It’s been 15 years since Little, Brown published Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight—a book that sold more than 100 million copies, launched a multi-billion-dollar movie franchise, and kicked off a vampire craze in YA and adult fiction alike. The trend eventually flamed out, and for a few years, vampires were relegated to the literary shadows.
But then, in 2019, there came hints of a possible resurrection. Renée Ahdieh released The Beautiful (Putnam, 2019), a duology-launching bestseller featuring 1870s-era New Orleans vampires. (Book two, The Damned, publishes this July.) Kiersten White published Slayer (Simon Pulse, 2019), a book set in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer universe, followed this past January by a sequel, Chosen. January also saw the release of Lana Popović’s Blood Countess (Amulet), a novel based on the real-life inspiration for Countess Dracula. And this summer, Meyer will release Midnight Sun (Little, Brown, Aug. 4)—a long-awaited Twilight companion novel told from Edward’s perspective.
Will 2020 be the year of the vampire? We spoke with a quartet of authors and editors whose new and forthcoming books promise to breathe fresh life into the centuries-old monster of myth.
Author Tracy Wolff has written more than 60 books—some under pseudonyms, many involving paranormal creatures—but her new YA fantasy novel, Crave (Entangled Teen, Apr.), first in a trilogy, represents her first foray into vampire fiction.
Why are vampires making a comeback after years on the sidelines? According to Wolff, when everything is going well, people are happy to read realistic YA. “For the last decade or so, it’s been all contemporary, all the time,” she observed. But when things get darker—when there are hints of a recession, or something happens from which readers might need a temporary escape—paranormal fiction makes a comeback. As for why, specifically, vampires, she said, “Vampires are kind of the superheroes of the paranormal world. I think that for all of us, as we suffer pain and setbacks in life, the idea of becoming something that nobody can hurt is a powerful one.”
When Crave’s teenage heroine, Grace, loses both of her parents in a car crash, she’s forced to relocate from San Diego to rural Alaska, where her only living adult relative, Uncle Finn, serves as headmaster of Katmere Academy, a boarding school for the supernatural. With the exception of her cousin Macy, Grace’s new classmates greet her—the school’s lone mortal—with a mix of suspicion and hostility. Grace does her best to blend in, but then becomes romantically involved with Jaxon Vega, a powerful vampire with more than his share of enemies, placing an even bigger target on her back.
Historically, a woman’s role in vampire mythology has been that of the hapless victim, but Wolff said she worked hard to avoid that trope with Grace. Doing so meant not only attempting to balance Jaxon’s supernatural abilities with Grace’s own inherent strength, but also tackling the topic of consent—a task that Wolff found tricky early in the book, before Grace learns that Katmere isn’t just an exceptionally private high school, and that her crush is a vampire. “Trying to build sexual tension in a romance when [your heroine] doesn’t know what’s going on—that leaves consent very murky. [It’s all about] making sure that what happens [between them] is her idea, and that nothing serious happens before she knows what world she’s living in. You can still preserve much of what makes vampires what they are without taking away from the lessons that we’ve learned as a society.”
Although Wolff’s cast is ethnically diverse, she doesn’t rely on skin color to drive conflict; rather, fractures form both between and within the school’s different species—vampires, shapeshifters, dragons, and witches. “There’s a lot of division in the country right now,” Wolff explained, “and a lot of hate.” She wanted to explore the reasons for it, and expose the absurdity behind it, using a fictional world. “I think sometimes people are better able to confront things like that [when they happen] in a world that doesn’t look like their own.” Wolf acknowledges that, generally speaking, diversity has been lacking in vampire fiction, but she tried to write a tale that more accurately reflects the world in which her readers live. “My own children are mixed race, and I like to see them represented in fiction,” she said. “I think that diversity and representation are so important. I want everyone to enjoy reading; that’s the English teacher in me. I want everyone to feel a part of the world that I’ve created.”
Never Kill a Boy on the First Date
Caleb Roehrig’s The Fell of Dark (Feiwel and Friends, July 14)—whose plot Roehrig encapsulates as “magic, mayhem, and makeouts”—introduces Auggie Pfeiffer, a gay 16-year-old who lives in a decaying Chicago suburb with a vampire problem. When strange things start happening to Auggie, he harbors the hope that he’s been mystically chosen to slay vampires; in truth, an ancient and powerful entity dubbed “the Corrupter” is planning to return to Earth using Auggie as his vessel. Theories differ regarding the Corrupter’s post-resurrection intentions and whether he should be stopped or safeguarded, but one thing is clear—nobody’s asking Auggie’s opinion, and he doesn’t get a say.
“I think it’s important to send very clear messages,” Roehrig said of writing YA. “We’re adults writing for young readers, and we have the chance to help them develop the tools to navigate difficult situations.” Consent and bodily autonomy are major themes in the book—not just as they pertain to Auggie’s possession by the Corrupter, but also with regard to his vampiric romantic entanglements. “Understanding the complexity of consent, and what you are allowed to say yes or no to, and bodily autonomy—those things are really important.” Roehrig wants to show readers that consent, care, and respect can still be romantic. What’s more, he added, “If something makes you uncomfortable, that doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you.”
