Witchy Weekends: The All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness

Welcome to October and the return of Witchy Weekends! I hope the weather in your part of the world is cooperating. It’s a little warm still here for my taste, but hopefully that will change in the not-too-distant future.

This weekend I’m highlighting a book series that I cannot believe I waited so long to read. Deborah HarknessAll Souls Trilogy consists of A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night, and The Book of Life. A fourth book, Time’s Convert, focuses on supporting characters from the original trilogy. It just came out last month, and I can’t wait to read it!

Harkness’ writing style is leisurely without being slow; you can tell she must have enjoyed crafting this story. Theme and detail and character development and plot are layered together in such a way that these books are both literary and commercially viable page-turners. They’re longish books but never really felt that way when I was devouring them with glee. I especially appreciated her increasing use of humor as the books progressed, and as the characters grew more comfortable in their intimacy and more human in their growth.

The primary protagonist is the witch Diana Bishop, a professor and historian, who encounters a mystifying, centuries-old alchemical manuscript and a mystifying, centuries-old vampire at the same time, while she’s on a research sabbatical at Oxford. If you have an interest in the paranormal, or in history, or in science — the vampire in question is a very accomplished geneticist — you will probably enjoy Harkness’ work. The three books also form one contiguous story (in the same way that The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King all form The Lord of the Rings). The books take us through different countries and different time periods without ever giving us whiplash. The intended audience for the subject matter of these books, I believe, is adults: even though she might be fascinated in the story, I’m not handing them off to my voraciously reading thirteen-year-old any time soon.

These are the kind of books I want to lose myself in not just as a reader, but in some fantastical existence, to be a character in them.

I can’t say enough good things about Harkness’ work, and I’m not alone: I just learned there’s an entire conference devoted just to the fandom of this series, and a TV series is being made of it, too. (It’s currently in production, yay!)

I hope you’ll give this immersive story a try — and give yourself some patience as it starts. The first book has a slow-burn kind of build, but once you’re in, you just might be gloriously consumed. You’re welcome.

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Featured Poet: Mike Alexander

So while a bunch of the people around me are thinking about death and resurrection, and a bunch of the other people around me are thinking snide but funny thoughts about the undead, I thought I’d share this fun poem with you by Mike Alexander, because being raised Catholic and ending up Gothic means that I find this poem charming. It first appeared in the Magazine of Speculative Poetry.

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What’s At Stake

First, there’s the boring wait on night to fall,
or light to fail — & light is more resilient
than one would think. Each dawn is like withdrawal.

Whoever said the dead move fast was brilliant;
that being said, it isn’t very often
they try to bring their habits up to speed
with what’s been going on outside the coffin.

Few night schools teach what nosferatu need.
Blood is the life, but still it tastes like death,
a greed that’s savored best in isolation,
a grief that clings like garlic to the breath.
Each kill is tantamount to escalation.

The jugulars we drain, night after night,
can never cleanse that first inhuman bite.

***

Mike Alexander ran the Mausoleum weekly poetry open mic for six of its ten year run. His book Retrograde came out in 2013, & his most recent chapbook was We Internet in Different Voices.

Embracing my Inner Goth (part 5)

Look!  It’s another installment of my six-part gothiness series.  You can read the previous four parts by clicking on these links:

Embracing My Inner Goth (part 1)

Embracing My Inner Goth (part 2)

Embracing My Inner Goth (part 3)

Embracing My Inner Goth (part 4)

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Part V:  More Fangs!

A few months after Tiny Beowulf, our second child, was born, my husband and I went away for the weekend.  Not far, just a few hours’ drive, but this getaway vacation was a big deal.  We headed to San Antonio, where I have family and friends, and which is also a great city to get away to when you don’t want to be gone for long or be too distant.  We saw a friend’s acting re-debut that Friday night and gallivanted around downtown and the Riverwalk that Saturday night with my cousin Andy.  It was a fantastic time that also taught us the valuable lesson that it was, in fact, perfectly okay to be away from our toddler and infant for a couple of days while they hung out with their doting grandparents.

But I also had a mission on this trip.  Ken Dracula (remember him from Part 2?) had moved away from Houston some years before, and my brother had told me he’d resurfaced in San Antonio — and Robert had his number.  Of course he did.  It had been over a decade since my last fangs.  Their color no longer matched my pearly whites so well, and as I’d grown into an adult, my jaw had grown too, so the bridge didn’t even fit well anymore.  I’d decided it was time for a new set.  I rationalized that I could be a vampire at school for Hallowe’en instead of the same predictable witch like so many of the other teachers.

I made an appointment with Ken to get some new fangs made.

I could not, however, entice my husband to come on this appointment with me.  “I want to take a nap,” he said that Saturday afternoon.

I certainly didn’t want to go alone.  But Andy was coming to meet us; maybe he could show up a little early?

“I like that idea,” my husband said through his yawn.  “Go spend time with your cousin.”

