What We Do in the Shadows

I wrote about the movie What We Do in the Shadows on my Scarlet Order blog over seven years ago. Since then, there have been four seasons of the television series inspired by the movie on the FX network. On the Scarlet Order blog, I mentioned that I can be skeptical of horror comedies because they often end up being campy or silly. What We Do in the Shadows proved to be a pleasant surprise. There was good comic timing and you could sense the love the filmmakers had for the genre they were poking fun at. The upshot is that you felt like the people who made the film were laughing with fellow vampire fans at the genre’s tropes, rather than making fun of vampire fans. I was also a little hesitant to dive into the TV series for the same reason. I was concerned that a TV adaptation would go for cheap laughs and corny gags over thoughtful, albeit funny writing. I finally sat down to watch the first three seasons last year and I just finished the fourth season and I’m glad to say my concerns were, for the most part, unfounded.

Like the original movie, the television series What We Do in the Shadows follows a group of vampire roommates. Although set in the same world as the movie, the series is set in a different location and we follow different vampires. The movie was set in New Zealand. Now we’re in Staten Island, New York. The original movie followed a mocumentary format. The TV series takes more a reality-show format with a camera crew following our vampires through their night-to-night lives.

The roommates are Nandor the Relentless played by Kayvan Novak. At one point, he was the leader of a principality in southern Iran and a fierce warrior. 760 years later, he’s the self-appointed head of the household. His familiar, Guillermo de la Cruz played by Harvey Guillén is the only human in the group. Guillermo’s one desire is to become a vampire, but it turns out he has a family secret that puts him at odds with that goal. Living in the house with Nandor are husband and wife Laszlo Cravensworth and Nadja of Antipaxos played by Matt Berry and Natasia Demetriou. Demetriou also plays the ghost of Nadja, who started wandering the earth when Nadja became a vampire. She now possesses a doll. Rounding out the roommates is Mark Proksch as Colin Robinson, an energy vampire who makes most of the money for the household by working at dull office jobs.

Over the four years of the series so far, it’s continued to poke fun at vampire tropes alongside the trials and tribulations of people sharing a house. Still, the series delivers characters we care about. Nandor, for example, sees himself as a great, verile lover who can seduce anyone. However, he actually has rather poor luck in the romance department and we sympathize with him because Novak gives him an air of vulnerability. Nadja and Laszlo make power plays in the vampire world and start money making schemes, playing on those familiar tropes, but we discover they’re not very good at those ventures. They bicker, but there’s a feeling that the two really care about each other. In many ways, Guillermo is the show’s heart as the longsuffering human who just wants to be recognized for his loyalty but feels ignored by those he serves.

Does it always work? Some episodes are better than others. Some jokes play better than others. Still, for a TV series in its fourth season, it’s held up and been consistently a fun watch that remembers to tell a good story.

My vampire fiction isn’t comedy, but I think humor is an important element in horror or serious supernatural fiction. It helps to break the tension and it helps us relate to the characters and care about them. Because of that, I like seeing humor done well. Good comedy gives us enough drama to increase the stakes, so to speak. Good drama needs a little humor to help you relate in the same way. You can learn more about my vampire fiction at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order

Full Steam Ahead

Over the last few years, one of the bestselling anthologies on the Hadrosaur Productions convention table is Gaslight and Grimm, a collection of steampunk fairy tales published by eSpec Books. I had a blast writing the story “The Steam-Powered Dragon” for that collection, which was a steampunk retelling of a lesser-known Grimm Fairy Tale, “The Dragon and his Grandmother.” Back in 2020, the editor, Danielle Ackley-McPhail asked if I would be interested in steampunking another fairy tale. I was definitely game. She told me the new anthology would be Grimm Machinations and the stories must feature a maker or some form of political machinations, or both. One of the suggested stories for the anthology was “Snow White.” Danielle mentioned she thought “Snow White” might be a stretch for this anthology’s themes. However, I love a challenge and this was a story I had translated from German back in college, plus I had the German edition of the tales, which included the Grimm Brothers’ original notes. I totally saw “Snow White” as a story that contained elements of both makers and political machinations. I began some tinkering of my own and soon “The Porcelain Princess” was born. While waiting to hear more about Danielle’s plans for this anthology, plans for a convention started to take shape.

