Monday, December 31, 2012

A Busy Year

As I type this, we're in the last hour of 2012 and I'm looking back at the work I've had published in the past year. It's been a productive year and I'm pretty happy with what I've managed to get done. Here's a recap of the books containing my work that became available over the past 12 months.

The second Hound-Dog Harker story, "Hyde and Seek" appeared in DR. WATSON'S AMERICAN ADVENTURE (Airship 27 Productions)

My first young adult story, "A Kiss on the Threshold," was in PROM DATES TO DIE FOR (Buzz Books)

My vampire novel, "100,000 MIDNIGHTS" was released by Musa Publishing

The first volume of JUNGLE TALES (Airship 27 Productions) finally came out and included my story, "The Path of Life and Death."

My first published science fiction story, "One Last Shot at Glory" appeared in the anthology of military-themed science fiction BATTLESPACE.

I returned to writing the Black Bat in "Unholy Terror," in BLACK BAT MYSTERY Volume 2 (Airship 27 Productions)

I did my second young adult story of the year, "Spectral Media" in SOMETHING WICKED (Buzz Books)

And my hockey player turned detective, Lt. Marcel Picard, returned in "Lieutenant Picard and the Holy Grail" in PRO SE PRESENTS # 15 and received some truly awesome reviews!

It's been a great year for me and I'd like to thank all my editors and publishers, the writers who contributed work to the anthologies and magazines my work appeared in, everyone who wrote reviews of my work, and especially everyone who bought and read any of my stories!

Happy New Year to you all!!!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Break Time!

My first published story came out back in early 2009 in the Airship 27 Productions anthology SHERLOCK HOLMES CONSULTING DETECTIVE Volume 1. Since then, I've been on fire with the desire...or the keep writing. I think I've done pretty well so far, with 26 published stories out there. I've made it a point to write every single day during that time, usually doing 1,000 words a day and only not working if I was too sick to do anything at all (which rarely happens) or taking one, and only one, day off after finishing a big project like a novel. Of course, I've been working a day job too.

Lately, I'm tired. Between pumping out as much work as possible, working a lot of hours at the day job (which gets much busier around the holidays), I'm feeling burned out. My wife reminded me, the other day, that I'm not a robot!

The idea of not writing, even if it's only for a short time, has often made me feel guilty or lazy. After all, being a writer is not just what I do, it's a big part of who I am and  it makes me feel valid and useful and keeps me interacting with people since I have a tendency to become a bit of a hermit otherwise.

But, as I said, I'm tired. Looking at what I've done in just the past year makes me a little less guilty. In 2013, I'll have at least 2 novels coming out, maybe as many as 4 if certain things fall into place. I also have a handful of short stories coming out in various places over the next few months and 3 more that have been sent off and will hopefully be accepted. I don't think I have much to be guilty about!

So, I'm taking a little vacation from writing. Maybe a few weeks, maybe a month. I don't know how long yet. I just need to recharge, rest, let my enthusiasm and energy come back. I intend to reread some old favorite books, the ones that shaped my imagination to begin with. I plan to attack the pile of new books I've been meaning to get to. I'll still be jotting down notes and ideas. I never get writer's block. Stories are always forming in my mind. I can't stop that from happening and I wouldn't want to.

Those of you who run blogs to which I contribute, don't worry about that; you'll still be getting the work I'm scheduled to deliver. But I need to take a short rest from writing stories. A break will, hopefully, make the work I do when I get back even better than what I've done before.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Winter's Tale

I can't believe it's December already. This year has flown by. As winter approaches, I've been asked to participate in another blogging event presented by Buzz Books, publisher of the two Young Adult anthologies that included my work in 2012, Prom Dates to Die For and Something Wicked.

First, the details of the Buzz Books blog tour and what they're offering readers for the holidays. Then, at the end of today's blog, a free short story with a Science Fiction Christmas theme, written by me.

To celebrate the holiday reading season, Buzz Books invites you to come along for a Sleigh Read. Get any Buzz Book (paperback or ebook) and we’ll gift you or someone you choose an ebook from our list (of equal or lesser value). Send your receipt of purchase to buzzbooksusa (at) me (dot) com and let us know which title you’d like gifted, the e-mail address to send it to, and nook or Kindle version.
Bloggers and authors will be featuring holiday posts and reviews from today through Dec. 31st. See the tour below and stop by those sites for a chance to win an ebook.
Thanks for celebrating stories with Buzz Books this year! We love our authors and readers.

Sleigh Read Tour Stops:
F Nov. 23rd: Author Malena Lott |
M Nov. 26th: Mom in a Minivan
W Nov. 28th: Author Dani Stone |
Th Nov. 29th: Earthbound Books
Sa Dec. 1st: Author Peggy Chambers |
Tu Dec. 4th: Fiction State of Mind
W Dec. 5th: Blogger Julie Barrett
T Dec. 6th: Author Heather Davis, TMI Mom
F Dec. 7th: Bookgasm guest post by Lucie Smoker
Su Dec. 9th: Author Aaron Smith – free holiday story
Th Dec. 13th: Author Jennifer McMurrain reviews Next Left
Fr Dec. 14th: Fantasy’s Ink guest post by Heather Dearly
W Dec. 19th: Chick Lit is Not Dead featuring Something New
Th Dec. 20th: Chick Lit is Not Dead featuring Next Left
F Dec. 21st: Chick Lit is Not Dead featuring Sleigh Ride

And the free, very short story:

                                                            By Aaron Smith                     

The scientists enter the Terran realm. There are many of them and they all coordinate at the same time in each cycle. For three-hundred and sixty-four trips around the local sun they have watched. On the three-hundred and sixty-fifth night, they enter the targeted space and begin their work. It is the small ones that interest them the most, for they prefer to study the Terrans in their purest forms, before the prejudices of age and experience wipe away the ability to think freely and imagine and perceive without assumption. 
            The point where it is easiest to open the wormhole is at the northernmost part of the planet. From there they emerge and divide the world into pre-assigned regions and the gathering of data begins, just as it has once every Earth-year for centuries. The portal opens and the mighty Quantum Steeds, animals specially bred for survival in the turbulent time-space jumps, carry their masters into the atmosphere.  
            The timing of the work to coincide with the Terrans’ observation of the celebration of their mythology has worked well, for it has been known to happen, on rare occasions, that one of the small test subjects wakes during the visitation and catches a glimpse of the scientist. One of the convenient aspects of the specific way in which the Terran mind works is that it interprets information in the way it most expects to be correct, often cancelling out the true nature of its perceptions.  The specimen’s momentary fright will soon turn to an expression of delight as it mistakes the intruder for a figure it longs to behold. The small ones sometimes tell their older counterparts of the sightings, but the adult Terrans dismiss the reports as imaginings.    
            The scientists travel quickly through the dark hours of the Terran cycle. Because time works differently on their kind and its technology, they cover more area than the native species of the world would be capable of. Their equipment is specifically designed for the mission. They clothe themselves in scarlet protective suits to withstand the things in the atmosphere that would otherwise poison them. Sensory tentacles protrude from the upper front region of the suits, pulling information into the portable data banks, recording both positive and negative readings about the behavior and personalities of those whose lives they analyze. The results are always double-checked.
            The scientists are not without the ability to appreciate irony and humor. Some among them are amused that what the Terrans usually imagine extraterrestrial intelligences to be like is so inaccurate, for the scientists are not green or gray and do not bear antennae.  Yet, at the same time, obese elderly males wear attire designed to imitate the protective suits and sensory tentacles and stand on the intersections of travel routes requesting currency to be dropped into metal receptacles to purchase nutrients for those without such resources.
            There are some among the scientists who wonder if their influence, unintentional of course, on the symbolism of the Terran society, has polluted the civilization they have worked so hard to study.                    

