Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Again With the Vampires! This Time, It's 'The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening'

I’m usually good about reading a book before it’s turned into a movie or TV show. I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone before the first movie came out, Chamber of Secrets shortly before it came out on film, and the rest of the books long before they made it to the big screen. I was a fan of Sookie Stackhouse and had read all but the latest two of Charlaine Harris’s books about her before tuning in to the True Blood TV series. I read Twilight before it was a movie, then read New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn in a mad reading binge before I’d seen a single preview of the New Moon film.

When it comes to The Vampire Diaries, though, I dove into watching the TV series while barely aware of L. J. Smith’s books. I knew nothing about Elena Gilbert or the Salvatore brothers before I tuned to for the premiere.

I’ve finally gotten around to reading the first book in the series, The Awakening. One of my FaceBook friends warned me the books were nothing like the series. I was rather skeptical about that; how different could it really be?, I wondered. My skepticism was misplaced. The book is very different.

On TV, Elena has striking dark hair and brown eyes, as does her historical, vampire counterpart, Katherine. In the book, Elena and Katherine are blondes with lapis lazuli-blue eyes. The setting of the show is Mystic Falls in New England; the book is set in Fell’s Church, in the South*. TV Elena has a teenage brother; book Elena has a four-year-old sister. TV Aunt Judith doesn’t have a boyfriend; book Judith is engaged to a guy named Bob. Bonnie is different: African-American on TV, she’s a small, white girl with curly red hair in the book. The character of Meredith didn’t even make it onto the screen.

The biggest difference, though, has to be in Stefan and Damon Salvatore. On TV, they were born and raised in Mystic Falls and became vampires in the Civil War era. Perhaps this was simply a bit of True Blood rivalry, though. In the books, the Salvatores are from Italy and much, much older. The acquired their supernatural powers during the Renaissance.

I don’t particularly like Elena Gilbert. She’s a silly, shallow, self-centered creature, the sort of stereotypically pretty, popular teenage girl who makes real teenage girls blush with shame. The TV version of Elena is the same way, but the book takes the stereotype a wee bit further by making her a Southern girl. Elena Gilbert is actually the vacuous ice princess Scarlett O’Hara (who was actually quite intelligent, but played dumb to attract boys) was pretending to be. Compared to Elena, Scarlett is a Jimmy Carter-esque humanitarian. Much ado has been made about Bella Swan’s helpless, self-destructive behavior in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, but Elena could wear that crown just as easily.

Nor is L. J. Smith’s writing style a particularly literary one. She can be forgiven for this, perhaps, because she’s writing for a young adult audience. The easy-breezy, fashion-mag tone of the book is ill-suited to its dark subject material. It’s like Elena mistakenly fell off the cover of Teen Vogue and into a pulp horror novel. For readers with more sophisticated tastes, this will hardly do.
Still, there’s something intriguing about the storyline that keeps me from wanting to give up on this entire series. Sure, Elena is dumb, and Damon on paper is as detestable as he is on TV. The beating heart of this vampire series, ironically, is Stefan. Like Edward Cullen, he’s a vampire “vegetarian,” preferring to hunt animals rather than people. Unlike Edward, he makes an occasional slip. He has all of Edward’s Byronic, tortured mojo without Edward’s unfortunate, stalker-ish tendencies. He’s the bad boy, but the question here is not whether the girl with a heart of gold can save him, but whether he can save the girl with the heart of nothing.

*In fact, they're both set in Virginia, an error I'd realize when I read the second book in the series. Also, in the TV series, Judith's name is changed to Jenna.

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“Funny and clever and emotionally hard-hitting” "A perfectly creepy read." Elisa Catrina's debut novel begins as a quirky send-up of vampire romance, but quickly turns sinister. High schooler Stella Ortiz starts dating the mysterious new guy, but her friends are convinced he's bad news: Sebastian misses tons of school, he day-drinks something that smells like pennies, and oh yeah, he's a vampire.

