When I first got the idea for Midnight in late 1996, I knew I wanted to write a different kind of ‘vampire story’. I never meant for the story to be the typical vampires-are-demons, the embodiment of our worst fears, gothic-chiller type story; I wanted to write about humans having a vampire problem. My characters, therefore, had to be as human as possible and face every day, normal difficulties. The added element of Samantha Clark’s discovery of real vampires, including that she, herself, carried vampiric genes only provided her another avenue of self-realization and wholeness.
Several days ago, The Ferrett blogged about worldbuilding. He asked, at the end, “If you’re a writer, how do you worldbuild?” The post and the question, of course, got my mind going. It just so happened that at the same time I was reading his post, I was also cruising Google StreetView because I needed to see what the six miles between Hensley Store and Martins Fork Lake look like. (It’s been three years since I’ve been there.) Because while I was doing all this, I was also working on notes and such for Midnight that our critique group had turned in.
It’s the ADHD. I’ve always done this. Three or four tasks at a time. I have to say, though, the Prozac has made this more bearable and more organized.
Worldbuilding is a bit different for me. I use a place that actually exists for my setting. Harlan County, Kentucky. I’ve just given it my own overlay and made it a place where vampires are real. And I created histories, laws, and rituals for these people. I have a link above to the HVSWiki, and I hope to find the time to put the information I’ve compiled online.
Now I have to be honest and admit that I didn’t have complete histories, laws, or rituals until July of this year. I’ve been tinkering around in this ‘alternate Harlan’, as Preston calls it, for ten years now. My writing is really organic. I’ve learned most things as I’ve gone along. More so during these exhaustive rewrites I’ve been doing on the three books for the past three years. Until I figured things out and learned who people were, I didn’t need nor could I create these histories. And are they tangled, let me tell you. Spider webs make more sense in places. I’ll put it this way. I didn’t even know for sure who Sami (my main character) was until I got near the end of the first draft of book two in 2006. The shock was as great for me as it was for her, I’m sure. But now she has a family and family history reaching back to early Devonshire UK.
The laws weren’t that difficult. Now, these are the laws for Anethdraeg, the vampire Family. I’ve not gone around messing with Kentucky law to warp it to fit my ‘alternate Harlan’. I had mentioned some of these laws off-hand near the end of Midnight, then here and there in the sequels. I just had to go through and pick them out and clean them up. What are they? Where did these laws come from? I would like to take credit for creating these laws out of thin air all on my own. But I can’t. They’re a mishmash of the original 1991 Vampire: The Masquerade laws and The Black Veil of the ‘real vampire’ community. I took what I needed and came up with names, definitions, and descriptions that fit the Harlan Vampire Series universe.
Here is an example of Anethdraeg law:
Donor – vampires feed only from well-informed, consenting non-vampire donors. We must feed only for the sake of satiating the hunger and must never give in to addiction. The Elder is the exception to this law as he requires feeding from his advisers and other vampires.
Discretion – this is the respect all vampires have for himself and for his Family. Private disputes and similar concerns shall never be discussed out among the public. A vampire chooses with the utmost of care with whom he will share the knowledge of his true nature. And those people must be wise and mature enough to understand and respect what he is.
Respect – implies specific actions and conduct representative of the feeling of positive regard for a person or an entity. Unless a vampire brings harm or dishonour upon himself or upon the Family, all are to respect that individual’s choices and decisions. Give respect, therefore, to those who have earned it.
Haven – is a refuge, a sacred safe place where the Family comes together for ritual worship, socializing, and seeking the advice of their Elder. The sanctity of our Haven shall be respected and shall never be violated.
Only we define and control who and what we are. By our own free will, we choose to obey the Laws of this Family so that we shall live well upon this earth.
These Laws were given to us of old for our well-being and are not meant to be a burden. In keeping with the nature and ways of our times, we shall change those Laws which no longer apply and shall create new Laws when they are needed.
Creating rituals was simple enough. I’ve walked a Pagan path since I was ninetten, and with my ‘Gwyddon Druid Degree of Goodness’ comes my ritual creation +5 skill. So I put it to work – in Michael’s shoes. If I were a Pagan with roots in Devonshire, how would I do things? I decided, “probably not much different from a Welsh Gwyddon. I made a list of what I needed – not much (a ritual grimoire containing a brief outline of the Anethdraeg ritual practices and four rituals to encompass their Full Moon celebrations) – and went from there. The ritual body I created is, in all likelihood, very useable provided one researched, used, and fully understood the Welsh lore behind it. Same with the method of magic Sami employs. Her metaphysics is the same blend of personal, intuitive magics and Gwyddonics that I use, which is probably a whole other blog post on its own (minus the Gwyddon bits, which are up for discussion only with other Gwyddons. sorry).
