Those of you who are reading the new story, Martha’s Children, realize it’s quite a bit different from The Dragon Lady of Stockbridge. It’s about vampires in Chicago. I don’t strive to provide cliffhangers at the end of every chapter. It’s not even in the same universe as Dragon Lady. So I owe you all a word of explanation why.
Let’s start with vampires. Why are vampires threatening? They’re killers, of course. They are seductive killers: they are able to mesmerize their prey, dominate them, and even get their prey to like being killed. And yet, they are still basically us, human, and suggest that, under the wrong circumstances, we might become evil creatures, too.
It’s no wonder they’ve acquired sexual connotations. I think J. Sheridan Le Fanu gets credit for that development with Carmilla (1872). Vampires become the sexual attraction we can’t deny, the bad sex we shouldn’t have, and the possibly nasty consequences thereof.
But just as sex doesn’t always have to be bad, vampires don’t always have to be evil. I’ve not read it, but I’m told that Varney the Vampire (1845-47) features the first remorseful vampire, one who regrets the evil he causes. His Twentieth Century successor, Barnabas Collins of the TV soap opera Dark Shadows (originally 1966-71) even hoped for a cure for his condition, so he could become a proper lover.
In Ned O’Donnell, the protagonist and narrator of Martha’s Children, I’ve put a basically good man in this evil situation of becoming a vampire, and explore how he deals with it. In the story, I intend to address all three of these major aspects of vampirism: the need to prey on others, the sexual element, and regret for one’s role. Ned’s efforts to cope with this are at the heart of the story.
Different writers have given vampires different attributes. Even Bram Stoker varied from the “standard” vampire in that Dracula actually could go about by day. My vampires, like most, are a mixture of magic and nature, traditional lore combined with some thoughts on evolution and sex, and structured so that vampires could exist in a world such as ours long enough and in sufficient numbers that a vampire society and culture exists. So Ned is going to mix with other vampires. Put baldly, that’s one reason Martha hangs around: she’s Ned’s trainer in vampire life.
Martha is no placeholder, though. She has her own agenda, and her own problems. And one of her problems is that she is in Chicago in 1968-69.
Chicago’s an interesting city. It’s a large metropolis that has almost every feature a city could have. And it’s been intensively studied: urban sociology began as a formal discipline in the United States with The City (by Robert E. Park et al., 1925), a study that used Chicago as its model.
More importantly for the story, for several years starting in the late 1960s, Chicago was at the center of the clash between the conservative Daley machine that ran the city, and various groups violently protesting the system. Whether it was race riots that burnt down parts of the city, the violent clashes at the Democratic National Convention in 1968, the Black Panthers, the “Days of Rage,” or just the escalating level of urban crime in that era, Chicago was a very violent place. And violence has been known to attract violent people, and to cause normally kind people to resort to extreme measures to cope with those who violate the law.
Just as Ned has to cope with being turned into a vampire, Martha has to cope with the violence of Chicago in 1969. Without giving away too much, it really is a problem for her. You’ll start to see why in chapter two. Martha’s problems and Ned’s are related, which is definitely not to say they will take the same view of them.
So all that is why I’m putting Martha’s Children in front of you. I’m telling the story in the first person because that’s what the purpose of the story demands, and because it gives me a chance to practice a different way to tell a story. And at least in the early chapters, each chapter is a night. Ned’s suspended in sleep between chapters, just as you, my readers, are held in suspense until the next chapter!
OK! So, talking about vampires and sex or sexuality and having read the first chapter, I dare ask: is the plot going to stray away from the safe boundaries of heteronormativity? I’m far from being an expert in vampire literature, but I do remember The Hunger, and I’m pretty sure vampires are sort of bisexual polyamorous creatures in many cases…
You’re right about the range. Even if the stereotype is man preying on women, there’s Carmilla, whom I mentioned above, who is often described as the first lesbian vampire, though in fact bisexual would probably be a better description, since she does take a male victim, and we don’t know enough about her history to ascertain her preferences. And that’s in 1872!
