CONFESSIONS OF A COMIC BOOK GEEK

Two of a kind.

Two of a kind.

In 1959, when I was 11, I started collecting comic books. An older friend introduced me to the hobby and to the wonderful world of DC Comics — Batman, Superman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Superboy, Aquaman (that’s right, I read the infamous A-Man), Atomic Knights, Rip Hunter, Challengers of the Unknown, and on and on. It was a magical world filled with easily identifiable white hats and black hats. They were entertaining, exciting and, in 1959, comics were still ten cents, 10 for a dollar.

Collecting comics was my secret of all secrets. My mother hated it, my father ignored it and most of my friends had no idea. I stored each set of comics, (all my issues of Batman, for example) in a plastic bag originally holding hamburger buns. I kept them on the top shelf of my closet to keep them safe from my mother who was not above tossing out an errant comic lying on the floor. I kept her at bay by keeping my room neat as a pin.

Had it been known that I collected comics, my life would have been more miserable than it normally was. So not talking about it was the easiest way. As an example of how secret I kept it, when Jean and I married in 1967, I carried two large cardboard boxes of comics into our new apartment and stowed them on the closet’s top shelf. As it turned out, she became a huge Silver Surfer fan.

When, in 1962, writer Stan Lee and artists Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and a platoon of others began transitioning Marvel Comics from inane monster books to the now iconic Fantastic Four, Incredible Hulk, Spiderman, Iron Man, The Avengers, The X-Men and scores of other comics and characters, I was happier than a fox in a hen house.

Along the way, I enticed my younger friend Bob to start collecting and he had quite a nice assortment by the time he started college. Unfortunately, while he was at school, his younger brother destroyed his collection. It was a sad and bitter time.

I continued to collect, luring my sons into the hobby. Then in December 1995, I quit. At the time I was buying my monthly titles from a comic shop in Aurora run by Joel, a young man I had known for several years. When I went in that last month, he told me he was closing. In an attempt to take-over the market, Marvel had become its own highly inept distributor. My friend’s monthly orders had been so fouled up, he lost much of his clientele. I haven’t seen Joel since then and in fact, of the 11 different comic shops I routinely patronized, only one survives today and it’s not a friendly environment.

The plethora of movies and TV shows that Marvel and Warner Brothers, owner of DC Comics, are putting out is damned exciting for an old geek like me. (I differentiate myself from the so-called Fan Boy crowd that is filled with whiny twerps epitomized by The Simpson’s Comic Book Guy, shown above.) I miss collecting on the one hand, but on the other hand, I look back with fondness on the time I spent with my fellow collectors here in Denver. While we’ve all gone our separate ways, there for a few years we talked a lot of geek-speak while guzzling a goodly amount of beer and sharing more than a few laughs.

POPCORN HORROR

DracEvery month I have lunch with a small group of writers. We sit in nice easy chairs and a couch eating burgers or salmon or stew and talk about all manner things from current events and politics to memories of our past to our latest writing projects. Two of my friends remember the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor and how bad it was in the days before the Polio and other vaccines became available.

Of course, we talk a lot about writing, from the specifics of particular projects to the abstract conversations about what we write and why we write it. At the latest lunch, we were discussing projects and I mentioned that as a writer of “popcorn horror,” I was working on a novelette set in Denver in 1925.

My popcorn horror descriptor drew a laugh, but I was serious. I’ve been writing fiction for 35 years (more actually when I count my unsuccessful “trunk novels”) and I’ve taken a pragmatic look at myself and my work. I’m not striving to write the Great American Novel, whatever that pipe dream is; I write stories that are scary (I hope) and fun. They’re not to everyone’s taste. I know people who hate the very idea of horror fiction. Many years ago at an outdoor reception, a young man Jackaxeintroduced me to his mother, telling her that I was the school’s PR guy and a “horror writer.” Instantly the latter comment opened an acerbic and, as I recall, loud can of worms. “How could I write about horror when the world is such an awful place?” I wish I could say my response was rapier keen, but, alas, it wasn’t. I simply responded with some insipid comment and walked away.

