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

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 Read more

Guest Blog: Melissa Olson on Multiple First-Person Voices

Today my friend, author Melissa Olson, stops by to talk about her new book and the issues of writing more than one first-person series. You can also find Melissa (and me) at her online release party for The Big Keep later today, starting at 5:30 CT. I’d like to thank Alex for hosting me today, especially considering my topic is Read more

7 Questions About My Most Recent Novel

Okay, I was supposed to do this on Monday, but it got away from me. Thanks to Lucy Jane Bledsoe for tagging me in this, and to Melissa Olson and Deborah Blake for agreeing to be tagged for next Monday. Here are seven questions about my most recent book:   1. What is the name of your character? Eddie LaCrosse. 2. When and where Read more

Hans Up, Hans Down: the Villain of Frozen

Warning: SPOILERS pretty much throughout. If you're a parent, particularly of a daughter, then you--like me--have probably seen/heard/experienced Frozen more than you ever thought possible. But this is not a post about the ubiquitous "Let It Go" song, which now even Pearl Jam have referenced. No, this is about the one element of the movie that I just can't make up Read more

Alice Vs Selene: Blank Slate Against Vivid Character

Recently I binge-watched all five (so far) Resident Evil films. I saw the first film back on its theatrical run in 2002, and wasn’t that impressed, so I didn’t keep up with the series. But after stumbling across the first three for $2 each at Frugal Muse, I thought I’d give it a shot. You see, every time I read Read more

The origin of character names: Eddie LaCrosse

Posted on by Alex in Dark Jenny, Eddie and the Cruisers, Eddie LaCrosse, Sword-Edged Blonde, writers, writing | Leave a comment

One of the most common questions I get from fantasy fans is, “Why is your hero named ‘Eddie’?”

Naming characters, especially the main characters of continuing series, is an art far more than a science. For example, one of my favorite characters, Robert B. Parker’s Spenser, has a first name, but in the 40 books Parker wrote (and who knows how many his ill-advised successor, Ace Atkins, will ultimately churn out), it’s never revealed. Parker said in an interview that he initially planned to name him David, after one of his sons, but he didn’t want to make his other son jealous, so he just eliminated all references to it, and it became an ongoing trope.

Similarly, the character who became Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe started out in short stories with names like John Dalmas and Steve Grayce (there’s some debate over whether or not these were the same characters, but if you read them after reading Marlowe, it’s pretty clear). Even Artemis Fowl was originally Archimedes Fowl.

So, when it came time to name the hero of my fantasy/mystery series, my original choice was…Devaraux LaCrosse.

Not, I repeat NOT, a Devaraux (art by Gene Ha)

Yes, my tough-yet-soft-hearted hero had a name better suited to a soap opera.

This began with the earliest glimmerings of the idea, back when I was a senior in high school, reading hardcore fantasy (what is now called “secondary world fantasy”) and trying to impress Ms. Burress, the new teacher (long story that you can find elsewhere on this blog). One of the rules of fantasy seemed to be that heroes could not have ordinary names like “John,” “Bill,” or “Eddie.” They had to be called “Aragorn,” or “Conan.” And they went only by one name. One of the forgotten revelations of Star Wars was that its characters had two names, a first name and a surname, like (dare I say it) real people.

So, I gave my hero his monicker, and continued to work with that name for…oh, two decades. The story evolved (although not as much as you’d think), but the real change came in the tone. Originally I worked in third person, then changed to movie-script form (because I had dreams of being the next Lawrence Kasdan, back when that was cool). By the time I changed the voice to first-person, my main reading had shifted from SF/F to hard-boiled mystery. Still, it took longer than it should have for me to realize that a genre mashup was the way to go, and even longer to comprehend that my hero, and all the other characters for that matter, should have normal names.

And why did “Devaraux” become “Eddie,” and not “Dave” or Bob”?

