Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Family Truth behind "The Shadow Lord"

Vampires based in Fact

            It was a lovely Southern summer afternoon—late afternoon, in fact.  What the townspeople called “evening,” that time before day turns into night and the sun begins to dim.  It was around six o’clock when Warene de Vissage stepped from the dining room of the house onto the back porch, calling to her child to come in for dinner.  The sinking sun was shining on the back side of the house and Warene was sheltered from its rays by four walls and a roof.  Nevertheless, she could see the heat rising in shimmering waves  from the sidewalk fifteen  feet away behind the barrier of a running rose-covered picket fence.  She could also feel that same heat touching her skin and surrounding her like a prickling aura.

            Wrapping her arms protectively across her chest, she hurried back inside not waiting for the child to obey.

            The next morning, Warene awoke in agony.  Her skin burned, felt hot and tight.  Staggering out of bed and to the mirror above her vanity, she stared at the horrorific image before her…its skin crimson and scorched, blistered and scaling, the burst edges of blisters curled and inflamed.  As if someone had held her over an open fire.  To touch her face brought excruciating pain.  To look at it brought tears.  It itched, it burned, and the awful part was…she knew why.

            The sun…reflecting off the pavement. 

Hadn’t she felt its heat?  She’d dared step outside during daylight, thinking just this once, it wouldn’t matter…just this once, so late in the day, she wouldn’t suffer, but though she hurried back inside, that damnable sun still found her, and did its work.

            It would be weeks before she would heal.

This may sound like the beginning of a vampire story, but it’s true, taken from my own mother’s life.  Maman suffered from PMLE.  Polymorphic light eruption is one of the less virulent forms of XP, xeroderma pigmentosum…a condition in which an individual’s DNA cannot repair the damage done to the skin by ultraviolet  rays.  There is also the danger of cancer ( 2,000 times stronger than for an unaffected individual) or progressive neurological damage.

Not much was known about it back in Maman’s day and she was given no treatment,  except the usual and customary treatment prescripts for an “allergy,” which did absolutely nothing in the way of alleviating her pain, and definitely didn’t provide a cure.   One doctor actually suggested ultraviolet treatments, and the result of that…you can imagine.

Although they now say that PMLE generally resolves itself by age 30, there’s no cure for XP. XP suffers never come out in daylight; they live their entire lives after dark.  Maman, however, refused to do that.  Probably because she had no true knowledge of what she was suffering from, and because she had a family to take care of, she simply forged ahead with her life.  She was  never  able to go into the sunlight without being completely covered from head-to-toe, even on the most overcast days.  Long pants, knee socks, a long-sleeved shirt, gloves,  a neck scarf, and a wide-brimmed hat were her usual attire when leaving the house, plus the addition of an umbrella…and still, she could be touched by sunlight reflecting from the pavement or any surface, and going through her clothes to cause first degree burns.

PMLE/XP appears to be hereditary,  though the occurrence is one in a million, so I was lucky; even with my blond hair and fair skin, I can walk in sunlight with no more than the normal fear of getting a sunburn.  SPF-70 sunblock and I are old friends, however, and I use it faithfully.  My mother’s skin, where it wasn’t scarred by old, healed burns (mostly on her arms), was as pale and translucent as a piece of alabaster.

In hindsight, I imagine this condition also contributed to her death of ALS, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement.

Okay, you’re probably saying about now.  This is all very interesting, and you have our sympathy, Tony-Paul, but… What does this have to do with vampires? I want to hear about your latest novel,  not your familial illnesses.

The inference is obvious, and may be one of the ways the vampire myth began.  If you were a superstititious person living in a primitive time when it was believed the sun sank into the sea every night and rose from it every morning, and you saw someone actually burned by that same sun…someone who was only comfortable after dark and only felt he could safely come out of his dwelling in nighttime…what would you think?  Other opinions have been offered:  premature burials, porphyria, lycanthropy.  I’m certain all these—plus PMLE and XP—attributed to the legend a good many of us who are writers have used to our advantage.

When I began my series The Second Species, I wanted my vampires to be different, not the usual Undead, sleeping-in-a-coffin type.  So I made them a living people, a second species of Mankind, divorced from their human brothers because of their differences.  They have many characteristics of the Undead but I’ve given them  acceptable  reasons:  the entire group suffers from XP, therefore they can’t emerge into sunlight.  I explained away other vampiric characteristics.  They have allergies—the most powerful one being to garlic and certain herbs.  Their refusal to look at crosses, etc., is not because they are repulsed by them but because their own religion demands they not look on the sacred objects of other faiths, and so on.  They have certain Laws, Canon handed down from their gods, to govern their behavior,  especially in regard to humans.  Understanding how normal people fear them, they have hidden themselves away in the cloud-covered peaks of the Carpathians where the sun never penetrates and whenever they emerge, tragedy inevitably follows.

