Dark Universe details: The Wolfman and the rest

The wolfman is a bit tricky. The original movie isn’t very good, though it has its moments. It also isn’t based on a novel (although there had been a few werewolf novels), nor is it faithful to actual werewolf legends; screenwriter Curt Siodmak just made up all that stuff about magic pentagrams and blooming wolfbane and so on. Technically, Universal might own that stuff.

But they don’t own werewolves.

Thing is, to some extent I think “An American Werewolf in London” [I originally typed “Paris,” but I meant the 1981 film, not the 1997 one] already reinvented the wolfman in much the way I would have. And there have been lots of other good werewolf stories by the likes of Stephen King and Anthony Boucher and Alan Moore and Joss Whedon. I’ve already written a couple of werewolf stories myself.

So what do I do for my version that would make it anything other than a generic werewolf story without infringing on Universal’s rights? About all I can think of is to tie it in with the rest of the universe right from the start by making the werewolf one of the Harker clan, and remembering that Dracula can control wolves.

I dunno; that’s not very satisfactory. I think I may need to let this one stew for awhile.

That leaves two more Universal monsters who are only occasionally included in the set. One is the creature from the Black Lagoon, and that was an original by Universal, not based on previous legends or novels (though allegedly there really were stories about fish-men in the Amazon), so they own it outright and I can’t use it. This was released in 1954, after the other monsters had been retired.

And the other is the Phantom of the Opera, based on Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel; the novel is in the public domain and can therefore be used. The Universal movies were not part of the classic period of the 1930s; the first was in 1925, before “talkies” were invented, and is notable for several cool gimmicks, including Lon Chaney’s grotesque make-up and the use of painted-in red in one scene of the black-&-white film. The second was in 1943, when the Universal monster franchise was in decline, so that associating the new movie with the established series was seen as undesirable. Instead it was treated as a big Technicolor spectacle rather than a horror film. (And SF/fantasy fans, note: Fritz Leiber Sr., the father of the beloved writer, has a role in it.)

I don’t have the details worked out; for one thing, I don’t know enough about the current status of the Paris opera house. I envision a story where the Phantom has control of computer and video tech in the opera house — Brian de Palma’s “Phantom of the Paradise,” where Swan has video cameras everywhere, probably influenced this decision.

I’m tempted to swipe a lot of ideas from “Phantom of the Paradise,” actually. De Palma… well, I’ve read the novelization based on the original shooting script, and either the writer mutilated the story, or most of the good stuff was added by de Palma. The movie is obviously based on “The Phantom of the Opera,” but de Palma (and Paul Williams, who wrote the music and played Swan) added Faust, Frankenstein, “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” and anything else they could jam in.

But I don’t have either the wolfman or the phantom developed yet, and I don’t need to, since the first three will keep me busy for years if I ever write any of this stuff at all.

Dark Universe details: The Mummy

Okay, this one’s complicated by the fact that there’s no consistent story. Dracula is always a vampire pursuing power and a woman; Frankenstein’s monster is always a huge, rather childlike creature seeking love and vengeance. Both are based on novels, and almost every version at least pays lip service to the books.

But there’s no original book for “The Mummy.” Reportedly, when Carl Laemmle decided to make a mummy movie he tried to find a suitable novel to base it on, and couldn’t, so his scriptwriters just made it up. The 1932 version was a one-shot; the 1940 version, which launched the series, had no source material but the earlier movie, which it didn’t follow very closely. Later versions didn’t keep much of anything from any of those.

The elements that did stay fairly consistent are these: An ancient Egyptian sorcerer was involved in a forbidden love and was buried alive and cursed in consequence. Restored to life in the 20th century, he tried to find or create a reincarnation of his lost love, but was defeated by modern-day folks who disapproved of his scheme. Everything else, even the mummy’s name, is variable.

