Thursday, April 30, 2009

"Here Comes the Night Again": the story behind Blood Groove's dedication

Sometime in the early 80s, I was prowling the 99-cent cassette bin at Old Hickory Mall (the only one) in Jackson, TN. These were always crap shoots: aside from the total unknowns, many tapes by known artists had no songs you'd ever heard of. This time, though, in the midst of the tightly-packed rows of rectangular plastic spines, I spotted a familiar title: Streets of Fire.

As a diehard Bruce Springsteen fan, I recognized this as the title of a song from his 1978 album Darkness on the Edge of Town. I did not know the tape's artist, though: Duncan Browne. Still, if he covered a song by the Boss, he might be worth checking out. For a dollar, it was certainly worth the risk.

Alas, it wasn't the Springsteen song. "Streets of Fire" was a seven-minute instrumental at the end of side one. But by the time I got to it, I already realized the music gods had smiled on me. Duncan Browne had a full-blown, distinctive style in 1979 that sounded awfully close to the one Dire Straits used five years later on their huge Brothers in Arms album. I'm not saying Mark Knopfler ripped off Browne: Knopfler's tunes were much jauntier and lighter. I do think Browne was ahead of his time in placing loose, jazz-flavored guitar work in a pop setting. And since his music reeked of dark, wet streets and moody clubs behind unmarked doors, it failed in a market where "Walk of Life" and "Money for Nothing" later became huge hits.

The album kicks off with "Fauvette," a song about a "street-level Joan" (as in "of Arc," I've always presumed) who is a "Fauvette," apparently a French word for nightingale. The tune is moody, and Browne sings with a simple, dark conversational voice. But his guitar-playing is phenomenally spare and gripping. I'm no musician, so I have no idea if it's technically difficult, but it draws you in as much with the spaces between the licks as the notes themselves. I was hooked by the end of the first chorus.

The next track, "American Heartbeat," is more conventional. (An aside: For probably twenty years, I had the misfortune of owning cars with unreliable cassette decks. This meant that usually I had only one working speaker channel at any given time. On most songs it didn't matter, but sometimes it presented little gems I would've otherwise missed. On this song, after the line "Outside a streetcar named Desire it's a one-way flight," you could hear Browne laugh at himself, as if shaking his head at this lyric. That's lost completely in the full stereo mix.)

I won't bore you with a track-by-track synopsis. Instead, go and buy the MP3 download here. You wont be disappointed.

Of course, it's not as cool as having a copy of the original vinyl album still in its shrink wrap.

When I began writing Blood Groove, I had a central idea (old world vampire takes younger American ones under his cape), a hero I'd created for a previous short story and a vague plot concept about the danger these vampires would face. What I needed was an atmosphere, a vibe, to slide into while I wrote. It's an intangible thing, to be sure, but it's crucial to the process, or at least to my process. For The Sword-Edged Blonde, it was the Fleetwood Mac song "Rhiannon." For Blood Groove, it was side 1 of this album. That's why I named my heroine Fauvette, and why the book is dedicated to the memory of Duncan Browne, who left us in 1993.

I don't know how he'd feel about inspiring a vampire novel. I hope he'd be tickled that his music helped someone else create something. I know that I can't imagine this book, these characters, without his music accompanying them.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

This Saturday is Vampire Day at Westgate Mall

If you're in the Madison, WI area this Saturday, May 2, come join us for Vampire Day at Ravenworks in Westgate Mall, on the corner of Odana Road and Whitney Way. At 12:30 I'll be reading from Blood Groove, and signing copies as well. There's also tarot readings, a "Makeup of the Macabre" session, and a costume contest.

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Blood Groove Release Day!

Today the "suave, creepy" (Publishers Weekly) vampires of my "edgy, enthralling, entertaining" (Library Journal) novel Blood Groove are released on an unsuspecting public. Pick up a copy and journey back to 1975 Memphis when the King still lived, Parliament was in session and the undead wore stacks, bell-bottoms and polyester.

