Just over the first ridge of the Chino Hills, the tiny chapel was hardly noticeable, even from the air. The cast-iron archway over the driveway read ‘Sta. Isabella’. To call it a driveway was being generous. He doubted that dirt trail had ever seen a wheel, let alone a car. Nate didn’t drive anymore, but he wouldn’t have wanted to try the hairpin turn he’d seen on the path with anything bigger than a dirt-bike.
From downtown Los Angeles, he hadn’t flown thirty miles. In a car it might have taken him an hour, maybe more, even on the freeway. But he had places to be later that night, and he didn’t want any of the people he could get rides from to know where he was going or why.
The doors to the chapel were wide open, shedding a dull yellow light on the moonlit lawn outside. Nate set his feet upon the dry grass, in the shadows by the door. When he entered, he noticed the crucifix hanging above an altar at the far end of the church. The only light in the chapel was a baseball-sized, orange crystal light fixture behind the crucifix. It was almost too bright to look at, but the orange light reflected well off the white plaster, bathing the small interior in light which might be slightly dim for a human, but was more than enough for a vampire. He stopped between the four pews and knelt, bowing his head.
“Can I help you, sheriff?” a man in black robes with a priest’s collar asked.
Nate checked his clothes. He was wearing the uniform Dai insisted on. It was also his costume from his acting gig. The khaki pants and shirt bore the badges and patches of a sheriff. Only, instead of Los Angeles, the county on the insignia was ‘Midnite’, a town that only existed on television. The name on the tag said ‘Starr’, his character’s surname in the show. His real name was Silver.
“I’m not a sheriff,” Nate said. “I’m an actor. This is a costume. I am here to confess.”
The priest was one of two men in the tiny chapel. The other was a man wearing just a set of denim overalls, dusting the paintings on the walls. Each of the paintings depicted a woman. Perhaps Mother Mary, but Nate suspected they might be the Saint the chapel was named for. Nodding, the priest stepped to a small confessional Nate had almost mistaken for a coat closet. An alcove with open curtains sat to the side of an ornate wooden door. Behind the curtains was a small room just large enough for a single bench seat. Nate walked into the area behind the open curtains and sat on the bench. A window with close-set wooden bars was between him and the space between the alcoves. He pulled the curtain closed and waited.
The priest opened the door and sat in the middle alcove. After closing the door, he asked, “How can I help you, my son?”
“Like I said, I need to confess,” Nate said. “Is there something I’m supposed to say like, ‘Forgive me Father for I have sinned?’”
“Are you Catholic?” the priest asked.
“Do I need to be?” Nate asked.
“Yes,” the priest said. “If not Catholic, then Orthodox.”
“I’m Evangelical,” Nate said. “Or, I was.”
“I can’t offer you the Sacrament of Penance,” the priest said. “I’m sorry. I can offer my ear and anything you tell me will be between you, me and the Lord. But absolution through penance is reserved for those baptized as Catholic.”
Nate had always believed that to unburden his soul, all he needed to do was pray with sincerity. But his prayers felt unholy coming from the lips of a vampire. When Dai had suggested he confess to a priest, the idea of talking to a person who could be God’s ears seemed to offer some promise of hope. Nate didn’t come thirty miles for counseling.
“Can you see me?” Nate asked.
“I saw you come in,” the priest said. “Traditionally this is purely anonymous, but it’s really not. I saw you come in and I’m familiar with the voices of the people that do come to confess. To be honest, it’s not hard to see through this screen.”
“Then look at me,” Nate said. When he could see the outline of the priest’s irises in the whites of his eyes, Nate added power to his words and coerced the priest. “See me as a Catholic man—one who needs guidance to get the ceremony correct. Whatever I say, take it as truth and don’t panic. Don’t be afraid of me.”
“Start with ‘Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been however much time since your last confession,’” the priest said.
“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been years since my last confession,” Nate said. He didn’t know how to quantify ‘never’ without bursting the priest’s illusion.
“Tell me your sins, my son,” the priest said.
“I’ve killed,” Nate said. He paused to wait for a reaction like a gasp or sharp inhale, but the priest remained calm. With that evidence that his coercion worked, Nate continued. “I’ve killed in the name of the Lord and I’ve killed in self-defense and I’ve killed those I’ve hunted for food,” Nate said.
