Category Archives: vampires

#amwriting: Physician to The Vampire

John William Polidori (7 September 1795 – 24 August 1821) was an English writer and physician. He was best known for his involvement in the Romantic movement, an artistic, literary, musical and intellectual movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the 18th century. He is considered by many as the originator of the vampire genre of fantasy fiction. His most successful work was the short story The Vampyre (1819), which was the first published, modern vampire story.

Perhaps because John Polidori was a physician, he was able to bring all the disparate elements of 19th-century vampirism mythology into a coherent, compelling short story.  With just that one short story, he spawned an entire literary genre.

How did this come about? The story had its genesis in the summer of 1816, the Year Without a Summer when Europe and parts of North America underwent a severe climate abnormality.

Lord Byron and his young, twenty-year-old physician, John Polidori were staying at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva.

On the run from creditors and Shelley’s ailing, understandably jealous wife, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (who later became Mary Shelley) and Claire Clairmont, Mary’s stepsister, visited them.

The group was kept indoors by the incessant rain of that cold, wet, unpleasant summer during a three-day stretch in June. Bored at being cooped up, the five turned to telling fantastic tales, and which inspired them to write their own.

Reportedly, they were fueled by ghost stories such as the Fantasmagoriana, William Beckford’s Vathek, and laudanum, to which Byron was addicted. Mary Shelley, in collaboration with Percy Bysshe Shelley, produced what would become Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus.

Polidori was the outsider, the man who was only included as he was in the employ of Byron. Lord Byron made him the butt of many jokes at dinner parties, taking great pleasure in humiliating him. This cruel treatment of anyone in his power was well documented by his contemporaries.

the-vampyrePolidori was inspired by a fragmentary story of Byron’s, Fragment of a Novel (1816), which is also known as “A Fragment” and “The Burial: A Fragment.” Over the course of several mornings, he wrote “The Vampyre.” The manuscript was overlooked for three years when it was discovered by a disreputable publisher, Henry Colburn. He published it in his New Monthly Magazine under the title “The Vampyre: A Tale by Lord Byron.” It was received with acclaim, much to Polidori’s surprise and chagrin.

Polidori struggled to assert his rights to the work, and Lord Byron did have the grace to declare promptly the work was Polidori’s and not his. Despite that assertion, proper credit for authorship of the story was muddy for many years.

Still, Byron was firm that he was not the author. Apparently, Byron felt that the destruction of a man’s soul was no great thing, but theft of his intellectual property was a crime.

Polidori’s work had an immense impact on his contemporary readers. Numerous editions and translations of the tale were published. The influence of The Vampyre as described by Polidori has continued into the twenty-first century, as until recently, his work was frequently considered the primary source of what is accepted as “canon” when writing about vampirism.

What are the traditional tropes of vampire fantasy? First of all, we must think Lord Byron. He was an arrogant, self-centered, charismatic, sociopath with a gift for writing brilliant poetry. From birth, Byron suffered from a deformity of his right foot and by the time he hired Polidori, he was addicted to laudanum which had been prescribed for the pain. He treated the young Polidori atrociously, engendering deep antipathy for his patient in the young doctor.

John_William_Polidori_by_F.G._GainsfordWithin the pages of Polidori’s diary, I see “The Vampyre” as an allegory of Byron’s abuse of John Polidori himself. It is easy to visualize Byron as a man possessed of the power to drain one of their soul when seen through the eyes of the man he had in his power, and whom he treated abominably as an employer.

Byron was described as the devourer of souls in the book, Glenarvon, by Lady Caroline Lamb, one of Byron’s former lovers.  “Ruthven” is the name Lady Caroline Lamb referred to Byron as in her novel. Polidori had read Glenarvon that summer, and blatantly used Lamb’s protagonist’s name for his vampire, and Byron proudly admitted he was the role model.

The Public Domain Review article, The Poet, the Physician and the Birth of the Modern Vampire, says this about the rocky relationship between Polidori and Byron:

“It was no great leap for Polidori to believe that Byron was sucking the life from him, just as others had accused Byron of possessing a charismatic power that eclipsed their own identities. Amelia Opie, one of the many women Byron had charmed, described him as having “such a voice as the devil tempted Eve with; you feared its fascination the moment you heard it,” a mesmeric quality that critics also found in his verse, which had, according to the critic Thomas Jones de Powis, “the facility of…bringing the minds of his readers into a state of vassalage or subjection.”

