Welcome to Biting-Edge, a blog shared by authors and vampire experts, Mario Acevedo and Jeanne Stein. We’ll cover urban fantasy, vampires, pop culture, and all things Joss Whedon. Unlike other fantasy blogs, we don’t insist on body cavity searches (unless you ask politely). Snarkiness is most welcome...though we won't promise not to bite back!
You'll also find chats with Jeanne and me, though I should caution you that she wasn't anywhere near as erudite and thoughtful as I was.
Now, on to Monsters.
It's Halloween and we love our creepy-crawlies. Most of our modern stories come from the movies. I'll admit that growing up, I wasn't a fan of supernatural monster movies or TV shows. Many of my friends, especially their sisters, were keen on Dark Shadows. Try as hard as I could, I couldn't get into Barnabas Collins. Or Dracula? Yawn. Zombies? Snooze.
Science fiction was a different story. Maybe because I lived in New Mexico and grew up on UFO sightings instead of ghost stories.
I was willing to overlook the cheesy special effects and suspend disbelief for movies like:
Them! (1954) What else could be the byproduct of nuclear weapons testing except for giant mutated ants? (The movie is better than the poster.)
Tarantula. (1955) A favorite because the monster is killed with a weapon that never fails--napalm! This movie includes one of the first big screen appearances of a young Clint Eastwood (as a pilot who drops said napalm.)
Back then, in the prehistoric days before the Internet and YouTube--in fact, even before cable-- catching monsters on TV was an iffy thing for me. There was one forgotten movie where a rocket ship lands on a Mars-like planet. The astronauts were stalked by a monster snake that burrowed through the sand and was killed with a bazooka (super cool idea to a pre-teen).
The monster movies that gave me the most chills were:
Alien. Even though the monster was played by a man in a suit (Bolaji Badejo), because of its convincing movements and details like the goo dripping from the jaws (genius!), this was at last a monster that really gave me the willies. The sequel Aliens ramped up the action and the terror.
The Thing (1982) The original movie (1951) was more of an intellectual exercise, but this remake didn't give you any chance to doubt the horror. The recent Norwegian prequel did a good job dovetailing into the story and is recommended for you monster fans.
Predator. A different kind of monster and one of the few cinema aliens smart enough to be worthy of the terror he brings.
Cape Fear. Okay, not your typical monster, but Robert De Niro played an ex-con villain who truly creeped me out.
The Day After. Again, no movie monsters but the terror came from thermonuclear war unleashed. The scene of the ICBMs shooting from their silos raised goose-bumps.
Bend over and kiss your ass goodbye.
What about monster movies that disappointed? The blue ribbon for those turkeys must go to Starship Troopers. A great story premise ruined by bad casting, bad scripting, and really stupid, stupid soldiers. The movie got so bad that by the middle, my sons and I were cheering for the alien insects.
In the spirit of the holiday, here's an adaptation of Little Red Riding hood by Angela Carter from her collection The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories published in 1973:
A girl goes to visit her grandmother, but encounters a werewolf on the way, whose paw she cuts off with a knife. When she reaches her grandmother's house, the paw has turned into a hand with the grandmother's ring on it, and the grandmother is both delirious and missing her hand. This reveals the girl's grandmother as the werewolf, and she is stoned to death. The girl then inherits all of her grandmother's possessions.
Of course when it's Anna involved, things are a little different.
The Wolf’s Paw
An Anna Strong Short Short
David is getting antsy.
Makes me smile since it’s usually me doing the squirming.
“What’s the matter? We’ve only been here an hour. You got some place better to be?”
I turn my face away so he can’t see the smile. I know he has some place better to be. I saw her in the doorway when I picked him up at his condo.
“Don’t be a smart ass, Anna. Tell me again what we’re doing here?”
“Easy money. Five thousand dollars, remember? Snatch and grab.”
“Snatch what? Where is the prick?”
A movement from the bushes on the opposite side of the road. David doesn’t see it. But I do. Vampire eyes. We’ve been watching the guy’s front door. There’s no back door out of the apartment.
Still. I catch a scent.
I reach for the door handle. “I’ve got to pee.”
David reaches for an empty coffee cup.
“Very funny. I’ll be right back.”
