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.
An anti-hero, in literary parlance, is NOT by definition a villain, but rather a character who occupies the place in a narrative where a hero would traditionally have been, but cannot fill the role properly due to some flaw–physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual. Hamlet would be the exemplar, but Oedipus and Travis Bickle fit just as well (or badly.) Some readers may not like Will Wyrd very much–he was designed to be representative, not popular. But, to alter Dickens’ famous phrase, all-too-many of us turn out to be the anti-heroes of our own lives.
This entry wraps up our “Casting Call” series for an imaginary film production of Clotho’s Loom. For those who have been following this blog from the very beginning in May, my choice for male protagonist/lead William Wyrd should not be surprising, as I hinted as much back then. Most are familiar with Matt Damon from his comedy pairings with Ben Affleck, or more recently as the ultra-competent title character of The Bourne Identity and franchise. The photo above comes from a contrasting, lesser-known dramatic role in The Good Shepherd, following a man involved in the original transition of the OSS during World War II, to the CIA during the Cold War and afterward. I find the narrative fascinating as the chronicle of how human beings with good intentions can go so far down the path of morally questionable acts, that they can never find their way back. Damon does a superb job of degenerating from innocence to laconic despair over several decades, and I felt this showed the range needed for Wyrd: a man who, like many people, ended up in a much different place in life than he ever planned to go. Lying, killing, and deception come to define him, and even his wife gets shut out. How, besides the passage of time, does one get into such a fix? External circumstances, the will of other human beings, poor or ignorant choices of our own, and chance–all play their parts in taking us there.
First, a disclaimer: in the course of this report, I’m going to mention several products and companies. I’m not affiliated with them, except to the extent that, like many of you, I use their programs and services. My purpose is to inform others of some of what’s available, and what works, in late 2012 for indie authors and small publishers wishing to pursue the object of bringing their books to the public, in print form. And most of it is FREE–as far as CreateSpace goes, I did most of the work myself via software and internet, so I only paid for copies and a modest shipping charge.
Well, you have to savor these moments. It’s not every day that the delivery man drops 100 pounds’ worth of your own creation on your doorstep. Though it has happened to me before–that’s my first point. I have seen two previous [text]books through the press, in 2000 and 2005, respectively. Wow–much is changing in a brief span of time. Only twelve years. Seven years.
When I relate the timetable, you may have trouble believing it. I do, and I’m holding the evidence.
I published my e-book through Amazon’s KDP Select back in August. Never mind how many years it took me to draft, revise, edit, and format that project. Suffice to say, many. But once Clotho’s Loom was out there in electronic format, it quickly became clear to me that there were folks who would love to read it but, despite all my efforts to promote an ebook–a whole other tale–these people just want a physical book. And I can’t say I blame them. Even though, as someone who has moved my residence many times in the past decades, I’ve given and thrown away a lot of books I no longer had use for, I have kept a small and treasured collection.
Okay, skip to the very near-present: one week ago, in fact. I had lain down the raw audio tracks for my planned Audiobook edition, and just as it was becoming clear to me that being an audio engineer would require (another) steep learning curve, I caught a cold. Funny, huh? It wrecked my voice for re-dubs. No choice–I had to convalesce, and turn to another project in the meantime. So I wondered, even though the original paperback publication was scheduled and announced for mid-January, if I couldn’t possibly finish that business up before the holidays. I did not dare dream I could have a print edition for sale–I merely hoped to go into the new year with some solid work done. Winter, after all, is reading season. Also, I had shown one bit of intelligence by marking all errors and potential late revisions I caught (reading from my Kindle) while recording audio. This, coupled with another pass through the MS Word’s spell-check, produced a text with far fewer problems. (For clarity’s sake, most of the problems were of a formatting nature. I have been using WordPerfect and MS Word since the DOS days, and I’ll just say that a program called Scrivener may work better for 21st-century fiction writers–I’m not sure yet.)
I opened my Createspace account last FRIDAY (a week after “Black” Friday). My book is here in my hands today (the following Thursday.) The mind boggles. My first two books both took one year from acceptance to publication. And lest you think this must be some little novella–well, no. This thing is a brick — seriously, you could deck an intruder with the spine. At 205,000 words, the volume weighs in at two pounds of bona-fide literary fiction, just like we used to read in school. No cheaty-big margins, no oversized typeface, and only a few blank pages. A single week. I’m not going to say it was easy, but man was it fast.
Here’s the rundown. You’ll need some software. In addition to your favorite word processor and book files, and a very gamesome attitude, you’ll want an image-editing program (MS Paint works for basic tasks, but I produced the whole wraparound cover myself from CS’s template, using a more advanced prog called Zoner Photo Studio. Obviously, you Photoshop gurus will be within your wheelhouse. I, in fact, know very little of either. You also need a PDF creator, not just a reader. Adobe Acrobat serves well. Again, I know little, but was able to learn in the course of a few late nights.