Sticks and Skates, Bullets and Brains

As most of you already know, I entered the world of writing via the genre known as New Pulp. I got my start writing previously established characters like the Black Bat, Sherlock Holmes, and Ki-Gor the Jungle Lord. I've also been lucky enough to work for several editors who have encouraged me to create my own pulp characters. There are three of my characters that have found prominent places in New Pulp publications. There's Quincy "Hound-Dog Harker," who began as a baby mentioned on the last page of Bram Stoker's novel Dracula, and who I now occasionally write in his adult version as an agent of the British Secret Service in the 1930s. There's the Red Veil, my pulp-era female vigilante.

But the character of mine who seems to have caught the most positive attention from New Pulp readers is my modern day detective, Lieutenant Marcel Picard, a professional hockey player turned police investigator. Last week marked the publication of the third Picard story, "Lieutenant Picard and the Holy Grail," which appears in the magazine Pro Se Presents #15. This book is now available on Amazon in a Kindle edition or a print edition. Here are the links, for those interested in buying a copy:

   For Kindle:

In print:

On today's blog, I thought I'd explain how Lt. Picard came into existence.
A few years ago, I was eating dinner in a local Italian restaurant. The tables were pretty close together and I couldn't help overhearing the conversation across from us. A man in his late twenties was with his girlfriend. He was wearing a New York Rangers jersey and discussing his decision to stop playing in an amateur hockey league. It seems there had been an incident in which another player's skate had come dangerously close to slicing his face. He sat there telling his companion that he no loonger felt the risk of injury was worth the fun of the game.
This got me thinking about a similar situation in which such a decision would have more drastic consequences than a man simply giving up a hobby. At that moment, the beginning of Picard occurred.

Marcel Picard was a highly succesful hockey star, a high-scoring forward for the New Jersey Devils. In his case, about a decade into his playing career, an opposing player's skate did strike him, leaving a scar down the right side of his face. Picard retired early and joined the Sheriff's Department in Passaic County New Jersey, deciding to do something with more meaning than playing a game for a living. His decision is based in part on an incident in his childhood in Canada in which he figured out the identity of a local murderer before the police could.

I chose Passaic County as Picard's area of operations for two reasons. First, I grew up in Passaic County and still live there. The cities and towns that appear in the Picard stories: Paterson, Wayne, Butler, Woodland Park, West Milford, etc. are places I've lived in, worked in, or visited over the course of my life. Second, it's a county with a lot of variety. Paterson is a big city, once thriving but now decaying. West Milford is about as rural as it gets in New Jersey. And there are towns of every sort in between.

A few people have asked me why I chose to have Picard be a former New Jersey Devils player since I've actually been  a New York Rangers fan my whole life. The simple answer is that I know too much about the Rangers and I think I'd be too tempted to add too much Ranger-centric trivia to my stories! The Devils are the other local team and I know enough about them to use them if I must but not enough to let my passion for them interfere with the flow of the stories.

So that's how Picard came into being. As for the actual stories, each one started in a different way. The first one, "The Day He Found the Clown," had the weirdest beginning, sparked by a chance moment of coincidence. I was trying to come up with a story for Picard's first case when I picked up the telephone directory, the first edition we got after moving into our then-new house. I opened it to a random page and was amazed to see listed, as if it was a real last and first name, "Giggles, Mister"
When I was a kid in elementary school, every Halloween all the students from the first through third grades would be herded into the auditorium and forced to sit through a performance by an annoying clown called Mister Giggles. I couldn't stand him, although the other kids seemed to like him.
And that set the story into motion. I took my own childhood memories, changed Mister Giggles to Mister Chuckles, and increased my annoyance at the clown to the story's villain's extreme hatred for the clown.
That first Picard story was published in the magazine Masked Gun Mystery #1.

In Masked Gun Mystery #2, the second Picard story appeared, "Clean-up in Aisle Six." This is a murder mystery set in a supermarket, something that was quite easy for me to write because I've spent many years working in that industry. That issue of Masked Gun was also very special to me because the cover (which represented a story by my friend Barry Reese) was drawn by artist Norm Breyfogle, who was illustrating Batman comics when I was growing up! That issue is available on Amazon at

So, as I said in the beginning of today's blog, the newst Picard story is now out and the response to it has been great! Three reviews have appared so far and all three have said some very, very good things about "Lieutenant Picard and the Holy Grail." Here's an excerpt from one of those reveiws:

 "Next up is another modern day mystery featuring ex-NHLer and full-time cop, Marcel Picard in LIEUTENANT PICARD AND THE HOLY GRAIL by Aaron Smith. This is not my first Picard mystery but it is by far the best and my favorite tale in the collection. The Stanley Cup has been stolen and it's up to Picard to get it back. No spoilers here, you'll have to read the tale yourself. The pace is great, the tone cerebral before the action really begins to heat up. The tale reads as if it's much longer and that's a good thing here as it covers a lot of ground in a relatively short space. Picard can play on my team any time. This one is a winner."

The other two reviews were just as good and I'm thrilled by the reaction to this story. There will be more Picard stories in the future. I have a good idea for the next one now and I'm hoping to collect them all in one volume at some point.

One of the great things about writing is how stories can be triggered at the most unexpected moments. If I hadn't gone to that restaurant on that night and sat at that table next to those people, Picard would not have been born and I'd have missed out on a great opportunity. 

To end today's blog, I'd like to thank Tommy Hancock, head editor of Pro Se Productions, for publishing the Picard stories and always encouraging me to work on the next one.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Little Taste of Midnight

As many of you already know, my latest novel, 100,000 Midnights was released in June by Musa Publishing. It's available as an e-book for Kindle or Nook or directly from the Musa site. I've had some very nice comments about the book, received a great review a few weeks ago, and I'm glad to report that people who have read it seem to have enjoyed it.

For those of you who haven't checked it out yet, I'm placing a short excerpt here today.

“You’re alone,” she said in a soft voice


She sat down without invitation, taking the opposite side of the booth. She smiled slightly as she sat. The waitress placed another glass of water on the table in front of my guest. She asked if I wanted more coffee, but my cup was still three quarters full and fairly warm.

I was startled by the situation I had found myself in, but knew I should speak.

“I’m Eric.”

“My name is Siobhan,” she said. The name was uncommon, but I had heard it before.

“Siobhan,” I repeated. “An old Irish name. It’s not heard much now, at least in the U.S.”

“Aye, ‘tis so,” she said with a smirk, faking an Irish accent. Perhaps she wasn’t faking it, but resurrecting it. No, that couldn’t be. She was certainly no older than me. How could she have had the time to grow an accent and then lose it for long enough for it to need to be resurrected?

“Are you from Ireland?” I asked.

“I was…once,” she said, “but I left there a very long time ago.”

“You speak older than you are…” I started to say, not sure if I was making sense.

“No,” she corrected me, “I’m older than I look. Much older.”

“How much older?”

“Before we get into that,” Siobhan said, smiling. “What is it that brought you here to this little place tonight, alone and so quiet here in this booth?”

“I come here when I want to feel the past,” I said.

“So,” Siobhan responded, her Irish accent put back in her pocket and her American one again at the forefront. “You like the past; you prefer it to the present year.”

I was amazed that she seemed to understand. She hadn’t tilted her head in a gesture to imply that I was weird, as most people would have done if I’d expressed myself like that.

“Do you think we’ve both found ourselves here coincidentally?” she asked.

