Renovations

At Kitt Peak, where I work, the 4-meter telescope is getting a new coat of paint. Also, I now have my first wave of galleys for The Astronomer’s Crypt. 4-meter-painting My editor has made a few new changes—some for the better, some I’m revising further. In all, it’s a time for renovation and renewal.

In the spirit of renovation, renewal, and hoping to make things better, I’ve been thinking about my blogs. In case you don’t know, I have two of them. On Saturday, I blog at davidleesummers.wordpress.com about steampunk, science fiction and writing. I’ve been blogging here on Mondays about horror, vampires, and writing. The lines between the topics often blur, partly because horror and vampires sneak into my steampunk from time to time, while science fiction sneaks into my horror, and so forth.

It seems to me that having two blogs is splitting my energies and my audience. Now, I’m the first to admit that not everyone who likes my steampunk will also like my vampires. Not everyone who dreams of traveling to the planet Sufiro wants to imagine the horrible nightmares I have in store in The Astronomer’s Crypt. Despite that, the lessons I learn from writing and my observations likely have a common audience.

So, my plan is to try an experiment. Starting next week, all my blog posts will be posted at davidleesummers.wordpress.com. I’ll continue on my current schedule with more steampunk and science fiction on Saturdays and more horror and paranormal fiction on Mondays.

Thanks to all those who have followed this site since I started it in 2009. If you don’t already, I encourage you to come over to my other site and follow me there, so you won’t miss a thing. Of course, another way to keep up on all my latest news is to subscribe to my newsletter. I haven’t been sending updates as often as I’d like simply because I’ve been working on several projects all at once. Not only am I working on The Astronomer’s Crypt, but I’m working on two science fiction anthologies and some new short fiction, all of which I’ll be sharing about as it comes out both on the blog and in the newsletter.

These are exciting times! Thanks for joining me on this journey!

Vittorio the Vampire

I just returned the copy edited version of The Astronomer’s Crypt to my publisher. VittorioTheVampire While working on edits, I like to read good prose, which helps me stay focused on picking the best words possible in a scene. I’ve always enjoyed Anne Rice’s prose, so was delighted to discover the last of her vampire novels that I had not read in my “to read” stack. This was Vittorio the Vampire which was the second of her two “New Tales of the Vampires” series.

Aside from a brief discussion of the Vampire Chronicles in the first chapter, Vittorio the Vampire stands apart from all of Rice’s other vampire novels. Even Pandora, which falls under the “New Tales of the Vampires” series includes events from the more famous “Vampire Chronicles” and Pandora herself is a character in a few of the Chronicles.

Set circa 1450, during the height of Cosimo de Medici’s power in Florence, Vittorio the Vampire tells the story of Vittorio di Raniari, a young nobleman educated in Florence. Vittorio’s father runs afoul a coven of vampires, who rampage through the castle and kill Vittorio’s family. Vittorio himself is spared by a beautiful vampire in the body of a young woman named Ursula.

After burying his family in the castle crypt, Vittorio travels toward Florence when he comes across a town mysteriously free of the sick and the infirm. He soon learns the vampire coven is behind this. The villagers pay a “tribute” of people to keep the vampires away. Ursula finds Vittorio and invites him to meet the coven. Once he arrives at their castle, he finds the village’s old and infirm in coops, stored away for food. The vampires invite Vittorio to join the coven, but he refuses. Instead of killing Vittorio outright, the vampires spare him, thanks to Ursula and he’s taken back to the village.

Because the vampires started to turn Vittorio, he’s not left unaffected. It turns out he now has the gift to see angels. The angels lead Vittorio back to the vampire castle to destroy the monsters. The problem is, Vittorio has become smitten by the beautiful Ursula. I’ll leave my summation there to avoid spoilers, though you can probably guess some of what happens from the book’s title. Even then, as with most good books, the real magic is in the details.

