Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Ah, The Vampire.

 Lakeview Cemetery, Nashville MI. Photo by Rhonda Cook 
Vampires have been a passion of mine for twenty plus years, ever since my friend Jennifer introduced them to me in our early teens (and to Ouija boards and ghosts and other fun things). Her and I would go for walks through the local cemetery, a place we often hung out since it was so quiet and peaceful, and one of the prettier small town cemeteries I've been in, but I could just be partial. Another friend, Samantha, and I often walked the cemetery too, and it was her and I who wrote vampire stories together and stories about many other things, spook and non-spook alike. Something about the mythical creature has always allured me, perhaps it is my fear of blood (and needles) that, in some ironic way, has kept me intrigued with them. Or maybe it's their immortality, or strong yet weak nature. Maybe because they are denizens of the night. Whatever it is, I don't think about why I like them, I just do.
Lakeview Cemetery, Nashville MI. Photo by Rhonda Cook

There are as many variations of the vampire as there are cultures, culture having the greatest impact of the many types of vampires. The common Eastern European version of the vampire has taken many different forms, and more recently the sexy, angst ridden vampire has become the most popular. They weren't always this way. Vampires (this blog post will concentrate on the common European version) were originally described as hideous creatures with long fingers and ears, reeking of blood and death. Like this fella here:

Max Schreck in Murnau's 1922 Nosferatu.
Vampires were pretty much as mindless as zombies, but instead of wanting to eat your brains, they wanted to feed on your blood. They were pretty darn easy to kill, a stake through the heart pinned them down while one chopped off their head. Fire killed them. Sunlight did not, however. Hollywood brought that to us. Religious symbols could in some myths deter them. The best way to distract them was to leave piles of rice or better yet, salt, in the vampire's path, because of their obsessive compulsive behavior, they had to stop and count every damn grain before they could continue. They may have been as strong as ten men, but a thumb tack had sharper wits.

It wasn't until the 19th century when the vampire started its transformation from hideous, blood-sucking, smelly corpse, to the more lustful, cunning, and even dare say sympathetic mythical creature we know today. The first of these stories begins with John William Polidori's 1819 short story/novella, The Vampyre. Admittedly, when I read this story, I couldn't understand much of what was going on. The language is old; of course, it was written almost 200 years ago. But for the history of it all, I gave it a shot if only just to say I read the first story of the romantic vampire. My favorite vampire story of the 19th century is a novella by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, published in 1872 called Carmilla. Totally readable, and enjoyable, and the first book to depict a lesbian vampire. It is believed that this story may be the main inspiration for Bram Stoker's 1897 novel, Dracula. Which, of course, I have read. As much as I like and write vampires, I haven't read a whole lot of vampire fiction. For the more modern works of vampire literature, I've read Anne Rice's Interview With The Vampire, George R. R. Martin's Fevre Dream (which is excellent, btw), and, I'll admit to it, I've read Stephenie Meyer's Twilight just to see what the fuss was about, but I had no desire to read the sequels. I prefer my vampire stories to be in a historical setting, not modern.
Illustration by Michael Fitzgerald for Le Fanu's story Carmilla in The Dark Blue (January 1872)

The word "vampire" made its first appearance in English in the year 1734 in a travelogue entitled Travels Of Three English Gentlemen, according to Wikipedia. The word had been in use in other languages with their own spelling variant for a time before the English version came to be, but the creature itself dates back to ancient times. Vampires have many names and many forms, but most have one thing that links them—blood. From Greek mythology we have Lamia, a queen of Libya who became a child-eating demon, sometimes depicted as having a serpent's tail below the waist. Then there's the strige, or "bird of ill-omen", which resembled a crow that flew only at night, sometimes in flocks, and pecked holes into their human victims to drink their blood. Then there are the Indian Rakshasa, who often took on the form of a human-tiger hybrid who were powerful sorcerers and ate the flesh and drank the blood of their victims. Not all vampires drank blood; some simply called psychic vampires fed off of emotions and life energies, driving their victims to suicidal thoughts and at worst, committing the act itself. Here's an old website I created back in the late nineties that I can't believe I'm linking to, but it contains some interesting information of vampire myths and the different kinds of vampires of other cultures. Don't laugh. It's bad, but not completely horrible. Yeah, it's an old Angelfire page, and if I had the old password and email address I used when I built it I would make corrections, or perhaps just delete it. But anywho...

