Jason Henderson's FB Feed

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Clarity of Old Vampire Movies

I watch a lot of vampire movies, and they stack into genres that line up almost perfectly with their era. 30s and 40s vampire movies-- and I'm thinking of Dracula '31 and movies like House of Dracula-- tend to be earnest nightmares that have a sense of innocence about them-- at least those coming from Universal. These movies could be watched by children today with a few exceptions. Everything is clear and unambiguous. Dracula is a monster, and if he offers any temptation to the dark side, it's an understated temptation.

In the Gothic Era of the 50s through the early 70s, from Horror of Dracula to Vampire Circus, you get a more complicated moral universe-- here, the vampires are enticing and the get more beautiful; Christopher Lee is attractive and the Brides tend to be pretty hot. The idea here is that evil is attractive, but the movies still remain firm in the notion that the vampires are evil. This gets really complicated in movies like Vampire Lovers, where evil must be punished but sure seems a lot more rewarding than everyday morality.

Queen of the Damned (Widescreen Edition)In the modern era, that clarity is gone-- in movies like Interview with the Vampire, Queen of the Damned and certainly Twilight, vampires are either an alternative lifestyle or an alternative race existing symbiotically with humans. 

I think all of these theories have their place. Sometimes I want to watch the child-like fantasies of the Universal horrors. But I find the middle period the most fascinating, because there's a genuine conflict there: the movies hold out a universe where the forbidden is genuinely enticing-- but to do the thing that is most enticing, to dally with vampires, is to tempt the wrath of God. In the modern movies, the wrath of God is no longer a concern. There is only loneliness, and with any luck, love. There is no more temptation because there is no more forbidden.

What seems strange to me is that the belief systems of the audience can't possibly be the reason for this shift. The moral universe of a movie about magical beings has nothing really to do with the moral universe of the audience-- that is, it doesn't matter if you or I believe in Heaven or Hell to follow and get involved in a movie that believes in Heaven and Hell. But the threatened loss of a character's soul makes for much greater conflict. More likely it's a cycle:  we are in the era of vampire romance, and the concern for the characters is a concern for their happiness and not their salvation.

All of which is funny when you consider what I write are adventure books where the vampires are on the evil side. So there's no temptation there to begin with (not in the first couple of books.) But I think if there were, I'd make it a dreadful worry.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Nosferatu in Venice

On the plane back from a trip to Scranton and Allentown, I worked on a book outline (something new, not related to vampires, but supernatural and with a teen female lead) and then watched the 1988 movie Nosferatu in Venice, AKA Vampire in Venice. This is a scary, often violent vampire movie from Italy that I totally would not recommend to a young audience. But I'd figure it for PG-13 here.

What, haven't heard of it? Klaus Kinski, star of 1979's Nosferatu, reprising his role (sort of) as a vampire king on the loose in Venice? Up against Christopher Plummer and Donald Pleasance? No? 

One reason is likely that this movie is not actually available in any way I can describe as "legal;" you can order a bootleg of it or even download it on Youtube. Second, this is not a fine film. It's the kind of movie people like me watch and then try to explain why-- when the script often makes no sense, and the pacing could be charitably called "halting," and the three male leads seem to be competing with one another to see who can emote with the most alien-like distance from whatever meaning might be found in the lines, and did I mention that the script makes no sense? Astonishing that this movie can take Plummer, Pleasance and Kinski and wring these performances from them. (Kinski's character benefits from this alien quality.)

I watched Nosferatu in Venice because:
  •  I am a huge fan of Werner Herzog's Nosferatu: The Vampyre, to which this is a completely unofficial sequel, although not really, because the character here is actually (absurdly) named Nosferatu, whereas Kinski's Nosferatu was named Dracula
  • I love, love love eurohorror, especially Italian eurohorror, and honestly most of these movies are strange and don't make much sense, so I knew what I was getting into
  • Movies like these are like coffee table books to me, with an occasional bit of scenery or turn of phrase that might inspire me. And that's why I can recommend it to freaks like me, and you know who you are.

