Thursday, May 31, 2012

Draculești: A Little History of My Novel In Progress

I have been working on my novel that I have long titled (subject to change, of course) Draculești, which has the meaning of "house" or "family of the dragon/devil", for quite some time. In the last few years I have been rewriting the novel from the previous draft, because quite frankly, it was dreadful. I've been using this story as practice to learn to write, and so far I can see how I have improved. It is one reason why it is taking me so long to finish it. Another reason I just need to sit down and write it.
Order Of The Dragon
My infatuation with 15th century Eastern Europe and the historical people of the era started way back when I was thirteen or fourteen, when I had first discovered my love of vampires, thanks to a friend of mine. Playing the Castlevania games on the Nintendo also contributed to my curiosity of the vampire/Dracula lore, and, if that weren't geeky enough, I started making crappily drawn and even more crappily written Captain N comics with my version of Alucard (Dracula's son) in them. I had read Dracula, I had read Carmilla, and then one day I went to search for more vampire works in the local Putnam Library. There, I found a book that I eventually bought from them, since I had been pretty much the only one who ever had checked it out, by the name of "In Search of Dracula: A True History of Dracula and Vampire Legends" by Raymond T. McNally and Radu Florescu. It was that little half torn up book where I learned that Dracula had actually existed by the name of Vlad Țepeș, or Vlad the Impaler, and that he was a fifteenth century prince of a little country in today's Romania called Walachia. I had decided then that I wanted to write a story, maybe 100 pages long, about the character Alucard, only I would change his name to his historical name Vlad, and write about his life before he turned into a vampire and after he had turned under the name Alucard until the time of which Bram Stoker's novel took place. Kind of like a prequel of Dracula, but focused on the son of Dracula instead. From then on I learned as much as I could about Vlad and his times, though it was quite difficult since the subject at the time was pretty obscure in the area of which I lived and the internet had yet to be as widely popular as it is now, so I scoured libraries for any information I could. It wasn't easy, and my early draft was proof of it, not just the writing but the history was way off. I wanted the historical stuff to be as accurate as I could make it. Then I bought a second book years later by the same authors, which was a much more informative update of their older 1970's published book, by the name of "Dracula: Prince of Many Faces, His Life and His Times". That was where I learned that Vlad the Impaler's son, Vlad, the main character of my novel, was actually his second born son, first with his wife Illona Szilágy, cousin to the king of Hungary, not his first born to an unknown mistress like was said in “In Search of Dracula”, which was Mihai, later known as Mihai cel Rău, Michael the Bad. (Did that make sense?) But since my story wouldn't work with Mihai, I decided to just stick with Vlad, and that's part of where the alternative history comes to play in my historical fantasy.

The quintessential mug shot of Vlad the Impaler.
Originally, the plan for the book was, first of all, to only be novella length. I beat that by about 130,000 words, plus the beginnings of two sequels! Second, the focus was not on Vlad the Impaler, but on his first born illegitimate son, Vlad, which has been kept despite learning he was his second born. The story started from the time he was abandoned by his father, left to die beside the river Argeș, and followed him through his life, to his death, and beyond the grave as a vampire to our present day. This is still the direction of which it is going, and even though the main plot points haven't changed since I first instigated the novel, everything else between point A to point Z has nearly completely changed, thus far. I still have much of the same characters as I had started out with, though now they have bigger roles and are more fleshed out, and I've introduced more characters which are becoming more essential to Vlad's life and his story than I had anticipated. Another reason why it is taking me so long to finish. Not just because of all the new research, but I'm ending up with more characters and subplots than I had expected! All of which is driving my story to go from being the original novella length to a full out series. There's a lot more to Vlad's life than I had thought.

So now a little bit about the story itself. The story of Vlad begins when, at the age of three, he is left to die beside the river at the foot of his father's mountain fortress during an escape from the Turkish army led by Radu cel Frumos, Vlad the Impaler's brother. The boy finds his way to a peasant home who then raise him for fourteen years. He returns to his father after hearing word of his campaign for the Walachian throne, and upon seeing how well-built of a man he has become, Vlad's father begins training him into a soldier. The training lasts only a week when Vlad the Impaler comes to the conclusion his son is not fit for his army and believes he would be better suited in the service of the king of Hungary. Though, when he and King Mátyás meet and learn more of one another, the two become friends and the king, though continues Vlad's training in becoming a soldier simply because every man needs to learn to fight, showers him with gifts and an apartment in his palace in Buda. Vlad's tenure there is cut when a proposal of marriage is sent to him posthumously by his father and a man he despises, István Báthory, to marry one of his nieces. Vlad is given a castle, villages, and a promise to be trained to properly rule his household. He comes to discover the true meaning of his marriage with the powerful Hungarian family is all for his blood link to the throne of Walachia, and that István plans to use him as a pawn to get it, though Vlad himself has no desire to acquire it. This is where I am currently with the novel. Beyond this, the story continues to where Vlad eventually returns to Buda, on the run from the Báthory's after his wife's death and steals his son from them who in the first place stole from him (got that?), and goes to the king who protects him and his newborn son with the condition he serves the king to whatever he desires of him. This is where I may have to end with the first book, and start the second, I believe. The word count to finish his life story before he turns will be too high for one book.

