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.

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!

Responding to Reviews

This past weekend, I was at LepreCon in Phoenix, Arizona. On Saturday, I was on a panel called “Responding to Reviews.” The authors and artists gave some great advice and I thought it was worth sharing some highlights. The panel is below. In the photo below you see Educator KellyAnn Bonnell, yours truly, writer and game designer Shanna Germain, Jennie Breeden, writer and artist of The Devil’s Panties, and game designer Ben Woerner.

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Of course, as an author or artist, when you get a review, positive or negative, it can be problematic to respond with much more than a very polite, “thanks for sharing your opinion.” This is pretty common advice and the panel generally agreed with it.

The panel moved on to discuss what constitutes the most helpful reviews. The panelists cited reviews that give clear examples of what worked for them and didn’t work for them in a book. Also helpful is when the reviewer can cite why something worked or didn’t work. I noted an example of a reviewer mentioning an element of my novel Children of the Old Stars that didn’t work for her. That inspired me to create an important plot point in Heirs of the New Earth that addressed the issue.

The panelists also noted a frustrating tendency of some reviewers to review the artist rather than reviewing the art. As an example, a person might see a statement by a character in a story and assume that reflects the author’s politics or personal preferences, then attack the author’s perceived philosophy. Unfortunately, these reviews are never helpful because they’re never about the work. They’re just a case of the reviewer having their buttons pushed and then venting.

Related to this, KellyAnn discussed the issue of evaluating reviews. She noted that she generally ignores the top 1% of positive reviews and the bottom 1% of negative reviews as outliers. It’s the stuff in the middle that often has the best constructive criticism you can use to help you evaluate your own writing.

Another aspect of the panel was simply coping with poor reviews. Ben noted that there’s an actual physiological response that causes us to look at bad things and remember them vividly. It makes sense as a survival instinct. Don’t go back to the place that hurts. It’s one of the reasons bad reviews tend to sting so badly and stay with us. Shanna noted that she keeps one of her favorite positive reviews handy and reads it over any time a bad review comes in. It helps her to remember the good work she’s done and move on. Jennie noted that sometimes a bad review comes in and if you sit back and think about it, it’s clear the reviewer is having a problem in their own life.

I finished up this part of the discussion by noting that I like to look at the reviews of my favorite authors and remind myself that very successful authors get bad, good, and neutral reviews too.

Are you a writer or an artist? If so, I’d love to hear what you think is helpful in a review. Likewise, I’d love to hear how you cope with the bad reviews. Are you a reader? What do you look for in reviews when you buy books? Do you look at the reviews?

LepreCon 42

LepreCon Science Fiction Convention is Arizona’s Annual Sci-Fi & Fantasy Convention with an art emphasis. “Life, the Universe & Everything” is the theme for LepreCon 42 to be held June 23 – 26th, 2016 at the Park Terrace Suites in Phoenix, Arizona. The guests of honor include Jennie Breeden, creator of the webcomic The Devil’s Panties and D.C. Fontana, who wrote for Star Trek, Babylon 5, and Bonanza. For more information about the convention visit the LepreCon Website. Below, is where you can find me at the convention.

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Thursday, June 23

    9:00-10:00pm. What Is Steampunk? Suite C. Steampunk is often referred to as the “greatest era that never was.” Our panel discussion will open the door to what Steampunk is for those new to the genre. On the panel with me are Ben Woerner and Johnna Buttrick.

Friday, June 24

    1:30-2:00pm. Autographing. Suite E. You’ll find me happy to sign your wares. I’ll have a selection of my books available to purchase.

    5:00-6:00pm. Future of Steampunk Literature. Suite E. A brief look at the history of Steampunk literature and where the future might lead us. On the panel with me is Scott Wilke.

Saturday, June 25

    11:00am-Noon. Responding to Reviews. Suite C. Learn how creators can best respond to the good, bad, and funny reviews they receive online. On the panel with me are Ben Woerner, Elizabeth Leggett, KellyAnn Bonnell, Shanna Germain, and Jennie Breeden.

Sunday, June 26

    9:30-10:30am. Surveying the Universe. Suite E. Kitt Peak’s mission is evolving. A new large spectrographic instrument is being deployed on the Mayall 4-meter and a new Doppler Spectrometer is being deployed on the WIYN 3.5-meter. What are these instruments and what do we expect to learn? What’s different about this science than the astronomy that’s been done at Kitt Peak in previous years.

