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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Thank you Mission High School!

Today I had a fantastic day visiting Mission High School in Mission, Texas. Besides presenting all day to over 1400 students, talking about writing in general and Alex Van Helsing in particular, I also had the pleasure of judging a Bookmark contest. Students designed bookmarks about Alex Van Helsing-- with the top three winners receiving books. Take a look at just a few, including the winning three:
The top three were:
 1st Place: Jocelyn Lopez, with her manga versions of the characters
2nd Place: Haily Hernandez, with her wonderful cartoon about the breadth of vampire books
3rd Place: Samantha Garcia, with her cool Alex Van Helsing character.
 It was actually painful judging these because there were so many really cool ones. Thanks Mission High, especially librarians Lydia Perez and Margie Longoria!

Tomorrow I'll be visiting Region 1 ESC (Educational Service Center) in Texas, talking with lots of librarians. Then a book festival in Harlingen on Saturday. I'm being hosted this weekend by Overlooked Books, who arrange a lot of author visits to ESCs and schools.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Hear us Discuss The Haunting!

The Gang of Four in The Haunting.
You can now listen to the Castle Dracula Podcast discussion of The Haunting (1963), one of the finest horror movies of all time. Listen here: And don't forget you can subscribe at iTunes.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Note: The Podcast Returns this week with a discussion of The Haunting (1963) Sunday at 10:30 ET/9:30CT.

Book Tour Update:
This Friday I visited the ESC 20 Library Roundup in San Antonio and had the opportunity to moderate a panel on YA with Mark Gregory Mitchell, Jessica Lee Anderson, Jennnifer Ziegler, PJ Hoover, Jo Whittemore, and Jenny Moss. We talked about why we write YA and got into a really fun discussion of how closely we work with publishers and editors to sculpt the work-- I talked about removing whole subplots from Alex Van Helsing. The whole thing was sponsored by Overlooked Books, a book distributor that organizes a lot of events I attend.

The Haunting of Hill House

On the way down and up I finished listening to Shirley Jackson's fine book The Haunting of Hill House. Which one is this one? The Haunting of Hill House came out in 1959 and is the reigning King (queen?) of haunted house stories. But you might recall that recently I read Richard Matheson's Hell House, so here it would be helpful to give a brief primer to help you keep all these alliterative haunted titles straight.

  • The Haunting of Hill House (1959), by Shirley Jackson. A professor who wants to study the supernatural gathers a small group of guests to record their experiences in a haunted house in order to prove the existence of the supernatural. All the scares are psychological and suggestive-- touches in the dark, pounding on walls-- but this horror of the mind is a wonderful read.
    • Movies: The Haunting (1963), a masterpiece by Robert Wise, and The Haunting (1999), which most people don't prefer (I don't either.)
  • Hell House (1971), by Richard Matheson, writing an homage to The Haunting of Hill House. Same plot as the Haunting of Hill House, except here the more modern writer Matheson makes the whole affair a very modern "expedition" into the house, where every member of the team is a professional ghost hunter or spiritualist of sorts. Where Jackson's book is all subtle horror and sublimated desire, this book is out there with gory and garish sex and violence. But Matheson is a beautiful writer as well, so this is still a fine gothic. 
    • Movies: The Legend of Hell House (1973), starring Roddy McDowall
I've already written about The Legend of Hell House here-- I love that book and movie! Go check it out! It's so strange to think that Matheson's book, which is a pretty hard-edged update (and just eleven years later) of Jackson is almost forgotten now, its movie subsumed with the wave brought on by The Exorcist, which came out at the same time.

But The Haunting of Hill House. Man, what a fantastic book. The book is told almost entirely from the perspective of Eleanor, Nell, a girl (woman, actually, Nell is 32 but feels always like a girl) whose home life is so unhappy that being invited on an expedition into a haunted house brings her the first peace and happiness she's felt in years. The book is really an exploration of Nell, who has sacrificed her youth serving her ailing mother and now yearns for an identity. She veers constantly into fantasy, throws herself into an instant friendship with the strong and confident Theodora (Theo), whose lesbianism is made clear but never named. (And also never comdemned, unlike in Wise's movie where an unhinged Nell insults Theo by calling her "unnatural.") 
Nell seems to be trying on different identities that range from fantasy to reality-- will she live in a cottage with Theo and spend their days antiquing, will she chase the callow owner of the house, who she realizes is basically uninteresting, will she stay forever at Hill House? 
As the book continued I yearned for Nell to find happiness, to grow up instantly and be able to distinguish fantasy from reality. She finds so much joy imagining her expedition as a family that the inevitable break-up is heartbreaking.

