Hear Ye, Hear Ye! We have a title anticlimax.

The second book in the Affliction Series is now finally finished! Ok, not completely finished but in second draft form anyway. It is currently in the capable hands of my trusted betas and will soon also be reaching my editors.

Initially I’d planned on calling it Báthory’s Legacy, and then I thought I should not focus so much on the Countess so I settled on Vampire Legacy, a title with which I was initially pleased cos it seemed to fit. Until of course I searched on Amazon and Goodreads and discovered that there’s approximately another three budgillion books with the words ‘Vampire’ and/or ‘Legacy’ somehow embroiled in their titles. So book two is currently on its way to completion but lacking a name.

This disturbs me, I need to brainstorm.

As soon as the brainstorm has abated, the book should be ready and hitting the e-shelves no later than May.

The next item on the agenda will be the cover, I’ll be posting updates on that too, as soon as I have a few samples from my designer.

Dead Until Dark Review

Though a big fan of Tru Blood I’d never actually read a Sookie Stackhouse book before. I’m not into modern Vampires as I am into historical ones, my book case in point, but this has been in the ‘To Be Read pile’ for quite some time and will be part of several upcoming reviews on Fantasy books, primarily Vampire.

‘Dead until dark’ is essentially a supernatural murder mystery. It is written in the first person in the voice of Sookie and though I tend to shy away from the first person usually, this one gradually grew on me. As a rule, I have a hard time relating to first person character narration. Lines in the vein of “my eyes seemed brighter,” or “these pants show off my legs,” are not what a person would say in real life so I can rarely relate. As an author, hyper sensitive observation goes hand in hand with writing and as I don’t observe others in the first person, there is always a disconnect for me. I understand that for lots of people books in the first person offer a very personal experience so I appreciate that it’s very much a matter of taste. In addition to that narration style I also found the first few chapters a little awkward in style, maybe even a little wooden but that soon worked itself out.

Besides Sookie, the telepath waitress with the fascination with Vampires, the book deals with a series of murders that take place in Bon Temps at a time when Vampire emancipation and mainstreaming is in its infancy. The Vampire transition from hiding to mainstream was handled very realistically, and if they were ever to come out of the shadows, I expect that people’s reactions would not differ much from this book.

As the days pass, Sookie becomes embroiled in the murders by conducting a little side investigation of her own because they slowly start taking over her life. First an acquaintance is killed, followed by another waitress, both of which have had dealings with her promiscuous brother causing her to worry about his involvement with the murders. When finally Sookie’s own grandmother is killed the onus is taken off Jason, at least in Sookie’s eyes, and the plot thickens when she too becomes a target for the murderer who seems to target women who have had sex with Vampires.

As the murder story slowly unfolds in the background, we are shown Sookie’s blossoming romance with Bill Compton, a Vampire from the time of the civil war. As Sookie is unable to hear his thoughts, unlike most other men, she is able to relax in his presence and build a relationship with him, though not without its complications due to their biological differences. Things take a turn for the worse when during an expedition to a Vamp club, Sookie reveals her abilities to a higher ranking Vampire called Eric, who takes a particular interest in her and begins to interfere in her life and relationship with Bill.

As a result of this, towards the end of the book, Bill is removed from the scene in order to take care of some ‘business’ leaving Sookie to deal with the fang banger murderer on her own (with only the protection of a dim witted vamp guard). Though I’m all for women’s lib and self-determination, I always find character removals at critical times a bit of cheap shot, so points were definitely lost there.

For the sake of spoilers however I will leave this here and say simply that it’s well written, moves quickly and is definitely a very enjoyable read. Despite its lightweight veneer it is imbued with a subtle political narrative about how we treat those different to us whether they are black, gay, shapeshifter or Vampire.

Dead-Until-Dark

Ultimate Teazer of all time. My real life book prologue.

After 2,5 years of hard work, probably something close to seven drafts, a ton of delays and a steep scrivener learning curve later I’m proud to say that I have finally published Bathory’s Secret, the first book in a series I’ve called Affliction and a re-examination of the Vampire genre from a more human perspective.

Below is an actual excerpt from the book, the prologue over which I fought with both my editor and my beta readers. I am quite fond of it as you’ve probably gathered. I hope you enjoy it.
The book is available here.