So we know vampires are charismatic and seductive. Their bite would enslave their victims. Folktales from hundreds of years ago tell us they can take the form of bats and fly through the windows of even the tallest buildings. Historically, vampires are powerful, but unable to withstand the light of day, which would burn them, and destroy them forever.

A patch of Dry Skin, Stephen SwartzHowever, that which was once canon regarding vampires is no longer set in stone.

Modern vampires are often able to stay outside during the day, and some even sparkle.  Many are model citizens who get their blood from robbing blood banks.

I love Stephen Swartz’s medical take on vampirism in his book, A Dry Patch of Skin.

But underneath it all, I still have a fondness for the mad, bad, dangerous to know Lord Byron style of vampire.

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Friday Interview: Carlie M.A. Cullen

Photo of CarlieAs I promised a while back, today Carlie M A Cullen, author of The Heart Search trilogy, has consented to answer a few questions for us. She is a lovely, talented woman who has been one of my editors for several years now!

CC: Hi Connie! It’s lovely to be here. Thank you for the tea.

CJJ: Hello, and you’re welcome! Tell us a little of early life and how you began writing:

CC: I grew up as an only child. My parents worked full time and both had second jobs. As a result I was left to create my own entertainment. I loved the tales of Hans Christian Andersen and started to write my own fairy tales. I found myself disappearing into the stories I created and it made me feel less lonely. From there, I progresses to writing longer short stories and poems. It’s something I’ve continued to do into adulthood.

CJJ: As you know, I love this series. Tell us about your most recent book.

CC: I hope you’re not after any spoilers, Connie! [laughs] Heart Search: Betrayal is the final book in the trilogy and takes Remy and Joshua’s story to its natural conclusion. However, it’s not all hearts and flowers – far from it. There is a traitor who is passing copious amounts of information to someone who has a massive grudge against the coven, and who they are in league with. But there are four possible suspects. Which one is it and can the coven discover their identity before it’s too late? There are many twists and turns along the way, some good and some terrible. Certain characters really shine and there’s the discovery of new talents along the way. Unfortunately there are casualties, some of which may shock my readers.

CJJ: The story line in Betrayal is quite divergent from the previous two books. How did you come to write this novel?

CC: When I reached the halfway point in the first book, Heart Search: Lost, I knew there was too much of a story for just one. It was at that point I realized Heart Search would turn into a trilogy. I couldn’t leave the world I’d created and made the decision to complete the trilogy before moving onto other stories I had in my head.

CJJ: I always have that problem too. I think some stories are just larger than we originally thought. So, do you have a specific ‘Creative Process’ that you follow, such as outlining or do you ‘wing it’?

CC: It depends on what I’m writing really. With Heart Search, I had the first twelve chapters meticulously outlined, but around chapter five my characters decided they were going to take over and make me tell their story their way. I threw away the outline and have ‘winged it’ ever since. As I wrote this based on current day, it was easy to do.

With my next book, I’ve had to do some extensive world building and creating magic systems and the like before I began writing. However, as far as the story goes, again I’m winging it and seeing where my muse and characters takes me.

CJJ: Well your muse is taking you to some wonderful places! In your opinion, how does your work differ from others of its genre?

CC: I can only really talk about the Heart Search trilogy here. In the first book you have two POV’s: Remy in first person and Joshua in third person. Their stories run parallel to each other and every now and then they softly bump before going off again. I believe this is what makes it unique. In book two, I brought in extra character voices and gave them their own POV’s in third person. The final book takes even more POV’s into the mix, always in third person, whereas Remy has maintained a first person POV throughout.  I also believe (going by the reviews I’ve read) the storyline itself is completely different to what others have read before. Put all this together and that’s what I think makes my work so different from others in its genre.

CJJ: So now we get down to the question that I always wonder: Why do you write what you do?

CC: As I said earlier in the interview, I loved the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales and that was a huge influence in my writing. Growing up I tried reading different genres, but I always came back to fantasy. There’s something so intriguing about the characters you can create, the worlds you can build, and adding to that those mystical creatures we all know so well: fairies, goblins, dragons, vampires, et al. It seemed only natural for me to write in this genre. It’s where I’m in my comfort zone.

CJJ: I know why I chose the indie route for my work, but I’m curious as to why you’ve chosen this path.

