When I was young (back in the mists of time and the days of yore when adventure was in the offing and there were no cell phones, TV remotes or personal computers), I developed a major crush. Like many other pre-teens at the time, I fell hard for a celebrity. Unlike many other pre-teens at the time, I didn’t fall for a teeny bopper idol like David Cassidy, Shaun Cassidy or Leif Garrett (although I did think Davy Jones from The Monkeys was kinda cute). No, when I fell (and fell hard, with the kind of obsession that only pre-teens and stalkers can summon), it was for an older man. A much older man. A man 40 years older than my 13 year old self, British actor Christopher Lee.
I can’t quite remember when I first saw him. It might have been in one of the wonderful Hammer horror movies where Lee played Dracula (bite me, pleaseohplease, bite me!) or his turn as the fainting Sir Henry in Hound of the Baskervilles. I watched a lot of horror movies from an early age. But the movie and the role that really captured my young imagination (and slowly developing hormones) was The Three Musketeers, directed by Richard Lester, and starring an awesome cast. As fond as I am as Gene Kelly as D’artagnan, there will never be a better four musketeers than Michael York, Oliver Reed, Frank Finley and Richard Chamberlin. but the awesome sauce on top of it all was Christopher Lee as the one-eyed villain Rochefort.
Oh man… he could sword fight. He had this amazing deep and resonant voice. He had an eye patch… and he started my fixation with men in cavalier garb. Christopher Lee is the reason that almost every significant male interest in my life either knew how to sword fight or was willing to learn, and also didn’t mine dressing up in boots, breeches, and full sleeved white shirts.
I wanted to be Milady de Winter ’cause she had a thing going with Rochefort. But I also wanted to learn to sword fight. No damsel in distress role for me. With my friend Cindi, I started writing Three Musketeers fan fiction with myself as Constance DuVallon, sister to Porthos. She of course, was taught to sword fight at a young age because that happened all the time back then, right? Well, in my world it did, and that was all that mattered. I filled a dozen little notebooks with my fantasy life as a 17 century noblewoman who knew how to sword fight and who just happened to be Milady’s half sister or something like that, and who just happened to catch the eye of Rochefort (the eye… get it? Hahahahah!!! okay…).
It didn’t stop with Rochefort, though. Once my infatuation well and truly set in, I would watch anything and everything Christopher Lee was in. I’d scan the TV guide every week for his movies and when I found the listings, I’d cut them out and save them in a cigar box where I kept all my special ‘stuff.’ I must have cut out fifty or so over the years. I bought horror movie coffee table books, collecting as many as possible so I would have a diverse selection of Christopher Lee pictures and bios. I’d scan the photos for sale at conventions such as ComicCon for eight by tens of my hero. I wondered why anyone would choose Roger Moore’s bland James Bond over Christopher Lee’s devastatingly sexy Scaramanga “the Man with the Golden Gun.” I also conveniently ignored the existence of his wife, who I’m sure was a wonderful woman and probably a bit more age appropriate. She just wasn’t me.
The best present I remember receiving as a child was one Christmas when I found a Rochefort doll sticking out of the top of my Christmas stocking. My sister Lisa had taken an Ivanhoe action figure and hand made a Rochefort outfit for it, including hat with a stitched black yarn “wig” attacked inside. It’s not included in this picture because one of the cats dragged it off and I hid it away for safe-keeping, evidently in a place so safe that I can’t find it now…
My family was also amused by my infatuation with a man forty years older than my 13 year old self. They teased the hell out of me. But it didn’t matter. I knew it could work. We even collectively wrote a poem about it, which I’ve included below. This year I turned 53; the same age Christopher Lee was when my 13 year old self developed such a crush on him. It seems funny (ironic) to me now that back then I thought 53 was OLD. Like, ‘you’re gonna die in a few years, old man!’ old. Now it seems impossibly young (I’m not middle-aged, NOOOOO!)!!
At any rate… the poem. And forgive me, Christopher Lee, for sending you to hell ’cause I don’t really believe in it anyway and also, you would never go there ’cause you brought so much happiness to so many people. It’s just that it rhymed, y’know?)
Christopher Lee is 53
Christopher Lee is 54.
we don’t have to say 53 any more.
Christopher Lee is 55.
I’m surprised he’s still alive
Christopher Lee is 56.
He’s sick but nothing we can’t fix
Christopher Lee is 57.
Now he’s on his way to heaven.
Christopher Lee is 58.
He’s knocking at the pearly gates.
Christopher Lee is 59.
He’s meeting with the one divine
Christopher Lee is 60… well…
Now he’s on his way to hell.
When I found out Christopher Lee had passed away, I cried, the first time I’d actually shed tears over the death of a celebrity. I realized how much of a benign influence this man had on my life, his charisma and roles helping to shape the paths I took and the interests that became passions, such as sword fighting, the horror genre and… well, men in cavalier garb. He was a vital, talented man until the end and he will always be my very first love, even if he never knew it.
Pogeen came to us when she was a month old, and already afflicted with a bad case of demodectic mange and an inverse proportion of sweetheart personality to go with it. Our cat Buddha was maybe a year old tops at the time, and afraid of nothing. Buddha would ride our vacuum cleaner when it was on. He’d attack the steam cleaner, swatting at the water running through the tubes. So while the other cats took a while to adjust to a canine kid in their midst, Buddha embraced his new sibling, alternatively wrestling with her and cuddling her. Three years later? Well, this picture speaks for itself.
So I was lucky enough to meet Charlaine Harris at World Horror Con/Stoker Awards 2015 in Atlanta. I’ve always heard about what a lovely and gracious person she is from the folks at one of my favorite indie bookstores, Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego, so I gathered up my courage and introduced myself at the hotel bar (writers really do congregate at the bar at conferences) Saturday night. She was indeed really nice and down-to-earth. There’s nothing better than finding out that an author whose work you’ve always admired and enjoyed is as enjoyable as their writing! And just in case there’s someone reading my blog that hasn’t read her Sookie Stackhouse novels, you might recognize the television series adaptation TRUE BLOOD.
Even cooler was the fact that Ms. Harris (okay, Charlaine!) bought one of my books and asked me to autograph it the next day. Geek fan girl SQUEEEE here. Very loud SQUEEEE. The type that makes my cats bolt out of the room.
And even COOLER cooler than that? I was checking my email the other day and saw one with the subject header: Out of Date! At first I though it was one of the many political/environmental activist/petition/donation type emails I get (you sign one petition, you are on their lists for life). They tend to use catchy/casual subject headers so you think you’re getting email from friends or family. I’m glad I didn’t delete this one before reading it because it was from Charlaine (okay, Ms. Harris), telling me she’d checked out my website to see what I was up to and found it…er.. well, two years out of date. And that she’d enjoyed my Ashley Parker series and read all three. She even mentioned them in her blog, which … well… seriously, it’s like being a mystery writer and having Sue Grafton praise your work. Or a horror writer and having Stephen King say “Well done!”
But then there was the pesky matter of my out of date website. My web designer, the awesome Leslie Keats, had even updated it to a platform (or whatever the word is I’m looking for here) that would enable me to do revisions myself. Easy peasy. She did this…er…two years ago. My excuse for not getting right on it? Fear of technology, I suppose. I hate having more than one television remote to deal with.
How long did it take me to update at least the essentials once I found my user name/password in my email folders? Less than a half hour. I am both relieved and embarrassed and probably way too proud of myself for getting it done so quickly and painlessly.
So… thank you, Charlaine Harris, for your graciousness when I went all fan girl on you at WHC (I like this picture – it looks like I’m proposing to you); for taking the time to read and then post about my books;, and for that much needed kick in the butt to update my website!
WHERE: Mysterious Galaxy Redondo Beach
2810 Artesia Blvd, Redondo Beach, California 90278
I’m going to be traveling south and celebrating the release of my second Ashley Parker novel at the amazing store Mysterious Galaxy in Redondo Beach. They know how to do book events and I am so thrilled to be having the launch event there! I hope you can make it!
