Vampire Syndrome 2009-2019: The Long, Strange, Epic Circle-Trip

On June 13, 2009, I conceived the world of “Vampire Syndrome”, the adventures of a young man with Down Syndrome suddenly thrust into the hidden underworld of Earth’s Vampires.

It’s now June 13, 2019, the tenth anniversary of the idea’s conception. If I hadn’t conceived of this saga, I’d be…

… exactly where I am right now, but with less Facebook friends. 😈

In 2009, I thought all this could be my ticket out of the mundane “worker bee” world. Ten years later, though, I’ve discovered some intriguing similarities between my “work path” and my “creative path”, where lessons I learned in one also applied equally to the other.

First, “work”. I’ve never been one to let a “standard job” (a position that can be performed by another person) define who I am. I didn’t hesitate to leave a job I’d held for 26½ years, even though I incurred some notable losses to do so.

The reason? I saw firsthand what happens when someone’s regular job did define who they were. I watched a man who could have retired with a full pension in 2007, and who had a paid-for house and six figures in the bank; who instead chose to literally work himself into the grave, just because he enjoyed his duties on a clinically psychopathic level. Even after he became so debilitated that his doctors prohibited him from working, he drove several miles past several other stores, just to shop in ours.

In our seniority-based system, his refusal to retire also kept those of us under him “down a notch” for six years, all just so he could soldier on in vain until the doctors said he couldn’t.

Thanks to him, I swore I’d never be a “deadwood” in any endeavor, just taking up space when I could move on and let others rise up the ladder, as they should.

Turns out that 2007 would have been the perfect year for my co-worker to retire, for other reasons. Our employer and our store went into a tailspin in 2008/2009. Not notable in itself, as this happened “almost everywhere” at the time. The real problem was, we never recovered from the Great Recession. By the time I left my employer in Jan. 2016, we had less employee hours and sales that we did in January 2009! The saddest part about my co-worker’s fate is that his demise directly resulted from the increasing stress he had to endure from 2008 onward as our employer and store declined. I believe 100% that this man would still be alive and healthy today, if he had retired after 33 years of service in 2007 as he could and should have.

So, then, why did I stay as long as I did? To vest for my full pension credit, at 25 years of service. Becoming a “deadwood” is not for me, I will collect *my* pension the moment I can, and not a second later.

Once I had hit that 25-year mark, our employer had been bought out in a merger with another chain. Two once-big names, joining together to “increase their economies of scale.” Sound familiar? It should. Studebaker (America’s earliest mass-production vehicle manufacturer) and Packard (America’s premier volume luxury car brand before WWII) joined in this manner in 1954. Sears (America’s largest department store and catalog-order retailer for decades), joined forces with Kmart (America’s largest discount store chain, for several decades) in 2004.

Studebaker-Packard ceased auto manufacturing in 1966, twelve years after their merger.
Sears/Kmart; well, if you live in the United States, you already know how that’s turned out. 😈
CNBC Article “Sears was toast since KMart merger”

Thus, after the merger, I expected our new ownership to tout the new company’s “increased economies of scale”as being our salvation, and enabler of future growth. Also known as the inevitable “warning cue” that the new merged-out-of-necessity company will eventually die at some point in the future, because the resulting combined company doesn’t have the size scale that even one of its halves had at their peak (as with Sears/Kmart and Studebaker/Packard, among others).

Problem was, this time our “new” company wasn’t even pretending anything would improve (at least here in Denver), so I knew it was time to get out of there, “yesterday”. 😈

Indeed, by all accounts related to me by current employees and customers, conditions have become even worse since I left. I now suspect the company’s Denver arm is a prime candidate to be bought out by Amazon, who is starting a new conventional grocery chain to supplement their premium chain, Whole Foods. Amazon is slated to open the first stores in the new chain by end of 2019. And Amazon lockers are now popping up in my former employer’s stores, possibly a “clue in plain sight” as to their fate. I could have been out on the street next year, and lost out on seven years’ worth of pension payments, had I not left when I did back in 2016, when the getting (out) was good.

***

While all this unfolded, a parallel development occurred in my life. In early 2009, a co-worker lent me the four Twilight Saga books. I thought to myself, “I could write something better than that.”

So I did.

