horror

All posts tagged horror

The Dread is in the Details

Published October 12, 2017 by admin

There are a lot of things that make horror horror: certain tropes and cliches, different archetype/stock characters, playing up emotional reactions, gore, playing up the action and danger, writing what some people might call at least dangerous or sometimes taboo…

Those are all part of it. But let’s not forget the role of environment and description, hrm?

Admittedly, I love immersive fiction. I want to lose myself in a story, whether it’s something more or less happy like Little House on the Prarie (depending on which book you read), or something more along the lines of Clive Barker. A good book is a good book, and will put you right in the world.

And if it’s horror, it will make you want to run away from that world and hope you can escape before you can remember to just close the stinkin’ book.

Not that I have any experience with that. Ahem.

I’m not sure if it puts me back into a childlike mindset where everything is big and huge and intense, or if it’s just the mark of good writing preying on my human weaknesses, but either way, I dig it. I love that Neil Gaiman really goes into overdrive describing his Midwest settings and people in American Gods. Part of what makes Hellbound Heart and other Clive Barker titles sing is that he really digs in and describes the grotesque in almost loving detail. Part of Stephen King’s genius is really making sure you know all about the town of Derry in It – it’s history, geography, mythology. Plus, he makes sure every character is a full person – to an almost painful degree. That’s the only way we can really feel terrified for them, because if he wrote something to the extent of ‘So then the clown turned into a werewolf and chased after the kids on the bike..” Yeah, no. Granted, that summarizes a good few pages, but it really doesn’t convey the intensity of that scene, or the personal stakes.

When I have the wordcount, I really try to play certain sequences in my head. If I can see them, then translate that into words, I have a much better chance of getting my readers to feel the tension I’m feeling. Mooner more or less takes place in one room, but I made myself really go through that story bit by bit. Everything effects the mood: character description, dialogue and word choice, the phyiscal description of the title character, the emotions conveyed in the motivations for the final reveal…I want my readers to feel the freezing, barren winter, to really get a sense of how dangerous that time period was. Little things really mattered and sometimes made the difference between life and death back then, and it was important to bring as much attention to that as possible, so that when things do go down, the reader gets just what all is at stake.

Although Olde School is technically a mix of genres, I really wanted the scene where Paddlelump discovers dangerous things happening in his woods to be extremely vivid. The reveals just keep coming, so I mentally walked that path with him over and over and over, paying attention to what would be around him, under him, above him, and the thoughts that were going on inside him. You have to be somewhat hyper aware of setting and character and marry those together into something cohesive that also isn’t too bogged down by detail. Every leaf, every crunching footstep, every odd, dripping substance plays into winding up for the rest of the scene, and I picked and chose what to include through how they made me feel when I married to the action of the sequence.

It’s like how the cab of a roller coaster is slowly, slowly pulled up to the top of the first hill – that’s, essentially, what really good description does in horror – it gets you ready to have the bottom dropped out from underneath you and launches you onward through all the crazy stuff. You need the slow tug and pull to prepare you for what comes next. You need that description so you’re submersed enough that the horror elements do what they’re supposed to.

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Wanna see for yourself? Check out my 1800’s-era vampire story, Mooner, to see how details build a bigger picture.

If you’re more fantasy minded (or like some dark elements with your fantasy), then definitely check out Olde School.

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SJ Reads Bonus: Afterlife with Archie

Published October 7, 2017 by admin

afterlife

 

Like I said, I can’t not talk about horror in October…

I touched on The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina a little while ago, so I can’t exactly ignore Afterlife With Archie. I picked the thing up because it looked so weird, I couldn’t really not read it. Even so, I left it sit around for a while, figuring that I’d be putting myself through a gag title, and did I really have time for that.

And then I opened it up.

Askfdajlfaj;dajlfdajldfs is a safe approximation of my reaction.

Seriously, it’s one of the best horror titles I’ve read in a long time, and I still don’t understand how the really good horror titles are coming out of the Archie properties. Not only are these things holding their own with other, more recognizable titles, but in a lot of cases their overall sense of story and character development is better. 