Long time con-goers, vendors, and entertainers, Donna McClaren, aka The Baroness Alexandra, and Kolleen Kilduff from Design by Night Designs noted a lack of Steampunk festivals in the Baltimore area. Hence, Baltimore’s first Steampunk Convention, Tell-Tale Steampunk Festival was born. It is a weekend-long event and will feature workshops, vendors, entertainment, music, and educational panels. Tell-Tale Steampunk will draw its inspiration and theme from authors each year and plans on having a more hands-on/participation experience for festival goers. This year’s theme is based on the writings of Baltimore’s own Edgar Allan Poe and will feature a volume of stories based on the corax family (a nod to Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”), as well as an interactive game to accompany the stories of our feather heroes. The main focus is audience participation and interaction. You can learn more about the convention at https://telltalesteampunk.com/

While I was vacationing in the Grand Canyon this past summer, I received an email from Danielle Ackley-McPhail about this anthology. Being at the canyon, I was literally surrounded by ravens. What’s more, several scenes of my novel Owl Dance were set at the Grand Canyon. I began to think about Professor Maravilla arriving at the canyon and seeing all the ravens. I also learned more about early geologists who had an eye on exploiting the canyon’s mineral wealth. All of those ideas came together to form the story “Dreams of Flight” which is now part of the game and part of the anthology A Cast of Crows.

But wait, as Ron Popiel used to say, there’s more! When this project started coming together, Danielle added a third book to the mix. This one is an anthology called Grease Monkeys: The Heart and Soul of Dieselpunk. Danielle and I discussed whether I might have a contribution to this anthology and I thought about my grandfather, who worked for the Santa Fe Railroad during the time when the railroads were transitioning from steam to diesel locomotives. I’ve also been fascinated by the history of narrow-gauge rail in the west, in part thanks to my university history professor who was a historian on one of the lines. I remembered how narrow-gauge railroads were particularly challenged by the change to diesel. Then I began to think about the outlaws of the era and I started to imagine Bonnie and Clyde as air pirates. It wasn’t long before I had a story about my grandfather fighting the famous outlaws over the mountain towns of Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. Soon, the story “The Falcon and the Goose” was born and after a solid rewrite based on editorial feedback, the story was added to the atnthology.

These anthologies include several authors I greatly admire and have worked with including Michelle D. Sonnier, Patrick Thomas, Christine Norris and John L. French. If you love retrofuturistic stories, or if you’re just curious about the whole steampunk and dieselpunk thing, this is a great place to dive in and find some great stories. The project has already funded, but please keep supporting. There are some great rewards for supporting the Kickstarter and if the project earns enough money, eSpec Books will create hardcover editions, which I’d love to see. Help us reach our goals and make all three of these books happen by supporting us at: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/e-specbooks/full-steam-ahead

The Gentlemen Ghouls

I was excited to learn that my friend Bram Meehan is involved in a graphic novel project that combines monsters of rock and monsters from Hell. The graphic novel is The Gentlemen Ghouls: The Apocalypse Trilogy, which is an acclaimed high-camp horror comics series in the lurid Hammer tradition. It has just launched a 30-day Kickstarter campaign for a deluxe print and PDF edition. The comic from writer Martin Hayes and artist Alfie Gallagher was originally serialized online in David Lloyd’s Aces Weekly. The 132-page softcover collects all three volumes plus a new short story and afterword. My friend Bram serves as the graphic novel’s letterer.

Set in 1972, the graphic novel depicts London as a swirling cesspit of vice and corruption, one giant madhouse full to bursting—with David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath soundtracking the greatest battle between good and evil ever beheld by mortal man. When sinister gears turn and apocalyptic machinations play out, two aging consulting occultists, a couple of ham-fisted coppers, and a rebellious reporter must confront vampires, demons, the occasional rock star, and the Devil himself to keep all bloody Hell from coming to Earth. Three chapters each take their cue from a classic rock song, combining heavy metal with a seedy seam of seventies cop shows and occult mischief. The comic makes me think of what would have happened if Kolchak: the Night Stalker had been filmed by Hammer studios.

