Tracey Bateman on “Christian Vampire Fiction”

An award-winning author with close to one million books in print, Tracey Bateman is no stranger to readers of Christian fiction. But her latest novel, Thirsty, traverses new, rather controversial, territory. As part of the CBA’s growing collection of vampire lore, Thirsty joins the ranks with Eric Wilson’s Jerusalem’s Undead Trilogy and John Olson’s Shade blending vampire mythology with Christian themes. An unholy marriage? Tracey graciously allowed me to explore the subject with her and ask a few nosy questions along the way. And I’m happy to inform you: She doesn’t bite…

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Mike: “Thirsty” seems like quite a departure from your previous books. What compelled you to jump into a genre that is so controversial and so different from your previous books?

Tracey: I find the concept of the vampire to be intriguing and find it really difficult to pass up a good vampire book, movie (a GOOD one) or show like Buffy. If I had thought I could get by with writing a vampire book ten years ago when I started in the publishing industry I’d have written one back then. But the doors weren’t open yet. It’s not so much of a jump for me personally. Just for me in terms of genre. But I’m something of a genre jumper anyway. So it’s a natural leap.

Do you worry about alienating some of your longtime fans with this new work?

When I wrote chicklit, it was a brash departure from the third person, prairie romances I’d written. Chick was in your face reality, subtle spiritual themes rather than salvation prayers and bible reading. So I was a little concerned with that jump in readership. And I lost some readers and gained others. This one wasn’t as much of a problem for me in terms of my readers. I hope not to offend, but the cover and publicity are pretty clear about what type of book Thirsty is, so if my fans don’t want to read a vampire novel, they won’t pick it up. If I alienate them, I am not the writer for them to be following. Bottom line is that I have to write what I feel passionate to write.

Some have labeled “Thirsty” as “Christian vampire fiction.” Many Christians vehemently resist the inclusion of vampire mythology into Christian fiction. While some see it as antithetical to the aims and spirit of Christian lit, if not directly satanic, others see huge possibilities for redemptive storytelling. How do you answer those who say vampires should stay out of Christian fiction?

I am reminded of the late 70s and early 80s when my sister brought home a “Petra” album from Bible college and I wasn’t allowed to listen to that so-called “Christian” rock music. Bottom line, Christian vampire fiction IS here. Eric Wilson’s Field of Blood preceded mine by a year. Time will tell whether it should stay. If Christians don’t want it, we’ll stop providing it. The market determines what stays. We could talk about Amish literature all day.

Can you walk us through the conceptualization and selling of this project? Where did the idea originate? Was it initially met with skepticism or enthusiasm? And is it true that the publisher asked you to tone down your vampires and requested no scenes of blood-sucking?

I didn’t pitch a vampire story. Not that I wouldn’t have if I’d thought I could get away with it but honestly it never occurred to me that such a beautiful opportunity would present itself. I had books to write but was coming to the end of a contract, and got a call from an editor who wanted to do a vampire story. So she asked me to propose something. It took me a few tries to get the right story and then we had to sell it to the committee. The skepticism came more from my family and friends. But they know that above all I want to run the race I was called to run. And if that means breaking ground in the Christian vampire genre then so be it. And if that means it totally fails, well, I’ll bounce back from that too. ☺ Who knows what will be?

As far as the publisher asking me to tone down my vampires? What they asked me to tone down was the caricature of a vampire, dripping fangs and compulsion. And it was editing I appreciated and agreed with as I sort of found my footing in writing this genre without being overly offensive. For instance, we can write about hard subjects like rape and child abuse without detailing these events. The same is true of the vampires. I can allude to the vampire lore without detailing the actual events of murder, and disturbing my readers. I’m not out to offend.

What with the continued proliferation of vampire stories, some have accused Christians of jumping on the bandwagon. The AP report from the ICRS in Denver this summer noted, “…the marketing material [for Thirsty] mentions ‘Twilight,’ the hit vampire book series and movie whose abstinence message resonated with many evangelicals.” With your book, are you attempting to reach Christian readers who also happen to be intrigued by “Twilight”? And how would you answer those who say Christian writers and publishers are just jumping on the vampire bandwagon?

