IndiePENdents Membership, and Clotho’s Loom now at KoboBooks

A friend suggested I apply for membership with this wonderful, young, not-for-profit (501(c)3) consortium of Independent writers and authors.  Their goal is to create a more open marketplace–better placement in libraries and bookstores, for example–for legitimate self-publishers and their books, by vetting them through a peer-review process that to me resembles the one for university press books and academic journals.  In essence, it’s like a literary agency outside the exclusionary, traditional publishing establishment, and their message is “Hey, these are books that are just as real, and meet as high a standard, as anything produced by that establishment” (my paraphrase).

These folks run on volunteer labor, and it’s not even easy to find out how to send a donation.  If you’re an independent author/publisher who would like to belong, I urge you to check the box to act as a volunteer reader for them, as you apply.  Like Public Broadcasting, groups like this can’t exist for long running on the steam of a few individuals; they require cooperation from the membership.

Speaking of visibility and discoverability of e-books, Clotho’s Loom has joined the ranks of KoboBooks.  These good folks are another outfit we can all be grateful for, in the ongoing struggle against monopoly (or effective monopolies composed of several entities) in the commercial publishing world.  Like Smashwords, they also offer downloads in a variety of reader formats (unlike some, who tie you to a proprietary platform or device.)




Small Publisher and Indie Author Alert: US Postal Service Rates Reach Critical Mass

ImageI think we can all agree we’d like to see the venerable old USPS survive its current difficulties, and adapt to the needs of the 21st century to remain competitive.  Just about everybody who has been shipping E-bay items and gifts for the holidays lately, and indeed for the past few years, has been caught up short by the rate hikes.  If you’re like me, you may have personally taken a bath because you under-quoted a rate for someone. I’m not just talking to overseas buyers either, but domestic ones.

“Book rate” (old-school lingo for what is now known as “Media mail,” was one of those sacrosanct bits of American business culture we could all count on.  Sell or buy a book, magazine, or even music or film in CD/DVD form, and get it anywhere in the country for less than a couple of bucks.  Not only has this rate doubled (here I’m quoting personal experience,) domestically, but it is now cost-prohibitive to sell, in physical form, your novel or collection or handbook to overseas markets (its status as a book is irrelevant; the rate is strictly by weight, if over one U.S. pound.)  I yesterday found that a single 2-pound copy of my novel (540-page paperback in a bubble envelope) would cost nearly $25.00 US to post to a reader in Great Britain.  That’s almost 10X the rate within our own country.  A single book.

That’s a dealbreaker.  I’d do better (a little) “gifting” her my volume direct from Amazon UK.  But I still can’t make a farthing that way–and indeed, I’d be losing my shirt.

This is more than a simple complaint about inflation.  We’re talking about a branch of the federal government that cuts costs, updates its business practices (note the solar panels on the above truck), and literally can’t take your money fast enough, so that many branches have installed a computerized teller to help cut down the long lines.  And still, they can’t afford to help keep vital small businesses, not to mention literacy in our culture, alive?

Sure, e-books, e-books.  They’re great, except for those who can’t (many people) or won’t (not without justification) use them.  And of course, refusing to patronize the USPS only contributes to the vicious cycle of their demise/our loss.

The writing is, so to speak, on the wall.  Try finding paper tax forms this season–you’d better hurry.  They want you to e-file.  Bank records?   In the computer.  Speaking of these, about seven years ago, the state in which I reside accused me of not filing my tax return for year 200x, promptly doubled the amount supposedly owed, and then penalized me, to the tune of $750 for a lost document I did, in fact, file.  But against the age-old advice, I had not retained copies of my tax records more than a few years old.  They lost it; I lost it–what are the chances?  It was finally only a slip of paper, a returned check, endorsed by the state comptroller, that proved my innocence.  This personal digression is only to help make the point that paper, indeed, still has its place. Ever lose your precious photos to a crashed hard drive? Non-digitized books, films and TV, photographs–these form part of the records of our lives, our families, and our society. Can the Feds adapt to that?


Clotho’s Loom E-book available in multiformat at Smashwords; Glas Daggre on Twitter


This means the e-book can be obtained instantly in nearly any electronic format: pdf, mobi, epub, rtf, doc, rtf, lrf, and Palm.