According to writer Martin Hayes, “I’ve always wanted to do something that would hit the big Hammer touchstones of monsters, vampires, and devil worship, and I couldn’t resist throwing in the best parts of the gritty British cop shows that we used to pick up with our extra-high aerials here on the east coast of Ireland.” Artist Alfie Gallagher adds, “we’re not going for po-faced serious horror, it’s campy glammy trashy hi-jinx with figures and symbols from horror crashing through the grubby setting of London 1972— and it’s been a hell of a lot of fun.”

Go to http://gentlemenghouls.com/ to get in on the campaign. The book is completed and ready for print and electronic distribution at the conclusion of the Kickstarter. Additional rewards include a digital publication with 50 pages of behind-the-scenes art process, original art, and commissioned sketches. Stretch goals include a sheet of six stickers and two beer mats inspired by the world of The Gentlemen Ghouls. I have already contributed to the campaign and if you enjoy monsters and rock, you’ll want to take a look.

Bram Meehan who lettered the Gentlemen Ghouls also lettered my debut comic, Guinevere and the Stranger. Lettering is an underappreciated art in comics. It’s the letterer’s job to make sure the word balloons flow naturally so you read the dialogue in the right order. You need to see the words when they’re critical, but they can’t hide the wonderful art. Bram not only lettered my comic, but he helped me develop the script, effectively serving as my editor. You can pick up a copy of my comic at: https://hadrosaur.com/GuinevereStranger.php.

Also, a Kickstarter project has just gone live to fund two steampunk anthologies and one dieselpunk anthology. I have stories in all three books! I’ll discuss this project in more detail on Saturday, but if you want to take a look and be an early backer, it’s at: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/e-specbooks/full-steam-ahead

Doctor Who: Connections

Near the end of November, I discussed Big Finish’s Doctor Who story “What Lies Inside?” featuring Paul McGann as the Doctor, Nicola Walker as Liv Chenka, and Hattie Morahan as Helen Sinclair. One of the things I like about Big Finish is that they frequently have deals on their website or via their newsletter. When I bought “What Lies Inside?” I bought a bundle that included an additional set of three adventures called “Connections.” That second set has been released and my family and I were able to give it a listen during a recent road trip.

Back in my university days, before the World Wide Web, I subscribed to message boards on Usenet. One of those message boards discussed all things Doctor Who. One character who would spark much discussion on the message board was an old school chum of the Doctor’s from the planet Galifrey named Drax. Now, Drax only appeared in a couple of episodes of serial “The Armageddon Factor” which was part of a longer arc where the Doctor, played by Tom Baker, and his companion Romana, played by Mary Tamm, seek out pieces of something called the Key to Time, which will is needed for god-like entities to put the universe back into balance. Drax used to come up for so much discussion because he was not only one of the few people from Galifrey who seemed to actively like the Doctor, he also referred to the Doctor by the name: Theta Sigma. Was Theta Sigma really the Doctor’s name? Was it a nickname? Was it a fraternity they belonged to? These were all questions bandied about on the message board. None of which were ever definitively answered then and none of which are definitively answered in the new audio episode, “Here Lies Drax.” That said, it was great fun to hear a new episode with Drax. Or, does it really have Drax? The episode opens with the Doctor receiving a parcel from Drax for safekeeping. Soon after, they receive an invitation to Drax’s funeral! Once they get to the funeral, they discover Drax had made a lot of enemies over his lifetime, and that’s just how things get going. We soon get a rollicking mystery where the Doctor has to figure out whether there really is any value to the things in the parcel, while he figures out what happened to his old friend.

The second episode of “Connections” is titled “The Love Vampires” and felt like an appropriate listen while I’m working on a vampire novel of my own. In this episode, the Doctor, Helen, and Liv arrive at a space station orbiting a dying star. However, the crew of the station are apparently being killed off by vampires. Now, these aren’t your ordinary run-of-the-mill bloodsucking vampires These vampires take you back to memories of your first love and feed off the emotions generated. Energy and emotion vampires are nothing new to the genre, but the writers cleverly use this concept to explore the characters of Helen, Liv, and the Doctor through their memories of their first loves. We get some nice background on both Helen and Liv. Right from the beginning of the television series, it was established that the Doctor has a granddaughter and Big Finish’s audio dramas have reinforced the idea that Susan is a biological granddaughter. She doesn’t just call him “Grandfather” as a term of affection. In fact, there are several great Big Finish productions where Susan, played by Carole Ann Ford, is teamed up with Paul McGann’s Doctor. So, one figures, the Doctor must have had at least one love in his life, or at least a liaison. Who did the Doctor have a child with? What was their relationship like? This episode suggests some possibilities, but like Drax in “The Armageddon Factor” it may raise more questions than it answers.

