Vampire Novelist Denise K. Rago

Seriously, to write a novel with basically two characters, trying to survive a harrowing ordeal…..no spoilers here. This was a brilliant read and I actually cried at the end, something I rarely do. Now a major motion picture staring Idris Elba and Kate Winslet. I won’t miss it.

A heartfelt Thanksgiving for all the blessings in my life.

I was born on the night of Samhain, when the barrier between the worlds is whisper-thin and when magic, old magic, sings its heady and sweet song to anyone who cares to hear it. ~Carolyn MacCullough, “Once a Witch”

A lot of the holidays we celebrate throughout the year have remnants of the past still attached to them. For example, the Christmas tree grew out of the pagans in Europe using branches of evergreen fir trees to decorate their homes and brighten their spirits during the winter solstice. What about Halloween though? Where did it come from? Actually, it has a pretty cool origin story, so settle in and listen up!

Samhain (sow-in) is an ancient Celtic festival from 2000 years ago that marked the end of harvest season (fall) and the beginning of the darker half of the year (winter). The Celts considered this to be a liminal time – a time when the boundary between our world and the “Otherworld” opened and/or could more easily be crossed, allowing supernatural beings, like the “Aos Si” (“spirits” or as you may know them, “fairies”), and the souls of the dead to come into our world. So, essentially a “festival for the dead”!

So, what exactly did people to during Samhain? For starters, they left offerings of food and drink outside their homes for the Aos Si to ensure that people and livestock survived the winter. And since the souls of the dead were thought to revisit their old homes seeking hospitality, feasts were held where an empty place was set at the table and the souls of dead kin were beckoned to attend. The ancient Celts also built huge sacred bonfires where people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to Celtic deities. During these celebrations, it was common for the Celts to wear costumes (usually animal heads and skins), possibly as a way of disguising themselves from the Aos Si. And when the Samhain celebrations were all over, the Celts re-lit their hearth fires (which they’d extinguished early in the evenings) from the sacred bonfires to help protect them during the upcoming winter. So, kind of like one huge, wild, community block party.

That’s where Halloween got it’s start, though it’s name and certain traditions like trick’r’treating and bobbing for apples didn’t come later till Christianity came along and holidays like All Saints’ Day merged with the festival of Samhain in an effort to de-paganize the pagans (okay, truthfully there is dissent amongst scholars as to whether the merging of celebrations was a concious effort to remove old gods, etc). Samhain is still celebrated by pagans today though and is often used as a time to try to communicate with the dead. So, remember your pagan roots when you’re out trick’r’treating tonight and be careful who you cross – that ghost or goblin you just passed in the dark may not be just a person in costume…

I’ve been a fan of this author for years and although he has quite a body of work, The Snowman is one of the best novels I have ever read and it’s now coming to the big screen! Featuring Harry Hole, a flawed yet lovable detective, this is one of those can’t-put it-down novels. Don’t read it during a snow fall, whatever you do.

When It by Stephen King was released I immediately went out and bought it.  I read about one hundred pages and had to put it down.  I am and always have been terrified of clowns and once Pennywise came on the scene I was done.

I have since read It and find it to be one of my favorite novels by this prolific horror writer.

Here’s a taste of the 2017 movie by the same name.  Although I’m much older, it still terrifies me!

Enjoy!

“People disappear all the time. Ask any policeman. Better yet, ask a journalist….

Many of the lost will be found, eventually, dead or alive. Disappearances, after all, have explanations.

Usually.”

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How could you not be hooked? I loved this novel, especially being a fan of time travel and Scotland. The television show on the Starz network has done a fabulous job bringing this epic love story to the screen. I never miss an episode.

 

A place I reference frequently in my novels is a little neighborhood in Paris called Le Marais. These days Marais is quite similar in feel to the West Village in NYC, chock-full of bars, restaurants, hotels, high and low fashion boutiques, trendy shops, hip designers, old fashioned bread shops, jewelry, wine shops, fashionable art galleries and museums all crammed into one small area. Long the aristocratic district of Paris, it hosts many outstanding buildings of historic and architectural importance. But what of its history?

Marais started out focused on religion with the Order of the Temple building its fortified church in the northern part in 1240. Many other religious institutions were added nearby (such as convents and the church of Sainte-Catherine-du-Val-des-Écoliers) and the area became known as the Temple Quarter. During the mid-13th century, Charles I of Anjour, King of Naples and Sicily, and brother of King Louis IX of France built his new residence in Marais. King Charles V followed with a mansion in 1361 and from then till the 17th century, Marais became known as the Royal Square, the French nobility’s favorite place of residence. French nobles were fond of building their urban mansions there – such as the Hôtel de Sens, the Hôtel de Sully, the Hôtel de Beauvais, the Hôtel Carnavalet, the Hôtel de Guénégaud and the Hôtel de Soubise. During the late 18th century, whilst still being known as an aristocratic area, Marais was no longer a fashionable district for the nobility. Then came the Revolution.

After the revolution, much of the area was abandoned by the rich, and poor bohemian types moved in. At this point, Marais was so squalid that it was nearly destroyed by city officials in their attempt to modernize Paris. This was also the beginning of the time period when the area started attracting a large Jewish community, quickly becoming one of Paris’ main Jewish communities. Unfortunately, the people living here were targeted by the Nazis occupying France during WWII. Since the 90s, however, the street, rue des Rosiers, has made a comeback as a major centre for the Jewish community.