Smashwords edition uses a unique ISBN: 978-1301514571

twitter-logoOur Twitter account is @GlasDaggrePubs (“Follow” button in left hand column).

From E-book to Print Book, Part 2: One Indie Author/Publisher’s Mild Month with Lightning Source


This is intended as a companion piece for my original report on CreateSpace, the Amazon-owned solution for independent, Print-On-Demand publishing.  Following my own, less aggressive version of the infamous “Plan B,” I also produced an identical version of Clotho’s Loom (under my Glas Daggre imprint) for the more industrial entity, Lightning Source, to have my alternative printing, Ingram listing, and extended distribution handled by them.  There was no intention on my part to manipulate prices (list is fine with me—more on this later,) but I simply wished not to put all my eggs in a single basket.

It should prove useful to directly compare and contrast the two printer/distributors, on primarily two fronts: first, ease of set-up and cost/service, and second, quality of product.  But let me dissolve any suspense right now: I’m not going to recommend one as vastly preferable to the other.  Both have pros and cons, and this report is meant to be informative, for the use of self-publishers contemplating the choice, from the perspective of one small author/publisher who has used them both, in late 2012.

First, you should note by my title that Lightning Source (hereafter LS) does not quite satisfy the need for immediate gratification that CreateSpace (hereafter CS) does.  The latter took one week only of production—from account opening, to copies in the mail—whereas LS took more like a month.  Still pretty darned fast, compared to the year traditional publishers consumed in producing each of my first two books.  In general, the wheels turn a little more slowly and deliberately at LS than CS, because it services the needs of everyone from giant publishing houses down to sole proprietorships.  And, as with all self-publishing outfits, it’s garbage-in, garbage-out, so the burden is on the self-publisher to get her files in proper order, proofed and corrected, according to the published guidelines.

Like CS, LS provides templates to aid in formatting.  I did encounter some difficulty here, because CS hand-holds you with a sort of preflight, online format previewer, which instantly shows a virtual mockup of your book.  If your gutters, headers, and footers, for example, do not fall within production tolerences at CS, you will know within minutes of uploading the interior file to CS.  And, it’s fault-tolerant—you can keep trying, at zero-cost to you, until you get it right (or, right as far as the computer can discern).  Yes, it’s all very automated over there.

By contrast, LS has actual people that will communicate with you from the very start—all by e-mail, in my case, though phone numbers are never far to seek—and you will be assigned an primary account representative, or Client Services Rep.  I probably exchanged a dozen e-mails with this person, and he was always courteous and prompt in his responses (as long as your expectations are not artificially inflated by sitting at your keyboard all day long) and appropriately attentive to my needs, even though I’m a bit player.  All in all, things operate just as one would expect in an arena of professionals.  I never had the need to communicate directly at CS, so I can’t comment on their humans.

Now, LS and CS do not have identical templates, and my files had to be altered somewhat.  This can be a bit nerve-wracking if one is pinching pennies, as LS does charge fees for uploads—so it is not like throwing darts at a board.  However, they are not draconian in fee enforcement.  My CSR determined in two cases that problems with my files could not have been reasonably avoided, and allowed me to re-upload free of charge.  In one other case (where I did make a significant alteration,) I was charged.  So I believe the final cost for initial setup was about $120 total—and it could have been about 1/3 cheaper, had I been perfect.  Also, a proof fee of roughly $40 may apply. Also, they have been known to offer discounts with orders of 50 copies.  Your mileage will vary.  This is in contrast to well, free setup, at CS (including ISBN—they own it, though).  By the way, my setup difficulties resulted from two sources: 1) I believe there are a few vagaries in the LS guidelines (as to the size of gutters and outside margins, in my case).  Also, 2) I am not a master of Photoshop and related PDF software, and my conversion into the PDF/X standard resulted in a few unsatisfying artifacts in my cover file.  After spending two days trying to remedy this on my own (LS has no tech support for this; CS will charge you) I discovered it was easier to upload a TIFF file.  Problem solved.

