family accents

[repost from Multiply blog from Nov ’05]

family accents
Nov 25, ’05 5:02 PM

Last night, I was heavy with the ink in reworking a crucial chapter in “Book Three” (still no clue what to call it – maybe one day it’ll tell me!). Yes, I’m writing this one out-of-sequence, as well; I learned my lesson with Midnight – I’ll never push myself to write “chronologically” again! When I finished, I handed Preston the pages to read, which he hates because he never knows what’s going to happen or what’s going to be said next, especially since that one crucial chapter in “Book Two” … He hates this particular chapter just as much, if not more, as the one in “Book Two”. (Honestly, I have to read both chapters with Kleenex in hand – and I wrote them!)

But he made some interesting comments that have my mind racing – I didn’t sleep much last night because my mind wouldn’t shut off (again; this is becoming more and more “normal” for me).

Anyway. He said something about one thing he liked about my books so far is how I have the Family organized, that the Family is very structured. He said that the organization of the Family has a White Wolf-ish city structure, but at the same time, the everyday terms and customs have a very “old Appalachian family” feel to them.

Yet another thing I did subconsciously, I think. I bleed words, you see, so I do things sometimes and don’t realize I’ve done them until someone reads my stories and points those things out to me. I’ve had a lot of “Oh, I see!” moments while rereading Midnight lately …

While I was putting “Book Two” together, I created the Harlan Vampire FAQ to help keep myself straight on terminology, abilities, structure, etc – the further I got along, I realized that the FAQ would be useful for readers of the series, so I posted it up on my website. I knew that the Family had to “be” a certain way. No group, no matter how large or small, thrives without a given structural ladder. A strong, long-lived Pagan-vampire Family requires clear-cut hierarchy and hard-and-fast rules. I guess I just have Anethdraeg [An-eth-dray-ehgg] worked out in my head more than I ever realized I did. (And perhaps it’s time to update that FAQ!)

Too, the bits about “old Appalachian family” … I guess it stands to reason since I grew up in Appalachia that my characters’ lives would be colored by that. Appalachian families tend to look after one another and are (usually) close-knit. (I say “usually” here because my own is anything but – but that’s an entry for my personal journal at another time! – and if you read there, you already know how it is, anyway.)

As well, Appalachian people have words and phrases that others don’t – and these vary from region to region, adding complication. I’ve done my best to weed out any “nobody from here would ever understand that” words and phrases, with the exception of one or two characters (Lynn, for example, from the prologue of Midnight; he speaks exactly like someone from my hometown would.) Preston has been a great help with this sort of thing. “Honey, I don’t think you want/need to say this here,” he’ll tell me. “Your characters sound like they’re from Harlan again.” (Which brings up a whole other issue – people in different parts of Harlan County have their own sayings, customs, and accents! Yes, even the accents are different!)

So, where am I going with any of this? I’m not quite sure right now. Just thinking out loud mostly!

how you know you’ve had too much midnight to drink

I’ve told some of you about how I’ve always had these dreams about someone(s) trying to kill me. Last night it took on a new spin, although going to sleep thinking about my writing is probably 98% or more to blame.

A bunch of us were in Corbin – and I have to assume that’s where we lived – and word got out that someone / a group of someones was after the Anethdraeg Family book of law. For some ungodly reason, everyone decided that I had to get to Harlan and give it to Michael who could take it to his bank and put it in his safety deposit box. It would be safe there, barring nuclear explosion or supernova.

This was a weird Corbin. It was more like Lexington downtown. But it was Corbin. And on Depot Street where the old L&N passenger depot was, there was a shiny Amtrak station. An honest to gods Amtrak station.

The idea was for me to Amtrak to Cincinnati, cab back down to Hebron, and fly to New York City or Boston. From there, I would fly to Chicago. Then Amtrak to New Orleans and on to Atlanta. From there, I would fly into Knoxville, then rent a car and drive the rest of the way in, on back roads, to Michael’s.

I hate to be cliché and say “it was dark and many people died”, but it’s the truth.

From three streets over, it took me and the woman who volunteered to go with me two hours to get from Poplar Street to Depot Street in Corbin. Much running, ducking, dodging bullets, and hiding. Then, just when we thought we were standing in the train station Scott-free, the whole place got shot up. We managed to dodge more bullets, someone threw us his keys, and we raced off in his car. I found the backest back roads I could find to get us to Cincinnati.

