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

Photo by Matt Artz on Unsplash

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.)

Photo by Sam Operchuck on Unsplash

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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Vila – the eternal mythological adolescent

Probably the most poetic beings in Slavic mythology are the vilas, creatures that lived away from people, in forests or near rivers. Immortal, always young, always females, vilas were known for their beauty, grace and magical powers. River vilas, forest vilas, mountain vilas, even cloud vilas, they were all imagined as slim and tall, with long golden or reddish hair, in which lay their strength. Dressed in translucent white gowns, they had wings and were armed with a bow and arrows. It was believed that they were born out of flower dew, or when a rainbow appeared in the sky. They built their magnificent castles in the clouds.

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

Young and beautiful, they would often fall in love with young, strong and handsome men. They had shape-shifting abilities, and they would often turn into swans, horses or wolves.

Mostly they were friendly towards people, but there were things they didn’t like. Being caught naked, for example, while they bathed, or played in water, which they did a lot. Or when their clothes or wings were stolen. If someone stole her wings, a vila would become an ordinary woman, until she found them, and she always would. And then… the thief had better run as fast and far as he could, for vilas were vindictive – they didn’t easily forgive an insult.

On the other hand, young girls could ask vilas to grant them beauty and protection. Vilas were skilled healers and often would tend men injured in wars. Sometimes, their long hair got tangled in the forest bushes and low branches. Since they couldn’t free themselves, they would generously reward those who would untangle their hair. It wasn’t rare that they would become “sisters” to those rescuers. Or godmothers to poor, unloved step-daughters in many fairy tales. Worthy allies to the brave young men sent to accomplish impossible quests…

My favourite “vila”, the very baroque (if you ignore her rather medieval hair cover) Cinderella’s fairy godmother.

Vilas liked to gather in secluded spaces, such as forest meadows, small mountain lakes and river springs, where they played, sang and danced. A man who had a relationship with a vila would become a vilenjak. He would still be mortal but would gain some of his vila’s powers. It was believed that a child breastfed by a vila would become a great hero.

While most South Slavic vilas are similar to Western European fairies (wings, singing, dancing, connections with flowers and plants, their temperament… except that they were not diminutive) and elves (beauty and strength, the powers they posses, the habitats), Russian vilas – rusalkas – are quite different. They’re thought to be young girls, or even female children, who’d drowned. After that, they would become rusalkas. In some parts of Russia they were imagined ugly and naked, ready to drag into the river anyone who came too close, in some other places they were similar to sirens sans the fish tail – they enchanted passersby with their beauty and songs to kill them.

South Slavic vilas, those vain and capricious but also benevolent and compassionate eternal adolescents, are still best known for their beauty. There is an expression in my mother tongue – “as beautiful as vila”.

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A Wedding and a White Christmas by Suzanne Stengl

Among other things that I loved in A Wedding and a White Christmas are some that I normally don’t care for in romance fiction: stories set in Calgary, Christmas romances and impulsive Vegas weddings.

In this sweet romance it was just the thing. The setting, although familiar, didn’t lose its charm. An interesting plot (“How to get from ‘I do’ to ‘I don’t’ before anyone finds out!”), memorable characters and natural dialog have made Stengl’s approach to the Christmas romance theme lively and fresh. The Elvis Chapel wedding is usually a hard thing to pull off  but this author made it conceivable.

If you like sweet Christmas romances, a good story, realistic characters, subtle humor – you’ll find it all in this novel.

Something Old, Something New, Book 2

It’s available on Amazon as well as at Calgary Public Library. Of course.

Here’s the blurb:

Something Old, Something New, Book 3

A whirlwind Christmas visit to Las Vegas. A long night of merrymaking. An Elvis Chapel.
Whoops!
Emily and Mark—her best friend since childhood—join a bunch of friends on a trip to Las Vegas.  At some point, Emily and Mark stumble into a wedding chapel and say “I do” to an Elvis impersonator. 
Now, in the clear blue skies of morning, they fear that saying “I don’t” will take much longer, even though Mark promises to sort out the paperwork for a divorce. 
They return home with their friendship at risk—and the thin line between friends and lovers blurred. 
Will there be Peace on Earth or fireworks in the skies this holiday season?
Find out now! 

