Posted tagged ‘Charlaine Harris’

Kept Awake By Meditation and Sookie Stackhouse Novel (“Dead” The Next Day)

May 5, 2010

Meditation and Vampire Novels

As some followers of this blog know, I’m a longtime devotee of Astanga yoga (sometimes, unfortunately, known as “power yoga”).  Astanga is a relatively active form of yoga in which the practitioner jumps from pose to pose;  each pose in turn is held for a relatively short set number of breaths.  Because I do “self-practice,” meaning that I do Astanga yoga at home by myself, my practice has somewhat deteriorated over the past few years.  I do it, sure, but the requisite number of breaths has shortened to second hand levels (as in, about one second per pose) and my focus has become increasingly… diffused.

Great returns rarely come from casual investments (i.e. no pain, no gain).  Meaning that my rushed, unfocused yoga, does not yield a significant amount of inner peace.  (Sigh.)

One possible remedy would be to simply give more time and energy to my existing yoga practive.

But that’s not really the ManicD way of handling an issue of this kind.  Instead, what I’ve tried is to add in something else, something which I can also pursue in a slightly desultory way:  meditation.

Ah, meditation.

Meditation is probably harder for the Manic personality than Astanga yoga, as it involves minimal jumping.

But unlike my self-led yoga-practice, I’ve tried to meditate in a mediation session, at a meditation center, with a teacher and pillows, and other, sincere-looking people, and one of those beautiful bells in a bowl.   This structure, given my achievement-oriented personality, actually inspires me to sit still.

Ah.  (Meditation.)

I really do like the sessions.  When I’m in one, I feel more aware, more tolerant, more wise, more balanced.  The problem is that after I come home from one of these sessions, I seem to be driven to some form of extreme behavior. I don’t rent a race car, or go out on the town–I just do things that are, as they say in Buddhist terminology, unskillful.

After last night’s session, for example, I stayed up till about 3:30 a.m. reading the new Sookie Stackhouse mystery from Charlaine Harris—Dead In the Family, the tenth in the series.

With all due respect to Ms. Harris, some of whose work I have truly enjoyed, it’s not a terrifically good book.   The story has gotten very complex, too full of ancillary characters, too dependent on prior knowledge, too rushed, too soap-opery.  If you are not (a) escapist, (b) already addicted to her main characters (Sookie Stackhouse, Bill Compton, and Eric Northman), and possibly (c)  just coming out of a Buddhist meditation session, it is extremely unlikely that you would find it worthy of a virtually all-night read.   (Maybe not even any read.)

But the meditation teacher last night, a very thoughtful and meticulous speaker, had a curiously bloodless quality.  She smiled frequently;she said things that, if not original, were useful; she wore a very tasteful, shawl.  And yet she also left me in a state ripe for self-indulgence, blood–errr—lust, the super-handsome, super- passionate Eric healing Sookie of her post-Fairy-torture trauma.

Ah, vampire novels.

(By way of further excuse, I should note that I’ve only read Sookie Stackhouse novels; I’m not really familiar with the TV series.  Also, to those of you that can’t understand my obsession with these books—umm…..how about ‘it’s a great way, as a writer, to learn how to put action in one’s work.’)

Bella and Sookie, Edward Cullen, Bill Compton- The Lines Are Drawn

February 9, 2010

Read yesterday about the upcoming first run publication of 350,000 copies of the new Twilight graphic novel.  “The characters and settings are very close to what I was imagining while writing the series,” Stephanie Meyers, the author of the original Twilight series has said of the graphic novel.  (Does this mean that Ms. Meyers always pictured the characters and settings as cartoonish?)

Okay. Stop.  Guilty confession time.  As followers of this blog know, I wallowed in the Twlight series.  I have also, more recently, wallowed in another vampire series—The Southern Vampire Series by Charlaine Harris, also known as the Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries.

(What can I say?  I get tired, manic, depressed.)

Which brings up another question.  Why is the Twilight Saga (whose collective sales have now reached 45 million) so much more popular than the Southern Vampire Sookie Stackhouse Series?

(Don’t get me wrong.   Charlene Harris is unlikely to live in a garret.  Still, 45 million!)

