Thursday, October 31, 2013

Vampires: Day 5 -- Vampire Slaying

Assuming you haven't used the information from earlier this week to become a vampire or have plans to become a vampire, you may want and/or need to know how to get rid of a vampire(s) should you ever have a vampire infestation. If possible, call on a professional vampire slayer. Yes, these exist. Okay, mostly, they exist in Europe, but, still, there are people that go around and slay vampires. For a fee.

Unlike with Buffy
or Van Helsing,
"actual" vampire slayers do most of their work with bodies that need to be dug up rather than engaging in property-damaging combat. Fortunately, for you, this is the more appropriate way to go about things. Usually.

But! If you ever do get stuck facing a "living" vampire, here are some thins to know:

  1. According to many legends, vampires cannot cross running water, so, if you steal the vampire's hat (no, don't ask me how to go about doing that and, yes, vampires are just assumed to be wearing hats, I guess) and throw it out into a river or stream or whatever, and taunt him about the hat, he will be unable to help himself and go after the hat. Yeah, vampires have some behavior issues beyond just the biting thing. Attempting to cross into the running water to retrieve the hat will cause the vampire to drown.
  2. Staking a vampire will not kill a vampire. This is not a Buffy thing where the vampire turns to dust or, even, just dies. The staking only incapacitates the vampire, effectively paralyzing it. Once that's accomplished, other things which can actually destroy the vampire can be done. [On an interesting note, Joss Whedon wanted to do something like this in Buffy but decided that having the characters always having to deal with paralyzed vampire corpses would become too cumbersome so decided on the "dusting" as a way to deal with that.]
  3. Vampires are not killed (or even hurt) by sunlight. Potentially, it may make them less strong and fast, but it's not going to cause them to burst into flame. If you will note (and you will need to have read Dracula), Dracula had no issue moving around in sunlight. [The idea that vampires can't go about in daylight seems to stem from early 20th century movies. In actuality, vampires don't cast shadows (which is related to the whole reflection thing), so filming at night was the only way to get around that.]
  4. Vampires, actually, can be "killed" through physical means just like a person can. Of course, going hand-to-hand with a vampire is not the best way to accomplish that since they are faster and stronger than humans. However, a vampire is just as susceptible to swords, arrows, and bullets as anything else. The problem is in getting the vampire to stay "killed."
And this is why vampire slayers mostly work with bodies that are already in the ground. If you really want to "kill" a vampire, that's the place to do it. So...

  1. The stake. The stake is used to immobilize the vampire. Ash and hawthorn have been very popular and, also, oak to a lesser extent. Most legends say the stake should go through the heart, but some say the stomach and some say the mouth. Theoretically, burying a staked vampire will prevent the vampire from ever rising, although it won't destroy it.
  2. Beheading. Beheading is a much better way to kill a vampire but, still, not a sure thing. Just cutting off the vampire's head isn't enough to make sure it will stay dead. Some legends say it needs to be buried between the vampire's feet or "behind" the buttocks (I'm not quite sure what "behind" the buttocks means in this context). Others say the head needs to be carried off and buried somewhere else entirely.
  3. Garlic. Garlic could be used to keep a vampire in its grave. Stuffing it in the mouth was common, but some sources say it had to be stuffed  in all orifices. I'm not sure if it means all when it says all, but, if it does, ew!
  4. Boiling water. Once a vampire was in the ground, pouring boiling water over the grave would keep it there.
  5. Dismemberment. Sometimes, vampires were persistent. In those cases, the body was dismembered and buried in separate locations.
  6. Cannibalism. In some cases, the vampire was even more persistent. In such extreme cases, after the dismemberment, the body was fed to the family of the deceased, whom it was usually "haunting." The "victims" generally died anyway.
  7. Cremation. Ah, burning. Burning  the body has long been viewed as the most effective way of destroying a vampire, yet, throughout history, it has often been the last resort. Why? I can't really answer that question, but, almost always, other methods for banishing the vampire were tried, first, before the body was finally burned.
Oh, of course, you could always appeal to the vampire's arithmomania by placing the irresistible bag of rice or sand in the coffin, which would keep the vampire occupied all night with the need to count every grain. No, the vampire's not destroyed, but, man, that sounds like a lot of fun. I wonder, if a vampire came at you, if you could throw rice at it and cause it to stop and count the grains. That sounds like the best way to deal with any vampire attack in my book.

And thus ends vampire week. I didn't cover everything, but there's been a lot of information over the course of the week, and I hope you've enjoyed it. There may even be some vampire lore worth turning into stories. The one thing I'm quite certain of, though, is that nowhere in anything I read was there any mention of vampires and sparkling. Not once. And, now, I'm scared that in 100 years people will think that vampires do sparkle just like we think vampires can't go out in the sun. What a horrible thought...
Now that is frightening!

But here are some things that are not:

1. The "Oh, How I Miss You" blogfest is coming up. Go here to read about it and sign up.
2. There's a big serial giveaway and rafflecopter thing happening, right now. Go here to find out about that. You can also find out about it at the following sites:
Susan Kaye Quinn
E.J. Wesley, Author
RaShelle Workman
Confessions of a Watery Tart

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Vampires: Day 4 -- Vampire Serial Killers and Killer Serials

In the landscape of legends, vampires are relatively new additions. At least, the idea of vampires as we think of vampires is relatively new. Only a few hundred years. Which is not to say that legends of blood-drinking demons don't go back millennia, but the whole cross-fearing, no-reflection-casting (and there's more to that), oversexed, broody minions of the night is fairly recent. And, yeah, it's mostly due to Bram Stoker and Dracula, but you know those Victorians... (okay, so maybe, you don't, but I'm not getting into that, right now)

Of course, legends always get fuel by actual events that people can blame on the supernatural, and vampires have been good targets for that. If nothing else, they have been blamed for consumption, due to the wasting away caused by the disease. Wasting ailments have frequently been blamed on vampires.

One of the best and earliest documented cases of vampire murders happened in Serbia in 1725. After the death of Peter Plogojowitz (at the age of 62?), an unnatural string of deaths occurred in his village. Within eight days, nine villagers became ill and died generally within a day of becoming sick. Each of the "victims," before dying (of course), reported that Plogojowitz had come to their beds in the night and throttled. It is also possible that Plogojowitz brutally murdered his son for not "feeding" him. Plogojowitz's wife fled to another village after reporting that Peter had visited her looking for his shoes.

