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Something I've been toying with...

What if vampires are creatures of the day?

The first ones might have been heretical devotees of Aten who bought immortality by binding themselves to live only when their god rules the sky. At night they must sleep the sleep of death again, and those who dare to roam the night lose their minds, becoming mere mindless devourers, predators turned the prey of those who can think and coordinate. Or maybe something else. (Seems like it'd be fun to tie this in with the origins of agriculture and the emergence of patriarchy as a social default.) The key thing is that vampires can only be active during daylight hours.

There are a few classic ways for vampires to lose self-control, and most of them still seem to apply:

Hunger. Yup. No reason for a vampire du soleil to feel any less hungry or frenzy-prone because of it than any other.

Anger. Ditto.

Sunlight, fire, etc. Now this has to go. I thought about daytime vampires having a problem with darkness instead of light, but I think that gets too constricting. No hiding in dark places during the day? That gets cramping of narrative possibilities in a bad way, more like stomach cramps than cool-plotting cramps. I next thought of moonlight, but that turns out not to go places I want to go with this either. The idea of a ban that sometimes applies during the day is good, but not the idea that some times of the month it'd be safe to roam during the night. So I'm currently thinking that being active without sunlight simply rots vampires' minds. After not many nights of trying that, there's nothing left but blood-craving husks. So there's, er, teeth in the night-time ban.

Holy symbols? Not sure what I want to do with that. Do crosses work as powerful invocations of death, or maybe not work at all as partial evocations of the creating power's own nature? I'd like it not to be just a matter of the wielder's faith; that can be interesting but not quite the set of motifs I'm interested in poking at right now. Maybe it's symbols of the night that work, including moons and stars. Though there needs to be a ludicrousness check somewhere to prevent fearless vampire hunters wielding boxes of Lucky Charms. This is obviously an area of more work required.

What really interests me is the social possibilities. The vampire is traditionally a force on the margins of society. In modern stories, it preys on people who've drifted from a crowd, or who are gathering with other marginalized people, or doing something else that pushes them toward the pale and beyond. The vampire du soleil, on the other hand, exists in the thick of it. It could be a consultant, or an auditor, or a government agent with arrest powers, capable of taking prey off boldly and without challenge thanks to prevailing expectations. It could also work on the marginalized of other sorts, like day labor (either hiring them out or employing them and feeding on them once a few are apart from the rest). 

Likewise, there are lots of private spaces in the midst of the daytime crowd: places for people to meet for affairs, for confidential business, to earn and show status by being someplace exclusive, to cater to specialty tastes licit and otherwise, and so on. All of these could become vampiric domains without much effort. 

And, finally, if vampires du soleil don't look too massively inhuman, then they can be out in the midst of humanity. Vampire surfers! Vampires haranguing people on street corners, choosing their prey from those who respond favorably. Vampire poll-takers? 

This could be fun.


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How else to start but by defining terms? 
 
When I write about things serving as symbols and images, I mean something specific but a little hard to articulate. I do not mean allegory: I don't much like allegory, and can only thoroughly engage with fiction where things are first and foremost, themselves. What I like as an extra layer, though, is when the fictional things, which are themselves, evoke something about the real world. A lot of the fantasy, sf, and horror I like says things about reality by giving what is in reality just states of mind a more tangible meaning.
 
So, vampires. Take Stoker's Dracula. Dracula is a vampire, not an allegory of something. But he caught on in late Victorian England partly because he was also a great embodiment of a lot of Victorian fears about sex, that it was thing which had great power but was innately defiling and ultimately corrupting to society as a whole. Anne Rice successfully re-riffed on the theme, building a foundation of innate glamour partly because we're less inclined to think of sex as innately yucky, but reworking the corrupting force within and without. 
 
I've been thinking lately that vampires can also serve as symbols of transsexuality. Consider. They are, first of all, exotic, and fit no easy standard category. They're rare. They're strange: they don't quite fit into society, though they can go disguised for a time. They can be deeply glamorous, but they are ultimately dangerous, and normal people must rally to defeat them. They are parasitic, dependent for their continued existence on resources others give, or are compelled to give. They're imposters, having only a semblance of what all normal people have for real—vitality, in the case of vampires, of course. 
 
This all sounds pretty familiar. I wonder if some of the stories I've been stalled on might work with this in mind as I appraise and revise. Might be some good drama in the interplay between this innately damaging existence and people struggling with ones that are seen the same way but aren't. Hmm.