What makes the difference especially remarkable is that the two series have enough in common to make a vampiric copyright lawyer lick his blood-stained chops.  Both focus on a human-vampire love story; both share telepathy, characters whose minds cannot be permeated by telepathy, super-handsome, super-sexy vampires (well, Edward Cullen is sexy in principal at least), shape-shifters/werewolves, love triangles,  heroinic (as in both addictive and held by the heroine) special blood, attempted suicide through sun-stepping, a ruthless vampire hierarchy, controlling and hyper-jealous male lovers, and fast, fancy cars.   Most importantly, both series have spawned commercially-successful screen versions.

So what makes for the phenomenon? (Other than the casting of Robsten.)

First, there’s the teen factor.  Perhaps (believe or not) tweens and teens simply read more.  After all, they have parents who tell them to turn off the TV and the internet, and they usually don’t have full time jobs.

Then there’s the identification factor.  Bella Swan, the Twilight heroine, is herself a teenager. (Sookie’s in her early twenties.)

More importantly, Bella is presented as Every Girl—Every Girl who is cute enough but clumsy, and who also happens to have some nearly magical qualities (not even known to herself) which, in turn, attract a consummately handsome, devoted, rich, strong, elegant, vampire; a vampire, who, although insistently male (at least he insists he’s male), loves her for her essence, not her body; a body which he adores,  but which he heroically resists (sigh), both to protect her soul and safety.

Sookie is harder to identify with.  She is very much not Every Girl, but a cocktail waitress specifically based in Northern Louisiana.    She introduces herself in the first book Dead Until Dark as someone suffering from a deformity.   She’s also super-attractive.     (The way her mental abilities cause human suitors to lose interest in her well-built body is a bit like the pre-feminist tales of women who were told to hide their smarts if they wanted to hold onto a man.)

Sookie’s vampires, unlike Edward Cullen, have little high-minded hesitancy about sex (or about manipulation and violence.)   Moreover, Sookie’s vampires (i) don’t just lust after her blood but frequently bite her, and (ii) spend about half of every day actually dead.  (These qualities may well be confusing to a young adult reader.)

So maybe here’s the distinction:  Twilight characters are good.  Good.  GOOD.   Except when they are bad.  Bad.  BAD.

Hmm…  Is it possible that the qualities which  seem to make Twilight so popular are the same qualities that make it adaptable to graphic novel form?  (A world that can be drawn in black and white lines.)

Teenage girls, it seems, are idealists after all.  Idealists and Every Girl and lovers of the fantastical.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place – Learning From Sookie Stackhouse

January 6, 2010

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Between a rock and a hard place.  A universal locale.  One we’ve all visited.  Where some of us even live.

One reason I’m enamored of the Southern Vampire series (Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood novels) is that Sookie frequently finds herself in such a position.  (Frankly, even being in one of her vampire lover’s arms is such a place, given the marble musculature, and all that business with the fangs.)

One of the series’ most classic rock-and-hard-place moments occurs in Altogether Dead, when Andre, chief aide-de-camp of the Vampire Queen of Louisiana, demands a blood exchange with Sookie to ensure her loyalty to the Queen.  (Another thing I like about the books is their complete silliness.)  Before Andre can force Sookie to take his blood, the dynamic and debonairly handsome vampire Eric Northman appears, and persuades Andre that he should be the substitute blood exchangee, since he too is a minion of the Queen of Louisiana.  Eric then must convince Sookie that exchanging blood with him is her best shot, the lesser of two evils.

What a dilemma.  Sookie must choose between the dry, calculating, mean, Andre and the super-sexy, protective, and ruthless but loving, Eric Northman.  (Did I mention spoiler alert that Eric is also wealthy, constantly giving Sookie things like a new driveway, a new coat, and a new cell phone?)

Talk about escapism.  Sookie’s choice between a rock and hard place is a bit like a choice between Death Valley in a heat wave and a cliff jump into an exhilarating stream.

In the non-fictional world, unfortunately, our hard choices tend to be a bit more murky (a choice, say, between this sick feeling in our stomach and that sick feeling in our stomach), and it is hard to embue them with a sense of excitement.

Note that my mention of stomach feelings.  This may be because I tend to view a decisive step as something that turns my stomach (in the aforementioned sickly way), rather than churns it (with a feel of adventure).  The problem is that I seem generally convinced that there is an absolutely right choice, and that that choice, undoubtedly, hasn’t even crossed my mind.  This aggrandizes the making of a decision in an awful way– I am not only deciding an immediate issue; I am being subjected to a test–of my decision-making capacity, my wisdom, my worth as a human being.

