Saturday, April 30, 2011

Last Vampire Month Post: No Sparkles

I learned some things over the course of this month. I didn't publish nearly as many guest posts as I'd hoped to, because I learned that I'm no good at forcing myself to write blog posts that aren't spur-of-the-moment and inspired. At least not ones long enough to send away to be a guest post. So I'm posting the last of the guest posts I wrote but couldn't expand to a decent length here. Below that, I'm posting a review of Twilight that I wrote two years ago, to provide context. I wavered about posting it, because I don't want to push away readers, but I think an artist should have aesthetic opinions and shouldn't be afraid to express them. And it's pretty safe to bash on Twilight. In fact, that should be more of an impediment to my posting it now than alienating readers. But at the time that I wrote it, there wasn't a lot of great critical analysis of it yet. Anyway.




My Vampires Don't Sparkle

The first line of Burden Kansas 's blurb is, "Vampires are not sexy or sensitive."

Now I don't have anything against sexy vampires. The domination and exchanging of bodily fluids involved in the vampire mythos is blatantly sexual. And the occasional sensitive vampire is okay by me, too. I like Louis as a foil for the incorrigible Lestat. There's room in vampire mythos for all types of vampires.

But I have to admit that the first little seedling of Burden Kansas sprouted in spite.  I'd just read Twilight, and I had this bile in my soul that could only be gotten out by writing the anti-Twilight. That was pretty much the entire basis for a short story called "Prairie Leeches." I made my vampires stupid, smelly, gore-encrusted and incredibly violent. But the strange thing was, by the end of the 4,000 word story you'd started to wonder if they were really the monsters when compared to the protagonist, a hardassed Kansas rancher named Keith Harris.

And that's where things got interesting.

One of the first responses I got after Burden Kansas hit Amazon was, "Somehow, you made it very cool to be a redneck." Keith Harris evolved from monster to empathetic character in the journey from 4,000 words to 34,000 words. He performed the same terrible acts, but his past full of guilt and regret makes his behavior almost forgivable. He's a man who's always taken on other people's sins, and by the end of Burden Kansas, he's about to be crushed beneath them.

To match the more realistic protagonist, I had to flesh-out an antagonist. Out of the herd of these feral animals stepped Dennis, a small-town drug dealer. With the help of his stock of methamphetamines (it makes sense in context, trust me), he maintains his human intelligence through the change. This––combined with his newly gained vampiric powers and his intense hatred for Keith Harris––makes him a very dangerous and decidedly unsparkly enemy.

If you want a vampire to pour your heart out to, you'll have to look elsewhere. To the vampires of Burden Kansas, we're no different from cattle. If you want a vampire hunter you can take home to meet the parents, Keith Harris isn't your guy. Only one woman could ever control him, and with her long dead, he's like an attack dog off its choke chain. But if you think that the battle between a middle-aged cowboy and a fanged tweaker over the fate of a one-stoplight town in the middle of the Kansas prairie sounds interesting, check out Burden Kansas.




February 2009
"I finished Twilight," I groaned, snarled, suggested, retorted, argued, laughed, gasped, dirged, emoted, while hiding behind my hair

I finished it. I don't know how I did it. It's the second worst book I've ever read, the first worst being one of the Queen Betsy Vampire chick lit books by MaryJanice Davidson. I don't know which. It's a series, and they all look the same.

Why did I finish it? Because every time someone on the net said anything bad about Twilight, all the stupid fans asked if the truthsayer had even read the whole thing.

Let me give you an alternative scenario. Let's say that someone touches you with a running chainsaw, taking an inch out of your side just above the hip. They ask if you liked it, and if you want them to chop the rest of the way through you. You say no. They say, "But I didn't even chop all the way through you! How can you even make an informed comment?"

But you remain pretty certain you didn't like being chopped a little with the chainsaw, and really wouldn't like being cut all the way in half.

I chopped myself all the way in half, out of spite.

I thought that perhaps the book would be dumb-but-entertaining. I was so wrong. It's dumb, and infuriating, and mind-numbingly boring. 544 pages. The first 240 pages are the two main characters staring at each other across the cafeteria. The second 240 pages are them asking each other question after question. The remaining pages are the plot.

I understand why unremarkable teenage girls who hope they are really special like this book. It's about an unremarkable, obnoxious and moody teenage girl, who suddenly finds herself to be, for no reason, the most interesting and special person in her new school. She's never been asked out before, but suddenly every guy around her can't get enough of her, especially the preternaturally beautiful vampire boy.

This is one of the reasons Harry Potter is so popular. Harry Potter, as a character, is one of those plywood pictures with the holes cut out above a body for you to stick your head through. He is a place-holder for the reader, who hopes that something special is hidden within them. However, Rowling (except for the massive amount of deus ex machina) is extremely good with plot (except ending them without the hand of god) and has created an interesting, light-hearted world good for a lively, distracting romp. The cardboard cutout protagonist just gets you hooked. Meyer has nothing but the one-size-fits-all cardboard teen girl protagonist going for her, because she still obviously thinks exactly like a teenage girl.

Anyway, the vamp tries to resist her as hard as he can, but is forced to act the prince and save her several times. Finally, he gives in, and spends chapter after horrible chapter asking her about the minutia of her mundane existence. She wonders how such a beautiful creature could be interested in her, but he assures her over and over and over and over and over, as he asks her her favorite flower and her favorite color and her favorite gemstone, that she is so much more interesting than she could imagine. And he is so beautiful, and he is beautiful because teen girls like beautiful, feminine, unthreatening boys, but more importantly he is beautiful to illustrate how interesting she is, because a beautiful, powerful, immortal boy can't stay away from her for his own good.

And this goes on and on, and endless cycle of "you're too beautiful" "You don't know how beautiful you are, but I should stay away cause I'm dangerous" "If you stay away, that's what's dangerous" "I can't stay away anyway cause you're too alluring, but I'm angry at you for not making me stay away" Blah blah blah BLAHBLAHABLHABLbLHABLHABLHABLHABLHABLH for 544 pages!

