Vampires of Michigan

Which one of my books would fans of Patrick Swayze's Road House enjoy?

I've noticed a bunch of people are coming here via searches or links pertaining to Patrick Swayze's superlative Road House.

If you liked that film, you'll probably enjoy The Vampires of Michigan.  No, this isn't the usual 90s vintage tale of teen angst or social squabbling.  This is a driving, fast-paced tale that uses vampires to frame the action.  It's partly a meditation on what immortality would actually mean, and an extended chase where the each side in turn becomes the hunter and the hunted.

It was really fun to write, and when it came out, one of my friends (who is a fan) said it was the best writing I had yet done. 

One of the aspects I enjoyed was finally putting my firearms knowledge to narrative use.  Matching characters with weapons and showing them in action was fun.   (Only the bad guys use Glocks.)

The whole thing is written in a cinematic style, emphasizing showing rather than telling, and avoiding internal monologues.

Basically it's sexy, fun, high body-count action novel.   Check it out!


Upon further review, Van Helsing is not that great

When Van Helsing first came out, I thought it was great, and naturally I bought the DVD.  A couple of nights ago I watched it again, and was quite underwhelmed.

My disenchantment is focused on two areas.  The first, and most obvious, is the overuse of CGI to create insane spectacles and daring escapes.  It was funny and over the top in 2004, but after a decade of superhero movies and the excesses of Star Wars, it's just annoying, a waste of screen time devoid of dramatic impact.  I've written before about how the constraints placed on prior generations of filmmakers brought about better quality, so I won't belabor the point.

Much more subtle is my dislike of the film's approach to theology, which is frankly awful.  I used to give it credit for having the Catholic Church be shown in a positive light, but it gets so much wrong and in so many ways, it's hard to sit through it.

Hugh Jackman's character is a generic jaded superhero, and David Wenham's friar is an amusing collection of friar/scholar tropes, but it hasn't aged well.  Even Kate Beckinsale (with her atrocious accent) left me cold. 

About the only performance that was still enjoyable was Richard Roxburgh's Dracula, which he eerily foreshadowed in Moulin Rouge.  That film has held up well, by the way.

The combination of steampunk crossbows and interfaith good guys was very much of its time, part of the hallucination that democracy was a universal and achievable aspiration. 

If nothing else, the film demonstrates that the most dated films are the ones rooted in a "modernity" that didn't last.

 

 

 


Vampires of Michigan - the Roar of '84?

I'm once again binge-watching the early seasons of Miami Vice and I'm thinking it would be fun to set the next installment in the World Series Championship year of 1984.  It's an interesting year for a variety of reasons.  Obviously there is the George Orwell angle, but 1984 marked a rare moment of unity in American politics.  The notion of a a presidential candidate carrying 49 states is inconceivable today.

Whether looking at Cold War politics, cultural differences and of course the far superior music and entertainment, I think it would be fun.

As to the plot...well, that's yet to be determined.  I've got a couple of ideas and I'm sure some of the same characters will be represented. 

Of course, nothing may come of it, but that's the fun of being a novelist - not just the ideas that are completed, but the ones that are tossed around for fun.


St. Patrick, pray for us

A year ago I did a post on how the snakes have come back to Ireland.

By curious coincidence, First Things has an article with almost exactly the same title on the same topic.

The secularization of St. Patrick's feast day is kind of fascinating.  I'm seeing all sorts of promotions for corned beef and cabbage, but of course it is a Friday in Lent, which means that meat is forbidden.  Yes, there are some jurisdictions where dispensations have been made, but it's plain that the concept of the day is now getting drunk and eating bland food.

This is not by any means unique.  Christmas is famously secular these days, mostly pagan myths about a fat old man and flying reindeer.  Still the fall of Ireland is sad to behold.

England has also embraced the same empty, soulless materialism that fascinated the United States.  The allure is powerful.  Who doesn't want to cast aside the restrictive morals of the past to indulge in every form of sin and gratification?  It is a tale as old as Sodom and Gomorrah.

On the positive side, I think we are rapidly reaching the limits of what decadence can even permit.  This was one of the themes of The Vampires of Michigan - at a certain point, you simply can't debauch yourself any more.  There are finite ways of gratifying lust, each carrying progressively greater risk and damage.  Just as with drugs, there is a law of diminishing returns, where each new transgression brings less of a high.

We see this with music and entertainment - stuff that was shocking in my youth is boring today.  Madonna masturbating with a cross in the late 80s is as distant to us as the Elvis Presley swinging his hips was back then.