Get a sneak peek of Chapter 1 over at Flames Rising.

Anyone who comments on this post between now and Friday will be entered in a drawing for a signed copy of Blood Groove.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Goodies from OddCon

This weekend I attended Odyssey Con IX here in Madison, WI. I met noted SF and fantasy author Emma Bull, who was as excited about Blood Groove as I was about her historical fantasy western novel Territory.

I also got to hang out again with Patrick Rothfuss, author of the best-selling fantasy novel The Name of the Wind, and got him to pose with a shout-out to fellow author Jen K. Blom.

And here's the author signing session. That's me on the other side of Moondancer Drake's hat.

Finally, in the dealers' room I picked up a new Lovecraftian desk guardian made of blown glass by Maggs Creations.

A tremendous thanks to Jim Nichols and all the other convention organizers for putting together a great weekend. Hope to see you all next year!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Blood Groove video trailer

As promised last week, here's the short film based on my novel Blood Groove.

Written and directed by Lisa Stock. Featuring Catherine Mancuso. Music: "Bottle of Jack" by Colleen Grace, used by permission.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I'm interviewed at Patricia's Vampire Notes (and you can win an autographed book!)

It's one week from the release of my vampire novel Blood Groove, and today I'm interviewed at Patricia's Vampire Notes. You can also sign up for a chance to win a signed copy of Blood Groove. Be sure to stop by!

Monday, April 20, 2009

A second look at Love at First Bite

There's no doubt 2008 was a huge year for vampires, with the completion of the Twilight book series and the release of the first film, HBO's launch of True Blood, based on the Charlaine Harris books, and the surprise of Let the Right One In, a Swedish film based on John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel. But it still wasn't the biggest year for vampires.

That year was 1979, and the vampire in the spotlight was the king of them all. John Badham's revisionist Dracula, starring Frank Langella, competed with Werner Herzog's remake of Nosferatu, featuring Klaus Kinski. But the surprise winner, in box office terms, starred the tanned and vaguely smarmy George Hamilton: Love at First Bite.

The Badham and Herzog films have weathered the past three decades pretty well. Herzog's is considered a classic, and Badham's codified the popular notion of vampires as seducers more than slayers (Langella never even sports visible fangs). But the Hamilton film, directed by the forgotten Stan Dragoti (probably more famous for once being married to supermodel Cheryl Tiegs), was the popular success.

Seen today, the film is both crudely of its era and surprisingly timeless. The most dated aspect is racial humor so cliche'd it probably should've produced cringes even in 1979 (it didn't; I saw the film in the theater in Jackson, TN, and all of us of every race laughed our fool heads off). The stars of TV's The Jeffersons, Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford, have cameos as, respectively, a hypocritical preacher and a tough-talking judge. A Puerto Rican family, starving because the father refuses to find work, mistakes Dracula in bat form for a "black chicken." And on the streets of Harlem, Dracula is referred to as a "honky" and a "mother."

But between these ill-advised bits are some surprisingly fun, deadpan scenes that retain their power to tickle. Central to this is that Hamilton plays Dracula mostly straight: no matter how silly the situation, the king of the vampires never loses his essential dignity. Even such groaners as Dracula getting drunk on a wino's blood, or being mistaken for a waiter due to his tux, work because Hamilton goes for the reality among the silliness.

Susan St. James, of McMillan and Wife and Kate and Allie, co-stars as Cindy Sondheim, the supermodel reincarnation of Dracula's great love. Much like Kate Capshaw in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, St. James is too much actress for the part: she takes an underwritten character and brings her to vivid life thanks to her own innate skill and intelligence. And actor (Goodbye Columbus)/director (My Favorite Year) Richard Benjamin goes beyond the comedic call of duty as psychiatrist Jeffrey Rosenberg (real name Van Helsing, but he changed it "for professional reasons"). The scene in which he and Dracula have a stare-off, each trying to hypnotize the other, is a highlight.

