The Great Rock and Roll Secret

Suppose the great rock single had flickered over the airways just once, on the night you had passed out in the back seat?  Probably not, but still...rock and roll has always had this sense of possibility.  --Dave Marsh, Born to Run: The Bruce Springsteen Story, page 93 I originally read the above quote in the 1980s, when the first edition of Read more

Review: The Making of Day of the Dead

When I heard there would be a book entirely about the making of George A. Romero's third zombie movie, Day of the Dead, I was surprised. The movie had not been a financial or critical success at the time, and while its reputation has risen since its 1985 release, it's still nowhere near as well-known as its predecessors, Night Read more

The Manic Pixie Pout-Pout

Since I now have another two-year-old, I'm back to reading the simplest books to her at bedtime. Most of these books are innocuous, if occasionally incompetent (i.e., Big Snowman, Little Snowman, a Frozen tie-in book that probably takes longer to read than it did to write). A few are brilliant, such as Room on the Broom. But I'm here to talk Read more

The Omai Gods: the story behind the story

One of my favorite and oft-quoted bits of writerly advice comes from novelist/filmmaker Nicholas Meyer: "Art thrives on restriction." Meaning that if you don't have enough of something--usually money and/or time--you're forced to compensate by being creative. Here's a story that shows how that works, at least for me. I've never written steampunk. I honestly don't even know if it's a Read more

Guest post: Charlie Holmberg on Aqua Notes

Homegrown in Salt Lake City, Charlie Holmberg was raised a Trekkie with three sisters who also have boy names. She writes fantasy novels and does freelance editing on the side. She's a proud BYU alumna, plays the ukelele, and owns too many pairs of glasses. Her first novel, The Paper Magician, is now available. Follow her on Twitter for Read more

The Next Big Thing blog tour

Posted on by Alex in authors, Burn Me Deadly, Dark Jenny, dragon, Eddie LaCrosse, fantasy literature, fiction, film noir, King Arthur, movies, novel, release date, Robert B. Parker, Shakespeare, Tor Books, Wake of the Bloody Angel, writers, writing | 3 Comments

My friend from the Heroic Fiction League on Facebook, Violette Malan, graciously invited me to participate in The Next Big Thing blog series. Each author answers the same set of questions, and passes them on to five more authors, who post their answers the following week and pass them on to five more authors, and so forth.

You’ll find Violette’s answers here, and my list of invited contributors at the bottom of this post. My answers begin right here.

What is your working title of your book?

It’s currently called He Drank, and Saw the Spider. I’m batting .500 in my initial titles making it to print (for example, Wake of the Bloody Angel was originally called The Two Eddies), so we’ll see how this one does. This time, my title is both a line from the book, and also a shout-out to the source material.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

It was inspired by The Winter’s Tale, one of Shakespeare’s last and most complex plays. It’s a genre-bending story of betrayal and reconciliation, and a real head-scratcher the first time you read or watch it. It’s best known for one of its stage directions: “Exit, pursued by a bear.”

My initial idea was, “What if Eddie was dropped into the Autolycus role in the plot?” The final book is considerably different, but that was the inspiration.

What genre does your book fall under?

It’s sword-and-sorcery, but crossed with a healthy dollop of pulp detective fiction; “sword noir,” I guess. One reviewer called it, “Sam Spade with a sword.”

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I’ve said elsewhere on this blog that the ideal casting for Eddie LaCrosse is Alien-era Tom Skerritt.

But otherwise, I prefer not to lock down the images of the characters. Each reader will have his or her own ideas, and I don’t want to get in the way of that. I’ll worry about it when an actual movie deal happens.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

As a young mercenary, Eddie LaCrosse saves an abandoned baby from a bear; sixteen years later, now a private sword jockey, he has to save her again, this time from a complex plot involving magic, murder and an insane king.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It will be published by Tor in 2014.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About eight months. A lot of that was research, reading up on Shakespeare, rereading his plays and internalizing a lot of Shakespearean scholarship. It may seem simple to take a plot or character from Shakespeare, but to do it justice you also have to understand what that character means, and how he or she functions in the play. For example, there’s a character loosely based on Caliban from The Tempest; Caliban has been used to represent everything from Irish bog people to a half-human fish monster to the plight of third-world citizens under Western occupation. If you’re going to put someone like him in your book, you have to decide what he represents for you, and how that affects the story and the other characters.

This is the same approach I’ve used for my other Eddie LaCrosse novels. Burn Me Deadly, for example, is about dragons, so I researched what people thought of them back when it was believed they really existed. Dragons were never simply animals, they were embodiments of beliefs and supernatural powers. If I wanted my dragons to carry that same weight of “believability,” I had to decide what they embodied in the world of my characters.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

My Eddie LaCrosse novels are always compared to Glenn Cook’s “Garrett, P.I.” novels and Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. The influences I’m most conscious of are two Bobs: Robert E. Howard and Robert B. Parker.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

One of the consistencies of my Eddie LaCrosse series is that each book embraces a set of existing tropes; Dark Jenny, for example, is Arthurian at heart. In this one, I wanted to put Eddie into a Shakespearean story, so I looked for the best one to drop him into. I chose The Winter’s Tale because there’s a mystery at its heart.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s a fun and funny story. Eddie’s girlfriend Liz once again plays a major role, the first time since Burn Me Deadly. There’s action, suspense, magic and romance. There’s a mad king, a sorceress, and sheep. Lots of sheep.

