Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Hard Day's Knight

Generally speaking, I don't like books where vampires are the heroes. And I really don't like books with vampire detectives. I prefer vampires to be dirty, nasty horrible creatures like in Salem's Lot.

   But...

   I was scanning around Amazon and I spotted a book called Hard Day's Knight, by John G. Hartness. At first I thought it was just another paranormal detective book, and hey, I kind of write those myself so I gave it a look. Here's the premise:

  Children are missing.
The police are stumped.
Halloween is coming, and an ancient evil is on the horizon.
The vampires are the good guys.

   Until you hit the last line it sounds not unlike Blind Shadows. But the heroes are vampires, so again, I almost passed. This being Amazon however, I hit the 'Look Inside' feature and read the first six chapters. The hero's 'voice' drew me right in. Jimmy Black narrates the adventures of he and his partner (and  fellow vampire) Greg Knightwood in an engaging first person voice. That voices skirts the edge of precious a couple of times, but for the most part it's a very solid and entertaining voice and I know that many people appreciate a higher snark factor than I do. The further I read, the more I liked the two reluctant vampires, a couple of nerds who spend their time playing video games and reading comics when they're not fighting horrible creatures from the outer dark. I could hang with these boys. And the book is set in Charlotte NC, so the boys are fellow southerners.
   So I ordered the Omnibus edition for the Kindle, which contains the first three books in the series. Read Hard Day's Knight in a sitting, basically, and really enjoyed it. So, yeah, need to watch my prejudices against certain kinds of books. Almost missed a real winner. The book is kind of a Superhero book in the way that Jim Butcher's books are and the pop culture references fly fast and furious.
   John G. Hartness's Black Knight Omnibus is climbing the Kindle bestsellers chart. Help him out if you're so inclined, and give The Black Knight Chronicles a try. The vampires are the heroes, but they don't sparkle. I promise. Check out John's website here:

http://johnhartness.com/

Monday, May 27, 2013

Re-Kindling

   I've had my Kindle for about 18 months now, and I've made far more use of it than I ever thought I would. Though I still buy a lot of paper books, I use the Kindle for what I consider 'disposable fiction', that is books that I don't collect. Things that I would normally buy, read and give away, are now more often than not, purchased for the Kindle.
   And now, I've decided to upgrade. Part of that is because my current Kindle is having some issues, sometimes not wanting to start, causing me to have to reset it. And part of it is that I've been thinking I'd like to try the new Kindle Paper White, which has a slight glow to the screen so that you can read it in a low light area. (Or a bright light area apparently.) I've seen quite a few times lately where that would have come in handy.
   So I have pressed the magic button and told Amazon that I want a shiny new Kindle. Should have it sometime this week. I'll let you know what I think.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Happy Birthday John Wayne!

 I was just reminded that today is John Wayne's birthday. Still one of my heroes. Happy Birthday Duke!

Who You Gonna Call?


   Supernatural menace got you down? Call Howard and Bob!

   (Just another morning sketch. A very Kirby-esque REH and HPL) Web-Comic anyone?

Hanging with Druss

 A few years back, I was having dinner with some friends and they had brought along a visitor from the UK. The topic turned to books and when I mentioned that I read a good bit of fantasy fiction, the Brit turned to me and said, "Have you ever heard of David Gemmell?"
   "I'm a huge Gemmell fan," I said.
   The Brit laughed and said, "Oh I bet you like Druss the legend."
   "Why would you say that," I said.
   "Because,' he said. "You're like him."

   I took that as a compliment. Last night I was doing a partial re-read of David Gemmell's book, The Swords of Night and Day. Partial re-read means I skip the chapters that don't have the main characters in them. I've read the book like five times. I'm just here to hang with Druss. Of course this book doesn't have a lot of the real Druss in it. It takes place a thousand years after Druss died, but his body has been cloned by science and sorcery. The clone isn't Druss, but rather a young man named Harad who shares a lot of Druss's personality traits. However, late in the book, the spirit of Druss returns from the void to possess Harad's body for a while. It's complicated.
   There are characters who I never get tired of. Tarzan and Conan obviously. Fafhrd and the Mouser. Doc Savage. There are guys I like to hang out with, even if I just read bits and pieces of their adventures. Druss was a fairly late addition to the gang. I discovered him in 1999 in the book 'The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend.'
   What is it I like about Druss? Well, he's a big burly guy who doesn't take crap off of anyone, kind of like Conan. Druss is older than Conan in the book Legend. He's gray haired and grizzled but still kicking ass and taking names. Druss is a nicer guy than the big Cimmerian too. Druss lives by a code, taught to him by another warrior.