The authorities were called in and, unable to quell the furor, the body of Plogojowitz was exhumed and signs of vampirism found to be present. This is on official record, you have to understand, and all of this examination was done under protest, so the administrators performing all of this were not part of the frenzy of the village. The body was staked and, then, burned. Frombald, the guy in charge who had been trying to calm the villagers into waiting for more proper authorities, sent in a request with his report of the incident that the villagers not be punished because they had been "beside themselves with fear."

Another Serbian case claimed that a vampire was living in an watermill and killing people when they came to mill their grain. That mill served as a tourist attraction until just recently, 2012, when the mill finally collapsed of age. I suppose the vampire has had to move on.

More recently, there was "The Vampire of Sacramento." In 1978, Richard Chase killed at least six victims within a one-month time frame. He was known to drink their blood and eat pieces of their flesh. He had previously been known as "Dracula" while serving time in a mental institution because of his tendency to catch rabbits and other small animals and drink their blood. He died of a drug overdose in 1980 while in jail.

I'm sure I could go on (quite sure, since I just closed my research pages on two other cases), but I need to move on from vampire serial killers to killer serials, none of which are about vampires (at least, I don't think they are). Any of you that have been hanging around my blog for the last year will know that I had been serializing my last book. Now that that is all over, I'm collecting up the parts to make it easier for people to buy. But, aside from that, since I first started serializing Shadow Spinner over a year ago,
many other people have started their own serializations. Some of us got together to have this great KILLER SERIAL giveaway just for Halloween! The promo is below which will be followed by a raffle thingy.

Some Killer Serials you should consider sampling
Andrew Leon: The Shadow Spinner Series (34 parts, 40ish pages each) Tiberius has always thought of himself as a normal 10-year-old boy, at least until the day his mother finally decides to tell him about his father, and she tells him things that convince him that one of them is crazy, and he's pretty sure it's not him. That is until the Man with No Eyes shows up and his father falls out of the sky.
Susan Kaye Quinn: The Debt Collector Series (9 Volumes, 50ish pages each, all complete, (for you risk-averse readers) first one free) What's your life worth on the open market? A debt collector can tell you precisely.
EJ Wesley: Moonsong Series (5th coming in December (no end point necessarily planned, but they are coming in 3-book clusters (6th in January) for satisfying individual story arcs; link to the first one FREE) Jenny Moonsong recently inherited the title of "monster hunter" and an ancient tribal journal/how-to manual passed down by her Apache ancestors. The Moonsongs books follow her adventures as she battles the dark supernatural denizens of the world in a series of action-packed, urban fantasy novelettes.   
RaShelle Workman: The Cindy Chronicles (4 published of 6 volumes) From a seemingly insignificant word comes the greatest of fairytales... Cinderella is a witch and she's been asked to save a world she never knew existed. 
Hart Johnson: A Shot in the Light Series (10 episodes, 100 pages each, 4th available today and the first is free) Deadliest virus in a century, or a social experiment gone awry? Sidney Knight begins to notice inconsistencies in what people are being told and what's going on as half the population dies of the flu... or is it the vaccine?

a Rafflecopter giveaway Good luck!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Vampires: Day 3 -- How To Be... a Vampire

Back in April, as part of the A to Z challenge, I did a post on how to be a werewolf; that post has gone on to be my most viewed post ever. The post was almost about how to be a vampire, but I figured that was just too done and, then, there's the whole thing where I'm not such a huge vampire fan and all, so I decided on werewolves. However, now, six months later, as a follow up to A to Z, here's how to be... a vampire!

Vampires and werewolves have a lot of associated legends and mythologies. In fact, in some places the name for the two things used to be the same. This is not as odd as it sounds as one of the best ways to become a vampire is to start out being a werewolf. Wait, what? No, seriously. According to many legends, if you die as a werewolf (which can be more difficult than it sounds, since it's relatively easy (in some legends) to change someone back to human (sometimes accomplished just by saying the person's name (see the post))) and are not disposed of properly, you will come back as an undead that needs blood to survive, so a vampire. However, you would retain your ability to change into a wolf, which is related to so many of the legends dealing with the associations between wolves and vampires.

Interestingly enough, all of the vampire legends begin with blood-drinking demons. These go back thousands of years, and, sorry, but I don't think there's anything you can do to become a demon. The earliest vampire legends, which don't even go back 1000 years, all have to do with demonic possession, usually after you were dead. For instance, if you had a wound that was not cleansed with boiling water and you died, you could come back as a vampire. In fact, for a while, people thought just about anything could cause your corpse to become possessed by a blood-drinking demonic spirit and come back and ravage the local village. Corpses were often buried face down because of this. That way, when they tried to dig to the surface, they'd go the wrong way. Crafty, huh?

And, as an aside, many (unrelated) cultures believed these undead had a thing for counting. The Chinese would bury the dead with a bag of rice so that when the vampire awoke, it would compulsively count the grains before attempting to rise. Other cultures used sand. That whole Count von Count thing?
Totally true.

Most of our modern views of vampires didn't come about until the 19th century. And most of those grew out of one book: Dracula by Bram Stoker.
The conversion to a vampire, as soon by Stoker, happened by being fed upon over time. Dracula feeds on Lucy over a sustained period until she dies and, then, comes back as a vampire. The same was happening to Mina and, even, Harker. The idea of needing to share the vampire's blood was not actually part of the transformation process; however, it did allow the vampire telepathic control over the victim. We've incorporated both of those ideas into our modern view of vampires.

The sustained feeding idea has also given rise to the idea of it being a pathology. A disease that you catch. So we have three basic views on vampirism: spiritual, mystical, and physical, which give rise to different variations on how to become a vampire based upon which view you hold.