That is the story behind the creation of my “vampires,” based in fact, elaborated in fiction.  The first novel in the series, The Shadow Lord, will in the early months of 2013 by Double Dragon Publishing.  Look for it…I think you’ll enjoy it…and feel a little sympathy for those true suffers who are “deprived of God’s holy sunlight.”

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Dark God Descending

Tony-Paul de Vissage Author Bio:

One of Tony-Paul de Vissage’s first movie memories is of being six years old, viewing the old Universal horror flick, Dracula’s Daughter, on television, and being scared sleepless—and that may explain a lifelong interest in vampires. 
This was further compounded when the author crossed paths with a band of transplanted Transylvanian vampires sightseeing in the South.  Thinking nosferatu were getting a bad press and in need of some favorable publicity, he decided to use his writing to change that attitude.  Though it may be argued his efforts have probably done the opposite, no vamp has complained…yet.

A voracious reader whose personal library has been shipped more than 3,000 miles, Tony-Paul has read hundreds of vampire tales and viewed as many movies
The Maya Gave us Something More than a Calendar

I guess we can all relax.  Archaeologists excavating in Xultun, Gautemala, have uncovered a hidden room which houses wall paintings indicating the world isn’t going to end on December 22, 2012. The walls reveal the oldest known astronomical tables from the Maya, dating from about 1200 years ago and extending 6,000 years into the future, proving that Time will indeed “keep marching on.”

Since that problem’s out of the way, let’s turn to something also Mayan but a lot less worrisome.

Recognize this plot?

In the jungles of the Yucatan, a lost city flourishes.  It’s stumbled upon by scientists who carry away some object precious to the inhabitants.  In doing so, they bring a curse upon themselves as the embodiment of the sacred object, itself mindless except for the desire for revenge, brings the wrath of the gods upon the wrongdoers.  Various minor characters are killed off as the hero struggles to save his friends and return the sacred object to its home...and the inevitable happy ending flashes upon the screen.

My soon-to-be-published vampire novel Dark God Descending touches on a few of these points, and then goes flying wildly away, as is my usual wont when writing about familiar themes.

There’s a lost city—Nikte Uaxac, where life is going on as it has for thousands of years—and a sacred object is definitely stolen from the city, but there the similarity ends.  The stolen object is the Emperor himself, Semris II, son of the god of Death, a vampire godling with too much curiosity about the Outside World. and Semris himself is the first to admit it.  In fact, it’s his “insatiable curiosity” that gets him kidnapped in the first place.

To the Maya, the vampire wasn’t a cursed creature but simply another of their gods, several gods in fact.  First and foremost was the God of Death, called by various names of Yum Cimil, Cizin, and Au Puch. Yum Cimil’s companion in the Underworld was Cama-Zotz, the demon bat, also known as Ikal Ahau, a gigantic bat who ate raw human flesh.  There was also a god called Zotzilaha, depicted as a tall man with wings and fangs.  Zotzilaha was supposed to have power over the living and was offered the sacrifice of human life.

Semris most closely resembles Cama-Zotz except for the fact that he is slowly in the process of becoming as human as the mortals over whom he rules.  When the story opens, he’s already lost his protective armor of scales, and he’s never taken blood directly from a living being.  He’s actually a “blood virgin” until his captors nearly starve him to death and he does the only thing he can.  He attacks the one man who’ll soon become his friend.

From the moment Semris sinks his fangs into Tuck’s arm, their lives will never be the same again.

