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Happy Vamptember!

My vampire novel CODE RED is now for sale on Amazon.

I will probably be selling it on other platforms too, but for now, you may buy it in ebook and print. Also, if you’re on NetGalley, you may download a free copy through October. I proud of this book which began as a Wattpad story and ended up winning a Watty award in 2020. Here’s the premise:

The Vampires are Running the Asylum!
Wormwood Asylum, a private mental hospital located in Southwest Virginia, specializes in treating adolescent psychoses, including Renfield’s Syndrome, an obsession with drinking blood. But when a young man is committed to Wormwood because he believes he’s a vampire, it turns out he wasn’t lying, and soon rapacious revenants are running rampant through the rural mountain community. To fight the blatant bloodsuckers, the local sheriff teams up with a candy striper and her moonshiner grandpa, who just happens to have an arsenal of war-grade weapons stored in his prepper bunker, for a bloody country hoedown of epic proportions.

To celebrate my take on vicious vamps, I thought I’d share my favorite vampires in lore and legend. Not the most original list in the world, but here goes.

Barnabas Collins

Like many from my generation, Dark Shadows, was part of our daily routine. A soap opera fully steeped in campy Gothic tropes, the show lasted for a good chunk of my childhood. The feature film based on the series, The House of Dark Shadows, was the first horror film I was allowed to see when I was a kid and it scared me to bits–in reality, I was a bit young for it, but I’ll be forever grateful for my older sister who dragged me along and turned me into a horror fan forever chasing that first high. Just the other day, I discovered a Dark Shadows book and comic bonanza at my local antique mart and rejoiced at adding to my collection. Perhaps one day I’ll happen upon the elusive Dark Shadows Cookbook we decimated as children, now selling for hundreds on eBay. As far as I’m concerned the Tim Burton travesty doesn’t exist.

Carmilla

I’m late to Carmilla, having only read it last year, but man, it did not disappoint! Sheridan Le Fanu’s novella about an ancient aristocratic vampire with Lesbian tendencies has a titillating premise, but to be fair, the sexuality is as subtle as a cool whispered breath on a fluttery bosom. What I enjoyed most about the story was its slow burning Gothic atmosphere. Its influence on Stoker’s Dracula is quite obvious. This is a creepy story I will return to each fall while spending a holiday at a haunted Austrian castle or at least a misty morning in my neighborhood graveyard.

Lestat

I discovered Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire when it became a paperback sensation in the 80’s and I immediately fell in love with the seductive Lestat de Lioncourt (as did Batilda). I was less impressed with Tom Cruise’s performance in the film adaptation. It wasn’t his fault he was miscast, but his performance and the film has grown on me with subsequent viewings. In the decades since I discovered this classic, I’ve been slowly working my way through The Vampire Chronicles. Rice’s lush, meandering prose can prove frustrating at times, but what an incredible character she created in Lestat. His seductions are immortal.

Dracula

All roads lead back to Drac, but which incarnation is best? I confess, it took me two reading to appreciate Stoker’s novel. Now, it shares a shelf with Frankenstein, the fraternal twins of Gothic literature. There have been so many film and television adaptations, from the ridiculous to the sublime, but I think the original silent Nosferatu comes closest to doing the Count justice. He’s a weirdo, and not as seductive as some renditions–Frank Langella’s coifed 70s styling comes to mind–would suggest. In truth, I love each portrayal for different reasons, with a particularly fondness for Gary Oldman’s seductive count, but now when I read Dracula, it is Max Schreck’s version I envision. His is a different kind of seduction. Not quite human, here is a monster whose talent for inspiring fear and fascination can never be matched.

Do you have any favorite vampires? Please comment below and let’s share notes. Vamp on!

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Flowers in the Attic: The Origin

Worth the watch!

Like many of us, I have my unique “critter comfort” media that I love but wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. I learned my lesson back when I was a teenager and recommended the drive-in horror flick, Dead and Buried to someone and never heard the end of it. The same could be said for the original Phantasm or dozens of other beloved “cheesy” horror and Lifetime movies. I love “camp,” and I always have, but I realize I’m in the minority, and I’m okay with that. Camp aside, I recommend Lifetime’s newest VC Andrews’ inspired series, Flowers in the Attic: The Origin, to anyone who enjoys a good family drama that’s well-acted and directed. The writing is excellent, and the settings and costumes bring the series to life.

Yes, there are changes from the book it’s based on, Garden of Shadows, the final book in the Dollanganger series penned by Andrews Neiderman from VC Andrews’ notes. The most significant casting addition is Foxworth Hall’s maid Nella. What could have been just a throw-away character to add padding to the four-part series greatly enriches the story thanks to good writing and performance by T’Shan Williams–a mostly musical theater performer. Well, she has found a new fan in me because I couldn’t keep my eyes off her. Some of the other changes included a “forbidden” gay relationship and a sub-plot concerning a mix-up of poisonous herbs and marijuana, which worked for the most part, although the animal slaughter scene was a bit over the top, even for me.

I’ve also developed a serious crush on Max Irons who plays the devious and dastardly Malcolm Foxworth. Discovering he was Jeremy Irons’ son only deepened my obsession. This is a series I will return to many times.

Unlike the cringe performances, clunky dialogue, and anachronistic costumes of former VC Andrews’ fair, it’s clear that money was spent on this production. I’m happy to see it, and I hope Lifetime continues to produce such excellent VC Andrews content. A little bird told me the Cutler Series is in the works. I can’t wait!

Check out my video review of the series. Have you watched it yet? If so, please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

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The Bloodlust of Carmilla

It was a read-a-thon challenge on BookTube, #HorrorMAYhem if you’re curious, that finally nudged me toward reading a classic story burning up my library shelf (and Kindle Fire) for years. Maybe I resisted reading Carmilla because I was under the delusion that I had read it before—that was actually Coleridge’s Christabel. So, during my yearly creative retreat at a lakeside cabin in the woods, I finally cracked open my vintage paperback copy and took a bite.

