Local Color and Vampire Inspiration: The Big Easy

I’ve talked previously about the inspirations for my vampire novel series, The Matriarch Vampires. The central West Virginia locations, Glenville State College, and the character nods. After shelving the original first drafts of the book two decades earlier, why did I feel it was time to dust them off and finally finish the story?

One of those reasons was certainly Jonathan Weiss.

neworleansjacksonsquarenight2010My wife and I enjoy walking through old cemeteries and taking local ghost tours. There are many haunted places around the U.S., often in old cities like Birmingham, Alabama, Savannah, Georgia, and St. Augustine, Florida. Back in 2010, we traveled to New Orleans and took such a tour, and our guide to the city at night was none other than Jonathan. He looked the way I imagine a time traveler might, combining a classic appearance with a modern sensibility, a person whom has long since reconciled the old and new ways with a natural ease, elegance, and an eagerness to share his experience.

Not having given much serious thought about fiction writing for twenty odd years, Mr. Weiss captured my attention and filled my imagination with stories and embellishments as we toured the French Quarter and Bourbon Street, recounting local legends with intriguing details and playing to the crowd… and yes, much was said about vampires. He and other occupants felt like a necessary part of the city, a piece of its soul that would be lost forever if abruptly cut out.

Yet, as I understand it, that’s exactly what some are trying to do.
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The Shepherd Wolf

Every full moon, the wolf would appear to devour another sheep — it was the way of things.

Always at night and always hungry, the wolf would appear to chase the herd until one could run no longer. When it fell behind, the wolf took the weakest sheep into its powerful jaws and disappeared into the night.

While most of the sheep looked away, one did not. It watched, saw how frightened the other sheep were, and offered comfort to others.

But the wolf noticed the sheep that watched, and on the night when the moon became darkest, it came and took it away.

“Why do you watch?” the wolf asked, not yet having devoured the sheep.

“To understand,” it replied. “There must be a secret that can save us all.”

The wolf laughed. “I will reveal my secret, for it cannot save anyone.” With that, the wolf became a sheep.

“You’re one of us,” the sheep gasped.

“One need not be seen as a wolf all of the time, but it is ever what I am inside. You see such things and that is dangerous to me, but you will watch no longer.”

The wolf bit the sheep, and the sheep fell into a deep slumber.

When the sheep awoke, the wolf was gone, and so the sheep wandered back to the herd. No one in the herd had ever survived such an attack, and a few accused the sheep of bargaining with the wolf, for how else could it survive? The sheep denied the accusation but could not speak the whole truth, for it understood it would be shunned.

wolfchallengeOn the next full moon, the wolf returned. When the herd scattered, the spared sheep did not run.

“Join the hunt,” the wolf commanded, and the sheep became a wolf as well.

The fear from the herd was palpable upon seeing two wolves, and the sheep smelled delicious to the predators, but the new wolf turned and faced the old wolf down.

“Why fight me when there are sheep for the taking?” the old wolf asked.

The new wolf answered, “Because I remember being one of the sheep, and I will watch no longer.”

And it became the way of things.

Copyright © 2016 Kevin A. Ranson. All Rights Reserved.

* * *

It felt like a parable kind of day today.

You can buy an art print of the image here.

A Near-Life Experience

I became ill the first week of June 2016, dismissing it as a minor bug — “con crud” as conventioneers say — and something I could get over with fluids, over-the-counter meds, and rest.

PneumoniaPlushExcept I didn’t. I was running a fever on and off, at one point hitting 102.5 F, so after battling for a week, I reluctantly went to the doctor that Thursday. After getting a cocktail of antibiotics injected into me, I assumed all would be well…until it wasn’t. I would find out later that I was far more sick and exhausted than I knew, and when the shot took effect, it did its job so well my forty-something body was no longer up to the task.

At some point later in the evening, my short-term memory failed and I’ve been told I started babbling. I don’t remember that night or the panic that set in when my family found me the next morning before calling an ambulance. The shot had started killing off viruses so quickly that I couldn’t flush them out fast enough. Systems started shutting down, and at 340 pounds, my family couldn’t move me to the car. The ambulance drivers didn’t give me much of a chance, but they didn’t waste any time, either.

I remember having some kind of dream about being in a the bottom of a boat, moving inside, as if I was being taken somewhere. There’s a high probability it was how I imagined the ambulance ride or maybe ICU; which one I couldn’t say. Fortunately, for being big and tall, I’m pretty resilient and managed to survive the following two days until I was functioning on my own again. The doctors were afraid something might have been permanently damaged, from my kidneys all the way to my brain.
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Supergirl Revisited: Darkness and Light in Storytelling

SupergirlLikesDonutsIn October of 2015, CBS launched “Supergirl” for a 13-episode order. I even published an article about it. Maybe it was a bid by the network to lure in younger viewers or maybe an appeal to older ones, but one thing was certain: this Supergirl was going to be a force for hope, good, and all that stuff. In a television and movie landscape now dominated by dark and sometimes murdering superheroes, this one was going to remain incorruptible in spite of many temptations.

You know — the way Superman used to be.

Actor Christopher Reeve was quoted with saying, “Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.” It isn’t clear if he was saying that in-character or not, but it was probably both.