This movie presents a gorgeous, gorgeous Venice crawling with a tall, gnarled master vampire. At carnivale time. So we have Fellini-esque masque balls and fog and gondolas and all kinds of sexy vampire goings on. It's long and dull, but along the way it's beautiful.
At times it looks like a Russel Mulcahy video-- very 80s and blue, and that works well with the groovy Vangelis music.(Literally, actual Vangelis, because I guess there's nothing he wouldn't score.) To that end, we get a number of really great images: the aforementioned Vampire wandering Venice, various grave-risings, a number of beautiful shots from a ruined villa with enormous curtains billowing.

We get a number of interesting vampire rules, such as that the king vampire sleeps 24 hours every 24 days, and can only be killed by true love, which truly is horror, when you think about it, because Nosferatu, even with his awesome blond mullet, is one rancid, sadistic guy.

A very strange, uneven vampire movie. True cult horror and far from the worst I've seen with some cool shots. Good luck finding it!

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Break Comes to an End

So, my six weeks of The Break came to an end this week, with the thud of a manuscript on my doorstep, a sudden idea, and a sudden request.

After finishing the first draft of Alex Van Helsing #2, I took some time off just to read-- and I read voraciously: kids books, classics, thrillers, young adult, and on. In the catching up from blowing off High School English arena, I finally read To Kill a Mockingbird, Rebecca, In Cold Blood, and Breakfast At Tiffanys. I read books by Mary Higgins Clark, Patricia Cornwell, Dean Koontz, Kelley Armstrong, LJ Smith, and a few more. It was a great six weeks.

Stephen King would not approve of the not writing. I read a lot of how-to-write books, and his book On Writing is my favorite of these, and King believes pretty fervently that you shouldn't take time off from writing; you should finish one book on Tuesday and start a new one on Wednesday. So I have sinned in the eyes of the King, and I can live with that.

This week it was over, anyway-- first, I started writing a new book, and the words began flowing fast. I worked in a fever and sent the first 24 pages or so to my agent: is this a book? Tell me if this is a book or not.  By which I mean, is this a waste of time? Truly, we should be able to tell ourselves this, but I'm not above asking someone else, someone I'm not afraid to share rough work with. I think of this as being like having someone wander into your studio while you're sketching.

And no sooner had I done that than two more things turned up: for one thing, a comic book editor I work with wrote me with a bizarre and sudden request: probably three issues-- it'll be complicated tying this in with x, and you'll need to compare notes with y-- but the story involves a bunch of girl heroes, and I can always dig that.

And then the notes for Alex Van Helsing #2 came.

When I say "notes," what I'm talking about is what you can expect to get back from your publisher after you turn in your first draft. I've heard that editors who do full edits like this are a dying breed, but HarperCollins doesn't mess around. I turned in a draft of AVH2 at the end of January, and six weeks later I get a three-page letter going over the book and a pencil-edited printout.

The letter is detailed-- it starts out with kind words about the book, and every writer loves that, and quickly moves on the things to work on: plot points that seem underdeveloped, motivations that could use more clarity, names that maybe should change. And on.

The greatest feeling I have about this is a sense of thankfulness-- that anyone out there, anywhere, is working to make my work the best it can be.

So now the re-writing begins, and I wrap up the is this a book pitch and see if we can do something with that. Still gotta work on the girl hero thing this weekend. AVH2 edits are due some time next month.Tax day, more or less.

Writing is work, like real work, and it's done one word and one punctuation mark at a time. Even a short book takes a lot of time, and there's very little in the way of thanks out there. (For me, so far, there is more than I can ask for, but there might not be, and there need not be.) But it's work I love, so that's all right.

"Bookworming" blog: Alex Van Helsing "jammed packed with adventure and intrigue"

Awesome morning. I am totally, totally not above touting an awesome review, so...

