When I was a kid (back when dinosaurs ruled the earth), vampires were scary. They were beasts. They were things you were supposed to be afraid of, to run out of the room when one was near, to fight with stakes and crosses and light and garlic (garlic?).
Vampires were Dracula. They were the nemeses of Kolchak, the Night Stalker. They were bloodthirsty (literally), single-minded, ruthless beasts that would kill anyone who got in their way strictly for food.
(Perhaps this is the spot for me to point out that I know vampires aren't real, which apparently puts me ahead of a decent percentage of the American population. I'm talking about vampires as a story device.)
But somewhere along the line--about the moment that Frank Langella started playing Dracula on Broadway and then in Hollywood, and continued when Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise played Dracula wannabes in the same movie--vampires became sexy. They were the bad boys who only needed a good woman to tame them. What had been a horrifying beast became a fantasy between-the-sheets partner with a kick--they could make you immortal.
And yeah, I know there was always that edge to the legends and no, I'm no expert on the mythology. I'm talking about popular culture. I'm talking about vampires that showed up in the movies and on TV.
These days, vampires are not at all scary anymore. They're the equivalent of the cleaned-up rebels without causes that James Dean and Marlon Brando started playing, but which ended up, eventually, as the Fonz. Teenage girls lust after vampires. What the hell is that about?
I blame women.
"You miserable sexist!" I hear readers cry. "How dare you blame women for taking a figure of revulsion and turning it into the lead story in Tiger Beat!"
Well, I can tell you that every attempt to reverse the gender roles and create sexy female vampires for guys to drool over has died a horrible death. And you can get guys to drool over women pretty much just by having the women show up.
Besides, who writes the sexy vampire stories? Men? Check the names. This is chick lit with a certain amount of hemoglobin thrown in for spice. The next thing you know, these undead bat-morphers will be taking their girlfriends out shopping for shoes.
This rankles me mostly because it's another example of the nice guy finishing last. In pop culture, we are constantly bombarded with female characters who only want a nice guy to settle down with, and invariably pass right by that guy sitting at the next desk/barstool/computer terminal/breakfast table in order to get close to the "romantic" guy who's so misunderstood that he steals/kills/beats his lovers, but who just needs the love of a good woman to straighten him out.
Vampires have become the female fantasy equivalent of the hooker with a heart of gold who refuses the money in the morning because the guy is so wonderful, both on a mattress and off. In actual history, that might have happened one time. But probably not.
How does this relate to mystery publishing? Um... give me a minute... how about this--Elliot Freed is a nice guy. He treats the women he knows well. He loves his ex-wife, even though she left him for another man whom, as it turns out, she doesn't like as well as Elliot. He plays by the rules. For all I know, he pays extra on his taxes. He even has a sense of humor (women say they like a guy who'll make them laugh), and has devoted his life to it.
So, where are the scads of women clamoring for more Elliot? Where are the hordes who wait for the next Double Feature book to come out, and line up outside the bookstore for hours before the official release?
Well, I don't blame women for not buying the books--it's a lousy economy, I'm hardly a household name, and the bottom line is that if the product doesn't appeal to people, they're not going to buy it. I'm not mad at women. I really like most women I know.
I'm just a nice guy, I guess, and... hey!
There's only one thing you can say about a situation like that--it bites.