How to write about the HIV pandemic in literature

How to write about the HIV pandemic in literature

The HIV pandemic is a character in my new book

During a panel discussion at the recent Saints & Sinners Literary Conference in New Orleans, we discussed how to write about a pandemic, both the current COVID-pandemic, but also the HIV pandemic. The latter still claims hundreds of thousands of casualties every year. Given that it originally mostly affected gay men, it is a pandemic I have to relate to, whether I want to or not. Being gay and HIV are inseparably linked to each other. When a novel plays out in the 1980s, even more so. We lost almost an entire generation during those early years until the first effective medications reached the market.

Michel, the hero of my new book, first appeared in my 2014 novel The Fallen Angels of Karnataka. His death from complications from AIDS was an easy choice to rid me of a character who’d appeared in the story at the wrong time.

Michel–Fallen Angel of Paris

Michel–Fallen Angel of Paris

The topic was unavoidable, but how to treat it?

I recently wrote, “you know how he died, learn how he lived.” How do you write about the life of someone you know is going to die (or has been dead already?) AIDS or HIV would play a major role in the new story, that was obvious. I had done a ton of research into the epidemic for The Fallen Angels of Karnataka because Haakon was infected by Michel. Since he is a survivor, I had to make sure to make that plausible: combining his genes (of which we know little in the 80ies), early access to ACT, etc.

We never really find out how Michel was infected, and I was curious to learn how Michel’s youth was. How would HIV show up and rear its ugly head? I don’t want to give away the plot. You have to wait another three weeks before the book is released. But some things were obvious even before I picked up the proverbial pen. I had no intention to write a novel about AIDS, to spend page up and page down on symptoms, nor did I intend to ignore it. The only thing I knew for sure was where, when, and how Michel would eventually pass away.

The emotional impact of the pandemic

For me, emotions are everything. A book is all the more valuable, a story more impactful, if strong emotions are evoked on the pages. That was my focus in Michel. How does it feel to have HIV? What is it like to live with someone with HIV? To lose someone with HIV? To be friends with someone with HIV? Those are the central questions of the story. I hope to have evoked enough emotions to drive home the point of the horror of the pandemic, not just on those who caught the virus, but also on those who knew the affected.

The HIV pandemic and the LGBTQ community

To be a member of the LGBTQ community in 2022 isn’t the same as it was back in the 1980ies. It’s more than the extra letters in the acronym. Increased visibility and changed attitudes toward our way of life may have led to a better integration into mainstream society. LGBTQ people are pictured differently in mass media. Death is no longer the automatic conclusion to being queer.

I often wonder how much of that is due to the HIV pandemic? Health experts telling politicians that monogamous relationships and the acceptance of marriage equality were important tools in combatting the spread of HIV? Not to spread conspiracy theories, but it’s funny how it all took flight in the mid-to-late 1980s. At least here in the West. We still have a long way to go in the rest of the world, where oddly, the HIV pandemic is unbroken and killing thousands every day.

Michel is about more than just HIV

The new book is about so much more than just HIV and AIDS. It’s a coming-of-age and a love story. A tale about growing up in France in the 1980s. Last not least, the book also deals with how you move on from loss, how you reconcile finding happiness again with the loss of your first great love. I’m sure that many of us struggle with that question, be it in ourselves or others around us.

Michel–Fallen Angel of Paris will be released from Beaten Track Publishing on April 30, 2022, and will be available as a paperback, ebook, and audiobook, narrated by Michael Bakkensen.

How to write about the HIV pandemic in literature

Will Michel’s ghost finally leave me be?

Michel’s ghost has haunted me for eight years

Eight years ago, I had been inspired to write a travel epos. I still remember reading a friend’s book that included beautiful descriptions of traveling, and I began to wonder what it would be like if I tried the same. I have, after all, traveled extensively in my life. I figured that I had plenty of imagery and emotions to draw upon. That’s how Haakon’s story begins, his longing for travel, focusing on the smells and scents we encounter while elsewhere. But something happened on Haakon’s first trip abroad that wasn’t planned. He fell in love, with the perfect guy, and my pantser brain began to panic. I pressed on, and given the era, Michel’s fate was quickly sealed by my subconscious: he’d have to go, and AIDS would the tool to rid myself of this interference so early in the book. I just couldn’t imagine a book where a couple traveled the world together. No, Haakon would have to do so on his own, especially given the first chapter. Different partner, no Michel.