“Never violate a woman, nor harm a child. Do not lie, cheat or steal. These things are for lesser men. Protect the weak against the evil strong. And never allow thoughts of gain to lead you into the pursuit of evil."

   Druss pays a high price sometimes by sticking to the letter of his code. But he still keeps getting up and going on. I've heard some critics rail against Gemmell, saying that his stories are repetitive and his characters simplistic. But I think they're missing the point. Gemmell's message was simple, not simplistic. Try and do the right thing, even though it will probably cost you. And sometimes you'll fail. That's part of being human.
   Druss's biggest failing is his short temper, which gets him into all kinds of trouble.
   Another thing I like about Gemmell is the directness of his plots. At one point he named his biggest influences as Akira Kurosawa, Louis L'amour, J.R.R. Tolkien. and Stan Lee. Hard to dislike a guy like that.
   It seems odd to me that seven year's after Gemmell's far too early death (he was 57) no other writer has stepped in to try and fill the gap left by his passing. I think there's still a place for the hard hitting, violent, sort of fantasy that Gemmell excelled at. My local Barnes & Noble still stocks all of his books, so somebody's reading him. May be time for me and some of my sword and sorcery brothers to step up to the plate.
   Anyway, I do live by a code, though mine isn't written down anywhere. My friend Beth finds this endearing, I think. What can I say? I'm an old fashioned guy. As the years pass I'm starting to look more like Druss. Maybe I should grow a beard...
  

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Moving On

   I was talking to my friend Chris the other night, about culling books and about how hard it was sometimes to let certain books go, even though I would likely never read them again, and if I wanted to, they weren't hard to replace in this age of Amazon and e-books. I guess I always feel that I'm in some way betraying an earlier version of myself. As if I'm saying that the stuff that was once so important to that long ago me doesn't matter anymore.
   When I moved nine years ago I got rid of a lot of books. And in the time that I've been in my new place, there are many books that I brought along that have remained untouched. Most are on subjects that no longer interest me. I have let some of the things go. I got rid of twenty or so books on Jack the Ripper a couple of years back. Ditto a big bunch of forensics and true crime books. I just don't study that sort of thing these days and I'm not writing that kind of stories much anymore. Not only that, but forensic science has advanced so much in the past decade that most of those books weren't of much use anymore.
   Today I've been culling and packing books again for donating to the Friends of the Library sale. Some fiction, some non-fiction. And again I have that slightly melancholy feeling of letting some past version of myself down. But I'm not that guy anymore. No point in hanging on to his stuff.

Pickman's Other Model

   A comment from my pal Paul reminded me that there had once been an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's story Pickman's Model on the 1970s TV series Night Gallery. I couldn't recall ever seeing the episode, but as luck would have it, it was available free on HULU. So I bumped over and watched the show while I ate breakfast this morning.
   As adaptations go, it's not very true to the source material. Other than having an artist named Pickman who paints monsters from life, it doesn't have much to do with Lovecraft's original story.
   That said, it IS a very Lovecraftian story, with references to elder races and the hideous habits of ghoulish creatures who dwell in nighted tunnels beneath our very feet. And I think Lovecraft might have liked the depiction of Pickman's studio, crowded with macabre paintings of ghouls going about their unspeakable acts.
   While digging around I found an article from TV Guide which showed the making of the monster in Pickman's model, which I have posted above. And, should you wish to watch the Night Gallery version of Pickman's Model, here's the link to HULU:

http://www.hulu.com/#!watch/58795

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Model for Pickman's Model?