In short, you have three options:
1. You have no control. Your dead body becomes possessed by a blood-sucking demon. Possibly, you can help that to happen by having uncleaned wounds that you die of, but it's no guarantee.
2. You have some control. Become a werewolf. Try to make sure that you die while still a werewolf and hope that no one disposes of your body in a way as to keep you from returning as the undead.
3. You might have some control. First, you have to meet a vampire. This could be difficult as they don't go around handing out business cards. If you find a vampire, convince him/her to turn you into one, too. Mostly, this is going to involve the vampire biting you. You will just have to trust the vampire to do whatever needs to be done to make you into one.

Also, you could learn the special math formula from Briane Pagel's excellent novelette, "Augurs of Distant Shadow," currently found exclusively in "Shadow Spinner: Collection 2: The Man with No Eyes (Parts 6 - 12)."
Oh, no, wait; I deleted the formulas so that no one else could become a vampire, but you should still read the story! And Shadow Spinner, too!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Vampires: Day 2 -- "Locked In"

Beyond "Choose Your Own Adventure" books, second person perspective isn't used much in fiction. There's good reason for this. If it goes on for any length, it bogs itself down and becomes repetitive. When the only personal pronoun you really have access to is "you," it gets more than a bit tiresome. There have been only a few novels of any note written in second person -- like Bright Lights, Big City, which was also adapted as a film -- but I do think the format can work well in certain short story settings. A couple of years ago, I had my creative writing class play around with the format (you can find their 2nd person stories in Charter Shorts), but, although I got some good results from it, I decided I'd leave that alone for the foreseeable future and just get them proficient with third person. Some of them are quite proficient with first and third but enough are not that it's better not to muddy the waters by trying to have them write in second.

Anyway... I did my own story along with them (because I often do that), so I'm going to share that with you today. I have, actually, shared it before, but it's been a couple of years, and my blog readership has changed quite a bit since then, so most of you probably haven't seen  this before. I hope you like it.

Locked In

You wake up slowly. But not gradually. Not smoothly. You wake up in fits and starts realizing that hunger gnaws at you. It is with annoyance that you realize that you’ve slept longer than you had intended. A lot longer if the hunger pangs are any indication. Your previous exertions must have taken more out of you than you had thought.

You climb out of what passes for your bed, grimacing at the stiffness in your limbs. Yes, you have, indeed, slept longer than you had intended, and your body cries out for sustenance. Idly, you wonder what the date is. Not that it really matters. Dates don’t mean anything to you.

You climb the stairs leading up from the cellar into the darkened interior of the house you make your dwelling place. How lucky you were to have found it flits into your head, but you correct yourself. Fortunate, not lucky. You don’t believe in luck. And you did pay the agent handsomely to find a house that suited your needs. Yes, you were fortunate to have found such a perfect house. The sheet-draped furniture looks ghostly in the darkness, vaguely reflecting the dim light sifting in from outside. The twinge of a smile hints about your lips, but it is not related to the d├ęcor. Tonight, you have no time for ambiance. Tonight, you feel the need only for the hunt.

You feel the setting of the sun, and you step outside, pulling the door closed behind you. You don’t bother to lock it. Few are foolhardy enough that they would try to enter your sanctum, and you would welcome them if they did. Welcome them in the way that a spider welcomes a fly that enters its web. There are children still at play outside. They freeze at the sight of you, sensing your presence in the same way a hare senses the hawk above as its shadow passes overhead. Although they are wise to fear you, they have no reason for that fear. You know better than to hunt where you live. Not that they aren’t… tempting.

As you move slowly down the steps of the house that everyone tries to avoid looking at, the children relocate to the front porch of a house at the other end of the street. You move in that direction for no other reason than that it brings you pleasure to see them squirm. Squirm like vermin in the dirt when a stone is moved or like termites when a rotting log is suddenly split open. This time, the smile is not fleeting.

It’s been too long since you’ve had a young one, but the desire is alive in you, tonight, thanks to those children. If the humans didn’t get so worked up over their missing young, you’d partake more often, but you have to be more than careful to not be discovered when you go after the young. Still, every so often, you can get away with it, and tonight will be one of those nights.

You move through the city, all of your senses alert in a way that no human’s ever can be. You are as much a part of the night as the darkness and the wind. And, like the wind, you flow from place to place being felt but not seen, leaving a quiet shudder in those you pass by, the angel of death, and they never know of their good fortune on this night. How magnanimous you feel, allowing them to go their way, keep their petty, fleeting lives.

Finally, you find what you are looking for, a gathering of young ones. And in a church, which makes it so much better. They will probably think that their faith, that the church itself, will protect them, and, once, long ago, it would have, but so very, very few people have faith anymore. It’s the ones that think they do that you enjoy the most. It makes it so much more… fun.

There are a couple of dozen people inside the little church. A matronly woman and a few of the teenagers in a small kitchen. A young man hardly older than a child himself in an office with another of them. The rest are in the chapel watching a movie. Two of them, thinking themselves clever, have sequestered themselves back in the pews to make out. Young lovers in a church locked up tighter than a drum. You wonder if it could possibly get any better. Of course, you will kill them all.

The locked building is of no hindrance to you, and, reveling in your power, you decide to play the part of the cat and toy with your food, first, before you feast. After all, you have no idea how long it will be before another opportunity like this one will present itself, so you should make the absolute most of it.

You creep along the ceiling allowing a hint of your presence to wash over the pitiful humans below. You smile as they grow restless and uneasy for no reason that they can understand. When their fear reaches ripeness, you drop down amongst them bestowing panic upon them like a benediction. You exalt in the chaos and screams and reach for one of them, the one with long, flowing blond hair.

You bare your fangs at her, preparing to sink them into her smooth, warm flesh that pulses with life, but she passes out in your hands. With a growl, you fling her aside. There is no pleasure without the struggle; you’ll come back for her when you have finished with the others. You reach for another, but you are suddenly and unexpectedly pierced with pain.

You can’t figure out what is happening. The pain is incomprehensible, piercing through your back into your heart. Slowly, and with full awareness, you fall to the floor, sprawled out on your face. You hear one of them, “Is it dead?” And another, “Why doesn’t it turn to dust?” And, “This isn’t Buffy, stupid.”

“Go get my copy of Dracula from my office, Tom.”

You feel confident that is the young man. You can now feel his faith, true faith, washing over you in revolting waves, sickening you. But you can’t move. You lie frozen on the floor, helpless, and you find yourself wishing that you had some deity to pray to. You begin to hope fervently that they believe the stake has finished you off. You have a chance if they just toss you out like this.