What is sexuality? Among humans, it is reproduction, nurturing the young, eroticism, and affectionate bonds. It involves species biology, individual physiology, sociology, psychology, and culture. So how does that play out among vampires? The answers are going to be different. And that, Dana, is part of Ned’s story.
Thanks for the question. It reminds me there are some elements of my answer that still need to be fully fleshed out.
It is a great answer, and of course, I’m always glad to help!
Love this. It’s good you’re not making the sexuality of vampires into that annoying teeny Twilight kind of stuff. I’m a huge vampire fan, I’ve read Varney the Vampire (it’s long, but it’s good), and it’s always nice to get refreshing twists and mixing of legend within our modern day (or, the 60’s, but you know what I mean.)
I’m very interested in this story, I’ve read the first chapter and you have a very unique idea and a beautiful way of writing it. I’ll be here on March 1 for chapter two =)
Thank you. Nice to hear from you again. Been following your blog, though I’ve not been much of a presence there.
I have to admit to having not read nor seen either the “Twilight” or “True Blood” sagas. I’m kind of kicking myself about the latter, because I saw it for years in the bookstore, with its distinctive cover art, but never gave it a try. I suspect before “Martha’s Children” finishes, I’ll have to attempt both of them.
Hear, hear, anyone who’s reading! Andrew deserves credit for reading “Varney” all the way through, as it is a VERY long book. While I was thinking about this post, I went wandering through the blogs, and ran into another recommendation to read “Varney” from someone who read it. So with two recommendations, I feel I should put it on my reading schedule. Maybe once I finish “Anna Karenina,” it’ll become my chapter-a-day book.
How is Anna Kerenina? I’ve been wanting to read that as well. And if I’m going to be completely honest, I haven’t yet finished Varney because it is so complex. But I’ve made a good dent and can confidently recommend it as a good vampire book.
I also haven’t read Twilight. I saw the first movie and that was enough for me, but True Blood is on my list too. There’s just so many vampire novels out there to read!
This chapter also kind of reminded me of Christopher Moore’s “Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story.” At least in the way it’s started. I also recommend that one for you 😉
“Anna” I’ve been reading slowly. At the 60% point, I’m still undecided, primarily because the two major plot lines, involving Levin and Anna, aren’t coming together for me. That said, Tolstoy has some interesting psychology.
I’ve read some Moore, partly on my own (“Lust Lizard”) and partly on the recommendation of a friend (“Fool”). Might be time to give him another go-around. It’s curious that when I first saw his books, they were in the sci-fi/fantasy section, but now they’ve moved to fiction/novels.
I read “Lamb” first, so I was expecting him to be a humor author. He’s got a pretty wide range of genres though, I like him a lot.
This sounds just awesome. I’ll be reading, albeit slowly.
Glad to have you on board. One reason I post at the rate of a chapter a week is that I know quite a few of my readers can’t spare much time for reading fiction. Unfortunately, I also have some readers who can’t stand to read in installments, either because they forget what happened in previous chapters, or the suspense is too annoying! I sent some of them a special announcement when “Dragon Lady” finished!
Looking forward to this next ride. At least, Chicago in the 60’s is well withing my grasp.
What’s amusing for me is that I was alive then, but quite young, so my grasp on things was very hit-or-miss. I remember following the Presidential politics with great interest in 1968, but I hadn’t an honest clue about why there was so much urban unrest.
I’ve a feeling you are cooking us up a meaty meal. I am looking forward to it. 🙂
Truly I’d love to have Ned tour the entire city, and beyond, but must keep his travels and experiences within the confines of my plot.
Apropos “meaty meal”, I suddenly noticed that most of my vampire-fans friends are strictly vegan… hmm…
Sublimation, perhaps? And Eleanor notes that vampires would have trouble keeping kosher. Though they’d find it easy to carry out the daytime fasts of Ramadan, if they were Muslims. Jehovah Witness vampires are in serious trouble, since blood transfusions aren’t allowed.
They can’t keep Kosher by definition. Blood is unholy by its very nature in Judaism. This is why they have to drain the poor cow of its blood before its meat is considered Kosher.