I was in the checkout line at a Maryland Wal-mart when I saw my first Twilight tattoo. I recognized the inverted red-and-white tulip from the cover of New Moon. My daughter, who was twelve at the time, was reading the books along with 90 percent of other American tweens, so seeing a Twilight tattoo didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me was that this particular tattoo was on the hefty calf of a woman at least ten years my senior.

“Nice ink,” I remarked casually, dying to find out more. “Twilight, right?”

She turned from bagging my purchases with a proud grin and a nod. “Yeah,” she said. “I love Twilight. My favorite character is Edward  Cullen. I have pictures of him all over my house. I’m love with him. He’s so perfect.”

She delivered the statement without a shred of shame or irony one might expect from a middle-aged woman expressing a crush on a fictional character destined to spend eternity as a high school senior. When I didn’t respond, she leaned in to me.

“Have you read the books? They’re about vampires.” Her tone suggested that this should explain everything. “Vampires are hot.”

I had to confess that I had not read the books. I’d tried, because I’d enjoyed the Anne Rice vampire books. And I’d found Gary Oldman’s potrayal of a vampire in Bram Stoker’s Dracula very erotic. Even so, vampires never quite did for me what they apparently did for other women, and I found the Twilight series especially insipid. That was troubling because part of me wanted to experience what turned so many other women on.

I waited for the Twilight-spawned vampire hysteria to fade away just as it had in the wake of the Anne Rice books, but no such luck. If anything, vampires became even hotter. Even as my youngest daughter realized the Meyers books were dreck and took her Edward Cullen posters down, vampires still glared at me in disturbing numbers from bookstore shelves and movie posters. HBO’s True Blood and The Vampire Diaries debuted to the breathless delight of willing victims everywhere.

Now, with the fourth season of True Blood set to debut and Twilight as hot as ever – a former co-worker of mine even had a Twilight-themed baby shower recently – I decided to turn to two Blushing Books authors who I hoped could explain Vampire Appeal.

While Carolyn Faulkner and Loki Renard each have their own take on the popularity of vampires, both agree on one thing: Part of the vampire’s appeal lies in his power.

“Vampires are the ultimate alphas,” says Renard, author of Finn the Devourer. “They’re stronger, faster, infinitely more powerful than any mortal male could ever be. Now consider the fact that your typical romance novel hinges on a powerful human male desiring a less powerful human female with an all consuming passion, a passion that drives him to protect her from all that is wrong with the world, and the allure of the vampire becomes all too clear.”

Faulkner, whose vampire offerings include Vlad’s Story, Cherished and All Hallow’s Eve, believes that part of a vampire’s power and subsequent attraction comes from his unnaturally long lifespan.

“I’ve always found vampires to be incredibly attractive, partially because they inhabit the night which is dark and mysterious in and of itself,” Faulkner explains. ” Add to that the fact that they are usually rumored to have lived many lifetimes and in doing so have accumulated vast wealth (I don’t think I’ve ever read a story or seen a movie about a homeless vampire) and the intrigue deepens…. What woman could resist a man like that?”

Faulkner points out that because these ageless vampires were often ‘turned’ in time periods where men were naturally more authoritative and protective, they exhibit a chivalry that attracts women even today.

“A darkly handsome, dominant vampire – with all of the inherent powers of his unique existence – who has retained the thoroughly outmoded tendency to curb his woman’s behavior by the most old fashioned means possible, is fuel to an already raging sensual fire.  He can be forgiven (not that he would ask for it) for his throwback tendencies because he comes from an era when such corrections were the norm rather than the exception.”

OK, ladies. When you put it like that, maybe these creatures of the night are deserving of all that adoration. But even so, underneath all that seductive power and wealth, don’t we still just have a bunch of predators? Perhaps, says Faulkner, but she maintains that their humanity provides balance to that darker side.

“Very often they have tortured souls and are plagued by guilt for what they have done in the past – or continue to do – to merely survive, i. e. Angel and Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Barnabas Collins from Dark Shadows, having once been human themselves,” she said.

According to Renard, to the smitten and bitten, all that angst just makes vampires more sexy.

“The vampire is capable of human lust and human love, but his protection is not limited by human frailty, and not only does he have the ability to save his chosen one from the slings and arrows of fortune, if he ‘turns’ her he also holds the power to protect her from the ultimate human tragedy – death.”

Renard says to countless readers, this elevates the vampire to something beyond supernatural sex symbol.

“To misquote The Matrix,” she says, “a vampire is a woman’s own personal Jesus Christ.

So what do you think? Are vampires overrated? Or would you willingly submit to their power should one appear in your room on this moonlit night?

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