Real Vampires Get Knocked Down, but They Get Up Again (You’re Never Gonna Keep Them Down)

Nosferatu

I’ve been thinking a lot about vampires. This may have something to do with the fact that I’m watching the first three seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I’d only ever seen from season four on), or it may be that I’m feeling the temporary loss of True Blood (it’s gotten to be a kind of family tradition ’round here). Whatever the reason, I’ve realized something has been bothering me about modern vampires.

I know vampires are folkloric creatures, and it’s kind of ridiculous to grumble over what is and isn’t supposed to happen with “real vampires” (I actually heard that phrase blurted outside the theater after a showing of Blade). I’m probably one of the only people who didn’t love Twilight and yet wasn’t bothered by the sparklepires… vamparkles? I actually thought it was kind of cool that Stephenie Meyer made her version of the undead into a kind of on-land Anglerfish. That’s not sarcasm; I truly thought it was awesome. Anglerfish are scary as hell.

But there’s one common change that actually does bother me, and that’s due to my preference for the old idea that a wooden stake through the heart is not supposed to kill a vampire. I’ll say that again, in case you missed it. A stake through the heart should not kill a vampire. You don’t shoot a toothpick at them and have them melt into a pile of guts. You don’t drop them onto a fence post and have them explode into ashes. It’s not that simple. The stake is only there to hold them down. Remove the stake, and the vampire gets back up and kills your stupid ass.

You may say I’m splitting hairs about this, but let me make a case for it.

There’s one very important thing I love about vampires: they’re the commingled representation of sex and death.

Vampires traditionally seduce and corrupt young “virgins” by exchanging um… fluids with them. And if you don’t think that’s a representation of sexuality, try to remember the last time you heard an on-screen vampire victim scream the way you might if your date suddenly stabbed you in the neck with two pencils. Close your eyes and just imagine it for a second. Two pencils. Getting stabbed into your neck. You’d howl like someone was holding your hand to a red-hot stovetop. You wouldn’t make slight-discomfort-plus-pleasure noises while you were getting bitten. I promise.

But vampires also represent a part of our existence we don’t particularly like to think about: death. And not the lacy, quiet, romantic death you read about in poems. I mean the kind of death you see when you find a dead animal in the road—a shriveled thing that used to be full of movement and thought and decision. You can’t just kill a vampire; it’s already dead. It is death in the flesh—undeath, in other words. All you can do is incapacitate it by tearing it apart.

So all the religious, holy-water, scared-of-crosses nonsense aside, vampires are a folkloric symbol of the ultimate creative act and the ultimate destructive force existing in the same body. They’re the walking, talking circle of life. That’s why it’s important to me that a vampire sleep in its coffin during the day. And when you drive a stake through its heart, you do it so the unholy monster doesn’t get up and kill you while you’re decapitating it.

Our folklore is there to remind us of every aspect of our lives, even those we don’t like to think about. I don’t think a representation of death should be romantic or convenient. It should be terrible, like opening a coffin, finding a corpse, and driving a stake through the heart of someone you loved so they stay dead.

What do you think?

The “Look” Challenge

Edit: I forgot to warn. The excerpt in this post contains mild spoilers for Titan Magic (book one). Read at your own risk.

I’ve been tagged by the awesome MR Graham. Who knew that would happen? And it’s a fun one, giving me the opportunity to post a teaser from Titan Magic: Body and Soul.

Here are the rules of The “Look” Challenge: “Take your current manuscript and find the first instance of the word “look”. Then post the surrounding paragraphs as an excerpt of the book on your blog. Lastly, tag five more blogging authors who you think would be a good choice for the game.”

And if you’re reading this and you’re currently working on a novel, I tag you! Because that’s how I roll.

Okay. Here’s my excerpt:

Marcus planted his hands on his hips and stood over Kaspar like a menacing specter. “Last question,” he said. “How many of these books have you read?”

Kaspar couldn’t answer, not because he didn’t want to, but because he didn’t know. He hadn’t kept count. The truth was, at any given time, Kaspar was connected by invisible threads of paper to hundreds of books in The Lost Library. And he read them all at once, usually more than once. The truth was Kaspar had come very close to memorizing more than he could count. He took a deep breath and prepared to answer with a gesture—one that both Marcus and William would be able to understand, one that would bring Kaspar another step closer to meeting the Titan and to his own annihilation.

With a tug, he pulled every book in sight from its place on the shelves. The sudden music of a million fluttering pages, of hundreds of spines hitting the ground punctuated the gesture beautifully. William’s mouth fell open in silent horror, but Marcus only gazed down at Kaspar with a look of deep resignation.

Kaspar allowed silence to penetrate his labyrinthine home. Then he replaced every book at once. And it was leaves in a forest, the sound that second gesture produced. It was a whirling storm of information.

“It seems our little wooden prince is a prodigy,” Marcus said. “But I think the most telling part of this story is that he felt the need to keep it from us until now. He’s exerting his independence; he has been since the very beginning.” Marcus pushed the stacks of William’s books aside and leaned over, palms to the desk, until he was looking his master right in the eye. “And you’ve been helping him.”

Visiting the Night Circus

I have this recurring dream. It isn’t a nightmare; it’s actually a lot of fun (except for the one with the corpses, but we won’t talk about that). In the dream, I’m in a house. I head to one room and find that there’s a labyrinth of rooms tucked away behind it. The rooms are usually of increasing size and varying color, theme, and style. Some rooms have whole apartments in them, kitchens and balconies like hotel suites, or small beds all in a line as though laid out for a number of children. Sometimes there are gardens in secret courtyards or hidden treasures in dark corners. In the end the inside of the house turns out to be far bigger than it looked on the outside.