At its core, Vittorio the Vampire is simply the story of how young Vittorio became a vampire, but that description doesn’t really do it justice. It’s also the story of Vittorio and Ursula’s love and how that love story relates to God’s will as articulated by the angels. Although physical immortality is an issue, Vittorio lives in a world where it’s assumed he’ll have spiritual immortality if he follows the angels. So, for him, the choice of becoming a vampire actually becomes a choice of following God and becoming truly immortal or being trapped in a human body forever for the sake of love.

I’m a little sorry there isn’t another Anne Rice vampire novel waiting in the wings. Back in 2014 when Prince Lestat was released, there was some discussion that there might be more Vampire Chronicles. I hope that proves to be true. If not, I know Ms. Rice has many other good novels I haven’t yet sunk my teeth into, plus many other vampire and horror novels by other authors await as well.

As for The Astronomer’s Crypt, I don’t yet have a release date, but I’m told I should see galleys by early September, which is really the final opportunity to review the manuscript before publication. So, it shouldn’t be too long after that before you can read it—I say hopefully!

Varney the Vampyre

Over the last three years or so, I’ve been reading the penny dreadful Varney the Vampyre. It’s taken that long partly because my edition is 1166 pages of tiny type and partly because penny dreadfuls were largely written to fill a weekly page count more than edited for quality. Nosferatu-Varney At times, it could be quite the slog and more than once I thought I wouldn’t bother to finish, but I finally persevered and made it through.

There’s a very good article about Varney at the Victorian Gothic Blog. I especially like their plot synopsis and definitely agree the final section of Varney is the best. Throughout the novel, the titular hero is villainous, sympathetic, romantic, and even interviewed. In 1166 pages, he embodied just about every major vampire trope I can think of. If I had to tell you what Varney most reminded me of, it was Dark Shadows—not necessarily in the sense of quality, but in the sense that reading Varney was not a little like following a Gothic soap opera!

My edition of Varney credits the writing to James Malcolm Rymer. However, the original penny dreadful contained no writing credit. There is some debate as to who actually wrote Varney. Most point to Rymer or Thomas Peckett Prest. In fact, Wikipedia says it was both. To me, it seemed like Varney must have been written by at least two people and perhaps more. Varney is a long, rambling story and parts are definitely better and tighter than others, making me think there must have been at least two, if not more writers involved.

I was fascinated to see that in the final section, Sir Frances Varney interacts with historical figures such as Oliver Cromwell and King Charles II, especially since this is something I like doing in my historical vampire fiction. Although the storyline focuses on Varney, my favorite characters ended up being Admiral Bell and his steward Jack Pringle, who end up being Varney’s foils in much of the book. Unlike Dr. Van Helsing who works to outwit Dracula, Jack and the Admiral often foil Varney’s plans unwittingly by just being in the right place at the right time!

I’ve mentioned it before in other posts, but one of my favorite elements of the vampire lore in this story is that Varney requires moonlight to heal. If you shoot him on the new moon, he might die. Furthermore, he can walk around in broad daylight. However, it’s the moon that gives him his power to recover from injuries. I thought that was an interesting idea that could be used more in vampire fiction.

As you read this, I’m working my way through the second editorial pass on my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt. I hope to return it to my editor by the end of next week, then it’ll go to the copy editor for final cleanup. I’ll have more news soon!

Blacula

I enjoy watching good horror B-movies from time to time. Sometimes I discover some great moments and find a few surprises. Blacula is one of those films that I’d heard about a long time ago, but never managed to watch. Blacula-Poster Recently, I discovered the title character was played by William Marshall, an actor whose work I admired from such TV series as Star Trek and The Wild Wild West. It was enough for me to push the movie up to the top of my viewing list.

There’s no question, Blacula is a B-movie with several plot holes and a low budget, but it also included some interesting story ideas and, for better or worse, may have even introduced some tropes to the vampire genre. The best scene in the movie is arguably the opening in which William Marshall plays Mamuwalde, an African Prince who petitions Count Dracula to help end the slave trade. Dracula shows himself to be a truly heinous villain, by not only embracing the trade, but then turning Mamuwalde into a vampire he deems “Blacula” and locking him in a coffin so he may listen to the death of his beloved wife Tuva. I gather Marshall worked with the writers to develop this opening, which gave the film both some dignity and an interesting twist. Plus, it helped to show Mamuwalde as an early example of a sympathetic vampire.

