regarding Daniel Blum

June 20, 2011

This is the third in my series of blog posts about the characters of the Vampire Quartet novels. Much delayed, I’m afraid, because how do you approach a subject like one of the most popular (in fact, if reader feedback can be believed, THE most popular) characters in the whole series — and such a complex, fascinating fellow as Daniel Blum?

Well, I still don’t know. But (to quote George Harrison) I’ll have a bash.

Daniel Blum first appears in the first novel, Voice of the Blood, in conversation; his legend is built up long before he actually becomes a reality. The way Orfeo Ricari describes him, Daniel is almost like the Boogeyman — supernaturally terrifying, infinitely corrupt, vicious, cruel, nasty. He is a monster that scares other monsters. Of course, this intrigues our narrator, the polymorphously perverse and infinitely curious Ariane, and she has never been one to take someone else’s word for it. When she finally does meet Daniel in the flesh, it becomes clear that everything Ricari told her was true. It’s just not all that’s true.

Daniel’s got a little bit of everything. Absolutely, he’s a menace to society, he breaks hearts for fun, he’s a ruthless killer, he eats kittens (well, not really, but he would if he felt like it); at the same time, he is a hopeless romantic, a sensitive artist, a generous lover, a wellspring of jokes, and a thoughtful and caring father figure to the scores of lost and lonely people drawn to his scintillating façade. Born in 1900, son of a tailor and a schoolteacher, he rejected his stifling bourgeois upbringing, deciding to be a modern artist and provocateur rather than a nice Jewish cobbler. Gifted with extreme intelligence and unshakeable confidence in himself, he never tried to hide his predilections for wearing gorgeous and outlandish clothes, everything from womens’ silk blouses and evening gowns to military jackets and Cossack hats. He draws; he paints; he collages; he sings; he makes sculpture; he plays piano; he takes photographs; he puts on orgies and art happenings. When he discovers a vampire in his midst, he decides he wants to be that, too.

Daniel Blum loves who he wants to, and leaves when he’s ready. He’s far more interested in excitement and fireworks than he is in making the world a better place. He knows only one way to love — through obsession and cruelty, as well as support and tenderness. The 20th Century was his playground, and when that ended . . . well, a light went out of the world, did it not?

Daniel is an essential character in all four books, primarily Voice of the Blood, Fiend, and Wounds, which is his own individual character study; however, his presence colors everything in A Drop of Scarlet, and indeed, his actions make the story of what happens in that novel necessary.

The character was inspired by a variety of sources: the musician Daniel Ash (who seems to have dropped off the face of the earth after the final Bauhaus reunion; where you at, man???), my dear friend Alex (and his alter-ego Minerva Steel), Sally Bowles… many many charismatic, sociopathic bastards I’ve known through the years. All those blokes (and a couple of girls) who thrilled me because they just didn’t give a damn, but for a few brief moments, I could kid myself that they made an exception in my case.

Daniel does make an exception — in the book Wounds — but you have to read it to really understand why. 😉
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In other news, I wrote all weekend, and finished a chapter of my first draft of my current novel-in-progress. I also had few drinks with some friends of mine, and watched the movie Black Swan, which I loved. I also made enchiladas and then foolishly ate too much chocolate gelato. I slept a lot and made cold-brew coffee. Petted the cat. Listened to old mix CDs and the Tron: Legacy soundtrack. I did very little else. It was not restful; writing, especially when one has been away from it for a long time (which I have; over a month since I wrote any fiction, and almost six months since I worked on the WIP), is really difficult, complete with physical, mental, and emotional challenges. I fought and won, though. Yay me. Now I have to get used to fighting this fight every day, or as close to it as I can get. Time’s a-wasting.

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.