VAMPIRE HEAVEN?

pearly gatesDo you think there is a heaven for vampires? Should there be? Would it be the same heaven humans go to, or a place all their own? I’ve explored this thought a LOT, simply because Gabriel Strickland, the double dead vampire in Cold in California, my urban fantasy book being released on May 15, is working his way toward heaven. Sort of. You can imagine how tough something like that would be. Poor dude sees his final demise, thinks it’s totally over, only to find himself living out purgatory in a West Hollywood warehouse with a bunch of other dead supernaturals. He has a chance to earn a ticket through the Pearly Gates. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Ladies and gentlemen, let’s go through the pros and cons. Not everyone wanted to be a vampirePRO – Not every vampire asks to become a vampire. We’ve all read the stories and seen the movies, right? Most vampires didn’t ask for it. It’s usually a surprise sneak attack or worse yet, an offer of misunderstood immortality. Granted, the newbie adjusts quickly to the demands of his new existence. He may struggle to hold on to some of his humanity, but to become a cruel, evil creature, one must consciously choose to be so. There are vampires all over the fictional universe that think before making the wicked choices. CON – Not every vampire finds it so terrible, especially if it feeds their need for mischief. Now, naturally there are criminal and questionable humans all over the place—my Uncle Nunzio comes to mind. There is the chance that one of them reluctantly becomes vampire … and zealously likes it. Those personalities relish in the mayhem and bloody chaos they can wreak on human beings, mostly because they liked it so much when they were human. An evil human soul has no more chance at reaching heaven than an evil vampire soul, so I say. gotta eatPRO – A vampire’s gotta eat to survive. Okay, it is a conundrum, but solutions can be sought. Charlaine Harris invented True Blood for her vampires. Being Human’s vampire Aiden worked as a nurse and fed from the blood bank bags. Good vampire souls find ways not to drink too much blood and keep their human hosts, friends, and acquaintances alive and well.  Restraint is the name of the game, even though a vampire has to eat. After all, survival is more than nutrition, it’s also emotional support, a shoulder to lean on, and an occasional ride to the airport late at night. CON – A vampire doesn’t have to kill or turn his lunch into an immortal dining companion either. I sometimes think of vampires as human teenagers just after the full bloom of puberty—out of control with little desire to reign in their new found sexual and emotional tendencies. It must be like eating chocolate. When have you had enough? When should you stop? Opps, the chocolate is gone, too bad, too sad. Seriously, aren’t the vampires who at least try to take the noble road more attractive? Don’t eat so much or so fast, damnit! Bored LestatPRO – A conscience is a good thing! Louis might have bored the hell out of Lestat, but at least he tried to preserve his humanity. Now we’re getting in to the definition of a soul. Is it conscience? Is it guilt? Remorse? Acting and feeling truly contrite for something one has done? If those feelings and emotions relate to the soul, than there are many, MANY, vampires in fiction who have retained their soul. It can be done! YAY! CON – Bad vampires live a lot longer. There’s a lot of fictional proof that evil, cruel, and demonic vampires have an inbred self-survival gene. If it ever comes to their continued existence or the life of a mere human’s—slurp, choice made. Even though many famous and not-so-famous vampires have complained about the boredom of immortality, most aren’t interested in facing the alternative. loving motherPRO – Vampires were once human and cared about society. Yes, they were born, tiny, soft and sweet, loved in their mother’s arms, and taught all the rules of living within society. They understand the laws, the morals, and the reasons for toeing the line. Most people do. Granted, once turned into a bloodsucking monster, it’s a hard road keeping to those strict societal limitations, but luckily, many of our most beloved vampire heroes do their best. CON – Few vampires go to confession. The ones that don’t learn the lesson in their human life then discover that vampiric life is a free pass from all the rules, run amuck. We like those vampires too, don’t get me wrong. Who doesn’t love a bad boy? The question is … do they get a chance at redemption? What are your thoughts? Does a vampire have a right to heaven or not? Even if they’re doing their best and being as good as a vampire could be?

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Cold in California

Book 1, Twice Baked Vampire Series

COMING SOON!