   I was looking through some art books, and I came across a painting by Francisco Goya (Saturn Devouring His Son) that struck a cord of memory. Something that H.P. Lovecraft had written in his story Pickman's Model about a ghoul crunching on a human body like a stick of Candy. So I dug out Pickman's Model and gave it a reread, and sure enough, not only was the line there that I remembered, but the story even mentions Goya by name. Here's the line:

   "It was a colossal and nameless blasphemy with glaring red eyes, and it held in its bony claws a thing that had been a man, gnawing at the head as a child nibbles at a stick of candy. It's position was kind of a crouch, and as one looked one felt that at any moment it might drop its present prey and seek a juicer morsel."

    I'd say that's a pretty good description of this painting. (Though he appears to have consumed the head and moved on to the arm.) So what do you think? The model for Pickman's model?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Prince of Midnight at audible .com

   If you've been a reader of this blog for a while, you've heard me talk about my friend Laura, but you may not know that she's Laura Kinsale, a New York Times bestselling author of historical romances, and let me tell you, the lady can write. She's a master of characterization and she's been kind enough over the years to hammer the importance of good characters into my thick skull.
   Anyway, she's been working hard over the past few months on creating high quality audio versions of some of her books. I've heard samples of her novel The Prince of Midnight read by actor Nicholas Boulton, and I was amazed at his talent. Back in the day, when I had a long commute to work, I listened to a LOT of audio books, and Boulton is one of the best readers I've ever heard. His ability to switch voices from character to character borders on the scary.
   Anyway, if you or anyone you know enjoys audio books, zip over to audible (I'll provide a link) and give this one a try. Even if like me, you're not a regular reader of historical romances, trust me, Laura Kinsale is in a class of her own, and so is the performance by Nicholas Boulton.

http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=newreleas_c2_8_t?asin=B00CWI6IEK

Message For a Friend

“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”

E.B. White


I'm just sayin.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Writing Report

   After finishing off the Carnacki story, with the able assistance of beta readers Cliff Biggers and James A. Moore, (Thanks guys!) I turned my attention back to the Full Lovecraft (Because you NEVER go FULL Lovecraft). Though I usually don't do much editing or re-writing until I finish a story, I could tell this one had gone off the rails, so I backtracked to where it had gone wrong, and removed about 4000 words. Then I wrote a new 1300 word chapter to repair the cracks and got the story back on track. I think.
   James A. Moore and I are kicking around ideas for another project for after we write the third Griffin and Price novel. We actually have several collaborations we want to do, but this one sounds like a lot of fun. More on that later. Somewhere in there I need to get back to my Weird Western.
   I have a five day weekend coming up for Memorial Day, so hopefully I'll get a lot of writing done this week.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

How They Met Themselves

   Spent the morning working on the edits for my Carnacki the Ghost Finder story. The basic premise was inspired by a pen and ink drawing by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti, called How They Met Themselves, which shows a young couple meeting glowing duplicates of themselves in a dark forest. Rossetti was apparently fascinated by the idea of doppelgangers. The concept appears in his poetry and in his paintings and drawings. However he never gave any real explanation of just what's going on in this drawing, referring to it simply as the "bogie" drawing.
    Some have suggested that he may have been inspired by the work of Percy Bysshe Shelley, who claimed to have seen his own double more than once.
   In any case, I've long been fascinated by the drawing and always thought it would make a good basis for a story. I had tried to use it as a starting point for a sword & sorcery yarn, but it never quite worked out, so when the chance came to write a Carnacki story I decided to try it as a ghost story. Hopefully it works.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Mama