Since I’m still in New Year’s resolution mode, I ask myself what to do about this problem.  How does one turn the spot between a rock and a hard place into a forward-leading path?  Okay, scratch that.  How does one turn it into a place where one is not simply banging one’s head?   How does one recognize that the spot between the rock and hard place is sometimes located in one’s own cerebral cortex?

Back to the Sookie Stackhouse model:  she is an example of forthrightness and aplomb, but she is also beaten, shot, or bitten, on nearly every other page.   She also has (i) this wonderfully delicious blood, (ii) valuable telepathic abilities, and (iii) a great figure, all of which seem to mean that she can indulge in a fair amount of righteous an extremely vocal indignation whenever she is faced with a hard decision, and always be totally forgiven.  She is a good enough character that she suffers regrets, qualms, and remorse, but, generally, once she makes a decision, she learns to make the best of it.

I don’t want to be shot or bitten; and I have no idea of the quality of my blood.  (I’m also out of the running for Sookie’s other two enumerated qualities.)  So, that leaves me with …regrets, qualms, remorse (I’ve got those covered)…making the best of it.  The best in this case has nothing to do with perfectionism.

Good old Sookie.

(Caveat—I’ve never seen the TV show True Blood, but only read the Charlaine Harris novels.   Sorry for any spoilers or differences.)

(P.S. Click the link to see Sookie, Eric and Bill Compton as turtles,  or as elephants.

(Post-Script – if you like elephants, check out 1 Mississippi by Karin Gustafson.)

Bill Compton as Vampire Camel

December 14, 2009

Vampire Bill as Camel

Bill Compton as Camel.  I know, it’s weird.

All rights reserved.

Bill Compton, Sookie Stackhouse, Elephants

December 11, 2009

Bill Compton in Sookie Stackhouse's Hair (as Elephants)

I haven’t seen the HBO series, True Blood, so my depiction of Sookie Stackhouse and Bill Compton is based solely on the Southern Vampire Mystery Series (by Charlaine Harris), plus my own preference for drawing elephants over humans.

For those who haven’t read the books, Bill the side-burned vampire loves to detangle the long blonde hair of Sookie, the cocktail waitress.

(All rights reserved.)

For elephants without fangs, check out 1 Mississippi by Karin Gustafson at Amazon.

After the Ninth Southern Vampire Novel

December 7, 2009

Under pressure of pressure (that is, randomized, yet persistent, work and life demands), I read nine vampire books last week.  (The “Sookie stackhouse Southern Vampire Mysteries” by Charlaine Harris).  This is not something I am proud of.

I also managed (for the record) to get to work every day, to work while there, even to put in several hours on Sunday.  Cooking was done Laundry was not.  (I hereby send an open apology to all members of my gym.)

Sleep was intermittent.   Perhaps, as a result, I felt a bit dazed finishing the ninth novel this morning (“benighted” may be a better description.)

I’m not quite sure why one (“I”) turn to silly books under pressure. Of course, there’s the whole mind candy business.  (See my earlier post “When Escapism Hits Hard –  https://manicddaily.wordpress.com/2009/12/03/blocking-write…pism-hits-hard/ )

And yes, it’s embarrassing.  Still, there it is.  Some nights (and mornings, Saturday afternoons, and subway rides) will have their vampires (in print.)

Since I am new to this genre, I don’t know what is standard.  I did notice a considerable overlap between the Sookie Stackhouse novels and the Twilight Saga – cool, perfectly handsome, powerful, vamps in love triangles with warm, slightly less handsome and powerful, “were” figures (werewolves, shape shifters, were tigers) and a humble but cute gal who has an extra-special zing to her blood.  There are also characters who can read minds (Edward Cullen and Sookie Stackhouse), but who fall in love with those whose minds they cannot read.  Jokes about the ridiculousness of vampires and baseball.   Enforcers of  vampire “law”.  Many descriptions of clothes.

The Sookie Stackhouse books are much more diverse than Twilight, with (i) a soap-opera-sized number of characters, (ii) nearly non-stop corpses, (iii) an interesting social context (Northern Louisiana); (iv) an interesting political context (the vampires have “come out of the closet” with worldwide TV announcements), and, of course, (v) actual sex/frequent biting (as opposed to abstinence/last-resort biting ).  No wonder the books have successfully translated to a television series (True Blood, which I confess I’ve never seen.)

