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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Booklady puts Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising in her top 10 YAs of 2010

My resolution for 2010 was fairly simple; it was to not botch the launch of the Alex Van Helsing series, and since we make resolutions in January, I think at the time my only other resolution was to complete Alex Van Helsing: Voice of the Undead, which was due into the publisher.

This year it's the same. We have Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years, and this is the period in which most of my writing on Alex Van Helsing: Book 3 gets written. That's coming along, and it's certainly slowing down my posts. But I wanted to post this-- the wonderful book blog Booklady has named Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising to her 2010 Top 10 YA reads of the year. I'm really touched!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Joelle Anthony's 25 YA Cliches List

Joelle Anthony has re-posted her excellent list of the 25 Things Most Overused in Middle Grade and YA Fiction.

Some highlights:

#25 – Vegetarian teens with unsympathetic meat-eating parents

#24 – Shy or withdrawn characters that take refuge in the school’s art room/ compassionate art teachers

Joelle Anthony
#23 – A token black friend among a group of white friends – usually it’s a girl, and she’s always gorgeous

#22 – A tiny scar through the eyebrow, sometimes accompanied by an embarrassing story

-- and so on. I think it's important to note that you're free to use any of these cliches if we we feel you must. But knowing it's a cliche at least gives you two things-- a chance to be sure of the choice and put some spin on it, and a chance to toss the cliche and try something else.

By the way, the #2 item-- best friends with red hair? Guilty.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Review: Infected: Prey by Andrea Speed

Andrea Speed's Infected: Prey is a hard-boiled detective book with were-cats. It's very, wonderfully traditional in the detective-book sense, in that the lead, Roan McKichan, is a cynical ex-cop who will follow the clues wherever they lead, no matter what seediness he uncovers. Like most such detectives, Roan has the right to move through all worlds, from the cop world he used to inhabit, to the tony neighborhood where his new, wealthy clients yearn for the return of their missing son, to the dance clubs where most of the son's friends hang out. So it's a detective story-- the romance stems from a committed relationship Roan is in already. And oh yeah, Speed's world features a community (they don't like the word) of people who can change into cats. Oh, and oh yeah, Roan and partner Paris are gay. The book takes their relationship, and the various tensions and feelings of inadequacy between tough, jaded Roan and beautiful, funny Paris, seriously. But this is a detective book, not a romance, so if you're looking for erotica, this is not your book.

Andrea Speed's world of cat-people is riveting and full of detail. There are a couple of kinds of "Infected"-- those who are born with the cat virus, and those who catch it. The transformation of man into tiger, lion, or cougar is painful and wrenching, and some of Speed's best writing comes in the passages where Roan has to lock up his partner Paris so that Paris can spend an hour painfully changing, and then remain locked up. These are beautiful, heartfelt passages, and Speed is good at capturing the sensitivity in Roan, outwardly a constant wisenheimer. Speed has built her world out with all the rules it needs, down to laws to keep the Infected in check (they *have* to lock themselves up) to wacko churches that cater to teens who want to become infected. Neat stuff.

Infected: Prey as collected in paperback is actually two Perry-Mason-length novellas, which is nice, because you can read a whole story and then move the the next one. As I look at my shelf, the true hard-boiled detective stories, your Saints and Hammers and Marlowes, were thin and efficient volumes, and would have stayed that way if not for the dawn of enormous Patricia Cornwell-style mega-thrillers. Stories like this that focus on a private eye and the cast of characters that surround him fit the novella length perfectly and also fit perfectly into the rhythms of TV drama series, which INFECTED could easily be.

I enjoyed entering this world and can't wait to read more of it.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

New Interview at "From the Shadows"

I literally never get tired of answering questions about writing, so thank God someone is out there to ask. I just did an interview with the guys at From the Shadows and really enjoyed the questions. Some samples:
EJ: When did you begin writing?

Jason: I'm pretty sure this will be most author's answer, but very early. I remember starting to write short stories that were based on movies I'd seen-- like I wrote a story that was a sequel to War of the Gargantua, a Japanese movie about two giant, furry monsters. The first story I submitted was to Twilight Zone Magazine in about 1982 when I was 10, and it was about a robot who had been responsible for the sinking of the Titanic. If I recall correctly, it wasn't for them. :) I didn't publish any fiction until I was getting out of college....
EJ: Tell us why readers will enjoy your new release.