After the credits roll, we cut to a pair of embarrassingly stereotypical gay interior decorators buying the contents of Dracula’s castle to ship them to Los Angeles. Once in Los Angeles, they free Mamuwalde from his coffin, unleashing him on the city. He soon meets Tina, a woman who he recognizes as the reincarnation of his wife, Tuva. The idea of an undead monster meeting his reincarnated lover first appeared way back in The Mummy starring Boris Karloff, but I think this may be the first time the trope appeared in a vampire film. Of course, it’s become common since then, appearing in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Dracula Untold and We Are the Night to name a few.

The movie continues with a fairly straightforward vampire movie plot. Mamuwalde seduces Tina, while leaving a trail of bodies in his wake. Dr. Gordon Thomas, a pathologist for the LAPD is on the case and discovers all those Mamuwalde kills are turning into vampires. One of my favorite humorous scenes involves Thomas sweet-talking his wife to help him go the cemetery to dig up one of the recently deceased. I asked my wife whether or not I’d have to sweet talk her, and she answered I might have a hard time stopping her from helping. Though she concedes she would make me do the hard work of digging while she kept watch!

I hesitate to give spoilers in case you want to watch the movie for yourself, but the ending involved what I think may be the first instance of a trope that’s now common in vampire fiction and film. I will say that the scene is well played by William Marshall and involves some suitably creepy special effects.

One of my personal favorite aspects of Blacula is that Mamuwalde transforms into a bat, an ability shared with two of my Scarlet Order vampires, Marcella and Daniel. Although the effect is cheesy in this movie because of budget limitations, I’ve wondered what it might look like with quality CGI. So far, the closest I know is Dracula’s transformation into a swarm of bats in Dracula Untold.

I found it refreshing to see a predominantly black cast with some great parts for the women as well as the men. Also, it turns out William Marshall wasn’t the only Star Trek veteran in the cast. A morgue worker is played by Elisha Cook Jr., who Trekkies might recognize as Samuel T. Cogley, Attorney at Law. In the end, while I’m hard pressed to call Blacula a great vampire film, it is a fun diversion for a vampire fan’s afternoon and you might even discover where some classic tropes were introduced into the genre.

Cover of Dragon's Fall: Bondage

Finally, I’ll wrap up today’s post by noting that I have three copies of Dragon’s Fall: Bondage to give away. These are Kindle ebook copies which present the complete first part of my novel Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order. All you have to do to get one is leave me a comment telling me about a favorite classic vampire film and give me a way to contact you. You must be over eighteen years of age to enter. I’ll give away copies until they’re gone.

Vampire Novella Giveaway

Back in 2009, my publisher approached me with a proposal to write a series of five interconnected novellas, which would be released as ebooks, featuring my Scarlet Order vampires. Once all five novellas were released, a print edition with all five novellas would be published. The series was called Dragon’s Fall and the first two novellas were released as planned. When the third novella was in production, the publishing company changed owners and the new owner decided to forego the remaining novellas and went straight to the final combined edition, which is the novel Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order.

Cover of Dragon's Fall: Bondage

As it turns out, those first two novellas are still available and it occurs to me this is a great opportunity to give readers who haven’t sampled my world a taste of the Scarlet Order vampires. I’m giving away five copies of the first novella, “Bondage.” Set in Hellenistic Athens, “Bondage” is the story of the slave Alexandra. Sold to Theron, a mysterious banker, she wonders about her new master who is never seen during the day. As time goes on, she notices that slaves called upon to serve Theron in his chamber in the night do not return the next morning.

When Alexandra’s turn comes she learns Theron is a vampire who binds his slaves, takes his pleasure with them, then drinks their blood. She refuses to be a victim, but as she fights his embrace, Alexandra ingests some of Theron’s blood. Now a vampire herself, she becomes Theron’s concubine. Yet even as she learns the ways of the vampire, Alexandra yearns for freedom…

I’m giving away five copies of the Kindle edition of the novella at Amazon. Follow the link below for details. You’ll find out instantly whether or not you won.

