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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Alex Van Helsing "James Bond Meets Buffy"

Reading on the Dark Side weighed in with a nice look at Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising::

Alex Van Helsing is definitely a Young Adult book, which is not a bad thing. I can really imagine that readers around the same age as the protagonist (especially the male ones) will really enjoy this book.
What really appealed to me were all the literary references throughout the book: Jason Henderson ties his vampires to Lord Byron (yes, THE Lord Byron), Dracula, Frankenstein and adds a literary nod to zombies and you get a James Bond meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer for Young Adults, even though older readers might prefer another kind of book. 

I really appreciate this because it brings up an interesting question. Do you have to be younger to gravitate towards a story that's much heavier on adventure then relationships? I think that well describes the rockem-sockem world of Alex Van Helsing, who is 14 when we find him in his book series. They are action-adventure first, though the cross-relationship complications will grow as the series progresses (certainly there's more in Book 2.)

I'm really thankful for these reviews, by the way, especially when they're coming from around the world-- Dark Side, for instance, appears to be in Germany. I'm especially thankful because this book has been out since May, so we're in a quiet period until the launch of Book 2 in July.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Intimate Community of Paper: The eReader Will Not Make Friends for You

I haven't yet gotten an eReader, which seems strange when you consider how much I love to read. And it's not like I'm some kind of Luddite-- I carry my iPod everywhere, download about 14 hours of podcasts per week, and obsessively check my smartphone like everyone else. It's certainly not that I don't like the things in terms of user interface; clearly the leading brands do their job.

I realized I could use an eReader a few months ago when my wife and I were at an all-weekend event at a nearby school. I realized I'd like to take some notes on Little Women but didn't have a copy. If I had had an eReader with an Internet connection, I could have simply downloaded the book for anywhere from zero to ten dollars. So that's nice.

Also, I travel a lot, and I carry three or four books when I do, and having an eReader would mean that I could spare myself the extra space taken up by Relentless and Under the Dome. Can fit a whole extra pair of Size 13 shoes, right there.

And yet, I have not gotten an eReader, for two reasons:

First and not to be dismissed, I am cheap. When it comes to books, I do buy new books from time to time, probably a few a month, but mainly I borrow and buy used. I like libraries because they are free, and I like charity resale shops because, usually, I can walk out with a yard of paperbacks for 25 cents apiece and hardbacks for 50 cents, and I'm set. I got my daughter Ella Enchanted for 25 cents at the outreach center. If I switch to an eReader, and if the world follows, forget all this. Assuming it's in a Kindle version, Ella Enchanted will be $10, maybe $8. That's good for Gail Levine, who makes money she might have missed before. But would I buy it, pick it up randomly? How would I give it to my daughter? Loan her my Kindle? Get her her own Kindle? Another couple hundred dollars. If most of what I read is free or 25 cents, at what point, other than bulk, does the Kindle make itself valuable to me. Clearly from an economic perspective I am not an ideal candidate. I am too cheap and contented with my options.

But second, I mourn for the community of paper. In Italy and Spain, in France and England, I made friends based on what people were reading. I notice you're reading The Stand. When I read that I couldn't put it down. I've forgotten how good it was. Check this out, this is Mind Hacks. My friend loaned it to me. We brandished books, and engaged people in conversation. Do you understand? We were alone, and we made friends this way. We carried paper, books, as means of identifying ourselves. We got off the trains having met new people, found new adventures. You didn't have to peer over someone's shoulder, the book jacket called out from their arms.

The eReader will close that world off. It is an enrichment of the world of you, and outside, you are surrounded by concrete. You stare at a blank, beige slate, unadorned and unlabeled, sealed off from the person sitting across from you, a person that ten years ago might have become your best friend.

The eReader is a great blessing. It will allow the proliferation of lost and out-of-print works and it will enable us to read more than we could ever desire. But it will not come cheap, and the greatest cost will be the texture of life that we will lose when we lose the intimate community of paper.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Bookworm Extraordinaire: Alex Van Helsing "more than just a vampire hunter"

Bookworm Extraordinaire weighed in on Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising with some great comments. I really appreciated that she dug Alex's terrible conflict with his own contact lenses:

This may sound strange but I really liked how Henderson gave Alex Van Helsing glasses/ contacts and had Alex deal with that. It just made him seem more real to me…like he was more than just a Vampire Hunter in a book.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Shadowland: Daughters of the Shadow #2 out today! Go get it!