Tuck walked over to the cage.
Oh, God, did that last shot kill him? As far as he could tell, Semris hadn’t moved.
When he saw the slow rise and fall of the bare chest, he felt abrupt relief. He also saw the golden amulet, recognizing it as the twin of the one that had started all this unpleasantness in the first place.
The fruit hadn’t been touched, was rapidly darkening, the sweet, overripe smell permeating the cellar, attracting flies. How the Hell did they get in here, anyway? Several big bluebottles were buzzing around inside the cell, hovering over the peaches, a couple crawling along the edges of the plate. One was floating in the water glass, wings fluttering and making little splashes.
Tuck knelt and opened the little flap, reaching inside to remove the glass. As he reached back in for the plate, it happened. so fast he didn’t even realize Semris had moved until he felt the iron grip upon his wrist, saw the fangs drop and the dark head covering his hand.
He screamed as twin razor slashes struck through his wrist...knowing no one could hear, struggled desperately to get away. Frantic, disbelieving thoughts whirling through his mind. Oh, God, this is why he didn’t eat the fruit. He’s a vampire! Sweet Jesus, he’s going to kill me! Help someone, help me! Why should they? I didn’t help him.
The pain went away, his arm numb from wrist to fingertips.
He knelt there on the floor, watching the pale body crouched so near he could have reached out and touched his shoulder...his bare, wingless shoulder.Where did his wings goWhat happened to them? All he could do was watch those shoulders heave with the strength of each deep swallow, feeling his life ebb away, and a vague surprise that it didn’t hurt at all.
Eyes rolling up, Tuck gave a little sigh and collapsed against the bars. He was barely conscious as he saw Semris raise his head and release his arm. In spite of being only slightly aware, he felt a stab of surprise as the quiet voice whispered, “Gracias. Gracias por su sangre.”
He’s thanking me? Thanking me for letting him kill me? With an effort, he made himself withdraw his wounded arm, cradling it against his chest with his other hand. Forcing his eyes open, he stared at his wrist, fighting the wave of blackness floating before his eyes.
There was no bloody ripped-away flesh as he’d imagined, only four deep punctures. Two of the five little veins had been pierced, but the wounds were clean and already clotting. Tuck forced himself to take a deep breath, then let it out, and repeated the procedure. Keep breathing! Don’t pass out. He might decide to have a second helping.
“I took too much. I am sorry. I was too hungry.”
There was such concern in Semris’ voice that Tuck found himself replying, “That’s all right. I-if I’d known, I… Oh, God, what am I saying?” He fell silent, feeling a bout of hysteria galloping toward him.
Something was thrust into his hand. One of the peaches. Semris’ hand, between the bars, holding it out to him. “Aqui. Come. Pronto.”
So he took the peach and bit into it, choking slightly as the rich, sweet juice slid down his throat, but forced himself to keep chewing and swallowing. As the fruit sugar hit his stomach, he began to feel better.
“That was good.” With a sigh, he tossed the peach pit aside.
Through the bars, hands helped him to his feet. He leaned against the door, hanging onto it to keep his balance as dizziness flooded back.
 “Again, I am sorry. He looked up, meeting Semris’ eyes, startled at the concern in them. “It has been so long since I have had the living wine.”
Living wine…what a beautiful way to describe it. Tuck still felt a little groggy, wondered if he was now under the vampire thrall. He decided to find out. “Am I your minion now?”
“Why would you think that?” Semris sounded genuinely puzzled.
“Well, you’ve taken my blood. Generally, when a vampire--”
Vampiro! Donde?” Semris looked around quickly, arms crossing over his throat in a protective gesture.
You.” Tuck answered, feeling he’d made a mistake. “Aren’t you a vampire?”
“Of course not!” The answer was disdainful that Tuck might mistake him for such a vile creature. “I am a Dark Lord. Un demonio.” The pale chin lifted proudly. “Los vampiros are creatures accursed.”
Tuck thought that over. “And you’re not.”
“No.” Semris shook his head, the dark hair swinging. “I am not.”
Tuck realized he must be feeling better, to be able to marvel at the absurdity of this conversation.

That’s grad student Tuck’s introduction to Semris, with whom he soon develops an emotional bond, as they communicate through an archaic form of Spanish. 

It’s the relationship between these two men—separated by millennia but joined by their unexpected friendship—that makes up the majority of the story.  Oh, there’s a love story, too, don’t doubt it—as well as a love triangle, but it’s the interaction between Tucker and Semris, and their attempts to learn about and accept each other which eventually changes both their lives, gaining one immortality and the other humanity, as well as affecting their loved ones and their people forever.

Dark God Descending has been described as a “unique, stay-up-all-night read.” by Margaret Marr, and received 5 Angels from Dark Angel Reviews.  House of Toad called it “a classic Indiana Jones adventure with a dark and bloody spin.”

As prejudiced as I am, I think it’s got something for anyone who likes the paranormal genre.  Adventure, suspense…sex, of course, most definitely.  Wouldn’t be a love story without it.  There’s some humor, as a staid and upright physician loses his inhibitions enough to become a permanent resident of his own particular Twilight Zone.  And don’t forget the blood and violence.  Plenty of that, too.  After all, it is a story about a vampire.  And the villain’s fate?  Totally and completely fitting, and at the same time ironic in the extreme.  If it were a movie, the audience would cheer!

Dark God Descending is scheduled for a very appropriate December release by Class Act Books, December 15, to be exact.  I tried to get it scheduled for December 22, but the publishers just wouldn’t agree.

NOTE:  To celebrate the discovery of the “new” Mayan calendar, I’m offering a copy of my novella Vampires are Forever to one lucky commenter who can answer this question:  Which Mayan vampire god does Semris most closely represent?

Author website:
Twitter: @tpvissage