Without any objective analysis of whether such project would be commercially viable, or could even reach its intended audience.

Since I also wanted my project to be “Better than Twilight” on an actual technical writing level as well, I enlisted in a highly regarded professional writing critique group, and refined “Vampire Syndrome” to the Nth degree for three years, whilst during this same time period E.L. James was beginning to post the fan fiction that eventually begat her “Fifty Shades Of Grey”series.

Perhaps my goal should have been to be technically “worse” than “Twilight”, not “better”, but that’s another story. James’ story, to be exact. 😈
Don’t #AskELJames , Don’t Tell

Once “Vampire Syndrome” was completed in 2012, every ‘creative’ person I encountered gushed over this “million-dollar idea”, and I received nothing but encouragement to seek publication for it. The major New York publishers all passed on it, in their search for the next big cash cow (which turned out to be, you guessed it, “Fifty Shades Of Grey”!).

A small press, PDMI Publishing, LLC, picked up “Vampire Syndrome” in 2013, and it appeared at least I could make some sort of mark with it, in spite of the Big Five’s lack of enthusiasm for so-called “million-dollar ideas”.

The problem there was, the local bookstores for whom the small presses had traditionally looked to as targets to distribute their books to, started to turn their collective noses up to any books not published by the Big Five, dooming hundreds of small presses to their demise within a few years. In a stunning irony, the decline of national chain bookstores such as Borders and Barnes & Noble enabled the local bookstores to take their place as relentless pushers of “Big Five books only”.
How Indie Bookstores Are Killing Indie Books

In an even higher level of irony, the local bookstores’ hitching their wagon exclusively to the Big Five also means they are quite dependent on Barnes & Noble’s continued existence as well. If the new owners of B&N ever decide to liquidate the chain, the Big Five will take a huge hit, likely shrinking to the Big Four or even Three to blood-let down to the level where local bookstores and mass retailers would be able to support what’s left of them. Which will also greatly reduce the diversity of the books on local’s shelves. The perfect karmic payback for their rejecting the small presses. All the small press books and authors they could have been selling have long since gone off to Amazon, taking with them the shelf diversity local bookstores once prided themselves on.
Kristen Lamb:
Play to Win: Authors, Empires & Why Amazon is Killing NYC Publishing
Barnes & Noble SOLD: Goliath has Fallen & What This Means for Writers

With the Big Five New York publishers’ acquisition standards becoming more and more restrictive and formulaic as time marched on, Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing became inundated with books, making “discovery” a huge problem for all non best-seller authors. Just type in “vampire” into Amazon’s Search, and you’ll see what I mean. And now the Big Five’s standards have tightened to the point where authors will only send them the type of projects they think will be the next “trend” for the Big Five to acquire. If “bullying” is the next perceived trend, literary agents’ inboxes will soon be filled with queries for “bullying” novels. We have reached a point where authors will not even bother to query the unique works they created from their “heart”, leaving those works to the vast, indiscoverable voids of Amazon, and we are all the poorer in creative reader and author spirit for this.

So, once PDMI closed its doors, my two completed Vampire Syndrome Saga novels headed for Smashwords, because I admire Mark Coker’s business model and his dedication to the true spirit of independent author voices, which the Big Five publishers and their local bookstore “pets” have long since foresaken. It also doesn’t hurt my “discoverability” that there are only half a million or so books on Smashwords, versus twelve-million plus on Amazon, meaning someone is “24 more times likely” (in general statistic terms) to discover my book through a keyword search.

I did mention that other ‘creatives’ such as fellow authors, just loved my “million-dollar idea”. One of them was Joel Eisenberg, Hollywood development producer and author of his own “The Chronicles Of Ara” book series. Joel, a former teacher for special-education students, loved my character Jack Wendell, a young man with Down Syndrome, and how Jack dealt with the challenges of being accepted into a world of Vampires who were biased against him to the point of ordering Jack’s assassination.
Joel Eisenberg Review of “Vampire Syndrome”

So Joel, God bless him, pitched “Vampire Syndrome” as a television project through the inner hallways of Hollywood.

