Through black-rimmed glasses, his eyes squint under the tug of pure pleasure. He smiles, his high-boned cheeks a shine, hair fringed careless under baseball cap—a man caught in spontaneous and unaffected beauty. This is him, undiluted. What he feels, you will see. In those brown, summer-sun-flecked eyes, there is no lie. Anger glares hard; doubt calculates and surmises; frustration burns; mischief tempts and teases; he dares, he challenges, he demands. So when that strong jaw, etched with unshaven care, relaxes, when those luscious lips spread wide—white-smiling, cheek-appling, eye-glinting in glimmering-sun-rayed-dance—you dismantle in a tingling melt. Let it come: beauty in its most genuine essence. Him: life at its most worthwhile.
We daydream when we’re driving, right? The radio’s on and sometimes a song draws us in; sometimes the music is just a rhythm in the background of our thoughts. It’s a bit of space in the day when we’re not doing work and chores, attending meetings, handling phone calls.
Then we pull into the gas station, where sun shines off the pumps and the few decorative trees shiver a bit in the light wind. A landscaping truck is pulled beside the air pump; men stand about and talk. A white-haired woman holds her cash card, hesitant before fitting it to the slot. Pumping gas: a few minutes of stillness, a moment to let the world around sink in while there’s nothing else to do.
Except now, when I open my door, I’m blasted with talk. Gas station TVs, commercials talking at me, media overload, loud voices crashing over the vibration of leaves.
I do not like this innovation.
The men who lean against the truck, cross their legs comfortably and laugh with each other. They’re far enough away not to hear. I want to smother the TV; I want to feel the sun instead.
I was very happy to hear that my vampire novel was chosen as Reviewer’s Choice for December at Two Lips Reviews, where the reviewer had this to say:
“Beside the Darker Shore is different. It is not your usual vampire tale. There is no sex in the book, per se, but it is one of the most powerfully sensual books I have read. When humans offer their blood to vampires, the eroticism of the bloodletting has no need for sex.
“While there are villains in Beside the Darker Shore, they are not the stereotypical villains of vampire novels. There was no right or wrong. There is an air of ‘what is best for me’ for each character. … For the pain each of these men brings to the other, it is hard to dislike any of them. Each is fighting for what he believes …these are characters that have not left my mind since I finished the book.”
For more of the review or to see what other novels were selected for the Reviewer’s Choice Award, visit
Two Lips has given my vampire novel Beside the Darker Shorea five-star review, saying “It is not your usual vampire tale. There is no sex in the book, per se, but it is one of the most powerfully sensual books I have read. When humans offer their blood to vampires, the eroticism of the bloodletting has no need for sex.”
When discussing a recent short story of mine, talk turned to beauty and truth and how each leaves people vulnerable. Truth I understood; we have to face things in others, in life, in ourselves sometimes that is scary, that leaves us open to having to trust or to move on, to make change or make what we have be our choice. There’s a lot of responsibility involved in knowing truth, and truth is exposure, opening us to the risk of living with others.
But beauty was more difficult. How could something visually pleasing leave a person vulnerable? Isn’t it instead the universe’s gift to us? In the story, a beautiful young man walks into a house buried in snow, a family living in the lingering grief of a husband and father silently leaving them. The young girl has relegated love and romance and sex to the fantasies she reads in literature. They satisfy; the stories are known and don’t change.
But when this beautiful young man walks into her house, his beauty steps past her barriers. He is genuine and exquisite, and she feels suddenly open and vulnerable as he reads her desire. So what is at work when we see something or someone so beautiful that it makes us stop? What does it strike in us that we need to gaze, to share it with others, to paint it, take a picture, memorize it in memory? Something inside must be stirred. Something seen within the person, what emanates that recalls or wakes something in us—maybe from human memory, maybe something deeper, connecting with a broader existence.
