Thursday, August 14, 2008

Trashy Vampire Novels

So last night I finished Narcissus in Chains by Laurell K. Hamilton. I had bought it several months ago at the request of BT, because he said that a particular relationship between characters mirrored something he wanted. I've had the book for months and haven't read it, mostly just because I haven't read anything. Last week I finished the first novel that I'd read since...... damn, I don't know when. Probably since I re-read Time Traveller's Wife so that I could highlight it and just refresh my mind before I sent it to BT, because it is one of my favorite novels of all time and because it reminded me of being without him. I guess lately I've been content to lay around and veg out in front of the TV, maybe catching a movie I want to see, though more likely just a movie that I'd already seen and kinda liked. (This is a very VERY good reason not to have a cable TV with all the HBOs in your bedroom. Damn you HBO, showing V for Vendetta a hundred times!!!!) But I digress......

So, especially now that BT and I are back together and working on all aspects of that, I read the book so that I could get an idea of what he was talking about. Now, I had read quite a few of the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, series 4 years ago, when I was still living in the Bigger Midwestern City. At the time, I had read a review of the latest book in the series and my interest was piqued. But the series was already quite long at the time and I didn't want to have to buy all the books. I was in luck because a co-worker of mine at the time owned the first 5 or 6 of them and the first book of Hamilton's other series. I read them all, in succession, during a very depressing and boring winter break.

I guess I should go back a bit. I've always loved horror novels. When I was younger, I read way ahead of my age group. If I remember right, I was reading Christopher Pike's young adult horror books by the time I was in the 4th grade. (Dad had tried to get me into fantasy series, but it just didn't work. I think because we were too cheap to buy the series from the beginning and the YA section at our library didn't have them either. On the other hand, one of my good female friends had alot of Christopher Pike books and an older brother with more advanced tastes, Koontz, Rice, that he'd loan to us.) By 5th grade, I was starting to read the Stephen King and Dean Koontz, though my mom had to approve which books I read. I couldn't read King's Gerald's Game, for instance, because of it's sexual content. When I was in 6th grade, I bought Anne Rice's Witching Hour. It was widely known among my family that I couldn't read Rice's vampire series, but no one had said anything about the witch series. I loved the book. Sometime during 7th grade, I finally managed to get my friend's brother to let me borrow the vampire series. But, in my opinion, I've found that alot of genre writers (hell, writers in general) tend to tread over the same turf. The problem is that when a genre writer does it within that same genre, most especially within the same series, it gets old pretty fast. That's why I haven't read any of Anne Rice's latest work.

And it's why I haven't read any Hamilton books since my last go round. While reading Narcissus I noticed several places within the same book where she reuses the same phrases, etc. Also, she goes against the writer's rule that countless fiction writing teachers have drilled into my head: "Show don't tell." And, while I may be nitpicking about this, while Hamilton as a writer treats gay/bi men very well in the books, if not with a bit of airbrushing so that it's more sexy to female readers, Anita as a character gets on my last nerve because she won't accept homosexual activity from any of her lovers, though she continues to have several male lovers of her own. I guess because I've had bisexual male lovers in non-monogamous relationships and they've been with other men, with my knowledge and approval (hell, I've even gotten to watch!) her insistance that her male bi lovers be with only her (and I guess other women???) makes me kinda pissed off at her hypocrisy.

So why did I finish Narcissus in 3 sittings? Why did I buy the next one in the series while I was out tonight looking for the first novel in another vampire series? Why am I not reading "real" literature, great historical literature, non-genre literature? The most likely answer is that I'm just lazy. Narcissus was an easy read, the pages kept turning, and I really wanted to know what would happen at the end. Also, there was alot of sex. Granted, alot of what is now considered new classic literary novels (guess I'm thinking of novelists like Phillip Roth) have sex in them. Maybe even good sex. But this book...... well, maybe it was the combination of the supernatural with the sex, maybe it's just that I'm really horny right now, but the sex in this book was awesome!!!!!! Which kinda didn't help alleviate the horniness, but.... well, you can't ask for everything.

Of course, all this has me thinking about my own writing. While all my fiction teachers look down on genre fiction and push the "show don't tell" rule, Hamilton has published 10 times as many books as they have combined and probably makes quite a comfortable living off of her "little" "genre" books. In my last fiction writing class, I think I wrote two of the best stories that I ever have. Because I know that fiction teachers frown on genre fiction, so I wrote stories of everyday people in slightly more than ordinary situations. On the other hand, several of my fellow students wrote stories with aspects of genre fiction in them- apocolypse, vampires, murder. These stories stood on their own merit as a piece of fiction, not as a piece of genre fiction. Which begs the question of how I should write and what I should write. Do I want to approach my writing based on what I can write decently and what will sell the most? Or do I approach it based on higher literary fiction principles? Is there maybe something wrong with looking down on genre fiction while propping up "literary" fiction? And what separates the two? Is it maybe a class thing? That genres are supposed to be for the lower class who don't want to think as much about the literature that they are reading? Wait- doesn't that describe how Charles Dicken's novels were first read? On the other hand, just how many radical ideas could you put into a literary novel, since most of them are set in a real world context? Even with all of what I see as Anita's hypocrisy, the books still have fairly non-mainstream views on sex, sexual relationships, and non-monogamy. And, while this isn't literature, I remember how shocked I was the first couple times I heard the characters in (SciFi channel's) Battlestar Galactica refer to their female superiors as "Sir". Just that little word used to refer to females as well as males went a long way to show the ways in which this society had more equality between the sexes. When you take your story out of the real world, you can do quite a few things that you couldn't get away with in a real world context- whether that be having an alternate universe where the vampire district is Laclede's Landing (the area just around the Arch) or having one in which males and females are so equal that they all use the same bathrooms and shower areas. So should a writer just cut themselves off to that, if that is a way in which they would like to write?

So, what do you all think?

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