Detail of a painting of a romanticized image of King Mátyás Corvin of Hungary.

Eventually, Vlad and King Mátyás have a falling out with each other, the queen having to due with much of the blame. Vlad is beaten and then sent packing to Walachia where he is never to step foot back into Hungary again. Vlad goes to the one place of refuge he knows of, his father's now abandoned castle where he himself had once been abandoned, and where he finds an orphaned Bavarian boy with mystical talents by the name of Sypha. He cares for him as a son, doing for Sypha what his peasant family did for him, while his own son, Ladislas, has been handed over to the Báthory's by orders of the king. The king and Vlad reunite years later, much to the queen's displeasure, and mend their broken friendship just before the king's death. Vlad is allowed free range of Hungary once more, and when he goes to reunite with Ladislas, he is shunned and never sees him again. Vlad, with Sypha, spends the rest of his days in Walachia, reunites with a past love and then once again, his life and of those around him start another downward spiral.

Oh, but we cannot forget the character in the story that has throughout Vlad's life driven him to madness, melancholy, and despair. His first encounter with the creature he is understandably frightened, then delighted that a black wolf as big as a bear, with blue eyes that seemed to glow, and with a stench as if it had rolled in a pile of dead animals, would beg for its belly to be scratched. Later encounters he grows less fearful of the creature, until one morning on his trip to Buda he notices enormous wolf prints surrounding strange words scratched into the muddy river bank of the Olt. Eris Mihi. They were words he would later on in life discover their meaning. From the trees alongside the river he sees the wolf staring at him, grinning, then leaps over the vast river without so much as a splash. From then on Vlad is weary of the creature he often refers to as "demon wolf" or "hound of Hell" or simply his "nightmare", and the wolf itself continues to stalk him, killing the people he loves by drinking their blood and devouring their souls. His attempts to destroy the creature are to no avail. It has control over his mind and body, and he believes, after a time, the only way to stop it from killing any more of his loved ones is to kill himself, which it will not let him do. And always, leaving its mark, the words Eris Mihi.

So yes, this is the first part of my story in a nutshell. I hope to finish the first book by the end of this year, then the first draft of the second maybe by spring. Considering how slow a writer I am, it may be a bit of a hefty goal, but one I hope to accomplish. Then after the first one has been read by a beta or or two, I can start the query process afterward. Wish me luck!

New Template

As you can see, I changed the template on my blog. Well, those of you that have seen how it looked before, anyway. Still trying to figure out how I want this thing to look. In my opinion, I like the looks of this template better than the previous one. Kind of fits my mood and personality as well as the mood of the novel I'm writing. But I don't like how it's set up. It is missing a few things that as of right now I'm not sure I can add or not, like the buttons at the bottom of my posts for Facebook, Twitter and all that for people to connect to. I suppose they aren't that big of a deal. For now. I do think it is easier to read than before. Anyway, I'll probably get tired of this one too after a while and change it up again. I'm like that, I guess. I like to see something different.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Those Darned Mundane, Bill Paying Jobs!

Lately work has been busy. I work at a hotel in what I sometimes refer to as "the dungeon", which is really the laundry room. Yes, I'm a laundress. Exciting stuff! I had been a housekeeper previously, but I got offered to take over laundry duties when the previous laundress quit. I prefer being in there with my "water and fire dragons"--er, I mean the washers and dryers. I don't have to clean up people's nasty messes, only their dirty laundry.

With the end of the Memorial Day weekend, I suppose summer is underway, and summer is always busy, and I sure have been busy. Eight hours, five days a week of constantly sorting, washing, drying, and folding hundreds of pieces of towels, sheets, duvets, blankets, pillow cases, and so forth, almost non-stop with but twenty minutes to eat lunch. I could take thirty, but the laundry backs up so fast with me being the only one in there that I just rather get on with it. And by the end of the day, I am exhausted.

