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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Author Elaine Bergstrom tells about her new book Shattered Glass

Today I'm welcoming Elaine Bergstrom to talk about what inspired her new book, Shattered Glass.

One of my earliest memories was watching my great-grandmother die.

I was far too young to see beyond her age.  I just remember a white-haired old lady who had a piano I loved to play, jigsaw boxes in plain blue boxes whose images were always a surprise when finished. I’d pick her dandelions in her back yard and bring them to her in jelly jar glasses. At first, she would be outside with me. Later she was in the wheelchair in the house. Still later, my parents and I would visit her in a nursing home, breaking her out of the place that reeked of disinfectant and age to come to the house every few weeks for a home-cooked dinner.  I didn’t like those dinners, and I would try to sit so I did not have to look at her, at the bib she wore, the shaking hands raising the food to her open lips.

This was a woman who, in spite of walking with a cane almost all her life, had taken a steam engine from Ohio to Los Angeles at the turn of the last century to work as a seamstress for the movies, sewing glorious dresses for black and white films. At a time when prospects for women were limited, it was a courageous thing to do. I have that sort of spirit. I wish I had known her then.

People ask me, “Why do you write about vampires? Where did the inspiration for Stephen Austra and his cousin Elizabeth and all the Austra family of joyous immortals come from?” I can say it stems from the gothic romances I devoured when I was young, the shows about heroes who hid their strengths as the Austras do (though for quite a different reason), the fantasy I held about a man I spotted on a department store trip when I was in my early teens. And that was all part of it. But in a deeper sense, it was also about my own childhood, my own fear of age. And though I did not model the heroine of Shattered Glass after myself, there is scene that reflects my own desires perfectly.

The last few words seemed sensible but the earlier ones puzzled her. “You make yourself sound so ancient, and both of us so rare.”
“I am much ... much older than I appear. As for us, we are unusual. You especially.” After allowing her a moment of contemplation, he continued. “The night we met, you said your mother should have lived forever. ... Tell me how you felt at the moment your mother died.”
He asked the question as if he knew the answer! She began to speak, then faltered and started over in a voice that surprised her with its strength. “My parents died six months ago while I was at the hospital for therapy. They were coming to see me walk for the first time since my illness. Perhaps they were excited and drove too fast, I don’t know. I ...” She covered her face with her hands, and when she looked up, she saw him watching her, his eyes drawing the words from her. “I felt the flames touch her. I felt her pain. I felt her die, and my response was not grief but impotent rage, as if a terrible injustice had been done and it was too late to set it right.
 “If I had been alone, I might have cried out from rage and grief, but it seemed dangerous to react when I could not know for certain that what I felt was real. Later, when someone came and told me of their death, I did scream her name. I don’t believe I stopped screaming it for days. I only remember I missed the funeral, and for that I was thankful.”
“Your denial was natural. Though you had no way of knowing until tonight, you and she both knew the truth at the moment of her death. Your mother could have lived forever. So can you.” He felt her rush of anger and quickly added, “I am being serious. Trust your instincts and you will know I do not lie.”
He had always been kind and sensible, yet now he seemed so serious as he spoke of the impossible. I’ll listen, she thought, and that thought was sufficient.
“I’ve watched you starve yourself, eating barely enough to stay alive and refusing to do what is necessary to become whole and strong. Now I believe I understand this apathy. But you must name for yourself what it is you fear.”
These harsh words were spoken with such compassion, she was compelled to reply. She looked at the sculpture, the windows, her pictures on his wall. It was selfish to wish to create, to love, to question mortality, yet it seemed so perfectly right. Her hands clenched into demanding fists and she closed her eyes, considering and discarding answer after painful answer until only one, the sum of the rest, remained. When at last she spoke, her eyes were filled with tears but the words came strong and even, as they always seemed to do in the presence of this man. “Time! It will never be enough. Death had no right to my mother, and as for me, what is the difference between five years and fifty? There will never be sufficient time for what I long to do.”
 “And what is that?”
“Live.” It was a statement, but her voice held the hint of a question.
“And if I offered you eternity, Helen, would you accept it?” His words were sincere but possessed a deceptive calm. He feared she would laugh or, worse, refuse.
She bowed her head and wiped away the tears with her fingertips. When she raised her eyes to his, their smoky depths revealed the puzzling hunger she had too long endured. He had told her to trust her instincts and she obeyed. “I would accept it, Stephen. There are times I believe I would sacrifice everything to possess it.”