Click here for a chance to win an ebook copy of “Bondage.”

Please note, this book is recommended only for readers eighteen years or older. If you already have read Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order, you’ll recognize this as the first part of the novel, which now goes by its original title, “A Gorgon in Bondage.” If you’re a new reader and you win the novella and enjoy it, be sure to write a review on Amazon and then pick up a copy of Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order so you can read the rest of the story!

Rich Vampires

A common vampire trope I’ve touched on in some of my reviews is the notion of “rich vampires.” Count Dracula is typically portrayed as quite wealthy despite the fact his castle is in near ruins in the novel Dracula. The vampires of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles are all fabulously wealthy. Jean-Claude in Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake novels is a savvy entrepreneur. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s Count Saint-Germain is rich. The list goes on.

Christopher Lee

Christopher Lee

Generally speaking, the idea is that the vampire either starts out wealthy or finds ways to invest what money they have and just through the act of not dying accumulates vast amounts of wealth. Now, I’ve often questioned this, because on a long timescale, banks aren’t that stable. Also, the idea of governments backing banks is a fairly recent one. Even then, on long timescales, governments rise and fall limiting their ability to guarantee anyone’s investment.

What’s more, if you actually adjust the markets for inflation, the growth may be less than you might expect. For example, if you invested $1.00 in 1950, you would have $7.00 in 2010 once you adjusted for inflation. Not bad, but hard to say that you’d get rich unless you started with a large investment. Also, the only reason there’s been that much growth is a period of rapid market rise in the 1950s and again in the 1980s.

This is the reason the Scarlet Order vampires are mercenaries. They needed to find a way to survive in the world of humans and fighting for human causes allowed them to do just that. Desmond Lord Draco is rich, though not fabulously so, just because he’s been good at stashing gold in out of the way places and keeping it from falling into his enemies’ hands. Other members of the Scarlet Order aren’t so financially adept.

Visiting the website TV Tropes, I discovered a new spin on this idea that I hadn’t really considered before. paperbackbookstanding_849x1126 (1) They suggest that vampires not earning an income can be a metaphor for the drain vampires would place on society. Not only do they drain blood from people, but they drain those resources people would use to survive. The Scarlet Order vampires would be offended by the idea.

If you’d like to discover more about the Scarlet Order vampires, visit my website to read the first chapters, see some reviews, and discover more about Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order and Vampires of the Scarlet Order.

Sharks and the Walking Dead

Today is release day for my steampunk novel The Brazen Shark! It tells the story of samurai who steal a Russian airship in 1877 to foment war with Russia so the Shogunate will be reinstated. Meanwhile, a couple from New Mexico Territory on their honeymoon work to reveal the plot so the world won’t fall into chaos. This is the third of my Clockwork Legion series and it’s available at Amazon as an ebook and in print.

Admittedly, The Brazen Shark is not a horror novel, and this blog focuses on my horror fiction along with horror that I find engaging and worth recommending. Acheron Highway As it turns out, Sky Warrior Book Publishing, who publishes The Brazen Shark does have a number of fine, frightening novels and anthologies. About a week ago, I listened to the audiobook edition of the dark urban fantasy novel Acheron Highway by Gary Jonas. The novel opens when Miranda Hammond walks into the office of Jonathan Shade. The thing that makes this remarkable is that a stalker literally stole Miranda’s heart. She has an incision in her chest and the heart is just plain missing. Shade himself is no stranger to death, having defeated it once himself. He takes the case and while he does, he must contend with zombies who have been raised by the lovesick goddess Persephone who is seeking the man of her dreams, Charon, the ferryman who has gone missing. Shade reminds me a bit of Jim Rockford from The Rockford Files. He’s the kind of detective who does his best to stay out of the trouble he gets himself into. In one scene worthy of a Ray Harryhausen movie, Shade must fight animated skeletons in a bowling alley. The ending is by turns frightening, shocking, and set up perfectly. If you like dark urban fantasy, be sure to check out the Jonathan Shade novels by Gary Jonas. Acheron Highway is available at Amazon.