Which turned out pretty much like I suspected it would. Hollywood, like the Big Five, goes for the easy money cash cows. Sequels, reboots, etc. If nothing else, at least my project left a few Hollywood execs hunched around Beverly Hills meeting room tables scratching their heads going “WTF?”, during pitches that briefly interrupted their plans to reboot some other very-well-known property for the eighth-zillionth time. 😈

Same thing as the Big Five. The ‘creatives’ loved it, but as far as the “suits” are concerned, my “million-dollar idea” won’t buy me a cup of coffee at Starbucks. The unique curse of my “million-dollar idea” was that only some other creatives were excited about it, when I had really written it to reach John and Jane Q. Public. People said they wanted something “better and more original than Twilight”; I built it, but they didn’t come. The “suits” and the public went for Fifty Shades and the endless reboots instead.

Not exactly encouragement for me to write any “hundred-thousand-dollar” ideas, is it? 😈

So, as I close the chapter on the Chapters and move on with my life, I can reflect on my epic, strange circle-jerk to “nowhere”; a Hunter S. Thompson-worthy grand hallucination that somehow came full circle to where I started, leaving me with a new and profound appreciation for how good my “normal” life really is. If I wish to indulge in some “vain hope” in the future, I can just buy some lottery tickets. After all, the odds are about the same as making it big in the publishing world, and it doesn’t consume a year or more of all your free time (plus editing, formatting, cover design, promotion, et.cetera, afterward!) just to write a lottery ticket. Finally, I have a well-reasoned comeback for anyone who ‘critiques’ me for buying lottery tickets. A few seconds each time of handing over $5 every now and again, or years and years spent writing tales that are ignored? Damn, I might be too rational to be an author, now that I think about it. Authors always seem emotionally attached to their creations, their characters; but if no one else relates to your characters, what’s the point?

There I go making sense again…

If anything about all this disappoints me, it’s that my saga had the potential to raise general awareness about people with special needs, and possibly have opened/changed minds of some of the prejudiced. But it could not do this without reaching wide distribution, and without the ” suits’ ” support, this will never happen.

Thus, the time I would have spent writing “in vain” is much better spent by volunteering for Special Olympics and other organizations that make a real (not fictional) difference in the lives of those with special needs.

Instead of “writing to make a difference”, I will make a difference in the real world. The “sword” (physical action) is now mightier than the “pen” (ideas/concepts), in this case.

And, unlike so many other blogs from the “early 2010’s heyday of blogging” that just ceased after some random post, this one gets a proper closure.

Thank you to all who supported me over the ten years of this “trip”.

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Now signed for TV development: “Vampire Syndrome”

“Vampire Syndrome” has been signed for TV development by Joel Eisenberg’s company Council Tree Productions.
Vampire Syndrome Dean Cover (small)

Taking Orlok to the Ultimate

Most of you are at least a little familiar with Count Orlok, the vampire in the 1922 film “Nosferatu”, which forever changed the face of cinema.
Nosferatu Self-CheckoutThe story itself may have been an unauthorized version of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel “Dracula”, but “Nosferatu” revolutionized the visual art of cinema. The now-classic “burn-up-in-sunlight” trope started with this film. Count Orlok’s sun-ray immolation is just one of the great, ground-breaking visual effects featured.

Count Orlok himself is, of course, another bold visual statement. What many may not realize is that Nosferatu’s director, F.W. Murnau, intended Count Orlok as a return to the hideous monsters of original vampire folklore, as they were two centuries before Nosferatu’s release.

From TVTropes’ “Looks Like Orlok” page:

History time: In the original folklore, most vampires were short, ugly, Eastern European peasants. Then (in 1819) Polidori creates the character of Lord Ruthven and suddenly they’re all elegant, English, aristocratic and look suspiciously like Lord Byron. Rymer’s Varney the Vampire (1847) gives them fangs and the whole “wandering the world hating what they’ve become” thing. Then Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla was written (in 1871), and vampires suddenly became alluring, bisexual upper-class gothic girls. Then, Dracula was written (in 1897), and they’re still elegant aristocrats, but moved back to Eastern Europe, sexy and deadly, outwardly beautiful yet disguising an inner corruption. Thus, horror turned to fetish, and pop culture… ahem… the world was never the same again. And we all know what happened since.

In the early 1920s, F.W. Murnau had a great idea. Since the German Expressionist movement was all about stylization, why not apply this to vampires? Why not create a vampire that looks exactly like what he is: a parasitic bloodsucker?