Yet I did it. I can say in a fully informed manner that this book is absolutely 100% terrible on every conceivable level.

The language is boring. The speech tags carry the entire emotional resonance, he ranted. The characters are unbelievable, except for the insipid teen girl, who is very believable, if we didn't have to believe that everyone finds her charming and irresistible instead of temperamental and obnoxious and boring. The plot is not a plot, but a series of back and forth questions and unexplainable shifts in temperament (and just because you note that the characters can't keep up with the illogical "whirlwind of emotion" doesn't make it empathizable). Why show us what a vampire is when you can just drag it out of the vampire one question at a time? Sure, he doesn't want to answer and we don't want to hear, but whatever. The actual plot, which should have started in the first chapter, is greatly reduced by the ease with which it is solved because it has to be taken care of in the final 75 of 544 pages.

I could honestly go on and on and on about how bad this book is. This isn't a good book hyped to best-seller status, or even an average book hyped to best-seller status. This is an openly manipulative steaming piece of hack shit that should never have been published at all, and the fact that it has expanded beyond its emotionally-undeveloped target audience is mind-boggling.

Don't read it because it might be so bad it's good. I beg you. I wish I'd chosen the chainsaw.

Friday, April 29, 2011

New Improved Bike Wine Rack


Bubba improved the design of the wine rack featured in the previous post by adding crack-smoking functionality! This will become very popular in Cleveland.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bicycle Wine Rack

This is pretty sweet:

Seeing this got me to thinking about how awesome cycling while drunk is. I spent a couple of years in Cleveland proper awhile back, just across the river from downtown. I didn't drive even one time, mostly due to my pretty severe agoraphobia. I liked cycling though (odd for someone with agoraphobia, no?). Because Cleveland is a poor city, lots of people ride bicycles out of necessity. So the drivers are used to sharing the road.

6 months out of the year, I rode my bike downtown. The other 6 months it snowed every day, so I took the bus or my wife drove me.

I used to ride to the bar or parties and my wife would bring the car with the bike rack and meet me after work. But occasionally I rode home druuuuunk. Like most cities, Cleveland's downtown was dead after 6 or so, so it was relatively safe. One cool aspect of my drunken night rides was crossing the Cuyahoga river. I'd stand on the pedals and lean out over the handlebars and it felt  like flying. I highly suggest it, especially for those who are underage and/or vision impaired.

But I had a water bottle full of Old Crow, not a nice leather wine rack.

I wrecked and face planted once, but I wasn't drunk at the time. A car edged forward at a light into the bike lane and I had to swerve out and back in. I was going really fast to get across the large intersection, and overcorrected into a high curb and planted my foot and then my face. I landed almost entirely on one tooth, which snapped and embedded into my lip. The doctors didn't notice it because the wound wasn't quite bad enough to require stitches. It emerged from my lip on its own a few days later. This is the hole it left:
Every new medical type person I met (nurse, doc, dentist) would ask me if I was wearing my helmet. I was, which always made them happy, but I wanted to point out to them that I landed entirely on my hands and mouth.

I live in Overland Park now, an area that is as suburban as suburban can be, meaning arterial street layout, so I don't dare ride my bicycle anywhere except the bike path. It's sad.

This is a funny gif. It's from icanhazcheezburger or something like that. Click on it to watch it move.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Paper Edition of Burden Kansas Out

I have three manuscripts for Burden Kansas. I’ve got the html, which makes my beautiful Kindle and B&N files. I’ve got the smashwords .doc file, which I loathe. I’ve got the createspace paper book formatted .doc file. At some point, some corrections in the html didn’t migrate over to the smashwords .doc, which is what I used to make the createspace .doc. Unfortunately, I only found that out after receiving the first Burden Kansas proofs. So I had to fix the problems, wait for it to process, order a new proof and approve it. ANYWAY...

A paper edition of Burden Kansas is now available for $7.99. Createspace makes a really nice product. Burden Kansas looks just like something you’d get in a bookstore, except with better cover art. It’s trade paperback sized, 140 pgs, and eligible for supersaver shipping, which has often been a deal-maker or breaker for me.

IN VAMPIRE NEWS


I’ve apparently been sending too many vampire related emails, because a recent ad at the top of my gmail invited me to check out Date Vampires, a vampire dating website. I don’t like this whole idea.

Not because they’re too dark and intense for me.

Not because you’re more likely to find a serial killer and get serial killed. You’re more likely to find someone who wishes they were a serial killer, sure.

But because I don’t think anything should make it easier for these super nerds to meet and breed. (Actually, I don’t care, but sometimes you have to pretend to have an opinion or it’s hard to say anything.)

They have three gender categories: Vampire Chicks, Vampire Girls, and Vampire Guys. At a cursory glance I don’t know what the difference between a chick and a girl is. If it turns out one group is for trannies, that’s gonna be pretty embarrassing to have not noticed.

I don’t want to beat up on nerds. I’m just going to provide some profile snippets, and let you make of them what you will:

“I am a true Vampire (not to be confused with Hollywood's depiction of such). However you can also call me a musician, a philosipher, and a scholar.”

“im 5'9, black hair, brown eyes, im fairly certain ima clinical vampyre as i feel weak and shake horribly if i dont get blood inside me, i have glasses cause of an accident when i was little, i like to cut myself for pleasure...”

“i like reading and wrighting poems and storys. i am really into vampires. a lot of people says i ijinx stuf all the time caise iam always saying stuf is going to happen befor it dous”

“Generally I'd like to meet anybody positive. So if you're not a complete negative asshole who only knows how to drag people down, I'd like to meet you.”

Okay, I do have to wonder if this last person is being purposefully ironic. God I hope not. As Baudrillard said, "There is no aphrodisiac like innocence."