And we have a problem here in that I think the reincarnation plot is dated and silly. I want to discard one of the only two consistent elements, and alter the other. About the only thing I want to keep is the idea of a living mummy freed from its tomb.

And even that… well, archeologists operate somewhat differently now than they did in the 1920s, they don’t go casually breaking into tombs without lots of preparation and recording, and I’m not interested in doing a period piece. I also don’t think that the ancients would have put a traitorous heretic in a fancy tomb. I think they’d have buried him in an unmarked grave in the middle of nowhere.

So… modern-day Egypt. Islamist terrorists set off a car bomb someplace that has heretofore been of no archeological interest to anyone. Soldiers, cops, and rescue personnel rush in to help the wounded, and find that the explosion has blown open a mysterious crypt, previously undiscovered, beneath the street. There are signs that it was a burial place, but there’s no body. Our protagonist, an anti-terrorism specialist named Karim el-Masry (I am not going to drag a British or American hero into a story about Egypt), investigates the crypt, thinking perhaps it was a weapons cache or some such thing, and finds himself caught up in a mystery. Every indication is that this burial vault is thousands of years old, and that it hadn’t been touched until the explosion caved it in, but there’s nothing to indicate who was buried in it, or what happened to the body. El-Masry gets hold of some archeologists, who aren’t much help.

Then the murders begin. But they aren’t targeting corrupt officials or foreign tourists or Coptic Christians or any of the usual victims el-Masry would expect terrorists to go for. In fact, terrorists start turning up dead, along with police, clergy of assorted faiths, drug dealers…

Our ancient sorcerer, you see, wants to remove foreign influences and restore Egypt to its ancient glory — which means no Christians, no Muslims, no foreigners, no secular government. He intends to set himself up as a new Pharaoh, and is using his magic and immortality to build his power base. For now, he’s establishing himself as master of a hidden empire of crime.

El-Masry figures this out, but doesn’t dare tell anyone the truth, because who would believe him?

And we go from there.

Dark Universe details: Frankenstein

Warning! May contain spoilers for books I’ll probably never write! Also contains spoilers for a classic 19th-century horror novel.

In Universal’s recent “The Mummy,” they gender-flipped the original and presented us with an immensely powerful female mummy — or at any rate, that’s what I saw in the trailers and TV ads; I didn’t see the movie or read any reviews. (They also had her magical powers be an open threat to the entire world, which is one of the things they did wrong if they want to build a franchise — where do you go from that in a sequel?)

I didn’t see any reason to do that. Yes, ancient Egypt had some powerful queens, but… well, we’ll get into that more if and when I talk about my mummy plans.

If you’re going to gender-swap someone, though, I think it makes more sense for Frankenstein. If you look at the original novel, it’s really about a dysfunctional father/son relationship; the monster is desperate to be accepted and loved by his creator, his father. Some scholars have interpreted this as being about man’s relationship to God, since the monster describes Dr. Frankenstein as his creator, but given that Mary Shelley’s mother died eleven days after Mary’s birth and Mary’s relationship with her father was pretty fraught, I tend to think she was more concerned with parenthood than religion.

And that’s a relationship where gender matters.

So if I’m reinventing the story, I want Dr. Victoria Frankenstein, professor of biophysics at the fictional Queensbury University, to create a monster with the assistance of a Russian grad student named Igor Morozov.

And if you’re creating an artificial being as proof of concept, why give your creation any sex at all? It’s a lot of unnecessary extra work.

So we have a creature desperate for its mother’s love, and it doesn’t want a bride, it just wants an identity — it wants to be male or female or something. It wants its mother to make it a full human, rather than a thing, and Prof. Frankenstein thinks that’s a terrible idea.

The departmental secretary at Queensbury’s bio department, incidentally, is named Beth Harker — gotta set up that crossover potential early on.

