Respect the classics

This past weekend I did some reading and some writing. By sheer coincidence, the overlap of subject matter was hard to miss.

The writing consisted of revisions and additions to a story that I had started almost a year ago. I had finished a first draft, workshopped it, and then before I really had a chance to process the feedback I had changed day jobs and put a major pause on all of my creative output. When I got back into the swing of writing I was more focused on starting new efforts than revisiting older ones, particularly ones like the story in question. It was a bit outside my comfort zone, very short and venturing into salacious subject matter that would likely make it hard to find a home for it. But then I saw an anthology call that was not only open to the material but specifically seeking it out. Motivated by a deadline, I was finally able to go back through my notes and tweak the story for submission. If it does get accepted I will talk a bit more about it, although again, it’s practically flash fiction compared to my usual output and I’d run the risk of giving away the entire story in a decent-sized blog post. For now, I’ll merely acknowledge that it’s about a female vampire.

carmilla

My reading material, meanwhile, was J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s nineteenth century Gothic novella Carmilla. In case you are unaware of the work, it is a vampire story with a number of similarities to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, except that the eponymous monster in Le Fanu’s tale is female, and Le Fanu’s story appeared a quarter-century before Stoker’s. Carmilla is to Dracula what Hugo Danner, the protagonist of Philip Wylie’s novel Gladiator, is to Superman: clearly a predecessor, likely an influence, and the answer to a trivia question which is only known to the most committed, nerdiest fans of the respective genres. (And yes, given my love of superheroes and comic books, it should not surprise you to learn that I’m not just aware of Gladiator, I’ve read it.)

As I alluded to earlier, reading Carmilla as I worked on my own vampire story was pure happenstance. Since I fancy myself a knowledgeable horror devotee, on both the consumption and production sides, I’ve been meaning to make time to read Carmilla for a while now, and I’m happy I finally did. While I’m highly dismissive of nontroversies like “fake geek girls”, I can at least relate to the idea of holding oneself to a high standard of savvy facility with the things one self-identifies as a fan of. If someone else considers himself a fan of a genre or artist or whathaveyou despite limited exposure to it, that’s not a problem, no harm, no foul. But for me personally, getting to know the history and evolution of the consensus canon of any fandom is almost as enjoyable as indulging in the works themselves. I’m the nerd who actively likes doing the homework.

At the same time, occasionally I can tick off multiple desirable outcomes from a single accomplishment. For instance, it’s hypothetically possible that my wife’s decade-plus effort to mold me into a cat-lover has recently reached the point where I’ve begun expressing my own opinions about the next cat we might adopt. Maybe I’ve said that I’d like to have a black cat around the house. Perhaps I’ve expressed interest in naming the cat myself, and if that were true it would stand to reason that I would want to hang some kind of horror-lit reference on the animal. It’s only a short hop from there, then, to imagine my sheer delight in discovering (spoilers!) that Carmilla at various points in the story shapeshifts into something very like a huge, black cat, or to envision me telling guests at our home asking about the new black kitten, “Well, her full name is Mircalla, Countess Karnstein, which is the true identity of the vampire in Carmilla. Have you read it? You really should!”

I’m not saying that any or all of those theoretical outcomes are guaranteed to come to pass. But I’m not not saying it, either.

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