New “Luke” Novel Taking Shape Before Your Eyes! Hurry and Subscribe!

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Luke as a surgeon’s mate in the American Revolutionary War. Cover thumbnail for “Against Heaven and Hell”

Hello, neglected readers! Do you remember Luke from my vampire diaries? I hope you like him (or love to hate him?), because he is the main character in a serial novel I’ve entered in the Writers Camp serialized novel contest on Tapas.ie. Please don’t wait to check it out, because the contest ends on April 19. Here is the direct link to the story, “Against Heaven and Hell:
https://tapas.io/episode/1030848

If you think the story has merit, please join the site and subscribe to it by April 19. A subscription does two things: It allows you to read the whole story easily after I post in it every Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday, and it is a vote toward making it the readers’ choice winner.

“Against Heaven and Hell,” a horror novel set in 18th Century America–a story of the younger years of the character I like the best among those I have created so far, Lucas Fleeland (Luke). He’s interviewed, and takes over the interview of Carletta, in these earlier blog posts (the last too are better):
Calm, Cool, and Condemned: Luke answers 11 questions
Carletta’s Second Interview: Not-so-sweet 16 Responds to the Rest of the Questions
At Last–Luke Answers the Rest of the Questions (Dual Vampire Interview Continued)

After exploring the experiences and processes that make Luke a complex and secretly rebellious young man (and something more than that), the novel intricately weaves in an often misunderstood historical figure, General Benedict Arnold, in ways I hope you will find both informative and entertaining. According to my fiction, Luke meets Arnold when working as a surgeon’s mate (medic assistant) in the Revolutionary War, and attempts to mold the heroic general into someone he can better relate to.

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Banner for the online novel, “Against Heaven and Hell”: General Benedict Arnold, “the Dark Eagle,” is lured by more forces than history knows, according to this historical horror novel.

I originally wrote “Against Heaven and Hell” as a novella I submitted to a collection called “War is Hell.” It was not accepted for the anthology but the editors liked it enough to say they might want to use it in another publication. I wasn’t satisfied with the story as it was; I wanted to expand and deepen the plot, possibly making it a stand-alone novel that is a prequel offshoot to my AVS series. And here I am doing so at last!

I started rewriting the story after I heard about the contest, which started March 19 and would continue for just a month. Last night the artwork was completed, and this morning I posted the new banner. I have just less than two weeks to attract a following large enough to win the readers’ choice award or to interest the judges enough to win by the second option.

I don’t expect to finish the whole novel by the deadline, which is okay. I’m working hard at the new parts and even the old parts require editing for improvement and consistency with the new version. On top of that, I must return to the historical research needed to recreate the time period and historical figures accurately. I WILL finish it, though! I just may not post as often once the contest ends, because I don’t want the quality to suffer (the quality either of the novel OR of my life).

So far, 4 installments are available for your reading pleasure. More to come tonight! At least 10, probably more, will be completed by the April 19 deadline.

Hope you enjoy it!

 

 

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Writing about Evil: Perspective of another Author

I just read a great blog post that reflects the sentiments I have been trying to express. S.D. Grimm (dig the darkish fairytale name!) writes her guest commentary for Morgan Busse on Enclave Publishing’s blog. I’m excited to discover Enclave, a Christian publisher of edgy speculative fiction.

Why write about evil, as a Christian? WHAT to write about evil as a Christian? What is the relationship of evil to good? Is it possible that experiencing evil can make the light show all the brighter?

Here’s a link to “The Dark Side of Fiction”

Why Vampires? In Defense of a Dark Symbol

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            I wrote the following article for “Robin’s Nest,” my web domain of “Den of Insanity” (later called “Artisan’s Republic”) many years ago. I have made just a few changes to update the progress of the manuscripts in progress. Today the issue it discusses is more pertinent than ever. Picture, if you will, a mob of villagers armed with torches and pitchforks, chasing a “monster” down in the dark of the night. The monster? A writer of fiction.

            The writer takes a stand in front of the old, creaking windmill. This is what she says—or tries to, before they cast her down from her pedestal and burn her to death:

Some of my friends who share my Christian faith don’t seem to understand what I am doing in writing my AVS fiction series. It’s true we say people don’t understand us if they disagree with us, but most of the people who disapprove of my writing about vampires haven’t even heard me explain my story and its purpose, much less read a word of it. All they have to do is hear the word “vampire,” and they think I’m doing something terrible. One of them went so far as to inform me, “Don’t you know God doesn’t want you to write about vampires?” It’s interesting that she knows better than I do what God wants me to do, especially when I have been working on this story for years.