Anyway, previous versions have often added a little Oedipal complication, since the monster goes after Frankenstein’s fiancee Elizabeth, but I never really bought into that; I didn’t find Victor’s passion for Elizabeth very convincing. I prefer a Frankenstein who is focused on her work, and not much interested in romance, to the point she hasn’t even noticed that poor Igor has a huge crush on her. Igor, however, is 5’8″ and Victoria is 5’11”, which is a complication. The monster, meanwhile, is almost seven feet tall — I’m going to keep the idea (I’m not sure whether it’s in the original novel or from movies) that the creature is huge because it’s easier to work on larger structures.

Anyway, the creature is created, escapes, discovers people are terrified by its appearance — and then discovers that on the internet no one knows you’re a hideous monster…

Dark Universe details: Dracula

Warning! May contain spoilers for books I’ll probably never write! Also contains spoilers for a classic 19th-century horror novel.

As mentioned in my last post, I got thinking about what I’d do if I wanted to update the classic Universal monsters without infringing on Universal’s properties.

Exactly which are the classics is subject to some debate, but I think everyone would agree that Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, and the mummy are included, and probably the Wolfman. (Additional candidates would be the Phantom of the Opera and the creature from the Black Lagoon. The creature is the only one where the original source material is still under copyright.)

For Dracula, I’d start off with a close look at the end of Stoker’s novel. (I’m arbitrarily ignoring all stage and screen adaptations.) The king vampire is apparently destroyed by a group comprised of Abraham van Helsing; Jonathan Harker; Mina Harker; Dr. John Seward; Arthur Holmwood, Lord Godalming; and an American named Quincey Morris. This party is in desperate pursuit of Count Dracula as he is attempting to return to his castle in Transylvania, the seat of his power; they need to get to him before the sun sets, while he’s still relatively powerless. Dracula has a band of gypsies in his employ who delay the pursuers before being chased off by the greater firepower our heroes carry, so that they are only able to open the vampire’s coffin as the sun is on the horizon. They have come armed, but perhaps not fully prepared, as Van Helsing has made a side-trip to exterminate Dracula’s three wives and any other subordinate vampires he may find. With the sun about to vanish and Van Helsing not there to object, they do not take the time to drive home a wooden stake and behead Dracula; instead Mr. Morris drives a Bowie knife into the vampire’s chest while Jonathan Harker slashes the Count’s throat with a kukri. This appears to be sufficient, as the Count appears to crumble to dust.

But does he really?

Look at it from Dracula’s point of view. He is weak, confused, and in a state of berserk rage as he is awakened from his restorative slumber, but this is Dracula — he’s not stupid. He’s awakened to find himself surrounded by his foes, his defenders fled, and two nasty great blades coming toward him just at the instant that his supernatural powers begin to return.

But the one piercing his heart is steel, not wood, and he can survive any such wound. The big knife striking at his throat might be enough to decapitate him, which would be fatal, but Stoker’s novel never says that it actually strikes off his head; from the description it would seem he crumbles to dust when his throat is opened, before his spine is severed.

Dracula is playing possum. He has transformed himself to mist disguised as dust before his enemies can finish him off. He’s probably hurt, but not destroyed. His plan is to return to his original tomb to restore himself, and then emerge and dispose of these troublesome foes.

What he does not know, however, is that Van Helsing has found his tomb and sealed it against him, presumably by reconsecrating it. Garlic and holy water are probably involved; Van Helsing’s account is not at all detailed in how he accomplished his ends, but he’s quite certain that Dracula can never again enter his ancestral graveyard.

And of course, he can’t return to the coffin he traveled in, nor any of the boxes he took to England. He’s trapped in his transformed and weakened state, with no restorative refuge available; if he’s caught out in the sun in this condition he will probably be destroyed. And the local peasants know his powers and limitations; that was why he wanted to go to England in the first place. They won’t help him.

But he isn’t dead.

So there we have an explanation of how he survived, but also why he did not return to power in his homeland. It presumably took him decades to find a way to revive himself completely.

