Sunday, October 31, 2010

All Hallow's Eve Tales

With all the theme specials on Discovery, History, etc. Channels, my Spidy-sense tells me that Halloween is...uh...tonight?!?!

This is sad. The 31st of October was once 2nd only to Christmas in my kid calendar when it came to getting loot.  H'ween was more FUN than Christmas, since I wasn't expected to behave. If I got food on whatever I wore it was of little import and usually added to the effect.

I recall a few memorable Halloweens. Ancient family pictures show my younger self dressed in some kind of gypsy gear with a long skirt and beads, my face smeared with lipstick raided from Mom's makeup table, eyes mascaraed, and an underlying expression of annoyed anxiety. Clearly the connection between dressing up and getting candy had not quite filtered in. I may have been wondering when I'd get spanked for getting into the makeup--which was forbidden at all other times.

Another picture was from one of the more profitable years in our family finances: I'm wearing  a store-bought boxed costume. If it's the one I remember, the costume was okay (except for the being flammable part), but the mask--a witch--was just too scary. I could wear it, but not look at it.

At 5, I survived a freezing cold H'ween in my first and only ghost costume. Mom refused to cut up an old sheet--apparently we USED those--but somehow I got something sheet-like with eye holes that looked similar to what I saw in a Little Lulu comic book.  Only the comic didn't go into the impossibility of keeping the eye holes over my eyes. Bundled into a parka--we were in Wisconsin and a blue Norther was blowing in just then--someone threw the sheet over me, and I spent my first real I'm-gonna-get-candy-and-party! Halloween running blind with a batch of other kids from house to house. 

The damned eye holes would NOT stay in front of my eyes, and I kept tripping on the hem and falling.  I should be grateful I wasn't left head first in a snow drift by the stampede of howling, freezing kids.  I recall being disappointed that there was no party with magicians and apple-bobbing. Little Lulu, my oracle for all things cool for kids my age, had got it wrong.

Another Halloween in Wisconsin was somewhat warmer. I was about 8 when my dad took me around. My big sister was 18 and elsewhere, attempting to get a social life. That year we actually had a house in a real neighborhood with sidewalks--just like Little Lulu!!

My haul of loot that year was legendary. The neighbors were generous, giving out real store-bought chocolate bars, not just cheap butterscotch hard candy and popcorn balls.

The area had a ginormous mansion in the middle, standing on its own grounds surrounded by a fence. It looked like something out of the scary movies I wasn't allowed to watch yet.  At my insistence, Daddy escorted me toward the place. In my kid's mind I was certain the size of the house was indication of the size of the candy. This joint would have to yield a full-size Mars Bar at least!

Dad waited on the sidewalk gate--there was a long, looong walkway, with stairs every few feet, leading up to the house, and I expect he was pooped and ready to head home to a well-earned beer. I made the climb, the house looming taller and scarier the closer I got. They'd gone all out for the holiday and had a loudspeaker with a creaky voiced woman talking about the kids she'd trapped in her cellar and would eat tomorrow.  Meh, I knew it was all crap. They had candy, dammit. I wanted that chocolate!

I reached the door. 

Rang the bell.

And waited. 

And waited.  

Annnnnd waited.  

If it hadn't been for the voice on the speaker I'd have gone back down. Other houses didn't answer, but those were always quiet.  There was candy here--ring the bell again...

The door silently opened. You'd think a creaking door would be scarier, but a silent door opening into blackness beyond the screen is much more scream-worthy.  

I couldn't see anything inside the darkness at first, then...a bit of movement--a bowl--yes! A big bowl! 

In a hairy the end of a hairy arm...of a gorilla.

Not a real one like I'd seen on those Three Stooges short subjects.  If this gorilla looked like THAT I wouldn't have been scared, but this was clearly a man in a cheesy monkey suit wearing a bad mask--and that was far creepier than any I'd ever seen on TV.  What the heck was wrong with this guy? Didn't he know Halloween dress-up was strictly for KIDS??

He bumped open the screen door, not saying a word.

I held my ground, wanting whatever mega-candy he had in the the bowl.  I held up my battered paper sack and said, "T-t-trick or treat?"  I didn't know my own voice. It sounded small and uncertain, as though the house had sucked away my gumption.

He slowly and silently reached into the bowl, picked up the treat, and dropped it into my bag.

As it fell in, I noted with much annoyance that it was a lousy penny-size bubblegum. A PENNY BUBBLE GUM??  I could have bought THAT myself!  After that long climb, facing up to the gorilla, with these clearly wealthy people living in such a massive house, and THAT'S all they give out?!?!?!??

Had the phrase "WTF" been around then I'd have likely said it. Instead, I looked up at the gorilla. "Gum? That's it?"

The gorilla was in no mood for lip from a crabby 8-year-old and ROARED.

I got his point and ran screaming down the long-stepped walkway and by the grace of God did NOT break my neck on the cracks. I slammed into my startled dad's legs, weeping and snarling about gum and gorillas. Dad was ready to go up and deck the ape, but I demanded to go HOME, and go home NOW. 

Just to show I'd not entirely lost my nerve I hit a few houses on the way back and collected more (and better!) loot. It sort of made up for the cheapskates in the big house, but from that point on I developed a great suspicion about the pretensions of the rich.

Yes, I chewed the gum, though I'd never been a fan of the stuff. It was hard as marble and likely left over from last year's half-price sales. Bloody cheapskates. If you can't do Halloween right, then don't do it at all.

It was also my first lesson that massive and sincere efforts often do not yield the reward one expects. It served well when I began sending out my first submissions to publishers.

Other Halloweens were less memorable. I turned to tricks over treats in one neighborhood when I dashed about with plastic fangs, my face covered with green eyeshadow, and a badly-made cape over all. I couldn't make up my mind whether to be Mr. Spock or Barnabas Collins that year and settled uncomfortably in-between. Knowing I was too old for the silliness, I hunched down and kept pace with the younger kids in order to get lost in the crowd. They ditched me, the scum, and more than one annoyed adult told me I was too old to be out.  Big deal, there were some teen-aged boys not far behind me, also demanding candy. Convince them, and then I'll go home.

Of course my real reply to that ageism observation was to paint their door knobs with bacon grease. I had a can and a brush artfully hidden in my loot bag. Houses that were shut tight and dark got that treatment along with the handles of their car doors. Clearly someone was home and ignoring the need to hand out candy to all us sweet (ahem) kids!

I'd just swabbed down a door handle and was petting a little kitten lurking on the porch when the homeowner drove up. Busted! I was ready to bolt, but he called that he had candy. He'd gone out to get more. He generously dropped some in my bag, and I felt bad about the greasy door handle. 

Which he didn't connect it to me.  How could he?  I'd been petting the kitten.  I'd get away with it!  

He climbed the steps, the kitten mewed, cutely, and he growled and kicked it off the porch.

WTF???  How DARE HE?? Poor teeny kitty!

He had more to be irritated about when he grabbed that greasy door handle and cursed. I melted into the shadows and waited. When I was sure he was well inside, I repainted the doorknob, gave his car handles the treatment, then dumped the rest of the can of grease onto his porch and smeared it around using the newspaper he'd not yet picked up.  THAT would teach HIM to kick helpless kittens!  Grr.  Hoping he'd break a leg, I scampered off.

That was my last Halloween as a door-to-door moocher of sweets. I didn't want to be too old for the fun, but it had finally happened. At least I went out on a high note as an advocate for stray kittens.  (No, I couldn't take it home, we had dogs who would eat it.)

I mentioned that this is kind of a sad holiday for me now. I'm home, but I leave the porch light off, choosing not to play. In my head and with my job it's Halloween every day. I leave official observances to the talented amateurs.

Anyway, there's not a lot of kids in the neighborhood, and the ones who come by are clearly MUCH too old to be running about. Here's a clue, kids, when you have to shave, legs or face, it's time to retire.

A few streets over, across the main road, is a playground park that the cops have to patrol, since the wilder unsupervised teens run loose there tonight. They're armed with things more dangerous than toilet paper and bacon grease. In past years they'd get drunk, do drugs, and shoot/knife each other. The cops are prepped for them, so it should be quieter now. It does spoil things for the little ones, who won't ever know the kind of Halloweens I had.

Some part of me DOES want to put on a costume and run out into the cool fall night, but I can usually sidetrack it with chocolate. The one good thing about being a grownup and answerable only to myself is I CAN get as much of the really GOOD candy as I like.

And hey, it IS Halloween. I shall indulge!

Do thou likewise!

I ain't 'fraid of no gorilla! Not this kind, anyway!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

New Rachel Caine Video!

My longtime friend and gleeful partner in crime, Rachel Caine, has a new Morganville Vampires video out.

There are NO vampires in Morganville!

We do NOT use the "v" word!


Friday, October 22, 2010

Ya learn something new every day

What I have learned this week is what one of my characters thinks about me.

Um...yeah...straying into strange territory here, but I assure you I'm not putting on my crazy hat so I can talk about them like they live next door. That kind of thing makes one's readers wince, so I promise I'm not throwing birthday parties with prezzies for the characters; that would be silly.  

A simple greeting card is just fine! They've told me so.

Okay, never mind.

What sparked this blog was my having to do a thousand words for the OryCon32 program book. They wanted a short fiction from one of their guests of honor, and I was going to just have my vamp PI drop in for a short, hopefully amusing conversation. 

Those are usually fun!

But the con has reminded me that it's 20 years since Jack Fleming popped out of my brain to stalk across the pages of Bloodlist and 11 other books, and somehow I wound up addressing his moment of creation--but from Jack's point of view.

The piece has his byline, and he tells how he was born. If you think that sounds weird, imagine how *I* felt writing it! I've been taking dictation from him for 20+ years now, but it was unsettling. In a good way. I think. Still wrapping my head around it.

After the convention next month I'll post the piece on this blog, then this post will make more sense.  The thing that sticks with me is that after all the crap I put the guy through in the books he still likes me.

It's nice to know that no matter what, Jack Fleming has got my back.

Which is pretty cool. Bizarre, but cool.

Right, blog entry completed. I'm outta here.

NOW I'm going to put on my crazy hat and---

---get nekked at the airport! Wheee!

Have cabana boys and lots of chocolate standing by for after I make bail!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Let us remember, mourn, and prevent.

Let us wear PURPLE today in remembrance of those poor kids bullied into suicide by gay bashers and other total effing assholes.

If you've ever been a target of bullying, you know what it's like. 

Wear purple. Remember those poor kids and their families.

KNOW that it is STILL going on.

How to change your FB and Twitter to purple for the day:

Compassion to the victims, zero tolerance to the perpetrators.

Dah Winnahs!!

Here are the winners of the drawing for a signed copy of Dark and Stormy Knights!

I decided three would be more fun than one, so surprise!

Your numbers came up at, congratulations!

Send an email to mystikmerchant  -at- sbcglobal-dot-net  with a delivery addy and who you want it signed to, and I'll get those out!

Realms of Fantasy Closes

Well, DAMN.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Dark and Stormy Drawing for Free Signed Copy!

Everyone loves a freebie!

Leave a comment and I'll have a drawing for a free signed copy of DARK AND STORMY KNIGHTS.

If you already have one, perhaps you have a friend who might enjoy an early Christmas prezzy.

Have at it!


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Twenty Years of The Vampire Files-- YIKES!

Holy cr@p!  Has it been that long?

Um, yup. Calendars don't lie. Not that much!

I'm going to be the writer guest of honor at OryCon 32 next month and they wanted to know if I wanted to mention in the programming that this was the 20-year anniversary of The Vampire Files

Really, I was in too much shock to think about it much less give an answer. That's a big chunk of my life.

Original 1st edition from Ace

The first book of the Vampire Files series that I began writing in 1986 (YIKES AGAIN!!!) and sold in 1988 and which hit the shelves in 1990 is now technically a year past the legal drinking age. I signed the contract with Ace in the spring of 1988, the first book hitting the shelves in 1990.

But we'll keep it simple and call 2010 the 20-year anniversary of my partnership with vampire PI Jack Fleming. I can't say it's been easy--he's a tough guy to work with--but it's never been dull.

The series almost never happened. Back then, the Big Name writer was Anne Rice, and I was told that her style was the only style readers wanted. I was told repeatedly that the vampire genre was sewn up in its shroud and dead, not just undead, and that a cross-genre book of any kind had NO chance at all for publication.

I am not known for taking no as an answer. Besides, all the how-to books I read about writing asserted the importance of not giving up. When a rejection comes (no writer escapes!), you take it on the chin, put on your game face, and start all over again--which I did.

Ace reprint edition
That book, "The List", which became Bloodlist, was sent out about 24 times, collected rejections, rewritten, and sent it out again. And again. And again. I got feedback from some very brave people, and kept rewriting.  In the meantime, I began another book in the series, then another, and I wrote gaming modules, selling them to TSR. Professional credits! Pay checks! Cool!

It took two years to sell that first book. 

I made all the rookie mistakes. I sent terrible queries, worse proposals, a rotten synopsis, and they went to the wrong publishers. Back then I thought a mystery house would love to see a dark fantasy--that's what they called vampire books when they were being kind. The rest of the time they lumped them into horror which was and still is dominated by Mr. King.

But the book I wrote was not horror! 

Sure, it had a vampire as the main character, but he was a GOOD GUY. He had a bit of a food allergy, but he usually tried to do the right thing, had a sense of humor, a wiseacre mouth, and even sent money home to his mother. Back then it was too alien a concept for the black cover crowd.

My inspirations came from Fred Saberhagen and Dark Shadows and Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler and Conan Doyle and The Shadow and countless movies from Universal and Hammer Films. I watched anything with Bogart, Cagney, Karloff, Chaney, Lugosi, Cushing, and Lee in it.

I can thank author David McDaniel and his Man From UNCLE book, The Vampire Affair for stirring up my imagination!

I can thank author Jeff Rice for inventing Carl Kolchak and the books, The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler and the TV series with Darrin McGavin owning the part.  

It is NO accident that Jack Fleming started out as a down at the heels reporter. Carl Kolchak is his spiritual godfather.
Audio book

I read the pulps when I could find reprints and searched for books to feed my appetite for supernatural good guys--who were thin on the ground! 

Certainly you could include Barnabas Collins, so ably played by my first crush, Jonathan Frid. He and the writers for Dark Shadows turned him from the heavy of that six-week story arc into an ongoing anti-hero vampire with a conscience long before Joss Whedon stepped in with Angel and Spike.

Thank them for the Vampire Files, not me.
Thank the slush pile reader who liked my first 50 pages and kicked them upstairs to the senior editor who sold the series to the bean-counters who okay'd an offer to me of a 6-book contract and an advance. 

Thank friends like Teresa Patterson, Bill Fawcett, past agent Donald Maass, and present agent Lucienne Diver.

Because of them I got to meet many of my heroes: Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Lois McMaster Bujold, and whoa! -- Jonathan Frid!  (You still make my knees go weak, sir!)

Because of them, I got to meet thousands of really COOL readers at countless conventions.

Because of them, stellar talents like Rachel Caine and Carole Nelson Douglas are my good friends.

I've been able to edit some of the best writers in the business and co-write books with the amazing Nigel Bennett.

I'm leaving too much and too many others out, and I apologize. My point is I didn't do any of it on my own, and I'm grateful to everyone who ever traded words with me about my job.

So happy 20 years, Jack Fleming.
Now--let's see what we can do in the NEXT twenty!

Three book omnibus

German Edition
French Edition
Italian Edition