Andy was happy to go with me.  He seemed to look on this errand as a weirdly grand adventure; I looked on it with excitement, an exuberant throwback to my younger days to prove I hadn’t lost my sense of self in becoming a mom, as so often I’d seen happen to women at my stage of life.

We got to Ken’s apartment, and immediately I felt something was off.  For one thing, it was hard to find him.  Not the building itself, which was actually rather easy; it was difficult to figure out where the entrance to his apartment was.  The building was a retail storefront of indeterminate identity, closed on the weekends.  Ken’s apartment ended up being in the back of the building.  A few phone calls and some wandering in the driveway later, Ken came out of a screen door onto his porch to meet us, all flip-flops and bermuda shorts and faded t-shirt, all tousled hair and bags under his eyes and anemic, gaunt frame.  It had been a very long time since I’d seen Ken Dracula, but in his younger days, he’d been reasonably good-looking and spunky and generally entertained by every aspect of his life.  This Ken was a changed man; he did not appear to have weathered the intervening decade well.  He’d gone all nosferatu; instinctively I worried about him, but then I brushed the feeling away.  I barely knew the man.  He was my brother’s contact, and even Robert barely knew the man anymore.

Suddenly I thought, What the hell am I doing here?  I’m a mother, for pete’s sake.  I’m a grown woman.  The image of myself as a twenty-year-old traipsing up the stairs in my parents’ house as quickly as I could to hide my fangs from my own mother — that woman who is a grandmother now — shimmered briefly and then faded like a ghost in the clear reason of self-awareness.

I was on a fool’s errand.

But Ken had seen us; we couldn’t leave now without being jerks, and jerks we were not.  Clumsy, manic, he bounded down the few porch steps and held out his hand to me to shake it.  I had the impression of someone who never got many visitors anymore.

Andy gave me a sideways glance as if to say, Is this the guy who’s going to make you fangs?  Honey, I love you, but you’re kind of a freak.  What he muttered quietly was, “You ready?  Because it looks like Ken Dracula is.”

We were ushered up onto the porch and then through the screen door into a cramped kitchen that was more clutter than function.  Pots and pans and tupperware pieces piled onto tiny squares of countertop.  A few half-empty supermarket-brand spice bottles littering the top of the ancient stove unit.  A sink whose white enamel was chipped, rust stains dripping from the drain vents.  On a fridge too new to be vintage and too old to be trustworthy, crumbling newspaper clippings and fliers from the San Antonio club scene.  The walls were covered in empty cardboard daiquiri carriers with here and there an early 90s-era CD box.

This place was such a far cry from Ken’s former, tastefully decorated apartment in Houston I was actually afraid, for a moment, of what I had gotten myself into.

He gestured for me to sit upon the red chair in the middle of the kitchen.  It was one of those dinette models that in another setting would have been cutesy-kitsch sitting next to a sparkling formica table against a turquoise wall.  But here, resting with its back up against a cluttered one-foot-by-one-foot butcher block island — because that’s all that this kitchen could fit — it took on the aspect of a dentist’s chair.  Orin Scrivello, D.D.S. came to mind.  And then so did Sweeney Todd.

Andy had been discreetly peeking through the doorways — there were two.  When Ken stepped out to retrieve his tools, my cousin hissed me over to take a look.  One opened into a hallway, which Ken had disappeared down into, that led to other rooms in various states of disarray.  A pile of laundry in a corner, a short stack of yellowing Anne Rice paperbacks next to an end table.  The other doorway revealed a large room that might have been great for entertaining with its hardwood floor and lack of furniture.  And maybe it was used for parties: we saw festive crepe-paper decorations and man-sized cardboard character cutouts of Frankenstein and Darth Vader.  A frayed straw sombrero topped an ancient stereo cabinet, and large speakers stood a sad sentry in the corners.

Andy said, “Where did you find this guy?”  I couldn’t tell if he was terrified, bemused, or in awe.

“Um…” I began, but then Ken came back.  He glanced at us as if to wonder why I wasn’t sitting in the chair but said nothing, and I quickly sat down on the puffy red vinyl seat.

Ken had brought his denture acrylic and latex gloves.  Instead of using metal tools, he used a bamboo skewer and some Q-tips.  In spite of his apartment and his general appearance, it was clear to me that he was operating safely.  His materials were reliable.  I felt ashamed of my inner voice for questioning the situation.

It was just fangs, that’s all.  Easy-peasy.  Just like he’d done hundreds of times before.

While Ken worked — and, I had to admit, with competence — he chatted easily with Andy about the night life in San Antonio and about Anne Rice.  The club scene was all right, Ken guessed, but then he took on a slightly sad tone when he began talking about the woman who had been his idol.  While my bridge was curing, the acrylic heating up in my awkwardly open mouth as I tried not to compulsively touch my tongue to the bar behind my teeth, Ken patiently answered Andy’s questions about the author, who had in recent years (a.k.a. Andy’s adolescent and early adult life) fallen out of the mainstream.

