Excerpt: Chapter 3, Her Dear and Loving Husband

James Wentworth arrived on the campus of Salem State College a half an hour after dark. He parked his black Ford Explorer in the parking lot off Loring Avenue near the Central Campus and walked past the Admissions Office and the bookstore, stepping out of the way of a student speeding toward the bike path. After he walked into the library he paused by the door to watch the young people studying at the tables, searching the stacks, hunching over the computers, so raw and fresh they still had that new-car smell. They had so much ahead of them, James mused. The world was exciting to them, adventures waiting to be had, dreams to be discovered, loves to be found and lost and lost and found. The students in the library were naïve, yes, but that would be tempered by experience and learning. Some of them thought they already knew everything they would ever need to know, but James had compassion for them. We think we know it all, but we never do, no matter how long we live.

Class that night was lively. These students had opinions and they liked discussing and debating, which kept the energy high. There is no worse class than when there were thirty silent students who wanted nothing more than to listen to the professor speak for fifty minutes and leave. That night’s class was an independent study seminar where the students chose which work of literature they would focus on. Usually, James found, the young people were predictable in their choices—Dickens, Shakespeare, Twain, Thoreau—but that term the students were more creative. One was studying Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray about the cursed man who never ages, a story James thought of often. He was amused by the choice, and curious.

“Why The Picture of Dorian Gray?” he asked.

“Staying young forever?” Kendall said. “How cool is that? I mean, don’t you want your hair to stay blond, Professor? You want to turn old and gray?”

James shook his head. “On the outside Dorian stayed young-looking and fresh-seeming, but on the inside he became decrepit in ways no one would guess. His physical body didn’t age, but the catch was, as the years passed, he grew more depraved and detached from human decency.” James looked at Kendall, a Junior about twenty years of age, her sandy-brown hair slung back in a ponytail, wearing a blue and orange Salem State College t-shirt with the Viking logo. Her expression hadn’t changed.

“Dorian looked young, Professor Wentworth. Isn’t that all that matters?”

“A youthful appearance is certainly valued in our society, but don’t you think there could be problems always looking the same while you grew in knowledge and experience?”

“But looking young forever would keep me out of the plastic surgeon’s office.”

“Fair enough,” James said.

“I mean, my sister is twenty-five, and she’s already getting Botox.”

James sighed as he surveyed the classroom, admiring the bright, fresh faces, and he wondered how many others were convinced they looked old when they were oh so very young. He scanned the list in his hand and his eyes grew wide. He pressed his wire-rimmed eyeglasses against his nose as he looked at Trisha, sitting front and center, a bright student, one of his hardest workers, and he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at her choice. He wouldn’t have guessed it of her.

“Why did you choose Bram Stoker’s Dracula?” he asked.

“Because I love that genre,” Trisha said. “I love the idea that there are supernatural beings so extraordinary out there walking unnoticed among us. Since we’re not looking for them we don’t see them, and when we do see them it might be too late.”

“Do you believe in vampires?” he asked.

“Of course not. That’s silly.”

“Yes,” he said. “That is very silly.”

“Besides, even if there were really vampires no one would believe it. It just doesn’t seem possible.”

“You’re right. Let’s hope we never have to find out.”

Levon Jackson, another bright student, an ice hockey player touted as a potential NHL draft, patted Trisha’s shoulder and shouted a loud “Amen!”

James sat on the edge of the instructor’s desk at the front of the room. Levon was one of his favorites that term, in two of his classes, and the young man so rarely shared without raising his hand. Though James insisted from the first day that students didn’t need to raise their hands, this was college, not kindergarten, Levon was always respectful, polite, waiting for James’ attention before he spoke.

“Amen to what, Levon?” James asked.

“Amen to let’s hope we never have to find out. Who wants to learn there’s some nasty old vamp lurking around somewhere?”

“There’s nothing to find out,” said Jeremy, who had aspirations of doctoral school at Harvard. “Who wants to waste time on make-believe?”

“Vampires could be real,” Kendall said. As other students laughed and hissed, she turned her scrunched face to the class. “Why not? Stranger things have happened.”

“How can something be dead and alive at the same time?” Jeremy asked.

“I’m not saying it’s true,” Kendall said. “I’m just saying it’s possible.”

Levon slapped his large hands over his ears, his palms flat against his head. “I don’t want to hear any more about vampires!” James couldn’t tell if he was joking.

Jeremy smirked. “You must cover your ears a lot, Levon. Everyone everywhere is talking about vampires. Vampire movies. Vampire television shows. Vampire books.” Jeremy’s fingers went to his temples and he shook his head from side to side. “I am so damn sick of vampires.”

 

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James Wentworth, and What Does it Mean to be a Vampire?

Her Dear & Loving HusbandIn my Loving Husband Trilogy, James Wentworth is a vampire. But what does it mean to be a vampire?

On the surface, it’s an unnecessary question since with the popularity of vampire stories everyone seems to have their own ideas of the undead. Yet it’s a question writers of vampire fiction must contend with, and it’s one question I had never considered before sitting down to write the trilogy.

