This has been a busy week at my observatory day job and at my writing desk. I’m making good progress on my new steampunk novel Lightning Wolves and I’m about ready to send the second special steampunk issue of Tales of the Talisman to press. In the meantime, Australian author Stephen Ormsby conducted a fantastic interview that I post here for your enjoyment. Among other things he discusses Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order and he asks me about my thoughts on romance novels. Enjoy!
One piece of advice I give aspiring writers is to read frequently, but to read outside your genre of choice, because you’ll often find inspiration from unexpected sources. A gunfight in a Western might might inspire a confrontation in a science fiction story. A love scene in a romance novel might inspire more emotional depth for a similar scene in a spy thriller.
An example I can cite related to my vampire fiction is the novel MASH written by Richard Hooker. For those not familiar with MASH, it’s a wartime comedy that tells the story of army doctors doing their best to stay sane during the Korean War. It inspired a Robert Altman film starring Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, and Sally Kellerman, which in turn inspired a TV series starring Alan Alda, Wayne Rogers, and Loretta Switt.
One of the things that stood out for me about the book and the movie is that the protagonists weren’t altogether likable characters. They got out-of-control drunk, were intolerant, and they could be cruel, self-absorbed, and mean-spirited. Despite that, Hooker made us care about the characters through the humorous situations he put them in and the realization that all of us can be like these guys at our worst. Now, I’ll note that I grew up with the TV series where the doctors were generally played as likeable, good-hearted rogues, so to see their darker counterparts in the book and the movie was interesting from that point of view as well.
In my vampire novels and stories, I faced a similar challenge. By their nature, vampires are not heroic figures. They drink the blood of mortals to survive and my vampires are mercenaries who fight wars for profit. The lesson from MASH was that if you want the reader to sympathize with less-than-likeable characters, you need to help the reader understand how the characters became who they are. In MASH, Hawkeye, Trapper and Duke were doctors just beginning their careers when they were thrust into a war zone. No wonder they went a little crazy! A dangerous vampire might have started as a likeable or even heroic human. How would you behave if you suddenly became a creature of the night?
Another element I found interesting about the novel and movie MASH were their episodic qualities. A series of almost unrelated events were dovetailed together to create a narrative arc. I think this is often how life actually feels and I like telling stories this way. What’s more, Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order was originally contracted as a series of five-stand alone novellas that came together and formed a narrative arc. By necessity, it had to be something of an episodic novel and an episodic novel like MASH helped me learn how to tell that kind of story.
Finally, just as an aside, when I found the original cover art for MASH shown above, I discovered another thing it has in common with Dragon’s Fall. Both novels were published in Canada!
I’ll wrap up today’s post with two links. First, there’s a great new review of Dragon’s Fall at
. Be sure to drop by and check out Melinda Moore’s thoughts on the novel. Also, there’s just a little more than one week left in the Goodreads giveaway for Dragon’s Fall. If you haven’t signed up for the giveaway, do so now at
In the second chapter of my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order, the vampire mercenaries are hired to stop the advance of one of the most successful Ottoman rulers of all time, Suleyman the Magnificent. In the novel, their encounter happens in September 1566, the time of Suleyman’s actual death, after he set out from Constantinople to oversee the Ottoman campaigns in Hungary.
For the record, I don’t believe Suleyman was beset by vampires in 1566. My portrayal of the man is clearly meant to be fictional, but I tried to be both faithful and respectful to him in the novel. However, it was because of my fictionalized portrayal of Suleyman that I was fascinated to learn about the controversies surrounding a Turkish TV series about him called Magnificent Century. There’s a good article about the series and the controversy surrounding it at the New York Times website:
In short, there are many in Turkey, including government officials, who would like to see the series ended because they don’t agree with the portrayal of Suleyman. Of particular note, the Supreme Board of Radio and Television in Turkey said that the channel broadcasting the series had wrongly exposed “the privacy of a historical person” and owed the public an apology. At the same time, the article points out the difficulties in knowing details of real historical people of 450 years ago.
It’s perhaps not surprising that I find it disheartening when a government tries to tell writers what stories they can and can’t tell. What’s more, as a writer of historical fiction, I think I’ve succeeded if I’ve interested the reader enough in a character to go learn more about their historical counterpart, even if the reader ultimately disagrees with my portrayal. That said, I do find myself fascinated by the notion of a historic, public figure having a right to privacy.
