Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, by Seth Grahame-Smith

Because I do not claim to be in any position to deliver a professional literary critique, I reserve the freedom to begin this review by answering the most basic question–did I like it?

I enjoyed this book immensely on so many levels!

::Spoiler alert::

The first aspect of this work that I fixated on was the format. It is primarily written in third-person omniscient, however it has excerpts from Abe’s journals peppered throughout. As I have structured my novel similarly, I appreciate the daunting task of writing directly from your character in the hyper-personal gambit of a journal. In fact, I was experiencing so much anxiety about writing from two of my male characters’ perspective, I was motivated to begin interviewing some of my wonderful man-friends in attempts to gain some legitimate empathy. It was therefore galvanizing to be reading at leisure a book which was directly contributing to my own work. I certainly need more experience with the way an intelligent, articulate man analyzes his own thoughts and emotions.

The introduction was wonderfully imagined and directly involved the author himself as the primary character. Seth is approached by Abe’s primary vampire influence, Henry, and charged with Mr. Lincoln’s notebooks and the directive to disperse the truth by compiling a biography. The plot moves along comfortably, beginning with Abe as a small boy and ending shortly after his assassination. Throughout, the reader finds adept descriptions of Lincoln’s visage, his first love and loss,  his progression through politics, and of course vibrant, violent scenes from his development as a Vampire Hunter. The only quarrel I have with the plot is in the ending (isn’t it always?). Henry makes an executive decision after Lincoln’s death which is shamefully contrary to Abe’s wishes; he inducts him into the world of the undead because “some men are just too interesting to die” (Grahame-Smith 336). However, Abe had many times in life rejected Henry’s offer to resurrect his first love and multiple children which succumbed to an early death. In fact, Abe and Henry had a violent  falling out three-quarters of the way through the book over such an offer and hadn’t spoken since that altercation. However, the reader finds in the last pages Henry and Abe, garbed in dark clothes and glasses, listening to Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his famous address.  It’s a wonderful concept that Abe would hear his own address cited in Rev. King’s opening lines,  but the means to that end didn’t uphold the values and mutual respect built between the man and the vampire throughout the book. In fact, I can imagine that the 98 years between Abe’s death/resurrection and the I Have a Dream speech, Abe would have been attempting to take vengeance on Henry for his trespass. The amicable, picturesque ending seems contrived.

I have two thematic take-aways: one that a speaker is believable because he believes, and two, the inherent loneliness of a human existence.

A member of the audience at one of Abe’s stirring speeches relates ,”I have heard celebrated orators who could start thunders of applause without changing any man’s opinion. Mr. Lincoln’s eloquence was of the higher type, which produced conviction in others because of the conviction of the speaker himself”  (Grahame-Smith 215). This resonates with another quote by Benjamin Zander that I’ve been communing with recently: “One of the characteristics of a leader is that he won’t doubt for one moment about the capacity of the people he’s leading to realize whatever he’s dreaming.” The concept calls for me to know what I believe in, because speaking whether in a public forum or in private, is representing my ability to inspire myself.

“In solitude we are least alone” (Grahame-Smith 160) is the inscription Abe leaves on the coffin of his first love, Anne Rutledge. She has been killed in retaliation by a vampire, and of course Abe endures a deep depression as a result. I love this quote because it so succinctly captures the ineffable individual experience of life, and the paradoxical feelings as a result. It doesn’t indicate that the quality of being alone is essentially negative, and I find that uplifting. My initial interpretation of this quote was the loss of identity in obsessive love. Often one can feel that his or her own identity loses meaning without the input of the object of their affection. I’m sure most people are familiar with the quote “I was more alone with you than without you” (UAL). I think that comes from that sense of insignificance when you elevate someone to the heights of obsession.  However, another paradoxical interpretation of the same quote is that in solitude i find i am surrounded by grief, anger, disappointment…etc, so in fact I am rich in society. Perhaps Abe’s direct meaning, however,  was to indicate the spiritual vacancy of Anne’s body advertises her heavenly communion.

In summary, the writing was tremendous, the characters were  and inspiring, the plot was a spectacular marriage of fact and fiction. I highly recommend this read.

1) Grahame-Smit, Seth. Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. New York, NY, 2010.

2) Zander, Benjamin, ed. Ted: Ideas Worth Spreading Feb 2008. 

3) At Large, Universe. A Fictional Anthology of Depressing Cliches. Everywhere, Earth, Always.