The Night Circus (cover)Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus is a lot like that recurring dream. It’s a labyrinth of sets and scenes and characters, each one introduced slowly and with great care. The story is secondary to exploration. Discovery and mysterious whimsy are more vital than characters. It plays out like a new world, all folded up like origami and found in the shape of a book.

For me, Reading The Night Circus was not unlike reading The Monsters of Templeton (without the nightmarish ending). The narrative was rich and full and delicious. But at some point I wanted the book to end, I think because I had the same feeling all the way through. I never became angry or elated for any of the characters. I only ever felt a kind of pleasant dreaminess, which was lovely, but exhausting after a while.

That said, I loved the book overall. It’s not a story to be read so much as experienced. The sights and sounds and smells—the whole flavor of the circus is so vivid, I wished I could have visited it myself. And I did like Marco and Celia and Baily and Poppet and Widget and all the other characters that won me over in the long run.

The Night Circus was a fantastic experience, in the truest sense. And while my sad state of an attention span often struggled with it, I’m glad I read it.

“Hello… Gordon.”

It’s weird. I have different genre preferences for different mediums. For books, I prefer fantasy; for films, horror; for music, moody folk. One thing I noticed about a lot of the art I love is that most people I know have never heard of it. But I’m not a hipster! This so isn’t working for me. How am I supposed to gush about how Vermillion Lies’ “Shark Serenade” is likely my freakin’ theme song and should probably be played at my funeral if no one I know has heard of it? I’m just going to have to share this stuff more, I’ve decided. So share I will, and I’m starting with a horror film because it was already on my list of stuff to write blogs about.

Session Nine Cover ImageMy first impression of Session 9 was that it probably had a low budget. And I was pretty sure it was going to be one of those films I mildly enjoy, easily predict, and then forget about a week or two later. I was wrong. Not about the budget. I mean it does look somewhat raw, but I think that might be a result of the digital filming, which is something I’m only used to seeing on home videos. It’s just that this movie refused to be what I thought it was going to be. And that’s what made it brilliant.

Two things you should know about Session 9: 1) It’s about a crew cleaning up asbestos in an old mental hospital, which is terrifying in itself because asbestos is scary; and 2) the movie was shot in an actual old, falling-apart, haunting-as-all-get-out mental hospital. So it has automatic win on atmosphere.

What do I love about Session 9? It’s subdued. It’s not about the deaths (though there are deaths because, come on, it’s a horror movie). It’s about the characters and the hospital, which I believe is a character in itself. It’s about the darkness that lies in all of us. It’s all-over mood and atmosphere. It takes its time, but it’s never boring. Just watch this scene and tell me it doesn’t give you shivers. That voice! It’s not like your usual monster voice, is it? There’s no mistaking that voice for the comparatively tender-hearted Freddy Kruger. The voice sounds human, although slightly distorted—warped even, which I’m sure was intentional.

The other thing I love about Session 9 is it actually acknowledged the “Satanic Ritual Abuse” panic of the 1980s, which made me swoon all over it like it was the most adorable puppy in the world. Most horror films perpetuate the idea that SRA was “for real, you guys, and that sort of thing is still prevalent today!” But Session 9 took the high road, discussed the kind of psychological abuse that resulted from the panic itself, and still managed to make a terrifying film. It didn’t thrive on ignorance, in other words. It managed to use the truth to its benefit.

Finally, though I went through the whole movie feeling fond, I didn’t actually adore it until the last line. One line—that’s all it took—and the whole story came into focus and rooted itself in my memory. That’s a pretty powerful piece of writing, and it’s only eight words. I won’t tell you what the line is, but you’ll know it when you hear it. Oh, you definitely will.

So see Session 9 if you like slow-burning, atmospheric, intelligent horror. While it may not be quite as polished as some of the films I fawn over, it’s not like anything you’ve ever seen before. And you will remember it. I promise.

On Anchor Characters

In my last post I mentioned anchor characters, but then I realized it was a thing I kind of made up, and I hadn’t really rambled on about it yet. Such a wasted opportunity. I am so prepared to remedy that.

So what is an anchor character? Well, if you’re like me and have a snow-pea sized attention span, an anchor character is any character that anchors you to the story. For me it’s usually an anti-hero, a flawed and funny protagonist, or a romantic antagonist. Mystery is the all-important element, I’ve found. The right amount of mystery drives me crazy with curiosity, and I’ll read through any amount of descriptive world-building or random essay chapters (ahem, Victor Hugo) just to learn more about one person. I’ve tried to explain to those who don’t understand that what Lord of the Rings lacked for me was an anchor character. I might have read it otherwise. I might have even loved it. As it was, I couldn’t even get halfway through.

My first anchor character was so precious to me, I actually locked him in a hope chest to keep him safe. When we’re children, we’re pretty sure losing whatever our favorite thing is means we will never ever see it again. And I was most afraid of losing a tall, whimsical man called Uncle Morris. Uncle Morris was a secondary character in Silvia Cassedy’s Behind the Attic Wall, which was the favorite book of my childhood self. If you asked me what I loved about that book, even in those days, my answer would have been the characters. All of them. But the cake-taker, without a doubt, was Uncle Morris.

After Uncle Morris, I fell in love with characters like Gaston Leroux’s poor phantom Erik (me and a billion other girls, right?), Captain James Hook (he’s so damned prim), The White Witch (anyone who doesn’t love her is just wrong), Severus Snape (best dark horse I ever rooted for), and Victor Hugo’s tortured priest Dom Claude Frollo (more on that later). Most of characters I love are antagonists (because of the mystery, y’all). And I love them still.

When writing, of course, my favorite character has to shift for every scene. If I didn’t adore something about each of them, I wouldn’t be able to put them to paper. But as a reader, I usually find my anchor, and I am loyal to the bitter end.

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