So today was a day for covers. My old Last Communion cover was a bit dull, so I reworked it. When I say dull, I mean too little colour. I may dress almost exclusively in black, but I want my surroundings to be vibrant.
When people come to our house, they tend to go, “Oh… this is colourful.” And then silence.
So anyway, something else I discovered is that I love texture. I’ve been studying covers that I love, and the things they have in common are the colours and the texture. When you just slap a title on a photo, it can look a bit flat.
It doesn’t always, but one way to avoid flatness is to put a textured image as your bottom layer, and then work with layer properties as outlined in this post to make the main photo and thus the cover look a bit more alive.
Especially important when said cover sports a vampire, wouldn’t you agree?
Of course, everyone won’t love textures and colours. In fact, my bestselling short story is very sort of mild and just has a few shades of purple on it. I don’t know if it’s the cover or the blurb that does it, but it seems to draw attention. Personally, I’m not sure I would give it a second look, but there you have it. We’re all different.
What’s a story without its gallery of weirdos? In this book, I’ve moved outside of my comfort zone and included many more characters than usual, because I need them to tell the story. This is a tale about the end of civilization, and the tragedy hits different people in different ways.
Like Wolf, for example. She never got a normal childhood, because the world as we know it fell before she’d found her place in it. On the cusp of puberty, she was transformed into a vampire, doomed to drink blood to survive even though she was only a child.
Another tragic character is Dolorosa, a deeply religious woman who tries in vain to negate her thirst. Indeed, the biggest problem facing these vampires is that of self-restraint. They are cutting the branch they sit on – much like real life humans do when it comes to the environment – but they don’t have a choice. They have to drink. They can live on animal blood for a while, but sooner or later they need a human ‘dram.’
Yes, dram. Not victim. I’ve taken a leaf from Anthony Burgess and created a special sociolect for the ‘Confirmands.’ When something is taboo, people tend to use euphemisms in an effort to disguise the reality of it. In this case, it’s the act of drinking blood from fellow humans that is too horrible to admit. For all their cockiness and swagger, the Confirmands need a linguistic filter between themselves and their actions, and therefore they refer to ‘wine’ instead of blood, ‘drams’ instead of victims, and ‘Confirmands’ instead of vampires.
Of course, their leader Nietzsche would disagree with me. He may enforce the made-up language, but he would never admit that the original words conjure any negative emotions in him. He simply states that the past is dead, and that to survive, you need to adapt. That includes talking in a new way and choosing a new name for yourself.
In a way, he’s right. In the world of Last Communion, everything you’ve taken for granted is gone. People die faster than they can be buried, and all the old institutions have crumbled. What good is your degree in graphic design then? Who cares about your reference from Professor So-and-so?
But there’s something suspicious about Nietzsche’s refusal to dwell on the past. Is it really just his concern for the welfare of his little flock, or is there something else involved? Doesn’t he want anyone to know who he used to be?
In a writer’s forum, I once read that dystopias are political porn, designed to push an agenda. It may be a bit harshly put, but probably true. Last Communion is nothing if not political. The allegory is a thinly veiled one, a long hard look at the ultimate consequences of consumerist society.
Our hero’s love interest, Garangjas, knows this. He knows that the Confirmands are in trouble, that they can’t continue killing indefinitely, but even so he can’t deny his bodily urges. The thirst is powerful and all-consuming, a scream from the depths of his DNA, and for someone as rational as him, it’s disconcerting to be so helpless.
Garangjas is the quintessential Heathcliff or Darcy – the tightlipped stranger who seems impossible to get close to, but who feels things deeply. He’s like the surface of a tarn: dark, mysterious, and impenetrable, a black mirror that hides many secrets.
And his thirst for blood isn’t the only desire he can’t resist. For the Confirmands, sex is a connection on a whole new level, a need more primal even than the urge to survive. When our nameless hero meets Garangjas for the first time, he doesn’t stand a chance. Garangjas is magnetic. There really isn’t a choice. He has to have him.
And suddenly, there he was. Quick like a bird of prey, he flew at my throat. Claws gripped my neck, and teeth flashed. The smell of blood filled my nostrils – the blood of a dozen victims, like a morbid souvenir on his breath. I cried out, paralyzed by the realization that he was a mirror image of me.