Thanks to Violette for including me in this blog trail.  Now, here are my five awesome and talented writer friends who will be posting their answers next week.

Teresa Frohock, author of Miserere.

Kelly Barnhill, author of Iron Hearted Violet

Jen K. Blom, author of Possum Summer

Matt Forbeck, author of Amortals and Carpathia

Kelly McCullough (pending), author of Bared Blade and WebMage

Of eddies, witches and titles

Posted on by Alex in Burn Me Deadly, Eddie LaCrosse, fantasy literature, film noir, Hammer Studios, marketing, movies, novel, series, titles, Tor Books, trivia, Wake of the Bloody Angel, writing | 2 Comments

The very manly paperback cover.

It’s no secret that the Eddie LaCrosse novels owe as much to mystery as they do fantasy, especially the hardboiled pulps and films noir of the 30s and 40s. So when I wrote Wake of the Bloody Angel, I knew its title would have to be a play on a title from the mystery genre, much as Burn Me Deadly echoes Kiss Me Deadly.

With that in mind, I turned in the manuscript under the title The Two Eddies, a play on the (unfairly, IMO) much-maligned sequel to Chinatown, The Two Jakes. Not only were there two characters named Eddie (my hero, and the pirate Black Edward Tew), but I liked that the term “eddy” also meant a current of water. My publisher, however, felt the title was too low-key, and that we needed something that would better jump out at a potential reader. I’m no elitist: I understand the purpose of marketing, and I’m generally sympathetic to it. Further, my publisher didn’t say, “We’re changing the title,” they asked me for another title, which is mutually respectful. And, luckily, I had one ready.

There aren’t that many nautical noirs. In film there’s The Phantom Ship, the first film from Britain’s legendary Hammer Studios, based on the Marie Celeste and starring a fading Bela Lugosi. There’s Wreck of the Mary Deare, with a young Charlton Heston and an old Gary Cooper. And there’s The Ghost Ship, part of Val Lewton’s extraordinary series at RKO that also included Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie. 

Then there’s Wake of the Red Witch.

John Wayne as Captain Ralls.

Based on a novel by Garland Roark, it was made into a 1949 film starring John Wayne before he became codified as a Western star. He plays a captain who scuttles the titular Red Witch for reasons that go back years, and involve a girl (although she’s not a femme fatale; more of a naif fatale, if that’s a legitimate term). Its flashback structure resembles that of Out of the Past. And it has one of Wayne’s best introductions, when he’s discovered lashed to a piece of wood, drifting among circling sharks, and the film’s villain Sydney rescues him.

SYDNEY: What’s your name?
WAYNE: Ralls.
SYDNEY: Your full name?
WAYNE: Captain Ralls.

There’s nothing in the plot of Wake of the Red Witch that really influenced Wake of the Bloody Angel, but the concept of a wake, like that of an eddy, has a double meaning: both the waves left by a ship’s passage, and a memorial service for someone who’s died. And so, relatively painlessly, The Two Eddies became Wake of the Bloody Angel.

(Trivia: the mechanical octopus used in the film was “borrowed” [i.e., stolen] by Ed Wood’s crew for Bride of the Monster, as depicted in Tim Burton’s exquisite ode to perseverance, Ed Wood.)

The Two Jakes: the past never goes away

Posted on by Alex in detective movies, film noir | Leave a comment


I love detective movies, and my tastes pretty much line up with the accepted canon of greatness: The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, Out of the Past, Laura, The Thin Man, and so forth. And I have a soft spot for cross-genre mashups: Blade Runner, In the Mouth of Madness, Angel Heart.

But one of my favorites almost always gets blank looks.

The Two Jakes is the 1990 sequel to Chinatown, one of the major works of both the seventies and the detective genre. The Two Jakes isn’t a defining classic like its predecessor, but neither is it the total failure of popular assumption. Instead it’s a commentary on both the first film, and on the way the past is always with us in general. It’s a sequel in that it involves the same characters, but in a greater sense it’s a standalone story that uses Chinatown as a metatext. Normally I have a low tolerance for all things “meta,” since they usually also involve wink-wink irony and nudge-nudge breaking of the fourth wall to let the audience in on the joke. But The Two Jakes plays it straight, and honest.

The film begins with JJ “Jake” Gittes, again played by Jack Nicholson, helping Jake Berman (Harvey Keitel) catch his unfaithful wife in the act. I won’t get into the plot, since it’s a) really convoluted and b) part of the fun, but it does eventually tie into the events of Chinatown, so much so that a refresher viewing might be in order. The film is gorgeous to look at, feels authentically of its period (1948) and brims with great character actors in supporting roles. The script is again by Robert Towne, but instead of Roman Polanski directing, this time it’s Nicholson himself.

I enjoy rewatching The Two Jakes a lot more than Chinatown. It’s not just the earlier film’s ghastly plot twist, or its nihilistic, almost mythically-depressing ending. The characters in The Two Jakes, both good guys and bad, are more fun to hang out with. A big reason for that is Nicholson’s actor-centric direction, which gives the cast plenty of room to work. This could be interpreted as padding, and some critics berate the film for it, but those critics mistakenly expect another Chinatown. The Two Jakes is a different story, with a different point to make, and judging it against the earlier film does it a disservice.

Read a New York Times article on the film while it was in production here.

If you’ve seen The Two Jakes, or if this article prompts you to check it out, leave a comment and let me know what you think.