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Monday, August 30, 2010

Halloween on 6th Street, updates

I previewed a brand new documentary making the festival circuit right now called Halloween on 6th Street.




I cannot say enough about this doc, which its running time introduces us to the amazing phenomenon of Halloween in Austin, Texas, where historic 6th Street fills with equal parts exhibitionists, costuming genius and gawkers. The focus of the documentary, from producer Michelle Canning, is on Bud Hasert, a triathlete whose late Summer is usually taken over by planning his Halloween costume. And when I say costume, I mean production: Hasert plans and builds gigantic costumes with transforming parts, like his Headless Horseman costume featuring a horse. He even recruits extras, and builds costumes for them. All the way through we follow his remarkably patient fiance, who is planning a marathon and a wedding, and hoping Bud will make it to at least one of these. Along the way we meet local designers, producers and inventers, all of whom turn out in a big way for Halloween.

Amazing work. I hope you can catch it soon.

Oh-- the writing weekend went well. Daughters of the Shadow #3 is turned in, and I now have three chapters on the new middle grade series I'm working on.

See you soon!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Writing Shadowland: Daughters of the Shadow, writing weekend

It's a "writing weekend," meaning I've committed to myself and a few other people lots of new work. So this weekend on the block we have:
  • The script for Shadowland: Daughters of the Shadow #3-- this is actually just in time because Ivan Rodriguez-- who has this amazing ability to take my often-opaquely-described fight scenes and make them make visual sense--- is just now finished with Issue 2, so he needs to start drawing Issue 3. It's not as simple as me just writing a script and tossing it to Spain, of course. Before we go to script on a Marvel comic, we generally go through multiple panel by panel outlines. In a big event like Shadowland, numerous editors jawbone about every issue and how they fit together; my story connects mainly with its own issues, but we have to keep track of what the various characters are also doing in the main Shadowland mini, issues of Daredevil itself, Blood on the Streets and more. All of which gets us to: this Wednesday we had an approved outline and it was time to go to script, which was due Friday, last night. And, so that happened, and it's written. I'm always thrilled when a work finally comes together, and I see myself making choices, how about if we open this scene this way, how about if she sneaks in like this instead of like that, and I keep wondering-- what if I wrote this yesterday, would a different sudden idea occur to me? What if I wrote it tomorrow? We re-write and re-write, but many times the flash of inspiration shapes the final so completely that you can't imagine the story going another way. So I think, what if I were writing this yesterday, or tomorrow? Would this work happen? What is Yesterday Guy writing?
  • Meanwhile, I owe another Marvel editor a synopsis for a one-shot story. A synopsis is basically a one-or-two-page breakdown of the story. In my case I break the synopsis out into Acts and Scenes, just to help keep track of the beginning-middle-end structure. A typical one-shot comic is 22 pages long, so it's crucial to make sure that the end is getting started about two thirds, or 15 pages, into the comic. 
  • Meanwhile, I'm working on a new novel and hope to get some sample chapters done. That's slated for today and tomorrow.
Out there on the web, I've been thrilled by the reactions Shadowland: Daughters of the Dragon #1 has been getting. I'm mainly proud of this work because it's my first official Marvel Universe title and certainly my first crossover event title. I've been following and joining discussions at Comic Book Resources and Comixtreme.

Oh, some other good news-- I heard from IDW that the new printing of Sword of Dracula, the trade paperback of the series I wrote about Ronnie Van Helsing (sister of Alex Van Helsing), has actually sold out, and they'll be going to a second printing soon. That's huge news.

Okay, enough screwing around. Time to get to work.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Shadowland: Daughters of the Shadow is out!

It's Wednesday, which means that it's the day the big stacks of comic books land on the stoops of comic book stores. This is a special Wednesday for me because today my first official Marvel Universe comic comes out, Shadowland: Daughters of the Shadow. (That link takes you to Lone Star's online catalog, but I encourage you to go visit your neighborhood store if you can.)