The final episode of the “Connections” set moves the focus from the Doctor to Helen. In this case, the Doctor, Helen, and Liv land in modern-day London to investigate a time anomaly. Helen soon discovers one of the Weeping Angels in the back of an old record shop. These are villains who look like statues of angels and only move when you’re not looking at them. When you blink, they can jump on you and transport you back in time. In “Albie’s Angels” this happens to Helen and she’s transported back to the 1960s and is reunited with her long lost brother Albie. She never knew what became of her brother and she learns that her father and brother had a falling out because Albie was gay. It felt quite appropriate to listen to this episode while on a family trip, since it reminds us why families shouldn’t let themselves be torn apart by different lifestyles and viewpoints. The story itself involves the Doctor and Liv trying to find out where Helen has gone while Helen tries to help her brother find his own path in life. Without spoilers, this episode proved to be a bittersweet and poignant tale with connections to other characters in the Doctor Who canon.

You can find “Connections” at https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/doctor-who-the-eighth-doctor-adventures-connections-2523 and while you’re there, you can sign up for the Big Finish newsletter if you choose. I’m just a fan of Big Finish and this isn’t an affiliate link of any kind.

Meanwhile, if you want to get ready for my forthcoming vampire novel and meet a set of characters with their own special abilities, check out my Scarlet Order vampire novels at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order

Dracula Cha Cha Cha

As we march into this new year, I’ve been continuing my exploration of vampire novels and movies while working on my novel Ordeal of the Scarlet Order. Today, I’m taking a look at Dracula Cha Cha Cha, which is the third novel in Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula series. Originally released as Judgment of Tears, this novel is set in 1959 Rome where Dracula is planning a high profile wedding. Vampire reporter Kate Reed, who has appeared in many of the other Anno Dracula novels, has traveled to Rome to report on the event. She’s immediately swept into the entourage of an elder vampire and his “niece,” an actress named Malenka. In recent weeks, a mysterious figure known as the Crimson Avenger has been murdering vampires and sure enough he strikes at the end of Kate’s first night in Rome. The Crimson Avenger kills the elder vampire and Malenka. Kate is the only witness and she hopes to solve the mystery.

Kate is also in town to say farewell to her human friend, Charles Beauregard, who is being tended through his last days by the vampire elder Geneviève Dieudonné. Geneviève gets swept into the mystery along with Kate. It also turns out that a British spy called Bond is on the trail of the Crimson Avenger. I was especially amused that Newman notes that Danny Dravot of both his earlier novels and Rudyard Kipling’s novella The Man Who Would be King is the one who turned Bond into a vampire. What’s more, he notes Bond and Dravot bear a superficial resemblance. Movie fans might recall that Sean Connery portrayed Danny Dravot in John Huston’s adaptation of the story as well as his more famous role as James Bond.

Once again, Kim Newman gives us a solid, suspenseful mystery with references to numerous cinematic vampires. In other novels and stories featuring long-lived and immortal characters, a lot is made of these characters outliving people they’ve grown to love. In this novel, Kate, Geneviève, and their vampire acquaintance Penelope Churchward must face the ultimate demise of Charles Beauregard even as the spymaster who has appeared in many of these novels helps them put many of the puzzle piece in place. It helps to ground the novel and give it emotional weight I’ve found lacking in some of those other stories.

The Titan Books edition of Dracula Cha Cha Cha also includes a novella set in 1968 called Aquarius. Again, Kate Reed is involved in a murder mystery. In 1960s Britain, vampires and humans have learned to coexist, so it comes as a shock when a human girl is drained dry by a vampire. Kate soon uncovers clues that point to a nearby university which admits both human and vampire students. Again, it’s a solid mystery and well resolved.