“She sort of stopped writing her vampire and witch books a while back,” Ken said with…was that a hint of wistfulness?  “After her husband died a few years ago, she just sort of…stopped.”  Ken was quiet a moment, checking on my fangs, putting the final shaping touches to them.  I looked up into his eyes, which focused intently on his handiwork and not at all on me, though my face lay in his gaze.  I wondered if Ken still worked in a dental office.  Then he said, “Of course, losing your partner…well, no one ever really recovers from that, do they.”  It wasn’t a question.  And no, it wasn’t wistfulness, either, but commiseration.

Ken himself had lost his partner a few years before, he informed Andy, as if I were supposed to have known about it already and just hadn’t brought my cousin up to speed because I couldn’t speak while in the dentist’s chair.  And then suddenly Ken’s appearance, his apartment, his bizarre decor came into clear, puncturing focus.

“But Annie used to throw these amazing Hallowe’en parties every year in New Orleans,” he continued.  “I used to go out there and make fangs for people.”  He began shuffling around in a clutter of papers and photographs from one of the nearby stacks.  “I’d set up in the corner and just crank them out for the guests, fifteen dollars a pop.”  He half-smiled.  “That was back in the day.  Fangs were cheap then.”

I’ll say, I thought.  These are setting me back fifty.  I mentally shrugged it off.

He dug out an ancient photo of himself in full Dracula regalia and make-up, fangs prominently protruding from his grin, the affectionate arm of Anne Rice herself, cloaked in black panné velvet, slung around his shoulders.  As he showed off his photo to us, a little of the spark of exuberance the old Ken Dracula had radiated back in the day tried to shine.  I would have smiled politely had the bridge finished curing.  Andy did so for both of us.

“That’s really cool,” he said.  He sounded sincere.

I sort of waved my hand a little in the direction of my mouth.

“Oh, of course,” Ken said and removed my new bridge.  I relaxed my jaw and took a deep breath.  He inspected my new set and then smiled.  “All done,” he assured me and handed them over.  As he explained the rules for caring for my new fangs — rules I’d heard before and remembered well — I noticed that the color was slightly too dark, that the bridge itself was a little jagged in places.  I put them back in and tested the fit.

Just a bit too snug to be comfortable, like wearing retainers I had grown out of long ago.  I knew I wouldn’t be wearing these again.  But I didn’t say a word other than a very sweet “thank you.”  Ken smiled.

“So does Anne Rice still have that big Hallowe’en party every year?” Andy asked.

Ken blinked his eyes thoughtfully a couple of times before answering.  “Well, I haven’t been back for some time,” he said.  “But last I heard, the party was still going strong.  Annie, though, she hasn’t been seen there in years.”

***

Click on this link to be taken to the final installment in this series.  Thanks for reading!

Embracing My Inner Goth (part 6)

 

Embracing My Inner Goth (part 3)

This is the third installment in a six-part series.  You can read the first and second parts by clicking on these links:

Embracing My Inner Goth (part 1)

Embracing My Inner Goth (part 2)

It’s better to read them in order, of course.  Enjoy!

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Part III:  If You Want to Learn Something, Try Looking in a Book

I have an unusual name. Or so I have been led to believe by a series of recurring circumstances in my life: Continue reading “Embracing My Inner Goth (part 3)”

Embracing My Inner Goth (part 2)

This is the second installment in a six-part series I began recently and which will continue over the coming days and weeks.  Click here to read the first part.  Enjoy!

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Part II:  Fangs!

Let’s go back for a moment to my college days. My younger brother, Robert, who somehow knows pretty much everyone, had made the acquaintance of a man who called himself Ken Dracula (not his real last name). Ken was a dental hygienist who had acquired a following by making, for fun in his spare time, fangs for people. He used color-matched denture acrylic and made a bridge for you to wear, the fangs (two canines on the top were his most popular) covering and hugging your real teeth, attached by a bar hidden behind them. Believe it or not, they were sort of comfortable to wear, even aside from the incredible cool factor of having fangs that looked like real teeth! There were just a few rules you had to follow, one of which was Continue reading “Embracing My Inner Goth (part 2)”

Embracing My Inner Goth (part 1)

This post represents the first installment in a six-part series entitled “Embracing My Inner Goth.”  Keep watching this blog for parts 2 through 6.  Enjoy!

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Part I:  Searching For Anne Rice

In the mid-1990s, mainstream pop culture welcomed its most recent infusion of vampire fascination with the making of Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire into a movie. It starred Tom Cruise as Lestat and launched Kirsten Dunst’s career as an actor and Brad Pitt’s career as a heartthrob, even if his character, Louis, was sort of whiny — appropriately melodramatic in a tortured kind of way.  Interview’s gorgeous reception had been well prepared for by Rice’s authorly success with a slew of books — both her vampire and witch series, written under her own name, and her more risqué offerings written under the Continue reading “Embracing My Inner Goth (part 1)”