A Writer’s Notebook: NaNoWriMo update #2

This week I’m just posting one long section from my NaNoWrimo novel.  I’ve been writing all over the place this week, but I’ve finally gotten into the meat (or the blood?) of the story concept, and this passage–a bit expository, I know–sort of encapsulates that concept.  (Plus it’s a nice glimpse of how fringe-nutty my character Portia Lynn is.)  So, I figure, just run with it.

Julian had been fascinated with vampires since childhood.  He’d seen every vampire movie he could find on TV or could convince his parents to rent for him at the video store, and after he’d moved out, he’d tracked down all the rest.  A few hundred films so far, and he had a list inside his TV cabinet showing a few hundred more he had yet to find copies of.  But he was always looking.  He spent hours in the library reading books about vampires, all the fiction but also whatever histories he could find. The famous studies by Montague Summers and Katherine Ramsland, the encyclopedias by Matthew Bunson and J. Gordon Melton, books on the historical Dracula and Elizabeth Báthory, books on the blood cults of Mithra and the doctrine of transubstantiation.

But Portia had brought him a new book.  Vampires: The Truth Within, by that man whose name they’d been hearing in the club circuit.  Lucius.  No last name.  Like he was a rock star, or a god.  “A lot of what’s in here,” she said, “is nothing you haven’t read before.  All the folklore, the movie magic, the bullshit.  But look at chapter five, Julian.  Look at the letters from others like us.”

“Like us?”

“We are vampire, Julian.  And we are not alone.  Forget your mortal family, and read about your true history.”

He read the book that night.  It was a slim volume, barely a hundred and twenty pages, some of them filled with drawings and symbols.  It began simply enough, mostly things he’d read or heard before, but by the third chapter the author, Lucius, began describing himself as a vampire, not strictly in the mythological sense but certainly in some sort of metaphysical sense, and by the fourth chapter, his sentences were long and full of arcane language and mythological imagery.

He claimed to be a member of an elite genetic master race and would, through the proper rites and servitude to the vampire gods, become immortal.  It was his destiny.  Lucius’s destiny and, if Portia believed any of this, Julian’s destiny too.

“This is all bullshit, Portia,” he told her when she dropped by the following morning.

“It’s all metaphor, Julian.  The vampire is an archetype, a means of describing what we are.”

“We’re just people, same as everyone else.”

“Have you ever felt the same as anyone else, Julian?  Until you met me?”

Julian looked at her.  He looked at his hand, where hers rested, her palm across his knuckles, her long fingers draping down the back of his wrist.

“Has anyone been able to touch you like this?  Since puberty, I mean?”

He shook his head.

“The world has distorted our lives for its own stories, the same as it has distorted all the differences the majority encounters.  The prejudices and fears that vampires have suffered through history are no different than the prejudices and fears and lies told about Africans, about Native Americans, about Hindus, about Jews.  Did you know that for many centuries, and sometimes even today, anti-Semites have told stories of Jewish blood cults?  The Jews were once considered a kind of vampire, too.  When Europeans first encountered Tibetan culture, they thought the red-faced demon-gods in all those Buddhist paintings were the devil himself and took back stories about the frightening Satan-worshipers hiding in the Himalayas.  Look at the so-called war on terror today.  It isn’t a war on terror, it is a war fueled by terror, by the majority’s fear of things they’ve never seen or do not want to see.  Look how bloodthirsty Americans think the Muslims are, how bloodthirsty Americans have become.  They are terrified of their own fucking shadow, but they send their shadows out to drape on other people because it’s easier than being scared of themselves, easier than facing themselves in the fucking mirror.  You know that old folktale about how vampires cannot see their own reflections?  That’s an invention of the majority psyche—the mortals cannot stand to see their own horrors reflected back at them, so we vampires become their metaphor for that.”

“But you’re agreeing with me, Portia.  It’s all metaphor, it’s all bullshit, even what’s in this book.”

“That book is a triumph, Julian.  African-Americans co-opted the word nigger for their own use in order to rob it of its power.  Gays and lesbians celebrate their own queerness rather than live in fear of it.  This book takes our myths and puts them to our own use.  And it is only the beginning.”

“You’re telling me you’re immortal.”

“Not at all, Julian.  Not yet, anyway.  But vampirism is a path to immortality—it is the path to immortality, and not in some flighty, New Age spiritual sense, not in some pseudoscientific terms of consciousness or mind.  I’m talking about bodily immortality, the perpetuation of our temporal lives.”

“You’re going to live forever.”

“Okay, I know it sounds stupid.  And I’m not delusional.  I know this body will decay eventually.  Our vampirism will delay that, it will prolong my time in this body, but nothing lasts forever.  One of the first things you learn on the path I want to show you is that death is constant, ever-present, and it’s unavoidable.  But we as vampires have the supreme privilege of embracing that death and transforming it to our own purposes.  We cannot escape death, but we don’t want to—we will chase it down and bend it, like a physicist bending space or time, so it can loop back on itself.  The ouroboros, Julian, the snake eating its tail.  That’s what we can do.”

“Because you’re a vampire.”

“Because we are vampire, Julian.  We.  You and me.  Forever.”

Again, there isn’t much of an exercise involved in this month’s Writer’s Notebook posts, because I’m mostly going all-out with the freewriting.  But this section is actually the result of some other writing I did earlier in the week.  I knew I was coming to the so-called “vampire bible” and the blood cult that my main character will eventually get wrapped up in, but before I could write what other people thought of that cult and its beliefs, I needed to know what it was and what it espoused.  So I did a couple of other exercises this week, including a lengthy character interview with the “bible” author and cult leader, Lucius, as well as large chunks of the “bible” text itself.  Very little (if any) of that will wind up in whatever final draft this novel winds up at, I’m sure, but it was useful to have the ideas written down.

For anyone looking for exercises:  I’ve done the character interview before (see the link above), but both of these techniques are forms of writing the backstory.  Of course, you have to be willing to throw most of that backstory away later, and you always need to be careful not to get too bogged down in backstory.  But this is NaNoWriMo.  If I wind up with too many words, then, just for this month, that’s fine by me.

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

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