He mutters something under his breath but I’m already behind the car and bolting to follow the sound of the rustling bushes to our right. Vampire senses jump to the fore. Eyes pierce the darkness, turning night to day. Ears hear every insect crawling, skittering or buzzing out of my path. Nose catches the scent of the creature moving away from me.
But something else.
David doesn’t know that I got close to the guy we’re after this afternoon. Got close enough to breathe in his scent, close enough to make the grab myself before I was interrupted by a pain in the ass who stopped me on the sidewalk to ask for directions. By the time I got rid of him, the skip had disappeared.
But it’s the same scent I detect now under the musk of fur and testosterone.
I move noiselessly through the bushes. Close the distance between us. He’s just ahead of me. But he’s moving faster than a man would be and is crouched low to the ground. It doesn’t take much of a jump to determine what I’m chasing.
I let vampire have her head. Fighting werewolves is not my favorite pastime. They can be nasty creatures. If I’d known that’s what I was chasing, I’d never have involved David. Can’t worry about that now.
Where’s the guy going? We’re in Balboa Park. It’s not quite dusk on a hot summer evening and I can’t make out where he’s headed. Until he takes a sharp turn and waits for traffic on the Prado to clear. Then he lopes across the road and straight into the dog park—the only area open to off-leash pets.
Curious. What’s he doing? Looking for a chance to get lucky?
I call Vampire back and proceed after him, fully human. The park is not yet as crowded as it’s going to be in an hour or so when the home-from-work crowd brings their pets for a romp. But there are a half-dozen dogs sniffing and scuffling, their owners chatting nearby.
The wolf pauses, watching. He’s bigger than most of the dogs but no one pays any attention. I enter the park and start toward him.
The wolf turns and meets my eyes. He lifts his nose. He recognizes vampire. But then he turns away, casually ignoring me, resuming his perusal of the animals as if searching for just the right one.
He makes his choice with a snarl and faster than I would have thought possible, he lunges.
Toward a child, playing off by herself to the right of the group of adults.
I reach her first, scoop her up and thrust her into the arms of a startled woman.
Wolf gathers himself to lunge at me.
If I call up vampire in front of all these people, it won’t be pretty. Instead, I pull the .38 from the waistband of my jeans, aim and fire.
I catch the wolf in midair, but I haven’t accounted for his speed and the bullet slams into his leg, blowing off a paw and breaking bone with a sickening crack. He lands with a howl, whirls on three good legs and stumbles off the way he came.
I want to go after him but my way is impeded by a group of frantic onlookers, all reaching out hands to thank me, all asking the same questions at once.
What was that?
Who are you?
Are you a cop?
By the time I finally get free, and make it back to David, he’s standing by the car, our skip, naked and bloody, already in handcuffs.
David has his cell at his ear. When he sees me, he clicks off. “Where the fuck have you been?”
I point to the skip. “What happened to him?”
David has fastened a tourniquet around the guys arm, just below the elbow. A stump at the end of his wrist drips blood. “Somebody blew this guy’s hand off. He isn’t saying who. I got him as he tried to sneak his way back into the apartment. The paramedics are on the way.”
The guy and I—wolf and vampire—stare into each others eyes. I wonder if we’re thinking the same thing…my, what big secrets we have.
Another con bites the dust. Specifically, MileHiCon 43, Denver's nexus for science fiction and fantasy literature since the 60's.
This year I was honored to be the Toastmaster, which gave me the opportunity to meet and introduce the Guests of Honor, from left, GoH Author Vernor Vinge, GoH Editor Gardner Dozior, GoH Author Glen Cook, and GoH Artist Theresa Mather. The lengthy and impressive résumés of each of these GoH's humbled me and my modest accomplishments. Much thanks to Rose Beetem for the invitation.
Besides the usual gang of suspects stalking the bar--among them Betsy Dornbusch, Jeanne Stein, Warren Hammond, Carol Berg, Carrie Vaughn, Bree Ervin, and David Boop, we had theüber hipsters, Jason Heller (left, of the forthcoming Taft 2012) and Eytan Kollin (he and his brother Dani co-wrote the award-winning The Unincorporated Man).
At one panel I queried the audience about their thoughts regarding ebooks and e-readers. Interestingly, every reader who commented stated they enjoyed using an e-reader (Kindle, Nook, or iPad). They cited the ease of ordering a new book, the ability to browse through sample chapters, and the convenience of carrying dozens of titles in the e-reader for travel and vacation. None of them preferred a paper copy over an ebook and said that owning an ebook would not prevent them from buying a traditional paper copy as for a personal library. When I told fans that my next books may come exclusively as ebooks, none expressed any resentment.