I mean, I come home, plop down in front of the computer for an hour snacking on chocolate or some other sweets, and then take a shower. Sometimes an hour or two nap weasels its way in there. I like to garden, but this year I haven't been able to so much as pull a few weeds here or there and water my potted plants from being exhausted from my pesky paying job. If only I didn't have to work...

I think that is the the dream of most writers, to give up the day job and write full time. I know I would enjoy it. I may get more writing done, or so I tell myself, if I didn't have this annoying job. All day while I fold, and fold, and fold, scenes of my novel play in my head, and I tell myself if only I could just stop and write it all down. I can't, and it sucks. If I did that, I would never get any laundry done, and I would have some angry housekeepers! I should figure out how to use this voice recorder I got for Christmas, but my lazy side hasn't been bothered to. I could say aloud what I'm thinking and later when I come home I could listen and write it all out, instead of the usual and forget everything by the time I get home. But, I'm lazy.

Some people actually have jobs they enjoy and would not give them up to write full time. Others can't because of benefits they would be losing. Or it's a matter of pay. My mundane job does not pay well, has no benefits, and isn't particularly life-fulfilling. It's a job, to put food on the table and pay a few bills. I suppose the only benefit it may have is that it gets me out of the house and makes me mingle with people, sort of. But if I could make a living writing, something I enjoy, I would drop this job in a heartbeat. Then I wouldn't have just another job, I would have a career. And an awesome one at that.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Difficult Scenes

There are some scenes which practically write themselves; without much effort the words just flow from your mind through your fingertips upon the keyboard and onto the screen. Or if you're one that prefers pen/pencil to paper, it seems your lousy, slow hand just can't write fast enough with your mind. Then there are those scenes which you sit and stare at the screen, trying to figure out for minutes or even hours on how to start the darn thing. You see it in your mind, yet you just can't seem to get on with it. And once you do finally get going, the going is sluggish and you just want the damn thing to be done. Yup, I've had those, and they can be pretty difficult. However, they're not the scenes of which this post is about. No. The scene in which I'm about to embark is one that'll be emotionally difficult because of the subject of which it encompasses.


The subject itself can be touchy to talk about. For some people, they believe those who attempt to commit or actually commit suicide are weak or selfish, leaving those they've left behind with grief and having to cope with the dealings of what their untimely death has brought them. Others are sympathetic, and feel sorrow for those that felt there was no other way, that death was the only option.

The scene I'm about to write will be difficult because I need to get into the mindset of my main character, Vlad, who after having witnessed the horrendous aftermath of his beloved family's death, goes into a dark state of mind where he believes there is nothing left for him worth living for, despite having many friends, a wife, and a baby on the way. He blames their deaths on himself--if only he had been there he could have saved them. Truth is, it wouldn't have mattered because of by which they were killed, and when the initial shock wears off he finally realizes this. In previous scenes he has made attempts before, but they were different from this one because of the initial shock of finding his family dead, they were sloppy and always thwarted. In this scene he has had some time to think, to gain the trust of his friends and loved ones that he was indeed healing from his melancholy, and so they become more lax on watching him for attempts of his own life, believing he truly was getting better. And when they let up their guard, he finds his window of opportunity.

Not only will writing from the viewpoint of a suicidal character be a bit tricky for me, because though at times I have felt down in the dumps but never to the place those who have felt suicidal have found themselves trapped, it's having to write what it is he does to himself that will make me a bit squeamish. Maybe a lot squeamish. I don't want to give away too much, though at work today while I was contemplating this scene and playing it through my head (which I do quite often, sometimes days in a row before I actually write it), I envisioned the part where he causes harm to himself and it actually made me feel a bit woozy, so I had to stop and think about something different for a bit (my fluffy!) That part I haven't quite decided if I will switch to another character's point of view or keep with the squeamish part because even though it may bother me, it may not bother others. Besides, there are/will be other squicky happenings in this series, or maybe I'm just over-thinking things a bit and I just need to write! I guess I'll figure it out once I get to that point.

As the series continues, there will, no doubt, be other scenes similar to this which I know will be hard to write as well. Writing isn't easy. It is those hard scenes, I think, that will help me to become a stronger writer.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Inspiration of Music

"Music is the only source of energy that I have known in my life that gives humans a chance to be instantly transformed into spirit."