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I'd heard about this from the comics blogosphere last year but only got to see it this last week. Shaun Tan is a Chinese-Australian artist, and The Arrival is the wordless story of an immigrant's experiences in a strange new land. It's a seamless blend of tight realism and soaring fantasy, and it moved me very deeply.

What you want to do is go look at Tan's website for the page about this book. Then you should go get a copy, because the oversize, high-quality production of the book lets the illustrations shine very much more than these reduced images can convey. 









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This picture of an orc shaman and his spirit wolves is one of the most amazingly beautiful pieces of fan art I've ever seen. I love this, and hope the artist does more. The stroke styles, the use of negative space...someone has really done their homework, and isn't just doing a pastiche of superficial effects but working seriously inside an artistic tradition.

 
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This time I'm planning with last week's upsets in mind, and expecting some more in this coming week's appointments.

# Prepare notes and questions for counselor and doctor sessions. Go feeling prepared.
# Choose places to eat after Wednesday and Friday appointments. Enjoy two meals out.
# Shop for some shorts in preparation for time with compression devices. Allow myself one clothing indulgence.
# Check out vascular specialists; go to Friday appointment with a reaction and preference.
# Get clothes ready for donation to Goodwill donated.
# Read three books purely for pleasure, with no thought of work relevance.
# Do 5 hours' free writing, with no topicality constraints at all.
# Fight down the urge to do anything about Project N this week, except maybe finishing the research reading in progress. Respect the stress, dammit.
# Take 5 pictures I want to share.

And that should do it for this week.
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On Monday, I set myself the following goals:
# Call the doctor's office to schedule an initial appointment.
# Ditto with the dentist.
# Do 30 hours of research for Project N.
# Do 5 hours of actual writing for Project N.
# Get my old clothes definitively sorted, with a tally of what's to be donated, and get at least half of that to Goodwill.
# Do 5 hours' free writing on hopeful concepts, as per recent musings about good-news writing.
# Get players in my Soul Leverage pbem/pbp game the info they need to make characters.
# Take 5 photos I want to share.
# Get out for one purely fun outing.
# Make both of the new-to-me crock pot recipes I've got the ingredients for.
Let's see.

# Called doctor's office and got an appointment for the very next day. And the results of that tossed everything into or at least in the direction of a cocked hot.
# Did get clothes sorted and three Hefty bags' worth of useful but not-fitting-me-now clothes, bedding, and towels ready to take to Goodwill.
# Did take and post 5 pictures I like, from my Wednesday outing.
# Fixed one crock pot recipe and enjoyed it a lot, but haven't gotten to the other yet.
# Did not call the dentist. I'm going to get the current crisis sorted first, and call the dentist in a week or two.
# Only managed 11 hours of research, and no free writing or gaming set up.
# Didn't get out for fun, alas.

But given that the Wednesday visit did include news of unsuspected life-threatening problems, I think I did very well, when grading on a curve. :) I'll aim for some updated goals for the coming week.

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I seem to have a cold or something, so I didn't make phone calls today. But I did spend the morning evaluating time tracking software that'll run on both my Mac and my iPod Touch. Looks like FreshBooks is the most convenient for me, of the ones I've tried; I've got it set up with entries for publishers, books, and kinds of activity, and folded in recent work sessions' information.


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I'm feeling a little scatter-brained, just from having so many things I actually want to think about in my head all at once. Time to try a little goal-setting, I think.

# Call the doctor's office to schedule an initial appointment.
# Ditto with the dentist.
# Do 30 hours of research for Project N.
# Do 5 hours of actual writing for Project N.
# Get my old clothes definitively sorted, with a tally of what's to be donated, and get at least half of that to Goodwill.
# Do 5 hours' free writing on hopeful concepts, as per recent musings about good-news writing.
# Get players in my Soul Leverage pbem/pbp game the info they need to make characters.
# Take 5 photos I want to share.
# Get out for one purely fun outing.
# Make both of the new-to-me crock pot recipes I've got the ingredients for.

That'll do.
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Insofar as health has let me be a professional anything the last fifteen years or so, I've been a professional writer, and I look forward to being one again as I get my life's act together again. I'm in the midst of a sea change about what I want to write, and having some tough times putting it into practice. So I'm going to ramble. This is what someone halfway through her second million words and changing course sounds like.