The Time period came easily enough. I wanted Sami to live in the same Harlan County I had, starting in 1995. I moved to Loyall in October, Sami in September. But then, near the beginning of book two, I hit a snag. I mention this in my authors notes btw. I sat down to read the Lexington Herald-Leader and saw that Central Baptist Hospital had a plan to build a new campus across the interstate from Hamburg between Man O’War Boulevard and Winchester Road. Construction was supposed to start last year and hasn’t yet. So I had a bit of panic as I tried to figure out what to do.
See, I can write about a place better if I can visualize it. So much the better if I’ve been there before. Since I have been in and out of CB for various reasons over the last twelve years and can see it eyes open and closed, and due to the course of the story, I needed to use the hospital as I knew it. Yes, I even downloaded floorplans from the hospital website. The logical choice was to back up my entire timeline by ten years. Not as easily accomplished as I’d hoped. It screwed up clothing, hairstyles, cars, music, and electronics for starters. Gone were Stone Temple Pilots and Sami’s computer! Instead of her arriving on Steve’s doorstep in 1995, she arrived in 1985. This meant Jeremy lost his boxy Crown Victoria and Michael lost his Sebring. But one does what one must do. This also meant I had to make a ton of telephone calls back home to poke and prod my in-law’s memory. Was that store there then? Did it have the same name? What was it called? Who owned it? When did the bypass go in? When was the mall built? When did Loyall Elementary School shut down? Endless, endless questions.
When I write, I start with a character and a dilemma. Not much else. Then I do the equivilent of getting to know my neighbor. Hello. How are you? Where does your husband work? Where do you go to church? This is the Kentucky way of learning who knew people are, so those are the natural questions. The rest flows from there. And this is going to sound like a real stretch to some people, but my faith takes into account reincarnation. Our view is a bit different from anything else I’ve seen, and I won’t go into that here. I got Sami’s and Steve’s full names from my last life. I borrowed their names, not their stories. Jeremy’s name came from liking the name; his last name came from the 1997 Harlan County telephone directory.
Michael was a bit moe complex than that. I guess. It depends on how it’s looked at, I suppose. Michael’s name, look, and the good side (yes, he does have one!) of him are based on a real person I met here in Lexington in 1996, although he wasn’t six-and-a-half feet tall like Michael Devon. He didn’t have a last name until toward the end of the second book when I realized he didn’t have one and he needed one. But for Michael I didn’t want a common Kentucky name. I wouldn’t know it until later, but Michael wasn’t Kentuckian. (We all already knew he wasn’t common lol!) I researched uncommon names in Kentucky in the late 1800s. I found one Devon family in Louisville for that time period. For the name to be that uncommon was perfect. And I can’t remember exactly what it was about ‘Devon’ that stuck with me, but it did, and I refused to let it go.
Place names took care of themselves; afterall, my setting is a real place. All I need are a map and photographs. Oh, and my cell phone. In case I need to call home and ask questions. Again. Business names were a bit different. I changed a couple. Loyall Texaco, which has been in operation since the 1930s became The Market. Belk Simpson at the mall became Preston & Bianchi – although that last I’m still not happy with and am searching for an alternative. Most people are surprised to learn that Dairy Hut is a real place.
It is. See?
Parks and bodies of water also took care of themselves and are all real places and things.
Which brings me around to music. In Eventide and Midnight music makes appearances, more so in the first. Eventide was fun in that it takes place from 1959 to 1966 (research for this one was marvelous!). I got to explore some wonderful music. There’s more than one scene where Michael and Laurel dance along with the radio in his kitchen. In Midnight, Sami often has music playing in the background. At one point, she and Jeremy are listening to records in his bedroom, and she asks to hear one of his Stix albums.
Last but not least. Photographs. I have a digital collection of 600 pictures taken within Harlan County. This doesn’t include my 100 pictures taken in Corbin (in Whitley County), the 60 of/around/at Cumberlan Falls (near Corbin), or the 75 of Cumberland Gap (in Bell County). These pictures come in handy when I can’t remember what something looks like. You know, for the minute details. Like I have it stuck in my head that O’Neil’s Funeral Home in Corbin was either built out of white brick or was painted white. It isn’t. The building is and always has been red brick. I also have some Google StreetView captures I use for reference, such as this one I grabbed a few days ago. I needed to know what this section of road looked like.
Too, things look so different season to season. Shadows change, as does the quality and quantity of the light. Things also look different depending upon the weather. A Harlan drenched in rain, with or without fog, is a different Harlan from the one drenched in sunshine (in the places where sunlight actually reaches). The angle of the sun and moon do shine in a given area is important.
Oh. One more thing. I create houseplans. I used to do this with typing paper, a pencil, and a ruler, but thanks to graphics programs, I can now do this on my laptop. I do this for good reason. So I can trace the path characters walk. So I don’t have someone turning right off a stairway on page 6 and then have them turning left off that same stairway on page 298. It also helps if I have a small map of, say, Sami’s or Michael’s property so I know what sits where in relation to everything else.
I think that’s everything. I’ve probably left out half of what I meant to write about. If anyone reading this has questions, please feel free to ask them in the comments, and I’ll answer them to the best of my ability. This post will probably end up being a permanent page on the site somewhere.
I may have to make a change in Midnight’s Heir. Oomph …
My mind stores information in the strangest of ways.
I never meant to connect Toby and Janell to Columbine. Ouch!
Even before I realized consciously what I’d done – over the last week or so, actually, I had thought about taking Toby’s and Janell’s incident out of the school (which I’d have to do away with the memorial plaque mentioned once in Heir’s Starlight) and into one of their homes.
In my rewriting, I decided it’d be smart if I moved up the school shooting from the middle of the Summer during summer session to near the end of the traditional school year. Completely arbitrary, I decided prom night made sense. April 17. Saturday. 2004.
I’ve sat here beating my head on my kitchen table – figuratively – for an hour now.
- Columbine happened in April.
Columbine happened a few days after prom.
Tuesday, April 20th.
Prom was the 17th, Saturday.
You’ve got to step back and admire the subconscious mind.
I pieced all this together for my story and thought, “I need to do some reading real quick before I start reworking everything.” And came over here and started reading about Columbine – and whoops.
Apparently April 1999 and April 2004 have exactly the same calendar. The only difference is when the full moons fell that month – and other astrological stuff.
But I didn’t consciously realize what I had done when I wrote Sami standing outside Harlan County High School* watching the people who were still there, at all the kids who were outside in their prom dresses and tuxedos and she thought they looked like paper flowers.
I e-mailed my concerns out to some folks last night, and it was suggested that perhaps “most people” wouldn’t put the two incidents together. And it’s very possibly no one will connect the dates. I have my chapters divided up by month, but I never state specifically what the date is – unless someone pieces it together on his own. To do that, he’d have to know the date of the full moon in April 2004 and the date of Sami’s mother’s death (and birthday).
So I think what I’m going to do is go over here and keep writing and piece the scene/event together the way it wants to go and just leave it. And if, in the future, some buyer wants a change, I’ll tackle it then. For now, this is how it wants to be, and I have to go with that. I can’t force it to be something it’s not.
*I never mention the school by name but by location. Too, this particular school wasn’t open in 2004. It didn’t open until the Fall of 2008. When I wrote the first draft of this story in 2005, the new school was still a gleam in the county’s eye.
[[ 6/3/10: eta: i want to point readers to this post about columbine here: http://thecorvidaecabal.org/2009/04/16/columbine/ ]]
She sat with her feet tucked beneath her to one side, a coffee cup balanced on her knee. [He] leaned against the chair, his right arm on the seat. They’d talked for the greater part of the day and showed no signs of slowing down any time soon.
[He] looked up at her and smiled. “Your mother would sit like that, and it always amazed me. If I tried anything like that, I’d end up with a scalded crotch.”
She burst out laughing.
“It’s true. No matter how she sat, she could always put a cup of coffee on her knee. And you know she’d never tried coffee until she met my mother.”
“Coffee is ambrosia.”
They clinked cups and drank.
disclaimer: poetry and fiction snippet content are my own original content. unauthorized reproduction of any post content, without prior written permission, is in direct violation of applicable copyright laws.
24. How willing are you to kill your characters if the plot so demands it? What’s the most interesting way you’ve killed someone?
I kill characters when it’s necessary to the plot. Death is as necessary and natural a part of life as is breathing.
When I first realized that my precious Michael had to die in Midnight’s Heir in order to forward the plot, in order for Sami to do and learn what she had to, my heart broke into a thousand pieces. I cried for several days whenever I thought about it. Bitter tears. I fought the notion, but there was no way around it. I sat down to write the crucial scenes, and I had a hard time even holding my pen I was crying so hard. I cried all over again when I typed the scenes up and set them aside.
To be perfectly honest, I get teary-eyed whenever I think about it. Michael’s dead? Kill me!!
25. Do any of your characters have pets? Tell us about them.
Sami had a cat when she first moved in with Steve. The cat died of old age some time after she moved in with Michael – somewhere in the following two years. The cat’s name was Sugar.
Sugar was a real cat. My in laws adopted her in February 1996 after their dog of fourteen years passed away. Sugar, like all cats, was a very special girl.
26. Let’s talk art! Do you draw your characters? Do others draw them? Pick one of your OCs and post your favorite picture of him!
Anybody know what an OC is?
I have very firm ideas in my head of what my characters are supposed to look like. I’ve found some photographs online of various folks who come close but aren’t exactly quite right and never will be.