It grows quiet. The silence is a torment. The silence of the true grave. Faintly, you hear the turning of pages. There is mumbled talk of beheading and burning, and you wish you could scream. How pitiful… taken by your own prey. They lift your body and begin to drag you to the small graveyard behind the church, and you know that you go to your final resting place.

Note One: "Shadow Spinner: Collection 2: The Man with No Eyes (parts 6 - 12) is just released and many of the parts (about 10) from 13 - 34 are still FREE! today. Pick up the collection and grab the freebies. You can see the list on yesterday's post.
Note Two: Don't forget about the "Oh, How I Miss You" blogfest! Click the link to read about it and get to the sign up list. It will be here soon!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Vampires: Day 1 -- "Augurs of Distant Shadow"

Sometimes things take longer than we think they will. In my life these days, everything takes longer than I think it will. I'm sure that has nothing to do with the fact that I'm also not very good at judging how long something should take to do. Except that's not exactly true. I'm pretty good at knowing how long it will take me to do something; I'm just not very good at judging how often and for how long I'm going to get distracted by the time vampires that live in my house. Yes, time vampires. That's what they are. Okay, that needs to be a new story...


It's finally here! "Shadow Spinner: Collection 2: The Man with No Eyes (Parts 6 - 12)"!
Yes, that's still a lot of colons.
The individual parts all the way  through part 12 have been pulled down and are no longer for sale, but that should be okay, because, now, instead of $11. 88 for parts 1-12, you can get them for $3.98! AND! And there are two novelettes by two excellent writers that you get to pick up along with the collections when you buy them!

In "Shadow Spinner: Collection 1: Tiberius (Parts 1 - 5)," you get "Like An Axe Through Bone" by Bryan Pedas. It's a story you should read.

In this one, "Collection 2," You get... vampires! A bit of background:

Way back in the way back, I had this contest for people to write short stories based on the world from The House on the Corner. Briane Pagel is one of the ones that wrote a story for that contest, and, although his story started with House, it quickly departed from that entirely. But I wanted a story for him for this idea I have of putting stories by other authors into my books (I have a post on that somewhere, but I'm not finding it at the moment); I just didn't want that story. I wanted it to be more House-centric. So, yeah, I actually asked him to write a different one for me. And I am so glad I did!

But, before I was glad, I was trepidatious. See, after I asked Briane about writing a new story, he came back to me with a request to do one about vampires. As I said last week, I'm no fan of vamps. But I like Briane's writing, so I sort of held my breath and said, "Go ahead." I am so glad I did!

"Augurs of Distant Shadow" is easily my favorite thing that Mr. Pagel has written yet, which is saying a lot. It's not to say, though, that I've read everything he's written, because he's written a lot, and I'm still working my way through it, but I have read a lot of it, and Augurs stands head and shoulders above everything else. I don't think this is bias because his story is set in my House world, either, because, well, I did ask him to write a new House-based story after his last one.

It's always interesting to see what people will do with the same idea when you give them the chance. Pedas took House and set in today and wrote Axe from the point-of-view of a completely new character. Pagel has take that same idea and written a story set in the future with my characters; Tom, Sam, and Ruth; all grown up, but not just grown up, grown old. And there are vampires.

It's not stated explicitly, but I'm guessing the year is around 2030, and the world is not the same place it is now and not in a good way. We alternate between the future story and one in the past telling how the vampires came to be. The atmosphere of the story is perfect. Not quite brooding but heavy. And Pagel does a great job of taking  the characters forward in time and dealing with them in a way that is both true to House and a departure at the same time. The story kind of mesmerized me, and I say that about a lot of stuff I read.

Honestly, I was scared the entire time I was reading it. Scared that he would take this brilliantly paced horrific story and, somehow, ruin it at the end, because it's so easy to allow things to fall apart at the end. But he didn't. He carried it through and gave it an ending that was as brilliant as the rest of the story. I strongly recommend "Augurs of Distant Shadow," especially to those of you who haven't read any of Pagel's work. Fortunately, for me, you have to buy my book to get it, so it's like a double bonus.
[But I'm not saying any of this to get you to buy my Spinner Collection; it's just the truth. This story is one of the best things I've read all year.]

Now, for the fun part! To go along with the release of the second collection, I'm setting as many of the other parts of Shadow Spinner for FREE! as I can! Here's the complete list:
"Shadow Spinner: Collection 1: Tiberius (Parts 1 - 5)" -- $1.99
"Shadow Spinner: Collection 2: The Man with No Eyes (Parts 6 - 12)" -- $1.99
"Part Thirteen: The Clearing" -- FREE! (Monday and Tuesday)
"Part Fourteen: Anger and Laughter" -- $0.99
"Part Fifteen: Food of the Garden" -- $0.99
"Part Sixteen: The Dark Tree" -- $0.99
"Part Seventeen: The Tree of Light" -- FREE! (Monday and Tuesday)
"Part Eighteen: The Angel" -- FREE! (Monday and Tuesday)
"Part Nineteen: Lost in the Garden" -- FREE! (Monday and Tuesday)
"Part Twenty: The Sword of Fire" -- FREE! (Monday and Tuesday)
"Part Twenty-one: The Chase" -- $0.99
"Part Twenty-two: The Undying" -- $0.99
"Part Twenty-three: The Harlot" -- FREE! (Monday only)
"Part Twenty-four: The Serpent" -- FREE! (Monday and Tuesday)
"Part Twenty-five: The Light of Knowledge" -- FREE! (Monday and Tuesday)
"Part Twenty-six: The Bitter Fruit" -- FREE! (Monday and Tuesday)
"Part Twenty-seven: Leaving" -- $0.99
"Part Twenty-eight: The Shadow Place" -- $0.99
"Part Twenty-nine: Loss" -- $0.99
"Part Thirty: Called in Judgement" -- $0.99
"Part Thirty-one: The Serpent Strikes" -- $0.99
"Part Thirty-two: The Gate" -- FREE! (Monday only)
"Part Thirty-three: Justice" -- FREE! (Monday and Tuesday)
"Part Thirty-four: Uri'el" -- FREE! (Monday and Tuesday)
So that's a dozen freebies out of 22 possible, which isn't bad, I don't think. Most of them are even FREE! for two days. And because I'm such a nice guy, I'm also going to throw in
"The Evil That Men Do" for FREE! as well (Monday and Tuesday)! For those of you that don't know, it's sort of a prequel to Shadow Spinner, but it stands alone as its own story. In fact, it was written as its own story way before Spinner was anywhere near being in my head.