The basic premise is that Reggie hits and kills Hot Dog with his car. Despondant, Jughead has Sabrina help bring his dog back to life. Thus starts the zombie outbreak. I mean, this could easily go so many ways of stupid…but it doesn’t. There are moments of humor, but it’s definitely got its horrific side. I love how there are little moments with all the characters grasping at what’s going on and how it’s affecting their relationships, whether it’s Archie’s feelings about his dad, or Veronica’s thoughts on Betty and on and on. I’ve only read through volume one, but the thought that these kids are hiding out as the whole town falls victim to the contagion…it’s intense. And it’s never really played like ‘oh ha ha, look at these cartoon characters be victimized, pretty gross, amirite?’ There’s care taken with the different story lines. Granted, it had been forever since I’ve really delved into the world of Riverdale (the eighties cartoon series is about the extent of my knowledge), but it does a really good job of conveying the basics very quickly. I didn’t really feel like I was missing anything, and I felt like I picked up on all the subtext and things I was supposed to know about to get the full range of the title.

The art isn’t as malevolent as Sabrina, but in some ways that lends itself to a really surreal feeling. You kind of forget that you’re reading about freakin’ Archie, or you forget that this is a storyline that really shouldn’t be happening in this universe, until you sit back and it all comes together and hits you.

It’s a suprisingly good blend, and I can’t wait to see where it all goes.

Get vol 1 here

On What Ifs and Horror Writing

Published October 4, 2017 by admin

Oh, October. I love you. Somehow, even when I was a scaredy cat growing up, I still wanted to live in a haunted house and played pretend that I was some sort of ghoul/ghost princess in a graveyard or ran around wanting to be a ghostbuster getting sucked into an alternate dimension…you know, normal kids stuff.

It probably had to do with the sheer amount of different things I was around to as a kid, so I can actually totally, completely, mostly blame my parents, family, friends, and the 1980s on me turning out this way. It’s a relief, let me tell you.

I think I’ve always been in awe of the what if in horror. Obviously, this is a thing in other genres, but it’s especially powerful when coupled with the fear, pessimism, anxiety, or whatever outlook you’re shaping it with in horror. What if there’s someone calling from inside the house? What if vampires are real? What if one typical day turns into your worst nightmare?

There’s something empowering about exploring it, as well as something chilling about reading it. In some ways I think I like writing horror for a sense of control, in others I think I like it because there’s still this weird viewpoint that as a gal I’m somehow not supposed to think like this or whatever (obviously those with that pov haven’t hung out with a ton of women, just sayin’).

A lot of my short horror has started from the what if concept: What if all your inanimate objects were conscious and secretly hated you? What if vampires existed in the untamed woods in the 1800s? What if on one of the happiest nights of the year, the world was ending? What if this little incident that you think is so mundane is far from innocent?

I kind of blame this on the ’80s, too. Growing up in the time of stranger danger, just say no, razorbladed halloween candy, people trying to get you in a van, combined with just how bizarre Saturday morning television was, well, I mean we really didn’t have a chance. Something was always on our minds, even on the playground. Seriously, don’t kid yourself. Kids are way savvier than you think, they pick up on stuff, but they also misstranslate it and get it all turned around. To this day I still remember odd convos in the cafeteria about like what a friend of mine thought communism was and how we’d all die at any minute, along with urban-legend type stuff, like a spot on the ceiling of a dining room that grew as a family ate and took them straight to hell.

I think I was seven or eight for those, by the way, so yeah, talk to your children, because they’re probably walking around with some amazing irrational fears.

