Sunday, September 30, 2007

New Vampire PI Series Debuts Fridays!

CBS’s new vampire private eye series, Moonlight, premiered Friday night September 28th at 8 o’clock Central time. It’s a watchable series for fans of PI shows and vampires, and I think it has the legs to go beyond the 13-episode order that’s been generated so far.

I had a good time with this one. There’s a lot of familiar stuff here, a loner detective guy who’s afraid to let anyone get too close, yet who’s part of a secret society, and somehow maintains a smart mouth and a sardonic wit about him.

Those things, by the way, are things that I love. So what I love may not be what you’re looking for. I don’t even mind the immediate romance that appears in the offing.

Alex O’Loughlin, we know him here from The Shield, was one of the finalists for the James Bond role that ultimately went to Daniel Craig. On the new series, he plays Mick St. John, a ninety-year-old vampire (kind of young in the tooth, actually) who still feels the pull of being human and negotiates a thin line policing human activity that crosses over into vampire territory. Mick appears to be an enforcer arm for the vampires to prevent the world from finding out about them. But since he doesn’t see humans as prey and evidently still misses being with them, I see the potential for lots and lots of conflict.

Sophia Myles (Underworld, Underworld: Evolution, Dracula) obviously knows her way around vampires. She plays Beth Turner, a reporter for an online scandal newszine that serves up gossip and the sensationalism for the sake of sensationalism. There’s more to the relationship between Mick and Beth, and this first episode has a few twists and turns that will probably surprise some folks, so I’m going to leave them intact for you in case you haven’t seen it.

And you should.

Jason Dohring (Veronica Mars) also has an important role that appears to be ongoing. He’s Josef Konstantin, the oldest vampire that Mick knows. Evidently he’s a mover and a shaker among the vampire community as well as a go-between for Mick.

The initial episode deals with vampires and vampire wannabes. It had to in order to expose both sides of the coin. As Mick states in the dream-induced interview at the beginning of the episode, he would love to set people straight on the facts about vampires, but he can’t.

Mick begins is investigation into the killing for three reasons. The first is to avenge the dead girl. The second is to protect the vampire community and keep it hidden. And the third is for…well, you’ll just have to watch the episode.

Judging from this first episode, the series is going to be action-packed. Mick appears to be as much superhero as vampire and private investigator. That suits me fine. I loved Angel but sometimes it couldn’t separate itself from the Buffy mythos enough to be its own thing. I believe Moonlight has every chance and intention of doing that.

The romance ignites in this first episode as well, and it has more of a history than the casual viewer will see. Until all the twists are played. The trailers for the second show indicate that things heat up pretty quickly by the next episode. I’m looking forward to that, as long as the relationship doesn’t get too complacent or argumentative right off the bat (warning: foul, bad pun. And Mick assures us he can’t turn into a bat, but if he could that would be pretty cool.).

Although the first episode wasn’t great, it was good. I enjoyed settling into the big chair and watching it spin. The moves were familiar and occasional bits of dialogue had unexpected zing. There are enough fronts taking shape out there that I know Mick will have trouble negotiating the twists and turns.

More than that, David Greenwalt (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Surface) was showrunner for a while but had to step down. He put together the first arc of the series, and executive producer Joel Silver has stated that new showrunner Chip Johannessen is going to hold onto what Greenwalt established. At least for now.

At this point, Moonlight isn’t must-see-TV, but it has potential. For that alone you should probably sit down and watch it. I know I will be.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Stephen King's New Novel Coming January '08 Promises Eerie THINGS!

Stephen King’s new novel, Duma Key, arrives in stores nation-wide in January 2008. As soon as it was announced, readers began trying to guess what the book would be about.

The title itself is highly interesting. My first guess was that the novel would be about a key, like a door key. Or maybe a key on a map. Given the fact that The DaVinci Code seems to still be on everyone’s mind, I had to recognize the fact that perhaps the key – especially when paired with the name Duma, which sounds close to Alexander Dumas – might have some literary bearing. I thought maybe the book would be a literary mystery of sorts.

