Incurable Curiosity

In-cur-able: (adj.) Not likely to be changed. Cu-ri-os-i-ty: (n) A desire to know.


Vampires: Not the Only Villains in the Story?

Author’s Admission: I haven’t read too many vampire-based books, but reading The Vampire Defanged  by Susannah Clements piqued my interest. Now I see why the blood suckers are so controversial as instruments of literature. Maybe vampires don’t need mirrors because they are reflected in the darkest parts of ourselves.

“Vampires represent something to us as humans. They represent our fears and desires. ….[They] are rich enough a metaphor to adapt to our culture’s changing worldview and interests. We can make a vampire mean what we want it to mean.” – Susannah Clements, The Vampire Defanged

Originally, vampires were symbols of evil incarnate. Not just ‘I-serve-the-devil-and-want-to-drink-your-blood’ evil, but evil in all of its distorted beauty, seductiveness, and temptation. Traditional vampires are revolting and alluring all at the same time, displaying all manner of immoralities while offering power, wealth, and an eternity in which to enjoy and despise it all. More recently, vampires have taken on a whole new definition: that of the tortured hero, torn between what they know of right vs. wrong and their natural inclinations. But no matter their literary context, they are tied to us in their very natures: they live on the blood of humans, live out our most base desires, and are (nearly) eternal. As such, they give rise to a myriad of questions morally, socially, and personally:

Is an eternity on earth worth giving up heaven? Why are vampires traditionally feared, and do I fear them myself? Can we judge another being’s motives/origins? What is our basis of labeling something as ‘human’? Can a being have a heart without a soul? What makes something ‘good’ or ‘evil’? Is is ok for something to survive on the lifeblood of humans?  If a bite from death can make something dead, what does it take to transfer life? 

And the ultimate question: Would I give in to the vampire’s bite?

The answers to these questions, especially that last one, can be awfully telling. If vampires are a metaphor of how we see ourselves, then they speak to our souls, our minds, and our culture. By reading about such reflective creatures, we are forced to confront the darkness in their characters. Their characters, which are based on us. And so the metaphor of the vampire reveals the monsters inside ourselves. Our fears. Our desires. Our hatred. Our lust.

And yet, that may not be a bad thing. Only light can cast a shadow. If there is darkness to be found in a vampire, somewhere a light is shining. Perhaps instead of looking only into the darkness, we should begin looking for that light – and early vampire literature is a good place to start, I think.

Just as culture has altered our view of darkness, it has also changed the way we perceive light. Looking at the same examples, good has moved from religious to social context. Originally, the evil of vampires was counterbalanced by the goodness of God. That goodness was represented symbolically, in familiar icons of the Church – priests, crosses, holy water, etc. – and was utilized to combat evil on a personal level. Over time, the good has been secularized, leaning on cultural norms and social expectations rather than religion. It is up to the individual to judge what is good, and if it is indeed preferable to ‘badness’.

Without a standard source, the light has dimmed as society’s definition of good as opposed to evil has changed, leaving readers to draw their own conclusions. If the light isn’t too bright, then maybe our darkness isn’t so dark after all. And if culture is wrong, the metaphor changes again.

So how will future authors and readers interpret the vampire metaphor? Add your thoughts and opinions in a comment below!


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How to Write Like Jane Austen

Since reading through Jane Austen’s novels, I’ve started to notice all of the ‘Austen-inspired’ books, novellas, and short story collections that are published every year. With dramas, mysteries, romances, Austen-lit should be a genre in and of itself.

There’s nothing wrong with being inspired by a favorite author. But if you really want to write like Jane Austen, write like Jane Austen! She didn’t write about the Regency era like we do, as if it were in the past; no, she wrote about current society, the world in which she was living, with all of it’s fashion and foibles. She wrote stylized social commentary, not historical fantasy. Her literary world was based on observations of life, not the footnotes of someone else’s research paper. That’s what makes her work so timeless. Perhaps today’s authors would have more success if they wrote about their world, their observations of society. Historical fiction has it’s place, but there should be a difference between ‘inspired by’ and ‘in the style of’. That said, shouldn’t we expect something more contemporary when a book is labeled as ‘Austen-inspired’?

It is my opinion that authors would do their inspiration much more honor by writing in her spirit – with insight, humor, and relevance – than in her words. 

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The Matter of Memory

Where do memories go when they die?

Science has never been my strong suit. Oh, I can rattle off terms and theories and such, but the actual application of science doesn’t click for me.