“What else could it be?” I asked , unsure of where she was trying to lead me with her words.

She trembled a bit.

“Look to your left,” she said.

I did as she suggested, turning my head and glancing into the mirrors on the wall. I saw what I expected to see: my own face reflected back at me. The image seemed normal for about a second. Then it hit me. Siobhan’s face wasn’t there! Her hands weren’t there! I saw her clothing and it moved as if it was full of her body, but I could not see any of her! I turned back to her. She was there, looking just as she had looked before.

I reined in my shock and stared at her for a minute before I remembered how to speak. “What is this?” I said as clearly as I could. “A trick or a joke?”

Siobhan laid it all on the line. “It’s no trick, silly. I’m a vampire.”

If you've enjoyed the excerpt, if it makes you want to read more, the book can be purchased at the following links:

At the Musa site:

At Amazon:

At Barnes & Noble:

Those of you who have read the book, I hope you'll be happy to know that I recently finished the sequel.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

List and Let Die

Once again, we've come to the weekend of an event that's happened every few years for the past half-century and gets a lot of people very excited. It's time for the release of a new James Bond movie. I won't be seeing SKYFALL this weekend. I'll wait for the crowds to subside a little, but I'll see it soon. I hope it's better than the last one. QUANTUM OF SOLACE was a bland, murky mess, not at all what I want from a film about one of my favorite characters. But I'm glad to be able to say that QUANTUM was an exception to the rule. Almost all the other Bond movies are great fun to watch but they do, as with all long running series, vary widely in quality. With SKYFALL coming, various magazines and websites have been ranking the Bond movies from best to worst or worst to best, and I've yet to see a list that I agree completely with. So now it's my turn. I'm not going to tackle all 23 previous movies here. What I'm going to do instead is choose my 10 favorite Bond movies, starting with the best and going down the list. When you shake the mix (don't stir it!) these are the films that rise to the top:

001. GOLDFINGER (1964) Absolute perfection! This is Bond at his best. The series really hit its peak with this third movie. The series most colorful villain, Auric Goldfinger ("No, Mr Bond....I expect you to die!"), coolest henchman (Oddjob, with his razor-brimmed hat), best gadgetry (I want an ejector seat in my car), greatest theme song (Shirley Bassey can sing!). Every ingredient that made the Bond films so much fun is in top form in this one. The quality of the series has gone up and down many times in later years, but it may never get this good again.

002. FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963) Lotte Lenya and Robert Shaw absolutely shine as SPECTRE agents. The visual style of the film is stunning. Gypsy cat fights in Turkey, fights to the death on the Orient Express, our first partial glimpse of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, and the introduction of Desmond Llewellyn as Q. Nearly as perfect as GOLDFINGER, this one is a thrill from start to finish.

003. DR. NO (1962) What a way to start! From our first glimpse of Sean Connery as Bond, we know exactly what kind of a man he is. This film introduces all the elements of the formula that would keep this series going for a very long time. We not only meet James Bond, but Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny and Bernard Lee as M. Jack Lord is still my favorite actor to play Bond's CIA ally Felix Leiter. Joseph Wiseman does an excellent job playing our first Bond villian and Ursula Andress walking up onto that beach was the first in a long line of actresses who were as important to the films as whoever happened to be playing Bond each time.  

004. ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE (1969) How do you replace Sean Connery as Bond? You can't, not completely, for he defined the role. But George Lazenby, a man with little previous acting experience, did a damn good job filling 007's shoes. This is a magnificent movie from exciting start to tragic finish. The plot is one of the best, the locations picturesque, the supporting cast, including Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas all do an excellent job. One of the least mentioned Bond films (do most people even know who George Lazenby is?) is, in my opinion, one of the best. 

005. THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977) While Roger Moore played Bond seven times, only two of his movies make my top ten. It wasn't Moore's fault. He's a competent actor, but he was rarely given the chance to play the character Ian Fleming created. The series became more lighthearted in the 70s and gadgets and silliness became more frequent. But Moore's term of service as Bond had a few highlights and this is one of them. THE SPY WHO LOVED ME begins with one of the best opening sequences of the Bond franchise, a thrilling ski chase that ends not in a cliffhanger, but a cliff jumper, a literal skyfall! After that opening, we get Carly Simon's "Nobody Does it Better," which I think is one of the best Bond songs. The movie then proceeds to give us the breathtakingly beautiful Barbara Bach as Russian agent Triple X, Richard Kiel as Jaws, Curt Jurgens as the main villain Karl Stromberg, submarines, pyramids, and lot of action.

006. THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987) Timothy Dalton is my second favorite Bond actor. Only Connery was better. After the increasing silliness of the Moore era (and Moore getting far too old to play the part), having Dalton arrive and play a Bond who looked and acted as if he's just stepped out of the pages of Fleming's books was a breath of fresh air. He was perfect for the part and, being a big fan of the literary Bond, took the job very seriously. I really, really wish he had done more than just two movies. Of those two, THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS is the better of the two, following the formula of the others but renewing much of the seriousness that had been absent for most of the last decade. I also enjoyed Dalton's other appearance, in 1989's LICENSE TO KILL, but that one went a little too far in the direction of a standard revenge/action movie, making it a lesser Bond movie than THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS.

007. FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1981) After the over-the-top space age silliness of MOONRAKER, the producers of the Bond series did a very smart thing. They stripped things down and got back to basics. This movie minimized the gadgetry and had Roger Moore playing a down to earth Bond in a very enjoyable film. It also has one of those little moments that makes me wonder how Moore would have fared if all his Bond movies had been of the more serious sort. In that ruthless instant, Bond gives a little kick to a car as it dangles over a cliff.  

008. THUNDERBALL (1965) While not quite as good as the first three films in the series, this fourth Bond movie is still classic Connery-era stuff and should not be overlooked. It has all the exotic locations, SPECTRE villainy, and beautiful women that made those early movies so good. It also features one of my favorite battles of the Bond films, a stunning underwater fight scene with spear guns and sharks!

009. CASINO ROYALE (2006) Daniel Craig's debut as Bond rebooted the franchise, showing us a Bond new to his Double-O status and trying to prove himself to M. I have very mixed feelings about this one. On one hand, it gave the serious, gritty intensity back to Bond after a decade of Pierce Brosnan's very Roger Moorish movies. CASINO is a well made film, full of action, darker and more exciting than the handful of episodes that came before it. But I do have a few complaints. I didn't think it was really neccesary to reboot the franchise. In Fleming's novel, Bond was already an older, experienced agent when the events of this story happened. That made certain elements of the plot more effective, showing a hardened Bond who's vulnerabilities are suddenly exposed, rather than the rookie fumbling his way through things that Craig portrayed here. But this is overall a very good movie and a good start for Daniel Craig as Bond. So far, Craig is one-for-two. QUANTUM OF SOLACE was terrible. Hopefully, SKYFALL will make up for it.

010. NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (1983) At first glance, this movie has more flaws than good things. It's not part of the official Bond series, so there's no classic Bond theme song running throughout, no opening gun-barrel sequence, no familiar actors in the roles of M, Q, and Moneypenny, and the recycled plot is just a remake of THUNDERBALL. It shouldn't feel like a Bond movie without those elements in place...or should it? Looking at just those facts, one might expect this movie to stink, but something overrides all the weaknesses. Connery is back! Sean Connery's presence here, returning twelve years after his last appearance (in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER) makes it well worth watching. Despite the same plot, character names, etc as in THUNDERBALL, it's different just enough to make it seem fresh. Connery shines in the part again, playing it with more energy and wit than in his last two appearances in the official series. Klaus Maria Brandauer and Max Von Sydow are superb villains. Bernie Casey is one of the my favorite Felix Leiters. It's a fun movie, and it was great to be able to see the best of the Bond actors come back one more time.