“The work of a soldier can be forgiven,” the priest said. “There is no sin in defending yourself. There is no sin in hunting for your food.”
“My food is people,” Nate said. “I am a vampire.” Nate hoped his coercion to keep the priest calm held.
“I see,” the priest said. He was silent a moment. Even if Nate had coerced him to take his words as truth, the priest might need time to adapt his coerced beliefs to his reality.
“You’re safe,” Nate said. “I’m not evil, though I might be a monster.”
“I can’t condone murder,” the priest said. “You cannot see people as food if you seek forgiveness. To attain absolution, you must be penitent. To be penitent you must intend not to commit the sin again.”
“I never intend it,” Nate said. “When I first learned to feed, I did not have control over it. I have not killed accidentally in the past year. I have, however, killed three other vampires and two men in self-defense in the last month, but more than a dozen have fallen at my hands in total.”
“And how many of these were righteous?” the priest asked.
“I don’t know,” Nate said. “Certainly all but two meant to kill me. I am uncertain any of them were true threats. I am trained to battle my own kind at a level few are. I was a holy warrior, a vampire hunter, before I became what I am now. But, that title is misleading; that life was a lie. My teacher was a dark man and served a darker vampire. They are gone, and I am something different now.”
“A sheriff?” the priest ventured.
“I said the clothing is a costume,” Nate said. Dai, his queen and bloodmother, called him her sheriff and her enforcer and whatever else she felt like calling him at any given moment. These were details the priest didn’t yet need.
“But you speak like the law,” the priest said. “Either you still are a warrior for the church or you are a warrior for the government. You claim righteousness in your fights, which means you fight for a cause.”
“I do,” Nate said. “In all but two cases, I was fighting a war that was not my own and I believed myself to be following a benevolent leader.” The two exceptions had been his early attempts to feed before he knew how to control the bloodlust that accompanied the curse of the bloodeyes.
“Has your opinion changed?” the priest asked. “Is your general not kind? Is their cause against God’s will?”
“She’s a vampire and she’s a queen among us,” Nate said. “I would not call her godly, but she is not wanton. Her goal is peace among our kind in the city, and she enjoys the attention of those currying for her favor.”
“But she’s a vampire,” the priest says. “She condones treating God’s people as food, does she not?”
“People are food to us,” Nate said. “But we don’t kill, usually. The leadership before her was evil, without a doubt, and Dai is holy in comparison, but we are vampires and can never truly be in the grace of God.”
“The Bible is surprisingly unclear on the status of vampires,” the priest said. “I don’t have much guidance to offer. If you are a person, you must abide by the laws of man and the laws of the Lord. Have you considered placing your fate in the legal system on the matter of the murders you admit to?”
“I am a vampire,” Nate said. “There is no prison for me that is not death. No human can know our kind exists. The men I killed were the vilest of humankind. One was a slaver, a trafficker of women. The other was a druggist, a man who designed recreational drugs including some horrid variations of the date-rape substances.”
“And you are qualified to be judge, jury and executioner?” the priest asked.
“So I was taught to believe in the church I belonged to at the time,” Nate said. “Before I was a vampire, I believed myself to be a holy warrior, and when I acted in the name of Christ, I acted with impunity. I am less sure now of my standing with the Lord, which is why I am here.”
“You have a conscience,” the priest said. “Follow what you know and the Lord will guide you.”
“Is this the part where you tell me to say Hail Mary’s?” Nate asked.
“If I knew the measure of your sins, I could offer penance,” the priest said. “I don’t know how to measure what you’ve done or by which yardstick to judge it. You seem like a good man. Knowing that you are a good man, be confident that you can choose to do the right thing. And, foremost, try not to kill. Go with God, my son.”
“Thank you,” Nate said. “I have one more request.” The priest looked at Nate and when their eyes met, Nate added, “Forget I was here. Forget everything about vampires.”
The priest said nothing, turning his attention to the book in his lap. Nate took the cue to leave and set out to his true mission of the night: to find a killer.
The second Nate Silver, Vampire, Hunter book is now available.