Combine THAT with things on the news like the Challenger, the economy fluctuating, and THAT with episodes of Punky Brewster showing the kids getting eaten by a demon and Care Bears going borderline possession in a Dark Heart storyline, Ponyland getting eaten by ooze, and characters getting their souls sucked out every other week, Freddy Krueger might come get you, spiders could take over a whole town, and who knows what else – and put all of that in a blender…in a world full of what if’s, Halloween felt like a relief, a constant: you always cut jack-o-lanterns, you always dress up, you always go out and come home with candy. Heck, you alwsays come home, as long as you’re careful and wear reflectors and obey the rules. These days, I realize how naive that sounds, but back then it was comforting. Witches and monsters and vampires can’t really hurt you, the masks in the store are always going to smell weird, the same houses are always going to give big candy bars. Those constants gave way to fun what ifs – what if a house could really be haunted, what you actually went to one of those haunted houses no one has ever gone all the way through, what if…whatever.

It was almost a balance as a kid – accepting some things with belief while still being rational enough to be wary. I suppose writing horror as an adult is a little like that, too. It takes some suspension of belief to write some of the concepts I do and have them be effective. It takes a balance of fear and technique, of keeping one foot out and one foot in.

It was fun to just drop everything and embrace what I considered scary. It’s fun these days to drop everything and embrace things that lurk at the edges of my thoughts and freak me out. And if those what if’s freak out other people, hey, so much the better.

So what’s a what if that gets under your skin…what are the things that get to you?

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If you want to explore some creepy what ifs (and some that aren’t so creepy), feel free to check out my books!

Or, if you just want a taste, there are a lot of quick flash horror fics in the free read section!

SJ Reads: The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Published September 25, 2017 by admin

I was going to wait until October, but since the news broke last week that it’s getting a TV option and I LOVE this series, I decided what the hey.

sabrina

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is another offering from Archie Horror, who brought us the magnificent Afterlife with Archie. A few things to keep in mind:

This is based off the 60’s comic book Sabrina, so it takes place in 1966. It has absolutely nothing to do with the 90s television series – the character went through a lot of incarnations before this point. Honestly, for me it makes it a little easier to take, because there’s less of an association with the outright familiar.

This series has much more of an existential dread vibe than Afterlife. There’s not really any humor, and between the time period and the art, there’s a nice tension throughout the story. In the intro to vol 1 the comparison is that if Afterlife is Evil Dead, Chilling Adventures is Rosemary’s Baby or Exorcist.

If you are offended/bothered by anything of an occult nature, you will not like this series. That’s just the way it goes sometimes. You can dislike that they did this, dislike that it was with this character, but there are a lot of Archie stories, so luckily you don’t have to wander into this if you don’t want to. There is no denying that the witches are malevolent in this series. The occult/satanism vibe is extremely overt, so it’s not something you can really read around if it bothers you.

This story has nothing to do with Afterlife – Sabrina, Betty, and Veronica are characters in both, but the stories don’t cross over at all, so just pretend they’re not even in the same world.

There are some similarities to the show, mostly that Sabrina is half witch/half mortal. Also, like in the show, witches aren’t really supposed to fall in love with mortals. That’s about where things end.

The day that Sabrina is supposed to be claimed by the coven as an infant, her mother rebels, which leads her being lobotomized by spell and put in a mental institution. For other reasons, her father is sent to Hell, so she’s raised by her aunts in another town. As she hits her sixteenth birthday she has to make a decision as to which way she’s going to live her life. Meanwhile, her father’s old ex, Madam Satan, has been summoned from Hell and is after revenge, and Sabrina.

So, yeah, little different.

There are a lot of interesting things going on here. The time period lends itself not only to the horror vibe, but to the subtexts of racism and gender roles, as well. You always get a sense that Sabrina is fighting to be who she is around different groups of people, which makes for an interesting read. It’s also picked up with the Betty and Veronica practicing witchcraft in secret storyline, and some other places, as well. A lot of the characters we’ve come to expect as being benign become super-interesting in this version. Hilda and Zelda, as well as Sabrina’s father, project a definite malevolence, though her aunts sort of swing back and forth. They want the best for their niece, but they also definitely want her to commit to the coven.

And by commit I mean sign her name in Satan’s book. Let’s just put that out there now so I don’t get yelled at when someone tries to read this thing. I told you, this ain’t yer 90s Sabrina. There’s also some very sixties stuff with school shenanigans and trying out for a play, and other things that are foiled when Madam Satan shows up in disguise and takes Sabrina under her wing.