Friday, April 22, 2011

Movie Reviews!

I don’t feel like saying anything. That’s when it’s good to write up a picture heavy post = movie reviews.

Now that you’re hyped.

Vampire$

Okay, the movie was just called Vampires I think, but the book was Vampire$ (I think). I randomly bought the book at a library book sale when I was in college, read it, and then a year or so later the movie came out. It’s an okay movie. I remember liking the book more. They’ve got this crossbow / winch set up that’s pretty neato, though. It’s got that giant Baldwin you don’t see too often, Elvis Baldwin, I think.



Dracula 2000

I didn’t even remember Gerard Butler was in this movie, I guess cause I didn’t know who he was back then. I was on a vampire kick, but now I’m pretty ready for vampire month to be over so I can talk about something else.

Ignore me, I’m just cranky.


Scream 2

I watch Scream every so often because it’s amazing, but I’ve never revisited the lackluster sequels. The first was so original and po-mo like wo, but the second didn’t even lay out the rules of a horror sequel and the third went off some “horror trilogy” bullshit when there’s no such thing.* There are just horror franchises that happen to go to 3.

But I mention this movie because the opening scene–with Omar Epps and Jada Pinkett at the theater watching Stab–is one of the most terrifying in all of horror movies. How they had such a moment of brilliance amongst such a pile of stinky poo I can’t understand.


The Eagle

Dreamy, burly Channing Tatum wears a leather skirt and gets all nasty and funky with other hunks. Actually, almost everyone else in this movie is ugly.

What I liked about The Eagle is that it addresses the problem of feeling particularly empathetic for a brutal empire that invades foreign lands to steal them and subjugate the free people. It doesn’t try to provide answers to the complex issue of patriotism and loyalty to your own family and country when it does wrong, but it also doesn’t try to evade the issue at all. At certain points, The Eagle feels very realistic, and above the typical sword movie Hollywoodisms, especially at the beginning.  It doesn’t stay there throughout, but I’m happy that they aimed higher.

So let’s talk about Gladiator. The first time I watched it I thought, “I just watched this dude help his government slaughter all these awesome, fierce free people, take their lands and do who-knows-what to their families that now consist of entire villages of only women and children in a dangerous era to be either, and I’m supposed to feel bad for him when his government does the same thing to him?” And I’ve felt that way about ever subsequent viewing. As a spectacle it’s a beautiful movie, but seriously, fuck that guy. I’d throw a phone at his head.


Movie review posts actually take longer than any other type of post. I like talking about movies, whatever.

* Edit: Just thought of a horror movie trilogy, Romero's Night of / Dawn of / Day of. Any others?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Guest Post: Donna Burgess of Darklands


My novel Darklands: A Vampire’s Tale has been referred to as “not your typical vampire story.” I like this description, but to many, it is a backhanded kind of compliment. Why? Fans of urban fantasy and paranormal romance expect something that is not classified as horror or even mildly frightening.  My vampires are a pretty rotten sort, which was intentional, and as I was writing the story, I kept wondering when exactly things changed. When did vampires become hot, feisty heroines and knights in shining armor? I want to blame Anne Rice—remember how awesome Interview with a Vampire was? But by the end of the series, Lestat was not the same dastardly, yet intriguing creature of the night he once was.   Maybe  I was off reading zombie novels when this grand metamorphosis occurred.

I was raised on wicked vampires. How many younger people realize before Christopher Lee was an incredible Saruman, he was a bloody scary (no pun intended) Dracula. We live in the time of the do-gooder vamps and frankly, it makes me want to tear my hair out! I don’t want sparkly little vamps who can wander out in the daylight and cruise school cafeterias for a soul mate. Although I appreciate the fact the Twilight has brought new life to a genre that had been pushed to the back-burner,  I have yet to read them or see the flicks. Still, I’m pretty sure I’ll take Eric Northman over Edward Cullen any day. Hell, I’ll take Russell Edgington over Edward Cullen because he is so gleefully evil, you just have to like him. I have seen the Vampire Diaries a few times and I can tell you very quickly Damon is way hotter than Stefan.

The best vamps embrace what they are—they are at the top of the food chain. They have power. They have magnetism and they know how to use it. Morality is not the most pressing issue at hand. Survival is. And how does a vampire survive other than drinking blood? Now, to offset the taking of living blood, the vampires who reside inside the minds of Charlaine Harris and many other talented authors, do tend to choose the dregs of society as their victims. You can’t tell me the Rattrays didn’t deserve what they got. And what about John Ajvide Lindqvist ‘s Eli, the child-vampire from Let the Right One In? She (or he, depending upon which version you read) ended up as little Oskar’s protector. By the time Jimmy-the-bully’s severed arm hit that public pool, I was more than ready  to see him meet his demise. Even in my world of Darklands, Devin and Susan make a point of picking the worst we humans have to offer —pimps, child molesters. These are not exactly the kinds of people you’d want to spend an afternoon with. As my vampire Devin puts it “…all I’m doing is clearing the rubbish. Taking out the garbage.” Now, is that really so bad?

I’m not even going to go into the notion of the celibate vampire. It’s just plain silly ;-P

No matter if your taste runs to the do-gooder vampire or the naughty bad-boy vamp, I will happily say I am glad vamps are so popular. There are tons of great books just waiting to be read featuring our beloved undead in all shapes, sizes, professions, and attitudes. Just check out the rest of this wonderful blog and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

I want to thank Alan for having me on today. If you do prefer your vampires dark and conflicted, with a hearty dose of sex and blood thrown in, check out Darklands: A Vampire’s Tale at Amazon. Available in print and for Kindle. Be kind, feed your device!


Alan here. Much thanks to Donna Burgess for this peek into her vampiric world. We're big fans of “not your typical vampire story ”around here. Show Donna some love and check out Darklands: A Vampire's Tale. The kindle edition is currently only $0.99!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

I'm at Independent Paranormal Today!

