What was the inspiration behind this story?
This story comes out of two sources, one of which is that I’m absolutely obsessed with vampires (like so many people) and I think that the vast majority of cultural commentary on vampires gets them completely wrong, mostly because it’s focused on whether vampires are “over” (they’re not) and not on analyzing the emotional and narrative needs vampire stories are meeting for their readership.
The second was studying turn-of-the-nineteenth-century Hungary, in an effort to understand my grandmother’s life and circumstances. While doing that research, I began to realize what an amazing time the late nineteenth century was for Hungary, which is interestingly the same time that the novel Dracula was published.
A big part of the horror of Dracula for its original audience is that it’s “East invades West.” Dracula is this foreign invader who comes to conquer England in a way that mirrors what England had been doing to the rest of the world. But also Dracula is this ancient, pre-modern feudal monstrosity, invading a modern, bright, rationalized England that is not prepared for him. And this story is being written at exactly the same time that Hungary is industrializing and the dark feudal world portrayed in Dracula is vanishing forever, which is just fascinating timing and probably not coincidental.
I thought it would be interesting to locate that modernism vs. feudalism conflict within Hungary itself, to center the Hungarian experience rather than the English one. That conflict between modernity and feudalism, which is still playing out on a global level, is often part of the fantasy genre, albeit usually not from a side that is critical of feudalism. So the story is also an opportunity to add my thoughts into the wider genre conversation.
As an aside, you’ll notice that I talk about vampires both as a metaphor for feudalism and as a metaphor for exploitative personal relationships. They’re both, because feudalism is nothing more than exploitative interpersonal relationships empowered to the point where they form the basis of government.
We (myself included) love vampires. What do you think draws us to vampire hunters as well, to the Van Helsings and the Trevor Belmonts of the world? What’s so special about the relationship between the two, especially between your vampire and hero?
Vampires, to me, represent abusive and exploitative relationships, both the allure of them and also the manipulations that entrap us in them. Vampire hunters appeal because they cut through that tangle of justifications and half-truths and false obligations with a very simple “no, this is just wrong and it needs to stop.” That sort of moral clarity is a very compelling fantasy, particularly when you’re bogged down in toxic relationships yourself.
I think that, to the vampire, the hero and he are cut from the same cloth: misunderstood rescuers who make great sacrifices to save those who cannot save themselves, and yet are ultimately damned for it. He wants them to have a relationship, any relationship, because that way the hero can become ensnared in complex mutual obligations just like the villagers (and just like him.)
But to the hero, they have no more relationship than vermin and exterminator: he just wants to finish the job, get paid, and go home to his boyfriend.
“The village of Kovácspéter was plagued by a vampire, which was increasingly embarrassing” is such a killer opening. It’s one of those lines that immediately sets the tone for the story. I don’t have a question here, I just really liked the line.
Could you talk a little bit about the frame story narrative happening between the vampire and the hero? It’s such a fascinating way of seeing the antagonist justify his actions, while also seeing things from the side of the villagers. What was your thought process behind going into the vampire’s POV so he could tell his story?
The vampire is making a gambit to survive, and one that has likely worked for him before. The hero is dangerous to the vampire because the hero is an outsider and not connected to the obligations and relationships that the vampire uses to maintain his power and murder hundreds of young women. The vampire has no power over the hero, but if the vampire can establish some tie between them, some relationship, or even just some misbegotten sympathy, then the vampire can leverage that to gain control over him and thus survive.
Although this particular trope doesn’t appear in this story, I’ve always thought that this is why vampires want to be invited in: by inviting them, you create a relationship, which they can then use to control you.
Simultaneously, the vampire is making an argument for his own existence: that the murders he’s committing aren’t his fault, not really, and anyway he deserves to exist regardless. To anyone who’s ever been in an abusive or exploitative relationship, this is a really familiar refrain and one that can be very hard to argue with. These relationships trap us because we are sympathetic to the other party and because we want the relationship to continue. We do feel sympathetic to the vampire, reading his story. He was a jerk, but he was also trying to help. Or at least he is willing to make the case that he was trying to help.
But also none of that matters. The redemptive clarity of the hero is that he’s an outsider to both the culture and the community, and as an outsider can simply say “this is wrong” and take steps to end it. The determination of fault, the web of mutual obligations, the weight of habit and tradition are all less important than simply causing the murders to stop, which he does quite effectively not by winning the argument, but by killing the vampire.
Do you have any other projects coming out soon that you can talk about? Read/watch/play/listen to anything good lately?
I have a series of three (and counting) stories coming out in Lightspeed called Tales from the Great Sweet Sea, which are a set of traditional fairy tales from a fantasy world. I have loved fairy tales in all their versions since I was a young child, and it’s been great fun to dig into the building blocks of those stories and assemble entirely new works out of them.
Also, I’d love to introduce you to the writing of Tamara Jerée, whose recent story Our Souls to the Moon in Strange Horizons is beautiful and lyrical and astonishing. And there’s more to come. I don’t think that there’s any writer in the world right now that I’m more excited about than Tamara.
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