Apocalyptic Visions

While in Tucson recently, I stopped off at a comic shop to see what’s new. As I browsed the shelves, my eyes fell on the title Scooby Apocalypse. The premise is that the familiar gang of Scooby, Shaggy, Velma, Daphne, and Fred are on the scene as nanites are released, transforming humanity in monsters and unleashing worldwide catastrophe. apocalypse comics I browsed through the first issue and saw lovely artwork and soon realized they had created a science fictional reason for Scooby to be able to talk.

Before I go too much further, I should explain that I grew up in the early 70s, watching Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? and a host of other Hanna-Barbara cartoons when they first ran. In fact, you might say Scooby was my first introduction to horror. Even if they did pull off rubber masks and reveal that the villain was always a crook in a suit, the ghost in Vásquez castle and the Spooky Space Kook both freaked me out as a kid. The influence Scooby has had on me was evident when Fred Cleaver at The Denver Post said the characters in Vampires of the Scarlet Order reminded him of the Scooby Gang. In fact, while working on The Astronomer’s Crypt, the copy editor noted that the protagonist, Mike Teter, had a “Velma moment” and I had to laugh.

Also, I’ll note that as a writer, and especially a horror writer, apocalyptic fiction has a certain appeal. After all, one of the things writers want to do is maximize the emotions felt by the characters in their stories. Putting characters into an apocalyptic scenario allows us to see what these characters do in the very worst possible situations. In that sense, The Astronomer’s Crypt is very much an apocalyptic novel, because I trapped people in a confined space with minimal resources and threw real-world villains, ghosts, and true apocalypse-bringing monsters at them. This kind of scenario clearly has a strong appeal with writers and readers as evidenced by such books as Stephen King’s The Stand, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, and Lois Lowry’s The Giver.

So, when I saw old favorites like the Scooby gang thrown into an apocalyptic scenario, I had to check it out. I’m happy to say the first two issues of Scooby Apocalypse were pretty good. They reminded me of one of my favorite Scooby-Doo movies after the original: Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island. In fact, Daphne and Fred work for television, just as they did in Zombie Island. Like the movie, Apocalypse imagines that the gang are now grown-ups. However, in this case, the series is something of a reboot and in this world the gang meets for the first time as adults.

I was eagerly awaiting issue 3, but discovered that my local comic shop in Las Cruces sold out before I got there! I have a copy on order, but while waiting, I made a second interesting discovery. It turns out DC Comics has another Hanna-Barbara story imagined in an apocalyptic reality. This time, they took the silly cartoon Wacky Races— inspired no doubt by such slapstick comedies as 1965’s The Great Race—and imagined it in a Mad Max-like post atomic horror.

For those who don’t remember Wacky Races, it imagines colorful characters like the beautiful Penelope Pitstop, the villainous Dick Dastardly and his dog Mutley, the handsome Peter Perfect, and the inventive Professor Pat Pending racing in different venues around the world. Among the characters racing are a beaver, a bear, and a pair of cavemen. In the new comic, Wacky Raceland, all the same racers are there but now in a world with such creatures as “sandtipedes” and such hazards as nanite storms. Imagining the silly cartoon in a post apocalyptic world works surprisingly well and the second issue even brought an unexpected tear to my eye. I’ll likely be following this one for at least a little while.

My one concern about apocalyptic fiction is when people in the mainstream start taking it a little too seriously. Apocalyptic scenarios are fun to throw at fictional characters. They’re important for writers to posit as cautions to society. Apocalypse 13 However, I grow wary when politicians start telling me apocalypse will result when I vote the other guy. These scenarios are rarely that simple. If an apocalyptic scenario is imminent, I don’t believe that fixing it is as simple as voting for one person over another. I want to know how you’re going to inspire us to work together to move the world away from the apocalypse envisioned.

For those who want to see my story of a strong leader leading people through apocalypse, check out “A Garden Resurrected” in Apocalypse 13 published by Padwolf Publishing.

The Inevitable Cycle

This summer, I had a wonderful opportunity to visit Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. It’s famous as the site where Percival Lowell observed Mars for many years, recording his observations of the canals he—and most mainstream scientists of the day—believed they saw. Lowell-Crypt It’s also the observatory where Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto. Of course, in mythology, Pluto is the Roman god of the underworld and a figure closely associated with the spirits of the dead. As I’ve mentioned in a couple of other blog posts here at The Scarlet Order, it’s also the site of Percival Lowell’s Crypt. In the photo, you see my daughters and I visiting the tomb.

