Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Interviewed by Library Dad

Today I'm interviewed by Neil over at the Library Dad blog.

Monday, March 30, 2009

In The New Shetlander: Vernacular Abandon

The latest issue of The New Shetlander magazine contains my article, "Vernacular Abandon: Writing the Way We Speak." I'm even mentioned in the Shetland News article about the current issue.

This is an expansion of a blog post from January 2009 titled Are you William Faulkner? Check yes or no. Thanks to New Shetlander editorial committee member Mark Smith for requesting the article, and to Tenaya Darlington, Fabu and Elizabeth Keathley for sharing their insights with me.

(The magazine is Scotland's longest-running literary periodical, published since 1947. It is a traditional journal and has no real web presence, but can be [and should be, because it's awesome] purchased here.)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Resounding Adventures in Vintage Recording

I’ve learned this lesson many times in my life, but it keeps surprising me each time it happens: a subject in which I have no prior interest can become fascinating if it’s part of a well-told story.

John Culshaw (1924-1980) was a producer with Decca Records in the late 1950s, specializing in their classical music division. This was an era when records (by which I mean vinyl discs) were still played on “gramophones,” and the biggest technological breakthrough was something called “stereo.” In 1958, he embarked on something that had never been done before: recording Richard Wagner’s massive 15-hour opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelungen) for the first time in its entirety. He chronicled this undertaking in his 1967 book Ring Resounding.

The book’s biggest surprise was the world in which it happened. Imagine a time when vinyl records were the only option for recorded music, and that the original form (a 12” disc that spun at 78 RPMs, limiting playback time to approximately 3-5 minutes) was the norm. That level of technology made it hugely impractical to record things like symphonies and operas, since the frequent side breaks would totally destroy the flow. How impractical? In 1902 Verdi’s opera Emani was released as a 40-disc set.

Then came the LP, or “long playing” record, which could handle a bit over thirty minutes per side. And at last the biggest breakthrough of all, the one that allowed the closest approximation of the true concert experience: stereo.

This was a hands-on era: the placement of microphones, the creation of sound effects, even the tape editing were done physically. A good ear was a priceless commodity, and no amount of then state-of-the-art equipment could take its place. Managing the artists involved was also a hands-on thing, and Culshaw goes into detail about his relationships with conductor Arnold Solti, legendary soprano Birgit Nilsson, and other opera notables who required alternating prods and coddles.

There’s no big scandal here, no huge tragedy or last-minute heroics. This is the story of men and women motivated by a love for great music and a belief that there was an audience for it out there. Recording each of the four operas in the cycle becomes its own adventure, pitting determination and artistry against the limitations of time and technology.

I’m not an opera fan. The only one I’ve seen was Verdi’s Aida, and I was so distanced from the story that, when Aida and Radames are entombed at the end, my first thought was that their air would last longer if they’d stop singing. But as I said, a well-told story can overcome even my inherent disinterest. Culshaw provides just the right details to bring you into the moment, so you feel the impact of each failure and triumph. It’s emphatically not a dull book, and like its title promises, continues resounding long after the final page is turned.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Guest blogging at Magical Musings

Today I'm guest-blogging at Magical Musings on finding the essential core quality for my vampire characters. Stop by and say hi!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Speaking with the vamp from Vamp

Since vampires don't really exist, it's impossible for me, as the author of a vampire novel (Blood Groove, available April 28, 2009 from Tor), to chat with one. But I can talk with the next best thing: an actor who plays a vampire.

Kristin Forde portrays the heartbreaking vampire Angela in Ry Herman's play Vamp, performed by StageQ and the Mercury Theatre in Madison, WI through March 28, 2009. Jennifer Smith, in the Isthmus, says, "Whether you're gay, straight, a figment of someone's imagination, a member of the living dead or just plain human, Vamp is fresh and relatable." I saw the show, and I'll sign that, too.

Forde was kind enough to answer some vampire-specific questions about creating her character.

Alex: Both Chloe and Angela were victims of "monsters"; why do you think Angela became one herself, while Chloe remained a victim?

