Thursday, October 31, 2019

HELLRAISER as...a Lifetime Original Movie

In mid-October I watched Clive Barker's horror film Hellraiser for the first time in several years for the podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood. Here's the podcast for your listening pleasure.

Although I saw the film as an adult rather than a child or teen like most of the movies we've done, it didn't hold up as well as I'd thought. One of the big problems was pacing--the film could really stand to use a trimming. And then podcast host Nic made a comment that I can't really refute--Hellraiser came off like a Lifetime Original Movie.

(For those of you who aren't Americans or aren't super into television, Lifetime is a television network aimed at a female audience. It has a reputation for overdramatic low-budget movies focusing on women in peril from the latest in-the-news danger and/or dramatizing real-life incidents like the woman who killed her child's molester in court. Here's an article discussing the phenomenon; it even has an amusing TVTropes page.)

And if you stripped out the supernatural elements, it would seriously look like a "teen girl in peril" film more appropriate for Lifetime than, say, the horror streaming channel Shudder. Seriously, Kirsty could be an older teen (in the original script she's only twenty and she could easily be 18-19) who moves with her father Larry and disliked stepmother Julia to a new town and finds the situation so intolerable she rents an apartment of her own and gets a job she doesn't particularly like to pay for it. She finds a new boyfriend and things seem tolerable at least...until she learns that Frank her pervert uncle has escaped from prison. He's hiding in the attic of the family home and is canoodling with Julia, encouraging her to commit crimes to get money so they can run away together.

Furthermore, some of her uncle's criminal associates are looking for him (Frank in the book and film is referenced as owing people money) and if they can't have him, they'll gladly recoup their losses by taking Kirsty away for sex trafficking (with human trafficking being a major news topic I could definitely imagine a Lifetime movie about it--and I'm pretty sure they've covered this before) instead. She bargains with them by offering to give them her uncle (whom she discovered and who attacked and injured her) instead. This they go along with, arriving at the family home to find her stepmother and uncle have already murdered her father. The criminals kill both of them (or, like in the film, Frank kills Julia by accident before the criminals kill him), then renege on their deal and try to kidnap her anyway. Fortunately she's found her father's gun or managed to steal one from one of the criminals and disposes of them all like a Final Girl in a slasher film.

What do you all think? All of these elements generally line up with what happened in Hellraiser, minus the whole "resurrected by blood from sadomasochistic Hell," "evil Rubik's Cube that opens dimensional gateways,"  and "leather demons" parts. And given the greater awareness of sexual assault (Frank's rampant perving on the teen Kirsty and the very rapey flashbacks with Julia) and human trafficking, this would definitely include Lifetime movies' "ripped from the headlines" tendencies.

Furthermore, Kirsty would be a good protagonist for a film intended for female audiences. She isn't reliant on or obedient to any male character (she gently disregards her father's wish that she live with him and Julia and chooses to support herself), she fights off the rapey Frank by herself upon their first encounter, she's able to bargain with the Cenobites (or in this case a bunch of human criminals) when she can't physically overpower them, and although the film never explicitly depicts her having sex with boyfriend Steve, one of them is definitely staying over at the other's home and yet she doesn't suffer Death By (Possible) Sex like many female characters in slasher films do.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Belated After-Action Report: MultiverseCon

This past October 18-20, I sold books at MultiverseCon, a new convention at the Hilton Atlanta Airport. It was the first convention and attendance was lighter than I expected, but I still sold eighteen books, making around $75 profit. I also collected twelve e-mail addresses for my roughly semi-monthly MailChimp newsletter.

And there was plenty of cool stuff besides making money. I made contacts with some people that could lean to paneling at AnachroCon in February. I'm currently in the process of getting my "Dark Tower meets Game of Thrones" novel Battle for the Wastelands ready for independent publication (more on that later) and AnachroCon, with its steampunk basis, would be a great place to premiere it.

I also got some good advice about conventions in Atlanta whose patrons buy lots of books. CONjuration, which I thought was primarily magic/fantasy-focused, would be a good place to sell Battle even though there's no magic (I would probably describe as "steampunk" if pressed, although steampunk seems to be in decline these days). So would JordanCon, which will be returning to Atlanta this coming April. The next CONjuration in which I'll have Battle (and Little People, Big Guns as well) will be (I'm assuming) November 2020, but the next JordanCon is slated for April 17-19.