Sabrina, herself, is facinating. She’s the protagonist, but she also isn’t the goody goody we’re used to seeing. She’s somewhat victim to manipulations, but she also is ready to stand firm in what she wants and believes. She’s hardly innocent and uses her powers however she wants. I think there’s even a moment where she says something like ‘I’m a teenage witch, this is what I’m supposed to do!’

Honestly, after so many seasons of seeing her as a kind-hearted goofball (and I love Melissa Joan Hart’s portrayal of her), it’s kind of awesome to see her like this. She’s still kind of at the mercy of some things, but more of her decisions (even if she’s being misguided) come more from her.

You’ll still see familiar faces – there are some from the comics that we don’t see a lot of in the show. For you 90s fans, Harvey makes an appearance (heh), and Salem is there, though in a much less comedic capacity. Ambrose, her British cousin, also shows up and ends up joining Salem as more of a sympathetic sidekick.

It’s very important to note that this isn’t Sabrina as Buffy, Sabrina as Practical Magic, Sabrina fighting evil. And honestly, I don’t want those. This is what I want. This is horror. This is dark. This is something distinctly of and for this character. This reads like a showrunner snapped after being criticized over the 90s show one too many times and decided: FINE, SEE HOW YOU LIKE THIS. (note: this is my headcanon and not the actual origin of this series. The writer and artist are amazing in their own bodies of work and deserve a ton of praise for this). This is something that absolutely should not work because it is definitely against type and uncomfortable.

And it is magnificent.

Honestly, I was shocked when I read it. I did not expect it to be good, let alone this good. Does it unnerve me? Sure. Does it make me uncomfortable? Yep. But that’s what good horror does. Seriously, if you can step back from your expectations and how you feel about the television show, if you can embrace this for what it is, it’s truly amazing how strong of a title this has turned out to be. My only gripe is that it’s super slow to release (something that I hope changes now that it’s under the public eye).

The art is also some of the most beautiful stuff I’ve seen in a horror comic in a while. It has a distinct retro/vintage feel (some of it has a straight up EC or Creepy/Eerie vibe), and with the majority of muted colors, you just feel everything knot up inside you while reading. Characters you want to like and agree with become horrifying then revert back, and the familiar never feels altogether safe. It’s easy to fall into this series based on the art alone.

As for my thoughts on the television show…I’m not sure. I think it could be amazing. I really want it to be all that’s in my head. However, I also expect that because it’s going to CW that there will be changes (there’s at least one aspect that I kind of wonder if they’re going to have to change), or be dialed down, or whatever. I hope I’m wrong, because I think there is a market for this as is, if it can overcome people’s nostalgia over the 90s show.

For what it’s worth, I loved the 90s show. I thought it went on too long and became somewhat stale and a caricature of itself, but I loved the first few seasons. It’s cute, it teaches lessons, it’s feel-good. Salem is one of my favorite characters. However, it’s been done. I don’t need the further adventures of, I don’t need soap opera Sabrina or teen angst Sabrina or whatever.

Something based straight from Chilling Adventures would give them a lot of room to build (it’s only 2 collected volumes so far, I think), plus it provides a lot of subtle social commentary. I don’t know that marketing it is going to be the easiest thing between instant knee jerking and people wanting something close to what they remember, but with Riverdale’s success, hopefully I’m wrong.

If you’re brave enough to check out the comic, you can find the first volume here. It’s absolutely not for everyone, but if you like horror and different takes on the familiar, definitely give this a try.

 

Flash fic: The Moments Before

Published September 8, 2017 by admin

I felt like I needed to do something for today because I’m so excited for It. So, here’s a little flash piece I threw together, copyright mine, like everything else on this thing. Heh, enjoy.

