Sunday, June 22, 2014

Better late than never

It seems I was so wrapped up in Summer Solstice that I forgot to blog yesterday. My apologies. I'd promise I won't do it again, but I've learned to never make promises I can't keep. ;) I can say I did have a lovely day yesterday that resulted in a few tears. Now I know that may seem odd but these were actually good tears and I have Selah Janel to thank for them. She posted about the character Susan from the Narnia books on her Facebook wall and a dissatisfaction with the characters story progression that echoed one I'd always held. Awhile back I'd stumbled upon this post that took all of that dissatisfaction and gave it an outlet to be reborn into something beautiful.

I think that's what I enjoy about being a writer. I can take narratives of women's experiences and give them the endings I feel most connected to. They can be strong, vulnerable, sexy, virtuous, and any other host of things I find appealing. I can make them imperfectly perfect, the way I'd always viewed Susan. It's a heady sensation and I'll confess that I do let the power go to my head. Because, if I'm not retelling the stories of women's experiences the way I want, I leave it to other's to write more Susan's.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Various Vampires

So last time I talked a little bit about my personal experiences and interests that led me to write Mooner. I thought this time I'd take a chance to talk about some of the works that inspired my own interest in vampires. In some ways these creatures have almost evolved into their own archetype and they're incredibly versatile. No two works of vampire fiction or film are completely alike - it's like they're malevolent, blood-sucking little snowflakes. Like others who dig the genre, I definitely have my favorites, though. Bizarrely, my favorites also encompass all types of vampires. Admittedly I like vampires who use their teeth, who are seen as a little higher up on the food chain, who are lived-in, so to speak. But, I also expect them to retain something of their humanity. After all, a personality doesn't go away with a life choice change, so the most interesting vampires are the ones who meld the two sides into something else, something more. So, in no particular order...

The Young Brothers series by  Kathy Love - Let's just get the embarrassing one out of the way first. Let me just say I love these harder than a stake through a sternum on a cold morning. Are they as mind-bending as some of the other entries? No. Are they girly and a little guilty pleasure-ish? Yep. Does that change the fact that I adore them. NOPE! What makes these great for me is that they all draw on vampire folklore and turn it on its head. I've read things in these books that I've never seen anywhere else. Fangs for the Memories sees one of the Young bros lose his memory and assume he's back in Regency England - and human. Fangs but No Fangs sees the villain of the first book trying to come to terms with his life choices and balance his vampire side with the rest of his personality. I Only Have Fangs for You deals with the typical vamp playboy bro taking an interest in an unlikely lady who, while a vampire, seemingly doesn't understand how to be one. Her backstory in this is really well done, and there is one of the most excellent vampire romance scenes I've ever read in this book, dealing with the whole shapeshifting to mist cliche. It's just great. Are the endings a little rushed? Sure. Is it silly in places? Yep. Still don't care.

Don't go look at cats on the internet yet. I swear I'll earn my street cred back.

The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice - the books that exploded the creature into modern sensibilities. She uses them as a great vehicle for exploring personal doubts, relationships, and the nature of life and morality in general. Plus, the vampires' personalities are so distinct and vast, her books are just a lush playground for the preternatural. I tend to prefer characters like Lestat who's charming capabilities are offset by his sharp sense of manipulation, and Claudia - a fantastic mashup of this bloodlusting creature mixed with a woman trapped in a girl's body, longing for something more. There are some spectacular characterizations in the books, and the vampires set in different periods of history is phenomenal, as well.

The Moth Diaries by Rachel Klein - I'm familiar with the book and not the movie, but this re-imagining of Carmilla is superb. It really captures what it's like to be a girl coming of age, judging and being judged. For me this works in a creepy relationship way better than Twilight because the emotions ring very true and it's a very different sort of vampire relationship. When Ernessa, the new girl, comes to a 1950s boarding school and comes between the friendship of Lucy and the narrator, emotions are slung all over the place. It captures the obsession between young best friends very well, and it's hard to tell at times if Ernessa is something otherworldly or if it's the imaginings of the narrator, fueled by jealousy and growing hatred. In some ways you begin to ask yourself who's more of a vampire: the mysterious Ernessa or the soul-sucking desperate tendencies of the narrator?