Carmilla, the 1872 novella written by Irish author Sheridan Le Fanu, burst in my mouth like the wild red berries I’d indulged in during my morning hike—more bitter than sweet, but delicious.

Perhaps my resistance also had something to do with a belief that I needed a proper setting in which to absorb the story. After all, we live in a world of distractions that makes focusing on anything a challenge, let alone dense, Victorian prose. I had just completed Brian Keene’s The Conqueror Worms for Week One of the reading challenge, the assignment being supernatural creatures. After Keene’s gory gut punches, it took me a few paragraphs to adjust to Le Fanu’s writing style. Still, with only the music of birdsong—including a pair of owls outside my cabin—and soft breezes to accompany my reading, Carmilla stirred my blood in ways I hadn’t experienced in a long time.

Several adaptations, including a wonderfully cheesy Hammer film, have seized on the titillating “lesbian vampire” theme. Yes, the theme is there and it’s quite subtle (more Sappho than Sade), but my deep reading yielded so many more delights. For one thing, the setting could not be more Gothic. The story takes place in Styria, which a quick search on my phone informed me is part of Austria. Austria is a place I’ve always wanted to visit; my grandfather was born there, and I’ve only heard about its natural beauty and stunning architecture through stories and films. This setting is in the remote country, a lonely and primitive place, where English ex-pats can afford to live like kings and queens on modest yearly incomes. But the quiet beauty is haunted by the ghosts of an old aristocratic family, the Karnsteins, their lineage now reduced to mouldering tombs in a roofless church and an equally-desolate château which, in the thick of the forest, overlooks the silent ruins of the town.

The ancient estate (or schloss) the young heroine, Laura, and her father inhabit has a moat, a drawbridge, and so many rooms (replete with secret passages) that one’s screams in the middle of the night are undetected by other household members, as Laura discovers when at six years old she is attacked by a ghostly nocturnal visitor. This strangely beautiful lady-phantom kisses and caresses Laura in a way the motherless child finds comforting until she shocks her by penetrating her chest with two sharp needles. While Laura screams for her governess, the phantom disappears beneath the bed (a creepy image indeed). Later, she will return in the guise of a cat during her attacks.

Laura, now a young lady of eighteen at the time of the narrative, is still disturbed by the incident from her childhood. Will this strange apparition come back to haunt her? We know it will.

A dramatic opening scene sets the stage when young Laura, her father, and a few servants take a moonlit stroll and witness a carriage with footmen in full livery crash against a tree and overturn. The team of horses shied at the site of an ancient cross on the estate—someone remarks in a chilling bit of foreshadowing. A noblewoman dressed in black velvet, a turbaned woman within the carriage grinning derisively toward the ladies, and ugly, hang-dog looking grooms hint at the evil lurking beneath the gilded veneer.

In a rushed moment of chivalry, Laura’s father decides to let Carmilla, stunned in the carriage accident, remain at his estate until the mother can reclaim her in several months’ time. The plan is vague and not very well thought out, but Laura is happy to have a new friend even if the new friend is a bit…strange.

Carmilla is pale, languid, rarely eats except to nibble on some chocolate, and sleeps most of the day. She is also “abnormally” affectionate toward young Laura, caressing her and proclaiming her love with rapid breaths and a heaving bosom. Laura finds her young companion’s romantic expressions, like great beauty, both seductive and repulsive. Still, she’s inexplicably drawn to her.

Despite her sweetness and languor, Carmilla occasionally flames with the imperious indignation of a Countess Bathory. When a grotesque peddler shows up with some bizarre taxidermy of various animals stitched together and suggests grinding down Carmilla’s unusually sharp teeth, Carmilla retorts: “How dares that mountebank insult us so? Where is your father? I shall demand redress from him. My father would have had the wretch tied up to the pump, and flogged with a cart-whip, and burnt to the bones with the castle brands!”

I recognized in this early work of vampire fiction many subplots and characters recycled in every Gothic vampire story from Dracula to Dark Shadows and beyond, including midnight gallops, country doctor visits, superstitious common folk, misty graveyards, and even a Van Helsing character who shows up at the end with his “tool kit” to dispatch Carmilla, really the two-hundred year old Countess of Karnstein, with a stake through the heart followed by decapitation for good measure.

Glued to the page, I sucked down every word of this Gothic tale, and when I finished, my bosom heaved for more. In fact, I’d barely read the last line when I fired up my iPhone and listened to the audiobook while sitting by the lake, pretending I was in Villa Diodati. Like other favorite Gothic classics, Jane Eyre and Frankenstein among them, I will revisit this novella many times hence.

With my bloodlust for Carmilla unsated after two successive readings, I desperately searched for some film adaptations. Carmilla, a recent film written and directed by Emily Harris, is an atmospheric interpretation of how a sexually-repressed governess takes out her frustrations on the budding Sapphic romance between her teenage charge and her mysterious new friend. The film is pretty and meant to be poignant, but I yawned through most of it. I wanted more of Carmella’s fierceness, and I almost found it in The Vampire Lovers (1970), the first in a Hammer Film trilogy starring Peter Cushing. Here, you’ll find more boobs than blood. The late 60’s hairstyles and make-up had me giggling, but at least it stuck close to the original plot. I plan to watch the entire trilogy this weekend. 

Perhaps a definitive adaptation is out there. I’ll continue to search. In the meantime, Carmilla will haunt my dreams most deliciously. Feeling refreshed from my cabin retreat, a sweet female cat showed up on my doorstep when I returned home. She purred and threaded through my legs when I petted her and has shown no intention of leaving.