Continuing our series looking at romance novels which have inspired and influenced writers, Rachel Dove talks about the book that introduced her to urban fantasy: Dead Until Dark.
As a romance writer first and foremost, I love the fairy tale adventure, the gritty parts of relationships, the damsel in distress books that make your toes curl. The happy ever after, death do us part. Navigating problems that we face in real life, making mistakes that we see coming before they do.
The other side of the writer in me though, is much darker. I write horror for charity with a few other writers, and I love the dark underbelly. I like the paranormal, and have always loved books in that genre. Stephen King does it beautifully, but a love a good paranormal romance the best. I read the classics growing up of course, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Bram Stoker's Dracula, King's The Shining. I always looked for me, but found The Vampire Diaries a little too immature, as it is written for teens this not perhaps not a surprise. Vampires and zombies are my absolute favourites, and ghost stories are a go to.
One day several years ago I saw an advert for the new TV show True Blood, and I was instantly intrigued. Seeing it was based on a book, I immediately bought the whole set that was available, which was a set of ten at the time. They were called the Sookie Stackhouse Series, by Charlaine Harris. The first book, Dead Until Dark, took me one day to read, and housework and meals were all but forgotten. I was transfixed, and held off on watching the TV show till I had read the first book.
These books did not introduce me to the genre as such, but they did introduce me to a world where ghosts, vamps, weres, fairies, witches and even weretigers lived together.
Vampires didn't hide in the shadows anymore, they were out in the world, navigating life, and when Bill Compton walked into the bar where telepathic virgin Sookie Stackhouse worked, the story begins.
These books featured sex, love, romance and the brutality of these creatures in a compelling way. There are no sparkly vampires in Bon Temps, the southern town where the veil between the living and the dead is thin. Bill Compton may have been a southern gentleman at one time, but now he killed people, sucked their blood, used compulsion on them to do his bidding.
If he wasn't bad enough, enter erotic club owner Eric Northman. Eric is a Viking vampire. Yes, you heard that correctly. He is a tall drink of water, brutal and honest to the point of being downright mean, a man whose roots mean the world bends to him, not the other way around. They are not for the faint hearted, being dark and very adult orientated, but they are fantastic.
Harris has a unique way of writing, in some chapters she describes things in the tiniest detail, mapping out Sookie's movements on her own in the house. Next chapter, two lines can make the heart race and have you frantically reading them again, trying to understand the intricate information purveyed in two short lines. World building is a skill in writing, and Harris has it in spades. The town of Bon Temps, the dozens of characters, all remembered perfectly and slotted together in intricate layers. It's the supernatural vamp equivalent of Game of Thrones, and I set her out as an author to aspire to be.
For the first time, my love of the paranormal, the other worldly creatures and romance were moulded together into a fantastical world of adventure and excitement. It's heartbreaking in places, hilarious in others, and I still enjoy rereading the series to this day.
Sparkly vampires are all well and good, wolves who love and yearn, but what about the alpha male sides of them, and the kick ass side of the women? Harris doesn't apologise for pulling punches, or putting her characters through the mill, and she drags the reader right along with them. People die, supernatural characters are evil and good, just like humans, and people have prejudices and judgements against people, supernatural or human. Add to this the Cajun flair of the setting, Bon Temps being a character all of its own, and you have the perfect way to lose a month of your life.
Have you ever read Dead Until Dark or seen True Blood? What books introduced you to urban fantasy? Tell us in the comments or use #vampiresandwaitresses on Social Media to join the #PHS reader's discussion.
Rachel's latest release, The Flower Shop on Foxley Street, is out now. For more information about her and her writing, check out her website, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.