As for per-copy-cost to me (to sell through my website, send out review copies, bring to signings, and so on,) I will note here that LS scales its cost-per-copy according to the size of the order.  If you are ordering 1000 copies, you’ll find the difference to be several dollars per unit.  However, as I am dealing in small numbers, my final cost per copy (including shipping) for a 540-page softcover book was almost $2.00 more per copy at LS than CS (CS price is constant, I think).  Royalties from online bookstores were also not quite as high from LS.  This disparity may sound steep, but I have to plead ignorance here.  Other articles have argued that your ultimate profit through LS will scale higher, if you achieve sales numbers in the several hundreds, so I refer you to those sources.  If you expect very few sales and are just looking to publish a mass market paperback for your personal social circle, the consensus seems to be that CS will leave you a higher bottom line.

At each stage, every small step in the LS learning curve will likely consume a day or two, and a buck or two—remember that the humans on the other end are working with you, and their time is worth money as well.  You will be required to order a physical paper proof, if this is your first job through LS.  It arrives in a timely fashion (figure a week,) and approval can be done online.

Now, let me move to a briefer and subjective evaluation of the final product.  Whose books are better?  This is not a 100% apples-to-apples comparison, because I went with a matte-finish cover at LS (versus gloss at CS).  This helps me tell copies apart at a glance—but I also don’t recall being offered the choice at CS.  LS gives you a pretty decent matrix of choice between trim sizes, bindings, paper color, and cover type (you can get two kinds of hardcovers!—at more cost, of course.  I calculated I’d have to raise my list price by 1/3 to remain profitable in HC, and ultimately demurred.  A hardcover is a separate edition and requires a new ISBN, whereas I was able to reuse my CS-provided free ISBN for my identical LS book.)  At CS, your choices as to size and paper only are comparable, but the other options are not offered. No hardcover.

I prefer the look and feel of the matte finish, but again this is entirely a matter of taste.  Gloss yields a more detailed image, by the way.  But other than one exception, the Lightning Source books do look better.  The interior print is remarkable for its dark, smooth quality—with my untrained eye, I see no real difference from offset (printing press) production in the type pages.  CS’s fonts are lighter and appear to have been produced in tiny dot-matrix, though I should emphasize they are entirely acceptable and should only strain the eyes of those with real ocular impairments.  Still, advantage LS.  The paper color and quality seem comparable to me, though LS manages to be a bit thinner (not a bad thing when your book weighs two pounds) while not feeling cheap in the least.  CS did seem to produce a bit more consistent trim tolerance, however.  My book has several borders near the edges of the binding and both covers (professional cover designers apparently know enough to avoid these).  For this reason, I can see, through comparison of many copies, that LS will sometimes cut a bit crookedly, or closer to tolerance in the edges.  Not enough to reject any copies, or to really bother me, but noticeable if you are the publisher.  CS does this, too—no one’s perfect.  And they do warn you.

Final Verdict: well, in all honesty, I am saving my LS copies for “special people,” both because of the higher cost and lighter weight, and because I prefer the matte. I also feel a greater peace of mind in knowing Amazon is not my only venue for distribution (or indeed, production).  Oh, and for those of you “Plan B” people out there, you should hear this.  Due to no action of my own, (which listed my book well in advance of my initial shipment, perhaps a week after I approved LS’s proofs.  The Ingram system is efficient) listed Clotho’s Loom at a 9% discount from list (just over $18.00, versus $20.00 at  A week or ten days later, Amazon dropped their price to match.  This is considerable, to me.  I set my price through LS at only 20% discount, with no returns (I’m not that keen to get the volume into physical bookstores, so I elected not to go 55% as often recommended).  The reader/purchaser reaps the reward of a reasonable retail price for a quality product, the online booksellers have new content to offer, and I (as both author and publisher) get a satisfying share of the earnings.  Win, win, Winnebago.  Take that, traditional publishing establishment!



P.S. LS also charges an annual $12 distribution fee that CS, as far as I know, does not. Considering the initial fees that can reach toward $200, an LS book should be treated as a long-term investment.

Evil Archetypes of Pop Culture–Vampires, Final Part–Three Mythologies


After discussing seven classical rules of vampirism, and then how they cohere into a integral system in part I and part II of this article, I’d like to conclude by applying my theory to three different re-imaginings of the vampire mythos.  Two, I think, are not sound at the archetypal level, so I’ll treat those early, before moving on to an exemplar.

After over a century since Bram Stoker’s Dracula, it was inevitable that the genre would attempt to evolve to another level.  If contemporary vampire stories have a common thread, I’d say they depend on the notion that not only are some vampires not evil, but a few are positively moral and “good.”  Dramatically, this opens up some intriguing possibilities, such as vampires fighting each other, and even working alongside humans to battle greater threats.