Everyone has issues and I’ve discovered that horror fiction — even my kind of popcorn horror — can ignite incendiary and spiteful responses when I tread on someone’s issue or gore their pet bull. I can say in all honesty, those childish, over-the-top reactions amuse me and make writing all the more fun.

And that’s the crux of my thesis on popcorn horror. It’s fun to write. Sometimes, when I’m on a roll or just lucky, I scare myself. Believe me, if a horror writer can scare himself or herself, s/he can scare the hell out of the reader. It’s nice to make their skin crawl, but if I can make my readers experience a bit of incontinence while reading late at night, all the better.

RESEARCH, THE BACKBONE OF WRITING

cryptFiction may be the “liar’s art,” but research is critical to making any liar’s story believable. Currently I’m writing a thriller set in 1925 Denver. I’ve consulted 15 or 16 books on the 20s in general and Denver in the 20s in particular to help me create a realistic atmosphere for my fantastic tale.

My  antagonist was a real person in 1880s France, a truly vile human being who committed unspeakable acts. Well, maybe not unspeakable since I speak of them in my book, but certainly despicable. Naturally, I embellished his history, or the end of it to be more accurate, giving his repugnant activities an ironic twist.

It’s not just the big things that I like to research. For example, I have house plans for my protagonist’s home. I have a photograph of her car, her furniture, her neighborhood. I have a map from Denver in the 1920s and I spent time at Fairmont Cemetery photographing tombstones and crypts to assist me when I writing the (inevitable) cemetery scenes. I downloaded a history of a military unit from Colorado that fought in World War I and a coroner’s inquest from the 1920s in order to capture its essence. I’ve visited the Greek Theater at Civic Center in downtown Denver and I’ve driven the streets in Capitol Heights (now called Congress Park) just east of Capitol Hill. I met with the president of the Denver Police Museum who provided me the kind of information I might never find in a book or old newspaper.

I know many people find this kind of research maddening, infuriating or just mind-numbingly dull. (“Oh, my God, are you insane? I’d rather get naked and fight badgers!”) Of course I have friends who are at their happiest when they’re greasy up to their elbows tearing into an engine block or dismantle a car they want to rebuild. The thought of doing those things sends shudders down my spine (“Grease under my fingernails? Are you kidding me? How ridiculous.”).

Different strokes.

Research for writing is crucial. Whether looking for facts concerning a bygone era or seeking answers to a contemporary problem and situation, research is the backbone of a good story. Armed with research, fiction can be built on a foundation of factual information that not only brings authenticity to scenes and chapters, but creates a believable frame of reference.

RETHINKING THE BLACK CLAW

!BC-9313-2-smallOn my website page devoted to The Black Claw, my 1940’s masked vigilante fighting the forces of evil on the home front during World War II, I wrote a piece explaining that while I had planned a 10-novel story arc of her adventures, sales on the first two volumes (MARK OF THE BLACK CLAW and JUSTICE OF THE BLACK CLAW) were less-than-encouraging and I was suspending the series.

The piece prompted an email from Tom Johnson, a pulp collector, writer and publisher. I was flattered to hear from Tom. Among active pulp aficionados, he is one of the big guns. In the Kindle Store, he has published collections of novels from the old hero pulps including The Black Bat and Secret Agent X, many of his own works of fiction as well as several nonfiction books on the old pulps.

Saying I was flattered would be an understatement. He gave both Black Claw novels excellent reviews and spread the word to other pulp readers.

In part, Tom wrote: “I reviewed both Mark & Justice of The Black Claw, and loved them… so much of this New Pulp that’s being written isn’t near as good as The Black Claw, so I hope to see all the stories you’ve mapped out down the road.”

Now, I’m rethinking The Black Claw. I have the third novel, CHALLENGE OF THE BLACK CLAW, sketched out and started. I need to decide if I’m going to devote the time to finish it. Writing historical pieces requires research; I like to make sure facts and known events are accurate and factual.

I’ve decided to give myself to the first of the year to make a decision. On the one hand, I really enjoy writing about the characters and situations in the imaginary world of the Black Claw; on the other hand, I need to consider the time/return equation.

