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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hilarious Dracula Cartoon

Kate Beaton at the Hark, a Vagrant blog has posted a hilarious cartoon version of Bram Stoker's Dracula. What's really great here is that Beaton knows her Dracula. Not only does the count show up, all white-mustachioed-and-aquiline-nosed, but we get her wry commentary on Victorian morals. (Here, Harker is horrified that the vampire women would like to be able to vote.)

Check it out!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Palance as Dracula: Dracula the Mack Truck

"There is no way... in this life... to stop me."

Here's another Dracula that doesn't get enough attention: Dan Curtis' Dracula, starring Jack Palance.

Yes-- Jack Palance, the quintessential American bad guy, played Dracula in 1973 in a feature film by Dark Shadows creator Dan Curtis, and the results are mixed but have several things to recommend them.

First, this is the first movie to provide a "reincarnation gambit" to Dracula's motives, so that Dracula is angling for the female protagonist (here, Lucy) because he is convinced he is his reincarnated lover. This is such a common trope now that it's amazing to think it's not in the book and didn't make it into movies until Matheson, the creator of I Am Legend, came up with it.

Second, it has at its center a tour-de-force performance by Palance, who more than perhaps any other actor resembles the historical Dracula in physical bullishness -- Dracula was a large, imposing man, and so many of the film Dracula's are extremely slender. That's a valid interpretation, but it's interesting to see Palance come at his foes like a train. You get the sense that he's ready to explode at any moment.

I recommend this Dracula for your next Draculathon. :)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Library visits this week in Frisco, Mansfield

I'll be presenting on vampires and writing the Alex Van Helsing series twice this week-- tonight and Friday in the DFW area. Come on out and get a bookmark!

Tue. 10/26 4:30 PM
Heritage HS, 14040 Eldorado Pkwy Frisco, TX 75035

and Fri. 10/29 7:00 PM
MANSFIELD PUBLIC LIBRARY-- in the "Mansfield Writes" program. Check out the site to RSVP.
104 North Wisteria Street Mansfield, TX 76063

See you there!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Where does a writer start?

Last night I was at the Lewisville Public Library and had some wonderful questions from the audience, especially young writers. A lot of them asked questions that I was asking myself when I was in high school and college-- how do you become a writer, as in what are the steps? What's next?

First off, I think this is a better time to be a writer than I have seen in my lifetime. When I started writing professionally in college, the opportunities were few and far between. You could write and publish novels, of course, which is every bit as hard now as it was then, though I'm not convinced it's harder now. You could also write comics, and then the rest was basically article-writing: newspapers, magazines, journals. You know what all of these had in common? Paper. It was all done by mailing printouts of paper and the ream of paper that it took to print out a novel.

Is it still hard to break into publishing? Yes. But it was a nightmare 20 years ago. And when I was 20, when I wrote my first fantasy novel for adults, you were completely at the mercy of the accidents of the market. There were no blogs, no twitter, no websites, no way of contacting readers. Now is better. Now is glorious.

There is no reason for a young person to think they can't write professionally. Can they live on their writing? All depends; I tend to think if you use your writing to hold down an awesome marketing job while you write articles and books at night, you're a professional. If you get paid, you are a professional. Can you live on only the writing you really want to do? That's as hard as it was in 1953, I imagine, which is to say that it is a rare thing.

But where do you start, the young people ask. My answers, very simply:

  1. First, know that every publisher, magazine, game company and website wants good work. They have no interest in not publishing good work and they love new voices. There is no question of getting people to take you seriously if the work is good.
  2. Use your time to get some work done.You'll feel better if you get some work done today!
  3. Read any of several fantastic books on launching a writing career-- I'm a huge fan of Stephen King's On Writing and Orson Scott Card's How to Write Fantasy and Science Fiction for practical advice.
  4. Write anything you can for anyone who says yes. Pitch articles, games, blog entries, books, scripts, anything. You are not a fantasy writer or a romance writer or a tech analyst. You are writer, a writer, a writer, and you get up in the morning and you write and you go to bed and you write. 
  5. Only you have to be your last best friend. Other people will believe in you or not, they'll be there or they won't, but you are your own champion whether you like it or not. This is a good thing, because it means that you don't have to worry about whether other people believe in you. If one magazine has been buying your work and there's a change and they're not buying your work anymore, remember: they don't have to believe in you. It's all okay. You have the job of believing in you. Other people have their own goals and worries. Look to yourself, and then look to make partners with other people. 
Now is better. Now is always better.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Outstanding week continued

Visited five more schools in the last two days, bringing the total school visits this week to eight. The interesting thing to me was learning what works well in a middle school presentation and what works better for a more senior group. I hope to do more!