Another unexpected pleasure of the convention was meeting S. Kay Nash, who edited The Thing in the Woods for Digital Fiction Publications. She's pretty cool. :)

I'm definitely looking forward to the next MultiverseCon, since the convention will probably have more visitors and I'll definitely have more books to sell.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

How To Improve Original FRIDAY THE 13TH (SPOILERS)

As part of the "Heavy Hitters of Horror" month on Myopia: Defend Your Childhood, we did episodes on the original Nightmare on Elm Street and just recently the original Friday the 13th. Here's the Friday the 13th episode, in which you can hear us griping about how the movie really isn't that good and only spawned the sequels we know and love because it cost so little to make and made so much profit.

Well, criticism is easy. Here are some ways to make it better. Note that there are spoilers for a nearly forty-year-old movie contained herein:

*I'd begin the film in 1957 with young Jason drowning in the lake due to the counselors who are supposed to be watching him off having sex. His mother Pamela Voorhees (Betsy Palmer), perhaps sensing something is wrong, comes running from the camp kitchen where she works but is too late to save her son. She loses it, lashes out at the counselors who arrive at just the wrong time (per TVTropes, in the Pamela's Tale prequel comic Jason found the two counselors going at it and the male counselor chased him into the lake, so they're probably close by) and kills them. Then she sets the camp kitchen on fire. The fire spreads, destroying much of the camp, and Mrs. Voorhees gets arrested. She's taken off to jail or a mental institution (I doubt "temporary insanity" was a thing back then, but a newly-bereaved mother of a sickly son who died due to others' negligence is likely to get more sympathetic treatment than a premeditated stabber), but owing to the bad press and destruction of the facilities, the camp is closed. The actual movie prologue didn't really make a lot of sense. In 1958 the counselors sneak off for some lovemaking and get stabbed by an unknown assailant for unknown reasons (although the counselors do seem to know who's attacking them based on their initial reaction to being caught), then a time-jump of 20-30 years.

*The above scenario would deal with one of big problems that I and other members had with the film--Mrs. Voorhees isn't introduced until the last fifteen minutes of the film. If I hadn't already known the first movie's killer was Jason's mother rather than Jason himself, I'd have been in serious Flat What territory. If there needs to be a reference to her in the film's "present day," have the creepy trucker who drives Annie Phillips (Robbi Morgan) to the camp pass by the Voorhees family home and point it out to her and relate to how Mrs. Voorhees is in jail for the disaster at the camp back in the 1950s or was eventually released (two counts of manslaughter or second-degree murder and a couple counts of arson and reckless endangerment--she might've been released in the 1970s after serving 15-20 years) but secluded herself in the home and ultimately died. To cite the almighty Chekhov's Gun, if you fire a gun in Act 3 you need to reveal it in Act 1, and Mrs. Voorhees is neither discussed nor appears until the end of the movie.

*The first hour or so of the film need to be tightened up a bit--we see the camp getting repaired and get a little bit of characterization, but it takes too long. The scene where all six of the counselors kill a snake in the cabin after it startles one of them epitomizes the problem--were they all that bored they all had to pile into the cabin to deal with a snake?

*I was actually impressed by some of the cunning and tactical skills Mrs. Voorhees used. She's basically a 40-60-year-old woman (Pamela's Tale suggests she was pregnant with Jason as a teen, which means she could have been in her 20s when he died) and not a very big one, unlike her 400 pound muscle-mountain son of the later films. Physically overpowering most of the cast is going to be beyond her. So she strikes from ambush or uses lights (the archery range lights, her flashlight) to night-blind people before killing them with knives or other weapons. She also takes pains to cut the power and phone lines. When dealing with an alerted and younger, stronger opponent, she's notably ineffective as a fighter. My proposed new Act III would put this to good use.

*Owing to the spread-out nature of the kills and how nobody seems to be really aware of what's going on until the very end of the film, there's no tension and suspense. To remedy this and put Mrs. Voorhees' tactical skills to good use, I would have the counselors, many of whom seem to suffer from what TVTropes calls Too Dumb To Live, figure out what's going on much earlier. Perhaps when the obnoxious Ned (Mark Nelson) disappears on top of Annie not showing up like she was supposed to, they start searching the camp and find the body of Marcie (Jeanine Taylor) in the bathroom and the corpses of Jack (Kevin Bacon) and Ned in the cabin where they'd assumed Marcie and Jack were off having sex.

