Renovations

At Kitt Peak, where I work, the 4-meter telescope is getting a new coat of paint. Also, I now have my first wave of galleys for The Astronomer’s Crypt. 4-meter-painting My editor has made a few new changes—some for the better, some I’m revising further. In all, it’s a time for renovation and renewal.

In the spirit of renovation, renewal, and hoping to make things better, I’ve been thinking about my blogs. In case you don’t know, I have two of them. On Saturday, I blog at davidleesummers.wordpress.com about steampunk, science fiction and writing. I’ve been blogging here on Mondays about horror, vampires, and writing. The lines between the topics often blur, partly because horror and vampires sneak into my steampunk from time to time, while science fiction sneaks into my horror, and so forth.

It seems to me that having two blogs is splitting my energies and my audience. Now, I’m the first to admit that not everyone who likes my steampunk will also like my vampires. Not everyone who dreams of traveling to the planet Sufiro wants to imagine the horrible nightmares I have in store in The Astronomer’s Crypt. Despite that, the lessons I learn from writing and my observations likely have a common audience.

So, my plan is to try an experiment. Starting next week, all my blog posts will be posted at davidleesummers.wordpress.com. I’ll continue on my current schedule with more steampunk and science fiction on Saturdays and more horror and paranormal fiction on Mondays.

Thanks to all those who have followed this site since I started it in 2009. If you don’t already, I encourage you to come over to my other site and follow me there, so you won’t miss a thing. Of course, another way to keep up on all my latest news is to subscribe to my newsletter. I haven’t been sending updates as often as I’d like simply because I’ve been working on several projects all at once. Not only am I working on The Astronomer’s Crypt, but I’m working on two science fiction anthologies and some new short fiction, all of which I’ll be sharing about as it comes out both on the blog and in the newsletter.

These are exciting times! Thanks for joining me on this journey!

Advertisements

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.

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.

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.

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.

When Only the Moon Rages

In my craft or sullen art
Exercised in the still night
When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms,
I labor by singing light

These are the opening lines of the poem “In my craft or sullen art” by Dylan Thomas. I’ve long thought they beautifully express what its like when a writer, and particularly a horror writer, is developing a story or a poem. I turned to these lines when I was looking for a title for a collection of short stories and poetry I published back in 2001.

When Only the Moon Rages is a collection by Wayne James. Moon_Rages There are stories about creatures of the night, people of the stars, and individuals who dare to live in those dark places few have the audacity to tread.

One story features Lieutenant Lawry, an ordinary soldier on an alien world who must fight to keep an unknown, violent creature from killing his men. In another story, Sergeant Frank Blacklin strives to keep children alive against insurmountable odds on a hostile planet. Turning his attention to Earth, Wayne James tells the story of Robert, a man who lives in a nightmarish United States gone mad, where the enemies of the State are so numerous, their bodies are pushed into a gaping trench.

Other stories are set in the present day. In one, a respectable businessman falls for a woman turned on by crime. In another, a lonely man deals with the odd neighbors down the street by buying an assault rifle. It’s clear to me Wayne James spent many hours honing his craft “when only the moon rages.” The result might be expressed in one of his own poems:

Metallic bones shoot music—
notes flash across the hypersphere,
dance between magenta nebulae.

Although the collection is fifteen years old now, I think there’s still a lot of relevance in Wayne’s writing. I hope you’ll join me on a journey to the land when only the moon rages. The collection is available at Amazon.com and Hadrosaur.com

The Town Where Only I am Missing

“The Town Where Only I am Missing” is the literal translation of “Boku Dake ga Inai Machi,” an anime and manga better known in the United States as ERASED. Erased My college-age daughter recommended the show to me and it marks the first time I’ve watched an anime series as it was being aired in Japan. It tells the story of Satoru Fujinuma, a manga artist, haunted by his childhood, when three children were abducted and murdered. Satoru also has the power to slip backwards in time along his own history and relive events, which has allowed him to save lives, but also leaves him the worse for wear.

Satoru’s mom is a former news announcer who sees the person she suspected of being the murderer from years ago. The problem is, the murderer is aware of her attention and strikes first, killing her. In order to save his mother, Satoru slips back in time eighteen years until he’s ten years old—the time two of his classmates and another child are killed. With the knowledge of of his twenty-eight-year-old self, but in the body of a ten-year-old kid, he must prevent the murders that have haunted him, so he can prevent the murder his mother.

Normally, my taste in horror runs to the supernatural variety—ghosts, vampires, monsters from the beginning of time—that sort of thing. Stories about serial killers usually don’t engage me much. However, this story is played more for the mystery and suspense than for the potential horror aspects and the time travel premise is handled in a sufficiently fresh way to make this story particularly engaging. In fact, this show demonstrates some of the most nail-biting cliffhangers I’ve ever seen.

I’m hard pressed to say the series was perfect. Satoru seemed to have an easy time convincing his classmates to help him. Also, I guessed the identity of the murderer two or three episodes before that person was revealed and we weren’t exactly given a lot of suspects to keep us guessing. That said, J. Michael Straczynski, the creator of Babylon 5, once said it’s not whether or not you know the story’s ending, but how good the journey is getting there. In this case, I felt ERASED took me on a very satisfying journey. Although the show isn’t billed as horror, it created characters I genuinely cared about and, at times, felt scared for their safety. The series did this a minimum of on-screen violence—a restraint anime isn’t always known for.

You don’t have to be missing from the town where ERASED is set. You can stream episodes for free on Crunchyroll.com.