Friday, March 19, 2010

St. Marcus Day: Stephenie Meyer's Myth Vs. Reality

In the film The Twilight Saga: New Moon, Bella arrives in Volterra, Italy just in time to save Edward from revealing himself as a vampire to a throng of mortals at the St. Marcus Day festival on March 19th. Attendees of the festival, clad in red, hooded robes, march in procession bearing a statue of St. Marcus to the church in the center of town. In the Twilight world, “St. Marcus” is celebrated by mortals for having rid the town of vampires, when he was, in fact, a vampire himself. Volterra is the home of the Volturri, the lawgivers of the vampire world. Marcus is one of them. Some Twilight fans wear red on March 19th to mark this holiday.

New Moon author Stephenie Meyer borrowed the fictional St. Marcus Day from the real European celebration of St. Mark’s Day. She changed the date: St. Mark’s Day is April 25th. Because the date coincides with observances of Easter (a moveable feast; the date varies, but it generally occurs in March or April) and a number of other Eurasian spring festivals, it is thought that St. Mark’s Day is a Christianized version of a much older, Pagan observance. Edain McCoy writes, “As was done with many Pagan festivals in Europe, the early church attempted to refocus the symbolism of Ostara [the spring festival for Germanic Pagans] onto the Feast Day of St. Mark. Instead of being a festival of rebirth, the St. Mark’s imagery was concentrated on death and martyrdom, through which Christian rebirth is attained.”

St. Mark is traditionally considered to be the author of the Gospel of Mark in the Christian Bible. He’s believed to be the companion of St. Paul, the great early Christian evangelist, that the Book of Acts of the Apostles refers to as “John Mark.” A disciple of Paul, Mark is thought to have used Paul’s preaching as the basis for the Gospel. He is also remembered as the founder of the Coptic Church. Coptic tradition holds that Mark appears in the Gospels as the young man who carried water to the house where the Last Supper of Jesus and his Apostles took place, as the young man who ran away naked when Jesus was arrested, and to have poured the water Jesus turned into wine at the wedding at Cana.

Mark is said to have been martyred on April 25th in the year 68 in Alexandria, Egypt. A group of local people resented his trying to turn them away from their traditional gods. They placed a rope around his neck and dragged him through the streets until he was dead. His major shrines are in Egypt and Italy. His Italian shrine is the Basilica de San Marco in Venice, which is traditionally said to be the place where Mark’s remains are buried. So, he really does have a connection to Italy, though not specifically to the town of Volterra.

Perhaps because of his martyrdom, many curious traditions grew up over the centuries about the celebration of St. Mark’s feast day. In seventeenth through nineteenth century England, especially in the north and the west, folklore held that the wraiths of those who would die the following year made a procession, in the order they would die, through the churchyard and into church at midnight on St. Mark’s Eve. Some said the procession would be of coffins, or of headless or rotting corpses. Others said the procession would be of identifiable, ghost-like wraiths, and that one could sit and watch the procession as it went by and thus know who was going to die.

To see these wraiths, folklore claimed, one had to be fasting. Another legend held that one had to be present at the churchyard on St. Mark’s Eve for three years in a row, and only in third year would one see the wraiths. Sometimes, these living watchers saw their own wraiths, and died not long after. Another superstition regarding St. Mark’s Eve is that on this night, witches who had sold their souls to the devil (or written their names in the devil’s book) and wished to keep their unearthly powers had to walk three times around the church backwards, peek through the keyhole, and recite certain words, or their powers would be lost.

Another traditional St. Mark’s Eve activity was stirring the ashes of the hearth. If the ashes formed the shape of a shoe, someone who lived in the household would die during the year.

St. Mark’s Eve was one of three nights of the year associated with the dead. The others are St. John’s Eve and All Hallow’s Eve. According to some legends, on these three nights those who have died can return to the earth as spirits. This belief about All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween) is a Christian appropriation of the Celtic harvest festival of Samhain, the point when the veil between the living and the dead was at its thinnest, and also the halfway point between autumn and winter. Similarly, St. Mark’s Eve marks the halfway point between spring and summer and is associated with the Pagan festival of Ostara. St. John’s Eve, traditionally celebrated on June 23rd, is associated with the Pagan feast of Midsummer, or the summer solstice.