Ready to do a little Christmas shopping? The new Neiman Marcus catalog is out. How about an Assouline custom-build library for a mere $125,000.00?
If you live in New York, this is a much anticipated annual event: Penguin's Warehouse Book Sale.
“The Penguin Group will hold its annual warehouse book sale Nov. 12 and 14 through 19 at the former Maines warehouse on Terrace Avenue in Conklin.
"The sale runs from 1 to 8 p.m. Nov. 12, 5 to 8 p.m. Nov. 14 through 18, and 1 to 5 p.m. Nov. 19. There’s no entry fee and items are priced as low as $1. Cash and checks only will be accepted, and checks require two form of identification, including one photo ID.”
It's almost here...anyone else participating?
And once you get that novel finished, here's a new resource for you--
Avon Books Announces that Digitized "Slushpile" Creates New Opportunities in Publishing for Aspiring Authors --
This weekend Mario and I will be at MileHi Con at the Hyatt Regency - Tech center. Big book signing is on Friday evening at 8 and it's open to the public.
From one of our favorite blog commenters, Vickie: Cranium's up!!! James Marsters and Charisma Carpenter are going to on next week's episode of Supernatural!!!! *happydance*
From the website:
Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) meet Maggie Stark (guest star Charisma Carpenter), a witch who has unleashed her wrath on a small town, resulting in numerous deaths. Sam and Dean track down her husband, Donald (guest star James Marsters), to see if he can help. Donald tells the brothers that Maggie is mad at him for having an affair and is taking it out on the townspeople. Phil Sgriccia directed the episode written by Brad Buckner & Eugenie Ross-Leming.
That's tomorrow Buffybuds so get those DVR's set!!
And one last note of caution to all you writers out there:
When my fellow writers and I get together, we often discuss the books we enjoyed in our formative years. Kat Richardson is an encyclopedia of science fiction, Mark Henry cut his writer teeth on psychological thrillers with a supernatural bent, Jeanne (bless her heart) enjoyed urban fantasy back before it even had a name. As a kid, my reading interests were all over the place, heavy in historical nonfiction--lots about airplanes--and bunches of speculative fiction.
I was twelve when I first perceived the Aha!--the epiphany that these squiggles on a piece of paper could immerse me so deeply in an invented world that I momentarily forgot everything else. That book was The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton, and I pretended to be sick so I could stay home from church and finish the book. I had borrowed it from my dad, who like the characters in the story, was a government chemist, though he laughed at the strained earnestness of it all. None of the characters spoke or behaved like any federal civil servants he was familiar with.
Even though I was a book worm, there were plenty of school reading assignments I couldn't digest. I found Jonathan Livingston Seagull a simplistic bore. I slummed through Silas Marner and Wuthering Heights.
But a few assignments managed to break into my stubborn head.
Such as The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. High-school English homework and definitely outside my usual milieu. But McCullers's prose kept me hooked and made me admire the power of the well-crafted narrative. 1984 by George Orwell. This kick-to-the head hasn't lost any of its punch over the years. I recently thumbed through the story to pick up some passages to use in a writing class and I found Orwell's masterful prose incredibly fresh and as disturbingly visceral as anything in a horror novel. Wow.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Another story that remains inventive and crisp and remarkably prescient. Made me ponder the dark consequences of technology.
My private library was the shelf headboard of my bed and it was crammed full of books, mostly paperbacks that I had bought for 15-25¢ at the used book store by Surplus City. One notable read was The Penetrators, a Cold War cautionary tale by Anthony Gray, pseudonym for Hank Searls. That book has been long out of print and despite my fondness for the story, one recent reviewer called it a "poor man's Fail Safe."
My best friend Ron and I used to trade books and a favorite series that we devoured were the Travis McGee stories by John D MacDonald. Those books laid the foundation for my appreciation of pulp noir and seedy characters. Another book that I reveled in because it fed into my adolescent anarchistic streak was Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess. Ron and I became somewhat fluent in Nadsat and the slang still creeps into our conversations.