If you look carefully at the tomb, there are two epigraphs, one on each side of the door. The one on the right reads, in part, “Everything around this Earth we see is subject to one inevitable cycle of birth, growth, decay … nothing begins but comes at last to an end … though our own lives are too busy to mark the slow nearing to that eventual goal …” The words on this astronomer’s crypt go a long way to explaining what draws me to horror. Birth, growth, and decay are not only inevitable, but all can be frightening. Horror provides a mechanism for taking a look at the things that frighten us and getting a handle on them.

The epigraph continues: “Today what we already know is helping to comprehension of another world. In a not distant future we shall be repaid with interest and what that other world shall have taught us will redound to a better knowledge of our own and of the cosmos of which the two form a part.” The quote comes from Percival Lowell’s book, The Evolution of Worlds. Horror might be scary, but it reminds me that humans can overcome even the worst terrors to accomplish great things. In fiction that can be defeating a villain or a monster. In real life, we might conquer our fears to expand the borders of human understanding.

Lowell-telescope

Right next to Lowell’s crypt is the telescope where he observed Mars for many years. This visit was my first opportunity to go in, see the telescope and even look through it. We didn’t look at Mars, but the view of Saturn was unreal. We could see resolution in the clouds and the rings were sharp and beautiful. If the ghost of Percival Lowell wanders the observatory grounds, I suspect he’s proud of the job the people there do of giving the public a glimpse at the universe, which can be at once scary and beautiful.

I certainly hope to scare you when The Astronomer’s Crypt comes out, but I also hope you’ll see how people overcome fear and accomplish great things. Even though I hope to show you scary things in that novel, I also hope to show you some of the beauty that this universe and the people who inhabit it possess.

Vittorio the Vampire

I just returned the copy edited version of The Astronomer’s Crypt to my publisher. VittorioTheVampire While working on edits, I like to read good prose, which helps me stay focused on picking the best words possible in a scene. I’ve always enjoyed Anne Rice’s prose, so was delighted to discover the last of her vampire novels that I had not read in my “to read” stack. This was Vittorio the Vampire which was the second of her two “New Tales of the Vampires” series.

Aside from a brief discussion of the Vampire Chronicles in the first chapter, Vittorio the Vampire stands apart from all of Rice’s other vampire novels. Even Pandora, which falls under the “New Tales of the Vampires” series includes events from the more famous “Vampire Chronicles” and Pandora herself is a character in a few of the Chronicles.

Set circa 1450, during the height of Cosimo de Medici’s power in Florence, Vittorio the Vampire tells the story of Vittorio di Raniari, a young nobleman educated in Florence. Vittorio’s father runs afoul a coven of vampires, who rampage through the castle and kill Vittorio’s family. Vittorio himself is spared by a beautiful vampire in the body of a young woman named Ursula.

After burying his family in the castle crypt, Vittorio travels toward Florence when he comes across a town mysteriously free of the sick and the infirm. He soon learns the vampire coven is behind this. The villagers pay a “tribute” of people to keep the vampires away. Ursula finds Vittorio and invites him to meet the coven. Once he arrives at their castle, he finds the village’s old and infirm in coops, stored away for food. The vampires invite Vittorio to join the coven, but he refuses. Instead of killing Vittorio outright, the vampires spare him, thanks to Ursula and he’s taken back to the village.

Because the vampires started to turn Vittorio, he’s not left unaffected. It turns out he now has the gift to see angels. The angels lead Vittorio back to the vampire castle to destroy the monsters. The problem is, Vittorio has become smitten by the beautiful Ursula. I’ll leave my summation there to avoid spoilers, though you can probably guess some of what happens from the book’s title. Even then, as with most good books, the real magic is in the details.

At its core, Vittorio the Vampire is simply the story of how young Vittorio became a vampire, but that description doesn’t really do it justice. It’s also the story of Vittorio and Ursula’s love and how that love story relates to God’s will as articulated by the angels. Although physical immortality is an issue, Vittorio lives in a world where it’s assumed he’ll have spiritual immortality if he follows the angels. So, for him, the choice of becoming a vampire actually becomes a choice of following God and becoming truly immortal or being trapped in a human body forever for the sake of love.

I’m a little sorry there isn’t another Anne Rice vampire novel waiting in the wings. Back in 2014 when Prince Lestat was released, there was some discussion that there might be more Vampire Chronicles. I hope that proves to be true. If not, I know Ms. Rice has many other good novels I haven’t yet sunk my teeth into, plus many other vampire and horror novels by other authors await as well.