Kristin: I actually think that if you were to ask Chloe, she would tell you that she is also a monster. A different kind of monster, maybe one hiding in the closet, but a monster all the same. Chloe and Angela masked themselves differently. Angela self-identifies as a vampire and performs in life with a confident, attractive front knowing that her ability to attack lies just beneath the surface. Chloe hides in her apartment and spirals downward in depression and mental illness, alienating herself from friends. Her attraction to Angela, who makes it quite obvious that she is a vampire, allows this cycle to continue. I would claim that they are both monsters and each 100% responsible for the repeated patterns of perpetration and victimization, anger and depression.

In the first parable scene, there is a beautiful girl and a monster. At first glance, it seems the beautiful girl represents Chloe and the monster, Angela. In fact, the beautiful girl is Angela. Chloe is represented in the second parable scene when "the beautiful girl meets another beautiful girl." The beautiful girls are both victims who react differently. One runs away while the other attacks...both in an effort to defend themselves.

Another interpretation of the play which I have explored is that Angela is not real at all. She is similar to Jesus and Spunky Old Gal, an annoying character that exists in the plays Chloe reads, but takes on extra significance because Chloe is afraid of the next person she will fall in love with, without even knowing who that will be. Angela represents what she is afraid of. And in the end, Angela has a lesson to teach her as any trite character would.

Either way, I would suggest that Chloe is not simply the victim and Angela is not simply the monster.

Did you approach the character of Angela as if she were a real vampire, or did she simply believe she was a vampire? What aspects of the play's text influenced your choice?

I approached Angela's character as if she only believed she was a vampire. I decided this right away because it gave her more depth to work with. She truly believed she was a vampire so she lived by conventions and attributed all aspects of her being to her status as a vampire. This allowed me to explore the motivations and actions of a predator and as a vampire frustrated with her reality. Yet the story I was even more interested in was the story of self-created realities. Her status as a vampire, even her frustration with it, is actually a method for avoiding the very difficult place of healing. Only by becoming conscious of patterned, negative behavior and allowing herself to feel such heartbreaking emotion could she fully grasp her potential for living with free will.

Her 'healing' begins with Jesus' parable about the beautiful girl. He sends her a message that a monster only convinced her to believe that she was a monster. In fact, she just needed therapy! She continues by describing her experience with a vampire that sucked the love out of her and made her feel like she could never love anybody: "If I had loved her enough it would have been alright, but I couldn't do it. I didn't have it in me because I am bad." She breaks down with emotion. Later, she searches the sky for answers and Jesus meets her in the field. He tells her to "go home." She then takes over the puppet stage and tells her own story that goes beyond her first encounter with a monster. She speaks of behavior learned from parents and teachers, she confesses that she hated herself a long time ago "because she wasn't nice anymore." Again she breaks down: "Maybe I should shoot myself in the fucking head." At this moment, though, I believe she realizes that she doesn't have to kill her whole self; only the self-loathing and self-compromising monster living inside. In her poem, she says the hardest part about packing was "putting away the bondage gear." It was hard to set herself free from the monster, yet she did it.

Did you have a prior interest in vampires before taking on the role? How did (or not) this affect your performance?

I didn't have interest in vampires before the show. I'm not sure how this affected my performance. It may have led to an easy conclusion that Angela only believed she was a vampire and more exploration of the human side. And sucking blood was never a primary motivation.

What influenced Angela's striking visual presence?

Angela's appearance was influenced by the writing, the directing and the designer. Ry Herman described Angela's costume as a vinyl-based evening gown with gloves. I believe that part of this was to show that Angela was not creating any illusions about her identity, yet Chloe either ignores signs or is simply oblivious. Tara Ayres wanted Angela to be a very sexual character; a vampire who uses sexual attraction to gain access to its prey. This becomes part of Angela's story then. Her ability to control situations with a confident sexual tone prevents her from dealing honestly with her own demons. Rebecca Site took direction from the director and writer and made a kick ass costume!

Thanks again to Kristin Forde for taking the time to talk to me. Vamp will be performed through March 28, 2009; info on tickets and times can be found here.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Bolling for vampires

Because I'm not a gamer, I don't have a lot of interest in movies made from video games. In the rare case that I've seen one (such as the original Resident Evil film) what struck me most was the sheer arbitrariness of everything. Of course, that's as much a function of sloppy storytelling as it is the source material, so I can't entirely blame the game. And iffy source material doesn't always mean disaster: the first Pirates of the Caribbean film is a well-made, fun film based on a amusement park ride, and Mars Attacks! is an unappreciated subversive comedy taken from a set of trading cards (a source that might be even more arbitrary than an Xbox/Playstation game).