Now that the actual subject matter the book has been released, I find that I was wrong on all counts. The “key” referred to by the book actually turns out to be one of the small islands off the coast of Florida.

And the story sounds even more mysterious than I would have imagined. It sounds like it’s going to be one of those delicious, Twilight Zone-type of tales that teen delivers every so often when he’s in the mood.

The story also smacks of King’s own life. I love his writing when he veers off into something that could have been carved from his own experiences.

At first blush, Duma Key stands prepared to deliver exactly that.

The protagonist of the book is self-made millionaire Edgar Freemantle, a mover and a shaker in the construction business. While on the job, Edgar gets hurt and crippled. A crane smashes his truck and he loses an arm in the subsequent operations to save his life. Edgars struggles to get rehabilitated and adjust to his life, and I know a lot of what King when through after being struck by a negligent driver has to be in those pages.

Unable to get his life together, Edgar turns on his wife and family. After he attacks her and tries to kill her, his wife asks for a divorce. Edgar divides up his money among his family and seeks counseling. His counselor asks Edgar if there wasn’t something that he used to do that took the edge of during periods of stress. Edgar says that he used to draw. The counselor advises him to do that.

King deserts the familiar bleak countryside of Maine (although Edgar is from Minnesota) and sends his protagonist looking for solace and sanity down in the Florida Keys. Apparently, King has been vacationing down in that area for the last few years and has become quite enamored of it.

Unfortunately for Edgar, he’s a Stephen King character in a Stephen King book. He’s earmarked for weirdness and horrible things. It doesn’t sound like it takes long to happen.

Evidently Duma Key is already filled with restless malevolence just waiting to break loose. The island’s mistress, Elizabeth Eastlake, has been hiding secrets for most of her eighty-some-odd years. Her past, and it has to be a good one filled with evil things and twisted passions – otherwise this wouldn’t be a proper King novel, breaks free and comes to life through Edgar’s paintings.

Of course, the idea of paintings coming to life is old, and King has even touched on it now and again in different places, but the idea is as wonderful now as it ever was. And in the hands of a master storyteller like King, this is going to be one chilling, frightening ride.

King has stated that this novel came to him from the same cloth he used to write the bestseller, Lisey’s Story, and that many of the same themes are once again present. It’s also a big, fat book, totally nearly 600 pages, according to the listing.

Personally, I can’t wait. Some people prefer the Stephen King that brings evil up from the graveyards and creates unkillable monsters. But I prefer the subtle evil and rich characterizations of his novels like Bag of Bones. I get the sense that this is going to be a book like that.

One thing I do know, the next few months are going to be hard to get through while I’m waiting. The book cover is beautiful and haunting, and I’m going to be thinking about the story a lot. I’m sure other readers will be doing the same thing.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Mel's 411: Iritis (eye-write-us)

I've been jamming on books and college classes this past week, so I've neglected my blog. When I disappear for a while, you can bet something interesting has happened.

Last week on Tuesday, I got up 4:30 a.m. with blinding pain stabbing through my right eye. It was a familiar sensation I hadn't had in a few years. I found I was incredibly light-sensitive. Which also checked with previous experience.

I took ibuprofen and tried to go back to bed. The pain was nonstop. At 7:20, I gave up and called my optometrist. He's started working four days a week, but the trade-off is that he opens early and closes late.

Gary Wade is a friend as well as my doctor, and he took me right in. He looked at my eye and confirmed my fear that it was iritis. I've had it three times before, always in my left eye.

Iritis is an inflamed condition of the eye that causes chronic spasms in the eye as the pupil tries to close. It was almost the diameter of a needle (at least, that's what it looked like to me, but I was in pain and my eyes were watering) and shot through with red.

It's caused by something to do with the auto-immune system, but no one knows exactly what causes it. It can also cause blindness, which is scary.

More info for the curious (

Gary put drops in my eye to paralyze the pupil. It took 45 minutes to get it calmed down. The pain gradually went away. But my pupil was left dilated almost as large as the iris. I looked like one of those cartoon idiot/bad guys. One of my college students even told me I looked creepy. Just what I wanted to be: a creepy, old guy around college babes. That'll get me arrested. And looking an officer in the eye and protesting my innocence wasn't going to work.