So those are my ten favorites. That being said, I want to mention that I don't really dislike any of the Bond movies (except the aforementioned QUANTUM OF SOLACE). There's something to enjoy in all of them, and they're all fun to watch in one way or another. Apologies to Pierce Brosnan for not including any of his Bond films on my list. They're entertaining, but none of them really stand out enough to make my top ten.

I look forward to hearing what others think of my list. If anyone wants to debate my choices, feel free.
In a week or so, I'll see if SKYFALL is good enough to knock anything off this list!   

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Origin-al Sins

When readers first met James Bond, in Ian Fleming's novel Casino Royale, he was already an experienced agent of Her Majesty's Secret Service. When a wider audience first met him, when the first Bond movie, Dr. No, was released in 1962, they saw him for the first time, played by Sean Connery, at a card table, winning his game and seducing a beautiful woman at the same time. Within the first few scenes, we are made to understand that this is a man who knows what he's doing, is very good at doing it, and has been there and done that. But we are not told exactly where it is that he's been and what it is that he's done. And we don't need to be told. We don't need every moment of his life spelled out for us. Where Fleming takes his stories next and where Connery's acting leads us shows us all we need to know and there's no need to flash back and watch 007 take his first fumbling baby-steps into secret agent-dome.

Fleming trusted his readers, respected them enough to know when enough information is enough, knew they were capable of filling in the blanks as little or as much as their imagination would allow them to. Luckily, the producers of Dr. No and the other early Bond films were smart enough to follow Fleming's lead and introduce Bond as an already seasoned agent and set him loose to save the world without bothering to explain to us exactly how he got what Liam Neeson's Brian Mills character would call his "very particular set of skills."
But then, more than forty years later, the James Bond franchise was rebooted and Casino Royale was finally adapted to film. By now, something had changed and the producers of the new films just couldn't resist the impulse to give us Baby Bond fumbling his way through his first mission as a Double-O agent trying to prove his worth to M. Overall, I thought Casino Royale was a good movie, but adding an origin to Bond's story was unnecessary and actually detracted from the appeal of the character, took away some of the aura of experience and ruthless confidence that made millions of readers and moviegoers over the last fifty years wish they were James Bond.

My point here is that sometimes less is more. Some, though not all, characters work better if they spring fully formed into words and images instead of us having to see exactly what events led to their being what they are when we first meet them. Something seems to have changed in recent years in movies, books, TV, and comics. There seems to be a plague of origins and backgrounds being added to characters and concepts that were once better for their lack of definite histories. It disturbs me that some of those in charge of the great properties in fiction no longer seem to be able to distinguish between which characters need everything to be spelled out and which are better when left mysterious to one degree or another.

I've been thinking of a few more examples.

When I was a kid and discovered the original Star Trek via reruns, I never bothered to question how Captain Kirk and his crew of Spock, McCoy, Scotty, and the rest wound up serving together aboard the Enterprise. It was self-explanatory.
These were military men and women, officers in Starfleet. Even as a child, having grandfathers who both served in our country's armed forces, I understood that assignments were handed out and those who served together on a base or a vessel often formed bonds of comradeship as they went through difficult experiences together. Kirk and company were thrown together by the powers-that-be at Starfleet and crew close as time went on until they had formed the deep loyalties and friendships that made them work so well together and often risk their lives for each other. I also did not need to know exactly how James T. Kirk had become captain of the Enterprise. It was obvious! He was commissioned as an officer, did his job very well, earned his promotions through his terms of service on various vessels, and rose through the ranks until given command of his own starship. There didn't have to be anything more to the story than that. I was more concerned with what happened to Kirk, Spock, and the others after they began their famous five-year mission than I was with how they had all come to be there in the first place. No explanations necessary!
But once again new hands took hold of the reins of a great fictional franchise and just had to go where no one was stupid enough to go before! The rebooted Star Trek movie, released in 2009, showed us a ridiculously plotted mess of a story in which one big giant crisis forces Kirk (who hasn't even graduated Starfleet academy at this point), Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Sulu, Uhura, and Chekhov together and ends with them becoming the new crew of the Enterprise with Kirk apparently being promote straight up the line to captain without having to climb the ladder from ensign to lieutenant to commander and so forth.
Not only is this origin story far less realistic than the simple unspoken assumption that the seven main Trek characters served together because they were given that assignment by their superiors due to normal military protocol, it also undermines the heroism of Kirk's character. The original version of James T. Kirk, although young for a starship captain, had clearly risen through the ranks of Starfleet over the course of years, earning the right to be responsible, on a daily basis, for the lives of his four-hundred crewmen. What we get with the new Kirk is a young man, barely more than a boy out of school, being handed that responsibilty based on his performance in one emergency situation. Should he have received a medal for what he did? Probably. But a promotion to captain of the Enterprise with no intermediate experience? Absolutely not. I wouldn't want my life in the hands of a captain who gained his position like that.
So, the new Star Trek takes a great early career that was hinted at occasionally in the original series and wipes it away in favor of a ridiculous origin story that throws seven characters together by fate and puts them in positions they have not yet come close to earning. 
That entire film was insulting to my intelligence and to the legacy of the Star Trek that came before it.

Another character that fits into this discussion is the Marvel Comics hero Wolverine. Originally created to fight the Incredible Hulk, Wolverine was first shown as an operative of the Canadian government and then recruited into the X-Men when the second generation of that mutant team of heroes was created to revive their series. The great appeal of Wolverine in those early years of his existence, and one of the things that made him the most popular Marvel character to come out of the 1970s, was the mystery that surrounded him. Very little was revealed about his past for a very long time. During their brilliant run on Uncanny X-Men, writer Chris Claremont and writer/artist John Byrne very skillfully dropped little hints about Wolverine's past. One example is this panel, from a late-70s issue of X-Men.
The reader is left with a big question. How did Wolverine come to know how to read Japanese? This could have launched a whole new story that explained exactly how this had happened, why he knew the language, and related his adventures in Japan in some previous time period. But Claremont and Byrne had the sense to know that planting a seed of mystery in a reader's mind can be a thousand times more effective than coming out and hitting them over the head with a fully detailed story. And there were other hints too. At a later point in the series, Wolverine revealed that his name was Logan. But was that his first name or his last name? Was it even his real name, or just another alias he had gone by at some point in his shadowy past? That also would not be made clear at any point in the near future. Wolverine was a fascinating character because of what we didn't know.
Of course, it couldn't last forever. The classic Claremont and Byrne era of X-Men ended and Wolverine has been in the hands of many writers since. Eventually, Marvel caved and forgot one of the best pieces of advice their legendary founder Stan Lee ever gave. "Never give the readers what they THINK they want."
But they did. Marvel went ahead and did a whole storyline about the past and the origins of Wolverine, sweeping away all the mystery and revealing events that pale in comparison to the ideas many readers formed in their imaginations when things were only subtly hinted at.
I, for one, no longer find the character nearly as appealing as I once did.  

There we have three fictional characters or concepts I've enjoyed for most of my life, who never, in my opinion, needed their pasts specifically spelled out, and who have now been made less appealing by the revelation of their origins. I find it disturbing that those responsible for delivering old characters to new audiences can't seem to recognize the appeal of leaving a little mystery there for us to relish. In a way, I find it insulting to my intelligence. I don't need or want everything explained to me! It takes away the relationship between the story and the part of the reader's imagination that fills in the blanks that, when skillfully left in by the writer, make the story stronger. I don't want to know the exact details of John Watson's war experiences before he returned to England and met Sherlock Holmes. I don't want to know everything Han Solo did before meeting Luke and Ben in the cantina. 