And yet, despite the fact that I read all the Sookie Stackhouse books straight through, I can also see why they do not have the devoted readership of Twilight.   First, the books are not written for tween/teenage girls, a viciously loyal  group.   Secondly, the books are basically crime mysteries,  inherently written for just one read.

Third, and most important,  where’s the Edward (i.e. Robert Pattinson)?    Bill Compton (and remember, I haven’t seen the TV series) is the closest to unconditionally devoted and droolworthy. (Eric is promising but sneaky, Alcide too hairy, and Quinn, the were-tiger, too unintelligent.)  But after the first book or so, poor Bill only briefly passes, longingly, through the dark of Sookie’s yard.

By the ninth (and last published) book, anyone with a romantic temperament  (read “me”) is getting really tired of Bill’s near-absence.  But, lo and behold, the series is not yet finished.  Ms. Harris has apparently realized that, in our high-pressure world, the appetite for mind candy, like the appetites of Sookie’s vamps, takes many many bites to satisfy.

UPDATE TO THIS POST FROM JANUARY 7, 2010–After much “review”, I’ve found that the Sookie Stackhouse novels are pretty good “re-reads” after all.  If you are in the mood for escapism, they definitely hold up for repeated reads.  I also want to revise my question: “Where’s the Edward?”  The male characters, especially Eric and Bill, do grow on one.  “Like a fungus,” as Sookie says in one of the books (to Eric).   Eric and Bill have certain advantages (for the reader) over Edward as well that almost make up for the fact that they are not embued with the image of Robert Pattinson.  They are quirky, definitely flawed, have senses of humor, and are very sensual.   Fun.

Blocking Writer’s Block – When Escapism Hits (Hard)

December 3, 2009

Sometimes the mind needs candy.  It just can’t bear to chew over ideas of substance; it’s too tired to wrestle with gristly debates; it doesn’t want to pick nuance from its teeth.

No sirree, what it wants are donuts.  (It’s not even up to “doughnuts”.)  And it wants them all night long.

Who knows what makes the mind revert to pablum?

(Actually, I think it’s stress, a rebellion from pressure, an internal decision not to bullied by one’s own sense of responsibility.)

During such periods, some minds, usually of the male persuasion, will watch sports  or play video games; some females will watch several seasons in one sitting of Grey’s Anatomy, even though they well understand that both McDreamy and McSteamy are McStupid, and that Meredith Grey would be more properly named “MiMi Beige.”

In my case, the reversion is to puerile, but somehow, entertaining books.  (And, of course, a certain new movie star whose name is only known to regular followers of this blog.)

I’m not quite sure what to advise when times like this arise.  I guess the most important question is—are you getting your work done?  By work, I mean your day job, your school work, your obligations to family, friends, dog, your toothbrushing and hairwashing, your eating and some minimum amount of sleep.  Hopefully, most of us can put down the mind’s donutty distraction for the hours it takes to perform the tasks that keep us in the daily life business.

But what about that creative work that we think of as a second career (or a true vocation)?

Unfortunately, it can be very hard for creative work to serve as a significant block to a donutty mindset, especially if you are not getting either money or acknowledgement for the creative work.

Luckily, the mind has some natural defenses:

  1. Boredom.  Most escapist fare does not, per se, hold an overwhelming amount of food for thought.
  2. Pride.  An OC (obsessive-compulsive) attraction to escapist fare can become really embarrassing.    It’s true that innocuous plastic book covers, and a Kindle can go a long way towards mitigating that embarrassment.  Still, when you mother keeps telling you how much she’s enjoying Cormac McCarthy while you are obsessively reading Charlaine Harris (author of The Sookie Stackhouse novels, the basis for the series, True Blood), it gets a bit much.
  3. Duty.  Trees.

While you are waiting for boredom, pride, and duty to kick in, here’s another trick:    try to find something useful in your mind candy.  Look at it from a “maker’s” point of view.  If you are interested in writing, read the dumb books with an eye for their plotting, their narrative structure, their momentum, their sex scenes (!)   (Yes, it’s all a bit of an excuse, but there can be some valuable lessons there.)

Finally try to just enjoy yourself a bit.    Be giddy, stay up late, read while you walk to and from the subway.   More importantly, get some much-needed confidence.     And don’t worry too much.   If you are truly interested in doing creative work, the angst will be back soon enough.