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Urban Fantasy – The Character of Environment

Readers and writers know all about characters – that they require fleshing out and development, names and backgrounds, personalities, strengths and weaknesses. Readers become attached to the mental image of what that character must look like and how his or her voice might sounds. But there’s more to it than that. More than the description of hair color or warts, more than the story … more than the era or genre.

 

There’s the environment. And I’m not talking about a little rain or maybe a vague description of a fictitious city here, I’m talking ENVIRONMENT on steroids!

 

Take Twilight. All that thick cloudy gloom of the Pacific Northwest combines to create a total package for Bella and her experiences. It does more than serve as a literary tool to permit vampires not to sparkle so much as to be recognized, it sets the mood. Now skip over to Charlain Harris’s Dead Until Dark (True Blood). The environment in this series is painted by poor and lower middle class Northern Louisiana. The prolific environment there is the sordid haze of southern prejudice and bigotry.

Environment tells more of the story than plot or characters! Ask any reader about a story they loved and the answer will include everything from location to weather and cultural influence, perhaps before even one character is mentioned. It’s the careful setting of the stage that makes the difference.

 

In my book, Cold in California, I was determined to make the environment a character in and of itself. Yes, California is the clothing this character wears, but the true environment is the warehouse where 60 or so dead and double-dead supernatural creatures live together. There, secretly hidden in West Hollywood, they try to find ways to behave themselves so they can take advantage of their one last chance to earn heaven. It’s about redemption in a city knee deep in anything but redemption. The warehouse needed to be a canvas for these creatures. It’s not exactly “the island of misfit toys’, it’s more like the Murphy’s Law pathway to the Pearly Gates. This environment needed to do two distinct things. First, the warehouse had to create a safe environment for dead supernaturals to be themselves, and second, it had to be real-world recognized for what it is, a holding tank for the world’s incorrigibles.

 

The space wanted to feel scrapped together with furniture left on the street for trash pick-up. It needed a system that reminded readers of the unemployment or social security office. And it had to serve every kind of race that might end up there, even Stick Man who is 12 feet tall, so he has a double-wide room where he sleeps on two beds head to head. The warehouse is bricked with history no one knows or wants to know. It has secret areas where the head honcho – like Crudo, the troll in charge – can find a few hours of peace and quiet when he wants. This warehouse makes love to it’s inmates by providing everything each one needs, high walls for one character’s vast collection of murder mystery books, dark corners for the double-dead vampires to lurk and meet and squabble within. Private places for pixie/leprechaun (uh-hem) interaction and a door that closes so that loner and soon-to-be hero, twice-baked vampire Gabriel Strickland, can sulk and bemoan his situation, at least in the beginning.

 

The warehouse keeps secrets and exposes treachery. It provides safety and yet is extremely vulnerable. It breathes with a life of its own. And it does all that without one line of dialogue or one action. Now, how’s that for a stellar character?

 

What book environments have impressed you most as you read or wrote them?

 

Vampire Explored is a blog by Deborah Riley-Magnus, author of the Twice-Baked Vampire Series! Cold in California

Cold in California cover, lgCOLD IN CALIFORNIA

 

Supernatural Characters – What’s in a Name?

Where were we? Vampires werewolves and trolls, oh my! Here at Vampire Explored we talk about where the paranormal ideas come from and where they go. What they mean and what they don’t mean.

So … let’s play the name game.

What’s in a character name that makes it memorable? Where do these names come from? Do they mean something or are they hard to come up with? Considering the fact that most authors have their own ways of developing character names, I can only speak for myself. Hopefully this is interesting and informative, but also gives you a few laughs. I’m going to do a run through of each of my character names in COLD IN CALIFORNIA,  how they came to me and why I used them. Here goes.

GABRIEL STRICKLAND – Hero, twice-baked vampire, loner and skeptic. Gabriel’s name came from the obvious places – my life and heaven. Since the double dead vampire was given a second chance to earn a ticket through the Pearly Gates, I thought it might be nice to have the same name as the gatekeeper. It might (and I stress might) give him a leg up when the time comes. His last name came to me because I liked the hard and soft sound of it. Strickland seemed to encompass all of Gabriel’s personality traits and flaws.

CRUDO CUSHMAN – Crudo is the troll in charge of the secret West Hollywood warehouse where Gabriel must live out his purgatory. The place is crowded with dead supernaturals and Crudo cares (grudgingly) about all the inmates. He definitely wants them to earn their way into heaven, but he’s no pushover, he knows trouble when he sees it. Where did his name come from? No clue. I think he just told me as I began writing him. But think about it … a troll, five foot nothing, swarthy and gruff. What else would his name be?

PETE MALONEY – With so many dead and double-dead supernatural races coping with having to suddenly behave themselves and be good enough to make the grade, Crudo needed some help. Pete Maloney (all around nice guy and demised werewolf) came to me in a dream. He was big and  warm, kinda like everyone’s favorite Uncle Pete so that’s where his first name came from. After that I discovered that inside my head, every time I wrote his dialogue he had a slight Irish brogue. He’s goodhearted, funny, a great friend and support for Crudo. Oh, and Pete has no designs on the big responsibilities. He likes being number two. It suits him just fine.

SHIRLEY – Oh, dead pixie Shirley only goes by one name. She’s the Cher of the warehouse, hot, sexy and insatiable. She’s a gorgeous supernatural woman pretty much living in the middle of an ongoing “squirrel moment”. Self absorbed but sweet, Shirley has an impact on just about everything and everyone at the warehouse. She got her name because I loved the fact that Crudo liked to call her “Shirley Girly” … that and “Trouble”.

NATHAN COOK – How does evil look to most readers? Ugly? Demonic? Nope, startlingly beautiful. I needed a villain that took a reader’s breath away but he too needed a few little distracting flaws. What he had in looks, he certainly wouldn’t have in savvy. Nathan is a bit of an egotistical jerk, the kind of man who as a kid, never got picked for the baseball team, the one who didn’t realize he was walking around with a “kick me” sign on his back or toilet paper on his shoe. As an adult his striking good looks and dark witchcraft put him into a league of his own, so who cared about not being popular, he was powerful. So, his name had to be powerful too. It had to be a name that never politely asked for what he wanted, it demanded.

DORI GALLAGHER – I never met a Dori, much less a Dorianna and when Dori formed in my imagination, I wanted the perfect name for Gabriel to want to roll off his tongue. Dori’s not too pretty or special, in fact, I was really focused on her imperfections that would attract Gabriel. I wanted her to have a name that stood out but not so much it demanded attention. I wanted a name for this woman that told her story … and that’s something shocking you don’t learn until the very last few pages of the book.

And two more for good measure …

FEEVER CLOVELY – Feever Clovely is a dead leprechaun. In my imagining, leprechauns are conniving, grumbling, unhappy beings who are always taking a political stand of some kind. Feever is the head of the West Hollywood Warehouse Leprechaun’s Union and he’s always looking to picket something. Where did his name come from? I have no idea, it was just there the minute he arrived in my head. If you run into a leprechaun one day, maybe ask if it’s a common Lep name.

DON CARSON – Both Feever Clovely, the dead leprechaun and Don Carson, ancient Soul Eater, are small players in Cold in California, but I wanted to touch on their characters and names because both play a huge role in the second book in The Twice Baked Vampire Series, Monkey Jump.  A Soul Eater is immortal, sort of. He serves a Sin Eater. How did this particular Soul Eater get his name? Well … he reminded me of a former boss of mine. Not that the boss was a soul eater, but he was brilliant, a company man who played by the rules and seriously competitive. My Soul Eater needed a contemporary name because he’s always around, trying to do his job. A simple name like Don fit the bill. He seems to like it.

So … there ya go. Character names and where they come from. Is this what you expected?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Vampire Explored is a blog by Deborah Riley-Magnus, author of the Twice-Baked Vampire Series! Book 1, Cold in California  !

