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

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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.

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

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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”

LINK: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/clothos-loom-shawn-stjean/1114065232?ean=9781479271528&itm=1&usri=9781479271528

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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.

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Book Review of Clotho’s Loom and Shawn StJean Interviewed by Fellow Novelist Alana Woods

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! 

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Clotho’s Loom in Print Gets Global Distribution

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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.

Casting Call–Main Characters–Hero or Anti-Hero?

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Will Wyrd before. . .

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.

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. . .and after.

From E-book to Print Book: One Indie Author/Publisher’s Wild Week with CreateSpace

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Click for a larger image–copies of Clotho’s Loom by Shawn StJean, so hot off the press they could burn your fingers!

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!

in case you're wondering, he's less than two inches tall!

Even the elves at CreateSpace and Amazon recommend Clotho’s Loom–and those little felt-fellas are REALLY BUSY these days!