In addition to the two stories, Newman walks us through many of his cinematic influences. This is a nice feature, since it gives me some new movies to seek out.

I was amused that in the lead-up to Dracula’s wedding, many of the characters were dancing to a song called the “Dracula Cha Cha.” As I read the book, I thought Kim Newman had made it up. It turns out it’s a real song recorded by Bruno Martino in 1959 and you can find numerous cover versions of the song. I definitely need to add the song to my vampire song playlist.

Clearly, I would recommend Dracula Cha Cha Cha to vampire fans who like a good mystery. If you’d also like to get ready for my forthcoming novel, you can learn about the Scarlet Order vampire novels at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order

Quark

Back at the end of November, I talked about watching the original Battlestar Galactica back in 1978. It turns out that 45 years ago, there was another science fiction show on television that excited me as much or more than Glen A. Larson’s science fiction epic even though it was arguably a much humbler offering. Back before Galaxy Quest, Red Dwarf, or Space Balls was one of the first science fiction spoofs I’d ever encountered. This was Quark starring Richard Benjamin and created by Buck Henry, who co-created Get Smart with Mel Brooks. I should note that Quark is not the oldest science fiction spoof I know. Dark Star, directed by John Carpenter with a screenplay by Dan O’Bannon, predates it and is one of my all-time favorite movies. That said, I’m pretty sure I encountered Quark before Dark Star.

The title refers to Captain Adam Quark, commander of a United Galaxy Sanitation Patrol cruiser. Played by Richard Benjamin, Quark’s job was to pick up the galaxy’s trash. His chief engineer was Gene/Jean, a so-called transmute who exhibited both male and female personality traits. Piloting the ship were a woman and her clone named Betty played by Cyb and Patricia Barnstable. The only problem is that each one remembers she’s the original and the other is the clone. The science officer was a sentient, anthropomorphic plant named Ficus Pandorata. Assisting them was a neurotic robot named Andy. The cruiser worked out of a space station called Perma One under the administration of Otto Palindrome, played by Conrad Janis, who would go on to play Mindy’s father in Mork and Mindy.

The show’s overall structure was a send-up of Star Trek. Adam Quark was clearly a Captain Kirk wannabe and Ficus was coldly logical and alien much like Mister Spock. The ship was sent on missions that put them up against the villainous Gorgons, who threatened the peace of the galaxy much like the Klingons. Within this structure, the show spoofed Star Wars, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Flash Gordon along with at least three specific Star Trek episodes. The show only lasted eight episodes, which makes it all the more remarkable that I remember it so well. Thanks to online streaming, though, I’ve recently been able to watch the series again. Some of the show hasn’t aged very well. The gender tropes are so mid-70s they’re almost painful. Many of the jokes, especially in early episodes, fall flat. The effects, sets, and costumes are super cheap and cheesy, though it could be argued at least some of that was deliberate.

The fact that the series only lasted for eight episodes doesn’t help. It took about three or four episodes for Quark’s actors to really find their footing and get comfortable with the series and its premise, which is effectively half the series in this case, but in terms of absolute number, it isn’t all that bad for a mid-70s sitcom. My favorite episode is the two-part Flash Gordon send-up “All the Emperor’s Quasi-Norms” in which the Wild Wild West’s Ross Martin plays a Ming the Merciless-styled villain. Another great episode is “Goodbye, Polumbus” which parodies the Star Trek episodes “Shore Leave” and “This Side of Paradise.”

Given Quark’s short run, it’s unfulfilled potential, and the fact that modern computer artists could design some fun effects, this feels like a series ripe for a reboot. Ron Moore’s reboot of Battlestar Galactica was cool because it gave us a middle and an end to a 70s series that started well, then was pulled off the air. I’m not sure if Quark has a middle or an end, but it would be fun to see the crew of the United Galaxy Sanitation Patrol back in action for at least a few more episodes. If you want to check out the series, a Google search will take you to services who stream it for free with commercials.

