Get Dancin’

The book is proceeding apace, but I do think this may be my last venture into writing any kind of erotica. I love the story I am writing, and I love the characters, but I am so tired of writing sex scenes. I don’t even want to think about how many sex scenes I’ve written. I never say never, of course–I may write another fratboy book; who knows? But right now I am enjoying writing the story but am having to force myself to put the sex scenes in. I wrote a really nasty poolside one today–it’s not that I can’t write them; like I said, the one I wrote today is hot and nasty; I just don’t find them as much fun to write as I used to.

Speaking of sex scenes and nudity (see what I did there?), a few entries back I mentioned how I described the HBO show True Blood as “Dark Shadows with sex, nudity and a lot more blood.” I stand by that description; the show was a serial, just like Dark Shadows, there were a lot of supernatural elements, just like Dark Shadows, and the primary story was a romance between a male vampire and a human woman, and the vampire was originally from the same area where the story was set. Like Maggie Evans, the object of Barnabas Collins’ dark desires, Sookie Stackhouse, our plucky heroine, was also a waitress at a local bar and grill.

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Whether True Blood was horror or not, I cannot say. As I said when I embarked on talking about my favorite horror this month, I pointed out that I am not well-read enough in the genre, or know enough about it’s history, to discuss actual aspects of the genre and what qualifies as horror or not. I think, like with ‘mystery,’ ‘horror’ has become a generic umbrella term for vast swatches of work that sometimes have as little in common as a tomato with a watermelon. Is a ghost story like Ammie Come Home horror? The book scared the crap out of me, but it was marketed, really, as romantic suspense with a touch of the paranormal. Are all paranormal novels horror? I am really not qualified to answer that question.

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I guess the best description of the show would be to call it a ‘paranormal soap.’ It had moments of suspense and terror, of course–and gore, and humor, and nudity, and sex. The story was interesting every season (the season about the maenad, not so much; Paul and I both got kind of bored with that season) to me. People often, on social media, talked about not liking the show or liking the show; but I’m not ashamed to say that I pretty much enjoyed it during its entire run. The problem, of course, was that they had to keep upping the stakes (no pun intended).

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It also had a diverse cast. Many of the characters, in fact, I found a lot more interesting that Sookie the mixed blood fairy and Bill the vampire; and there were some wonderful comedy moments as well–one of my favorites being when Tara is in a moody funk after her boyfriend Eggs turned out to be a serial killer and was killed himself, and Arlene, played brilliantly by Carrie Preston, snaps in exasperation, “So you fell in love with a serial killer? Who here hasn’t?”

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If there was any problem with the show’s writing, it seemed like they couldn’t make up their minds what Sookie was; sometimes she was this whiny, passive heroine things happened to; other times she was a badass with a smart mouth who took no shit from anyone.

And of course, my absolute favorite, Pam, never got enough story or scene.

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Even the annoying characters at the beginning eventually were developed into likable characters over the course of the show. Jason Stackhouse went from a self-absorbed young stud who loved and left every women he met, who was estranged from his sister, into a pretty decent guy who tried to do the right thing but just made bad choices. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Ryan Kwanten, who played him, was gorgeous.

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The first moment I saw him on screen I thought, “That’s who should play Scotty if that series ever is filmed.”

I’ve not read the enormously popular novels the show was based on–not from any sense that I wouldn’t like them; but again, one of those I just don’t have time to read them things. I’ve gone back and forth on that–Charlaine Harris is a terrific writer, and an absolutely lovely person–but maybe if I take another trip to a beach, like the Acapulco trip or Hawaii, I’ll take them with me to go and binge read.

The show was also filmed beautifully; it was filmed in Louisiana, and sometimes they were here in New Orleans filming, and Bon Temps was, like Collinsport in Dark Shadows, a kind of magnet for paranormal creatures and activity. I myself have always wanted to do this type of a series–I came up with an idea a million years ago–and even named my town, Bayou Shadows. My short story “Rougarou” actually took place in Bayou Shadows, Louisiana, and I’d intended for Need to eventually tie into that at some point.

Ah, well.

There was also a lot of homoeroticism in the show, and gay/lesbian/bisexual characters. I loved Lafayette, the gender bending short order cook/drug dealer/hustler who was also a medium.