The long awaited followup novel to Nine Princes of Blood, Law of the Blood Queen follows Sheriff Nate Silver and Queen Daiyu Long as they attempt to settle into a peaceful Kingdom of Heaven (as the vampires call Los Angeles). But, some question the relatively young queen’s ability to govern. Some even think she is falling back on her historically evil ways to cement her power. It’s up to Nate Silver, her sheriff, to find the truth, but he has his own struggles in trying to get control of his bloodlust. Worse, he’s one of the vampires questioning Queen Dai’s integrity.
Now that we’ve found another planet that is “just like Earth” the question is coming up: Is it populated?
(If you came here looking for a DC comics reference, this isn’t what you’re looking for. Stick around though. It’s fun.)
I once referred to the Fermi Paradox obliquely in the post https://wordpress.com/post/16293530/157/ about Alien Invasion several years ago. That post deals with all the reasons aliens would and wouldn’t bother with Earth. The Fermi Paradox says that the universe is so big and so old that if aliens existed, they’d have found us by now and said, “Hi!”
Well, the bad news is the Fermi Paradox might be right. The good news is that it’s probably not. Statistically, even if the chances of life developing on a given planet are one in a jillion, there’s billions of inhabited planets out there in the universe.
Seriously, we’re not alone.
Ignoring that Ed Snowdon tells us that aliens live under Earth’s crust, let’s leave the definition to mean species from other planets.
While extra-terrestrial life is a certainty, intelligent extra-terrestrial life is also a certainty. I mean statistically a certainty.
First, Earth isn’t rare. Earth 2.0(the nickname for Kepler 452b) might be 1400 light years away, but we’ll find closer ones. Planets are really small and don’t give off light. We’ve found very very few planets by ‘seeing’ them with a telescope. Most of those were in our Solar System. We discover most planets by occultation, meaning, we can detect a tiny dimming of a star when the planet passes in front of the star from our perspective. The odds of any given solar system being on the proper plane to produce occultation is very small. If we’re looking at a star’s north pole, we’ll never see a planet in orbit around that star pass in front of it. We pretty much have to be looking edge on at the star’s solar system to see an occultation.
We can also detect planets by wobble. As much as a star’s gravity keeps a planet in orbit, the planet’s gravity is always tugging slightly at the star, creating a wobble. For us to see a wobble, we currently need the planet to be massive, usually bigger than Jupiter, and close to the star.
As technology improves, we can see slighter wobbles, which means we can see the signs that smaller planets are out there. You need to understand this is very complex math and requires years of watching the same star. An astronomer on a planet ten light-years from Earth would have a damned hard time calculating that our sun has eight planets. After ten years, they’ll know about Jupiter, but Saturn would take decades to detect with any accuracy. Compared to the wobble on our sun caused by Jupiter, Earth’s gravitational effect on the sun would be negligible. Eventually they’d figure it all out. But the point is that we, when observing other stars, looking for planets, have to spend years, even decades to find them. That makes my more important point. There are lots of planets out there. The science and the statistics tell us they’re there. We just don’t know exactly where.
Now that we’ve established that habitable planets are common, we want to assume that all planets that could be inhabited are inhabited. Let’s just make that assumption, because, with the numbers we’re talking, billions of Earthlike worlds, whether a few or all are populated by some form of life isn’t terribly important. Important is acknowledging that some of them are.
After over a billion years of life existing on Earth, it’s been about 50 years since we managed to throw anything off our rock. There is only one significantly intelligent species on the planet. This basically means that no matter how common life is, intelligent life is far rarer. You might try to argue that humans have squelched out any competing species. That might be true over the past million years, but it doesn’t explain why no species managed to invent an iPhone before humans even evolved.
But, again, there are so many earth-like planets in our galaxy, some of them will have intelligent life. They will, that’s a fact. (Note that, for legal purposes, I only state opinions, so even if I say it’s fact, even if it’s actually a fact, I’m only stating my opinion. –see the side bar—>)
There’s still no guarantee we won’t kill ourselves off before we find a way to make it to the nearest other habitable world.
We don’t know what technology we can use to do that yet. As far as we know physics, there is no such thing as warp drive. There is a finite speed limit for a space ship that makes travelling light years simply infeasible. We don’t have the technology to get to the nearest stars, those less than five light years away. By the time we find speeds that would get us there in less than a thousand years, the speeds we’d travel would tear any material we know about apart. So, until we develop warp drive no person will ever travel to another solar system.
There is the concept of putting travelers in cryo-sleep, basically stopping their aging while they travel. Still, thousands of years. The best cars have ten year warranties. How do you trust a star ship not to break down over that time? Okay, so that tech is in the foreseeable future. Cryo-sleep and self-repairing ships might be possible in our lifetimes. Still: Thousands of Years. Let’s just say that, without some kind of Warp technology, interstellar travel is just not an option unless your planet is no longer habitable.
So, to continue this discussion, we have to leap to the assumption that warp technology is possible. If so, there might be thousands of civilizations bouncing around the galaxy, visiting new worlds and maybe spreading their species on new worlds.
The Fermi Paradox asks that if Intelligent Alien Life exists, why hasn’t it contacted us?
The real question is: Why would aliens want anything to do with Earth?
We’ve all seen the t-shirt or bumper sticker “Mean People Suck.” From an alien perspective it would just be “People Suck.” There is no benefit in engaging in commerce with a less evolved planet. We expect to trade our iPhones for their Hixoblups? Yeah, no. They won’t want what can offer.
Raw Materials? Earth has lots of iron, gold, and water. Honestly if you can get around space easily, there’s no reason to deal with such pesky things as atmospheres and pesky natives when mining. Asteroids and uninhabite worlds are just so much easier to mine. Water is not rare. Iron is not rare. Gold is not rare. Nothing on Earth is worth putting up with humanity. I mean we still think there’s something to reality TV. Well, there’s something we might be good for. Aliens might have sensors set up to monitor us for their own ‘Stupid Human Stunts’ entertainment. It could be argued that the most significant human development for the purpose of perpetual posterity might be cat videos.
Basically, unless they think our culture is the bee’s knees, any intelligent alien species is going to avoid us like the plague we are.
Even if the Aliens just need a new world to colonize, they have better options than Earth. Assuming intelligent life sticks around on Earth until the oceans boil away in billion years, intelligent life was only on Earth for half of it’s habitable time. That means there are other worlds to move their civilization to that don’t require them to deal with pesky indigenous intelligent species.
Basically, the Fermi Paradox is too simplistic. It’s not that alien’s aren’t out there, its that, any life-form smart enough to develop space travel is also smart enough to avoid any species as annoying as humanity. We can’t see them because we just can’t see that far yet. They don’t want to see us.
I don’t get political if I can help it.
Sexual Identity should not be political.
There is irony in people complaining that Caitlyn Jenner should not have received her Espy Award for courage.
Just the mere fact that people would be so vocally against celebrating her courage and the fact that she had to know they would be proves that she deserves it.
People incorrectly equate transgender to homosexuality. Coming out as homosexual is difficult. Coming out as transgender is nigh impossible. I can comprehend homosexuality. Attraction is physiological and psychological. Love is, as unromantic as it is to admit, more physiological than psychological. Emotions are triggered by hormones when it comes to love.
It’s difficult for me to understand transgender, which is not me saying I think there’s anything at all wrong with people who feel they are, in fact, the opposite gender. It’s something I accept that I am not sufficiently expert at, and I leave it to the doctors to know. Just because I don’t understand it, doesn’t mean I can’t sympathize. Part of me still believes its not the individual that’s broken, but it’s society that’s broken in forcing people into roles based on their sex, but that only covers the social aspect of transgender. That’s probably still true but it doesn’t mean that transgender people don’t have a valid need to be the sex opposite that which they were born with.
One thing I’ve known for years: Transgender is not a sexuality. It often goes hand-in-hand with sexuality, because women, whether born as male or female, are more often attracted to men. So a woman who is genetically male, would seem homosexual for being attracted to men. But, not all transgender people are attracted to the opposite sex.
Transgender is a condition entirely about the self. It’s not a man thinking that because he’s attracted to other men he must actually be a woman; its a person knowing their own body is wrong for them. Transgender isn’t a new concept. Every major civilization has had people who lived cross-gendered. Today, however, medical science can make the changes, hormonally and physically to help people feel comfortable in their skin.