Not all of the legends associated with St. Mark’s Eve are associated with death, though.

The night was also one when young women would try to divine whom their future mates would be. There were a number of ways to accomplish this: by picking twelve leaves of sage at midnight, by walking nine times around a haystack while reciting, “Here’s the sheath, now where’s the knife?” or by baking a dumb-cake, eating a piece of the cake, then walking backwards to bed without saying a word (hence the word “dumb”). If a woman did any of these things, but especially if she prayed to St. Mark while doing them, she would see the shadow of, or catch a fleeting glimpse of, the man she would someday marry. However, if she went to bed without seeing such a shadow and dreamed of a newly-dug grave, that meant she would die unmarried.

These are largely English customs, though. In Italy, if St. Mark’s Day is celebrated at all, it is with feasting, drinking, and/or offering bread to the less fortunate. The custom of wearing red and having a procession seems to be Stephenie Meyer’s invention.


“English Folklore: St. Mark’s Eve.”

“Mark the Evangelist.”

McCoy, Edain. Ostara: Customs, Spells & Rituals for the Rites of Spring. St. Paul: Llewellyn, 2002.

“St. John’s Eve.”'s_Eve

“St. John’s Eve, St. Mark’s Eve.”

“St. Marcus Day: Fact From Fiction.”

“St. Mark’s Eve.“

“The Eve of St. Mark.”

“Twilight and New Moon fans be sure to wear your red on Thursday for Robert Pattinson and Edward Cullen.”

“Volterra, Italy.”,_Italy

This is an affiliate link:

The First Bite Is the Deepest by Elisa Catrina. $2.99 from
“Funny and clever and emotionally hard-hitting” "A perfectly creepy read." Elisa Catrina's debut novel begins as a quirky send-up of vampire romance, but quickly turns sinister. High schooler Stella Ortiz starts dating the mysterious new guy, but her friends are convinced he's bad news: Sebastian misses tons of school, he day-drinks something that smells like pennies, and oh yeah, he's a vampire.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Upcoming Events

Sunday, March 14, 2010: Unofficial release date for March 2010 Poetic Monthly Magazine. My column this month is a review of Heather Derr-Smith's Bosnian war poetry in her book Each End of the World.

Monday, March 15: Deadline for submissions to Oysters and Chocolate, Erotic's anthology

Tuesday, March 16: "Womb Pride" article, about an ununsual Twilight fan-made object, goes live at Oysters and Chocolate, Erotic

Erin O'Riordan interview at Whipped Cream goes live

Wednesday, March 17: Happy St. Patrick's Day! Visit Whipped Cream's Yahoo group for a live chat with Erin O'Riordan. Comment for a chance to win a signed copy of Midsummer Night!

Friday, March 19: Live chat with Erin O'Riordan at 9 p.m. on Gather

March 19 is St. Marcus Day, according to Stephanie Meyer's Twilight universe. Look for a special St. Marcus Day post here on Pagan Spirits.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The (Brief) International Women’s Day Guide to Women’s Quotations

“We couldn’t possibly know where it would lead, but we knew it had to be done.” Betty Friedan

“What I don’t understand is, why don’t we nurture our artists?” Barbra Streisand

“What we do need is endless courage.” Katherine Anne Porter

“We’ve had dark times before, times that seemed just as dark to previous generations as our age seems to us.” Katherine Anne Porter

“Energy is the power that drives every human being. It is not lost by exertion but maintained by it.” Germaine Greer

“Let me apologize for all the faces I’ve worn, none of them my own.” Ruth Whitman

“Noise is an imposition on sanity, and we live in very noisy times.” Joan Baez

“Even doing nothing…is in effect, doing something, and in general it is doing something bad.” Donella H. Meadows

“I saw nothing was permanent. You don’t want to possess anything that is dear to you because you might lose it.” Yoko Ono

“The poetry is myself.” Gwendolyn Brooks

“I am the rock. The hard rock. You can’t break me.” Diane Wakoski

“Let us get on with creating the democratic and pluralistic society that we say we are.” Barbara Mikulski