Jason: ALEX VAN HELSING: VAMPIRE RISING is the first in a series from HarperTeen about a teenager who learns that he can sense vampires and is recruited into a giant organization of vampire-hunters, the Polidorium. It's very heavy on action and close calls. This is very much James Bond with vampires. I just love writing them, especially because the world is one I created, where hundreds of years of vampire literature are all true. Book 1 came out this Summer and will come out in Paperback on the same day that Book 2, VOICE OF THE UNDEAD comes out in hardcover. If you have a young person in your life who wants more adventure with a paranormal twist, this is it for you.

Check out the whole interview.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What If: Dark Reign out today!

Right at the edge of Christmas Eve, I'm spending most of my time trying to make use of vacation time to continue to chip away at Alex Van Helsing #3, but we have an announcement today. What If: Dark Reign: The Osborn Assassination is out today. I'm really excited by this because it's the first time I've gotten to write anything involving the Avengers, and in fact my whole love affair with comics started with a What If story way back in 1984 (What If Captain America Were Revived Today? by Peter B. Gillis and Sal Buscema. See Again with the Comics for a great write-up.)

What If: Dark Reign: The Osborn Assassination is the story of what happens when Hawkeye, a hero who has always pledged not to take life, made good on his threat to assassinate the evil Norman Osborn, the former supervillain who somehow managed to take over the United States security apparatus.

I love the art in this book from Sana Takeda-- see a preview from Comicbookresources.
The description:
Written by JASON HENDERSON Penciled by SANA TAKEDA Cover by MIKE DEODATO Back-Up Story By RICK REMENDER & SHAWN MOLL Before the events of Siege, long-time Avenger Clint Barton (aka Hawkeye) sought to take matters into his own hands and kill Norman Osborn himself. Why should a menace like Osborn be allowed the chance to live? Slay the monster, save the kingdom... right? The kill shot is just the beginning in this twisted tale of conspiracy and intrigue that takes Dark Reign to even blacker depths. What's the worst that could happen? See for yourself in this one-shot from Jason Henderson and Sana Takeda. PLUS, What If: The Venom Symbiote Possessed Deadpool - Part 1! 40 PGS./Rated T+ Cover price $3.99.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Process and Progress on Alex Van Helsing #3

The AVH Notebook (V. 2)
Not much blogging this week due to Holidays and a lot of work on Alex Van Helsing #3: Whatever It Will Be Called. Here you can see my notebook-- my process basically involves outlining first on paper, then in Excel, then back to paper for individual scenes. Honestly when it comes to real brainstorming it's better for me to use paper.

For instance, you can't really see it but the header there says SECHERON DARK, with dramatic beats underneath, corresponding with the bits of action in the scene. This scene is in (currently) chapter 4 of the first draft. The notes say:


Into town-- body armor
Police lights cutting through the dim-- people milling about
The Docks--
Army of vampires coming up from the water (L. Geneva)-- attacking
a bony horse and the Skull Lady
Vampires with other skull faces covered-- attacking--
Alex saved by the GIRL
"It's Claire."
Claire sends a message

That's for a scene-- scenes need to have dramatic beats and its easiest to write them down. I continue this way, going from electronic to paper outline, throughout the first draft.

Meanwhile I had a quick call with my editor to pick her brain about what to do with some of the characters. A 10-minute call and we're out. The editor is warm but sharp and efficient. We bat some ideas rapid fire and settle on a direction, and each return to our lives.