CC: Originally, I wanted the dream of getting an agent and a decent publishing deal, but I was new to the industry and quite naïve. After a few rejections, I decided that after all my hard work on the book it would be nice to give people a chance to read it. In addition, I had people I knew asking me for it. It was about that time I joined Myrddin Publishing. Everyone was so supportive from day one so I published it through them and haven’t looked back since.

Now I know more about the industry, I’m really glad I’ve taken this path. I have so much more control over where my books are sold, what sort of cover I want, what price to charge, and how much I want in royalties that I think I’d now be too stifled by a major publisher.

CJJ: I agree! Being a part of the Myrddin Group has been a blessing to me too, considering the assistance we give each other in every aspect of bringing a book to market. And the fact that you really are in control of your own work and profits makes this an adventure!  So what advice would you offer an author trying to decide whether to go indie or take the traditional path?

CC: This is a tricky one to answer because what’s right for one person isn’t necessarily right for another. I think the best thing they could do is talk to other authors, some who are indie and some who have gone the traditional route. Ask them about the pros and cons of both and then they can make an informed decision that’s best for them.

I wish I’d done that in the beginning as I was so green it was ridiculous, but I was one of the lucky ones who met some wonderful indie authors who helped me along the way.

But going back to the question, do your homework and don’t make any snap decisions or judgments that you may later regret.

CJJ: Very good advice! Thank you for taking the time from your busy schedule to visit with me, and for sharing your wisdom!

Alice in Wonderland Tea SetCC: Thanks so much for inviting me, Connie. I’ve really enjoyed chatting with you. Now, is there any more tea brewing?

CJJ: Yes, actually. This is a lovely citrus Lady Grey, I hope you like it! This tea set is my Alice in Wonderland set, which my children gave me last year!

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Betrayal front coverCarlie M A Cullen was born in London. She grew up in Hertfordshire where she first discovered her love of books and writing.

She has always written in some form or another, but started to write novels in 2011. Her first book was published by Myrddin Publishing in 2012. She writes in the Fantasy/Paranormal Romance genres for New Adult and Adult.

Carlie is also a principal editor for Eagle Eye Editors.

Carlie also holds the reins of a writing group called Writebulb. They have published four anthologies so far, two for adults and two for children, all of which raise money for a local hospice.

Carlie currently lives in Essex, UK with her daughter.

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Links for Carlie M A Cullen

Website: http://carliemacullen.com

Twitter: @carlie2011c

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/CarlieMACullen

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=240655941&trk=nav_responsive_tab_profile

Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B009MWVL5A

About.me: http://about.me/CarlieCullen

Wattpad: http://www.wattpad.com/user/CarlieCullen

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6550466.Carlie_M_A_Cullen

BOOKS:

Heart Search, book one: Lost: http://smarturl.it/HeartSearch-Lost

Heart Search, book two: Found: http://smarturl.it/HeartSearch-Found

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Heart Search book three: Betrayal

Betrayal front cover Today is the release of a book that I had a great time being a part of–Heart Search  book three: Betrayal, by UK author, Carlie M. A. Cullen. I had the privilege of being a structural editor for this, and it was a project I really enjoyed.

Where to start? It is the third book in a trilogy, and so it picks at the end of the previous book, of course–but a new reader could start with this book and not feel too confused.

For me, this book is a roller-coaster of events and emotion, as Samir’s and Joshua’s covens prepare to defend themselves from an upstart rival’s attempted takeover. The disappearance and kidnapping of Erika casts suspicion on several people, and the discovery of a traitor in their midst is an unpleasant monkey-wrench tossed into the works, making it difficult for Samir and Joshua to know who to trust.

Their enemy, Liam, is a low-class thug who has no problem starting the equivalent of a gang-war within the vampires’ society. His heavy-handed bullying of his subordinates and cruelty to his victims is evidence of that. His second in command, Max, is much smarter vampire, a man who could have been quite decent under other circumstances and isn’t quite sure that his maker is all that sane.

Phoenix, the hidden traitor in their midst is an arrogant, self-absorbed twit, and definitely a jerk. The traitor claims to care for the person handed over as a hostage, but does it anyway, knowing the hostage will not be treated well. Phoenix manages to cause nothing but trouble before their identity is finally revealed.

Remy’s sudden separation from her family has her twin in an uproar. Her emotional instability affects Becky, her twin, as do other aspects of her life, although neither woman is aware of that connection. The stilted, angry phone conversations between the two only serve to complicate things.