One thing I never understood was the concept of matter. Specifically that everything is made of matter. What about memories? What makes up those things that are so vital to our very identities?

If they are made of some mysterious stuff that has always been and always will be, then where do they go when lost? When the electricity ceases to pulse through the gray matter or a disease steals the combination code?

Is there a graveyard of recollection, or a cemetery where trauma is laid to rest?

Just a recent random thought. 

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The Wormhole of Knowledge (also known as Wikipedia)

Part 2 of the Pursuing Inspiration series.

As I said in my last post, the library is a wonderful source for inspiration. Sadly, though, the library is not open 24/7. Thankfully, even when the library is closed (be it for holiday, employee training day, or simply outside of normal operating hours), the internet is not. So when you’re desperate for a muse at 9:01 pm on Columbus Day, check out a random Wikipedia article (or if you’re a stickler for ‘real’ encyclopedias, go to Encyclopedia Britannica’s website; however, it lacks a random search option). If the subject is uninteresting, move on to another article. Repeat as necessary. Don’t be afraid to follow interesting leads pertaining to completely unrelated topics. That’s the adventure of learning. At the very least, you will have something interesting to say the next time a conversation falls into awkward silence. And if you are a very abstract thinker, try connecting multiple random articles together in story form; it’s quite the imagination workout.

But be warned: It is entirely possible to get sucked into this wormhole of knowledge you forget what you were searching for in the first place and are reading an article on buried treasure when you had started out with an article on Britain’s parliamentary system hours earlier.


Pursuing Inspiration

As I have said before, I have a natural curiosity that tends to jump from subject to subject, always searching for new information. Occasionally, though, my imagination will jump straight into a brick wall and I’ll be at a loss for creative thought. Impatient as I am, I don’t like to wait for new ideas to come to me; rather, I pursue inspiration.

There are as many ways to find inspiration as there are inspiration seekers, so I can only write about what has worked for me. Below is a table of contents to this 5-part series:

Part 1. A visit to the library — that storehouse of knowledge is sure to contain an abundance of inspiring thoughts.

Part 2. Searching the organized chaos of the internet — be warned, you can get lost for hours.

Part 3. Going exploring — gems of inspiration can be found closer to home than you think.

Part 4. Rediscovering old ideas — forgotten notes from years past may just contain that bit of genius you’re looking for.

Part 5. Brainstorming as a team — creative friend(s) + random conversation = idea generator.

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Take a Step Back

“Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgement will be surer. Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance and a lack of harmony and proportion is more readily seen.” – Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo was talking about artwork when he wrote this, but can’t it also apply to so many other things?


Sound Signatures of Soundtrack Composers

Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of movie soundtracks, and I’ve noticed something: not only can you tell songs that connect per movie, but per composer – just like you can identify a book both by the series it is part of and the author who wrote it. So today I’ve been having fun trying to guess the composer of soundtracks I’ve never heard before by listening for the ‘sound signature’ of the composer.

For the purpose of this post, I did a quick run-through of soundtracks by Hans Zimmer, John Williams, and Randy Newman.

For Hans Zimmer, I listened to selections from Inception, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Sherlock Holmes, The Da Vinci Code, Black Hawk Down, and Gladiator. I noticed that he uses stringed instruments to set the tone (be it violin, cello, or guitar), features one or two instruments as the ‘voice’ of the song, and throws in deep horns and drums almost like punctuation marks to convey action. His music easily conveys the mood and action of the scene along with the emotions of the characters, making the music feel more personal.

For John Williams, I listened to songs from Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Catch Me If You Can, and Saving Private Ryan. The first thing I noticed was his use of a full symphony orchestra. Sweeping violins, bold brass, light flutes, everything is put to work in order to set the scene just so, with truly grand results.

For Randy Newman, I chose songs from Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Monster’s Inc., Seabiscuit, Forrest Gump, and Leatherheads. Again, the first thing I noticed was the use of a full orchestra, although instead of grand and formal I picked up more of a vintage theme reminiscent of the big band and jazz eras. The relaxed feel of the music contributes more to establishing time and place than action and character development, I think.

But there is one soundtrack which really stumps me: ‘North and South’, composed by Martin Phipps. In the main theme, I was sure I heard an undercurrent of mystery very close to that found in ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl’, so I thought Klaus Badelt. Then I concentrated on the violin motif and was reminded of the more melancholy songs in ‘Little Women’, composed by Thomas Newman. In any case, it’s something fun to mull over in the back of my mind.

Quote of the post: “Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.” – Victor Hugo