Keeping Secrets

One of the big world-building issues any writer who uses vampires has to deal with is secrecy.  How do the vampires keep their secrets from an increasingly data-flooded and intrusive world?

Other writers have handled this in a number of different ways.  Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Mysteries (on which the HBO series True Blood is based) involve a culture of vampires that very recently “came out of the coffin,” and are trying to integrate their society into human society (or not integrate, depending on the vampire in question).  The opening credits to True Blood show a sign that says “God Hates Fangs,” a clear reference to a certain bigoted family from Westboro, Kansas, and to lingering human bigotry.

In Laurel K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series (the first six or so books of which I loved.  She sort of lost me when she made the switch from action horror with the sexual tension of an unresolved and unconsummated love triangle to explicit romance novels with fangs), the vampires were never secret.  After all, our ancestors believed in vampires, and we only lost that belief when rigorous investigation found little evidence for their existence.  In a world in which they did exist, people losing their belief is a little harder to swallow.

Yet, that is the approach I (and pretty much all vampire writers who keep vampires a secret) have taken.  How do we justify this?  Isn’t it as ridiculous as losing our faith in the existence of elephants or Vikings?  Well, not if the vampires, as they exist, are an ill-match for the legends and they have an organized enough society to intentionally pass into the realm of cryptozoology.  Granted, it’s a pretty big conspiracy, but not impossible, if the vampires are capable of restraint.

The vampire was rarely seen as a seductive figure until the 19th century, with Lord Ruthven, Carmilla, Varney the Vampire, and, ultimately, Dracula.  Orlok, the vampire from the movie Nosferatu, was closer to the older legends: the chewing dead, plague-spreading, violent, unholy beasts, subject to fear, revulsion, even pity, but never desire (Mark Collins’s Vampire Forensics: Uncovering the Origins of an Enduring Legend has a great deal of additional material on this, if you’re interested).

In my “Blood Oath” setting, there are two bloodlines of vampires, the ancient and bestial warg, whose origins predate recorded history, and the children of the Vampire Lords, who are strong, beautiful, and sometimes cruelly civilized.

The warg are believed by some to be the descendants of Cain and Lilith, of Cernunnos and Angrboda.  They are creatures of the wild, and when faced with the pollution and sickness of human civilization, a red-eyed madness overtakes them.  Sickness radiates off their twisted forms, spreading a legion of plagues.  Anything bitten by a mad warg sickens and dies – even another vampire.  The old beliefs about vampires – plague-bearers, chewing dead, monsters – arose from the sickened warg, while beliefs about werewolves came about from their healthy, rural cousins.

The first Vampire Lord, the Roman General Arcutrus, served Emperor Nero in life, then sold his soul to the outer darkness in exchange for 1,000 years of incredible power.  His offspring were, like him, beautiful, commanding, scheming, civilized murderers.  Over the next centuries, five more Vampire Lords arose, some men, some women, creating their own armies of fair-faced killers.  Eventually, Arcturus’s 1,000 years ran out, and the darkness reclaimed him and his inner circle.  But his thinner-blooded descendants survived, determined not to serve any Lord, ever again.

As Rome fell to the Goths, the warg and the Vampire Lords entered a shadow war that lasted a thousand years.  In the end, the warg were all but exterminated, leaving the beautiful killers to inherit the earth.  The Renaissance was dawning, and soon the Enlightenment would bring into question a wide range of superstitions which lacked evidence.  Since the warg formed the template of the vampire legends, and since they had been driven almost to extinction, those old legends seemed little more than fairy tales.

And so, with the vampires carefully covering their tracks, they managed to fade into legend.  But now, as surveillance and information sharing reach a critical level, that secret is threatened, not by a handful of rogue vampires or government agencies, but by the very nature of human civilization.  Of course, that leads to all kinds of potential for conflict, as different factions debate – or even fight – over how to live in a post-secrecy world.

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Extra, extra: Read All About It!

I want to formally announce my first novella series, Blood for Blood, is up at Amazon’s Kindle Store.  I’ve got Book One: No Beast So Fierce and Book Two: Innocent Blood up already, and I’m proud, honestly.