JEKYLL AND HYDE TOGETHER AGAIN!

Jekyll-Hyde Blog

Jekyll-BarrymoreI held a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde film festival. Okay, Hyde1-1920
maybe festival is an overstatement. I watched the 1920, 1931 and 1941 film versions of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic. There have been about five TV movies, six or seven short versions, many television episodes with the Jekyll and Hyde theme from Suspense to The Jack Benny Program to Climax and reels of other Jekyll-Hyde tributes.

The three I watched, I believe to be the quintessential versions.

In the 1920 silent film, the incomparable John Barrymore was arresting in his interruption. His presence and ability to hold the camera is remarkable and when he becomes Hyde, he brings forth a terrifying, sinister creature that is the personification of evil. A reviewer in 1920 wrote: “By sheer artistic skill, Mr. Barrymore has shown us a human being, distorted to be sure, but human.”

Barrymore’s version was less dependent upon special effects and appliances than on his own ability to distort his features and his body. By today’s standards, his transformation from the good doctor to the evil predator is primitive camera work; yet the effect is nonetheless chilling.
March-JekyllEleven years later, Fredric March took on the role. His Hyde2-1931
portrayal of Jekyll is of a driven scientist in love with Muriel Carew. The special effects makeup by Wally Westmore cast Mr. Hyde with a simian appearance, obviously revealing him to be a throwback to humanity’s earliest days. The primate influence is markedly evident in the last act of the film when March vaults over railings, swings on pipes and, in the finale, climbs a towering bookcase with all the zeal and skill of a chimpanzee.

The film is excellent, Hyde is a beastly villain, a sexual predator and a sociopath without remorse or pity. My problem with the portrayal is not March’s performance, far from it. No, it is the makeup and, especially the teeth. Whenever I view it, Hyde’s oversized, crooked teeth remind me too much of the prosthetic teeth Jerry Lewis often wore in his various routines. Still, this version is well worth your time.

Tracy-JekyllIn 1941, Spencer Tracy agreed to play Jekyll and Hyde with Hyde3-1941Lana Turner as his Jekyll’s fiancée and Ingrid Bergman as Ivy Peterson, the music hall singer who become Hyde’s prisoner and sexual slave. Miriam Hopkins played Ivy in the 1931 version and was quite sympathetic. However, Bergman’s performance is superb, a portrait of a desperate woman trapped by a beast.

Tracy’s performance as both Jekyll and Hyde is flawless. In later years, he regretted having played the role, but in the film he demonstrates his talent and skill. Hyde is less the monster than he is the evil man and Jekyll is sympathetic in his naïveté and youthful drive. His performance is masterful and one of his most masterful screen rolls.

Taken as a whole, the three films form a fascinating triplex that features three screen legends interpreting one of literature’s most iconic and tortured characters.



EBOLA IS COMING, EBOLA IS COMING…BE AFRAID! BE AFRAID!

Like most of the writers, I read newspapers, online news feeds, magazines and other materials gathering information and ideas. I’m willing to bet that even as I write this there are a couple of dozen Hollywood writers and maybe that many novelists frantically plotting and outlining or writing treatments for Ebola-based tales of doom and gloom, death and destruction.

DP-10-18-14-aI cannot be counted among that opportunistic horde. However, I predicted we’ll see Ebola episodes on NCIS, NCIS: LA, NCIS: New Orleans, Blue Bloods, Hawaii Five-0, Madam Secretary, CSI, Criminal Minds, Person of Interest and many others. Okay, okay, maybe only one of the NCIS shows (the scripts of all three are interchangeable, so what works for one works for another). There will likely be an Ebola-Over-The-Top movie on the SciFi Channel (Sharkbola or Ebola Tsunami) and very likely one on the Lifetime Channel (the tender and tragic tale of a nurse and her lover caught in a terrible epidemic). Hallmark will probably steer clear of such a grim subject. A couple of low-budgets movies may spring up and somewhere down the down the road there undoubtedly will be a high-minded, big budget, pretentious movie about a stalwart medical team battling the vicious virus (and we’ve already seen that at least twice in Outbreak and Contagion).