I've talked a little about vampires in general. There is so much information on them and pictures on the web and in books that I'm not going to clutter up my blog with more. I will, however, talk a little about the vampire in my novel in progress, Draculești, since we're on the subject. You may remember her from a couple of past posts, like this one and this one.  The vampire in my novel is like a hybrid of wolf, vampire, and hellhound. She feeds on human blood and seems particularly fond of the blood of children, though she isn't fussy. Even other animals will do in a pinch. She, like other vampires, is active from dusk til dawn, and though she can come out to play during the day, her power is weakened. She appears most of the time in the form of an enormous black wolf with glowing blue eyes and has the ability to transform into a human if need be. Without giving too much of her away, I'll conclude with the one aspect of this creature that terrifies my main character, Vlad, above all else, above her cunning, her obsessive stalking of him, her sheer, intimidating size, above her tendencies to be ruthless when she kills, and that is her feeding upon the souls of her victims, trapped within the hell that is this monster forever crying and fighting to break free, never to reach the paradise of Heaven. Their souls fuel her power, their blood nourishes her body. And she has no remorse. The wolf often leaves Vlad her calling card, whether after a kill or before one, or to just intimidate; two words: Eris mihi.

Hors d'oeurves, anyone? Rendition of my hybrid vampire/hellhound, drawn by moi. 

As you can see, the vampire is a rather versatile creature. It keeps evolving and morphing; from a mindless and disgusting, blood-craving corpse to an attractive and cunning, blood-lusting corpse; a hybrid of animal and human, or just animal, or can transform into animal or mist; and in some stories they are depicted as aliens, or as humans infected by a virus that changes them into feral, blood-drinking creatures. And yet others need simply to hang out with their victims, draining them of their emotions and let the victims do the work of killing themselves. There is no right or wrong way to depict a vampire. They can be anything you wish them to be, though purists will raise their noses up and say, "That is not how a vampire is supposed to be" if it is depicted anything other than what is considered the norm. It's a creature of folklore and myth, ever-changing. It isn't just one thing, it is many things, and perhaps the vampire as we have come to know will morph into something new, and that will one day become the norm and how we all will depict the vampire.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Random Song Of The Week #22

For my friend Rhonda, who likes to mash. Ha ha!

The Monster Mash -- Bobby "Boris" Pickett
Album -- The Original Monster Mash (1962)

The Monster Mash--With Legos!

I was working in the lab late one night
When my eyes beheld an eerie sight
For my monster from his slab began to rise
And suddenly to my surprise

He did the mash
He did the monster mash
The monster mash
It was a graveyard smash
He did the mash
It caught on in a flash
He did the mash
He did the monster mash

From my laboratory in the castle east
To the master bedroom where the vampires feast
The ghouls all came from their humble abodes
To get a jolt from my electrodes

They did the mash
They did the monster mash
The monster mash
It was a graveyard smash
They did the mash
It caught on in a flash
They did the mash
They did the monster mash

The zombies were having fun
The party had just begun
The guests included Wolf Man
Dracula and his son

The scene was rockin', all were digging the sounds
Igor on chains, backed by his baying hounds
The coffin-bangers were about to arrive
With their vocal group, "The Crypt-Kicker Five"

They played the mash
They played the monster mash
The monster mash
It was a graveyard smash
They played the mash
It caught on in a flash
They played the mash
They played the monster mash

Out from his coffin, Drac's voice did ring
Seems he was troubled by just one thing
He opened the lid and shook his fist
And said, "Whatever happened to my Transylvania twist?"

