All about Orfeo

May 29, 2011

As a companion piece to the blog I wrote for the Dorchester Publishing website about Lovely, by popular demand (well, two people on Facebook) I will take a similar approach to another immensely popular character from the vampire novels. I’d like to write about pretty much every character – even the minor characters often have detailed backstories – in the future, but one at a time, and all things in their time.

Orfeo Ricari is definitely one of my favorite characters. He might have been the first one I thought of – though more likely he came to mind simultaneously with his nemesis/lover/frenemy Daniel Blum, knitting himself together out of the loose threads of watching Peter Murphy and Daniel Ash interact on stage during the live segments of the Bauhaus concert film, Archive. I knew some things about the history of Bauhaus, and of the simultaneously admiring and resentful relationship between Murphy and Ash (which was much more Murphy vs. everybody else, and really, barely even that), but by God, those two skinny English boys sure looked hot together. Whether they were actually hooking up or not (signs, sadly, point to “not”), their stage interactions evoked unspeakable sexual congress and warfare with a side order of punk-rock fun. Sure, they totally stole these panty-wetting moves from David Bowie and Mick Ronson, but even so, with Peter and Daniel, it was as likely that somebody was going to end up dead when they got off; and David J’s carefully neutral avoidance of the whole dance suggested that it wouldnt be the first time that had happened, and he was damned if he was going to be next.

So, despite a joke I like to make, Voice of the Blood isn’t really Bauhaus fanfic – I didn’t know enough about the actual band to write anything about them, nor was I interested in writing about them specifically, as two guys in a band from Northampton. The characters they inspired got me obsessing and scribbling.

Thus: Orfeo Ricari. His name’s a grab bag: Orfeo from the David Sylvian song “Orpheus”, still a favorite, and a great showcase for Sylvian’s gorgeous, sexy-gothic-stolen-from-Bowie baritone; the song itself based on the Cocteau film, I’m sure; and Ricari because I thought it was an Italian name. It’s not; it’s Spanish. (I make shit up, and I often get it wrong if it actually exists. Novels are handsome lies.) Whatever the source of the name, Orfeo is Italian, through and through, full stop. I don’t know why, exactly; he just is. And rather than be the (at the time) stereotypical southern Italian/Sicilian of looks, dark hair and skin and eyes, Orfeo looks more Continental, possessed of a naturally pale, strawberries-in-snow complexion, pure gray eyes, and the hair color described on boxes of Miss Clairol dye as “Dark Ash Blonde”.

His history is recounted in Fiend, my favorite of the four books, possibly because it really is just one person’s story, but also that of several prominent others: Daniel Blum, George, Maria, Liesl, and even Orfeo’s sister Maria Elena, the woman of whom Ariane would so strongly remind him. Orfeo was born in 1798 in Campania, youngest of seven of whom five survived; Orfeo the only surviving son. He was what you might not want to term a “sissy”, but you wouldn’t be wrong if you did. He wasn’t like the girls, but he definitely wasn’t like the boys, either. He liked painting and poetry and philosophy; he was a spoiled, belittled, coddled princelet, as bored by his advantages and as subconsciously thrill-seeking as his later encounters, Daniel Blum and Ariane Dempsey.

Orfeo came to mind both fully-formed and malleable by my own experiences and learning. I easily envisoned the adult, vampire Orfeo in Paris; in the streets of the same Berlin imagined in Cabaret; daydreaming in the back of a taxi in post-war London; elegantly gesturing for the check in one of the swanky cocktail bars I longed to infiltrate in 1990s San Francisco (in particular, Tosca, which is the bar with red booths and waitstaff in black satin where he and Ariane spend a lot of time). Orfeo would always look the same; would always dress the same, would always get away with it. Creamy satin or linen shirt, worn baggy on his wire-thin frame (not quite pirate-poofy, but close); slim-fit trousers; shined brogues or oxfords, sometimes with spats; sometimes a snug waistcoat to display his 26-inch waist; a classic camel trenchcoat. He’s tiny, five feet four, one hundred pounds, and looks like he’s stepped out of a dagguerotype or a classic-Hollywood headshot. Generally calm, melancholy, and fatalistic, but with a vicious temper, and a tendency to, in anger, say and do the most hurtful things he can imagine. He inspires love rather than friendship; he’s hard to live with, moody and introspective, but fun to go out with, when his generous nature can kick into high gear.

He looks like a porcelain elf doll, but he’s as tough as nails; he’s a fighter and a survivor. His Catholic faith sustains and absolves him, even as his faith is shaken and even abandoned; it always returns.

So does he.

Fan fiction.

A very loaded phrase, isn’t it? Often used as shorthand for “bad wish-fulfillment writing by subliterate teenage girls” by those without respect or understanding for the form. It is indeed a form, and not a genre; fanfiction (or “fanfic”, or “fic” for short-short) comes in all genres, hundreds of approaches, millions of thoughts. Much maligned as plagiarism, outright theft, the result of a lack of imagination/creativity/originality/a writer’s own ideas. There is often a sexist bias present in this disparagement, but I’m not interested in getting into that here (I’d love to go to grad school and study it officially, though; anybody got a spare $90K they’d be willing to donate?…); I’m much more interested in how ideas take root, grow, and sometimes bloom into something that surprises even the creator.

Fan fiction provides a space for exploring taboos (and certainly, that’s where a lot of my own interest lies, both as a reader and writer). Taboos of ownership and permission (“Am I allowed to write my own stories in this pre-existing, copyrighted-up-the-wazoo ‘reality’?”); taboos of sexuality and gender (a fun challenge is to think up the most unlikely or outré “pairing” and then look on the internet to see if it exists – and I have never once been disappointed); even taboos of respecting the “reality” of the source material, or even of reality in general as we understand it.

I write fanfic. I have done since I was twelve or so. Indeed, that is really how I got started writing in the first place. I wrote it as an adolescent and I have never stopped, and I have no intention of ever stopping. I consider some of it amongst the very best writing I have ever done, and it makes me sad that most of it will go unread – not because it’s fanfic (one of my favorite authors, Steven Brust, wrote a brilliant fanfic Firefly novel, posted it for free on this website, and hasn’t gotten into any trouble as far as I know) but because for most people, if they’re not interested in the subject matter, they won’t read it. (Why aren’t more people as interested in reading about gay sex as I am? Am I peculiar in some way? 😉 … ah, so be it.)

However, if there’s any interest in reading it, I’m more than happy to share it. And hell, thanks to the vagaries of copyright, it’s all free; I don’t make any money from it. The funny thing is, fanfic is still some of my very favorite writing to do; I only write about characters who can take up residence in my head, so that I don’t have to make much of an effort to depict their “voices” on the page (true for fanfic AND original fic, for that matter). It’s really all the same to me; it’s just whether or not I get paid, have to hustle and pimp it, play by someone else’s rules, negotiate commerce and expectation instead of negotiating a pre-existing fictive space and doing the pleasurable research of (usually) watching an episode of TV with an eye for freeze-frame minutiae (“Where is the couch in position to the chest of drawers, the sideboard, and the mantelpiece? And IS THERE A RUG?! And what kind of rug is it? Does it look comfy?”). When I’m writing original fiction, I’ve got all this detail already in my mind; I just transcribe it. It’s really not any less work to write fanfic; not really. And as much as I’d love to get paid for all the writing I do, when it comes to fic, I just want to, as I say, “Rock worlds.”

I’d like to get paid as a writer so that I could devote myself entire to the craft, instead of worrying about what I’m going to pack for lunch and if the upcoming staff meeting promises to be stressful; but really, I’m here to Rock Worlds. I want to entertain the hell out of you. I want you to see a reflection of yourself in me, and I want a knowing laugh, a tear, and a feeling of not-displeasurable tightness in your trouser area. I want you to have fun in my world, as I’ve had fun in the worlds of leGuin, Brite, Gaiman, Speed McNeil, Whedon, Baker (Nicholson and James Robert), Parker, Conan Doyle (and Moffat and Gatiss), Straczynski, Watterson, Thompson (Jim and Hunter and Jill, too), and you too, Mr. Brust. I write to reflect my love out to the world, and if you inspire me in just the right way, I will pick up the loose thread and start knitting my own sweater.

And I encourage you to do the same with my works. Please, please, please, write fanfic (and create fan art!) based on my works. It’s the greatest compliment I could ever receive (that, and a nice fat check, but first things first).

the creator/fan schism

May 19, 2011

I’m kind of right in the middle of it…

For the last 10 years or so, my life has been a struggle to reconcile the two major parts of my personality – that which longs to create, and that which longs to enjoy and obsess over that which others have created. In other words, I am both a creator and a fan. Oddly enough, the two make for uneasy bedfellows, at least in my life. Every day brings the decision – “Shall I write? Or shall I read some of these books I’ve got piled up, or watch some of these movies I own or have on loan, or listen to music with my full mind, or…”

I have no particular solution to this problem.

