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

Talk like a pirate, win a book

So this Friday, September 19th, is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Now that's something I can really get behind. I love pirates. From The Black Swan to The Sea Hawk, from Raphael Sabatini to William Goldman, from Errol Flynn to Johnny Depp, I dig them all. And not just the fictional ones: I've seen Blackbeard's cannon and Black Sam Read more

A Tale of Two Curls

Sometimes a song inspires a book. Sometimes a book inspires a song. And sometimes--okay, this is the only time I'm aware of this happening--a song inspires a book which inspires a song. There are two wonderful songs out there that share a title with my upcoming novel. Don't ask me to pick a favorite, because I can't. But I can tell Read more

A Radical Notion on Internet Misogyny

My friend, director Lexi Alexander (Punisher: War Zone and Green Street Hooligans, among others) has recently come under fire for her pro-file-sharing stance. You can read her argument, which is more nuanced than my simple summary (she's mainly against the criminalization of file-sharing), at this link. Needless to say, there's been some controversy. So much, in fact, that she's Read more

Interview with Lee Karr, author of The Making of Day of the Dead

Posted on by Alex in Dawn of the Dead, George A. Romero, Horror Films, interview, zombies | Leave a comment

In 1986, George A. Romero–one of my heroes–released the third film in his original “Living Dead” trilogy, Day of the Dead (following Night and Dawn). The previous two films were both classics, and popular successes. They were also about as different from each other as two films could be. So I, like every other horror fan, was eager to see what he had in mind next.

We didn’t see it coming.

Day of the Dead embodies its decade as surely as the others did their own. As such, it took a little distance for people to appreciate it both for what it was, and what it had to say about its time. It’s neither as ground-breaking as Night, nor as rollicking as Dawn. Instead it’s grim, hellishly claustrophobic, and a scathing indictment of human nature in a crisis.  It’s also a pinnacle of practical zombie effects, features a unique calypso-tinged score, stars one of the best female heroes in any genre, and has the most suspenseful climax of any of the series.

10524466_10204103770825554_1938959794_nLee Karr’s upcoming book The Making of George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead goes into exquisite detail about the film’s creation, and he was kind enough to answer some questions about it.

First, the basics: why an entire book on the making of Day of the Dead, which conventional wisdom considers the least successful, artistically and commercially, of Romero’s original trilogy? How long did it take you to put it together?

Well, Day of the Dead holds a special place in my heart. It was the “gateway drug”, if you will, which led to my addiction to George Romero’s films. I discuss this in the book’s preface, but I discovered Day of the Dead when I was 13 years old watching Late Night with David Letterman one evening and Tom Savini was on the show plugging the film and the effects in it. That viewing would change it all for me: before that I despised anything with blood and gore in it; after that I was a zombie fan boy!

As for why I decided to write a book about the film, it’s simple: no one ever had. For years I’d always hoped that someone would put together a making of book about the film similar to Paul Sammon’s Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner. In fact my original title was Compromised Vision: The Making of George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead, but the publisher dropped the first part. I wanted something in-depth and thorough, something that would quench my thirst for information about this movie. So, in 2010 I decided that if I was to ever see such a book I would have to do it myself. I had friendships and relationships with a lot of people who worked on the film already: Greg Nicotero, Lori Cardille, George Romero, Terry Alexander, Michael Gornick, etc… Greg provided me with stacks of paperwork and notes he had kept from the filming and a lot of the key cast & crew let me interview them and were candid and open because they knew me and trusted me. I interviewed over 110 people from the production, everyone from Romero himself to Salah Hassanein to the actors to the makeup effects crew to background zombie extras. There were only a few people who turned me down for interviews. But most of the people who did agree were happy to talk about the experience and genuinely seemed to have fond memories of it.

So, technically the book began in early 2010. But really the seeds were sown the night I saw Savini on Letterman in 1985.

Having read Romero’s original script, I’ve always been a bit glad he had to do a rewrite and bring the scale down to something closer to the other two prior films. How do you feel about it, and how do the people you spoke to for the book feel about it?

Honestly, I would have preferred the original storyline. That’s where Romero saw the story going in his mind and therefore it should have finished up that way. But that’s not to say I don’t love the film we got, because obviously I do! I think part of the allure of this film for me is realizing what George really wanted to do and how epic that vision was. The finished film is a compromised work so that fact alone generates interest and fascination. At least for me it does.

And as for the cast and crew’s thoughts: Lori Cardille and I discuss this in the book and as far she is concerned she’s glad it worked out the way it did because it allowed for more characterization. But some of the makeup effects guys really preferred the original script, especially Greg Nicotero.

heroine09_sarahbowman.jpg~originalLori Cardille’s Sarah is one of my favorite female heroes. How much of her character was Romero’s script, and how much was Cardille’s input? What moments did she remember most vividly?

The character of Sarah on screen is pretty much what Romero put in the script. Again, this is something that is touched on in the book. Lori had a big desire to play the character differently, but she was an inexperienced film actress at that time and just did what was asked of her by George. However, there was one moment that she went to George with and expressed a desire to add something to and it was the scene right after she cuts off Tim DiLeo’s arm. In the script after the soldiers leave she exchanges a short line with Terry Alexander’s character, John, and then it moves into them taking care of Miguel in the trailer. Lori wanted to add some emotion and humanity to her character because she was always so strong and so tough throughout the film. So that little moment of her breaking down and crying as John hugs her was because of Lori Cardille’s desire to add to her character. And it was a great choice, by the way. But this sort of thing happened with other actors during the filming as well, most notably Howard Sherman. George fostered this sort of atmosphere with his actors.

What was the most interesting thing you learned about the film that isn’t generally known?

This is an easy one and there are two that immediately come to mind. One was the relationship between George Romero and [co-producer] David Ball. I won’t give away anything here, but the dynamic between these guys was amazing to me. Hearing Ball’s remarks about George was shocking (a lot of Ball’s quotes were removed by the publisher because they were afraid of being sued). And second was the strained relationship between Romero and Gornick, which was just sad to hear as a fan, frankly.