Why do I care what people think? These people are my brothers and sisters in the faith. I need their prayers and encouragement over a work whose main idea, I believe, was inspired by the Lord himself. It’s hard enough that this is a crossover novel that may be hard to place with a publisher. I need all the moral support I can get. And I love talking about my writing because, second to God Himself, it is my greatest passion.

It has been hard having my various subject matters rejected by fellow Christians over the years, anyway. Fantasy? No, it has to be realistic. Romance? That’s naughty. Do any characters cuss? Do any characters have sex? Even think or talk about sex? Then forget it! Some people—not all—are quick to condemn everything they possibly can. They seem to think it is their ministry to discourage people like me.

My AVS series has a few scattered cuss words in the mouths of my characters. Shocked? I cuss myself sometimes, mostly when I’m really angry. God hasn’t hit me with a lightning bolt yet. I know that doesn’t prove He approves, but I just don’t feel it’s such a terrible sin to let each character talk in the way that is natural for him or her. I think it would bring more attention to cussing if I censored them each time by always saying “she cursed.” There is a meaning to their words; it’s not just cussing for no reason. They are not the kinds of people who cuss all the time so that their words lose meaning. These characters do not start as Christians, but the stories do have a Christian message. When a few of my characters get involved sexually, it is not on camera, as it were. By letting them do that, I am also letting them be themselves, not condoning their activities but instead showing some possible consequences. What is wrong with presenting human beings realistically? Because of the existence of vampires in my stories, they are a type of fantasy, but when I write fantasy, I work all the harder to keep all mundane details as mundane as possible, to create the illusion that such an event could really happen and to express the realities of human life.

What is it that bothers many Christians about vampires? I’m not entirely sure. For one thing, I think these people make assumptions. Does my writing glorify evil? No. The Bible speaks of evil, including Satan himself. It doesn’t condone evil but instructs in fighting against it. I’m doing the same thing, and in a similar way—through the lives of imperfect people who struggle with difficult issues. Am I claiming vampires are real? No. There are real people who drink blood but not who grow fangs like dogs and live on blood indefinitely. And there are still some people today who believe the undead exist (like Montegue Summers, who wrote books about vampires), but by writing fiction that uses some of these ideas I am not proclaiming my own belief in vampires any more than Tolkien claimed he believed in the reality of elves. My Christian friends may assume that I am trying to copy Anne Rice or some other vampire writer. I couldn’t even if I wanted to. I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t think it was a fresh approach for a worthy cause. Least of all, I’m not copying any vampire movies.

Disclaimer: It is possible to dwell upon evil too much, and I have sometimes done so while writing about my vampires. It harmed my mental, spiritual, and even physical health. I learned from that and sought out greater balance in my life. But you can’t write a story about the battle between good and evil without some evil in it. And what subject is more worthy than good verses evil?

I didn’t think of vampires as a subject for some of my writing until a certain dream suggested a particular story—the one that started it all. But the more I’ve thought about it, and the more I’ve researched the subject, I’ve found many good reasons to write about vampires. This being represents a lot of things that touch us at a deep level, and it can be used to teach us a good deal about life, death, and ourselves.

In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the Count said, “The blood is the life.” This quote comes from the Bible. God required the Israelites to drain the blood out of all their meat and give it to him as an offering. He did not want them to partake of the blood of animals. This prohibition shows the vampire as particularly evil in a tragic way; he is driven to break this law and cannot find sustenance any other way.

Jesus said, “He who has the son has life; he who has not the son has not life.” What was he referring to? He spoke of people who did not believe in him as being “dead in their sins.” He said that to enter the kingdom of God, one had to be “born again,” or “born from above.” If, as he said, the road to life is narrow and the road to destruction wide, most of the human race is spiritually dead. That is not an idea that most people choose to believe. Why, then, are undead creatures such a popular fiction, and why do many act as if vampires are real? Could it be related to some innate sense of not being fully alive?

Traditionally, the vampire is undead. He is a corpse animated either by some altered form of the original soul or by a demon. This is a gruesome counterfeit of the Resurrection. Christ is the first example of what the resurrected righteous will be like in the end. Most people today are probably not aware that God promises a physical existence beyond the grave. But I think we all have a craving for immortality. In a world devoid of belief in an end-time Resurrection, the lure of immortality attracts people to the vampire. Why not let them learn that it is those who are born again spiritually, not those fictional beings who are re-animated supernaturally, who will live forever?

