Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Endless Fascination with Vampires

Geek that I am, I've been playing this game called "Vampire Wars" on facebook for the last few weeks. The game itself is not that great, really. I don't know why the hell I keep coming back to it. It's kind of a bare-bones role playing game. All text-based, like old time D&D games. You earn skill points and strength points and all those other things RPG types are familiar with.

The thing appears to be wildly popular. Facebook (which I spend way too much time on, by the way) offers a lot of these type of games, but the Vampire application really seems to have a following.

This got me to thinking. As a writer, I've always resisted entering the vampire genre, but there really does seem to be a built-in audience for anything undead. My feeling was always that the vampire tale had been "done to death" so to speak, and done quite well. From Bram Stoker to Anne Rice, what more could there be to say?

Now I'm beginning to re-think that. Maybe the vampire mythos enjoys such an enduring place in the human imagination for a reason.

On the one hand, they are a romantic monster. Elegant, sophisticated and beautiful -- sexy even, in the hands of many authors. But for all their power and allure, they are the most tragic of all mythical creatures. They have what we all wish we could have, immunity from death and suffering, but it is this very quality that renders them hopeless and alone. They embody the things we wish we could have, and yet suffer from the same fundamental problems that we do.

So if they are "us", then there's always more to be said.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Whatever works, I guess

I'm back. At least my ability to put words together on a page is back, for now.

I have no idea how this works. Last month, I couldn't string a sentence together. I'd just stare at the page, coming up with nothing. Nothing. Now, for no apparent reason, the old gray matter is ready to work again.

In the last month or so I've taken a minor break from writing. It seems to have helped. Part of it was involuntary, of course, I couldn't do it even when I wanted to. The other part was just circumstance. I took a few road trips.

Early in October I drove over to Pittsburgh to meet up with an old buddy from NJ, and to watch the Devils edge out the Penguins -- behind enemy lines. I'd been to Pittsburgh before. It's a lot like my adopted hometown of Cleveland, for as much as residents of both cities like to act as if one or the other is somehow far superior to their rival. I guess that's how people from the rest of the country look at my precious Boston-New York rivalry. Without a dog in the fight, it probably looks like two groups of very similar people, from very similar places who just love to act like they hate each other.

A few weeks later, I ventured further east, to Virginia. With a bunch of fellow attorneys and amateur Civil War buffs, we toured two battlefields, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. I love doing that. some of those places are so pristine, it's like taking a vacation in the 19th century, albeit with a nice hotel suite to go back to at the end of the day.

Funny story, we got lost in the woods, near a thick forest area they called "The Wilderness" during the war. At some point, we did consider resorting to cannibalism if our barely-remembered Cub Scout training proved unable to find us a way out. Luckily we weren't lost for that long, but I'm wondering if I can turn that into some kind of a horror story.

So now, like magic, I come home and find that I'm able to write again. Maybe it was just the R&R that hit the "reset" button on my current manuscript. Then again, there's nothing quite like a real-life discussion of human sacrifice to get the creative juices flowing.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Dreaded Block

It's happening again. Writer's block.

It's no myth. No fantasy. It's very real. And it's got me stuck.

I was cruising along, too. I'm approximately halfway through a new manuscript, I had all the major characters established, the plot was moving just as it should and then -- boom. Nothing. Every time I've sat down to write for the last few weeks, I haven't been able to muster a word. Not a thing.

The worst part of it is that it's largely self-inflicted. When I do think about writing at the moment, I'm thinking about sales figures, about distribution, about reviews -- or the lack of them, about getting a deal for my most recent finished manuscript, and even obsessing over the details of my first one -- why it didn't sell as many as I'd hoped, why it didn't get in more stores.

This is supposed to be about the process. The writing itself. Doing it for its own sake. Not for money (God knows I haven't really made any). Not for recognition (no problem there, either). Not for the business.

But for some reason, that's all I can think about right now.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A New Day

I haven't updated this blog since July. Not that I haven't been working, I just haven't had much to put up here.

The other day my agent asked me to put up a "blurb" on her website ( for the manuscript that I've been working on this summer. It's not done. I'm barely halfway through it, in fact. While I usually don't like to do this -- I don't even let anyone read what I'm writing until it's done -- in this case I'll make an exception. This project is all outlined already, which is another thing I don't usually do, but it means that I know pretty much how it's going to look when I finish it.

If you've read this blog at all, then you might recall that about a year ago (after several trips to the desert Southwest) I started musing about the idea of a horror-fantasy set in the Old West. The blurb that follows is the result of those ideas rattling around my head for a while.

The other manuscript I posted about a while back, "The Prometheus Gate" is still out there in the ether, so keep checking back for updates on that one.