Archetypally, however, this is shaky ground, and will not ultimately stick.  It doesn’t make deep psychological sense, and frankly, de-powers a very compelling monster-figure that derives its strength from defying morality and the “rules” we must all live by.   In HBO’s True Blood, for example, vampires are organized into governmental/feudal units, each overseen by a sheriff, ultimately answerable to a king and queen and other sartorially-advantaged and outwardly respectable functionaries called the “Authority.”  The series premise is that, for the collective good of their species, law-abiding Vampires substitute synthetic blood—sold in bottles—for the blood of human beings.

Speaking of sheriffs, our willing suspension-of-disbelief is taxed to the limit here, for two primary reasons:

1)    If I’m right that a vamp is a manifestation of the human id, there is no ability, let alone reason, to organize for the greater good (or even for a greater bad.)  The id focuses exclusively on immediate self-gratification.  You may as well try to persuade your dog to conduct himself according to demands of the “bigger picture.”

2)    Even very liberal-minded people are prejudiced by nature—it’s part of being human to fear and hate the unknown.  Although there are undoubtedly individuals who would trust the Devil himself in his own shape, the kind of widespread cultural tolerance of uncloseted vampires True Blood relies on is, perhaps unfortunately, not tenable from a human perspective, either.  When, in the course of human history, has a minority group enjoyed freedom when a few of its members indulged in demonstrably criminal behavior?

Probably the more intriguing premise of the show, that if vampires could organize, it must be into monarchical hierarchies rather than democracies, has as yet not exploited its possibilities.

The Twilight books and films (I’ll confess I gave up on these, as the series quality seemed to suffer steady decline) avoids the pitfall of the HBO series by substituting a discreet family unit of “good” vamps for an entire societal organization (or at least individuals within one).  This smaller number supports the illusion that the premise is more plausible, and, when coupled with the plot distraction of antagonism toward werewolf clans, makes the protagonists seem more motivated by survival instinct than some do-gooder impulse.  Further, we all know that dysfunctional families exist in real life, even to the point that every member is self-involved and even solipsistic, so this shift to family does not violate the “id” theory.

Where Twilight goes horribly off the rails, I think, is in the protective instinct that Edward repeatedly shows toward Bella, and which Bella shows toward her child.  Not only is this “love” the absolute antithesis of vampiric lust, it is internally inconsistent: if Edward really loved Bella (further than his own desires, that is) he would never entertain, let alone consent, to her wish to become undead like him; similarly, Bella would not bear a child, knowing the kind of existence it is destined for.  So are they selfless, or selfish?  A human being can be both, of course, but not so a vampire—and I think this series is simply giving us people, with costume dress and super-powers.  But we already have X-Men.

To do better, we need to look back a ways, to Joss Whedon’s companion series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and spin-off Angel.  Both are populated with run-of-the-mill vamps that behave exactly as Stoker designed them to, but there are two notable exceptions: Spike and Angel.

Within the epic scope of a combined twelve complete seasons, Whedon, Espenson, and their minions were able, rather than relentlessly insist on the arbitrary existence of mutant/good vampires, to explore a much fuller understanding of the unconscious.  Specifically, why some good people commit bad acts (Faith,) while some bad people commit good acts.  The simpler of the two main vamps, Spike, is exactly as I have described an archetypal Nosferatu: a walking id.  Hard-drinking, lustful, devious, an expert fighter, emotional when not covering up with bravado, the nemesis of Sunnydale’s heroine often manages to do good, in spite of himself.  He even “saves the world” more than once (long before his acquisition of a soul, as I’ll discuss shortly.)  Why?  Isn’t this un-vampiric?  Not for Spike.  His very goodness is selfishness.  To him, good and evil are all the same—he simply does what he wants, what makes him feel better.  His personal morality is random, or a function of plot.  For a substantial run of episodes, a government-implanted chip in his skull causes him unbearable pain whenever he attempts to hurt anyone.  Later, the chip removed, he embarks on a quest to become “a real boy” (one of Whedon’s countless allusions to other literary myths,)—that is, obtain a soul of his own.  It’s finally unclear whether this is done more to impress Buffy (with whom Spike is smitten,) or to deflate Angel, whom Spike feels is too high-and-mighty because he’s “special.”  The third possibility, that Spike’s journey to become fully human again is sincere, also makes sense, since it is a desire that would merely not occur to most vampires (not even the vaunted Angel)—because it would deprive them of their power.