Lee Karr is a devoted fan of the films of George A. Romero, in particular Day of the Dead, and has formed close friendships with many of the films cast and crew. Over the years he has contributed photos and liner notes for DVD and Blu-Ray releases in both the U.S. and Japan for Day of the Dead and Dawn of the Dead. He has written for magazines including Horrorhound and Famous Monsters of Filmland, and previously interviewed George A. Romero for homepageofthedead.com. He lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This is his first book.

The Making of George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead will be released on August 19. 2014.

 

Interview: filmmaker Lisa Stock

Posted on by Alex in creativity, faeries, filmmaking, interview, Lisa Stock, movies, pop culture, SyFy, Titania film, writers, writing, writing advice | 3 Comments

When it was announced a few years ago that Joss Whedon would be doing the new Wonder Woman movie, I was of the unpopular opinion that he was dead wrong for it. My main reason was that, in all the shows he’s produced and scripts he’s written, he has yet to show he can write about anything other than boys and girls. Wonder Woman, as her name implies, is a woman: an adult. Whedon’s female characters, from Buffy to River to anyone you care to name, are girls. In my opinion.

Whedon’s take on Wonder Woman didn’t pan out. But ever since, when I’ve watched movies (especially genre ones), I’ve tried to notice if their female characters are actually adults, or stuck in wish-fulfillment girlhood (often those doing the “wishing” are male, but that’s another topic).

Recently my friend artist/filmmaker Lisa Stock (she did the epic trailer to my vampire novel Blood Groove) commented this topic. About her upcoming project Titania, she wrote, “The heroine in Hollywood movies often becomes a warrior, while still maintaining her purity and innocence. It’s unrealistic of course, but a hard balance when movies want their females characters to go all ‘Buffy’ during the big battle at the end of the story. I’m avoiding this in Titania for a number of reasons – first and foremost my heroine is a Woman and not a Girl.”

Filmmaker Lisa Stock

Filmmaker Lisa Stock

Me: So what, in your view, is the difference between a woman and a girl, character-wise? And why is this important?

Lisa: A woman doesn’t need to prove anything.  She’s not figuring things out for the first time, she’s probably tackling them for the 20th time, so not as much surprises her, and she comes to the game with more knowledge of who she is. That doesn’t mean she has nothing to learn, but perhaps she draws more from past lessons and applies them with more focus and confidence.

In genre film and TV, there are few female characters who truly seem like adult women. In fact, only two come quickly to mind: Ripley from Aliens and Alison from Eureka. Who would you hold up as an example of a truly adult (in terms other than chronologically) female genre character?

On TV – I just started watching Continuum on SyFy.  I like Kira.  She’s a woman, seasoned in her career, and not impressed by the young punks. She’s smart, thinks things through and has patience. In film – I think that Vianne (Juliet Binoche) in Chocolat is my favorite character.  She remains true to herself despite being shunned by the townsfolk, and blamed for catering to all their sins. Ultimately, she wins people over by her honesty – a good trait to have.  Though that is more magic realism than high fantasy – my work tends to be more magic realism.  Michelle Pfieffer has created some memorable fantasy characters, Isabeau from Ladyhawke comes to mind – a true lesson in patience and endurance.  And she’s still my favorite Catwoman.  ;)  I love anything Angelica Houston touches, including Vivianne in The Mists of Avalon - which is a very women-centric story. Morgaine (Julianna Marguiles) is also a true woman to me, not so bothered by the small things, but tackling her larger journey.  Particularly, in the end, when she holds on to and recognizes her own beliefs in the “new religion.”  It’s their ability to adapt and at the same time stay true to themselves – rather than force change or boast of victory – that defines these characters as women for me.

How will Titania’s adulthood manifest in your film?

She’s already an adult.  Like some of the characters I’ve mentioned above, she has a journey to complete.  It’s not necessarily going to change who she is, but she’ll call upon all her resources from past experiences and mistakes to overcome her wounds – both physically and emotionally.  She’s more in control of her emotions, she’s more introspective, she also has a good laugh at her own expense occasionally.  Much like Vianne, she’s a fish out of water, and never sees a situation in which she needs to compromise her own beliefs or be swayed by someone else’s.  Not that all girl characters do this – but I find more often than not, that girl’s are up against someone else.  In Titania, she’s pretty much up against herself.  Perhaps that’s the ultimate obstacle we all face, ourselves.  If you figured that out before you were 40, you’re way ahead of me!  LOL! 

What advice do you have for creators, in all forms, about being aware of the difference between a woman and a girl?

Who is your character, not what age demographic is she?  How would you speak to her if you were to meet on the street and start talking? Don’t generalize about either a woman or a girl. The best characters are the ones who are unpredictable and (even in fantasy) facing challenges we can relate to or want to see them succeed in.  That has to come internally even if action is involved. Make them honest and they’ll live forever.

Thanks to Lisa for taking the time to answer my questions. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and check out her website at InByTheEye.

Guest blog: Dale Short on his film Recovering Racist

Posted on by Alex in biography, filmmaking, fundraiser, guest blog, interview, movies, politics, video trailer | 1 Comment

I was honored to be the first contributor to this documentary Kickstarter project, and rather than attempt to convince you myself, I asked acclaimed author Dale Short, one of the people behind the film, to explain where the idea came from and how important it is.  And please check out the video trailer at the end of his article and consider making a contribution.

*****

Dale Short

Dale Short

We like to think of ourselves as rational people, in control of our destiny by judiciously making the decisions our daily lives consist of—each choice as clearly conspicuous as the pair of branching roads in the famous Robert Frost poem.

We can maintain this illusion pretty well until we start thinking back on how many of those significant branchings-off have struck us completely out of the blue, the results of pure chance that we never saw coming.

My own most recent example is a workshop I was asked to teach for an organization of professional writers/bloggers in the Birmingham, Ala. area. The topic was “Interviewing for Story,” and the group’s program chairman had a great idea: Why not invite a guinea pig…uh, guest…the members could interview afterward, to test our newfound skills?