There are a lot of things that can kill you in life, germs, chemical imbalances, poisons, accidents, people. The things that can kill you, can also kill us, we’re just as vulnerable as everyone else to life’s threats, even though popular belief would have you think we’re invincible, uncatchable and most of all, already dead! It was many centuries before I learned about viruses, and what they can do. The VN73 virus as it has come to be known, only lives inside us, the infected. It can’t survive outside the human body for longer than a few seconds and it’s almost impossible to see under a microscope. Only one person has been able to see it, and he was the one that also gave it its name. I will talk about this man, but now is not the time.
VN73 has been around for millennia and can only take hold of a host if they have certain genetic mutations, the most common being the chromosomes for blue eyes and black hair whether they manifest or not. When it does manage to take hold, our lives and bodies are transformed in a way that serves only to preserve it. I could go as far as to say it is the most powerful virus unrecognised by man and when we become its hosts we are entirely ruled by it.
In the past we didn’t call ourselves infected of course, as infection is a modern concept, but we went by the title of Afflicted. A subject with the appropriate mutations can only be changed when they are bitten by one who is Afflicted, provided that the predator does not completely exsanguinate the victim, in which case they will simply die. If they leave a little over a quarter pint of blood in them however, the virus, which is most prevalent in the mouth, will slowly take hold, and over a number of days begin to overwhelm the victim. Initially a grasping chill sets in, which is much like the symptoms of a simple cold only it gets worse and worse until it permanently settles the body’s core temperature to about thirty five degrees centigrade and leaves it permanently cold to the touch and extremely pale. Then the heart rate slows so much that it is virtually imperceptible which is what has led the public to the erroneous conclusion that people like us are dead. In fact it is as if we are frozen and living by a much slower clock; the belief that we do not age for example is also incorrect, we do, only where a healthy human being will age in forty or fifty years it will take us a hundred times longer to reach the same level of body fatigue, and even then it depends on the individual’s constitution. I’ve seen some who have lived to be six hundred years old and not need any kind of artificial quickening to keep them going and others burn out as early as two hundred. It all depends on your intrinsic make up, and just like anyone else, maintenance and a healthy lifestyle are crucial to a long and prosperous Affliction.
Certain quickening methods do exist, but the really good ones are secret, myths even. This knowledge is held by very few of us, those that have come to be known as the Protovamps. The rest live their mindless and very often reckless existences in the knowledge that their lifespan is multiplied by about ten times that of the average human, and that is enough for most. As with unafflicted people, each deals with their aging any way they can. Also just like ‘normal’ people, there is no particular or universal solidarity amongst our kind. Some acquire wisdom with age, others remain as stupid as the day they were born, and life goes on.
As a result of the slow aging our metabolisms are affected, which is why only fresh blood is concentrated enough to offer the nutrition we need to keep going. Food can and is consumed but does not offer the nourishment or pleasure it once did, though for some of us some habits are hard to break. I knew this Bulgarian many years ago who when he was healthy, used to love the taste of sweet Turkish coffee. After he was Afflicted the taste was so altered for him that he used to drink up to 20 cups in one sitting, just to gain the satisfaction that a singular cup used to offer him.
Another untruth is the fact that we cannot survive in sunlight. The fact is that sunlight is not actually harmful to us in small doses, the only problem is that we cannot abide it. Due to the sensitive nature of our eyes and skin we prefer to only appear in overcast or dark conditions. The Affliction affects our eyes in such a manner as to enhance their capacity for vision, especially in low light conditions and for reasons we have yet to discover, also alters their initial color. Though it remains as is, it acquires a crystalline quality, which I believe is related to the predatory skills our condition imparts.
Further predatory characteristics also develop. Some acquire excellent hearing while others develop the eyesight of a hawk. Some have a sense of smell so powerful they can smell blood two kilometres away and many grow razor sharp claws that sever skin with the ease of a freshly sharpened butcher’s knife. The skills are as varied as the individual and very rarely one can develop all these traits at once. Occasionally some acquire them from others.
Garlic is one of those anecdotal stories that peasant lore has proliferated over the centuries through their ignorance and fear. Just like any other root, herb or vegetable we are completely indifferent to it and it does not make us recoil nor does it keep us away from anyone brandishing it or hanging it to their doors. In fact, some Afflicted sects use it as their emblem in jest.
Crucifixes and mirrors are more of the same superstitious lore. The virus has existed long before the inception of any religion and if that were the case, faith alone would have cured all the ills known to man by now. Mirrors work on us just as they do not any healthy human being.
Silver like light is a whole other story. Perhaps because of its antiseptic qualities and the high concentration of virus in our bodies we have a strong aversion to it, very much akin to an allergy. Like a healthy person, and by healthy I refer to the unafflicted, could develop an allergy to copper or brass, we cannot abide silver. Its effects are felt instantly and painfully. It burns the skin, though it does not smoke like popular culture would have you believe, and saps our energy almost instantly, but the minute its effects are removed the body heals one hundred times faster than that of a healthy person, provided that the damage was not fatal. Our healing is by no means immediate. If our internal organs are damaged enough we die, if our heads are severed we die, if we are exsanguinated we die, if we do not consume blood or any other nourishment for prolonged periods of time we die-in fact the virus requires constant sustenance otherwise it turns on the body and begins to consume it from the inside if left unnourished. We cannot survive underwater, in oxygen depleted conditions or in freezing weather. We are different, we are superior, we are predatory and often base but in no way are we undead or immortal. Simply put, our bodies acquire different properties as these exist in nature and all for the proliferation of VN73.
History is written by the victors, and even though Erzsébet Báthory’s story has been told countless times before by those that survived her, it was never told by anyone who experienced it all first hand and who remembers it all clearly. For those unfamiliar with this formidable woman, she was a Hungarian Countess who lived in the 17th century and who was rumoured to have tortured and killed over six hundred young girls in order to bathe in their blood to maintain her youthful appearance. Her myth has been greatly embellished over the years, untruths were added and crucial facts were taken away which would have helped clarify who this woman really was and why she behaved the way that she did. Simply, the truth lies in the fact that she was Afflicted by VN73.

