Underworld: Awakening and the great gender swap

I finally caught up with Underworld: Awakening, a movie I'd put off seeing because I liked the first two Underworld films so much. Although technically the fourth in the series, chronologically it follows the second (the third was a totally unnecessary prequel), and picks up the story of Kate Beckinsale's Selene after the events of Underworld: Evolutions. Why, if I'm Read more

Blade Runner: crocodile tears in rain?

I'll say up front: this is totally fanboy rambling.  Take it as such. In Ridley Scott's classic film Blade Runner, evil corporate head Elton Tyrell explains to hero Rick Deckard how the Nexus 6 replicants, the closest the company's come to true human beings, have emotional issues since they're born fully adult and live only four years. Tyrell: We began to Read more

High Hopes: is talent finite?

This weekend, I finally listened to High Hopes, the most recent Bruce Springsteen album. Yes, it came out on January 14, and I bought it then, but I hadn't listened to it. There  were many times when I listened to a new Springsteen album multiple times on its release day, and almost exclusively for days after that. But something's happened to Read more

Some thoughts on a Star Trek rewatch

  My oldest son and I just finished watching the first season of the original Star Trek series. We watched the episodes in "production order," meaning the order in which they were filmed. That way, we could see the growth of the show, the way the actors find their characters, and how the Enterprise itself is more and more developed. Read more

Writing on demand for MY BLOODY VALENTINE

Every writer has at least one weakness, something they don't do as well as they'd like. They know it, and their readers know it. Raymond Chandler knew he didn't do plots well, which is why the structures of his novels a) don't bear up to scrutiny, and b) are often cribbed from his previous short stories. Of course, what Read more

Writing on demand for MY BLOODY VALENTINE

Posted on by Alex in anthology, eBook sale, Firefly Witch, short stories, writers, writing | 2 Comments

Every writer has at least one weakness, something they don’t do as well as they’d like. They know it, and their readers know it. Raymond Chandler knew he didn’t do plots well, which is why the structures of his novels a) don’t bear up to scrutiny, and b) are often cribbed from his previous short stories. Of course, what he did do well, he did so well that no one minded what he couldn’t do. As critic Robin Wood famously said, “who cares who killed Owen Taylor?”*

My problem has always been writing on demand.

By that, I mean responding when someone says, “Write a story about dogs,” or, “Write a story set in Montana.” My own skills don’t work that way; I need time to puzzle over ideas and let them develop organically. I have no problem writing about dogs, or Montana, or even dogs in Montana. But I need time to work my way into it on my own.

Which is why, whenever I get asked to contribute to an anthology, I try to do it. Because the only way over these sticking points is through them.

My Bloody Valentine - Box Set -500 pixels

When the editors of My Bloody Valentine said they needed a story a) of about 15,000 words, b) about love, and c) with the opening words, “Love hurts,” I was intrigued, and a little intimidated. When they told me how quickly they needed it, I was a lot intimidated.

Beyond the problems I mentioned above, there was a third issue: I’d never written anything that clocked in at 15,000 words. My short stories average between 3-7K words, and my novels at around 90K. 50K is novella territory, new ground for me. As Stephen King says, the novella is “an ill-defined and disreputable literary banana republic.”

But the folks doing the anthology were the same one who publish my “Firefly Witch” stories, so I felt I owed them an honest shot. And I decided that I’d make this a Firefly Witch story as well, so that at least I’d be working with characters I knew.

I thought about the stories I’d written about these characters, and what aspects of them I hadn’t explored so far. I realized I’d often mentioned that Tanna taught college, but hadn’t really shown her functioning as a teacher. With that as a starting point, I wrote about an investigation into a haunting that doesn’t go as planned, and as I wrote, the rest of the characters filled out the plot and gave me plenty of material to work with. It was a near thing–I think I hit the deadline on the day, and my word count was just…barely…15K, but it worked. The editors liked it and picked it for the anthology.

And you can read that story, “Tantrabobus,” along with seven other stories from a variety of writers and genres, in the ebook anthology My Bloody Valentine, available now from Story Vault. You can get it from Amazon or Barnes and Noble. for only $2.99 for a limited time. And if you do pick it up, please leave an honest review at the site of your choice!