My friend Jim recommended the horror film Mama, and by recommended I mean that he brought me his copy and said "You should watch this." Jim loves horror movies and he knows that I like ones that are creepy and disturbing so he figured this would be right up my alley. He was right.
    The basic premise of Mama is that a man loses it, kills his wife, kidnaps his two daughters, but then wrecks his car and he and the girls have to take refuge in a cabin in the woods. Soon after the man dies and the girls are left to fend for themselves. Impossibly the girls are found alive five years later. The older girl has some memory of her previous life, but the younger one is mostly feral.
   When asked how they survived on their own, the girls refer to someone called 'Mama' who took care of them. Their psychologist thinks Mama is an imaginary friend. She's not. When the girls are sent to live with their uncle and his girlfriend, Mama comes looking for them.
   One of my favorite horror movies is 1980's The Changeling with George C. Scott. I like it because it's a ghost story with a mystery at its heart. Mama is similar in that it features a secret that must be unraveled among all the ghostly goings on.
   The movie has a high creep factor most of the way through. In fact, my only problem with it is the end, where Mama is seen much too clearly. She's really disturbing through most of the movie because you never get a good look at her. When she's fully revealed in her special effects glory, she looses some of her power to scare. The best horror films never let you really see the monster, I think. Nothing can be as scary as what you were imagining. Then again, sometimes you have to see the monster for the sake of the plot.
   All and all though, Mama is a real chiller. It was based on a three minute short film which was in some ways scarier than the 2 hour movie. In fact, had I been the writer charged with taking that short and expanding it, I'd have gone in a very different direction. But that's just me.

 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Writing Report

   Just typed 'The End' on a 5000 word Carnacki the Ghost Finder short story for possible inclusion in an anthology of new Carnacki shorts which was brought to my attention by my friend Paul McNamee. Not sure if it was what they were looking for, as I didn't write it in William Hope Hodgson's style exactly, but overall I'm happy with it. Deadline was Monday the 20th, so I finished in time to let it sit a couple of days before editing.
   I'll have more to say about the plot and all later, but I've been typing all evening, so that's all for now.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Free Hawthorne Short Story at Big Adios

   You guys know what a fan of Heath Lowrance's Hawthorne Western stories I am. Well Heath has a short, free Hawthorne tale up over at The Big Adios. It's a bit of an experiment, all narrative with no dialogue, and I think it works well. Short, brutal, and pure Hawthorne. Check it out here:

http://www.thebigadios.com/2013/05/the-unholy-or-how-the-gowan-gang-died-a-hawthorne-tale-by-heath-lowrance.html

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Get Draculas For Free

   I don't usually recommend books before I finish them and if this one turns out bad, then I apologize in advance, but I am really enjoying DRACULAS by Blake Crouch, Jack Kilborn, Jeff Strand, and F. Paul Wilson and I wanted to mention to folks that it's currently free on Amazon for the Kindle. I will warn you that this isn't a story for the squeamish. It's a gruesome, gory vampire yarn that grabs you by the throat within the first 10 pages. We know how I love a fast paced tale. So if you've got a strong stomach and don't mind some genuinely scary vampires, then swing over to Amazon and get a copy of DRACULAS.

EDIT: Okay I have finished reading DRACULAS and it seriously rocks. The action never flags and there are good characters, dark humor, and some really messed up scenes. Highly recommended.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0042AMD2M

Friday, May 10, 2013

Concerning Brown Jenkin

   While reading various tributes to Ray Harryhausen, who passed away this week, I came across the blog of animator Richard Svennson. I looked up Richard's work on youtube and found that he had done a very creepy animated short about Brown Jenkin, the rat-like familiar from H.P. Lovecraft's story The Dreams in the Witch House. Check it out here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81RJGtPJcmU

And for a behind the scenes look at the construction of the creepy critter, go to this post on Richard's blog.

http://loneanimator.blogspot.com/2009/05/brown-jenkin-comes-alive.html

   Somebody needs to crowd fund a Lovecraft film and get Richard to animate for it.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Vampires, She-Devils, and Holmes. Oh My!