Three-part miniseries in comics are strange creatures. I tend to think of comic stories in three-act structures both inside each issue and within the series itself. If so, Issue 2 of Daughters of the Shadow is Act 2, and it's a busy one.

In Issue 1, we met Colleen and she was chosen to lead the female assassin team The Nail by Daredevil. Now, in Issue 2, we see them a week or so into activity, as they sweep across the city gathering info on a human smuggling ring. It's all pushing towards an enormous showdown (or two or three) in Issue 3 between Colleen and Daredevil, Colleen and the other assassins, and especially Colleen and Misty Knight, her longtime friend and partner.

Check out a preview of Shadowland: Daughters of the Shadow Issue 2 here.

And don't forget-- if you haven't read Issue 1, Marvel is re-issuing it with a variant cover next week!

Here's page one of today's issue, by the way:

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Encyclopedia of Vampire Mythology an incredible resource for vampire freaks

For the past week I've been reading Theresa Bane's new Encyclopedia of Vampire Mythology, a book so deeply researched and thorough that I've never seen anything quite like it. I've read a fair number of books on vampires and vampire literature; my favorite is J. Gordon Melton's The Vampire Book. That excellent work covers the whole range of vampires with an emphasis on pop culture, so one finds articles on a whole potpourri of vamp material: nearly 1000 pages long, Melton provides articles on Anne Rice, Blade, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Lord Byron, Dark Shadows, even the short-lived Dell Comics superhero Dracula. If it's vampire and it appeared before the latest edition, it's in there.

The Encyclopedia of Vampire Mythology book is a different animal, a thorough and seemingly exhaustive recording of every vampire myth Bane could find. This is a book for people who want to absorb the breadth and possibilities of the vampire myth. I can't begin to convey how impressive this is because it clearly required years of painstaking research, capturing myths from Malaysia, Japan, Eastern Europe, pre-Colonial America, the Jewish Apocrypha, wherever there appear to have been people.

Bane tells us that the Indian Brahmaparush is a vampire that detaches its head and flies around as a head, with entrails hanging down, and you can kill it by drying out the hidden skin with salt.  Variations of this myth appear (in other entries) as Malaysian Penangglan, the Thai Phii Krasue, the Indonesian Pontianak, and have flying-head cousins among the Chilean Chonchon (though that one has big wing-ears, and no entrails,) and the Iroquois generically named "Flying Heads." There are way more than this, because flying heads get around.

Disclosure: I was ready for the flying heads because I used them once in a Ronnie Van Helsing story.

Another big deal is cats: the German Dockele appears as a cat, and so do the Greek Draskylo and, among many, many others, the Hungarian Farkaskoldus (this one is the unlucky soul killed by a werewolf: who knew? Also the Farkaskoldus can turn into a goat.) The same themes appear again and again. Live a sinful life, come back as a vampire and haunt your family, so, don't do that. Also men should beware of wanton women, the world over, apparently.

My favorite vampire? Hard to say, because there's so many vampires, densely packed into the seemingly slim 200 pages, but I love the pitiful German Dodelecker, who is so weak that he rises from his grave only with great effort, and then wanders around, unable to attack anyone. Eventually, hungry and unsuccessful, it falls down and dies. I also like the Japanese Kappa, a polite, sumo-wrestling sort of turtle vampire that carries water in an indentation in its head, and if you bow and the turtle bows back, the water spills out, rendering the Kappa unconscious. Aside from attacking people from time to time, the Kappa steals a lot of melons and cucumbers.

Here's a typical (and shorter than most) entry, chosen at random.

Preta (Par- EE- ta)
The preta (“morbid”) is a vampiric spirit from India. It appears as a fresh corpse whose stomach
is bloated and large but its mouth has shriveled up, leaving only a small opening. Walking the
earth lost and hungry for human blood, the Buddhist faith sees the preta’s condition as a fitting
punishment for a person who had too many desires in life.
Source: Crooke, Introduction to the Popular Religion, 153; DaniƩlou, Myths and Gods of India, 27, 213, 301, 311; Turner, Dictionary of Ancient Deities, 184

This is a book that digs into folklore on vampires and delivers a fantastic resource for writers especially, looking for inspiration. For true vampire freaks I can't recommend it enough.