Apologies and Proposals

1) Muse’s directive: “Write about a roll of film that has been obtained surreptitiously.”

To whom it may concern:

I am directing this correspondence to the management offices of the 21St. Dollar Movie in hopes that I may shed some light on the property stolen on the 21st of March.

I wish to identify the culprit, but more importantly, I wish to beg his pardon. Furthermore, I wonder if I may go so far as to propose your participation in the designs of the punitive measures levied.

You see, my grandson, Tucker Delaney, has bequeathed to me the story and has enlisted my assistance in his redemption. I will henceforth relate his story to you, and then describe the participation I request from you. Before I go any further, I must insist that I do not write with the intention to excuse Tucker. I merely strive to give you some understanding.

Tuck and his best friend PJ had no idea as they counted their quarters on the sidewalk at your facility, that they were mere minutes away from degenerating into thievery. Seeing the pictures on Saturday evening had been their habit for months, and they hadn’t any reason to suspect that today would be any different than the others. However, they were destined for their first glimpse of that which captivates all men: the seductive beauty of a woman exercising her influence.

They had been sauntering down the corridor towards the viewing of Captain Blood when their progress was arrested by the image of a woman’s naked shoulder, made momentarily visible to the hall by the swinging door as a patron exited the theater. Naturally, their first reaction was to change course–sneak into this theatre instead. They proceeded to mock what they couldn’t readily understand, as the human race is wont to do.

But there’s little that the boys could do to truly distract each other from the lace,  sultry voice, and the postures of that powerful woman (our own Mae West, of course). However, the impending end of the film began to nag at Tuck. He managed to contrive and convey a brilliant plan to his comrade that would prolong the experience for them; namely, to take ownership of the film.

As I’m sure you know from your interview of your employee, the plan involved luring the box attendant form his perch (Tuck is especially apologetic for Lou’s broken leg, I assure you. Permanent harm was not the original intent of PJ’s strategic position on the floor in front of the door.) Only after the boys were making off with the film through the alleyway, did either of them realize that they only had the film, but lacked the equipment for viewing.

The key, paradoixcal emotions of Tuck’s story that I need you to understand are his initial lust and need to possess, followed by shame, inadequacy, and vulnerability after the theft was committed.

I ask you to consider the potential metaphor here that could be utilized to imbue a certain lesson in relating to women for these young gentlemen.  A young man’s mind does begin to wonder at this age towards the physical aspect of romance. In light of the universality of parental frustration in providing guidance at this crucial stage, I request your participation with a humble suggestion.

The reality of love, respect, and lust are misunderstood, and overly romanticized  in our culture today. I fervently wish to take this opportunity to illustrate to our young men the effort, and intentional nature that is required from a man in a healthful relationship.

Please grant me the opportunity to take an active role in my designs. I offer my services in Lou’s stead for the duration of his rehabilitation. I request that Tucker and PJ be gainfully employed at your establishment for the duration, and at whatever terms you deem appropriate, with respect to their crime. In addition, I would like for the boys to be granted permissions typically denied such youth: the continued viewing of movies of this nature, insofar as I am made aware in advance. I believe this will initiate a proactive curiosity, which I will strive cultivate constructively. It is my firm belief that curiosity left to itself at this stage leads to perverse shame, whereas a powerful, guided trust could do much to instill sincere respect for love, lust, and beauty.

Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter,

Yours in sincerest apology and humility,

Joel Delaney

2) My current word count for my novel is: 19,553/30,000.

3) Muse’s next directive: “Write the following in the voice of a fifty-two-year-old man: I could have avoided all that trouble if only I had remembered to…”

How (not) to be an Ornery Codger

1) Muse’s directive: “Who’s the tallest person you know? The homeliest? The crankiest? The meekest? People at the bitter end of any continuum invite trouble. Begin with an extreme and see what happens.”

Recently, I’ve begun to wonder whether old, bitter Stew Jensen was ever young and happy. What on earth was he before he was the office grouch? What must this habitat of cubicles, fluorescents, and uncomfortable chairs have been like without his balding head craned over his desk?