Meanwhile, the Harkers — Jonathan, Mina, and their son Quincey — survive and live out their days in the happy delusion that Dracula was destroyed. But after old Van Helsing dies childless, Jonathan and Mina feel it’s their duty to pass on as much vampire lore as possible, to protect future generations from other monsters. Quincey is their only child, presumably because Mina was debilitated by her experiences — well, I’m assuming he was their only child; at last report in the novel he’s six years old and has no siblings as yet — so it’s his responsibility to continue the line and preserve their knowledge.

And this is why my Dracula story would be called The Harker Heritage, and would feature a whole slew of Quincey Harker’s descendants, one of whom realizes that there’s a vampire active in post-Communist Transylvania…

More in future posts.

Dark Universe (not the old Daniel Galouye novel)

I was reading an article about how the recent “The Mummy” movie was intended to be the start of a “Dark Universe” franchise at Universal, reimagining all their classic horror icons from the 1930s. Only “The Mummy” was neither good nor successful, which put a crimp in their plans.

I started thinking about what they’d done wrong (a lot), and telling my wife how I’d have launched a “Dark Universe” series of movies if I ran Universal.

And I couldn’t stop thinking about it; I worked out the supporting cast for my remake of “Frankenstein,” the family histories for the new “Dracula,” etc.

And then I realized that while Universal owns their versions, all these properties are actually in the public domain, so I could write my Frankenstein story if I wanted, or my Dracula story, or my mummy or wolfman. As novels, since I don’t have a movie studio at my beck and call.

But the last thing I want right now is another open-ended writing project.

If anyone’s interested, though, I could post some of what I had worked out.

Geographical Checklist

Continents visited:
North America
Europe
Asia

Not visited:
South America
Africa
Australia
Antarctica

United States:
visited:
Connecticut
Maine
Massachusetts
New Hampshire
Rhode Island
Vermont
New York
New Jersey
Pennsylvania
Delaware
Maryland
Virginia
North Carolina
South Carolina
Georgia
Florida
West Virginia
Michigan
Ohio
Kentucky
Tennessee
Alabama
Mississippi
Louisiana
Missouri
Indiana
Illinois
Wisconsin
Oklahoma
Texas
Nebraska
Iowa
California
Colorado
Arizona
Nevada
Utah
District of Columbia
Kansas
Washington
Alaska
New Mexico
Oregon
Montana
North Dakota
Minnesota
Arkansas

Not visited:
South Dakota
Idaho (slept through it on a train)
Wyoming
Hawaii

Canada:
Visited:
Prince Edward Island
Nova Scotia
New Brunswick
Quebec
Ontario
British Columbia

Not visited:
Alberta
Saskatchewan
Manitoba
Newfoundland
Yukon
Nunavut
Northwest Territories

Mexico:
Visited:
Tamaulipas
Quintana Roo

Not visited:
all the others

Other countries visited:
Bahamas
England
France
Spain
Luxembourg
Netherlands
Germany
Switzerland
Italy
China
Bermuda
Wales (but just barely)
Ireland
new> Vietnam
new> Greece

Arguable:
Japan (never left airport)
Iceland (spent a couple of hours in Reykjavik’s airport (which
is in Keflavik))
South Korea (spent several hours in Incheon airport.

Questionable as to whether they count as countries:
Jersey
West Germany
East Germany

Know Thyself

From a newsgroup post dated May 28, 2013:

There’s a website at http://iwl.me/ called “I Write Like” that purports to analyze one’s prose and match it to a well-known author. I tried it out last night.

Taking a passage from On A Field Sable told me I write like Jane Austen. A chunk of One Hundred Suns, though, matched Arthur C. Clarke.

Graveyard Girl was where it really got interesting, though — my first pass got Cory Doctorow. I decided the sample I’d used wasn’t typical, so I tried again and got Jack London. Then I removed one paragraph from that, and it was Cory Doctorow again.