The vampire represents a neediness that takes and never gives. He is appetite run amok… guilt, addiction of any kind, seduction, rape, violence, and murder. He is the bitterness that lingers in the victims of such crimes and urges them to be too much like their abusers. He is the darker side of all of us, something so bad that we sometimes cannot face him except in nightmare or horror story. In the largest application of the idea, vampirism is sin. In a sense, we are all vampires.

If God doesn’t want anyone to write about sin, then why did he inspire the Bible?

If all I wrote about was the dark side, from its own point of view, there would be reason to question it. Yet even the noted Christian writer C.S. Lewis’ famous novel The Screwtape Letters used a demon’s point of view to cleverly communicate Christian truths. My book doesn’t even dwell on the darkness as much as his does. Question if you will, but don’t come to conclusions based on nothing but the word “vampire.” That would be as shallow as a vampire who shies away from a cross without any knowledge of what the Cross means.

For you readers of “Den of Insanity, Robin’s Nest,” I write this. For my Christian friends, I have fallen into a more comfortable tactic. Now if they ask what my story is about, I tell them it’s about a teenager who has prophetic dreams. I get glowing encouragement for that. And really, Mary Lodge needs more attention than her enemy, anyway. A commentator on the “Blade” series complained that in other vampire stories the vampire is the most interesting character but always ends up with a stake in the heart. I want my main character to be at least as interesting as her nemesis. People do like Carletta already. Whether she ends up with a stake in her heart is more than I will reveal here. The novels will also reveal more spiritual truths than I have in this article. Hope you will read the books when they’re finished and published! And if these books are not your cup of tea… at least pray for the many people who will develop a relationship with the living God through them. The world is a large and varied place, and God is much bigger. There is no room for fighting against those who serve Him in a little different way from you.

At Last–Luke Answers the Rest of the Questions (Dual Vampire Interview Continued)

 

For newer readers: The opportunity to interview vampires through the Vampire Lover Blog Award inspired this blog a few years ago. To read the rules and questions, go to https://vampireloverblogaward.wordpress.com/about/

For newer readers: The opportunity to interview vampires through the Vampire Lover Blog Award inspired this blog a few years ago. To read the rules and questions, go to https://vampireloverblogaward.wordpress.com/about/

In October, 2013, I met with two vampires in a local Starbucks. There Luke helped me do Carletta’s second interview. How do I explain why you were left waiting with bated breath for Carletta to help me interview Luke? Hard to say. But it’s time to get excited, because now you are about to read… the rest of the story! (And no, these interviews are not the AVS stories themselves; the series of books is still in the works—and I promise they will be well worth the wait.)

My daughter drew this Manga image of Luke before his first interview; I colored it . Note the pure white skin characteristic of my undead-type vampires. Live vampires (like Carletta) have more human coloring.

My daughter drew this Manga image of Luke before his first interview; I colored it . Note the pure white skin characteristic of my undead-type vampires. Live vampires (like Carletta) have more human coloring.

Caption: I made this clay sculpture of Luke’s smirking face a number of years ago. Why I didn’t post a good picture of it on this blog before… I don’t remember. It looks better in person than this photo made by my old-style cell phone.

Caption: I made this clay sculpture of Luke’s smirking face a number of years ago. Why I didn’t post a good picture of it on this blog before… I don’t remember. It looks better in person than this photo made by my old-style cell phone.

 

And now, without further ado–The Interview!

I can’t account for the passage of time. I find myself back in the Starbucks, looking at the two vampires sitting on either side of me. Luke’s cell phone chirps. He answers it and says into it, “Hold on.” To us: “I’m terribly sorry, some unexpected business has come up.”

“Oh, ho!” Carletta says. “You can’t waltz out of here without taking your turn with the questions.”

“I’m telling you the truth.” He pulls his wallet out of his pocket and hands me a business card. “If I don’t come back, you can reveal my secret screen name here to the world. Promise me you won’t tell a soul otherwise.” Under the screen name, in script it reads, “Professional Hypocrite.”

I look up. He’s gone. I turn off the tape recorder.

“Maybe he really went out for a bite,” Carletta says.

“He just had that sandwich—Oh. You mean…”

“Yeah. Or to throw up the sandwich. Though he ate a lot more than I could and held it down a lot longer.”

We stretch our legs. I get a chocolate pastry and a water. We return to our corner. Carletta starts reading the questions quietly to herself.

After half an hour, Luke walks back in. I re-start the recorder and pick up my notebook and pen.

Carletta begins: “Does living as a vampire have the same appeal as prior to being turned (if you’re that type of vampire)?”

Luke answers, “Nothing can prepare a human for the realities of this dimension of existence. I can’t say it has the same appeal. It’s far better than my expectations.”