I have no idea if we ever made it. We stopped at one point at this farm somewhere on the other side of Georgetown, and there was a little dog there that someone had abandoned, and the woman I was with insisted we take it with us. All I wanted was a hot meal and some alcohol. I didn’t care about a dog. Wherever this was, the people were supposed to be friendly and give us whatever we needed and take care of us without question. The only problem was, when we got there, they weren’t home. I can’t remember if we dug around and found a key or ended up breaking in, but we did end up well fed, cleaned up, patched up, and back on the road.

The dream ended when we were somewhere just south of Hebron.

wrong impressions

Even after five years, it seems like some people are still confused by my vampires. So, I think it’s high time for a(nother) explanatory blog post. (See also, my bibliography page) For the record, the questions here pertain to Midnight.

I’m going to start with these questions:

  • What is the core of this story?
  • Who is the antagonist in this story?
  • What does Sami have to lose?
  • What does Sami have to learn?
  • The core of this story is Sami losing herself only to find herself and where she belongs. Learn, laugh, live – and remember that Darkness Doesn’t Have To Mean Evil.
  • Samantha Clark is her own antagonist. I know a lot of readers expect for some villain to rise out of the shadows. In this story, that isn’t necessary. As cliché as it is, Sami is her own worst enemy. She’s been abused and told she is neither wanted nor loved over the course of her lifetime. She comes into the story lost, depressed, and with little will and no direction. She believes her ultimate goal is to regain the life she had made for herself and had had ripped away from her in Richmond. If she can get back to Richmond, she can rebuild what she’s lost.Over the course of the story, Sami falls further into the darkness and comes close to losing sight of everything she ever was and ever had. She drowns herself in alcohol and marijuana to hide from the pain that awaits her in reality. That rope with the knot in it that she clung so tightly to? she feels she slipped off of the rope and lost sight of the knot months before, if not a year before, she ever came to Harlan County. How to get it back within sight and reach, she doesn’t know.
  • Sami has to learn that some things she thought were real aren’t and some things she thought weren’t real are. She had to learn that she does have a home, that she does belong, and that there are people in the world who do love her. Within the darkness, she must find herself and the source of her own personal power. Also there, she must come to terms with the life she ran away from and face her new beginnings.

Now this group of questions:

  • I like how “human” your vampires are. But I’d lik them to seem more dangerous.
  • Where’s the danger in these vampires?
  • Where’s their power?
  • Where’s their rage and conflict?
  • These questions make me scream, “You’re missing the point! at the top of my lungs until my voice cracks. But, like Sami, most people expect classical, Bram Stoker-like vampires. Mine just aren’t like that. And no matter how much people complain, my vampires never will be like that, either.Being human with human issues is the point. As I’ve stated before, my stories are more about ‘humans having a vampire problem’ than anything else. My point from the onset of the idea of Midnight was that my vampires had to be as human as possible. In my Harlan County, more danger lies in not awakening to the vampire within than lies in the actual becoming.

    From my own notes:

    In those who aren’t given the change to ‘become’, awakening may manifest in actual physical or psychological illness or even debilitation untraceable by the best of medical professionals to any one specific source. These people become empty due to their ‘illness’ without knowing or understanding as to how to fill those voids. Their bodies rebel, then, shutting down vital functions seemingly at random, filling the hollows with cancer, depression, or other maladies. These people sometimes turn to self-harm or even suicide.

  • As for their ‘power’, it isn’t the same as the run-of-the-mill, overused supernatural tropes. This is in part where the ‘paranormal‘ – not the same as supernatural – comes in.My vampires have their metaphysical skills tested during the earliest stages of their awakening. If they’re found not to be adept, not to have any Pagan leanings or magical skills, they are introduced to someone outside of the Anethdraeg (House of the Dragon) clan who will help them – unless they are found by the others first. If they’re found to be adept, then they are given some training, helped through the awakening process, and are adopted into the Family.

    Their power comes from their own metaphysical prowess, from what lies within their own chemistry, through their relationship(s) with their god(s), and from genetics. Some have more, some have less. Except for the Elder. He has his own basket of idiosyncrasies. As a whole Family, this balances out when they all have need to work together.