Lord of the Dead by Tom Holland - This book is incredible. It makes the concept of Lord Byron as a vampire perfectly believable. Although slow to start, the tension keeps building and building until you reach a particularly gruesome transformation scene. Once turned, Lord Byron's machinations to live forever take some twisted turns, drawing on his relationships in real life. It has all the lush description of an Anne Rice novel with a little more forward momentum and the added benefit of a ton of magnificent source material. It's equally romantic and ruthless, gruesome and glorious, which is everything a vampire should be. There is also a follow-up book called Slave to the Thirst that deals with Stoker, but I haven't gotten to finish that one yet.

The Lost Boys - Anyone who knows me knows this would be on here. This movie is lightning in a bottle. It will never happen again, no matter how many sequels are attempted or knock-offs designed. For one, the blend of comedy and horror is very well-executed and balanced. The look of the film is streamlined and sharp. What I think a lot of people forget, though, is that up until the later parts of the movie you're not necessarily introduced to the lost boys as villains. I mean okay, they're obviously designed to look like bad dudes, but you see them doing things that a lot of teens do. You see them hanging out at home. You almost get something of a backstory to draw you in before everything goes to hell. In a lot of ways, this is a great template for the modern vampire for me. They're using sex appeal and subtle displays of dominance to get their way, run their territory, and presumably lure prey in. They're the people that you want to be noticed by...until you really get to know them. They're not afraid to hunt. They're not afraid to enjoy being what they are. They play by the rules of their kind. Dated as it is, this is a fabulous introduction to vampires for the novice.

The Sonja Blue series by Nancy A. Collins - I will not lie - this is splatterpunk so it is really, really graphic. If you can get past that aspect, it's incredible. There are a lot of elements of urban fantasy as well as horror, and the world-building is incredibly done. Sonja is a "living" vampire - she was turned but not fully killed and has become a slayer who kills the dangerous creatures that hide behind mundane appearances. What you or I may see as a bum or a person shopping could be an ogre or a werewolf. Through it all she's looking for revenge on her sire. What really makes this amazing is that her more vampiric part (The Other) functions almost as an alternate personality. The two fight and clash, and when she blacks out and it takes over it's usually bad news. There's a particularly amazing bit where she thinks she's falling for a guy, is exhausted because of other things going on, and then The Other takes over. When she regains herself she realizes that The Other has done something horrible, cruel, and life-altering to the guy (and no, it isn't turning him. It's far worse than that). She has to deal with things like that all the time, along with eventually facing her human past. There are some incredibly poignant moments that balance out the gore and heavy subject matter.

Nosferatu - I love this movie. I don't know if it's because it's silent or because of the pacing and shadows, but it's so creepy. I become entranced every time I watch it. Even though it's the standard variation of Dracula, it's so interesting to watch. Once you've seen it, watch Shadow of the Vampire and you'll fall even more in love with the movie. Just watch the two back to back and enjoy your afternoon.

Dracula by Bram Stoker - maybe not the first, but the most well-known. While the letter format gets to me sometimes when reading it, the story is entrancing and fascinating from all viewpoints. All the characters, whether it's Mina, Lucy, Renfield, Van Helsing, or Dracula, himself, are memorable. There's a reason this jump-started the genre.

I am Legend by Richard Matheson - Read the book. The book has a point, and one that will leave you thinking for a while. The most recent remake destroyed the whole point of the book by changing the ending. The isolation of the main character combined with the exploration of humanity versus other are really great elements of this one that no action movie can replace.

The Hunger - The opening scene that cuts footage of Miriam and John seducing prey at a club to a ravenous monkey will immediately implant itself in your brain. The ankhs used is a fascinating substitute for teeth, and all the different types of relationships and possessiveness explored between the characters is awesome. This one also gets kudos for bringing in an aging element to a genre that rarely deals with the concept of the preternatural characters growing old or dying.

30 Days of Night - I've only seen the film, but I love the stark imagery, love the claustrophobic edge that just grows as the characters are hunted. This is truly a unique idea. Even though the vampires are seen as creatures, there are still hints of something there. They can still communicate, plot, and manipulate. They're not animals by any means, and even speak in their own language. There must be something there for Marlow to put Iris out of her misery at one point, and although these aren't the same as the modern vampires we're used to, you can see that they're thinking, feeling beings.

Daybreakers - I love the production design of this film so hard. This is completely believable as a vampiric world after the food source is dwindling. This is something that actually deals with vampires trying to make a blood substitute instead of one already existing. It also pits human aspects against vampire characteristics when family members of both types are thrown together. In so many books and movies vampires are seen as the enemy, but in this world the vampires are in charge and argue the pros and cons of human vs. animal blood, what humans are actually for, and the actual desire for finding a cure for vampirism vs. a blood substitute in a world like that. It's bold in a lot of ways, and while I question some of the logistics of the ending, it's mostly a really satisfying movie.