I uploaded my files Friday night–you should pay careful attention to CS’s guidelines, which are clear, and I do recommend downloading the templates. On Saturday I was shocked to see electronic proofs ready for my approval. Remember, this was a weekend during the year’s most hectic month. Now, especially if you’ve never read proof, this vital stage in the process is best done on paper, and you can order old-school paper proofs from CS, or print them yourself on laser. For those who have done this, you can imagine the next 24-36 hours were long ones for me. In addition to error-catching, I had technical problems with PDF conversions, page numbers, setting margins, as well as choosing proper fonts and sizes, colors, creating logos for Glas Daggre (my publishing imprint,) and the rest. You just take one problem at a time, hopefully patiently. I approved the proofs on late Sunday, and sat back for more waiting. But every time I thought I’d be going back to the audiobook, something else happened.
A CreateSpace store opened almost immediately for me–technically, the book was for sale! This takes minimal set-up. I ordered my own batch of copies, to see the product quality of course, and to distribute to reviewers, giveaway winners, and a few friends, as well as to stock myself up for sales though my website, or even a possible book signing somewhere. I was informed that CL would appear on Amazon in a week or so. It was there Monday. For Sale. I then proceeded to Seller Central, where one can request the “Search/Look Inside the Book” feature. Several e-mail exchanges and PDF uploads, and about 24 hours later: Done! (I was also not aware that this feature makes the entire text of your book available to certain search engines, though only to searchers in small bites–obviously a big bonus). Sometime on early Tuesday, I received an e-mail that my copies shipped out, and were on their way to me. REALLY?
More promos. Write on the blog. A press release would be a good idea. I can’t seem to get back to actual audio engineering, so I watch Audacity (open source, free) tutorials in preparation. I also sign up for a Lightning Source account, for extended distribution channels and a possible hardcover edition, but I don’t commit yet. Their process is slower and more deliberate, anyway, because they deal with accounts of every size, from sole proprietorships like mine, to behemoth companies. I also don’t go forward yet, because I want to see the CreateSpace copies first. Notice I’ve shifted to the present tense?
Now this may be the news you’ve been waiting for: with that kind of incredible speed, how good could they be? Answer: pretty damn good. I’ve scrutinized over a dozen copies so far, and aside from variations that lie within some pretty tight production tolerances, they’re high-quality and consistent. About 95% perfect, I’d say–and of the remaining 5%, maybe 3.5 is my own fault. Remember one thing about Print-On-Demand: garbage in, garbage out. If you submit a cover that looks amateurish, that’s what you’ll receive–so don’t. And the resolution proved to be quite high (CS asks for 300dpi photos,) so if they have flaws, get rid of them before submission. I’m very happy with mine, but remember what they used to say about Compact Discs: “the digital format can reveal limitations of the source material.” Same here. The color reproduction was excellent, but I allowed few jaggies and one shifted bleed area to slip through, that will get some tweaking for next time. No biggie–a buyer likely would not blink. And the beauty is I can submit corrected files NOW–not, as in the old days, when and if a new edition gets tooled up and printed.
If I had one complaint so far, I’d like my interior typeface a shade darker. A magnifying glass will reveal that my Times-New-Roman was produced via dot-matrix tech of some kind–though again, not enough to disturb buyers, and probably my own fault. CS and LS both specify that all fonts must be “embedded” in your PDFs–and to show you I was not kidding about not being an expert with any of the softwares this kind of work takes–I still don’t know what an embedded font is.
And, lo and behold, when I logged into my CreateSpace account following delivery, in order to check my balance against the packed invoice, I discovered I had the first of my royalties awaiting me!
So there it is. Things could not have gone more smoothly, so far (aside from my own learning process, which always seems to hurt a bit). And well in time for the Holiday season–I’m not sure if, like all the good folks in retail and delivery out there, they’re really amping up during the month of December over there at CS, or if this is now business-as-usual in the POD industry. I am sure I’ll issue a follow-up report during 2013–but first impression: well done, Amazon/CreateSpace!
For William Wyrd’s parents (both of whom are only seen in flashback,) we add an even more international flavor to the cast of a hypothetical film production of Clotho’s Loom. Irish actress Susan Lynch (known in the U.S. as Maggie from Waking Ned Devine,) and currently working in the TV series Monroe, could well handle the role of Will’s unnamed mother, who, like the heroine of the novel and her daughter-in-law, Nexus, has to raise her son alone following the disappearance of his father (in this case, into North Vietnam.) Earlier, she even defends the boy against his father at several points, doing her best in spite of a clear lack of power–so she functions as a foil for Will’s future wife.
For Will’s father, known only as Sergeant Wyrd to us, no particular actor is needed because we would never seem him very clearly onscreen. A black operator, possibly, or perhaps even CIA, his shadow is imposing and threatens to suffocate both his wife and son, and his voice gritty and vaguely Germanic (Will’s grandparents were German and Irish immigrants to America). I tried to write into the novel the psychological trauma of the strong father, from many angles: even when moral, as with Nexus’ father Lambert, the voice of Vader can be paralyzing.