I think his last sentence came too easily. No one asked whether vampires always tell the truth. Amazing how many people may think they do. In my pocket I finger the business card. Just how much can you trust a professional hypocrite?

Luke notices my movement and cocks his head. Nothing seems to escape the bastard, but I’m sure he can’t read my mind… or can he? Another question no one bothered to pose.

Carletta squints at him. “You wanted it, didn’t you?”

Luke’s smirk mocks her. “So did you,” he pronounces.

Her big eyes widen.

“You said yourself you wanted the power.”

“Okay, okay,” I break in, trying to hide the tremor in my voice. “It’s Luke’s turn to be interviewed. And I didn’t even finish the question.”

Luke looks down at the list of questions. “If I had to do it over, yes, I would without question.”

As he reads the next question over my shoulder, he pauses. I speak it quietly: “What aspect of humanity or being human have you lost or used less–or has diminished the most?”

“That one hard for you?” Carletta spits.

“I’m just puzzling over the wording,” he says. “It’s so negative!” His voice rises higher. “I haven’t lost anything worth losing. It’s all been gain to me.”

“Ah-hah!” Carletta reaches toward him, her manicured fingers curved like a cat’s claws and her voice like a cat in triumph. “Then you admit you’re not human. You’re undead.” She smiles. “There are things you can’t stand that I can!”

“Oh, please, as if—”

“You can’t go out in the daytime at all,” she presses. “And I can.”

Luke smiles back. “I can go out in sunlight.”

“Robin.” Carletta leans so close, she’s almost in my lap. “Let’s stop now and finish this interview after sunrise. I guarantee he won’t show.”

She has a point. Luke personally requested our double interview be at night. Who is he trying to fool?

Luke appears amused. “You really want to delay it further? I would be happy to re-convene in the daytime on a later date. But I have plans for later tonight, and tomorrow I have a board meeting.”

Carletta giggles. “Super powerful vampire man has a desk job?”

“I own several companies,” Luke announces.

“Do vampires need businesses?” I say. “I thought they were all filthy rich, just naturally. Isn’t that what all the novels say?” I can’t keep the sarcasm out of my voice.

Luke chuckles. “A fortune not invested is a fortune soon lost. Besides, I have a natural propensity for leadership.”

“What kind of business is it?” I ask. “A mortuary? A police squad? A vampire mafia?”

“This one is a cosmetics empire.”

Carletta laughs so suddenly she goes into a coughing fit. “How macho of you! How dangerous and frightening.”

“You want to tie vampirism into the whole interview?” Luke says. “I’ll oblige. One line is for the undead: natural darkening.”

“Oh,” Carletta says. “That explains why you’re not as white as the papers we’re reading off of. I take it you use your own product.”

Luke nods. I look hard at his natural beige skin and the slightly pinker shade of his cheeks, chin, and ears. Nothing betrays that he is wearing make-up, not even his hands. “Excellent product and application,” I admit.

“To finish answering the last question,” Luke says, “if I’ve lost anything, I’d say it’s vulnerability. Something foolish humans use to excuse their failures.”

I read the next question, wondering if Luke can say anything interesting about it: “Is it true you have to be an old vampire to fly or teleport?” I leave off the questioner’s definition of teleporting, sure he knows full well what it is.

“Since death, I’ve had many more powers than I had as a live vampire,” he says, looking directly at Carletta. “Much stronger ones, which do increase with the years.”

“The next one is open-ended,” I say. “What’s it like to be a vampire?”

“We vampires are all very individual. For instance, Carletta, you seem conflicted about your own existence—troubled by some personal problems. They may not all come from being a vampire. But I embrace my nature wholeheartedly. It’s truly the fulfillment of what I was meant to be, even from the day of my human birth. Being what I am is glorious. I’m more myself than I ever could be as a mortal. It’s easy being at the top of the food chain, but there’s so much more to it. I’m over 200, so I’ve had plenty of time to refine my intellect, my aesthetic tastes, and my influence. I’ve had more to do with the state of the world than you know, and I’m bound to accomplish far more.” His smile is as big as his ego. “We all love blood. For some simple ones, maybe that’s enough. I, however, have a personal score to settle against someone who’s wronged me horribly. I live to avenge my adversary.”

“What adversary?” Carletta asks.

“God.” He leans back and folds his arms.

I want to say, “What has God done to you?” but we have already spent some time on a single question, and there are quite a few left. I steal a glance at Carletta. Her expression is brooding. She looks down at the list and takes over the interview, her voice pouncing catlike once again: “Do you miss food, the sun, or your heartbeat more? Robin,” she says aside to me, “I can hear a heartbeat from him.”