This isn’t Roehrig’s first attempt at a vampire novel. “Ten years ago,” he recalled, “I read an interview with a literary agent [who] said something along the lines of, ‘If you have any hopes of being published right now, your book better have vampires, zombies, or shapeshifters in it.’ ” He took that comment as prescriptive rather than a complaint, and got to work. The resulting book went nowhere, but Roehrig’s affection for the genre remained—no surprise, given that he cites Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a formative storytelling influence. Then, last year, Saundra Mitchell invited him to contribute a story to Out Now: Queer We Go Again! (Inkyard, May 26). After struggling to find an angle, Roehrig realized he was finally ready to revisit vampires. He had so much fun doing so that when the story was finished, he didn’t want to leave the universe behind. He scrapped the book he’d outlined and sent his editor a pitch, which she approved.
“I went to school to be an actor,” Roehrig said. “My big dream was that I was going to move to L.A. and be discovered, and I was going to be in an episode of Buffy. This was kind of me writing myself into my favorite episode of Buffy.” Growing up, Roehrig said he never got to see himself in fiction. Books, movies, and TV shows would occasionally feature a gay character, but that character was never the hero—he was always the sassy sidekick, the sexless best friend, or the murder victim. Consequently, for years, that’s how Roehrig wrote his gay characters, because that’s what he viewed as their acceptable roles. “And that’s really messed up, when you think about it—that I was writing myself into the margins of my own stories because that was the lesson that I absorbed.” That’s why inclusivity is so important to him in his writing: “I want to write books where readers feel embraced.” Regarding The Fell of Dark, Roehrig said, “I got to write that heroic story that I never had access to when I was a teenager. It means everything to me that it’s out there now—that it’s going to be a real book.”
What We Do in the Shadows
Zoraida Córdova and Natalie C. Parker were at a writing retreat on the Alabama Gulf Shore when they conceived of their upcoming anthology, Vampires Never Get Old: Tales with Fresh Bite (Imprint, Sept. 22). “We were all floating in this pool,” Córdova recalled, “and I remember saying, ‘Do you know what I miss? Vampires.’” Parker added, “Because I already had experience pulling an anthology together, I knew the mechanics behind it. Zoraida and I were already good friends, and we shared so much enthusiasm for the idea.” Things snowballed from there.
Their plan was two-fanged. First, in addition to the expected slate of fantasy writers, they wanted to include authors who wouldn’t normally contribute to a vampire anthology. “Would you expect Julie Murphy to write a vampire story?” Córdova asked regarding the author of Dumplin’, a contemporary YA novel. Parker said that they also wanted the anthology to tackle issues near and dear to their own hearts, such as matters of representation in children’s literature. “Vampire lore has been so dominated by a single kind of vampire. I feel like everybody pulls up the image of a very handsome white man, heterosexual, and we wanted to create opportunities for authors to engage with that trope and expand it through a number of different lenses.” They never told authors to avoid the “white boy vampire” stereotype, and made it known that nobody would be required to “self-disclose” by creating characters who shared their identities or intersections. Still, according to Córdova, it seems as though a lot of authors have been waiting for their chance to bring their own world views to the vampire canon.
True to its curators’ vision, the anthology includes stories featuring a wide range of tones, perspectives, and social messages, which approach the vampire myth from a variety of angles. Set in 1897, Heidi Heilig’s “The Boy and the Bell” features a transgender gravedigger who liberates the wrong corpse from its grave. “In Kind” by Kayla Whaley sees a severely disabled girl turn into a vengeful vampire after her weary father decides to "end her suffering." “A Guidebook for the Newly Sired Desi Vampire” by Samira Ahmed reads like a pamphlet written by Indian vampires, for Indian vampires, that offers helpful advice (“Eat colonizers first.”) while softening the hard truth with sarcasm and bad puns. And “Vampires Never Say Die,” which Parker and Córdova co-wrote, is set in modern-day New York City and explores the bonds of female friendship.
You don’t need to be a huge paranormal fiction fan to enjoy a good vampire story, Parker said. “We all confront questions of death in our lives, and the appeal of finding a way to live forever or to have magical healing is immediately relatable. Even though it’s completely inhuman, [the vampire myth] illuminates a lot of human experiences.”
Parker and Córdova hope that readers come away from the collection with a sense of being invited into vampire mythology—especially if they never before felt like they had a place or saw themselves represented there. “We would love if this collection inspired young readers and aspiring writers to create their own mythologies, because that’s what this is all about,” Parker explained. “Storytelling is a conversation, and I think it’s a conversation between generations. Our role, as the generation that’s writing now, is to make sure that [those] coming up have more opportunities, and that their imagination gets bigger, not smaller.”
Crave by Tracy Wolff. Entangled Teen, $18.99 Apr. 7 ISBN 978-1-64063-895-2
The Fell of Dark by Caleb Roehrig. Feiwel and Friends, $18.99 July 14 ISBN 978-1-250-15584-9
Vampires Never Get Old: Tales with Fresh Bite, edited by Zoraida Cordova and Natalie C. Parker. Imprint, $17.99 Sept. 22 ISBN 978-1-250-23001-0