Angleus—Angel.  Spike’s grandsire begins the series lurking in the shadows, and passively dispensing advice to Buffy as to how to fight evil.  His motives unclear, she challenges him as to why he does not take action himself.  His terse answer—“I’m afraid”—brilliantly opens the whole Whedonverse up to new realms of character development.  As an incarnated id, a vampire is logically not only predator in the service of desire, but prey to every manner of fear.  Traditionally left completely untouched by writers, because scaredy-cat vamps would appear to make less-than-compelling antagonists, this original archetype (Angel-as-coward) is gradually reconciled into a respectable entity: his greatest fears are the atrocities of which he himself is capable.  Sired as a worse-than-average bloodsucker, scourge of Ireland and England, murderer of innocent maidens, Angelus was cursed by gypsies.  Rather than destroying him, they cleverly re-invested him with his human “soul.”  This is a constant torture, and transforms him into the being “Angel.”

The premise is an intriguing one.  Thematically, I suppose, it tells us that we as human beings can ultimately control, possibly override, our baser instincts—the soul being nearly the only thing (besides opposable thumbs) that distinguishes us from the lower animals.

I would interpret Angel’s curse this way: as Angelus (the incarnate id,) he was not made a whole human psyche by his enemies, but 2/3 of one: he was joined with a superego (call it a conscience, or a soul).  The tug-of-war between what Freud called the pleasure principle and the morality principle, unmediated by an ego, threatens moment-by-moment to tear Angel apart.   He is like a family minus a mother.  If he had an ego, he could accept his past misdeeds as part of his growth over time, or justify them, or deny them—all human self-protecting processes.  However, locked in an eternal adolescent-versus-father internal struggle, he must perennially rehearse the role of detached observer, spectator, and occasional oracle/helper when convenient—unable to do either real good, or evil, of his own volition, without human companions who accept him.  A curious condition of the curse is that a single moment of true happiness brings about forfeiture of the soul.  This seems unexepected, as it reverts him to Angelus, ending his internal conflict.  Not given to Grace, but rather revenge, the gypsy culture must have something else in mind here.  It appears that the gypsies must believe that, when enough penance is paid, Angel can eventually earn his way back to full personhood (born ‘Liam), as he was before he became a vampire—in short, acquire an ego dependent on good works, or “making up for it,” and complete his circle.

Which brings us to another evolutionary genre-possibility: Can vampirism be cured?  Not a challenge for the average writer. The humorous Spike and the one-off Angelus-Angel-Liam evolution aside, it usually makes poor storytelling sense.  The idea of redeeming a monster who has personally murdered thousands (see Darth Vader) has been tried with commercial success (if critical failure).  But even the dollars that were made on Return of the Jedi were a cash-in, not on the silly sentimentalism of Vader’s redemption, but on the original deliciousness of an unadulterated, evil character.


Evil Archetypes of Pop Culture–Vampires, Part II–“Monsters From the Id”


In part I of this article, I discussed what I consider the seven classical “rules” that have historically constrained vampires in storytelling. I further suggested that, rather than being random genre conventions, these form a coherent system which provides insight into the base nature of this fearsome creature.  This means that writers who violate the rules, rather than creating something new and compelling, as often compromise the underlying archetype and offer a tale that, for reasons not always consciously articulated, does not make fundamental sense to readers/viewers.

So what is this underlying system?  A vampire is a manifestation or incarnation (we might almost say personification) of a human being’s psychological “id.”  Quick primer: “Id” is a Freudian term for 1/3 of the unconscious psyche (the other parts being the “ego” and “superego.”)  Put simply, the id is the repository of a human being’s basic will or “life force”—it gets you out of bed in the morning, and keeps you going through the day, because it houses all your desires (things you want) and fears (things you don’t want.)  The superego, acting as a warden, puts limits upon the id’s behavior (we can’t have everything, and we must face many fears,) while the ego keeps a balance: by providing a sense of who we uniquely are, it defines what kinds of limits are imposed, and when, and under what conditions they operate.