Most of what I've written professionally is horror. I like horror. I think that when it's done well, it can be a humanizing thing: it takes interior experiences we share and makes them tangible for the characters. I've never been a vampire, for instance, but I've felt isolated, cut out of time and watching an increasingly incomprehensible world pass me by, and stuck dependent on something I loathe. Monsters, and other subjects of horror, affirm our interior lives: they say "These things you feel, they're so powerful and true that they can fill the universe." Naturalistic fiction says "These things you feel, no matter how intense they seem, are still just packed inside one little head." Both are true, really, but when you're suffering through isolation and alienation, that non-naturalistic honoring of what's inside us can be weirdly comforting and even encouraging. Good stories cross the gap between lives to point at things we share, no matter how different we are in other ways.

It's not true, by the way, that you can diagnose someone's mental health or even just general mental state from what they write. It's notoriously true how many great comedians are personally miserable, and there are a lot of very fine horror authors who are well-balanced people good to and for those they love and their surrounding communities.

It's just that right now I find myself hungering for stories of joy, of completion and reconciliation, of peace made, of good things happening. And sometimes it's awfully hard to find these kinds of things in stories that take the complexities and dark sides of life seriously. So I'm thinking that maybe I should be writing some of them myself.

Naturally, I have trans experiences on my mind a lot at the moment, and I'd like to write stories that draw on them. But I also have a respect for the limits of my knowledge and clues, or at least I try to, and in any event, there are happy endings of other sorts that I'm also interested in. In every case, it's remarkable to me just how really hard it is to work out satisfying good conclusions to interesting challenges in the lives of interesting people.

(It's occurred to me as I write this post that this subject is one to discuss with my counselor, and I've added it to the list of things to bring up in future sessions.)

I just find myself with a very strong feeling that this is a challenge I want to take up: to see what I can do to imagine some better worlds, and some redemption and progress within ones that aren't necessarily better, and to convey them well to readers.
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I had a few bucks' credit at the iTunes store and picked up Brushes. Back in college, I learned how de Kooning planned his abstracts, and I was hooked: he'd prepare his palette for a realistic landscape, or still life, or whatever, and then do something non-representational that still had the color balance of reality in it. I've always wanted to try some dabbling with that concept, and now I can. Two simple renderings based on colors in my bedroom as I flopped out for a while this afternoon:

From Brushes


From Brushes
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I woke up this morning to find that David Eddings died yesterday. He wasn't my favorite fantasy author, but his books kept me company through some dull and unpleasant stretches, and I'm glad for the time I spent reading them.


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This predates the literal videos, but I was reminded of it again and it still makes me giggle something fierce. It's amazing what the simplest edits can do.

ceri: Ghostly man holding a lamp lit up by his force of will (Sean with Lamp)
Elizabeth Bear wrote something in her LiveJournal that bugged me for reasons I didn't succeed in articulating well in my comments there. But now I've got it. Here's the passage in question, which I'm quoting at length to make sure I don't mislead by excluding context:

My job as an artist is to make you squirm.

My job as an artist is not to console you or distract you from the things in the world that make you unhappy. That's my job as an entertainer, and often it's in direct conflict with my job as an artist--but conflict is what makes narratives interesting, so that's okay. My job as an artist is not to give you characters and stories you care about and invest in and want to spend time with. That's my job as a storyteller, which supports and informs my job as an artist.

My job as an artist is not to propagandize for anyone or anything, because that would mean I have the answers, and my job as an artist is to point out that there are no total answers and no moral certainties and that the ones we think we have mostly are broken and flawed and kind of suck. My job as an artist is not to rubber-stamp anybody's belief system, including my own.

My job as an artist is to keep hanging out the reminders that it's always more complicated, that the human condition is fraught with contradictions and compromises and crippling choices, that we make mistakes--sometimes terrible mistakes--and that's okay, but also that we are capable of so much more than we aspire to.


The reason this bugs me is because of what it presumes about the audience. There are people who need to know that the world is more complicated, that the human condition is loaded with crippling choice, and all that. But only people with privilege need to know that. The victims of discrimination, bias, and all other forms of oppress already know it. We already get to squirm—we face the possibility we deal with authority, and brace for it each time we deal with surrounding society. It's a part of our lives already.

So Bear is imagining an audience of people with at least as much as privilege as herself. She doesn't have anything to offer the rest of us; we aren't on her radar at all, not in that deep-down space where every writer's soul goes about its work, not while she's busy making other, privileged people uncomfortable. I don't really have an opinion on whether that's a good aim, or whether it works. But I can tell that I am nowhere in her art's aim.

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Ceri B.

April 2010

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