I inhabit the cubicle across the hall from him. I’ve made a game of recording some of his most audacious mutterings. One of my all time favorites, for your pleasure, was harvested as he poured over a drawing of an electrical console. His nose was poised inches from the Bill of Materials when he exclaimed, “Well I suppose this gets plugged right into a dung heap and runs off hot air and bullshit.” With that assessment, he crumpled the drawing in his gnarled claws and shot it over the wall of his cubicle like he was heaving a grenade into enemy territory. Batty old Cheryl, three rows over announced her surprise with a tinny “Gracious me, the sky is falling!!”

Often, I am scarcely able to contain myself at these outbursts. But I learned the hard way that one must comport oneself  as utterly disenchanted and disaffected by Stew’s passions as possible.

When I first started my work here, I made the mistake of bidding Stew good day. My cordial gesture won me a five minute tirade on the utter imbecility of Congress, and the comparatively regular moods of the stock exchange versus the nature of Mrs. Jensen. Since then, I’ve learned that it’s best not to give Stew any indication that I realize his existence. Any acknowledgement of him seems to be a sensory overload trigger of sorts.

Today, though, I have decided to tread that precarious membrane of the icy no-man’s-land that has stretched between I and my neighbor these 3 years. Today is my last day, and I’ve accepted that my curiosity may never rest if I never explore the soul of that bowtie’d, starch-collared, heavily-mustached rogue. After all, if I don’t know how he became as he is, how can I be sure that my fate will not traverse the same path?

I stand up and swagger on over. The expression on Stew’s face at my arrival is some cross between a skittish rabbit and an apoplectic rhino. Before he has the chance to decipher whether his nature in this instance is to run away, or run me through, I say, “Stew I’m movin’ on for work and I just wanted to ask you this one thing before I go.”

Courtesy warrants that I give him room to object. He seems to be deflating by a fraction and I take that as a good sign. I hesitate however, because I realize this question may be illuminating to him. Perhaps he doesn’t realize that he’s the ornery office codger, and my revealing it to him as if he had known that fact as long as I have will, set him off.

“Stew, do you have any advice for a man just starting his career?” I ask to stall for time.

Stew looks down at his desk. Shifts in his chair. Crosses his arms. Exhales through his ponderous mustache.

“Son, ya just gotta be yourself,” he says with a shrug.

I’m disappointed. Certainly the grouch wouldn’t leave me with such a cliche. But then he continues, “But when ya find that yourself is too charming and that gets ya saddled with more work’n any man can do, add a bit of reactivity to your composure. If a person is on edge aboutcha, they’re not likely to discuss or delegate to ya. Understand?”

With that, he winks and taps his nose with his forefinger conspiratorially. His mustache is all contorted up and I’m sure, though I’ve never seen it before, that it’s hiding a grin. He turns to get back to work, dismissing me.

I exit his cubicle and take up my box of personal effects and make my way to the door. I jot a mental note to myself: grow one spectacular mustache for camouflaging troublesome charisma.

2) My current word count for my novel is: 19,064/30,000.

3) Muse’s next directive: “Write about a roll of film that has been obtained surreptitiously.”

Happy One Month!

At risk of disgusting everyone with the ridiculous effervescence typical of a new relationship…I say, Happy One Month Anniversary Amusinghabit!!!

Just be glad I didn’t do a one-week Anniversary celebration. Haters.

To honor the occasion, I wanted to report the word count advance thus far, and I’ll share an excerpt from my manuscript! Are you shaking with excitement? Too much caffeine? That’s ok, me too. Well, I might actually be shaking from all the sugar in my succulent Panera hot chocolate. No matter!

Cumulative Word Count Progress: 5,368! That’s almost a 40% increase!! (For your reference, I began this work in Aug 2010)

Excerpt: Introducing Anne, a love interest for Eli, a main character.

Perspective: Primary main character, Eli’s new guardian angel, taking the shape of a young lioness

Setting: Eli’s living room at his new address

“Your new accommodations are to your liking, Mr. Marsh?” the woman queries from the other side of the couch.

I watch as Eli nods and grins, looking down at his knees. He’s allowing the teasing tones of that voice to flow over the nape of his neck and down his back.

I can’t see the woman from my vantage point, but two beings on my plane accompany her–both looking weary and blistered. They are perched on the back of the couch, one at each side.

One, a once-handsome fox, lifts his ragged head to observe me. The left side of his face has been savaged. There’s a jagged crevice from eye to nose that contrasts the command and poise in what’s left of his countenance. I bow my head in greeting to our guest’s highest Guardian.

