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The Eternal Other (Vampires and the Meaning of Life One Bite at a Time)
by Heather McVea
I imagine you can find – or inject – meaning in most anything. We view the world through a lens derived and constructed from our own experiences, prejudices, ideals, and injuries – whether they are self-inflicted or thrust upon us. The evolution of that proverbial lens has always interested me, and naturally found its way into my writing.
Though easily trivialized, especially in recent years, the vampire genre has always been a touchstone for exploring questions pertaining to life, death, alternate sexuality, marginalization of minorities, and morality. The basic “meaning of the whole thing” sort of stuff.
In my four book series, Waking Forever, themes of human frailty and the notion of “the other” were woven throughout the story lines. Most notably, the series raisedquestions around what makes us human in the first place, and why, since we evolved to walking upright, have we always defined ourselves by our differences and not our similarities.
Human history is littered with “the other” or a “them”. Throughout the Waking series there is consistently a “them”. Even otherwise put upon groups, i.e. vampires, find subsets within their own ranks to discriminate against. This is most evident in the Ela: Forever serials, where the divide between secular and non-secular vampires lends itself to both horrific and honorable acts.
My basic assumption as I wrote the books was that individuals who defineand look down on “the other”, will inevitably find themselves in the minority or “them” group at some point. This basic premise calls into question all of our motivations and how we define ourselves as individuals. It also, in theory – though rarely in practice – should mitigate bias and help us cultivate empathy and acceptance.
In the Wakingseries, I moved the reader through the evolution of a metaphorical individual via four intersecting story lines. In the first book, Waking Forever, humanity is relatively weak in comparison to the supernatural or “the other”, and ultimately becomes the very thing it was meant to fear, i.e. a vampire. From that transformation, the human’s safety is derived from assimilating rather than rejecting “the other”.
Ela: Forever, which is a serial spinoff that tells the origin of Waking Forever’s villain, is the most brutal and honest telling of repression, one being’s dominance over another, and the horrific consequences of unfettered power. This is also the first time I ventured into questions around religion as a catalyst for defining our differences versus our similarities.
Ela wiped the dead boy’s blood from her chin and casually walked toward the church.
The structure was small and its exterior consisted of rocks embedded in hand laid stucco. The wooden arch above the front entrance had a weathered wooden cross and the door itself was dilapidated and missing a hinge. The interior was rustic, the floor dirt, and there was no glass in the windows. Ela looked toward the front of the church to find a simple wooden table with a Christ figure hanging from a wood cross.
“Have you come to confess?” A dark skinned man with light eyes sat on a wooden bench to Ela’s left. His black jacket was dusty and his white collar stained with sweat.
Ela walked over and casually sat down next to the priest. “I have, Father.” Ela bowed her head in mock prayer. “I confess to not understanding why Christians, who believe Christ will return to earth someday, think he would want to be greeted by a cross.”
Ela looked up at the modest altar. “I can’t imagine he wants to be reminded of those very long and torturous six hours.” She turned to look at the man next to her. “Can you offer me guidance on that, Father?”
The priest shook his head. “What have you done here, my child?”
Ela stood up and faced the man. “Nothing your faith hasn’t been a party to for millenniums.” Ela knelt in front of the priest, who continued to look down. “Your followers believe these absurdities.” Ela nodded her head toward the altar. “And have justified atrocities with them.”
Ela’s eyes glowed as she gently lifted the man’s chin so he was forced to look at her. His eyes widened and tears began to streak his face. She wiped at his cheeks roughly with the palm of her hand. “Shhhh. Don’t cry, Father. If it gives you any comfort, you can believe I am the instrument of God’s will.”
The third book, Becoming Forever,was the moral pivot point in the series. The main vampire has rejected her nature based on a traumatic and heartbreaking event. As a result, she straddles the human and “other” space, struggling to reconcile the perception her personal lens provides her withthe humanity she clings so tightly to.
As a result, the transformation that the human in the story undergoes – not coincidently because of a decision the vampire makes – is representational of the individual identifying with multiple groups, and not in terms of “us versus them”.
The final book in the series, Dying Forever, brings the reader face-to-face with how the proverbial lens is actually made, and how when warped by centuries of defining one’s self in terms of “us and them”, the individual’s perceptions can change.
Dying is the most literal of the four books in how the theme of discrimination and marginalization are presented to the reader. Throughout the story, references to religion and witch trials are presented as historical accounts of one group overpowering another, and absolute power corrupting absolutely.
Suddenly with all eyes on her, Alison felt a knot in her stomach. Determined not to be viewed as a second class participant, though, she forced the words from her mouth. “The most famous of the Inquisitions was the one established by King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella of Spain. They condoned the killing of thousands of Muslims and Jews who had been forced to convert to Catholicism, but were unconvincing – at least by the State’s measures – in their love of their new faith.”
Feeling short of breath from how rapidly she had been speaking, Alison took a slow breath in and then exhaled. “These early trials, along with some of the earliest witch trials on record in Germany during Pope Innocent VIII’s papacy, laid the ground work for the Salem witch trials in this country in the sixteen hundreds.”
“They were vampires.” Coleen spoke casually.
“Who? Ferdinand and Isabella?” Alison’s mouth was open in shock as the implications of this revelation ran through her mind.
“Yes, and his holy father, Giovanni the innocent.” The vampire chuckled as she referenced the pope’s birth name. “Laughable really. Of course most of the Catholic church’s power structure at the time was populated with vampires.” Coleen tisked. “I never could abide the comingling of faith and power. One almost always perverts the other.”
For better or worse, I am not subtle in Dying, as I repeatedly build the case with the reader of how experience shapes us, but is not a static state. We should always be processing and learning anew, stepping outside our roles as “the other”, and understanding that we can connect through both our differences and our similarities.
Alison picked up a thick, blue book that lay on top of the stack. “Personal Identity?” She opened the textbook and began thumbing through it. “Another class?”
Bryce pushed her sunglasses up the bridge of her nose with her middle finger. “Existentialist Metaphysics. I’m only a few weeks in, but I’m very interested in memory as the defining characteristic of personality and how as we make new memories, we become different people.”
“Do you want to be a different person?” The question had been more direct than Alison had intended.
As we move into fall – or what passes for it in South Texas – I have begun outlining my next project. My new (and still untitled) book will deal with themes of family, and obligation to the many as opposed to the wants and needs of the one. It’s a standalone book due out in February 2015.
As a precursor to that novel, I just completed a short story set in West Texas that examinesthroughparanormal themes the role family plays in our lives, and how to maintain individuality given the burdens and expectations parents, siblings, etc. can place on us. Turn Darkly will be available September 26, 2014, and I hope you enjoy it.
Heather McVea was raised in a small town south of San Antonio, Texas, and is the author of the urban fantasy series Waking Forever. Prior to escaping to the big city, she raised Hampshire pigs, rode motorcycles at entirely too young an age, and once snow boarded behind a Ford pickup truck. She relishes a strong gin and tonic, but leans after three. Shiny twinkly things make her cringe, up to and including Hollywood vampires.
Heather and her wife have three fur babies, and are drinking their way through all of the brewery tours in Texas. In between pints and the occasional Tanqueray Ten on the rocks, Heather just completed a short story Turn Darkly, available September 26, 2014, and is working on a standalone novel, slated for release in February 2015 and set in Baltimore.
Amazon Author Page http://www.amazon.com/author/heathermcvea
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Goodreads Author Page https://www.goodreads.com/HeatherMcVea