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Secret Sky by JP McLean

Congratulations to my friend and fellow author JP McLean on launching Secret Sky, the first installment in her Gift Legacy. It’s available on Amazon (.com, .ca, .uk…) and other major e-book sellers for a promo price that is less than a “medium regular” at Tim Hortons.

This exciting and beautifully written story could be a lovely present for someone who likes this genre. Amazon has a super-easy gift option. The “Give as a Gift” button is on your right hand side, below the orange “Buy It” button. You can e-mail it to the recipient.

“An intrepid young woman. An incredible gift. A terrible price to pay.

As a child, Emelynn Taylor accepted a stranger’s gift that changed her life forever. This gift wasn’t wrapped in pretty paper and tied with a bow, nor could it ever be returned. Now, it’s taken over her life. Striking without warning, it strips Emelynn of gravity and sends her airborne, unchecked.

Haunted by terrifying flights she can’t control, Emelynn returns to the seaside cottage of her childhood, where she vows to take command of her dangerous gift. Here, she discovers an underground society whose members share her hidden ability, and a man who sends her heart soaring.

But is this secret society using the gift for good, or for evil? Unravelling the truth will plunge Emelynn into a fight for her freedom—and her life.

The first book in The Gift Legacy series, Secret Sky is a thriller that skirts the edges of reality in a world within our own. Buckle up and escape the ordinary: take flight with Emelynn Taylor.”

I reviewed the whole series, and gave each book five stars. Here is a excerpt from my review:

The Gift Legacy is one of the best fantasy series I’ve ever read.
JP Mclean’s four novels – Awakening, Redemption, Revelation and Penance – are one beautiful, extremely satisfying journey into a world hidden within our own. Part fantasy, part thriller, the series shines with a distinctive light: the world that comes out of JP McLean’s wonderful imagination is not only original but also real to the point that it’s hard to think that it is not a part of our reality. This juxtaposition of something so highly phantasmagorical and so authentic is simply irresistible.
The Gift Legacy is an addictive read. I finished the first book, “Awakening” in four days, happy that there were three more books. By the time I started book two, I was in love with the story and its characters. Within a week I read the four novels and started experiencing the full spectrum of fiction withdrawal symptoms…

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11/11/1918

History is written by the victors. But not all the victors will find their deserved place in history. This is my remembrance of a small victor, a country caught in the whirlwind of the Great War that no school kid outside its borders will ever write a social studies assignment on. My high school student son couldn’t. His topic was Russia in the Great War. The other two “angles” he could’ve chosen from were the big Allies states, or the states of the Central Powers.

This small country which won the Great War also paid the highest price for its victory: it lost one quarter of its total population and sixty percent of its army.

Photo by Oscar Nord on Unsplash

On June 28, 1914 Gavrilo Princip, a 19-year-old, young nationalist (fanatic, patriot, terrorist – he’s been different things to different people, there will never be a consensus about him) from Bosnia killed the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, in Sarajevo. The Austro-Hungarian Empire, which had illegally occupied Bosnia and Herzegovina some time earlier, was quick to blame the small Balkan Kingdom of Serbia for this act. Princip was a Bosnian Serb, after all; he’d lived there for some time. Princip was a teenager who had dreamed a Pan-Slavic dream – the state for all south Slavs – Yugoslavia – with Serbia as its “Piedmont”. (“Yug” means “south” in south Slavic languages.) He’d  been connected to some extreme nationalistic groups in Serbia, true, but certainly not with the government. Serbia, which had fought for freedom from the five-century-long Ottoman rule less than fifty years before, yet still had to fight the Turks in 1912, and then Bulgaria in 1913, didn’t need nor want another war. The insane act of Gavrilo (“Gabriel”) Princip and his group ignited the war that would have happened anyway. They didn’t cause it, even though they have been blamed for it since then. (This part, history didn’t forget. Funny, but no one blames the victorious Allies for setting the stage for WWII by imposing the humiliating and impossible war reparations on Germany after WWI. Even the former U.S. president, Clinton, in his arrogance and disturbing lack of knowledge of modern history, blamed Serbia, in one of his speeches, for starting not only WWI but WWII as well.)

Yet, a month later, in July 1914, after Serbia refused only one of a long list of humiliating terms of an Austro-Hungarian ultimatum, the mighty Empire, the huge multinational country with 52.8 million people and one of the greatest military powers of its time, declared war upon the tiny Kingdom of Serbia, whose population was 4.5 million.

