Research with bite

By PD Martin

Today I’m starting my research series. Once a month (i.e. every second blog of mine) I’m going to blog about some of the weird and wonderful research I’ve done in the name of crime fiction. From real-life vampires (today) to gurus and lock-picking… you’ll discover it all here!

So, vampires…seriously. And I should point out I did blog about some of this stuff when my fifth novel, Kiss of Death, first came out, but I don’t think any of you Murderati gang would have come across it. If so, please excuse the duplication.

It’s certainly hard to ignore the global phenomenon of vampires, with vampires definitely ‘in’. While Buffy the Vampire Slayer had a devoted following from 1996 to 2003 (including me), it was more of a cult following – nothing like the mainstream stars of the vampire world today. Many bookstores now have whole stands devoted to vampire books, and then there are TV shows like True Blood and Vampire Diaries and the book-to-movie success of Twilight. These creatures of the night are, of course, fictitious…or are they?

What the average Twilight-devotee may not realise, is that there are people who really believe they are vampires. I’m not talking about people who dress-up like vampires; nor am I referring to individuals who think they’re nightwalkers and can only be killed by a stake to the heart. Rather, what I’ll call ‘real-life vampires’ are people who genuinely believe they need to feed on other people’s energy to survive, usually via a donor’s blood. These people have been studied to a certain degree by both the medical and psychological professions, although not in much detail.

So how did I stumble upon real-life vampires? It started as a concept for a crime fiction novel – imagine a victim drained of blood and a local cult of real-life vampires. Are they the killers? However, when I started the research I discovered my fictitious concept wasn’t so fictitious. Turns out LA has a thriving vampire scene – check out or for the clubbing scene try In my search for all things vampire, I interviewed a few vampires from different areas, including the US, the UK and Australia.

Russell from Sydney is a self-confessed vampire in his forties who describes vampirism as “the need for additional bio energy that the body cannot produce.” Merticus, who’s one of the co-founders of the Atlanta Vampire Alliance (AVA) says: “Vampires are generally individuals who cannot adequately sustain their own physical, mental, or spiritual wellbeing without the taking of blood or vital life force energy from other sources; often human.”

My research turned up two types of real-life vampires – sanguine vampires who feed on blood, and psi-vampires who drain people’s spiritual energy. The traditional view of vampires is as blood-drinkers, but for real-life vampires it’s more about energy. Even those who exclusively satisfy their ‘thirst’ through blood usually talk about drawing out energy from the blood.

There are a few explanations currently put forward to explain claims of real-life vampirism. First off is the blood disorder porphyria, which is treated with haemoglobin, hence the connection to drinking blood. Not only do sufferers need blood, they are also sensitive to light, which gels perfectly with the vampire mythology. Problem is, if you drink blood it goes through the digestive tract and doesn’t enter the bloodstream. In other words, drinking blood wouldn’t alleviate porphyria symptoms. However many of the websites and forums I found suggested that real-life vampires are physiologically different, and have the ability to extract haemoglobin from the blood, even through the digestive process.

Then, there’s the psychological side of things and two major theories have emerged. The first is sexual sadism (vampire) coupled with sadomasochism (donor). By definition, sexual sadists derive pleasure from their partner’s or victim’s physical or psychological pain. Vampires are inflicting pain as they bite. Likewise, the donors could be seen as sadomasochists – people who need to feel pain to become sexually aroused.

The second psychological explanation for real-life vampirism is Renfield’s syndrome, named after Dracula’s insect-eating assistant Renfield. This psychological disorder is hypothesised to start with a key childhood event that leads the sufferer to find blood exciting. Blood and this sense of excitement is later linked to sexual arousal during adolescence, and into adulthood.