J.R.R. Tolkien understood this, that the ultimate end of evil must be nihilism.  Evil is all about pulling things down, whether they be moral boundaries or degrading the human spirit.  When at last all depravity has been experienced, there is nothing left but the void.

This is why I am hopeful, because darkness ultimately cannot triumph.  Clearly it is my task to keep the lamp burning through the night until the dawn inevitably comes.  St. Patrick showed us how it was done and we will have to do it again.


The Great Wall of Edits

The test readers have finally finished their labors, and we're now coming down the home stretch of Walls of Men.

This project really got out of hand developed beyond what I expected.  Based on my experience with Long Live Death, I figured I could hammer out a concise military history of China in little over twice the time it took me to write about Spain.  I was wrong.

Badly wrong.

Target completion dates kept slipping backward, from March to May to July to September.  I'm now reasonably confident that I will at least have a proof copy printed in November.

On the plus side, the feedback is very positive, which is great.  On the other hand, I've got a bit of work ahead in terms of cleaning things up.  I'm not really bothered by that because almost every one of my books has required a post-publication update as new typos and mistakes are brought to light.  Given the scope of this particular work, I'm willing to delay final publication until it's as clean as can be reasonably expected.

What next?  I'm not sure, but I need a break from the non-fiction realm.  Things are too stressful and disappearing into a world of my own creation will do me some good.  Both Vampires of Michigan and Battle Officer Wolf are long overdue for sequels, and I've been thinking about both of them.

I'm also looking at a revised one-volume version of Man of Destiny with some new content added to it (along with improved cover art).

To put it another way, I've still got stories to tell and things to say and with my impending retirement from military service, I'll have a lot more time to do it.

 


Next Project: Chinese Military History

Over the past year, I've been all over the place on my next book project.  I looked at a sequel to Battle Officer Wolf, pondered writing The Vampires of Michigan: Pandemic, dabbled in doing a series of essays on spiritual warfare, and even took yet another stab (or two) at writing something in the fantasy genre.

Instead, I've settled on writing a concise, quick-moving military history of China.  I'm not sure how long it will be, but if you know me, you know it will be short.  Long books bore me.

I feel that Long Live Death was the right length for the topic and I'm very happy with it's reception.  It goes into just enough detail to make its point and inform the reader, and also points you to more detailed information in case you want it.

That's what I want to achieve with this new book.  At the moment, it's working title is "Something Something Dragon," because books about China almost always have "dragon" in the title.  You know, something like "The Dragon's Brittle Claws," because one of my themes is that Chinese military track record is uneven at best.

Hey, it took me a while to come up with Long Live Death, so no hurry.

I've not yet put together a deadline, or a projected completion date, but unlike other efforts, there is significant momentum.  I'm starting to get some good writing sessions and acquiring additional sources.  The mania is setting in.

I should note that like the Spanish Civil War, Chinese military history is another area that fascinated me in my late teens.  It was always somewhat obscure, and I found that a challenge.  At one point in college I came up with a Chinese version of Milton Bradley's Shogun game (which has been renamed a bunch, not sure what they call it now).  So a lot of my research is already floating around in my head, it's just a question of organizing it.


The Crow is a profoundly Catholic movie

I have to say that the Lord of Spirits podcast is fundamentally changing how I think about everything, not just religion.

I've got a post up at Bleedingfool.com comparing Deadpool and The Crow.  Both in subject and structure the two are strikingly similar, but I want to dig a little deeper into the moral aspects of The Crow. 

Previously, I always thought of it as a spiritually-tinged revenge movie with proto-emo imagery and music.  That's still true, but the broadly Catholic-influenced themes and actions really stood out to me.

From a this perspective, Brandon Lee's character isn't a ghost bent on revenge so much as a soul in Purgatory who is cleansed of sin by carrying out divine judgement on unrepentant sinners while also helping those capable of redemption to find it.  The titular crow is his guardian angel, guiding him on the path to salvation and peace.

The late Brandon Lee did a great job in this film, and one can't help but see similarities in his fate and that of his character, Eric. 

On the face of it, Eric isn't a paragon of virtue.  He's a rock and roller who has a live-in girlfriend - not exactly a poster child for the Holy Family.

And yet, he intends to marry her, proposing in the proper way.  Even the wedding dress is modest and traditional.  The date - Halloween - seems like a hipster conceit, but that means their first morning as husband and wife will be All Saints Day.

Okay, maybe I'm reaching there, but it's interesting to look at how he approaches his task.  Each one of the guilty party he approaches has the opportunity to seek mercy.  Only the pawn broker asks for it, and so he is spared (though his continued sinful behavior inevitably catches up to him).