As always, any reviews are more than welcome. I don't really like mentioning reviews any more because the response to getting people to leave reviews is always... underwhelming, but there's this new site, The Fussy Librarian, that is taking book submissions, and they require a minimum of ten reviews to submit. Not only have I not gotten back up to the number of reviews I had on "The Tunnel," I haven't gotten to 10, so reviews would be good. Aside from that, though, go check out the The Fussy Librarian and sign up. I don't think there are any vampires. Except in the books, of course.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Angel, Mr. Hyde and Vampires

Let me just say right off the bat, I am not a fan of vampires. [Pun totally intended.] I've never been into the whole vampire craze. Not in the 80s when it was driven by Anne Rice or in the 90s when it was, again, driven by Anne Rice and not in the time since when it's been driven by Twilight and True Blood and almost everything else. Seriously, I hate that whole noble vampire thing, all that tragic, romantic bullcrap that vampires have become. Give me my vampires evil..., so I can kill them.

And that's probably why I like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Vampires are evil, and we spend our time trying to kill them.

Well, except for Angel. And, well, Angel is a show I like even more than Buffy. That sounds like a conundrum, doesn't it? I mean, Angel is full of all of that tragic, romantic shhhtuff. I realized why recently that I'm okay with Angel. It's not a vampire story. Not that he's not a vampire, but that's not the kind of story it is. It's a Jekyll and Hyde story. I love Jekyll and Hyde stories.

The central conflict in Angel is man vs himself, specifically Angel vs the demon inside him. It's a story about someone seeking redemption. It just so happens that he is a vampire, but that's not the driving force of the story. It's that ongoing conflict that Angel has with himself that makes the series interesting. Good vs evil bits. Whedon does a great job with it, but you should still read Stevenson if you haven't done it.

Speaking of vampires, I appreciate that Jim Butcher has kept his vampires evil. We're gonna give Thomas a pass, because there's something else going on there. Since I'm not all the way caught up yet, I don't know if it's been revealed or not, so don't go saying anything.

None of this is to say that I haven't written my own vampire story. A short one. But he was evil, so it's okay. It was just kind of to make a point.

And all of this to say that next week is going to be vampire week here at StrangePegs. There's a new vampire story I need to review and, let me just say, it's fantastic! No, I mean it. But more on that next week. Also, in the spirit of Halloween, I'm going to tell you all about how to be a vampire. And, maybe, there'll be other stuff. I'm not quite sure, yet, what all next week will have in store for you, but there will be vampires, so stock up on garlic.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Fahrenheit 451 -- A True Dystopian

This is not the first time I've read Fahrenheit 451, but it has been, oh, about 30 years, and you can forget a lot in 30 years. I had. In fact, I had forgotten what a wonderful book it is and, actually, how relevant it remains, now, 60 years later. It's also amazing to see all of the foresight Bradbury had into the world that would be, which is now the world that is. [It was not amazing to see how much of Fahrenheit made it into Snow Crash and not in a good way. Not in an homage way. In a "I really like this and am going to take it and use it in my book" way. Like the mechanical dog. I didn't think it was possible for my view of Snow Crash to fall any farther than it already was, but Stephenson surprised me yet again. Not in a good way.]

The thing that stood out to me most is the true nature of the dystopian world of the Firemen. I'm not a fan of dystopians, but that's because I'm not a fan of current dystopians, which are not dystopians at all. Almost across the board, they are post-apocalyptic. The Hunger Games is not a dystopian story; I don't care how it's marketed or what publishers say or whatever. [And the distinction and where it went wrong is a post unto itself, so I'm not going to go into that now.] But Fahrenheit is in no way post-apocalyptic (although you could say it's pre-apocalyptic, I suppose). It's not even a government imposed dystopian. No, the Firemen and the book burning is something that came from the people, and that's what makes the book so scary.

And, possibly, real.

There are so many things in our current society that Bradbury was only glimpsing when he wrote the book, but they are so much worse, now, than then. I'll focus on two things:

1. We don't like to make people feel bad. About anything. This has been a growing trend over the past few decades with our movement toward positive thinking and making everything "politically correct," but it doesn't stop there, because we've started to stop allowing kids to experience losing. Losing feels bad. Over the past few years, there has been a growing trend in kids' sport teams (like my daughter's old softball team) to not have any losers. No scores. Just two teams of kids who are all winners. And many schools have begun adopting grade-less systems, because bad grades make kids feel bad.

In Fahrenheit, one of the reasons that people don't read is that reading makes them feel bad. As a society, the people want to have fun, and they can't get that through reading.

2. Thinking is hard work. And it makes people feel bad. If they read, they will think. If they think, they will realize just how not very special they are and how much they don't have and that makes them sad. Thinking about anything for too long becomes a bad thing; it's thinking they're really trying to get rid of, not the books. And I'm not talking about the government; I'm talking about the society. Books get shorter and shorter because no one wants to think (and we all know about the current TL;DR crap). Eventually, books become anathema to the society, so they start burning them. They burn them until it becomes a law.

I was looking over a survey recently dealing with people and whether they like to have "intellectual conversations" and 80-90% of people responding say no. I think the numbers where slightly higher for women, but that could be cultural (men want to appear smarter and women want to appear less smart than men). The most common response to the question was, "I don't like to think that hard."

That Bradbury was tackling these topics back in '53 (actually earlier, because Fahrenheit was based off of a short story he wrote in the 40s called "The Fireman") says a lot. It says that we've been struggling over the loss of books in our society for much longer than we normally think. It also says that, although these issues have grown in the decades, books, even if not physical, are still a strong force in our society, and that's a good thing. Of course, the metaphor that Bradbury is making is that the loss of books, the loss of knowledge, the loss of thought will lead man to his doom (a fiery apocalyptic doom in Fahrenheit), and I don't think that he was wrong. His warning is still as applicable today as it was then, just before the greatest wave of censorship the United States has ever seen would was across the country (something the Tea Party would like duplicate, I'm sure).