“That’s what’s wrong with the country. There are too many ‘good soldiers’ accepting too many bad decisions.” Shirley Chisholm

“Creative minds always have been known to survive any kind of bad training.” Anna Freud

“Travel light and travel simple in your mind, through your world.” Buffy Ste. Marie

“If I don’t win, I keep fighting.” Bella Abzug

“Women must be free to determine their own life pattern and their destinies without suffering lifelong guilt for not having lived up to society’s or their family’s expectations.” Boston Women’s Health Collective, in Our Bodies, Ourselves

“Whether women are better than men I cannot say--but I can say they are certainly no worse.” Golda Meir

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Of course you're a great kisser, but could you be an even better one?

Seal it with a Kiss: Tips, Tricks and Techniques for Delivering the Knockout Kiss by Violet Blue (Cleis Press, 2010, $12.95) is the ultimate guide to kissing, whether you’re a shy beginner or experienced make-out vixen. Blue’s tone in this book is conversational, like good girl talk. She orients her lessons toward women to want to make out with guys, but there isn’t a person alive who couldn’t benefit from some of the tips in this book.

The quiz in the early chapters will sort you into one of four kissing personalities: Sweet Lips, Power Puss (which happens to be the category this reviewer falls into), Hot Lips, or Pure Delicious Poison. Whatever your kissing style, Blue walks you through how to make that first kiss happen (and how to deal with any and all awkward situations that might arise therefrom), how to make it memorable, and even how to get your lips ready for the perfect kiss ahead of time.

The last chapters in this book are for more advanced students of the kiss. They include tricks on how to use all your senses to enhance that kiss experience, from the perfect make-out music and movies to treats you can eat to make your pucker irresistible. For the ultimate kissing fun, try some of the kissing games she suggests…either at parties (as is the great teen tradition) or one-on-one with your sweetie.

The kissing games and some of these techniques occasionally tend toward the risque, but overall this book is fairly appropriate for ages thirteen and up. It’s about kissing, not sex. A cool mom or aunt would get this book for her teenage daughter or niece. In fact, teens (especially boys) would do well to at least flip through it before making their way out into the world of making out.

Violet Blue should know what she’s talking about: she’s a nationally recognized sexpert. A popular columnist of the San Francisco chronicle and frequent lecturer at UC Berkeley and UCSF, she also writes the blog She writes about the intersection of human sexuality and technology…though rest assured the tips in Seal it with a Kiss are all low-tech and gadget-free.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Andie Lee Eames: The Pagan Spirits Interview

Q. Andie, when did you write your first book? How did you get it published? How long did it take?

A. I wrote my first book 10 years ago but didn't publish it due to content. I was told I didn't have the name to publish this type of book. It was called Daddy's Little Girl. It dealt with the first black American President embroiled in an incestuous relationship with his daughter. She killed him by poisoning him with nicotine; the man smoked three packs a day. She developed Multiple Personality Disorder, which led her to kill.

Abstract Murder is my first book to be published. I published it myself through Authorhouse, which isn't a vanity press, September 2008. With editing it took about a year to complete that aspect of publishing.

Q. Which do you find leads you to your best writing: your triumphs or your tragedies? Do you write from joy or pain?

A. Hmm, that's an excellent and difficult question but I'll take a stab at it. My writings depend on what's going on in my life which is usually hectic and chaotic. I write from pain then turn it around and show the joy that comes from certain types of pain. Life is a journey and every once in a while we're going to hit pot holes that make child birth feel like a bad case of cramps. Not to sound cliché, but sometimes there is no growth or gain without pain…though I wish there were.

Q. Who has been the biggest influence on your writing?

A. My biggest influence that's a tough one but thinking back it had to be J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. For me it was the first book that let you know the world isn't exactly what it appears and neither are the people. But Edgar Allan Poe also influenced me via his personal struggles and losses that so eloquently appear on the pages he wrote.