Current viewing crack:
Torchwood. I’m in the middle of series 2. It’s become incredibly brilliant and hard-hitting. Too much love.
Game of Thrones. I was a supporter/curious as soon as this series was announced, and caught up with all the episodes within two weeks. So far, I am pro- pretty much all the ladies, except for that whiny, pretty bitchface Stark daughter. I do believe that eventually she’ll come into her own – hopefully with the help of some hot lady-on-lady sex scenes.
Doctor Who, current series (season 6 by our US reckoning). Good stuff. Frequently wet-yourself scary.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. I’m going to probably have to cut this short; it’s from the library, and it’s due back in 2 days. Love it, but ultimately inessential; as brilliant as Jeremy Brett is, I’m a Cumberbatch loyalist through and through. It’s called imprinting.
Glee. Because I’m one of those people.

Current reading crack:
Sherlock fan fiction. Don’t judge me; the writing is brilliant.
Torchwood fan fiction. OK, you can judge me for that. Itches must be scratched.
Echo, a comics series by Terry Moore. I have been a fan of Moore’s for a long time, but I can still forget how brilliant he is as a writer, artist, and character designer. This series is blowing me away – great characters across the board, and some of them are women. Amazing, right?
Chew, a comics series by John Laymon and Rob Guillory. I was curious; I bought Volume 1; that was all it took. Demented and fun.
Various other single-issues of this and that – Superman, Hellboy and BPRD, Scarlet, the Ring of the Niebelung miniseries from P.Craig Russell (exquisite!!). I’ve got a thick stack of American Splendor comics I liberated from work, too, but I haven’t started on them.

This is too much to do already, let alone the actual work of editing and writing that should be happening now. I get to it when I can, but I’ve been a bit sick and a lot tired lately, and all I can do is slump on the couch and watch TV shows on DVD. I’ll get back on the horse, but sometimes, my creative juice just runs dry, and I have to prime the pump with other people’s creations. It makes me just as happy, generally speaking. And I guess therein lies the problem – I don’t know any other writers who are also just big slobbering fans of stuff. I know other writers with enthusiasms, and obsessions, certainly, but they aren’t the type to want to seriously consider buying a Cumberbitches T-shirt, getting Deep Space 9 themed tattoos, or running out of money by the end of the month because they bought comic books. Maybe they’re out there, and I just haven’t met them yet.

All about Lovely

May 17, 2011

(This is crossposted from the Dorchester Publishing page. And there will be more of these musings to come.)

One of the most common questions that any writer gets is “Where do you get your ideas?” In many cases, I can truthfully answer that the ideas were shaped by my own life experiences – not that I’ve know many vampires, but I have known some people who came close, even if they weren’t truly undead, super-powered blood drinkers. In one particular case, however, a character occurred to me as if out of nowhere, and demanded that I depict him.

After I graduated from college in 1994, I moved from Portland to San Francisco to try and find some kind of gainful employment better than working the swing shift at a convenience store. I got a job with reassuring swiftness at a company that no longer exists (oddly enough, most of the places I’ve ever worked no longer exist), handling data entry and library database research. It was a decent place to work, and after a terrible spring and an even worse, underemployed, desperate, rootless summer, I felt as though I might be able to make it in the world somehow.

At that point I wasn’t writing. Part of the unpleasantness of the spring came from the humiliation suffered as I tried to defend a novel that I’d presented as my senior thesis; my overblown, overheated style made for an easy target, and my relative ignorance of what a novel was, and its place in a literary canon, even at the point where I was ready to receive a degree in English, earned me some well-deserved sharp blows from my professors. The message that I received, loud and clear, was that my writing wasn’t good enough, and I didn’t know what I was talking about (which was more or less true). All I really had to offer were stories, and characters, and conflict, and mood; if this was not enough, I had no business calling myself a novelist.

I’d moved to San Francisco hoping that the city’s rich literary heritage might seep into me. I hoped that being in the same environment that spawned such greats as Shirley Jackson, Armistead Maupin, and Lemony Snicket might have a beneficial effect on me. Walking the endless stretch of Market Street, drinking in bars in the Castro, loitering outside the shops at the corner of Haight and Ashbury, and being kicked out of the first place I lived within two weeks of moving in had to have some kind of educational value, didn’t it?

When I was eighteen, I wrote a seventy-page draft of a vampire novel that I felt had some potential, but it certainly wasn’t there yet. I’d been thinking it over occasionally ever since, wondering if there was any way to make it better, to make it really work as a narrative and not just a collection of vignettes and one-liners between two vampires, old lovers, come to the point of their relationship when most of their interactions are fights and quarrels. I hadn’t actually worked any more on the novel since its second draft, written out longhand in a spiral notebook, but the two central characters refused to leave my mind, and increasingly, I saw a third character, a woman and a shared lover, as a bridge between them. And yet, that wasn’t enough, either; I needed more than a standard love triangle. These characters would require more than a bedroom farce. Even Noel Coward’s Design for Living has more than three characters.

