Bloodsucking motif: Vampyr with Opium and Absinthe by Lydia Kang

Do you ever unintentionally fall into a pattern with the media you consume? Maybe you can’t escape fantasy, whether it’s in books, movies, TV, or video games. Recently, I found myself delving into the role-playing game Vampyr at the same time as I read Opium and Absinthe by Lydia Kang. Two very different mediums, but set in very close time periods and dealing with incredibly similar motifs. Working through them at the same time added value to each experience, as I established connections and had new questions.

Set in 1918, the game Vampyr features Dr. Jonathan Reid as he reckons with his newfound identity as a vampire. Simultaneously, Europe is facing the consequences of the Great War and dealing with the catastrophic Spanish Flu outbreak. Dr. Reid struggles with his need to feed on humans and his intrinsic desire to heal them, and watches as the flu’s victims overlap with new vampiric hosts.

Alongside Vampyr, I had Opium and Absinthe, a historical fiction/mystery/gothic novel set in 1899. This follows Tillie, a young woman with an insatiable craving for knowledge stifled by her family while they’re driven by social standing. After her sister is murdered, she’s left with endless questions and fills in her own doubts with speculations supported by Bram Stoker’s Dracula. An injury left her with a need for opium, and the more she is consumed by her addiction, the more she is inclined to believe the extraordinary. She becomes fixated on finding the truth of her sister’s murder, and I can assure you, it is not the truth you will expect.

I found the characters of Tillie and Dr. Swansea from Vampyr to be strikingly aligned. Dr. Swansea is a mortal man who devotes his time to researching vampires and the different mutations that occur; he studies what it takes for someone to become a skal, an especially feral vampire. He and Tillie are both fascinated by the concept of vampirism and need to know everything they can. Tillie goes so far as to ask questions about animals that feed on blood and ponder the distance between the two bite marks on her sister’s neck. Both Vampyr and Opium and Absinthe will leave you believing that the most dangerous vampires in society have no fangs or thirst for blood.

Although the two stories appear to be similar in the sense of medically-driven vampire fiction, there is much more under the surface than meets the eye. Opium and Absinthe will pull you in and out of believing Tillie as her thoughts become more obscured by her opium dependency. It is an interesting and disorienting read.

If, like me, you thoroughly enjoy vampire-oriented fiction, I recommend you check these two out. And if you’re especially interested in fiction with medical knowledge tied in, read works by Lydia Kang.

Creating your writing space

We all have our favorite spaces to create, whether just out of comfort or awareness that we produce our best work while there. But Rattner is able to break down why this happens and how to manually foster a creative space.

I’ve been incredibly inspired as of late after listening to an episode of The Writer Files podcast featuring Donald M. Rattner.

Rattner is a “creativity architect”, an architect who specializes in designing spaces that maximize creative productivity and inspiration. This concept felt so obvious to me as soon as he introduced himself, but it wasn’t ever something that came to mind naturally. We all have our favorite spaces to create, whether just out of comfort or awareness that we produce our best work while there. But Rattner is able to break down why this happens and how to manually foster a creative space.

An important first step is to assess your surroundings in your favorite writing space. Is it a minimalistic setting where you have few surroundings, or is it a space filled with memories and ephemera that inspire you? It can say a lot about where you find inspiration when you look around.

My favorite writing spaces have been some of both, depending on what sort of headspace I was in. I like writing at my desk where I’m surrounded by my inspirations and favorite art, but I also finished my first book at the beautiful, modern UCSB library.

You want a place where you can either find inspiration around you or where you have to find it yourself. Some of us need that outside inspiration, and some of us just need peace and quiet.

Go to one of each and try writing. See how it feels, how hard you feel like you have to work to get words on the page. Maybe you want a blend of the two. Be sure to try writing outside at least once in your life!

I highly recommend listening to that episode (The Writer Files: How to Design Your Writing Space with Award-Winning Architect Donald M. Rattner) and checking out other episodes of The Writer Files. Kelton Reid is an excellent host and the guests are incredibly varied and bring unique insight every time. I also recommend checking out work from Rattner ( I don’t yet own his book My Creative Space: How to Design Your Home to Stimulate Ideas and Spark Innovation, but I hope to get it soon.

Nick Cave on writer’s block

Maybe you take a break from looking at the page or the screen and step away for a bit. But what do you do if when you return you’re right where you left off?

Hello writers.

Writer’s block is a universal concept. That time when you got stopped up and the words can’t flow. Maybe you were writing so fast the pencil was flying and then, suddenly, you lose your train of thought. You can’t think of the next line of dialogue.

Maybe you take a break from looking at the page or the screen and step away for a bit. But what do you do if when you return you’re right where you left off?

Essentially nothing, at least not yet. I’d wager to say that anyone who has ever written anything has experienced some form of writer’s block. And yet, there are professional authors who write thousands of words each day. You’d think they must have found some way to avoid it but most of them deal with it just like we do.

Nick Cave is often regarded as one of the most brilliant lyricists in music. He writes elaborate stories and poetry into his music in a way that carries their significance, along with bringing his experiences along through his words.

And no more shall we part, the contracts are drawn up, the ring is locked upon the finger and never again will my letters start sadly, or in the depths of winter

His thoughts about writer’s block may be specific to lyrics in his words, but it’s clear how his advice applies to all writing.

Cave says, “The idea of lyrics ‘not coming’ is basically a category error. What we are talking about is not a period of ‘not coming’ but a period of ‘not arriving’. The lyrics are always coming. They are always pending. They are always on their way toward us. But often they must journey a great distance and over vast stretches of time to get there. They advance through the rugged terrains of lived experience, battling to arrive at the end of our pen. In time, they emerge, leaping free of the unknown — from memory or, more thrillingly, from the predictive part of our minds that exists on the far side of the lived moment. It has been a long and arduous journey, and our waiting much anguished . . . our task is to remain patient and vigilant and to not lose heart — for we are the destination.”

We are the destination — not our writing. Through writing, we discover more about ourselves and the writing continues to convey more and more about us. Our writing must cross the terrain of our lived experiences; we cannot write disconnected from our lives. Everything we write is deeply ingrained with our joys and pains.

But ultimately, as he says, vigilance is key. We can’t be upset with ourselves for the ideas taking a while to reach us, because they need time to develop.

Next time you find yourself staring expectantly at the page, take a walk with your thoughts. Drink some tea and let the ideas steep. Don’t let yourself give up simply because you lost the patience to wait for your best ideas yet.