Michel–Fallen Angel of Paris

The cover of Michel–Fallen Angel of Paris

Michel’s death scene impacted me deeply

Laugh at me, but I have never written anything like Michel’s death scene again. Maybe it was his way to make sure I didn’t forget about him. Even eight years later, I am unable to read that scene about November 29, 1986, the “glorious day”, without my voice breaking. I can’t. It took me five years before I was able to read it in public for the first time, and yeah, I couldn’t get through it without tears. And somewhere in the depths of my subconscious, Michel’s ghost took up residence and began to plot his revenge. After finalizing the manuscript for Matt, I wasn’t sure what would be next for me, but I had this weird dream about Michel. I saw glimpses of his youth, and I decided to go with it. However, the pandemic and my work kept me from focusing on my writing. Progress was slow and I was ready to just give up more than once. The pantser in me was suddenly jogging down ideas of chapters, things I’d need to write about, plotting, and planning for how the book would have to be structured. For someone who’s used to trusting his subconscious, and who was never really disappointed by that trust, plotting was distressing.

Alas, suddenly last summer, inspiration struck and the bulk of the story wrote itself in days. In fact, I was almost frantic, having to steal a moment or two to write even with the family around me. It was almost feverish. I have never experienced anything like it before.

The hybrid writing process led to a long and arduous editing process

At the end of the day, I had a manuscript that required a lot of editing. Some chapters didn’t work with others, the timeline was off, and I have never added so much to a first draft as I have in this story. Changes were necessary in a great many places, and I also had to make sure to place the story within a plausible arc because there were things that I couldn’t address within the context of the “diary” main story. How could I address questions that Michel obviously wouldn’t have the answers to? The arc story allowed me to explore that, and to provide answers, and closure. I had to make sure that I didn’t abandon Michel one more time. I had to make sure that his death would be explained, and that he was laid to rest as he deserves. Obviously, the diary wouldn’t have been able to do that. Therefore, Haakon appears in the story again. And all the answers were right there, in the original book.

One sentence in The Fallen Angels of Karnataka kicked off Michel’s story

Michel's diaryIn order to prepare for the narration of Michel, I asked my friend Michael Bakkensen to narrate The Fallen Angels of Karnataka, and as we were editing the audio files the other day, it struck me that I had specifically mentioned Michel’s diary in the original novel. Sure, I always knew that Haakon had it, but I had forgotten that I had actually put it into the story back then.

Michel’s book is stand-alone. You needn’t read TFAK (as we like to call it) to understand the new book. There is plenty of context provided. But I have a hunch that some may want to go back and either re-read or maybe even get to know Haakon better. His story is very different, of course, going in a completely different direction. Making sure the new book didn’t contradict what little is said in the old was an interesting challenge. Conversations from the two points of view had to be kept in sync, and that wasn’t always easy, but in the end, I think it turned out just fine.

 

When imagination meets reality

I had no idea what I would be writing about, or what Michel would tell me. Sure, I had known that he and his parents weren’t exactly close and that his upbringing was framed by his parents’ homophobia. I also knew that at some point he’d have to be infected by HIV. I also knew he had friends back in Rennes where he’d grown up, but the couple of chapters where we meet Michel in TFAK are cursory with regards to details about his life. I don’t always know where the information that finds itself onto the pages of my stories comes from, this amalgamation of my own experiences with things I’ve read, or heard of. To write about the eighties and gay life without passing HIV was impossible back in 2014 and it still is, of course. But I didn’t want to write yet another HIV book. There are plenty of those out there. I was more interested in getting underneath the skin. What was society like, why was a disease such as HIV able to spread the way it did, why didn’t we react differently to it? Answers to this are also found in the arc, as Michel obviously never got to live to see it for himself. Queer life has changed so much since then, at least here in western Europe. And when I look back at my own youth (I’m just a couple of years younger than Michel and Haakon), and I remember how society judged us, and treated us back then, I look at the role that religion played, and just how much things have changed since then. And I look around and I see how a tsunami of backlash is shaping all around us, from religious extremists to “populist” politicians who will scapegoat anybody to use as a stepping stone toward more power. We see it in Brasil, Russia, Hungary, or Poland to just name a couple of places. The list is much longer though.