The main inspiration was P.F. Kluge’s novel Eddie and the Cruisers, one of the few “musical noirs” out there. In the book, Eddie is a memory to the characters, a ghost both figurative and (maybe) literal, and thus incredibly mysterious. The clincher was George V. Higgins’ novel The Friends of Eddie Coyle, about a small-time crook trying to hang onto his sense of honor. There’s a great movie version with Robert Mitchum, but I didn’t see it until much later. Still, it led to a useful guideline: if your hero has a name that in any way connects to Robert Mitchum, it’s probably a good name.

Robert Mitchum in “The Friends of Eddie Coyle.” Also not a Devaraux.

So when “Devaraux” became “Eddie,” a whole naming philosophy fell into place, one that I still try to use even when the influences come from somewhere else. For example, in the Arthurian-inspired Dark Jenny, the classic character Sir Kay, adopted brother to Arthur, becomes Bob Kay, adopted brother to Marcus Drake. If someone has an unusual name, such as Queen Rhiannon from The Sword-Edged Blonde, it’s indicative of character (she’s unusual, all right) rather than an attempt to sound appropriately “period.”

Is this anachronistic? Technically no, since this is a made-up world and I can do anything I want with it, as long as it’s logical and consistent. Is it appropriate? Some readers have said no, but the majority seem to not only accept it, but actively like it.

So that’s the story behind the names of my characters in the Eddie LaCrosse series. Have any other questions specific to my books? Leave them in the comments and I’ll try to address them in a future blog.

Addendum: on the same day I posted this, Tor Books (my publisher) posted a blog by an editor working from the exact opposite angle on fantasy character names.  It provides an interesting contrast.  You can read it 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?

 

Five Great Movies About Writers

Posted on by Alex in authors, criticism, fiction, John Carpenter, movies, novel, originality, pop culture, storytelling, trivia, writers, writing | 7 Comments

Anders Danielsen Lie (l) and Espen Klouman-Høiner in Reprise.

Writers aren’t that exciting to be around when we’re working. What we do–staring into space, muttering to ourselves, typing then backspacing and typing some more–isn’t exactly dynamic. It might be why there are so few good movies about writers actually writing. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of good movies with writer characters in them; that’s fairly common. But the movies that show accurately what the writing life is like, and how it affects the writer and people around him, those are rare indeed. Here are five of my favorites (notice I didn’t say, “best”).

In the Mouth of Madness

Writers figure in a lot of horror films, most of them courtesy of Stephen King (Misery, The Shining, Secret Window).  This isn’t a Stephen King adaptation, or a Lovecraft one, but its story of writer Sutter Kane (Jurgen Prochnow), who writes like Lovecraft and has a fan base like (and the same initials as) King, carries the idea of the “best seller” to a demented extreme. With Sam Neill as an insurance investigator and director John Carpenter’s sure hand, it takes us into a world where people are willing to give up their own dreams for the common nightmares of someone else. I can only wonder, if it was remade today (which I’m sure it will be), will King be the model of success, or will it be Stephanie Meyer or EL James?

Paris When It Sizzles

Williams Holden is on deadline to produce a script, and Audrey Hepburn is the secretary who both challenges him and keeps him on task. Holden, like a lot of us, knows when his story’s gone off the rails, so the stopping and starting over becomes part of the fun. Add to this scenes from the work-in-progress acted out by those two, plus a slew of dead-on cameos, and it becomes the kind of creative process we all like to think we have in our heads.

Reprise

A masterpiece–there, I said it–from Norway about two friends who submit their first novels on the same day. One gets rejected, one becomes a best seller, but their friendship doesn’t suffer in the ways you might think.  An amazing cast, down to the smallest parts, and a perfectly-judged emotional pitch make this one way too close to comfort in some ways. But a brilliant film nonetheless. And bonus cool points for using Joy Division under the titles.

His Girl Friday

“Writing” can include reporting, and in fact, it used to: some of our best writers, and even me, started out as journalists back when that word meant something. Here it means Rosalind Russell as the ace reporter and Cary Grant as her fast-talking editor, who’s also her ex-husband determined to get her back. It’s a romantic comedy, to be sure, but director Howard Hawks also includes scenes of Russell doing her job, including an expert interview with a mousy convicted killer. And when the other cynical reporters take a look at what she’s written, their respect and silence–in a movie overloaded with the fastest dialogue you’ll ever hear–tells you all you need to know about her skill.