American Vampire by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque - This series blew my mind when I started reading it. It's innovative in so many ways. First, vampire powers differ depending on the origin of the vampire, so there are countless types of these creatures with varying degrees of sentience and effectiveness. Then you have the different arcs playing out - the creation and progression of the slaying group The Vassals of the Morning Star, which heavily features the Book family legacy. Then there's the creation of Skinner Sweet, the first American vampire. This dude is so vile, so conniving, so vicious, and so hilarious...it's one of the few vampire characters that make me cringe and laugh out loud. He does what he wants when he wants. An outlaw and master manipulator as a human, this guy is perfection as a vampire. What's also intriguing is that each volume highlights a different era of American history, some of them really surprising. Skinner turns wannabe-starlet Pearl in the 1920s after she's nearly eaten by a group of Hollywood vampires. He shows up again to cause havoc in 1930's Las Vegas. There's the obligatory WWII plotlines and some really fun stuff set in the 1950s with a greaser slayer. I adore the character of Pearl and her struggle to hold on to her human husband and some sense of who she is, all the while fighting her attraction and revulsion to her sire. The plot lines weave in and out of each other in interesting ways, and this series has found intriguing ways to explore not only vampires and periods in history but issues like revisiting your past, racism, what it means to be human, and so much more. And then Dracula shows up. At times it's a little hokey, but then it tears your throat open three pages later, so it's a great blend.

So what about you? What vampire titles or films get your fangs showing?

And don't forget, if you're looking for an intriguing vampire story, there's this one of mine...



Like many young men at the end of the 1800s, Bill signed on to work in a logging camp. The work is brutal, but it promised a fast paycheck with which he can start his life. Unfortunately, his role model is Big John. Not only is he the camp’s hero, but he’s known for spending his pay as fast as he makes it. On a cold Saturday night they enter Red’s Saloon to forget the work that takes the sweat and lives of so many men their age. Red may have plans for their whiskey money, but something else lurks in the shadows. It watches and badly wants a drink that has nothing to do with alcohol. Can Bill make it back out the shabby door, or does someone else have their own plans for his future?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Getting Ideas From Real Life

My husband recently spent a week in the hospital with an infection in his right leg. It was an ugly abscess below the skin. The doctors have no idea where it came from although the nurses suspected a brown recluse bite. He had cellulitis and the wound was slightly necrotic. It was a stressful week but I got something good out of it – a story idea.

I've gotten story ideas from many experiences. I stayed in a haunted bed and breakfast decades ago that influenced my novel "An Unexpected Guest". It was a lovely little place on Maryland's Eastern Shore right on the Sassafras River. I stayed on a Friday night which also was ½ off dinner night. I'd heard the stories about the ghost of the proprietress wandering the halls, checking on the guests to make sure they were comfortable. The original owner was rumored to be a madam, and the house was a Revolutionary-War-era brothel. British soldiers came up the river and tossed torches at the house. The proprietress swept the torches off her porch. When the soldiers arrived at the house, she made a deal with them. They wouldn't burn down her house if she let them use it and the services of the women inside, for a fee of course. This house was one of the only homes remaining standing in town by the end of the battle. The story influenced my novel.

In a similar fashion, my husband's hospital ordeal influenced a brand new story I'm about to begin working on. I can only imagine what kinds of critters could come bursting out of that wound in his leg and wrecking havoc in the hospital. I remember the sights, the smell of disinfectant, the sight of that gaping hole in his leg. The nurses were competent and very friendly. I might even create a character based on one of those nurses – and kill her. LOL That's one thing that's fun about being a writer – putting real people in your stories and doing horrible things to them.

Now that my husband is finally home and things are beginning to wind down around here, I can begin working on my story. I have no idea where it's going to go, but it's going to be one hell of a ride.

Here's where to find me on the web:

Elizabeth Black - Facebook

Elizabeth Black - Twitter

Elizabeth Black - Amazon Author Page


Saturday, June 7, 2014

WHO THE HECK STOLE MY MAP! or REVERSE TACTICS

BE KIND REWIND…ER….
Walks to the edge of the stage and peeks out, notices you’re not really paying attention to the schedule of events so you shouldn’t notice my  sudden arrival. Storms stage center as if I’m not the one who is late…cuz for once I’m not late.  I’m just long over due ( stop looking at your calendars I know when I was here last, hmph).
So a funny thing happened on the way home when I was here. The muse was driving the escape car when we took off and I didn’t set that navigation thing because, frankly, her voice annoys the f*ck out of me. *shrugs*.
We were supposed to go straight home because I obviously have new projects to work on  and a Mac (truck or laptop take your pick) of OLD projects to work on.
I don’t know what happened. The top was down, it was kinda breezy. And we were driving, and driving and driving somemore.
And after a while I was like, “ hey yo, dude. Where we at?”
And the Muse was like, “I dunno”
My anxiety rose and my heart started to race
“whatchu mean,  you dunno, punk you’re driving! Where are we?”
At this point that bi.. I mean dude took some kind of exception with me calling him a punk. Apparently he was feeling all his southern  roots and the last thing he was about to do was let me, a mere female talk ish about his directional skills AND call him anything other than some overgrown muscle bound sex hound a man of manly proportions and tendancies.
This bit.. punk.. er MUSE, left me!   Y’all, he just poofed be goned!
Vanished. Abracadabra.  Left my ass in the middle of the page.
 The last thing he  said  was “ You know what?” (Nothing good ever comes from an angry southerner starting a conversations with “you know what?”) “You’re the one who had the big trip idea, you’re the one with the over loaded schedule and you are most definitely the one who forgot to turn on the gps. Find your own damn way home. And when you get there, don’t be looking for me. I’m going on vacation. Expect to do some begging when I get back. I need bribes, because obviously you have forgotten how this relationship works. I’m the muse and you cater to me.”
I tried to protest. “Dude, you’re not seriously about to leave me like this? How am I supposed to get home? There isn’t even very much gas in the tank.”
At this point, I’m standing in the passenger seat of the convertible yelling at him as he paces on the side of the road.  Standing in a muse’s car, heels digging into the leather of his precious seats, was obviously the WRONG thing to be doing in that moment.
“You have no respect. You just” he ran his hands angrily through his hair.
Frustration and tension flowed between us on that highway like the thermal heat waves over the asphalt.
The muse walked up to the passenger door. Tears where shimmering in both of our eyes.  His tone completely changed.  “You’re still not ready, baby. I’ll be back.” He rubbed a knuckle over my jaw and kissed my forehead and then *POOOOOOOFFFFFFFF* Fairy sparkles and wind chimes dinging that bit…punk. HE LEFT ME Y’all!
The muse ran away. Just freaking punked out and left me in the middle of no damn where with a hundred characters in a caravan staring at me like confused children.
“Hey lady, are we there yet?”  When the first one started to wail, I lost it. I seriously …I lost my damn mind. I closed my laptop and got in bed… and so that’s where I’ve been.
What that has to do with the title on your program… be kind, rewind… well, I had no clue when I sat down to blog. But now I know that as an author/writer, it means you have to be kind to yourself and rewind the tape. Go back to …whatever part of the story you’re in and then start from there.  Let the cursor flash on the screen while you do something other than stare at the stark white page.  Go live life. Deal with emotions and … just back up. And when you’re ready to write…the muse will show up and spank your butt like you’re a naughty catholic school girl do what muses do.  If you’re a reader…be patient with your author/writer friends.  Let them entertain you in other ways. The pressure to write is already something they live with daily.  The voices in their head …well really, they are there. And when the go silent we kind of freak out.  We’ve never NOT heard them. So we are lost and a lone when there isn’t someone talking about something.  And sometimes they come back speaking a different language. So we are stranded in the foreign country of our mind. It’s like being in the middle of the fall of Babylon. Where turning every which way, people are talking, tugging and pushing at us but we don’t speak the gibberish they speak and we are confused. And scared.
So … very… very… scared.   So be kind. Be patient. Be understanding.

Rewind: read something you loved from last year. Leave a good review.  And if you see our muses loitering around in a bar somewhere…tell them we miss them and we’d like for them to come home now.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Childhood Myth Comes of Age

The superhero.  The costumed, death-defying avenger of the common people.  Sometimes, even a godlike being who embodies our deepest-held images of moral purity.  Our modern-day equivalent of the ancient world superheroes like Hercules, Odysseus and Jason.

The superhero  myth has been a successfully commercialized genre in this country for generations, starting with the so-called "golden age" of comics in the 1930's, progressing through the dark years of World War II, in which kids saw their superheroes, like Captain America, pitted against the evil Axis.

