On New Year’s Eve, the months’-long giveaway for five review copies of Clotho’s Loom by Shawn StJean will end–and remember, these are mass market paperback copies retailing for $20.00 each on Amazon.com, not e-books or ARCs! You’re not going to see many opportunities like this. Over 500 folks have already entered! So head on over to GoodReads.com (links in the left column on the blog, or simply go to the website and browse “giveaways”) and enter to win! Copies will be mailed out in the third week of January.
Not exactly seasonal subject matter, I know, but here’s the third in our series analyzing the enduring popularity of certain types of ghastly figures and horror stories (Zombies and Human Sacrifice have been covered in parts 1 and 2.)
So many versions and modifications to the mythology have arisen even since Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) that it would be counterproductive to survey their evolution here—and we are really interested in the archetypal fascination we all have with these figures of the night, anyway, and not their various historical guises.
Perhaps the best way to proceed would be to look beneath the common, classical “rules” about vamps, in order to uncover a theory that accounts for them. It is vital not to ignore the basic truth that even the most powerful vampires are extremely limited, or bound, by inviolable tenets. Writers who ignore these–in order to be “new”– are merely exhibiting a failure to comprehend why they became indispensable to the mythology to begin with. They are seven:
- “Vamps” are, almost by definition, sexual: we may as well begin on a compelling note. Animalistically sexual: nocturnal, sucking blood through canine teeth, and hypnotic if not actually attractive. The pop culture’s recent insistence on physical prettiness for both male and female nosferatu is not only redundant, but deceptive, and akin to confusing rape as a sexual crime versus its reality as a crime of violence. Remember that the victim is often killed, either immediately or over a succession of feedings.
- Vampires cannot withstand direct sunlight or mirrors, and cast no shadows or reflections. This would seem to suggest more than a hint of unreality about the creatures. But how can an illusion harm you?
- Certain vampires can morph into other forms: bats, mist, rats. Even in human form, they possess supernatural strength and are impervious to many kinds of harm.
- Vampires cannot enter a private dwelling unless invited in by the human inhabitant. The philosophical implication here is that only an act of free will can entangle one with a vampire, despite the seemingly contrary myth of hypnotic abilities or “glamoring” as a vampiric power (the two are not really mutually exclusive, and the paradox is resolved with the qualification that only individuals of weak will succumb to mesmerism.)
- Vampires must rest during the day, often in contact with the Earth or in a coffin (superficially suggesting another connection to Death; however classical mythology contains many chthonic beings associated with life—the Greek gods of the harvest, Demeter and Dionysus, for example).
- Vampires are immortal, or, alternatively, no longer alive—in either case, immune from further debilitating effects of aging, “frozen” at the age in which they perished from human form. Curiously, this also seems to manifest itself as an eternal adolescence, an inability to mature (in spite of many decades or centuries of experience and memories.) They can be destroyed, in certain ways: wooden stake to the heart, consumption by fire, and cutting off of the head are most commonly agreed upon.
- Vampires have no power over sacred Christian objects: crosses and crucifixes, holy water, recitations from or direct contact with the Bible. This invokes the often-made claim that a vampire is a human being divested of a soul.
In part 2 of this article, I will argue that these rules, far from being excessively imaginative or arbitrary, can all be resolved into a consistent and logical system, by an interrogation into the true nature of a vampire: Do they exist, or not? And if so, what are they, really?
Check out this book review, accompanied by an interview, by Suspense/Thriller Writer Alana Woods. She’s responsible for Automaton (2001) and Imbroglio (2012), as well as a short-story collection (Tapestries) and a book on writing fiction well–so don’t expect her to take it easy on me! This is probably the most informative–and interactive– format we’ve seen yet. CL is a nearly epic book, requiring a heavy investment of time and attention. If this exchange doesn’t clarify what you’re getting into, nothing will!
“Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?” These words, asked of the American people less than a week ago by President Barack Obama, echo a plea repeated by civilized peoples, and dramatized in literature, at least as far back as the ancient Greek city-states.
You must understand: Literature and film only present extreme manifestations of what regular human beings endure every day. They amplify everyday experience. In short, they only exaggerate, but they do not change the basic truths.
Oedipus, in fear of his own inadequacy, called for a scapegoat because a plague had come to Thebes: “Whoever he may be, cast him out!” And his mandate did not stop short of murder. In the first post from this series, Zombie Apocalypse Now, I alluded briefly to this horrific phenomenon of human sacrifice, which people today foolishly dismiss as a relic of the historical past, or unique to primitive cultures. No–we do it here, and now. We did it on December 14, 2012, in Newtown CT. We? Yes, every one of us has a share of that guilt, as long as we remain silent, and await the next event.
WE resist change. WE fear our own vulnerability. WE are too selfish to trade personal safety for the good of our society. You can insist on conjuring a demon of chaos, and calling him Adam Lanza, or Seung-Hui Cho, or Eric Harris, or Dylan Kleybold. But you still have to answer either one of two questions: Either, What contribution are you making–no matter how small an act–to take his weapons away, OR: What will you call him next year?
Because it was never more truly said than in this case: If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.