If the human “unconscious” were a family, we might say the id is the child (“I want/I hate”,) the superego the father (“No,”) and the ego the mother (“maybe/we’ll see”).  Example: the id wants not only a single cookie, but the entire box, while the superego responds, “That’s not good for you,” but the ego might add a qualifier: “Two are allowable, but only after a proper dinner.”  The id (which we’ll focus on here) is most primitive, selfish, and even animalistic because it has no sense of ethics, morality, or responsibility.  It only acknowledges its own needs.  “Evil” would not be quite accurate to describe the id, any more than children are inherently evil.  An added problem with this comparison is the common association of the id with sexuality (as in “libido”), which means we better clarify that the id is best thought of as an adolescent child.

Most adults are aware that this primitively lustful, desirous, greedy, insatiable, yet also fearful part of ourselves exists, deep down below our civilized self-identity (ego) and our moral sense or conscience (supergo).  But because psychology is often seen as an arcane and highbrow science, it makes sense that these three forces would manifest themselves in the pop culture, as a matrix of actual characters.  Mr. Hyde, the werewolf, the evil twin or doppelganger, the Hulk, Jason and his copies: all these could be said to be walking ids, split apart from the rest of their psyches, and taking a separate physical form.  But none more so than the average Vamp.  The plot device of werewolf-types turning into themselves from human beings, versus vampires being enemies of people full-time, is not a worthwhile distinction in the archetypal context of seeing the root nature of figures, events, and rituals.  And the recent plot cliché of pitting vampires against werewolves makes little sense except for the political mileage–which species has more power?—and, it makes good movie-action. However philosophically different werewolves and vampires may be (is the “evil” inside us, or outside?,) they are not psychologically or functionally different.

In short, there’s a vampire in every single one of us, locked in the crypt of our unconscious by day, and rising from temporary death, running rampant, sowing chaos, by night (luckily, mostly in dreams—unless you happen to be in a vampire story).

Now, to test this theory, recur to the rules we discussed last time:

2) and 5) A mirror (or even a full, illuminated look) would reveal the ugly part of ourselves we’d rather pretend doesn’t exist: all the so-called “weaknesses” and appetites that our physical forms make us prey to.  So vamps can’t see themselves or their shadows, and must remain hidden much of the time, skulking on the periphery of our public personas.

3) and 6) As much as we’d prefer it, this part of ourselves cannot be destroyed or annihilated completely—its energy only redirected.  A person on a crash diet, for example, may subdue the appetite for food, but will generally have to substitute some form of reward in recompense to the starved self, before the nearly inevitable backslide.  In order to break certain forms of addiction, others (supposedly less toxic) are commonly substituted.  Thus, vampires can change forms to evade harm, or relentlessly pursue us.  The stake to the heart or beheading (which reduces the average Nosferatu to dust,) is a fantasy of reduction back to basic elements of which mythology tells us we are all made, but notice there are always more to replace the defeated foe.  Thus, if generic and faceless, vamps never really “die.”  And if individuals, like Dracula, they never die for long.

4) The act of free will here is either the relaxing of the vigilance of the superego, or the allowance on the part of the ego, of the id to have its way.  The id cannot forcibly defeat the other powers, but it can be overindulged (“allowed to enter”).  Once it has a toehold, the myth tells us, it can disease the moral sense and erode the identity (which must be constantly guarded against infiltration).  Actions that may seem trivial at first can have unforeseen and significant consequences that cannot be undone.  So never invite a vampire in to your sanctum.

7) Since Christianity (call it morality-based, or patriarchal and prohibition-driven, from the Ten Commandments to the Sermon on the Mount, just as you prefer) is really a system that organizes into conscious form the dictates of the superego, it makes sense that it would be the arch-nemesis of the id (Jesus vs. Satan, generosity versus selfishness).  Guilt and repentance for sin is the absolute antithesis of the grasping of the id.

1) Sexual desire is, of course, the easiest way to conceive of the power of the id.  I saved it for last because of this summative convenience.  Everyone over the age of ten knows how much influence sex can exert over the human will, often overriding all our scruples and common sense.  A vampire is so voracious in its appetites that it will literally suck the blood (life-force) from its victim, killing it.  It has no notion of when to stop.