Cold in California cover, lgCOLD IN CALIFORNIA

 

One Werewolf’s Conscience

What’s a werewolf? I mean, in most imaginations it’s that scary creature that – without any choice of its own – changes into a deadly animal during the full moon and tries to eat people roaming through the woods. Well, okay, not everyone has woods, or forests, or even a nice large park close by, but as paranormal and supernatural adventures continue to fascinate readers, werewolves are sure to show up just about anywhere …

  • In a pretty woman’s bedroom
  • In the animal rescue league kennels
  • At a back yard cookout
  • A ballgame
  • In the dirty city alleys
  • In a warehouse

Yes, a warehouse. In this case, no, it isn’t a warehouse shipping werewolves like an import/export business. This warehouse is purgatory for dead werewolves chosen for a second chance to earn a ticket through the Pearly Gates. In Book 1 of the Twice Baked Vampire Series, Cold in California, lots of dead, and in the case of vampires, double-dead supernaturals get this cool second chance to prove themselves worthy. This particular warehouse, located in West Hollywood, might be a really sweet, happy kind of place – if every character living there gave a good goddamn about getting to heaven.

Here are the facts: Survival is what matters most to these creatures. After all, survival was the focus of their lives, so why not their purgatory? Second, these are political animals, more so than humans by a long shot. The Gnomes are ambitious, demanding and extremely creative creatures. The Shape-Shifters are metro-sexual, mainly to fit into the Hollywood environment. Well hell, Shape-Shifters were always responsible for blending in, right? The Twice-Baked Vampires are volatile, no surprise there. The Fae are the resident elite while the Leprechauns are belligerent in their efforts to pay homage to no one around them. The trolls are efficient and effective managers. The Pixies, well, the Pixies are kind of like the sex symbols of the warehouse, hot, steamy, lustful and satisfying … if you can catch one that is.

The only dead supernatural creatures facing and dealing with the stark reality of the warehouse purgatory are the werewolves, and in the West Hollywood warehouse, there is only one werewolf, Pete Maloney.

Some (specifically Twice-Baked Vampire, Gabriel Strickland) call him “The Reverend”. Pete sees the whole picture, which is why he has always stood at the side of the warehouse manager to help keep peace and organization among the inmates. They’re all there to earn heaven, but they’re all pretty flawed souls who’ve spent a lifetime or two ignoring the golden rule. Pete likes the golden rule, and he generally likes his position as helper and second fiddle. He gets to watch souls come and go, see where they’re most likely heading (up or down) when final judgment arrives for them, and this is one werewolf wise enough to steer clear of controversy. He’s not a politician, he’s a brilliant trouble shooter. He’s not interested in power, he’s fascinated with the effects of the unscrupulous desires of others. “The Reverend” can laugh, enjoy some play time with a Pixie, stand at the leader’s side during a battle or storm, and still read a good mystery alone in his room. Pete Malone is an enigma among the population of the West Hollywood warehouse!

Vampire Explored is a blog by Deborah Riley-Magnus, author of the Twice-Baked Vampire Series, Cold in California

Cold in California cover, lgCOLD IN CALIFORNIA

A Tree is a Tree is a Tree, or is it?

I think that I shall never see

A poem as lovely as … a supernatural tree called Stick Man.

 

Twigs, leaves, wood and muscle. He’s 12 feet of animated shrubbery that can either scare the bejebus out of a person or just leave them petrified. Stick Man is a character in Cold in California who never intended to frighten anyone. He’s the awkward dude who was too tall for anything to fit in, especially in a time when basketball wasn’t even invented yet. It’s even worse these days, as the NBA isn’t quite interested in a player who requires pruning and an occasional sap infusion. Needless to say, the guy doesn’t get out much. He’s quiet, uncomfortable, desperate to please and terrifying to look at … and he lives in a West Hollywood warehouse with all the other dead supernaturals awaiting final judgment and hoping for redemption.

In Native American legend, the Stick Man was the mediator between good and evil … thus his perfectly tailored inclusion into a story about just that. But my Stick Man had to have more than just a job, he had to be bad at it. How else could a good guy who understands the difference between heaven and hell end up in purgatory, taking one last run at the Pearly Gates? So, this is how it went down for Sticky (as he’s lovingly called among the other dead supernaturals).