    Noon-1:00 pm. Steampunk Before It Was Steampunk. Suite C. A discussion of film, TV and books that had steampunk elements before the term “steampunk” was coined. On the panel with me are Michael Flanders and Hal Astell.

In addition to these events, there’s a masquerade, a terrific art show, demos and gaming. If you’re in Phoenix, Arizona this coming weekend, I hope you’ll come in out of the heat and join us at LepreCon!

Hotel Transylvania 2

This week is off to a good start with the release of Lost Trails 2: Forgotten Tales of the Weird West which includes my Lovecraftian horror story “Reckoning at the Alamo.” I wrote about the anthology in detail over at David Lee Summers’ Web Journal on Saturday. Yesterday, I joined several of my fellow contributors to the anthology Gaslight and Grimm on a podcast discussing the anthology. I had the chance to briefly mention my forthcoming novel The Astronomer’s Crypt. Of course, as noted in the podcast, some of the stories in Gaslight and Grimm are pretty dark in their own right. If you want to check out the show, visit The Catholic Geek: Gaslight & Grimm. The podcast was great, chaotic fun. Afterwards, I took time to hang out with the family and watch Hotel Transylvania 2.

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As it turns out, I haven’t seen the original Hotel Transylvania, but my kids brought me up to speed with the one bit of information I needed to know. Human Jonathan Loughran has married Mavis, the daughter of Count Dracula, who runs a hotel for monsters in Transylvania. Jonathan and Mavis had a child named Dennis.

The conflict of the movie centers around the question of whether or not Dennis is a vampire like Mavis or a human like Jonathan. Mavis’s dad, Count Dracula, of course wants Jonathan to be a monster. Jonathan’s family would like Jonathan, Dennis, and Mavis in the “human” world of California. All of this becomes a simple metaphor for race relations. Can we love another who is somehow different than us? It’s a sweet family film with few surprises and a few laughs.

Of course it plays on several vampire tropes. The vampires can’t go out into the sun without heavy duty sunscreen and they can hypnotize humans. What’s more, the vampires can all transform into bats and other creatures. As I’ve said before, this is something I’d love to see explored more in vampire stories and media.

The monster world is filled with other creatures besides vampires. We also see Frankenstein’s Monster, the Mummy, the Blob, and the Wolfman—complete with a litter of ferocious pups. I liked the joke where Frankenstein’s Monster introduces himself as Frankenstein, but backtracks to explain that technically he is the Monster. Interestingly, there is actually literary justification for the monster calling himself “Frankenstein” since he sees himself as the son of his creator.

For me, the very best horror-comedies such as Young Frankenstein and Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein offer a few genuine scares to offset the laughs. Hotel Transylvania 2 makes an effort on this score, but for the most part, it comes off like the safe camps it pokes gentle fun at. You never have the feeling anyone was really in danger. Despite that, the movie was a fun way to spend an evening with the family and might be a good way to introduce younger children to the classic monsters we all grew up with. Just don’t forget to pull out the real classics when they get a bit older!

Varney the Vampyre

Over the last three years or so, I’ve been reading the penny dreadful Varney the Vampyre. It’s taken that long partly because my edition is 1166 pages of tiny type and partly because penny dreadfuls were largely written to fill a weekly page count more than edited for quality. Nosferatu-Varney At times, it could be quite the slog and more than once I thought I wouldn’t bother to finish, but I finally persevered and made it through.

There’s a very good article about Varney at the Victorian Gothic Blog. I especially like their plot synopsis and definitely agree the final section of Varney is the best. Throughout the novel, the titular hero is villainous, sympathetic, romantic, and even interviewed. In 1166 pages, he embodied just about every major vampire trope I can think of. If I had to tell you what Varney most reminded me of, it was Dark Shadows—not necessarily in the sense of quality, but in the sense that reading Varney was not a little like following a Gothic soap opera!

My edition of Varney credits the writing to James Malcolm Rymer. However, the original penny dreadful contained no writing credit. There is some debate as to who actually wrote Varney. Most point to Rymer or Thomas Peckett Prest. In fact, Wikipedia says it was both. To me, it seemed like Varney must have been written by at least two people and perhaps more. Varney is a long, rambling story and parts are definitely better and tighter than others, making me think there must have been at least two, if not more writers involved.