What the hell are you doing here? All the cool kids are kickin it at Independent Paranormal today, reading and commenting on my guest post, A New Type of Vampire Hunter. Best comment, as judged by our kind host Jennifer Rainey, will win a copy of one of my ebooks. 

So get over there and sass me up about vampire hunters, or this is going to be very embarrassing!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Maybe Buy Now

Quick note, folks. I launched both of my e-books at $0.99. I'm going to be raising the price of each to $2.99 in about a week.
Might as well. I'm just trying stuff out to see what works.

So if you've been thinking that you'll get around to buying them sometime, you might want to buy them within the next week. Check the sidebar, or go to my book page for purchasing options.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Proofs!


I just got the proofs for the print edition of Burden Kansas in the mail. They look perfect so far. I have to go through them page by page, but I'm thinking they'll be live for sale by Monday at the latest. I'm so stoked!

Get Up, Stand Up / Stand Up While You Write

First, let’s just admire that title. That’s pure genius. I’m a punny guy!

Okay, now that we’ve paid proper tribute, Imma tell you ‘bout my standing desk.


So why do I write at a standing desk? A few reasons, actually. I’m very swaybacked. My spine is like a fancy-schmancy calligraphy “S”. So most office chairs hurt my back. Another reason is that my legs have always tended to cramp. On long drives from Kansas to DC to visit the grandparents my siblings were kind enough to let me sit sideways with my legs across them when I needed to stretch. Another reason is that I like to pace.

I used to write for livestrong.com, Lance Armstrong’s health and fitness site. I wrote about 200 articles for them . I wrote all those articles while standing. The 2 desk system you see above worked great because I could spread all my reference books along my sitting desk.

For some reason, though, I’ve been sitting more, recently. I can’t really say why. Laziness? But then Arthur Slade wrote a blog post about his cool treadmill desk, and it got me thinking. It made me remember an article I wrote for livestrong.com about a medical study that showed serious health benefits to not sitting all day. I looked for it but couldn't find it.

Then yesterday, Yahoo posted a Men’s Health article referencing the same study I’d read. The name of the article: The Most Dangerous Thing You’ll Do All Day. That Thing: sitting! DUN DUN DUUUUUUUUNNNN!!!!

But serious, check this out: a pretty huge study found that people who sit all day are 54% more likely to die of heart attacks. They think it’s because LPL drops once you’re off your feet, and LPL is an enzyme that does something beneficial to do with fats. Anyway.

If you need another benefit besides not dying, sitting all day also messes with your posture. HOLYSHITBADPOSTURE?!?!?! I know you’re all jumping to your feet right now.

I know that you can’t always control your work environment, but a lot of you are writers, and you can control your writing environment. Look at my “standing desk.” It’s a bookcase with a comic book box on top of it and a plank of pressboard on top of that. It’s actually pretty awesome, because all my reference material fits on the shelf beneath for easy access. So I'm back at my standing desk for sure. In fact...

...I wrote this post at my standing desk. MNIGHTSHYAMALANTWIST!!!HOLYSHIT!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Making a Monster

The vampires in Burden Kansas are a bit different. But then again, most vampires are a bit different, because 1. you can’t include the entire vampire mythos in one creature and 2. the monster should suit the story. I discuss some of the factors that go into creating a vampire in a guest post over at Katie Salidas’ blog.  I think it’s a very interesting topic, and I’d love to get a discussion going in the comments. What traits do you think are essential for a vampire?

In other news, I should be receiving the proofs for the paper version of Burden Kansas tomorrow! I’m very excited. I’ve had stories printed in several books and a journal. And really, I’m an e-book devotee now. I strongly prefer reading text on my Kindle. But I’m as giggly and giddy as a tufted titmouse at the prospect of holding the first paper book that’s all mine! Hopefully they’ll be error-free and the book will be available for sale next week.

In more important news, did you know that TV’s Frank from MST3K is active on Twitter?!?! Well, he is: @FrankConniff


I think I’m suffering from vitamin D deficiency. I’m planning to sit outside and read for awhile today. But I’m looking out the window, and it just looks terrifying out there. So we’ll see.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Interview: Morgan Gallagher of The Changeling


The perspective of Changeling is a close third. The voice is a sort of present-moment maximalism. It is both internal and external, but always in the moment. Is this your natural voice, or did you develop it specifically for Changeling? What was the intended effect?

I rarely ever write in anything other than third person.  I have written in first person, when the narrative was entirely about a person’s viewpoint, but it’s not common for me.  I think this is as a result of the amount of film and television I watched as a small child!  I used to sneak out of bed and watch stuff that I wasn’t supposed too. And I suspect that this means I naturally describe the ‘action’ I’m viewing.  I’m interested in process, and processing.  How the characters process the world around them, and the events that affect them.  And much of human reaction to things rarely starts with the thought “I...”  People are usually only aware of why they did things, afterwards.

I do, however, change the perspective of the narration, constantly.  I flip from close up analysis of one character, to the other.  At key moments, the focus changes, and flips between Joanne and Dreyfuss.
That took a great deal of trial and error, to find the natural voice point for myself, as the writer.  I experimented with doing one chapter centred upon one, and then the other.  It didn’t work, as it prevented me from flipping in and out of the personal reactions to what was occurring, in a way that took the narrative forward.  This was particularly true of the first few chapters, where Joanne is beaten by Dreyfuss, heavily, and regularly.  Only by being free to flip perspective, at points that illuminated the psychological process, did it work.  Staying with one, or the other, for an entire chapter, in a one on/one off fashion, was useless.  There was no point to showing the violence, unless it carried the narrative and characterisation forward at each point.  Just staying with Joanne, or Dreyfuss, until that chapter ended, made it voyeuristic and, to some degree, fetishised.  The reader had to have access to the process of what was occurring, not just the physical description of events.