 

The Moments Before

They waited in the toy box, neglected and hidden under other, more comforting toys. They waited in the circus, that razor-edge place of dream and nightmare. They waited in cars, crammed shoe-tip to shoe-tip, nose to nose, stale breath that reeked of peanuts and spun sugar. They sometimes escaped to the real world and showed up at parties, though somehow children always knew better than to look them in the eye. Sometimes, sometimes they’d get lucky and escape from the Other Places, the In Between places, and show up in the Real World to lurk in the woods, or backyards, or under street lamps. Always, always under shadow, under ‘did I really just see that?’ film of disbelief. Even then, they waited.

Soon the ring master would cue their act, soon the hand crank would play the tune that sent them rocketing out of their boxes, soon the cords would be cut free and they could drop pretenses of entertainment, of magic and face paint, to show what truly lurked underneath. Soon laughter and unease would dissolve to screams and tears, the jokes wouldn’t stop until the screams and pleas finally died down. The car doors would all pop open and their streams of shrieking numbers would come pouring out, soon the thin band of decorum that kept things from getting too out of control would snap. No vigilante mob or well meaning officials could save anyone. Soon, soon the music would play, the end of the world would come, and the circus would truly begin. Soon, thousands of gleaming, hungry eyes would snap open from Elsewhere, and find that they were finally, finally here.

Soon, the clowns would hunt and everything else would begin.

 

Influences: The Lost Boys

Published August 31, 2017 by admin

Alright, back to vampires. Warning: long post, but I think breaking it up would just make the flow uneven.

I’ve had variations of this post in my head for a long time. I think it’s hard to put what things mean to you into words that actually convey those feelings.  I personally also have a bit of a hard time with the “pop culture saved me narrative.”I get it – I think everyone has defining moments that are connected to art and culture (I certainly do), I don’t know that I love giving them that kind of total power, because it neglects how much work the person involved and those around them puts in. I think situations can be complicated and putting it down to one specific thing can be somewhat trite. I don’t say that to take away from things that are important to people, and I’m not insinuating anything about fandom, but I think situations are just way more complicated than we tend to realize and remember.

That being said, I admittedly get my bigger influences from things that have affected me during times when I really needed something to identify with. Star Wars came about when I needed something to plug into when I was 11, Labyrinth opened up new worlds in my head at 16 or 17, Bowie made me feel like I wasn’t alone and helped me discover my creative soul at around the same time. I will always have vivid memories of hiding out in a bookshop reading Bradbury during the summer of allergic bronchitis and theater that kicked my butt constantly in my early 20s.

 

lost boys

The Lost Boys is tricky because it feels like it was always around but in different forms. I remember my dad being super excited when it came out. If you’re new to Selahville, it’s important to note that I was a complete gullible chicken as a kid (but also snuck off in video stores to read the backs of horror movie boxes. Figure that one out). I couldn’t even watch commercials for horror movies (but was fine with demonic possession in Care Bear movies. I don’t know, it was the 80s and they were sparkly and cute.) Somehow, I got it in my head that vampires could be a real thing and the vampires in the movie lived right down the road. I’m not sure if that idea was put into my head by a mischevious relative or if that was an overactive brain on my part, but for a long while I had this instant, Pavlovian terror response to Kiefer Sutherland’s face, which is probably a somewhat different reaction than he’s used to getting.

 

lostboysd

The stuff of nightmares. Until adolescence hit.

 

Anywho. My memories from that time frame are vivid but fleeting, so I don’t think I even saw the movie all the way through until college. By that time I was reading Bradbury and Anne Rice and others, and I could look at Sutherland without screaming. I still have two conflicting timelines in my head – either I rented the movie on a weekend when all my roommates went home and I had to stick around for rehearsals, or I was working at a summer regional theater type gig. I do remember being painfully lonely – I’d had some heavy life changes. The first real, rough moments of my adult life happen a few months prior.  Everything was affecting me: I was oversleeping, I wasn’t eating well or taking care of myself, I had this sense that I had to prove myself right now or else, and being a natural introvert, I just plain wasn’t great at reaching out to even hang out with people or open up about what was going on. I can’t remember if at that point I’d not succeeded into securing grad school auditions (I’d opted to try the acting route instead of tech or design), but I suspect that this was that time period. I was also coming to grips with this feeling that I just created things differently than other people in my major.

