Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Trouble with "Paranormal Romance"

I've been reading everything I could get my hands on since I was itty bitty. Now I'm attempting to write and get published, so I'm reading what's popular. The current standby in women's fiction is Urban Fantasy aka Vampire Sleaze, or as one honest editor called it: Vampire Porn.

The allure of the Vamp, beyond the obvious titillation factor escapes me. Call it what it is: thinly disguised hardcore porn B+D, S+M. It's all about power, domination, anger, spiced with kinkiness and some bestiality. To call it a "Paranormal Romance" is an ironic play on words. One of these books should keep a Freudian shrink chortling for many years.

I get that the writer is doing this for money. Sex sells in mass-market woman's fiction. Okay, sex sells everything from cars to beer to toothpaste. At least the 'dominate' in most of these books is female. Angry, ass-kicking female in tight leather pants and a libido to make a pony stallion very, very, proud.

Still if you delete the sex from one of the latest 120k word novels by a 'best selling author,' there is about 60k words and very little plot. Delete the discussion of, and angst about, the sex and there is one chapter of plot. The last chapter, by the way, is the only chapter where the title makes sense. Ironically it is a very short chapter.

One chapter is hardly enough for a short story.

This all dates back to Rice and her vampires. Of course, in Rice's books the vampires didn't have sex. There is something deeply ironic about these books 'coming out' around the time of the Aids epidemic's first wave. Rice's vampires were all gay men, at a time when sex with a gay man could indeed be the 'kiss of death' between the 'undead' and a living victim.

While Aids has spread beyond the gay community, world wide, I wonder if Rice had a lot of gay friends when she wrote the books? The parallels are there, my morbid imagination may be running amok, but I wonder.

For teen Vampy Sleazy the vampires 'sparkle in the sunlight.' All the 'after dark' is gone, so little Mary Sue won't miss curfew and can be up for school. Mary Sue never misses a day of class. She is, by definition, a perfect teenager who doesn't have sex until the 3rd or 4th book. Imagine 500 pages of teenage angst and hormones but nothing to show for it for four books. The plot gets sillier from there. Again, remove all syrup and we have only a chapter or two of plot.

Where is the lyrical darkness of Rice's work? Where are shadowed places in New Orleans, where the Spanish moss drips thickly from the trees? Where are the garish streets and the flavor of the nightlife? Missing, all the atmosphere is missing. Instead we get rain and a prom night. Where is the freaking horror?

The feeling that the dreaded Undead are truly undead is also missing. They just have dietary challenges, like meat-eaters in a vegetarian world. There are no bloodsucking monsters.

I suppose the Vampire is the ultimate bad-boy. The 'demon' with the 'heart of gold' who sacrifices "all" for the love of his (undead) life.' Kinda like a reformed gang-member without the drug habit.

Maybe what is missing from the vampire in this genre is the evil. The vampire no longer cringes from the cross, because faith has been lost to the world? I wonder sometimes if our society has lost its belief in evil as well as good? We can have the most vile of bloodsucking myths scrubbed squeaky clean and marketed to teenagers with nary a qualm, since little Mary Sue never misses a day at school, and doesn't have sex for 2 thousand pages? The soulless undead who has traded humanity for eternal damnation, is a now rich kid in a Mercedes, the perfect date to take home to Daddy, 'cause he's got money.

Gag me.

Vampires may be the archetype of the jaded nobility who preyed on the young girls of the villages. England had some really strange customs at one point. Girls spent their wedding nights with the old lords, in the castle, not with their husbands.

Even the werewolf, the mythical beast in the human soul, is no longer the rabid wolf who kills all it sees, raging with killing lust. Instead it is little more than the pet dog on the rug. Complete with fleas.

Poor buggers, is there nothing scary left in the world?

(This post was published previously, it has been edited and expanded.)

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