*for the record, it’s a plot point from The Big Sleep, and it’s never really clear.  The only explanation that even works is that Taylor committed suicide, which makes about as much sense in context as it does right here.

A Halloween treat from the Bledsoe family

Posted on by Alex in Blood Groove, family, Firefly Witch, Girls with Games of Blood, Halloween, music, video trailer | 3 Comments

Here’s a little treat…or is it a trick?…from us to you. Hope you enjoy!

Just in time for Halloween: new Firefly Witch stories!

Posted on by Alex in eBook sale, Firefly Witch, short stories, writing | Leave a comment

Three new stories featuring Tanna Tully, a.k.a. Lady Firefly, have arrived just in time for the quintessential witches’ holiday, Halloween (or Samhain, if you want to be technical about it). Here’s a bit about The Book of Cunning Women.

Cunning Women Front Cover FINAL 1000 Pixels

In “The Mischief Shades,” she investigates a seemingly light-hearted haunting borne of a ghastly tragedy that hits surprisingly close to home; in “Tourist Trap,” a friend’s suicide attempt exposes something long buried in a local park; and in “The Book of Cunning Women,” an artifact that could change history has to be pried from the selfish grasp of a popular novelist in the heart of Southern Gothic country, New Orleans.

This collection is available on Kindle, and will soon be on Nook, Kobe and all the other usual platforms.

And if you like it, please leave an honest review at the site of your choice.

 

Hearing Voices

Posted on by Alex in Eddie LaCrosse, Firefly Witch, writers, writing | Leave a comment

A while back, Facebook friend Diana May-Waldman asked me, “When you write, do you ever get stuck in character for a little while?” My initial response was an instantaneous, “no,” but then I got to thinking about it.

I write two series in first person: my Eddie LaCrosse novels, and the Firefly Witch short stories. When you write in first person, you’re telling the story in a particular character’s voice, not your own. It may be similar–I’m not sure how you could avoid that, especially if you’re writing a series–but even if it’s identical to the way you speak to yourself in your head, to the reader is becomes the inner voice of your character, and you have to be aware of that.

Tom Skerritt. the ideal image of Eddie LaCrosse

Tom Skerritt. the ideal image of Eddie LaCrosse

After five novels and a handful of short stories, it’s now incredibly easy for me to slip into Eddie LaCrosse’s voice. And it’s a fun voice: he’s cynical, which means he’s got a great sense of humor, and he’s seen everything, so it takes a lot to impress him. Part of the enjoyment of writing the series is thinking of new things just to see how he’ll react. And because he’s the viewpoint character, it also means that I never have to worry about how to present something: everything comes through his perceptions. If he doesn’t experience it, it must not be too important to the story.

Nancy Travis, my original idea of Tanna Tully.

Nancy Travis, my original idea of Tanna Tully.

Ry Tully, my other first-person character, is different in a lot of crucial ways. First, he’s not the main character of his stories: his wife Tanna is. In the same way Watson chronicles Sherlock Holmes, Ry gives us Tanna’s adventures from an outsider’s perspective. He’s a down-to-earth small-town newspaper editor, while she’s witch, a psychic and a college professor. And the reasons for this are probably the same ones that led Conan Doyle to his approach:  Tanna often knows things that would kill the suspense if we were inside her head. Far more importantly, Ry represents the reader in a way Tanna never could. He’s amazed, astounded, and terrified by what they encounter, while Tanna seldom is; and when she is, it amazes/astounds/terrifies Ry even more.

(Another interesting thing about Ry: I have no “ideal” image of him in my head. I’ve always envisioned Alien-era Tom Skerritt as Eddie, and Nancy Travis as Tanna, but when I thought about who best visually represented Ry, I came up blank. Perhaps it’s because I originally wrote about Eddie in third-person, and saw him objectively, before deciding to shift to his perspective, whereas Ry has always been written in first person, so I’ve always looked out from his eyes.)

I’ve been writing about Ry Tully almost as long as I have Eddie LaCrosse, and both reflect the hard-boiled influences of Hammett, Chandler and Parker, all of whom wrote stories with cynical, tough, first-person narrators. And there are undeniable similarities between these two characters. But in my head, they’re never the same, and only occasionally do I find myself saying, “Whoops, that’s something Ry would say, not Eddie,” or vice versa.

