Glen Hirshberg Guest Post: Vampires and Sex


Glen Hirshberg, author of Motherless ChildNote from Chelsea/VBC: Today we have Glen Hirshberg on the blog. His latest novel Motherless Child offers a darker take on vampires. Don’t forget to enter to win a copy of the book here. Get a taste for his style in today’s guest post.

A few months ago, Melissa Singer, my excellent editor, sent me the image that would eventually adorn the cover of the Tor edition of my new novel, Motherless Child. Right away, I loved it: it’s blurred, haunted, pensive, sad, alarming. It captures a surprising number of the book’s many moods.

Out of long and ingrained habit, though, I forwarded the proposed cover to a friend with remarkable insight into marketing in all its subtleties. He said he loved it, too, but added: “Your book is more fun than that picture. It starts with a threesome, for God’s sake.”

I laughed, raised the question with Melissa. We agreed that while my friend was right, the image was too evocative, too apt in too many ways to alter significantly.

And it was a month later, apropos of absolutely nothing, that I found myself mumbling my friend’s comment in my head. Worrying at it. Because it bothered me, a little. Here’s how:

There is sex in Motherless Child. More, there are moments that I hope are genuinely erotic (even if they’re uncomfortable), sensualized, intimate, sexy.


But that threesome isn’t one of them. Although it starts with a flirtation between Natalie—the more brooding, thoughtful, and grounded of the two best-friend single-moms at the heart of the book—and the predator she will come to know as the Whistler, the ensuing sexual encounter is anything but consensual. Whatever the Whistler has done to Natalie and her carefree companion, Sophie, neither woman fully remembers it. And, as Sophie says in the aftermath, “It hurt.”

Motherless Child by Glen HirshbergAnd the idea that that sequence might be considered “fun” (that isn’t what my friend meant, he was making a general point) got me thinking about sex in vampire fiction and vampire films, and why it has troubled me so much more often than it has interested or titillated me.

I understand the romantic allure, I guess: the dark stranger who has the power to doom as well as bless or fulfill his or her conquests (and possibly all three at the same time); the forbidden lover at the window, luring one out of prescribed and seemingly permanent patterns; the almost unconscious and overwhelming assertion of (or giving in to) power.

But even sexual power games must remain rooted fundamentally and essentially in choice. In Dracula, in J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla” (still, for me, the greatest vampire story), in the Hammer movies “Brides of Dracula” and “The Vampire Lovers” (a film version of “Carmilla”), there is a hint, sometimes an overt acknowledgment, that giving in to the vampire—submitting, in other words—is an act of will as much as a failure of it.

Lucy in Dracula, Laura in “Carmilla” and especially “The Vampire Lovers”…they submit because they’re mesmerized, yeah. But also because at least part of them wants to, because their lives or partners or preconceptions are suffocating them. Subconsciously at the very least, they’re electing to be seduced. And that’s the key. That’s where the discomforting, alarming, subversively thrilling fun lies. Because to me, if the choice isn’t there…well. That isn’t sexy. It isn’t even sex.

It’s rape.

After being bitten by the Whistler, Natalie and Sophie leave their worlds and their children behind them.  They take to the road, longing for emotional experiences and a sense of kinship with other creatures that they seem no longer to have. They discover, without knowing why, that they have become all but irresistible to any living person they feel like attracting. Sometimes, they take advantage of this. The ensuing sex is still stimulating but for Natalie, it becomes unsatisfying:

Mostly, these last few nights, Natalie found herself hovering around their lips, in the same way she’d once crouched beside the tiny space heater her mother used, on surprisingly frigid Charlotte winter nights, to heat the trailer. That, apparently, was what sex would be about from now on. The ghost of tingling. Mostly heat.

Without the challenge, anguish, and delight of courtship, interaction, conscious engagement of another, sex for Natalie, at least, threatens to become depersonalized, and therefore de-sensualized.

The living people in Motherless Child, on the other hand, respond to vampires because their conscious selves get obliterated in the onslaught of primal, animal attraction. Now, loss of control can certainly be sexy, I get that. But the magnetic pull my vampires exude has at least as much to do with the one condition—that is, dying—attached as a rider to our very existence. Mortals are drawn, as though by pheromones, both to the fact that the vampires are already dead, and to whatever odor or sense or electric sensation their immortality radiates.

Certainly, the Whistler understands this. At one point, teasing and electrifying a helpless audience, he thinks: “There you go, little moths…One silkysoft brush of the end your whole being longs for, races toward, except the part that wakes.”

If you met the Whistler, you might well be attracted to him. But nothing in this book should make you long for that experience.

And yet, my friend is right: there is sexiness in Motherless Child. And those parts are fun, shot through with conscious and unconscious choice, with taking charge and giving in, with engagement, with revelation. There’s even some of that in the aftermath of that opening encounter, when Sophie and Natalie try to make sense of what has happened, pull themselves together:

“You know,” Sophie said quietly, steering with one hand, pulling her tangled hair straight with the other, “I always kind of wanted to do that.” She glanced toward Natalie. “With you. Stop looking like that; why is that so shocking?” Sophie looked away.

Natalie blinked, winced, shook her head. “It’s not…it’s just…you did? I mean, you have?”

“Kind of. Yeah. I don’t know.” She turned back to Natalie. And there was her smile. The ghost of it, fleeting and sad. “I like you.”

In Motherless Child, the sexual hunger that drives every self-aware, conscious being–human or vampire–bubbles up from the same primal pool. From a collective craving for transcendence, intimacy with another, transgression, mystery, tantalizing near-revelation, electric ecstasy, surprise. Contact.  And, as with Natalie and Sophie, sometimes even love.  It’s at precisely the point where this hunger consumes both (or all three, or however many) parties involved that vampire sex becomes sexy.

GLEN HIRSHBERG received his B.A. from Columbia University, where he won the Bennett Cerf Prize for Best Fiction, and his M.A. and M.F.A. from the University of Montana. His first novel, The Snowman’s Children, was a Literary Guild Featured Selection. His collection, The Two Sams, won three International Horror Guild Awards and was named a Best Book of the Year by Publishers Weekly. Hirshberg has won the Shirley Jackson Award and been a finalist for the World Fantasy and the Bram Stoker Awards. His website is http://www.glenhirshberg.com.

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