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The show was also exceptionally clever, as I am sure the books were as well, about dipping into social issues.

And now back to the spice mines.

Ruby Red Dress (Leave Me Alone)

Twelve days left to Halloween.

I’ve talked about Dark Shadows already, and I’ve also talked about soap operas before. But a lot of what we see now on television is technically serials; most series now are serials, where the action of each episode is picked up from where it left off in the previous one; continuity is important; and what happens in each episode has a causal effect on the characters for many episodes (and seasons) to come. I can remember, while True Blood was airing, and I was describing it to a friend who didn’t watch…and finally, I said, “It’s kind of like Dark Shadows with nudity, sex, and a lot of blood.” (I intend to talk about True Blood before Halloween, but this is not the entry.) It was kind of true, and I intend to draw those comparisons when I talk about True Blood –but today I am going to talk about another serial television show involving the supernatural (I don’t know that I can call it, fairly, horror) that Paul and I enjoyed watching: Dante’s Cove.

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I probably would have never known about Dante’s Cove if I hadn’t been working as an editor for Harrington Park Press at the time. Here TV was doing those adaptations of the Richard Stevenson/Don Strachey novels, and were also developing a series called <I>Dante’s Cove</i>. HPP was bringing the Strachey books back into print with tie-in editions, and Here was interested in having Dante’s Cove be novelized with tie-in editions. I thought it sounded interesting (it was pitched to us as “gay Dark Shadows“), and was interested in doing the novelizations myself, so Here sent me the pilot and the first season on DVD to watch.

The story was, actually, rather similar to the Dark Shadows opening: a young person comes to Dante’s Cove/Collinwood at the same time as a centuries old supernatural creature arrives, released from being imprisoned apparently for all time. Dark Shadows had Victoria Winters and Barnabas Collins the vampire; Dante’s Cove had Kevin and Ambrosius “Bro” Vallin. While Barnabas spurned the love of the witch Angelique, who cursed him and turned him into a vampire, leading his family to chain him up in his coffin; Ambrosius was a practitioner of magic called Tresum, and was engaged to a high priestess of the religion, Grace Neville. Grace caught Ambrosius literally being fucked in the ass by another man, whom she killed with magic, and she, too, cast a spell that locked him up for all eternity. Except Kevin, who comes to Dante’s Cove after being thrown out by his homophobic family to be with his lover Toby, unknowingly releases Ambrosius from his prison–which also triggers Grace to return.

Grace was played by Tracy Scoggins, best known for playing Monica Colby on first The Colbys, and then later on Dynasty.

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There were various characters, lesbians, gay men, straight boys, and varying storylines. Toby, the male lead, was played by Charlie David.

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Kevin was played by Gregory Michael, who also later turned up on the show Greek.

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Arrow’s Stephen Amell was in the first season as an asshole straight boy who was recast in Season 2.

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There was lots of male nudity–including full frontal–and the men always looked like they were covered in oil. Reichen Leimkuhl, who won The Amazing Race and was later on the terrible rip-off of Real Housewives type shows The A List–New York, joined the cast in Season 3. And Thea Gill from Queer as Folk, also joined in Season 2 as Grace’s sister and mortal enemy, Diana.

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Like I said, lots of pretty shirtless men, bare male asses, and the occasional male full frontal.

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The primary problem with Dante’s Cove, I felt, was bad writing and bad directing, as well as some serious continuity problems. The actors did their best with what they were given, but they just weren’t given enough, and it seemed like it was trying to be too serious. But a supernatural-themed soap opera with gay and lesbian characters that could get away with nudity shouldn’t have taken itself quite so seriously; it should have gone for humor and camp, and I bet it would have really caught on. (As I’ve said about other shows, “it wants to be Tennessee Williams when it should be going for Melrose Place.”) We were entertained, and we enjoyed watching it, but there was always such a sense of what it could have been. In the third season, the show went more along a campy route, giving the characters great bitchy quips, and it looked liked it had found its way…but alas, it wasn’t to be. It was cancelled. There was a spin-off show about a lair of vampires who lived in a sex club called The Lair that was also fun, and looked like it was hitting its stride at the end of its first season…but there wasn’t a second season, alas.