Snow, Glass, Apples

The fairy tale “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” has fascinated me ever since I translated the story for a German literature class back in my university days. Since that time, I published a translation of the story in an issue of Tales of the Talisman Magazine. I then wrote a piece of flash fiction that imagined a vampiric version of Snow White called “The Tale of Blood Red” which appeared in the anthology Blood Sampler. Most recently, I gave Snow White a steampunk treatment and placed the story with the forthcoming anthology Grimm Machinations.

On a recent trip to a bookstore, I found the 2019 graphic novel Snow, Glass, Apples written by Neil Gaiman with art by Colleen Doran. Reading the back and then browsing the interior, I soon discovered this was also a retelling of Snow White. Not only that, it looked like Snow White was portrayed as a vampire. Of course, I picked up the book right away. In this case, the fairy tale is told from the point of view of Snow White’s stepmother, the queen. We learn that the former king went to the woods and fell in love with a beautiful young woman after his wife had died. The king marries the young woman and brings her home. There, she discovers his vampire daughter, who mostly keeps to herself. Over time, the king fades and dies, which is how the young woman becomes queen. She sees Snow White for the danger she is, orders her heart cut out and her body taken to the woods. The years pass, but fewer and fewer people cross the woods to visit the spring fair. Looking in her scrying mirror, the queen realizes that Snow White is still alive. When people enter the woods, she attacks and kills them. The queen sets a plan in motion to save her land and the fair from Snow White. She’ll create blood-laced poison apples for her stepdaughter.

You might wonder how Neil Gaiman and I would independently come up with the idea of a vampire Snow White. I would argue many of the ingredients are right there in the fairy tale. In the original, Snow White’s mother pricks her fingers and sees the blood drop onto a snow-covered, ebony window frame. She wishes for a child with skin white as snow, lips red as blood, and hair black as ebony. Also, in the original story, Snow White’s stepmother succeeds in killing Snow White three times, only to have Snow White return from the dead each time. When Snow White dies the third time, the dwarfs place her in a glass coffin and the prince at the end wakes her, not with a kiss, but having his bumbling entourage drop the coffin, dislodging the poisoned apple piece. And, there’s also the bit near the opening where the wicked queen wants to destroy Snow White’s heart. It’s not a big leap to go from the story as commonly read to the idea of Snow White being a magical, undead creature.

It turns out Snow, Glass, Apples is actually based on a 1994 short story by Gaiman. The story along with Colleen Doran’s art has a distinctly erotic feel. This may feel like a departure from a classic fairy tale, but again, it has roots in the original story. I’m fortunate enough to have a German copy of Grimms’ tales which include notes by the Grimm brothers. They mention that some versions of the story do relay not just the wish of Snow White’s mother, but tell the story of Snow White’s conception during a sleigh ride.

I was glad to discover Neil Gaiman and Colleen Doran’s Snow, Glass, Apples. The story is an interesting twist on the original and Doran’s art is lush and gorgeous, adding to Gaiman’s story. The graphic novel was published by Dark Horse Books and you should be able to find copies online or at your local bookstore. The original story appears in Gaiman’s collection Smoke and Mirrors.

My translation of “Snow White” appeared in Tales of the Talisman, volume 2, issue 2, which is sadly out of print. My vampire story, “The Tale of Blood Red” is available in Blood Sampler, which you can pick up here: https://www.hiraethsffh.com/product-page/blood-sampler-by-david-lee-summers-lee-clark-zumpe

My steampunk story “The Porcelain Princess” will appear in Grimm Machinations from eSpec Books. Although that version of Snow White isn’t a vampire, I still explore some of the darker, spookier aspects of the character. The Kickstarter for the book should be launching soon. I’ll be sure to keep people posted.

The Last Adventure

Jodie Whittaker’s final Doctor Who adventure debuted at the end of October 2022. Throughout the series, the episode where a Doctor regenerates is often of the most powerful of that actor’s tenure. “The Power of the Doctor” was a great case in point, giving the Doctor an opportunity to confront her past and bringing back several companions Doctor Who’s classic era. Unfortunately, in Doctor Who history, there was one actor who was never given a proper final episode and that was the sixth Doctor, played by Colin Baker.