Given all this, we might say that a vampire is a psychological projection of everything human beings despise about themselves—a beast in anthropomorphic form, recognizable as human, yet indulging in the forbidden, violating taboos against incest, cannibalism, human sacrifice, and more common laws against treachery, revenge, and murder.  Paradoxically, this also explains the attraction the idea of vampirism holds for many people, since by definition our dark “kindred” are free to embrace behaviors we normal folks are daily forced to repress.

Are vampires real?  You bet—as real and close as anyone’s own dark half (or third).  Take away the other parts of the tripartite psyche, and you’re left with a person who does whatever he wants, kills those in his way, or steals their energy for himself, and fears nothing but loss of total freedom.  So everyone acts as his own slayer, to greater or lesser extent.  And yet, what Jung called our “shadow” selves can never really be slain.  Only kept at bay, while the sun shines, and if we survive until summer, the days grow longer and the nights shorter.

In the final part of this article, we’ll apply this theory to some of the popular reconfigurings of the vampire mythology, to explore why certain refinements make archetypal sense, others not.


StJean’s Interview with Novelist Alana Woods, Australian Author of Imbroglio and Automaton


Alana Woods, author of Imbroglio, with one of her UK grandsons, with Sydney Harbour Bridge in the background. The Hyatt Hotel where Noel Valentine has dinner with her boss William T Hall is tucked under the bridge, far side left.

After reviewing her book a few weeks back, I was fortunate enough to catch author Alana Woods with a few minutes to share her thoughts on writing, and her native Australia (where Imbroglio is set).  She was even kind enough to send along some snapshots of locations used in her latest novel.  Ms. Woods has plenty of experience in the craft, and has even published a handbook, 25 essential writing tips: Guide to writing good fiction.

Your title seems a bit risky in the marketplace, given that it’s not a very common word.  I, for one, had to look it up.  Given that the cover helps suggest the genre, can you offer  more than the dictionary definitions some reviewers are?

My first thought is that it intrigued you enough to look it up, which means you took the time to investigate at least that far into the book. Then you bought it. What more could I ask for from readers?

But to answer your question, I’ve found the two explanations that satisfy people who ask are firstly the dictionary one of ‘A complicated affair’. The second is  my pointing out of the maze on the cover and saying that the situation the main female character find herself in is one she’s going to have great difficulty finding her way out of, hence the maze to illustrate the theme.

It seemed to me the real strength of Imbroglio was the deep psychology of the major characters.  I recall a scene in which Noel Valentine is performing an everyday action to the extent of hurting herself, but not stopping.  Is she a masochist?  Or are some other forces driving her?

I’m so pleased you say that about the characters as I think of myself as an author who writes character-driven novels. Which scene in particular are you talking about? Because the whole story is about her trying to resist self-destruction while also seeking it. She isn’t a masochist; she’s being driven by wanting/not wanting to exist. Very primal. Therefore it’s impossible for her to avoid hurting herself.

I’m a classic literature nut, so certain elements of David, your male protagonist, reminded me more of Hamlet than of the thick-skinned tough guys it often takes to survive alongside thieves and murderers.  Why not give readers what they expect?

Again, I love that you think he’s complex.

But isn’t that, really, what readers want. They may expect the usual stereotypical treatment but they love it when they get more. I’ve had people go to the trouble of emailing me—I’ve even had phone calls—to tell me how much my characters, or a particular one, has affected them. To the extent that they think about them for weeks after finishing the book and to the extent that they’ll read it again for the pleasure of being in that character’s company again for a while. Love that. J

You hail originally from England, correct?  What should everyone from the Northern Hemisphere (or at least readers of your books) know about Australia?

I was born in Leicester in the UK midlands but my parents emigrated to Australia when I was four. Everything in the tourist ads are true—as they are of every country to some extent—but there’s so much more. Australia is diverse and real, as are its people, so expect the country and its folk to also have faults. I kid around about wanting to live in other countries—check out my Amazon bio which says I’d love to buy a masseria and live in Puglia, Italy—but if being able to bring the world into your living room on the nightly news has done anything for me it’s to reinforce that Australia is one hell of a good place to be. Other than to escape floods and bushfires there’s no risk of having to leave your home because of danger, you can drink straight from the tap, emergency services respond to your calls; there’s a general good work/life balance, there’s crime but overwhelmingly you’re very safe, and the country is so big you can choose what kind of climate you want to live in ranging from snow and sub-zero temperatures to the tropics. Take your pick!