Thanks very much to the kids and librarians of Austin, Travis, DeZavala, Lamar, Crockett, Bowie and Houston Middle Schools and Cardwell Prep for the opportunity to meet you!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Visiting Middle Schools

I visited three schools today in Irving today-- Austin Middle, Travis Middle and Cardwell Prep-- making this the first day of a busy week of school and library visits. I love -- love!-- school visits because I love the questions students ask. Will Alex Van Helsing ever have werewolves? What's going to happen between Alex and kung-fu-fighting girl Minhi? Five more school visits this week.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Podcast interview: Shadowland: Daughters of the Shadow, Alex Van Helsing, and more

Speak of the Devil is a podcast hosted by the self-described "Legion of Dudes," dedicated to comics in general and Daredevil comics in particular. This week you can head over there to hear a free-wheeling conversation I had with them about writing comics, writing in general, Shadowland, Alex Van Helsing, X-Men, Claremont's circuitous 80s plotting, digital distribution, piracy, and Indian food. I might be missing something. We talk a lot. I sound like a freak because I have a cold in the interview. Very fun. Thanks, guys!

Monday, October 11, 2010

October Alex Van Helsing Library & School Visits

Lots of library events coming up, so I wanted to create a blog entry that captured all of my upcoming Alex Van Helsing visits for the month of October.

(Library, bookstore and other evening visits are open to the public, but daytime school visits are, obviously, closed to outsiders.)

What a great month!

Saturday, October 16, 2010 
5:00 PM
6111 Burnet Rd Austin, TX 78757

Monday, October 18, 2010    
8:15-9:15AM           Austin Middle School, Irving, Texas (Students only)
10:15-11:15AM       Travis Middle School, Irving, Texas (Students only)
1:20-2:30AM           Cardwell Prep Center, Irving, Texas (Students only)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010
9:00-10:00AM         DeZavala Middle School, Irving, Texas (Students only)
1:00-2:00AM           Lamar Middle School, Irving, Texas (Students only)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010
8:10-9:00AM           Crockett Middle School, Irving, Texas (Students only)
10:00-11:15AM       Bowie Middle School, Irving, Texas       (Students only)
2:15-3:15AM           Houston Middle School, Irving, Texas (Students only)

Thursday, October 21
6:30 PM
1197 West Main Street, Lewisville, TX 75067

Tuesday, October 26, 2010
4:30 PM
Heritage High School 14040 Eldorado Pkwy Frisco, TX 75035

Friday, October 29, 2010
7:00 PM
104 North Wisteria Street Mansfield, TX 76063

Commonsense Media on Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising

Commonsense Media is a site that will be mystifying to anyone without kids: they take books, movies, games, whatever, and essentially give a factual rundown of what happens in the work with an imaginary parent in mind.

I'll bet your mileage will vary on this site if you have a favorite, violence-strewn YA book, but I like that the site doesn't judge so much as record. They just put up a report on Alex Van Helsing that was actually a lot of fun for me to read:

Parents need to know that this action-packed vampire story has more violence and much less romance than the first book in the Twilight series. It also has more humor! The first two thirds of the story focus on the friendships between Alex and three new friends, the boarding school experience and Alex's discovery about his parents, his powers and the literary history of vampires. The final third veers into more traditional vampire storytelling, with blood drinking, holy water and death by staking. Despite several murders, the blood and gore level is not overdone.

It's strange to read your own work being analyzed this way, with little graphs and grades for curse words used (some) and whether or not any alcohol is consumed (no.) You can check it out here.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Remembering the Great Pumpkin and the Horror of Sincerity

(Note-- we're cracking out The Great Pumpkin, so I'm reprinting this review. Enjoy!) 

My daughters and I watched IT'S THE GREAT PUMPKIN, CHARLIE BROWN tonight. One is five and one is eight and the Charlie Brown DVDs are a big hit with them, so we are careful not to break them out until the right month, so they retain their specialness. We can watch each over and over again, but only in October, or November, or December. The arrival of GREAT PUMPKIN announces the arrival of a bevy of holiday specials that have drilled their way into my mind. Lately I've enjoyed returning to these things with fresh eyes.

GREAT PUMPKIN in particular resonates with me, particularly because of the strangely chilling fantasy Snoopy the dog has about the most vile and butcherous war of the last century.