Likewise, the flip from describing external detail, to internal thought, was difficult to find initially.  I floundered a lot, until I allowed myself to slip in and out, and between the two, without restriction.  There was a light bulb moment when I realised Joanne had two inner voices, her upper mind, and her deeper more instinctive one.  So dovetailing between them was a way to flesh out the exterior action.  Thank goodness for italics, that’s all I can say.  Once I’d used the italicisation to signal significant switches in character voice or perspective, it got a lot easier.  It allowed me to keep the pace up, relentlessly, by constantly jumping to the next key point.  Everything became about what was being learned at that moment, either by the character, or the reader, and I used that to jump around between them as Joanne found a way to survive.  Those first few chapters, were pretty much written last, actually.  For years, I had the opening couple of chapters, and a great deal of the second half of the book.  Going back, and constructing her time in the cell, and then how she moves out into the apartment, and then Number 1, was the hardest slog imaginable.  I knew where she’d started from, and how she had to get to the fake ‘escape’, and I had key moments along the way.  But sitting down and actually stitching it together, through those early events... just sheer hard work.

Now, of course, it’s natural to me.  Like riding a bike – takes ages to learn and you fall off a lot, but once you get the balance point, you’re off, and it’s difficult to understand how it was so difficult just a few moments before.  Much of the rest of the narrative, was re-written and fleshed out with that sort of detail, as I then moved on.  If you look at my back files, you find a pattern emerging in the writing – bare bones of a scene, then a re-write that puts in a lot of detail, puts the flesh on the bones.  Then, a final whole story rewrite, that tweaks, adds more interior thought, takes away some description, adds more reaction...  in order to keep that developmental line of the process up and running the whole way through.

One effect of the voice is that the inner minds of the characters are laid open. Did you find it disturbing going so far into the minds of an abusive sociopath and a severely abused woman?

Not in that sense.  This wasn’t a story I had to go research, and comes to terms with from a distance.  This was a story I understood in my bones.  The point was explaining it so that others understood it.  I was sharing understanding, not the revelation that people think, or act, or feel, like this.  It was incredibly difficult to describe the abuse, and confront it.  You naturally shy away from looking at something so shocking, this closely.  Your mind wants you to allude to it, and to suggest it, not meet it openly.  It hurt, some of that writing, hurt deeply.  I’d have to stop and go and do something else, and wait until I had the strength to do the next bit.  And as a writer, you know that your reader isn’t expecting it.  They are used to the allusion, the suggestion, the distance.  And you’re aware, as a writer, of the danger in what you are doing.  I expose myself tremendously, as a writer, by doing this.

So the disturbing part is in the fear of the fall-out from engaging with the subject so clearly, and with such power.  Many times before launch, I agonised over what I was doing, and talked to friends and supporters about it, and how there was scope for a nasty backlash.  How distressing I would find that, should it happen.  But rejecting the reality of someone else’s pain in these situations, is pretty standard in our culture.  As we’ll discover in the second book, part of the story is that women who survive what Joanne has survived, are often rejected by everyone else as they just don’t want to face it.  In many cultures, including our own not that long ago, women who have been violated – beaten, abused, raped - were simply killed.  By their family.  The reason given was that the shame must be removed.  I’ve always felt that what that really meant, was it was easier to remove the woman forever, than deal with what had happened, and move on from it collectively.   Easier to blame the woman, than deal with it. 
  
So yes, it was, is, disturbing, but not for the reasons you might think.   

Dreyfuss is kind of a classic narcissistic sociopath. Especially at the beginning, an easy comparison is Hannibal Lector. In strength sports, there are average-sized, 180lb men who can lift 800lbs. So he’s very conceivable as a human. For much of the novel, the same story could take place with Dreyfuss as a human. What changes by writing him as a vampire? Is he scarier? At any point, did you consider writing Dreyfuss as an insane human who just thinks he's a vampire? Or even not having a vampire element at all?

The story was always about vampires, always.   It’s about looking at how we as a culture, have evolved and risen, or not.  How we’ve developed something called civilisation, and how easily it can all be torn down.  That’s not so obvious from Changeling, but Changeling sets up the other two novels.  Vampirism allows you to examine the context ruthlessly – what is abuse to one person, now, was the way the world worked to another, a few centuries ago.  How hunger is the driving force of life: if you hunger to that extent, will you kill to live?

In terms of Dreyfuss himself, being a very long living vampire gives him immense power, and wealth, and freedom.  It also frees you up as the writer, to concentrate only on the dynamic between him and Joanne.  If you look at both factual, and fictional, human sociopaths, they run their violent lives alongside normal ones, where no one knows.  But Dreyfuss has a complete world to himself, and his buildings and endless money and power.  There is no need to explain him going home to the wife after a hard day terrorising a kidnapped human female.  Vampirism gives him the wherewithal to keep his said human pet, alive a lot longer than if he was a normal human and that opens up the territory of the mind games.  Dreyfuss wants her soul, he just uses her body as the way to get there.  That may be a common human method of attack, but the vampirism gives him the tools to succeed.

However, that’s not to say that that need, to dominate utterly, comes from him being vampire.   As we glimpse through the narrative, Dreyfuss was made, and made violently, by someone else.  Was he a human sociopath before he was Turned, or did the Turning make him that way?  It’s a question that Joanne slowly comes to ask herself. There is a puzzle about Dreyfuss, and his vampirism.  If he was a sociopath as a human, who would make him a vampire?  And why?   And what does he require forgiveness for, what matters to him about what he did in his past when he’s so completely without humanity now?  And why has he no other Changelings if this has been a driving need for two thousand years?  The two thousand years part, is vital to his character.  So yes, Dreyfuss always had to be a vampire.

It takes Joanne a long time to believe that Dreyfuss is a vampire, but the reader knows because we’ve been inside his head and seen thing she hasn’t seen. Did you consider sticking with Joanne’s perspective and making the reader wonder along with her?