Of course, one simpler psychological explanation is that real-life vampires are suffering from delusions of grandeur. After all, mythological vampires are strong, powerful, perceived as sexy and almost invincible – pretty appealing, huh? Certainly the vampires interviewed in Carol Page’s Bloodlust: Conversations with real vampires came off as a little strange to say the least and delusional wouldn’t be too much of a stretch. In contrast, Merticus says of the vampire community he’s part of: “…the majority of our community are high-functioning, above average intelligence, sane, and rational members of society.”

In terms of the cause or reason for vampirism, the real-life vampires themselves are divided. Some say it’s physical, some say psychological, and some say it’s simply something you’re born with.

No matter how you explain real-life vampirism, the fact is these people really do exist. So, how does one become a real-life vampire? Unlike the vampires in fiction who are ‘turned’, real-life vampires talk about being ‘awakened’, usually as teenagers. There are lots of vampire dictionaries online, all with similar, if not identical definitions of awakening. In terms of the symptoms, the dictionaries talk about people preferring the night to the day and switching from nocturnal sleeping to diurnal sleeping. And, of course, developing “the thirst”, which refers to a thirst for blood and/or energy.

What happens if they don’t feed? Real-life vampires complain of headaches, stomach cramps and severe fatigue if they don’t feed, some even saying they’re unable to get out of bed in the morning. Russell’s in this camp: “If I do not regularly obtain energy I feel very drained and sometimes sick.” Others talk about severe mood swings and suggest they need other peoples’ energy to somehow balance out their own personality.

Are these people suffering from Renfield’s syndrome or poryphoria? Or perhaps they’re simply sexual sadists or delusional. Or is there some other, yet undiscovered explanation for individuals who experience a thirst for blood and other people’s energy?

At the end of the day it’s hard to know what the story really is with people who claim to be real-life vampires. Interestingly, my research did not reveal young Goth males obsessed with the vamp culture. Rather, I found older vampires who had nothing to do with the Goth scene. Research undertaken by the Vampirism and Energy Research Study backs this up, finding that 66% of the vampires who responded to the Study did NOT identify themselves as Goths and the average age was late twenties to early thirties.

There was, however, one thing that was unanimous on the forums I visited – they hate Twilight wannabes.

So, what are your thoughts on real-life vampires? Ever met any? Or maybe you are one.

And if you’re into book trailers, my bit of BSP (blatant self-promotion) is the book trailer below! Click at your own peril 🙂


25 thoughts on “Research with bite

  1. Alafair Burke

    PD, the only way I knew about this phenomenon was from an episode of Nip/Tuck! Totally gross IMHO but very interesting. (I'm also a mad Buffy fan by the way.)

  2. JD Rhoades

    Funny you should bring this up, since I'm writing my very own vampire story right now. I'm having fun playing with some of the tropes, and there's going to be an encounter with some vampire fanboys and girls

    .Good post.

  3. Alexandra Sokoloff

    When I worked at The Bodhi Tree metaphysical bookstore in LA, we had a regular customer who claimed to be a vampire. He looked more like Igor, actually, only always beaming. He was very pale, with white hair and black eyes and eyebrows, and he knew everything there was to know about the history of vampires. And he had a very sunny disposition – whatever he was, he was enjoying himself.

    His name was Bongo. Have to love that.

  4. Fran

    I've been aware of the real vampire thing, but never really gave it much thought. At least the blood drinking sorts.

    Psychic vampires, however, I absolutely believe in, did long before anyone talked about it. I associate those with those people who hang out with you for a while and when they leave, they're all bouncy and bright and you're mentally and emotionally exhausted, even if all you did was have a conversation with them. You know, the folks who "just wear you out", and they're not toddlers. I don't think most of these folks self-identify as vampires, and I suspect a great number of them would be shocked to know that others see them that way. But they're out there.

  5. Gayle Carline

    "Vampires are generally individuals who cannot adequately sustain their own physical, mental, or spiritual wellbeing without the taking of blood or vital life force energy from other sources; often human."

    If you take away the blood factor, this explains a lot about my mother.

  6. Eika

    Explains a lot about my sister, too, Gayle.