Chinese Coffee

You probably haven’t heard of this one. It started as a vanity project by Al Pacino, who wanted a filmed record of a play he loved appearing in. Pacino and Jerry Orbach star in this essentially two-person film, adapted from Ira Lewis’s play, about a writer (Pacino) and his friend (Orbach), who feels the writer has stolen from him: not plagiarism, exactly, but more from his real life and personality. It’s good because the actors are so good, and Pacino’s direction is unfussy and solid. Plus it’s an issue every fiction writer will encounter at some point.

Any other suggestions?

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.

Ain’t No Cure: vampirism as disease

Posted on by Alex in Blood Groove, Dracula, Girls with Games of Blood, True Blood, vampires, writers, writing | 1 Comment

(October, the month of Halloween, conjures one name in our household: Dracula! This is the third of a series of posts on various aspects of Dracula and vampires in general. I’ll be giving away a two-pack of my own vampire novels Blood Groove and The Girls with Games of Blood to one lucky commenter per post, so comment early, comment often!)

Richard Matheson, among many other cool things in his career, popularized the idea of a scientific explanation for vampirism in his novel I am Legend. His vampires are the result of a pandemic whose symptoms mirror the classic vampire tropes. That paved the way for this entire subgenre, including comics (Marvel’s Blade, as well as Morbius, the Living Vampire), movies (Korea’s Thirst), and even recent fiction (The Passage and The Strain).

Originally, the idea of blood hunger as a disease had its simplest parallel with diabetes, with blood standing in for insulin. As long as the sufferer “took his medicine,” so to speak, he was safe. For the most part, diabetes is invisible as well, so that the vampire suffering from a “disease” didn’t look any different, either: fangs were minimized, and vampires changed from being aristocrats and noblemen to everyday characters. This removed any sort of moral level and made him just another unfortunate. Eventually stories appeared in which vampires made do with animal blood or blood substitutes (as in True Blood), making the parallel complete.

With the onset of AIDS, a blood-borne disease that came with the social stigma diabetes lacked, vampire stories adapted as well. Suddenly the idea that the very thing that allowed their existence could also cause their demise became the trope of the moment. Even Stephen King worked a twist on it, as his Dark Tower vampires were AIDS carriers. Further, the very real experiences of sufferers were co-opted into vampire fiction, so that vampires became victims not just of biology, but of society as well. Just as AIDS sufferers were shunned and accused of “asking for it,” vampires were depicted as victims who often deliberately sought their condition. And the fear of AIDS dovetailed nicely with the fear of vampires: both could hide in plain sight, and lured you with the possibility of sex. (I’m deliberately not talking about sexuality and AIDS victims in terms of vampire fiction, because that’s a whole other issue.)

And now, with the possibility of biological weapons (what used to be called “germ warfare,” back when Matheson wrote I am Legend), we get tales of mutated viruses that spread like wildfire and create vampire-like symptoms and behaviors.

So where does that leave the vampire?

The classic vampires–Dracula, Carmilla, Lord Ruthven–were unapologetic monsters. They needed no origins, no sympathy, because they embraced their natures. They did not contract a disease, they willingly gave up their souls for the vampiric existence. Only later, when the idea of sympathetic vampire arose with Dark Shadows and Anne Rice, did it become really necessary to find a way to have vampirism not be the vampire’s fault. And what better way than to make it the result of simple biology, rather than a pact with eternal evil?

The problem with this, as with all “explanations” for vampires, is that as soon as they’re explained, they become small and simple. In a way, the idea of a biological explanation for vampires is horror fiction’s parallel to midichlorians: it explains something that needs no explanation, and in the process, utterly destroys its grandeur.