Turns out I will do anything than learn how to use scrivener, so I just wrote another quick teazer…

She sat at her writing desk which she had hastily moved by the window this evening. She opened it to let in the moonlight, the only thing that brightened the room. She hated candlelight when the moon was full in the night sky. It was forbiddingly cold but she didn’t care, even though she was only wearing her floor length chemise. Her nipples stood to attention and her skin had goose-pimpled underneath the sheer fabric but not a shiver passed through her. Her mind was on the herbal recipe she had been given and she had to write it down quickly before any of the ingredients slipped her mind. The area she had traveled to had a long history of witches due to the plants with unusual properties which grew in the surrounding forests.

She had rushed back from the woods repeating the words back to herself like a childhood poem, knowing full well the cost of forgetting a line or getting the order wrong. The witch she had gone to see was quite a distance away and she had only spoken to her from her herb induced trance. It wasn’t as if she could ask her again. The woman had excited the Countess to such a degree that the moment she stopped her manic dance Erzsébet grabbed her by the hair, and pulling her backwards arched her neck so that all the veins and arteries on it protruded temptingly. The old woman was breathing fast from her exertions and her tanned skin glistened under the sweat she had worked up in the smoky, dank hut that reeked of all her preparations. They called her the Seer, but she had not anticipated this one. She would never have guessed she was to die at the fangs of the reigning Countess, whose job was to sustain and protect the area and its inhabitants. She had strong lungs for a woman her age and her shrieks reverberated for miles, but this far into the woods only wolves heard her desperate screams.

Unfeterred musings on time, death and vampires (what else?)

There is a school of thought that teaches us that time is not real, but merely a man-made construct, a non-existent illusion. I have given this matter a bit of thought as I am quite fond of outside the box thinking, especially when it comes to my writing, but I just can’t bring myself to agree with it. We live on a planet that rotates on its axis and around the sun and each rotation is inevitably divisible into units of time the most obvious of which is the 24 hour day. Even if time were not partitioned in the even segments we have broken it up in, it would still very much exist within the framework of life on earth. Even if men were not cognisant beings with the ability to forage, hunt, farm, engineer, and thus progress with every day they have been on this planet, time would still exist and time would still pass. From the time of, and in no particular order, the formation of the planet, Pangaea, evolution, the Dinosaurs and whatever else, time has still passed. It took a certain amount of time for the continents to shift, it took a certain amount of time for sponges to turn into lizards, it took a certain amount of time for man to go from cave to businessman and in a certain amount of time the sun will run out of light, fuel or whatever the sun runs on and life as we know it on this planet will cease to exist (all that is of course in a very idealistic view of the future, where the actions of mankind in no way go on to expedite aforementioned cessation of life). So where I’m going with this rant, is that time exists, in a real and pragmatic way, time exists as it has always done. If the earth were hypothetically to stop spinning and just froze on the spot of its axis would time stop? I don’t know, because this is wading into scientific waters I am unfamiliar with, but I can hazard a guess at no. Tempus Fugit and that is a universal truth.