Even worse, I needed to finish a book. But my right eye is my up-close working eye. I'm on monocular contacts. Needless to say, when your pupil is paralyzed, it won't focus. I spent the next few days trying to plug away at the computer and trying to do the Braille thing with my eyeball. It was hard.

Anyway, that's the exciting part of the story. A lot of people want to know more about me, so here's a link to a recent interview with me that I just found out about. If you're curious, go there and have a looksee.

If you have any questions, post 'em or send me email and I'll get to them.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Teaching at the University of Oklahoma

I'm currently in my second semester of teaching classes in the Professional Writing program at OU. I've been teaching writing for 18 years. But I've never had a steady diet of college minds to play with.

I've discovered they're incredibly sharp, but naive in some ways, and usually ready to challenge a professor's credentials on some level, which keeps things even more interesting. I never let it slip into the adversarial role, though. I enjoy them too much. I see myself in them 30 years ago, and in spirit that wasn't so long ago.

I'm also blessed with the cream of the crop. These are students who really want to learn something. As a teacher, it just doesn't get any better than that.

I think I have a good rapport with them, and we share a language. I also make sure they know I'm often learning as much as they are. The old saying, "If you want to learn something, teach it" is certainly true when it comes to writing.

They make me think every day. And often they make me think thoughts I wouldn't have thought on my own or in ways that wouldn't otherwise have been open to me.

However, college is also filled with jokers. I'm one of the worst.

But, every now and again, I find a student who rises to meet the occasion.

One of the students I pick on the most (and yes, if I pick on you it means I like you -- and actually may see hope for you) is named...well, let's call him Tyler.

Anyway, my novel class was instructed to create a loose working outline of their novels for me to review. They were supposed to send them to me by Monday, tomorrow night.

Tyler sent his tonight. Here it is.

I wrote back and told him it wasn't neat or legible. In fact, I don't think there's a straight line on the whole bulletin board.

Well, Monday's class should be fun. I gotta find my sock puppets so I'm ready.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Third OU Anthology Is Now Shipping!

I'm proud to say that the third anthology the Professional Writing students in this spring's Short Story class is now up for sale. There's no profit on the book to make it a little cheaper for curious readers to pick it up.

There's a little bit of everything in this batch. SF and horror, fantasy and crime thrillers.

You can find it at

Friday, September 07, 2007

New Pulp Magazine Debuts!

I found this one while reading the Saddlebums blog you'll find in my list of links. It looks really cool. Although it isn't a paying market (yet!), it's publishing the kind of quasi-superhero pulp I grew up on (Doc Savage, the Shadow, the Spider, the Avenger, etc.)

I'm going to submit to this one myself. However, keeping down to the 3500 word limit is going to be tough. But I think it will be a fun ride.

You can find more information here:

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Christopher Golden & Mike Mignola Present A Chiller!

I've gotten to know Chris by phone over the years we were both writing for Buffy the Vampire Slayer novels. He's a great guy, and one of the hardest working in the business.

I was in Hasting yesterday, picking up another book, and found Baltimore. I'd known it was coming out, but I'd lost track of when. Things at home have been chaotic, school's started, and I'm behind.

The book is hypnotic, filled with harsh, dark imagery that Mignola (creator of Hellboy) works his magic on. I picked the book up and found I simply couldn't put it down. Now I wish I had the time to read it, but I'm going to treat it right: settle in for a day when I can spend all day with it rather than a burst of "quickie" reads that ultimately aren't satisfying when you're with a good book.

In the meantime, though, Chris's newest Buffy (one of the last that will be published in that series for the foreseeable future) is also out this month.

And his latest in the Menagerie series he does with Tom Sniegnoski (creator of the TV mini-series Fallen).

He has a new Hellboy book out this year.

And the newest volume of his Myth Hunters series.

While the first one is out in paperback.