As for The Astronomer’s Crypt, I don’t yet have a release date, but I’m told I should see galleys by early September, which is really the final opportunity to review the manuscript before publication. So, it shouldn’t be too long after that before you can read it—I say hopefully!

Patriotic Horror

This Independence Day finds me working through the copy edits of my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt, which is set roughly this time of year. I have to admit, I thought it would feel strange to work on a horror novel during the height of summer on such a celebratory holiday, but somehow it hasn’t been as discordant as I would have thought. Performing a Google search on “Patriotic Horror” I find a few web sites with suggestions about horror movies for the long 4th of July weekend.

On reflection, perhaps this isn’t so unusual. After all, how many slasher movies essentially start out with people going camping in the woods? Of course, the original summer blockbuster, Jaws, is a thriller set on the beach during summertime, and the story even spans the July 4 holiday. When I spent a summer on Nantucket, where the ocean scenes in Jaws were filmed, not only did we scare ourselves with visions of shark-infested waters, we sometimes thought we could hear the ghost of Maria Mitchell tromping though the observatory named in her honor late at night.

Maria Mitchell Observatory on Nantucket

Maria Mitchell Observatory on Nantucket

Horror and Americana seem strangely linked sometimes. After all, Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, with its New England setting, is not only a creepy story, but takes us back to the early days of the nation. Sometimes even modern authors look back at the past and charge up the reputations of real heroes, such as Seth Grahame-Smith did when he wrote Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter.

One movie on those lists of patriotic horror films stood out to me: The Omen starring Gregory Peck and Lee Remick. It makes the list because Peck played an ambassador to England and the devil’s son, Damien, seems to move himself ever closer to the president of the United States over the course of the movie. This was one of the first horror films I remember watching with my dad and it genuinely terrified me despite my dad’s assurances it was all pretend and his Mystery Science Theater 3000-style ribbing of the film. I certainly hope The Astronomer’s Crypt scares readers as much as The Omen scared me and that it might even provide some good memories for families who share it together.

If you’re looking for some good summer scares, check out my Book Info and Excerpts page for some ideas. May all your scares this Independence Day be imaginary ones and all the ghosts you meet be friendly.

Two Hundred Years of Scares

On Friday, June 10, 2016, I received the manuscript of The Astronomer’s Crypt marked up with my copy editor’s notes. The date is auspicious and perhaps a little ominous, since on June 10, 1816, Lord Byron rented Villa Diodati near Lake Geneva in Switzerland. He stayed there with his physician, Dr. John William Polidori, and invited noted poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and Shelley’s fiancée, Mary Godwin to join them. The weather was unseasonably wet and cold that summer and the three were confined indoors. In that time, Mary Godwin wrote the first draft of Frankenstein while Byron started a work that Polidori would finish called The Vampyre. The summer was immortalized at the beginning of James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein. Here we see Mary Godwin regaling Shelley and Lord Byron with a tale of gods and monsters.

Shelley-Godwin-Byron

Essentially the summer of 1816 at Villa Diodati marked the beginning of both modern horror and science fiction. It also marked the beginning of two classic tropes of horror fiction—the man-made monster and the vampire. Sure, the vampire existed in folklore before this, but it’s Byron and Polidori who unleashed the creature’s fictional potential.

In many ways, I see my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order as a tribute to that summer two centuries ago. Vampires of the Scarlet Order It’s the tale of ancient vampires fighting man-made monsters. Of course, as in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the men who create the monsters don’t fully understand the powers they invoke. Like Polidori and Byron’s vampires, the Scarlet Order vampires are at once frightening and seductive. If you haven’t already delved into this world, I hope you’ll click here to learn more about Vampires of the Scarlet Order.

While watching James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein, I realized The Astronomer’s Crypt takes some of its imagery from the movie that reenacts the Villa Diodati gathering. Right in the opening scene, Elsa Lanchester as Mary Godwin talks about Frankenstein creating the monster on a stormy night at his mountaintop laboratory. In essence, The Astronomer’s Crypt is all about a monster running amok at a mountaintop laboratory! I saw other parallels in the movie as well, but revealing them would be spoilers at this early stage.

I think both horror and science fiction got off to an auspicious beginning two centuries ago. I hope the next two centuries will continue scare us and challenge us even as we dream of the future.

