Vampyres: In Search of Originality Part 1

It is a given that whatever we write for commercial purposes, whether a novel or a jingle, the words have to present an original concept. I certainly do not pretend to be a font of originality – but it really hacks me off when a publisher or an agent decides that a certain theme is “done.” They announce they are no longer interested in manuscripts on this topic or that topic, the reason being that is ‘overdone” or the market is “saturated.”

I think this decision is more a figment of the unimaginative publisher/agent’s mind than a market reality. Take vampires as a classic example. Surely, after Bram Stoker revivals, Smith’s Vampire Diaries and Ann Rice’s Vampire Chronicles and Queen of the Damned, there is little else to be written. Well…no.

Originality in fiction constantly produces “Oh! I wish I’d thought of that.” Then again, originality in REALITY is never hard to find given a little research. My own insane curiosity has led me into some many dark corners of humanity and history. Each little fact, tale, legend gets sorted into the myriad pigeonholes of the mind – to emerge as complete stories in dreams or on paper. Vampires are no exception – the reality is that history is stuffed with very original and very horrific vampire stories that the ‘market place’ for such nightmares has yet to see or read (‘Vampyre’ by the way is an older version of the word – I like older).

Two examples serve to illustrate and the first follows. The turn of the nineteenth century was a time when exploration of the occult was a very accepted pursuit of the intelligentsia (how many smart people today have explored Manley P. Hall’s The Big Book?). The result was a fluorescence of secret societies, of occult explorations and even gatherings of practitioners from the novice to theIpsissimusin such centers of hidden knowledge such as pre-war Vienna. On one occasion there was gathering of the magi (Yep – that’s the title of the novel I am writing about the event) under the auspices of one particular Austrian Magician. Occultists from all over Europe attended. Among them was one Englishman, an engineer by profession. During the event he breakfasted at a famous at a sidewalk restaurant with a fellow Hermetician and they discussed current events. A paragraph in the City’s major newspaper caught their attention. Peasants had burned a small castle in Transylvania after claiming that the recently dead owner had risen from the grave to feast upon the blood of children from a nearby village.

The English engineer   immediately recognized the village and the castle. A few years before he had been employed to build a road through this very area. He heard stories of hauntings at the castle – and, given his interest in the occult, he took time away from the road building to visit it. He told a remarkable story about a haunted portrait painted by a famous Viennese artist. He and several companions stayed the night in the nearby village. According to the engineer, that night the youngest of them received a visit in his locked bedroom – by the woman in the portrait.

The details of the story might well be considered as highly embellished. I thought so. I felt a little research would soon dispel the tale as an overly colorful rendition of a somewhat mundane event. I discovered that there had indeed been a well-documented meeting of international occultists in Vienna. Using the date of the event I searched the Viennese newspapers. I found the paragraph.

I learned that the engineer was the editor of a well-known occult magazine published in England at the turn of the century. I checked copies of the publication for the months following the meeting in Vienna. Another confirmation – there was an article about the portrait. Better yet, there was also a photograph! The portrait was clearly in the style of a very famous artist in Vienna (so much so that Hitler and Goering stole examples of his work). According to the artist’s history, his last portrait was of a woman from Transylvania – after which he went completely mad!

Close-up of the face of the Countess in the haunted portrait.

The best fiction is, in my opinion, that which is based mainly in truth. I wrote “A Portrait of Elga” based on the research I had done and, as you can well imagine, I really did not have to invent much to create a vampyre story that I guarantee you have not read elsewhere. Can I sell “A Portrait of Elga” – is there room for one more vampire story?

 

Sharkey & The Thunderjack

The 60s in the Bahamas was a decade of flux. The winds of change were already blowing early in the 1960s as the fledgling Progressive Liberal Party began to flap its wings. For years the islands had been firmly held in the grip of a largely white (some Conchy Joe) minority who shamelessly bought elections and doubtless cheated their way to power in the time-honored tradition of their pirate forbears. 