Over at Goodreads and on her own blog, "Bookgoil" wrote up a review of Alex Van Helsing #1.

Jammed packed with adventure and intrigue, Alex Van Helsing is an upcoming series that can be compared to the popular Alex Rider series. My librarian mind went straight to that thought about halfway through the novel. Only - add in a few vampires and some wooden weaponry.

Thanks Bookgoil!

Alex VH is my first YA novel, so I'm actually pretty excited. As with any publishing, every single reader, sale, mention matters. The truth is, a blog entry means a great deal, because everyone else can read it.

Busy, busy week this week. I created about 24 pages of a new project, heard from a major comic publisher about working up a pitch for them, and got the edits back on Alex Van Helsing #2. The evenings are getting full again; my month of leisurely reading in my little red office is officially over.

Happy Friday!

Monday, March 15, 2010

ALA/Booklist gives Alex Van Helsing Good Review

This is a nice one, just showing up today for Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising.

I won't reproduce it here-- it's at the Amazon page-- but one thing I find interesting is that this is the second review to call out the "Da Vinci code" plot in the book-- a key to the plot is the activities of several people who were all involved in the writing of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. True to form, the ALA guy loves the literary mystery stuff, but could do without the "action-movie assault" scenes. I think that's delightful because there's bound to be a couple of people who land just the opposite way.

Booklist is the review journal for the American Library Association, which is to say they recommend works (or warn against them, I guess) for libraries, schools, and the like.) So getting a positive nod from them is fortunate.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

In New York and an awesome Alex Van Helsing review at Goodreads

So it's a busy week-- I'm in New York for a conference and visiting a lot of people I work with, a whirlwind of panels and business cards and catching up over lunch. But the evenings are a treat-- last night I went to the Bowery Poetry Club to hear slam poetry, while tonight we're headed to hear an event called The Moth, the recording of stories for that fantastic podcast. Literally, people get up and tell quick, short stories without notes. Fantastic.

We have a new review of Alex Van Helsing over at Goodreads-- the first online review! "Can't wait to read the next installments." This one calls out that it's an adventure book of the kind I used to like to read. That's my goal-- rock-em-sock-em adventure with vampires. What kind of vampire series is this? This is the kind with motorcycles and humvees and secret underground spy complexes.

The review was from an ARC, an advanced review copy, a soft-back version that's available in very limited quantities months before the book comes out. Who makes that possible? A lot of planning from the publisher.

I had the opportunity-- a tremendous gift, given these people's schedules, to get cocktails with my editor at HarperCollins, and I shook hands with a whole army of people who touch the books along the way-- editors, assistant editors, art directors and designers. What does a publisher do? They spend thousands of man hours making the book the best it can be. I get a sense of how seriously they take their work. My work is to churn out the best story I can, and then hope we all get it more or less right.

And I guess we'll see!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

New Review of Sword of Dracula

I wanted to share this fantastic review of Sword of Dracula that showed up on Amazon.

It's a really kind review, but what really strikes me is how the reader responds to the same thing I responded to when I began to explore Drac as a character-- we don't get to see him much as a ruthless ruler and king.

Sword of Dracula, for those who are interested, stars Ronnie Van Helsing-- the younger sister of Alex Van Helsing. (But wait, you ask: Alex is 14 and Ronnie is-- what, 28? 30?) Yes. SOD takes place later.

5.0 out of 5 stars A Truly Amazing Dracula, February 21, 2010
In this age of vampire infatuation and revisionist writing, the story of Dracula is somewhat in flux. More and more books and movies now portray him as the romantic sympathetic hero and for many people that's good. But the vampire Dracula, who has been in our minds for a hundred year was "created" as a monster, and for many it is frustrating to find so few stories of him as an awe inspiring villain in this last decade.

Sword of Dracula, written by Jason Henderson, gives that and more.