I recall writing about the pedophile ring in London in TFAK, and how reality trumped my own imagination back in 2014 when such a ring was busted. I had a similar revelation after writing the scenes of Michel’s abuse at the hands of the clergy. Just days later news broke of hundreds of thousands of victims at the hands of Catholic priests across France. Unimaginable evil and suffering. Makes you wonder… Is there hope for humanity?

How do you pull off an unconventional Happy Ending when the hero dies?

With so much negativity all around us, I find it even more important to provide hope. Hope that there is a better tomorrow, for all of us. I don’t think I could cope with life otherwise. I must have faith in the good of humanity, that ultimately, good trumps evil. In Michel, I hope to have found a way to lay Michel to rest, and I hope he has forgiven me for his untimely demise in TFAK. You, dear reader, will be able to find out just how I pulled off that ending on April 30. You’ll be able to read or listen to the story then, and I hope you’ll enjoy it.

Michel–Fallen Angel of Paris is published by Beaten Track Publishing and will be released as paperback and ebook. The audiobook is narrated by Michael Bakkensen.

Michel: A new book is slowly taking shape

Michel: A new book is slowly taking shape

From dying character on page sixty-four to full novel in seven years

This is the first cover that Natasha designed for me, still a favorite of mine.

The Fallen Angels of Karnataka, where Michel first appeared.

Every author has their own way of tackling their stories. I for one have always been driven by the voices of my characters, as they talk to me in my head. No, I’m not crazy. At least I don’t think so. The story of Haakon and his fallen angels has many real-world roots, inspired by a novel by Larry Benjamin, What Binds Us, a pedophile I once knew, my experiences from India, and my love of travel, all contributed to this dark tale. I did not foresee Michel though. When he appeared early on in the story, during Haakon’s first trip abroad to London, on page twenty-three of the printed novel, I didn’t know the impact the character would have on me, until he, Michel, passes away from complications with HIV on a park bench near the Eiffel Tower. That’s on page sixty-four.

There were reasons for that to happen most of which I honestly don’t remember. But Michel’s death is still, to this day, one of my very favorite scenes to read in public, and I still, seven years later, cannot get through it without my voice cracking. Michel had entered my life and he was not about to leave.

Six years later, Michel asked me to tell his story

Early on in 2020, days before the pandemic hit, I had just completed a major IT project as a consultant and my “billable hours” were dropping to nil when, as happens sometimes, I heard a voice. It was Michel, and he was ready to tell me his story. Then the pandemic hit and my inspiration took a nosedive. It wasn’t until this fall that I was able to really work on the novel again in earnest. And Michel’s life, as short as it was, had plenty of interesting things to tell. Writing about a ‘dead’ character is difficult, and I’m reminded of writing Disease. How do you write a hopeful ending about a subject that inevitably leads to death? There is was Alzheimer’s, here it’s AIDS (and the fact that the character actually passed away in the fall of.1986.) I am very pleased with the outcome. I hope you will, too.

There is, of course, a tentative connection to Haakon and The Fallen Angels of Karnataka but you can read this story completely as a stand-alone, although you’ll miss the death scene, which is not included in Michel, as it’s based on his diaries and yeah, I’m sure you understand. Wouldn’t work. Although it might be a great commercial hook: read the first diary written by a dead person.

I’m editing, getting ready to market: the day job of authoring

A snippet of a possible cover for Michel

A snippet of a possible paperback cover for Michel.

The manuscript of Michel is currently in flux. The story is 99% written, I’d say, and I’ve already begun the editing process, i.e. the author editing. My publisher will edit the book later on with their fresh set of eyes, then set it, proof it, etc. We just discussed this morning, that it is my target to get the manuscript over to them by Christmas, and we tentatively talk about an April release. Before that, I’ll be in New Orleans for Sinners & Saints and hopefully, be able to let Michel meet his audience. We’ve also begun the process of creating a cover, which as I’m sure you know has always been crucial to me. That work included hiring a photographer to source licensed pictures of an angel I had found online. This angel and the expression on his face and his body language had spoken to me and I just knew I needed him on the cover. We’ll reveal the full cover later on, but here’s a sample of what it might look like. As I said, a work in progress. Things might yet change.

