaths and words and promises). I feel now as if I couldn’t write straight vampires, because I’ve already explored so many of the deeper themes you find in those books, and all I’d be left with is the retractable teeth, opera cloaks and garlic.
The religious aspect of vampires always bugged me, because it’s a tradition that just doesn’t translate. The idea of creatures so monstrous that they shy away from Christian iconography simply doesn’t work as soon as you’re in a culture (ie anywhere larger than a small village in medieval times) where not everyone believes the same thing. Several vampire stories have taken the post-modern view on this – Willow Rosenberg in Buffy made a few snarky remarks about how her mother would deal with her new taste for crucifixes – but like many of the traditional cultural details of the vampire, it just doesn’t hold up logically unless you take it as ‘part of the magic’. I actually think one of the best shows to ever deal with the issue was Doctor Who, bizarrely enough – in The Curse of Fenric they showed how it wasn’t specifically the trappings of Christianity that hurt the vampires, it was strong faith in anything. A soldier could believe in his medal, a vicar who had lost his faith wasn’t going to make it through just because he was holding a cross, and the Doctor, well – the Doctor has faith in the universe.
In the Creature Court, I came at the idea of religion from a different direction. Roman religion was one of my academic specialties and I loved the fact that they had so many ancient festivals and ceremonies – many of which they had already forgotten the origin of, at the time of Empire, or which only existed as a name. Many people in modern times still hold true to traditional festivals, whether they are cultural or religious, but even those who follow a strict calendar don’t have nearly as many holidays and ceremonies as the Romans claimed to honour – I started to wonder what it might be like to live in a city that was obsessed with the active practice of daily festivals.
Having portrayed that in Book One, the obvious question to address in Book Two was WHY a city would feel the need for quite so many festivals…
My not-vampires, of course, have always assumed that this stupid, oblivious city with its ribbons and honey cake sacrifices and a thousand saints and temples, had nothing to do with them. The Creature Court have their own ceremonies and have always ignored the traditions of the daylight world. But it would be too easy, if the daylight rituals were there to protect the daylight folk from the Creature Court, and the night. When you have a gang of leather-clad, power-mad reprobates leaping around the roofs of the city, it’s easy to imagine that they are the predators you’re supposed to worry about.
But if that’s what you think, you might want to look up, instead.
Tansy Rayner Roberts is the author of Power and Majesty (Creature Court Book One) and The Shattered City (Creature Court Book Two, April 2011) with Reign of Beasts (Creature Court Book Three, coming in November 2011) hot on its tail. Her short story collection Love and Romanpunk was published as part of the Twelfth Planet Press “Twelve Planets” series in May.
This post comes to you as part of Tansy’s Mighty Slapdash Blog Tour, and comes with a cookie fragment of new release The Shattered City:
Velody looked around for the rest of them and saw Warlord standing in a small crowd of fruitsellers, charming them all effortlessly, a cup of wine in one hand and a demoiselle in the other. He met Velody’s gaze and smiled at her, showing bright white teeth against his dark skin.
She tilted her head, just a little, giving him her best Power and Majesty expression. He lowered his head in an infinitesimal movement that might possibly have been a nod, and then excused himself from his playmates, disappearing into the crowd.
Moments later, the silhouette of a large blank panther appeared on a rooftop above their heads, and stepped into the sky as if he owned it.