That still leaves half the camp staff alive and we can have them trying to hunt the killer themselves (it's ten miles back to town, in the rain no less, so they're basically stuck) or flee the campsite completely. Either way they get attacked in the dark by Mrs. Voorhees, who has just killed the new camp owner Steve Christy (Peter Brower). This would account for Brenda (Laurie Bartram), leading to a siege where Alice (Adrienne King) and Bill (Harry Crosby III) are barricaded in the cabin with Mrs. Voorhees prowling around outside. Mrs. Voorhees, going back to the arson in the new prologue, blocks the main door of the cabin they're hiding in and sets it on fire, killing Bill as he jumps out a window. Alice (Adrienne King) manages to get out of the burning cabin, paving the way for the final confrontation.

*During that confrontation in the actual film, Alice evades Mrs. Voorhees and even injures her multiple times, but Mrs. Voorhees keeps getting up and coming after her. After the second time this happens, even if Alice lacks the skill or inclination to actually kill her after all this crap, she should at least disarm her or tie her up to make good her escape. Perhaps in trying that, Mrs. Voorhees is able to injure her with a hidden second weapon or just hit her on the head really hard, leveling the playing field and putting Alice in very real danger. That would make the final confrontation less laughable and generate more suspense.

*Instead of the "dead lake Jason nightmare" and the hospital scene, end the film with police, fire, and ambulances arriving at the camp (perhaps drawn by smoke from fires Mrs. Voorhees has set) and discovering the injured Alice and the dead Mrs. Voorhees. We see Mrs. Voorhees being loaded up (in pieces) in the ambulance and cut to...

THE DISFIGURED ADULT JASON WATCHING FROM THE WOODS. Although the Wikipedia article about the first movie states the creator didn't like making Jason into the villain of the later films when he was the victim of negligent camp staff, I think the "dead lake Jason" was included as a sequel hook. This would show that Jason is not in fact dead, but grew up into the mute and vengeful machete-machine we all know and love.

You guys like? It keeps the few good parts of the film (Mrs. Voorhees as a tactical genius with a very understandable beef with the camp), but tightens it up and makes it a lot more suspenseful.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

My Next Convention: MultiverseCon (Plus Panels I Wish I Could Attend)

In my admittedly limited experience as an author, I make more money from going to events and signing books than from royalties, much like how musicians make more money from going on tours and concerts than from selling records. Consequently, I go to a lot of events--this past year's adventures included the Decatur Book Festival, Hypericon in Murfreesboro (where I was a panelist), various bookstore appearances, a gun show, and the new Next Chapter Con in Ringgold where I sold a bunch of books and definitely plan to come back.

At most book events I have two books to sell, The Thing in the Woods and The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Vol. 2, which contains my short Viking monster story "Nicor." In November I will have a new book coming out, Little People, Big Guns from Deadite Press, but there's one more big fandom convention in Atlanta between now and then and that's MultiverseCon. It seems to be a relatively new event at the Hilton Atlanta Airport 10/18-20 and not only was the author table price relatively cheap but it's pretty close to my day job, so off I'm going.

Not only will there probably be a lot of vendors at the event (the vendors are sold out this year), but MultiverseCon's schedule shows a lot of really interesting panels. Given my table responsibilities I would only be able to attend the ones after the dealers' room closes, but here are some I find particularly interesting:

Friday, 10/18

Where Horror Lives (2:30 PM)-As a teen and then an adult there's not a lot in horror movies or books that really scares me, although there is stuff I do find really depressing (the unnecessarily bleak ending of the film The Mist that I have no interest in seeing comes to mind). I think the only time I've ever gotten straight-up nightmares from something was James Tuck's (as Levi Black's) first Mythos War novel Red Right Hand and my own short story "I am the Wendigo," and that's having been interested in the scary stuff since preschool (I wasn't allowed to see Arachnophobia and Gremlins 2, which was for the best). So looking for ways to crank up the fear would be a wise use of time.

Flash Your Fiction: How Short Can You Go? (5:30 PM)-I've heard that flash is hard to write but easy to sell and my first paying sale, "I am the Wendigo," isn't that much longer than flash. This might help me churn out salable material in a relatively short time.

Meetup: Podcasters and YouTubers (5:30 PM)-I'm a regular on the podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood and an occasional contributor to The Geekly Oddcast. I've also considered starting my own YouTube channel as an additional income stream and as an additional marketing mechanism. I've also appeared on podcasts to promote my work and have promotional appearances lined up for Little People, Big Guns, so this would be a good place to network too.