Colin Baker’s era on Doctor Who was plagued by several related problems. The top people at the BBC had lost interest in Doctor Who. Because of that, the show runner, John Nathan-Turner, was spending more time fighting to keep the show on the air than actually running the show. When I go back and watch Colin Baker’s episodes, I get the sense that the writers had a lot of talent but were writers who really needed strong editorial guidance. Unfortunately, because of the issues with the BBC, that guidance really wasn’t there and Doctor Who is a show that needs top notch writing and a good editorial vision to work. In the end, the BBC dictated changes in the show, which included a change of lead actor. Colin Baker basically decided he wouldn’t come back for a few minutes of screen time before his regeneration began. So, after Colin Baker’s last season, we start the next season with the Doctor in mid-regeneration and suddenly the Sylvester McCoy era began.

Colin Baker’s Doctor could be irascible, prickly and childish. The only problem is that the TV writers of his era tended to overplay those tendencies making him a challenging Doctor to like. Fortunately, Big Finish productions came along and gave us more adventures for the sixth Doctor. Stronger writers showed “Old Sixie” could also be heroic, fiercely loyal, and determined. In many ways, because of the episodes produced by Big Finish, the sixth Doctor’s era has become one of my favorites. In 2015, Big Finish decided to tackle one of the biggest challenges and write a fitting finale for the sixth Doctor. The result was “The Last Adventure.”

Title notwithstanding, “The Last Adventure” is actually four stories set at different times in the sixth Doctor’s tenure. Each adventure features a different companion. In “The End of the Line” the Doctor and Constance Clark find a train lost in the fog. When they attempt to find help, they find the same train at a different point in time. They soon find someone is breaking down the barriers between parallel universes. In “The Red House,” the Doctor and Charley Pollard end up on a world populated by werewolves. Except they really aren’t werewolves. These creatures are normally wolves who take on human aspects at certain times. In “Stage Fright,” the Doctor and Flip Jackson arrive in Victorian London only to find that a director is putting on plays about the Doctor’s regenerations. Finally, “The Brink of Death” brings us to the Doctor’s final days as he teams up with Melanie Bush only to find himself trapped in the Time Lord Matrix. The common denominator in all of these stories is that the Valeyard is involved.

We met the Valeyard in the sixth Doctor’s final TV season and we learn that he’s the amalgamation of all the Doctor’s darker tendencies all merged into one being sometime between his penultimate and final incarnation. The idea is that the Valeyard is playing a long game and in each story, the Doctor gets another piece of the puzzle until their final confrontation in “The Brink of Death.” I remember at the time “Trial of a Time Lord” was on TV, there were many fan discussions of how the Valeyard came to be. This story gives us an answer and without spoiling it, I thought it was a lovely bit of minimalist writing in that it gives us an answer in one sentence. It’s a great example of how something can be explained without pages of exposition.

I’m a big fan of the Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy. While there were some rough moments in his first season, I generally loved his tenure from the moment he’s captured by the Rani until he walks off in the sunset with Ace, and then has his amazing regeneration into Paul McGann in the TV movie. Still, I choked up a bit as it came time for “Old Sixie” to go. He met his end showing his best qualities. If you want to know the end of Colin Baker’s story, or even if you just want to sample him in stories from different eras of the Big Finish run, “The Last Adventure” is a great place to go. You can find it at: https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/doctor-who-the-last-adventure-1212

One Thousand Monsters

This new year finds me about halfway through the first draft of my vampire novel Ordeal of the Scarlet Order. When I’m not writing, I’m often reading and one of the books I recently enjoyed is Anno Dracula: One Thousand Monsters by Kim Newman. I’ve read and discussed two of the books in this series already—three if you count Kim Newman’s graphic novel set in the same world. In this case, I technically skipped ahead to book 5 of the series because I wanted to return to the nineteenth century and continue the story of Geneviève Dieudonné before continuing to march through the twentieth century with Newman’s own vampires.

If I hadn’t already become a fan of Kim Newman’s work from Anno Dracula, this novel would have won me over by opening with a quote by Lafcadio Hearn. Hearn’s essays and collections have long been an influence on me and I even paid tribute to him by making him a character in my novel Owl Riders. Among the works Hearn collected are spooky and strange folktales from Japan. Stories from his collection Kwaidan were even filmed for a movie of the same name. One of the truly memorable stories from that collection features the snow maiden, or Yuki-Onna, a phantom-like figure of cold winter nights who lures men to their deaths. Yuki-Onna looms large in One Thousand Monsters.