Here in the United States, public figures are discussed and fictionalized all the time. Sometimes it’s with the goal of understanding them from the perspective of our own times. Sometimes it’s simply with the goal of telling a good story. I suspect most would agree with me that we should respect historical, public figures enough to research them when we use them in our fiction, but do we owe them some privacy, too? Why or why not? I’d be interested in hearing what you think.
In the meantime, if you’d like to read my portrayal of Suleyman the Magnificent, you can pick up a copy of Vampires of the Scarlet Order at many fine book retailers including Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Matthew D. Ryan of the blog A Toast To Dragons has honored me with the Very Inspiring Blogger Award.
These awards come with rules, although they’re typically somewhat fluid and you can often find different versions from different people unless you take the time to go back and track down the original version. The spirit of the awards is good. It’s an opportunity to “pay it forward” by recommending some other good blogs and to talk about a topic I might otherwise not address. In this case, the topic is simply to state seven facts about myself. To make this a little different than other places I’ve discussed things about myself and because Matthew gives a shout-out to my fantasy writing in particular, let me give you seven facts related to my fantasy writing career:
- My first professional fantasy sale was a story called “The Slayers” that appeared in the August 2001 issue of Realms of Fantasy Magazine.
- I had not read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings until after I made my first professional fantasy sale.
- The first fantasy novel I remember reading was The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis.
- I played Dungeons and Dragons (and a few variants) in high
school and college.
- I took three years of college-level German. Along the way, I translated the Grimm’s original “Snow White” (Schneewittchen). I have been a big fan of the original Grimm Fairy Tales ever since.
- Another discovery from college German was Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu, which is still one of my all-time favorite vampire films.
- The first gift my wife ever gave me was The Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey. It’s still one of my favorite novels.
In the spirit of paying of forward, I’ll nominate the following people for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award. Now, I’m not always good with the follow up and telling people they’ve been nominated, but I hope a few will see this and tell us a little about themselves. In either event, you should go and visit these bloggers and see what they’re up to, along with Matthew D. Ryan who nominated me.
- F.T. McKinstry – A fantasy writer whose work I’ve published in Tales of the Talisman
- Deby Fredericks – I had the honor of editing her fine fantasy novel Seven Exalted Orders.
- Bell Night is a writer who presents fascinating facts and tidbits about other famous authors.
- Melinda Moore is a talented writer who has stories upcoming in Tales of the Talisman and the anthology A Kepler’s Dozen.
- Marina Martindale is a talented romance author who will be sharing a pavilion with me during the upcoming Tucson Festival of Books.
- Chris Malone is a teenage zombie in high school.
Vampires mean different things to different people. To some, they are blood-sucking fiends that must be destroyed at all costs. To others, they’re tragic figures, having lost their souls for all eternity. Still others see vampires as romantic anti-heroes. No matter how you prefer your vampires, they should have some weaknesses. Without weaknesses, the blood-sucking fiends can’t be destroyed. Without weaknesses, vampires aren’t tragic or approachable enough to be romantic.
Ultimately, it’s the weaknesses that let us write stories about vampires that tell us something about ourselves as humans.
Desmond, Lord Draco sums up the weaknesses of the Scarlet Order vampires in the first chapter of Vampires of the Scarlet Order when he says, “We are blessed with virtual immortality, but we are not unkillable.” Despite the fact that the Scarlet Order vampires can heal themselves and regenerate their cells, there are just some things they can’t heal, such as decapitation or having a stake thrust through the heart.
The Scarlet Order vampires are vulnerable to sunlight. I don’t describe what happens in detail, but in short, they will sustain cellular damage in sunlight. If they’re out in sunlight long enough, they won’t be able to regenerate fast enough and they will die. Of course in summer, when the nights are short, this can be quite a weakness, limiting the time the vampires can be out and about!
Crosses weaken the Scarlet Order vampires. In the case of the Scarlet Order vampires, this isn’t a religious thing, but for some reason the cross form seems to drain the vampires, as though they’re being sucked into some kind of portal…
The Scarlet Order vampires get violently ill if they consume too much blood. On one hand, this allows my vampires to be sympathetic. They don’t actually have to kill most of the time in order to survive. However, it’s also a limitation on their powers. They can’t simply go on a killing spree drinking blood to get out of a truly bad situation. Of course, that doesn’t mean that can’t go on a killing spree simply using claws and teeth and not drinking blood!