Sky Warrior also publishes These Vampires Don’t Sparkle and the Zombiefied series edited by Carol Hightshoe. These Vampires Don’t Sparkle includes my Scarlet Order vampire story “Luftgeist” which tells about Lord Draco’s fateful voyage aboard the Hindenburg. The anthology Zombiefied: An Anthology of All Things Zombie includes my story “The Zombie Shortage,” which tells the story of a community that has recovered after the zombie apocalypse but find finds it has become too dependent on zombies. Zombiefied: Hazardous Materials includes my story “Born-Again Miners,” which is set in the same world as The Brazen Shark. It tells the story of mine owner Randolph Dalton who discovers a cheap source of labor. Dalton was the antagonist in the first novel of the Clockwork Legion series, Owl Dance. So yeah, turns out there’s some scary potential in my steampunk books after all!

Villains as Heroes

This last week saw the launch of a new trailer for Suicide Squad based on the DC Comic. For those not familiar with the comic, it imagines many of the worst villains working as a deniable covert operations team for the U.S. Government in exchange for a chance to get out of prison. I haven’t read many issues of the comic, but the trailer looks interesting and I’ll likely go see the movie.

I think the appeal of a movie and a comic book like Suicide Squad comes from the fact that none of us are entirely good or entirely bad. We all have done things we regret, but we also don’t want to be remembered as villains. Stories about villains becoming heroes reminds us that we’re all capable of great things and of being heroic.

Scarlet Order

In many ways, that’s exactly the premise of the Scarlet Order novels. The protagonists may be vampires but they have to live in the world, so they become mercenaries as a way to do good. Now, you may question whether mercenaries are capable of doing good since they, in principal, fight for the highest bidders. However, the Scarlet Order fights for causes the believe in. They are mercenaries because, as vampires, governments are typically less permanent than they are. So, while they may not have loyalty to a country, they do have loyalty to ideals.

I also explore the idea of redemption in the forthcoming The Astronomer’s Crypt. Early in the novel, we meet several unsavory characters ranging from villains to just plain jerks. Through the course of the novel, some of them have opportunities to show their better nature. One of the things that excites me about that novel is finding out which ones choose to be helpful and which ones choose to remain villains.

While you’re waiting for The Astronomer’s Crypt, you can follow the adventures of the Scarlet Order vampires and find out what causes they will fight for in Vampires of the Scarlet Order, Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order, and even in the anthology These Vampires Don’t Sparkle. Who are some of your favorite villains who have found opportunities to show a heroic side?

The Dimidiums Book One – Bound by Love

The Dimidiums Book One – Bound by Love by DM Yates is an engaging vampire romance that features an interesting vampire mythology. Bound by Love The Dimidiums of the title are vampire/human hybrids who rely on some blood to survive, usually taken in the form of a concoction they call nectar. They aren’t immortal, but they do have extended lifespans. They have the strength of vampires and many of them work as bounty hunters. The true vampires are known as the Accursed and don’t range out during the day and simply see humans as food.

The story starts off when one of the Dimidiums—or Halblings as they also call themselves—is hired to track down a woman accused of murdering her husband. As the Halbling Trevor investigates the woman Janna, he becomes less convinced she committed the murder. He makes himself known to her and the two find a mutual attraction for each other. However, Trevor is afraid he will scare Janna away if he reveals his Halbling nature to her. A romance ensues, but before either is prepared, Trevor’s father calls both before him. When Janna admits her love for Trevor, she’s forced into the world of Halblings whether she’s ready or not.

I’ll admit, it took me a little bit to warm up to Trevor and Janna as characters. At some level, Trevor’s stubborn reluctance to admit his Halbling nature seemed almost wishy washy. Also, it was unclear why Janna was so attracted to Trevor. Setting that aside, the story propelled me along. I enjoyed getting to know more about the Dimidium/Halbling culture. I fell in love with some of the Halbling and human characters right from the outset such as Trevor’s co-worker Lainie, a Halbling raised among humans, and Fran, the no-nonsense diner owner in Worthless, Nevada.