In that earlier post, I made this claim: “The plot archetype beneath the collective and individual struggle for survival emerges as what Campbell called the Scapegoat Myth, wherein other human beings are sacrificed impulsively for one’s own personal safety/comfort (as in the all-too-human pushing of someone aside to escape the pursuing [Zombie] horde), or ritualistically, for the supposed good of the community at large, as simply told in the classic Shirley Jackson tale “The Lottery,” or most recently convoluted by Joss Whedon in his Cabin in the Woods (2011). In such tales, Man is revealed as the most monstrous Thing of them all, because alone among created beings does he turn on his own kind – zombies, aliens, pirahna, at least, do not eat each other. But a man will slay his brother, or steal his life savings, or repossess his house, or covet his wife. All in slavish worship of his insatiable hunger.”
This archetype is so compelling within the collective unconscious–sustained by guilt–that it resurfaces in a slightly different form of storytelling, every few years. It has to. The plague (perceived first as an external threat) takes many forms, such as a monster like the Kraken, or Witches in Salem, or Communists, or the shark from Jaws, or terrorists, or serial killer (as in Stephen King’s televised novel Storm of the Century: “Give me what I want and I’ll go away” demands the murderer, in bloody wall-script. By the time such a demand–“Price,” to use Obama’s apt word–is actually named, fearful citizens will go to any length to satisfy it. Not coincidentally, King’s villain wanted children too. The innocent, the virgin, the young, are so much easier to digest than the corrupt adults.
Like Martin Luther King before him, it has now become clear to our nation’s leader that the plague on U.S. society is violence (guns are simply one of its limbs.) And if we cannot, all in one day, lop off the head of the beast, then a limb ought to make a good start.
Witness the fearful public reaction, even before U.S. leaders make any concrete decree. Hiding behind the ambiguity of the Constitution, and mindless sloganeering: “Pry it from my cold, dead hands,” as if they really had that kind of courage. A true person of courage would not be ready to so easily commit the lives of others he’ll never know, and on a regular basis, to staunch the flow of piss down his own leg, because he can’t imagine life without the power to kill within reach.
I’m the last person to advocate for relinquishing control over my personal affairs to government lawmakers. If you love your guns–and more likely you love them as anyone loves any material object, simply because its yours and thus has value–and if you believe in the right to keep and bear arms promised in the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights–good. Insist lawmakers make sensible distinctions, and not some fascist, blanket mandate. Trade in your pistols and automatic rifles for a deer rifle, or shotgun, or even a compound bow. You can still hunt game and bar the door against intruders with those, and they are not likely to ever be hidden under a coat or smuggled into a school.
Are we really going to roll over, as a nation of 300 million people, and say that this plague, this monster, is too tough for all of us combined? If another nation of millions attacked us, we would not hesitate to rise up in wrath, before we sent a single, innocent child in our stead. But that is a solution of violence. Do we dare seek a solution of peace? Do we dare model for our children the way of courage, and not fear? Do we have the guts? Are we willing to pay THAT price?
Book Review by Shawn StJean
If the title of my review seems far less original than that of the novel it explores, that’s because there are some clichés that well-earn their familiarity. For example, if overheard conversations, mistaken and assumed identity, and misdirected letters (nowadays more prevalent as lost or stolen e-mail correspondence and hacked computer files) are not fresh enough for your taste in fiction, then the entire suspense/thriller genre probably isn’t either. Alana Woods deploys them all–there’s even a diary–but recombination is everything.
Far more compelling than these stock conventions are the book’s two main characters, David Cameron (you may need a pen handy to keep track of his several aliases,) but more especially Noel Valentine, a heroine worthy of a series–though Woods doesn’t appear to be setting us up for one. Among all of fiction’s many self-made detectives, few are given a motive for their investigations–which lead them into all manner of professional and personal hazard–more credible than simple money. The universal catalyst, serviceable for everyone from Sam Spade to Jim Rockford. Oh, other reasons have been invented among the better writers: egomania for Sherlock Holmes, or the occasional impressment into service (Rick Deckard.) Woods’ David, like Hamlet, was bequeathed the task by his dead father. Good thing for audiences, too–for it doesn’t always wash, that the motives of those seeking truth are the identical ones held by those seeking to cover it up.
For Noel Valentine, the impetus necessary for the pursuit of semi-comatose David’s nearly successful assassins, leading to discovery of several convolutions of corporate wrongdoing, surfaces from the depths of her very plausible, damaged psychology. “Why not go to the police?,” she’s asked at several points, and the answer simply lies outside the realm of logic and reason.
Sure, she wants to ensure the man she dragged from a fiery car wreck heals, she wants a prestigious account at her PR firm, she wants the perks of her boss’ favor. It all makes sense, yet none of it is really accurate. In fact, one of the latent enjoyments of the novel is witnessing how many different misogynistic interpretations of her behavior can be put upon Noel by the old boys’ network, projecting their own malfeasance onto a vulnerable target. “If there’s one thing I hate, it’s a dirty, double-crossing dame,” says one of the villains of the Hollywood noir classic The Killers, and apparently little has changed in three-quarters of a century. Woods’ heroine must also endure multiple layers of claustrophobic pressure: from the confines of her tiny flat invaded by her healing counterpart, to sexual pressure from her boss and a nefarious client, and finally to the crushing depths of the sea itself.
