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!