Little did anyone know that one election would suddenly thrust the PLP into power. In 1967 the transition of power was dramatic – as was the elevation of many of the humble members of the party. The linotype machine operator in the pressroom of the still hot-lead Nassau Guardian was a friend who did not afford himself the luxury of socks and shoes. 

Within weeks he was wearing expensive suits, driving his first new car – and loving on a brand new Swedish girlfriend. Many a time I attended a PLP rally to hear the rotund Milo Butler angrily announce that as soon as the PLP came to power he would personally walk down Bay Street in Nassau, opening each of the banks and “hand the money to the people.” The crowd would cheer for minutes on that one. Then he would add, “..and the streets will flow with white blood!” The cheers would amplify to manic screams of joy.

After the 1967 election I waited for Milo to deliver on the promise…but for some reason Gumment Biz always got in the way.  I actually asked him about it once over dinner in the amazing Chinese junk replica restaurant inside the Sheraton-British Colonial Hotel. “We’re getting to it,” That was all he’d say. In the meantime the ousted white politicians were scampering off the islands like wealthy, well-fed rats who seemed to have well-planned escape routes already in place. It was said that Sir Stafford Sands had already removed his wealth and his fabled pornography collection to Spain along with his Swedish mistress (no surprise that the Swedes preferred the Bahamas to ice-coated fiords). I had lunch with him once on Abaco Island and he let me know in no uncertain terms that money, porn and Swedes were never to be topics of conversation. He weighed somewhere near 300 lbs and I later wondered if he were the inspiration for Jabba the Hut.

As it turned out, the black politicians were even better at piracy than their white predecessors…or so it seemed. It was in the midst of this political and racial turmoil that I was doing my own thing – delving into the darkest corners of the lore and legend of the local communities. These were the settlements of the the Out Islands. Being island dwellers, good seamanship was vital to survival – and being the descendants of Africans, there was a healthy spiritual component to life on the water. They called it “Scratch,” a Bahamian version of Obeah, Voodoo, Santeria – and its use got to be very serious indeed.

The result of my immersion in this world was “Sharkey & The Thunderjack.”  Here is the introduction to the series of novellas:

 

Sharkey & The Thunderjack:

There has always been the sea. It surrounds and nurtures each gem like island. It tempers the chill northern winds of winter and the humid heat waves of summer. Its currents bring tantalizing flotsam from distant and mysterious places far to the south. Its depths yield up bounties of food and sometimes treasure.  There are times when it tests a man’s mettle, tries his soul, and tempers both to produce a hardy breed of sailormen who take pride in their power to live in harmony with the powers of the wind and waves. They are the Out Islanders. Here seamanship is the measure of a man. They each set out to sea in sturdy boats of horseflesh and heartpine, a prayer to the white man’s Lord on their lips – an incantation to Okolun, the ancient African God of the sea in their hearts. Born of the Yoruba in Nigeria, their religion became Haiti’s Voodoo,  Jamaica’s  Obeah – and here the Bahamas – Scratch. By any name, it is a powerful magic, the taproot of daily life that can shape the primeval forces of nature to make a man strong  – or make him die.

One day above all others is paramount in the demonstration of each man’s prowess under sail – August Race Day. This is the holiday weekend when sailors from each island of the Bahamas converge on a tiny cay off the East coast of Andros. Off the gently curving beach at Mangrove Cay they race their boats. The winner is the best sailor in the Bahamas. In the days before the race, the little community is alive with the excitement of preparation, the scheming of the crews and captains – the spell casting of the Scratchmakers.

These are the men and women who keep alive the old traditions. They are said to have power over the winds and seas for long enough to help a captain win. The most powerful magic of all is that embodied in the bones of ancestors who were master sailors in their own time. Their bodies are often buried in ‘Banana Holes’ – deep natural pits in the island bedrock. As race day nears, the bones are resurrected and used in spell casting – then placed aboard the boats. The power of Scratch was not limited to the fortunetellers and spell makers – in the veins of some of the sailors runs the blood of ancient Yoruba priests. They and their ancestor sailors were men who had ‘Scratch’.