The thing about Caitlyn that many people don’t understand. She didn’t used to be Bruce. She was always Caitlyn. For a time, even she didn’t know it. For a time after that, she had to struggle to admit it. Finding the courage to not only admit it to herself but to the public as well, especially knowing the American public expected her to live up to being an Olympian gold-medal winning athlete role-model, is why she deserved the Espy.
I don’t speak with any authority on transgender. I have done some research because I have someone close to me going through the same thing. Luckily, she’s young enough that she doesn’t have to contend with a world that already has another expectation of her.
The Blooddaughter Trilogy is now available as one book. That’s all three novels, over 500 pages.
Free on KU. $4.99 for everyone else. Traditional Vampire fiction; not paranormal romance. Blood, intrigue, mystery and history.
All three novels of The Blooddaughter Trilogy in one book.
Shauna discovers the vampires in her favorite novels are real, as she hoped they would be. Her initial encounter with them proves fatal for her.
She awakens as one of them, but the mysterious vampire who turned her has disappeared. She is taken under the wings of both the Countess of Philadelphia and the legendary Elizabeth Bathory and soon discovers that even immortality can be fatal.
Adjusting to life without the Sun and the need to feed, Shauna travels to Europe to track down the notorious vampire hunter, Henry the Inquisitor.
Her companion has particular difficulty adjusting to the new powers in Europe. Defending her friend will make enemies among the vampire royalty.
Blood Atonement on Amazon (250 pages, $2.99 on Kindle) – Free on Kindle Unlimited
Names and numbers populated the pages of the pocket-sized book Elsa carried. She stood over the crumpled body of a man whose name she didn’t know and, if she had her way, never would. Elsa gave the body another kick in the kidney. The man grunted, causing Elsa to feel a bit more satisfied. A girl, midway through her teen years, crouched in the corner, trembling. Elsa knelt by her, careful to get close without touching her.
“Do you have a name?” Elsa asked. The girl’s name, unlike the man’s, had infinite value.
The girl nodded as she responded, “Maria Esperenza.”
They were all named Maria in Havana and they all joined their middle name to their first. Elsa ran the name through her mind again and again. She’d need to remember it to write it down. Maria Esperenza would be number four-ninety-three on the second list of six-hundred and sixty-six names in the tiny red leather-clad book.
“Are you hurt, Maria Esperenza?” Elsa asked.
Maria Esperenza shook her head. The bruises on the girl’s naked shoulders belied the truth, or a part of it. The girl, unlike the man, still had her bloomers on. At least Elsa had arrived before the man had taken what the girl would never get back. Elsa couldn’t do anything for the bruises on her shoulders, but she could do something for the damage that didn’t show.
She picked up the girl’s torn dress from the floor of the tiny launderer’s shop and handed it to the girl. It took a moment for the girl to look up. When the girl reached for the dress, Elsa caught her eyes and spoke. She put her will into her words, coercing her as she said, “This man tried to take your money, nothing more. He got rough, but only wanted the money from the till. Another man came and stopped the robbery, taking this man away. Get dressed, lock up your shop then go home. Sleep well. You’ll not remember me or anything I did or will do here tonight.”
Elsa stood and walked to the door. She envisioned a hand in her mind, and used that hand to grab the man from the floor and drag him along behind her as she went out to the dark streets. The only lanterns or torches on the street were the ones hung from shops and those were not alight after business hours. It didn’t matter to Elsa. She preferred it dark. As a vampire, the light of the quarter moon was more than she needed to see clearly. She walked past several streets, careful to avoid the few people awake and about that late. The man she drug along occasionally grunted if he bumped over an uneven cobblestone. Finally, she got bored of dragging the man. She walked back and looked at his face. It wasn’t one she’d remember. She considered drinking her fill from the man, but he was dirty—too many days removed from his weekly bath, if he bathed that often. Lacking any further use of the man, and having separated him from the scene of his crime, Elsa pulled a razor from her boot and slit the man’s throat. His eyes popped open just before the life faded from them. The smell of his blood running down to the gutter made Elsa hungry, but there was nothing for her to drink there. The man was dead; his blood was dead. Elsa cleaned the razor on the man’s sleeve and slid it back into her boot.
From her breast pocket, she pulled out the little red book and a pencil. “Maria Esperenza, 493,” she wrote under Maria Bella’s name. Maria Bella had been the four hundred and ninety-second girl she’d saved. Though that girl hadn’t fared as well as Maria Esperenza, she’d live. Life and death were what mattered for Elsa’s book. A full list of the names of girls whose lives she’d stolen two centuries earlier preceded the pages of names of girls whose lives she’d saved. She’d imposed the penance on herself. It wouldn’t be enough to fill the second list, but it would be something. The one name that would never be on the list, the one name of a woman who could never be saved, was her own: Elizabeth Bathory.
Buy the rest at Amazon (250 pages, $2.99 on Kindle) – Free on Kindle Unlimited
PreOrder for June 1 release.
Blood Atonement: The True Tales of Elizabeth Bathory, Vampire is now for sale from both Createspace and Amazon in print. For Kindle, you’ll have to wait for June 1st. This is mostly because I can’t figure out how to reschedule a pre-order style release to an earlier date.
This is a stand-alone novel, but, works well with the other stories in the world of The Blooddaughter Trilogy.
This is, by far, the darkest of the vampire novels in the world of The Blooddaughter Trilogy. It’s about an infamous serial killer as the protagonist. I mean, if the good guy of the book is this evil, how bad does the bad guy have to be? To be fair, if the title doesn’t give it away, Elizabeth (or Elsa as she’s called–and she was Elsa in my other books long before that Disney movie used the name) is striving to be good, but what she considers good is from a unique perspective.
This is Elsa from The Blooddaughter trilogy, but from a time centuries before those stories–a separate story that can work as a prequel.
As you read, some of the story might look familiar, from history, from classic tales of vampires or from The Blooddaughter Trilogy. You’ll discover it’s much more than what you thought you knew.
Sidenote: This is a work of fiction, starting with the title, as if the word, ‘vampire’ didn’t give that away.
Like many technophiles of the world, I was sucked into the hype around the new iphones. I have had an android phone in the past, but, I prefer Apple. My wife, on the other hand, prefers Microsoft OS phones. That, however is not the point of this post.
I was determined to resist the urge to upgrade my phone early. I still have nine months on my iphone5 contract. I was just going to wait for the iphone7 (or 6s). At first the huge screened iphone plus seemed very unweildly. Then I was in a store with a display and put my phone beside the 6 plus. Bigger isn’t always better, right? Why do we keep having to remind ourselves, then? Still, I resisted. If I truly wanted one come March, I could upgrade on one of my kids lines and pass my phone down through the ranks. This is what everyone does with teenager phones, right? they get last years phones so we adults can stay trendy.
I discussed the situation and the unnatural draw of Apples marketing with my wife. We decided I would wait. We’d leave the option open for when we needed a phone to replace a dead or dropped phone. No, I didn’t ‘Accidently’ drop my phone in the blender or anything. I didn’t slam my phone into a closing car door, not that anyone does that. I resolutely stuck to my guns. No new phone. Period.
And then my wife comes into our room one day and says, “You’re son’s iphone screen stopped working. The picture is there but no touch. He can’t even turn the phone off. I guess you get to order that new phone.” My oldest kid has an iphone4. He would inherit my wife’s iphone4s and my wife would get my iphone5 until we could get her the HTC phone she wants. It took me about ten minutes to have the iphone6 plus ordered.
Then my rational mind kicked in. Not rational enough to try anything like cancel the order, however. I just realized I hadn’t actually tried to fix my son’s phone yet. I went and got it and sure enough, no touch capability. I then remembered you can turn an iphone off by holding the power button and the home button at the same time for a few seconds. When the phone rebooted, it worked fine.
Hey, I followed the agreement. There was a broken phone at the time I ordered the new one.
My wife has killed a phone inside an otter box. Gravity, combined with a closing car door – ’nuff said. To replace that phone, we got an old iphone 4sfrom her friend. Currently her iphone, which might still be her best friend’s iphone on loan, has a shattered backplate. That’s a new thing since it was given/loaned to us. The case will drip glass shards on occassion. So I’m just eliminating an injury risk.
And that’s how I’m rationalizing getting the new iphone.
One of the most difficult things to do when writing stories that take place in the present is to avoid too many pop-culture references. When writing about times in history it adds a little depth to involve people from history. When writing in the present, we can’t do that because people don’t like to have their lives fictionalized without their permission.
