Sunday, 29 November 2009

Twin Peaks and staying on the path...

On Friday I went to a graduation ceremony. The last one I'd been to was mine, back in 1989. I was fresh faced and ready to go. Shake the world and see what dropped out.
Now, twenty years (!?!) later here I am, sitting with all the proud mums and dads, watching their offspring spring off. And I'm wondering "My God, was I ever that young?"
It doesn't seem that long ago, honest.
Oh, by the way, I wasn't there for my kids, I like to believe they're brighter than most but being under ten it wasn't either of them collecting their degrees. It was my wife getting her doctorate (always handy to have one in the house, don't you think?). A lot of things happened in the course of that first decade as a grown-up but I won't bore you with the details. I'll just dwell on one thing.
TWIN PEAKS. My God, a festival of awesomeness. I so wanted to marry Sherilyn Fenn. And Madchen Amick. Dale Cooper was the epitome of cool and I watched the Tuesday episode, taped it and watched it over the week and then the repeat of it on Sunday. For me it caused the hysteria rarely seen outside of a Twilight convention.
It was disturbing, dreamlike and bewildering. It made no sense. It was 'streams of conciousness TV' and bypassed the brain. Owls swooped across the midnight woods, women with logs gave ominous clues and ghosts and demons schemed and screamed but the darkest horrors lay at home.
Who killed Laura Palmer? First, it mattered. Then it didn't. In solving the crime the show lost its way, or so took it's own path into the deep forest that all boundaries fell away and everything good did indeed become everything bad. I struggle to write heroes, mainly because all I can see is the barely supressed villainy. Never trust a guy in a white hat. What's he hiding under there?
I wonder if with plots and arcs and character development we're too on the straight and narrow. Why should the good guys win? Life is cloud chasing, Twin Peaks showed these clouds sometimes gave was to the sun, but more often than not, to storms and terrifying violence. Twin Peaks, in storytelling, strayed way way off the path. It wasn't to the taste of many, maybe even to most, as no matter what we think about ourselves, we ARE afraid of the forest. The warnings of Little Red Riding Hood ring in our ears whenever we're tempted.
Stay on the path. Don't court danger. Be good, obedient children.
I wonder what will become of those graduates as they are put on the road. Will they stick to the tride and tested route towards career and wages and whatever. I know I did for many many years, not daring to look left or right to the trees and never wondering if there might be something just a bit more interesting than all this tarmac. Maybe by stepping off, there is no going back. But think about it. Was there ever a chance to go back? To anything?

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

What makes a good bad guy

I'm working on a new book and trying to build my bad guy. The trouble is, he's not that bad. I think the problem is the setting is the real world, but with strong supernatural undercurrents but the villain's just a bit...blah. He wants to conquer the world. Why? What's he going to do with it? Name all the countries after himself? Become richer?
There's the James Bond villian syndrome, where they're evil just for evil's sake. That's just lazy storytelling. The key to creating a great bad guy is making him the hero, in his own way. He wants to bring order to the galaxy. He's conflicted. The better angels of his nature don't win out, hardly ever. He wants to be better, but then he takes the easy way. He believes the ends justify the means. A little evil for the greater good, that sort of thing. He can stop, whenever he wants, honest. But there's just one last thing he needs to do, one last job, one last big win. Let's have a look at some villains, big, small, real and unreal.
1. Hitler. Well, he would be at the top of the list, wouldn't he? But what did he want? A utopia for the Aryan people. Great if you're Aryan, I suppose. Pol Pot would fall into this category. They wanted to build a better world. That means getting rid of the undesirables. It meant the gas chambers or the killing fields, but they got people to believe in their dream. Somehow, however briefly, their vision makes some sort of sense. We could be great. It's just we're held back by (insert racial group of your choice). They're not true humans anyway, they don't deserve what they've been given (which they no doubt stole off the backs of us honest folk). They're taken our jobs and speak/smell/look funny. Get rid of them and everything will be beautiful.
2. Hannibal Lecter. Interesting, the guy eats people but he's cultured, intelligent and wise. He's like some vengeful god, seemingly omniscent, certainly smarter than anyone else in the room and above morality. That's for the petty people. What is it that he worked out that we're too stupid to see? What does he know and understand that makes cannibalism seem the right choice? He's made his own rules, and it seems he's winning. Add the Joker to this. He's seen the madness of what the world really is and has responded in kind. There's too many contradictions in our existence, what alternative is there to going mad? Surely that's the only sane thing to do.
3. Darth Vader. C'mon, everything eventually comes down to Star Wars. The fallen knight. He had hopes, had great good, but fell. The Lucifer story. Maybe the ideal he had of himslef was too high and it tormented him. If I can't be this, then I'm nothing. His evil is a form of self-loathing. He does bad knowingly, reveling in his fall and using it to justify his hatred of himself. He's a geat figure because he's the dark reflection of our hero (though all good villains should be this). He's saying "I was just like you, once. And you'll be just like me, one day soon."
4. The Alien. The non-human. Now this villain doesn't need tentacles or razor sharp teeth and acid for blood, but he's the unknowable villain. Someone we feel who's mind-set is so apart from our own that there's no meeting ground. It's kill or be killed. He won't change, he's not misunderstood, he is what he is and that's that. Add your favourite terrorist group under this heading. By making our enemy an alien we can justify anything we do to him. Since he's not human the rules don't apply. The only solution is extermination. See Item 1 to where that all leads.
So, that's a brief snap-shot of the villains I've found fascinating. Feel free to add your own but ask yourself, 'why him?'. Good villains are hard to find.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Dark Goddess, almost finished!

