Friday, May 28, 2010

No treasure in The Island

I started reading Peter Benchley's 1979 novel The Island sitting in a waiting room, for lack of anything better to read. And the sucker hooked me.

For those who don't know, the late author was the son of Nathaniel Benchley and the grandson of Robert Benchley, both literary figures of high reknown. He was also the author of Jaws, the novel that was the Twilight of the early Seventies.

Jaws the book is nowhere near as exciting as the classic film adapted from it: it's a potboiler, filled with contemptible characters that even the author doesn't seem to like very much. But it sold like gangbusters, and set Benchley on an unsuccessful quest to replicate its success with a series of water-based thrillers (The Deep, Beast and White Shark, one of the worst books by a so-called "major" author I've ever had the misfortune to read).

The Island was his second novel after Jaws (following the sunken-treasure tale The Deep) and centers on magazine writer Blair Maynard (a typical name for a Benchley hero; the main character of The Deep was named "Romer Treece," Beast's hero was "Whip Dalton," and so forth). Maynard and his twelve-year-old son, Justin, head into the Caribbean to investigate ship disappearances, but what should have been a father-son lark turns unbelievably grim. They run afoul of an isolated population of inbred descendants of 17th-century pirates who co-opt Justin into their ranks and plan a grisly end for Maynard when he's no longer useful. These are not the rollicking buccaneers of Errol Flynn and Jonny Depp, but disgusting, bloodthirsty killers with appalling levels of hygiene.

The first third of the novel is a crackling good mystery-adventure with a surprisingly realistic father/son relationship. It was this aspect that caught my eye and kept me reading. Maynard wants to be a good dad, and tries very hard to stay connected to Justin despite being divorced from the boy's diffident mother. He's conscious of his status as a role model, and even if he never quite lives up to it, he sincerely tries. And Justin is depicted as a normal kid, neither precocious nor infuriatingly dense.

Unfortunately, once the Maynard lads are captured by the pirates, the novel's considerable momentum slows to a crawl. Justin vanishes from the story for long stretches, and we spend our time with Maynard senior and the pirate woman who wants him to impregnate her (yep, you read that right). And here's a tip to you would-be adventure writers out there: if you want to keep your readers on your hero's side, don't have the villains give him an enema. In graphic detail. Really. For any reason. If your plot demands it, then you should seriously re-evaluate. Sometimes your fetishes should stay private.

Eventually Maynard realizes that Justin likes the bloodthirsty pirate life, and so the battle becomes one for the boy's soul. I won't give away the ending--hell, if you slog through the last third of the book, you deserve the suspense--but its impact is considerably lessened because we don't see Justin's gradual transformation from comic-reading 'tween to Blackbeard-in-waiting. I don't know what Benchley was after, exactly, but what promised to be a neat modern twist on Treasure Island becomes instead one more sad artifact on the trail of a writer trying to reclaim the buried treasure of his debut novel.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Want to be in Eddie LaCrosse 4?

As part of Do the Write Thing for Nashville, I'm taking part in a charity auction to help the victims of the Tennessee flooding. In addition to signed copies of my two Memphis vampire books, I'm including a Tuckerization in my fourth (so far untitled) Eddie LaCrosse novel, due out in 2012. So jump in and help the good folks of Tennessee get back on their feet!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Literature so tough it survives force majeure

During the recent storms in Tennessee, my friend Thom had a house fire. That's the kind of rebel he is: in the midst of a flood, he burns. He's fine, no one (human or animal) was hurt, and the destruction was contained. But he sent me a photo of one very significant item that escaped with only soot damage:

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Titania needs your help

My friend filmmaker Lisa Stock, who did the promotional film for my novel Blood Groove, is raising funds to complete her next project, Titania. Even $5 will help, and I can say from experience that Lisa is a serious artist who will use these funds wisely to produce a beautiful, unique film.

To see a trailer for the proposed film, find out more about the project and make a donation, go here.

To find out more about Lisa, here's an interview I did with her about making the Blood Groove film.

Monday, May 10, 2010

What I love most about vampires is...

The Madison Vampire Coven consists of...wait for it...authors based in and around Madison, WI who write about vampires. Currently we have four members, and I asked each to complete the following statement.

What I love most about vampires is...