The other is a cheetah–tired but comparatively resplendent. She’s small but her presence is ravishing and red. She’s a demon and seduction is in every line of her body. Even the scars interrupting the predator’s-pattern coat only amplify her intensity.

Both angel and demon scare me. Their bodies are tense with awareness and I wonder what  tiny infraction will snap the tenuous peace between them. I want to hide, or rather, my cub’s body is scooting away to hide behind a chair leg. I try to comport myself around the obvious fear in my reaction.

I can see the woman from this vantage point now. She’s slender and strong. Her shoulders are poised at a careless slant but  her back  is curved tight yet supple, like a bow.  The thin  material of her black dress kisses her in every curve as she breathes. Her neck is long, artful and naked. Dark eyes flash to accompany an inviting  smile framed with crimson lips. Long delicate fingers are draped  over the breast of a bordeaux  glass whose stem presses into her thigh.  She tosses her head  in a laugh which sends  her red curls flying to cast flitting shadows on the pale blades of her shoulders.

I am intoxicated. There’s no beauty quite like this, I’m sure of it.
Pleasure  to meet you,  Anne.

Exercise With Verbs for Me, Climbing Lingo for You

1) Muse’s directive: “Use the following verbs in any way you wish: racket, snug, green, spoon, boggle, snake. Not all verbs, you say?…Verbs are sometimes a matter of opinion.”

We stroll into the climbing gym, Sandy and I, with gear in hand. We’re eager to get started. But no sooner does my sandaled foot touch the floor than a gaggle of girl scouts pours through the door behind us. They flow and break around us like a rushing current, and we stand, inert as stones in a stream. The clan rackets about, pushing, howling, giggling, poking, biting. I wonder momentarily if we are actually in the company of chimps who’ve been snugged up in official green vests to be passed off for real human offspring.  I’d probably try that too if it meant I’d be granted year-round access to Thin Mints and Samoas. Fearing rabies, Sandy and I hopscotch around the girls.

Once in the inner sanctum of the gym, we begin to gear up.

“Hah, watch that buckle, Colt,” Sandy sneers at my Craigslist harness, “Make a ‘C’ not an ‘O’,”he advises. I’m glad he’s reminded me because this isn’t a design I’m accustomed to. This thing looked more trustworthy in the picture. I actually think there’s a burn mark on one of the leg straps. Who needs those anyway?

We stub our toes into our climbing shoes and chalk up our hands. Sandy starts doing some static stretches to warm up,  but I try to jump right onto my favorite V1 bouldering problem. I’m thwarted by a guy trying to green a barbie to bouldering for the first time. It’s plain as day she’s not outdoorsy and only came here because she’s into the dude.

I skirt around them and start canvassing the wall to get limber, spooning my heel to the bigger holds so i can stretch out my legs. Once Sandy and I are both warm and content, we meander through the hoard of chimp-scouts and head for the top roping section of the gym.

I’m climbing first, so I thread my figure-eight and barrel knot into the rope in front of the track I’ve been eyeing. It’s a 5.9+ with an overhang at the top where all the holds look to get sparse. I’m just starting to plot out my moves when a girl on the next track (a 5.11) catches my eye. Sandy takes note of my distraction,  and we collectively boggle out because we suddenly don’t feel very manly. This chick’s got guns to spare and she moves quick like a spider, which is attractive in a creepy way.

I shake my head to clear it and give Sandy the word that I’m ready. He clicks the safety on the biner and takes up the slack through his ATC while I approach the wall.  Smearing the sole of my right shoe in a backstep, I grip the first jug with my left hand. I let my center of gravity rest in my hips against the wall before I snake my right hand up for the next hold.

2) My current word count for my novel is: 17,866/30,000.

3) Muse’s next directive: “Who’s the tallest person you know? The homeliest? The crankiest? The meekest? People at the bitter end of any continuum invite trouble. Begin with an extreme and see what happens.”

P.S. Explore here for more fun with climbing lingo.

Obsessy Clean

1) Muse’s directive: “Write about a less-than-remarkable aspect of your life.”

This is for all you cat lovers out there whose feline friend resides in the comfort of your abode. I believe we share this superlative: the most inglorious aspect of your life. There’s nothing remarkable about the obligatory grooming of the litterbox. I dare say though, there is something just a touch more amusing than average about my critter’s disposition on the subject.