This is your average San Francisco Muni train. Doesn’t it look nice and normal? Yeah, I think so too. But you never know what you’re going to get when you board one of the trains or buses on your daily commute. Sometimes you get a seat and have a quiet commute, your fellow passengers all minding their own business as people read, chat quietly, stare into space, or sometimes sleep (yes, there is occasional drool on the window).
Other times, however, you’ll board at a stop well into the route and end up squashed like a very unlucky sardine against your fellow passengers, backpacks shoved against your back, shoulder or chest (why do people who wear backpacks always seem to forget they’re wearing them and therefore taking up more footage than normal?), or the victim of a variety of crimes against hygiene. or an overdose of perfume and/or cologne that would be better used as bug spray. And let’s not forget the people who play their iPods at a level that makes earbuds irrelevant.
And then there are the crazies and/or the drunks. The ones that smell like Miller Time or worse don’t always just come out in the late afternoon or evening. I’ve been stuck next to people who smell like the floor of a brewery first thing in the morning. Before I’ve had coffee. This is wrong on many levels.
We have Tourette’s Guy as a regular on the L-Taravel line (the line that runs two blocks from our house) and he not only has Tourette’s, but likes to use it as a weapon against whoever happens to catch his eye on the train. He eavesdrops on conversations and works snippets of them into his rants, liberally peppered with obscenities. He likes to pick on women. He’s yet to choose me as a target, which shows some amount of survival instinct.
There’s one man who likes to sing. Loudly. Non-stop. Unfortunately he’s also tone-deaf. Luckily he also likes to share the joy of song with everyone on the train, which means he’ll move from car to car. He makes me reconsider my own lack of interest in owning an iPod.
This morning we were joined by a fellow with a definite lack of personal hygiene and a love of communicating with his fellow passengers. First words out of his mouth when he bounded up the stairs were, “Brrrrrr! It’s cold out there!…I once had a really fat girlfriend … 375 pounds … Her name was Loony. She kept me warm all night long, I tell ya. Best lay I ever had, that’s for damn sure!” He punctuated this with a merry cackle “Heheheheheheheheeee!” He asked a little gal with a violin case if she really played violin or “you got a weapon in there? An AK-37? Rifle? Pistol? Heheheheheheheee!” Then he asked if anyone knew Tip Toe Through the Tulips and proceeded to sing it for us. He was actually pitch perfect.
Ah, Muni. You are many things, but never boring…
It’s a new year and while I haven’t actually made any resolutions, I have been meaning to write more blog posts instead of relying solely on Facebook for getting my face/writing out there. Honestly, Facebook makes me lazy. By posting the following article, I’m still being a bit lazy since this is an article I wrote last year for Horror Talk when promoting Plague Town. Thing is, I can’t find a link for the published article so I’m not sure if it ever went out or not. So… by way of starting off my blog with something substantial (instead of, say, a cute kitty picture), I’m gonna post it here. If you have already read it and saw the original article… er… send me a link? Thanks!
I was asked to write an article about my experiences as a female in a male-dominated genre (i.e. horror) and my perspectives on females in the horror genre, both as a novelist and as someone who has worked in the film industry. My initial reaction was pretty much “huh?” because over the last year or so working on Plague Town with my awesome-with-awesome-sauce editor at Titan, Steve Saffel, I have received nothing but support for my kick-ass female protagonist, Ashley Parker. The marketing/publicity team at Titan only confirmed the warm fuzzy glow of acceptance, not to mention (but I have to mention it) established horror authors such as Ray Garton and Jonathan Maberry endorsing the book and treating me like a peer instead of a female trying to storm their sacred man-cave (a quintessential men’s club with lots of dark wood, leather and copious decanters of booze scattered about) of horror writing’
I have been lucky enough so far not to have gotten an avuncular pat on the shoulder accompanied by “Don’t you worry your purty little head about trying to write scary stuff, ma’am. Leave that up to us brave menfolk!” Just because I haven’t experienced it, however, doesn’t mean it didn’t – and doesn’t – exist. Although I’m a long time horror addict, having become addicted to scary movies, books and stories at a very young age, I did not try to write seriously in the genre until the last couple of years. There are many awesome female horror authors who’ve paved the way before me who could probably tell you some horrific tales of their own experiences trying to break into horror and not being taken seriously. And my book straddles the genre world between urban fantasy and horror, the former which has seen a hell of a lot of strong female protagonists and authors.
