Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The White Forest

I'm intrigued by mystical Victorian novels like The Night Circus, so when I ran across The White Forest by Adam McOmber on the bookstore shelf, I couldn't pass it up.

It makes good use of the period setting while following a heroine with an intriguing magical ability. Jane Silverlake can discern the souls of objects. She can sometimes prompt objects to reveal things as well.

As the novel opens, we learn that the ability may have been passed down from her mother, who may have died as a result of the ability. Jane and her father now live together in a crumbling British estate.

Much, besides her mother's death, has transpired before page one. Jane and her friend Madeline Lee have had a lengthy friendship and near rivalry over Nathan Ashe, another neighbor who was so intrigued by Jane's ability he was driven to mystical pursuits.

We learn he joined the army in order to travel to distant shores for research in to Jane's aptitude, and upon returning to London he joined the ranks of a cult leader known as Ariston Day. While involved with Day, he disappeared.

As the novel opens, Jane and Madeline are working to find the missing Nathan, while Jane is a suspect of Vidocq, a great French detective who's on the case.

Slowly, Jane learns more about Day's cult and his minions, called Fetches, and she begins to unravel new secrets about her abilities as well.

Flashes of surreal memory portray Nathan as a stag, subject of a hunt by a mysterious red queen in the mysterious and otherworldly White Forest of the title.

Was Jane responsible for his disappearance, or is there more to the mysterious white forest of her vision?

The reveals are strange and offbeat, building to a surprising and fantastical conclusion.

I liked the novel quite a bit, though I suppose I found the entry point into the story a little abrupt. Overall, it's a complex and intriguing historical fiction with a compelling and innovative heroine.

If you enjoy Victorian gothic narratives, you may enjoy it too.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Facebook Author Page

I'm not sure exactly why, but I delayed having a Facebook author page for a long time. First I had a page devoted to Midnight Eyes only. 

A recent big blog hop and a couple of other incidents sort of necessitated I cave, so I morphed the Midnight Eyes page into a Sidney Williams books page. 

If you are of a mind to, drop by and give it a like here.


Friday, March 22, 2013

RIP Rick Hautala and David and James

Important addendum: Learn how you can help Rick's wife Holly at Christopher Golden's blog

I was on Facebook last night engaging in light conversation with friends when messages started to pop up that Rick Hautala had passed away.

My first thought was: "Can this be real? He was posting things on Facebook just the other day."

A sign of our cyber times, I suppose.

It was true, a heart attack, and a sadness settled over me. Dave B. Silva, writer and editor of The Horror Show passed away recently, and James Herbert died this week. Significant losses for the horror community.

I don't remember exactly how my phone conversation with Rick came about back in the day, but, probably by letter, we agreed to a time for me to call him not long after my first book had sold. I think he was in the midst of his move to Warner Books after Night Stone and Little Brothers and several other successes that made him "that other horror writer from Maine."

It was a Friday night. Friday was my day off when I was a reporter. I worked Sundays.

I dialed him up at an agreed-upon time, and we talked long into that evening, and he never complained or "needed to get off the phone."

He told me the ins and outs of dealing with Zebra/Kensington.

He told me tales of hologram book covers that were a big marketing deal in those days.

He told me of wrangles over book revisions and standing strong in plot point arguments with editors.

He gave me advice about appearing at conventions: Just try to say something funny while on a panel so people remember you. 

Like all those moments you remember from long ago when something makes them suddenly poignant and relevant anew, it seems like yesterday.

RIP Rick Hautala (1949-2013)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

"An Evening With Patrick Stewart" in Orlando

For great coverage of Patrick Stewart's Orlando Shakespeare appearance, here's a great article about him describing his biggest onstage flub and more. This post is more about how I got to go to that show. 

To put things in perspective, I first heard the name Jean Luc Picard more than 25 years ago. I was at the Atlanta Fantasy Fair, attending a panel about the then-dubious Star Trek revival. David Gerrold was a guest, and he sketched out the characters on the new Enterprise including the planned French captain. That was a good while before we had to join Star Trek: The Next Generation in progress when college football ran over.

So flash forward to a couple of weeks ago, and I browsed a catalog for Megacon that Jennie Jarvis had left on Roland Mann's desk and noticed Patrick Stewart was a guest. I thought that was interesting, but it's been a busy year with a move and beginning teaching and the like, and I've been to a lot of cons.

I mentioned it to Christine, who discovered The Next Generation through me and Patrick Stewart because of that and is not generally a science fiction fan. She came to appreciate and respect TNG and  we watched while we were dating.

So, I'm thinking, it's been a busy year, and I've been to a lot of cons in my life, maybe I'll just pass on attending a con even though it would be a lot of fun.

Then Christine noticed Patrick Stewart would be appearing at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater with Megacon's blessings.

Say,  I thought, that'd be a little different. Figured we'd never get tickets.

I didn't realize quite how big a Patrick Stewart fan Christine still is. When the second hand clicked past 11:59 a.m. on the day tickets went on sale, she was dialing the box office. Calls before noon would not be honored.

She got an all circuits are busy tone.

She redialed and got it again.

She dialed again and got that Close Encounters of the Third Kind-sounding tone that says the number you're calling is in an alternate universe.

She dialed again and it started ringing.

She got cut off before there was an answer.

Not gonna happen, I figured.

She kept dialing. I went back to reading student writing assignments.

Again, again, again with the re-dial. Then she got an answering machine and left a message.

"Guess we don't get anything," she said, walking back into the den, dejectedly.

"Shouldn't get our hopes up," she said.

We began to get back to the daily routine.

Then the phone rang. Christine took the call and I listened to garbled speech in the next room for a while. Figured it was the "So sorry, we can't accommodate you" call

Until she came bounding into the room, jumped up and down about as many times as she'd hit redial and told me we had front row seats. Wow.

Proved to be a fun evening. The house was packed. Michael Dorn and Marina Sirtis slipped in, and Sir Patrick answered questions and discussed his career in The Royal Shakespeare Company, his realized dream of playing Othello as a white mercenary and what a hottie Helen Mirren was in the Royal Shakespeare days. He also discussed his biggest stage mistake, which he made twice in same-day performances of King Lear.

We got a mention of David Suchet, who Christine idolizes as much as Sir Patrick for his portrayal of Poirot, and some tales of X-Men, TNG and working with Ian McKellan.

It was worth the effort and it was a great introduction to Orlando Shakespeare. I  hope to go back, especially for their planned performance of Dracula.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Veronica Mars Attacks

It was probably my tweet of the link last night that helped put the Veronica Mars movie over the top in its Kickstarter campaign.

But seriously, The Hollywood Reporter has, well, reported that the effort met it's goal of raising $2 million in less than a day.

I've always been hopeful that the rumored movie would get off the ground, because I was a big fan of the series, created by Rob Thomas. He's clearly a fan of the private eye genre and the mystery genre in general.

Veronica, played by Kristen Bell, was a teen private eye more in the mold of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe than Nancy Drew. Elements of Agatha Christie crept into stories as well.

I got some eye rolls recently from students as I tried to convince them of the show's quality. I guess I felt a little vindicated reading this morning's headline. It's always fun to see a fresh take on noir and private eyes.

Guess we'll see how the film turns out in a year or so.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Silent Night, Bloody Night - Seminal Slasher Fluid

The Trailer


A prototype
If you look in the right places, you find footnotes which observe Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972) seems to be the earliest incarnation of the slasher film as we know it today.

There are other influences, to be certain, dating back to the Grand Guignol, but take a gander at the flick, and you'll see it certainly looks like the cookie cutter that shaped many films to follow.

Penned in part by Jeffrey Konvitz who'd go on to write the post-Exorcist demonic thriller The Sentinel the film seems to be on the crest of a cultural wave. Unlike other films that quickly followed, including Black Christmas (1974), it's about adults and not teens, but otherwise the familiar ingredients are present.

Since it wasn't released until 1974 and probably not widely seen in its day, it's fun to speculate on whether  it was directly influential or if it just somehow detected the same cultural elements and tributaries from earlier cinema that flowed forward to films like Halloween. Watch before the spoilers begin below.

Our Feature Presentation 

Not only does the film feature a host of slasher tropes. It revolves around the horror staple, an old dark house, Butler House, to be precise.

It's around 1970 as the story opens,  but we learn Wilfred Butler apparently flamed out on the doorstep 20 years earlier. That's from narrator and cult film favorite Mary Woronov as Diane Adams, the mayor's daughter, who's looking back on more recent carnage.

That was touched off, she recalls, with the escape of a mental patient who pounds through scenes with POV shots and heavy breathing reminiscent of Jason's shssss, shssss, shssss approach in Friday the 13th.

The escape coincides with the arrival of above-the-title star Partick O'Neil as the lawyer for Wilfred Butler's grandson, Jeffrey (James Patterson. No not that James Patterson.)

Jeff's finally willing to sell Butler House at the fire sale 1970 price of $50,000. The town fathers including a mute John Carradine, all of whom arrived in town during the Depression, are happy to buy with designs on tearing the place down. Who wants an old dark house around dragging down everyone's mood?

Before the papers can be signed on Christmas Eve, fitting the holiday trope into the mix, the adulterous O'Neil and his supermodel girlfriend, Astrid Heeren, are axed in the flick's bloodiest on-screen deaths, just like scores of promiscuous teens to follow in later films. There's even a scene of a Bible and crucifix being placed near the bodies to add symbolic weight.