20. What are your favorite character interactions to write?
I’m not sure if this is asking about the type of interactions or the characters themselves.
Yeah am cramming a lot into this post. If I get bored later, I might do three or four more. Stay tuned.
16. Do you write romantic relationships? How do you do with those, and how “far” are you willing to go in your writing?
I do write romantic relationships. I can’t write sex scenes for shit, though. But I try. I can report that I’ve been told I’ve gotten better with the romance angle over the last several years.
17. Favorite protagonist and why!
Except for Daniel in Midnight’s Heir, and really he was a bit part, I’ve never had a physical human protag. I’ve had more success writing depression and personal demons. Because that’s what I know.
18. Favorite antagonist and why!
Sami and Michael both, of course. Why? They’re just easy for me to write. I catch myself writing about either of them and find myself going and going and going … I have to rein myself in.
19. Favorite minor that decided to shove himself into the spotlight and why!
Minor character. :thinks: Sarah Williams. She started out as a party guest in Midnight, ended up being one of Michael’s advisors in Midnight’s Heir and the mother of his son. Then over the course of writing the prequel (shaddup!), Eventide, Sarah ended up with a grandmother, mother, and a last name. Then because of a fit Sami threw between Midnight and Midnight’s Heir, Sarah became Michael’s wife.
10. What are some really weird situations your characters have been in? Everything from serious canon scenes to meme questions counts!
When is Sami never in a weird situation? I’ve sat here all day trying to think and can’t come up with anything. The weirdest, though, has to be when she first got to Harlan in 1985 and realized she was in the midst of vampires – and that she had vampire in her own genetic make-up.
11. Who is your favorite character to write? Least favorite?
Michael actually is my favorite character to write. I could write him all day – and have. Least favorite is his granddaughter. Sometimes I just can’t get my head around her.
12. In what story did you feel you did the best job of worldbuilding? Any side-notes on it you’d like to share?
My best worldbuilding was in Midnight. There, Harlan was a character in its own right. I lost that somewhere in Midnight’s Heir, and that really makes me sad.
1. Tell us about your favorite writing project/universe that you’ve worked with and why.
With the exception of two short stories, my serious writing endeavors have all taken place in my own version of Harlan County, Kentucky. I lived in Loyall, Kentucky, from October 1995 through May 1999 and consider Harlan County my home. When I first got the idea for my vampires in 1996, I thought about setting the story here in Lexington or even in Richmond, but for events to unfold the way they did, for the main character to evolve the way she needed to, the isolation of Harlan was required.
I joke around that I know more about Harlan County than a lot of people. Thing is, it’s true. I wear my mother-in-law and husband out sitting around talking with my father-in-law about Harlan. He and I view this as a good thing. We give each other an outlet to discuss our passion. Too, it helps that we can call each other when we have a Harlan County question.
2. How many characters do you have? Do you prefer males or females?
How many? Gods above. To keep up with books three and four I had to create a family tree. This tree is almost twenty-five pages long. Granted, not all people in the tree rate as characters, but a good majority of them do.
Let’s see. I started a spreadsheet when I started rewriting Midnight a couple of years ago. As I come to a character, I chart him along with certain attributes. First and last name. Nickname. Order of appearance. Role. Description. Car. Residence.
Eventide (the prequel (i know. hush)) topped out at 26 – this book is still being written; this number could change. Midnight, 14. Midnight’s Heir is still being rewritten but was up to 46 at last count; that’s a full character list – major and minor characters all noted for my records. To Be Renamed I (and to be rewritten) has 20 main players listed on the character’s list I created for the book opening. To Be Renamed II (and to be rewritten) has 16 main players listed on its character list.
I’ve found that I can write both females and males equally well, but I prefer writing females. Male shoes are a bit difficult to step into – and it’s tiring.
[disclaimer: this is an excerpt of my second book and may contain spoilers if you’ve not read first]
Same as she always did during these visits, Sami tried to ignore his red-rimmed, bloodshot eyes, ruddy face, the way he sniffed back his tears and fought a runny nose, the way he avoided her gaze. Turning the car around in the tiny space and edging it down the hill took all of his attention, but still she could see his finely chiseled profile no matter how he held or turned his head. As surreptitiously as she was able, with as gentle a touch as she possessed, she pushed her left hand beneath his hair to lay it on his back. All this time. All these years. And his love, his pain, his grief still as fresh as they had been in 1966. She couldn’t begin to imagine what he felt or what he might be thinking. And she didn’t want to. But she wanted to comfort him if only she knew how. Her seeming inability in this left her empty and afraid.
excerpt from work in progress, Midnight’s Heir.
disclaimer: poetry and fiction snippet content are my own original content. unauthorized reproduction of any post content, without prior written permission, is in direct violation of applicable copyright laws.