The mystery genre has certainly favored men over the years, to the point where a group of female authors, sick of not being taken seriously in their genre, started Sisters in Crime as an alternative to the Mystery Writers of America after feeling MWA dismissed their concerns. SinC’s original mission statement was: “To combat discrimination against women in the mystery field, educate publishers and the general public as to inequities in the treatment of female authors, raise the level of awareness of their contributions to the field, and promote the professional advancement of women who write mysteries.” Their revised mission statement as of 2008 is: “The mission of Sisters in Crime is to promote the professional development and advancement of women crime writers to achieve equality in the industry.” A slightly more optimistic statement, but it does still reflect a need to help women achieve equality. I imagine it’s much the same in the world of horror publishing.
And certainly male authors get taken a lot more seriously, regardless of genre, when it comes to attention and reviews. Just some of the stats (these taken from a Feb. 2011 article from the Guardian in the U.K.): “In the US, The New York Review of Books shows a stronger bias. Among authors reviewed, 83% are men (306 compared to 59 women and 306 men), and the same statistic is true of reviewers (200 men, 39 women). The New York Times Book Review fares better, with only 60% of reviewers men (438 compared to 295 women). Of the authors with books reviewed, 65% were by men (524 compared to 283 by women).”
But enough of the literary world. Let’s talk about the film industry and fandom for a bit.
As a young female horror/sci-fi/fantasy fan who attended conventions, I definitely fit into the stereotype of “sexy warrior woman.” I was a fantasy goddess for the geek world, prancing around in my thigh high boots and Buffy the Barbarian leather warrior gal outfit (my character was named well before that vampire slayer was created, btw. We’re talking in the days when ComicCon was small). I sword-fought, I was pretty (although you couldn’t have told me that back in the day), and I rocked those thigh-high boots. I was happy to play my role because that was who I was at the time. After all, it was a pretty fun role to play. My saving grace was being a nice person who genuinely liked people, as much as I enjoyed the whole Red Sonja-esque identity
When I got into the film industry, I discovered looks definitely played a bigger role than talent in the low-budget sector. Boob size had started to become more important , and more and more actresses were getting their A and B cups blown up to C’s and D’s. And can I just point out the irony that when we’re measuring intelligence and academic accomplishment, A’s and B’s are a good thing? Just sayin’…
The most blatant stereotype I personally encountered was the notion that somehow blond equals good while brunette equals bad. This particular stereotype actually goes back centuries; it’s something that always bugged me in the Grimm Fairy Tales. I starred in a remarkably bad low-budget film called Princess Warrior as the evil princess Curette, warring for the Ring of Power with my blond and good sister Ovule (I did not write the script and am therefore not responsible for the names). If you were a blond in this film and playing a bad guy, the hair had to be teased into evil secretary hair to differentiate between the smooth haired good girls. Good girls wore pink lipstick. Bad girls wore red. Ovule was a pure virgin, with an honest-to-goodness “Kiss? What is this kiss you speak of?” moment written into the movie. Curette was an ass-kicking slut who liked to sleep with blue-lipped slave boys and then send them off to the mines when they failed to satisfy her. In other words, female characters penned with broad and unimaginative strokes.
When I watch films, I get sick of women being relegated to the roles of supportive spouse/girlfriend, nurturing mother, bitchy ex or someone for the hero to rescue. Yes, I’m thinking of INDEPENDENCE DAY, THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW and 2012 while I write this. If you can think of one female character in those movies that actually plays a vital and important role in saving the world, I’d like to hear about it because I sure can’t. I once got in an argument with a co-worker who insisted that Vivica Fox’s character in INDEPENDENCE DAY had to be a stripper because it meant she had “really strong leg muscles so she could kick open that door at the underpass and save her son and the family dog.” My suggestion that she be a runner or ballet dancer did not compute.