This book has many, many threads that are woven together to create a compelling story of intrigue, Stockholm Syndrome, and the arrogance that comes with immortality. It is filled with strong characters and inventive plot twists—some creepy, some chilling, and some downright horrifying.

It’s a paranormal romance, so some graphic sex and a great deal of violence make this book definitely an adult read.

When launching a new book, marketing is always a tough thing for an indie. I must say, Carlie has really stepped up for this:

She is putting forth a Raffle Copter Giveaway of some gorgeous Heart Search themed jewelry.

heart search jewelry

That is some fabulous bling for her loyal fans!

Another thing that Carlie Cullen had done for marketing is she has created a really awesome book trailer for YouTube, The trailer is very noir, and really shows the atmosphere of the books:

Heart Search book three: Betrayal Trailer

These are really good marketing tools, and I feel sure her investments will pay off in the long run with good initial sales.

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Heart Search 3-Betrayal, Carlie Cullen

Betrayal front coverI read voraciously, in all genres and one of my not-so-secret vices is the occasional lust for a good paranormal fantasy.

One of my favorite authors in that genre is Carlie M.A. Cullen, who just happens have a new book coming out in her Heart Search Trilogy. Today she is revealing the cover for the final book in the series–and as with the first two covers, I  really love it. It totally speaks to the book’s dark theme. Her cover artist is Nicole Antonia Carro, who is one of the best indie graphic designers in the business, and an accomplished author in her own right.

I was fortunate enough to be one of the first to read this manuscript, and it is quite the finish to a bold trilogy.

What I find most intriguing about this series is that it revolves around people who have become vampires, and who no longer think the way humans do. But despite the real difference that having the kind of power they have makes in the way they view the world, they are family oriented and deeply committed to each other.

I’ve never considered writing about vampires and likely won’t, as my creativity doesn’t turn that way right now, but I confess I am curious about many things in regard to the conception of this series. To that end, I will be interviewing Carlie at a later date, and she has promised to answer most of my questions.

In the meantime here are the particulars for this book that is so beautifully covered:

Blurb for Heart Search: Betrayal

One bite started it all . . .

Joshua, Remy, and the twins are settled in their new life. However, life doesn’t always run smoothly. An argument between Becky and her twin causes unforeseen circumstances, an admission by Samir almost costs him his life, and the traitor provides critical information to Liam. But who is it?

As Jakki’s visions begin to focus on the turncoat’s activities, a member of the coven disappears, and others find themselves endangered.

And when Liam’s coven attacks, who will endure?

Fate continues to toy with mortals and immortals alike, and as more hearts descend into darkness, can they overcome the dangers they face and survive?

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Carlie M.A. Cullen, Author

Photo of CarlieCarlie M A Cullen was born in London. She grew up in Hertfordshire where she first discovered her love of books and writing.

She has always written in some form or another, but started to write novels in 2011. Her first book was published by Myrddin Publishing in 2012. She writes in the Fantasy/Paranormal Romance genres for New Adult and Adult.

Carlie is also a principal editor for Eagle Eye Editors.

Carlie also holds the reins of a writing group called Writebulb. They have published four anthologies so far, two for adults and two for children, all of which raise money for a local hospice.

Carlie currently lives in Essex, UK with her daughter

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You can find Carlie’s books at:

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You can connect with Carlie via these social links:

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Do take a look at her books–if you are a fan of paranormal romances, these books are a fun read, filled with characters that are larger-than-life, and adventures into the dark and mysterious world of the immortals who surround us.

Editors Note: I did make a typo in the Title of this post.  It is Heart Search : Betrayal, not Betrayed as was originally posted.

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Stephen Swartz, A Dry Patch of Skin

A patch of Dry Skin, Stephen SwartzToday, my dear friend, Stephen Swartz, author of the new book,  A Dry Patch of Skin has consented to answer a few questions for us. Stephen is a true renaissance man–an accomplished musician, and the author of seven published novels, he is also a professor of English at a well-known university in Oklahoma.

I became friends with Stephen in 2011 through ABNA, and we have remained good friends since. I find him hilarious, and I really enjoy his work. He has kindly consented to sit down and allow me to “virtually interview ” him. I am especially curious about his wonderful new book, which is a vampire tale. It’s most certainly not your mama’s sparkly vampires! If you are curious, here is my review: Best in Fantasy: A Dry Patch of Skin

CJJ: Tell us a little of early life and how you began writing:

Stephen Swartz 2007SS: It seems like I’ve always been making up stories, much to my parents’ chagrin. I began by drawing panel comics, then added dialog, then began writing paragraphs. I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy in my youth, plus the classics of literature. They influenced my writing mostly by pushing me to try to “out-do” those authors with my own stories. My early writing was limited by the limitations of typewriters and correction fluid. When I got my first computer in 1986, all of my vast library of stories finally could be written. And the world shuddered….

