It was the summer of 2000, and my sister and I were bored. We had been sitting in London Heathrow Airport for hours, and I had already read and reread my UK copy of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire twice. We would be there for hours more, and swapping Rocko’s Modern Life quotes back and forth was getting old. We needed to pass the time.
“Let’s make up a story,” I said. We did that a lot. Anna and I had created a talk show called “The Cupid and Angel Show” (she was a wisecracking, cherubic cupid, and I was Angel, the straight man host), and a comic called The Pie Man, which came out of some non-sequitur thought bubbles Anna had added to human characters from a 101 Dalmatians coloring book. The Pie Man was a farce about a man who loved pie so much it got in the way of everything else. We had one issue — where the Pie Man was mistaken for a minister and wreaked havoc while trying to perform a wedding — and we thought it was hilarious.
Most of the time, though, I came up with the story. Anna’s expertise was artwork: at seven, my younger sister had become better at drawing and painting than I was or ever would be. She took a lot of pride in it, and when I was in the mood to be a good big sister, I did, too.
“I have a better idea,” I said. “Let’s make a comic.”
Anna’s eyes lit up. “Yeah! You can make the story and I’ll do the drawings! What should it be about?”
Usually when I wrote something, I came up with an idea in advance. When I had been younger, it was similar to stories by whichever authors I had been binge-reading at the time — Beverly Cleary, or Judy Blume, or Bruce Coville. Other times it was about whatever was happening in my life, like my pet hamster getting a new cage, or my brothers going to an R.E.M. concert, or graduating from elementary school. As I got older, inspiration came to me at random, and it was a matter of following the most interesting ideas.
This time, though, my thoughts returned to an earlier story I had written. Our brother Jon was a big X-Files fan, and “Bad Blood” was one of his favorite episodes. After maybe the fifth time we watched it (rereading, rewatching, and repeating run in the family), and reading a few bloodsucker stories in Bruce Coville’s anthologies, I started to write a family drama about vampires.
My main character was a young vampire boy who lived a fairly normal life with his sister and mother. They lived in a community of vampires and had two kinds of bites, one that killed and one that would turn someone else into a vampire. But they also reproduced the way heterosexual humans did, and grew up the same way, probably because biological science was hard enough for me as it was and mythological biology would be even harder. The conflict was the boy turning out to have a long-lost mortal father, making him a half-vampire and an outcast. He went searching for his father and bit him so he could come back and live with the vampires. I saw this as a happy ending.
“Maybe something about vampires?” I said. “Like… vampires living a normal life and going to high school and stuff? Just in their own little world?”
“OK,” Anna said, and started to sketch a vampire girl in a sort of gothic schoolgirl uniform.
“Let’s call her something like Dracula, but a girl’s name. Like she was named after him… Like Dracie,” I said, rhyming it with “Gracie”.
“Yeah,” said Anna. “And maybe she has a best friend named… Drusilla? But they call her Dru?”
“Yeah! And let’s have them going to a History of Vampires class,” I said, J.K. Rowling on the brain. “That’s where we can have a teacher talk about what our vampires are like, so people reading it won’t be confused.” Exposition was so much easier when you just told people what was happening.
“What are we going to call it, though?” Anna said.
“I dunno. For now, let’s just call it, like… ‘Fangs A Lot’ or something.” It was our working title, a dumb name, but not any dumber than Gloomcookie.
Anna started on a drawing of Dru, who might have been problematically prettier than Dracie. “Do we want any boys?” she said.
Oh right, boys. “Yeah, we do. But this is high school, so they’ll have to have boyfriends and stuff…” An inspiration struck. “Oh, what if there’s a new boy in school, and his name is Timber or Silver or something, and Dracie really likes him? And he likes her back, but then she sees him walk by a mirror and he reflects! And she realizes he’s not a vampire at all, he’s a werewolf!”
Yes, that afternoon in Heathrow Airport, my sister and I invented teen paranormal romance.
Sure, you can point to Anne Rice or Francesca Lia Block, but I don’t mean decently-written fantasy or magical realism. I mean Twilight or Hush, Hush or Fifty Shades Of Grey (which I consider paranormal, it’s completely divorced from any realistic depictions of sex, relationships, BDSM, the United States, or affluence). Love triangles and secret identities and wars between mythical creatures? Anna and I had that first.
Anna and I never went beyond basic sketches. But if we had, and if we had submitted “Fangs A Lot” before Stephenie Meyer submitted Twilight, that genre could have been ours. People would have come to conventions dressed like Dracie. Teen girls would write fanfiction about the History of Vampires teacher hooking up with Dru on her eighteenth birthday, and it would have been accepted because our vampires are different and aging was canon. There could have been a movie. We would have left Robert Pattinson to live a quiet life known only as “that guy who was in Goblet of Fire”, instead trying to get Joseph Gordon-Levitt to play Timber or Silver or whatever his name was and Evan Rachel Wood to play Dracie. We would have failed, because they’re only in good movies. We would have become billionaires, anyway.
Yes, we could have created paranormal romance. Instead, we grew up.