Theresa Bane has a blog herself, so you should check that out as well.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Final Edits on Alex Van Helsing: Voice of the Undead

That image to the left is my task this week, the final rounds of edits on Alex Van Helsing: Voice of the Undead, the second book in the Alex series.
This time what I have here are "galley proofs," typeset pages that are almost exactly the book as it will appear next in ARCs, the bound galleys that go out early to reviewers. Voice of the Undead doesn't come out until July of 2011, so likely the ARC won't even come for many months. But now is the time to make last edits. In this case, I'm going through the printout of the book-- some pages are stapled together, where editors have made minor changes and re-stapled in order to maintain pagination-- and making notes in pencil.
 It's very strange to be at this point with Voice of the Undead. Reading through it this week was my first time looking at it in a couple of months, and actually I think it reads better than Book 1. For one thing, it benefits from the fact that all the characters are in place, and now we can follow them around without having to re-introduce anyone.
In Voice of the Undead, Alex faces off against a very old vampire who has the ability to bend people to his will. It's an opportunity to explore Alex's own resourcefulness and the extent of Alex's "static," the ability he has to sense vampires. But along the way, we get more character interplay, and even more-- slightly more-- romance.
I think perhaps the strangest aspect of writing these books for publication with HarperTeen is that as writers we tend to be very protective of every idea we have. We want our first version to be the best, as if somehow not only our ego but the actual value of the book itself is contained in the feverish first draft. But it isn't so-- I've been writing for a fair amount of time, but I've learned recently to slow down, to re-work. Your ego does not exist in the first draft. If there must be ego, it exists in the final product. The final product will have your name on it and be bought by people around the world. Moreover, the final product will be the work of many people beyond the writer, and all of them are taking risks. You owe them a book they can show to their moms. The process of building a book for publication is the process of embracing the fact that you are not alone, whether you like it or now.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Reading on the Darkside: Alex Van Helsing & "Do we WANT guy readers?"

I did an interview with the fantastic people at Reading on the Darkside. Christina, the interviewer, asked lots of questions, among them: who is the target audience for an actiony vampire series like Alex Van Helsing? Do we want male readers and can we hope for them? Answer: actually I kind of hope for both male and female readers, and most of the best reviews so far have been from women.

I also managed to mention that in fact, Alex Van Helsing was almost "Ronnie Van Helsing," about Alex's sister. But for now, you can only find her in her own comic.

Read the interview here.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Need for Anti-Vampire Heroes

I posted a guest blog over at Vampire Book Club on the need for anti-vampire heroes and wanted to share some of it here:

Guest Post: The need for anti-vampire heroes by Jason Henderson

When I was a kid I loved vampires, but I loved Van Helsing more. Not just the doddering German professor of Stoker’s Dracula, but the version of Van Helsing that Peter Cushing played in movies I caught on TV and video—athletic, resourceful, clever. Always weaker than his opponent, with far less experience and resources. Van Helsing was my Batman—you could be Van Helsing, as far as what he was capable of. You’d likely never become a vampire, but take enough survival courses and do enough pull-ups and you could probably become Van Helsing. Take enough classes and you can learn Chinese.
This mattered to me as a kid, to think you could make something of yourself. You could change the kind of person you were, make good choices and bad ones and learn, and get better. Van Helsing was that for me.
So for me, pitching a series based around the classic hero of Dracula was a no-brainer. There was never a chance that I would write a story with the vampire as the hero. The real question is—why was this even unusual?
Now, there are a lot of vampire hunters out there—Vampire Princess Miyu beget Buffy the Vampire Slayer; Dracula beget Blade beget Van Helsing again.
We hear all the time that producers and editors and therefore the writers who feed them material think in “like X but Y” formulations. “It’s like Wizard of Oz but with Dolphins.” “It’s like Twilight but with Sentient Tractors.” And it’s true, we do that. But it’s not as mercenary as it sounds. “Like X but Y” is the way you describe in a conversation what writers do anyway. It’s the kind of game we played when we first started writing; the very first writing formulation for me when I was, “I want to write a story like the one I just read in Twilight Zone magazine, but here’s how I will make it mine.”
Read the rest here.