Authors are people stuck in a lonely cabin behind with only their cats and a typewriter

Many people think of authors as people in front of a typewriter, writing books all day long. Yes, that is part of what we do, but so is this, blogging, marketing, PR. To be an author is also to be an entrepreneur, owning a small/tiny business, being self-employed in this gig economy. Part of that aspect of our jobs is to secure funding, of course, from events, but also to market not only ourselves but our works, A lot of my colleagues believe this to be the publisher’s job, and yes, they do have their role to play, particularly as it means to get the product into stores, aka book stores and libraries, but they don’t really care about my author gigs in schools and libraries, at events. Because they don’t earn any money from those events. That’s just for the author. We have different roles, and as an author, marketing myself alongside my work is an important part of my job description as an author. Lest we forget.

Next steps: several more rounds of editing, filing on the finer details

Before I feel confident enough to release Michel to my publisher, there are still countless rounds of reading, editing, changing, and filing on the finer details of the story that remain. Because of its complicated conception with several chapters late in the book written early on, I need to make sure the timeline holds, and that different aspects of the story don’t clash. Who needs plot holes, right? That’s going to keep me busy for the coming weeks. It’s my goal to have the manuscript finalized by December 20th and send it to my publisher. We leave for our vacation the next day, and I don’t usually work on vacation unless it’s time-sensitive. After that commences the most difficult time for me, until I hear from the editor at Beaten Track, telling me what they think about the book.

Suffering from an extreme case of imposter syndrome, I always assume the worst, fully expecting them to turn me down before they never do (so far…) and I get the manuscript back and we work on it together until it is done and proofed. Meanwhile, I’ll contract the audio narrator, and work on a PR plan for the book, for what it’s worth. That usually includes blog appearances, Podcasts, and conventions. We’ll see what 2022 offers in that regard.

Are you interested in what’s going on? Stay tuned here. I’ll try to update this site regularly with any progress.

Blurring reality: what’s fictional pain?

Blurring reality: what’s fictional pain?

To the brain, pain is pain, regardless

I’ve been spending the past few weeks in France, exploring cities like Paris, Brest, Rennes, and St. Malo. I’ve traveled through time and space to do so, all from the comfort of my writing chair here in my house in Sweden. No flights were needed, no train rides, although I’ve experienced the passage of time from regular trains to France’s modern TGV high-speed trains. I’ve had to re-experience the death of people close to me, and it’s been an emotional rollercoaster, with a lot of painful moments, but what is fictional pain, and is it different from “real” pain?

There was a bench in Paris

I’ve been to this place many times, mostly in my imagination, but also in real life. It blurs the lines between fictional pain and the real one.

A long-held dream

To write the story of Michel has been a long-held dream, ever since he had to be “killed off”/written out of the novel about his boyfriend Haakon in The Fallen Angels of Karnataka. Michel and Haakon fall in love, but their love gets in the way of the novel’s grand scheme of travel. Besides, with a great love story, it would’ve been a very different book, and not the one to be written then. Michel passed away, on a bench in Paris, on November 29, 1986, and Haakon embarked on his journey around the world for many years.

But Michel never really let go of me. And even though I’m not in the business of telling you which of my books is my favorite (that age-old question every interviewer asks), I can easily attest to the fact that Michel always was one of my favorite characters, and that hasn’t changed as he’s finally been allowed to tell me his story.

The sadness of letting go, again

When you start to write a book about someone you’ve already killed, you realize two things: a) writing an ending worthy of Her Majesty‘s approval will be hard, and b) it’s going to tear open old wounds again. I knew it would be a painful task at times. It’s also challenging to write a story where the actual death is part of another book, published years earlier. I had no interest in including that very scene again and had to find ways to deal with it. I hope you’ll enjoy how I’ve dealt with that sad day.