From a marketing perspective, this seems pretty stupid. There are tons of women who would love to see more strong female protagonists in books and films. The fact that Ripley is such a popular character in the ALIEN movies, along with the growing number of urban fantasies with kick-ass female characters, should give producers and publishers a hint. And consider the fact that the character of Ripley was originally written as a man, which explains why there were no hints of broad-stroke feminine stereotyping there. Sigourney Weaver took that part and made it her own (I was gonna say “made it her bitch,” but considering the topic of this post it seemed inappropriate), creating one of the best female protagonists to date. James Cameron kept Ripley strong in ALIENS, adding enough of the Momma Lion element to give Ripley yet another facet to her character yet without making her into the nurturing mother stereotype. I like Cameron for this, as well as Sarah Connor’s transformation from demure frightened heroine in TERMINATOR to the force of nature she became in TERMINATOR 2. And while yes, she was out to protect her son, by doing so she would be saving the human race, which is a much larger scope of motivation.
Not that I’m saying there’s anything wrong with saving a child (I’d be right there doing my best to save cats, dogs, and kids alike), but that’s not the only thing women care about. We are capable of flying alien spacecrafts to deliver computer viruses into a mothership while smoking cigars (although I’d rather eat a chocolate bar) and exchanging pithy dialogue. We don’t always have to – or want to – be the ones dispensing hugs and kisses and “Be careful while you’re saving the world, baby,” dialogue. We can brave frozen wastelands and hungry wolves to find medicine to save our boyfriends or husbands who have an infected leg wound. Not every woman may want to be the hero of the piece, but I guarantee not every woman wants to be a man’s support system 24/7, or validate his every word/move/thought/fart (although I am a sucker for the old “pull my finger” routine).
I like to think things are improving, but films and literature tend to reflect the attitudes of society, and given the current obsession with women’s reproductive rights going on here in the States, who knows what will happen next. I’m voting for more Ripleys!
... Post book covers! Yeah, that’s the ticket! So presenting the cover for my new eBook version of Murder for Hire: The Peruvian Pigeon, my very first published novel. I thought I’d try my luck with the eBook rights and dabble my toes in the waters of self-publishing with the help of the lovely and talented Judi Fennell, writer and format queen extraordinaire.
I have been in a serious fog/funk/OMG, my deadline is past type mindset the last few months and posting has not been much of an option for my already overtaxed gray cells. I also find Facebook makes me lazy; why write an actual post when you can spit out a few sentences here and there or share cute cat pictures? Bam! Immediate gratification with little, if any, thought.
I think I fried my brain a little during the publicity blitz for Plague Town. Don’t get me wrong, I had a blast writing posts and doing interviews for the book, and I’d do it again (I certainly hope to do it again for Plague Nation!) in a heartbeat. But between doing book events for Plague Town, writing Plague Nation, and dealing with a mangy Plague Dog at home… well, it’s been a Plague-filled time, with shape-shifting jaguar shamans thrown in for variety( Fixation for Ravenous Romance).
Did I mention I have a full time day job too ? Not too unusual for a writer these days. Very few of us have the life of leisure many people imagine belongs to published authors. Hell,the writers I know fortunate enough to write as their day job don’t have lives of leisure because they’re too busy writing their butts off (there’s an image for ya) to make their deadlines.
Sometimes the writing comes easy. My muse is close by, doing that thing that muses are supposed to do . Y’know, be all inspirational and help the words flow. Most of this year, though, my muse has been off on vacation, no doubt knocking back copious amounts of champagne while lounging in the sun somewhere. So I’ve been hacking my way through an overgrown jungle of prose, plot and characters, trying to clear a path to the end of book two, with little if any help from my lazy-ass, champagne-o-holic muse. And … I think I’m nearly there.
I sure as hell hope so ’cause when I’m too tired and frazzled to even post cute animal pictures, it’s definitely time for a change.
Now I wonder if I buy a bottle of Veuve Cliquot if my muse could be tempted back to San Francisco from whatever tropical island she’s using as a retreat…
I have been away from my blog for months now, working on publicity for Plague Town, the first in my Ashley Parker series, and then working on the second book, Plague Nation, the cover of which you see before you in all of its eerie glory. I loved the cover for Plague Town. This one makes me even happier, what with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background and multiple zombies instead of one.