Luke nods. “I regulate its tempo. Along with my body temperature. And why would I miss food? I can eat what humans eat, as you saw, but my regular diet is best. Just think how much time people waste growing, raising, preparing, and eating food and washing dishes, when they could be enjoying their favorite pastimes and improving themselves!”

Carletta looks down at the list again and rolls her eyes. “I have to ask this stupid question again. Do you have another spin on it? Are there any female vampires around?”

“None that can outwit or control me,” he says quickly.

I see the green sparks in the girl’s eyes light up, and I glower at Luke myself. He bursts out laughing. “I think,” he adds, “the guy who submitted this question is looking for a female vamp, under the delusion that he’ll get what he wants from her. Isn’t it lovely how fools seek us? Sic him, Carletta! I won’t tell your boyfriend. And this guy won’t be able to tell anyone when you’re through with him!”

Carletta reads the next question: “What was your first feed, slash, kill like?”

“I don’t have to answer that question until you finish answering it, sweet sixteen. You glossed over that one. Traumatized? And you call yourself a vampire?”

“Shut—up!” she hisses. “It was—it was like… I honestly can’t remember… the first time I killed to feed…” She looks at me. “I must have blocked it out.”

“Do you know how old you were?” I ask.

“Pretty young,” she admits. “I’ve grown since then. People don’t think vampires age after they’re changed, but I have… Not as much as I should have, I mean would have if I were a regular human.”

Seated instead of walking around in high heels, it’s easier to remember she’s only five feet tall. Looking past all the make-up, I realize she could pass for thirteen. Her breasts are small, her whole form petite, her head rather large for her body.

Luke says, “My own first time was a marvelous feast! After my mentor turned me, the cold fire of his blood coursing through my veins pressed me on to the joy I anticipated. I grabbed a tender little woman, but my mentor wrested her from me. The fat, haughty British official I then attacked was a better meal, anyway. I had killed before, when I was mortal, but this intoxication was new.”

“You killed before you were turned?” Carletta says. Her voice betrays a tremor.

Luke studies her. “Does the idea bother you? Why?”

Carletta lifts her hands and spreads her fingers out in front of her as if to ward him off.

“You want to know who I killed, and why?”

“That’s—all right,” she says.

“Why in the world are you squeamish about it?” Luke presses. “You’re not exactly Miss Innocent. Something tells me you’re hiding something.”

“Enough!” I break in. “Her interview is over. Here’s another question for you, Luke. If you had the choice to no longer be a vampire–to just be a human again–would you go for it?

“No,” he says firmly. “As I said, I love being what I am.”

I look to Carletta to ask the next question, but she waves for me to go ahead. “What do you think of the recent fashion for vampire books and films?” I read. “Has it made your life harder or easier?”

“I’ll tell you first of a business that is more central to my existence than the cosmetics company,” he says. “I protect vampirekind. The new adoration for vampires has made that easier. The best tactic for a long time was the widespread belief that we don’t exist. Now that’s less important than the belief that we are wonderful and desirable. People gladly open their doors to us!”

“The next question is similar,” I say. “With the success of vampires in the mainstream, do you find it harder in this day and age to survive?”

Luke blinks. “The success of vampires? Is this questioner a true believer? The question answers itself. Success is so much more than survival! Someday, you will all be our slaves—and may not even realize it. Let’s see how your petty little God feels then!”

Not a soul in the Starbucks looks at us. It is as if Luke has wrapped a soundproof barrier around our corner of the room. His proclamation makes me squirm. Being a slave of vampires would be bad enough; not knowing it would be even worse. People who don’t know they are slaves don’t seek freedom. Luke looks right through me. His blue eyes are icy and remind me of a shark’s. So this plan is the ultimate intention of all his charm and deceit.

The next few questions go by in a blur for me; I lose track of which of us asks which. What does it matter?

“What happens if you suck your own blood?”

“I quench my thirst for a short time, and soon the appetite comes rushing back.”

“Can you be turned back to a human?”

“Impossible.”

“Can you have sex the ‘traditional’ way? Do you have any desire for sex?”

“Yes and yes.” He looks at each of us and licks his lips. “It’s not a need. I’m not driven by it like many men are, especially since I died. I carefully plan what I use my body to do, but I enjoy sex, certainly. I can stretch things far beyond tradition, and there are so many traditions, anyway.” His eyes bore into me.

“According to folklore, vampires can’t cross moving water. Does this present problems for you?”

“It only presents problems for vampires who never learned to swim. Next!”

“Is it possible some vampire-related genes can be passed down through human bloodlines over the centuries?”