PS: I live in Canberra, the nation’s capital. It’s endearingly referred to as The Bush Capital because it is so treed and has a lot of nature parks. My house backs on to one and I get kangaroos peering over the fence at my vegetable garden every morning and evening. So far they haven’t been tempted to jump in for a tasting. What’s not to like. J

A few of your “bad guys” struggle to be totally bad (I’m thinking of Walter, but he’s not the only one.)  This is less expected than when good guys struggle to be good.  Are you some kind of sentimentalist about human nature?

Sentimentalist? Definitely not. At the risk of repeating myself, the nightly news disabuses me of the inherent goodness in human nature. No-one is perfect, including the best of us, so I’d put money on even them slipping up occasionally. As for the bad guys—ruling out the truly evil—I believe there are things that would give them pause for thought or have them examining their consciences. So to have my bad guys thinking twice about doing something, or having regrets, is part and parcel of characterisation for me.

It’s been roughly ten years since you published your first novel, Automaton, while managing to bring out a collection of short stories and some other material in between.  Tell us how either your experience of writing or publishing (or both) has changed in this volatile decade.

Shawn, you make it sound like I’ve been busy with the writing but I have to say I feel very guilty about the time I spend away from the keyboard. Life gets in the way, as it does for everyone, but I’m not good at ignoring it and getting on with writing.

But the biggest impact on both my writing and publishing has been electronic publishing. I feel safe saying many writers would place the blame very squarely there. I’ve been wanting to rewrite my third novel for two years but since I published AUTOMATON, IMBROGLIO and the others on Amazon I spend hours every day on the social media sites promoting them. I resist saying I’m addicted because I’m not doing it because I want to or because I enjoy it. It very much has a purpose. However, I’m going to try very hard to reduce the amount of time I spend on it so I can put some quality time into the next book. Famous last words? Hopefully not.

It seems that many suspense thriller writers are women, a genre that is not historically kind to its female characters.  Any comment?

Mm. Hadn’t thought of that before. Could it be, sensible creatures that we are, that we prefer vicarious danger to the real thing? Therefore, living it through our writing is an enormous amount of fun.


Alana Woods’ blog can be enjoyed at


Night shot of Darling Harbour where Noel Valentine (heroine of Imbroglio) has lunch with Nick Donaldson and David sees her for the first time. Jordan’s, the restaurant, is towards the left, looking over the bridge. (courtesy Alana Woods, author)


Day shot, Darling Harbour, Sydney (courtesy Alana Woods, author of Imbroglio)

Clotho’s Loom Paperback now at Barnes and Noble, and through local Booksellers


In addition to Amazon, Clotho’s Loom by Shawn StJean has joined the millions of titles available from the B&N website (BONUS: as of today, at a 9% discount).  This means a couple of important channels of availability have opened up.  As it’s now listed in the Ingram catalog, the novel will begin appearing on many other online sites, for sale, soon to be optional in ebook form, too (end of January 2012).  ALSO, you can now walk into a brick-and-mortar B&N store, or about ANY local bookstore, and order the paperback through them. 

Search for ISBN 9781479271528 (this may work better than the computer-un-friendly name of “Stjean”





Homeland Fans Will Find Clotho’s Loom Fits the Profile

ImageAs I have come late to Showtime’s action-adventure-spy series about CIA operatives in their chess-match against Middle Eastern terrorist cells, it struck me how many similarities exist between the adventures of Carrie Mathison, Nicholas Brody, and Saul Berenson, and this big novel of mine, Clotho’s Loom, that traces its origins back to before even September 11, 2001.  Not that the series and the book would be mistaken for derivative of each other–the post 9/11 landscape of America is the subject of a great many fictional extrapolations, of course.  However, halfway through season two, I am particularly struck by the moral dilemma of Brody, a former Marine sniper trying to sort out his allegiances amid a network of lies, and struggling ultimately to salvage a life for his family against overwhelming circumstances, some awful personal choices, and random events.  All this occurs against the backdrop of the U.S. War on Terror.  William Wyrd certainly could be considered the literary cousin, if not father, of Brody, to say nothing of other countless parallels.

So if reading is part of your agenda, but you’ve moved past all the Bond and Bourne stuff already, and are now keeping material like Homeland in your sights, you won’t be far off the mark with Shawn StJean’s novel.