And then everything stopped. Black eyes stared at me, shock and confusion warring in their depths. I stared back, all instincts to save myself evaporated. I was caught in his gaze, hypnotized.
The courtesy fell dead to the floor between us. I should have laughed at his formality, but I couldn’t. I was bewitched by his voice. It was dark like cherry velvet and it seemed to vibrate through my body like the single, low note from a cracked cello. I opened my mouth to say something back, and his eyes flitted down to my teeth: to my long, pointy canines. The mark of the monster. The blemish that had my mother so disgusted.
A blemish he shared.
I didn’t breathe. I just took in the sight of him: the strands of unkempt, dark hair framing his bony face. The intensity of his gaze. The two gentle bulges in his top lip… Oh God, that familiar ache. But I’d just met him – I couldn’t. I shouldn’t even be toying with the idea. And yet my eyes raked over him, hungry in a way that I hadn’t had the energy to be hungry for months. And as he gazed back, I knew he could feel it. The magnetism was palpable, a third entity in the room. An animal thing. A trembling, crazy mirage that had nothing to do with me. He wasn’t even my type. I went for the kind-faced blond, and this creature was the exact opposite. He was thin, wiry, dark. Rough around the edges, like somebody who slept on the street. His collar hung loose around his neck, and still I sensed the strength in that lithe body, like a starved panther crouching to attack.
“Please forgive me.” He took a step back, and the pull lessened. I could breathe again. “I should know better.” He seemed shaken. “I don’t understand what happened.”
I gaped, trying to find words, but there was nothing. My mind was a blank. Time passed slowly, as if I was watching a slow motion replay of everything I had missed in my life. The world was brand new and eons-old at once. And that smell… stronger than blood, than hyacinths, than rotting fruit. The smell of a fusion aching to happen.
“What are you doing here?” I demanded. My attempt to sound dominant quivered between us. I half expected him to laugh. But if something stirred in those bottomless tarns, it wasn’t mirth.
“You’re new.” Once again the sound of his voice made the hairs on my neck stand up. It was a rugged, raven-like sound that seemed to pierce my very soul. And his eyes… They slid over my body in a way I would once have interpreted as seductive, but in this strange new world, who knew?
Then he nodded. “Yes, obviously. Very fresh, I would think. Not more than a few days old?”
He stepped closer again, and I choked out a hurried, “What do you mean?”
He looked down at me, sharp and alert. His scent filled me to the brim, like I wanted to fill him. My hands curled into trembling fists at my sides. Don’t touch. Just don’t. You know how straight guys get.
“New,” he repeated, and once again I smelled warm iron on his breath. “Saved.” His gaze dropped to the pulse just below my ear, and a warm shudder travelled through me. Was he going to bite me after all? I should be halfway out the window by now. This man was crazy, and he was too tall, too strong for me. Besides, I could sense his experience. He would overpower me in a second.
Or would he let me overpower him?
Afraid to open my mouth, I breathed through my nose. Get a grip, get a grip, a weak voice inside me kept repeating, but it was fading into the background. How could my old principles serve me now? There were no rules anymore. I was standing in an abandoned university library in a plague-ridden city, aching with desire for an insane stranger, and there was no one left to tell me it was wrong.
I raised a hand, touched his chest. The gesture wasn’t entirely voluntary, but once my palm connected with the steady warmth beneath the cotton, I couldn’t draw back. His shirt shook and trembled with the heart that was beating behind it. The vibrations spread up my arm, and the air rippled as we breathed. My hand trailed lower, over his stomach, only stopping where his jeans marked forbidden territory.
This wasn’t me. It just wasn’t. In my way, I was an old-fashioned, dinner-first kind of guy. I’d never jumped someone I’d just met.
But then I’d never murdered a family member in cold blood before, either.
As if the memory flicked a switch, the blinds were yanked down over my eyes. Our bodies crashed together. I tore at his shirt, searching for skin. Pulled at his belt. God, I wanted to fuck him. I’d never wanted anything more. His buttons strained at the denim and then slipped free. He wasn’t wearing anything underneath. Pushing his jeans down his hips, I felt the black thatch of hair caress my fingers. One final yank, and the hot silk of his cock brushed my hand.
It was beautiful.