One early afternoon, I was at work, and on the phone. I had a red pen and a lined spiral notebook (or maybe it was a pad of Post-Its?…) so that I could take notes and mark up the printouts of the documents I had been tasked to find. The margins of that notebook had been used for many a phone doodle; I tended towards geometric designs, hands, and anime-style eyes. When I was little, I considered becoming a visual artist, and drew constantly, but at a certain point, I hit a wall of skill and expression that I just couldn’t scale, and my family lacked the money to invest in supplies to take further art classes. Spiral notebooks and ballpoint pens, however, were cheap, and as I had always narrated a story to myself with every drawing I created, I determined to just write the stories alone. On that work day, on the phone, I sketched the outline of a face, the curve of a neck flaring out to narrow shoulders and an arched collarbone. Almost as if out of nowhere, the eyes appeared – big, dark, soft, haunted eyes. No eyebrows. That was important.

The phone call ended, and I continued the drawing, adding a small, full, shy mouth; a slender, bare male torso, some vague drapery around the hips, and a couple of protruding, mouse-like ears. For hair, I dashed a couple of vertical lines sprouting from the center of the forehead, and stippled the sides of the head, suggesting a sort of fleecy stubble. I paused for a moment and considered the drawing. Despite the sadness of the eyes, this creature seemed to have a wonderful, wicked sense of humor. And he’d be a teenage runaway, from Oklahoma. A mutant freak in his native environment, he’d have to run away to find a place to call home; and perhaps it wouldn’t be a place; it’d be a person. An eternal person. A vampire. Of course.

I wrote, beside the figure, Lovely.

Then I gave him some tattoos. And pierced nipples. This was 1994, after all. He was beautiful; he was tragic in origin; he was fearless, sexual, sentimental, earthy and ethereal at once. He reminded me of the characters from Francesca Lia Bloch’s Weetzie Bat novels, which meant that he wouldn’t end up in San Francisco; it would have to be Los Angeles, the L.A. of punk clubs, bougainvillea, Oki Dog, Hollywood glamorous sleaze. He pulled the story along with him. He sprung from my head fully formed, and the novel where he would live shaped itself around him.

With shaking hands, I tore the drawing out of the notebook and put it in whatever book happened to be in my purse at the time, and got back to work. During the tumultuous months afterward, I would look at the drawing again from time to time, further details about this new fictitious person expanding in my mind. I found my original notebook draft of the vampire novel, and re-read it. Shortly after acquiring a bare-bones PC, I opened a new document and began writing a scene between Daniel, the more forceful of the two vampire characters, and Lovely, as told by the teenage runaway himself to an unseen narrator. As Lovely told his story, the unseen narrator, the intermediary, also began to take shape in my mind; her loves, desires, and frustrations.

Keep in mind that, as far as I was concerned, I’d given up on writing. This was just fun, like an expansion of “rolling up” characters for a role-playing game. I began to do that, too; in the occasional sessions of Vampire: the Masquerade I had with my only friends in the whole Bay Area, I created Ariane as a player character. Quickly, though, I realized that she wasn’t an RPG character; I needed more control and more detail than would ever be useful around the gaming table. Still, playing her brought her voice to my mind, and I wrote more scenes between her and Lovely, with other characters in her life, with her own story. Throughout all of this, Lovely remained strongly at the forefront of my mind; I wanted to write something worthy of him.

Lovely, seventeen years old and as childish and silly as a puppy, became the mortal companion of the vampire Daniel Blum. As ward, as lover, as good-natured heir to the immortal power of vampirism, Lovely bears many similarities to some young men I have known (and loved, and been vexed by), and yet he is as individual as anyone I’ve ever met. His realism and spontaneity helped the novel Voice of the Blood come into being. I don’t feel that I crafted him; he just showed up and told me how things were going to go.

I still have the drawing. See?

"Lovely" drawn by Jemiah Jefferson

The drawing - not on lined paper at all!

is it really real?

May 3, 2011

According to Amazon (and the Dorchester web page) it is.

The “Vampire Quartet” books are now available again – all four are available in Kindle editions right this very minute.

Other e-book formats are coming, as are the trade paperback versions, an an audiobook of Voice of the Blood (alas, not read by me).

Buy now from the publisher’s website. And tell me what you think – I love me some feedback.