Like I said, a very busy guy. Pick up Baltimore if you're in the mood for something familiar done with a twist and rendered in dark, atmospheric vision. I think you'll like it.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

I Love This Kind of Art!

In this day and age where nearly everything is PhotoShopped (some of it quite good), a book cover that's hand-drawn really catches my eye. This one did. And I ordered the book immediately. I want to know who the artist is, so if anyone knows before the book arrives, that would be great. I hate being left in suspense.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Bioshock Available Now!

My first love in gaming is the FIRST PERSON SHOOTER, also known as FPS and "twitch" games in the business.

2K Studios has just released an awesome new game that is going to blow gamers away. If I'm any indication. It's an underwater world...(see how pretty it is!)...

...that has gone totally rancid. Filled with zombie-like undead and monstrous bad guys, the game is plainly...

...disturbing. See? This guy even has half a mind!

But there's loads of action!

Translation: You get to die a lot! And often!

But the game is very heroic, too, with a well-developed storyline that kept me at the console as much for that as for play. I'm on a tight deadline so I don't get to play much. Just enough to totally whet my appetite. But I'll be caught up soon.

And then I'm gonna save the world!


Second Anthology By Students Is Available!

I started teaching at the University of Oklahoma in the spring of 2007. The first course I taught was short story. The students were required to write four short stories. Each of those stories is being published in an anthology.

I had a blast working with the writers on this.

This is the second in the series.

Those who are curious about what they wrote can get copies here:

My Favorite Underground World!

Since I posted the last review about underground worlds, let me give you a brief tour of my favorite.

The above cover was on Pellucidar, the second book in Edgar Rice Burroughs's seven-book Pellucidar series. One of the books, Tarzan at the Earth's Core, also doubles as a Tarzan novel.

I was in ninth grade when I found it and read it, though the book had originally been published sixty years before. The 1970s were a great time to read Burroughs because nearly all of his books were in print.

The cover was painted by Frank Frazetta, and it drew me to the novel at once. The scene isn't quite in the novel, but it stayed in my mind for years.

In the original novel, At the Earth's Core, adventurer David Innes joins his good friend and mentor Professor Abner Perry on his latest scientific experiment. Perry had created a tunneling machine he called "the Iron Mole" that was supposed to bore down into the earth to discover what lay there.

Well into the journey, the Iron Mole goes out of control and burrows straight for the center of the earth. But, since this is a Burroughs novel, it isn't long until our heroes emerge into a new world filled with dinosaurs, mind-controlling Mahars (the pterodactyl-looking things), and more sheer adventure than you could shake a stick at.

The idea of a hollow earth has been around for a long time, as evidenced by David Standish's book. But no one filled it more richly than Edgar Rice Burroughs (though James Rollins gave it a great try in his novel, Subterranean).

Check out the map for interesting sites.

The original covers are a little more tame in the cheesecake department, but the action definitely looks more savage.

Back in the 1970s, Michael Moorcock wrote the screenplay for the movie based on Burroughs's book. The movie starred Doug McClure, who was my favorite character on The Virginian and S.E.A.R.C.H., but it really lacked. I'd love to see a remake these days. Burroughs's John Carter of Mars character is supposed to be done in a movie before long, so hopefully they'll get around to bringing this gem back to the silver screens in a new treatment.

The demand for more Pellucidar novels triggered the publication of a new one commissioned by the Burroughs estate. It was written by Eric John Holmes.

Lately, Pellucidar still hasn't left the minds of many. Artist Joe Jusko did a treatment on the original Pellucidar novel

that flipped the perspective Frank Frazetta used.

And a computer company has even been working on a Pellucidar game.

If you haven't read the books, you might give them a try. I loved them and occasionally still re-read them. There are parts of my youth that I refuse to give up. Frazetta and Burroughs are two of the very best.

An Entertaining Exploration of Imaginary Excavation!

David Standish’s Hollow Earth: The Long and Curious History of Imagining Strange Lands, Fantastical Creatures, Advanced Civilizations and Marvelous Machines Beneath the Earth's Surface is an amazing book.

