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The undead find new life

July 31, 2009|associated press

Headstrong Bella is in love with a vampire. Zoey has a crescent moon seared onto her forehead, the mark of a fledgling bloodsucker. Sixteen-year-old Ever can hear people's thoughts. Calliope is, reluctantly, Death's daughter.

All are modern female heroes written by women, read by women and not only obsessed over by teenagers but also their older sisters and mothers. The economy may be deeply troubled, but urban fantasy novels about vampires, werewolves, zombies, supernatural creatures and romance are booming, and women are sinking their teeth into them.

"We're living in a frightening time. I don't know if it's an escapism, as in there's scary stuff out there, so let me control it through the medium of reading," says Amy Clarke, a lecturer at UC Davis who teaches science fiction literature.

"There's dreaming of being with a vampire or werewolf, but there's always the danger of crossing over. I think it's a post-feminist way of taking on power."

The trend gathered steam with Bella Swan and her conflicted romance with gorgeous vampire Edward in Stephenie Meyer's four-book "Twilight" series, which has sold more than 53 million copies worldwide since the first book's release in 2005, according to publisher Little, Brown & Co.

Other authors are jumping in: P.C. Cast and her daughter Kristin's popular "House of Night" vampire series; Alyson Noel's "Immortals" books; the "Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Mysteries" novels by Charlaine Harris, which inspired the series "True Blood" on HBO; Richelle Mead's "Vampire Academy" trilogy; and books by more than half a dozen other female writers.

The genre's popularity is bigger than just books, P.C. Cast said. "With women, this is reflecting a shift in our society," Cast said in an interview from her home in Tulsa, Okla. "I've seen a big shift, especially in my classroom, with women standing up and demanding respect. That's in every woman, whether 16, 26, 56."

"Our fiction is also reflecting that because we're writing the fiction. We've given ourselves permission to be successful. We're also giving ourselves permission to have fun," said Cast, who taught high school English for 15 years before focusing only on writing.

Her five "House of Night" books, starting in 2007 with "Marked," follow the adventures of Zoey Redbird, a high school student marked to be a vamp. Described as a "vampyre finishing school," it's filled with bratty girls, cute guys and no end of drama.

"Vampires are super sexy. Vampires and teens have a lot in common. Teens have surging hormones, vampires have surging blood lust. Teenagers think they're immortal," Cast said.

Amber Benson, who earned a huge fan base as witch Tara on the TV show "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," which ended in 2003, channeled her love of urban fantasy into a trilogy, with the first book released this year by venerable fiction and fantasy publisher Ace Books, an imprint of Penguin.

In "Death's Daughter," Calliope is a young immortal who works in New York City. After her father, the CEO of Death, Inc., is kidnapped, she must run the family business.

"That was the beauty of Buffy, this female protagonist who looked totally harmless but could do all these amazing things and was trying to be a real person at the same time. She definitely influenced Calliope and her journey," Benson said.

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