The novelizations, alas, never happened, which was also incredibly disappointing. I really thought I could make it a lot of fun…but alas, it is another one of those ‘wasn’t meant to be’ things.’

It would be kind of fun to rewatch…

And now back to the spice mines.

Una Paloma Blanca

I really do think my enjoyment of horror comes from watching Dark Shadows as a child.

The show was spooky. I’m not really sure what drew me to Dark Shadows, but I was also watching other soaps with our babysitter, but by far and away, Dark Shadows was my absolute favorite, and it was my grandmother’s favorite, too.

“My name is Victoria Winters.”

Every time I hear those words, or type them, I can hear that strange, haunting background music they always played as she spoke. Every episode, before the opening credits, Alexandra von Moltke (who later became the other woman in the von Bulow case; she was Klaus’s mistress and her ultimatum to him about leaving his wife theoretically was his motive for allegedly injecting her with an overdose of insulin that sent her into a coma), spoke those words, and other cryptic words, setting the stage for the episode, and the brief cliffhanger scene that would air before the opening credits and a commercial break. I recently watched the very first episode again, on either Netflix or Amazon Prime, I can’t remember which–and thrilled to those words, to the scene of Victoria on a train, riding to Collinsport to become the governess to troubled child David Collins.

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If I can recall correctly, another part of the plot and original story was that Victoria was an orphan; but the entire time she lived in the home a cashier’s check to pay for her expenses and to give her a little spending money always arrived at the orphanage, drawn on a bank in Collinsport and with no name on the check. When the opportunity for the job came, Victoria jumped on the chance to take the job and maybe find out the truth about her heritage and background.

 

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Dark Shadows was seen originally as a Gothic soap; how many Gothic novels are about the orphaned governess coming to the spooky mansion in the middle of nowhere to work with the tormented family? It was all about the atmosphere, and the show did a great job with that. The Collins family itself was secretive and strange; Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, whose husband disappeared and hasn’t set foot outside of the great house of Collinwood in twenty years; her snarky hard drinking brother Roger, David’s father, who has no patience for his son and whose own wife is missing; rebellious Carolyn, Elizabeth’s daughter–the Old House, nearby and abandoned for hundreds of years. The show didn’t do too well, though, and was bordering on cancellation when showrunner Dan Curtis decided to take the show all the way to the supernatural side: he introduced Roger’s wife as a phoenix, and when her story ended, David started seeing the ghost of a little girl in the big house. Shortly thereafter, a cousin from England showed up–Barnabas, who was actually a vampire and had been imprisoned in his coffin since the 1790’s, only to be released in the present day.

Man, did I want to live at Collinwood. There were witches (Lara Parker as Angelique!) and werewolves and the Devil and time travel and parallel universes…it was amazing.

collinwoodnightThe show went off the air in 1971, although two Dark Shadows movies were made for theatrical release, House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows. The first simply retold the Barnabas-is-a-vampire story from the original show, only gorier, without Victoria Winters, and without the ‘cure’ that made Barnabas human again. The second starred David Selby, Kate Jackson, and Lara Parker in a strange story that had little or nothing to do with the television show; although it had something to do with a ghost story and witchcraft (I only saw it once, and don’t really remember it well).

And then….for years, nothing. The show was syndicated for reruns, and I was able to rewatch some of it in the early 1980’s, but it was over.

It was rebooted in 1991 as a prime time show, which I also loved. It only lasted one season, but I thought the cast was terrific, and it was done very well. I was really looking forward to season two; but alas, it was cancelled. In the first season, they did the Cousin Barnabas is a really a vampire story, and then flashed back to the 1790’s, where Victoria Winters (in the show, played by Joanna Going, somehow got sent back in time to witness how Barnabas became a vampire due to the machinations of the witch Angelique (Lysette Anthony), and was about to be hanged as a witch herself when the present-days Collinses were able to bring her back–knowing that Barnabas was the vampire. That was the season ending cliff-hanger. I was totally bummed the show wasn’t renewed.

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I made Paul watch it from Netflix a few years ago, and he, too, was addicted and bummed that it ended after one season.