Now I can see where that’s not a bad thing, but at the time I took it as a personal shortcoming. I liked what I was doing, but the department was really focused on straight plays that either didn’t have a lot of parts that I could play or didn’t speak to me from a design or build sense. Now, that’s just part of the job, but at the time it really made me wonder if I’d made a huge misstep. Everything began to bleed together for me, and I didn’t feel like I clicked with anything that was out there (the Internet was still developing and when you’re still pretty young and searching for connection with something, it’s hard to know what to even look for). I didn’t really have an outlet to paint with all the colors in the palette, or if I did, I didn’t know the words to ask for the opportunity.

I was pretty much holed up in my apartment, feeling like I’d completely failed at what I’d wanted to do most, failed at interpersonal relationships, failed at just even doing the day to day well. I can’t even describe the embarrassment I felt showing up to classes everyday, feeling like more and more like I was letting everyone and myself down. I went through the motions, but when I wasn’t required to be somewhere it was easier to hole up, beat myself up and blame myself than to go talk to someone or even ask for a neutral opinion or advice (at least on the art front). I was a swirl of negative emotions that festered and ate away at me as I hid out, trying to numb myself to it all.  It, admittedly, was not a great point in the Selahville timeline.

I honestly don’t know where things would have led if they had progressed on their own – I’d like to think I’d have come out of it because I’m generally stubborn and there were people around me in my classes and labs and rehearsals, even if I was beginning to wall myself off emotionally. I had rented some movies for lack of anything better to do, and for whatever weird reason (maybe I just wanted to prove to seven-year-old me that I could watch it), The Lost Boys was in that stack.

There are some things where you can admit that you like them or talk about why they’re good in an analytical sense, and there are things that just strike like a thunderbolt. Maybe the humor got me to pay attention, maybe it reminded me of my childhood in a weird way, but for whatever reason, I was entranced.

And then the tape broke right before the ending. I literally drove up the street to another video store right that second so I could watch the rest of it. I don’t know how many times I watched it that weekend (and beyond), but I was just really intrigued and began to look up what meager information there was online at the time.

It should be said that by that point I had just started getting cable and my theatre major schedule never had time for Buffy, so a lot of the concepts that became the sleek, cool urban fantasy vampire were brand new to me. Up to that point, all I’d really known was Anne Rice. The music fit perfectly, the performances were spot on, the story was tight. I was happy that it used folklore, and the production design just drew me in like none other. Since costumes were in my wheelhouse, I drank in everything. I think what also really struck me is that it felt feasible on a lot of levels, from performance to story to design. I

I could do that. That phrase kept going round my head, and I clung to it and refused to let go. It was an odd sense of validation (however slight), that maybe I could belong somewhere and there was a place for me. It was the mantra I needed, and if that’s the moment or the thing that saved me, then great, awesome, it tells a good story.

Granted, in my daily life where Chekov and Everyman and Tennessee Williams and A.R. Gurney reigned (nothing wrong with those, love ’em), I didn’t really get an opportunity to play with that sort of thing in a design or construction sense right out of the gate (this was further proven when movies like Hedwig and the Angry Inch came out  and my mind was blown again and I was left frustrated that I had nothing like that in my everyday). Still, I knew there were other avenues to explore and that I just had to keep looking to find where I fit. I definitely think the film gave me the courage to keep true to myself, and it opened up a ton of possibilities that got me reading and experimenting with different concepts. It got me to take a breath and go looking for what else was out there.

Costume-wise, it’s taken me a long time to grow into myself. I think we all go through that lean on influences phase until we absolutely can’t anymore. Theatre work turned into event and various seasonal work, I slowly got more confident and began being open to making stuff that was outside the norm. I had already been working on Halloween events and shoved into the role of coming up with walkabout scary characters. I think every so often when you’re working on things consistently, you suddenly have a level-up time period, where things really start to click and the synapses really fire up. For me, it was being brought in to create a gang of steampunk fairy tale characters. The interesting kicker was, though, that the images I was shown as reference of tone and concept were much closer to gothic rocker with some sci-fi thrown in.