“That’s something I’m looking into,” he said. “It’s impossible for the undead to have children, and rare for live vampires. But rumor has it that those who do have extra power over their offspring. I’d like to know whether we have control over offspring sired before we were turned.” He looks off out the window, his eyes shining.

“Are there other vampires, and if so what role does gender play in vampire society?”

Luke yawns. He sweeps his arm to include Carletta. “There are many vampires, many societies. Different views and practices about gender, more so than among humans, I would say. As with humans, the men are usually physically stronger than the women—leaving the women to focus more on manipulation and magic.”

“How much is a pint of blood?”

“Enough to whet the appetite.”

“They say a vampire’s bite brings pleasure rather than pain. Is that true, and how is that even possible?”

“Carletta answered that one sufficiently. The ratio of pleasure to pain depends on the amount of vampire saliva applied. If we begin with a wet kiss, the victim might not be aware of being bitten at all.”

I stop when I see the next question. I didn’t remember coming across it before. I shuffle the papers, wondering. I read, stammering: “Who—made you—and why?”

“Are you trying to pull the wool over my eyes?” says the “wolf” who sometimes dresses in sheep’s clothing. “I don’t need to answer anything she hasn’t answered.”

“I swear I didn’t see these questions before,” I said. “Is the list growing like magic?”

“Ha ha,” Luke says humorlessly. “We’re the ones who can do magic. Not likely the humans who posed these adolescent questions.” I note a growl in his voice I didn’t hear before. It sends a shiver up my spine. You can’t trifle with him.

“I have no problem answering these new additions, as long as they don’t take all night. But ladies first.” His eyebrows rise as he turns to Carletta. When the girl sits stone-faced and silent, he quotes the rest of the question: “Was it by choice, or was the choice made for you?”

“I don’t remember,” Carletta says.

“I can tell you’re lying,” Luke presses. “Tell the truth, or—”

“I don’t know!” Her feet in her red high-heeled pumps are turning inward. I feel sorry for her.

“How can you not know?” he says more softly. “You weren’t that young.”

Her eyes rise to meet his, anger blazing in their gray and green depths. “We’ve been over enough of it! A lot of things were beyond my control. I was tricked. I tried to do one thing, and ended up doing another… I made myself.”

Luke squints. “How could you make yourself? You had to have a sire, a donor.”

Her answer comes out all in a high-pitched rush: “I was pushed to the brink, I think he planned it that way, but I did it myself, he was asleep and I didn’t know any better.”

“Really…”

“I think she’s telling the truth,” I say.

“Who was it?” Luke asks.

Suddenly Carletta jumps to her feet and runs outside.

Luke runs out after her, his form blurring.

Oh, no, I think, she’s been pushed too far. What will he do to her? This must be the end of the dual interview. I glance down at the questions, to see only three more.

Is he doing something to her because she won’t answer?

Shouting to the man behind the counter that I’ll be back to my stuff in a few minutes, I rush outside.

The rain has stopped, though clouds still cover the stars, but a slip of a moon I call “God’s fingernail” shines. I look around, heart pounding. My instinct to protect the weaker from the stronger kicked in before I even thought it through. “Carletta?” I shout into the night. “Are you all right?”

I hear a sob. Luke steps from behind the building next store.

“What did you do to her, you…?” slips from my lips.

“Only made a deal with her.”

“What kind of deal?

“All you need to know is that your blog isn’t going to tell who turned her.”

I feel relieved; it seems to matter so much to the girl. Why I find myself siding with one murderer against another, I’m not sure. Maybe it’s because Luke has been bullying her so much. While we interviewed Carletta earlier, he tricked her into saying more than she was willing. Trickery must really get her goat.

Carletta creeps out behind him. Her mascara is running. She wipes her face, smearing the black mess. To my surprise, Luke produces a handkerchief and dabs her face.

“Shall we continue?” he says to me. He steps forward, then suddenly stops.

I strain my eyes to see that he’s stumbled on something. He looks down at something at his feet.

Carletta grimaces and brings her hands to cover her mouth. She shakes her head and starts to tremble.

By the headlights of a car pulling into the parking lot, I see they’re both looking at a dead cat. I feel sad the poor animal was run over but surprised the two vampires care. The girl looks much younger in this moment, and she stifles a sob. Luke, on the other hand, is as motionless as a statue. I step closer, expecting Luke to mock Carletta or take advantage of her vulnerability in some way, but he seems entirely oblivious of her.

A foul smell accosts my nostrils. I see maggots writhing on the feline corpse. Luke appears to be staring at them.

“Are you two coming back in?” I venture.