Not exactly consistent results.

http://iwl.me/ is still there.

Gloomy Chick Singers

From four newsgroup posts, dated April 12, 2008; May 5, 2008; and (two of them) August 19, 2012:

On Sat, 12 Apr 2008 12:49:53 -0400, Lawrence Watt-Evans wrote:

It’s been a running gag for, oh, maybe fifteen or twenty years now that my preferred genre of music isn’t rock or country or classical, but gloomy chick singers. There is much truth to this — but one must understand how I define this, and that I do include some cross-genre stuff.

“Singer,” okay, that’s a fixed requirement. Rappers and screamers and narrators and instrumentals don’t make the cut, but one need not be a solo act; bands with gloomy chicks singing lead count.

“Chick” — yes, for the most part they must be female, but I’m willing to include bands with a female lead singer even if they may also have a male singer or two (e.g., Dead Can Dance, Transvision Vamp). There are also certain male singers who I consider cross-genre — they’d be gloomy chick singers if they were female (e.g., Meat Loaf or Peter Gabriel).

Ah, but “gloomy” — there’s the tricky part. Yes, sometimes I really mean slit-your-wrists depressing, like Portishead, but there are plenty who are only gloomy occasionally, and some who are downright cheerful but still scratch the appropriate itch for me. I can’t really explain how this works, I just know it when I hear it. Heart, while being indisputably chick singers (and quite good), does not qualify, while Sixpence None the Richer, a Christian rock band, does. Berlin is borderline. Britney Spears does not qualify, no matter how messed up she may be.

Added August 19, 2012:

I’ve just bought a couple of MP3 albums off Amazon — I had a voucher to use up — that have added new artists to my list of gloomy chick singers, so I thought I’d repost the above as a reminder of my definitions.

The new ones are Sister Crayon and Jane Siberry — not that either is actually new at all, but I didn’t have them in the collection before.

Below is a list, originally compiled May 5, 2008 and updated August 19, 2012:

As of May 5, 2008: This now includes everyone I have an entire album on CD by; I haven’t included LPs, and there may be some tracks on compilation albums I missed. (All of them from the 1980s.)

Amos, Tori
Baez, Joan
Bel Canto
Belly
Black Velvet Band
Bonham, Traci
Branch, Michelle
Breeders, The
Brennan, Maire
Brightman, Sarah
Bush, Kate
Cardigans, The
Cassidy, Eva
Clannad
Cline, Patsy
Cole, Paula
Colvin, Shawn
Concrete Blonde
Cowboy Junkies
Cranberries, The
Darling Buds, The
Dido
DiVinyls
East of Eden
Enya
Etheridge, Melissa
Eurythmics
Evanescence
Fahl, Mary
Fairport Convention
Fleetwood Mac
Flying Lizards, The
Fordham, Julia*
4 Non Blondes
Frampton, Dia (added August 19, 2012)
Frente!
Gerrard, Lisa
Ghost, Amanda
Goldfrapp
Grace Pool
Gryner, Emm
Harris, Emmylou
Heart Throbs, The
Hepburn
Hickman, Sara
Hooverphonic
Hope Blister, The
Ian, Janis
Imbruglia, Natalie
Indians, The
Innocence Mission, The
Jewel
Joplin, Janis
Katydids
Keineg, Katell
K’s Choice
La Bouche
Lacuna Coil
Laing, Shona
Lauper, Cyndi
Lennox, Annie
Letters to Cleo
Lisahall
Lone Justice
Lovich, Lene
Lush
Madonna
Maharry, Wendy
McCall, Jana
McKee, Maria
McKennit, Loreena
McLachlan, Sarah
Meg & Dia (added August 19, 2012)
Melanie
Merchant, Natalie
Minogue, Kylie
Mitchell, Joni
Moonpools and Caterpillars
Morley
Motels, The
Myles, Alannah
Nicks, Stevie
O’Connor, Sinead
October Project
One Dove
One 2 Many
Paris, Anika
Poe
Portishead
Private Life
Rasputina
Renaissance
Republica
Rhodes, Happy
River City People
Romeo Void
Roxette
Rusby, Kate
Scandal
Schmidt, Claudia
Shai no Shai
Shakespear’s Sister
Sharam, Max
Siberry, Jane (added August 19, 2012)
Siouxsie and the Banshees
Sister Crayon (added August 19, 2012)
Sixpence None the Richer
Sky Cries Mary
Smyth, Patty
Sneaker Pimps
Sonic Dream Collective
Sundays, The
Sunscreem
10,000 Maniacs
Texas
Tikaram, Tanita
‘Til Tuesday
Tosun, Sylvia
Transvision Vamp
Trynin, Jen
Tunstall, K.T.
Tyler, Bonnie
Vega, Suzanne
Velvet Chain
Wilson Phillips
Winehouse, Amy
X
Xenia (added August 19, 2012)