Set in modern times, vampires have become a terrorist threat that threatens to consume the planet. And at the top is the vampire king, Dracula, who is determined to become king of the world and has powers over blood that are truly horrifying but also makes you crave to see more. But on his trail is Veronica "Ronnie" Van Helsing, whose struggle with the Vampire king is long and has left her determined to bring him down. But just as the two sides gather for battle, an even darker threat arises from the earth.

Sword of Dracula is action packed and leaves one wanting for more as the idea of a bloody battle takes on a new and much more twisted meaning.
The cast of characters is excellent.
Ronnie is a hero you admire, care for, and prey for as she goes up against creatures that slaughter hundreds as an afterthought. As well as her band of Commando friends whose job is to defeat the undefeatable.
Dracula is at his villainous best. He sees the world as his and is determined to make it so. And with his powers and armies at his command, he is very much a sword hanging over the world's head.
And I won't give it away but the other villains are frightening and a welcome addition to the vampire mythos.

If you want action, a struggle between good and evil, an evil yet amazing Dracula, as well some of the greatest vampire powers in print, this is the graphic novel for you.
The Story is ongoing in Sword of Dracula: Dracula War and Alex Van Helsing.
You can be sure I will continue reading.

As taken from the graphic novel:

Let them know
He is not a Romantic.
He is not Misunderstood.
He is King.
Dracula lives. 


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

This is an internet headline

This is an internet headline

This is the beginning of an internet article on any given subject, but let us stipulate that it is not about President Obama, President Bush, President Clinton, any current wars, or American Idol. Let us further stipulate that as articles go, this is one of the better ones, and people might even feel it worthy of forwarding.

This is Proposition 1, followed by supporting statements.

This is Proposition 2, followed by supporting statements.

This is Proposition 3, followed by supporting statements.

This is Random Observation 1, which seems to support the article but doesn’t. It probably should have been removed but was not, likely because the author thought its level of wit outweighed its extraneous nature.

This is the About the Author paragraph at the end, which the author likely wrote but talks about the author in third person, and calls out details about the author’s career. It may have a link to other articles the author has written, and probably ends with an extraneous but innocuous personal detail, likely about the author's pets.

This is where the article ends and comments begin.

Comment 1. I object to the article on the grounds that I am thinking right now about an unrelated but far more important topic and felt I needed to record that here. The fact that people are not more concerned about my preferred topic enrages me. Therefore the article fails.

Comment 2. I am offended by Random Observation 1. It reminds me of Hitler.

Comment 3. I am offended by Comment 2, and this reminds me of a recent President with whom I am very angry.

Comment 4. I point out a selection of words in the article above that, taken out of context, sound sexual. I end my comment with a series of letters, such as: LOL.

Comment 5. I am still angry about another article the author wrote before, and therefore argue against this article using ad hominem attacks.

Comment 6. I make an obvious comment whose sole purpose is to make me appear to be very very smart. I sprinkle in filler words like “rather” and make my sentences unnecessarily long.

Comment 7. I point out that my parents taught me better than anyone else’s parents taught them, and therefore the article fails.

Comment 8. I am offended by Comment 7’s implications of my poor parenting, and I compare him to Hitler.

Comment 9. I make comments that might be very interesting but are hard to understand because I do not use capitalization or punctuation.

Comment 10. I am a robot. I suggest that maybe everyone would prefer to look at something else, and provide a link.

Comment 11. I would like to argue some more about the President who made Commenter #3 so angry.

Comment 12. I suggest this article is a copy of a different article I remember reading. I will return and post a link if I can find it.

Comment 13. I recognize patterns in this article that make it similar to other articles I have read. Therefore I begin my comment with “This is one of those…” and describe the pattern. Therefore the article fails.

Comment 14. I was once injured or grievously offended by the author's preferred pet, and therefore the article fails.

Comment 13. I suggest that this article was a waste of time.