And on we go. The book is currently 15,000 words into draft 1, and due in February.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Review: The Vampire Book, Third Edition

The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead is one of the most valuable books I use in the prep work I do. I've been using it for years-- the version I just got is the third edition, making this the second time that I'll be donating a dog-eared previous edition to the Outreach Center. (Note: I don't bother selling used books. I donate them. Goodwill, Outreach, Library, whatever. At the end the year you can write off some amount, and it's not as tiresome as waiting on a small sum in trade at the Half Price Books. Just donate them.)
The Vampire Book is over 800 pages of articles on all things related to vampires in folklore, pop art, history and culture. There are articles on everything from Dracula, the book, to Dracula, the 1979 movie, to Chelsea Quinn Yarbro and Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, to Twilight, with an individual article on Isabella Marie Swan.
Isabella gets her own article in the Third Edition. 
I use this encyclopedia as a survey book to guide me to other sources because it's the most definitive and broad reference-- and certainly the most up to date-- that I know of. If you're looking for a massive brick of a book as a stocking stuffer for a vampire fan friend, The Vampire Book is the way to go.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Authors are product managers-- it's totally okay to act like it

We authors are writers first and product managers second. And it's a close second.

Saundra Mitchell has an excellent blog post on just how flibbertigibbet the publishing industry has gone over Amazon providing, in an easy little web tool, Nielsen Bookscan numbers. It's a limited exposure, of course-- authors can track their sales for the past four weeks, and get a handy graph of their amazon ranking for a much longer period. That's Bookscan sales-- meaning sales reported at brick-and-mortar stores with a few exceptions, sometimes big exceptions, such as e-books and direct sales to libraries, which can matter to those whose books are often found in schools.

This is all big news because it's traditionally fairly difficult for authors to get sales data. I don't actually think the data is shielded from authors for any dark purpose or to put the author in a lower position. I think the data has been hard to share because sharing sales data in the old days wasn't part of the system.

But the publishing industry in the past decade or so has changed drastically, and today authors are expected to do more than "just write." Today they are also expected to help market. We're expected not to compete with our publisher's marketing team but augment it. It's tough, and professional things generally are tough-- you the author have only yourself to promote, while your marketing department has a whole product line.

But one thing everyone can benefit from is data. If I have data, daily data, I can see what makes a difference. For instance the data I got from Amazon this morning tells me that my best sales in the past month have been in San Antonio-- which is also where I just did a lot of school visits. This kind of data helps us sell products and meet goals because it helps us try marketing techniques and discard or ramp up as needed.

But if the data isn't accurate, then let this just be the beginning. I think that authors and publishers should have regular sales meetings to review the numbers, and the author should have to come to the meeting with his own action plans for what he's going to do for his books. It's not about harassing the publisher.

The author is a product manager. He manages the lifecycle of his books, he judges new opportunities, he develops a strategy, and he begrudges every minute, every hour and every second that isn't contributing to the business.

I am thrilled at these new developments. Let the market come in.

Give an Alex Van Helsing Shirt for Christmas!

I've added all kinds of things to a new, improved Alex Van Helsing Store. Check it out if you're looking for some cool stocking stuffers!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Vampire of the Week #4: Pumpkin Vampire

I've posted a new Vampire of the Week. This week: The Serbian Pumpkin Vampire.

Want to see them all? You can find them on my video page, the jasonhenderson channel.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Stefan Petrucha on BLOOD PROPHESY, Vampires, and Barnabas Collins

I've admired Stefan Petrucha's writing for many years-- Petrucha is able to seamlessly weave stories that contemplate pop culture and deep thought together, such as in the first example I saw of his work, a legendary run of the X-Files comics. Petrucha is one of those writers who can take any assignment and hit it out of the park.

Anyway-- so I was thrilled to see that not only does Petrucha have a new vampire novel, Blood Prophecy, about a Puritan vampire trying to shed the curse, but he also has a new blog post (and book giveaway!) over at Fangtastic.

In this post, Petrucha neatly explores the vampire myth and hones in on Dark Shadows as a key moment in the evolution of all vampire literature.

Barnabas was different. Rather than a soulless metaphor for disease and/or sex, he had a soul, and thanks to it, whined constantly. To be fair, Count Dracula, in Stoker’s novel, expresses sadness at not having seen the sun for a real long time, and there may be other precursors, but I’m convinced that it’s in Barnabas the notion of vampire as someone trapped reaches fruition. (The idea may seem a bit alien to fans of the 21st century glitter-vamps who sort-of don’t like the bloodlust thing and still attend high school. These days, more often than not, the punishment aspect of vampirism has been diluted to the point of meaninglessness.)

Read the rest here.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Blood and Roses (1960)

Tonight I watched Blood and Roses on Netflix, a 1960 French film that, like Crypt of the Vampire and The Vampire Lovers is an adaptation of Sheridan LeFanu's Carmilla.