Our guest was the pastor of a local church: a distinguished-looking white-haired gentleman in a business suit. His tone was friendly and approachable, and I settled in to hear whatever was par for the course, from someone of his profession and background.

That’s not what we got.

Rev. Lawton Higgs told us, in a matter-of-fact style, about a day in 1984 when a routine event changed his life: as new pastor of a large metropolitan church, he was always mindful of recruiting new members. One special focus of church growth was seeking out members of the community whose lives were “in transition”…a new neighborhood, a new job.

So when he saw a moving van at an apartment building near his church, he headed over to greet the newcomers. But mid-crosswalk he saw that the new family was black. His church was white. He stood there, emotionally torn.

Higgs “came face-to-face,” he recalls, “with my history, and my experience, and my struggles with all this ‘racial inclusiveness’ stuff, and my encounter with Martin King in seminary, and I was paralyzed there in the road.”

He says he realized that if he didn’t invite the new residents to church, “then God had no use for me and my ministry in Birmingham. I discovered that my beliefs were incompatible with God’s call to love one another.”

That was the day that the pastor became, as he puts it, “a recovering racist.” He’s since worked to found a multi-racial, multi-cultural church in a city still haunted by its civil rights past. He ministers to the homeless, and works daily as an advocate for the poor.

When our group of professional communicators had heard Higgs’ story, the auditorium was silent for a while. The old phrases “You could have heard a pin drop” and “There wasn’t a dry eye in the house” are sometimes overused nowadays, but in that instant they were unavoidable.

Before the day was out, another member of the writers’ group and I started formulating a plan to bring his story to a wider audience by writing and producing a documentary video about his experiences. With that in mind, we’ve just unveiled a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter to bring the project to fruition.

Though Higgs’ life-change as a “recovering racist” is decades old, we’ve found that the story is very much a contemporary one as well. In “walking the walk” of his beliefs, he’s at times a lightning rod for opponents in the community whose views on race and politics are more in keeping with the region’s Jim Crow era.

At a juncture in America’s history when a bitter election campaign has brought to the forefront the deep veins of religious intolerance and racism in our culture, we’re confident that the story of “A Recovering Racist” will be instructive, inspirational, and challenging to everyone who cares about social justice and a spirit of reconciliation.

I invite you to watch our three-minute trailer, share it freely with friends, and consider becoming a supporter of our documentary video.

And if anybody asks how you came to find out about the project, tell them that pure chance sent you.

Interview: Vanessa Horrocks, writer/director of Her Tragedy

Posted on by Alex in interview, movies, writers, writing | Leave a comment

AltPoster1

I met Vanessa Magowan Horrocks at TeslaCon three years ago, at a seminar she gave on homegrown filmmaking. She was sharp, dedicated and had a clear artistic vision, and listening to her describe the travails of independent film production, I also realized she was funny and entertaining. So when I heard she was financing a new feature film through IndieGoGo, I invited her to answer some questions about it here. And note: there’s still time to get in it, by following this link to the fundraiser or the one in the video at the bottom of the article.

AB: One of the first lines in your funding video, “Home isn’t some special magical place. It’s just a word,” really registered with me. For a large part of my life, I’ve never felt like I had a “home” in the sense that everyone else seems to mean.  How much of this is your own feeling as well, and why is that such a crucial part of the story?

VMH: I think this sentiment reflects my own feelings that living someplace, calling some place your home doesn’t make it your home. In my own experiences, after I left my parents’ home, my home to go to college, I felt perpeturally out of place. I moved around a lot, and found that I never called my dorm or my apartment home. I also spent as little time there as humanly possible. Of course eventually I came to that cheesy Hollywood realization that home has more to do with being happy and surrounding yourself with people who love you, but it’s still a toss up for me. I still call my parents home, ‘home,’ and my own apartment my ‘place.’

As for the film, we have a lead character who was a foster kid, and made her own way in life. Being isolated is a great way to never feel at home. The other characters tease her, calling her a weary traveller and things like that, but one of the journeys she takes in the film is to find that sense of belonging associated with the word ‘home.’ I think you have to be so certain of yourself to know that you’re ‘home’ and what that really means.

The title, Her Tragedy, promises a rather grim experience, and you reference Tennessee Williams in the funding video, a writer certainly not known for happily-ever-after. Is that your intent with the story?  What other films cover similar territory?

I definitely am not a fan of happy endings, mainly because endings aren’t a realistic concept. More accurately, they could be called, ‘stopping points.’ If your film has a happy stopping point – the second you cut to black things will change. Happy is not sustainable in the way that films would have you believe. It’s not that I don’t believe that people can be happy, its just that I don’t think its very interesting. Similary, sad endings can feel heavy handed or simply aren’t worth the tortuous journey the audience took with the characters to get there. My favorite type of ending is bittersweet – or more accurately, realistic. I think the most interesting endings are the ones that are realistic – the guy doesn’t kiss the lipstick off the girl, but maybe they hold hands, or stay up all night talking. The soldier doesn’t return from the war and see a little girl with a flower and suddenly feel A-OK, but maybe he gets a coffee and takes a sip and and looks out into the street and reflects. He’s not A-OK, but he’s okay.

The ending of Her Tragedy was very difficult to write. We had to figure out how to balance not leaving the audience completely depressed while not giving them the Hollywood ending. I think that endings like, Winter’s Bone, Closer, and The Romantics are good examples of what we were going for. As for the content of the film itself – I think it is really different than most of what’s out there. As for the synopsis, “a young woman returns to…”  it sounds like just about every indy dramedy ever, but that is part of why we let the title be a giveaway of the content. We don’t want people to think the film will be “a heartwarming romp” or some such thing.

vlcsnap-2013-01-11-17h27m42s15

Even though you’re a low-budget film funded through IndieGoGo, you’re putting forth the effort for a full-crew production, with designers and all the other big-budget positions filled.  How does working on this scale affect your artistic choices?  How does it compare to your other feature-length films?