All of that aside, the language of Bradbury is superb, his language exquisite. Things like, "...under an ancient windmill that whirred like the sound of the passing years overhead." I can hear that sound in my head when I read it, and it gives the passage a weight that just isn't found in a lot of modern books. And my favorite passage:
She had a very thin face like the dial of a small clock seen faintly in a dark room in the middle of a night when you waken to see the time and see the clock telling you the hour and the minute and the second, with a white silence and a glowing, all certainty and knowing what it had to tell of the night passing swiftly on toward further darkness, but moving also toward a new sun.
It's full of foreshadowing and beauty. Very evocative. And the book is full of that stuff.

There's a reason this book is considered a classic, but many books that are no longer relevant are classics. This one surpasses those in that it is a classic and still relevant. I'm quite sure this is a book that more people should still be reading.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Oh, How I Miss You Some More

Last year, I started a thing. If you want to read about how I started a thing, you can go here and, then, go here. You can also see the bloggers I chose last year (some of whom may be in this year's running, too) if you follow that second link.

At any rate, here's announcing the 2nd Annual "Oh, How I Miss You" blogfest.
Here's the spiel:
The bloggers we miss… and the ones we would miss!

Do you have a couple blogger buddies who aren’t posting as often? Those who’ve pulled back and seem absent from the blogging world? Do you have blogger buddies you are grateful they are still around and would miss if they vanished? Now is your chance to show your appreciation and spotlight them!
List one to three bloggers you really miss and one to three bloggers you would miss if they stopped blogging. Then go leave a comment on those blogs.
Our blogger friends are special – time to let them know!

And here are the sponsors:
Andrew Leon (oh, wait, you're here already, aren't you?)
Alex Cavanaugh
Matthew McNish

Blogging is kind of a weird thing when you think about it. Why people blog and why people read blogs. It's all a weird sort of dynamic. But, the truth is, we can get attached to people through it or, at least, to their blogs. And, sometimes, they quit doing it. The reasons why people quit are probably even more numerous than why they began in the first place. But, for some, maybe they quit because they just didn't feel appreciated. Or because they thought no one cared. Whatever the reason, though, if it's someone that you have really appreciated, someone who has had something(s) to say that have touched or helped you in some way, let them know. And, if you have people that are still blogging but you wouldn't know what to do if you didn't have their blogs to stop by a couple or few times a week, let them know, too. It's that thankful time of year, so go say, "Thanks!" and "Hey, I miss you!" or "Don't go anywhere, because I would miss you if you did!"

Sign up below!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Vintage Revivals pt. 2: A Certain Whimsy (a local color post)

After finding out about the opening of Vintage Revivals, as I mentioned in part one, my wife and I drove down to have a look see. What a wonderful place. It's full of... well... it's full of all kinds of quirky originality. As I said last time, it's full of found art.
Some of it makes my fingers itch to make it my own.
But most of it just makes me think, "Cool!"
And, "I want that!"
The above piece is called "Merlin's Muse," and it's pretty cool. And here is another view of my favorite piece, "Nightwatch":
But it's not all birds:
Wait, no! No, really, it's not all birds:
No, stop looking at the bird. Look at the green liquid. Not to mention this stuff:
And the earrings! Last time, I showed you the earring that I bought my wife, but this is the pair I almost bought:
They had a whole wall of earrings made from old typewriter keys, which is just a cool idea. I would have bought them if the keys had been on the dangly end. I was, however, ambivalent, because I wasn't 100% sure my wife would agree with me (I was probably 87% sure), but she did, so, at some point (as soon as I get a chance to go back), we going to custom order a pair with the keys at the bottom, because, yes, they do requests. And, really, how cool is that?

Local places like this are really cool. I encourage all of you to go out and find some local artists and shops to support. I mean, what chain store can you walk into and request custom-made earrings? Or custom-made anything? Wal-Mart? Target? Macy's? Not a single one of them. In fact, the only thing you'll find at a chain store is the same thing that someone on the other side of the country will find. Something... homogeneous. If you want cool and unique, you have to go to cool and unique. And these kinds of places always have cool and unique people, too. People with great stories about what they're doing and why.

And, well, in a lot of ways it's like being an independent author. It's making something that's not quite like everything else already out there and having the courage to stand behind it. I respect that. I hope you do, too.

(And those birds are just too cool!)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Unexpected Applause: "My Killbot Buddy"

I've made no secret of my general dislike of "starting in the middle of the action" as a way to begin stories. Usually, "starting in the middle of the action" is just a cover for a weak beginning (at least "weak" in the eyes of some TV producer (because it's TV where we find this most often used)) and, after starting as near to the climax as possible, we get the inevitable "48 hours earlier." I just hate that. Seriously. Ask my wife. Any show that uses that tactic as a regular opener holds no real credibility for me. [Only very occasionally does this work for me, like that episode of Firefly that opens with Mal naked and stranded. However, if you're about to show me your characters handcuffed to pipe in a room filling with water for the 7th time this season, please, just don't.]

There are ways of starting a story in media res that do work. For instance, A New Hope opens with a prologue scene of of the battle above Tatooine in which Leia is captured and the droids escape to the planet. The actual exposition of the story does not begin until we switch to the introduction of Luke. That kind of thing works. It gives us background while immediately hooking us. Imagine that story starting in the trash compactor, though, and, then, flashing back to the events leading up to that. That would be horrible. Harry Potter opens the same way, by the way, with a prologue of the baby being taken to the Dursleys; the exposition begins when we switch to about to have a birthday Harry. [I think I read somewhere that Rowling actually wrote that first bit as a prologue, but the publisher made her shift it to "chapter one."]

Another way to start a story in the middle of the action is to open with a character who doesn't know what's going on. For whatever reason. Part of the point of these types of stories is to go along with the character and figure out what's happening and why. Rusty Carl does a pretty great job of that in "My Killbot Buddy."
[And, man, that's one killer (no pun intended) cover Rusty whipped up. I think it's my favorite piece by him yet.] Not only does the protagonist wake up with no memory (for very good reason (which, yes, is important (because I hate the whole "oh, let's have our character have amnesia" thing))), but he wakes up as... old. He doesn't remember getting old, and, man, what a shock that would be. Oh, and, yeah, he's the most hated man in the world. How the heck did that happen?