The Scarlet Order vampires have to be careful not to smile. Unlike Hollywood vampires of recent years, the Scarlet Order vampires do not have retractable fangs. Their fangs are always visible, like the fangs of a dog. For them, being a vampire is not a secret that can be hidden away easily. Opening their mouth too wide will tell an enemy exactly what they are.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at the strengths and weaknesses of the Scarlet Order vampires. If you’re writing about vampires, hopefully it’ll challenge you to think about ways you can adapt the tropes to your needs. Also, I hope to encourage you to use whatever rules you design consistently.
Remember, you can grab copies of the Scarlet Order vampire novels at most on-line retailers. Direct links are in the pages bookmarked to the right. Clicking the book covers below will take you to the books at Amazon.
Back in 2005 when Vampires of the Scarlet Order was first released, one of the questions I frequently received was “whose vampires did you base yours on?” My answer was “nobody’s!” The vampires I created follow their own set of rules. I didn’t write Bram Stoker’s vampires, Anne Rice’s vampires, Stephen King’s vampires or anyone else’s Sure, I borrowed a trope here or tweaked an idea there, but the vampires that resulted are uniquely mine. That said, this does raise an important point. Whenever you create a fantasy world or a magical creature, you should follow a set of rules that’s consistent within all the stories you write in that world.
So, what characterizes the vampires of a Scarlet Order story? My vampires have a set of powers and weaknesses that I have tried to apply consistently in the stories and novels where they appear. This post will address some of the powers. Next week, I’ll look at some of the weaknesses.
The Scarlet Order vampires can shapeshift. This was one of the first abilities I gave my vampires. Part of the reason I did this was reactionary. When I was reading vampire fiction in the late 1990′s, it seemed like many stories had to go out of their way to tell you that vampires could not shapeshift or fly. In fact, I’d say the statement of how vampires were not like the Hollywood vampires of the 1930s and 40s became almost a trope in its own right. So, I wanted my vampires to be able to change into wolves or bats. The limitation I placed on them was that each vampire could only change into one creature. What’s more, it’s not really a literal shapeshifting. I won’t reveal exactly how it does work, because that would be something of a spoiler.
The Scarlet Order vampires have super strength. This really comes from many vampire stories and legends. Vampires are typically stronger than your average human. They are, after all, predators of humans and need to have the speed and strength to capture their prey. They also have extraordinary sight and hearing to go with their enhanced strength.
The Scarlet Order vampires can read minds and influence thoughts. This is really something that comes out of Victorian vampires like Dracula more than with any classic vampire folklore or modern sources. The Victorians were fascinated by things like hypnotism and mesmerism. In my case, this is a limited ability. The vampires can only read strong thoughts and influence minds that have some willingness to be influenced. In a way, their ability is more like the “Jedi mind trick” than anything else.
The Scarlet Order vampires heal rapidly and do not age. In many ways, these two powers go together. The cells of the vampires regenerate rapidly whenever there is damage. So, the “damage” that comes from aging, is rapidly reversed. In fact, the process of becoming a vampire can make one a person more beautiful, thus allowing the vampire to more easily attract prey. The process of this is explained in Vampires of the Scarlet Order, so I won’t spoil it here.
So, with all these wonderful powers, why wouldn’t everyone want to become a vampire? We’ll look at that next week when we look at some of the weaknesses of the Scarlet Order vampires.
Remember, you can grab copies of the Scarlet Order vampire novels at most on-line retailers. Direct links are in the pages bookmarked to the right. Clicking the book covers below will take you to the books at Amazon.
Once again, Emily Guido has honored me with a blog award. This one is the Shine On Award.
Emily has been absolutely wonderful in her support of my paranormal fiction and the Scarlet Order vampires. Drop by her page and learn more the Light-Bearer Series where a heavenly Light-Bearer named Charmeine falls in love with a Blood-Hunter called Tabbruis. Sparks literally fly as their relationship grows and develops in a world where the forces of light and dark war with one another.
The Shine On Award comes with no rules. So, I thought I would give a shout-out to some of the people who encouraged me in the creation of the Scarlet Order vampires and provide a few insights into the history of the series.