The first installment of “Sharkey & The Thunderjack” is now available as an E-book (pdf) readable on your laptop or importable into Nook and Kindle. Send $7.50 to jackatholgarreec@gmail.com via PayPal.

About: The Gods of Gilgamesh

It is an intriguing question. Were there advanced civilizations in the far distant past? The archaeological record is full of odd finds that archaeologists (stiff necked conformists that many of them are) want to ignore for fear of being seen as non-conformists by the community slavishly following the current thought leaders. They are called “ooparts” out of place artifacts. They challenge the accepted wisdom – refined metal objects in rock known to be hundreds of thousands of years old, long buried cities beneath fused earth that could only be melted by nuclear forces, clear references to flying machines in ancient manuscripts, the list is endless across the ‘alternative facts’ purveyors on the Internet.

oopart01

A ‘machined bolt’ claimed as an oopart in a rock (could well be a fossil plant). Source: Internet.
Ooopart03
Hammer embedded in rock. No mistaking this one for a plant (Internet)

There is no doubt that there is intense interest in this topic. After all, consider what homo sapiens have accomplished in a mere five thousand years. From the atlatl to the Saturn rocket we have have been here for an amount of time that is invisible on the grand scale of Earth’s existence. In other words, what we have done could have been done by dozens of other sentient life forms over the span of time – cultures that could have risen and disappeared for many reasons from self-destruction to ‘self-deportation’ to other worlds (the Fermi paradox poses the existence of billions of Earth-like planets).

I have always found this idea fascinating. As a writer of science fiction the topic suggests a ton of interesting scenarios and story lines. In 1987 a lake beneath two miles of ice in the Russian sector of Antarctica made headlines. Isolated from the world for hundreds of thousands of years, Lake Vostok offered the possibility of a glimpse into the far distant past uncontaminated by modern organisms. Scientists were busy arguing about the best way to investigate the lake’s volcanically warmed waters without actually introducing new contaminants into it via their instruments.

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Map of Antarctica showing location of Lake Vostok (Internet)
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Graphic showing the ice cap (Internet)

We are used to looking at our globe from a north-top, south-bottom perspective where Antarctica is a bare rim of lines at the very bottom of the view. This hides the fact that the frozen continent is in the very center of the continental masses around the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. One thing becomes immediately apparent. All of those ‘similar’ ancient sites that contain pyramids and other ancient structures such as henges could well be connected by their proximity to Antarctica.

Ooparts, the frozen lake and the global network of ancient sites are but three of the random pieces of knowledge that began to ferment in the back of my mind. The result is “The Saurian Chronicles: The Gods of Gilgamesh.”

The story begins in the near future when the investigation of Lake Vostok gets underway. It poses the question: What if there was a life form that existed in the far distant past long enough to achieve sentience, then technological sophistication followed by a departure from this planet to explore the Fermi Universe? The answer is that the smartest of the dinosaurs, the velociraptors, did just this. Consider the fact that the dinosaurs existed for millions of years – not a few hundred thousand like homo sapiens – millions. Given that hard to conceive span of time, they could have developed into a hundred different civilizations and vanished utterly and completely by now. In The Gods of Gilgamesh, the science team entering into Lake Vostok for the first time in 500,000 years encounter something totally unexpected – the remains of an ancient civilization – and a chilling message.

Velociraptor01
Most common impression of what the first Velociraptors looked like (Internet)
Velo02
Then again – they may have had feathers (tastes like chicken – Internet)

As the tale unfolds it reveals the facts behind our myriad ancient flood theories, about the global network of similar cultures – and most chillingly of all, about the deadly legacy of the Saurians – the descendants of the velociraptors who departed Earth in the far, far distant past to explore the Universe.

The novella is now complete and can be read as an e-file (a pdf) either directly on your device or in Kindle or Nook by sending $7.50 via PayPal to 

jackatholgaarreec@gmail.com

The next novella in the series, “The Saurian Chronicles: The Seas of Enceladus” will be available soon.

Lizard02
Artist Roel Wielinga’s impression of the leader of early Saurians