The center of GREAT PUMPKIN is Linus, whom we recall as the voice of reason in the 1965 CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS. There, while Charlie Brown obsessed about the growing commercialization of Christmas, Linus was the even-handed guy who said, 'Charlie Brown, you're the only guy I know who can take a nice holiday like Christmas and make it a problem." And at the end, it is Linus who steps to Brown's rescue, tapping the microphone and simply reciting the Christmas story. That's 1965.

Now, in GREAT PUMPKIN, it's a year later and we find Linus in the thrall of complete religious fervor of his own device, as the boy proselytizes to the gang about the impending arrival of a giant pumpkin-being who favors the children with the "sincerest" pumpkin patch with a visit and gifts. The gang thinks he's a loon, the girl who loves him loses a whole evening coming to the same conclusion, and in the end Linus shivers in the cold until being rescued by his hateful but ultimately caring sister Lucy.

What is this supposed to mean? If CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS was about keeping the true spirit of Christmas (while enjoying the benefits of a commercialized holiday), what is GREAT PUMPKIN about? It seems to be a satire on fringe religion ("we're separated by denominational differences," Linus insists when Charlie Brown professes faith in Santa Claus.) But it's kind of sad that Linus, the voice of wisdom in the Christmas special, is so misguided here. We close out the special with Linus raving-- RAVING-- that this time something went wrong, but next year his pumpkin patch will be sincere enough to merit the arrival of the Great Pumpkin. In this he sounds like one of those cultists who keeps moving back the end of the world.

Meanwhile, I don't think when I watched this as a child that I realized that these children are all just little adults. There are no parents in sight, and they get around about as well as college students. Better: in the beginning, Lucy and Linus pick a pumpkin and carve it with a butcher knife in the span of about forty-five seconds. They throw a killer party whose only non-child visitor is a beagle that fantasizes about war and mayhem, and swims in punch.

I still love Snoopy's fantasy of the Red Baron, the moment I waited for every year, the dark water-color world made ominous by the high hat and woodwinds of Vince Guaraldi's soundtrack. Snoopy creeps through bombed-out France, and all the images of the Great War-- barbed wire, cratered earth, ruined shelters, blackened skies, bullet-riddled fuselages, churning black smoke-- all become playthings, and beautiful and chilling ones. Barbed wire is stuff that you and I don't blink at, but there's a generation-- some of whom still breathe-- that grow nauseated at the sight of it. Barbed wire was the patchy stitching that only festered and worsened the wounds of World War I. But there it is, amid the ruined houses of Snoopy's imagination, and suddenly I realize Disney could have made a park called Somme Land, named after the famous battle that spat out men like seeds.

Hey Pirates: Can you prove piracy helps?

Piracy pays for itself. Isn't that the argument? So you could prove it, right? Over at Stacey Jay's blog, I joined a conversation a week or so ago about e-book piracy. Pretty soon the argument came down to two sides:
  1. Those who thought pirated e-books hurt the sales of the author's books and cut down revenue
  2. Those who predicted that pirated e-books would actually act as advertisements and would lead to a revenue lift.
That second point is a popular point; the people who make it are arguing that piracy is like libraries; where a person gets a taste for an author and then will buy later. My position was that libraries work that way because they're still very limited; with a pirated book, you can have a copy and so can everyone else. I might be incentivized to read more of the author, but there's no incentive to go buy a book.
One poster on the blog raised the phenomenon of suggested donations, but a suggested donation system is a scenario where the author makes the book free and asks for a donation. That's a floating discount, not piracy.

All of which brings me to this: prove it. I'm a businessman, so I'm easy to talk to about these things. Show me a business case. The poster at Stacey Jay's blog answered this request with:
OK GO, Family Guy, Justin Bieber, South Park. Schmoyo (the autotune the news guys) I could cherry pick examples of people made wealthy and famous by internet file sharing all day, but then so could someone arguing the counterpoint. There are plenty of examples of both, so to say that all piracy is bad and all piracy is done with rosy hearted intentions is intellectually disingenuous.

Are there plenty? All of that paragraph is interesting but it's anecdotal, and also it's not about books. Here's what I want-- pick a case of e-book piracy and send me a spreadsheet that shows that the piracy grew revenue. Pick something major and pirated, like Mockingjay, but to do this you're going to need real numbers. I want to see a success in the field. Since piracy has been going on for awhile, the example showing the value of piracy should be out there. Stacey Jay says that low sales due to piracy actually killed a book for her, so I guess that's not the example we're looking for. To win this, you need a case where piracy helps. Pro-piracy proponents insist that this will be readily available.

