One lonely heart meets her true love when she throws a knife into his chest. Another finds hers while she's trying to raise the dead. Still another happens upon Mr. Right while performing emergency surgery on one of his fangs. If you think meeting guys is tough, you should try meeting vampires.
Yet, increasingly, that's what women want to do--especially women who read romance novels. More than 170 sagas of paranormal amour hit the shelves in 2004, twice as many as two years before, and publishers say readers' appetite for the genre is not nearly sated. Author Christine Feehan sells around half a million copies of each book she publishes and finds more readers with every title.
As swoony romantic heroes go, vampires are made to order: brooding, dangerous, mysterious, snappily dressed (although, alas, the cape has largely been dispensed with) with eye-catching dentition. "It's that fantasy about taming the bad boy, and you can't get any worse than a vampire," says Erika Tsang, a senior editor at Avon Books, which publishes Teresa Medeiros' popular vampire novels. "They have been alive for 600 years. They've experienced everything. Then all of a sudden they meet this great heroine, who basically is a breath of fresh air. Falling in love, trying to find that spark again in their lives--that is a great romantic fantasy." And the biting part? "They do suck blood, but it's a very erotic process."
The undead, it turns out, with no life to sustain or career to advance, have time on their hands. Some of it must be spent on their immaculate hair and to-undie-for abs. But the main business of the day is bloodlust, with an emphasis on the lust. Romance authors--and who can blame them?--find it hard to resist the imagery. Women are "impaled," "scream to wake the dead" and constantly experience a rushing of blood. Not that all female characters are the bitten. There are women predators--gutsy, jaded, sexually voracious ladies of the night in need of a like-minded partner, be he a worldly lycanthrope (that's werewolf to novices) or a sexy shape shifter.
Take Anita Blake. Many have. She's a vampire hunter who fell for Richard, a werewolf, slept with wereleopards Micah and Nathaniel and then bedded Jean Claude, the master vampire of St. Louis, Mo. When vertical, she runs around like a paranormal Kay Scarpetta, keeping her fanged friends out of trouble. "Anita knew Richard was a monster, but he was no rapist," writes Laurell K. Hamilton, Blake's creator. Hamilton, currently writing the 15th novel in the series (the last four were New York Times best sellers), says the secret to her vampires' popularity is that "they're people first." Very randy people.
Others have a more romantic view of the vampiric appeal. "I think vampires are very dark, and women have a tendency to want to save them," says Feehan. After Bram Stoker, Anne Rice and Joss Whedon (who created the venerated Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Feehan is the person most credited with popularizing the neck gripper as bodice ripper. A fiftysomething grandmother from north of San Francisco, she has written 30 books since 1998 about the Carpathians, an undead race of mainly men, and their struggle to find undying love. Her books are not about lust, she says. "The appeal is the love of family and hope in very dark times." She gets 1,000 to 3,000 letters a week from fans (a few, she acknowledges, not entirely sane).