It's also reminiscent at once of seeming protagonist Detective Arbogast's death on the stairs in Psycho and future surprise deaths of name stars doing day work.

Then founding fathers, and one mother, start to die soon while Jeff meets and seeks the help of Diane.

After they drive around in the cold and the dark a while, a lost diary, severed hands, strange  phone calls and more tropes follow until Jeff finally reaches Butler House and begins to read Wilfred's rambling account of what happened to his daughter and Jeff's mother.

There's family baggage to say the least, and a wonderfully creepy sepia flashback with bleeding blackshadows explains all on the way to the conclusion that makes Diane a prototype Final Girl years before Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode out-lasted less studious classmates.

There are moments that stretch credulity and others that might have had more explanation in the script, but  the overall effect is a bit grim, delightfully shudder-inducing and better than you'd expect.

Since the film got mostly drive-in release before building a cult following on VHS, it's a bit appropriate to watch it as a grainy and scratchy old theatrical print and get in-the-moment of forty years ago and contemplate a subgenre's course. It's also fun to contemplate what's going to happen at the end when the bulldozer collides with the thick, underpinning building blocks O'Neil's character alluded to shortly before his demise.

And again with higher definition
I suppose it's  appropriate that like every other '70s and early-'80s slasher, this one's getting a remake. Silent Night, Bloody Night: The Homecoming looks fairly faithful, though it also seems to include a Santa everyone thinks is in the original  because it sounds like Silent Night, Deadly Night.

The Remake trailer

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop - More on Louisiana Thriller Midnight Eyes and Five Bloggers to View

Hello, all. Welcome back to the blog hop. I hope you'll take time to visit the five bloggers linked below, following the Q&A. Thanks to Roland Mann for tagging me.

1: What is the title of your book? 

It's Midnight Eyes.

Originally, it was Dark Eyes, but I published a story by that name focusing on totally different subject matter  by another author in my podcast. The title was perfect for that short story, so I thought something different might be in order for my tale.

2: Where did the idea come from for the book? 

I find there's not one single idea for a book but actually a series of ideas. It's inspired loosely by one true story and fueled by facts about a rare psychological disorder. It also draws on my experiences working as a newspaper reporter and often covering the police beat.

3: What genre does your book come under? 

Thriller with horror elements or serial killer thriller, though it's got some mystery elements. It's Seven territory, I suppose.

4: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? 

Oh, wow. I've been trying to convince some producers it would make a great film, especially since it's set in Louisiana where there are nice economic incentives for production companies.

I'm not a casting expert but maybe Ryan Gossling for my criminologist Wayland Hood. There's a good role for an older actor as the hero's sheriff father. Could Kurt Russell be Ryan Gossling's dad?

5: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? 

When a series of brutal murders plague his Louisiana jurisdiction, Sheriff Ty Hood has to turn to the last person he wants for help, his ex-FBI agent son.

6: Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency? 

I was reped by an agent once who was more devoted to romance. It was published by Crossroad Press. It's a very active independent with titles by Clive Barker, Jack Ketchum, Tom Piccirilli and many more. First Crossroad brought out my previously published books, and then this one. I wrote it as part of what was supposed to be a segue from horror to thriller once upon a time, but it missed one wave or another in the markets.  I put it away, but this seemed like a good time to rewrite it and bring it forward.

 7: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? 

Probably six or eight months. The rewrite took four to six.

 8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? 

Well, I hate to compare, though I just did it above, didn't I? It's in the Silence of the Lambs mold. It's not as dark as I Was Dora Suarez, but it moves into some grim territory. There's, I think, an interesting action sequence at the end. That came about because I was working as a reference librarian at the time I was first writing it. A man came in for information on a topic, and as I read about it, I thought: this would make a great ending for a book.

 9: Who or what inspired you to write this book? 

It came on the heels of my newspaper experience, and there's a lot of that in the book. I lived and observed a lot covering the crime beat. This is all of that, how cops work, how cops and reporters clash, how editors drive reporters. There's a lot wrong with the media today, but a lot of people have the wrong conception about reporters. No one's perfect in this story, and the focus is more on the cops, but there's a taste of cop and media clashes, and a taste of how cooperation can work.

 10: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? 

It's a mystery and a thriller, so there's a plot that has some questions in the mix. One positive reviewer gave me a lecture on the mystery side of the coin, but I like the way the story hangs together.

Now jump to some more authors with interesting books to discuss. 

Alphabetical by first name:

Avery Debow
Charles Gramlich
Dave Jeffrey
M.F. Korn
Wayne Allen Sallee

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