In my own writing, I always try to be careful how much I reveal about each character I create. Sometimes, we need to know everything. When I created my pulp heroine, the Red Veil, it was essential that the reader understand her childhood because it added a level of toughness to her personality that would later resurface when she faced tragic events as an adult and decided to act rather than sit and mourn as society of the time would have expected her to.
On the other hand, when writing about my character Hound-Dog Harker, I carefully chose which periods of his life would be detailed in my stories. His early childhood is prominently mentioned since he is the son of two characters from Bram Stoker's novel Dracula. But the primary focus of the stories is his later life, in the 1930s, when he works as an agent of the British government (he faces situations that are somewhat stranger than anything James Bond ever got himself into!). In those 30s stories, Harker is already a veteran agent and knows, more or less, depending on the weirdness of the case, what he's doing. I've also revealed that Harker fought in the First World War and I even stuck a cameo appearance by him into another story that takes place in that war, but I have no plans to do any stories detailing his war experiences. The fact that he was there, acted heroically enough to earn his nickname of Hound-Dog, and survived it, is enough. I'd rather concern myself with writing tales of what he does when he's the fully-functional operative he is in his prime.   

In my vampire novel, 100,000 Midnights, I left the background of one of the supporting characters, Phillip, vague and did not plan to tell the tale of how he became a vampire. In writing the sequel, which I'm almost done with now, I changed my mind and did reveal quite a lot about Phillip's past. Sometimes, changing one's mind about something like that is all right (especially if the original writer is the one doing it).
But when a character's aura of mystery (as in the case of Wolverine) is what actually helps to make him wildly popular, or when a concept has worked very, very well for decades (Star Trek and James Bond) without everything being revealed, maybe those writers currently entrusted with such characters need to think very hard about whether it's wise to rip away the old curtain and show us what's behind it. There is such a thing as knowing too much, and it can often do more harm than good.  

Monday, November 5, 2012

You can always Count on him!

I've always been fascinated by monsters. That much should be obvious, since I'm a writer of horror (among other genres). Today's post is about two monsters that played very important roles in the past seven days of my life. One of these monsters was real, and the other is fictional but very, very famous. The real one attacked millions of people, to different degrees in the past week. Her name was Hurricane Sandy. The other monster is...Dracula! This is the story of how the two of them met in a crossover in which I was the primary supporting character.

This post had to be at least partially concerned with Hurricane Sandy. After all, she defined the events in the lives of everyone I know here on the east coast. I was one of the luckier ones, being temporarily inconvenienced but suffering no injuries, losing no property.

Sandy struck last Monday and hit the area hard. I left work at seven in the evening, drove home when the storm was getting bad. The ride home was dangerous. The highway was a blanket of fallen branches, leaves everywhere, darkness as the power failures began. At one point, I made a turn on the road and found a large fallen tree blocking two-thirds of the highway. Luckily, I was able to get far enough to the left that I only had to smash through the top, thinner branches. I kept going, did no damage to my car. I made it home safely, but the power was already out and would remain out for the next five days, finally coming back at two on Saturday afternoon.  

So I got home Monday night and the wind was howling fiercely and the rain was coming down and the house was dark except for the flames of the candles. It had not yet grown cold inside since the heat hadn't had time to dissipate. What does one do on a night like that? Candlelight and books make perfect partners. In a situation like that, especially just before Halloween, the obvious choice was to visit an old favorite, so there I sat with Bram Stoker's Dracula.

I had read it many times before. The old count and I go way back. It's on the short list of candidates for my favorite book of all. I've seen many, many of the movies based on the character (although few come anywhere close to adapting the events that actually occur in the novel!). One of my favorite comic book series is Marvel's Tomb of Dracula, which ran in the 70s and was written mostly by Marv Wolfman and drawn by the amazing Gene Colan. I've even used Dracula and some of his supporting cast in my writing from time to time. And, of course, I'm the author of my own vampire novel, 100,000 Midnights. 

Before even sitting down with the book, I couldn't resist gesturing toward the window as the wind moaned and shrieked outside, and reciting one of the most famous lines from Dracula, "Listen to them, the children of the night! What music they make!"

If I had to choose a favorite villain from all of literature and/or film, Dracula would be the one, but my familiarity with the character can also make him a comforting presence, like visiting an old friend, and that's what a rereading of that wonderfully eerie book did as the brunt of the storm hit the region.  

We were without power for most of a week. That was uncomfortable at times. It's funny how your wish list gets smaller and more basic with each day. At first, I wanted all the conveniences back. That second day, I just wanted my computer on so I could write. By day three, just having any kind of TV or movie-watching apparatus would have been a gift. And by the end of the powerless stretch, five minutes of hot water would have been something no word short of "heavenly" could describe! Even "orgasmic" might not be much of an exaggeration. But I made it through, and I feel terrible for those who suffered real damage in the storm or who are still without power and heat as I write this.

The world around here has been quite surreal lately. The patches of darkness where power is still a dream, the highways emptier than usual and those who are out and about waiting in long lines for gasoline. We're just missing the zombies.

But, back to Dracula. He was there when the week began and he showed up again at its end. Saturday, the power came back, but not the internet. So I had no Netflix and there is very rarely anything on regular TV worth watching. I had to look through my DVDs to find  a movie to watch as I finally relaxed and got the week-long chill out of my body and mind. I found the 1931 adaptation of Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi, probably the most famous movie version of the vampire legend. Since Sandy had fouled up Halloween, I hadn't had the chance to watch anything for that night, so I thought Dracula would partially make up for it. But, truthfully, I wasn't sure if I'd make it through the whole film. I've just seen it so many time that it was almost too familiar, had lost any bite it may have once had. I feared I'd get bored or doze off. Then something amazing happened.

Normally, I'm against later additions to classic films. I dislike the updating of special effects and adding things that feel incongruous with the flow of the original versions of movies (yes, George Lucas, I'm looking at you!). But, as I sat there looking at the DVD case for Dracula (I own the version called Dracula: The Legacy Collection), I noticed an option to view the film with a newer musical score, composed by Philip Glass for the 1999 DVD release of the movie. I decided to take a chance, knowing I could just switch to the regular soundtrack if I changed my mind.
Wow! The different music added a fresh, eerie creepiness to an old favorite that made it feel like an entirely new movie. I'll still always love the film with its original score, but this was an amazing experience, chilling and dark. I guess this makes up for the storm preventing me from watching anything on Halloween. Anybody who loves old horror movies should check out the version with the Glass score. It made a film that had become familiar cinematic comfort food into something scary again. 
Soon after watching Dracula, my internet came back and all the modern conveniences I'm used to having were restored. That meant it was time to get back to work writing and editing. What am I working on right now? The sequel to 100,000 Midnights. From one vampire story to the next!
So that was my week. The hurricane put a lot of things on hold, and the most feared monster in fiction made the wait for normalcy quite a bit more bearable. Sometimes it's good to have the Undead on your side!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Mount Rushmore of the Mind

Mount Rushmore, as everyone probably knows, was carved to depict the faces of four of the United States' best known presidents. It's a beautiful monument to the history of the nation (I kind of wish I could bring one of those guys back now; I'm not too crazy about either of this year's candidates).