So I’ll have to modify my original answer to, “Rarely.” But thanks, Diana, for making me think about it in ways I never have. It’s always good to pick apart your inner process and make sure you’re not sabotaging yourself.

The origin of character names: the Firefly Witch

Posted on by Alex in Firefly Witch, writers, writing | Leave a comment

Tanna Tully, aka the Firefly Witch, was my first continuing character. I had the term “firefly witch” banging around in my head ever since I first learned that witchcraft was actually religion called Wicca. That would’ve been sometime in the 80s, but it wasn’t until the 90s that I tried to create a character around the idea.

 

Because she was my first, her creation was a lot more haphazard and, in a sense, crude than some of my later characters. My choices were rather arbitrary: she had red hair because a girl I knew in college had red hair, for example. She was flirtatious because I like girls who are that way, and she had the unselfconscious sexuality I also find attractive. But I also made her a tenured college professor and a third-degree Wiccan priestess, positions you don’t attain without having your act together.

Her name Tanna, or more properly Tanita, came from an obvious late-80s source: musician Tanita Tikaram, whose “Twist in My Sobriety” was then in heavy rotation, and always sounded like a throaty whisper from a strange and unusual place. I probably, although I can’t say for certain, modeled the Tanna/Tanita diminutive after the Indy/Indiana from Raider of the Lost Ark; I say “probably,” because I was heavily into modeling things based on influences back then, as opposed to pulling them organically from the characters or the stories. Her maiden name, Woicistikoviski (woy-CHISS-tick-ko-VISS-ki) is entirely made up, a collection of nonsense syllables pounded into a name.  Again, I wouldn’t use that random approach again; the names in my novel The Hum and the Shiver, for example, have definite origins within the material itself (which I’ll explain in future post).

Her husband, Ry, was actually not named after his sense of humor (badda-BING!). Instead he was named after Ry Cooder, a musician whose soundtracks for director Walter Hill are some of my favorites. I wanted him to have a simple surname to contrast with Tanna’s, so it became Tully, which also nice alliteration for her character. And make no mistake, although these stories are mostly told from Ry’s perspective, Tanna is definitely the main character.

And the obviousness continues. They live in a town called Weakleyville, in Martin County located in Tennessee’s northwest corner. I went to college in Martin, in Weakley County, located in the same geographic place. Ry works for the Weakleyville Press newspaper.  I worked for the Weakley County Press newspaper. The University of Tennessee at Martin (UTM) is located there; Tanna teaches at West Tennessee University (WesTN).

The one place name I didn’t change was Cadillac’s bar. There is still a Cadillac’s in Martin, as least as of the last time I drove through. Cadillac himself is no longer with us, and I have no idea who owns or runs it now, but it’s vivid in my memory. It was probably the last time that I felt truly at home with a big group of people.

So as these explanations show, at the time I initially thought up the Firefly Witch, I was drawing more on the literal side of my own life than I’ve done since. I don’t know that it’s any better or worse to do it this way, but to me it now feels more shallow than digging in to find what the core concepts of something are, then creating reference points in a world where they apply. That said, I love the Firefly Witch and her world, and I’m enjoying revisiting them as I put these little story collections out.

Find out where you can pick up the Firefly Witch e-chapbooks here.

The apocryphal soundtracks to some of my books

Posted on by Alex in Blood Groove, Burn Me Deadly, Firefly Witch, Memphis, music, novel, pirates, Uncategorized, Wake of the Bloody Angel, writing | Leave a comment

It’s no secret that music is a big part of many of my novels, from inspiring the titles to influencing the plots to being part of the story itself. I’m not alone in this, I’m sure. Recently my friends at Facebook’s Heroic Fiction League, Nathan Long and John R. Fultz, posted “playlists” of YouTube videos, songs that either their heroes would like, or that captured the mood of their books.

My playlist is a little different.  This is the music I wish would play when a reader first opens some of my books.