Jordan Castillo Price, author of Hemavore:

"What I love most about vampires is their vulnerability. I think the ways in which vampires can be harmed are much more interesting than their powers. Depending on which mythologies you draw from, your vampire characters could be vulnerable to sunlight, running water, garlic, or holy relics, just to name a few things. Spin these vulnerabilities into your storyline and you could end up with some really fun elements. What about a vampire who makes a living selling "native earth" to other vampires online? Or maybe an As-Seen-On-TV acupressure bracelet that allows vamps to cross bridges over streams and rivers without freaking out? Vampire weaknesses allow for really compelling world building."

Anna Black, author of "The Temptation of Mlle. Marielle Doucette," found in The Sweetest Kiss: Ravishing Vampire Erotica:

"What I love most about vampires is that as humans we can both envy and pity them. We can envy their immortality, fantastic strength, hypnotic power and, in some cases, their preternatural beauty. We can yearn to be like them and yet, at the same time, shun and even dread becoming one of them. That is where pity comes into play. We can pity their isolation from humanity and, possibly, each other. We can acknowledge that even as they are envied they are also hated and hunted. They are the shadowy reflection of our most impassioned and fearsome desires."

Fred Schepartz, author of Vampire Cabbie:

"What I love most about vampire is that they're so damn sexy. Even when they're not sexy, they're very sexy. They're hideous, but they're beautiful. They are that thing that we fear most, a creature above us on the food chain, a creature that means sure death or worse. And yet, they are so fascinating, we would just love to meet a real vampire sometime."

And yours truly, author of Blood Groove and, coming this July, The Girls with Games of Blood:

"What I like most about vampires is they can represent things in a way that makes us see them anew. Whether it's xenophobia and superstition (Dracula), loneliness and narcissism (Interview with the Vampire), or the terror of sexual relationships (Twilight), vampires stand in for things we otherwise don't want to acknowledge or discuss. In fact, I'd make the case that if a vampire isn't a metaphor for something else, there's no point in writing about them. The vampires that last are the ones who are more than just monsters."

Leave a comment completing the statement, "What I love most about vampires is..." for a chance to win a signed advance reader copy (ARC) of The Girls with Games of Blood. Deadline is May 14!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The winners of signed copies of Blood Groove are...

The Darth Vader cup came down off the shelf, the names were placed inside, and the Squirrel Boy did the random selecting. The winners are:

Milo H. Tomb

Angel 28140




Since none of you winners have e-mail contact info on your profile, please drop me a line (alex at alexbledsoe dot com) with your mailing address and to whom you'd like the book personalized.

Thanks to everyone who participated, and watch for more giveaways leading up to the July release of The Girls with Games of Blood!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Three questions with Alaya Johnson, author of Moonshine

I reviewed Alaya Johnson's new novel Moonshine here. Alaya was also kind enough to answer some questions about the book.

When you and I first discussed Moonshine back in 2009, I got the sense that it would be a much darker book than it turned out to be. Did the tone change, or did I just project my own atmosphere onto it?

I'd already finished it at that time, so I suppose that it was as dark as it was going to get. I'd conceived of Moonshine as a fun vampire book that was still very much aware of social disparities and justice issues that are often completely missing from urban fantasy/paranormal novels. Those are also issues that interest me in general, so it's entirely possible that I focused on talking about those aspects just because they were important in my formulation of the book, despite its other (possibly more prominent) elements. I never meant for the generally fun tone of the book to minimize the social realities of the era (and my re-imagining of it), but to complement them. My success at this endeavor, of course, is entirely up to the reader.

One difference between the racial and immigrant human minorities, and the "Others" as you depict them, is that the victims of vampires become, against their will, part of a despised underclass. Since many of them have experienced how the other half lives, so to speak, did you consider making Zephyr one of "them" instead of a sympathetic outsider? Why or why not?

Most of the vampires depicted in the book start out as immigrants or members of the lower social classes. That wasn't a coincidence: generally, disease disproportionately affects the poor and disenfranchised, and vampirism is no exception. So they may know how the "other half" live, but only in the limited sense that as human immigrants they had more rights than vampire immigrants (as an example).

I think I used a human outsider as my viewpoint character mostly because it was important for Zephyr to be able to "pass" in the various strata of human society. As a vampire (or as a non-white person), she wouldn't have been able to so easily navigate them. And while that viewpoint would certainly have resulted in an interesting story, it wasn't ultimately where I decided I wanted to take the book.

And, related to the second question, why did you choose to make Zephyr a non-native New Yorker?