It’s been an emotional journey for me, to get to know Michel better. While it was plausible enough to have him die from the complications of his HIV infection, it was 1986 after all, but it’s a different thing to learn just how he did get infected in the first place, especially given his young age. Michel’s youth turned out to be very different than I had imagined, despite the guidance–limited as it was–from the original novel. To flesh out Michel’s parents, his friends, and to learn more about his life in the city where he grew up.

The pain of a character is my pain

I shed a lot of tears when I write, and I laugh at times. Michel is a dark story, given the ending, and the topic, but it’s also a story full of love, full of hope, and to see that Michel’s chosen family stood by him through thick and thin, that they provided a support net throughout was a pleasant surprise. I sometimes wonder just why the loss I feel is so strong, so palpable. These are, after all, just fictional characters, it’s fictional pain. They’re not real, they have not lived, they’ve never interacted with me physically. And that is true of course.

True is also that the memories of our actual life are shared in the same place as the memories of everything else, movies we’ve watched, books we’ve read, or books we’ve written. Chemically there is little difference, and if you’ve ever studied the concept called “false memories” you’ll understand just how real even fake can be. Indistinguishable for our brains. Fictional pain it may be, but it hurts just the same.

I for one spend a lot of time with my fictional characters, and to complicate matters further, those characters do spring from real life to a degree. Not that I could tell you the exact composition of each character’s personality, life experiences, etc., but I know that each and every one of my characters also includes a pinch of my secret sauce, to make sure they are life-like. It is that combination of real life, real people, real places, real emotions, real experiences with a pinch of the secret sauce that makes for realistic characters, and the pain I feel when they suffer, and the immense feeling of loss I sense when they die.

A word of caution

Knowing how our brain works, how easily we are absorbed into a story when reading a sequence of black letters on paper, and just how realistic that feels, I worry about the announcement from the Zuckerverse yesterday. While others have written books and made movies on the subject before (in other words, I’m far from the first to realize this risk), it scares me to think that we one day soon will be able to actually disappear into a virtual reality world.

Our eyes are so important to our brains in terms of how we experience our surrounding that it frightens me to think how easily people will be absorbed by virtual reality apps, and how easily they will be manipulated. At least I always know that my characters, as painful as their loss may be, are a figment of my imagination, but what’s to say that things you “see”, things you “experience” are not? Especially if you’re not adequately prepared? A scary prospect.

I’m heading back to Rennes. Michel’s mother wants to talk to him, and I have no idea what she has to say…

Have a great weekend,

Hans

To write is all about suffering, until this happens…

To write is all about suffering, until this happens…

Of writing, procrastinating, pandemics and missing muses

I began writing on my current book, Opus XXIII, on March 2, 2020. Do the math and you realize this was just a couple of weeks before the world shut down, locked up and someone seemingly threw away the keys. Obsessed with the devleopment of this scary beast, with daily newsconferences, hourly updates on a dozen websites on infection rates, mortaliy and the number of people in ICUs, as well as trying to assist my elderly neighbors with grocery shopping, my creativity took an indefinite leave of absence. Writing became suffering, a struggle to get even a handful of sentences down on paper. For someone like me who’s always been able to write fluently, typing shorthand what my characters were whispering into my ears, this became painful. I even began to outline ideas just to have anything to write. Unheard of. The outrage within my self-esteem! As the pandemic progressed, I added very few pages to the manuscript, and weeks, even months could pass before I opened the document anew. Would I ever finish another novel? Would Matt become my final oeuvre?

Author Hans M Hirschi with the book that was the inspiration for Opus XXIII

My previous books wrote themselves

I am an avid listener of podcasts, and one of my friends, Wayne Goodman, has a weekly show, Queer Words, where he asks his guests if they are plotters or pantsers. I was invited to his show back in 2019 and my answer was given: “I’m your traditional pantser.” If there had ever been a pantser, point all fingers at me. I mention in my conversation with Wayne, who by the way is an accomplished writer in his own right often writing about faraway places, that I once experienced my main character’s death half-way through writing the novel. It was quite a shock, but alas, this is how I used to write. My subconscious would guide my fingers and type whatever the characters were telling me, and so I sat there, in front of my laptop, reading what appeared on page. Call it stream of consciousness, and it was not unlike the infamous episdoe The Muse in Deep Space 9 where the evil alien sucks the life force out of him. That was me, minus the evil alien and the nose bleeds. I could write up to 10,000 words a day, and my first two novels were both written (first rough draft I might add) in less than two weeks, each. Alas, along came opus XXIII. It’s been 598 days, and I am done-ish with my first draft. So what happened?

