Tag: books

The Vampire’s Christmas

Christmas didn’t warm Benton’s heart any more, but then nothing could. His heart was frozen under the vampire’s curse.

He hurried along the crusty sidewalks, eager to get to work and away from the Christmas Eve crowds. Why did people wait until the last minute to shop? Did they actually like the frenzy? Some seemed to–calling out greetings to passing friends; others grimly fought the crowds as they struggled to fill their lists.

Despite his wide-brimmed hat, snow settled around his neck like a scarf. It didn’t bother him, but his cold skin would never thaw it, so he brushed it away to maintain convention. The gray, snow-filled sky matched his mood. Christmas hadn’t been merry for him for years. Over one-hundred and forty years.

His favorite memories came from his youth, from before the country was torn by the War Between the States . . .

Aunts, uncles, and cousins came to the plantation for the holidays, filling rooms with love and laughter. He thought with longing of racing horses with his older cousin. He seldom won–maybe he had never won–but he longed for the comradery that came with the competition.

There had been dancing in the evening with every room aglow with candles and oil lamps. Nothing in this modern world was as flattering and warm as those fiery lights. Blinking red and green did not appeal to Benton’s sensibilities. The music from those evenings was also more to his taste. There was always a young lady eager to impress with her musical skills on the piano, violin or flute.  They played Handel and Mozart, hymns and reels and dances from Scotland, old familiar tunes with words rewritten for a new world.

And far into the night, the songs and music of the Negroes rang out as they celebrated the birth of the Savior their own way . . .

 

One reason he always volunteered to work Christmas Eve at the radio station was the opportunity to choose the music for the evening program. He filled it with sacred music and songs he remembered from those long-past days. Christmas Day was filled with the most up-to-date popular music, but Christmas Eve he could indulge himself with his own favorites. It encouraged him that it got the most favorable responses of all his holiday programs.

On the other hand, the tastes and smells of the season never seemed to change. Bakeries still turned out pastries and cookies laden with spices and fruits, and he never failed to buy mince pies and shortbread. Mulled cider and eggnog appeared as seasonal offerings in his favorite cafe, and he savored sweet memories with the drinks. Even the radio station where he worked had hot cider pods for the coffee maker, which made a nice change from everlasting cups of coffee.

He tried to keep the spirit of the season. A long-ago memorized passage from Shakespeare often came to his mind:

 

Some say that ever ‘gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long:
And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad;
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallowed and so gracious is the time.

 

He never fed then—not even the little sips that left the victim groggy, but alive. He couldn’t profane the night. It was his gift to the vagrants who were free to stagger through the alleys undisturbed. He spent the day alone and sleeping.

 

This night promised to be different. He had plans to meet a new friend after his shift. Someone his age, at least the age he was when he was turned—the young man who would never age. Deidre asked him to join her for midnight mass. He had said he would think about it—he was repelled by sacred buildings, unable to force himself through some kind of protective field—but he was also touched by her offer of friendship, something he had resisted all these lonely years.

He dawdled after the show, tidying up more than necessary. He fiddled with his clothes, wondering how people dressed for midnight mass this century and if his turtleneck sweater were dressy enough. Finally he shrugged on his coat and headed for the door.

 

Bells rang out from churches all over town, whether they had services or not, but only a few people braved the dark and cold. As he approached the church, the doors opened and the congregation poured out. He spotted Deirdre easily with her red hair flying.

“You came!” she shouted as she ran up and grabbed his arm. “You should have been here for the service, it was beautiful.”

“I can’t explain, but I can’t enter the church.”

“Don’t be silly. It’s open to anyone.”

Benton shrugged.

“Well, you can come in now; the social hall is not the church.”

The hall glowed with silver lights and looked very inviting.

“What do I do?”

“You don’t have to do anything. Just have some cocoa and fellowship and bask in God’s love for a while.”

“That sounds nice.” He took her hand as she led him into the hall.

Maybe he could bask in God’s love for a time. With all the people crowding in, surely there was enough love for him. Still, Benton wondered if he could ever truly return to be one of God’s children, if the curse of the vampire could ever be lifted.

 

 

Would you like to read more about Benton and Deirdre? Do you think a vampire could have the curse lifted? For today only, Perfect Blood Innocent Blood by Cindy Emmet Smith is available free for kindle. Just clock on the button above. Merry Christmas!

 

 

Three Things Every Novel Needs

I have discovered that reading a novel as a contest judge gives a different perspective than reading for a critique or editing. A judge looks more at the big picture, at whether the book works as a whole and if it doesn’t, why not. I also had the chance to discuss this experience with my son, and I have distilled three things every book needs. I thought they were no-brainers, but he pointed out that they are more in the advanced story-telling category.

  1. The protagonist needs a goal: get the girl (or boy), destroy the ring, save the princess, save the Galaxy. As a reader I need to know where the journey is headed; how else do I know if it is successful or not? It is okay if the goals change, as long as it is clear what they are. In Star Wars: a New Hope, Luke’s goals change from “leave Tatooine” to “become a Jedi” to “blow up the Death Star.” Each one is clear and we are with him all the way.
  2. The antagonist must be defined. My son maintains that it is all about the bad guys. I agree. This is where the conflict lies, and if I can’t figure out who or what the protagonist is fighting, I will lose interest. It does not have to be a single person—it can be the system, or the planet—but I need to understand what it is. The better developed the antagonist is, the more I will have invested in the story. If I can’t put my finger on the antagonist, I won’t know whether the protagonist is moving toward his goal or not. The antagonist is the one who is out to stop the protagonist from achieving his goals at all cost. He is the center of the conflict.
  3. Keep the reader involved in the action. Try to avoid information dumps as they tend to interrupt the action. Feed backstory in as needed, but keep things flowing. The same goes for something happening “off stage” as it were. Feed us that information as the protagonist finds it out. This keeps us from losing track of the real goal. Since I tend to write through the protagonist’s point of view, I ask myself how he knows something or how he finds it out. All these will keep you in “show-don’t-tell” mode and the reader will stay involved. Use dialog generously. This is another good way to keep us involved as it is action by its nature. It also breaks up the page and helps keep the reader involved visually. It can get tiring to stare at pages with nothing but blocks of type.

As you may have guessed by now, I have recently read some books that were missing one or more of these elements. It was very unsatisfying. (Why did he go to all that trouble?) It was confusing. (Wait, who was the bad guy?) And, I hate to say, it was boring. It made me growl and snarl, which was disturbing for my family. Thank you for reading. I’m sure my family will appreciate it as well.