I’ve added more since.

==

Borderline cases I’m tempted to include but have reservations about:
Ace of Base
Benatar, Pat
Berlin
Blondie
Bow Wow Wow
En Vogue
Franklin, Aretha
Jackson, Wanda
Jett, Joan
Reinhart, Haley (added August 19, 2012)
Tony! Toni! Tone!

==

Noteworthy non-gloomy chick singers in my collection:
Bangles, The
Carey, Mariah
Chiffons, The
Go-Gos, The
Jackson, Janet
Shirelles, The
Shore, Dinah

==

* I don’t actually like Julia Fordham’s music, but I have three of her albums — gifts from one of my fans — and she definitely qualifies as a gloomy chick singer under my definitions, just a bad one.

Things You Maybe Didn’t Know About Me

Based on a newsgroup post dated May 15, 2012, but heavily edited:

In the 1980s I looked so much like Bob Seger that not only did his fans sometimes mistake me for him, but my then-brother-in-law once mistook him for me.

The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man — or at least the guy in the suit in the original “Ghostbusters” — was one of my high school classmates. He’s not credited because he was in the wrong union; he was a special-effects guy, not an actor.

The very first personal newsgroup on SFF Net, started on February 7, 1996, was mine. It was not the last, though; I shut it down a couple of weeks before SFF Net closed up shop in March, 2017.

Points of Pride

From a newsgroup post dated May 17, 2011:

Like most people, I take pride in my accomplishments. Sometimes, though, I suspect that what I consider impressive accomplishments would not be on anyone else’s list.

For example, I am very proud of having sold stories with these titles:
“Dead Babies”
“Science Fiction”
“Ghost Stories”
“New Worlds”

I’m proud of having written the title story for an anthology that wasn’t supposed to have a title story — “Beneath the Tarmac.” I consider it completely unfair that the publisher then retitled the book Deathport.

I’m proud of having written and sold a story that was specifically designed to violate an anthology’s guidelines, “The Pick-Up,” even though in the end I sold it to a different market that paid more than five times as much. This was a particular challenge because the guidelines accidentally said they didn’t want to see a character turn out to be a vampire, werewolf, elf, alien, and Elvis, instead of “or.”

In general, I take pride in perversity. “My Mother and I Go Shopping” was written specifically because an editor was complaining about rejecting a story with that title as totally inappropriate for a fantasy market. Unfortunately, that editor was no longer buying by the time it was finished, so I had to sell it somewhere else.

“Remembrance of Things to Come” was written to fit the description in a cover letter an editor was using as an example of the ridiculous crap he had to put up with. I was very disappointed when the editor didn’t think my stunt was funny, and I had to sell the story somewhere else.

“Mittens and Hotfoot” was written because a friend was complaining about the work in a convention art show, saying that there were all these pictures of kittens and baby dragons, but no one wrote stories about kittens and baby dragons.