This glorious cover comes courtesy of Puffin and as you can tell it will be very cool. We have Billi in her little red riding hood outfit about to get medieval on the rear of a werewolf.
I'm on the last-ish rewrite of Dark Goddess, which is more of a straightening out of the furniture. It's all there, just needs a bit of tweaking so it's all in exactly the right place.
The Puffin edition will be out next July, the Disney-Hyperion next October. I know its ages, but it'll be worth it, I promise!
So, in the meanwhile, I would like to offer you a selection of werewolf distractions, just to get you in a howling frame of mind. I may have mentioned some of these before, but what the hell. Great is great.
1. Angela Carter- The Company of Wolves. This book is actually a collection of wolf-related fairy tales. All dark, gruesome and macabre. Also check out the film Company of Wolves which is utterly amazing. It came out way way back and is the best werewolf movie ever.
2. Dog Soldiers. Oh, this may actually be the best werewolf movie ever too. A group of British soldiers fight it out against a pack of huge werewolves in a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. It's a horror/action/comedy and has one of the funniest Matrix jokes. See if you can spot it. Werewolf versus frying pan. Who will win?
3. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly. Well the big bad is a wolf and his minions. It still counts for so many reasons. If you haven't read it yet, DO SO NOW!
4. Women who run with Wolves by Clarrissa Pinkola Estes. She deals with a lot of female fairytales and looks at the mythic and Jungian archetypes these tales represent. If you're wanting to write fantasy, supernatural or anything inbetween, read this book. Also, for the position on the male psyche, read Iron John by Robert Bly.
5. The Prince Ivan series by Peter Morwood. They have wolves in them but are primarily a retelling of some Russian myths, but in a joined up way. Actually, I think I read these back in the early 90's and they were probably the seed from which Dark Goddess grew. I've just found the first two on Amazon and really looking forward to re-reading them. It's got Baba Yaga in them (and her daghter, too strange to explain), so that's a reason enough, don't you think?
Oh, an update on the next short story. Billi's Date is done but will be out in December. It's not that short so hopefully will make up for the delay. You'll meet the new squire, Mordred. He's pretty cool.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Building a better bad boy

We all love a bad boy. We either want to be one, or tame one. He's the fantasy feature of literature and he never, ever goes out of style. He is style.
So, how do we spot one? What are the key credentials in acquiring bad boy status? Let's have a look at a few examples and qualifications.
1. He's gorgeous. Well, that's a given. He's an alpha male who leads the pack or the lone wolf. Nothing shouts ego like turning up at a party alone, and still being centre of attention. Yes, I mean you, Mr.Darcy.
2. He plays by his own rules. He's an outsider, he's got a reputation and it's one of scandals galore. BUT (and this is a big but) he's in society. He's comfortable with the movers and shakers as well as the scum of the earth. He's always invited to the best parties because, well, he is the party. Dorian Gray, I salute you!
3. Oh, he's dangerous. He fights, he drinks, he gambles, he smokes and has female friends of ill repute. He picks his friends as they suit him. He is guaranteed to act inappropriately. If he hasn't ruined some innocent lady's reputation or been challenged to a duel by the end of a weekend, well, he's not a bad boy. Valmont, take a bow.
4. He knows he's good. That's bad. He's not shy. He's not timid or misunderstood. He is what he is. Take it or leave it. It'll end badly, but would you want it any other way? He doesn't give a damn. Thank you, Rhett Butler.
5. If you can tame him, he's not a bad boy. He will love you and leave you. It's part of his DNA. That's why all the stories end with the marraige. The rest is all downhill. Bad boys don't do domestic bliss. Suicide is the traditional way out for the female. Salve, Mark Antony!
6. He's no gentleman. He will shoot first. That'll be Han Solo, then.
7. You may think all he needs is the love of the right woman. Wrong. He needs the love of every woman. It's probably tied up with him being bottle-fed as a baby. Look no further than Mr. Casanova.
8. He'll age disgracefully. He won't care. No matter his age, even if he's drawing a pension, he's still that bad boy. It's as much attitude as looks. Check out Jack Nicholson clubbing at 70!?!
I'm sure there are more qualifications but those seem to be the most common. So, do take time to check out some of the characters listed above (especially Dorian and Rhett, still the gold standard of bad boy-ness).

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The US tour, Part 1

This is a clip taken at Kingwood High School in Texas, one of the first stops of the tour. The trip out to Houston was pretty hard (no First Class travel for us debut authors) but the hotel rather impressive, with gym and swimming pool and room service. I know it's shallow but hey, it's not often I get room service. So, I used the room service, if not the gym, nor pool (wait until Chicago for that).
Anyway, there were school visits to St. John's and Kingwood and a bookstore talk and Murder by the Book.
First impressions? My God, it's full of cars. It dawns on you how huge the place is, Texas is the size of England (give or take) and you may live in (say) Birmingham, but your neighbour's in Leeds. So you need cars. Lots of cars.
The pupils muck in with great abandon and the first few days slowly put me in some sort of zone of semi-bewildered excitement. It's started well and no homeland security issues. I eat pecan pie. It is most delicious.