This is the long way around to saying I've never seen a film directed by the much maligned Uwe Boll until I sat down to watch his two vampire-themed BloodRayne films.

The first film stars Kristanna Loken as the title character, a dhamphir (half human, half vampire) who is first seen as a sideshow freak in a Medieval traveling circus. Soon she is recruited into the Brimstone Society, an anti-vampire league headed by Michael Madsen. She eventually confronts her vampire father (Ben Kingsley), who has the usual plan to take over the world.

The film's credits include two surprises. One is a list of supporting actors you wouldn't expect to find in a low-budget sword-and-sorcery period film: Michelle Rodriguez, Billy Zane, Meat Loaf (!), Michael Pare, and the aforementioned Madsen and Kingsley. And truthfully, none of them are very good at making the stilted language come alive. Madsen, burdened with most of it, comes off as particularly stiff, although even the truly slumming Kingsley doesn't distinguish himself.

The other surprise is the name of screenwriter Guinevere Turner. Her list of previous writing credits (such as American Psycho, Go Fish, The Notorious Bettie Page) give no hint that she was capable of writing something like this, and if the results accurately reflect her script, there's a reason for that. But even the best script can be torpedoed in execution, so I'm inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt.

As for that execution, it's disjointed, awkward, and oddly paced, but still manages to have the taste of Old World folklore. The characters make decisions with no apparent motivation, and take action without any sense of continuity with their former behavior. The battle scenes are humorously schizophrenic, with awkward grade-school sword-tapping intercut with over-the-top gore. This could be a function of budget, schedule or creative laziness, but there's no denying its entertainment value.

How much this is due to the script, Boll's direction or just the nature of making a low-budget film quickly is hard to say. But the film wasn't as bad as I expected, in large part due to Kristanna Loken.

One thing I've noticed about Loken in other films is that, whatever the occasion, she throws herself whole-heartedly into the emotion of the moment. When, like BloodRayne, the film doesn't bother to set up these moments she's left looking a bit silly, but that's not her fault. She also has the kind of rubbery, malleable features that make her gorgeous one moment and grotesque the next (and for an actress, that's a good thing). BloodRayne rests entirely on her shoulders, and she does all she can with it. The final result can't really be blamed on her.

But then we get to BloodRayne: Deliverance, (a.k.a. BloodRayne 2) and the blame becomes a whole lot clearer.

First, there's no Loken. Rayne this time is embodied (I use that term because "acted" really doesn't apply) by the attractive but uncharismatic Natassia Malthe. Second, it's a Western: the head vampire this time is Billy the Kid. There's a semblance of an idea here (Billy takes over a small town just before the railroad arrives, so he can then send his vampire henchmen out into the world via mass transit) but it's not really developed. Hell, nothing in this movie is really developed.

This seems to be the kind of film that Uwe Boll's detractors describe: cheap, incoherent, and most damning of all, boring. I don't have any emotional investment in the source material, but having enjoyed the first film I found this one a real disappointment.

So my first exposure to Uwe Boll goes down as a split decision. I liked the first BloodRayne well enough for what it was, even if some of its entertainment value was unintentional. BloodRayne: Deliverance was a waste of all resources.

(I understand that Mr. Boll often threatens to physically thrash his detractors, and that he was once a professional boxer. Let's hope he only reads the first two sentences in the above paragraph.)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Eddie LaCrosse live!

There are a lot of thrills for an author when his first book is published: receiving the galleys, the ARCs, seeing the cover for the first time (and not hating it), getting reviews that seem to understand what you were trying to do. Now I've gotten my latest thrill, and it's a doozy: Blackstone Audio presents (unabridged!) The Sword-Edged Blonde, read by the awesome Stefan Rudnicki.

Follow the link above to hear an audio sample and order a copy. And be sure to request it at your local library!

Monday, March 2, 2009

And the winner is...

The Squirrel Boy has drawn the name from the Darth Vader chalice, and the winner of the signed paperback ARC of The Sword-Edged Blonde (which includes a teaser chapter of the sequel, Burn Me Deadly), is...


Please contact me, since your Blogger profile doesn't have an e-mail.

Thanks to everyone who entered, and watch for more contests closer to the release date of June 30, 2009.