 

CJJ: Tell us about your most recent book.

SS: A DRY PATCH of SKIN is a contemporary vampire story, but not at all modeled after any of the current vampire TV shows, films, or the books they are based on. I deliberately tried to keep it real. Thus, I researched diseases which cause symptoms approximating the vampire’s condition. In that way, I wanted the reader to experience what it would be like to become a vampire. I decided to tell the story through the POV of a man who is transforming against his will into something he does not want to become. All the tropes and memes of vampire stories are there, but they are realized in a medically accurate fashion—as much as possible. It gets a bit religious at the end, so…call it magical realism.

 

CJJ: How did you come to write this novel?

SS: I had the idea in rough form ever since Twilight came out and I tried to explain to my daughter, who was hooked on the Bella/Edward story, what “real” vampirism was. For that explanation, I recalled a report years ago on one of those news magazine shows about a man suffering from porphyria, sometimes called the “vampire disease”; the medical explanations for his affliction made perfect sense in terms of why he might be called a vampire if he happened to live in a certain time and place rather than modern America. Watching that interview (he wore a hood to cover his face), I could truly feel the anguish of being in that situation, and given that my art is answering What-if questions, I sought a vehicle for illustrating that awful situation.

 

CJJ: Do you have a specific ‘Creative Process’ that you follow, such as outlining or do you ‘wing it’?

SS: For A DRY PATCH of SKIN, I worked a bit differently than usual. I began with snatches of my real life, anecdotes that were humorous or telling in some way, then fictionalized them. My initial goal was to explore the character I was inventing, to get down his personality, way of expressing himself, his identity, and so on. As a story set in 2014 in the same city where I live, it was quite schizophrenic to write fiction about the places I regularly visit.

Unlike some authors, I generally do not make lists of traits or compose background profiles of my characters; sometimes I do not know all about them when they come on stage and I get to know them as readers do. (Of course, I go back in revision and make it all fit together.) I do collect information as I create them but it stays in my head. Sometimes browsing the internet will bring me an image that fits what I see in my head.

I knew from the start the direction A DRY PATCH of SKIN would go but I did not have the exact action of the climactic scene until I was mid-way into the writing. Once I “knew” how it would end, the direction of the plot shifted a bit to head toward that conclusion. I found by the end, fortunately, that I happened to have dropped some good seeds along the way which conveniently blossomed in the final chapters—much as Chekhov’s musket in Act 1 must be fired by Act 3. I suppose it’s a matter of how my twisted mind works; I’m not always conscious of the big picture under the cacophony of surface features, but my deeper self knows…because he sleeps with my muses.

CJJ: How does your work differ from others of its genre?

SS: A DRY PATCH of SKIN was a personal challenge, something in a genre I have not written previously. The saving aspect for me, however, was that it is, at the core, a tragic love story. (Is that a spoiler?) The trappings of vampire transformation become the vehicle for pulling off that tragedy. Or is it that the transformation, the struggle to avoid it or prevent it, is made more tragic with the love interest? At any rate, I’ve consciously tried to go counter to all the usual tropes of the vampire genre. In fact, the characters often mention, critique, and spoof some of the popular works of the genre during their conversations. I hope this novel will be both a fun “review” of the vampire literature as well as a realistic portrayal of a biological problem; in that sense, it’s a medical thriller.

CJJ: Why do you write what you do?

SS: A DRY PATCH of SKIN was a departure from my usual kind of novel (contemporary anti-romance or sci-fi on a grand scale). I was intrigued by the question and wanted to see if I could write it if only to see how such a situation might play out. I seldom write as a challenge or game, but this time I did. For writing in general, I simply want to follow my desire to see what happens next for the people I create and the situations I put them in. I know that sounds cruel, but that’s how I roll. It probably keeps me out of jail or the mental hospital.

Next, I’ve been challenged to write an epic fantasy with dragons. Epic fantasy is no problem; dragons are—because it’s in my nature to try to explain them in an authentic zoological way.