Helen goes through an incredible amount of trials in Glass, even more so in its sequel Blood Rites. But even if that were my fate, I would make the same decision. She is joining a family of flesh-and-blood immortals, creatures who need blood to live but who have learned there are more pleasurable emotions than fear and so they no longer need to kill to survive. I would do it, too, because I am an optimist. In spite of the problems of the world, I think human race is resilient. I’d like to be here for centuries to come to see how the world changes. As Helen says at the end of Blood Rites:

I still keep chocolate creams in the cold box. I eat two a day, at night and in the morning, letting them dissolve in my mouth before I swallow. Small luxuries are the hardest to abandon.
Other changes are wonderful. I no longer feel the nagging constraints of a human body. It is in harmony now with my mind and my soul. I think that if I had not been prepared for the sudden physical changes, I would have thought I died. Then, as now, my body hardly seems to surround my soul at all.
My skin is paler and smoother. And when the winter winds are silent, I climb to the open ridge above the cabin where I can look down on it and up to the stars. The twins are asleep, the children waiting inside me rest. I sense Stephen moving silently up the ridge looking for me. I open my mind and call him to me. The shadows of the moon turn my hair silver and our naked bodies to liquid marble. I need not will my body to feel for it feels so perfectly; his hands, his lips.
I no longer regret the human life I have lost.
I would take it from everyone I love.

I am thinking a lot about aging this week. I am writing this blog from my childhood home in Ohio where I am packing up my mother’s possessions. I am here to be mother to my mother, packing up her possessions and preparing to move her closer to my home so I can care for her for the last years of her life. Someday, my daughter will do the same for me.

That is our fate and why the ultimate fantasy is to live happily ever after in the arms of someone who loves you.  It is why I write what I write and, I suspect, why may of you read the genre you read. May we one day get what we wish for. 

Paperback: 386 pages
Publisher: Elaine Bergstrom (January 24, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0982970609
ISBN-13: 978-0982970607

Book Description:
Helen Wells, 19, is a gifted painter, struggling to create a legacy before the illness that left her crippled claims her life. Stephen Austra is a brilliant glass artist, and an immortal. When they meet, their passion is immediate and intense. But as their love grows, Dick Wells, Helen's uncle and a homicide expert on the local police department, begins investigating a series of savage murders committed, he is forced to believe, by something not human. Soon all three will be drawn into a struggle with a dark presence from Stephen's past, one that lays claim to the life of the woman he loves and one that, for all his power, he is helpless to control. This novel, first published in 1989 to critical acclain is being reissued in a special updated -- and uncut -- version, and includes 12,000 words not found in the original edition. It is the first of 6 books in the Austra series.  

To see more books in the Austra series visit:

Elaine Bergstrom was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and is the product of 16 years of Catholic education which, she is sure, has strongly affected her work. Her first novel, Shattered Glass, was among the first vampire romances and created a family of vampiric immortals -- powerful, eternal but with some odd constraints on their natures. It was set in her hometown and the church she attended as a child. It was nominated for a Stoker, received critical acclaim and has been followed by four other related novels, as well as Under the pseudonym Marie Kiraly (her grandmother's name), she has written two Dracula sequels: Mina...the Dracula Story Continues and Blood to Blood. She resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she runs a novel writing workshop, freelances as a TV and film critic and writes grumpy old lady letters to her congressmen and local papers. You can get additional information on her books and upcoming appearances at

The kindle edition of Shattered Glass is the "author's cut" version -- including 10,000 words not included in the original paperback. 




Roxanne Rhoads said...

A very insightful post about reading and writing fantasy. I think that we all wish for a hapy ending and even though life isn't always so kind we gravitate to the books that are.