Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pretty Dead

Meet Charlotte. She's a blonde haired blue eyed svelte beauty. She gets compared to Gisele Bündchen regularly. She's got all the right clothes and accessories. She's also a vampire, but please--don't use the "v word," as she puts it. All the boys want her and all the girls want to be her, which seems to make her the Ann Margret of the undead set. Charlotte's got a husband, William, an amoral sexy Byronic cad who turned her into a vampire a hundred years ago, whom she's now fleeing. Plus, she's got a sweetly naive high school best friend named Emily, now dead. And Jared, Emily's boyfriend who Char's now in love with. And oh yeah, turns out Emily's not exactly dead...she's...undead. And I thought life was hard enough when you were just the other kind of v-word.

So...what happens when Francesca Lia Block jumps on the Twilight bandwagon?

That fateful conversation between Francesca Lia Block and her trusty editor:

Editor: So we were thinking of doing something Twilight-y. Except edgier and hipper.

FLB: But I've never worked with vampires before...I'm more into gorgeous skinny girls with fairy wings who wear too much eyeliner.

Editor: Don't worry. That'll go over fine. Make your main character beautiful, but to keep up with the whole Bella Swan ideal, give her a few great qualities that could be flaws.

FLB: Like, she's really tall and thin, but back in the 19th century when she first became a vampire, that wasn't considered beautiful?

Editor: Perfect! Oh, and make sure that her breasts are just a little too big for her tiny waisted frame. God, I love that flaw.

FLB: This whole drinking people's blood thing sounds a bit icky, though...

Editor: Nah. Veganpires are in. The kids love socially conscious vampires--they drink animal blood or synthetic blood or something. Why don't you write it so your main character gets a constant supply of cow's blood on the black market. The black market part sounds edgy, the fact that no one's killing humans will make sure it goes over well in the heartlands, and you won't even offend the Jews and Muslims because it's not pig's blood.

FLB: What about the whole sleeping during the day thing. Sure, my characters wake up late but sometimes they go to the beach at dawn to surf.

Editor: Haven't you read Twilight? When you want to break a rule of traditional vampire lore, just have your character chuckle, look wistful, and say something like, "Ah yes, a bit of vampire mythos from one of your human films. If only being a vampire were really like that." Just make sure they don't sparkle. Meyers and her people have patented sparkling.

FLB: Maybe my character could just...wear a lot of sunscreen?

Editor: One more thing. We're really trying to court the kind of girl who's not usually into vampires, so try not to use the word "vampire" too much. Use "the v word" or have your main character say that she's not really into labeling herself. We want our average reader to be the girl who watches Top Model and spends more time in Sephora than in Hot Topic. What can you do for us?

FLB: Stop comparing my protagonists to Nefertiti or Aphrodite and start name dropping Kate Moss and Gisele? And mention some lip gloss shades?

Editor: Franny, you're on fire. Pretty Dead is going to do for vampires what Weetzie Bat did for weird alternative chicks in love with their gay BFFs.

Attributes of a Francesca Lia Block -pire.

Coffins are NOT a girl's best friends. Char: "I sleep in a big bed with a headboard of an antique silk Japanese wedding kimono, embroidered with flowers and cranes..." (Oh yeah? I sleep in a racecar bed!) Charlotte sometimes thinks she'd like to climb into her Louis Vuitton trunk at night, but she wants to appear normal.

"I never" PSYCH! Early on in the book, Charlotte and her manpire William kill to live. In the present, though, Charlotte drinks cow's blood to live. She also eats real food on occasion--like very rare steak. She even imbibes red wine. When your character has more lax standards about drinking blood than Audrey II, you know you're in trouble.

Let the sun go down on me. Nothing bad happens to these vampires in the sun. They don't even sparkle. But they do take care to wear layers just in case, because you never know with vampires (or volcanoes). And I wasn't joking about the sunscreen remark earlier.

Pretty vampire. At one point, Charlotte's process becomes reversed and she starts turning human. During her re genesis of that mortal coil, she breaks a nail that won't heal! And she even gets a zit. Vampires, on the other hand, have impossibly clear skin and great bodies and they never get wrinkles. They're like 90210 or Melrose Place characters. They get to hang around while the world gets bombed (London and Hiroshima circa WWII) and watch while suffering no ill effects. (Hell, even 90210's Kelly Taylor suffered some minor burns after that rave episode that put her self esteem in major jeopardy.)