While I physically live in the United States, I spend a good portion of my time, being a writer, in the realms of my imagination. If there is an imagination's equivalent to the men who have guided the progress of a nation, it would have to be the various writers who have inspired and influenced the mind of the particular writer who is now doing the imagining. So, I got to thinking about this:

If I were to erect a Mount Rushmore to honor four, and only four, writers who have had the greatest influence on my imagination and writing career, who would they be? Not neccesarily my favorites, although some might be, but the ones who inspired me most profoundly or perhaps inspired many of those who also inspired me or were so dominant in influencing the genres within which I work that I cannot possibly deny them a place on the mind's monument.

So who would these four titans be? It's not an easy question to answer, but these are the four I would choose right now, after much careful consideration.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I've always been interested in mysteries and those characters who have an uncanny ability to solve them by seeing the truth that eludes the police and less observant bystanders. So, the first face on the monument must belong to the creator of my favorite fictional character of all, Sherlock Holmes. Not only did Doyle make a bigger mark on the detective genre than any other writer, his work led me to seek out the works of others, like Agatha Christie. Several years after the fact, I still can't believe I managed to have a Sherlock Holmes story be my first published work! 

Ian Fleming. If there's a genre I love almost as much as mysteries, it's the spy genre. My introduction to that sort of story (and I think this is true of many people of the last fifty years) came from the James Bond movies. I enjoy all those movies, from the best of the Connery entries to the silliest most gadget-laden of the Roger Moore years, and everything in between. But the best of the films can't compare to the novels that introduced the world to 007. Fleming's writing has a certain flair that's perfect for that kind of story. Bond is such an archetypal character that I think at least a little bit of him slips into almost all the heroic male characters I write about. In the past year, I've finally written my own spy novel, which definitely bears the influence of Fleming. 

Robert E. Howard. Anyone who writes any sort of fantasy or heroism-based adventure owes this man a great debt. Writing during the pulp era, the small amount of money he made from his work is nowhere near what he deserves for almost singlehandedly creating what has come to be known as the sword and sorcery genre. Not only did he create Conan, but he breathed life into at least three other equally interesting but lesser known pulp adventurers: Solomon kane (my personal favorite), Kull, and Bran Mak Morn. Howard also contributed to the mythos created by HP Lovecraft, wrote westerns, boxing stories, "spicy" pulps, and horror tales. Now here's the amazing (and sad) part: Robert E. Howard's immense and incalculably influential body of work was all accomplished by the age of 30, before he fell into a depression and committed suicide. What would he have done if he'd lived to be an old man? I can't even guess!  

H.P. Lovecraft. This is the weird one, but he must be on the mountain. With Doyle, Fleming, and Howard, their works, or works inspired by their writing, have been exerting an influence on my imagination since I was a child. With Lovecraft, things were a little different. I knew his name, but did not actually read any of his work until I was about thirty and already beginning to seriously pursue a writing career. But when I did sample Lovecraft's work, it was as if I shared some part of my mind with him. His way of writing, his imagery, his dreadful hinting at things out of the past or hidden in the deep places of the world or reaching for our minds from the spaces between spaces were familiar to me, as if they matched, or at least closely resembled things I had imagined in either my worst nightmares or most captivating, wonderful dreams since I was a child. There seems to be a similarity of imagination between me and Lovecraft. I don't know if I can explain it any better than that, but I feel at home in the weird worlds he created (or reported?) in his works. The general reaction to Lovecraft's work seems to be either "Yes! I know exactly what he's showing us," or "I don't get it. It's too thick, too different, too strange." I fall into the first camp. I get it. Sometimes it scares me how much I get it! But I wouldn't have it any other way. And now that I've read all his work, I feel his influence even more. 

That's my Mount Rushmore of writers. Which four would you carve into yours?

Monday, October 22, 2012

One Life is Not Enough

Yes, I know today's title sounds like a soap or a Bond movie, but it really does describe what I'm about to discuss.

On her latest blog entry, my friend Malena Lott (publisher of two of the anthologies that have included my stories), wrote about "The Dark Side of Being a Writer" You can find her blog here

In that entry, Malena talked about the negative sides of pursuing a career as a writer: the fact that our ways of thinking might seem abnormal to others, the frequency with which our work is rejected by publishers and editors (even the most successful writers don't sell everything they write), the loneliness of working in solitude, and the fact that most of us make more money at our day jobs that we do writing, yet we feel compelled to keep tapping away on our keyboards day after day and night after night looking for any little victory we can find. Malena really hit a bunch of nails right on the heads in that blog, noting many things that I think most writers feel at one time or another.

Reading that made me get back to thinking about a question I've been meaning to address on my own blog.

Why do we write? In a business where success is unlikely, the odds are against you, and competition, even for the jobs that pay little or nothing, is fierce, what makes us keep writing and writing and sending material out there and promoting our work day after day? Why not just stop, walk away, and do something easier?

It's not that simple. If you have the desire (or perhaps "need" is a better word for it) to write, you can't turn it off like a light switch. That would be like trying to turn off your dreams or your emotions or your need to eat. The need to create stories is part of me as much as my skin or hair or bones. For me, and maybe for many writers, one life is not enough. There's something in us that makes us want to experience not only our own lives, but what it's like to be someone else, or many other people, perhaps whole worlds worth of others.
In every story I've written, there's always one character or several characters, that seem more connected to me than others, as if I'm putting on a mask of that person's life for the time it takes to write part of the story, the whole story, or somewhere in between the part and the whole. But why? Why do writers have this impulse that leads us to become, for a moment or an hour or however long it takes, someone else in our minds?  

I've always had a strong imagination. Looking back on my life, I can see that. As a kid, even as early as three or four years old, I loved stories. I was fascinated by my grandfather's stories of his experiences in World War II (which I now realize were significantly cleaned up) and the bedtime stories my grandmother told me about Dracula and Jack the Ripper (yes, Jack the Ripper! They were gruesome too, although she left out the fact that his victims were prostitutes. I guess I was destined to grow up to be either a writer or a psychopath. Thanks, Grandma!). When I saw a movie or TV show when I was small, it never ended with the closing credits. My mind always kept the story going, coming up with ideas about what might happen to the characters next. When I was old enough to read, I rarely read a book or comic book without imaging further adventures for the heroes.

So my imagination was always there, always powerful, but when did storytelling become something I had to do, something I couldn't live without? As I look back at memories, I see the answer to that. Creativity can sometimes be a necessary response to pain. That's what made it happen.  

I may have developed my imagination early, but it really kicked into high gear when I got old enough to go to school. I had to use it then. It saved me. I was one of those kids who learns easily. I guess that happened because I treated school lessons like any other experience. I didn't see it as work; I just absorbed the information.  So, because I got my work done quickly, I tended to get bored in class. I needed something else to do. I tried to do what I thought was the right thing. I tried to help those who didn't work as quickly as I did. My heart was in the right place and I didn't realize I was breaking the social rules that people in groups tend to develop early in life without even realizing they're doing it. Boy, did that backfire on me! I found myself ostrasized, looked at like I was weird, alien, like there was something wrong with me. I didn't expect that. I was caught off guard. It hurt! (In a way, it hurts just to remember it now, thirty years later.) So what does a kid do in a situation like that? He has to defend himself. Well I couldn't go around punching people. For one thing, I was a scrawny little kid. And I hate violence; I wouldn't want to hurt anyone. So my imagination became my shield. I became someone else. I wasn't the strange one. They were! They were the aliens and I was Captain Kirk exploring their planet and trying to understand their strange customs and behavior. Or maybe I was James Bond infiltrating a lair of SPECTRE agents. They were the Empire and I was a young Jedi waiting for the right time to bring their evil plans crashing down on their heads!