The bag guys aren't just bad, they are objectively evil.  The witch practicing blood magic?  Yeah, that's a big call for some divine retribution there.

Finally, there's the big confrontation between Lee's character and the arch-villain, Top Dollar.  As is customary, the villain gets the upper hand and seems sure to triumph but our hero suddenly turns that tables - in this case by summoning the memories of his fiancee's suffering and giving to the bad guy all at once.

What's interesting here is that Eric does this only after Top Dollar has admitted that yes, he was ultimately responsible for the double murder.  He may as well have said mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

In fact, the fact that Eric is able to obtain those memories at all is another Catholic 'tell.'  Officer Albrecht stayed with Shelly throughout her ordeal - a corporal act of mercy.  Albrecht also looks after Sarah, buying her dinner when they meet, which is of course an act of charity.

Throughout the film, these moments knit together a tapestry of religious symbolism that may appear purely spiritual, but all have a basis in Catholic theology.  Note how Eric purges the heroin from Sarah's mother and then tells her to go forth and sin no more.

When the mother then tries to be 'motherly' and her daughter gives her grief, the film could take a darker turn, but Sarah chooses the path of mercy, and accepts her mother's repentance.

The final scene where the again-dying Eric sees a vision of his fiancee approaching in a luminescent white light may appear to be simply traditional good vibes, a vague spiritualism, but a Catholic would note that her ordeal had already purified her, and that she was waiting for Eric to cleanse himself of sin as well.  Having done so - offering forgiveness to some, justice to others - Eric is now able to ascend with her.

Make no mistake, the film abounds with Christian symbolism, right down to the showdown in what appears to be an abandoned cathedral.   From my view, the entire film is permeated with not just religious themes, but ones that make the most sense if one views it from the Catholic perspective.

 


Well, let's see how 2021 works out

Happy New Year!  As the song says, it's been a long December but there's reason to believe that this year will be better than the last.

Taken as a whole, 2020 has not been without its joys.  The publication of Vampires of Michigan and the subsequent writing of Long Live Death and its success was not something I contemplated a year ago.   The COVID lockdown has put our family under great strain, but we also celebrated the birth of our first grandchild, who has been a source of unceasing wonderment and happiness.

In many ways, how we approach life determines how we perceive it.  What makes a "very good" year versus a bad one?  Folks used to advise people to "count their blessings" and I think it's good advice - though not something sad people want to hear.

That's my other observation this year, something I'd noted before but I've now seen it spread on a far wider basis: misery loves company.  Online places I used to visit have become so unrelentingly negative that I can't even stomach them.  If you bring in good cheer, they boo you right off the network.

I'm not a big fan of New Year's Resolutions but I am going to enhance my efforts this winter to push aside complaints and try to hold onto moments of joy that might otherwise have been lost.

 


Vampires of Michigan: Pandemic

The title of this post is a teaser for a sequel I've been mulling over for a while.  I know, I know, I keep announcing my next project only to bail a day later.

The problem of course is twofold.

The first issue is not knowing how things will turn out.  That's a pretty tough position for a novelist to be in, especially if one wants an intricate plot. 

Then there's the problem that writing about reality cuts into the escapism that is part of why I write.

I suppose I could go all-in on wishcast/Mary Sue type work, but I like to think I'm above such things.

Still, I've got a notion how it would work, so maybe once the vaccine and election work their way through, I'll get to work.  Though it sold less than some of my other books, Vampires of Michigan did get some of the strongest fan response I've seen.  I'm pretty sure people would read it.

Maybe next year.


Music to write by

Last night I was bit by the writing bug, and cranked out 500 words on a new project, but I have no idea if it will go anywhere.

I seem to do a lot of that lately.  It isn't exactly writer's block, since I'm not under any obligation to write anything at the moment.

A big part of writing is mood.  With each book, I've had something of a soundtrack to facilitate creativity.

Battle Officer Wolf was written while listening to Enya's Amarantine album, over and over again.

For much of A Man of Destiny, I had a Star Wars mix of the darker ("imperial") pieces playing.

I had a special mix as well for Vampires of Michigan, which drew heavily from the Blood and Chocolate soundtrack.  (Yes, I know that movie was about werewolves, so sue me.)

Long Live Death didn't really have a soundtrack.  I just wrote it in a manic frenzy perhaps sensing the parallels between the faltering Second Spanish Republic and our own.

As for my other books, there was nothing specific, though Three Weeks with the Coasties sometimes caused me to look up the music that was popular at the time.

In any event, 2020 is winding down and so it will soon be time for me to start my 2021 book. 

Perhaps instead of thinking about topics, I need to think about music?