It’s not the same feeling as getting a short story published by someone else, that sort of immediate “other-approval” dopamine burst.

It’s not the same feeling as facing a gauntlet of agents, slush-piles, and transoms in order to get into a system that will allegedly take care of you … but we all know won’t, not really. [1]

Indie publishing is a completely different feeling, a sense of complete responsibility for my own success of failure.  There is literally nobody else in the world to blame but myself if this doesn’t take off: I wrote it, formatted it, did the covers, uploaded it, and publicized it.  I wasn’t my own Trust First Reader, but I fixed the errors she found.  There’s nobody taking a percentage for the life of the book, nobody “handling” or “managing” me, nobody pushing the book for six weeks and then yanking it from the bookstore shelves to make room for the next one.

Bottom line, sink or swim, this is all on me.  On the one hand, it’s scary, because it strips away all the excuses, every reason not to do it, every reason to delay or procrastinate.  I have to face my fears or just give up and walk away (no chance).  And that’s liberating.

1]  L.M. May had a great post on writers and learned helplessness. Dean Wesley Smith has been writing about writers wanting to be taken care of for quite some time. Here’s one about agents in the old model.  Here’s another about the future of agency and e-books. Kristine Kathryn Rusch wrote a great article on trust in the publishing industry that might also apply).

Sucker Punch, Witchblade, Zoe Winters, and Power

After seeing Sucker Punch, and reading Zoe Winters’ blog entry about it, and strong women in general, especially “When Weakness Wears the Mask of Power,” I am reminded of a good friend’s comments about the first Witchblade graphic novel: “it was interesting to see the contrasts in masculine and feminine power.”

I never fully understood what he meant (and I may not, even now), but I’ve thought about it some more since then and formed my own opinions about masculine and feminine power.

Zoe Winters rightfully questioned why “strong” women in fiction (especially genre fiction, double especially urban fantasy/paranormal fiction) had to either be unrealistically/supernaturally physical powerhouses or emotionally manipulative temptresses.  Winters proposed an alternative, that real strength was found in authenticity, integrity, interdependency, and even in vulnerability.

Which led me to think of masculine and feminine power, Mars and Venus, Aries and Aphrodite . . . physical violence and sexual/emotional manipulation.  That’s not to say that women can’t be violent or deadly, or that men can’t be sexually or emotionally manipulative, but that one is much more closely associated with the masculine (“manly virtue”), and one with the feminine (“feminine wiles”), to the point that physically powerful women used to be called “viragos,” a word that has the same roots as “virile,” the Latin “vir,” meaning man.

Seconds after having this thought, of Mars and Venus, violence and sexual/emotional manipulation, I realized that sane people don’t want to be around either of these.  While both kinds of power can be used defensively, it’s much better for everybody involved if human relations are kept peaceful, honest, and communicative.

It’s not much of a story, but it’s a much better life.  But a great deal of good storytelling can and has arisen from people who are truly strong (male or female), meaning they have integrity, authenticity, and interdependent, healthy relationships, dealing with the affects and aftermath of unhealthy masculine and feminine power in their lives.

Further, these masculine and feminine forms of power are, in their own ways, expressions of weakness and fear.  Those without the inner strength and courage to meet the world on its own terms feel the need to control it, generally by controlling those around them.  This domination can come in different ways, physical or social, but it’s always hurtful, and destructive.

Those who internalize this fear into obsessive compulsive disorder are objects of pity, schadenfreude, and even ridicule, while those who externalize it and dominate those around them (without getting arrested) are often lionized as “queen bees” or “alpha males” – and then everyone acts shocked when they do cross the line, someone gets visibly hurt, and the police come (using force to dominate a situation, once more) and drag them off to jail.

Is it any wonder that so many of us write and read about about grim-faced, larger-than-life crusaders who hunt the hunters, prey on the predators, and bring justice where the law can never reach?

What does this have to do with Sucker Punch?  Well, other than it having helped jump-start the conversation, not a lot.  I do recommend it, if you can handle the “unreliable narrator” aspect.  You never entirely know what exactly happens, because of the layers of metaphor/delusions, but that’s part of the fun.  (Hey, I liked The Fall of the House of Usher).