Meet the Authors!

I don’t know whether anyone actually reads this; that last post, about audiobooks, got absolutely zero reaction. But I’ll go on posting, if only for my own amusement.

I’m cleaning my office to get it tidy enough to be seen by prospective buyers, and this has meant turning up lots of long-forgotten memorabilia. (Yes, I recognize the inherent conflict in “forgotten memorabilia.”) Some of these items resulted in a rush of nostalgia, a flood of fond memories.Meet the Authors!

Other items brought me to say, “What the heck was that about?”

In this latter category is a flyer for a “Meet the Authors!” event at the Winchester Public Library some long-ago April. Winchester is the county seat of Clark County, Kentucky, where we lived from 1983 to 1986, so presumably this event occurred in that time period.

I don’t remember it at all.

There were three authors scheduled to appear, quite likely the only three who lived in Clark County: R. Gerald Alvey, author of Dulcimer Maker: The Craft of Homer Ledford; A. Goff Bedford, author of The Proud Land: A History of Clark County, Kentucky; and me, author of, it says here, several fantasy novels.

Also in attendance: Homer Ledford, the subject of Mr. Alvey’s book, playing dulcimer.

I have attended many local book fairs of one sort or another, but honestly, I don’t know why; they’re never my natural audience. Whether it’s as small-scale as the Takoma Park book fair held every year in a church basement, or as large as the Kentucky State Book Fair that took over the armory in Frankfort one year, I’m always out of place at such events, wasting my time by participating.

Local book fairs don’t attract people interested in books; those folks go to bookstores. They attract people interested in the place holding the event. Messrs. Alvey and Bedford and Ledford presumably drew crowds who wanted to learn more about their own little corner of the world: Clark County, home to a famous dulcimer-maker. Someone writing about fantasy worlds, wizards, and dragons was utterly out of place.

At the Kentucky State Book Fair the writers who had brought illustrated volumes about Kentucky’s landscapes or Kentucky’s horses or Kentucky’s role in the War Between the States drew enthusiastic crowds, while I sat there bored and ignored, chatting in a desultory fashion with the almost equally bored poet in the next seat. No one knew what to make of us; we lived in Kentucky, but our books weren’t about Kentucky.

In Gaithersburg or Takoma Park the crowds (such as there were) weren’t quite so parochial; since both cities are in the suburban portions of Greater Washington, books about politics or American history in general were greeted with some enthusiasm. Even a murder mystery or historical novel might garner some attention. But fantasy? No.

Even when I tried to focus heavily on One-Eyed Jack, a horror/dark fantasy novel whose protagonist lives in on Maple Avenue in Takoma Park, at a Takoma Park Book Fair, no one was interested. Too weird.

So I no longer do book fairs, or bookstore signings. Why waste everyone’s time?

And this flyer for the Winchester event is going in the recycling bin, not moving on to our next home with us.

Ear Candy

Awhile back I noticed that I still controlled the audio rights to some of my books — specifically, the Obsidian Chronicles. And someone pointed me at ACX, where I could self-publish audiobooks.
audiobook of Dragon Weather

So in 2016 I decided to give it a shot, and signed up to produce an audiobook of Dragon Weather. I held auditions and found a guy named Shawn Saavedra who seemed to do a fine job, and while it took longer than I’d expected, the audiobook of Dragon Weather came out last summer, and has done better than I expected.

So of course I signed Shawn up to continue the series. The Dragon Society has just been completed and delivered to ACX/Audible, and should be available for purchase in a week or two.

And now we’ve just contracted for Dragon Venom — not sure how long it’ll take, but it’s under way.
audiobook of The Dragon Society

For all three, Bob Eggleton was kind enough to let me use the original cover art for a modest fee, which made it possible to put together some decent covers.

Anyway, that will finish the series — so what’s next?

I already knew I controlled the audio rights to Touched by the Gods, which I think would be a good fit for Shawn’s voice and style; he says he’d be interested in tackling it, but not immediately after the current series. So that’s a long-term prospect.

But tonight a thought struck me, and I checked some contracts, and discovered I also control Night of Madness. I’ve had people asking for more Ethshar, and while Wildside Press controls most of the series and is very gradually releasing them (The Misenchanted Sword and The Vondish Ambassador are available, and With A Single Spell is allegedly in the works), I could do Night of Madness myself.
audiobook of Dragon Venom

I also still have the rights to the Annals of the Chosen. That might be interesting.

So would those be worth doing?

P.S. …and today I realize I still have the audio rights to everything published by FoxAcre Press, too.

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.

The Last of the Newsgroup

I got tired of doling them out roughly once a day, and just transferred the dozen or so remaining progress reports from my old SFF Net newsgroup to the Serial Box, my other blog.

If you look through that list, you’ll see that I’ll never need another story idea as long as I live. (I’ll undoubtedly generate lots of them anyway, though.) People who think ideas are really important for writers, take note: Ideas are cheap. Originality isn’t necessary, either.

My biggest problem is finding the time to write the damned things.

Anyway, this means that sff.people.lwe is really, truly gone for good. Sigh.

The Writing Life

From a newsgroup post dated October 14, 2014:

Had odd dreams last night; one was clearly the result of being on six (!) panels at Capclave, but the other isn’t quite so readily explained.

In the last dream, which was still going when I woke up, a reader was asking me (in e-mail, I think) when I was going to get back to my “Cyber War” setting, and whether it connected to my other story settings.

I explained that yes, it was connected to my two time-travel series, “The Deleted Dinosaurs” and “The Time Meddlers.”