And that's what we have to find out, what our character is trying to figure out. It's an interesting discovery and the story is wide open at the end. Which is not to say that the story doesn't end, because it does. But it ends in the way you would enter an airlock: one door shuts and another one opens. We're in the airlock with this story, so, when the other door opens, you can see that there is a whole world to be explored out there, but Carl doesn't take us through. What lies through that door is only what we can see with our minds.

But I do hope that he comes back to this and gives us more than a peek as to what's on the other side of that door.

This is a good strong "A" of a story, possibly my favorite by Carl, thus far. It has robots. Which is not why, but... well, it has robots.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Neil Gaiman's Bottle of Milk

Depending upon how you look at things, my kids are either very fortunate or dismally unfortunate. They get great stories all the time about, well, everything. So there is the story about the Troll Bridge and Goblin Town and, now, there is an excavation into Goblin Town going on that I haven't remembered to go take pictures of, yet, but I need to so that I can do a post on that, and, of course, DRAGONS! Sometimes, especially my daughter, the kids get exasperated with me because they have such a difficult time getting merely mundane answers from me. Sometimes, I almost feel bad about that.


I mean, no one has ever just gone to the store or gone outside to play or, even, just gone to the bathroom. He's been abducted by aliens. And, when he comes back, he's been replaced by a robot duplicate or, possibly, a clone. We're never just having chicken for dinner; we're having dinosaur or, depending upon how many times I've been asked that question, one of the children.

And I might would feel bad about it except I hear my children, delightedly, repeating those stories to their friends.

All of that to say that I loved Neil Gaiman's new book, Fortunately, the Milk, about a father who has to go to the corner store to get milk for his kids' breakfast cereal (because, otherwise, they would have to use orange juice, which is not okay on cereal) and get abducted by aliens on the way home. This was a story after my own heart. It also has dinosaurs.

My own stories don't have enough dinosaurs, I don't think.

It's an illustrated book but not, really, a picture book. The one I have, the American version, is illustrated by Skottie Young. His art is whimsical and funky and fits well with the tone of the book. That does not stop me from also wanting the UK version of the book, illustrated by Chris Riddell, which is not so funky but looks no less interesting. Not that I will be getting a copy of the UK version, because I don't want to pay the shipping on it.

So, yes, the story is whimsical and funky and just a lot of fun, taking off at weird tangents. It has everything you could possibly want from a story like this: aliens, dinosaurs, pirates, time travel... okay, well, it doesn't have cowboys, so I guess it doesn't have everything, but it has an awful lot. If you have young kids (or, even, if you don't), this is a great book to pick up. I'm sure it would make an excellent bedtime reading book. Even though I don't have young kids, I may make mine sit down and listen to it anyway.

Maybe, that way they'll know I'm not the only one that does this.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Wunderkammer Pt. 2 (a local color post)

My wife and I were unable to see all of the things we wanted to see while at the Wunderkammer but, by far, the best thing we saw was a pair of jugglers called... um, I can't remember what they were called. The Brothers Something-or-Other. Or the Something-or-Other Brothers. At any rate, they were great! The younger one (and I think they did call him the younger one, but I may also just be thinking it because he looks younger) was a bit of a contortionist. Here he is playing jump rope with his arms as the rope:
And him juggling with his arms all pretzeled:
And juggling while standing on his "brother":
More juggling while standing on his brother:
Passing the balls back and forth:
Upside down juggling:
And swords!
They were a lot of fun. They had great banter, too, which was just as fun as watching them do their crazy stunts.

The other big thing at Wunderkammer is the handcar regatta. That is rather what it sounds like. It is a race between old railroad handcars. Modified handcars, but handcars. We didn't watch all of the races, but we did watch them introduce all of the racers and their vehicles. Here are some of the pictures from that:
The master of ceremonies.
This one ought to be self explanatory.
This one ought to also be self explanatory.
The only actual legitimate handcar in the regatta.
We think these guys were escaping from somewhere.
These guys just needed a TV, and they would have been all set.
Rail sweepers. Except, I don't remember if that's what they called them, but it is what they were for.

Well, that about does it for Wunderkammer this year. At least, I'm pretty sure I covered everything. Everything we did and saw, at any rate. [Maybe, next year, I'll plan to take a look at the food stuff for those that were wondering.] I didn't take pictures of the stuff they were selling, although, maybe, I should have. They had a lot of costuming options for sale, but it didn't occur to me to take pictures of that stuff.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Gravity: a Metaphor

The first thing to say about Gravity is that it's a beautiful movie.

It's beautiful in the same way that Life of Pi is, just spectacular to look at. What's even more impressive about that is that it's nearly all digital. It's pretty amazing. In fact, the movie, much in the way of the Star Wars prequels, was delayed due to waiting for the technology to get to a place where the environment could be made to look realistic. Well, I've never been to space, but it looked amazing. I'm not actually sure it's Oscar material, but I won't be surprised if it gets a nomination for best visual effects.

The next thing that has to be said is Sandra Bullock was amazing. Even more so when you consider that she's the only character through much of the movie. The only other thing like this that I've really seen was the under-appreciated Moon with Sam Rockwell (seriously, you should see this movie). Most of acting is, in a sense, reacting, the interplay of characters (and actors) with each other. It's much more difficult when it's just... you. Nothing and no one to play off of. The dependency on monologues in Hamlet is one of the reasons it has long been considered to be the measure of success for actors. If you can pull off Hamlet (the character) believably, you can pretty much do anything. I think Bullock could pull off Hamlet. She carried the movie as if it was weightless. And, if it doesn't get nominated for anything else, Bullock certainly deserves a best actress nomination for this.

However, I do have to say how very disappointed I am with Cuaron that Bullock was, basically, a default choice, because they couldn't get anyone else to take the park. The anyone elses, other than Angelina Jolie, all being "young, hot" actresses that, well, can't much act. Most of them. Basically, they wanted a pretty face for the role (a role which would require the actor to carry the movie), not someone who has proven she can do the job. That is... just disappointing. But I digress...