As for the effort we’re putting forth, I think it is our first attempt to put forth our best. Our first feature, called Anatomically Incorrect, was a bit of a train wreck. We tried to do too much too soon, and it got way over our heads. It was, however a completely invaluable learning experience. Our next project we went into with the mindset that we just wanted to keep learning. That one, called Interlaced, yielded terrifically interesting results. It was an experimental project, which helped, but we did some big stuff in it – a funeral, a wedding, a dream sequence. It was important for us to get back in the saddle after Anatomically Incorrect or we would have lost our confidence permanently, I think.

After Interlaced, we did some shorts, mostly Hunger Games fanfilms because I am a huge nerd, but suddenly we realized that our work had made a really terrific leap forward. We felt ready to try another feature, so we collaborated with a local stand up comedian to make a film called He Gave Her His Phone. That one is in post-production and, though we went in with very little expectation, we worked very hard, and it turned out really excellent. We didn’t have the full crew like on this one, but we had more than we had worked with on Interlaced and our shorts. Here’s the link to the trailer, because it’s cool to see what we did with no budget.

Finally we came to this film idea – which we had been rolling around in our heads for a few months when the opportunity came up to team up with the South Carolina team we are working with. I think it is the first film we have gone into with any expectation really – we think that this film will help us make an impression in the community. It’s excellent film festival bait, and we have assembled an out-standing cast. We just thought the crew should match the quality of the script and the cast, so we went out on a limb and contacted people to do things like music, costumes, and artwork. Everyone has responded incredibly well to the script, and so has been more than willing to jump on board. We have been incredibly fortunate.

Visit the IndieGoGo page here.

Thanks to Vanessa Horrocks for speaking with us today. Remember, if you (like me) are tired of what passes for movies these days but aren’t actually a filmmaker, the only way to change things is to support the people like Vanessa who are trying to do it differently.

Interview: Andrew Brasfield, songwriter of Cold Wind

Posted on by Alex in anthology, cover art, creativity, eBook sale, faeries, folk music, interview, music, short stories, tennessee, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

When I began planning Time of the Season, my holiday-themed e-book chapbook, I already had two of the stories. Both the title story and “A Ghost, and a Chance” had been around for a while. But I wanted to write something new, and I’d gotten such a good response from my novel, The Hum and the Shiver, that I decided to write a holiday story set in the that world. The Tufa stories all revolve around music, so I needed a song to form the center of this new one. So I asked around: did anyone know of an original winter or holiday song, one by an indie artist who could grant permission for me to use the lyrics in a story?

Dale Short, host of the roots-music radio show “Music from Home” in Jasper, Alabama, suggested I check out this:


 

The first time I heard it, I knew it was the right song.

I contacted Andrew Brasfield, and happily, he agreed to let me quote from the lyrics in the story.  This is a trickier proposition than it sounds, because a lot of musicians, particularly the ones played on mainstream radio, don’t actually own the rights to their own songs. Music publishers, record labels and other for-profit intermediaries have to also grant permission, and usually require payment to do so. Happily, there’s a whole world of great music being done by people like Andrew (and Jennifer Goree, and Laura Powers, and Jen Cass, and Kate Campbell) who not only own all their own rights, they’re delighted to have them included in a story or used in a book trailer.

Andrew also recorded a new version of the song at AudioCzar Productions, and played all the instruments himself (except for percussion). That version is available as a free download when you buy Time of the Season.

Andrew was also kind enough to answer a couple of questions about the song.

1) What inspired “Cold Wind”?

I used to work in television and was sent out west to Lander, Wyoming for a documentary shoot a few times over the course of 2010. On one of the final trips we set out early in the morning to catch some college students who were waking up for the last of their 21 day trip in the Wind River Range. It was really early in the morning and beautiful and I had some time to think while we were hiking. The wind was very cold and cut through me and I thought, the cold wind is an interesting image. So I came up with the first line then thought of other natural elements. Fire and water were classic images so and made verses to go with all of them. Somehow I remembered those lyrics and committed them to a small Holiday Inn Express notepad as soon as I got back to my room late that evening.

Side note: The cover photo for the song is actually a public domain photo of the Wind River Range that I manipulated a bit.

2) Your cousin Dale Short first told me about “Cold Wind,” and directed me toward the video. I had that same thing happen with the characters in the story: they learned the song from that same video. What’s the story behind the video?

There is no real story to be honest. I knew I wanted folks to hear some of my songs and while they can get a glimpse from the three songs I wrote on the first Motel Ice Machine CD, those aren’t the only songs I have in me and some of those are arranged differently from the way I usually do them. Also, I don’t have the cash to get into a studio whenever I write a new song so YouTube seemed like a more accessible medium. I’ll be certainly be adding more videos soon.

Dale still hasn’t given me all the details on how we are kin, but he is a good guy nonetheless and I appreciate what he does for local musicians through his radio show.

3) What did you think of the story that incorporates your song?

I really dug the way you wove it all together. I actually got chills when I read my lyrics in the story. I’m a big Tufa fan and having the Hyatt’s play my song in their living room is sort of surreal. I read The Hum and the Shiver shortly after it came out and was hooked. I’m (im)patiently waiting for Wisp of a Thing.

 

 

Andrew Brasfield is from a small town in Alabama where he lives with his wife and two daughters. His main axe is harmonica, which he wields in a few different bands including Motel Ice Machine and The Lefty Collins Band. He also plays a bit of guitar, bass and ukulele. He knows a handful of mandolin chords and has a few piano tricks. You can find out more about him here.

Interview: Signe Pike, author of Faery Tale

Posted on by Alex in faeries, interview, writers, writing | 2 Comments

Signe Pike’s 2010 memoir Faery Tale is subtitled, One Woman’s Search for Enchantment in a Modern World.  It tells of her journey to the countries steeped in a history of fairy belief, in search of something that would convince her, a cynical New Yorker, of their reality.  Through her discoveries and experiences, she not only learns about fairies, but also comes to terms with some deep-seated grief.  Kirkus Reviews named it a “Best of 2010.”