Visiting Edgar

I must have been about eleven years old when my brother pulled a book off the shelf and took it outside to read a poem that immediately captivated me. Although it was a bright and sunny day in Southern California and we sat in the shade of an orange tree, I was carried to a dark and dank chamber where I saw a frightening apparition atop a bust of Pallas Athena mouthing the word, “Nevermore.” Of course the poem was “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe. Just a few years later, I would meet Poe again when a high school English teacher assigned “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Those two events turned me into a fan of Poe for life.

Poe-0530-Nicki

Over Memorial Day Weekend, I attended Balticon, a science fiction convention in Baltimore. The convention was held at the Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel, which is just around the corner from the place on Lombard Street where Poe was found “in great distress” by Joseph W. Walker on October 3, 1849. It’s not entirely clear what Poe was doing in Baltimore or why he was outside the public house on Lombard Street where Walker found him. What is known is that Poe died in the hospital just four days later at age 40. He was then buried in an anonymous grave at Westminster Hall. In 1865, a movement began to create a more fitting memorial for Poe and by 1875, that culminated in the creation of the Poe Memorial at Westminster Hall where Poe is now interred along with his wife and mother-in-law. While in Baltimore, my friend Nicki Fatherly took me to see the Poe Memorial.

Poe’s interests were far-ranging. He wrote criticism, contemplated scientific discovery, imagined detectives, and was fascinated by the darker sides of human nature. He wrote poetry, essays, and prose. That range has influenced me to explore many topics and forms in my writing. Because of Poe, and authors he influenced such as Ray Bradbury, I’ve felt encouraged to write science fiction, horror, and fantasy. It’s why I write poetry, short stories, and novels. I’ve even written a few reviews. I was glad to visit Poe’s memorial in Baltimore and pay tribute to a man who continues to influence so many over a century and half after his mysterious and untimely passing.

Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day in the United States, when we remember those men and women who fell in the service of our country. I’ve been fortunate that all my close relatives who went off to war came home again, though not all of them were unscathed. My grandfather, who served in the Army Air Corps in World War I had his arm shattered and nearly removed by a biplane propeller. Because of his service and his injury, he received a veteran’s benefits. Sadly, during the Great Depression when those benefits were sometimes his only source of income to feed and house himself and his three children, members of his own family accused him of taking handouts from the government.

I really didn’t know much about my grandfather while I was growing up. He died when I was only three-years old. Just about ten years ago, my mom came for a visit and wanted to see the town she grew up in. It’s a small town called Des Moines, New Mexico, in the far Northeastern corner of the state near Capulin Volcano. We walked through town and then went out to show my daughter the volcano. We discovered the ranger manning the desk actually knew my grandfather when he was alive, and she told us several stories about him. It turned out to be an unexpected treat!

ThisAintNoRodeo

Afterwards, images of the real-life horror that would result if a volcano like Capulin erupted today haunted me. They swirled around with stories of my grandfather, and I wrote a story I called “Cherry Blossoms in the Springtime.” About a year later, it was picked up for an anthology called This Ain’t No Rodeo edited by Carol Hightshoe. This was a benefit anthology to raise money to assist injured rodeo bull riders. I’ve given a few stories to benefit anthologies over the years and I rarely know how effective they proved to be. I just discovered that the anthology raised $700 for it’s cause. I’m proud to have helped with that and I’m pleased that it happened through making a closer contact with my grandfather through the power of stories.

In the story, I imagine a veteran of World War I who happens to be a champion rodeo rider who fell on hard times due to the Great Depression. To make matters worse, a geologist arrives, announcing Capulin Volcano is about to erupt. The veteran enlists a friend to help save the town. The solution was based on a story my graduate advisor used to tell about saving a town by venting a volcano through explosives. My grandfather wasn’t a rodeo rider, nor has Capulin Volcano been active in recent memory, but I think it was a fun story. I’m sorry to say This Ain’t No Rodeo is out of print, so I may have to find it a new home.

At any rate, the story was intended not only as a way to remember my grandfather, but as a way to honor the bravery of those men and women who have served in the armed forces. Of course, many of those men and women made the ultimate sacrifice and never made it home. Memorial Day is often considered the unofficial start of summer, which includes fun and games. Sports like rodeo may not be limited to summer, but can certainly be part of the season. Before we dive into the fun, let’s take a moment and remember those folks who made that ultimate sacrifice and have given us the freedom we enjoy.