UPDATE: I have just been informed that Ridley Scott and Fox Television are teaming up on a limited-run Ebola-based series! OMG! OMG!

West Africa has been at the center of the Ebola storm, primarily Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leon. The death toll there has topped 4,500 (and maybe many more given that Liberia has been accused of under-reporting the true number of Ebola-related fatalities).

Fanned by the news operations at ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, hysteria is gripping DP-10-19-14America. Constant updates, lead stories on the evening newscasts and a sense of terror and impending doom in every news reader’s words. Be afraid! Be afraid! Be Afraid! Ebola is creepy down your street, slipping in your backdoor, getting into your bed…

What? No! That’s asinine and stupid; not uninformed or ignorant, but stone cold stupid!

FACT: In the U.S. there has been one (1) Ebola-related death. Just one! Two healthcare workers who cared for the one dead man have been infected and are on the mend.

So why all the panic? Honestly, in my lifetime, I cannot recall another virus or contagion so terrifying so many people. They’re peeing in their pants like little kids watching Jaws for the first time. It’s hysterical nonsense created by panic and a “me, too!” mentality.

Frankly, as fodder for a novel, TV show, movie or even a short story, the Ebola thing is weak sauce. I’m far more concerned about the paralysis that has stricken children in Colorado, Massachusetts and a few other places. Now that’s scary!

MAESTRO, A LITTLE WRITING MUSIC, PLEASE

Phantom-OrganI recently mentioned in a blog that I write with music playing in the background. In fact, as I write these words, the Glenn Miller Orchestra is playing a batch of World War II era songs. I like Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Denver’s own Paul Whiteman and other big band leaders. I’m not certain why, but I think it’s because we didn’t have television in Monte Visa until I was about eight. Before then my mother had the radio on all day and KSLV played a lot of big band and swing music from the 1930s and 40s.

These days I load my old DVD player with a selection of music that matches the mood I want to capture in what I’m writing or simply to maintain a nice mellow mood while I’m at the computer. For example, I have several Ottmar Liebert DVDs. If you’re not familiar with his guitar, I highly recommend it, especially his Nouveau Flamenco and Borrasca albums. Some places classify him as “New Age,” whatever that means. His music washes over you like fresh cool breeze on a hot day. I also like a pair of Mediterranean-themed albums by guitarists Chris Spheeris and Anthony Mazzella that I found somewhere years ago.

Those times I’m feeling like I need high-energy, high-impact music playing, for example when I’m writing fast action or violence, I put in the Rolling Stones or AC/DC, who, by the way, have a new album coming out December 2 (I was not paid for the plug, drat the luck).

Quite often, the music I listen to while I’m writing becomes the unofficial background music to whatever I’m work on (in my head, anyway). Twenty-five years ago I listened to the Sleeping Beauty Ballet performed by the London Symphony Orchestra over and over while I wrote my novel Dark Defender. I can’t explain why, but I did. I know it was at least 25 ago because our sons gave us the DVD player in my office for Christmas 1990 (“Holy crap,” I cried. “This here’s one of them new-fangled DiVD players! Wish I knew what a DiVD was and I had one!”) and my Sleeping Beauty recording was on vinyl.

I can understand writers who don’t want music playing in the background. It can MusicBlog2be distracting. Occasionally I catch myself cavorting to some tune. And, never a dancer of note, my cavorting is not pretty thing; it gives ugly a whole new meaning. Music can also get into your head, derailing whatever train-of-thought is rolling through or simply dragging you from where you are to where you don’t need be, usually down some old memory lane a particular melody evokes.

Still, I find music soothing, sheltering and every once in awhile, suggestive of a time or place or mood long forgotten, but appreciatively remembered.

7 QUESTIONS IN SEARCH OF ANSWERS

Over on my Webpage I’m finally getting my 7 Questions series started. The idea is pretty simple; I ask seven questions — the same questions for each respondent — concerning their writing and writing process. Since I primarily write horror, I’m approaching horror and dark fantasy writers. As of this writing, I have twelve “yeses,” two “thanks but no thanks,” seven without any response and a couple still pending. That puts my yes/no ratio at about 50 percent, an excellent positive response rate if I do say so myself.

