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They might not drink their piña coladas at Trader Vics, but since Bram Stoker wrote “Dracula” in 1897, vampires have put unkempt werewolves in the trash bin of popular culture.
And neither are today’s vampires your grandmother’s “Dark Shadows” version, featuring Barnabas Collins as a gentleman’s well-spoken vampire.
Today, vampires are more popular than ever, and none are more popular than author Laurell K.Hamilton’s Anita Blake.
There are a few things to understand about Hamilton’s new and improved vampire. First, sex has mostly replaced blood as the life-enhancing element for vampires. The sex is graphic and involves multiple partners of different genders.
In the new world of vampires, it is wellknown in the general population that vampires live among them and are used by the police as consultants.
In addition to two other series, Hamilton has written 26 books featuring her vampire heroine, the executioner, Anita Blake.
Over time, Hamilton’s vampire series has evolved from pretty typical vampire tomes to kickass, badass action and adventure novels punctuated with many erotic and varied romantic interludes.
Hamilton’s newest book, “Serpentine,” finds Blake and her vampire buddies on their way to a destination wedding in the Florida Keys for her fellow vampire friend Edward. Joining her are her were-leopard lovers Micah and Nathaniel.
This time the villain is a rare form of lycanthropy, sort of a play on the ancient Greek multiheaded snakes of Medusa.
City Pulse talked by phone with Hamilton in St. Louis, the hometown she shares with her fictional heroine.
Hamilton said she always knew she wanted to be a writer, but there were a few roadblocks.
“I was in the middle of Indiana farm country. Not where you grow up and decide to be a writer,” she said.
She used a cache of writer magazines to learn the ins and outs of writing.
“I took them home and memorized them,” Hamilton said. This would prepare her for the hundreds of rejection letters she received before her first book was published.
At 13, she discovered the horror and fantasy writers H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe and Andre Norton.
She went to a small Christian college as an English literature major, but she soon found her career choice careening off in a different direction when she turned in a Lovecraftian story.
“They thought they could cure me. I didn’t write anything for two years. It took me two years to recover,” she said. “I was kicked out of the writing program and I had to do something. I had to get a degree in two and a half years."
She turned to biology, testing out of two years.
“I wanted to study something predatory; something that could eat me,” she said.
Her biology career was derailed when she acquired catastrophic allergies.
“I had to go back and look for something to do,” she said.
After working in corporate America for a few years, and realizing it did not attract creative types, she kept writing — receiving more than 200 rejection notices.
Then she rediscovered a short story she had written earlier, featuring a vampire protagonist in a world where everyone knows vampires exist. Her successful series was born, but she said it would be six books into it before she introduced the element of sex.
“It was book six before Anita Blake had sex onstage. I apparently created the market,” she said.
It wasn’t easy for her to write sex scenes. “I described violence in detail in five books, but when it came to sex I got squeamish. I decided to use the same care and attention I did in all my writing,” she said.
It seems to have worked. Six million books later, Anita Blake is more popular than ever.
“Once I crossed the barrier I was past it,” she said. “There were questions at the beginning like, ‘As a woman, don’t you think it is too much?’” Hamilton said.
She countered with the argument: If a man were writing the books, it wouldn’t matter.
When it came to writing about snakes in “Serpentine,” Hamilton did not have the same problems as she did with sex.
“I used to be afraid of them, and I worked hard to get over the phobia. I even had pet snakes for a while,” she said.
Hamilton said she learned it wasn’t the snake itself that scared her, but rather the surprise of seeing one. “I don’t like surprises,” she said.
The snakes are basically the wedding crashers in “Serpentine.” When women begin disappearing from the resort, and her friends become the prime suspects, Anita Blake moves in deftly displaying her detective skills in two worlds.
The book is not without some wry humor, as seen in the pool scenes where buff vampires interact with “normal” humans, and when police investigating a disappearance question Anita and her lovers about a woman screaming.
Blake readily admits she makes a lot of noise while having sex. It’s just another normal day in the life of a vampire executioner.
Book signing with Laurell K. Hamilton
Thursday, Aug. 9 7 p.m. Schuler Books & Music 1982 W. Grand River Ave. Okemos Free