Writing Plague Nation has been challenging. I have, according to my sister, classic “Second Book Syndrome.” In other words, my first book has been really well received and gotten overwhelmingly positive reviews, and I’m afraid the second book will suck and no one will like it. I guess this is relatively normal (the fear issues, not that my second book will necessarily suck!), but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
So… lots of second-guessing and angsting and agonizing over Every. Single.Word. Also lots of publicity work had to be done for Plague Town, much more than anticipated. Which was lovely and fun and made me love the Titan marketing team so much that I’d marry all of them, but also took more time than expected. I am not yet able to write for a living and have a full time day job, and I find I have this annoying need for eight hours of sleep every night in order to be functional at work and tolerable to my fellow human beings.
Seriously, no one likes me when I’ve gone a few days without adequate sleep. We’re talking signs against the evil eye and crosses held up to repel me. It also has meant no spare time for blogging and a brain sucked dry of ideas for posts, like Xander in Starship Troopers. But things are moving along now and I’m inclined to try and post once a week again and stop being such a whiny little bee-otch ’cause I am writing for an awesome publishing company (love you, Titan!) and I’m getting to write about one of my true loves: zombies!
So stay tuned for Plague Nation, due out April 9th, 2013!
As a longtime fan of both zombies and tarot desks, when asked to review the Zombie Tarot Deck by Stacey Graham and Paul Kepple, I didn’t have to think twice before giving a resounding “Yes, please!”, followed by a rather undignified “Gimme, gimme, gimme!”
I had no idea what to expect from it, but I figured that the equation of zombie plus tarot had to result, at the very least, in something kind of fun. What I got when I received my review copy of the deck from Quirk is one of the coolest, gorgeous, funny (and yet totally functional) tarot decks I’ve ever seen. To quote the sell copy on Amazon:
“Imagine the celebrated “Rider Deck” infused with the horrors of Night of the Living Dead, and the result is The Zombie Tarot—a crazy, campy interpretation of a classic divination system.
In this zombified parallel universe, wands become limbs, pentacles are biohazard symbols, and the Major Arcana is full of shambling corpses. Along with the 78-card deck, readers will receive instructions in a 96-page full-color book; its contents explain how to survive the zombie apocalypse and forecast your future using one of three different card layouts.”
A very accurate description, but it still doesn’t convey just how cool, clever and beautifully illustrated this tarot deck is. The artwork by Paul Kepple is whimsical, retro in style and chock full of in-jokes for the zombie aficionado, all the while still conveying the essence of the tried and true classic tarot suits and numbers. For instance, the Empress (which signifies a maternal, nurturing feminine force) depicts Helen Cooper from Night of the Living Dead with her daughter turned trowel-wielding matricidal ghoul. The Fool has a smiling man in a business suit carrying a funereal wreath and a basket, striding towards a gravestone and a hand thrusting out of the ground just waiting to trip him up. And the Lovers… well, take a look below.
The text is equally clever, combining the classic interpretations with specifics to help the reader survive the zombocalypse or just the perils of every day life. The Empress, for instance, reads: A feminine force to be reckoned with, the Empress embodies birth, death and reanimation. Her maternal instincts kick into high gear whenever her offspring are threatened. She knows there’s no problems she can’t solve with patience, love, and a shovel to the back of the head. She is a nurturer, so her home is filled with both the living and the undead. Watch where you step.
The Three of Swords, just for another example, starts out with: Oh no! Jealousy rears its ugly head–and in the wake of a zombie apocalypse, you don’t want anyone to take the phrase “Eat your heart out” literally.
All of the text, from the rest of the card interpretations to the intro to the instructions are equally entertaining. The card layouts include: The Beginner, The Broken Heart, The Gravestone, The Severed Head, and the Eyeball.
Did I mention I love this deck?
The Zombie Tarot Deck shambles out onto the streets and for sale on June 5th and is available for pre-order on Amazon here! Don’t hesitate! It could save your life in the upcoming Zombocalypse!