First and foremost, a lot of credit goes to Janni Lee Simner. Despite the similarity of our names, we’re not related. However, in 2000, Janni graciously agreed to be on a panel I was hosting at the Border Book Festival in Las Cruces, New Mexico looking at science fiction and fantasy in the twenty-first century. After the panel, Janni and I were talking and she made an off-hand comment about the possibility of vampires in Las Cruces—literally the city of crosses. She said if the idea interested me, I was welcome to it since she didn’t write vampire fiction. I did run with it and about a week later, I wrote a story called “Vampire in the City of Crosses” which introduced the Scarlet Order vampires Daniel and Mercy.
I then looked around for a place to sell my story. The second place I sent the story was The Vampire’s Crypt edited by Margaret L. Carter. Not only did she buy that story, but she bought a sequel called “Vampires in the World of Dreams” and a story that still creeps me out—a vampiric take on the La Llorona legend called “The Weeping Woman.” These stories were edited and ultimately became part of Vampires of the Scarlet Order.
Another editor who believed in me early on was Kate Hill. She bought several of my early stories including a tale called “The Last Conquestador” which ran in her zine Parchment Symbols and introduced the vampires Rudolfo de Cordoba and Jane Heckman. Another story she purchased was written after I visited both Carlsbad Caverns and Roswell, New Mexico. It was called “Bat-Flight South of Roswell” and introduced Marcella DuBois. Again, both of these stories were reworked and became part of Vampires of the Scarlet Order.
Finally, I want to make a special shout-out to Jacqueline Druga. She bought Vampires of the Scarlet Order and introduced me to the National Novel Writing Month. I wrote two novels for NaNoWriMo. The first was my science fiction adventure The Solar Sea. The second was my prequel to Vampires of the Scarlet Order called Dragon’s Fall. Of course, Dragon’s Fall was just released this past year.
Go learn about all these women and buy their books. There would be no Scarlet Order vampires without them!
In addition to writing, I also edit the science fiction, fantasy, and horror magazine Tales of the Talisman. Because of my interest in vampire fiction, it’s probably no surprise that we feature the occasional vampire story in the magazine. I thought I would take a moment to highlight a few such stories from recent issues and tell you why they appealed to me as an editor. Clicking on the covers will take you to the Tales of the Talisman site where you can learn more about the issue.
The current issue of Tales of the Talisman features “In the Cellar” by Fuson. Imagine getting a call in the middle of the night from your best friend saying he has someone trapped in the cellar. In the story, the protagonist goes over to investigate, only to find this is true and the cellar isn’t latched. The only reason the person can’t get in the house is because he has been uninvited! I felt this story hit the ground running with a good mystery and even added some humorous notes. However, as the story progresses, the stakes gradually increase.
Volume 7, issue 2 of Tales of the Talisman features “The Incus” by Jim Lee. In that story, a vampire like demon is rampaging through medieval Vietnam and must be stopped by a wizard. Not only did I find this a unique take on vampires, but an exciting and unique milieu for a fantasy story.
Also in the issue is “Winter’s End” by C.J. Killmer about a tourist who discovers a dark secret in a Florida resort town where people stay in throughout the day and only emerge at night. I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of second person storytelling. However, this was one of the few stories I’ve read that pulled me in and made me consider that I might be the “you” addressed by the narrator.
Judith Herman’s “Grumpy Old Vampires” appears in volume 6, issue 4. In the story, a pair of vampire roommates must sell their house. However, one of them chooses not to go through the regular vampiric channels. I felt this story not only a great study of the two vampires and the real estate agent, but was a wonderful study in dark humor.
I’ll wrap up with Lawrence Dagstine’s “The Paraplegic” which is in volume 6, issue 2. In the story, a man is found in an open grave, unable to move. All he remembers is being attacked. As time goes on, the attackers appear and his worst fears are realized. I found this a very haunting, tragic and effective tale.
It’s been a delight to edit Tales of the Talisman for the past eight years and its predecessor, Hadrosaur Tales, for ten years before that. If you write vampire fiction, please feel free to submit a story in the upcoming reading period. We open on January 1. You can find our guidelines at
If you’re a fan of vampire fiction, gothic fiction, or just good horror, I hope you’ll drop by and take a look at Tales of the Talisman as well. Even in the issues that feature primarily fantasy or science fiction, you’ll find a dark story or two to mix it up. You can find the magazine at:
November is the National Novel Writing Month. For those not familiar with NaNoWriMo, as it’s known for short, the goal is for writers to begin a project on November 1 and see if they can succeed in finishing a 50,000 word novel by November 30. As it turns out, the first draft of my latest novel, Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order was written for NaNoWriMo in 2005.