  • What rage and conflict they do have, if any, is what they bring with them over the process of being turned and through the course of the change. Anything they’re hard-convinced of, any vices they have, any deeply-held beliefs, they bring those with them into their ‘vampirehood’ (ha! I just made up that word!). And there’s what Stephen Young calls the ‘infamous vampire guilt’. Many vampires spend too much time wallowing in the regret of things they’ve done or left undone. Both Steve and his friend Michael Devon are infamous for their ‘brooding’. As for the rage? Well, some have that, but it more boils down to ‘genetic temper’ than vampireness.

Next, these questions:

  • Where are the compact discs, the Internet, and cellular telephones?
  • Why can’t Michael call a cab for those who are too inebriated to drive after a party?

These questions make me laugh until I ache.

  • On the very first page of the story, it says in clear letters and language: 1985 – September. Ergo people:CDs arrived in 1982, yes, but in the Kentucky mountains in 1985, we were still fairly clueless about CDs; we still had our LPs and .45rpms, didn’t have the hundreds of dollars required for a CD player, and were convinced vinyl would live for eternity.

    Cell phones. The first 1G (yes, 1G, we’ve come that far!) network in America came online in Chicago in 1983, and cell phones were gigantic and weighed ten pounds. I’m not certain when cell phones made it to Kentucky, but I bought my first cordless telephone in 1989 – they’ve been around since 1968 but became popular / more common in the mid to late 80s.

    The Internet. ARPANET came around in 1962. E-mail was born the same year as I was. Public access to either wouldn’t come until much later. While I took programming languages classes all through high school, I didn’t really know what a ‘net was until 1987 in college when I had my introduction to the VAX. Back then, it took webmail ten to fifteen minutes to go from my terminal to the one beside me; so while we waited, we would talk or do actual homework! We had our EKU-BBS, but even that took time. NSF released its sponsorship of the Internet in May 1995, four years after Al Gore ‘created’ the Internet.

  • This brings us to Michael calling a cab.I’ve also been asked about passenger rail service. First of all, passenger rail service died in Kentucky in the early 1960s – and it’s not the kind of rail service you’re probably thinking of, anyway. If we want to ride Amtrak, we have to go to Cincinnati, Louisville, Maysville – or gods forbid, Atlanta, Charlotte, or St Louis. So trains are straight out. The trains we’ve had in Kentucky for over forty years now are of the freight and coal variety. And there is no such thing as ‘light rail’ here.

    When I first saw the question about Michael calling a cab, I stared at it a few minutes, then I laughed. Out loud. You might even say I guffawed. Because only people who live in major metropolitan areas and / or who don’t understand how back of beyond rural eastern Kentucky is ask questions like this.

    Harlan downtown has a cab service, but if I remember correctly, it doesn’t do much service outside of Harlan, Baxter, Rosspoint, Loyall, Browning Acres, and all points in between. I don’t know their rates and can’t find them online (no surprise there), so I’m using Lexington rates as an example. Anybody who’s read Midnight knows Hensley Store is twenty-five miles from Loyall. Lexington cab fares start at $2.50, then it’s twenty-five cents every tenth of a mile thereafter. If the math was done right, that’s a $65 ride. I don’t know anybody in the real Harlan County who could ever consider such a ride, never mind not knowing anyone down there with that kind of available cash. The county is populated with people on welfare or Social Security (or some combination of both), and the majority who have jobs outside the coal mines work for minimum wage. $65 for a cab? Infeasible – even in my Harlan County. (See, I like to keep things as realistic as possible, and that’s not a crime. Yet.)

Now with that silly out of the way:

  • Is it possible to start the story with Sami meeting Michael at the party?

Absolutely not. That’s one thing I refuse to change. The story starts with Sami crashing into Loyall after a panicked three hour drive which started with her running away from her abusive boyfriend. This gives the reader Sami’s mind state along with other information that would be lost or too ridiculous to put in as asides or memories. I won’t cheapen my story or lessen Sami’s pain and experiences this way.

  • Why can’t there be more interaction between Michael, Steve, and Jeremy?

First of all, the story is set completely within Sami’s point of view. It’s called ‘limited narrator’. The reader perceives the story through Sami, and she’s unable to tell the reader anything she doesn’t know outside her own experience. If those three men have contact with each other and Sami isn’t there, then it’s impossible for her to relay those meetings to the reader – especially when she doesn’t have a clue they exist. The concept is very simple, and I have trouble grasping why it’s difficult for some readers to understand. I learned how to use this in seventh grade Language Arts class. If the narrator doesn’t know, the reader doesn’t know. “Limited omniscient allows the narrator to relate the thoughts and feelings of only one character”.* If Sami isn’t in the same room with Michael, Steve, or Jeremy, then she doesn’t know what they’re doing or what’s being said – or even if or when all three are together or not together. Therefore, it’s inconceivable that she could communicate that information to the reader.

