Saturday, April 30, 2011

Last Vampire Month Post: No Sparkles

I learned some things over the course of this month. I didn't publish nearly as many guest posts as I'd hoped to, because I learned that I'm no good at forcing myself to write blog posts that aren't spur-of-the-moment and inspired. At least not ones long enough to send away to be a guest post. So I'm posting the last of the guest posts I wrote but couldn't expand to a decent length here. Below that, I'm posting a review of Twilight that I wrote two years ago, to provide context. I wavered about posting it, because I don't want to push away readers, but I think an artist should have aesthetic opinions and shouldn't be afraid to express them. And it's pretty safe to bash on Twilight. In fact, that should be more of an impediment to my posting it now than alienating readers. But at the time that I wrote it, there wasn't a lot of great critical analysis of it yet. Anyway.

My Vampires Don't Sparkle

The first line of Burden Kansas 's blurb is, "Vampires are not sexy or sensitive."

Now I don't have anything against sexy vampires. The domination and exchanging of bodily fluids involved in the vampire mythos is blatantly sexual. And the occasional sensitive vampire is okay by me, too. I like Louis as a foil for the incorrigible Lestat. There's room in vampire mythos for all types of vampires.

But I have to admit that the first little seedling of Burden Kansas sprouted in spite.  I'd just read Twilight, and I had this bile in my soul that could only be gotten out by writing the anti-Twilight. That was pretty much the entire basis for a short story called "Prairie Leeches." I made my vampires stupid, smelly, gore-encrusted and incredibly violent. But the strange thing was, by the end of the 4,000 word story you'd started to wonder if they were really the monsters when compared to the protagonist, a hardassed Kansas rancher named Keith Harris.

And that's where things got interesting.

One of the first responses I got after Burden Kansas hit Amazon was, "Somehow, you made it very cool to be a redneck." Keith Harris evolved from monster to empathetic character in the journey from 4,000 words to 34,000 words. He performed the same terrible acts, but his past full of guilt and regret makes his behavior almost forgivable. He's a man who's always taken on other people's sins, and by the end of Burden Kansas, he's about to be crushed beneath them.

To match the more realistic protagonist, I had to flesh-out an antagonist. Out of the herd of these feral animals stepped Dennis, a small-town drug dealer. With the help of his stock of methamphetamines (it makes sense in context, trust me), he maintains his human intelligence through the change. This––combined with his newly gained vampiric powers and his intense hatred for Keith Harris––makes him a very dangerous and decidedly unsparkly enemy.

If you want a vampire to pour your heart out to, you'll have to look elsewhere. To the vampires of Burden Kansas, we're no different from cattle. If you want a vampire hunter you can take home to meet the parents, Keith Harris isn't your guy. Only one woman could ever control him, and with her long dead, he's like an attack dog off its choke chain. But if you think that the battle between a middle-aged cowboy and a fanged tweaker over the fate of a one-stoplight town in the middle of the Kansas prairie sounds interesting, check out Burden Kansas.

February 2009
"I finished Twilight," I groaned, snarled, suggested, retorted, argued, laughed, gasped, dirged, emoted, while hiding behind my hair

I finished it. I don't know how I did it. It's the second worst book I've ever read, the first worst being one of the Queen Betsy Vampire chick lit books by MaryJanice Davidson. I don't know which. It's a series, and they all look the same.

Why did I finish it? Because every time someone on the net said anything bad about Twilight, all the stupid fans asked if the truthsayer had even read the whole thing.

Let me give you an alternative scenario. Let's say that someone touches you with a running chainsaw, taking an inch out of your side just above the hip. They ask if you liked it, and if you want them to chop the rest of the way through you. You say no. They say, "But I didn't even chop all the way through you! How can you even make an informed comment?"

But you remain pretty certain you didn't like being chopped a little with the chainsaw, and really wouldn't like being cut all the way in half.

I chopped myself all the way in half, out of spite.

I thought that perhaps the book would be dumb-but-entertaining. I was so wrong. It's dumb, and infuriating, and mind-numbingly boring. 544 pages. The first 240 pages are the two main characters staring at each other across the cafeteria. The second 240 pages are them asking each other question after question. The remaining pages are the plot.