I didn’t read it before I wrote The Hum and the Shiver, but we were both working from a similar perspective: I was trying to find a way to present the fae in the modern world, and she was searching for traces of their existence in the same place.  I found what I was after with the creation of my mythical Tufa; Signe found her answers in the signs, symbols and coincidences encountered on her journey.

Me: Since you wrote your book, have you second-guessed or reinterpreted any of the experiences you describe in it?

Signe: Surprisingly, no, I haven’t second-guessed any of my experiences. On my journey one of the most important things I learned was to trust my intuition, that inner sense of knowing that we all have and yet too often choose to ignore. And the strange occurrences I experienced when researching Faery Tale were all unquestioningly accompanied by that powerful sense of knowing. I learned to trust that. Once you’ve felt it, you can understand how different knowing is from imagining or thinking. It was what my interview subjects had been telling me all along, they’d say, for example, “I just know what I saw wasn’t fireflies,” with a powerful sense of conviction. They didn’t seem crazy, or delusional, they just seemed absolutely certain. It took experiencing the feeling of knowing that seems to accompany brushes with the unseen world myself to understand what it was they’d been trying to say. The tricky thing about this sense of knowing becomes, How do I describe this experience to readers in a way that makes sense to someone who isn’t experiencing it first hand? Taking it further, how could I describe what I experienced to readers in way that wouldn’t leave them feeling isolated and unable to relate to my experience given that they weren’t there to see or feel what had taken place for themselves? The answer was to approach the experiences from as much of a journalistic perspective as possible. I wanted my readers to be able to be able to make up their own minds and interpret what might have taken place for themselves, not try to shove something down their throats. It disturbed me that there didn’t seem to be a “Middle Way” out there for people interested in esoteric subjects. So many of the books on faeries written in recent years were completely inaccessible to the majority of the population. I decided I wanted to create a Middle Way, an exploration for myself and others who weren’t sure what we thought, but were willing to take a risk, be open and see what secrets existence might have in store.

I have, however, come to realize that putting spiritual experiences or encounters into any sort of box is a rather silly thing to do. Wol, one of my favorite people I met on my journey, said to me one night that what I was undertaking was nearly impossible. “You can’t possibly hope to come out of this with concrete answers. What you’re exploring, it could take years. Decades. You can’t put this sort of thing on a deadline.” He was right. Wol wasn’t a believer in faeries, necessarily, but he respected my journey and supported me in my seeking. Matters of existence like “Are there unseen beings around us?” are explorations that deserve the respect of a lifetime. As such, just because the last page of the book has been turned
doesn’t mean my journey has ended. I do continue to find new ways to interpret the “signs and signals” that I encountered while writing the book. I continue to grow, learn, and expand. I put a fair amount of that on the page. I was lucky to be able to share that with readers and I remain glad that I did. But now I rather enjoy being able to keep my experiences and interpretations just for me. They retain their power more for me that way.

What do you feel is the link, if any, between a person’s ability to sense the world of faery, and creativity?

I believe that creativity and the faerie world are linked in that they are both directly connected to this world of “other”—divine source, God, the spirit world, whatever you believe—our creativity burns within us until it presses us to create something, to birth it, bring it out of the ether. We are, in other words, inspired. We feel that if we cannot just write, paint, sing, cook, plant, plan, whatever your creative outpouring must be, we will surely burst. Our egos tell us “I made this.” But really, I believe that yes, while our fingers might have painted the image, and we used our skills to move the brush just so, we received the inspiration to complete the work from some place outside of ourselves, a place rife with enchantment. The more we learn how to be open to that source, the more we acknowledge and are thankful for the inspirations that come our way, and the more we pay attention to the world around us, that I believe is trying to communicate with us at every moment in time, the more easily we’ll be able to experience that world and everything which calls it home, faeries included.

Do you think the faeries understand, or care, about how they’re depicted in art and literature?

I’d have to say it depends on the faery! They are spirit beings, and as such are unique and individualized, and from our very human perspective. I imagine there are some who don’t want to have much to do with humans at all. There are some who think it’s funny. There are some, as Mr. Brian Froud, artist extraordinaire might tell you, that are quite keen to be painted, heard, felt, or otherwise brought into our consciousness. Then there are some who have a strong desire to communicate their existence to people for bigger ends: so that we will extract our heads from our behinds and start taking better care of the planet and living the best lives we can in harmony with the rest of the natural world. No small mission.

Before the book came out, I was nervous that I might not have done the question of faeries justice. I had been gifted some amazing other-worldly experiences—even some that I’d managed to capture on tape and on camera—and I worried that if the book didn’t perform, if it didn’t reach people, I would be letting this unseen world down. A very wise friend of mine said, “These faeries you believe in. You say they’re pretty ancient, right? They’ve been around for quite a while. Older than mankind itself? And they’re very wise, some of them, right?”

“Yes,” I said.

“And do you think you’re the first person to have written about them in the history of human kind?”

“No…” I was beginning to see how ridiculous my line of thinking had been. The whole world of faeries depends on me! Come on. And I couldn’t help but start to laugh.

“Yeah,” he said, “I really don’t think so much depends on you.”

The point is that they reach out and inspire lots of people (as you know first hand, I’m sure, Mr. Bledsoe!) and there is no wrong inspiration. They just want it to resonate with people and hopefully inspire them to change, grow, love more, be more awake, and make a difference. I’m sure the darker side of faerie reaches out too—and there are authors out there who regularly tune into it. I choose not to. It doesn’t help anything. It doesn’t elevate people, it doesn’t inspire them or help them grow. It just makes people weirder.

What’s the most interesting thing a reader’s told you after reading your book?

Oh, wow. One of the things that lights me up most are the letters I receive. The fact that people are willing to share their own deeply personal experiences or unexplainable encounters they’ve had with me is incredibly moving. I’ve heard of magical events that have happened to people everywhere from Ireland to Appalachia, Australia to Brazil, from believers and doubters alike. I get wonderful suggestions about other places around the world to visit where readers believe I might experience faerie activity. Sometimes I get letters from people who take the idea of faeries quite literally – there was a person convinced that a garden gnome was trapped in their backyard shed and they were in quite a panic, wondering what they should do. But the most touching letters are from those who share their stories of loss and a new faith in the enchantment the world has to offer that rose out of their seeking and their sorrow. Or, even more humbling, the people who say my book helped them heal. I don’t think there’s any higher praise, and it’s letters like that that make me so glad I took a chance and shared my story.

