Christopher Lee – My first true love

Chistopher Lee as Rochefort - modified from juntajuleil.com

Christopher Lee as Rochefort – the character who influenced my dating decisions for the rest of my life

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.

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Sir Henry in Hound of the Baskervilles. Only Christopher Lee could make fainting seem so sexy!

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Best. Dracula. Ever.

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.

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“Be advised, Gascon. Turn and run.”

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…).

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Raowr…

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. 

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“Where’s my damn hat?”

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.  :-)

First Post of 2013

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!

Side-tracked

My original intention was to write my first post on the Left Coast Crime convention in Denver. However, I veered off track (it happens) after reading the introduction for zombie novel. The intro describes the book as a ‘pulp zombie masterpiece,’ the author as ‘the Quentin Tarantino of zombie literature,’ and further states the author ‘goes balls-to-the wall’ to give the readers what they want in a zombie story.

Balls-to-the wall.

Now when did this expression become popular?  And why?  I know it’s supposed to convey a tesosterone filled all out attempt to accomplish something, but the image it conjurs is of some guy with his package super-glued to a wall.  Kind of like this, but with the woogies pressed up against the wall.

‘Balls to the wall’ has been used, among other things, to describe writer/director Eli Roth’s treatment of the horror genre, namely his first commercial film CABIN FEVER, which was said by one sycophantic review to have ‘revitalized horror movies’ or something thereabouts.   And all I can say to that is if you’ve seen CABIN FEVER and the word “Pancakes!” doesn’t make you a: laugh, b: cringe, c: shake your head in disbelief or d: all of the above, then please don’t come over to my house for Bad Movie Night because neither of us will have a good time.

Now please excuse me.  It’s time to utilize my tits to the wind style of writing, test the boundaries of reality, good taste, disregard the sanctity of my characters,  push the envelope of my readers’ comfort zone, and, if I’m really lucky, revitalize a genre or two.