CJJ: I certainly can’t wait to see what sort of spin you give dragons! I know why I chose the indie route for my work, but I’m curious as to why you’ve chosen this path.

SS: Strange you should ask because while I have always done things my way (Thanks, Frank!), the results have not always been glorious. After a health scare a few years back, I realized what I wanted most in whatever time I thought I had left was to publish one of the books I’d already written. Years before that, I had gone through the lengthy process of soliciting with actual reams of paper in mailing boxes and the 6-12 month wait for a response by paper form letter. But just a few years ago, the world apparently  changed and querying and soliciting were being done electronically, which opened up a whole new world of possibilities. I was impatient, for health reasons, so I caught the attention of a small publisher with a book I entered into a contest. That did not go so well but I did get a taste of the brave new world of publishing. The rest is what some call history—and others call serendipity.

CJJ: What advice would you offer an author trying to decide whether to go indie or take the traditional path?

SS: I suppose there are all kinds of reasons and they tend to be settled on an individual basis. I described my situation, but even without that push from Father Time I’d probably still discover the small and indie publishers and hook up with one of them eventually. If I were young and had a market-ready book with a ready-made audience, I’d query that thing to the farthest star. If you are short on time or believe your work is specialized and thus out of the mainstream, you probably have to go indie.

My goal the past four years has been to make the books I’ve previously written available, at least that, not so much for my ego as for being able to check them off my so-called bucket list. Then I wrote something new! And made it available, too. And I wrote something new again! I have to give credit to the publishing of my early books for the spark of creativity that caused me to write my new books.

Thank you Stephen, for answering my questions! For those readers who are interested in reading more of Stephen’s writing journey, you can find him blogging at:

Deconstruction of the Sekuatean Empire

 You can purchase all the books written by Stephen Swartz from this page at Amazon.com

stephen swartz's books

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Purple Prose

purple velvet blazerMmmm…everyone loves the lush feel of velvet, the way the texture imparts a depth to any color.

Black velvet feels cool, sophisticated and sexy, a little black dress and a vampire kind of cool.

Purple velvet, can feel royal, rich, but is frequently a bit too over-the-top for me.

Red velvet signifies something daring, just a bit risqué. This opulent fabric evokes emotion in us when we see and touch it.

In my mind, words are like velvet.  They evoke feelings and memories, and can alter our mood just by the way they are used. When we craft our narrative we aim to please our readers, to make them want to read it again.  To convey the atmosphere of our setting,  we use descriptors. We also use descriptors to show our characters, to indicate they are long-haired, dark-eyed, or bearded.

Good prose contains a certain amount of  descriptors, and like Goldilocks, we want to make it just right–not too little and not too much.

Too little, and the narrative is flat, uninvolving. To much and the reader finds themselves gagging.  This heavy, cloying style of writing is called “Purple Prose.”

Like purple velvet, a little goes a LONG way. “But wait, ” you’re saying, “aren’t you being a little hypocritical? What about your love of all things Dickens?  His work is rife with overblown, hyperdramatic descriptions.”  Cool your jets, kids–that was the style when he was alive and rocking out the paranormal fiction. People wanted to spend an entire day savoring the well-crafted poem. That style of writing has a place, but not in the current culture of commercially viable novels.

If you want to sell books, you must walk the fine line between overblown prose and its antitheses, eviscerated, flat narrative

The Elements of Style calls “Purple Prose” “hard to digest, generally unwholesome, and sometimes nauseating.”  To be fair, purple prose is subjective and each reader has a different level of tolerance for it, but it is something we definitely don’t want.

Plain: He set the mug down. (my choice)
Somewhere in the middle: He eased the tankard onto the table.
Bleah: Without haste, the tall, blond barbarian set the immense, pewter, ale-filled cup with a wooden handle onto the stained surface of the rough, wooden table.

Spare me the ‘creamy-blue eyes as deep a shade of amethyst as the lush, purple, velvet drapes.”

There is a tipping point where good, descriptive prose becomes distracting and cloying to the modern reader. I opt for a lean style in the majority of my own work, because, while I adore Charles Dickens,most readers just want a good novel that will provide a small diversion from the everyday grind.

Purple Prose done wrong bullies the reader into seeing only what the author tells them to see, and leaves no room for imagination. Telling the reader what to think forces her to walk away rather than suffer a moment longer. That book goes into the recycling bin, or gets deleted from my Kindle.

What I, as the author, think is good and beautiful may be ugly to you, as the reader.