Of course I've worked with Marvel before, doing alternate-reality stories, but this is a big step for me as a writer, because Shadowland takes place in the actual Marvel U, meaning it's part of the great continuity that we all love and love to complain about.

What's "DOS" about? It's the story of Colleen Wing, a street-level sword-wielding hero who for the first time in her history is not part of the two-man team that earned her reputation. She's broken away from longtime partner Misty Knight and working on her own, focusing on human trafficking, when out of the blue she receives an offer: join Daredevil's new citywide martial law, and he can set her up with resources and long-lost information about her own past. Except that Daredevil has drifted a long way from the ally Colleen has worked with in the past.

Daughters of the Shadow fits into Shadowland, an ongoing Marvel "event" that covers the ramifications of Daredevil, fed up with corruption in the city, declaring his own martial law over part of New York and ruling it with an army of Ninjas. Oh, and he builds a big freakin' ninja castle there, too.

Check out a preview of Shadowland: Daughters of the Shadow #1 here-- and go pick it up today!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ms. Yingling Reads Alex, and a look at Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires

Ms. Yingling, who runs a middle-grade and YA book blog, sent me a note pointing me to her note on Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising. I think this is the first time anyone ever laid any sentence by me next to one by John Grisham. It's a wash; no one reads either of us for our sentences.

I really loved this entry! It reminds me that school is coming soon, and this is the first semester where Alex will be in most of the libraries.

Meanwhile I've got a new favorite blog: Rockabilly Online, which ran a cool look at one of my favorite Hammer films, Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires. As I mentioned before:
SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES came out back in 1974, co-produced by England's Hammer Studios, makers of Gothic brilliance, and Hong Kong's immortal Shaw Bros. It was meant to be the first of a series of movies in which vampire slayer Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) went around the globe killing the vampires of the world. Didn't happen. But this one did, and what a wacky thing it must have seemed to audiences who had never seen Chinese Horror.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Vampire Lovers

I caught The Vampire Lovers on a big screen at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and I realized that the DVD era has brought a few curses along with its blessings. Of the good, thanks to DVD and VHS before it, we are able to see an old film whenever we want. I have The Vampire Lovers on DVD myself, in fact. And most of the times I've watched a movie and studied it, I've watched a home video version. But I realized while watching the movie in a theater that theaters give us the gift of focus. In a theater, we delegate to a third party the authority to tell us to shut up and listen, to sit quietly in the dark. I'm used to this for brand new movies, but I have to search for it for older titles.

I tend to watch movies as thought I'm studying a problem, letting the movie play while I thumb through four or five different books on movies, and tabbing over to look up various details. (With this movie, it's, Who's that playing the innkeeper? Is that castle set the backlot at Elstree or Bray Studio? Wait, this would  be 1970, so it has to be Elstree, so when did that transition happen again?) When you watch an older title in a theater you get the chance to think of it by itself.