Germany followed suit and in the next few days, the Allies and the Central Powers declared war upon each other. Within weeks, almost the whole world was in flames.

The Austro-Hungarian Army invaded Serbia in August 1914. And then the impossible happened. The much smaller and poorly-armed Serbian soldiers, most of them drafted peasants, won two big battles – those of Cer and Kolubara – and pushed the enemy back over the Drina River, the border between Serbia and Austria-Hungary. The Battle of Cer (Cer is a mountain in Serbia; the world itself means ‘oak’), under the command of General – later Field marshal, or Duke, the highest military rank in Serbian Army – Stepa Stepanović, is still considered a “masterpiece of the art of war and it’s studied, even today, in many serious military academies, including West Point, as an example of the shift from strategic defense to counter-attack.” In November, General Živojin Mišić, who would later also became a field marshal/duke, won the Kolubara Battle. These were the two first Allies’ victories in the Great War.

This embedded composition, The March to Drina, was composed in honour of the victory at Cer and the commander of the elite Iron Regiment, who had been killed in the battle.

In 1915, Austro-Hungarians and Germans occupied the larger part of Serbia and the capital, Belgrade. Bulgarians attacked Serbia without declaring war, preventing their retreat toward Greece. The Supreme Command of the Serbian Army decided to withdraw toward the Adriatic Sea through Albania. There, France and Italy would help the army to recover and return back to Serbia. That was the plan.

The withdrawal lasted from November 24th to December 21st 1915. It was an event unknown in the war’s history. The bulk of the army, civilians, the entire government, the Supreme Mommand, King Peter (already in his seventies and sick), the diplomats, writers, poets, painters, actors… children, young, old… set off across the snowy Albanian mountains toward the sea.  Hungry, poorly dressed, with very few weapons, with thousands of wounded and sick… It’s said that King Peter crossed Albania riding on an ox cart. The soldiers carried the old and gravely ill Field marshal Radomir Putnik, the Head of the Supreme Command, in an improvised wooden litter, a vertical rectangular box with a  slot so that light could get in. Later he would joke that it was like a coffin with a window.

About 72,000 people died on the narrow, icy roads of the Albanian mountains. Those who made it to the shores of the Adriatic Sea soon realized there was no one waiting for them there. No allies, no food, no clothes, no help.

After weeks of long negotiations, the Allies, mainly French and Italians, finally transported them to the Greek island of Corfu – around 160,000 soldiers and 15,000 civilians. For thousands and thousands it was too late. At first they were buried on the islands, later in the Ionian Sea – more than 10,000 people.

The survivors were sent back to the Salonica Front in Greece in spring of 1916. After heavy losses – more than 4,000 soldiers – they liberated the town of Bitola in Macedonia, but all further actions were ceased due to problems on other fronts. The army would stay on Salonica Front fighting until the fall of 1918, losing almost 10,000 people.

In September 1918, a breakthrough was made. As a part of the Allied forces, the Serbian Army under the command of Field marshal Petar Bojović launched an attack, breaking the main part of the front. They entered Skoplje on September 25th. Four days later, Bulgaria surrendered. The First Army liberated Niš, and on November 1st they victoriously marched in Belgrade. On November 3rd, Austria-Hungary capitulated, followed by her allies. Soon, it would cease to exist, along with two other empires – the Ottoman and the Russian.

The small Balkan kingdom would soon fulfill Gavrilo Princip’s dream. On December 1st, several South Slavic nations would unite in the Kingdom of Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia, later the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. This “association”, the naive vision and hope of pan-utopians, idealists and romantics wouldn’t last long and wouldn’t make anyone happy. It would break twice, in 1941 and again in 1991 in two devastating wars. But this is another tale, one I won’t attempt to write about.

This story of unimaginable suffering, terrible loss and incredible moral strength is mostly forgotten. It should not be, but it is – that’s the fate of the small and less significant. We often forget that wars, victories, losses, destruction… are wars, victories, losses and destruction, equally tragic to everyone. They don’t happen only to big and powerful countries. Others suffer, too, no matter how small they seem in the great scheme of things.