His responsibility, way back when other Stick Men walked around, was to whistle. Yes whistle. (Honest to Pete, it’s the truth, look it up!) See, the legendary creatures were responsible for leading lost “good” people safely back to their village by whistling a tune – AND – guiding the bad guys over a cliff by warbling a different melody. Sticky’s problem? He simply couldn’t remember which melody did what and occasionally tweeted the wrong song. Nothing intentional, mind you, just ignorance and dumb bad luck.

After his death, an untimely charring in a few rowdy young warriors’ campfire, Sticky woke as part of the West Hollywood warehouse community of dead and double dead supernaturals. Needless to say, he only whistles when completely alone and taking a leisurely walk through Griffith Park late at night. He can whistle well, he just doesn’t trust himself to do it when it matters, poor man.

When creating the character, Stick Man, I really had to dig deep for inspiration. Being just a tad over five feet tall myself, tall isn’t familiar at all to this author. Finding insight wasn’t difficult though. I just imagined those circus performers on stilts, walking kind of wobbly, hiding the concern in their faces and trying to be entertaining in light of the eminent dangers involved. I just imagined living that way … out of sync with the world … uncomfortable in a place where everyone else was normal height or less, as in the cases of the resident trolls, leprechauns and gnomes. I imagined him wanting to contribute, but unable to find a job that was actually helpful to the community. I imagined him spending a lot of time sitting in the corner of the warehouse, knees tight against his chest so as not to trip the other inmates, and wishing he could feel more involved.

The best parts of his story (as told to me by Sticky himself) are the parts where he actually gets to play the hero. It’s so much fun to watch a character like Sticky emerge as the champion! And all I had to do was write it.

So tell me, what kind of characters have you read that really twisted your imagination and made you wonder, “How the hell did that author think of that?”  Vampire Explored is a blog by Deborah Riley-Magnus, author of the Twice-Baked Vampire Series. Book 1, Cold in California

Cold in California cover, lgCOLD IN CALIFORNIA

Doing the Shape-Shifter Shuffle

You put your right arm in, you take your right paw out, you put your right claws in, and you shake them all about. Think about it. If you could shape-shift into anything in the world, what would it be?

The first time I ever heard about shape-shifters I was deeply involved with the Native American culture and ceremonies. Among native and aboriginal cultures, shape-shifting is part of common conversation and mutual traditional history. Of course, not everyone can do it. It takes strong personal medicine and spirit involvement to make a mere human being able to shift into something else. It’s serious business.

But blessedly in fiction, it’s just that … fiction. We do try, even in fantasy, to base our imagined events on real world possibilities, but some authors like to take things much further and literally create a whole new mythology.

LEVEL ONE

Take fictional shape-shifters in general. Level one creative takes a human into the existing animal world, so a shape-shifter can be a dog, a cow, a chicken, an elephant … anything we have a reality base for. He can become a deer or bird or dung beetle. Level one is pure reality-based fantasy. I have shape-shifters in Cold in California, but we’re talking about the garden variety, level one type – a grizzly, an elk, even an elegant snake. In the next book, Monkey Jump, the shape-shifters fall under a different category all together!

LEVEL TWO

Level two, this gets more complicated and way more fun! How about a shape-shifter who can become an inanimate object? Say a toaster or salt shaker. Cool for a private investigator with supernatural capabilities – he can eavesdrop anywhere and raise no suspicion. He can be an umbrella and travel in a suspect’s hand through the rain while closely observing said suspect’s activities. He can become a military helmet or weapon and really do some reconnaissance in the middle east. He might be able to become a computer. Wow, wouldn’t that be a strange adventure? He could be something useful or unimportant. He could observe, spy, gain intelligence or just play nasty jokes on his friends. Hell, he could be the beer cooler at the Seven-Eleven!

LEVEL THREE

Level two is lots of fun, but level three might take some serious thought, because to me, level three fiction shape-shifter creation takes the concept of shifting outside the realm of our reality completely. In other words, the sky (and beyond) is the limit.