I did consider it.  It wrote naturally that we, the reader, always knew, as we have the first feed that should have killed her, being refused by her on a primal level, in the first couple of chapters.  After I’d written it, I did consider it might be more effective for the reader to think, like her, that he was ‘just’ a human maniac.  I even experimented with it, and rewrote sections, but it didn’t work.  The horror comes from knowing how much more complete her captivity was.  The horror comes from the fact she doesn’t know.  We know the police are never going to arrive.  We know she’s been completely removed from the human world and there is no going back.  The tale is in watching it all occur to her.  Doing it any other way, means you’re writing a thriller, and suddenly switching it to a horror, at some point in.  It just didn’t work at all: set up all the wrong vibes and expectations.

You’ve said that you stopped reading vampire books while you were writing. Are there any books that particularly influenced Changeling?

Writers, with some specific stories by them, more than a particular book.  Harlan Ellison would be the very specific influence, in that his writing, about human pain and human suffering, has been a constant influence all my life.  His 1973 short story “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs” was seminal.  It’s the story of how a woman is raped and murdered whilst her neighbours watch, refusing to do anything.  It was based on the actual rape and murder of Kitty Genovese, where the neighbours heard what was happening, and did nothing.  The story is exceptional, given Ellison’s ability to write like both a god and a demon in the same line.  I read it first in my early 20s, and I was shocked that a writer could contain such a graphic scene, and write about it so lyrically, and with such power.  At the time, you didn’t even say the word ‘rape’ out in the open.  His writing has been a huge influence on me, both his fiction and his factual writings.  Stephen King is also a strong influence, and in this respect his publishing of Rose Madder was seminal.  Not from the novel narrative itself, but from the fact that he wrote about the subject matter as horror material, in a mainstream novel, and this was accepted openly.  That was important to me.  Other strong voices that helped keep me in my own voice would be Minette Walters, Ian Rankin, Karin Slaughter and to some extent, but a lesser one, Patricia Cornwell.

You've got two characters, a small stage and a long novel. Repetition is an important aspect of the story. How did you manage to avoid the problems caused by repetition and keep things interesting? How carefully did you plan the spacing of your revelations?

Not so much planned, as evolved during the writing.  If it wasn’t doing anything new, it had to go.  If it wasn’t adding anything to the journey, it had to go.  The problem was that the repetition of the pattern of violence, is what breaks Joanne down.  And that’s a deliberate technique being used by Dreyfuss, so it had to be shown.  But it was only shown enough times to draw that detail out, and it was removed when it was redundant.  There are time jumps in the narrative, where the reader has all they need to understand the process, and then we jump onwards.  There are several months between the end of Chapter 8 and the beginning of Chapter 9.  And we fast forward through the first few weeks at Arden Coombe in just a chapter.   The driving element was Joanne’s journey being revealed to the reader.  If it was simple repetition of something already established it was removed.  If it contained important understanding of the process, time slowed down and a lot was spent on fine detail.  So we see next to nothing of her journey across half the planet in her escape, but tiny detail in her drive to Pittenweem.  I’d just keep asking myself what the reader needed to know and understand and adjust to that.  It may be mostly two characters, a tiny space and little overt action, but it’s a huge journey.  So I showed the journey.  I hope!  J


Morgan Gallagher is in her late 40s, and should know better, about spending her writing life with vampires. However, she has no choice, as they refuse to go away and leave her alone.  She lives in the Scottish Borders, with her husband and their six year old son.  A full time carer for her husband who is severely disabled, Morgan also works as a volunteer for several charities and is passionate about the rights of babies, children and mothers.  She has campaigned vigorously against child detention during immigration procedures.  She and her husband home educate their son and attempt to keep a never ending stream of cats under control. The North Sea pounds their fishing village every winter, and every major storm, the entire family are to be found in the car parked on the headland admiring the view.  Apart from the cats, that is, who are at home dreaming of summer.



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Alan here. This is a very smart, well-written novel. It delves deep into the psychology of both the abuser and the abused. It contains graphic scenes of physical, psychological and sexual abuse that will upset those made queasy by portrayals of torture. But as Morgan explains above, this isn't splatterpunk. It's purposeful. So if you can handle that, you won't find a much better vampire tale than Changeling. My tastes lean a bit more towards minimalism than maximalism, but here's the main thing: I think that fiction should both entertain and make you think. Most writers settle for one or the other, so it's surprisingly difficult to find novels that do both. Changeling does.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

On Writing What You Know

I’m not gonna name names, but there are some writers who get a BA in English: Creative Writing, an MFA in Creative Writing, a PhD in Creative Writing, and by the time they get their doctorate, they’ve published enough work to get a job teaching creative writing.

What the fuck do they write about?

Now to be fair, I really only know of this happening to poets, who don’t have to create the same suspension of disbelief in the reader that we fiction writers do, but still.

I’ve worked a ton of shit jobs, and they provide the filler for my stories and  novels. I’ve been a fry cook all the way up to a procurement agent purchasing hundreds of millions dollars of equipment for major energy engineering projects, and a bunch of shit in between. And I’m glad I’ve done all that. Not every experience gave me something to write about, but they all gave me something to write around.

So there is something to the adage “write what you know.” I’m not going to argue whether that means what you’ve directly experienced or what you can research blah blah blah. I don’t argue on the internet.


But I will tell you of a tale of not writing what you know, one that makes me look dumb! Yay for you!

Burden Kansas is authentic like wo. I don't toss around words like "soogan" and "hackamore" like Cormac McCarthy (I do love him), but I know that I wrote an authentic contemporary western. This is partly because, even though there’s no comma in the title and the town is never named in the book, I grew up a few miles outside of Burden, Kansas. I grew up on 8 of Keith’s many acres, though in a ranch house, not a two-story with a sweet porch. I lived a half hour away from the town I went to school in! Farther than the bus went. I wasn’t a rancher, but I sure grew up around them, and my Grandpa used to own cattle.