Luke’s head snaps up. He steps backward and widely around the cat. But he still doesn’t seem quite his suave self. Is he, just slightly, trembling?

“What’s up?” I say.

Carletta hugs herself and shakes her head.

“You guys especially fond of cats?” I said.

“I am,” Carletta said.

“Oh, that’s right.” I turn back toward the Starbucks. “Your familiar demon is a cat. But Luke? Yours is a wolf. You got a soft spot for roadkill?”

“Never mind,” he says stiffly. “That’s not on the list. Let’s just get this overwith. I’ll answer the latest one right now. I was changed by an older man, a vampire named Thaddeus, who was a newcomer to Manhattan, where I grew up.” The lack of emotion in his voice is unlike him, but I feel it’s not because of what he’s saying. He appears to be trying to distract himself. Something about those maggots, I think. Why in the world would an undead creature be bothered by maggots?

I shrug as Luke strides forward and opens the door for me, and soon we are back in our corner. My stuff is untouched, but the old-fashioned tape has run out; I left it playing.

Luke doesn’t wait for me to rewind the tape or put another one in. “The choice was my own, as I’ve said before. I’d wanted it for a long time, but I had to talk him into it by promising that if he turned me, I’d serve the forces of darkness for the rest of my existence.”

“A Faustian bargain,” I say. “For eternal youth?” I scramble to change tapes.

He half-shrugs. “Spending the rest of your life looking eighteen has its disadvantages,” he says. “But not dying—not—compromising with my worst enemy, those were the reasons. So I don’t have to be punished for being who I choose to be…” I sense a hollowness in his voice. The picture of him staring at those maggots flashes through my mind. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he identifies with that dead cat, and he’s horrified of its parasites. He became a vampire so he wouldn’t have to die. But die he did. Unlike Carletta, he’s been where that cat has been, and come back to avoid talking about it. I don’t know whether to laugh over his secret vulnerability, or cry.

“Three more questions, vamps, and then we’re through.”

Carletta nods. Her face is gray-streaked, but it no longer looks like the living dead. How ironic that it did, when she’s the one who is still alive.

“What is the most important thing to you?” I ask.

“Vengeance,” Luke says without hesitation.

Carletta’s brows knot. “Self-preservation, I guess,” she says.

“Question 32,” I say. “Wow, to think there were originally supposed to be only eleven. It’s three times that long now. Another one about sex.”

Luke snorts. “Figures.”

“Is sex that much more enhanced than before?”

“Oh, yeah, it’s wonderful because of the heightened senses,” Luke says. He turns to Carletta. “How do you answer?”

Carletta’s lower lip jerks askew. “Kind of a weird question for someone turned as a child, don’t you think?” Her voice sounds dry and jaded.

I move on to the second half: “Do you feel your sexual drive is greater than before?”

“Than as a child?” the girl says. “Well, yeah.”

“Luke?” I inquire.

“It’s different,” he say. “I’m more controlled… Most of the time.” He breaks into an evil smile. “But when it’s time to let loose, it’s a wildfire!”

“One more question wraps it up,” I said. “From Francis Franklin, who hosted this blog project. Where do you come from?”

“My mother’s womb, originally,” Carletta says. She stretches, catlike again, and yawns wide.

“Pre-Revolutionary Manhattan,” Luke says. He pulls his ponytail forward, and I see his wavy dark-brown hair is longer than mine. “Born and raised long ago, but I still live there a good deal of the time. It’s changed a great deal, but some of the changes are nice. Plays on and off Broadway to watch, write, and direct. People who don’t give a damn who disappears. Ritzy apartments. My own mansion.”

“I think,” I say, “you both come from our nightmares.”

Carletta looks at me with a haunted expression.

Luke says, “That too. That too…”

As I gather my notebook and tape recorder into my briefcase, I look up and see them both rush into the darkness outside, in different directions. Soon both are out of sight.

 

The Vampire’s Lure of Youthful Beauty

“Come and join us!” the vampire beckons. “Won’t cost much to be young and beautiful. Just your soul.”

Carletta, the femme fatale of the first two AVS novels-in-progress, epitomizes a standard of youth and beauty. Few can see her fangs. Few know the snares she hides. Are the benefits she offers worth the heartache, and more?

When people learn I’m writing vampire fiction, many say, “Good for you, that’s a very popular subject right now.” And they’re right. Vampire books abound, you can take your pick of vampire shows and movies, rock artists sing about them, and the web abounds with them. Some agents and editors even discourage writers from the subject because the market is flooded. They want something new—no more vampires, or at least a really fresh angle on them. I trudge on with my project, not so much because of the craze but because I have something to say that I believe is fresh as well as important.