Partly because I liked the idea of the outsider perspective, and partly because so much of the power and mystery of New York City comes from its transplants, the non-natives who learn to make it in the city and call it their home. That experience was such a powerful one for me that I pretty much had to use it for my first New York City novel. NYC is also a place to shed your old identity and remake yourself. Zephyr is a few years post-transplant, and the fact of her self-reinvention plays a fairly important role in the story.

Thanks to Alaya Johnson for taking the time to answer my questions. Moonshine will be available May 11.

And go here before Friday, May 7 for a chance to win a signed paperback of Blood Groove.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

How to help Tennessee

I'm from Tennessee, as are both sides of my family. I'm familiar with a lot of the places that are now flooded. Memphis, Nashville, Smyrna, I-24, I-40...these are places I could almost navigate in my sleep. It's a region that gave the world an awful lot of cool things.

And with the horrible damage likely to be revealed as the waters recede, I wanted to pass on information on how you (and me) can help.

Keep up to date at the Middle Tennessee Red Cross Chapter. Information on where to send donations or, if you're close enough, volunteer will be posted (for those who don't know the geography of the region, Nashville is in the middle of the state where Interstates 40, 65 and 24 meet).

Text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation on your mobile phone.

Call (615) 250-4300 to make a donation by phone.

Mail a check to the Nashville Area Red Cross at 2201 Charlotte Avenue, Nashville, TN 37203.

If you can spare it, please do. If you can't, please send good thoughts.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Review: a vampire suffragette in Alaya Johnson's Moonshine

I first heard about Moonshine when I was on a 2009 convention panel with its author, Alaya Johnson. The central conceit--in 1920s New York, a woman battles for the rights of vampires much as other suffragettes stood up for women and immigrants--fascinated me. My own vampire novels, Blood Groove and The Girls with Games of Blood, also draw parallels between the racial and gender tensions of the 70s and the identity crises faced by my vampires.

According to Johnson, Moonshine was originally titled Vampire Suffragette, which is a much more accurate, if unwieldy, title. Zephyr Hollis is a Montana girl trained to kill vampires (and various additional creatures grouped under the name "Others") who has a change of heart and begins fighting for their right to co-exist with humans. A genie named Amir wants her help in tracking down the mysterious vampire gangster Rinaldo, who is flooding the city with Faust, a blood-based drink that leaves vampires addicted and vulnerable to the sun.

The book works because of the narrator's delightful, spunky voice. Zephyr is a compelling character, and her drive to help others (and Others) is blessedly devoid of self-pity or martyrdom. She stays true to her principles no matter what. Whether teaching a night class for vampire immigrants, helping the father of a part-fairy child get the illegal surgery his offspring needs, or defending an injured vampire from an angry mob, Zephyr demonstrates remarkable courage and resourcefulness. Some of her language seems disconcertingly modern, though (her use of "fuck," for example, or the word "clone"; at one point she threatens to kill "all your sorry asses" and says an opponent "face-planted into the cold rock").

The one big disappointment for me--and it's a matter of my own expectations rather than a failure by the author--is the overall lightness of tone. After talking with Ms. Johnson, I expected something darker and heavier. The dreariness of Zephyr's existence and the inherent hopelessness of her cause(s) are glossed over by clever banter and rollicking action scenes (since she's been raised to be a slayer--here called Defenders--there's a lot of swordplay). Zephyr's voice never allows the true despair of the ones she tries to help to come through, and thus her nobility seems somehow...shallow. She remains outside the true tragedies around her. Further, romance is a big element of the story, and while I have nothing against that (and it's handled well here), it again works at cross-purposes to the depth I expected. A male hero can have a cause so important it makes romance incidental; why not a female hero?

But this is judging the book against standards it never tries to meet in the first place. Moonlight is a fun read, with an engaging heroine and a world rich enough to sustain several subsequent adventures. If those adventures grow darker, make the parallel between immigrant and Other more tied to reality, and break down the barriers between Zephyr and her charges, then so much the better. But at least next time, I'll have a better idea of what I'm getting.

Moonshine will be released May 11, 2010.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Just in: the cover for The Girls with Games of Blood

Here's the cover for The Girls with Games of Blood, the sequel to Blood Groove.

Leave a comment before May 7 for a chance to win one of five signed paperbacks of Blood Groove, my first novel about vampires in Memphis in the Seventies.

The Girls with Games of Blood will be available in July!