    After reading this, and how irritable vampires are when they don't get blood, I'm tempted to suggest my sister try drinking it. But I won't; I'd rather not fear her coming after me with a knife or something…

  7. PK the Bookeemonster

    Everybody has their tastes, thank goodness, and vampires just don't do it for me. I don't find them attractive or romantic and don't understand how they can be viewed as such. It — and other paranormal creatures — have become a huge sub-genre in books.
    I remember when INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE came out and what a phenomenon that was. Must tap into something in the audience psyche.
    If an author has a vampire/zombie/etc story in them, it would be silly not to take advantage of a market that doesn't look to be going away anytime soon. Good luck with your project! 🙂

  8. pari noskin taichert

    I think I've met a psychic vampire or two. They were incredibly toxic . . . and draining.

    As to the whole drinking blood thing, I'm not a big fan of these in fiction or real life. I adore the Buffy series, but feel that there's much more going on than the vamps.

  9. KDJames

    I think we all know someone who sucks the energy out of us. Like a succubus/incubus only without the sex.

    If it weren't for the day job, I suspect I'd become completely nocturnal and I do enjoy a nice rare steak on occasion . . . but the rest of it? Yuck. I don't understand the appeal of vampirism any more than the descriptions of blood lust in battle and drinking the blood or eating the organs of the vanquished enemy to gain their strength. I may be the only person who has never seen Buffy or True Blood or Twilight.

    Your trailer is very spooky and evocative, PD. :shivers:

    I'm looking forward to hearing about picking locks. No reason.

  10. Zoë Sharp

    Hi PD

    Fascinating post. Another Buffy and Angel fan here, although Twilight left me cold – not as in undead, just … cold.

    Never come across any vampires, except the emotional kind ;-]

  11. Catherine

    PD when you mention people who think they are vampires it brings to mind a murder that happened here in Brisbane in the late 1980's. Three women lured some poor bloke who had had a few too many drinks into their car and then took him to a park in West End where he was stabbed. One of them drank his blood to 'satisfy' her cravings for blood. They were caught because the one who believed she needed human blood, left her credit card in his shoe.

    It still amazes and horrifies me that people kill, let alone for vampirism.

  12. Laura

    After watching the trailer, I had to read the book and I've just ordered it. I agree that I do not find vampires attractive or believable (but I would not kick David Boreanaz out of bed :p) but I do tend to enjoy the stories where people believe they are vampires. If that makes sense. I buy into the psychological side, not the supernatural stuff…
    Great post, really fascinating.

  13. PD Martin

    The many Buffy fans: Seems like I've discovered lots of Buffy fans!

    Alafair – never seen Nip/Tuck but very interesting they did an episode on real-life vampirism.

    JD – Yay, the vampire book. I love a good vampire fiction 🙂

    Alex – so you've met a real-life vamp! All my interviews were over the phone and email so I didn't actually get any visual – just their assurance that they were NOT goth and that they were vamps.

    Fran – so true! It's like that expression 'They sucked the life right out of me.' Sometimes you really do feel that don't you. Drained.

    Gayle & Eika – oh dear. Sorry to hear you have some energy sappers in the family.

    PK – yes, vampires often bring out the extremes. Don't like them, aren't interested or can't get enough. Re the fiction writing – I've been told that vampire fiction is on the way out, but who knows?

    Pari – yes, I think we've all known a few energy drainers. And also agree about Buffy…lots of stuff going on in that show. A very smart take on the paranormal and before it's time. Or maybe it started the whole trend.

    KD – Can't imagine being nocturnal (I start falling asleep on the couch around 9.30pm) but I do like a good rare steak! Funny thing is, I hardly ever eat red meat, but when I do it has to be the best cut and rare. Glad you like the trailer! And as for the picking locks…mmm…should your neighbors be worried?