I had never given much thought to vampires. I was never into the paranormal genre, the main reason being I’m not a fan of horror. I’m not a fan of violence, real or pretend, and since vampires have traditionally represented violence, I didn’t care to know them. But then I was introduced to the vampire genre in a less gore-filled way, and the more I read about them the more I realized that there is  no one way to describe a vampire. The question of ‘What is a vampire?’ is answered differently according to what authors want or need from their preternatural characters. What a grand revelation as I embarked on my own paranormal stories.

I realized I had a decision to make. Would I go the more traditional route and keep my vamplings asleep during the day, unable to go out in the sun, or would I take the more modern route of sunbeams and sparkles? In the beginning, I had no idea. I hopped on the computer (God bless the Internet) and searched vampire folklore to see how the undead have been traditionally defined. I was fascinated by what I found. Turns out that vampire legends have abounded for as long as there have been people to tell them, long before vampire stories were ever published. Who knew? There are vampire legends from all over the world, and while there are cultural differences, there were more than a few commonalities, and this is what I focused on—the commonalities.

So what is a vampire to me? How did I craft James’s vampire nature?

I tended to stay along more traditional lines. One similarity between almost all vampire legends is that they’re nocturnal creatures. James is as well, sleeping during the day and living at night. He drinks blood. Now, how he choses to drink blood differs from other vampires, but let’s say that he does drink human blood. Their human bodies die as they are transformed (by the bite of another vampire) into a preternatural, immortal being. Again, pretty traditional. As to garlic and silver, well, I don’t know what to say about that. It’s true that traditionally (especially in the Slavic cultures) those are considered supreme weapons against the undead, but it seems to me that if you can live forever a little plant bulb or metal won’t harm you much. But that’s just me. Geoffrey, James’s “maker” (as they would say on True Blood), tends to agree. And since, as a vampire, James lives forever, he loves forever, which is the focus of the trilogy—how he has never forgotten his one true love and the joy he feels when he’s finally reunited with her. On the surface, the Loving Husband Trilogy is a vampire story, complete with witches and werewolves, but it’s really a love story that spans the ages.

Part of the fun of writing in the paranormal genre is the ability to create your fantasy creatures however you want. If you want your vampire sitting on the sofa in broad daylight eating pizza (as Aidan did in the BBC series Being Human), then do it. There is no right way to create a vampire. As long as authors believe that the world they’re describing is true, then readers will follow. What is a vampire? The fun part is, we all get to decide for ourselves.

Writing About Vampires

With Halloween not so far away (I’m already ready to put out my Halloween decorations), I’ve been thinking a lot about vampires.

When I decided to write my first vampire novels with the Loving Husband Trilogy, I realized I knew very little about vampire myths and legends. But do you have to do research to write about vampires, I wondered? Since vampires are imaginary creatures, I thought there wouldn’t be much studying I needed to do to write Her Dear & Loving Husband. The vampires I would be writing about are products of my creation, and I didn’t need to read books to understand them.

Still, being a curious person, I had a lot of questions. Where did vampire stories come from? I thought Bram Stoker’s Dracula was the beginning of the craze, but it turns out he had been inspired by stories of the undead too. In fact, vampire legends have been around for as long as there have been people to tell them. In earlier years, people explained whatever needed explaining through supernatural beliefs. If good things happened it was because of good spirits, and if bad things happened it was because of evil ones. In the years before science could explain medical oddities—like why some people sweat or cry blood or how someone could stop breathing and “come back to life”—people would say they were possessed by evil spirits. They had come back from the dead and they were to be feared. Stories about dead friends, neighbors, and family members who had come back to life circulated throughout villages, beginning our fascination, and our fear, of vampires. Societies all over the world have some stories in their legends and folklore about the undead. I had some fun taking what I learned and putting it into the classroom scenes in Her Loving Husband’s Curse where James teaches a vampire literature class.

For those of us writing vampire stories today, we have the freedom to create our preternatural characters however we wish. The possibilities are endless. As I considered the vampires for the Loving Husband Trilogy, I decided I would stick mainly to conventional ideas. James Wentworth, the vampire protagonist in the stories, sleeps by day and lives by night. He’s immortal and will stay looking thirty years old forever. He drinks blood. He has to learn how to live among humans without revealing his true nature because he knows how people can react when they’re confronted by things they don’t understand. As for garlic bulbs and signs of the cross, well, those are just Eastern European legends after all. And if you can live forever, I don’t see how some garlic can hurt you, though it might give you bad breath.

I had never been into the paranormal/urban fantasy genre before. As someone who wrote historical fiction, which is based on fact, I didn’t think I could enjoy writing about such imaginary, fantastical characters. But once I allowed myself to try it, I realized I love writing vampire novels because I can mold the vampire legend in my own way. If you’re continuing on the journey with James and Sarah in 2013 (around March, I’d say), you’ll see exactly what I mean. Geoffrey (and Olivia) have a few vampire truths for James to learn in the third and final installment.

By stepping out of my comfort zone, by allowing myself to explore a genre I had never considered before, I had a whole paranormal/fantasy world open up for me. More than anything, I have been able to spend the last three years with characters, namely James and Sarah Wentworth, who are near and dear to my heart. And I’m glad I still have one more story to share with them.