Thanks to Signe Pike for talking with me. Faery Tale: One Woman’s Search for Enchantment in a Modern World is available through all the usual outlets, in all the usual formats. You can visit her website here.

Interview: Holly McDowell

Posted on by Alex in fantasy literature, interview, writers | 1 Comment

The first installment of Holly McDowell’s serial novel

I met Holly McDowell at one convention, and heard her read at another. Her novel, King Solomon’s Wives, is a serial e-book produced by Colliquy, with an intriguing premise. The publisher describes it this way:

The two thousand descendants of King Solomon’s ancient harem have the ultimate power of seduction: Their very touch is as addictive as any drug. But that power comes at a price: Wives die giving birth. They can only bear daughters. They are only fertile until the age of twenty-four. Hunted for hundreds of generations by men who crave their touch and fear its power, the Wives have kept safe by following three simple rules:

A Wife shall have no meaningful relationships outside the clan.
A Wife’s addictive touch may be used only for procreation or to protect the clan.
A Wife shall sacrifice herself for her daughter at the age of twenty-four.

But tonight, the rules have been broken, and someone must pay.

Having heard Holly read some this aloud, I can also say it’s exciting and suspenseful. Holly was kind enough to answer some questions about the novel, and its unique format.

***

Holly McDowell

Me: Your book is a “serial novel,” a form that isn’t that common in contemporary literature. What made you decide to write it in this format, and what unique problems did you encounter?

Holly: I originally wrote King Solomon’s Wives as a full-length novel, but in the back of my mind, I always had the idea it could be a series. It’s about a secret society of women with an addictive touch who live in small groups spread all over the world, so there are plenty of opportunities for different points of view.

I might not have thought to make it a serial, however, if I hadn’t met the brilliant team at Coliloquy. Their experimental “Active Content” format uses choose-your-own-adventure links and lets readers vote on story elements. When I heard about it, I couldn’t wait to transform my story for the inspiring new platform.

As for problems… so far I haven’t found any! Each episode is a blast to write.

How many episodes will this story run, will they be collected in a single e-volume when you’re done?

Coliloquy is fabulous for this very reason; they’ll let me keep writing the story as long as readers want to read it! I have a big arc in mind, but I’m not constrained to a set number of episodes. I’m hoping I get to keep writing until the story feels complete.

You mentioned that you hadn’t read King Solomon’s Mines, which I incorrectly assumed your title referenced. What, then, were your influences on the story?

I remember the day I came home and wrote the first draft of the first chapter of the first version of this story… It was 2007! I’d been to a writing group meeting that night, and we’d discussed my love of Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale. I liked Atwood’s exploration of feminist themes through social and political extrapolation. I wanted to create a world where the challenges women face every day were exaggerated into an oppressive environment for the story. And I wanted to mix that with my love of history, of course.

Solomon was both a Biblical and Judaic figure of considerable importance. How do you address the religious aspects of the women’s history?

There was this pivotal moment in the real King Solomon’s life: he turned away from his religious beliefs to worship his wives’ gods. The change always intrigued me–the wives’ spirituality must have been something special to capture Solomon’s heart.

Without spoiling anything… I can say this particular historical moment was a major catalyst for the Wives’ millennia-long story. Naturally, their opinions on faith and religion are woven into their struggles in the modern world.

You’re also a musician, specifically a classical pianist. How does this discipline influence your writing?

Good question! There’s so much to learn from music. Any Beethoven Sonata is a perfect example of form, and it’s full of artistic substance. I think studying music must have given me some idea of how to start trying to learn form in writing. And I’m sure the daily hours of focused practiced helped train me as an introverted writer for those long weekends I’ve needed to spend at the computer.

Do you also compose music?

I do! Well, a little. My undergraduate degree was in music composition, and I’ve always enjoyed composing and arranging, especially for piano. Writing is my first love, of course.

Thanks to Holly for taking the time to talk to me. King Solomon’s Wives is now available here.

Interview: Filmmaker Sterlin Harjo

Posted on by Alex in filmmaking, interview, writing | Leave a comment

Sterlin Harjo at Sundance in 2007

Sterlin Harjo is an Oklahoma filmmaker with two extraordinary feature films under his belt. His first, Four Sheets to the Wind, is about a young man struggling to connect to the world after the loss of his father; Barking Water tells of two elderly lovers on a last road trip. Both are set against the background of Oklahoma Native Americans (Harjo belongs to the Seminole and Creek Nations), but they’re not special-interest films at all; they’re universal stories about feelings that we all have, against a unique and vivid cultural background.

Here’s the trailer for Four Sheets to the Wind:

 

 

One of the things that impressed me about the films was the tightness of the stories; it’s one thing to do a tight script, it’s another to do a tight one that feels loose, the way reality feels loose. Both Harjo’s films seem to have a leisurely pace, presenting the unhurried minutiae of the characters’ lives, but by the end it all matters and it all has weight. It’s also significant that, whether due to budget or aesthetics,  the movies are filled with the look, sounds and locations of real life.

Here’s an example of the kind of realistic detail you won’t find in mainstream commercial cinema.  In Four Sheets to the Wind, a character is awakened by a noise; now, strictly speaking, it could be any noise, from a barking dog to a coffee maker. But Harjo uses a truck’s squealing fan belt. Most mainstream filmmakers would have no idea what this sound even is, let alone what causes it, or what its presence says about the socioeconomic position of the family. It’s a tiny real-life detail that conveys an awful lot in a simple noise.

See the trailer for Barking Water:

 

 

Sterlin was kind enough to answer some questions for me about his approach to writing.