The Vampire Lovers is a Hammer Studios adaptation of Sheridan Le Fanu's novella Carmilla. Carmilla was probably the first vampire story I ever read, a languid, erotic and romantic story of a vampire woman who comes into the life of a young noble girl and nearly destroys her. It's an extremely important story.
Everyone always remembers that Carmilla was a lesbian but they rarely seem to remember what an exciting b**** Carmilla is in Le Fanu's story. She whines petulantly when she doesn't get her way, smugly insults peasants and comes on a little strong with everyone. She's dashing and brash. She's a con artist, too, running a regularly-repeating long con where the mark is always a pretty and naive noble girl and prize given up is the mark's life.
Carmilla came out in 1872, fifty-three years after Polidori's The Vampyre but certainly in that tradition of dastardly and erotically powerful noble vampires. The date also puts Carmilla twenty-five years before Stoker's Dracula, which would revisit several of these themes, though with nowhere near Le Fanu's gift for prose:
Sometimes after an hour of apathy, my strange and beautiful companion would take my hand and hold it with a fond pressure, renewed again and again; blushing softly, gazing in my face with languid and burning eyes, and breathing so fast that her dress rose and fell with the tumultuous respiration. It was like the ardour of a lover; it embarrassed me; it was hateful and yet overpowering; and with gloating eyes she drew me to her, and her hot lips travelled along my cheek in kisses; and she would whisper, almost in sobs, "You are mine, you shall be mine, and you and I are one for ever". ("Carmilla", Chapter 4).
I loved Le Fanu's use of time in his story, note how he mentions the "hour of apathy;" in fact Carmilla is full of ennui, of slow walks and lounging, waiting for something to happen. Punctuated with vampirism and violence.
The Vampire Lovers attempts to take Carmilla and tell it as a Hammer movie, and why not-- the Hammerscape, a strange Euro-Britain of rolling fog and gorgeous castle sets, is on full display here. In fact, I'm not sure it's ever looked better, because The Vampire Lovers manages to display in one movie every graveyard, haunted wood, foggy court, broken down castle, and musty crypt ever built for other Hammer movies, with a few more new ones thrown in.
The movie, like all Hammer Films, operates within a rigid fictional class system where everyone's behavior is pre-determined. Carmilla's scam works this way: her mother/aunt/older companion drops her off at a nobleman's castle, protesting that she must hurry to an emergency meeting elsewhere; could the master of the house allow Carmilla (called whatever she's called) to stay with your daughter? Because they are of the same class, the imposition is acceded to inside a cloud of understandings and gentleman's agreements.
We see the scam play out twice in The Vampire Lovers, once with Laura (the  first girl here, the Final Girl in the original novella) and then with Emma, who becomes the Final Girl.
There are problems everywhere-- it's troubling that we conflate Carmilla's lesbianism with her villainy, because she is a villain, she lies and she kills with no remorse. And Ingrid Pitt, who is an enchanting actress, is still a very strange choice for Carmilla because she's about fifteen years too old. Maybe the problem is that it's hard to find a 19-year-old who can play a centuries-old noblewoman. Also, the movie seems to suggest that Carmilla is changing the rules and has special feelings for Emma-- which would add a special crime-drama tragedy to the piece if it were explored more. And of course the movie is mannered, as all Hammer's are, with language as formal as its attire. The acting is mannered, too-- all of these actors could probably appear very normal in another film, but on these sets they are stagy and expressive. Watching Hammer, you are watching a universe that plays by its own rules.
The Vampire Lovers comes very close to capturing the ennui, romanticism and action of Le Fanu's story, and at the same time is a fine example of Hammer Horror. If you catch catch it on the big screen, get the DVD-- and put away the books.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Ice Princess: Alex Van Helsing

Great review of Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising from Koorihime-sama, the Ice Princess:


Unlike most young adult (and adult) books I read, this book actually has details of events, scenery/places, characters, etc. I felt more engaged in this book than in most books I read. The characters feel realistic, and the action/suspense is something to look forward to.
Also, something even more interesting, the author ties-in not only Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as well. Why is that interesting? Because I have never seen any other vampire book tie in another horror book, and use some of the writings in it as well as use Dracula as clues for vampires and the history behind it.
Now, shoo, go read it.
You can read the rest of the review here.

AN IMAGINARY EXERCISE
Incidentally, I totally can't comment on whether I use more or less detail than other books. But this opinion does make me think of what would be a fun exercise: imagine asking ask six or seven authors to write the same minor scene-- Lead Character parks her car at the airport and has to get to her gate, and while she's going through security she gets an important cell phone call but has to hang up her phone, losing the end of the conversation.

I can imagine many ways of writing the scene, with more description or less, lots of dialog:

                    "I gotta cut this short," Ronnie said.
                     "Did you stop by the courthouse?" Marcus asked.
                     "Yes, and I need to get off; is there anything else?"