We have to be careful how often we reference things that are very popular now, like television shows. They might seem like a way to create a common bond with the reading audience, but sometimes our audience might absolutely hate something in pop culture our characters like and this can turn off a reader’s interest. And readers don’t really like it when they feel something went over their head, so if we do use a pop-culture reference, make sure it’s something the audience will get or miss entirely.
In “Blood Reprisal”, I make a ‘Friends’ pop-reference that is a little oblique. However, I don’t mention the show directly. I like to think I used it like a double-entendre in a kids’ movie – something people who know will get and something people who don’t won’t actually realize they missed something.
Since my vampire stories take place almost entirely during the nighttime hours (duh, it’s vampires) I spend a lot of time with my characters in bars and clubs. So there is a lot of music in the atmosphere. Trying to avoid pop-references means I can’t use a lot of actual band names. I have to come up with new ones. Naming bands is hard. Finding a good name that isn’t already being used by someone is harder. No one wants to make an unintentional pop-culture reference. But, I have three that I’ve come to like: Skeledudes as a Grateful dead cover band, Dire Monotony as a goth rock band and Jalapeno Pop as a band that does instrumental covers of bubblegum pop songs.
And as much as I’d like to mock the teenybopper vampmances out there, I can’t outright disdain the sparkly vampires in my stories. I do gently mock the genre of vampire books that are really just erotica for women in the first chapter of the first book of The Blooddaughter Trilogy. I do this by having two fans of the book talk about a new vampire book. It seems cheesy, talking about vampire writing in my own vampire book, but that particular book in a book (think play in a play) actually is important to parts of the plot of “Second Blood”.
Then there is Pop-History. Taking real history and using popular myths around that real history. All vampire books do this if they mention Vlad Dracula. Elizabeth Bathory is a very major player in The Blooddaughter Trilogy. I also rib on Alex Dumas with my Milady DeWinter character in “Blood Huntress”. No, I did not take every Femme Fatale from history (and historical fiction) and make them into a vampire in my fictional history. Lucrezia Borgia barely makes an appearance in the Trilogy. The only other Historical figures I use are Artemis and Virginia Dare (though I don’t think I ever call that last one by name. Okay, so I name drop a dozen or so more – sometimes making the historical figure a vampire, other times outright mocking the use of historical figures as vampires.
Most avid readers will get the Vlad Dracula and Dumas references. Vampire fans will almost always get the Elizabeth Bathory references and the Lucrezia Borgia ones. Everyone gets the Artemis reference. I try to stick to a historicaly verifiable version of my fictionalized historical characters. Dracula was a bad, evil man. So was Countess Bathory, but she got better. With these guys, I had to try very hard to create characters that would act like readers would expect if they knew the character’s history and/or myth. At the same time, I had to make them unique characters to my stories. Okay, so not so much with Dracula. His part in my books is so minor it’s non-existent. Like pop-references, historical references have to be obvious or so obscure, a reader won’t want to stop and look it up on wikipedia. If they do, if I did my job right, they will see the actual history as just more of the story presented in my books — an added depth to my novel.
I’m on a very short high horse here. I don’t think any of my covers are works of genius. I do think they are good and in some cases great, but none are truly awesome.
I don’t like when works of fiction use photographs as cover art.
I think it’s lazy and cheap. It lowers my hopes of the work being well written.
Fiction covers should be works of art such as paintings and not stock photography. That’s not to say photography is not art. Photography is an art form and there are artists whose medium is photography and these artists create art through selective angles, lighting and subject matter and often Photoshop. Very few photographs can create a feel that a work of fiction is going to be good fiction. For the sake of simplicity, when I mention art from here out, I am talking about drawings and paintings, be they physical or digital.
Photographs have a lot of detail. Our eyes notice the detail. I think this is not the idea of a book cover. A book cover should convey a short, simple message about the book. Art, no matter how detailed, does not have the level of detail of a photograph. A painting will always convey something of the artist’s perception of the subject matter in the way it focuses on some details to the omission of others.