To keep that beauty in your life, in a sense, is to let it have power over you. When we feel attraction to a person, that is the first step to allowing someone to cross into our lives. Before we even shake hands or say hello, they’ve crossed over, waking something, creating a slight change if only for a moment. Creating, sometimes, a lasting change if the gap between closes. When we build our home on the lake, soothed by water’s constancy, by the sun and moon’s predictable but never uninspiring beauty, we are still mesmerized quickly if we take the moment to look. It affects us. It changes our decisions, it confirms our trust.
But life is unpredictable too. While we watch cranes flying over a twilight sky, a healthy teenage girl suffers five heart attacks while being brutally raped. While a hurricane tears away thousands of lives, the moon rises orange and we stand outside and gasp. When hard words surround us at home or at work, we’re greeted with a soft-lipped wide smile on a face we can’t forget. Maybe beauty is a balm for pain and we have to be vulnerable to it to let it work its magic. Trust leave us vulnerable to betrayal, loss, and pain. We don’t know. Unknowing has always been key to human vulnerability—having to trust, to hope, against odds. But that sun and moon keep doing their thing, and beauty is hard to resist.
EDIT: In discussion with people, some issues came up to reiterate: We don’t always see nature’s beauty though it’s right in front of us. And that’s also why I think when we’re attracted to someone’s “beauty,” that we’re really attracted to some inner need at the moment, some expression of ourselves even, that we perceive in someone else. (Not to sound like we only act for ourselves in an egotistical way but that connections happen based on what we’re feeling on a deeper level.)
When I was a kid growing up on a dead-end street in Hillside, factories at the top, factories at the bottom, all playing fields to us, we had an ice-cream man who served soft ice cream along with the Good Humor bars. The most expensive item on the truck was a chocolate shake.
The block was full of kids ranging from me and my best friend Anne, the youngest, to older brothers and sisters, in their late teens and early twenties. None of us could really afford the chocolate shakes. I’d stare at the picture as I counted dimes. One day, my brother was there, watching us in line. He must have seen me counting, figuring, looking disappointed, because he got up off the curb and said, “What do you want? My treat.”
I was afraid to say the shake, but he guessed it and said, that’s fine, and he pulled what looked like a fortune to me from his pocket. I’m sure it wasn’t, but slicing a dollar bill from what looked like tens and twenties had my eyes open wide. He worked. He was older. From that day on, if he was ever around when the ice cream man came, he’d jog over and buy me a shake.
That wasn’t his only magic. He let me play in his bedroom when he was out. He had swords and daggers hanging on his walls, medieval wall hangings, a spiked flail hanging over his pillow. And he had a wall of model cars. I didn’t take anything down, I just touched things gently, and then lay on his bed and made up stories. I liked cars and dolls equally as a kid; I liked swords and easy-bake-ovens. He encouraged my imagination in what others might have dissuaded.
And he was an artist, is an artist. He’d let me watch him draw. I’d sit at the kitchen table and watch the array of pencils bring out shadow and light to form trees and mountains and cabins and our own small house in a little street.
He’s taken to going on vacations with my family now. And I tell him he has to bring his paints and canvases. It takes him nearly the entire week to get up inspiration, and then he sighs and unwraps the canvas and sets out the paint jars and palette. I wonder if he’s doing it just because I’m waiting. We bring home at least two small canvases, little things he says aren’t worth anything.
I love them. I have two of his large paintings hanging in my house, along with the little things. I still have the sketches he drew me when I was kid, even the fire engines he helped me draw for a school project. He’ll be retiring soon, and I told him he has to come out more often, have dinner with us. He and Gary are very good friends. Maybe we’ll go out for ice cream, and maybe I’ll order the biggest dish!
Older brothers can be magic to a younger sister. I wonder sometimes how much he’s responsible for my opinions of men and my underlying belief they’re good guys.
In Romania, the Varcolaci vampires hunger, not for the red blood flow of humans, but for the light of the sun and the moon. Sometimes depicted as small animals, but also as pale and parched humans, one legend has it that they’re created at midnight if a woman spins without candlelight. They travel wherever they like on the thread of this midnight spinning, as long as the thread isn’t broken, and an eclipse is the Varcolaci satiated by that lost sun or moon.