None of these three actually exist, of course, and other people have written series called “Cyber War” and “Time Meddlers,” but “The Deleted Dinosaurs” sounds promising. Anyway, in the dream I’d written multiple stories in all three series, starting in the 1980s.

In that earlier dream I was one of the headliners at a second annual event where the first one had gone spectacularly well, to the point the organizers (I might have been one of them, it wasn’t clear) had done very little preparation, on the assumption that everything would go smoothly because it had before. It didn’t; no one could remember the schedule or find the printed programs (though we all agreed that they existed, albeit in insufficient numbers).

The event was some sort of writer-training thing. There were supposed to be panels and workshops, but the lack of organization meant those weren’t happening. At some point I took the bull by the horns and began lecturing a large audience on manuscript preparation — a lecture I have actually given, but not for a decade or more because it’s out of date in these days of e-mail and electronic submissions. I remembered its obsolescence when I woke up, but I don’t think I did during the dream. (The dream was interrupted by a neighbor’s yapping dog, but I went back to sleep and eventually dreamed about that three-part SF series.)

The lecture dream clearly resulted from Capclave, but the program at Capclave was actually superbly well run this year except for being too long — it started at 3:30 Friday (I was on that panel) and ran until 5:00 Sunday (I was on one of the last set, too; there were three at that hour, instead of just one). It was well-attended, too, except for that last slot.

The connected-stories thing, though, just comes from being a writer for a long time.

I don’t usually remember any of my dreams, let alone two semi-coherent ones from a single night; I’m not sure what to make of it. I’m pretty sure there was yet another dream I almost remembered in between the lecture and “Deleted Dinosaurs,” but I can’t recall any details.

About Story Settings

From two newsgroup posts both titled “Work in Progress: Bait (title will probably change),” and both dated April 21, 2013; I retitled it because (a) “Bait” did change titles, and (b) it isn’t really about that story in the first place.

“Bait” is now Veran the Fair and the Thieves of Borgran, and it still isn’t finished.

Today I got thinking about the setting, and realized I’ve been inventing too many backgrounds from whole cloth lately, instead of fitting stories into existing settings. Because of the way its magic works, Bait doesn’t work in Ethshar…

Setting of twelve novels and eleven short stories so far, beginning with The Misenchanted Sword. Many more planned, some begun. Multiple forms of magic with fixed rules, but none of them fit Bait.

… or the Bound Lands…

Setting for A Young Man Without Magic and Above His Proper Station. Unwritten/partially written stories in this setting include On A Field Sable, Assassin in Waiting, Swordsmen of the Fallen Empire, Untrue Names, The Prince’s Return, etc. Magic… well, there are actually three kinds, something the characters themselves don’t realize. I know the rules of sorcery (as do many of the characters), but there’s also wizardry and chaos magic.

You know, I could maybe make Bait work set in the Cousins. Hmm. But I’d need to rework some of the magic, because sorcery does everything through wardings and bindings, and that doesn’t allow for the teleportation spell I need in Bait, and it does allow for
transformations…

Naaah.

…it would be a tough fit for Barokan…

Setting for the Annals of the Chosen: The Wizard Lord, The Ninth Talisman, The Summer Palace. No further stories contemplated. Magic is derived entirely from spirits, which doesn’t fit.

…or the Lands of Man…

Setting for the Obsidian Chronicles: Dragon Weather, The Dragon Society, Dragon Venom. No further stories planned, really, though a prequel called Lord Dragon was discussed a few years back. Magic
is vaguely defined, subtle, and complicated, and neither the magic nor the geography matches what I need in Bait.

…and it would only fit the Restored Lands if we go back the Great Pollution, probably before the Final War.

The Restored Lands (name subject to change) are the setting for The Dragon’s Price, an unfinished novel intended to be first of a series called The Signs of Power. Wizards are extinct; magic now takes specific forms indicated by specific birthmarks on the few people who can use it, and is strictly regulated by a theocratic regime.

(Though that’s maybe an interesting idea, that it is the Restored Lands long before they needed restoration.)

That could work, but would add theological complications, as there are real gods who can intervene in the mortal world in the Restored Lands, and I don’t want divine interference in Bait.

I don’t even remember what I called the setting for “Arms and the Woman” and Meant for Each Other, but it doesn’t work there unless, once again, it’s set in the distant past, before the Extinction.

“Arms and the Woman” is a published short story; Meant for Each Other is an unfinished YA novel. I like their setting and hope to re-use it elsewhere, eventually — it’s a world where (once again) wizards are extinct, but lots of their leftover magic is still cluttering up the landscape. But no wizards means no Bait.

I don’t think it’s really a good match for Meloria or the Inner Lands, from The Innkeeper’s Daughter, either, though that could maybe be made to work.

I’d need to rewrite what I have of The Innkeeper’s Daughter, I think, to make the magic match up better. The Inner Lands are ruled by the evil Lord Gorzoth, and a prophesied hero from Meloria is coming to try to kill him. Magic is complicated, poorly understood, widely but erratically distributed — not a good fit.

But on the other hand, I realized that it could fit the setting for an unwritten story called Home is Where the Heart Is. In fact, using that setting works really well.

Home Is Where The Heart Is consists of one page of notes and a lot of stuff in my head, I hadn’t actually started writing it yet, and until today I had no intention of ever using its setting for anything else, but it would work great for Bait, so there we go.

The working name for that setting is now The Wizardly Desmesnes. It’ll probably change.