A few weeks ago I had the honour of welcoming Erastes to my site. I never imagined then she’d be coming back so soon but when I read her latest book, A Brush with Darkness, I couldn’t resist asking her back.
Tris: Welcome back, Erastes. I decided to dump the sherry in favour of Pimm’s. It seems more appropriate to the season, so I hope you like it.
Erastes: Thank you, old bean. *sucks on the cucumber*
Tris: When I heard about A Brush with Darkness I had to buy it. It has all the elements for me: Florence, vampirism and homosexuality. Florence is one of my favourite cities and I have always thought of its dark back streets as ideal hunting grounds for vampires. Do you know the city well, what gave you the idea? And why the introduction of Fiesole?
Erastes: I’m happy you bought it! LOL. I have been to Florence a good few times, although not for many years. I love wandering around the streets and in places well off the beaten track, wherever I go (did this once in New York in the 80s and ran like a mad thing out of the area and back to the patrolled subway station in utter fear, so it doesn’t always work) and Florence is perfect for that, as there are loads of lovely alleys and back streets.
I originally had Michel’s name di Posco, but when I did the rewrite I couldn’t remember for the life of me why I’d called him that. As there didn’t appear to be a place called Posco, so I found another smallish place and named him di Fiesole instead. It had to be somewhere with a memorable church, which isn’t hard in Italy, after all.
The idea was supposed to be the assimilation of an artist by his muse (hence the headaches, which Michel only gets when he’s away from Yuri) I sort of wanted to have Yuri as a kind of emotional leech, but I don’t think that idea came over well enough, and the book never emerged into a full-size novel so there wasn’t really the space to play with the idea. Perhaps one day!
Tris: I think most people understand the potential sensuality of the vampire, and since Anne Rice the sexual ambiguity has been outed. What do you think makes your story different, what makes it worth reading?
Erastes: I don’t know that it is terribly different, I don’t actually read vampire fiction, so it could be tropey as hell. But I liked the disconnect between people who do bad things, and evil people, whether they be human or not. If vampires did exist I don’t think they’d be sexy at all. And they wouldn’t all be impossibly beautiful! I do think they would likely be sexually changeable though, after you’ve lived a few lifetimes I think you’d be curious to want to try anything going.
I think my problem (?) is that I don’t worry too much whether or not my story is different enough or samey enough to be popular, it’s a story that forms in my head and I just tell it.
Tris: Well, I think that is to be admired and I’m rather like that myself. This is a re-release of an older story, Chiaroscuro, isn’t it? Did you make many changes to it?
Erastes: Yes, but it is a step towards the book I want it to be eventually, although I may never get around to it. As it stands even though it’s quite short (19k I think?) it’s expanded by a good few thousand words, the murder plot was a new introduction and made a stronger start than what was there originally, and gave Yuri a reason to do what he did at the end – I hope!
It did truly appallingly with Aspen Mountain Press, so when Carina said that they would consider previously printed works I thought it would be a good opportunity to give it a fresh coat of paint and unleash it again. Hopefully it will reach some new readers now and be a lot more successful.
Tris: Why did you choose 1875?
Erastes: *snort* I dare say I should come up with something very researchy and learned and say “oh yes it was because 1875 was the last year that Florence was the capital of Italy” or something but seriously? I just randomly picked a date—it’s a pretty timeless story, so it probably would have worked from the Renaissance and up. (and by Timeless I mean I haven’t used much to anchor it in that particular time, not that it’s TIMELESS.)
Tris: Here, have a bit more cucumber *passes green dildo-shaped vegetable* Do you plan any more paranormal stories?
Erastes: I was just about to write “very probably not” but I do have one started (I have lots of stuff started…) which is a paranormal and more than that I cannot say because if I were to say what kind of paranormal it is it would ruin the entire plot which may be too complicated for me to handle. It’s not a favourite genre to write because so many people do it so much better than me—and as you can see my ideas about vampires for a start aren’t particularly original…I’m more likely to write paranormals as shorts though.
