Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Shape Shifting - with Andrew Valentine

Today, my guest is Andrew Valentine, author of the erotic vampire book, Bitter Things and its sequel, Bitter Consequence. Here he gives us some background into the whole vampire story:

Shape Shifting: a brief history of vampire mythology

Turn on a TV.  Check out the offerings at the local multiplex.  Peruse the titles of the bestseller lists of books.  It seems everywhere you go, there are vampires among us.  Not only are they undead, but their allure is very much alive.  This may seem new—you may ask yourself, Why the sudden fascination with vampires?  There’s nothing sudden about it however.  Like the immortal creatures they are, stories and myths about them have been with us forever.

Charlain Harris, Laurel K. Hamilton, Anne Rice and even Stephanie Meyers are lauded for modernizing the myth that Bran Stoker popularized in 1897 with Dracula.  But predating them all, Lord Byron and John William Polidori get credit for bringing the vampire into the English language, with the short novel, The Vampyre.  The story of this story is that Byron penned a few pages of the work and then abandoned it.  Polidori snatched it up and completed the work, turning the villain Lord Ruthven into a thinly-veiled characterization of Byron himself.  Byron’s ruination of women socially became actual killings in Polidori’s tale.

But what might have most influenced our Western notions of vampires isn’t a work of fiction or the blood-thirsty dictator Vald Tepes III (aka Vald the Impaler) on whom Bram Stoker based his character, but a hapless Serbian peasant. Born and bred in his small Serbian village Medvegia, Arnold Paole died from a hayride fall in 1726.  After he was buried, however, he was blamed for the spate of human and animal deaths that struck the town. There was an official investigation in 1731.  Authorities exhumed Paole’s body and found the inside of his coffin scored by his fingernails.  Fresh blood colored his lips.  An Austrian military doctor wrote the police report called Visum et Reprtum; it declared Paole a revenant who rose from his grave to Feed. Word spread across Europe, causing the drawing rooms of high society to thrum with disgust and delight.  Thus, the obscure legend of the vampire became well known in most circles in Europe.

But the vampire was in Europe at least a millennium or two before Visum et Reprtum was published. My erotic vampire novel, Bitter Consequence, explores my main character’s Italian heritage and the vampire that changed the course of her family’s line.  In researching her family I learned during the Roman Empire, many of Rome’s citizens—particularly the women—were fascinated by the beliefs of slaves, who were captured from various parts of the globe.  One persistent belief, which the women of Rome soon adopted, was that drinking the blood of fertile women cured infertility.  Men who drank blood of other men would become more potent.  As this practice grew, so did blood borne illness.  The government outlawed the practice, but blood-drinking cults continued to thrive in the shadows.  As the illnesses persisted, the government sent assassins to hunt these blood-drinkers and kill them.  These early Roman vampire-hunters used ornate daggers that were small and shaped, interestingly enough, like a crucifix.  In order to defend themselves, the blood-drinkers began to spread rumors about themselves that made them appear frightening to their would-be assassins.  They told stories that they were able to change form, into fierce animals and devour attackers.  This may have given rise to the ability of vampires to shape-shift, which Stoker popularized in Dracula.

 Pre-dating the Romans were the slaves themselves. The title of my first novel, Bitter Things, comes from a Swahili proverb, “He who eats bitter things gets sweet things, too.”  Not only is that the theme of the book, but I chose it because my original vampire, Xiamora, is African.  The continent has its own many-varied versions of the vampire.  For example, the Pondo, Zulu and Xhosa tribes fear a creature called the impundulu or thekwane, a minion of the witch who summons it to slake its thirst by drinking the blood of her enemies.  

If you’ve seen the latest season of True Blood on HBO, you may have learned that the first vampire was Lilith.  What you may not know is that the script writers were riffing on an actual Biblical story.  According to Hebrew tradition, Lilith pre-dated Eve as Adam’s first wife.  The story was first recorded in the medieval text, Alphabet of Ben Sirah, and it said that before God created Eve, He created Lilith from the same dust as Adam.  This made Lilith think of herself as Adam’s equal and therefore she would not subjugate herself to his will.  God sent angels to subdue the uppity woman but she escaped.  When God created Eve from Adam’s rib, Lilith vowed vengeance against any children they would have, by killing them and drinking their blood.  

The ancient Assyrians and Babylonians of Mesopotamia offered their own blood goddess, who most probably influenced the Lilith myth.  Theirs was a goddess was named Lamastu, which means “she who erases.”  Scholars suggest the name Lilith is a derivative of Lamastu. This creature would creep into residences and drink the blood of whoever was home, but had a special taste for the blood of infants.  She was also responsible for disease and nightmares.  While Lilith was seductive, Lamastu was terrifying, with wings and talons.  She was blamed for sterility and was an ancestor of the belief that demons would visit young men in their sleep and fill them with uncontrollable sexual lusts.  

Although today’s popular culture teams with the undead, there is a rich and varied history of vampires behind us.  Despite what looks like an unsustainable popularity, the twilight of the vampire is not upon us.  Like a Roman blood-drinking cult member, the vampire myth will continue to shift shapes to fit the needs of our culture, and the vampire will be with us eternally.

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Guest blogger Andrew Valentine lives and writes in New York.  He has a masters degree in psychology from the New School, is a founding member of the Paranormal Romance Guild, and is a marketing director in a firm in Manhattan, where his writing is more effective at producing revenue than pulse pounding thrills.  

Visit Andrew online at www.BitterThingsTheBook.com or www.BitterConsequence.com or check out the books on Amazon.com:


  1. Thanks for adding to my knowledge of Things Vampyre.Didn't I read something along the line that Lilith was particular in her attacks in that she only sought out young children? With the idea being that she was jealous because she and Adam had none and that honor fell to Eve?Always glad to see a writer doing research for his books.

    1. Hi Tony-Paul--
      That is an extension of the Lilith myth. But it's important to note that throughout the history of the vampire--and across cultures--they are associated with horrors visited upon children.

      For example, in ancient Mexico, there was the "ciuapipiltin," who was a vampire created when a woman died during childbirth; to vent her rage, she'd haunt a crossroads and attack and drain any children who happened along the path.

      In Malaysia, there are stories of the "bajang" who suck the blood of infants. Oddly, if you were able to capture and subdue a bajang, she would make a wonderful caregiver of children.

      In the darker versions of Hinduism, there is the blood-goddess Kali, to whom over the centuries countless children were sacrificed in an attempt slake her thirst for blood. The Kali myth heavily influences Bitter Consequence.

      I agree, Tony-Paul. Research is a powerful tool in fiction. It gives the lies we weave a basis of truth.

      Thanks for the comment. Can't wait to read your upcoming book, The Last Vampire Standing!

  2. It's wonderful to find an author versed in the history of the vampire! I will definitely give your books a try. :)

    1. Thank you, Jordan! Not only is the history of the vampire fascinating to me, but I find a lot of meaning in the multicultural aspects of it. It makes me think that there was a common creature that our ancestors encountered in the mists of time. I suggest that encounter was so profound that it continues to haunt us in the forms of vampire myths.

      I'm actually working on a science-based theory right now that points to what that creature actually is--and how it helped change the world, including influencing the American Revolution. But that may need to wait for another vampire novel to find appropriate exploration.

      And thanks for giving my books a try. I hope you enjoy them!

  3. Thanks to Andrew for being my guest and thank you to Jordan and Tony-Paul for your comments

  4. Happy to be your guest any time, Antonia!