   As we know, I am a sucker for a crossover. Thus I had watched the various issues of Dynamite's Prophecy slide by, thinking perhaps I'd pick up the inevitable trade when the cross company crossover mini-series completed. So last night I took the plunge.
   I enjoyed the story quite a bit. You'll see why in a moment, I think. It begins with Sherlock Holmes looking in to a mysterious death at the British Museum. Well heck, I mean it's Holmes, so that's a plus right there. Then it leaps to the scene of a Mayan human sacrifice ritual being performed by Kulan Gath. Gath is, of course the creation of Michael Moorcock, James Cawthorn, and Roy Thomas and first appeared in the legendary Conan/Elric crossover back in Marvel's Conan the Barbarian issues 14 and 15. Gath went on to fight Red Sonja, Spiderman, The X-Men, and lord knows who else.
   And who should show up to battle Gath in the Mayan city, but Red Sonja. A double sword & sorcery connection. How did Sonja and Gath end up in America in 632 A.D. ? That would be telling. Violence ensues and we learn that Gath is planning to use the power created by the Mayan's predicted end of the world to remake reality in his own image. Sonja tries to stop him but he escapes into the time stream. She follows and runs into Dracula and Vampirella. Well of course she does.
   But wait! Then Herbert West shows up with his copy of the Necronomicon. Yes, two creations of H.P. Lovecraft get into the action. Okay let's review.

Sherlock Holmes
Kulan Gath
Red Sonja
Vampirella
Herbert West
The Necronomicon.

   Yeah it's just nuts. And there are other surprise guest stars as well. I'll leave you to discover them on your own. I had a lot of fun with this crossover. Writer Ron Marz doesn't take events too seriously and the whole thing is a big sword & sorcery, Cthulhu Mythos, Vampire, Sherlockian romp through time with plenty of action. Artist Walter Geovani does a nice job depicting the wide variety of characters, backgrounds, and situations, though I didn't care for his version of Dr. Watson. That's a small quibble though. All and all this is what comics should be. Good art, a well told story, and lots of fun. (And yes, I will one day get around to explaining how Kulan Gath was created by Moorcock, Cawthorn, and Thomas. It's complicated but interesting.)

To Buy of Not to Buy

   Last night at dinner, Cliff, Jim and I were discussing the collector mentality and the drive to keep buying something just because you've always bought it or because you have a complete set. I mentioned that I was trying to cut back on some of that because, frankly, I'm just running out of room to put things. I swore, after the big clear-out when I moved a few years back, that I would never allow my collection to get so out of hand again.
   I've done better about it in the last few years. For instance when I decided Brian Wood wasn't the right writer for Conan, I bailed on the comic, even though up until that point, my collection of Dark Horse's Conan was complete.
   It may again be time to put my money where my mouth is, or rather to stop giving Dark Horse money for something I don't like. That would be the King Conan trade collections. I was thumbing through the new trade last night when I got home and it's terrible. In fact, for the last two volumes the stories have been really bad and the art worse. Were this a current comic book I wouldn't be buying it. And there are still a minimum of four volumes to go. The collector in me, who is saying "But...but I have them all!" is struggling with the logical guy who's saying "You'll never look at this again. Stop wasting money and space."
   There's little point in me dropping the other Marvel Conan  reprint, the Conan Chronicles, (though no promises) because there's still some decent art, but King Conan is on the chopping block.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

In the Stacks

   My mom tells me that there is now a copy of Blind Shadows in the library system in the county where I grew up. This means a lot to me, as I certainly made use of that library when I was a kid. The building is different, but it's the same library where I checked out books by everyone from Dr. Seuss to John D. MacDonald. Can't tell you how many hours I spent in the library when I was growing up. And now, my novel sits on the shelf there, where someone could come along and check it out. Though I live in a different county now, I may have to drive up there just to see my book on the library shelf.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Goodbye Ray Harryhausen