Tris: Well, I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed reading A Brush with Darkness, so much so that I read it in one sitting. How about an excerpt to tempt my readers?
Erastes: Aw – thank you so much. I’m very, very pleased you enjoyed it
Thank you so much for having me here again, Tristram—as I have nothing in the pipeline right now, I won’t be pestering you for a while yet. But I’ll take the Pimms with me… And these cheeses. Oh, and the old sherry…
I’d also like to offer a free copy of A Brush with Darkness to one commenter so please don’t be afraid to leave a comment if you’d like to be entered.
Here’s an excerpt which I don’t think has been put on the net before:
He was more correct than he knew, that honest, terrified policeman. Light had always been my guide and salvation, for what is art but the fall of light on objects unseen? Light falling on the edges of my world had mapped it out for me as a child. Light drew my eye from my earliest memory, that of my mother leaning over the kitchen table, her body in shade, but her golden hair lit with the ray of sun that poured through a high window. The shine of dust motes in daylight. The fuzzy glow of a candle flame. The myriad, mad colours made by a hearth fire and a child experimenting with wood and other fuels, just to see the differing hues in the dancing flames. The gleam of sun or rain on the same set of leaves, or the tiles of a villa—different and astounding. I captured them in my mind long before I picked up charcoal or daubed with paint.
And light brought me the ability to translate it onto paper, to show where it lay and where it hid, describing and shaping everything that God and man created. From an iridescent insect in the jaws of a light brown spider, turning over and over within shiny, silvery cobweb chains, to the cream solidity of the cathedral at Fiesole, its clock tower pointing like a finger to God above the town. Everything was a game to my hand and eye and brush, and I knew my talent and thanked God for it.
For it brought me to him, whose name captured everything I worshipped.
I remember our first touch. My fingers tingle at the memory of it. But it was not his touch which changed my world. That wonder happened at our first meeting, and it was a full week after that meeting before he held my hand in his. I didn’t even learn his name until our third encounter. No one had said it, not even Signora Guildeccia.
Signor Bettano took me to her box for an introduction, and my patron had been almost out of character in his loss of composure as we moved through the lushly carpeted hallways on our way to meet the great lady herself.
“Try to say no more than you have to, Michel,” Bettano instructed. “She will be interested in you, oh yes indeed.” His voice dropped a tone as if suddenly talking to himself. “But you must trust me. You know little of this city and its politics. Leave the talking to me. After last night I should reconsider our arrangement…”
He rumbled on, repeating much of what he’d said after the constable had gone, and again that morning, and yet again this afternoon, and I’d long ceased to listen or be impressed by it. He would not refuse a possible commission from the Guildeccias—no matter how I’d behaved.
But there was something about his discomposure which had me a little unsettled. I wondered if it was the description I’d given him of the murdered men. God alone knew I couldn’t get the grisly images out of my head, and it had helped—just a little—sharing it with another person, although Bettano had paled significantly and forbidden me to speak of it to anyone else, not the servants nor his wife and daughter, and never to mention it to him again.
I walked beside him along the carpeted corridors of the Teatro della Pergola, with the muted screech of a soprano sounding from the stage. “Si, signore. But what about next week? When I go to the villa to start work? What then?”
“If you do,” he said. He would often try but had never succeeded in denting my confidence, In my youthful arrogance and self-confidence I was sure no one would refuse my work. “Next week is a long time away. First, let us worry about tonight.”
I obeyed, worrying but little, but kept silent. We were held outside the Guildeccia box until the act ended, then two liveried servants opened the double doors. One of them took Bettano’s card. My patron slid into the ingratiating and subservient toady stance—the one I like to call number four of the many performances he put on for others. It was one he saved purely for aristocracy and one of his most revolting. When he had his expression firmly in place, he led the way into the box.
After nauseating compliments to a seated, silent figure draped shoulder to foot in black lace, Signor Bettano turned at last and gestured to me.
“Here is our new talent, signora, as promised. Allow me to introduce Michel di Fiesole. Michel—I have the great honour to present you to Signora Guildeccia.”