- David Darling, Composer/Cellist

Listening to certain genres of music can make one feel one way or another. Lately I've gone back to listening to classical and new age music, the music that when I was younger inspired much of my writing and art, and in particular the music of David Darling and Ludovico Einaudi. The music is very soothing, calming, especially Darling's, and I play it with the volume low in the background while I write. For the past few years I had never been able to write with music playing, and music with singing was definitely out of the question, for it distracted me. But finding the right artists for me has helped inspire me to write more than without. And it's not just writing, it's when I draw as well that music is helpful in getting my artistic juices flowing, and if I were any kind of musician, I would think listening to works of other musicians certainly would inspire one's own work.

During the winter I had started listening to a radio program I used to adore when I was a teenager; I'd stay up late on Sunday nights, tape recorder going, listening to the Hearts Of Space program. Through their program I discovered artists I would otherwise never had heard before, and most likely wouldn't be listening to to this day: artists such as Enya, Loreena McKennitt, Richard Burmer, Steve Roach--and the list goes on and on. This past January I was introduced to Ludovico Einaudi and loved what I heard on that program. I have since bought six of his albums and listen to them a lot. On the way to work and back I have Einaudi playing in the car, when I'm writing I have his music playing on my computer. Without that program I may never have discovered my now favorite new age/classical artist. His music and Darlings puts me in the right mood to write in my novel. And being in the right mood really makes the muse happy and makes me more productive.

Music also has a way of bringing with it nostalgia. Listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival brings me back to my early twenties, driving down dirt roads in my home state of Michigan or floating down a river or fishing on Thornapple Lake. Alice In Chains and Sound Garden reminds me of friends in high school I no longer see nor sadly keep in touch. Listening to R&B, pop or rap brings me back to when I lived in the Detroit area. I do like all sorts of music, and I've noticed over the years my tastes seem to change depending on my living situation as well. My more "rebellious" teenage years I listened to grunge and rock, when I lived in the big city, it was music which was more popular within that demographic. Now that I'm back to writing, I've returned to the music which inspires me, and who knows? In the future my tastes may yet change again, but I will always go back to the music that me and my muse love.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Introductions, introductions...

I've been contemplating starting a blog for some time, and now I have finally decided to take the plunge. The purpose of this blog is to share with you my thoughts and musings of my writings, and I may occasionally slip in pieces of my life here or there.

I am currently working on a Historical Fantasy novel series set in the time of Vlad the Impaler in Eastern Europe in what is now predominately Hungary and Romania. The story begins when Vlad the Impaler (Dracula) escapes his brother Radu's assault upon his castle above the Argeș River, his son in tow, through a secret passageway into the mountain of which his castle stood to the river a mile away. Only, when they prepare to ride off on horses that were waiting for he and his party, Vlad's horse shies from the noise of cannon fire and bucks off his son, losing him in the reeds, and leaves him behind.

From there the story continues with Vlad's son, whose name is also Vlad, and we join him on his journey through life. As good as a man Vlad wants to be, ever trying to not be like his hated father, always lurking in the shadows is an evil he cannot escape, and it drives him to be the kind of man he never intended to be. And the evil stalks him with blue fire in its eyes.

This story originally began many years ago and was only intended to be at best novella length. Well, 190,000+ words later, and two sequels started but never finished, the story grew into more than I had intended to write. This, however, was back before I knew how to write proper stories, and even less proper novels. I still have the original manuscript, and it makes me want to gouge my eyes out and cry tears of blood upon reading it (okay, that was a bit dramatic, but not too far off!). In 2007, I decided to go back to the crap that was my, at the time, "masterpiece", and joined a writing forum to have the first few pages critiqued. Needless to say, the responses were not as desirable as I had wanted, though they were at least nice enough to not tell me "your work sucks, why did you subject me to such horror?"

Anyway, I decided then I would learn to write, start reading more, because to learn to write you must start by reading the craft you intend to learn to see how the pros do it. I also joined another writing forum that was much more of a help for me than the first one. Without Absolute Write, my writing would still be a stinking chamber pot. I will never think of my writing ever as good enough, much in the same way I do with my art, and with that mindset I believe I will always look for a way to improve. Which is a good thing. Never settle for good enough. Always look for ways to be better. That is me, with my art, writing, my gardens--all of it. I want to be the best, and to try to reach for that goal, one must never settle for "good enough".

So the question--How long is this series going to be? Truth be told, I'm not sure. At first I intended it to be a trilogy, but it is looking like maybe now I will have to split the first into two. I may end up with four, possibly five books, but since I don't plan these things--I just let the story take me to wherever it wants to go--I can't be certain. I plan on four books, with a possible five. With my rewrites of the original story, I keep finding new subplots, new characters, and juicier things about my original characters and even the new that I hadn't known about. And all of this is making for a much longer read than I intended. Which I hope, is a good thing.