Even though I'm an urban fantasy author and a frequent panelist at Science Fiction/Fantasy cons, a lot of people assume I was a keen reader of vampire and supernatural fiction, which I wasn't. I enjoyed learning the myths but I couldn't get swept into the stories like I should have been. Same was true for most science fiction. I found a lot of the books dense and meandering. One exception were the John Carter series by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Thoats. Radium guns. Green giants. Naked Martian women. More fantasy than science fiction but what was not to love?
There was also a collection of short stories that really grabbed me, Science Fiction Terror Tales, edited by Groff Conklin. "Lost Memory", by Peter Phillips really gave me the chills.
One book that I liked quite a bit back then was Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse. The book was about as spiritual as I've ever managed to finish and at the time (I must've been 16) the story spoke to me. Many years later, my oldest son had this book as his high-school assignment and I took the opportunity to reread it. This time however, as an adult, I found the main character Siddhartha, to be an ungrateful whiner. Get over yourself already.
Another book I thoroughly enjoyed but which does not age well, is The Eiger Sanction by Trevanian (né Rodney William Whitaker). Like the garish pink of the original book jacket, the prose seems dated (though I will gladly trade his sales numbers for mine). However, at one time, I could picture myself the intrepid and dangerous mountaineer sipping Laphroaig and fending off the affections of countless women. Trevanian's later novel The Main, about a police detective in Montreal, holds up much better and is one of the best mysteries I've ever read.
Next weekend, October 21-23, I'm the Toastmaster at the fabulous MileHiCon 43. Guests of Honor include authors Vernor Vinge and Glen Cook, editor Gardner Dozois, and artist Theresa Mather. Come join the fun and shenanigans.
me, me, me
This has been one of those weeks--busy, busy, busy. Working on a new project, did a podcast for Anton Strout, here , (which I haven't been able to see because I can't figure out how to find it), and did an interview for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Chiseled in Rock you'll find here .
Like Mario, I'm teaching a class, too, over at Margie Lawson's Writer's Academy next month. Details here . I've taught this one before but the class title, So You Want to Write Urban Fantasy is misleading. Yes, we talk about the ins and outs of the UF world, and yes, there are interviews with UF writers, but it's really a basic course on genre writing and an introduction to understanding the publishing world--from finding an agent to querying to how the business of publishing works.
Speaking of classes, pal Tamela Buhrke is teaching a Building a WordPress Blog/Website class for writers. Details here . This lady knows her stuff so for $27.00, this is the real deal.
So besides the above mentioned, I've also been reading the Young Adult novels sent to me for consideration for a 2011 Bram Stoker Award . Right now I'm reading Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake. And I like it. It's going on my keeper shelf.
After all that, you must be asking yourself just what does all this have to do with me? Or if you're super smart, you've already guessed. I've got nothing else for you this week. Nada.
Well, maybe one thing. Kudos to Penguin (my publisher) for once again holding the Read Pink Program to support the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. From Shelf Awareness: Under this year's initiative, more than 300,000 copies of eight bestselling mass market titles--by Nora Roberts, Catherine Anderson, Christina Dodd, Jillian Hunter, Lynn Kurland, Amanda Quick, Bertrice Small and Lauren Willig--will have Read Pink seals on the cover. In the back of each book, Penguin is including information to make readers aware of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Penguin is again donating $25,000 to the foundation.
Pass the word. I'm teaching a class, Make it Fresh, at the fabulous Lighthouse Writers workshops. You'll learn something about adding oomph to your narrative, make friends, and wow your brain in a truly awesome writerly space. And you get to drink wine during class.
Friend of Biting-Edge and critique group ex-pat, Jeff Shelby, is back in print. His book, Liquid Smoke, is the third installment of his ultra cool Noah Braddock series. I had a chance to read the original manuscript back when and if this book isn't on your TBR pile, then You. Are. Wrong.
Jeanne and I are big fans of two of the best online resources available to writers, Absolute Write Water Cooler and Writer Beware. In fact, I have both bookmarked on my browser. Besides giving lots of great advice about writing and getting published, both sites also warn you about scams, such as bogus literary agents and vanity presses. You'd think this was a good thing. But not according to folks lurking behind something called the Write Agenda. Last week, word got out that this Write Agenda was calling on a boycott of and impugning the motives of Absolute Write Water Cooler, Writer Beware, and the fearless champion of the forthright scribe, John Scalzi. So the League of Reluctant Adults saddled up and charged into the fray on behalf of the side of good. (Strange, yes, cuz usually the League is for all things evil and pervy.)