Lurking in the background is an Accursed named Milosh, who killed Trevor’s first wife and has become Trevor’s nemesis. Milosh engineers an elaborate and ingenious plot to trap and kill both Trevor and Janna. Once he unleashed his plot, I had a hard time putting the book down, anxious to see whether or not Trevor, Janna, and the other Halblings would make it through.

I think it would be great fun to see a story where the Bounty Hunter Halblings team up with the Scarlet Order Mercenary vampires. Even if that story never happens, I still look forward to the adventures that await in The Dimidiums Book Two. You can find The Dimidiums Book One – Bound by Love at Amazon and Smashwords.

Scary Fairy Tales

A trend that’s developed in recent years is to produce gritty reboots of classic fairy tales, which amuses me because in many cases, it’s hard to get grittier or more frightening than the original stories! Children’s book and movie adaptations often give us the impression that fairy tales are lighthearted moral tales. What’s more, the original Grimms’ Fairy Tales were actually titled Kinder- und Haus Märchen which translates as Children’s and Household Tales. In fact, the collection compiled by the brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm consists of old German folktales and they were meant to be passed down to children, so they could pass them down to their children, but that didn’t mean the tales were lighthearted!

Blood-Sampler-375 One of the best known of Grimm’s Fairy Tales is “Schneewittchen” or “Little Snow White.” In 2002, I purchased a copy of the tales in German which included the original notes. I was writing a lot of my vampire tales at the time and I couldn’t help but notice how vampiric the Snow White story is. In the story, Snow White’s mother pricks her finger while doing needlework. A drop of blood falls on new-fallen snow covering an ebony window pane which makes her wish for a pale child with lips bright as blood and hair of ebony. I realize that in medieval times, pallor was considered a sign of wealth, but the pale creature associated with blood made me think vampire almost right away. In the original notes, the Grimms describe a romantic sleigh ride with Snow White’s mother and father. The blood on the snow with the ebony almost takes on the connotation of black magic.

Later, Snow White’s step mother demands her heart as proof of her demise. This scene is even in Disney’s version. When Snow White does bite into the poison apple, she’s laid to rest in a glass coffin. In the Grimms’ original, the wicked queen actually kills Snow White three times. She’s resurrected not by a handsome prince’s kiss, but instead when the handsome prince’s men drop the coffin, dislodging the apple piece in her throat. I took these vampire-like elements, emphasized them, and wrote them as “The Tale of Blood Red” which appears in the collection Blood Sampler available in print from Alban Lake Publishing. You can also find the ebook at Amazon.

Another story I’ve been thinking about lately is “Der Teufel und seine Grossmuter.” The most straightforward translation of the title is “The Devil and His Grandmother.” In the story, interpreted this way, the devil appears before three runaway soldiers and gives them a whip that can produce gold from thin air. In seven years’ time, the devil will return and pose a set of three riddles. If the soldiers answer correctly, they can keep the whip. If they fail, they will be carried off to Hell to serve as the devil’s minions. This deal-with-the-devil story is pretty heavy stuff for a kid’s story. Not to mention the whole theological implications that the devil has a grandmother!

Now, “der Teufel” can also be translated as “dragon.” This is most pronounced in translations of the Biblical book of Revelation where Teufel is used both for Satan and the metaphorical dragon in St. John’s vision. When der Teufel appears in the story, he flies in on wings and breathes fire. To me, that seems more like a classical dragon than a devil, so I translated the story as “The Devil and his Grandmother.” Not too long ago, I gave the story a steampunk twist, set it in India and mechanized the dragon. “The Steam-Powered Dragon and His Grandmother” will appear in the anthology Gaslight and Grimm coming from eSpec Books. They are running a Kickstarter Campaign right now. Please click the link and check it out. There are some awesome rewards and it’s the best way to find out how a mechanical dragon can have a grandmother any more than the devil himself!