Every man’s death diminishes all of us, to paraphrase John Donne. May all those killed and perished in the Great War rest in peace, no matter the side they fought on. Millions suffered: the same pain, same wounds, visible and invisible, some that healed by time, some never. Indirectly, this is my story, and that’s why I wanted to tell it: my own Austrian grandfather fought in the Austro-Hungarian Army on the Eastern Front. When he returned from a Russian war prison in 1920, he married my Serbian grandmother.

But this memento mori is my personal homage to a small, brave and forgotten victor of the Great War and my tribute to one-eighth of my own blood.

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The nightmare is almost over

I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again – they are a nightmare, but after days of thinking, checking the shelves and shelves of fiction novels, writing and rewriting, I think Book 1 of The Red Cliffs Chronicles is covered — I have the title, the tag line, and the blurb! (The title and the tag line are revealed at the end of the post and the blurb — 98 words! — is under the picture.)

To come up with this blurb also meant reading tons of online blogs and articles. One of them, which I found particularly helpful, seemed to summarize everything I’d read elsewhere. I’m sure these will sound familiar, but here they are, nicely listed.

Meet Astrid Vandermeer and Jack Canagan – a young wizardess unaware of her legacy, and a wolf-man hesitant to take over his responsibility.
Until their paths cross.
Between them and the future – an ancient alliance to honour, a brutal enemy to outwit, a war to win.
Drawn to each other by a higher power neither of them understands, tied by unbreakable bonds they had no choice but to accept, Astrid and Jack know that the unimaginable still could happen and that they could lose everything… including each other.
Did destiny bring them together only to separate them for an eternity?

Look at samples – find the bestsellers in your genre and read their blurbs. Couldn’t argue with that. I found many decent examples (not a single one that left me awed, though) as well as plenty that didn’t follow most of the basic rules, particularly when it came to the length.

Make your first sentence like a pick-up line. Lots of readers don’t read past the first sentence, the article states, so it should have the greatest impact. It should, “entice them to read on. It needs to be clever, engaging and new.” (Funny that the first sentence of their example of a good blurb, that of The Girl on the Train, is everything but “clever, engaging and new”. It says, “Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning.” )

Use the ABCD formula. A blurb begins with A – a situation, introduces B – a problem, promises C – a twist and emphasizes D – the mood.

Introduce your main characters, end it with a cliffhanger, use words that evoke the genre (in my blurb these are “ancient alliance”, “legacy”, “bond”, etc.) as well as hyperbolic and emotionally charged words and phrases  (“brutal enemy”, “higher power”,  “unbreakable bonds”, “unimaginable”).

Keep it short. They say, 100-150 words. Amazon doesn’t give you lots of space, and if it’s longer than that, readers will need to click on ‘read more’ to see the rest.

Well, about this one… I can’t recollect the last time I didn’t need to click on “read more”. Nor I think this is necessarily a turn off. Amazon doesn’t allow you even 100 words, and squeezing the entire novel into 60 or 70 words might be counterproductive, unless you’re a blurb genius and can pull it off. This is what you see when you go to Amazon and look for the mentioned example, The Girl on the Train.

This is the Number One Bestseller. You Dont Know Her. But She Knows You. Rear Window meets Gone Girl, in this exceptional and startling psychological thriller “Gripping, enthralling – a top-notch thriller and a compulsive read.” (S J WATSON, bestselling author of Before I Go To Sleep). Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. ‘Jess 

Only 90 words is how much space Amazon allowed for this novel. Besides, this is a clumsy looking blurb, with at least one typo and a few grammar errors (something an indie author would’ve never been forgiven for) and it cuts you off rather absurdly on the word “Jess”. The beginning “You Dont Know Her. But She Knows You” is, I guess, a tag line. The blurb experts also warn not to reveal the plot, no matter how tempting it is. This blurb does. The moment I read “Rear Window” and Hitchcockian thriller, I knew the direction in which the plot was going to develop. I knew who the killer was before I read the first third of the book. So much for being exceptional, gripping and startling. All the excitement fizzled out on page 86.

Having said all this, I’m glad that titles, blurbs and covers aren’t the exclusive ways to find a good book.

So, the title will likely be

The Two-blood Legacy

The Red Cliffs Chronicles, book 1

and the tag-line, the last sentence of the blurb:

Did destiny bring them together only to separate them for an eternity?

The next nightmare – the cover.

*Photo courtesy of Linda Xu on Unsplash

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