South central Kansas is known for awesome grass-fed beef that’s too expensive for me to buy. Or you, probably. Lots of it gets shipped to Japan. My brother-in-law worked at a slaughterhouse that shipped a lot of beef to Japan.

What south central Kansas isn’t known for is dairy. But I just had to have a nice, big dairy barn in my story. And I got called out on a mistake it caused. And one day I will have my revenge upon Morgan Gallagher.

Yeah, I researched dairy barns, and I minimized the actual dairy presence, but that’s what caused the problem. The dairy farmers disappeared. So where were all the dairy cows, pissed off at not having been milked for almost two days? As soon as I got called out, I knew it was a real mistake. I’ve read that once dairy cows get on a milking schedule, they expect to be milked. They produce so much milk, in fact, that not getting milked can cause them permanent damage.

Luckily, Morgan posted that review just as I was formatting my paper book. It only took a few sentences to fix. The cattle are outside during nice weather, to create premium grass-fed milk. They only go into the barn to be milked. They’re loud, but no one is around for miles to hear them  (for reasons made clear in the book). I just had to write a few sentences about how upset they were, standing at the fence near the barn, waiting to be milked when characters approached. I fixed and reuploaded the ebooks, too. I let myself change it because I wasn’t about to purposefully create my paper books with a big mistake. Once I’ve checked the proofs, though, that’s it.

But since I mostly write about what I know––alcoholism, angry hicks and small-town violence––I don’t think it should be a problem.



Remember when I mentioned getting my revenge on Morgan Gallagher? Guess who's been interviewed for tomorrow's post? That's right, Ms. Dairy Expert herself, Morgan Gallagher! She just released a vampire novel named Changeling. 

This isn't going to be your average "So tell me about your book" "Where do you get your ideas?" kind of interview. I'm out for blood. But Morgan is certainly a worthy adversary, and we get down to some real craft and theory type talk. Be sure to check it out tomorrow!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Guest Post: William Meikle - WHY I WRITE ABOUT VAMPIRES

Today's market seems to wants vampires to be young, emotive and sparkly.

Don't teenage girls realize that vamp's hearts don't pump blood? No pump = no erections. The ultimate in safe sex.

Or maybe that's the point? Vamps have lost their balls and become metrosexual, safe boyfriends for the timid.

I hate it.

I grew up with the sixties explosion of popular culture embracing the supernatural and the weird. Hammer horror movies got me young. And the one that hooked me was Dracula.

I first saw this in about 1970, on BBC2, on an old black and white TV which was about 10 inches square and made everybody look like short fat cubes. But even that didn't detract from the power of this film.

This Hammer horror version sticks fairly closely to Stoker's original novel, and as such is a purist's dream.

Lee plays the Count as no one before or since. His flat demonic stare sems to ooze pure evil. The count has become a cultural icon in the past forty years, and has even been parodied and made fun of (Count Duckula anybody?) but I challenge anybody to look Lee in the eye when he's on the hunt and not feel a frisson of cold terror.

Vampires have been humanised recently (and have even got a soul in Angel's case), but it shouldn't be forgotten that they are bloodsucking bas*ards - that's what they are, that's what they do. The high cheekbones, sex-appeal and good clothes sense are just nice-to-have after thoughts. And in Lee's case you can believe that the bloodsucking is the important part, judging by the relish he shows for the deed.

And just because Buffy can stake a dozen or so without breaking sweat, it shouldn't be forgotten that the vampire is traditionally a great evil force of destruction. Lee never lets you forget it.

Which brings me round to The Watchers trilogy, my retelling of the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion in Britain. Bonnie Prince Charlie, and all his highland army, are Vampires and are heading south to claim the British throne. The "Watchers" of the title are the guards of the old Roman wall built by Hadrian, now reinforced to keep the vamps out. It is constantly patrolled by officers of the Watch, two of whom become the main protagonists of the series. I got the idea on a walk along what is left of the wall, and by the time I'd had finished my walk and had a few beers the first part of the trilogy was fully formed in my head. Think "ZULU" or "Last of the Mohicans" with vamps and you'll get a feel of what I was trying to do.

I was dealing with a retelling of the Bonnie Prince Charlie story, where romantic myths have subsumed the harsh reality of a coup gone badly wrong. I needed to strip all the romance out of the Highlanders and build them up from the bottom. Making them a shambling army of vamps and mindless drones seemed an obvious place to start. The Watchers series is a swashbuckler, but there is little lace and finery. What I do have is blood and thunder, death and glory in big scale battles and small scale heartbreak. I love it.

Watchers: The Coming of the King is out new in print and ebook








GIVEAWAY!!!!


A free ebook of Watchers: The Coming of the King (MOBI, EPUB or PDF ) will be awarded to the best comment relating to this blog post, to be judged by William Meikle

Friday, April 8, 2011

Morgan Gallagher's Review of Burden Kansas

Much thanks to Morgan Gallagher for her thoughtful review of Burden Kansas.  I think I'll use "It’s a bloody rip roaring tale that gallops past quickly" in my blurb. If you've been on the fence about spending 99% of a dollar on Burden Kansas, this review might tip you.

In other Burden Kansas news, I'm formatting the paper edition. That's right, for only 10 times the price of the e-book with exactly the same content, you'll soon be able to weigh yourself down with a chunk of dead tree! Depending on some art stuff, it should be available in about a month.