The loss of the epic vampire

Posted on by Alex in Bram Stoker, Catholic Church, Christopher Lee, Dracula, Elizabeth Miller, fantasy literature, Hammer Studios, Horror Films, Lestat, movies, True Blood, Twilight, vampires, writing, Zginski | 10 Comments

(October, the month of Halloween, conjures one name in our household: Dracula! This is the first of a series of posts on various aspects of Dracula and vampires in general. I’ll be giving away a two-pack of my own vampire novels Blood Groove and The Girls with Games of Blood to one lucky commenter per post, so comment early, comment often!)

Recently I came across an article by Elizabeth Russell Miller, an internationally-known expert on all things Bram Stoker, entitled, “The Church Welcomes Dracula.”

The story of this Dublin church honoring Dracula is fun on its surface, but it got me thinking about vampires and religion, a relationship that has lost almost all its potency in the last forty years. When I was a kid, vampires were terrified of all things religious, specifically Catholic icons. There were occasional riffs on that, most famously the Jewish bloodsucker in The Fearless Vampire Killers. But for the most part it was accepted, and accepted seriously: the athiest hero of the Hammer classic Dracula Has Risen from the Grave must become a believer to defeat Dracula.

But as religion faded from its importance in everyday life, it also faded from vampire lore. Anne Rice’s vampires are indifferent to religious iconography, as are those of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The pantsless vamps of True Blood have no issue with it. And so on. But what has replaced religion in vampire mythology?

Apparently, it’s love.

Love destroys vampires as surely as sunrise, wooden stakes or fire. Where once stood an immortal symbol of the power of the devil, the literal anti-Christ (the vampire’s nightly resurrection mocks Christ’s, for example), we now have tortured, sympathetic heroes. And not even anti-heroes like the magnificently nihilistic Lestat, but actual heroes who try to do good, defeat the bad guys (often more “traditional” vampires) and win the damsel (often without actually biting her). This has culminated in the Twilight, saga, which is all about not doing…well, anything. Once the active hand of the devil on earth, vampires are now horror’s answer to the Amish.

When only the Church (capital “C”) stood between humanity and the vampire, it was understood as a battle for immortal things like souls.  It was an epic battle. Powers as old as the universe contended for the soul of a man or woman, a prize so valuable both God and the Devil wanted it. Now…well, the prize is Bella Swan’s virginity. And losing it doesn’t damn her to hell for all eternity; rather, it elevates her into the nouveau beaute’ pantheon.

Now, I’m not a religious person, but as a writer, I understand the maxim that heroes are judged by the power of their villains. Imagine Batman without the Joker, Superman without Lex Luther, or Sherlock Holmes without Moriarty; their stature would be seriously diminished. Similarly, the classic vampire is scary and significant because, within that mythology, even God himself takes notice and stands against him. That’s a powerful trope, and one that’s proven very hard to replace.

When I wrote my two “vampsloitation” novels, Blood Groove and The Girls with Games of Blood, I deliberately left out religion, intending to use it as an element in the climactic third book. Alas, the first two did not exactly fly off shelves or into e-book readers,* so it may be some time before that final novel, Blood Will Rise Again, sees the light of day. But when it does, I hope to recapture some of that classic epic feel, of the idea that what’s at stake (heh) when a vampire meets a human is more than just hemoglobin and an undead booty call.  I hope to make it…well, cosmic. That’s the playing field vampires should occupy.

*I must say, though, that the fans of these novels are some of my most passionate; for those that “get it,” they really get it, and I appreciate hearing from them.

Writer’s Day #3

Posted on by Alex in Eddie LaCrosse, writers, writing | 2 Comments

This is the third of a series of videos showing how a typical writer (i.e., me) works through the day.  This one is about revision, and how some writers get nervous talking about fonts on camera.

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.

Writer’s Day #2

Posted on by Alex in Hum and the Shiver, writers, writing | Leave a comment

This is the second of a series of videos showing how a typical writer (i.e., me) works through the day.  Ever wonder how those signed copies get from an author to a contest winner?  Now you can see.  And it involves military jets.

Writer’s Day #1

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

This is the first of a series of videos showing how a typical writer (i.e., me) works through the day.  And my day starts early.