Author Stephen Swartz recently posted a great blogpost on this very subject–available at Deconstruction of the Sekuatean Empire.  He loves the nuances of the english language as much as I do, but understands how to create lean narrative that allows a reader to see the scene, but leaves room for the imagination to fill in the gaps.

Right off the top of my head, I can think of many authors who manage to walk the line between purple and eviscerated prose, among them Ross M. Kitson, Shaun Allan, Neil Gaiman, and yes, you too, Stephen Swartz.

black velvet dressThese authors give you the framework around which your imagination builds the image, and they place that framework in well-crafted sentences that tease you, inviting you to read more. Like that  little black dress made of velvet, their work is lush, sleek, and sophisticated.

My advice is to read, read, read. If you like a certain style, write in such a way to evoke the feeling the author of that work raised in you. But never , never force the minute details of your vision on your readers. When you bludgeon your reader with the minutiae of your vision, you lose the beauty of story, and you lose your reader.

I think Neil Gaiman nails that fine distinction in this quote from “The Ocean at the End of the Lane:”

Neil Gaiman Quote

Creepy and to the point–and allows us to envision the shock the main character feels at the realization he knows nothing of his past, without beating us over the head with it.

My goal is to write with an economy of words, yet give enough description that my readers can build the environment in their own minds.

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The Descriptive Balancing Act, Maria V.A. Johnson

Today’s guest post is by Maria V.A. Johnson, poet and editor. Maria was the editor on Carlie M.A. Cullen’s novel of paranormal love and adventure, ‘Heart Search: Lost’. Maria can be found blogging at http://mariavajohnson.com

Maria is discussing the fine balancing act an author has when it comes to description.  For me, description is like hot-sauce. I love it, even when my lips are on fire, but I fear going over-board with it so when I am cooking, I don’t go there as often as I should.

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The Descriptive Balancing Act

One of the hardest parts about writing is getting the level of detail correct. If you don’t describe something well enough, how are the readers supposed to connect to it? On the other hand, if you describe too much they will give up reading it completely.

It has always been a balancing act, between description and plot. One thing you need to remember though is that a story should always be either plot or character driven; it cannot be driven on description. The whole point of description is to paint the scene. Think of a painting of a woman. Is it interesting if she is standing in a white canvas, nothing around her? Not really. But is it interesting if she is standing in the middle of a huge crowd, or a forest, so you can barely see her? No. An author has to try to find the middle ground, just like with that painting.

So how do you use enough description to show the scene without overwhelming it?

Step One. Focus on telling the story. You can always go back and add more detail later if it’s needed.

Step Two. Try to be realistic. Don’t put in fancy words and elaborate phrasing just because it sounds good or you think it will stun the reader with your eloquence. Look at this phrase from the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. http://www.bulwer-lytton.com/2011win.html

The Los Angeles morning was heavy with smog, the word being a portmanteau of smoke and fog, though in LA the pollutants are typically vehicular emissions as opposed to actual smoke and fog, unlike 19th-century London where the smoke from countless small coal fires often combined with fog off the Thames to produce true smog, though back then they were not clever enough to call it that.

Now a) this sentence is way too long, which makes it difficult to follow from one end to the other, and b) you only need the first 8 words. Who doesn’t know what smog is? Who doesn’t know this author is referring to the car emissions? It is unnecessary detail. And the reference to 19th-century London? This would only be relevant if this were in a Historical Fiction novel or something similar, rather than being a throw-away comment on what real smog should be.  The author should just say “The Los Angeles morning was heavy with smog,” and then move on with the story. We all know what it looks like, and those 8 words conjure enough of a picture for us to understand the scene.

Step Three. Think about your characters. How do they act, think, feel? When they do or say something can you see their personality, their motivation, their feeling behind it? You don’t need whole paragraphs to do this unless it is a scene that calls for it, e.g. when someone is crushed by grief and the emotions are overwhelming everything – including the story, sometimes all you need is a word or two. Look at this example from Heart Search: Lost by Carlie M. A. Cullen.

“I don’t know what to say,” he moaned, anguish still apparent in his tone.

The male protagonist has just accidentally hurt his partner. You can see with just a few words how much it has affected him and how he feels about it. This tells you a lot about his character, how caring and gentle he is, and how much he loves her.

Step Four. Before sending it off to an editor, give it a read through and ask yourself “Is this something I would like to read?” If the answer is no, then ask yourself why.