The pain of writing or what the experts tell you to do

Part of every writing podcast is the obligatory question of “do you have any advice?” to aspriting authors and writers. I have been asked the question, too, and I believe I have answered it, too, although less from a writing perspective but more from a “make sure you get feedback perspective”. It’s been a while. Prove me wrong. LOL However, I notice that some writers are dead set on “my way or the highway!”, an approach which invalidates any other writing process or approach that differes from their own. I’ve heard things like “make sure you write every day, even if it’s just a few sentences.” That is the most common advice out there. Picture me with big eyes and and my RBF expression along the question “why? What good does that do?” Sadly I’m never around when that statement is made, so I’ve never really been around to question it. Great if it works for you, but don’t presume that one size fits all. S’all I have to say.

Writing is often painful and slow, sometimes fast and exhilarating

I finally got out of my slump a few weeks ago, and I wrote 35,000 words in less than a week. In fact, I was so thrilled about my progress that I couldn’t wait to sit down and write. I did it while cooking, I did it in the morning before Sunday breakfast, I did it before joining my husband for some evening R&R (oh, not what you think. We’re talking Netflix here.), and I even wrote while my son was doing his homework. I couldn’t not write, if that makes sense. But until that moment came along, and my writing stars had aligned, it was painful. My characters were silent, and procrastination was the blanket to wrap myself into when inspiration failed. I often felt bad, depressed at the lack of progress, throwing myself into other projects, other things to do. Yet is it really to procrastinate if you don’t actually have anything intelligent to write? I know for sure that “writing for the sake of writing” will never be my tune, so rather than giving myself grief over the lack of inspiration, I should relax. Oddly, I have a hunch that I’ve said this before, but I guess this is a lesson that this pedagogue hasn’t fully embraced yet. Because could it be, maybe, just maybe, that I’d have gotten my mojo back faster if I hadn’t been so freaked out about the lack of progress, the lack of inspiration? Who knows. Hindsight may be a great teacher, but it sucks at the what-if-game.

Opus XXIII – What it is and other valuable inormation

This is the first cover that Natasha designed for me, still a favorite of mine.

So where am I with this latest novel? It’s somewhere in editing but also still in writing. I’m not entirely happy with all aspects of it, and given the difficult topic, I need to make sure I find the right balance. Opus XXIII will likely be named “Michel”, and it is all about the story of Michel, the amazing young man who tragically passes away from AIDS in November of 1986. He briefly appared as a side character in my novel The Fallen Angels of Karnataka from 2014, and he has been haunting me ever since. So, Michel finally gets to tell his story, and while it’s challenging to make sure I stick to canon, it’s also liberating to finally learn more about this character who has always held a special place in my heart, both for what he does for Haakon’s personal grown, ultimately kick-starting his traveling, but also for his spirit and character.

In this story we learn about his coming out, still a central theme for the LGBTQI community. But the story alsolooks at the coming of age for this one individual, his exploration of his own sexuality, and touches some difficult subjects such as sexual abuse, rape, and sexual addiction. I’m sure you appreciate how challenging it is to write that, and do justice to the character’s experience without taking away from the grand scheme of things. You’ll be the judge whether or not I’ve been successful. It’s a difficult book, both to write and (will be) to read, and one where Her Majesty had to work hard to pull off her magic of a hopeful and happy ending. Given that Michel has been dead for thirty-five years, it’s nothing short of a miracle.

I hope to finish the manuscript by the end of this year, and if all goes well, the book should be out in the spring of 2022, as always from my amazing publisher Beaten Track.

Thank you for tuning in!