Originally, it was going to be “5 Questions,” but that didn’t seem to be enough and “10 Questions” was too many. I settled on the seven question format after I surveyed members of the Colorado Authors’ League. Their responses truly helped assemble some excellent questions.

Writers take private pleasure in talking about our work. Let’s face it, we’re like mice living in the walls; seldom seen, occasionally heard and often driving the people around us nuts. As a breed, writers are a solitary lot, closeted away in small rooms with a computer, books, legal pads, notepads, steno pads iPads, perhaps a stereo or mp3 player and an array of other “comfort” items. Whether we live in cities or towns, villages or isolated cabins deep in the woods or far out in the desert, we are hermits. Some writers work in absolute quiet and others, like me, always have music playing in the background. (I once told to friend that I write with music playing to drown out the hoof-beats of approaching death. Too morose? Sorry, it’s in my nature). However, the long and the short of it is that having an opportunity to talk about how we do what we do without sounding like pompous windbags is rare.

I hope people enjoy reading the weekly responses to the 7 Questions. Personally, I find that learning about the work habits of other writers is infinitely fascinating and I hope readers do as well.

This week the legendary Billie Sue Mosiman was featured. Next up is President of the Horror Writers Association and Stephen King biographer, Rocky Wood. 7 Questions is updated every Monday.

THE BLOG HOP

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWelcome to the Blog Hop

My good friend and colleague, Yvonne Montgomery graciously invited me to write a little something about my work and my writing process.

Why do I write what I do?

Often I’m asked what I write and when I answer that my genre of choice is horror I usually hear:

“Horror? Really?” A dark, worried look passes over the questioner’s face and they eye me with a measure of contempt and disapproval. “I just don’t understand how you could write such terrible things when the world is such an awful place. I can’t even watch the evening news. There’s so much bad in the world…”

How can you…?

Why would you…?

What’s wrong with you…?

Their insecurities and condescension aside, I find their objections to my work tedious and uninteresting. I offer no apologies for what I write and frankly none are due. As with any writer, I write what I write to be true to myself. I have friends who write mysteries, romances, thrillers, adventure yarns and so on. Writing is our addiction; horror is my drug of choice.

On the other hand, I know I’m not churning out sterling prose that will survive the ages. I am the author of escapist fiction, cheap thrills that hopefully provide a little fun and fright for my readers. As an aside, I should add that if, while writing, I can scare myself, I’m fairly certain I’ll scare my readers.

What am I working on?

Currently, I’m finishing a novel about young witches that will be published under a pseudonym and then I’ll rewrite ALIEN PLAGUE, my zombie novel that I wrote in the winter of 2011-12. I’ve been letting it “cool down” for a time.

Rather than the typical tale of a zombie apocalypse, ALIEN PLAGUE features zombies infected with a virus from space, brought to earth after NASA blasts a killer asteroid into small meteors that rain down on earth. I deal with a tight group of characters including a sketchy ex-soldier, a stalwart nurse, a scientist and his mistress and a cheerleader and her boyfriend, all fighting to survive in a decidedly hostile, dangerous environment.

How does my work differ from others in the horror genre?

The horror genre has many facets, just as do the other prominent genres. Werewolves and vampires have given way to zombies and witches. It’s ever changing and readers’ tastes can turn on the success of a popular movie, television program or book. Coming up with an idea that hasn’t been done before is not impossible, I suppose, but certainly improbable. My protagonists are generally real people, not street punks or sociopaths, serial killers or hitmen. I want characters with whom my readers can identify. Much like Stephen King and Dean Koontz, I like to write stories about ordinary people caught in extraordinary, frightening situations.

How does my writing process work?

Once I have the germ of an idea, I typically come up with a title before doing anything else. The title is important for resonance. As an example, my first published novel was MOONSLASHER (Critic’s Choice, 1987). I created the title one afternoon and within a week or two, I had the bulk of the story germinating. The same held true for its sequel, MOONS OF THE BLOOD HUNT. My quasi-vampire novel ON WINGS OF LEATHER (originally published in 1994 by Leisure as THE DEVOURING) began with the image of a winged “vampire” circling a high mountain peak; the title came later. THE OCCULT MADONNA (Critic’s Choice, 1988) came about when I stumbled on a poem written by J.C. Powls in 1909 with that title. It was simply too good to pass up.