The only negative I've seen about the movie has to do with Clooney and how Kowalski is such a flat character. As such, Clooney didn't do much acting. And that's true. Clooney was pretty affect-less, but I think that was intentional. He's not a real character; he's a representation of the person Dr. Stone sees him as. He's the strong leader that takes charge and isn't flustered by anything; at least, that's what he is to her, so that's, also, how we see him. So, yeah, the part didn't require much of Clooney, but I think it was perfect for the movie. He's so flat that we don't get attached to him, and that's required, because we, as the audience, are supposed to be focused completely on Dr. Stone.

Here there be dragons... um, I mean spoilers... Here there be spoilers. You have been warned!

As great as the movie is on the surface (and it is great just taken as what it is, a disaster movie in space), I think it's its deeper, metaphorical meaning that gives the movie greatness. After the disaster occurs, Kowalski needs to get Stone talking so as to distract her and calm her down, so he started asking her questions about home. We find out that, really, Stone has been leaving in space for a long time, since the death of her daughter through an unfortunate playground accident. The woman has no life. She goes to work, presumably doing something that relates to saving the lives of kids who have had similar accidents, although we never find that out, and, then, drives. Just drives. In silence. She has put herself as close as she can into a vacuum. Into a suicide-less death.

The death of Kowalski puts the loss of her daughter into perspective. Stone is trying desperately to hold onto him, but he can see that her persistence is going to kill them both, so he entreats her to let go, just let go. And it's here that we can see the flatness of Kowalski best. He's stoically heroic. There is no clinging to life on his part, just pragmatism. "You have to let me go or we'll both die." He is the sacrificing hero as seen through her eyes. "You have to let go."

Of course, this has a deeper meaning that applies more to the fact that she is still clinging to her daughter than it does to him.

After that, she enters the space station and strips out of her space suit, and there is a lingering image of her curled, fetus-like, in front of a round window looking out at space. It is the exact image of the womb and of her entering into a state of rebirth.

But it's not really that easy, because birth, as easy as it seems (to us in the USA, anyway) in this 21st century world, is not easy. And she almost gives up a little while later but has a lack-of-oxygen induced hallucination of Kowalski telling her that she has to make a decision: She has to decide to live. If she's not going to decide to live, she needs to quit living the lifeless life she's living and just get it over with. She switches the oxygen back on and chooses to live. Finally, she lets go of her daughter and says goodbye.

The final scene of her crashing down and escaping the capsule as it floods and sinks, the scene of her climbing out of the water is the very metaphor of birth. She stands there on shaky legs (after being in a zero G environment) like a newborn colt and faces a new day. A day with the hope of life, not one that clings to death.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Emotional Lawn (an Indie Life post)

I've never been a big fan of yard work. Evidently, my parents weren't either, because, as a kid, I did the bulk of the yard work. Fortunately, for my kids, we don't have a lawn or, even, much of a yard, and what there is is rocks (because that's what the previous owners had put in rather than have a tiny lawn to tend (and, I have to say, these rocks are terrible. Tiny and red, they get tracked everywhere, because they quite easily get stuck in shoes and stuff)). But, when I was a kid, we had a big yard with lots of trees. And lots of leaves. And I hated raking. More than raking, I hated bagging the leaves. It was the worst.

The yard also had a steep hill down to the sidewalk (on two sides, since we lived on a corner), but, even with the hill, I preferred mowing to raking. Besides, when I mowed, I would mow designs into the yard. Not permanent designs, because, once the yard was mowed, there was no design. But, still, my dad always got pissed when I was doing diagonals and stuff and would yell at me for messing up the grass. Seriously. (And I always wanted to say, "Then you mow it," but I never did.)

In my current "yard," though, even with the rocks, there are weeds. They grow up between the rocks, and it's difficult to get rid of them. For one thing, you can't just go out and mow them down. The last several weeks, I've sort of let the weeds take over, because they were growing up faster than I could pull them out.

And that's what it's like, sometimes, being an indie author. For one thing, you have to tend your own emotional lawn. Those big name authors often have plenty of people to help with theirs, not to mention the fans which will plant plenty of flowers (praise). But indies... well, they get to tend their lawns pretty much on their own.

And it can be tough. You get your book out there, but, really, no one knows who you are, and it doesn't generate the kind of sales you'd hoped for, and you don't get the kinds of reviews you'd hoped for, either in number or quality, or you get that one really bad review that just breaks your heart and makes you wonder what you're doing anyway, and, suddenly, your emotional lawn is full of weeds: resentment, envy, bitterness, even thoughts of revenge. Basically, you have a lawn that's invested in how others treat it. You're allowing people outside of yourself to control what grows in your own emotional lawn.

And, really, why should those other people care what's growing in your lawn?

Even the people that do care, close friends and family, and may try to help you out with the weed pulling ("That bad review doesn't mean anything." "Keep working at it, sales will get better." "Don't worry that <someone else> is doing better than you."), won't keep it up for long if you continue to allow strangers the power to grow weeds in your emotions.

Really, you are the only person that can control what you have growing in your emotional lawn. You have to cultivate grass, an attitude of doing your thing without regard to the outside. You have to tend the grass, work at it, mow it, water it. You do just have to keep working and doing your own thing. And, when you see a weed popping up, you have to go over and pull that sucker up, because they breed like crazy, so you can't let them start.

Why is this important? Because, as an indie author, your lawn is almost as important as your books. Maybe as important. Maybe, even, more important. When you're big and famous (and rich), you can pass almost anything off as just being the product of an eccentric artist-type, but, when you're a little indie guy, how you behave (what your lawn looks like) is a lot of what attracts new readers, so, if you have a ton of weeds (bad behavior and attitude), it won't matter how good your books are, people won't want to come around. (That's why when authors have public meltdowns over bad reviews (or whatever) can ruin their careers before they even get started.)

So, yeah, maintaining your emotional lawn as an indie author is a lot of work. But it's one of those things that has to be done. But, you know, you can always have fun with it and mow in some diagonals, checker boards, or, even, swirls.

This post has been brought to you in part by Indie Life.