  • Why is Shelly in the book?

Jeremy Bradford can’t spend all of his time at school, in band practice, or with Michael, can he? When he isn’t in scene with Sami, he doesn’t always run home to his mother or to The Market to Steve. Shelly is important to Jeremy, which is why he introduces Sami to her. The reader doesn’t see Shelly in the sequel, but she is mentioned and plays a critical part to Jeremy’s future. Between Midnight and the sequel, Shelly and Sami develop a strong, sisterly friendship.

The better question to ask might be, “Why is Angela in the story?” No, really. Why is Angela in the story? We meet her on the first page, and her name is mentioned in the narrative a whopping nineteen times. The reader never sees her outside of The Market – except that first night when she brings Sami’s car to Steve’s.

Shelly’s name is mentioned fifty-five times, and Sami has quite a bit of interaction with her as they build their friendship. Shelly is important to the story.

Angela is just a clerk in a corner convenience store. Someone has to mind the place when Steve can’t be there, right?

I think that wraps up this session. If anyone has any questions, please post them in the comments. I’ll compile them and create another post later.

* Basic English Revisited: A Student Handbook, 1985.

2010 writing metrics

Every year for the last five or six years, I’ve set myself a writing goal of 150 thousand words. More than once, I’ve gotten twice this many words. This year, though, by the middle of May I worried whether I was going to get any words at all. On May 30, I wrote 768 words. It all, as ‘they’ say, went from there. On October 19, I wrote the 768 words that got me to 150,052 – 52 words over goal. I’m currently at 3822 words over goal. We’ll see where it goes from here.

now is not a good time

Now isn’t the time for a metaphysics lesson, Michael. Sure, you and Sami are confined inside your car, probably for another good twenty minutes. But that doesn’t mean she wants or needs a lecture. Besides, this isn’t the place in the story for this. We all can learn how energy transfers between two people and how like energy attracts like energy further along in the narrative. If we need to.

“But this is basic metaphysics!”

Yes, I understand this and it’s also one of the basic laws of energy. But the reader isn’t interested in that right now. The reader is interested in how you and Sami are interacting in this confined space.

“Our energy is interacting all over the place, and she hasn’t even noticed!”

Have you forgotten, Michael, that she’s exhausted, confused, and hungover? That and after your little adventure last night, you applied your special mojo-gumbo and made her forget everything that happened between the two of you. No lectures. No energy transferences. And no pantomime! Sami can’t handle them right now.

I really would like to be furthering this scene instead of discussing it with you.


“Michael, stfu.”

“You know I’m not good at that.”

“Do you see this delete key?”

Yeah, you quieten down when I remind you that you’re a figment of my imagination and currently made of nothing more than ink, fiber, ones, and zeros. And my dreams.

“But the metaphysical implications of her touching my hand like that–”


“Yes, ma’am?”

“Get the fuck out and walk.”

music and me

“I hate music, especially when it’s played.”
– Jimmy Durante

I have to say when I first saw that quote, I was floored; those words just went right through me. “Huh?!” didn’t even come close to how I felt. Then again, I’ve heard people say they never listen to music. :boggle: How can you go through life without music? I can’t imagine life without music. I remember when I was little flipping through Sandhi’s collection of 45s – there were some gems in there, including The Beatles Yesterday and Simon and Garfunkel’s Homeward Bound.

Music can be as annoying as it is moving, though. I’m not saying all music is good by any means. lol I can’t stand hiphop or most rap; some country (the newer “new country” like from the early 90s forward) I can stomach on occasion when I have to. Rock music started going downhill sometime in the mid-90s, and honestly, I didn’t listen to a lot of radio from the time just before I moved up here until within the last couple of years. Then again, it’s hard as fuck to get radio in Harlan County – mountains block the signal, even the local signal, and what selection their local “rock” station had blew hairy chunks, so we didn’t really miss anything, anyway. What music we listened to down there, we got from tapes and cds.