    Will catch up with other responses too…


  14. Catherine

    It might seem particularly weird for me to say this considering how much the real life case horrified me, but Laura I've read this book and it's a good read. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

  15. JT Ellison

    PD, I've done a lot of vampire research too, and sadly, met more than my fair share of psy vamps. You might find this story interesting: I wrote it into THE IMMORTALS:

    He just got out of jail, and there are a lot of people who are very unhappy about it. Most of the folks I know who are in this world feel vampires are evil. Plain and simple. All I know is I'm wary around anyone who sustains themselves on others.

  16. Reine

    Hi PD, I am so late, sorry. I always thought the draw to vampirism – being a vampire, that is – was immortality. What I find interesting about them in fiction is their willingness to destroy others to become immortal. Also some of the vampire-themed books I've read were very sensual. I usually find a depth of focus on the spiritual core of life, often tied to examining good and evil. I do like that in books. And if a character is immortal there is the opportunity in a series, as with Anne Rice's books, for an interesting time dimension, not otherwise possible with the same characters.

  17. PD Martin

    Catherine – I don't remember that case but it sounds both horrid and fascinating all at once. I'm not sure in your book reference whether you're talking about a true crime book on that case or my book Kiss of Death but I think you're talking about the case and I bet it would make interesting reading as a true-crime story!

    Laura: So glad you liked my trailer and ordered Kiss of Death. You will find lots of psychology and even a dabbling of supernatural in there. But just a tiny, tiny bit 🙂 I certainly found the research incredibly fascinating so I'm glad that came through in my post.

    JT: Interesting interview! I agree blood drinkers are a little scary, certainly if the delusions of grandeur psychological explanation is correct. It would make them very unstable. Having said that, one of the research stats from the Atlanta Vampire Alliance says that 97.42% of the respondents have NEVER been convicted of a violent crime. Hopefully if we run into some vamps they're from this group. It sounds like Jonathan Sharkey wouldn't fall into that 97.42%.


  18. Reine

    Just thought I'd add that I don't want to meet any "real-life" vampires, the blood drinking or psychic kind. I'm sure I've met the psychic variety described, the kind that can wear you down emotionally. They aren't always that simple to avoid. Very giving people I've had in therapy seemed to be vulnerable, as they found themselves sucked in before realizing they weren't going to be let go all that easily.

  19. Reine

    Phillipa, love your book trailer!

    JT, very interesting article. Thanks for posting the link.

  20. Catherine

    PD sorry am having a strange travel day. Just got off a school bus to connect with train to get to city as car is at mechanics. Good read= kiss of death ! I've not looked for true crime book about this murder there probably is one though. Many lurid headlines result with key words Brisbane& vampire & murder…

  21. PD Martin

    Hi all,

    Reine: Yes, I think the allure of the fictional vampire is certainly immortality and their perceived 'sexiness'. And as you say, a vampire lives for a long time, so there can be many, many stories with different settings (time and locations). On to your second post…it's such a pity that emotionally vulnerable people are further victimised by vampires, although I'm sure it's not only the energy-suckers who take advantage of someone when they're down 🙁 On a lighter note, I'm glad you like the trailer!

    Catherine: Sorry, my confusion! Or as Buffy would say, "My bad." And I'm so glad you enjoyed Kiss of Death.

  22. David Corbett


    Please excuse my getting to the party late. Yesterday was a tad nuts (if only it was productive … sigh.)

    When I first started reading your post, I thought: They feed off the energy of others. Yeah — haven't we all be in a relationship like that?

    And in certain parts of LA, "sexual sadism" is just another way to say "the weekend."

    But the more I read, the more fascinating it became. My girlfriend's a wildlife documentary filmmaker and I've heard some wild stories from the wild, as it were, but this is beyond flesh-eating spiders and lesbian macaques. Thanks so much for sharing it — can't wait for the next research rollout.

  23. PD Martin

    Hi David,
    Thanks for coming to the party! "And in certain parts of LA, "sexual sadism" is just another way to say "the weekend.""…very funny!

    Glad you enjoyed it 🙂


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