   Just learned of the passing of Ray Harryhausen, a man who was a huge part of my childhood. I can remember being fascinated as a small child seeing movies like The Mysterious Island, The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, and the Valley of Gwangi, and not knowing how the incredible monsters striding across the stage could possibly have been filmed. I mean, I KNEW they weren't men in suits.
   And the thing is, when I heard of stop motion animation and learned how the process was done, it didn't lessen the magic one bit, because I realized what time and effort would have to go into the creation of these cinematic wonders and that just made things more amazing. I quickly learned that the man behind these films was Ray Harryhausen.
   When I was a little older and caught up in the newly discovered wonders of sword & sorcery, Harryhausen's films were probably the closest thing I could find to a S&S film. In fact my favorite Harryhausen movie, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, is very much a sword & sorcery movie, with its sorcerer villain, it's monsters, its swordfights, and actress Caroline Munroe looking like a Frazetta heroine come to life. I remember seeing that one in the theater with my dad.
   Over the years I managed to see all of Harryhausen's movies, including the black & white monster films and the later, more science fiction and fantasy oriented movies. I own the majority on DVD and often pull them out for a rewatch. As I said, Golden Voyage is my favorite, but there's a warm spot in my heart for Jason and the Argonauts, with what may be Ray's masterpiece scene, the fight between the Argonauts and the skeletons.
   And now the man who made all that magic is gone. Harryhausen was a pioneer of special effects and you'll rarely see an interview with any effects man born in the last 40 years who doesn't list Ray as a major influence. We've lost one of the greats, folks. For a nice little tribute to Ray, go here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X--o7RByIDs

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Doctor Who and the Red Leech

   Okay, the actual title of this week's episode of Doctor Who is 'The Crimson Horror', but the Sherlockians among us know that this is really writer Mark Gatiss's take on one of the untold adventures of Sherlock Holmes.  In the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story 'The Golden Pince-Nez' Dr. Watson says:

   "As I turn over the pages I see my notes upon the repulsive story of the red leech and the terrible death of Crosby the Banker."

   Of course in The Crimson Horror, the repulsive red leech is an alien symbiote, but hey, this is Doctor Who. In many ways this particular episode seems to have been written for me personally.  Victorian England, a Sherlock Holmes reference, an overall Gothic atmosphere, a Steampunk rocket, martial arts. Hello?
   Not surprisingly I probably enjoyed this episode the most of any this season. I actually laughed out loud at a couple of lines from Strax, the Sontaran manservant, and the Doctor had some great lines as well.
   Gatiss knows his pop culture and I can't help but wonder if the overall plot premise was intentionally borrowed from the James Bond films 'The Spy Who Loved Me' and 'Moonraker', both of which involved a plan to create a race of genetically perfect humans and then wipe out all other life on Earth so that this super race could inhabit a new Eden.
   Oh and kudos to DW for casting Dame Diana Rigg as the villain, Mrs. Gillyflower. Rigg chewed the scenery with gusto, obviously enjoying her role. Rigg's real-life daughter Rachel Sterling, played Gillyflower's daughter with a tragic humanity that gave the episode some heart amidst all the frantic dashing about.
   And boy, that Jenna Louise Coleman looks cute in her Victorian costumes. All and all, a terrific episode that will bear repeated viewings.
   Next up, Neil Gaiman's Cyberman episode.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Conan and Grimjack

   Today's mail brought the latest Conan team-up commisson for my collection and this one is double extra special because the artist, Timothy Truman, not only writes and occasionally draws Conan for Dark Horse Comics, but he is, of course, the original artist and co-creator of Grimjack. Doesn't get much  better then this, kids.
   When I saw that Timothy had also included Bob the watch lizard, one of my favorite characters from Grimjack, it just made my day. That's one of the great things about getting commissions like this. You never know exactly what the artist is going to do.
   Anyway, it's a fantastic drawing, and the scan doesn't really capture the subtle gray tones, which look even better in real life.

P.S. I would kill for this mini-series.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

George Ziel

   Thanks to Barrymore Tebbs for pointing out that two of the paintings featured in my recent post about Gothic Romance covers were by artist George Ziel. I'd actually seen Ziel's work before over at my friend Sara's blog 'My Love-Haunted Heart', but didn't recognize his style. Once I went to Lynn Monroe Books webpage and checked out the section devoted to Ziel I recalled the stunningly creepy painting I'd seen there before and which I've attached to this post. According to Munroe this was the cover painting for a Gothic called Step in the Dark. Not sure what those pale figures in the background are, but I think that girl should be trying a little harder to escape. Forget running away from the house. Run away from those zombie guys.
   For a bio and more samples of George Ziel's impressive work, go here:

http://lynn-munroe-books.com/list62/GEORGE_ZIEL2.htm