That fantasy world in my head got me through a rather lonely childhood. Of course, it got better. I grew up, gained confidence, realized there really wasn't anything wrong with me at all. I am who I am and that's great. I don't blame those other kids either. They felt what they felt and maybe I did seem weird to them. Years have gone by and some of them are friends of mine now. It's all ancient history.

So that was how my imagination became such an important part of my life, and even after I no longer needed that shield, I couldn't turn it off, nor would I want to.

There's a part of me (and I see the same quality in some of my fellow writers too) that's very much like Peter Pan. I don't want to fully grow up, and I consider myself lucky that I never have! Sure, there's the adult me. I live in the twenty-first century and can look realisitcally at the world around me. I have a good life now and I'm happy about that. I have a house, the best wife any man could want (and she puts up with all my eccentricities!), some money, good friends. But even the best life has its limitiations. I am the age I am now and will only get older; I can't get younger again. There are parts of the world I'll never visit and interesting people I'll never get to meet. I'll never explore an alien planet or be an agent of Her Majesty's Secret Service.......or will I?

That, you see, is the great thing about it. While there are things I've never done and never can do in the body I inhabit in the world I "really" live in, the imagination I've relied on my whole life, and now get paid to use (how awesome is that?), has sent me on some journeys I wouldn't trade for anything. I've solved mysteries on the streets of Victorian London, killed vampires (and had sex with one!), chased Chinese crimelords through the streets of Chicago, found a way to stop a plague of zombies, flown airplanes over Europe in the first world war, saved a gymnasium full of teenagers from an alien invasion, exorcised a haunted Facebook account, saved an alien princess from cannabalistic scavengers, found the Nautilus right where Captain Nemo left it, and done a dozen other things I never could have done if I didn't have the kind of "abnormal" mind that some people accuse writers of having! They say the pen is mightier than the sword, but it can also take you where no airplane, automobile, spaceship, or submarine can go. And it gives you the ability to take others along too, as long as they're willing to accept the ride.

As Malena said in her blog entry, writing does have its dark side, and it's a profession that's not for everybody. But for people like me, the price of having to deal with that dark side is worth it. One life certainly is not enough. I want as many as I can get!      

Friday, October 19, 2012

Fathers of the Four Winds, Fill My Sails, Across the Sea of Years

Led Zeppelin. No other band in all the history of music has had such an effect on my life or inspired me more deeply. They literally changed my life.

When I was young, I was a late-bloomer when it came to appreciating music. I was aware of what was popular when I was growing up, but none of it really sang to me, hit me on a deep level, made me want to seek out more. I remember being at my first job and the radio we had on the table would usually be set to the new rock station (this was in the early 90s) and so our background noise was Nirvana and Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. Those are all fine bands and they have their place and I like them now, but they didn't hit me where it matters. I was kind of immune to the power of music.

Then, one evening when I was working alone (I was about 17 at the time), I changed the station, came across a classic rock channel. Something came out of that radio that sounded different, made me stop what I was doing and just listen. The drums were different, the whole arrangement sounded more unpredictable and interesting than what I was used to, and the voice doing the singing seemed to come from somewhere uninhibited, primal, and free, as if the singer was projecting not from his throat but from the core of his being and didn't care what anyone thought. This music was pure, and it had me hooked.
I learned that this was Led Zeppelin, and I had to hear more. That song, I now know, was "Fool in the Rain," but at the time I didn't know the title. But I had to find it. I went to the record store, looked through the Zeppelin tapes. The thing about Robert Plant's vocals is that until you're used to them, it can somethimes be hard to understand what he's saying. "Fool in the Rain" contains the line, "Light of the love that I've found," but all I could make out was "something-something-Love-something-something" So...I grabbed the cassette that had a song called "Whole Lotta Love" on it, thinking it might be the one. It wasn't, but what I had stumbled onto was something far more than I expected. That was LED ZEPPELIN II, one of the greatest albums in the history of rock.

That was it. Everything changed. Music became an important part of my life. With Zeppelin, I learned to appreciate the blues that had inspired them and also began to branch out into exploring other bands, other genres of music, and the whole world of sound that exists out there. But Zeppelin will always hold a special position in my heart for giving me the gift of music. I bought every one of their albums, and their concerts on VHS, and started exploring the solo albums of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. I even bought a guitar and learned to play it, with Jimmy Page as my primary inspiration. I played for a few years, never got terribly good, and eventually stopped, but it was a memorable experience and I'm glad I did it.

Of course, I never got to see Led Zeppelin in their prime, as drummer John Bonham died and the band broke up more than a decade before I found their music, but I have been lucky enough to see two of their members perform live. I went twice when Page and Plant toured together in the mid 90s, and later saw Jimmy Page when he temporarily joined the Black Crowes. That was an incredible night and the Crowes' drummer, Steve Gorman, did some things on Zeppelin songs that I didn't think anyone but the late John Bonham could do.

Flash forward to 2007: the three surviving members of Led Zeppelin, along with Jason Bonham, son of the original drummer, reunited for a full 2 hour concert at the Ahmet Ertegun Tribute in London. After hearing how well they performed at that show, I waited and waited for news of the concert coming out on CD or DVD or anything. Finally, just this week, five years after that reunion, a concert film called "Celebration Day" was shown in theatres for two days only in advance of next month's long-awaited DVD and CD release.
Of course I went! It was last night and it was magnificent.

Here is my review of the film:

What I saw last night was three old men becoming young again for two hours. While they are not, and cannot be, what they were in 1975, they performed far beyond what they should be capable of, considering how much time has gone by. I was impressed from start to finish, but especially from about the fourth song up until the very end of the concert.
The first three songs were good, but when "In My Time of Dying" began, everything really kicked in. Page's slide guitar was amazing, and Jason Bonham really started to impress me (that song is always a test of drumming ability as far as I'm concerned).
The first ever live performance of "For Your Life" blew me away and it suddenly seemed as if Robert Plant had forgotten that he was 60 years old. The power of his voice, at that age, is astounding.
"Trampled Underfoot" has never been one of my favorite Zep songs, but tonight it was. That was a masterful performance of the song and John Paul Jones really shined (as he did also on "No Quarter").
"Kashmir" which is one of my favorite Zeppelin songs, was perfect, and Plant's voice impressed me again, especially on that one long howl that he managed to pull off only slightly shorter than in the studio version of 37 years ago.
Considering how rare a Zeppelin show with all three surviving members is, I couldn't have asked for anything better. They played a total of 16 songs. Some were better than others, but none were disappointing. If this turns out to be their last time, what a way to end it!

As for my thoughts on the individuals:
Jason Bonham: Nobody can fill his father's shoes, and I'm glad he didn't go too far in trying to. He solidly backed up his three uncles and did as good a job as anyone could have asked of him. I have no complaints about him at all.
John Paul Jones:  I've come to appreciate him more over the years as I've learned more about the importance of bass and other instruments, and I've realized that he was the glue that held the band's sound together. He was great tonight on both bass and keyboards. And apparently he didn't get the memo about being old either. He looks about 20 years younger than he is.
Jimmy Page: His playing has not been affected by the years at all. His solos and riffs are right on the money. He might look like Yoda now, but he sounds like he did when he was thirty. Anyone who was seeing him for the first time might think he was struggling because of those faces he makes, but that's just how he plays and he's made the same experessions for the past 40 years. He was everything I hoped for and more.
Robert Plant: Wow! Before seeing this, I was a little worried about whether he could keep up with singing those old songs, as his voice has aged. He's adjusted how he uses it on his own recordings in recent years, but those songs of his are much different than the old Zep songs. No, he could not hit notes like he did in his 20s, but he knew exactly when he could gather that power and blast a hole in the walls, and he did! Other times, he used the texture his voice has gained with age and experience to make the songs effective in other ways. It didn't bother me that he shortened a line here or there to make it come out easier. It's like a pitcher who can't always throw a fastball learning a changeup to keep winning. But the old power was still there at a few pivotal moments and I could feel it shake the world like few singers have ever been able to.