Dark Shadows fans still have conventions and get-togethers, and are quite fanatical about their devotion. The Tim Burton comic remake/reboot of a few years ago earned quite a bit of scorn from the devotees; I actually didn’t mind it that much–having Eva Green in the cast is always a wise move to earn my approval, quite frankly. But when the daytime show was still airing, it was quite a cottage industry; there was an entire series of paperback novels based on the show and its characters written by Marilyn Ross (I read some of them), comic books, a board game, dolls, albums–pretty much any way you could make money off Dark Shadows, they found a way to do it. There wasn’t a cartoon series, though, nor a breakfast cereal.

So, yes, my love of the supernatural is partly due to Dark Shadows. I’d love to have the time to watch the original show again, from beginning to end.

 

Hooked on a Feeling

I can be kind of obtuse when it comes to the date; I have to date documents at work every day but it’s kind of automatic and then one day it hits me: hey, it’s October! Where did 2016 go?

I hate when that happens.

I especially hate my obliviousness because I’d intended to spend the month of October blogging about the horror genre–books, stories, films, etc. So here I am, four days behind but I am game to get going on this. Are you with me, Constant Reader?

I knew you would be.

I wasn’t allowed to watch monster movies when I was a kid because they always gave me the absolute worst nightmares, and I would always wake up screaming and terrified. Yet at the same time, I was drawn to scary movies; I loved being terrified. One of my earliest memories was watching The Birds on television with my parents, and I’ve never been able to see a flock of birds on telephone/power lines ever since without having a chill go up my spine. The first horror novel I read was either The Exorcist or The Other, I’m not sure which; but they were two of the popular books everyone was reading when I was in junior high school (the crucifix masturbation scene in The Exorcist  was discussed in great detail). I never much care for The Exorcist, to be honest, and even when I finally was able to rent the film years later and watch it for the first time, it was more funny to me than anything else; almost like it was trying too hard to be scary and obscene–which is what I also felt about the novel. (I thought about rereading the novel recently, since I am really enjoying the new TV show based on it; but I’ve read other works by Blatty and not cared for them either; plus, I think I’ve read somewhere recently that he’s a homophobe, and yes, I know one should try to separate the art from the artist, but I’m just not that evolved, okay? Sue me.)

Anyway, I digress.

The horror genre is similar to the crime genre in that there are a number of sub-genres contained under the umbrella term of horror; and not all horror is necessarily scary. I am not well-read enough in the genre to even try to define any of these subgenres, frankly; I’m not especially well-versed on horror films or television programs, either. I am a casual fan; when it is done well, I greatly enjoy it–but I am hardly an expert in the field. I know good writing when I see it, though–whether it’s literary or crime or horror or fantasy or romance.

I once said on a panel somewhere–I don’t remember where–that crime and horror fiction are the flip sides of the same coin; the difference being in crime fiction the monsters are human. It was a great sound-byte, and I used a variation of it in the introduction to the anthology I co-edited with J. M. Redmann, Night Shadows, where I said the two genres were both concerned with death. After all, Freddy Kruger is just a supernatural serial killer, right? And while I’ve not read any of the Thomas Harris books (I know, I know, shame on me), the film The Silence of the Lambs is both a crime film as well as horror.

Stephen King, of course, is my writing god. I discovered him when I was a sophomore in high school, and a friend was reading the paperback of Carrie. I’d never heard of either the author or the book, but I picked it up idly and started reading it–and couldn’t put it down. She graciously let me borrow it, and I didn’t put it down until I’d finished reading it that night. I’d never read anything like it before–and I became an immediate fan. It wasn’t until The Stand, several years later, that I started buying King in hardcover; but I have done so ever since (at least, the ones that were published in hardcover; some, like his Hard Case Crime novels The Colorado Kid and Joyland were paperback originals only).

But my real favorites are, and always have been, ghost stories. Barbara Michaels wrote some excellent ones, including Ammie Come Home, The Crying Child, House of Many Shadows, and Be Buried in the Rain, among many others.

And of course, Shirley Jackson and Daphne du Maurier wrote some brilliant work.

I do wish I had more time to read–so many brilliant writers and so many brilliant books out there to read.

So, I intend to spend this entire month blogging about horror. Next time, Dark Shadows.

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