You know what this Tuesday needs? A really good vampire story. Like “Maeve in the Picture” in Issue 045! To top it all off, author Clare McNamee-Annett treated us to a lively discussion of all things vampire. Enjoy!
LSQ: Vampire stories seem to fade in and out of chic, but are nevertheless always present in pop culture. What about them is so attractive to us as readers? What drew you to write a vampire story?
Clare: Thank you for interviewing me! That’s such a great question. Classically, vampires are a staple of gothic fiction and horror. From Stoker’s Dracula (1897), to Rice’s Interview with the Vampire (1967), vampire stories seem to capture the imagination with a dualism of fear and fantasy. The vampire is often a social outsider. Something about their immortality, reclusiveness, insatiability, and power seems to both terrify us, and draw us in. The lesbian vampire is said to have begun with Sheridan la Fanu’s Carmilla (1872) – it was a trope used in books and film throughout the twentieth century (1), and continues in lots of different media.
In contemporary work, vampires are complex. Meyer’s Twilight series continues the tradition of
sexualizing the vampire, playing out fantasies of teen love, immortal devotion, and (I think) a kind of hyper-idealized masculinity. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, ‘bad’ vampires seem to be the perpetual, universal monster, but the ‘good’ or morally tortured vampire is the object of desire. At the other end of the line, Hendrix’s The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires presents the vampire as the lone white male predator in suburbia: adored by the community, endlessly manipulative, sociopathic.
As Newitz and Anders point out in Our Opinions Are Correct (Episode 9: “The Horrors of the One
Percent”), vampires can represent a wealthy overclass. Depicting vampires as extremely rich, well-connected, and powerful is a common theme – from classic Dracula, to Underworld, to The Vampire Diaries. Vampires can also speak to the violence of whiteness. In Blacula (1972), some argue that vampirism is used allegorically to point to the horrors of slavery and its psychological repercussions (2) (3). In Vampires vs. the Bronx, vampires seem to embody whiteness and gentrification. Perhaps its fundamental parasitism makes the vampire a powerful tool to express profoundly unequal social and economic relations.
So, I think vampires can represent an exclusive and parasitic overclass, be an object of sexual desire, or a dangerous predator. But some themes include violence, sexuality, power, and subjugation. I think the vampire captures my imagination in being powerful, but intrinsically dependent upon others to survive –there’s something about that juxtaposition I find compelling.
In this story, I think Maeve’s vampirism adds a layer of complexity – in both power and dependence – to what is already a challenging romantic relationship between Cara and Maeve.
LSQ: What were the challenges of writing a character with heightened sense?
Clare: Writing Maeve’s heightened sense of smell and hearing was a real joy, actually. It provided the avenue to nosedive (ha) into Maeve’s point of view, and this part of the writing felt like it had its own momentum. I got to consider the details of Maeve’s home and environment. The world came alive to me through those details. Perhaps the only challenge was how to balance these details with other description, action, and keep the thrust of the story at the narrative forefront.
I think my biggest challenge in writing this story was how to approach the complexities of violence and trauma, because I find that depicting trauma (our complex, often maladaptive responses to it, the way it impacts relationships with ourselves and others) is one of the hardest things for me as a writer. Maeve is a survivor of violence – she was assaulted when turned into vampire. It’s a trauma she re-experiences in physical ways, while at the same time grieving the loss of her human life and body.
Her vampirism endangers Cara, too. When she’s starving for blood, she tries to bite Cara. This is before they acquire a protective sheath which allows Cara to feed Maeve safely, so Maeve would have turned Cara into a vampire if a bystander hadn’t intervened. She feels profound guilt. Being so close to Maeve’s perspective in a limited third-person point of view, I struggled with how to write about this violent act. I worried that to position her aggression as something inherent to a starving supernatural (which is ultimately how, navigating the fallout, Cara rationalizes it), I risked it becoming a kind of gross and reductive ‘I couldn’t stop myself’ narrative, burying accountability. At the same time, I wanted to make it clear that Maeve’s betrayal affects everything between them.
It was a difficult dynamic to write, perhaps in part because I find violence in same-sex relationships is rarely talked about. It can be challenging to write about the complexities of trust and breaking trust in a world where queerness is already demonized – you don’t want to do more harm. But I think these are important things to talk about with sensitivity.
I hope I wrote with nuance and care. I grapple with how I could have done it better.
LSQ: I can never get enough urban fantasy! One thing to consider in this genre is how much/how little paranormal creatures are integrated into human society. In this story, vampires are known to be real. Why did you choose this route instead of having them be hidden?
Clare: Again, great question! Vampires being known to be real was part of my worldbuilding from the get-go. In a way, societal awareness was built into my mechanics of vampire transformation. Unlike stories in which becoming a vampire involves mutual blood-ingestion or complex rituals, in this world if you’re bitten without the protection of a sheath, you’re ‘Turned’. I imagined it like an infection, with similar public health implications. Vampirism is an epidemic. It wouldn’t be possible to keep that a secret for long.
One of the cool things you can do when the supernatural is known to be real is explore how society morphs in response to it. I find that really engaging to think about. In this story, how blood would be metered out, what factors would increase and decrease rates of transmission, how vampires could feed safely with the correct technology and how that technology would become politicized, who would get access to a reliable blood supply, and who wouldn’t, and what would the consequences be? – these are worldbuilding questions that really intrigue me. Likewise, are questions of individual humans’ relationships with vampires, and the choices they make when a loved one Turns. I imagine there would be a collective fear of the night, and that blood donation would become intensely politicized. Fear would fuel superstition and regressive social policies; anti-vampiric prejudice would lead to poor public health decisions, worsening the problem…I could just go down worldbuilding rabbit holes endlessly.
In any case, dynamics around prejudice, social inequity, and infection prevention provided the impulse for a lot of the initial worldbuilding. I started writing this world after reading Shilts’ And the Band Played On. The shamefully slow public health response to HIV/AIDS in North America (when it was known as ‘GRID’ and primarily in gay male communities) deeply unsettled me, and I began to think a lot about public health and the devastating impacts of social stigma.
LSQ: Are there any other projects you’re currently working on? If so, could you tell us a bit about them?
Clare: I write speculative fiction short stories, and my work has been published in Ab Terra by Brain Mill Press, Prismatica Magazine, and SFU’s emerge20 – the yearly anthology for students of SFU’s Writers’ Studio, where I studied from Jan-Dec 2020. Brain Mill Press also nominated me for the Pushcart Prize this past year. I also love writing poetry, and was lucky enough to receive mentorship from Arc Poetry Magazine’s poet-in-residence after submitting my work to them in February. I’ve definitely jumped into novel-length works in this past, and am often dabbling. For the most part I’m working to improve my craft before substantively tackling anything longer.
Some of my favorite authors right now are Nnedi Okorafor, Charlie Jane Anders, Tamsyn Muir, Ann Leckie, Becky Chambers. I love Mariko Tamaki and Blue Delliquanti’s work as well.