In the ninety-odd years since “Nosferatu”, Orlok’s appearance has influenced dozens of characters, vampire or otherwise. From The Master in “The Strain” and the Elder Vampire in “Dracula: Untold” (yes, Orlok has now ‘officially’ crossed over into a Dracula tale!), to Voldemort.

The one thing that’s been missing for all these nine decades is why the Orlok-type vampires look the way they do. We can’t undo three centuries’ worth of humanizing vampires, after all, so there must be reasons as to why the Orlok-type vampires look different from vampires of basic human appearance. This is where most vampire novels and movies drop the ball, usually not explaining this in any detail, or using the “old master” mythos where vampires will eventually age to an Orlok-like appearance.

Until now, the best explanation for Orlok-type vampires comes from the Role-Playing Game “Vampire: The Masquerade”, wherein the Nosferatu are the most ‘vampiric’ of the seven playable vampire subspecies.

Vampire: The Masquerade – Nosferatu

The Nosferatu are one of seven playable clans in Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines. The damnedest of the damned, the Nosferatu are disfigured and have a frightening appearance. This means that they can only use sewers, and should they be seen by humans, they will violate the Masquerade. Due to this however, the Nosferatu have become very gifted at sneaking and hacking, which means they have information on almost everything and everyone. They gather information not only as a means of survival, but out of pure pleasure as well. The Nosferatu are ostracized by other vampires due to their appearance, but also their ability to dig up dirt on everyone. This doesn’t stop the leaders of other vampire clans to come to them when they need information, however.

When I set about creating the universe for my Vampire Syndrome Saga, I found many of the classic folkloric abilities attributed to vampires (ie. clinging to walls and ceilings, aversion to acidic plants such as onions and garlic, harmed/weakened by ultraviolet radiation/sunlight) would not make scientific sense for my living human Vampires. The human genome has millions of years worth of evolved tolerance of sunlight or garlic, and to undo these would require (basically) a ground-up total DNA rewrite to where the being would no longer be “human”.

So I created planet Sek’Met, and its race of humanoid alien carnivores. With aliens, the folkloric attributes I could not (personally) justify for human vampires became easy to rationalize scientifically for the Sek’Metian race, who evolved on a different planet, under different conditions.

And it follows that alien carnivore humanoids who evolved on a different planet would also have distinct appearance traits of their own. Which gave me the best explanation ever as to why Orlok-type vampires appear they way they do: They’re aliens!

A sketch that captures the essence of my character Syl’Tes 🙂
VTM Nosferatu Waiting by Oharisu

Book Signing this Saturday at 2nd & Charles FlatIron Crossing, Broomfield, Colorado

Can a Vampire with Down Syndrome survive, and even thrive?

Find out at my book signing this Saturday, April 4th, 2015, from 1pm to 5pm, at the 2nd & Charles store in FlatIron Crossing, Broomfield, Colorado. Get your copy of Vampire Syndrome signed, and check out the great selection of books, movies, games, music and musical instruments while you’re there.

2nd and Charles Signing Flyer Apr 2015 Negative

Vampire Syndrome Book Trailer

Here’s the first book trailer for Vampire Syndrome. An old-school creepy Halloween feel!

Book Signing at 2nd & Charles Aurora – January 24

Join me on Saturday, January 24, 2015, at 2nd & Charles in Aurora, Colorado.

I’ll be signing copies of the new mass market paperback of Vampire Syndrome.

2nd and Charles Signing Flier

Vampire Conspiracy – Sneak Peek into the Playlist

Now that the main text of “Vampire Conspiracy” (book two of the Vampire Syndrome saga) is finished (and being edited by PDMI), I’m working on peripherals, such as the glossary and the playlist.

A brief glimpse into Chapter 32, “Deconstruction Crew”:

Jack:

“Are you sure about this?” Razvan asks us.

“We’re positive,” I answer.

“We’d like to drive back ourselves,” Coach Ron says.

“Do you want motorcycle escorts?” Petra asks.

“Thanks, but we should be fine,” Diane replies.

“A lot of people runnin’ and hidin’ tonight,
A lot of people won’t get no justice tonight.”
“Armagideon Time”, original version by Willie Wilson