Why are people so interested in vampires today, anyway?

The reasons are myriad. One is that the vampire holds time still, freezing youth in its place. The fountain of youth has such an appeal that some people, fictional or real, will pay any price for it—even blood. Even their souls.

It’s not a new phenomenon. High up in the “real vampire” hall of fame, Elizabeth Bathory bathed in the blood of her virgin maids, convinced that the blood of these poor slaughtered young women gave her youthful beauty.

Barbarism from a previous century, to be sure. But is the present any kinder or more enlightened? What about our own society’s views on beauty? When women who all but give up eating to be walking skeletons are unknowns, we call them anorexics—victims of a disease. But if they are famous—supermodels. Is this not vampirism turned inward? And who drives these poor women to think this way about themselves?

The destruction of the self is an evil close to the destruction of others. I think we need to ask where the anorexia epidemic comes from. Our society’s worship of thin, youthful beauty and its impossible image of “perfection” pay a key role. Who is preying on whom?

Unlike today’s glamorous images, the vampire of ancient folklore was ugly and strange-looking, befitting of a demonically animated corpse. Even Stoker’s Dracula had pointed ears and extra hair, including on the palms of his hands. But today’s vampire fiction abounds with the promise that people who turn into vampires will have perfect, youthful beauty. In Anne Rice’s The Vampire Lestat, said vampire finds a huge collection of slim, blond young men that his maker, Magnus, discarded and locked up to die in attempt to make the perfect pretty boy (page 93-94, Alfred A. Knopf, NY, 2004). It’s completely a matter of looks. In Christopher Moore’s You Suck, a Love Story, the newly-turned Tommy is returned to a state of infancy in that his acne disappears and his toes straighten as if he has never worn shoes. Jody, who changed him, exclaims, “You’re perfect!” (emphasis mine). Jody says her split ends went away but she’s uncomfortable that she’s stuck needing to lose five pounds (page 7, William Morrow–NY, 2007). In the Twilight saga, Stephenie Meyer continually describes its perpetually teenage vampire hero’s features as perfect and even angelic. All the vampires are so angel-like in appearance, in fact, that they sparkle like diamonds in sunlight. To obtain this beauty for herself, the heroine gladly risks her soul.

The vampire’s lure is bigger than fiction and bigger than actual killers like Bathory. It lurks in the eyes of the supermodel’s audience and our own eyes as we look in the mirror. Do we fear aging and death so much that we would be willing to destroy our own lives and others’ to preserve our own? Is looking beautiful worth more than life itself to us? If so, perhaps vampires are real.

Blog Posts–and an Upcoming Book–that Inspired “The Vampire’s Lure”

The blog posts that inspired “The Vampire’s Lure” are not about vampires but about the lure of youthful beauty common in real life. Heather Starsong’s novel Never Again, slated to be released this August by Barking Rain Press—and edited by me—concerns a woman who is not a vampire but whose adventures take her one step further… or, more accurately, backward. In most vampire stories, the vampire ceases to age at the point of his change. In Never Again, eighty-year-old Clara meets beings from another planet that make her younger. Heather’s website tells more about this intriguing soft science fiction plot: http://heatherstarsong.com/never-again/

The following blog posts explore issues about youthful beauty and its lure, its definitions, and the varying uses of its power:

http://heatherstarsong.com/2014/12/29/the-lure-of-youthful-beauty/

http://heatherstarsong.com/2015/01/12/beauty-is-dangerous/

http://heatherstarsong.com/2015/02/12/beauty-is-power/

Check out the added content on the “About the AVS” page!

Here is the new content:

It starts with a teaser to the first novel-in-progress for the AVS series.

Next, I corrected the link to my Goodreads blog, “From the Red, Read Robin,” and added descriptive teasers for the short stories on my Goodreads profile that relate to the AVS vampire series.

Last, I mentioned my special services and provided the link to my website about them, which also contains more samples of my writing.

 

More material coming to this blog and to the other one, as time allows. On this blog–possibly on the Goodreads one as well–I plan to post about the agonizing dilemma of having a first novel too long and the need to decide to cut about half of it out or re-form the book into two separate ones. For once I partly identify with Dr. Frankenstein: Creating a monster can really be more than you bargained for! Yes, definitely more on that later. And, eventually, I intend on following up on my promise to write about Carletta interviewing Luke–if they both cooperate, that is. You can never tell about the whims of vampires… especially ones that hate each other. We can only hope they don’t step outside and run beyond my ability to track them, in their own showdown to the death. I can’t run as fast as either of them by a long shot, and I daren’t step between them, in any case.