Normally, I wouldn’t answer them. I would let them think whatever they want. But since you asked so nicely I’ll give you my very best answer. I think writers have been trying to get Christian vampires to sell for a while and for whatever reason publishers have hesitated to buy it for the Christian market. Sue Dent, for instance, has one that is self-pubbed, I think. And Eric Wilson was shopping his series before Twilight became the phenomenon it became. But to be fair, Christian romance came about because we first had secular romance. Hymns were originally written to the tune of bawdy house songs. As our society evolves, Christians traditionally take from the world and suit our own purposes. The world has the Shining, we have Ted Dekker’s Adam. It’s not a matter of bandwagon, as much as it is that we each have a different approach to take with similar subject matter. (shrug). It is what it is. We didn’t set out to make a Christian Twilight and in no way is Thirsty like that series. Any more than Twilight is a Buffy rip-off or Underworld is a Blade rip-off. It’s just another vampire novel that just happens to be written in such a way that offers hope and healing. It’s fantasy. Vampires aren’t satanic because there ARE not vampires. They’re a literary creation and as such, I have no problem writing in this genre.

Why do you think the Twilight saga has become so popular? And do you think the story holds any notable value for Christians?

It’s just a really great story and kids ate it up. IF there is notable value, it might be the message of purity, which is refreshing even in YA novels. But parents can draw their own conclusions. I don’t know that Stephanie Meyers was trying to bring a message. I think she was just writing a story that she was passionate about and it paid off.

I will say that it’s unfair for Christians to jump on the fact that she got the story from a dream and call the books satanic for that one reason. I’ve gotten stories from dreams and I think a lot of writers do—Christian or secular.

“Thirsty” is being used as evidence that the boundaries of Christian fiction are being stretched. In your opinion, is this a good thing? How far should Christians go in pushing the envelope?

Frank Peretti stretched Christian fiction with his supernatural thrillers back in the 80s. Ted Dekker has stretched it more. Francine Rivers stretched sensuality with Redeeming Love and even the Mark of the Lion series. But these weren’t done for the sake of overt pushing. It’s not like “Lets see how much we can write our books like secular books and get away with it.” The books that stretch, stretch for a reason. They have to be written a certain way for believability. I don’t think we should “push the envelop” for the sake of edginess. I think we should strive for things that follow the Phil 4:8 model. Having said that, the world isn’t going to be reached by us preaching to the choir. And not all of us are called to do that. The argument could be made that the world probably isn’t going to be reading Christian fiction at all and the point is valid when it comes to light romances and prairie fiction—and we wouldn’t expect them to for the most part. However, they MIGHT pick up a vampire novel. Especially one that deals with alcoholism, like THIRSTY. The truth is that I write what I like to read and I write it from a Christian world view which means the vampire doesn’t get to drink blood, get the girl, and sit in church on Sunday. If he drinks blood, he’s a sinner and in the depths of desperation and obsession. All human and all monster. As we are without Christ.

Apart from selling a million copies, what is your ultimate hope for Thirsty?

Two million copies? ☺ Ultimately, I hope it will open the doors for a horror genre that is more than demon possession and exorcism. More fantasy, werewolves, etc. I don’t know if that’s a realistic goal, though. Mostly, I just want God to do something with it that is real. For every book that is published in the genre, no matter how many that may be, I hope that book’s purposes will be realized. Entertainment? Definitely. But there’s a purpose beyond simple entertainment for the Christian writer, whether we’re writing for the ABA or CBA. I want to make a difference. For one person that might be to immerse themselves in an entertaining story and forget about their fear as they fly from one state to another. For another person, the actual story message might touch them in such a way that they are able to face addiction or face their parents’ addiction or whatever. I don’t presume to know why God would allow me the honor of speaking into lives, let alone to know what this particular book will do, but my prayer is that God will use the words on the page for His glory and to further the cause of Christ. And if I offend, I hope my reader will forgive me as I truly am doing my best to obey God as I believe He’s leading me.