For my most recent novel, the Eddie LaCrosse pirate tale Wake of the Bloody Angel, I’d love it if readers were blasted with this upon cracking the covers:

 

 

For another Eddie LaCrosse tale, Burn Me Deadly, if you consider chapter one as a “teaser,” this would the perfect music to play between chapters one and two:

 

 

For Blood Groove, my tale of an Old World vampire unleashed in the Seventies, I’d begin with this under chapter one:

 

 

Then, at the moment you finished chapter one:

 

 

And finally, the theme for my Firefly Witch e-book chapbooks, the tune the main characters Ry and Tanna would call “their song” and that, in a perfect world, would play whenever you called it up on your e-reader of choice:

 

 

(I know, it’s the Atlanta Rhythm Section version and not the original Classics IV, but technically this is the first version I ever heard, and about half the Atlanta Rhythm Section was made up of former members of the Classics IV, so it’s not as heretical as it might seem.)

Any suggestions for some of my other books?

 

Writers Day #4

Posted on by Alex in Burn Me Deadly, dragon, Firefly Witch, Tufa, writers, writing | Leave a comment

 

This is the fourth of a series of videos showing how a typical writer (i.e., me) works through the day.  This one is about research, something you can often do when real life intrudes on your actual writing time.

Announcing Time of the Season

Posted on by Alex in anthology, Blood Groove, cover art, eBook sale, fantasy literature, Firefly Witch, folk music, Free Download, Hum and the Shiver, music, Pagan, short stories, tennessee, Tufa, witchcraft | 2 Comments

So this year I’m trying something new: through the good folks at Story Vault, I’m releasing a three-story ebook chapbook for the holidays.

It includes:

“Cold Wind,” a Tufa story that updates us on Bronwyn and Craig from The Hum and the Shiver.

“A Ghost, and a Chance,” in which Sir Francis Colby from Blood Groove crosses paths with the most famous Christmas ghosts of all.

“Time of the Season,” a New Year’s story about a very special visitor to the home of Firefly Witch Tanna Tully.

There’s also a special gift: a free download of the song “Cold Wind” by Andrew Brasfield.

I’ll let you know when it’s available, but in the meantime, here’s the cover:

Witchcraft Through the Ages (of TV and Movies, that is)

Posted on by Alex in Alice Hoffman, Catholic Church, filmmaking, Firefly Witch, movies, Pagan, pop culture, Seventies, short stories, tv, witchcraft | 1 Comment

Elizabeth Montgomery in an early episode of “Bewitched.”

Witchcraft has an iffy history in film and television. When I first started doing my Firefly Witch stories, one thing I reacted against was the standard image of the pop-culture witch. Leaving aside the blatant “wicked witch” portrayals, it’s still hard to find anything remotely accurate, let alone sympathetic. It’s not impossible, though.

One of the earliest films about witchcraft, which unfortunately took the devil-worship position, is the unique Swedish/Danish film Haxan. Retitled Witchcraft Through the Agesin English, this one-of-a-kind 1922 silent film depicts witchcraft the way history describes it, then explains how witches were tortured by the Inquisition. It’s impossible not to be horrified by the treatment of the unfortunate women, and to feel sympathy for them. It’s not really a narrative film, yet it’s not a documentary, either. An indication of its strangeness is that the best-known version in English was narrated by William S. Burroughs.

In 1942, Veronica Lake played the witch Jennifer in the romantic comedy I Married a Witch. In the 1958 movie Bell, Book and Candle, Kim Novack plays Gillian, desperately in love with James Stewart. On TV in the 60s, Samantha Stevens (Elizabeth Montgomery) dominated Bewitched(okay, Agnes Moorehead dominated it, but still…). All these characters, though, labored under the kind of strictures common at the time: Gillian and Jennifer lost their magical powers when they fell in love, and Samantha had promised not to use hers to help her husband’s career.* At the time, witches had to be de-powered to allow the “natural order” to assert itself.

Kim Novak in “Bell, Book and Candle”

These comedies also embraced the common trope that one is “born” a witch; that somehow, the special powers are inherited rather than learned or earned. It’s even possible to read it as saying witches are not actually human, but a different species. But the idea of “innate powers” is a thread that runs through most witchcraft movies, with a couple of notable exception.

In the 70s, one of the most accurate depictions of genuine witchcraft appeared in the seldom-seen George Romero film, “Jack’s Wife (1972). Also released under the more exploitative titles Season of the Witch and Hungry Wives, it’s about a woman who’s drawn into witchcraft as a remedy for the ennui of her suburban life. It’s a blatantly feminist film, and treats the main character’s involvement with magic as empowering. It’s also very much of its time, which means it gets a little arty-for-art’s sake at times.

