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”

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Why Vampires? In Defense of a Dark Symbol

Robins Nest logo

            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.

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.

 

“Dreamer, You’re Nothing But a Dreamer!” An Invitation to Discussion on a Plot Device

Introducing the leader of the AVS: Mary, an ordinary girl with extraordinary dreams that come true... and lately, most of them are nightmares.

Introducing the leader of the AVS: Mary, an ordinary girl with extraordinary dreams that come true… and lately, most of them are nightmares.

Some of 16-year-old Mary’s most profound, and sometimes terrifying, experiences and revelations happen when she is asleep. When she wakes from one of her vivid kind of dreams–the ones that seemed so real she could pick the strangers she dreamed about out in a crowd–she knows something big is likely to happen. She doesn’t always know what. Nor does she know when or how the truth behind her nightmares can be averted. All she knows is she has to try.

Mary is the protagonist and main point-of-view character of at least the first two of the Anti-Vampirism Society books I’m working on. (What was the first manuscript became so long, I recently decided I must split the first story into two books; I am now thinking about how to re-form them into separate stories in their own right–but that’s another subject.)

At a meeting earlier tonight, a fellow writer surprised me with a strong opinion that the use of dreams as plot devices is boring and takes away from the challenge that characters should face in a good story. It makes problems too easy for characters to solve, my friend said. She said that she was not the only one who believed this about dreams in fiction; a writing teacher had said the same. While I have been told many times by people in the publishing business never to start a story with a dream because it’s been done so many times as to be cliché (and hence I changed what was the original beginning of my first AVS book), the idea that prophetic dreams are anyone’s taboo is news to me. The possibility that anyone might reject my AVS stories because my main character has some guidance from dreams distresses me–not just because it’s so integral to the character and the plot, but also because such dreams are pretty important to my own life. Mary is like me in some ways, only more so, if you get my meaning. I sometimes have dreams that come true and fairly often have dreams that change and guide me. As I wrote in the section on how this series was birthed, the whole thing started with a vivid dream that ended with my telling a teenage friend, “I had this dream, and it’s a good idea for a story.” (It was the only dream that told me within itself that its purpose was to be made into a piece of writing.)

I crave feedback on this subject. Please tell me how you feel about dreams figuring into stories. Do you like them, not like them, feel indifferent about them? When do they work, and when do they not?

I am already endeavoring to make things more difficult and agonizing for my characters. (“Murder your darlings,” someone has said. “Think of the worst thing that can happen to your character, and then make it happen,” says another.) As I hone my plot, I increase the challenges they face. I don’t want Mary’s dreams to be something that always come easy or are easy to understand, or even to remember and hence find useful. Without giving too much of the plot away beforehand, I hope to get whatever help you can give me in this endeavor. I ask you, please, whatever your thoughts are on this subject, please post your comments and join the discussion. If it turns into a heated argument, so much the better. I want to hear all sides.

Not that I expect that I will throw out all the dreams from the stories. But if you think I should, by all means see if you can convince me. If we know each other personally, I may reveal more of the plot to you than I will to the public, and we can discuss the matter more in depth. I would love it if you would post here; just keep my plot secrets confidential, please. Thank you!

I thought of adding a poll, but at this point I cannot think of one that would not be too superficial. If you have any suggestions as to how a good poll on this subject could be worded, please suggest it. So far, I haven’t had many responses from polls on this blog.

Please invite anyone you know who might be interested in this discussion to take a look and pitch in.

 

For later discussion…

I thought some time ago of having a different discussion on this blog–the question of whether it’s okay for Christians to read or write fiction about vampires. Let me know if you would be interested in reading or joining such a discussion. The discussion would not be limited to Christians. I mention Christians here because I am one and know many who think there is something horribly wrong with such subject matter. I don’t recall anyone outside the faith that has raised such objections.

 

And You Thought I’d Abandoned You? No Fear!

Carletta

Carletta

…And here she is! Flirting with someone, as usual… I originally planned to give her essentially the same background as Hugh’s picture (posted with his interview), as seated in the same restaurant booth with him (hence the pencil lines). However, those colors don’t go well with the background I made for the book cover, so I may paint the background plain gray. Or do it gray, scan it, and then go over it with the blue and leafy booth backgound, so I can have both to work with. This is but one example of one of the many things I have been doing since my last post in October. I have not meant to ignore you all. I have been working a lot on my novel, as well as doing other things in my life. I wrote four chapters, the novel’s premise, and most of the emotional character arcs to go with that premise. I’m still working on those of the last two main characters, Melanie and Alex. I haven’t mentioned them on this site. Setting up steps to obtain a long-range goal (in this case, finishing the first book in my AVS novel) and then scheduling deadlines to do each step and days to work on them, really help. One cost has been neglect of my two blogs (this one and my Goodreads one). Just wanted to let you know I haven’t abandoned you, friends. I am thinking of you and of this blog. Luke and Carletta haven’t yet revealed what they will say and do in the continuation of the interview I recorded in October–but then, I haven’t looked over the rest of the questions and thought about it, so I can’t put all the blame on them. Rest assured that Luke is cooking up more dastardly plans than we have yet seen. I haven’t had a lot of chance to look into those plans, partly because he doesn’t actually appear until the second book in the series, and I have been concentrating on the first. Bug me, and I will be more likely to get out the interview sooner.

The Genesis of the AVS

 

Twenty years ago I never would have guessed I would be writing about vampires. I have never considered myself a vampire lover as such (never wanted to be a vampire, never thought vampires were creatures to look up to or envy, never thought drinking blood was cool, etc.). And I didn’t pick up the subject because it was popular. In fact, vampires were not much the rage when I was first inspired to write about the AVS. I don’t write anything because it is popular. (I tried that once after meeting an agent who told me fantasy was out and “sweet romance” was the rage. I set aside my fantasies and tried writing a Harlequin Romance. I fell flat on my face with that one; it was the biggest waste of time and effort I ever made, and it was crap. I decided to write what I really wanted to write, popularity be damned, and if people liked it, that would be great.)

What got me on the vampire kick was a dream I had one night. I take my dreams seriously. I often have dreams deep in symbolism, or even dreams that come true. I see many of my dreams as messages from God. I’ve had several that have been ideas for stories, but none so obviously so as the one about the girl vampire with short red hair.

I didn’t record when I had the dream—somewhere around 2000, maybe. I dreamed I was a jilted teenage girl seeing an event that amazed and terrified her. The dream continued with one scene after another, laying out key inciting incidents of a story with me as the main character, acting on the terrible reality of suddenly facing a vampire in her life and experiencing all the girl’s emotions. A confrontation led to a different approach to the subject than I had ever heard of, and ended with a question that demanded an answer.

Next, I was myself, in a wooden locker room, telling a teenage friend that I had had this dream and it was a good idea for a story.

When I woke up and thought over the question the girl in the dream asked, I decided it was a story that needed to be told.

This was back before the publication of Twilight and the craze that made vampires so appealing that readers and viewers practically filed the fangs off the monsters without any expectation of retaliation. I hadn’t even watched “Interview with a Vampire” yet. When I did, I was so spooked I could barely get myself to watch it again. Maybe it’s a bad thing I got used to the movie. But yeah. Vampires, for me, are not the kinds of creatures I want to meet in a dark alley (or anywhere else), and they certainly wouldn’t light up that alley by sparkling. I’m writing about people (whether they be considered human or not) that you love to hate . . . or hate to love.