Four easy steps to follow towards a balanced story. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but even for the exceptions there is a rule.

The Rule. If you are going to break a rule, make sure you do it well enough that nobody cares!

Let’s look at two classic examples of this – C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Tolkien is known for his amazing scenes. Pick up The Lord of the Rings and you will find description on top of description. Even when they take up the entire page, it doesn’t feel too heavy. This is partly because of the length of the book, and partly because of the way he makes the scenes come to life. You don’t notice how long the descriptive passages are when you are lost within the world he has created.

On the south-eastern side the ground fell very steeply, as if the slopes of the hill were continued far down under the trees, like island-shores that really are the sides of a mountain rising out of deep waters.

Lewis is the exact opposite. Read The Chronicles of Narnia and you will see how little description he actually uses. The fact that this is a children’s book helps. A person’s imagination is most vivid as a child. He gives just enough detail to release the child to see the rest. He makes the reader the describer, letting them go where they want with only a little nudge. In The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe most things and people are described, but not until you are half-way through the final chapter do you learn anything about the four main characters.

And they themselves grew and changed as the years passed over them. And Peter became a tall and deep-chested man and a great warrior, and he was called King Peter the Magnificent. And Susan grew into a tall and gracious woman with black hair that fell almost to her feet … Edmund was a graver and quieter man than Peter, and great in council and judgement. He was called King Edmund the Just. But as for Lucy, she was always gay and golden-haired…

 

So now you know the steps to follow, you are half-way to having a decent novel which will engage your readers. Don’t forget that you should ALWAYS send it off to a professional editor – NEVER try to do it yourself!

Remember The Rule and happy writing!

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The Zombie Apocalypse–and so it begins…

Halloween is just a day or two away. Wednesday night will see the streets of my town filled with the walking dead, the could-be-dead and the just plain skeletal remains of the dead. Should I plan poorly and run out of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups or Hershey’s Chocolate Bars before 9:00 P.M. or so, I will most likely wish I was dead! After all, my deeds that night are all that stands between the undead apocalypse and the good people of the world.

What is this fascination we have with death?  So many books are being written about the undead, vampires and zombies.  In my town Zombies are very popular, being quite athletic and charitably minded, with many turning out this last week for the Zombie Dash 5k run.

According to Zynga executive, Travis  Boatman, who has been making games for two decades,  “People want to smash and maim and kill people,” Travis says. “But people don’t  alway like smashing and maiming and killing real people because, well, there’s  something unsettling about that. Zombies are people,” Travis continues, “so they fulfill people’s desire to  smash and maim and kill people. But they’re also already dead. So there’s  nothing unsettling about smashing and maiming and killing them.”

Read more of Travis’s Interview at : Zynga

Vampires are of course very romantic, and frequently are the most popular books on the store racks. Anne Rice made the vampire quite romantic and disturbingly sexy in her 1976 novel, Interview With the Vampire. Stephanie Meyers made them not only romantic, she made them mainstream with her mega-popular  Twilight.  Heck, she even managed to make damp, dreary Forks, Washington seem somehow  more mysterious, much more glamorous and a LOT less rainy than it actually is. After all, Forks averages 212 days per year with measurable precipitation — and trust me, that is a LOT of dark, rainy days.

I am a superhero, and  October 31st is a most important night in the calendar of this superhero. It is the one night of the year when the veil between the worlds is most thin and the undead wait, literally DYING to invade our streets. Without my efforts to stave off the annual apocalypse which each year is poised to take place on November 1st, who knows what mayhem would abound?

How do I do this?  I have certain skills… and I’ve much arcane and mystical knowledge. Dressed in my ritual garb, I will personally perform the annual sacrifice which appeases those uneasy dead who roam the streets.

The vampires and zombies who will be knocking at my door on Wednesday will be, for the most part, less than four feet tall, wearing rain coats over their rags and capes, and carrying plastic bags for the annual sacred offering of chocolate.  I will be wearing my lucky witch’s hat and  flying-cape as I ritualistically drop chocolate into the offering-bags, hoping against hope that the annual tribute will keep my neighborhood safe from the walking dead for one more year.

I take my work seriously, when it comes to protecting my town. If it wasn’t for me and fifty dollars worth of chocolate, who knows what evil these undead marauders could unleash for the next year? It’s a terribly lonely thing, knowing that one fat grandma in a witch’s hat armed only with a bucket of chocolate is all that stands between human-kind and the zombie apocalypse.

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