It's now the mash
It's now the monster mash
The monster mash
And it's a graveyard smash
It's now the mash
It's caught on in a flash
It's now the mash
It's now the monster mash

Now everything's cool, Drac's a part of the band
And my monster mash is the hit of the land
For you, the living, this mash was meant too
When you get to my door, tell them Model A sent you

Then you can mash
Then you can monster mash
The monster mash
And do my graveyard smash
Then you can mash
You'll catch on in a flash
Then you can mash
Then you can monster mash

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Writing Is Hard

I've been a member to a couple of writing forums for a few years now, and one common complaint I see over and over again is the lack of non-writer's understanding of how hard of work writing really is. Sure, anyone can put words to paper, or to computer screen, but there is more to writing a coherent story than where Johnny did this and Susan said that. It involves more than just an understanding of basic grammar and spelling and to be able to string together words so the reader understands what is going on in the story. For some people, that alone may be enough of a challenge, to write a story that makes a smidgen of sense. But for writers, it goes much deeper. It's not about writing sneakily placed metaphors, nor so much as delivering a message to the reader. It is about emotion, making the reader feel and see and touch and smell and taste what the characters in the writer's story does, to make them feel sadness, despair, happiness and love. To take the reader from their world and immerse them into the world the writer has created. When my main character loses a loved one, and he feels the pain of that loss, I want the reader to feel it too.

It isn't just about emotion, nor painting a world with words that makes it so hard. Dialogue can be tricky, too. Dialogue needs to be written realistically, but not taken verbatim from real life, else it becomes too much to read with the um's and stutters and lack of correct grammar and word usage, and therefore you lose the reader. This is especially true when one tries to convey dialects. Too much and the reader will want to throw your book or burn it—worse, they'll never read any of your work again. A sprinkling of dialect goes a long way. Too formal and it reads stiff and unrealistic. Dialogue needs to be true to character. In my work in progress, Draculești, the story takes place in the 15th century and back then certain words we use with frequency today weren't around then, or at least in English. Since my book is written in English, the reader assumes it is translated from whatever language the character speaks. I avoid having my characters speak words that were not used in English back then, at least the most obvious ones. This is where the trusty dictionary and thesaurus come in. Not only will those who are hard core historical readers pick up on words not in use back in those days, it just wouldn't be natural for the character to use them. Little things like this that may be oblivious to non-writers are important to writers, and another reason why writing is hard.

I could go on and on about the mechanics of writing, such as Point of View, staying in character, no head-hopping, pacing, so on and so on, but that would make for a lengthy post and I'm not about to do that with a blog. I believe writing can be learned. To write well can be learned. I had always been first and foremost an artist (though, I don't practice art much anymore, sadly), but I have always liked to write stories. Words are not my medium, but I'm learning, I want to learn, and the desire to learn anything is what can make a person become good. However, it takes talent to become a wordsmith and to use the right words, written in a certain way to create a certain emotion in the reader. Just like painting or drawing or sculpting or playing an instrument, anyone can be taught these, maybe even do a pretty good job, but it takes talent to be great. And greatness is subjective. Some may think Picasso was a great painter, but to me? Meh. I love John William Waterhouse's art. I think his is great art. Others may not think the same.

Hylas and the Nymphs, by John William Waterhouse

Even the greats have their "gaaaah!" moments, where the words or the art or the music just won't come to them. You know (or perhaps you don't know) what happens next in your story, you've either planned it ahead in notes or it's all in your head, but you just can't write what you want to convey. Everything comes out trite, or clumsy, or just plain not what you wanted at all. You throw it away and start over. Or you let it sit for hours, or days, or even weeks or months. You know you should soldier on, but that metaphorical muse just doesn't show up. You feel frustrated, you want to throw the whole damn manuscript away. But you don't, because that would be foolish and you would cry and hate yourself, and you come back to it and read what you've written and you think, "hey, this isn't so bad," and you get excited about the story and characters again and that snag you came across comes loose and you're on a roll! Yeah, this has happened to me many a time. It's those frustrating can't get a damn thing on paper (computer screen) moments that make writing hard.