SupergirlAndAlexHappy so far, CBS bumped the show to a full-series order: a total of 20 episodes. The show hasn’t been perfect; from a front-loaded overstuffed pilot to a world where science seems to serve the weekly plot and physics be damned, the one consistency has been Melissa Benoist. The “Glee” actress has so completely embodied the character of Supergirl and brought so much of her A-game, you’d think she was going for an Oscar in a feature film if she didn’t look so honest doing it. Considering that two other actresses on the show — Helen Slater and Laura Vandervoort — have both played the character, it’s hard now to imagine anyone better for the role than Melissa Benoist (yeah, she’s that good).
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The Matriarch, Harry Potter, and Native Appropriations

There’s been a bit of flack surrounding the previews on JK Rowling’s Pottermore website regarding “magical” North American history, specifically in the way it includes Native American culture. If you weren’t aware, this is all advertisement for the new Harry Potter film entitled Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them arriving in theaters November 2016; the Pottermore website has published four installments of the abbreviated “History of Magic in North America.” While there are many issues pointed out by various news outlets, this is the one that hurts the most and that I’m most familiar with.

The Problem With Magic Folk

“So what?” people post online. “It’s fiction. She can make up whatever she wants.” None of this is real, so who does it hurt? The actual people, for one thing. Native Americans are real people with a real culture; they haven’t died out or ceased to exist. It’s not just one culture, either; there are currently 562 federally recognized Indian Nations (source: ncai.org), and their uniqueness is hanging on in spite of centuries spent actively destroying it. No, not just the English colonists; the French and Spanish both had equal hands in it.

LoneRangerJohnnyeppTontoIn Hollywood, there has long existed a trope of “the helpful Indian who appears from nowhere,” so clearly they must be magical. Think Peter Pan and The Lone Ranger; help is needed, the indigenous mystics appear, do their thing, then conveniently disappear. It’s a plot device: deus ex shamana. Like faeries, trolls, and goblins, the truth can be lost to legend. Using Britain’s own fables as an example, there were reportedly a dozen Robin Hoods who all became one man, and King Arthur’s stories can be traced to several individuals who were embellishment through oral tradition.

Native Americans do exist and want to keep their cultures and traditions alive. Learn about it all you like and tell others, but embellishing the facts — changing them — and attributing details to all tribes as a whole dilutes its uniqueness. Like a game of telephone, the truth is being lost because the details are wrong.

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The Ballad of Murder Joe: A Cautionary Tale

Full disclosure: nobody died, his name wasn’t Joe, and thankfully no one was singing. And yet this is a true story.

WestVirginiaAtNightWhile on a trip to my home state of West “By God” Virginia, my spouse and I were on our way between stops when we had to change lanes on Southbound I-79 just before midnight. We were in high spirits, having found a favorite restaurant open on our way and looking forward to some much deserved sleep, but being deer season, a buck had wandered onto the road and been struck. The lane change had been to avoid the fresh carcass, just behind another vehicle who had done the same.

Before we could switch out of the passing lane, the vehicle in front of us did so abruptly; a thick wooden or metal grating was in the lane and over it we went. The front tire cleared but my right rear tire snagged. A tire pressure warning on my dashboard appeared almost instantly, and Exit 5 was just ahead. I caught a glimpse of a gas station sign, so I took the exit. As I made the turn, I felt how badly the tire was pulling, so I stopped beneath the underpass to check it.

This was my first mistake.

You’re more visible on the interstate — even in a rural state like West Virginia. At midnight on a moonless night, it’s dark…like REALLY dark. Get off the road but don’t leave the road. The other problem was it was highly unlikely either of the aforementioned gas stations were open; this is a state where the capital rolls up its sidewalks at dusk. Moving on…

DarkSoulTireDownRealizing where I’d stopped, and took my high-lumen flashlight out and did a quick sweep of the underpass; we were alone. While I was born in WV, movies like Wrong Turn are far more realistic than The Blair Witch Project, so we weren’t looking for any encounters. I had a tire pump and a repair kit but not a spare, something my car manufacturer assured us was more than adequate.

This was my second mistake.

I have low-profile tires. They look good and grip the road really well, but what I didn’t know then is the grating had gashed my tire’s sidewall, something the repair kit wasn’t going to fix. The tire was a loss and we were stuck. A donut could have gotten us back on the road and to our next destination. Lessons learned.

And then Murder Joe appeared out of the darkness.
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The Vampire’s Privilege

Why vampires?

As an author with vampire series, it’s a question I hear often.

The short answer is because people still like them…and so do I.

JanissPredatorModeSquareAvatarSmallTo my mind, it is perfectly understandable why people continue to identify with vampires. It isn’t about becoming a reanimated corpse or the need for blood; it’s the promise of eternal life after death and finding empowerment in a curse — turning a negative into a positive. Yes, there’s sex and blood and rock n’ roll, but the part that makes it so relatable — even desirable — is the empowerment.

To quote Tyler Durden from Fight Club: “All the ways you wish you could be, that’s me. I look like you wanna look, I f**k like you wanna f**k, I am smart, capable, and most importantly, I am free in all the ways that you are not.” Like Tyler, the laws of men and death no longer apply to the vampire; the undead dictate their own rules and they follow their own code. Both cursed and blessed to watch the world die around them while they endure, vampires are elevated demigods who remember once being merely human.

The promise of being insulated from the ravages of time, to become a spectator rather than a mere participant in the human condition, is the vampire’s privilege.

Any questions?

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