We never smudge our eyeliner or mascara. Vampires can't cry! They don't even cry blood like in True Blood. Charlotte will always have that perfect smokey eye. Normal girls with their pores and emotions just can't compete.

We don't have to stay undead. Charlotte doesn't even have to deal with the fact that she'll be alone when all her mortal friends and loved ones die because she gets to go back to being a normal girl at the end of it. (Her vampire husband reverses the process so that Emily can turn into a vampire, but Charlotte has to go back to being human.) So Char gets the fun "staring into the abyss" part of being a vampire without the long term soul sucking loneliness. Or as I like to refer to it: angst-in-a-can.

Living in a material world. Vampires get more options for sexiness. No more limiting themselves to Morticia Addams or Elvira for fashion icons. Charlotte's got a house full of sexy red dresses, Chanel No. 5, gladiator type sandals, and make up galore. Charlotte spends most of her century with William feeding and wearing cool decade appropriate outfits. (Did you really think FLB would miss up an opportunity to have her main characters dress like Marilyn and James Dean in the fifties, or John and Yoko in the 70s?) And when Char sees that her best friend Emily has come back to life, her reaction isn't, "Holy shit, are they appealing to the zombie demographic, too" but rather, "Her lips were painted red...I even thought I recognized the shade. M.A.C. Viva Glam."

If you're wondering what makes an FLB-pire all that different from Tyra Banks that time she went postal in season 4 of AMNT...good question.

Beep beep! Plagiarism alert!

There are just so many people that I can think of who might want to sue Ms. Block. That either means she has no new ideas of her own when it comes to vampires or that she's really got her finger on the pulse of young undead America.

The producers of True Blood. Look at those lips.

Except you could tell that HarperCollins was really courting the young teen demographic. Instead of blood red lipstick, we have pinkish lip gloss sheen with a gold shimmer. The teeth are biting into a red and white mint that's dissolving into blood. In other versions of this book, the mint is black and white and there's no blood. (Why, you may ask? So this book would appeal to both the goth crowds who think that the only thing more romantic than blood is dying of TB in a sanatorium, and the kids who just purchased their first Bettie Page t-shirts at Hot Topic but are scared off by bodily fluids.)

The Estate of Francine Pascal. Charlotte has blue eyes the color of the Pacific Ocean. Come on, FLB, couldn't you have thought of something a little bit darker? She's a vampire, not a Bratz doll. How about "eyes as deep, dark and menacing as the Black Sea at dusk"? Whoa. That was easy. Too easy. Urge to stop snarking and start writing vampire fanfic, rising...

Diablo Cody. FLB: "Teenage girls are powerful creatures. They want what they want and they will do what they must to get it." The line in Jennifer's Body that goes, "Hell is a teenage girl" is equally trite, but at least Diablo got there first. (FLB, you do get points for knowing better than to try to lift the inane lines "Honest to blog" or "Oh my god, Move on dot org!")

Britney Spears and whoever got blackmailed into directing her Lucky video. Charlotte says, "People want to be me. But I am like that [Chinese goddess statue] lying prone in my bedroom. No one understands the extent of my loneliness." To be honest, I preferred, "She's so lucky / She's a star / But she cry cry cries in her lonely heart...Why do these tears come at night?"

Prosaic Prose
  • Charlotte has reservations about killing people, so the vampire William makes a speech about why it's okay to kill people to satisfy the bloodlust. Yes, this is before Charlotte decides to only drink cow's blood. The vampire Bill plays the amoral Lestat to Charlotte's sensitive Louis:
We must make the best of it. We must love our victims, honor and respect them. We give them meaning. We give them value. By dying this way, their lives have purpose.
This almost makes Mufasa's insipid reply to "But Dad, don't we EAT the antelope" seem deep. Vampire William, do you guys also make sure to use every part of the human after you drain it for blood?
  • Jared begs Charlotte to make him into a vampire, and she replies:
I will not pierce your neck like a barbarian...But my body senses your need, like a mother with a newborn.
Char, if you weren't a vamp, I'd be begging you to get your tubes tied.


I know as a teenager that I was pretty lame. My idea of being a vampire meant seducing pre-24 Kiefer Sutherland while living in a coven that featured Bill S. Preston, Esquire and Richard Gilmore. I thought Cry Little Sister was a great song. And I thought vampire chokers were the height of good taste. Yup, I was a square.

With all that in mind, I still feel comfortable condemning Charlotte and William to the trash heap of vampire fiction.