AB: Your two feature films have the common story element of people struggling to communicate. In Four Sheets to the Wind, Cufe is desperate for someone to really listen to him, and in Barking Water, Frankie and Irene are trying to repair a lifetime of miscommunication. Why is that theme of such interest to you?

SH: Not sure. There are a couple of themes that I deal with: communication/language and death. They always seem to find there way into my work.

I know you share a cultural background with your films’ subjects; how much of the actual stories also come from real life?

A lot of the characters are based on personalities that Im familiar with. Cufe in Four Sheets is based off my cousin, with a little bit of me in the mix. All the films have scenes or stories that have been adapted from real life. That’s really the only way I can write. That’s why my stories are culturally specific and set in Oklahoma.

One element that gives your films such impact is that, for the most part, everything is underplayed. There’s not a lot of histrionics, which is one reason the climax of Barking Water is so powerful. Do you know it’s going to have that tone from the moment you envision a story, or does it arise out of the material?

I always take the low key route. I just like subtlety. I am always striving to be truthful. I love how older Indians in my family tell stories. It can be about anything… about nothing, but the way they tell it makes it compelling. I love the films of John Cassavetes and Jim Jarmusch. Very different filmmakers, but neither care much for false reactions or theatrics. Both seem very real, in very different ways.

You mentioned Cassavetes: his films feel like they’re improvised, yet they’re not: pretty much everything is scripted. How do you use improvisation in your films?

I do improv, like Cassevetes, in rehearsal. But most everything is written.

One of my favorite comments about writing comes from screenwriter/director David Koepp, who was urged to eliminate the heavy Chicago accents in his film, Stir of Echoes: paraphrased, he says that the more specific you are with your characters’ reality, the more the audience will see the universal in them. As a reader/viewer, I’ve found that to be true, and I try to embrace it in my own writing. What do you think about that idea, and how does the concept apply to your work?

I agree. I think the more specific you get the more universal your story/film is. I always try to write from the characters perspective. Not the audience perspective. Because if you create a world where people can go into they will get into the film more.

Currently Harjo’s work is regularly featured at This Land, an Oklahoma-based arts project that includes a TV series of short documentaries (I’m partial to Indian Elvis).  I appreciate him stopping by to answer some questions, and look forward to his future work.

Interview: Jefferson Brassfield, screenwriter of Westender

Posted on by Alex in fantasy literature, interview, movies, writers, writing | Leave a comment

The DVD cover.

I took a chance on the 2003 movie Westender, based on the DVD cover image to the left.  I love fantasy films, and this one seemed unusually somber and even (dare I hope?) thoughtful, instead of the usually mayhem and scantily-clad girls (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

It turned out to be just that: a meditation on redemption, shot in the forests of Oregon with a minimal cast and a lot of creative energy. It also backed up something I’ve always believed: that low-budget genre movies aren’t terrible because their budgets are low, but because the people involved aren’t very talented. Here’s a low-budget film starring actors you’ve probably never heard of, shot essentially in the filmmakers’ back yards, and it’s just shy of brilliant.

I contacted screenwriter Jefferson Brassfield, and he was kind enough to answer some questions about this long-ago project.

Me: There’s a melancholy, world-weary quality to both Asbrey, the hero of Westender, and the overall story. You were all pretty young when you made the film, so where did that come from?

Jefferson Brassfield: For me, I think that pathos came from the divorce of my parents in my teens and then my first real romantic heartbreak my freshman year of college. I tend to approach feelings with an Apollonian reverie more than a Dionysian embrace, and did so especially when I was younger. Those two world-shattering-to-me events were very difficult to process and express in my logical fashion, so they got internalized, compartmentalized. Keeping issues with that much personal gravitas unaddressed and unresolved will slowly grind a person down, infect them with a melancholy and world-weariness they may not understand. From that place, it was easy to find a voice in Asbrey, a soldier who solves problems with violence. Burden him with a broken heart; a problem that no amount of violence will resolve, and he is helpless. He will slowly disintegrate. We meet him on that decline.

I’ve found that the trick in fantasy dialogue is finding to the balance between period distance and emotional immediacy. Also, it’s hard to suggest the speech of another time without sounding silly. Did you have any issues with that? How much of the dialogue in the film is directly from your script?

Most all of the dialogue is directly from the script, and I’m about 40% unashamed of that. For better or for worse, there’s not that much dialogue in the film. We knew that we weren’t dealing with a lot of serious, committed actors, so we didn’t want to slather up the dialogue with incongruous accents and purple prose. If we went too far trying to be clever with period vernacular, we ran the risk of not being able to pull it off. If we went too contemporary, it might seem insincere. Since it was an ambiguous fantasy setting, we tried to straddle the line between those two without annihilating suspension of disbelief. It was definitely an issue we were conscious of. Some scenes Blake Stanton (Asbrey) would feel right away that what he was saying seemed wrong and we’d work to fix it, but most of the time we just went with the script and hoped it would all come together in the editing room. A few scenes were successful in that, a few scenes weren’t.

How much of the visual symbolism was written, and how much discovered on set?

Most of the visual symbolism was conceived prior to filming. Westender was originally intended to be a long-form short film, and its structure grew out of two things: the locations in the Oregon wilderness we so loved and wanted to shoot, and the concept Brock (the director) had for the character of Asbrey. Blake and these gorgeous natural visuals were going to have to carry the film. Once I started working through the story itself, and once our short film became a feature, more appropriate symbolism emerged in the writing and brainstorming, and most all of it ended up in the movie. I’m trying to think of anything in this regard that arose in the moment or was realized in the editing room, but nothing is coming to mind. That stuff was all very conscious.

How much of a consideration was the budget to the writing process? 

Huge. As I mentioned before, Westender was originally meant to be a lengthy short film, so we knew we were going to have almost nothing to work with, budget-wise. The locations, the story, the film-making, and Blake’s performance were all we had. We couldn’t afford anything more than that. No crowds, no stunts, no elaborate shots, no fancy sets, no visual effects, tiny cast, and tiny crew that were both willing to eschew a warm soft bed and personal hygiene for a week or two with no pay. A few scenes were shot on our shoe-string budget and then production halted for for a series of forces majeure I can’t specifically recall. The footage was good. Brock pushed and fund-raised to make it into a bigger project. Once he had secured a healthier budget, we could make it into a feature with a few more bells and whistles, but we still had to cut every corner we knew we’d be turning. Not a heck of a lot was added into the script with our new budget, we just upgraded what was already there and what we already wanted to do. We could increase the amount of people to not pay.