When I first saw the cover, I didn’t think I would be interested. Then I noticed the names that were thrown out with almost careless abandon. Jules Verne. Edgar Rice Burroughs. They weren’t the names of scientists, although scientists are frequently and fairly referenced throughout the book, but I recognized those names at once.

Verne and Burroughs, at one time or another, have been my favorite authors. I loved Verne’s far-fetched adventures. Journey to the Center of the Earth and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea are the ones of his that I read the most.

Burroughs, though, taught me an idealistic love because his heroes – John Carter and Carson Napier and David Innes – all fell in love with the most beautiful woman in two worlds. Not only did those women look great (especially the way Frank Frazetta drew them), but they were the bravest and fiercest women you could ever hope to meet.

So Standish drew me in with one of my favorite “conspiracy” theories – that there is another world inside the one we live on as well as promising new dissertations about two of my one-time favorite authors. In fact, the hollow earth theory is still so popular there are a number of websites on the Internet devoted to it. I find it particularly amusing that Adolf Hitler believed in the hollow earth idea so much that he sent troops and expeditionary forces to uncover the entrances. Most speculation was that the openings to the hollow world were at the north and south poles. That’s what drove most of the exploration in those areas.

The book is one part scientific history, one part science fiction history, and one part sheer love of the whole hollow earth theory. Standish does an admirable job of keeping all these elements balanced. If the book and merely been a scientific history, I think I would’ve been put off. But he kept mixing it up with fact and fun. More than that, some of the theories the early signs is came up with about how the world worked are to die for.

I sat down with the book with the intention of reading a chapter or two the first time. Instead, I blazed through over 80 pages of it without stopping. Standish has a really good sense of how much pure information to dump on a reader before reaching critical mass. He changes up from presentation of facts to speculation on his part so smoothly that you don’t notice the transition. Before you know it, you’re thinking right along with him and totally understanding where he’s headed.

Although the chapters are long, with all the illustrations and pictures involved they read quite quickly. I loved learning about the Royal Society’s arguments over how the earth is constructed in the early days. And it was even more fascinating to see how many of the historically important people that we remember for other things also weighed in on the issue of whether or not the earth was hollow.

While reading the book, I was fascinated on a multitude of levels. I couldn’t believe all the scientific conjecture that had gone into such a thing. But I grew up knowing (at least by current belief) that the earth is solid and that the center is a liquid mass of molten iron and nickel. However, another theory that’s lately in the news suggests that there are more cave systems throughout the earth than had been previously believed.

Standish’s book leans heavily on science and the early thoughts of the earth’s composition, from core to exosphere – see, I’m learning, at the beginning of the book. Near to the end, he switches gears and relies heavily on science fiction thinking by popular authors. I found I knew more about the science fiction and the things that I did the early science part. I don’t think I learned anything really new in the last part of the book, but I definitely enjoyed the first part and seeing how it all live in the science fiction novels the loved while I was growing up.

The book is handsomely packaged in hardcover and oversized trade softcover, so you can have either edition for your home library. Scientists and science fiction fans would probably both agree this is a must have for the serious “hollow earth” bibliophile. Even for someone who is neither, Standish’s book is such a pleasure to read that it should be read.

Discovery Channel or the History Channel should take this book up, use it for resource material, and make one of those specials that they do so well. Or potentially even a series. The subject matter is a hoot and Standish reveals so much of the science and history behind the search for the hollow earth that it wouldn’t be hard to put such a project together.

His writing is so good that I’m tempted to pick up book, The Art of Money just to see what he did with that. That’s the sign of the a good author.

Amazing and Magical Movie!

In the summer of blockbusters and sequels, and sequels that are blockbusters, there’s one movie you really need to see. And to be honest, I really hate it when people tell me that. So let me apologize for using that hackneyed line, but nothing else truly fits.

I have to admit that I hadn’t read Stardust the novel by Neil Gaiman until I discovered the movie was coming out. Then I saw a trade paperback edition on the bookshelf of one of my favorite bookstores and picked it up. I’d intended to get around to reading it sooner, but ended up waiting until I was having a new stereo installed in my car. I read the book during the time I was waiting. Not to say that I waited a long time, but that the book read so easily and captivated me with the simple story line.

