2018 … A Year of Reading – Part 1

A huge thanks to Susan Toy for her recommendations. I’m honoured that Once Upon a Night is among them. I had the pleasure of reading, reviewing and recommending, through my book lists, her two Bequia Perspective Books – Island in the Clouds and One Woman’s Island.

Books: Publishing, Reading, Writing

I didn’t set out to do this, but 2018 turned out to be a perfect storm of reading for me! I read more books during this past year than I believe I have in any other year before. And I enjoyed my time reading, too. It never felt like work at all, because I didn’t set a target number of books to read. I just kept reading books as they came to me … either from my own shelves, or given to me by other readers, or won in giveaways, or – the way I received most of what I read – borrowed from the library!

I didn’t enjoy every book I began reading, and I didn’t keep track of those I abandoned, but I do know there were quite a few. Some were highly praised and award-winners, but I discovered they just weren’t for me.

I read a large…

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Happy New Year!

Read them, write them, buy them, borrow them, lend them, review them, recommend them… love them!

Wishing you all another year of great books!

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Smashwords Christmas Sale

Dec. 25 to January 1

Thousands of free or discounted books  at the Smashwords Store.

Among them is my romantic and hot

Once Upon a Night

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/776280

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Happy holidays!

Merry Christmas and joyful New Year!

Happy reading and writing!

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Dragons – the mythical ancestors of Slavs

Some people believe they could trace their ancestry to Charlemagne; some used to believe they were descendants of dragons. South Slavic heroes, great warriors and sometimes noblemen were thought to be of dragon blood.

Dragon (“zmay”) in South Slavic mythology was one of the so-called “air demons” and was responsible for bringing rain when rain was needed. A dragon was both a human and an animal, a shape-shifter, in fact. It could be either male or – less frequently – female. They appeared in their human form when among humans.  Snakes (“zmiya” – the phonological resemblance is obvious), rams or carps would transform into dragons when they turned 100 years old.

They breathed red or blue fire,  and lived in forests, the magical places of Slavic mythology, often in hollow beeches. (Oak, beech, linden, elm, pine were trees with magic, or sometimes demonic properties.) Physically, they weren’t unlike Daenerys Targaryen’s Drogon, Viserion and Rhaegal, only a trifle smaller. I like to think they were (or still are) cousins. I’m sure Slavic Dragons would recognize this music.

In the picture below is their Asian cousin. The guy in the second photo either has some identity issues, or he truly believes that success starts with attitude.

Photo by Sarah Phillips on Unsplash

A dragon could speak parseltongue and could become invisible, expect for a woman he fell in love with. Romantic, isn’t it? Their sexual potency was legendary (or, of mythological proportions). After having a relationship with a dragon-man, a woman would lose any interest in human men. No wonder.

Children from such unions were always male, very strong and wise. Thanks to that — which tribe or nation didn’t need heroes, warriors and noblemen? — the relationships between humans and dragons were not considered sinful, a quite progressive view for those ancient times.

Photo by Wim van ‘t Einde on Unsplash

There were numerous toponyms in South Slavic countries related to dragons, as well as surnames with their roots in the word “zmay”.

Do you remember my blog about vilas, the beautiful forest creatures with long hair and slender bodies, who liked to dance and swim naked? Wouldn’t it be lovely to write a love story between a vila and a dragon?

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The Vampire I Loved

Vampire proper, the Slavic vampire from my previous post, seems to be the progenitor of the entire fictional vampiric race.

A piece of documented  history: The first recorded mention of the word “vampire” dates from 1672. In a small village on the edge of the Balkan peninsula, a peasant died then returned and started drinking blood, harassing his own widow (sexually, of course) and spreading terror in general. Eventually he was dug up from the grave, beheaded and put back to rest.

Photo by Leonardo Yip on Unsplash

Another fact: It’s interesting that the vampire hysteria reached its European peak during the Age of Enlightenment.

Now, I guess it’s okay to go back to the question from the end of my last post. So, who are my most beloved vampires (besides a couple of my own, naturally)?

Dracula

Modern vampire fiction (and my interest in vampires) probably started with Bram Stoker’s famous novel. The inspiration was a historical figure, Prince Vlad Tepes, or Vlad the Impaler, or Vlad Dracula (Dracula means the son of Dracul; the word dracul means “devil”, not dragon as some believe). He was the controversial on-and-off ruler of Walachia (not Transylvania, as in the novel) between 1448 and 1477. The epitome of cruelty to some, a national hero to others. Maybe both? He fought for the independence of his principality, after all. I’m not familiar with Romanian history so I won’t say more. Once I move my story west of Romania, it will be a different story.

He’s charming, sinister and passionate, but I have to confess that it was really Gary Oldman as Prince Vlad (in Coppola’s movie) who I fell in love with.