I’d also become something of a budget-whisperer by that time, and was content on raiding storage and existing fabric (and slicing apart the pleather on like fifteen purses) to make other ends of the budget meet. While I didn’t necessarily go in with Lost Boys in mind, I kept that kind of rocker/put together/street rat bohemian look in the front of my brain. I’d  also developed the habit of taking whatever characters other people didn’t want to do, so I got mostly the male, non-prince ones. And I had a blast. I’m still really proud of how those turned out, because for once it felt like I’d formed a cohesive look, that all of the things I did could exist in the same dysfunctional world. It was also the first time in a while where I went on pure instinct and didn’t sketch anything out, but just built onto the dress forms with an estimation of people’s measurements. It shouldn’t have worked, but it did.

Writing-wise, I’ve probably done at least ten or fifteen blog and guest posts about the movie by now: themes of family, why the vampires work, my irritation at the missed ball with the lady characters, and on and on. If anything, that movie’ll keep me in article writing forever. Back when I first really watched it, I was drawn not only to the whole modern vampire concept but the open-endedness. You didn’t need to know their backstories to form an opinion of them. You didn’t need a huge amount of details, and it was better that way because it was really interesting to think on things and fill in the blanks for yourself. In a way, we’ve lost that trait as storytellers since the 80s, and I wish we’d get back to it because I think it makes an audience work more and appreciate things in a different way.

I also like that okay, yes, all the cues are there for you to paint the vampires as the bad boy antagonists, but honestly, they aren’t actually made the antagonists until the last act. Until that point you really just see them chilling out and being teens. If anything, it was bold to show both them and the humans in their home environments. I still will argue that they aren’t really the villains, because essentially they’re just reacting to an outside threat and were just doing what they were supposed to do (be vampires, make more vampires). To put a moral angle or the whole you’re a vampire so you’re damned angle on it actually robs the story of its more interesting possibilities. I’ll be thrilled when we can get away from the whole vampire must equal antagonist or sexy love interest thing we’ve got going on. Just have your characters be vampires and explore what that’s like for the characters. It ain’t hard.

Those kinds of thoughts circulated through my head a lot. I’d been writing in my spare time, but now I toyed with the genre and began to play with different types of characters and what it would really mean for any random person to become a vampire.  I began to read up on folklore, and I’m sure people thought I was losing my mind, but those sorts of explorations really balanced me out in a lot of ways as I worked to get back to myself. And then life caught up and I put it all away to get other stuff done.

And yes, in the meantime there are times when shared love of the movie has become awesome conversation starters (earned me cred in a Shakespeare class because I was the only person who had heard of Edward Herrmann), and yes, I’ve made friends through love of the film and that’s been amazing. In a bizarre twist of fate, I grew to be friends with Brooke McCarter at one point, and he definitely helped encourage me in ways that I will forever be grateful for. I’m not downgrading those experiences, but for me, personally, it tends to come back to something a little more personal than just being part of some fandom. It’s about the ideas that began to germinate in me and this bizarre notion that maybe I really could have an artistic career.

Ten million years later, I was starting to get published and had already put out a weird little ebook about vampires and lumberjacks and historical life challenges, when I was almost challenged to submit a vampire story that I had floated for The Big Bad anthology. John Hartness has told the anecdote about my failings on the whole submission process many times (in my defense I was writing the story mid-tech week), but I still blame him because I never would have submitted if I hadn’t pitched the basic idea of playing the vampire and human girl relationship straight without romantic cliches and ripping on vampire fangirls and been told that there was no story in it.

Never dare me with a story, dude.