...  or narrated dialog:
                         The second conversation was short-- Ronnie let Marcus know she'd already visited the courthouse and there wasn't anything else to say.
... and I can imagine the scene with almost no description and with a lot. I do know too much is too much. But also coming into play-- probably more so than description--- will  be rhythm and pacing.

More to come on that. Thanks for the review, Ice Princess!

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Bloody Vampire

As much as I've written about British horror and its technicolor glory, I have a genuine, mirth-filled love for the euro and Latino horror-- horror from Spain, France, Italy and Mexico tend to have a Catholicism and showmanship that slick Hollywood productions cannot match. I'll take a Dario Argento, Jess Franco or Paul Naschy picture any day before sitting through the remake of THE HAUNTING again.

But O! Mexican horror, that's where it's at. There's something strangely other-worldly and magical about the way we get Mexican horror, the black-and-white witches and vampires and yes, wandering masked wrestler heroes. The key man in bringing these movies to the US was K. Gordon Murray, a Florida distributor whose bread and butter was making cheesy low-budget kid's movies before the major studios secured contracts that allowed key evening releases to play on weekend days, killing the matinee industry. Murray returned, Dracula-like, buying and re-dubbing heaps upon heaps of Mexican horror films, many of them featuring Santo, the silver mask man. My favorites among these are the vampire pictures, like THE VAMPIRE (El Vampiro) and last night's fare, THE BLOODY VAMPIRE (El Vampiro Sangriento.)

Last night I watched THE BLOODY VAMPIRE, a 1962 Mexican vampire movie included in a fantastic box set of public domain and forgotten vamp movies, Undead: The Vampire Collection. Here's the thing: I suspect the people who put these box sets together think they're ripping me off. Look! I imagine them shouting. We're bundling 20 public domain movies no one cares about and he's paying $5 for it! Except that I actually love these movies.

Anyway, THE BLOODY VAMPIRE is worth watching for several reasons. It has some astonishing visuals-- the silent carriage ride in the beginning is chilling and the king vampire, Count Frankenhausen (!) cuts a powerful figure. The sets-- long, lightning-lit corridors-- are beautiful to look at. The plot, meanwhile, makes only the slightest amount of sense. The movie is pure innocence and melodrama, and because this is a K. Gordon Murray release, it's dubbed in a strange and circuitous way, with characters adding extra words and doubling back on themselves all the time, saying things like "And now finally I will reveal to you all the secrets left to me by my family, and this is what I hope to explain, if you can give me your attention. Now I will reveal everything." At one point the good doctor and the evil Count discuss coffee, and they discuss it at length, as though not only is coffee new to them, but it must be very new to us, as well, giving us a strange, stream-of-consciousness scene that runs something like: Did you offer me coffee? You must be referring to the drink that is popular in Arabia. It is created through transfusion. You see I know many things about alchemy and chemistry. But I have only read about coffee; I have never actually seen the bean. I am looking forward to experiencing it.
They have a similar discussion about vampires. In this movie, there are two kinds of vampires: "living" vampires who run around and attack people, and "dead" vampires who sleep all the time. If you kill the head living vampire, all the "dead" vampires wake up and become dangerous. Cool, no? I have to admit I like that little twist, where suddenly the heroes have to consider a risk of killing the boss vampire.

I see lots of reviews like this one at Classic Horror: "A dull feature whose eerie sets and photography are ruined by the poor dubbing." That just seems seems obtuse to me, like someone saying "this cubist painting is marred by a lack of proper perspective," as if the reviewer couldn't possibly imagine why someone would watch a movie like this. This feature is what it is; the poor dubbing and complete sincerity create a work that is strange and wonderful. Through several accidents, these films are strange and wonderful works all their own. If you don't watch this movie and smile all the way through, I can't help you.

Here's a few choice moments from THE BLOODY VAMPIRE, in Spanish.