So why would anyone want to subject themselves to such? We do it because we love it. Despite all the technical and emotional crap we put ourselves through to write the story in our heads as good as we can get, we do it because we love the craft. We love creating worlds and people and stories and the art of making words come to life in the minds of our readers. It is what we do, it is what we love.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Random Song Of The Week #21

György Ligeti -- Requiem, II Kyrie
Composed 1963-65

Hungarian composer György Ligeti's work at its most creepy. This is the second part of a four part work called Requiem. This part is used in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, as well as other works from Ligeti.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Nice Progress and The Pain Of Starting A New Chapter

As the title says, I made some nice progress on my WIP the past couple of days. Yesterday I wrote a total of around 1850 words, and today 2270 words to finish chapter 26, which ended with a total of 9300 words, a longish chapter. I had written 3000 words in one day once, but that hasn't happened again. 2000 is nothing to snark at. I'm dreadfully slow at writing, it takes me hours to write 2000 words. Sometimes the words will flow for a few hundred in about twenty minutes or less, other times a mere fifty give me a headache for an hour or more. Or I'll obsess on one lousy word, unable to move on for minutes upon minutes at a time until that word I'm trying to come up with decides to pop up in my brain. Such is writing.

So since I have finished this last chapter, now begins a new one, and this one jumps forward in time a few months, because nothing really of any importance happens until then when all hell starts to break loose. Some chapter openings come to me easy peasy, this one however I'm already dreading to start it because I have absolutely no idea where to begin. The only thing to do is to just dig right in, and if it isn't the right spot to start I can try it again elsewhere. I think though I'm going to give it some time and mull it over. Sleep on it tonight, then tomorrow do some housework and think on it some more. Something will strike a chord somewhere. Though, just start writing will most likely be my best bet. You know, BIC (butt in chair).

And now for a snippet from the chapter I have completed (as always, subject to future edits):

Vlad has come to Anna, a woman healer who he calls a witch of which she can't stand, to find if she has information on how to kill the monster wolf that has now killed two children in a nearby village, or which he believes to have killed the children. She is consulting an old book and reads to him in this snippet on the ways to kill the monster.

I don't care about that. Soon it'll be dark and I need to know what weapon I need to kill this monster.”
Anna looked up from the book and raised a brow. “So impatient. I'm about to come to that part.” She slid her finger across the page and said, “It is unknown what can kill the monster for all attempts have failed. Silver, wolfsbane, a stake through the heart made of ash, oak, or rosewood, her head cut from her body, fire. Any of these may work, but no one has been able to come close to the creature to try. Religious symbols do not ward it, nor harm it. Think of that, if you think your icon will protect you.” Anna sat back in her chair and stroked her cat. “Now you know as much as I do, which I've told you isn't much.”
So there is no hope.”
Anna shook her head.
Lies. There is no such thing as a creature so powerful it cannot be destroyed.”
Anna shrugged. “Like I said, that is all I know, and now you know as much as I. How did you plan to kill it before you decided to consult me?”
I figured to wound it with an arrow, then when it's down cut off its head with my kilij. Maybe let it come close and I slit its throat or its belly with my knife. I don't know, something. Something is better than letting it keep killing.”
So you have no plan, you're just going to ride around at night and have it come to you, and then throw sharp objects at it. A creature that has been around for centuries, that has been hunted the same way and knows from all other past attempts to know what to expect. That is the plan you have? To die like the other idiots?” Anna shook her head “Tut tut tut. I had higher hopes for you, Vlad.”
Again with the insults.” Vlad rose to his feet. “If you won't help me, so be it.” He stomped for the door.
Good luck.” Anna said. He turned to see her with that mock grin of hers.
Du-te dracului.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Good-bye Stress Inducing Job, Hello Non-Stress Inducing Unemployment!