I looked back at some notes from my experience. It was a challenging year to participate in NaNoWriMo. Not only does Thanksgiving happen in November, but I was scheduled to participate at the science fiction convention TusCon in Tucson, Arizona. Also at that time, the reading period for Tales of the Talisman magazine was scheduled for November. If you do the math, NaNoWriMo requires that you manage 1,666 words each day if you’re going to make the goal. However, with trips scheduled, I decided to make a goal of 5,000 words every three days. Keep in mind, that was 5,000 words every three days plus having to read approximately 10 stories each day for the magazine!
I did well on the goal through November 18. At that point, I had to pack up for TusCon. While I was at TusCon, I sat next to James C. Glass author of Shanji and John Vornholt, author of numerous novelizations in such universes as Star Trek, Babylon 5 and Dinotopia. During the signing, the topic came up of how much does one write per day. Glass mentioned that his goal was 1800 words every day, which works out to 54,000 words per month. Vornholt mentioned that he wrote between 3,000 to 4,000 words every day, but he took weekends off. That works out as anything between 60,000 and 80,000 words every month, depending on the month!
As it turns out, fate wasn’t on my side when I returned from TusCon. Life was so busy the week of Thanksgiving, that I simply could not get any writing time in between Monday and Wednesday of that week. I thought I wasn’t going to make the NaNoWriMo goal. However, I took a few minutes and did the math. I realized if I wrote 3,800 words every day for the rest of the month, I would meet my goal. That was right in John Vornholt’s target range and I figured if he could do that every day for a year, I could manage it for a little more than a week.
As it turns out, I wrote over 4000 words every day for that last week except the last day. That one, I only managed 2000 words, but I still came in over 50,000 words. Unfortunately, I still didn’t have a complete novel. I set it aside for a while, then cleaned up what I had, enhanced the romantic plot and added nearly 40,000 more words. I turned in the finished novel in 2010 and it’s finally available.
I hope you’ll take some time and check it out. Let me know how you think I did on this novel that started out during NaNoWriMo 2005.
You can buy Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order at:
This past week, Vampires of the Scarlet Order was featured at the website, Ereader News Today. Since it was first mentioned on November 13, its sales rank at Amazon has been going up. I’m gratified to see the book finding new readers. If you’re one of those new readers who discovered the book through the Ereader News Today promotion, thanks for giving it a try!
Around the same time as the Ereader News Today promotion came live, I noticed that my publisher labeled Vampires of the Scarlet Order as book 1 of the Scarlet Order series and Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order as book 2. It’s an interesting choice on my publisher’s part, especially since Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order is actually set before Vampires of the Scarlet Order.
Of course, this begs one of the age-old questions of series. Which order should they be read in? In the case of these first two Scarlet Order books, I don’t really think it matters. Each novel is a standalone story. If you prefer your books to happen in chronological order, then you should definitely start with Dragon’s Fall even though it’s book 2. However, I don’t believe you’ll be lost if you start with Vampires of the Scarlet Order. In this case, “Book 2″ will give you some more history and insight into the characters you discovered in “Book 1.”
Another question raised by listing the books as a series is whether or not there will be a Book 3 and what it would be about. In fact, the cold, hard reality of the publishing business is that much depends on how well books 1 and 2 do. That said, I actually have outlined three more Scarlet Order books.
One of these three books continues the story of Draco, Roquelaure, and Alexandra started in Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order. We see what happens to them as they get involved in the European wars of the 1600s through the 1800s. The second book outlined tells the story of the vampire Rudolfo as he travels to the new world and becomes embroiled with the Spanish conquest of North America. The third outlined novel is a sequel to Vampires of the Scarlet Order where the vampires learn more about the beings that created them and their place in the universe.
If you’ve read one or both of the Scarlet Order novels, I’d love to hear what you think. What’s more, I’d love to hear what you’d like to see next. Would you like more about the vampires in history? Would you like to see where they go in the future? Either way, please be sure to tell your friends about the series. That’s the best way you can be sure there will be a book 3 and beyond!