I hope you're gleaning two things from that sentence: 1. my approximate age and 2. the fact that as a teenager I belonged to the Sci-Fi Book Club. I was beating those boys off with a stick, I was.
Anyway, Anita Blake represented this whole new genre I hadn't even thought of: sexy vampires. I was a teen, and therefore emo, and I adored the brooding, forbidden nature of the attraction between Anita and Jean Claude. I bought every book in the series and devoured them. I read them even when Richard, the werewolf, showed up to fuck things up and cry. While waiting for the next book I searched desperately for something else like Anita.
Now, this was before paranormal romance was really a thing (or before I knew about it anyway). It was not the dominant romance subgenre. There was very little YA fiction I could find on the vampire + teenage girl love thing we now know so well. This was also back when I went to a physical bookstore to buy books, not to a website, and I was not yet comfortable enough asking the sales clerk, “Do you have any sexy brooding vampires in your warehouse? Preferably books with sex in them? Thanks.” I had to take what I could find.
I found Amanda Ashley. Oh, how I loved her. She wrote books about depressed, lurking vampires who were really good men at heart but were ashamed of their latent violence and pastiness. There were your traditional vampires, folks. They couldn't go out in daylight. They didn't fucking sparkle. They longed for the warm embrace of a sweet human woman. I read Embrace the Night, Deeper Than the Night and A Darker Dream so many times the covers split. Ashley also included poetry in her books, and what more could appeal to a teenage girl than vampire lustypants and poetry? It was a fucking home run.
I even read Sunlight Moonlight, a really strange duology. The Sunlight portion featured a girl falling in love with an alien. I never really recovered from that story or forgot it. There was a terrifyingly lantern-jawed Fabio on the cover, which I guess is what aliens look like. Maybe Fabio is an alien. It bears thinking on.
I liked the books, but I didn't love them. I think my naive virgin self was a little traumatized by the Carpathians gigantic peens and their penchant for doggy-style sex. I was still struggling with the idea of tampons; a hero hung like a table-leg made me shudder in imagined pain.
(SB Sarah adds: I had no input in this entry and the fact that we were both weirded by the doggy-style Carpathians is completely coincidental.)
I also read a lot of L.J. Smith. Smith was the one author I found who gave me the YA vampire feels. She wrote the Vampire Diaries that the CW show is based on. She had a series of books called Nightworld that featured romances between various paranormals (vampires and witches mostly) and humans. They were too short, but otherwise delicious. Every book had that forbidden, star-crossed lovers theme I was looking for. Smith's protagonists are soulmates, connected in some mystical supernatural way by a figurative silver chord. They sometimes get a shock or jolt when they first touch, just like Feehan's characters can see color. I loved the idea of a normal teenage girl being secretly connected to something bigger, darker and more powerful than she realized. It was my yearning to be recognized in the big, scary adult world put on paper. With vampires. And kissing. Secret Vampire features a girl with terminal pancreatic cancer and her best-friend, the boy next door, WHO IS ALSO SECRETLY A VAMPIRE. Of course he is. Of course an immortal creature would totally fucking go to high school. Why not? And of course he makes her a vampire to save her.
Things were great. I read Anne Rice and completely whiffed on the homo-erotic tensions. I read anything even remotely related to vampires and werewolves and witches. I devoured this stuff. And then…it just kind of fizzled.
I never totally let go of paranormal. I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer like my life depended on it. I think that Buffy, a small blonde girl, taught me that, as a small blonde girl myself, it was okay to demand to sit at the grown up table despite other's preconceptions of you. Sometimes when I'm the youngest, smallest, only woman in the room I still think of Buffy and know that I've got this shit. But I no longer needed the tortured vampire love stories I craved before. Part of it was that I was no longer yearning to be part of that scary, secret adult world with all the sex and drugs and rock n' roll. I was being pushed there whether I liked it or not.
And the genre was changing too. I'm a traditionalist. I like my vampires to burst into ash in sunlight. All of a sudden there were books with incredibly complex rules and world building. There were vampire-were-panther-wicca hybrids. There were books about vampires who didn't drink blood and glittered. And my go-to girl, Anita Blake, changed too. Hamilton's books became all about exploring erotic fantasy and Anita justifying to herself why she needed to have a three-way with a vampire and a werewolf while another werewolf watched or something. It became ridiculous. I actually threw Incubus Dreams in the garbage when Anita female-ejaculated and Nathaniel reverently called her a “rainmaker.” I was down with the erotica, but not with erotica filled with navel gazing and prolonged explanations for what it was.
I gave up for awhile. Then I read Twilight. Twilight is my least favorite book ever. I hated it. I hated that Edward was an emotionally manipulative stalker. I hated that Bella fell down and cried for most of the book. I skimmed books two and three (because I so desperately wanted it to get better and some of my friends loved these books and I'm stupid like that), and I actually kind of liked four because it was fucking batshit insane. Vampire teeth c-sections. Crazy fast growing babies. Soul-bond-pairing with said babies. WTF. I think I can actually make a fairly good case for the Cullens being a cult and drawing Bella in. But that's a different post. If I had been ready to dive back into paranormals, Twilight killed it for me.
It's been a few years since we've talked, paranormals and I. But just recently I got a copy of Christine Feehan's Dark Wolf and it's got such a beautiful cover, and it's staring at me. It is taunting me, begging me to come back. It'll be better this time, baby. I won't sparkle or make rain, I promise. And Amanda Ashley has a new book out too. So I think we might try this again. We're just going to keep things casual. Stay tuned.
What about you? Were you a paranormal fan, too? Are you still? Which of the classic paranormals was your favorite?