In level three fictitious shape-shifting a man can become :

  • A dinosaur
  • A different supernatural creature (Fae or Werewolf or Vampire or Pixie)
  • An alien from another planet
  • A dragon
  • A monster from an underworld
  • A cartoon (animated) character
  • A fetus
  • An ancient god or goddess

Can you imagine the creative ramifications? What if the shape-shifter gets stuck with some of the DNA from the obscure creature he’s shifted into? What if he retains some of the personality quirks or physical traits of the creature? It would be my luck to shift into a Tyrannosaurus Rex, only to discover after shifting back that I now have a markedly bigger butt! Or maybe I drool or breathe fire or glow in the dark! How much would that effect and reshape a story?

Okay, now it’s feeling a little Twilight Zone-y.

But seriously … If you could shape shift into anything in the world, what would it be?

Vampire Explored is a blog by Deborah Riley-Magnus, author of the Twice-Baked Vampire Series. Book 1, Cold in California

Cold in California cover, lgCOLD IN CALIFORNIA

There’s a Troll in the House

Trolls. Norse mythology. Ugly, rarely described as helpful or friendly creatures. In Scandinavian mythology, they have something to do with lightening. Mystical, not-so-attractive, poisonous and powerful dudes.

Yeah. Right.

In truth, trolls are many things to many people. Your mother-in-law. Your ex-lover. Your boss/manager/pain-in-the-butt coworker. Your landlord. Maybe even your noisy neighbor. Have you ever thought though that trolls are just people like everyone else? Only with an attitude problem? Maybe a wart or two?

Today I’m not talking about short, smelly creatures that live under the bridges (and we do have a LOT of bridges here in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania). I’m talking about trolls who pop in and out of our fantasy fiction whenever they damn well please! They may come in the form of a sudden desire to change the entire plot. Maybe they appear as a new and unexplored personality glitch in your hero or heroine. But sometimes they simply show up as … trolls.

The last thing I thought I’d write into Cold in California was a troll, but Crudo Cushman pushed his stout, vertically-challenged personality in so intensely, he became a key character! See, Crudo is the manager at the West Hollywood warehouse where my hero, poor twice-baked vampire, Gabriel Strickland, is stuck living out an undetermined purgatory. Crudo is tough, he’s persnickety and never lived under a bridge in his life. Today, he’s taking charge of the blog.

When I told him to get out of my head, he snorted. “Why, what are you doing that’s so damn important?”

“I’m blogging because people love to read the blog.” I said as politely as I could.

“Move over, woman, I’ll tell you what a real blog is!”

Okay, it’s happened to all of us. Writers are especially susceptible to this particular curse. It seems the inmates have taken over the asylum again. The following is a bit of information conveyed to me from Crudo Cushman himself. Needless to say, I’m compelled to pass it on.

According to this troll, the word ‘blog’ comes from ancient troll culture. He informs me that a blog was a roughly hewn shirt upon which a troll would make markings, symbols that indicated his or her (of course there are female trolls, just look around you) position within troll society. During his troll life, Crudo had never risen beyond mucking mud, which was symbolized by a pig’s snout made with red mire found in a certain bog several miles outside his village. He’d dip the side of his clenched fist into the mud and press it firmly against his shirt. It didn’t look like a pig’s snout, but it was recognizable by all. The bog-marked blog stank to high heaven even after the mark dried. If it rained, Crudo would need to remark himself. Where he lived, it rained a lot.

He says he envied the higher ranks, those whose blogs were etched with fine smears of brilliant green grass stains or careful figures drawn with bits of soft, colored stone, but Crudo came from a proud, long line of mud muckers and until his father passed, he wore the red snout, albeit with hidden embarrassment and hate.

When Crudo met his demise six hundred years later, he found himself in the West Hollywood warehouse and has since done very well. He moved up the ranks from “inmate” to “head honcho”, traded his rough, mud-stained blog for pressed white linen and bling and vowed to never, ever get dirty again. The symbols on his shirt these days say:

I’m in charge … I’m the boss … I’m watching you … and of course, Ralph Loren blessedly stitched on the silk tag inside his collar.

 Vampire Explored is a blog by Deborah Riley-Magnus, author of the Twice-Baked Vampire Series. Book 1, Cold in California

Cold in California cover, lgCOLD IN CALIFORNIA