Seriously, to anyone who plans to keep up with my writing: I'm planning to put out enough books in the next year that the difference in e vs p costs will pay for like half of your kindle. I push the kindle over the nook only because the kindle currently has the much better pearl e-ink screen, comparable in contrast to newsprint and very easy on the eyes. But just yesterday B&N was selling the nook "classic" for ridiculously low prices on ebay. Anyone heard if they're going to put out a new e-reader with a pearl e-ink screen, or if they're ditching it entirely for lcd?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Science of Vampires

Big thanks to Coral for putting up a guest post by yours truly at her blog Chaos and Insanity, thereby allowing me to inflict my abrasive personality upon a whole new group of victims. And unlike you people, they're unsuspecting, not masochistic.

The post is about why I decided upon a non-magical origin for the vampires in Burden Kansas. The answer is meth. But isn't meth usually the answer?

So please stop by and heckle me in the comments!

Guest Post: Katie Salidas - Combining Old Mythology and Imagination

Vampires have been legend since the dawn of time. Stories and myths can be found in the most ancient of civilizations. They have proven time and time again that they a have sticking power.  They go through cycles of hot and cold but over the centuries, they’ve never gone away.

I think one of the things that keeps the vampire genre so popular, is the fact that they grow with the times. The vampire is so versatile. They can be both good and evil and on many occasions, some shade of grey in-between. They can be a sexy heartthrob or a ghoulish monster. It all depends on what the author decides to do with them.

Of course, with the recent surge in vampire popularity, it’s not enough to just write a vampire story. You have to give a little oomph to it. Lots of people make fun of the “sparkly vampires in Twilight. Like them or not, they’re a perfect example of this concept. Mrs. Meyers did something different. She took an old idea and added a fresh twist, something no one had seen before. And for her, it worked!

Point being, the market is hugely competitive at the moment; so, to stand out, you have to have something to give your audience that they might not get with another story. And that was what I tried to do in my own subtle way.

To do this, I needed to take a step back and look at some of the origins of vampires. Look at the legends that have already been used and see if I could come up with something a little different.

The word “vampire” is a relatively new term (circa 1800’s), the idea of bloodsucking undead has been around since the dawn of time. Some legends state that simply being buried improperly can cause a human to reanimate as a vampire, Slavic legends for example.  Other legends stat that one must have committed a heinous crime to become the undead. There are other legends about animals jumping over a corpse. Some popular ideas that have been adapted to fiction, have vampires as the children of Cain or Lilith. Still more involve demonic spirits and possessions.   If we seek far back into mythology you’ll find the Greeks and Romans believed in demonic spirits themselves and in many ways they were the prototype of the common vampire of today.

That hooked me! I love ancient mythology and happened across some very interesting similarities between creatures of the ancient Greek world and the vampires I wanted to create. The Keres, in fact were dead ringers for what I had in mind. Daughters of Nyx, goddess of the night, these creatures are described as winged female death spirits with an insatiable lust for human blood. Perfect!

According to my research they were also one of the evils released when Pandora opened the fabled box. While they sound fearsome and probably would be, they weren’t exactly evil. They existed in a murky gray area of morality. They survived off of blood and they had to get it from somewhere. They were agents of the fates, also known as Death Fates.  They did not attack people openly or without reason. They did however; hang around battles waiting for someone to fall. That’s when they swarmed, finishing the poor dying man off, savoring their blood as they sent his soul to Hades. They essentially sped a person’s fate on to its course. If you were going to die, they’d be there to do it and drink your blood at the same time.

I fell in love, not literally of course, with the creature and knew I just had to base my vampire legend off of them somehow. So I created a union between human and Keres. The child from that union was the first vampire in history (in the Immortalis world).

Once I had a basis, a history for my vampires, I continued to flesh out what I thought those creatures should be like. They’re cursed beings, part demigod (at least in the Immortalis world) and part human, but belonging to neither world entirely. That brought up so many questions that would need answers. The answers of course, helped to shape the story.

What is blood lust like? The simple answer is, it’s a basic need like hunger or thirst, but because these creatures are different from humans, it needed to be taken to a different level. For that, I explored addiction and how addicts “need” their fix. Combining the two gave me a way to explain how important the blood was and how it would feel to need it.

What happens when the vampires are exposed to sunlight? In my vampire mythology, I use Nyx (goddess of the night) as a parental figure to my new creatures. She curses them to avoid light so she could always watch over them. That gave me a new angle to work with. Instead of it being simply deadly, it is more unpleasant. My vampires lack the melanin in their skin and eyes to protect them from the sun. This makes them extremely photosensitive. Rather than bursting into flames, the sun acts as more of a painful reminder of the curse. They are light-blinded and their skin begins to sunburn immediately.

Another question I wanted to challenge with my new take was the age old fear of holy relics. Since my vampires are not based in Christian mythology, these things would have no effect on them.

As I came up with the answers to the standard vampire tropes I saw a story forming around them. What would it be like to go from human to vampire? Most books gloss over the actual transition from human to vampire, but I wanted to really focus on that change. I wanted to try and depict the actual hardship involved in the transition. And that is where Immortalis was born. Through this series, you get a firsthand account of what it’s like for a normal human being to change and learn to adapt to this new way of life.

Buy Immortalis 1: Carpe Noctem at:
Amazon: Kindle and Paper
B&N: Nook and Paper

But Immortalis 2: Hunters & Prey at:
Amazon: Kindle and Paper
B&N: Nook and Paper

Katie Salidas is a Super Woman! Endowed with special powers and abilities, beyond those of mortal women, She can get the munchkin off to gymnastics, cheerleading, Girl Scouts, and swim lessons.  She can put hot food on the table for dinner while assisting with homework, baths, and bedtime… And, She still finds the time to keep the hubby happy (nudge nudge wink wink). She can do all of this and still have time to write. 

And if you can believe all of those lies, there is some beautiful swamp land in Florida for sale…

Katie Salidas resides in Las Vegas, Nevada. Mother, wife, and author, she does try to do it all, often causing sleep deprivation and many nights passed out at the computer. Writing books is her passion, and she hopes that her passion will bring you hours of entertainment.

Get in touch with Katie at her Blog | Facebook | LinkedIn | Twitter