Once I have a title and concept, I start creating characters. I have two prerequisites for character names: they must have resonance, which is different for every writer, and each name must be dissimilar from others in the story. I know that sounds obvious, but I have often encountered books in which the protagonists are John and Jim or Gary and Larry. In ALIEN PLAGUE the principle characters include Nick, Lydia, Joe, Angela, Vaughn and Monica. I don’t get confused and, more importantly neither will the reader, at least not by the characters.

With the title, concept and characters on paper, I can start writing. I subscribe to the advice from such writers as John Steinbeck and my friend Margaret Coel: “Write fast!” Buzz through the first draft; get the story written. Clean it up in rewrite. Toward the end of his life, the late Gore Vidal said that all his contemporaries were dead and therefore he had no one for whom to write. I found that quite sad. I believe writers should write for themselves, not for friends or enemies or frenemies, but always for themselves.

Beyond my writing, I’m learning to use Scrivener software for writers. While inexpensive, it’s relatively complex and has so many beneficial features I’m anxious to master.

Although I have been retired for nearly seven years, I am always busy, in my office by nine every morning writing, editing or researching. For better or worse, I’m a writer. I go to sleep at night thinking about whatever I’m working on and I wake up every morning anxious to get back to it.

As I said, writing is my addiction.
__________________

I’m a retired flak catcher (public relations) for Colorado public higher education with a BA from Adams State College (now University) and a master’s in mass communications from the University of Denver. Raised in the San Luis Valley, my wife and I have lived in Denver since 1972 after I was discharged from the army. We have to sons in their 40s and a granddaughter in college.

MY BLOG Dweller by a Dark Stream

Moonslasher

Moons of the Blood Hunt

On Wings of Leather

Island of the Wolf

Mark of the Black Claw

Justice of the Black Claw

 

BACK IN BLACK (AND WHITE)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis has been a wonky year for me and I’ve let my blog, webpage and writing suffer. Now, I’m determined to get back to it.

My friend and colleague Yvonne Montgomery, currently writing the Wisdom Court series (available in The Kindle Store and other digital outlets), has reminded me the writers must write. I harp on that a lot; however, I’ve let myself get away from writing this year and it is starting to weigh on me.

Thus, it seemed appropriate to post some of the material I have in various stages of completion. Although first, I will confess that my Black Claw series, which is non-horror, old pulp-style action/adventure tales from World War II is dead. R.I.P. I originally planned ten novels in the series that would carry the story through VJ Day. Unfortunately, the two novels I’ve published have not sold well. As a test, I advertised them in August at Pulp Fest, a big conference in Cleveland. Unfortunately, the results were disappointing. Such is life. When something doesn’t work, you try something else. I have lived my adult life by the words of writer Fredrick Brown: “If you want something badly enough, you’ll get it; and if you don’t get it, it just goes to show you didn’t want it badly enough.”  No excuses, no blame-game, no finger pointing. I’m responsible for my life and it is my decisions and my actions that define my outcomes.

Oops, sorry, didn’t mean to lecture.

My late friend Mary Jo Adamson used to tell me I had good ideas for books. The truth is that’s always been the problem. I have more ideas than I can write. Then again, ideas are a writers stock and trade so having too many ideas is like a farmer having too many crops to harvest.

Two of my books that are written, DARK DEFENDER and A LESSER GOD RISING, will be published soon. Additionally, I hope to have ALIEN PLAGUE, my zombie novel, published by Halloween. A DEVIL LONG CAGED and DEATH RAY are nearly completed and I continue to work on them with a goal of wrapping them up next year.

There are two other novels finished and two that I have outlined — in my fashion — and will work on those over the next couple of years.

So, all of that said, between this blog, my Facebook page and my website, I hope to keep everyone apprised of  my work. I appreciate all the support and encouragement I’ve received and I hope to get back into a writing mode that provides many more books.