Key to the business case will, I suppose, be the percentage of readers downloading a pirated copy and deciding to purchase a book. What would that percentage be that would purchase the actual downloaded pirated book? Probably less than 1%, but we might also have a line for the percentage who downloaded a pirated copy and then decided to purchase another book by the same author. What percentage would that be? I'm guessing-- rather liberally-- maybe as high as 1.5%, but bring me the proof to show me different. In theory, if 1.5% of 100,000 people who stole a book buy a second book because of this for $10, that's $15K for the vendor, which (assuming two books with a total costs $150K, a completely made-up number intended to bring in salaries, etc.) means a negative NPV for our piracy program so far. Your piracy program so far is $135K in the hole, so if it were up to me I'd cancel it and go back to selling books without the benefit of piracy.

But if my data is wrong, bring me the right data. The way people talk this scenario up, there should be plenty of data showing the value of promoting piracy.

If someone can show me a two-year business case with a net present value for piracy, I'll send them an Alex Van Helsing ARC (reader copy.) It won't even be pirated.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Dallasites! Go see Carnival of Souls: Purgatorium, a creepy, intimate horror play

The end of Carnival of Souls: Purgatorium is harrowing-- a character is pleading, screaming, begging, and you in the audience feel about the story the way the character must feel, the way we all must feel eventually: how did we get all the way here? By that time the expressionism of most of the play is flooded out by sheer terror. Before that is politics and guilt, and slowly building horror.
Carnival of Souls: Purgatorium is a strange experiment from a Dallas theater that specializes in strange experiments. Level Ground Arts is a theater company that in the past couple of years has mounted stage versions of Plan 9 From Outer Space and something called Cannibal: The Musical. Next up-- and I will be there-- will be a stage version of Manos: the Hands of Fate
Those are farces. This is not, so the stakes are higher. You know how they say comedy is harder than tragedy? That's true mainly because bad comedy is more painful to watch than bad drama. But good drama is nakedly terrifying, because it must connect in ways comedy doesn't have to.
In Carnival of Souls: Purgatorium, an organist named Mary Harrison (Emily Shaw) is rescued in the nick of time from drowning during Hurricane Katrina and plopped into the New Orleans diaspora of 2005. Hours on a bus. Free clothes donated by nervous store managers. A landlady who is full of Christian charity in the same way that Pollyana's aunt was, in that she likes to remind us of it.
Emily Shaw plays this part with fragility and weariness, as though she has been punched in the face-- actually, as though she has seen her house destroyed and has been forcibly moved by a federal agency to North Texas. She conveys to us the quandary of traumatic victims: we who are not victims are not going through what she is going through. We just want to go about our lives. Do you want the shirt or the dress? Would you like a sandwich, or not? The traumatized are damaged, reliving a trauma right in front of us, and our questions seem alien and cruel.
Writer and director Bill Fountain has the characters explore a lot of issues of the Katrina diaspora. At one point, the landlady (Stacie Cleland) and the mysterious, wise and insane creole Virgil (Elias Taylorson)  turn to the audience and engage us with facts-- how many people were displaced, how many of them came to Dallas or to Houston, how many had criminal records. Fountain has a keen eye for Texan BS when Virgil says, "and has crime gone up?" And the woman answers, "Statistics say no, but..." and the rest is blather for, "but we know."
But there is more going on than a miniature movie about Hurricane Katrina, because in the middle of all this is a growing horror: Shaw is seeing things that aren't there, and in a couple of scenes, the ghouls that haunt her are generally date-clutching scary, especially in one scene where the lights flicker and twisted figures lurch step by step towards her bed. Especially amazing is the at once mournful and menacing Robert G. Shores as a the ghoul who seems to lead the others, who beckons to Mary more and more. A whole chorus of ghouls dance and move in silence, trapped in another world of yearning and repetition. Meanwhile, projected images show us the one thing that is haunting Shaw most: a nearby abandoned carnival that beckons to her.
Film geeks will of course recognize the skeleton of the story in the 1962 film Carnival of Souls. Low budget, weird and not the most widely-seen horror picture, one can find echoes of its imagery in horror from Night of the Living Dead and The Sixth Sense to House on Sorority Row. I can't decide if you would be better prepared for the play if you had seen that movie or not. I know if you have seen the movie, if you're a horror fan, you should definitely see it.
The stage is intimate and makes a lot of use of a few bare boxes, projection screens, televisions, and soundscapes.
For my part, I was amazed: here was an intimately staged play with one foot in reality and one foot in creepy, building existential horror.
Carnival of Souls: Purgatorium plays at the KD Studio Theater until October 30. Your Halloween Season should spend some time in Purgatory.