Q. Do you read for pleasure? If so, what kind of books do you like to read?

A. I'm severely dyslexic so, I don't read a lot. I've been asked "How can you write if your dyslexia is so severe?" The only thing that I can tell you is it's less difficult to write than it is to read! My trouble is inverting words that create real words, so spell check doesn't pick up on them. I have to be extra diligent. If there is a book that catches my attention then I'll listen to them on audio. Thomas Harris and James Patterson have had influences on me.

Q. What has been the most significant book you've read (or listened to) in your life?

A. Again I'd have to say Catcher in the Rye is pretty significant though I've never seen myself as "Holden Caulfield." Growing up through my teens and early adult years I could understand why he did some of the things that he did, though.

Q. What project are you currently working on?

A. I'm currently working on a graphic novel with my cousin in Ireland, Sarah McCartney. It's called Carpe Ominous: The Rise of Aliens. The basis of this story is that the first human mistook the first aliens who came to Earth as Gods when they're just a superior species of aliens and that God and Satan are the same being but different aspects. The Alpha (God) The Omega (Satan) have started battling over who should have dominion over the human race. This time instead of having a celestial war, they're bringing it to earth to help rip away the blinders from the eyes of the human species that is on the brink of being wiped out. You can visit my website to view the origins of the book.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Excerpt from 'Midsummer Night:' Imbolc

Welcome to PS! When you're done here, please check out my guest blog post, "The Ten Best Jobs For Men in Romance Novels," at The Best of Everything. Now, enjoy a brief excerpt from Midsummer Night!

Zen completed the circle of candles around the two of them. She held up the candelabra with the white, red and black candles in front of Allie. She offered Allie the lighter in her other hand. “Would you like to do the honors, oh daughter of Brigid, goddess of fire?”

Allie nodded her head graciously and took the lighter. She lit the white candle as she composed an impromptu prayer. “Oh Brigid, our mother, goddess of fire, we dedicate this sacred feast of Imbolc to you. At this dark and gloomy time of year, when it seems winter will never end, we know the days are actually getting longer and warmer, and spring is coming soon, thanks to you. Care for us, mother, and do not neglect to give us your light and your heat so we may live. Give your light and your heat to the earth so the springtime crops grow so we may have food to sustain ourselves and our children. Let the young be birthed and plants renewed so that fresh breath is given to life. So let it be.”

“So let it be,” Zen echoed her. She set the lighter aside and placed the candelabra in the circle. She used its black candle to light the candle next to it, and then used that candle to light the next, until she had gone all the way around the circle. As she did, she added her own prayer. “Goddess, if it is your will for Allie’s son to be born today, on your sacred day, then please grant that she and the baby be safe in childbirth. And please don’t let us fall asleep and burn the house down. So let it be.”

“So let it be,” Allie said. “Now, what do you want to watch?”

“Since it’s just the two of us, how about Thelma and Louise?"

Allie shook her head. “How about something a little less tragic?”

“How about Romeo and Juliet, the Leonardo and Claire version?”

“Zen, that movie is tragic in every sense of the word. Since you want to be all Shakespearean, how about A Midsummer Night's Dream, the Rupert and Michelle version? There’s nothing like Midsummer to get your mind off a long winter’s night.”

“Good call. Romance, magic, fairies, and a young Christian Bale. Yummy.”

“Down, girl!” Allie laughed. “Is it possible my pregnancy estrogen is screwing with your brain?”

“It’s almost certain, and yet knowing this does nothing to diminish Christian Bale's deliciousness."

She gave Allie a satisfied smile, then went to the entertainment center and looked through her sister’s movie collection until she found the right disc. The costumed fantasy, with its star-crossed lovers and mischievous fairies, distracted them from Allie’s discomfort. When the movie ended, they started it up again.

The candle light aided the mood, and soon Zen almost forgot they were waiting for Kameko and Melissa. The headlights of Melissa’s ancient, battered Volkswagen outside of Allie’s house snapped Zen back to reality. She got up and opened the door for them.


Midsummer Night by Erin O'Riordan, new January 2010 from eXcessica Publishing. In print, e-book and for Kindle.