Somehow those old characters that I had played around with came roaring back to life in different forms. I don’t really see Rave, Asha, Sin, and the rest as being Lost Boys-ish, but they definitely were inspired by the film and all the questions it brought to mind over the years. Characters like Amanda are probably me playing with Lucy with bad intentions, and the whole concept of Family and The Patriarch is probably what happens when Max’s concept of forming a vampire family is put on steroids. Through The Big Bad and The Big Bad II (and some other projects that never came to publication, but will likely be merged together in the future), I’ve gotten to play with concepts and character types and do them in my sideways way (and I must be doing something right because Hartness hasn’t disowned me yet). And there may very well be more of those characters coming in the future, but that’s a topic for another time.

I get why some people question devotion to the film. I’ve had that conversation a decent amount on social media lately – It’s a somewhat dated cult eighties movie with a lot of strange tone shifts and why can’t we just move on already. Ignoring all the ways that it’s influenced the vampire and urban fantasy genre for the moment, what can I say? Fandom is weird in general, but I think at its core it explores this need to belong that resonates with people. As far as saving me…maybe. It’s hard to say. At the very least, it pushed the snowball down the mountainside and got the ball rolling in multiple facets of my career, which is awesome, but it also really put me on the road to self-acceptance, which is even better.

***

Mooner is the aforementioned vampires and lumberjacks story, which I have an admitted soft spot for.

You can also read up on my take on urban fantasy vampires in The Big Bad anthology and The Big Bad II.

 

 

 

 

 

SJ Reads: American Vampire

Published August 28, 2017 by admin

 

So, as we all know, I love vampires in general, especially when they’re done well. I’ve mentioned American Vampire on here before, but I recently reread/caught up, and this just affirms that more people need to read this series.

american vamp

The concept of vampires through history isn’t a new one, but it’s really interesting how this series just goes for it, as well as picking some interesting moments. Sure, in some cases it goes for the obvious ones (WWII being the easiest choice), but a lot of times it explores stuff I wouldn’t have thought of, like 1920s Hollywood, Boulder Dam in the 30s, various parts of the 1800s, the space battle of the 60s.

Oh yes, there are vampires in space. The thing is, though, that even when you think things are going off the rails and it’s going to completely crash and burn…somehow the next volume pulls it out and makes it amazing again. Things that could be completely corny like a greaser slayer or the mentioned vampires in space really explore parts of characters in ways that I didn’t see coming.

So basically the whole plot is Skinner Sweet is this vampire turned in the 1800s – in this comic, vampires have powers specific to where they’re located and how they’re turned and Skinner is the first “American” vampire, having attributes that are different and stronger than what’s come before. It’s also interesting that instead of exploring other paranormal creatures like werewolves and the like, the mythology makes them a type of vampire that people /assume/ to be man-wolves or whatever. So basically everything paranormal is vampires. Which is gutsy. Sometimes it works better than others, but it does help to tie the universe together. There’s also a parallel plot exploring an organization bent on stopping vampires, so you have the slayer element as well. The downside is it’s sometimes hard to keep the timelines and characters straight, especially in the volume format. Honestly, though, at the end of the day, it’s still a really fascinating series. The series is really good at exploring society – be it segregation, class warfare, immigration, modernization, the works. You do have some jump the sharky moments – there’s an anthology volume that I’m not particularly fond of, the Dracula arc seems a little random, and while I’m fascinated by the current Gray Trader arc, it also kind of seems like cheating to introduce a whole other big bad to make Skinner more heroic.

Because, at the end of the day, yeah, there are a lot of great and interesting characters, but Skinner is the best in this thing, with maybe Pearl as competition. Whereas Pearl’s battle focuses more on the traditional vampire vs what’s left of her humanity, Skinner has always been a self-serving bad dude, from his outlaw days to the current arc. He does do some heroic things, but I would hope that the writers keep to his core nature – brutal, self-serving, side-switching, and inadvertently hilarious. And somehow, you still end up feeling for him.

The art is also just incredible – the variety of vampire art used throughout the series is diverse and insane, as well as all the research that must have gone into planning all the historical details.

Find vol 1 here

Any other vampire fans get into this series? How far have you gotten? What are your thoughts on all the changing arcs? Favorite vampire type?