Get your Robo-freak on. Next Saturday, October 15, it's the event of the season, a pre-Halloween Bacchanalia we've dubbed Robot Prom. Robots, robot dancing, robot parade, robot drinking, and maybe even robot love. At the Art Salon, 2219 E 21st, Denver, CO. Tickets available through MegaRobota.com
Some interesting figures re: publishing deals made so far in 2011. Note especially the number of Children's and Nonfiction deals and the correlating number of six-figure deals. Children's and Nonfiction seem to be the hot tickets. Also of note--Women's fiction/Romance leads the way in sales. Another tip of the hat to Jane Eyre, huh?
I'm not keen on resolutions, but I did promise myself that I needed to read more and would.
Truth is, I have been slacking off. So last week I grabbed a stack of titles, blocked off a chunk of the weekend, and started to plow through them. I was familiar with either the titles or the authors. What surprised me was how subjective this reading process can be. One of the books was a reach from my usual fare, a literary read. But as the author had won a cache of awards (Ploughshares, Pushcart, and O. Henry), I thought I was in for a nice juicy story. Well, I had problems with the book, both in terms of structure and style. We writers distance ourselves from Amazon reviews, but I sauntered there anyway and learned pretty much everyone agreed with my opinion.
However, two of the books did give me the big WOW! I was looking for.
Machine Man by Max Barry. You don't have to listen too hard to catch the buzz on this book, and it deserves every Oo and Ah! Dr. Charles Neumann loses his leg in a laboratory accident. Ever the obsessive geek, Neumann decides he can engineer a better leg than the prosthesis he's been given. Which he does and decides his artificial leg is better than his real leg so he arranges another "accident" to lose that limb as well. Neumann is dismissive of nature, claiming that nature stops at the best compromise rather than seek the best solution. His newly created prothestics can move on their own, they have GPS, WiFi, run fast as a train and jump up tall buildings. But as smart as Neumann is, there's a lot he doesn't understand or anticipate. For example, he falls in love with his physical therapist and his super-intelligent legs get jealous. When he chooses not to allow his employer--the Better Living corporation--to use his technology for weapons, Nuemann finds himself the subject of a manhunt and conspiracy. The story is a barbed critique of corporate greed (Nuemann is given a pass after murdering the CEO if he returns to the lab and keeps working) and the off-kilter personality of the obsessive myopic geeky tinker who pursues an interest past the point of common sense.
The Adjustment by Scott Phillips. This is one of the best books I've read all year. It's a masterpeice of character-driven noir. We have the image of World War Two vets--the greatest generation--as these gooder-than-good hero types and Phillips adds a fresh and much appreciated perspective with this pulp tale about Wayne Ogden, a recently discharged army sergeant returning home to Wichita, Kansas. Though he initially signed up, to as he put it, "kill Nazis with his bare hands," Ogden was assigned to the Quartermaster Corps, a move better suited to a man with larceny in his heart. He spends the war enriching himself selling government material on the blackmarket, and dealing in narcotics and whores. He brags about his Purple Heart even though the wound was the result of a stabbing from a rival pimp.
The book starts with Ogden driving one of his boss' flings to an abortion clinic in Kansas City. Though Ogden is married to a beautiful woman--who is as horny as she is a bad cook--he doesn't waste time bedding every available woman--ex-girlfriends, hookers, and lonely housewives. Ogden is man with an eye open for every opportunity to make a dollar on any vice: gambling, prostitution, pornography, bootlegging, narcotics, and extortion. He's a flawed character with a twisted heart, the supreme anti-hero, though he's so charming (at least in his point-of-view) that we cheer him on at every break-in, beatdown, and scandalous rendezvous.
Phillips breezily leads us a through a story spiced with contemporary slang and attitudes. B-girls! Blind pigs! Hopheads! What's also surprising about this book is that one, it almost didn't get to market when Phillips' original publisher went bankrupt, and two, it comes from Counterpoint, a smaller press from Berkeley, CA, instead of one of the major NY houses. Which puzzled me as why such an excellent story has been so overlooked. But at least it's here and The Adjustment is not only highly recommended but also one of those books I'll buy plenty of copies to give away.