Pub Pitch (10 PM)-Various writers help each other refine their elevator pitches.

The Virtue of Villains (10 PM)-The villains that inspire the most discussion (and thus money-generating word of mouth) are often at least some degree sympathetic. A lot of people sympathized with Killmonger from Black Panther for example, while I've repeatedly defended Magneto from The X-Men and been very critical of his unnecessarily-evil portrayal ("Kill all humans") in the second X-Men film. I've worked hard to make the Big Bad Grendel and his son and heir Falki in my upcoming "Dark Tower meets Game of Thrones" novel Battle for the Wastelands deeper and more developed characters with understandable and even sympathetic motivations, even when they do really bad things like execute people trying to surrender, keeping defeated enemies' teen daughters as concubines, etc. This panel is noted for featuring Falstaff Books overlord John G. Hartness, whom I've met at DragonCon several times.

Saturday, 10/19

Beyond Ghosts and Goblins (10 AM)-Creating new and innovative monsters, especially ones that tap into current fears.

From Smaller to Baller: What Technological Advances Can Help Build Galactic Empires? (10 AM)-How to conquer defended planets, build interstellar polities, etc. This could be really helpful for my Federated Worlds universe, which features interstellar warfare and governance.

Publishing Q&A (10 AM)-Also featuring Mr. Hartness and writer Terry Maggert, whom I met at Hypericon over the summer.

Girls Rule (11:30 AM)-Female writers on how to write female characters. This could be useful for improving my personal writing.

Beyond Vampires and Werewolves (11:30 AM)-This is like the earlier "Ghosts and Goblins" panel, but with a focus on urban fantasy rather than horror. I don't think I've written a lot of (if any) UF, but I have written across many genres and what's one more? The more varied one's product, the more successful one is.

Teaching Speculative Elements (11:30 AM)-As you might've seen on Twitter, my day job is a high school teacher. This is something that could help me improve in that area.

Beyond the European Paradigm: Creating Fantasy Worlds for your TTRPG that Aren't Anglo-Saxon (1 PM)-I'm not a gamer, but this could be a good place to learn some interesting world-building elements.

Social Media For Writers (1 PM)-Social media is a pretty big time sink and I need to learn how to use it more effectively.

Sunday, 10/20

Let's Do the Mash! The Genre Mash! (10 AM)-As the panel write-up points out, mixing sci-fi and horror created the wonder that was the Alien franchise and I explicitly describe Battle for the Wastelands as "Dark Tower (Weird Western) meets Game of Thrones (deliberately subversive high fantasy)." I've also supported the idea that horror is an aesthetic more than it's own genre--Alien, Terminator, and the works of Lovecraft are sci-fi, Hellraiser is fantasy, etc.

ASK ME ANYTHING: How to Get Into Working on Licensed Properties (11:30 AM)-I've written for the BattleTech fictional universe before with my short story "Skirmish at the Vale's Edge," but that was a very long time ago. Scoring a gig in an established property like Star Wars or V-Wars like Delilah S. Dawson and James Tuck (whom I knew when we all lived in the general Atlanta area) would be awesome.

Craft of Writing: Characterization (11:30 AM)-Although I've gotten better at it, I remember writing-group critiques of "make us care about them before you kill them" and this would be a big help.

The Many-Faced God: Unraveling Sub-Genres in Fantasy (11:30 AM)-Lots of potential market research here.

Advanced Craft: Characterization: Writing the Anti-Hero(ine) (1 PM)-This ties in with my desire to improve my characterization--flawed heroes and sympathetic villains are more interesting characters. Some of my favorite fictional characters (Magneto, Snape) would fit in this category. Hell, in my Harry Potter fan-fic "Lord of the Werewolves" I took the kindly Remus Lupin of all people in this direction.

Pushing the Envelope: Religion, Politics, and More in Horror Fiction (1 PM)-Although I don't buy the adage that "all art is political," a lot of time the arts are more political than you think. Hell, my novel The Thing in the Woods deals with "retro vs. metro," religion, racial and class prejudice, etc. I've even written an article about it. And Little People, Big Guns deals with religion, disability, etc. These days when there's an increased awareness of that sort of thing, this could be useful.

Unless the vendor's room is truly dead I'm not likely to abandon my post to check these out, but the rest of you might find this interesting. So if you're in the Atlanta area 10/18-10/20 or are able to come down for the weekend, definitely check out MultiverseCon.