Yesterday my former employees pulled the final straw, burst the final bubble, pushed me over to my breaking point. I couldn't do it anymore; I tired of the back-stabbing, name-calling, the having someone else do my job for me because I don't feel like it, the rotten attitudes, the always having to get someone into trouble, the high school mentalities and the drama that goes with them—everything! And also, I had worked for this place for five ridiculously long years and I had finally reached the pay amount I was making ten years ago at a different joba whopping $8 an hour. This finally came about only on the last pay period, and though I deserved to be making more considering I rarely called off, was never late, did my job better than any of the other employees (yes, I truly believe this), so on and so forth, I come to find out that people who had been there only a year or even less got bigger raises and were making more than I was. I. Was. Hot. I decided then and there I was not going to do anymore extra work than what my job required me to do.

So, for the past two weeks I kept up with that mantra. I will not do more than what my job required me to do. I was not going to do other people's work for them just because they don't feel like it and so they can have more cigarette breaks. Wasn't going to do it. Then this Sunday I come to find out the reason why when I came to work and it looked like my replacement on my day off (Saturday) hadn't done much was because she was pulled away to do work she wasn't supposed to be doing, just so the rest could get out of work faster. So that left me with a pile of work, and then told I only had three hours to work on it, then the rest of the day I had to go do work that was not a part of my job, because the damn place won't hire enough help.

I did my work in the three hours I was allotted, punched out and told the manager I'll be back Thursday to drop off my uniforms and pick up my final paycheck. I was scheduled to work through this entire week until my weekend off. My boyfriend didn't like that I quit, especially without having another job already in line, but I'm going to look at this as a time to refuel and a time to push away the stress my former work had caused me. I suffer from anxiety as it is, but when the stress levels from all of the hate at work rises, my anxiety does too and I begin having heart palpitations, and those my dear readers are no fun. Not at all. When they happen, you feel like you'll have a heart attack. Stress has been known to cause heart attacks, and that place of which I worked brought upon its own drama and stress when it needn't have. Whenever anyone had a problem with someone, usually I was the one everyone came to to dump their problems onto, and why I have no idea, but it only caused me more stress and anxiety and the feeling of a possible heart attack.

I'm glad to be done there. I should have left there a long time ago, and the real reason why I didn't leave is because I'm not a people person and the job made it so I didn't have to interact with a lot of people, primarily just the fellow employees. So now that I have this time on my hands, and in a little while I'll start the filling of applications process, I'm going to clean this house, clean it good, and work on my novel, maybe do some yard work if I feel up to it (which I've been neglecting the entire year), get some reading done. I think I'm going to enjoy not working a little too much, but not having my own money is going to really suck. My boyfriend has a good job (when he works) but I still hate to have to borrow money from him to buy what I want, because then I feel as if I owe him. I feel this way with everyone. But until I do get another job, I'm going to take advantage of my free time and get to writing and other things I couldn't with the day job.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Random Song Of The Week #20

The Cure --Lullaby
Album -- Disintegration (1989)

On candy stripe legs the Spiderman comes
Softly through the shadow of the evening sun
Stealing past the windows of the blissfully dead
Looking for the victim shivering in bed
Searching out fear in the gathering gloom and
A movement in the corner of the room!
And there is nothing I can do
When I realize with fright
That the Spiderman is having me for dinner tonight!

Quietly he laughs and shaking his head

Creeps closer now
Closer to the foot of the bed
And softer than shadow and quicker than flies
His arms are all around me and his tongue in my eyes
"Be still be calm be quiet now my precious boy
Don't struggle like that or I will only love you more
For it's much too late to get away or turn on the light
The Spiderman is having you for dinner tonight."