You see, Hershey (or Caliegh to some of her admirers) did not begin life as a house cat. In fact, she lived out kittenhood through much of her adulthood outside in that wooded acreage in east TN which I call home. I was 12 when I first brought her home, packaged in a tired brown box with her Mom, Jade, and two sisters, KitKat and Jewel. Jade and Jewel were wild things and disappeared almost immediately, returning only for Meow Mix morsels when the hunt went foul. (I might have known my fortune as foretold by the loyalty of my cats–after precious stones abscond, you are left to comfort yourself with chocolates.)

Approximately 8 years later in my junior year of college,  Hershey made the pilgrimage with me to CT. She made sure to make 2 things clear to me along the way: she did not approve of the car, and she absolutely abhorred George Washington Bridge.

Today, she is discomfited by my dealings with her litterbox. By nature and upbringing, she’s very discreet about her ablutions. However, if she was merely disquieted by my involvement in this part of her private life, she is further distressed by the frenzy of cleaning that is precipitated by it.

It begins with my disatisfaction with the carpets and accoutrements that keep stray litter from Hershey’s paws from being deposited through the rest of my apartment. These get shaken like a maddening brat, then tossed outside the bathroom in a pile so that I can sweep up. The clean floor then makes a mockery of the tub, so of course I have to scrub that down. But then the toilet looks at me with disdain as if to say, “Some call me a throne, you know,” and since it’s been clever, I oblige. I go to wash my hands of the whole obsessive scrubbing thing, and I see the faucet squinting up at me from under a layer of scuzz. So, I shiney that up, and the counter as well because it has the capacity to be so very white. I’m about to leave the bathroom for the first time in an hour, when I catch sight of myself in the mirror. It’s sheepishly hanging there, its face helplessly displaying toothpaste constellations amid the reflection of those newly-sparkling denizens in the room. So i squeegee that mess until the mirror is proud again.

All the while, Hershey has been purring nervously, crouched in the doorway next to the listless heap of rugs. Under normal circumstances, she sticks close to me because that’s the sort of cat she is: a magnificent example of her kind who followed my barefoot adventures tirelessly, be there good dogs or bad dogs, in fair weather or driving rain. But I think in this, my frenetic cleaning, she’s not just my companion. I’m convinced she’s a sort of chaperone. She’s watching in order to ensure that I make it out of there before I take a toothbrush to the cracks int he floor.

2) My current word count for my novel is: 16,721/30,000.

3) Muse’s next directive: “Use the following verbs in any way you wish: racket, snug, green, spoon, boggle, snake. Not all verbs, you say?…Verbs are sometimes a matter of opinion.”

Reading List

In response to the Writer’s Toolbox post, herein I decide my reading list from now till Aug 30th.

I think I will have to change my reading habits for this venture.

Instead of reading 6 different works at once, I should probably read only one until it’s finished. And then the next one. Then the next. That way, I can do a thorough, focussed review, having immersed myself in a single author’s style.

I have 7 months, so I don’t see why I shouldn’t go ahead and read 7 books. A book per month isn’t too crazy, in addition to having a full time job, Crossfit 3 times a week, and trying to finish a manuscript. Right? Right. It sounds easy without friends, sleeping, cleaning, and feeding myself mentioned in that lineup. My relationship with my cat may suffer.

I admit having serious anxiety about choosing one title to sustain me for a whole month. All by itself. I tend to balance serious novels and nonfiction with young adult fun stuff. I suppose I need to choose books in some middle ground, then. I’ll limit myself further. WIth respect to my bank account, I shall pull only from my pile of books that I already own, but haven’t yet read. I will  exclude my (small) rare and old book collection, as I’d like to annotate and jot notes in margins per my custom for this directive.

Observe my stock.20130125_205054    

My choices (phew was that a tough exercise!):

  1. For fun: Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, Seth Grahame-Smith
  2. From an influence of mine: Hard Times, Charles Dickens
  3.  Directly pertaining to my manuscript: The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis
  4. A new experience: Captain America: Marvel Masterworks by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (the world of comics is utterly unknown to me)
  5. Easy reading: Choke, Chuck Palahniuk
  6. Personally challenging: Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage, Elizabeth Gilbert
  7. A global phenomenon: Girls of Riyadh, Rajaa Alsanea

There you have it! I’ve overcome some serious anxiety and produced….a list. I’ve come so far.

I’ll update about this venture in posts categorized “Review”. I’ll probably do a few check-ins with each book before the final review.

Feel free to follow along in your books. 🙂