In The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson shows us how to write a book that reflects the soft, undulating waves of a person's mind, and shows us the torrent underneath. It's a fine book to read and learn from.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Jody Hedlund on Missing Your Own Writing Faults

Check out Jody Hedlund's post today on something that I think haunts all writers: the ability to miss your own mistakes, faults and tendencies.
Instead, most of us polish up our work until we think it shines with brilliant glory. We labour over it and try to get every word perfect. Sure, our fingers might tremble with anxiety when we finally hit send, but let’s admit it: we usually think our work is pretty darn good. Otherwise we probably wouldn’t put it out there.

Yet . . . the large majority of manuscripts that agents and editors see just aren’t ready for publication. And in the contest I recently judged, most of the entries weren’t ready for publication either. They had potential but still needed more time and growth.

Why do we struggle to know our skill levels? When we’re just beginning, why do we often think we’re better than we really are? Why are most of us blind to our own faults?
Be sure and chime in at her blog if you have some ideas beyond those that Jody lays out.

For my part I think the biggest blinder to faults in my own writing is wilful disbelief. I know what line is supposed to sound like! See, the alliteration is cool if you read it like this! As if I could go to everyone's house and read them the sections they might need help with.

The thing that I have to remember as a novelist is that my prose is not a script that I will read on the radio. It's a script that the reader needs to be able to perform in their own heads, and if the direction ain't on the page, it ain't on the stage.
It turns out I can deny that over and over, I can be blind to it, but it matters. You don't just have to read your work aloud-- or at least aloud in your head-- you need to forget how it goes and then read it aloud.

Great post.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Return of the Living Dead- Listen to the Discussion!

Hey gang! The Castle Dracula Podcast is back-- listen below or in the margin to hear us discuss the 1985 movie RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. Added bonus: for the first time ever, a cast member WALKS OUT!

Questions? Requests? Don't forget to join us at the Facebook Page!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Alex Van Helsing Background: "The Transfer" by Algernon Blackwood, 1912

This morning I was thinking about classic stories (later this week I really want to talk about Benson's chilling The Room in the Tower,) but I wanted to share a fascinating story that vampire fans might not have come across.

The story is called THE TRANSFER by the mysterious, mystical Algernon Blackwood, and at its heart is the psychic vampire known as Mr. Frene:

For this Mr. Frene was a man who drooped alone, but grew vital in a crowd-- because he used their vitality. He was a supreme, unconscious artist in the science of taking the fruits of others' work and living--for his own advantage. He vampired, unknowingly no doubt, every one with whom he came in contact; left them exhausted, tired, listless. Others fed him, so that while in a full room he shone, alone by himself and with no life to draw upon he languished and declined. In the man's immediate neighborhood you felt his presence draining you; he took your ideas, your strength, your very words, and later used them for his own benefit and aggrandizement. Not evilly, of course; the man was good enough; but you felt that he was dangerous owing to the facile way he absorbed into himself all loose vitality that was to be had. His eyes and voice and presence devitalized you. Life, it seemed, not highly organized enough to resist, must shrink from his too near approach and hide away for fear of being appropriated, for fear, that is, of--death.


So this was how I saw him--a great human sponge, crammed and soaked with the life, or proceeds of life, absorbed from others--stolen. My idea of a human vampire was satisfied. He went about carrying these accumulations of the life of others. In this sense his "life" was not really his own. For the same reason, I think, it was not so fully under his control as he imagined.

Frene is a man who destroys your vitality by being in your presence, and he plays a key role in the book Voice of the Undead.

Give the Transfer a read online-- or look for it in the collection The Vampire Archives.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Kristi Bernard on Voice of the Undead: Excellent!

Awesome new review of Alex Van Helsing: Voice of the Undead! Check out Kristi Bernard's blog for her review:

ith the help of Sangster, his mentor and the Polidoruim, Alex must stop Ultravox, a leader of the Scholomance with a deadly viral voice....
This novel is the second installment of a series written by Jason Henderson. This is an excellent book for all teens but especially boys. It has monsters and excitement to keep them turning the pages and wanting more. If you missed Vampire Rising, you can still follow along with Voice of the Undead, each book can stand all on its own.

Check out the rest!