At the moment, I'm still behind as hell on A Tree of Bones, still unimpressed by my own work ethic, still wrestling intermittently with a new outline bent on pruning both the one I began with (two years ago) and the one I came up with last year (when I thought A Rope of Thorns would be the end of the haul) down to their best bits and then knitting it all together. At the moment, it looks lumpy to say the least, and I'm frankly scared. Can only hope that my "Deadlines are our friend!" genes will eventually kick in, before things really go to shit.
In the meantime, I've been trying to catch up on various books, including some stuff I got out of the library. Dean Koontz's What the Night Knows was a welcome return to form, crammed with crazy gothic freakery--a serial killer/ghost/possession/body ride thriller full of fairly smart characters who nevertheless make dumb decisions because A) they're young and inexperienced or B) don't know they're in a horror narrative. I was very amused by the scene in which our hero spills his woes to a local priest, only to have the priest recommend a psychiatrist. OTOH, the clear implication that liking Harry Potter/Narnia-type stories opens you up to Satanically-influenced manipulation rings a bit dicey, but YMMV.
Odder and potentially more useful is a collection from Skyhorse called Vintage Vampire Stories, which has the dubious distinction of being the worst copy-edited book I've read in years (one tale has five separate errors in the same paragraph), yet fills a need I never really knew I had: Images of the vampire from well before the "rules" of mainstream vampirism were completely established. Granted, it contains Bram Stoker's original 1890 notes for the novel he was then going to call Count Wampyr (good save, my man), but the rest of the tales--which range in date from 1679 to 1909--are incredibly free-ranging: We've got medical "vampirism" (actually more a combination of berserker rage and cannibalistic hunger), a haunted mirror that sucks the life out of those who live adjacent to it, something which seems like the myth of Tithonus combined with psychic youth-vampirism, little-known localized variants like the Portugese bruxsa, the Chinese "blood-drinking corpse" and the Moldavian "Children of Judas", an African "blood fetish" that's a mummified hand which strangles people in their sleep, and the astral projection of a dead psychic which is finally "laid" by an equally astral-projected Tibetan lama.
At least five of the stories also very specifically recall the archaic connection between vampire and "vamp", or femme fatale: Stuff like Dick Donovan's "The Woman with the Oily Eyes", in which our titular creature might be anything from a con artist/poisoner to a witch or genetic vampire, born with a full set of teeth and her hypnotically mesmerizing eyes sealed together, or Phil Robinson's "Medusa", who keeps her face constantly covered for fear of attracting men whose life-force she'll suck out without even really wanting to. Or Hugh McCrae's "The Vampire", which is basically just a two-page sketch about some sap getting taken for everything he's worth by a turn-of-the-century golddigga with "stuffed busks and stuffed hair". (His brief biography notes that he lived a Bohemian life and belonged to an artists' club called "The Prehistoric Order of Cannibals"; somebody should write a story about that.)
I can't say any of these stories are good per se, but many are quite fascinating...and at least one, Mary Fortune's "The White Maniac: A Doctor's Tale", is unintentionally hilarious. Our hero, a dashing Victorian physician, is brought in to consult on the case of a French "princess" who's been confined by her uncle in an all-white house--he says she has to be kept segregated from all colour (especially red, get it?) in order to stave off murderous attacks of monomania. But she claims it's her uncle who's crazy, and naturally--because she's cute ad uncle isn't--Dr Moron takes her word for it; he decides to marry her, and shows up at the house with a bouquet of red roses.
...as I spoke I uncovered my scarlet bouquet and shook out its blossoms. The sight of it made a terrible impression upon my companion; his knees trembled as if he were about to fall, and his face grew whiter than his garments.
"In the name of heaven, what are you going to do?" he gasped.
"I am simply going to present my bride with a bouquet," I said, and as I said so I laughed, an empty, hollow laugh. I cannot describe my strange state of mind at that moment; I felt as if myself under the influence of some terrible mania.
"By all you hold sacred, Charles Elveston, I charge you to desist! Who or what are you, that you should set your youth and ignorance of this woman against my age and bitter experience?"
"Ha ha!" was my only response, as I made towards the door.
As one might assume, this doesn't turn out well. In Simpsons voices:
"I told you she was crazy and would try to bite your throat out!"
"I said 'ha ha'!"
Okay, I see it's begun to rain outside, which explains my headache. More Tylenol Sinus, and back to the grind...