And I feel like I'm being eaten

By a thousand million shivering furry holes
And I know that in the morning I will wake up
In the shivering cold

And the Spiderman is always hungry

 "Come into my parlour", said the spider to the fly... "I have something here. "

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Random Song Of The Week #19

Jill Tracy -- The Fine Art Of Poisoning
Album -- Diabolical Streak (1999)

It's quite an elaborate scheme
The fine art of poisoning
The dose to comatose
Slyly administered

Not for the frail of heart

The vengeful must play their part
A friend to the bitter end
Or so they say

Nice and slow

Misfortune will flow

Peril in the nursery

It seems a tainted pastry
One bite what a dreadful fright
She was such a delicate little dish

A pleasant parlour gathering

Quicksilver concealed in a ruby ring
Two lumps or three
I have always adored bergamot tea

Nice and slow

Misfortune will flow
But who will know?

Friday, October 5, 2012

Starting To Get Somewhere

This past week has been my most productive in months when it comes to my manuscript. I finished a chapter I had been hung up on for three months (well, except for a few lines of dialog, but that requires some research that I'm just not in the mood to do for the moment, but have left a reminder in red in the spot what needs to be done), started and finished another chapter, and now I'm about three pages into another. Most of this one will be a cut and paste job from a file I use to write possible future scenes that spontaneously pop up in my head and must get written down, even if I don't use them, into this chapter I'm working on. I have two scenes in this particular file that are going in there, and I hope to get this done today. They'll require a little tweaking, but most of the two scenes should stand as is. I have a lot of other future scenes written already for the second half of the book which will mostly just require gluing the scenes together with the scenes I still need to write, which I hope will speed the process up a notch.

I hope this spark keeps on going on, because at this pace I may end up close to my goal at having the first draft done by the end of the year. I was hoping it would be sooner, to work through the summer and have the first draft done by now so I can start the second draft, but it just didn't materialize. For some reason the summer brings me the writing blahs. Maybe it's the longer days, or the heat, or something. Who the hell knows? Usually it's because I'm busy in my gardens and have no time to write, and work is always busy and tiring in the summer. Work was still busy as ever, but I hardly stepped foot into my flower beds, and it shows, and I'm still in no mood to weed them. Anywhooy, autumn seems to recharge my writing spirit and so far it looks like I'm back in the game and most likely you'll start seeing more of these update posts. So, onto work on chapter 25, where my main character, Vlad (Țepeluș) Draculești explores his bi-curious side with a stable hand who he learns has a crush on him, and ends up saving him from the jaws of the vampiric-hellhound that never stops stalking him (Vlad).

Random black wolf picture.

An excerpt from the scene where Vlad and his stable hand, Miklós, discover each other's feelings toward one another (subject to future editing, of course):

“Truth is,” he [Miklós] sighed, and spoke softly, “truth is, when I look at you, I sometimes imagine what it would be like to be your lover. And then I tell myself it is a shameful way to think. We are men, I should not think such abominations. And you're married. So I think about Anna. But I know I can't be with her either. Lady Kamilla would not allow it. Not her healer. Besides, I don't think she wants me.”
“This is the truth you speak? You imagine me as your lover? In your dreams?” He was elated to know the rumors were true, yet somehow he wished they weren't.
“Sometimes. What will you have of me now, my lord?”
Vlad brought himself against Miklós's body, his warm breath grazing his cheek, “Only as much as you're willing to let me have.” He slid a hand about his waist. “Tell me,” he said, gazing into his moss green eyes, “how much will you allow me to have? Your hand? Your lips? Your neck? Tell me how much, and I won't take any more.”
Miklós swallowed hard, his hand sweaty in his. So nervous. Poor, poor man. Tell me to back away and we'll pretend none of this has happened. Just say it. Do us both a favor.
“My lord, you can have all of me,” he whispered.