The Marais today is now one of Paris’ main localities for art galleries. It’s also known for the Chinese community it hosts. Marais has also become a center for LGBTQ+ culture, starting in the 80s. 40% of Paris’ LGBTQ+ businesses are located in Marais. Florence Tamagne, author of “Paris: ‘Resting on its Laurels’?”, wrote that Le Marais “is less a ‘village’ where one lives and works than an entrance to a pleasure area” and that this differentiates it from Anglo-American gay villages. Tamagne added that like U.S. gay villages, Le Marais has “an emphasis on ‘commercialism, gay pride and coming-out of the closet'”.

One of the best things about Marais though is that it truly is the Paris of old. Before Napoleon showed up, the Marais is what most of Paris looked like – a labyrinth of cobblestone alleys. The rest of Paris was razed by Napoleon and replaced with huge avenues and gigantic squares, but standing in the Marais, we are privy to the small and approachable Paris of the past. There’s a reason I love it so. Explore Le Marais in the photos and video below!

I’m not quite sure where this summer went but it is rapidly coming to a close.
I am diligently working on edits for my newest novel, Eternal Hunger, but they are going slow as I have been really relaxing this summer; reading and just enjoying myself.
Now that fall is on our doorstep I will be publishing my newsletter filled with more goodies inside.
I hope your summer was a good one and thank you for dropping by.

Quick – what’s the first thing you think of when I say “masquerade balls”? Perhaps you think about Romeo meeting Juliet for the first time in Baz Luhrrmann’s epic 90s adaptation or Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” crosses your mind. Maybe you ponder the lonely Phantom of the Opera chasing after Christine. Whatever comes to mind, you might be surprised to learn that the masquerade wasn’t always just about partying and dancing the night away. Throughout history the masquerade has held a host of meanings to our ancestors. Join me on a journey through the years as we cast a spotlight on the masquerade!

Masquerades originated from pagan festivals celebrating the advent of the spring planting season. In the 15th century, this time was known as Carnaval season (yep, you got it – Mardi Gras!) and began after the winter solstice as part of the Feast of Fools. At this point, it was much less high society and more of a cirque du celebration – a time when villagers would gather wearing masks to partake in pageantry. Over time, these parties were taken over more by royalty and increasingly involved Royal Entries (the act of welcoming kings & queens to one’s city), processions celebrating marriage, and other such events of medieval court life. In fact, one of the earliest of these types of balls came in 1393 when Charles V1 of France held the first “Bal des Ardents”, or “Burning Men’s Ball”. (Perhaps there’s some relation to today’s Burning Man?…) This ball changed the whole perception of such events from one of royal pageantry to one of intrigue and risk. How so? Well, Charles V1 had the brilliant idea to celebrate the marriage of the queen’s lady-in-waiting by having 5 of his courtiers and himself dress in masks and flax costumes to dance the night away as “wildsmen of the woods”. The catch? If they danced too closely to one of the many flaming torches lining the dance floor, they caught on fire. Fun…?

By the time masquerade balls reached Italy, they were generally elaborate dances held for the upper class, where scandal reigned. Tied to the Venetian Carnaval, the balls only lasted for a few years until the fall of the Venetian Republic. Fortunately, along came John James Heidegger, a Swiss count who revitalized the popularity of the masquerade across Europe by bringing Venetian costumes to public dances in gardens in London. Along with this move came a name change, due to the reputation for unseemly behavior and unescorted women at masquerades – Ridotto.

Not all balls were fun and games, however. Gustav III of Sweden was assassinated by a disgruntled nobleman at a masquerade, while in 18th century France, balls and Carnaval was increasingly politicized and used to attack the monarchy. In fact, with the French Revolution, Carnaval and masking were temporarily banned till Napoleon brought Carnaval back in 1800. And the masquerade didn’t fare very well in colonial America where there was an actual anti-masquerade movement decrying the immorality and “foreign influence” of such events.

In popular culture, the French and masked balls have been linked so closely that a 1908 American film was titled AT THE FRENCH BALL (a story of adultery at a masquerade). Though with good reason. After Napoleon brought back Carnaval in 1800, the Parisian Carnaval was said to have all but died by 1830. But in 1831 after the July Revolution, it exploded back onto the scene, changing once again into a version akin to Hollywood and the red carpet. A new revolutionary generation was in town and romanticism had arrived. Along with them came the fashion press, satirical dailies, gossip columns, and cheap newspapers, all of whom provided Parisians and readers everywhere a blow-by-blow account of the masked balls during Carnival after 1830. Hundreds of these pamphlets, satires, and fashion magazines supplied running commentary on the pleasures to be found at the Carnaval masked balls at their height in the 1830s and 1840s (including the masked balls that took place in the middle of the Revolution of 1848) and it is this period that became shrouded in myth.

Unfortunately, today the masquerade tends to stay firmly in myth. Night clubs came to replace the daring, scandalous, erstwhile balls and now you’d be hard-pressed to find a true masquerade to attend. If you’ve been lucky enough to attend a masquerade somewhere, leave a comment and tell us all about it! We can merely dream and live vicariously through you. *sighs*

I’ll be running a contest to pick the book cover image for Eternal Hunger, the next novel in The Enchanted Bloodline Series. Winners to receive copies of Eternal Hunger. Following in the footsteps of Immortal Obsession and Blood Tears, Eternal Hunger continues the story of vampire Christian Du Maure as he moves between France and modern day Manhattan searching for a lost love. He hunts in the lush Ramble of New York City’s Central Park with his best friend, vampire Michel Baptiste. Clearly Bethesda Fountain in Central Park is also a favorite haunt of this author.