What I’m trying to say in very broad terms, however successfully remains to be seen, is that time exists, and it is the constant by which all humans measure their life on earth. We wake up, wash our faces, get dressed and go out to work every day and we break up this day in 24 equal parts which are constantly changing in a rotational fashion. Philosophically speaking (again) we are never in the same spot of longer than a millisecond as in its smallest denominations time passes faster than we are even capable of perceiving, and sooner or later death will come for us all. From the day we are born we march towards an unknown date of death, in fact I have always believed that people are in a state of permanent denial and un-manifested depression because we all know we have to die one day. Life is beautiful for the most part, if you ignore the pained and anguished bits, so why would you want to leave, right? When we are young we think that death is so far away that it does not feature into our thoughts but very quickly we learn that life is unbelievably short and things need to be accomplished, stat! By our late twenties to thirties we realise that though still young there are a lot of things that are important to us which need to be achieved (work, love, marriage, kids, travelling, divorce-that-what-was-I-thinking-idiot, regretted tattoos) in order for us to experience happiness before that dreaded moment of death. It is during this time that we realise or are told that a life well lived is important and that the best state to be in at the time of death is one of no regrets, provided one has lived it to its fullest.

On a side note, (though I feel this post could be filled with them if I’m not careful) the no-regrets-thing is not a tenet I subscribe to personally, as that would imply one has either lived perfectly, (really who does that?) or that they have learned nothing from their mistakes along the way, but generally speaking, whether we do this or not, i.e. live well and fully, is a whole other matter perhaps to be dedicated to another blog post, for I fear I’m losing my train of thought. Bear with me, it was late when I started this.

Which brings me to the reason I began this sorry excuse for a blog post in the first place, and inevitably the subject of my book-Vampires. Vampires are the eternal beings of folklore and myth with the ambiguous origins and which for the most part are comprised of two or three basic principles (variations notwithstanding); they are eternal, immortal/undead, unable to abide the sun and survive purely by the consumption of human blood. Of all bodily fluids blood is the most intriguing and valuable. It oxygenates our organs, it nourishes, cleans, protects and holds the secrets of everything that makes us who we are, it is our biological essence and it has mystical properties too (speaking from a literary perspective always).

Vampires have fascinated people ever since they were put on paper, whether that was in the time of Bram Stoker, when superstition was more integrated into the fabric of life or whether that was yesterday in this age of science and logical explanations for everything. Vampires have certain innate qualities that both constantly terrify and captivate us. Few supernatural beings are as flexible with their abilities or have held our imaginations as much as Vampires do. Admittedly today we subscribe to a softer vampire, particularly in books and stories aimed at young adults, but Vampires continue to entertain us through the media of books, movies, graphic novels and songs.

I believe that somewhere in the heart of each and every Vampire fan and Vampire author lays one fundamental question: “Would I give up my humanity in order to live for ever?” There is a bartering that takes places whenever a Vampire is “born” where for the price of immortality they are forced to shed their humanity and relinquish all life as they know it in order to become immortal, and inadvertently they almost always become sub-human, cruel beings who are bored of their endless predatory existences. Through Vampire lore we are forced to consider our quality of life in relation to the price of immortality. Time is such a precious a commodity for us that we inadvertently ask ourselves, would I sacrifice so much in order to never die and have all the time in world?

There is a duality in Vampire fiction where one is forced to contemplate eternal life versus humanity and if one were to distance themselves from the genre they would reach the conclusion that age equals wisdom, maturity and forgiveness but for the interest of story we do not allow these creatures to live well or to thrive or even be happy with their new found “blessing”. Who has heard of or wants to see a happy Vampire afterall? Vampires are by nature anti-heroes, they are tormented by their pasts and murderous natures and oddly enough by a spiritual void they cannot fill. What happens to the Vampiric Soul when they are destroyed? Where does it go? Do they even have souls? Childish trifles you might exclaim, but food for thought all the same, for a good story needs to examine all angles of logic even in a supernatural setting in order to bring on suspension of disbelief in the reader.

And now for the Blurb (with a capital ‘B’)

I’ve been thinking a lot about my blurb, and have come to the conclusion that it needs to be short and sweet as well as enticing and captivating, so how do you encapsulate an entire book in one paragraph without missing anything? Well it’s kinda hard but this is what I’ve come up with so far. It could potentially be changed when the book is finalized, but I think the gist is there.

The year is 1609 and fourteen year old Kati lives with her mother in the outskirts of Csejthe Castle in Hungary, the home of the powerful Countess Erzsébet Báthory. Isolated on a hill inside a dense forest the castle is surrounded by vicious rumors of black magic, disappearances and murder. When the Countess personally shows up at Kati’s house looking to offer her a job in the castle, Kati is excited to be going off on an adventure and by the possibility of helping her mother break out of the poverty that threatens their wellbeing. Once at the castle however, Kati quickly discovers that all the rumors were true and girls that are brought here are going missing at an alarming rate while the Countess is behind it all, drinking the blood of her victims and torturing them for her pleasure. Finding herself in a desperate situation Kati realizes she must uncover the centuries of secrets behind the Countess’s deranged behavior and stop her before it’s too late for her and everyone she loves.