Tuesday, June 05, 2007

A Tale of Vampires - Part 7

Sorry for the delay...commencements, visitors, and various and sundry other matters...did I mention that I write books?...conspired against blogging last week.

More on all of that another day.

Back to vampires. But first... are you amazed at all the recent TB news? See? Read this blog and you will be so ahead of the game.

Okay, back to the story of the story, "The Haunting of Carrick Hollow"...

Paul and I exchanged e-mails and met once more in person (a lunch meeting at an AAFS convention in Florida, IIRC), setting up how we would write the story from two different coasts. Paul was incredibly easy to work with.

We soon agreed that the protagonist would be in the situation Paul spoke of — of growing up in a rural area where vampire folklore existed, and being forced to participate in these rituals performed on the remains of beloved family members. This could cover a range of time and places in New England. We decided to set it in the 19th century, in Rhode Island. What more could we bring to the story?

We tossed around several ideas. Paul sent some reference materials on the vampire beliefs to me, and I looked into the history of TB as well. I was struck by how late some of these rituals were performed, given the progress being made in treating TB in the late 19th century.

Perhaps the most famous New England vampire story is that of Mercy Brown. I mentioned her case in a previous post. The exhumation of Mercy Brown, who had died from TB at the age of 19, took place in 1892. Although her father apparently did not believe in the power of these rituals, he succumbed to local pressure to allow them to be performed. Her heart was removed and burned, and the ashes were given to her brother, Edwin, to drink. (Despite this attempted remedy, he died of TB two months later.)

The rituals performed on Mercy Brown received newspaper attention, in stories which decried them as rustic superstition. The stories inspired H.P. Lovecraft (his "The Shunned House" refers to it) and a clipping of the story was found among Bram Stoker's possessions.

So a new possibility for the story occurred to us. What if a young man grew up in rural Rhode Island in the late 19th century, in a community where vampire folklore existed as an explanation for deaths from consumption (the name then given to TB), and this young man's family was pressured into performing these rituals on the bodies of beloved family members, BUT...later he is offered a chance to study medicine, and returns to the community to be of help, now knowing that TB is caused by bacteria? How might the community react? If he were believed, what effect would his new knowledge have on those who had endured the ritual?

We each took sections of the story, wrote them, pieced them together and smoothed them out. Paul's contributions to the history and science in the story were key, but I also want to say here and now that I was amazed at his writing abilities. It was hard to believe this was his first attempt at fiction. By the late spring of 1999, we had a story to submit to the Crime Through Time III anthology.

Before I wind up my series of blogs about this story, I want to make a note about a decision in telling the story. Michael Bell says that the term "vampire" was never used by these New England families. (Someday I'll have to ask him how he came to that conclusion, but I am sure he knows what he's talking about -- he did the decades of extensive research, not me!)

Bell's research now noted, I'll point out that in 1892, the term was most definitely in use in that part of the United States.

It's an old word. The word "upyr" and synonyms have been part of the Slavic languages since the middle ages and the terms "vampire" or "vampyre" had been used in English by 1688.
(For a fascinating scholarly study of history the word, see Katharina M. Wilson's article, "The History of the Word 'Vampire'," Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 46, No. 4. (Oct. - Dec., 1985), pp. 577-583.)

This became the only real point of disagreement between us that I can recall, though. Paul, familiar with Bell and his work, thought we should not have the characters use the word "vampire." I thought the story worked better if they did use it, in part because the word was in use at that time in Rhode Island (and carrying a meaning that conformed with their use of it). My opinion was that in a work of fiction, it wouldn't be out of line to have the characters use the word "vampire," provided we weren't using a word that had not yet been coined, or using a word that had a different meaning at that time, or using it in one time as if it had a later meaning (such as OK, which has undergone a change in meaning since its 1840 origins). We shouldn't have people using anachronistic terms in historical short stories, but I didn't think this was anachronistic usage.

So for the public record, Paul disagreed, but graciously let me have my bratty writer way.

I'm going to leave at that for now, hoping Paul will find time to tell more about this from his perspective! I hope you'll find time to read and enjoy "The Haunting of Carrick Hollow."

No comments: