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Vampires as an Academic Study?

May 28, 2010

Please welcome Bertena Varney to Wicked! She and I met this winter on Facebook and I’ve been amazed at the reviews and things she’s been able to accomplish since I made her acquaintance. She loves everything vampires, a topic close to my own heart, and has made it a point to become educated on the lore and history surrounding them (much more so than I can claim, I just make stuff up). She writes reviews and opinions on her website, for the locals as Lexington’s Vampire Examiner, as the Paranormal Literature Examiner, and for Associated Content.

Last January I found myself nearing completion of yet another college degree. I had already completed the Master’s that I wanted (Sociology and Criminology) but as a certified teacher in Kentucky it’s required that one must complete a Master’s in Education as well.

I complied and before the last semester I found that there were no more education, history, or sociology classes offered. My only choice was an independent concentration on a subject that would involve lots of writing. I knew one thing at the time—after all the boring papers in college — that I HATED to write. I also knew that I would have to ask a professor to do the independent study with me— something they do not get paid for. After a long story, I found one that agreed and instructed me to return the first week of class with my topic, theory, and academic resources.

I went home and thought about what do I like so much that I can spend a whole semester just studying it? I looked around my house and saw vampire movies, vampire books, vampire pictures, etc. So, I thought, what have I watched, read and enjoyed since I was five years old? What would be an enjoyable assignment that would make this writing assignment not so bad? The answer was clear- vampires! Vampires?

I began to clear my mind of all the negative thoughts that I had heard my entire life. I sat quietly and just let the ideas come in and as they did I wrote them down— Dark Shadows, Buffy, Vlad, Bram Stoker, etc.— and began to research what these names had in common. I found that they were part of a true academic study called Popular Culture. At that moment the light went on and I thought, “I will do an academic study on the vampire” …and of course I responded back to myself, “Yeah right! She’s really going to fall for that!”

I decided I was going to convince her by making a list of popular vampire books, movies, television shows, comics, and cartoons. I then took that list and began researching it with popular culture and came across hundreds of academic articles including one on the Whedon Studies Association. WSA is an academic association that studies all things Joss Whedon- including his two vampire shows- Buffy and Angel.

After that I found a professor at Ohio University, Dr. Anita Blessing, and a graduate student, Amanda Hobson, who claim to be “vampire experts” and have even taught classes and workshops around the country. I wrote to them about my fear of being taken seriously in the academic field and how I should address the topic. Dr. Blessing said that she had had the same situation and advised I should say I study the cultural effects of vampires in pop culture on the culture. She was, of course, correct.

When the first meeting with my professor came, I entered her office quite scared. I had everything that she asked plus the brochures of the academic studies around the country, Ms. Blessing’s emails, and a Pop Culture Association and WSA membership application. I fumbled through these and tried to explain to her my idea—and failed! She asked me to stop and she said, “Look at me like I am your friend and tell me what you are thinking.” I did what she suggested, tried again, and her reply was, “I’ve never heard of such a thing. But you have a passion for it, you know the subject, and that is what academic research is about—passion for a topic and sharing it and the new knowledge that you find with the world. So yes, you may make this part of your academic concentration in this program.” YES!

The result of my hard work was a paper entitled, “The Search for the Lure of the Vampire.” It is a sociological study on the following topics: The Use of Vampires as Religious Icons, The Use of Vampires as a Socialization Tool, and the Lure of the Dead Boyfriend, a study in the rise of vampire literature.

In the end I found that once I began writing about something that I enjoyed, I no longer hated writing. I actually enjoyed writing about something in which I was passionate. However, I also found that many people do not share the same view as I do. Many do not understand what I am doing is a true academic study of why vampires have entered our culture over and over again.

Now I am a writer for Examiner.com with the title Lexington Vampire Examiner, where I write about vampires in pop culture. I also speak at conferences such as the Sirens Conference and The Witching Hour and am currently organizing my own academic and fan conference- A Day of Mystical Blood Lust. It is a day of events about supernatural creatures such as vampires, werewolves, faeries, angels, etc which ends with a Halloween Ball.

So, remember that whether you make your interest a hobby or a study— it is yours to make it what you want it to be for yourself. Listen to your muse and write and study what you love.

You can also find Bertena on Twitter and you can reach her via email at: vampireprofessor@yahoo.com

Thank you so much for blogging with us here today, Bertena. I know whom I’ll be calling when I have any questions about vampires! The day of events schedule in Lexington for Mystical Blood Lust sounds like a blast and if there is anyway I can swing coming you know I will!

In honor of our week on Muse and Inspiration we’re running another contest. A 500 word flash-fiction piece inspired by the writing prompt:

An Unexpected Death

First prize will be having your entry critiqued by one member of the team,  posted here on Wicked for the world to enjoy, and the DVD collection of True Blood Season Two!  Second place will be a critique as well, a posting here on Wicked and a $10 gift certificate for the book of your choice at bookdepository.com

**Contest runs until June 6th so listen to your muse and get cracking!**

9 Comments leave one →
  1. May 28, 2010 11:08 am

    Passion is probably the most important part of any writing or research. If you cannot find inspiration in what you are doing neither can the reader, be it professor, critic, or general audience.

    I was fortunate in college also to find a professor who let me do my paper on the astrological references in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” and how modern astrology would view them. I must admit I put more time and effort into that work than anything else I ever did in school, and received the highest marks in the class because of it. I have never forgotten Dr. Barry Sanders nor lost my love of the Middle Ages.

    Now my own novel, even those set in the future, draw on those elements of history and literature which move me so passionately more than 40 years ago.

    • May 28, 2010 11:13 am

      Thank you SP for the comment. I hope that I am half as successful as you with my writing. I appreciate all the support that you have shown me over the last few months.

      I am so glad of that last semester.. it really opened my eyes to all the possibilities that there are in the world.

  2. May 29, 2010 5:01 am

    Great post… reminds me of being told by my PhD panel that, while they thought I was capable of getting a doctorate, studying the Art of Management was highly risky and they thought I would not succeed!

    But I was paying for it… So I did it and with 5 supervisors (no one could cover the breadth of my studies) I completed it in 3 years part-time study while running a business.

    The passion I have for the study of art in anything drove me not only to complete it, but to win two international awards for the work and get it published by a major academic publisher! Passion is essential!
    🙂

    • May 29, 2010 10:43 pm

      Well, congrats! I thought I had found the perfect PhD program and they only accepted like 8 out of hundreds of applicants. That is my dream is to get my PhD.

      And yeah passion means a lot especially when that is all that you have.

      Congrats on your accomplishments. I hope to be able to say half that much some day.

  3. May 29, 2010 9:01 am

    I’m in awe, David! The amount of work and dedication you showed to work on ONE piece is truly inspiring!

    I bet with your passion and drive, once you started River of Judgement it flew onto the page in comparison. That’s really my issue with non-fiction – it takes a lot of work to make it interesting and engaging, while making up a story allows you to build an entire adventure exactly to your specifications (no worrisome facts to deal with).

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