I understand why unremarkable teenage girls who hope they are really special like this book. It's about an unremarkable, obnoxious and moody teenage girl, who suddenly finds herself to be, for no reason, the most interesting and special person in her new school. She's never been asked out before, but suddenly every guy around her can't get enough of her, especially the preternaturally beautiful vampire boy.

This is one of the reasons Harry Potter is so popular. Harry Potter, as a character, is one of those plywood pictures with the holes cut out above a body for you to stick your head through. He is a place-holder for the reader, who hopes that something special is hidden within them. However, Rowling (except for the massive amount of deus ex machina) is extremely good with plot (except ending them without the hand of god) and has created an interesting, light-hearted world good for a lively, distracting romp. The cardboard cutout protagonist just gets you hooked. Meyer has nothing but the one-size-fits-all cardboard teen girl protagonist going for her, because she still obviously thinks exactly like a teenage girl.

Anyway, the vamp tries to resist her as hard as he can, but is forced to act the prince and save her several times. Finally, he gives in, and spends chapter after horrible chapter asking her about the minutia of her mundane existence. She wonders how such a beautiful creature could be interested in her, but he assures her over and over and over and over and over, as he asks her her favorite flower and her favorite color and her favorite gemstone, that she is so much more interesting than she could imagine. And he is so beautiful, and he is beautiful because teen girls like beautiful, feminine, unthreatening boys, but more importantly he is beautiful to illustrate how interesting she is, because a beautiful, powerful, immortal boy can't stay away from her for his own good.

And this goes on and on, and endless cycle of "you're too beautiful" "You don't know how beautiful you are, but I should stay away cause I'm dangerous" "If you stay away, that's what's dangerous" "I can't stay away anyway cause you're too alluring, but I'm angry at you for not making me stay away" Blah blah blah BLAHBLAHABLHABLbLHABLHABLHABLHABLHABLH for 544 pages!

Yet I did it. I can say in a fully informed manner that this book is absolutely 100% terrible on every conceivable level.

The language is boring. The speech tags carry the entire emotional resonance, he ranted. The characters are unbelievable, except for the insipid teen girl, who is very believable, if we didn't have to believe that everyone finds her charming and irresistible instead of temperamental and obnoxious and boring. The plot is not a plot, but a series of back and forth questions and unexplainable shifts in temperament (and just because you note that the characters can't keep up with the illogical "whirlwind of emotion" doesn't make it empathizable). Why show us what a vampire is when you can just drag it out of the vampire one question at a time? Sure, he doesn't want to answer and we don't want to hear, but whatever. The actual plot, which should have started in the first chapter, is greatly reduced by the ease with which it is solved because it has to be taken care of in the final 75 of 544 pages.

I could honestly go on and on and on about how bad this book is. This isn't a good book hyped to best-seller status, or even an average book hyped to best-seller status. This is an openly manipulative steaming piece of hack shit that should never have been published at all, and the fact that it has expanded beyond its emotionally-undeveloped target audience is mind-boggling.

Don't read it because it might be so bad it's good. I beg you. I wish I'd chosen the chainsaw.


  1. Coincidentally, I read Twilight that same month (February 2009). For much the same reason. I was curious if it was so bad it was good, or if there really could be something interesting about a teenage girl not having sex with a vampire. My conclusions were similiar: No, and no, not really.

    There was no plot that I noticed. Just a prologue with a Threatening Situation that proved to have the only real action in the whole book--once you finally caught up to it.

    My one-word summary of the book was (and remains): Banal.

    There is only one lesson to be learned from the success of Twilight and Stephanie Meyer: Finish your novel. After all, it might, somehow, take off. Even if no one really knows why... ;-)


  2. Wow - I didn't think anything could make me want to read Twilight less than I already did, but you're review managed it.

  3. David - Good point. Twilight put the "shit" in "throw shit at the wall and see what sticks."

    James - Then my suffering was worth it.

  4. It sickened me so much I couldn't even spell "your" correctly on my previous comment.

  5. I second James: I knew I would never, ever read these books, and now you've utterly confirmed that I was right in feeling that way. Thank you for your sacrifice, Alan. You have saved many heads from agonized wall-bashing.