I was fascinated to see that in the final section, Sir Frances Varney interacts with historical figures such as Oliver Cromwell and King Charles II, especially since this is something I like doing in my historical vampire fiction. Although the storyline focuses on Varney, my favorite characters ended up being Admiral Bell and his steward Jack Pringle, who end up being Varney’s foils in much of the book. Unlike Dr. Van Helsing who works to outwit Dracula, Jack and the Admiral often foil Varney’s plans unwittingly by just being in the right place at the right time!

I’ve mentioned it before in other posts, but one of my favorite elements of the vampire lore in this story is that Varney requires moonlight to heal. If you shoot him on the new moon, he might die. Furthermore, he can walk around in broad daylight. However, it’s the moon that gives him his power to recover from injuries. I thought that was an interesting idea that could be used more in vampire fiction.

As you read this, I’m working my way through the second editorial pass on my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt. I hope to return it to my editor by the end of next week, then it’ll go to the copy editor for final cleanup. I’ll have more news soon!

Blacula

I enjoy watching good horror B-movies from time to time. Sometimes I discover some great moments and find a few surprises. Blacula is one of those films that I’d heard about a long time ago, but never managed to watch. Blacula-Poster Recently, I discovered the title character was played by William Marshall, an actor whose work I admired from such TV series as Star Trek and The Wild Wild West. It was enough for me to push the movie up to the top of my viewing list.

There’s no question, Blacula is a B-movie with several plot holes and a low budget, but it also included some interesting story ideas and, for better or worse, may have even introduced some tropes to the vampire genre. The best scene in the movie is arguably the opening in which William Marshall plays Mamuwalde, an African Prince who petitions Count Dracula to help end the slave trade. Dracula shows himself to be a truly heinous villain, by not only embracing the trade, but then turning Mamuwalde into a vampire he deems “Blacula” and locking him in a coffin so he may listen to the death of his beloved wife Tuva. I gather Marshall worked with the writers to develop this opening, which gave the film both some dignity and an interesting twist. Plus, it helped to show Mamuwalde as an early example of a sympathetic vampire.

After the credits roll, we cut to a pair of embarrassingly stereotypical gay interior decorators buying the contents of Dracula’s castle to ship them to Los Angeles. Once in Los Angeles, they free Mamuwalde from his coffin, unleashing him on the city. He soon meets Tina, a woman who he recognizes as the reincarnation of his wife, Tuva. The idea of an undead monster meeting his reincarnated lover first appeared way back in The Mummy starring Boris Karloff, but I think this may be the first time the trope appeared in a vampire film. Of course, it’s become common since then, appearing in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Dracula Untold and We Are the Night to name a few.

The movie continues with a fairly straightforward vampire movie plot. Mamuwalde seduces Tina, while leaving a trail of bodies in his wake. Dr. Gordon Thomas, a pathologist for the LAPD is on the case and discovers all those Mamuwalde kills are turning into vampires. One of my favorite humorous scenes involves Thomas sweet-talking his wife to help him go the cemetery to dig up one of the recently deceased. I asked my wife whether or not I’d have to sweet talk her, and she answered I might have a hard time stopping her from helping. Though she concedes she would make me do the hard work of digging while she kept watch!

I hesitate to give spoilers in case you want to watch the movie for yourself, but the ending involved what I think may be the first instance of a trope that’s now common in vampire fiction and film. I will say that the scene is well played by William Marshall and involves some suitably creepy special effects.

One of my personal favorite aspects of Blacula is that Mamuwalde transforms into a bat, an ability shared with two of my Scarlet Order vampires, Marcella and Daniel. Although the effect is cheesy in this movie because of budget limitations, I’ve wondered what it might look like with quality CGI. So far, the closest I know is Dracula’s transformation into a swarm of bats in Dracula Untold.

I found it refreshing to see a predominantly black cast with some great parts for the women as well as the men. Also, it turns out William Marshall wasn’t the only Star Trek veteran in the cast. A morgue worker is played by Elisha Cook Jr., who Trekkies might recognize as Samuel T. Cogley, Attorney at Law. In the end, while I’m hard pressed to call Blacula a great vampire film, it is a fun diversion for a vampire fan’s afternoon and you might even discover where some classic tropes were introduced into the genre.

Cover of Dragon's Fall: Bondage

Finally, I’ll wrap up today’s post by noting that I have three copies of Dragon’s Fall: Bondage to give away. These are Kindle ebook copies which present the complete first part of my novel Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order. All you have to do to get one is leave me a comment telling me about a favorite classic vampire film and give me a way to contact you. You must be over eighteen years of age to enter. I’ll give away copies until they’re gone.