Hans

The tale of how a bedtime story became so much more

The tale of how a bedtime story became so much more

The unintentional children’s book about losing your first baby teeth

Let’s begin at the top, shall we? Picture a cruise vessel (this was before the pandemic), somewhere in the Caribbean. It’s time for Sascha, our son, to go to bed. As he’s done often before, he’s asking for a bedtime story, and for once, I manage to come up with one. I’m usually not very good at this. But we had been talking about his teeth and his anxiety (small kids, small problems) that he was one of the last kids in his class to still sport all his twenty baby teeth. Sidebar: he ended up being the last one to lose one. At the time the new teeth had already sprung up behind and I pulled them both to create the necessary space. Anyhow, back to the ship and Sascha tucked into bed. Somehow, I managed to come up with this crazy story about a vampire who lost his fangs. Sascha loved it and I figured I’d better jot it down just in case he wanted to hear it again.

From Joe to Elizabeth

What a wonderful illustration. I love to work with Finn. He’s got such a talent to visualize my work.

Over the weeks after our cruise, I got to tell him the story a few times and he really loved it. But as is the case with all my children’s stories, I tend to put them aside. I know they need a lot of time and work. During the pandemic, as I was struck with a complete writer’s block (I still haven’t recovered), I began to edit the story, making sure it was the best it could be. Fast forward to late May and I had the idea to use this story to create a video with Sascha. We had done a couple of trailers together for my previous children’s books (here and here) and he’d done such an amazing job at reading the books that I figured, why not let him read an entire book? The idea had originally come from an author friend of mine, Bru Baker when I’d begun to read my own works live at the beginning of the pandemic (they, too, can be found on my YouTube channel.)

Meanwhile, in the editing process, Joe had become Elizabeth, as I figured the world had enough male heroes in books. I let Sascha name the vampire and he chose Elizabeth (he thinks it’s a great vampire name.) I reached out to Finn Swan, who’s been kind enough to illustrate my stories about princes Valerius & Evander. He agreed and created six beautiful drawings for it. He also created a GIF that I could use for the video.

The unintentional book

As Sascha’s summer break approached, I began work on the video and had the bright idea to create a PDF to add to the video description so that parents and kids could read along with Sascha’s narration. I used a native Mac tool to set up the pages, typeset the text, and create the PDF. Since I’m not an expert on typesetting, I sent it to my publisher for a once over. Here’s what she sent back:

“I’d rather not give you feedback on this. You won’t like it, but as you asked… The images are lovely – I saw them arrive in the Dropbox folder on Saturday. Finn’s brilliant. The story is awesome too, so you’re golden with the content, and the order of image followed by text works – that’s how we handled the V&E ebooks.
The formatting… oy. […]
Question: is there a reason you’re doing this yourself rather than through BTP? I’d already included it in this year’s schedule.”

She was right, of course. My response was short and sweet: “It’s all yours.” I hadn’t known that she’d put it in the BTP schedule nor that she wanted to publish this. Two days later, the book was out, and Sascha was still in school. That’s how things happen sometimes. Looking back, I’m glad that Debbie pushed for getting the book out. I think it’s a great tool for parents to talk to their kids about losing their baby teeth which can be both scary and exciting. My son was really anxious about being “left behind” in this regard and couldn’t understand that it is perfectly normal for some kids to begin losing their teeth at five, while others have to wait until they’re seven. The story provided me with an opening to talk about different being totally okay, not worse. This is a topic we’ll sadly have to revisit countless times as he grows up, in so many other areas of life. I’m sure other parents can relate to this.

We got to the video, at last

Summer came, summer almost ended, before we got around to actually sit down and record the video. Sascha was stellar (yeah, totally biased) and after a day of editing and Sascha choosing a musical score, we published the video on my YouTube channel. And ever since then, Sascha’s been asking me almost daily about likes. His generation is totally in sync with that sort of thing. So help him feel great about himself, watch the video and press the “thumbs up”, and feel free to like and share it on Facebook or other social media.

Without further ado, here it is The Vampire Who Lost Her Fangs:

As always, the book is available as a paperback and ebook from Beaten Track and is sold worldwide from Amazon and many other retailers, online but also from local bookstores (ask for it.) If you’d like to give it away as a gift to someone and wish it to be signed by me and/or Sascha, you can buy it directly from me.