Jan White in “Jack’s Wife,” enmeshed in the symbolism.

The other notable exception, the character of Willow on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, brought the idea that witchcraft was a learned skill into the popular imagination. Unfortunately, it’s also depicted as something addictive, and an entire story arc was devoted to its detrimental effects on Willow.

The rise of feminism and the idea that women were, I don’t know, actual people capable of doing something other than supporting men changed depictions of witchcraft. The Witches of Eastwick (1987), a pretty dire film from a critical standpoint, did at least show that women supporting each other could defeat even the Devil Himself. The Craft(1997) starts with the idea that outcasts working together can be strong, but then degenerates into standard horror.

My favorite positive depiction of witchcraft is 1998′s Practical Magic. Based (extremely loosely) on Alice Hoffman’s novel, it shows two sets of sisters, younger (Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman) and older (Dianne Weist and Stockard Channing), using their powers to protect their family.  I confess that I have a total crush on Sandra Bullock’s character (not, I hasten to add, on Ms. Bullock herself).

Sandra Bullock in “Practical Magic.”

Together, these movies and TV shows present a very distorted view of witchcraft filtered through society’s concerns. That’s fine as far as it goes–witchcraft can be used as a metaphor, just as anything else can be–but to me, it never captured the true (okay, wait for it…) magic of Wicca/Paganism/the Craft. It was never shown as joyous, rarely as empowering, and certainly never as the religion it truly is. When I began writing my Firefly Witch stories, I wanted to put as much of that back as I could and still tell interesting, dramatic horror/fantasy stories.

If you’d like to check them out and decide for yourself how well I did it, go here. And if I’ve missed an important example, please tell me in the comments.

*I reference this show in my short story “The Darren Stevens Club,” in the first Firefly Witch collection.

For Halloween, a tribute to real witches

Posted on by Alex in Catholic Church, cats, Firefly Witch, Halloween, Pagan, politics, pop culture, short stories, witchcraft | 5 Comments

In October, people think about witches.

Sure, some people think about witches all year round. But in October, the folks who don’t the rest of the year suddenly do. They see pointy hats, pointy noses, pointy chins everywhere. Cauldrons and black cats and flying broomsticks abound.

Standard-issue, Church-sanctioned witches. From an Australian production of “Macbeth.”

Except, those aren’t really witches.

Those are bits of folklore, handed down from a time when anyone who disagreed with the status quo (i.e., the Catholic Church’s view of the world) was labeled evil. That applied especially to women who disagreed with their roles in society. Whether they’re burned at the stake or shot in the head (like the brave Pakistani girl in the news), women have suffered at the hands of repressive religion and rigid society for (if you’ll forgive the pun) a hell of a long time.

Real witches doing what they do.

Witches are individualists: there’s no central text, like the Bible or the Koran, that lays out the religion for its believers. Each witch decides what he or she* believes, and how best to express that belief. There are common denominators, of course: a belief in a god and goddess, a reverence for nature, a sense of personal responsibility and an open attitude toward sexuality. You can imagine how even these simple things send fundamentalists into apoplexy.  And it’s these beliefs that, to me, make a modern witch such an interesting and courageous character, and why I write my Firefly Witch stories.

Most importantly, from a common-perception perspective, witches do not worship the Christian devil. Since both God and the Devil are Christian beliefs, you have to be a Christian first to do that. When Christians say that witches worship the devil, it’s a bit like calling a football penalty in a baseball game: it’s applying a standard that just doesn’t work in context.

So when you see a witch depicted with a pointy hat, a wart on her nose, a black cat underfoot and a bubbling cauldron before her, keep in mind: this is propaganda. It’s no different than any group demonized by the majority.  A real witch can be found planting a garden, reading a book, supporting women’s rights or buying groceries. You might know a witch already, and not be aware of it. Because that’s the most powerful thing about them, and the one thing the fundamentalists drive themselves into a frenzy trying to obscure: witches are just like everyone else.

Want to know more about real witches?  Try here.  And here.  And here.

Shameless self-promotion: want to read fiction about a real witch?  Try here.

*The term is gender neutral. Warlock is not a male witch, it’s something else entirely.