Then, in 1962 (the year before I was born) a young writer named Stan Lee teamed up with a young artist named Steve Ditko to usher in a new breed of comic book superhero.  That was the beginning of a comic book publishing company called Marvel.  Marvel comics were a big part of my childhood.  I still remember my dad reading them to me when I was a child and I remember buying them later as an adolescent.  And, I fantasized as a kid about becoming a comic book publisher myself one day.  I amateurishly  sketched out comic books in pencil and crayon, trying to imitate Marvel's style.

Stan Lee (a.k.a. "Smilin' Stan Lee", "Stan The Man Lee"), as he's so often pointed out in his retrospectives over the years, was ambitious enough to dare to defy the established patterns of comic book heroes.  He wanted heroes with human flaws with which the readers could identify on a personal level.  His first successful creation was the Fantastic Four, a superhero team which was actually a dysfunctional family, always bickering and fighting amongst themselves.  He rejected the time-honored  tradition of an adult hero with a teenaged sidekick when he later created Spider-Man, the first teenaged loner superhero, who had to deal with the daily emotional and financial battles of being a teenager, while trying to find time between classes to fight crime.

The superhero became less an idealized symbol of human perfection, and more a troubled protagonist, and the idea caught on.  Decades later, (while Marvel Comics isn't doing that great) the characters they created back in the day (some of them, anyway) are living on successfully and capturing the public's attention on the big screen.  (Even as a self-congratulating Stan Lee appears again and again in his now trademark Hitchcockian cameos in each Marvel film.)

It isn't just Marvel whose characters have evolved and matured in cinema, though.  The Batman character has evolved over the decades from kid-friendly crime fighter and self-parody to dark, troubled vigilante.  Superman, no longer the flawless man of steel, struggles with issues of self-doubt and destiny.   What was a two-dimensional childhood mythology has grown with society through troubled and changing times into a genre with actual character-development, which the audience now expects.  And, pays to see at the box office.

The superhero genre can be a vehicle for social and political allegory, as well.  Most notably, the X-Men idea.  It's an on-going metaphor for society's instinctive rejection of those among us who are different, and how they must struggle for acceptance.  The voice of hope for a brighter future of mutual understanding and acceptance is embodied in the softly-spun, almost Ghandi-like wisdom of Professor Charles Xavier, while the voice of "us or them" revolutionary militant fanaticism takes shape in his nemesis, Magneto, who we see as a young boy watching his parents taken away by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

The latest X-Men film "Days of Future Past" takes a nostalgic trip through time back to the early 1970's.  (I loved it.  Who doesn't want to see a whole sports stadium flying through the air and dropped like a ring around Nixon's White House?  Or, Nixon's panic room ripped right through the White House fa├žade and dumped on the front lawn while Nixon himself is held up by a dozen floating hand guns?)  But, on a deeper level, the film raised the philosophical question:  Can one person really change the course of history?  And, the moral question:  Can we forgive those who would kill us?  Two timely questions, set in a movie about the past.  Both questions, approached through a labyrinth of anguished characters reaching back and forth across time, their older and younger selves arguing over whether to hope or give up, whether to devote a life to serving others or to surrender to fatigue and personal loss and retreat into oneself, reaches a climax in one critical moment.  In the look of pain in the face of the Raven character (convincingly played by Jennifer Lawrence) as she literally holds the future in the palm of her hand as she points a gun at the head of a man devoted to the destruction of all who are like her, and has to decide whether to follow his example and kill, or take the nobler path and give the future a chance.

You can dismiss guys like Stan Lee as frustrated writers who never had what it took to make it into "real" writing.  Or, you can admire their inventiveness in reshaping a popular modern genre in a way that endures through the generations.  But, either way, there's no denying the power of a franchise that does more than just reminisce.  The superhero genre, easy to mock though it may be, is genuine art, because it reflects the heart (young and old) of a changing society that still needs and struggles to find, its heroes.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

*Sigh*

I'm late in the day again, but did you ever have one of those weeks?

Tuesday, after a lovely lunch, I was heading back to my best friend's house to watch a movie when we were hit from behind. Seemed like no damage, and no one hurt...but when I got home, my husband could tell where we were hit, and I had a weird pain. So, today--since it hadn't gone away--it was to the doctor's to make sure it was okay and X-rays, and...yeah.

So, that's my excuse this month. But enough about that.

Have you sent me a Steampunk Pirate story yet? Probably not, because I have only seen two so far. What are you waiting for? Wow me with your Airship derring-do. Here are the guidelines again. You still have plenty of time, but I wouldn't wait to the last minute either. ;)

I must admit, I can think of nothing momentous to say today. I promise next month will be better!