But ultimately the story is a romance, and a rather sweet one at that. The chemistry between Hamilton and St. James works like gangbusters, creating a subtle poignancy beneath the goofiness. It's closer to the tenderness of Young Frankenstein, in fact, than the crude slapstick of Dracula: Dead and Loving It. And it's that aspect that stays fresh no matter how much time passes.

A NOTE: In the theater, on TV and on videotape, Dracula and Cindy dance to the Alicia Bridges disco hit "I Love the Night Life" in arguably the film's best-known moment However, the DVD replaces the song with something generic and, presumably, cheaper. What's most annoying is that the trailer on the DVD does include the song. I sympathize with the DVD's producers for not wanting to shell out the no-doubt-astronomical geld for the music rights, but it's a significant loss to those of us who remember it. So here's the scene the way it should be:

(Follow the link: embedding disabled)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

From the set of the Blood Groove trailer

This is Catherine Mancuso as Fauvette, the heroine of Blood Groove. It's the first time one of my characters has been brought to life, and let me tell you, it's . . . magic.

Watch for the full trailer, directed by Lisa Stock, next week!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Heaven's Gate: a parable finds its time

I recently rewatched Michael Cimino's 1980 film Heaven's Gate. Yep, the notorious disaster that destroyed a studio and the career of its director. For background, check out the late Steven Bach's book Final Cut.

A quick synopsis: Harvard graduate Jim Averill (Kris Kristofferson) goes west and becomes marshal of Johnson County, Wyoming, a place settled mostly by Eastern European immigrants. When these immigrants start killing cattle to feed their starving families, the cattle barons, with the approval of the governor and president, hire an army of killers to eliminate them. The immigrants, though, fight back. And just as they're about to overcome the assassins, the cavalry rides to the rescue--to save the bad guys.

In a coda we see an older Averill back east, having returned to his world of wealth and privilege but still wrestling with his conscience.

I was struck by the pessimism and cynicism at the heart of the story, and its parallels--emotionally more than narratively--with the America of today. Like the immigrants in the movie, most of us feel powerless to resist the economic and political forces arrayed against us. We know that rare good men like Jim Averill can't protect us from the sheer epic badness of the world's powerful people. Like the bankers, lawmakers and lawyers behind our current economic disaster, the film's immigrants face the rich cattle barons, Wyoming's governor and even the president (Benjamin Harrison, a Republican). These forces are untouchable, protected by wealth and distance and entitlement. "It's not me doing this to you," the Army captain tells Averill as the villains are saved, "it's the rules." Homeowners being evicted might get the same speech.

And like those immigrants in the story, our fear and frustration often come out in violence directed at the people we feel are responsible for our misery. In our case, this often turns tragically to former bosses, co-workers and family, because those truly responsible are too well protected (witness the private security employed by AIG executives to greet protesters at their palatial homes).

Averill starts with high ideals that are subsequently destroyed; the end of the film finds him on a yacht off the coast of Rhode Island, clearly wracked with guilt and regret but also as clearly not leaving this safe socioeconomic cocoon. It's the nineteenth century version of the golden parachute.

None of this excuses the excesses of Heaven's Gate, both financially and artistically. But it does reinforce the idea that sometimes things made with sincerity (and no one questions that Cimino really was trying to, and thought he had, wrought a meaningful film) can resonate far beyond their time. And truthfully I'd rather watch Heaven's Gate than an empty, entirely pointless "success" like Transformers any day.

Note: the documentary Final Cut, narrated by Willem Dafoe, can be found on YouTube here.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Library Journal on Blood Groove: "Edgy, enthralling, entertaining."

After the brief plot synopsis, the reviewer writes:

Note to readers with delicate sensibilities: there are a few gory scenes, but only a few, and sexual seduction, because it is a primary vampire power, is often employed. Bledsoe's debut urban fantasy is an intoxicating brew of mystery, humor, and horror. This edgy, enthralling, entertaining tale is recommended for all fantasy collections.—Patricia Altner,, Columbia, MD

The whole review can be found here.