How has the film affected your subsequent writing career?

We developed a Westender TV series with Gavin and Greg O’Connor, then it germinated at Paramount for a while, but it never happened. I really like the pilot script. I’ve written a few other screenplays, but nothing produced. I certainly feel like I’ve learned a lot from writing Westender. It’s a flawed film, but it’s the film we set out to make. I don’t really have a writing career, so I reckon it hasn’t affected my subsequent writing career too massively.

Thanks to Jefferson Brassfield for taking the time to talk with me.  Westender is available on DVD, and through Netflix.

Interview: Red Reaper director Kristen Stewart

Posted on by Alex in interview, movies | 6 Comments

NOTE: October, 2013. When this post first ran, the director used the pseudonym “Kristen Stewart” for reasons related to financing and marketing concerns.Since then, happily, those concerns no longer apply, and the truth can come out: Legend of the Red Reaper was written, produced, partially choreographed and directed by its star, Tara Cardinal. Keep that in mind when reading this interview.–A.B.

The Legend of the Red Reaper is a project I’ve been following for a while.  I first saw the temp trailer a couple of years ago, and was impressed by the fact that the actress playing the main character, Tara Cardinal, looked not like some superpowered pixie waif but like a woman who could legitimately kick ass:

 

Since at the time I was planning to introduce a tough female sidekick for Eddie LaCrosse, this got my attention. (You can see my creation, Jane Argo, this summer when Wake of the Bloody Angel hits stores.)

Now, with Legend of the Red Reaper near completion, director/screenwriter Kristen “Stew” Stewart (not the Twilight actress, it should be clear) was kind enough to answer some questions about the film, and about being a woman creating an action heroine.

Actress Tara Cardinal as the Red Reaper.

Me: You created the Red Reaper character for actress Tara Cardinal. What did you want this character to say and represent?

Kristen: I wanted to create a superhero that happened to be female. When we first starting pitching the concept of the “Red Reaper” to production companies, they immediately thought of a man playing the role. I wrote her like a man. I’m constantly irritated by gender stereotypes–they just don’t apply in the superhero world.

Aella, aka the Red Reaper, is a dark hero. She’s tortured by her desire to follow her dreams and her duty to the people of her realm. She’s very much an outcast. We see throughout the course of the film that she’s special–and most people don’t like “special.” They’re afraid of her, hate her, torture her, and she responds by becoming harder, stronger and calloused. In the end she chooses duty over love and pledges her life to help the people who still fail to understand, or even like her.

Ironically, I think everyone can relate to feeling isolated. I wanted to create a character that could see past her own pain and use her special abilities to make the world a better place, even for the people who hate her.

What aspect of writing the script was most difficult: creating the background of the world, the actual story or the characters? And how did you address that difficulty?

My process was entirely backwards, and I can’t take full credit for the writing. I was helped by MANY people along the way, and while I may not mention them by name, I’m very grateful for their guidance. The original screenplay was written by Kim Pritekel (based on my concepts), and had a simple, easy to follow plot about some Reapers, some humans, and the demons out to destroy them. Through a series of unfortunate events after shooting a little more than half the film, production was delayed for two and half years. During that time the original producers, director, and Kim had all moved on to other projects, and the money was tight. I stepped back in with the extremely limited resources and re-wrote the script with the parameters of only being able to use certain available cast, location, and equipment. It was like playing Sudoku, but much harder. So, really, I only created SOME of the characters, and then added some quirks and twists to the other existing ones. The created world became a product of necessity, and thus created itself. I’m hard pressed to take credit for that.

My writing process is a wonderful experience for me. I sit, or shower, or walk, and imagine the world and the characters, and once I know what they want, I let them show me how they’re going to get it. I don’t feel like I wrote Legend of the Red Reaper, I feel like it wrote itself, and I just transcribed it. I have no formal training in screenwriting, so for me, the hardest part was learning the formatting. After that the film re-wrote itself.

Women-created action heroines are common in prose genres such as urban fantasy, but not so much in the movies, where they’re usually created and developed by male writers. What did you find most difficult about your conception of the character and her story, to get across to the men who worked on it with you?

Oh, now THERE’S a great question! In the original version of the script, which had a lot of input from a male exec, the Red Reaper cried throughout the film. She cried because she loved her boyfriend, she cried when she didn’t get what she wanted, she whined at her father, she pouted and stamped her little feet. It drove me NUTS. The average woman isn’t that whiny; why is this superhero acting like a spoiled brat? Better still, in many of the battle sequences she required the aide of a man–usually not even a Reaper man, but a human man. Even at the end, the Red Reaper is defeated by the Big Bad and her human boyfriend comes in and saves her. It’s like Lois Lane taking out Lex Luther! It’s asinine. Asinine or not, it’s really not all that uncommon when it comes to female characters in general.

It irritated me so much that I went as far in the opposite direction from that as I could. I made the Red Reaper fairly stoic. You’ll find she doesn’t have a lot of dialogue throughout the film: she’s a man of action, not words. There is a love story, but her role is the more masculine one. The prince is in love with her, but she refuses to say it back to him. She’s arrogant, violent, brash. She’s confrontational, she talks with her mouth full and she would never hit a woman. She’s gallant and brave, chivalrous even. I never once thought of her as a woman when I re-wrote the script. Only as a hero.

I was lucky that during the last round of filming I had a great crew: my DP, my first AD, my head of Make up and SFX and my associate producers were all men very comfortable and secure with themselves. They never once questioned my leadership, my vision or my dedication to the film, and never once treated me or the character like a woman.

Thanks to Stew for answering my questions. You can keep up with Legend of the Red Reaper at the movie’s Facebook page.