How I Built My Vampires — Part One, Apex Predators

Two weeks until Generation V is on the shelves! This is amazing, because I can try and work it into conversations in a very fake-casual kind of way. “Oh, week after next? Well, I have that dermatologist appointment, and then I thought I’d swing over to the bookstore. No big deal. Thought I’d buy Munchkin Chtulhu… and MY OWN BOOK THAT GETS PUBLISHED THAT DAY!”

Very exciting times right now. Advance copies of Generation V have gotten three really nice reviews on Goodreads, which everyone should go and read. Here’s a snippet of what David Caldwell wrote about Generation V:

This isn’t your typical vampire/shapechanger novel.The author has come up with a new and creative take on vampires.The idea of the host is great and gets rid of a lot of the problems presented in most vampire tales.Vampires aren’t immortal, just very long lived.They continue to grow strongeras they age.They also gain many of the weaknesses(like having to avoid the sun) as they age.

And Matt Lunn:

M.L. Brennan develops a very likable hero and excellent surrounding characters to go with an interesting new take on old vampire myths.

And Django Wexler (full disclosure, I know Django, and his first book The Thousand Names is incredibly cool and amazing and I reviewed the crap out of it already.):

It’s always nice to see an original take on the vampire mythos. (Including, for once, a reason why vampires haven’t overrun the world!)

I’ll brag a little here – all three of those reviewers also gave me five out of five stars. (fact: I am going to bawl my eyes out the first time someone give a nasty review)

But what all three reviewers were talking about was the way that I reimagined and rebuilt vampires in this series, so I thought that this could be something useful and interesting to blog about today.

Firstly, I’ve always had a bit of an issue with the vampire myth as it usually plays out, for pretty much the same reason that Django refers to – if vampires are immortal and all they have to do to make more of themselves is bite someone, have that person drink a little bit of blood, and then you have another vampire? You have a massive population control problem that will fairly quickly result in the entire world being covered by vampires!

You can actually see this play out by watching The Vampire Diaries. At this point, basically all the original humans are now vampires. Or dead.

You can actually see this play out by watching The Vampire Diaries. At this point, basically all the original humans are now vampires. Or dead.

I knew before I even started planning the series that I wanted my vampires to have a lifespan. Because, let’s face it, immortal characters are boring. They have no life cycle, they have no particular stake in doing anything. But then there was the question of what kind of life cycle? I didn’t want this to be a thousand years kind of thing, because then you’re only ever within two generations of the time of Christ, and honestly, that’s a little weird to think about. “Oh, that guy? Yeah, my grandpa was drinking buddies with him. Man, did that Nazarian like to put back a few bottles of wine.”

I also really didn’t want a protagonist who was a few hundred years old. Unless I made it a completely separatist society, the vampire would have a really tough time rolling with the constant changes in time. And half of his memories would involve women in corsets, a lack of flush toilets, and the days when Mozart’s music was banned for being too racy.

When I started constructing my vampires, I wanted them to make sense in a biological way. Not a lot of sense, granted, since this is still fantasy and my field of study was in the humanities, but just enough that I felt like I could work with it.

My first step was to think about how vampires would fit into the natural world. Essentially we’re talking about an apex predator in its ecosystem – big, in charge, eats what it wants and no one eats it.

Vampires are basically Great White Sharks.

For reference – in this parallel, humans are that seal

For reference – in this parallel, humans are that seal

Now, Great White Sharks are amazing, and badass, and the entire reason behind Discovery’s Shark Week. But like all apex predators, they are also inherently vulnerable because of this important fact – prey species must reproduce quickly, because it’s through sheer numbers and fecundity that the species can continue, since just about everything eats them (think bunnies here). But apex predators are different. For one thing, it usually takes them much longer than their prey to reach maturity – both physical maturity and then sexual maturity. After all, nothing is eating them, so what’s the rush? Secondly, they tend to reproduce less often, and in smaller numbers, because, again, no one is eating them, so no worries.

Which is fine… as long as nothing effects that ecosystem.

Here’s the thing about an apex predator – they are far more vulnerable to changes than their prey species. They are also far easier to wipe out, because of those important traits – slow to mature, slow to breed, and then they produce small numbers of offspring.

This takes us back to the badass Great White Shark. We don’t know a whole hell of a lot about them, but we do know that they live 30+ years, and that they don’t reach sexual maturity until around year 15. They also have an eleven-month gestation cycle, and deliver between 2 to 14 live pups, which then swim off and have to fend for themselves while they get bigger.

That long maturation period and relatively low amount of young makes them very vulnerable. For example, if suddenly another species comes along with boats and the interest in sport-fishing them and/or making tasty soup out of their fins, a huge dent can be made in the population, and this is a population that can’t bounce back very quickly.

And that led me to an idea I really liked – that vampires were a species that was barely hanging on, because the long maturation period and the low birth rate had been a disaster once humans began developing technology that could offset the natural power imbalance between them. Imagine a rabbit vs. a wolf. Now imagine if the rabbit is carrying a rabbit-sized AK-47. Those big teeth don’t make such a difference now, do they?

So vampires are strong, and powerful… but it takes them a while to get that way, just like baby Great White Shark. And if normal humans (the rabbits) traditionally reach sexual maturity around 15-18, then my vampires don’t hit it until they’re around 250. And the birthrate is very low – usually between one or two offspring in a regular vampire’s lifespan.

Now my primary vampire, Madeline Scott, is unusually fertile in the vampire world. Her oldest is Prudence, who was born in 1775. Then Chivalry in 1864. Then Fortitude, who is now 26. And none of her children are old enough to either leave home or start a family themselves, though Prudence is getting close.

To me, that seemed both interesting and plausible that this was a species that A) hadn’t overrun the entire world, and B) could be pushed right up to the edge of extinction.

But most importantly, C) would be neat to write about.

That was how I imagined I used the idea of vampires as apex predators to construct my species. But I also had a second way of interpreting vampires, which I’ll go into more next time –

Vampires are apex predators. But they also are very specific predators, feeding solely on the blood of another species. Which to me made them…


And this was when the vampire lifecycle started getting interesting...

And this was when the vampire lifecycle started getting interesting…

About M. L. Brennan

Author of the Generation V urban fantasy series, published by Roc Books. Not your usual vampires, kitsune shapeshifters with attitude, Doctor Who jokes, and underemployment. GENERATION V and its sequel, IRON NIGHT, available wherever books are sold. Third installment, TAINTED BLOOD, to be published 11/14.

Posted on April 23, 2013, in Generation V, Vampires, Writing process and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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