No, for Noel, investigation is first about living dangerously–perhaps subconsciously attempting to carry out a long-time suicide wish of her own–and later, about simply living. In fact, when the bad guys provide her with the perfect opportunity to slip quietly into that good night, guiltlessly in the world’s eyes and her own, it’s only then can she recover the id-energy to carry on and survive that her efforts on David’s behalf have been attempting to revivify all along. That scene of crucible is worth the price of admission alone, straying so far as it does from the strictures of the genre, and invoking naturalistic archetypes from more high-brow literary fiction like Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, and even some Hemingway.
What difficulties there are can be faced down within the first half of the novel, which gathers much steam afterward–though thankfully eschewing many of the predictable action-elements we may expect (no car chases, and just a little obligatory gunplay.) Sex, naturally, plays its role, though not overdone. Woods provides several of her majors with fully stocked families, and various minor characters fill out the cast, necessitating full attention to relationships. As for the geography, the locales of Cairns and Sydney, while well-described, may feel less familiar to non-Australian readers than we’d like. However, it’s exactly this transportation of time, place, and generally stretching beyond the constricting neighborhood of the known-comfortable, among landscapes ranging to the deep psychic, that many will appreciate most.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Among its failures, luminary Norman Mailer identified in The Armies of the Night that the Left in America was so splintered (writing from the perspective of 1968) that, even though well-intentioned reformers might stand for something worthwhile, they had great difficulty standing together. Too many different agendas: race relations, women’s rights, the anti-draft and anti-Vietnam war movements. Emerson, had he lived to be 150, would have called many of these well-meaning citizens “do-gooders” who should have concentrated, rather, on being good.
Today, it’s well-known that FBI agents, acting on orders, infiltrated some of the many organizations that did exist (Students for a Democratic Society perhaps only the most notorious,) in order to, among intelligence-gathering activities, combat forces that the federal government believed were manipulating the protesters: outside agitators, what Spiro Agnew called “vultures,” intent on destroying our society from within, by turning it against itself. But did these agents provocateurs really exist?
Rochester, NY – 11 August 2012. The atmosphere of today’s United States may not be as apparently violent in its ideological clashes as that of forty years’ gone, but many believe the rift has simply gone deeper, smoothing only the surface of our native soil.
Shawn StJean’s new novel, Clotho’s Loom (Glas Daggre Publishing, 2012) dramatically personalizes what could happen if these kind of foreign, cold warriors were to penetrate the divisive climate of American society in the 21st century. A former Marine sniper, now college professor approaching middle age and settling into academic “schoolhouse liberalism,” is reactivated: pulled between the demands of the Right and Left, and–due in part to a deep personal ambivalence toward his father, a Vietnam vet–succumbs to the recruitment efforts of the anti-Western border-runners. Meanwhile, his wife, a woman of conservative social background, is semi-wittingly abandoned just at the time when she discovers herself pregnant, at the age of forty.
The book can be interpreted as a cautionary tale on the ease with which a cavalier liberalism can be exploited for anarchic and destructive purposes–the protagonists both encounter a series of increasingly devious characters, both outside U.S. territory and upon it. The narrative spans the globe, from the midwest to the Middle East, and extends to the deserts of both continents.
The female protagonist must come to terms with the extremes of her own right-wing upbringing. The daughter of a failed farmer, she’s nevertheless been taught the values of adaptability in the face of circumstance, and to continue to support the values of marketplace competition, as a lawyer. Wooed by an opportunistic capitalist, she supports his mission to rehabilitate the languishing community into profitability—with himself, however, as benevolent dictator. And although this vision is hardly as chilling as the chaotic alternative—what one villainous character describes as “a deep freeze”–the author takes pains to present it as more likely and real.
Although the parallel structure of alternating chapters tends to evenly distribute the attention of the narrative, not only between the gender issues of men and women, but of Left and Right (with a balancing concluding chapter,) this literary fiction offers occasional symbolic cues toward its author’s ultimate biases. Fortunately, there is also enough ambiguity to accommodate the thematic enjoyment of readers of widely varying ideological temperaments. In either case, the characters find that both the individualistic values of the Left and those of the communal Right, at odds times self-serving, are best acquired not as inherited, youthful idealism, but rather as earned, hard experience leading to maturity.
List $20.00 paper, ebook $8.99
Glas Daggre Publications has contracted with Lightning Source, a division of the Ingram Content Group, to print and distribute a matte-cover version of Clotho’s Loom in mass-market paperback, by Shawn StJean, in the worldwide market. This means that, in addition to availability on Amazon.com and Amazon Europe, the new novel of literary fiction will soon be available from barnesandnoble.com and other online booksellers, as well as for-order through ground stores in the US, and in many countries (Germany and Brazil are the most recent additions to LS’s reach).
The book has not been translated, and is currently available only in English. An audiobook edition, read by the author, is currently in post-production.