Count Saint-Germain

A vampire not so well known—at least, not among a younger readership. A shame since Chelsey Quinn Yarbro’s Count Saint-Germain is a memorable vampire (and her books are lovely). He’s loosely based (or not?) on the historical Comte de Saint Germain, an eighteenth-century adventurer, scientist (with a special interest in alchemy), artist and philosopher, who used different names for the different places he lived in and liked to say he was 500 years old. Voltaire sarcastically called him “Wonderman”.

Yarbro’s hero is an unusual vampire, a dangerous creature who is also indefinitely kind and gentle. Around 4000 years old, he navigates through the different epochs and places, from ancient Egypt to 1950s France, with the grace and elegance of a ship under full sails on the calm ocean. He needs only a small amount of human blood to survive, and usually gets it for free from swooning females; he’s eloquent and charming, educated and brilliant. Melancholic and lonely, too.

And now, my recent crush – Vampire Lestat (I also like many others from the Vampire Chronicles; the piece of music is Paganini’s Caprice # 24 from the movie The Devil’s Violinist. In Book 2 of the VC, Vampire Lestat played violin for … ah, a spoiler).

To me, Anne Rice created the most human, most conceivable vampires in contemporary fiction. Her demonic world, hidden within our own, is enchanting and seductive. She had  to reach really, really deep into their minds to come up with such breathtaking complexity of their characters, their thoughts, actions, doubts, small victories and crushing defeats. Plus, all the questions she raises in her books: about God, the origins of good and evil, about spirits and all things spiritual, the devil and the angels, mortality and immortality, heaven and hell, the relationships between humans and non-humans… at moments it’s overwhelming.

Photo by Susan Yin on Unsplash

Then, of course, their almost palpable eroticism. And love – like red blood and black velvet. Passion. Desire. Power. Being in love with someone’s mind, with someone’s body, with someone’s blood… And they don’t even do the conventional intercourse either with humans or with other vampires!

Notable mentions: Some of J. R. Ward’s vampiric bunch from the Black Dagger Brotherhood series. Some others are downright annoying.

The Twilight saga’s Edward Cullen isn’t on my list. Not that I don’t like him, but being the main character of a young adult novel, he lacks the crucial vampiric components – the dark, irresistible sensuality of the above-mentioned predecessors, therefore not appealing to me at all. And the novels themselves, although I read them and even liked the first two, are not in the same league as Stoker, Riced or Yarbro’s works. Not even with J. R. Ward’s.

There are more fictional vampires, of course, but I’m not a big fan of vampire fiction per se. I only love well-written books, and they sometimes do feature vampires. And I always need someone to be in love with.

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Vampire — the origin of a myth

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Myths and legends about blood suckers are known in many ancient civilizations such as Egyptian, Mesopotamian and South American, but one of the most famous such creatures – a vampire – originated in Slavic mythology. Its heritage has been preserved in the term itself: vampir is a Slavic word. It’s also called upir, which is a phonetic/geographic variation of vampir.  In both words the root is pir, one of the Slavic words for fire. The connotation of u (or un, although that n got lost) is a negation. In other words, in South Slavic mythology fire cannot destroy an upir/vampir.

The nature of the original vampires is closely related to the South Slavic conception of death and afterlife. Every human being has a body and a soul, and they are inseparable in life. After death, the soul goes to the “other world”, the afterlife, the world of the dead. This journey doesn’t happen right away. In many Slavic cultures and traditions, some of them observed even today, this transition lasts 40 days. (In the Orthodox Church tradition, for example, a parastos, a commemoration for the deceased, is held after 40 days). During this time, the soul of the deceased visits his/her home or the other places he liked when he was alive. It’s believed that those whose death was long and suffering were evil people, therefore the perfect candidates for vampires. Their soul couldn’t enter the afterworld and it would return to the body.

But, in Slavic mythology, a person could become a vampire during life as well if he/she sold his soul to some demonic power. Contrary to most popular fiction, they could procreate, but only with human partners. Their children are either little humans or little vampires, depending on the gender of the vampire parent and the child (same gender – vampires; different gender – humans. As simple as that.)

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Invisible, strong, almost indestructible, Slavic vampires nonetheless had their Achilles heel – their skin. If their skin was damaged, the vampire substance would leak out. To prevent a suspected vampire from rising from the grave, thorns would be placed around it. A hawthorn spike through the chest was considered the best way of killing a vampire. This doesn’t apply to “alive” vampires, though. They were really hard to destroy.

What inspired this post?

I’m reading Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles and enjoying them immensely. Her vampires are the most conceivable in popular fiction and she’s an incredible writer. Her novels are dark and seductive, and I like both sensations.

What about you? Do you like vampire fiction? Who’s your favorite Dark Prince?

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