But O, what a difference-- Blood and Roses comes from Roger Vadim, and where Vampire Lovers was a gothic cheesecake film and Crypt was a spooky mood piece, Vadim's movie is a beautiful, haunting, genuinely well-made and often surreal vampire movie that focuses on a small cast and the forbidden loves between them.
In this version, Carmilla is possessed by a vampire who wants to possess the handsome Leopoldo, and she chooses the beautiful Mircalla, who is jealous of (but also a little infatuated with) the stunning Georgia, who luckily has the same jealous/not so jealous thing going on. There are fireworks, costume balls, explosions and even a caaaa-raaazy dream sequence that puts the foreign in foreign film.

 You know how I often have to explain that a movie I'm watching has to be enjoyed in some removed or ironic fashion? This is not a movie like that-- it can be enjoyed as a prime piece of French New Wave.

Check out the slightly racy, very weird dream sequence here.

I cannot recommend this movie enough.

Here's a trailer:

If you wish to see the whole movie, you can just start watching it here:

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Crypt of the Vampire

I've been busy working on Alex Van Helsing Book 3 (which is due to HarperCollins in February) but you can't work all the time. This week I caught Crypt of the Vampire, a 1964 adaptation of Carmilla starring Christopher Lee.

Note: It's strange to me how diverse our choices are today for rare video-- more than ever before you have a good shot at finding a movie you're looking for, but your choices will scattered everywhere. In the past couple of weeks I've gone different places for Crypt of the Vampire (Amazon Video on Demand), Blood & Roses (streaming on Netflix) and  The Eyes of Laura Mars (last night on Verizon FiOS Video on Demand.)

But about Crypt of the Vampire. This is a version of Carmilla that adapts Sheridan LeFanu's original stories in different ways than I've seen before. In most adaptations (notably Hammer's Vampire Lovers)-- a seductive and well-born vampire called Carmilla Karnstein visits the young ingenue Laura, steadily seducing Laura before either triumphing with Laura as a new companion or failing when the supporting cast grows wise to Carmilla's antics and destroy her. Hammer got a whole cycle of films out of their "Karnstein Saga," and in fact LeFanu's plot is so well-constructed and full of intrigue that it has become a go-to blueprint for vampire movies.

There are some big differences in Crypt of the Vampire. There's no trailer I could find, but here's a Paul Hardcastle video that uses some great footage in time to the music. Check out especially the vampire/succubus floating out of the darkness at 5:34.

Here, the Karnsteins are the main characters, trying to outlive the curse of an evil Karnstein ancestor who was executed as a witch long ago. Christopher Lee plays the patriarch, doting on daughter Laura, who might have inherited the witchy curse. No sooner does Laura's nurse conduct a seance calling for help from what we might call the Old Powers, into their lives comes a stranger to become Laura's best pal and help her out of her doldrums. I can't for the life of me figure why all the characters have been thrown up in the air and switched around like this, but the skeleton of the tale is still Carmilla. I'd go deeper into the plot, but look: either you're the kind of person who likes to watch black-and-white public domain gothic horror movies or you're not, and my synopsis won't make any difference.

Besides, a synopsis would be tough. This is A-grade slow-moving gothic horror, and by that I mean a class of movies like Castle of Blood and Black Sunday that are all atmosphere and only tangential relation to sense. We have creepy castles and chanting witches, longing looks and weird dubbing (the movie is an Italian-Spanish co-production). One genuinely interestting element here was the fact that the vampire is able to move about as a sort of astral projection, leaving her body safely hidden away in a coffin (the better to keep it safe from staking).
I'm always at a loss when trying to explain these films. You don't watch a movie like Crypt of the Vampire the way you watch, say, Philadelphia. If it sounds from my description as though I didn't like it, that's not the case. I genuinely love them.  They are an aesthetic; less like films and more like wallpaper, reflections of an imaginary, weirdly dubbed, foggy world.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Line Editing: How the Editor Re-Reads Your Book

Brook Arden has a great post on line editing at her blog-- check it out if you want to know how one editor delves deeply into a book. This stuff is endlessly fascinating to me.