The book was also a graphic novel illustrated with loving dedication by Charles Vess.

The movie emulates the novel in so many ways. Gaiman’s stripped-down prose does double-duty as a book and as a screenplay. It’s easy to see why Hollywood took such an interest in developing the property.

The story is all about love, but it’s draped in the whimsical and fantastical that seems to spin so easily from Gaiman’s imagination. There are actually two love stories involved in the movie. The action centers around young Tristan Thorn (played by Charlie Cox). However, the story actually begins eighteen years before that when his father, Dunstan, slipped through the gap in the Wall and entered the enchanted lands on the other side.

The story of young Dunstan’s seduction is quickly told and narrated by Ian McKellen. McKellen’s voice lends authenticity to the tale in a pairing that’s at least as good as Peter Falk’s voiceovers in The Princess Bride. (Expect that movie to come up often as reviews are posted about Stardust!)

In the book, Dunstan got married and had other children. In the movie, he raises Tristan alone. Dunstan (eloquently played by Nathaniel Parker) has a deep love for his son and believes that he can do anything. Tristan is more of the opinion that he is a failure and doomed to eventual nothingness.

Tristan’s true undoing lies in his unreturned love of Victoria, a pretty girl in the village where he lives. Upon learning she is going to be married to Humphrey in one week, Tristan tries to impress upon her how much he loves her and to what ends he would go to achieve her love.

While Tristan is trying to win Victoria, the King of Stronghold (Peter O’Toole in a short but stellar role), one of the kingdoms within the enchanted lands, lies dying. He’s surrounded by his seven sons. Three of them are already dead, but the other four are vying for the throne. Only one of them can become the king. Even as that particular plot point is being presented, one of the sons is killed in a way that is both horrifying and comical.

The king sets his sons on a mythical quest and at each other’s throats at the same time. A magical spell hurls his necklace onto a collision course with a star and causes the star to fall from the heavens where it assumes human form.

When Victoria sees the falling star, she tells Tristan to get it for her and she will marry him. Tristan tries to get past the old wall guard in a moment that was as unexpected as it was last-out loud hilarious. His father comes to his aid with a Babylon candle, a magical artifact with great power.

Needless to say, things go wrong. Badly. But this is, after all, a fantasy story and bad can become good. One of the unexpected twists is that the star actually shows up in human form.

I don’t want to talk about the plot anymore because it will give too many things away. Once you start to unravel the plot, there’s no safe place to stop. The King of Stronghold’s sons quest for the necklace that the star, Yvaine, unknowingly has in her possession. But even more threatening, a trio of wicked witches begins to pursue Yvaine with the intention of cutting her heart out and eating it because doing so will restore their lost youth and power.

Michelle Pfeiffer plays the evil witch Lamia to the hilt. This is an excellent role for her because she is seductively evil.

Robert De Niro masterfully plays Captain Shakespeare, the leader of a band of pirates that steal lightning from the stormy skies and sell it to venders.

Captain Shakespeare is an amazing character and De Niro’s portrayal of him will take your breath away. And you’ll never quite see De Niro in the same light again. Who knew he had this kind of range?

All through the movie, though, you’ll find that parts feel familiar, and even some scenes seem similar to other things you’ve seen. It’s all true, but that’s why the film works so brilliantly. Neil Gaiman has dipped into the universal mythology of stories and pulled out a winner.

I enjoyed the film on several different levels. My nine year old readily agreed to go with me, but I had to cajole my wife into accompanying us. She wasn’t certain she would like this kind of film. (She still hasn’t seen The Princess Bride.) She generally prefers mysteries, and there’s no hint of a mystery surrounding this film – though there are some definite clues about the surprises that take place at the end of the movie.

The visual aspects of the film are wondrous. I loved how the villages looked and how the fairy market was set up. The scenes aboard the pirate ship as it flew through the air were amazing. I know it was all computer-generated, but it just looks so real.

Stardust gets my vote as the pick of the summer movie crop without hesitation. If you haven't seen it, do so.