Monday, August 18, 2014

Vampires Hearts: To Beat or Not to Beat

When you write a book, you have to be ready for the reviews, both good and bad. Thankfully TTTS has been receiving generally favorable reviews so far. And even the review I'm highlighting in this post ends on a positive note (and the reviewer gave the book three stars):

"vamps have a heart beat?????? not in any other vampire stories that i have read.....slow read, all the time long explaination. i have read many and never heard the heart beat thing, most state that there is no need for one as they are dead. T
he ending is super great and i loved it"

Apparently, that whole heart beat thing really knocked her for a loop. And hers is a fair question if she's primarily read stories in which vampire hearts don't beat. Vampires are, after all, supposed to be dead.

Or are they? Many might say, "yes," and certainly there are many authors who write them that way. But (as I state in my book Vampires' Most Wanted) one reason I feel the creature has remained popular over the centuries is that it's so versatile. While the term "vampire" may have arisen in Eastern Europe, legends of vampiric creatures have existed in cultures around the world, their traits often taking on a style particular to that country. 

The penanggallan
There was the penanggallan of Malaysia, for example, a woman who could detatch her head and send it flying around looking for victims. Or the Mananaggal of the Philippines who could detatch her upper torso to go hunting. The jiangshi of China are basically reanimated corpses with green fungus on them that hop around and absorb life essence from people. Ashanti legends of West Africa tell of the asanbosam which waits on the branches of trees for a juicy victim to walk by. In ancient India they believed that ghoulish beings known as vetalas inhabited corpses while a chedipe was a witch vampire that also specialized in sexual pleasure. The Alp of Germany is more of an imp while Germany's blautsauger was even more frightening.

Bottom line, there are a heck of a lot of vampire legends out there and they don't all follow the same playbook. Even the current crop of romantic vampires are relatively new, the notion gaining a foothold in the mid-19th century and growing stronger in the 20th century. That a vampire could break hearts was something that most people would have found absurd prior to the that.

The key element in the vampire tale concerns the ingestion of blood stolen from another being (though one could widen the parameters and switch the word "blood" with "life force"). One person living off another to survive. But the legends and the vampires themselves all differ from each other in some way. Some are little more than zombies, some feast only on relatives, some fly, sometimes only half of them fly, some can handle the sun, some can't. And even those notions change and evolve over time. 

Count Orlock  disintegrates in the light of the rising sun
An aversion to sunlight, for example, was never a big thing in the Eastern European legends until the danger of sunlight on a vampire was introduced in the movie "Nosferatu: Symphony of Terror." After that, it was something used quite frequently as a way to combat a vampire. The past decade or so, in shows like "Moonlight" and books like Twilight, you come across more vampires immune to sunlight (albeit in Twilight, they aren't exactly immune to sunlight since it makes them sparkle, thus going out in the sunlight attracts attention to themselves...I know I didn't buy it either).

So people have often played with a legend that was never set in stone to begin with. 

It's exactly what I did when I decided to write a vampire novel. Since I didn't want to resort to the supernatural to explain my vampires (I have no problem with the supernatural, I just felt more comfortable not using it), I made vampirism a physical not a metaphysical condition. That's how it made sense to me. How is it that reanimated corpses can function?

Or to put it another way:

In a episode of the TV show "True Blood", Bill tells Sookie that he doesn't breathe. Well, why would he? Again, as a vampire, he's not alive. But then how is he able to speak those words to her. Try to speak and not inhale or release air. Nothing is said about him having magical speech so presumably he's speaking the way humans do. How is that done without the air to lift those words out of his throat?

Mina Harker feasts off Count Dracula
Or consider Dracula who accosts Mina Harker in her room one night and has her drink the blood leaking from a self inflicted wound on his chest. How is the blood able to flow if there is no circulation system powered by a beating heart? 

Authors of course can use the conceit that as creatures reanimated from the dead their vampires have no heart beats. Again that's the beauty of the genre: There are so many different takes on it. 

But for my novel, I wanted an explanation for how a "corpse" was able to move.

All life on earth has some sort of circulatory system powering it. I needed something, aside form the supernatural, to power my vampires. The human body is an amazing machine. The amount of processes happening on a cellular level is astonishing. There are processes within processes. 

Which is why I made the condition a disease. My soon-to-be vampires might be on the brink of death, but somehow the microbes infecting them can take advantage of the barest spark of electrical-chemical impulses to jump start their systems. They take a person, repair certain functions, improve or alter others, all to create a safe environment where they can thrive. 

So in my universe, vampires are alive. Their hearts beat, their organs function. But as with the legend, their lives (or the lives on the microbes keeping them alive) depend on the sustenance gained from other beings.

It's just another spin on the legend.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Interview at the New Lenox Library

A few months ago I taped an interview about To Touch the Sun at the New Lenox Library in New Lenox, Ill. It's a beautiful library, a bit of a drive. I think it took me about 90 minutes heading south. But it was a nice drive through some rural area.

I was interviewed by the director, Kate Hall, for a series the library just started called "Meet Your Neighbor".

I hope you enjoy hearing about the novel.