When Plant sang the lyrics from Kashmir, "I am a traveler of both time and space, to be where I have been," my eyes filled with tears because I felt like those words were about him and about his bandmates, as they seemed to have reached through time and space and regained the power and ability they had when they were the greatest band in the world.
That concert is a testament to the power of music and how it makes the old young again and how true talent cannot completely dissipate with time.
And one final thing. It was reinforced in my mind yet again how unique Led Zeppelin's sound was. None of the songs they played sound dated. Almost all of them could pop up on the radio today and someone out there might think it was something new. They never followed trends, but always put a timeless quality in their songs that set them apart from almost all other acts. That was demonstrated by the audience in the theatre with me tonight. There were people in their 60s, children of 10, and every age in between. I was happy to be a part of that audience tonight. I normally hate when people clap and cheer in a movie theatre since, unlike a stage show, the people you're applauding can't hear you. But tonight, I clapped as loud as anybody. I couldn't help it.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The October Contest

October has always been my favorite month. Something about its arrival adds a spark to my mind, makes my imagination soar. I don't know exactly what the magic of October is, but I've felt that way for as long as I can remember. It could be the end of summer and the cooling of the air, or the sight of the leaves changing color, or maybe the way the night falls earlier and the days leading up to Halloween seem to put that slightly spooky, suspenseful aura in the air, that natural tingle that come somewhere between the end of summer's comfort and the beginning of winter's harsh bite (doesn't it make perfect sense that we, even with our modern conveniences, still celebrate our fear-based holiday at a point in the year when our long-ago ancestors were probably filled with dread and wondering if they would even manage to survive the coming cold season?). I suspect it's really a combination of all those things, but I do love October and all it represents in the life I live now and in my memories of childhood and in the imagination that keeps me dreaming and creating and writing.

Having said all that, the beginning of this October is even better as it coincides with the release of the anthology I mentioned here a few days ago, Something Wicked. This book, my second anthology with Buzz Books, might be the reason some of you are reading my blog today, since this post marks the sixth and final stop on the Something Wicked Blog Tour.

If the blog tour brought you here, welcome! I hope you'll find this post, the other posts here, and my work interesting enough to continue to follow my blog and my books in the future. For those of you who normally read my blog, here's the link to the official contest page that Buzz Books has put up for the release of Something Wicked.

Now, I'd like to share a short piece I wrote recently about what inspired me to write the story that appears in Something Wicked.
When asked to do a story for Buzz Books’ anthology Something Wicked, I had to come up with something worthy of a horror story, something frightening. Of course the old standards of horror crossed my mind: vampires, werewolves, zombies, ghosts, and the other usual suspects, but I wanted something different. I had done vampires recently in a novel and had also just finished a short werewolf story. I wanted something new, so I began to think about things in the real world that seem a little strange sometimes, that make me just a bit nervous, that could potentially find a place in a horror tale.         
            Social media won that contest and the story “Spectral Media” was born. “But what’s so scary about social media?” you might ask. Perhaps it’s not so frightening when not turned into what it is in my story, but it is, along with the other means of communication that have come to prominence in recent years, something that has changed the world more than most people might realize, and those changes are something I have very mixed feelings about.
            I suspect that some of the readers of Something Wicked will be too young to remember what it was like to live in a world where every home did not have access to the internet and everyone did not have a phone with them at all times. It was, in many ways, a very different world.
            On one hand, I love the leaps in technology that have been made over the past few years. It’s much harder to get lost, thanks to the GPS. And if we do get lost or have some other problem, there’s no need to look for spare change and find a pay phone. Email makes being a writer a lot easier and the internet makes research faster than ever before. Facebook and other social media systems have changed things too. I’ve reconnected to a lot of people from the various sections of my past. I now know that my second grade teacher is enjoying her retirement, and that the girl I went to the prom with has a wonderful life with her children, and I get to follow the successes of my fellow writers on a daily basis.
            But, at the same time, I can’t help thinking about some of the things that have been lost to the ever-easier means of communication and information gathering in the world. Yes, the GPS is a wonderful thing, but I worry that it takes away the ability to think about directions and figure out the best route without being guided there. Nobody memorizes phone numbers anymore; just add it to your contacts list and don’t worry about it. The convenience of the internet steals the thrill of having to seek out books from the library to gather information on whatever subject I need to learn about to complete my current writing project.
            And most of all, I can’t help noticing the way cell phones, texting, and Facebook have changed the way most people communicate and relate to each other. Nobody has to wait anymore, and I think that takes away some of the thrill of dealing with others.
            Nobody is ever completely out of communication range with anyone else anymore, and that’s not necessarily always a good thing. A friend of mine recently reentered the dating scene after his divorce. He met someone, they went out, had a good time, parted for the night with a kiss, and he drove home, basking in the glow of a date gone well, looking forward to the next time they saw each other, planning to call her the next day. But she started texting him an hour later, which he felt shattered the afterglow of the evening. They went out a few more times, had fun together, but the constant texting when they were physically apart started to become too much for him. The relationship didn’t last long.
            I remember being a teenager and what it was like to see a girl I liked and struggle for what felt like an eternity to get up the nerve to ask her out, to get her number or give her mine, and then wait for the phone call that might or might not come (or find the courage to call her only to find out she wasn’t home!). There had to be waiting, because we only had home phones then. People were sometimes out of reach of each other. Thought had to go into the timing of calling people. The waiting, as the Tom Petty song days, was the hardest part. That waiting no longer exists now. Anybody can be found at any time with a cell phone call, a text, or a Facebook message. The waiting for that call was a hard, sometimes painful thing…but it was a sweet suspense, because it made the moment when the phone did ring so much more precious. When you didn’t constantly talk via text, seeing each other in person was so much more important. Youth is meant to be full of emotional highs and lows and storms of the heart and the mind. Those difficulties are how we grow up, get stronger, and find out who we really are. I can’t help wondering if social media and our other ways of modern communication have altered that part of a person’s life into something that can never quite go back to the way it was. In gaining convenience, have we lost some valuable experiences? If that’s the case, there certainly is something frightening about the whole subject.
            I look at my own Facebook friends list, and I see people from every possible zone of my life: old teachers, relatives, childhood friends, adulthood friends, coworkers, writing colleagues, editors, a few celebrities, old lovers, people I worked in theatre with, people I used to hate but now like because time heals old conflicts, and many others too. Looking at that cast of characters, I can’t help wondering what they’d say about me if they all got together in a room in the real world and compared notes. That’s what “Spectral Media” is about.      

And now, to conclude this blog entry, I'd like to offer a Halloween treat to those who have come to this blog either after purchasing Something Wicked or who plan to purchase it soon.   
One week from today, I will write down the names of all those who leave comments here on this blog entry (so be sure to include your name!), fold up those little pieces of paper, and pick two names out of a fedora. Once those names are chosen, I'll post the names here with a choice of several of my previously published books, from which each winner can choose one book and have a free, signed copy sent to them once they send their address and  a scan or picture of their receipt from  ordering Something Wicked.  

Thanks to everyone who stopped by my blog today. Anyone interested can find most of my books at my Amazon Author page at