I bowed low once more, my hat trailing the floor. I stayed down as I had been tutored.
A voice. Deep and amused, laced with the hint of a smile. “Stand, my child. Come a little closer.”
I stepped further within the box and up to her chair where she sat as if enthroned. I tried to ignore how she had called me child, despite my twenty-five years.
“Look at me,” she ordered and I raised my eyes to her face.
I was astounded at what I saw. The signora was breathtakingly beautiful. Every tale I’d heard about her was true. Slight and pale, with skin like finest Pietrasanta marble, dark hair—surely an artifice?—scraped back from a tall brow, and eyes so deep brown as to appear almost black. She seemed younger than I had imagined, than I had been told, looking as though she was forty at the most instead of the early seventies I thought I knew her to be.
She held me in her gaze for a long moment, and I was unsure whether I was expected to look back or to look away. Finally she laughed, a tiny tinkling sound like the shattering of a champagne flute. “I have seen your work, signore. Do you think you will be able to do justice to your subject?”
A direct question. My brain went numb as I hesitated for a second or two, expecting my patron to deliver on his promise to talk for me. He said nothing and I was left looking foolish, gasping for words.
“I…I…feel confident that if the signora likes my previous work, she will be satisfied with my humble efforts on her behalf.”
“Don’t emulate your patron, boy.” Her voice was amused and sarcastic. “He knows half of what he thinks he knows and thinks half as well as he speaks. I did not say I liked your work. Merely that I had seen it.”
I bristled at this, my youthful pride getting the better of me. “The signora surprises me then by allowing such an amateur to paint a member of her family.”
I heard my patron gasp and he attempted to intercede. “Signora. Excuse him. He is young, stupid—” but the signora laughed again.
She ignored him and held out a hand in lace gloves for me to clasp. I did so, hardly daring to do otherwise, knowing a swift eviction from the box was the least I deserved. With surprising strength she pulled me up close to her chair. Keeping my hand trapped in hers, she traced my cheek with a finger.
“Strength of mind. Yes. I had heard as much. A proper respect for your own talent. A good thing. Now, my question remains. Can you paint this face?”
I expected her to keep me captive, but instead she pushed her hand against my cheek, forcing my face to the side. Then she pointed at a figure in black which I hadn’t seen. He—for the matter of his sex was all I could ascertain at first—must have been obscured by the side curtains. The gas lamps were behind him and his face was in darkness. The radiance of the lights shimmered like a corona behind his hair. For a second, even without the detail of his features, he looked like a Russian icon, blazing with saintly radiance.
Then he stepped away from the curtains. The light hit the sides of his face, and my world, as I had known it, ended. My mouth dried. My eyes felt as though they were being seared from the insides out. A darkness crept over me, as if I’d looked too long at the sun, and just for a moment, I thought there was some enchantment cast upon me, a spell where just to look upon him had robbed me of my sight.
It would have been ironic indeed if such beauty could rob a man of his vision. Men were not born to be so beautiful. Such exquisite features were the masks of gods and heroes, not mere mortals suddenly stepping into a pool of light in a chilly opera house. As I stood there gaping like a schoolboy, my heart pounding and a heavy pressure rising in my loins, there came a low chuckle from behind me.
I tore my tortured eyes from his face. I glanced around in some confusion—no one else seemed to find his appearance surprising or miraculous.
“Can you paint him or not?”
My patron went to step forward but the signora’s hand stopped him dead. She leaned forward to hear my reply.
I swallowed and answered her at last, but I could not look up again, not at her and not at him, terrified that if I did I might wake and find that I was only dreaming. I was breathlessly aware that the beautiful man had moved back into shadow.
“I can paint him, signora.” A small headache began behind my eyes.
“You think so?” Her voice was steel behind silk and she raised my head with a strong finger beneath my chin. Her eyes were deep as the sky and her gaze penetrated mine, perhaps searching for something she didn’t find. “I wonder if you are as arrogant as they say.”
“I can paint him,” I repeated stubbornly, “but I will never capture him.”
You can find Erastes here: