Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Yesterday we celebrated the memory and art of the fabulous Peter Cushing. Today, by happy coincidence, is the birth date of the late, great Vincent Price and living legend Christopher Lee.
I owe tremendous debts to this trio of gentlemen. We will not know their like again.
Delightfully, Mr. Lee, at 87 years old, is still as active in films as ever. At the date of this writing he just completed another and has five more movies awaiting release. An amazing, brilliant actor and a special favorite of mine since I was about ten years old. For me, Christopher Lee will always be the definitive cinematic Count Dracula. No other actor has come close, nor had such affection for the original novel by Bram Stoker.
In yet another odd coincidence, Dracula itself was first published 112 years ago--yesterday.
Strange, indeed. And also wonderful.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Today is Peter Cushing's birthday.
A long-time favorite of mine, I had to set aside a moment from a very busy day to express my admiration of this fine, consummate performer. Mr. Cushing's films meant so much to me as I was growing up. Whether he was portraying the diabolical Baron Frankenstein, the saintly Dr. Van Helsing, the brilliantly eccentric (and definitive) Sherlock Holmes, or dozens of other roles, Peter was always fascinating to watch.
He still is.
Happy Birthday, sir. You remain as an inspiration to so many of us. And you are sorely missed.
May 26, 1913 - August 11, 1994
Friday, May 22, 2009
Few writers have had as much of an impact on me as the literary accomplishments of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I became an avid Sherlock Holmes fan as early as Sixth Grade, after being assigned to read "The Norwood Builder" from my English text book. I remember being quite enthusiastic with how the Great Detective exposed and captured the culprit of that story with such clever ease. By the time I discovered The Hound of the Baskervilles, a few years later, I was hooked for good.
I was also lucky enough that a local TV station in my my hometown of Louisville, Ky. had a Sherlock Holmes Theater on Sunday mornings at 11:30. During that time I saw all the cherished Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce films, others with Arthur Wontner, Raymond Massey, Clive Brooks, John Barrymore, and even an old newsreel of Sir Arthur himself, talking about writing the Holmes stories and of his personal investigations into the occult. My shelves swelled with Sherlock Holmes books, all four novels and fifty-six short stories, and soon I'd read all of them many times. Still, I couldn't get enough of the Great Detective.
By the mid-1980s, I'd only been a professional writer for a very brief time when I decided to write my own Sherlock Holmes adventure, Scarlet in Gaslight, which by a happy coincidence was published one hundred years--almost to the day--after the Detective's first appearance in print. My graphic novel, strikingly illustrated by Seppo Makinen, went on to sell-out, go through several printings, and merited an Eisner Award nomination. It was a fantastic thing to happen to a young, inexperienced writer and jump-started my career in a way that I never could have imagined possible.
However, there was much more to Conan Doyle than merely Sherlock Holmes. Physician, historian, playwright, poet, scientist, criminologist, patriot, knight, and spiritualist, he lived as full and fascinating a life as one person ever could.
Aside from his famous mysteries, Sir Arthur was also a brilliant pioneer in the field of science fiction, profoundly influencing the likes of Edgar Rice Burroughs, H.P.Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, and Philip Jose Farmer, among many others. Conan Doyle's classic The Lost World--featuring the notorious Professor Challenger--is, I think, the greatest book of its kind ever written. (In fact, like the author himself, I actually prefer his Challenger sci-fi adventures over Sherlock Holmes.) Also, his horror stories, such as my favorite, "The Horror of the Heights", are genuinely chilling.
I can say in all humility that I'd be nothing, professionally, without the influence of this ingenious, wise, and remarkably prolific author. Literally speaking, I owe him nearly everything.
In closing, I can think of nothing more appropriate than sharing Conan Doyle's own modest and beautiful sentiment regarding his enduring literary achievements:
I have wrought my simple plan
If I bring one hour's joy
To the boy who's half a man
Or the man who's half a boy.
Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle
May 22, 1859 – July 7, 1930
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
I recently received the proofs for my upcoming ALICE IN WONDERLAND graphic novel, to be published by Stone Arch Books this summer. Thought you might want a sneak-peek, without my narrative captions and dialog balloons cluttering up the fabulous artwork.
The illustrations are by Daniel Perez, the artist who so masterfully created the mood and mystery of my HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES graphic novel last year. Daniel is just as fully fantastic at depicting the high strangeness of Lewis Carroll's Wonderland as he was portraying Sherlock Holmes' world of gas-lit cobbled streets and fog-shrouded moors.
I have five new children's books being published by Stone Arch this summer, so more previews are lurking right around the corner.
Many thanks to my editor, Donald Lemke, for working so hard in order to make me look so much better. My time with Stone Arch Books has been very special to me, and the ease and mutual respect of our working relationship has been a rare and cherished situation.
Thanks, Donnie. I don't tell you that nearly enough.
"I was happy, I knew that. While experiencing happiness, we have difficulty in being conscious of it. Often only when the happiness is past and we look back on it do we suddenly realize-- sometimes with astonishment-- how happy we had been."
Nikos Kazantzakis, ZORBA THE GREEK
Thursday, May 7, 2009
For unknown reasons, that I've never pretended to understand, I've always been very fortunate to have many loyal female readers. That's been the case ever since the beginning of my professional career, over twenty years ago, and it's a distinction I happily continue to enjoy today. Upon average, seven out of ten fans who approach me at conventions to sign books are women or girls. Again, I'm not sure why, but it's true.
Recently, a close friend of mine, who is also a writer, asked me a very interesting and somewhat troubling question.
"Why," she asked, "don't more men read women authors? I mean, we read you. Why don't you read us?"
I pondered that for a moment before answering, and admitted she was right. Many of my gender, myself sometimes included, have shamefully neglected a vast expanse of fantastic fiction for no real particular reason.
In truth, there are several female authors to whom I owe a great literary debt. For example, where would I be without Mary Shelley? Frankenstein, both the movies and her classic novel, will always be highly influential to me. Then there is Ruth Rose, who wrote the original screenplay of King Kong, my favorite movie of all time. I could never forget Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, arguably the perfect American novel. More recently, the poetic imaginings in Jenny Dalton's Daughters of the Dead Sea left an indelible mystical mark that echoed long after the last page was turned.
Then, there is Shirley Jackson.
Shirley left behind a wealth of some of the most disturbing, hilarious, and imaginative fiction of the 20th century. During her life she was something of an enigma, consistently refusing to be interviewed, to explain or promote her work, or to take public stands on any political issues. Ironically, considering my friend's original question, Shirley Jackson hated being called a "woman author". She simply wanted to be known as a writer, and she believed that her books would speak for her clearly enough. Over the years, indeed, they have.
A popular writer in her own brief lifetime, Shirley's fiction has received growing attention from literary critics in recent years. Authors Stephen King, Richard Matheson, and Neil Gaiman have all gratefully admitted her influence on their own popular books.
Shirley Jackson's best known and most celebrated works are The Haunting of Hill House, a chilling contemporary novel of the classic ghost story (and it gives M.R. James a run for his money), and "The Lottery", which I believe is the most flawless, and ultimately terrifying, short story ever written. But, there is a lot more to this darkly brilliant visionary than merely two items. Seek them out, they are fabulous.
If you have never read Shirley Jackson, I'm delighted to get you started with her vividly powerful opening paragraph from The Haunting of Hill House:
No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.
We've been going through some fretful, worrisome times lately. Probably, as it is with most fearful things, we will escape again unscathed.
It's a genuine fact that through most of my life I've often received more comfort from animals than people. This time has been no different. I really admire and even envy their unswerving loyalty and their effortless ability of living in the moment, something we as humans can rarely achieve.
This little poem by Jane Kenyon expresses it beautifully.
In and Out
The dog searches until he finds me
upstairs, lies down with a clatter
of elbows, puts his head on my foot.
Sometimes the sound of his breathing
saves my life -- in and out, in
and out; a pause, a long sigh. . . .
Friday, May 1, 2009
The International Reading Association Convention is coming to the Minneapolis Convention Center next week. Guest speakers will include world-renowned pediatric neurosurgeon and author Benjamin Carson, MD, popular author Todd Parr, and actress/author Julianne Moore.
(And yes, part of the reason I'm mentioning this is just so I can have the excuse to shamelessly post Julianne's photo on my blog. She's a long-time favorite of mine, so this is very cool.)
Apparently, strange as this might seem, they let guys like me in there, too. I'll be signing my children's books on Monday, May 4th, at the Red Brick Learning company booth, at noon. So, if you're going to be at the convention, please drop by.
Many thanks to Krista Monyhan of Stone Arch Books for so kindly inviting me to do the signing, and for arranging all the complicated particulars involved with such an auspicious event. I'm honored to be included.