The worst part of using photographs for cover art is that the pictures are so often just stock photographs taken from Flickr. They are not even designed to be that book’s cover. Sometimes the author actually uses some Photoshop to focus the photograph. Usually, they just extract the people from the background and paste them over some other blurred photograph. I see quite a few of these in an author promotion group I joined. The author promotion page sounded like a good idea until I really thought about it. As near as I can tell everyone on that page is an author and no one is actually reading the books the other authors are promoting.
Nine out of ten of the covers of these books are lazy photograph repurposing junk.
There are ways to use a photograph as a book cover. The first thing a fiction cover needs of a photograph including people is a clear view of a character’s eyes. People stop to notice eyes. Actually every animal will stop to notice eyes. It’s instinct. Of course, the independent authors, no matter how talented they are in story craft, are rarely good at selecting photographs as covers. Since romance/erotica is so popular these days, most of the pictures show a man, either shirtless or with a loose shirt, embracing a woman whose clothes are falling to the wind. Often they are kissing.
This is not a good way to sell a book. We are raised to be embarrassed by other people’s acts of affection. We have an ingrained behavior to look away. A voyeuristic person will then look back, usually out of the corner of their eye, but most of us won’t. And those that look back will then spend too much time examining picture on the cover.
And that stock photography is generic. It’s not made to be the cover of that book and often its painfully obvious. I swear one trilogy I saw was the same stock photograph flipped with one of the books featuring someone pasted in front of the old picture. Photoshop is remarkably easy to use and so hard to use well. Ask my wife who thinks I’m a Photoshop expert. I’m not. I just understand how to manipulate color.
My high horse is short because of the cover I use for ‘Of Maia’s Mist’. That is a photograph I purchased the rights to from a photographer. It replaced a hand-drawn colored pencil sketch I had drawn myself. That photograph was a submission for that call for art because the photographer thought the picture would represent the character of a ‘nature girl’ well and it does.
Every other book cover I have out there right now is computer generated art made by me. The cover for Sheillene is the laziest of those since I clearly use a 3D character animation program and the background is a stock painting. But every other cover is exactly what it should be. Ok, so ‘The Nightstone’ cover kind of sucks, but the book kind of sucks so it’s a good cover for that book. The book is only published to give a little more history to the world in ‘Of Maia’s Mist’ which does not suck.
The vampire trilogy covers are also computer generated. ‘Second Blood’s cover was a digital painting using a stock photo model. The other two books from that series are heavily Photoshopped lips generated by the same 3d Character animation program I used for Sheillene. As simple as they look, the cover for ‘Blood Huntress’ took four or five hours and the cover for ‘Blood Reprisal’ took me over twelve hours. Most of that time was working with a digital paintbrush to adjust the colors and clean up some of the shapes. Still, the covers tell you what to expect from the book. Book One is a vampire feeling alone in a new world. Book two has her identifying her relationships with others. Book three has her in a struggle against an “angel”. Spoiler, those are air quotes too.
But that’s just my covers. I am also writing a role playing game manual. The expectation of the potential audience for that book is one work of art for every other page. The book is a hundred and fifty pages long. I spent most of the last two years finding and commissioning art for that book. It took a huge investment in time and a bit of an investment in money. I use a lot of stock art because I don’t have a budget. I did collect about a hundred works of art and used just over half of those because I found a place to marry them to in the book. A few of the works were commissioned for specific pages. I still had to resort to doing a few drawings myself.
Painting and drawings only look simpler than photographs. Any of the three, when done by an artist, will convey a complex message most of us won’t be able to put into words. And the people that can put them into words are just being pretentious. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but that’s an understatement. The trick with a book cover is to have the cover art represent the book. To do that, it should be created for the book. There are good photographs out there that make excellent covers, even for fiction. These cannot be found in stock piles. They must be commissioned to be for that book. It’s so obvious when they are. The thing is, a good commissioned photograph isn’t any cheaper than a good hand or computer drawn/painted cover. Low end professional cover art costs $300-$500. My budget means I have to hire amateurs. Good Amateurs are hard to find. Chances are, if they are really good, they go pro.
Anyone looking for a great amateur cover artist should look up Gabrielle Ragusi on Deviantart.com. She didn’t break my bank for the work I commissioned from her for that role playing manual. No, deviant art is not about deviant art. It’s just an art (all kinds from painting to photographs to handcrafts) website. I have a page there, too. My “art” needs the air quotes.