But then Breaking Benjamin, Staind, Static-X, Three Days Grace, A Perfect Circle, Thousand Foot Krutch, Nickelback, Dark New Day, Cold, Saliva, Hinder, Trapt, and others started popping out of the woodwork, and I started listening to the radio again. Since then, I’ve amassed quite an mp3 and cd collection as well. My boys and I listen to a lot of the same music, too. Thomas was as on edge as I was waiting for the new Breaking Benjamin cd to come out in early August, and Tayler’s on this big hang-up with both AC/DC and Pantera lately. In fact, I saw Breaking Benjamin in concert last Fall at the Kentucky downtown. I felt like the oldest fogie in the crowd, but damn – I’d pay double to go see them again and am praying they come back on this current tour.

But as I referred to above, music can be moving. In fact, it’s possible for music to pull a person through a gamut of emotions. I’ve had songs leave me in tears and others leave me rolling in the floor – thank you, Weird Al! […Baby, I love rocky road! So weren’t you gonna buy half a gallon, baby? I love rocky road! So have another triple scoop with me. Ow!] There are some songs out there that I just can’t listen to without tears rolling down my face. Some may just be on the overall “corny” factor list – odd memories, etc – but others are just that evocative, that emotional to me. Others get me into some serious “dancing where I sit”, while others bring me to my feet – such as Thousand Foot Krutch’s Move:

…Move and show me what you can do
When you step into the circle and shake like we do
And move when you just can’t take it
And move if you just feel like breaking it…

There are songs that I know and can sing all the way through and songs I only know parts of here and there and have to Eddie Izzard my way through. There are songs that I love to crank up and sing at the top of my lungs when I’m out driving in the car – or in the shower – Meatloaf’s Life Is A Lemon And I Want My Money Back or Blue October’s Hate Me, for example. There are songs that move me to dance, as I’ve mentioned before, and the cat hates that sometimes. Sometimes I pick her up and make her my dance partner. She looks so indignant – but she does a mean Hustle!

And gods only know how much music W and I listened to while we were driving aimlessly or sitting around remote spots while we were in Harlan together, especially back when we first met. Queen, Nirvana, Metallica (Master of Puppets Metallica), Stone Temple Pilots, Concrete Blonde (Jonette!), Alice in Chains, Live, Tonic…And Styx. I was flipping through albums in his room one night and found a Styx LP and put it on the stereo. (I miss records – but that’s a whole ‘nuther post all by itself!) But we pretty much had a “Harlan Soundtrack” that we lived by back then. It’s that music I listened to while I was writing Midnight.

Which leads me to writing with music in the background. I actually created a soundtrack for Heir when I started writing it. With Midnight, I had a playlist on winAmp and several “writing cds”. With Heir, I created something more specific – akin to a movie soundtrack, but stacked; it has something like 30 songs on it, and my cd player hates it (it’s older (from April ’99) and doesn’t handle mp3s or cds with more than 16 trackswell). Anyone can flip through my cd collection and find several mixed cds called “vampire music”. I use those to write by, as well. They evoke a mood – and mood is important with the Harlan Vampires! 😉 I have noticed that when I’m writing certain characters, I want certain music on; it helps me get and stay in touch with their particular idioms. Sami is more Stone Temple Pilots and Destiny is more Staind, while Mick is more Hurt and Laurel is more Breaking Benjamin, for example.

And, last but not least, here are some of my favorite lyrics, regardless of mood or reason:

Stand up
I have had enough
Walk away before I finish what you started
Face to face I will put you in your place
End this game before I finish what you started
Face to face everything will change

[Stand Up, Trapt]

Can you feel pain inside?
Can you love?
Can you cry?
I wanna run through your wicked garden
Heard that’s the place to find you
Cause I’m alive
So alive now
I know the darkness blinds you

[Wicked Garden, Stone Temple Pilots]

I’ll show you how to take me
Go down go down
And I’ll show you how to turn me
Right on right on
And I’ll show you how to touch me
Right on right on right on
Right on right on right on

[Independent Love Song, Scarlet]

I alone love you
I alone tempt you
I alone love you

[I Alone, Live]

Run away
Make hate
And get laid
And get laid
You tie me up
I’ve had enough
So medicate

[Medicate, Breaking Benjamin]

How do you cool your lips
After a summer’s kiss
How do you rid the sweat
After the body bliss
How do you turn your eyes
From the romantic glare
How do you block the sound
Of a voice you’d know anywhere

[Insensitive, Jann Arden]