Anyway, here's the teaser for the new one, working title "The Hand of Osiris":

The year is 1879. Bounty hunter Jacob Hatcher has pursued the outlaw Jedediah Sykes from the Texas prairie to the deserts of the Arizona Territory. On the verge of capture, Sykes escapes into a valley that Hatcher’s Apache guides refuse to enter, warning that the lands are cursed by an ancient, nameless evil. The trail leads him to a town that appears on no maps, a dark paradise of sin and vice called Gehenna. Though gambling and gunfights rule the day, no one in Gehenna ever dies. Unless everyone in Gehenna is already dead. Hatcher and Sykes soon find themselves entangled in the mysteries of Gehenna’s peculiar denizens – a pale dandy, a fire & brimstone Jesuit preaching to a city of lost souls, and a shadowy figure who rules over the town like a living god. When one of them makes a choice that threatens to damn them all, the rest must work together, confronting not only their own demons, but the hidden horrors of Gehenna itself, to find a stolen key that can unlock the domain of the dead. The Hand of Osiris.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Opinions May Vary

I got a kick out of this.

Every so often I google "The Lucifer Messiah." I used to do it a lot, during the first six months after it came out. Not nearly as much lately. The great thing about all this "inter-connectivity" these days is that you can find out all kinds of things you never could have known before: who's reading your book, what they think about it, even where they got it.

You can also get a great, and sometimes humorous, sense of how people think your work ranks compared to other authors.

That's what I found today.

I googled the book and a site popped up that I had never visited before. A reader had posted a whole long list of books that he'd read recently. He categorized them into those that he considered "Good" "Okay" and "Awful."

I already knew my book was on the list somewhere, but I didn't know where. So I scrolled through it.

The good news?

My book is in the same category with novels by Kurt Vonnegut, William Peter Blatty of "The Exorcist," Thomas Harris of "Silence of the Lambs," "Red Dragon" and "Hannibal,"C.S. Lewis and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Fine literary company, indeed, wouldn't you say?

Well, here's the rub. According to this particular blogger, all of us wrote books that fell into the "OKAY" category.

Oh well, you can't please everyone, right?

I suppose I 'd rather be considered "Okay" alongside Kurt Vonnegut than be considered "Good" alongside Terry Brooks and that Christopher Paolini kid. Don't even get me started on that.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Gettysburg, Shelby Foote and the 4th

I just read Shelby Foote's "Stars in Their Courses." That's not actually a complete book. It's a very small segment of the middle volume of a three volume history of the American Civil War. I hope someday to read the entire thing.

This has become something of a minor obsession for me lately. A few weekends ago I visited Gettysburg for the first time. It's an amazing place. Nowhere that I've been to is quite like it. I could go on for pages and pages about why Gettysburg is so important, why it's so meaningful, why the place is so affecting. But other, better writers have already done that, and if you care at all about the subject, you'd do well to read any of them.

Shelby Foote, would be a good first choice.

He was a gifted writer. His words do what every writer attempts, and what few ever achieve. They do not merely describe, they evoke. Both transcedent beauty and horrific suffering, and every shade in between. He weaves an epic tale, all the more touching because it is no tale, as he reminds the reader every few pages by digressing -- never for long and never without good reason -- with personal stories about the men who fought and died all those years ago.

As the Fourth of July draws to a rainy close here in North Jersey, Shelby Foote has me thinking. That's what we should have been talking about today. That's the point. But all day, while HBO ran a "John Adams" marathon and one of the other cable channels ran all the episodes of "The American Revolution" series back-to-back, I didn't see a single mention of the Civil War, let alone Gettysburg, which was fought on the first 3 days of July.

That's a shame, because an understanding of the Civil War is essential to an understanding of the United States. The freedoms that were won during the Revolution, the freedoms proclaimed by Jefferson and the men in Philadelphia on this date 232 years ago, marked only the beginning of the story. In many important ways, the ultimate success of that revolution wasn't realized until the Civil War, and no one moment better encapsulates the Civil War than the Battle of Gettysburg itself.

Shelby Foote summed it up so well, with one statement that everyone should know about the U.S.

Before the Civil War people would typically say "The United States are..." After the war however, and ever since, people say "The Unites States is..." And that's what the war meant at it's most basic level. That's what all the blood spilled and the suffering endured at places like Gettysburg achieved. Foote says, as only he could: "the war made us an is."

The Fourth of July marks the date when a group of sovereign states came together to end their collective rule from London. But it was only many years later that those several states truly became what we are now, one single nation.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

My First Ever "Fan" Call

This is a new one.

As a writer, I don't really get fan mail. When The Lucifer Messiah came out in 2006, I got a few emails from people who had read the book. Mostly they were just dropping a line to say a nice thing or two.

That died down quickly. Then I went to Fan Expo Canada last year, where Medallion Press and I gave out a few hundred signed copies. That generated a handful of nice comments from folks who attended and liked the book.

But today I got something new. A fan phone call.

When I got home from work today there was a message on my landline phone (I rely almost exclusively on my cell these days, so my landline is kind of a vestige of the old days.) It was from a woman who very nicely reported that she had just read my book and wanted to let me know that she liked it. She didn't leave a number, and the caller ID on my phone registered "private call" so I don't know who she is or where she called from. But it was nice to hear.

Unusual, but nice.