The world of Anno Dracula assumes that Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula was largely a factual account until the end. Instead of Professor Van Helsing leading a pursuit of the good count through the Carpathians, Dracula eludes his pursuers and marries Queen Victoria, becoming the prince regent and bringing vampires out into the open. In the aftermath of the struggle against Dracula’s corruption, a handful of vampires including Geneviève Dieudonné are exiled from Great Britain and travel to Japan. They settle in Yokai Town, a district of Tokyo set aside for Japan’s own vampires. Newman dives extensively into Asian vampire lore to populate Yokai Town with a wide variety of strange, frightening, tragic, and even sometimes humorous vampires. As the British vampires attempt to settle in, they find the district is under the watchful eye of Lieutenant Majin, who runs the district like a prison. What’s more, sinister things are afoot as vampires make plots in the shadows.

In addition to Geneviève Dieudonné, we get to know several interesting vampires from both European and Asian stories and movies. Leading the European vampire contingent is Princess Casamassina, a vampire who can literally become light. Two soldiers, Danny Dravot and Kostaki work with Geneviève to unravel the mysteries of Yokai Town. Fans of Rudyard Kipling will recognize Dravot from the story “The Man Who Would be King.” There’s even a sailor named Popejoy, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the sailor of Elzie Segar’s comic strip. Among the Asian vampires are a Chinese jiang shi, the cat-like bakeneko, and a child-vampire who controls creepy puppets. There’s even a brief reference to Dance in the Vampire Bund.

All in all, Anno Dracula: One Thousand Monsters was a great romp. We got to know some familiar characters better and were introduced to some new characters. Newman deftly juggles the many types of vampires from world lore and draws us in to believe they’re all part of one big shared universe. Not only does the book start with a quote by Lafcadio Hearn, but Hearn makes a cameo appearance at the end of the novel. There aren’t many series that I feel compelled to read every book, but the more I read, the more I want the next Anno Dracula in line.

I introduce Lafcadio Hearn in my novel Owl Riders. Although it’s not a vampire novel like One Thousand Monsters, I debuted the book at Boutique du Vampyre in New Orleans, in part because the store sits on the site where Ramon and Fatemeh live in the novel. What’s more the Scarlet Order vampires have a way of weaving in and out of the Clockwork Legion stories. In Ordeal of the Scarlet Order, I have a scene where the vampire Desmond Drake is in New Orleans and finds himself at the house where Lafcadio Hearn lived. You can learn about Owl Riders and all my novels at http://www.davidleesummers.com

Great Reads for the New Year

Happy New Year! The annual Smashwords End of Year Sale ends tomorrow. Many of Hadrosaur’s titles are on sale and I’ve been highlighting them right here at the Web Journal. The coupon codes for these discounts are automatically applied at checkout. One of the things I love about Smashwords is that they provide ebooks in all popular formats and they’re DRM free, so you can download them to your favorite device or gift them to friends without worrying about what e-reader they prefer. If you are shopping for a friend, just click “Give as a Gift” when you visit the Smashwords links!

With the sale drawing to an end tomorrow, I thought I’d highlight a few fun books to jump into with the new year.


The Astronomer’s Crypt

Two years ago on a stormy night, in the dead of winter, Mike Teter experienced something that would change his life forever. Mike was a telescope operator at the world renowned Carson Peak Observatory in New Mexico. We won’t tell you what he saw that night on the mountain nor what happened afterward on a dark stretch of highway, because it would haunt you just as it has haunted Mike. But what we will tell you is that Mike is back at Carson Peak. And what he witnessed that night two years ago is about to become a reality…

Chris Wozney of The Nameless Zine says, “In the best tradition of horror fiction, we have courageous protagonists, characters who cross the line of good and evil in both directions, unspeakable evil from a forgotten age, and a villain behind the scenes who is attempting to bring back dark powers in the (no doubt mistaken) belief that he can control them … Strongly recommended to all who enjoy Stephen King’s novels.”

My novel, The Astronomer’s Crypt, is pulled from over twenty years experience operating telescopes at observatories around the Southwest. You can make this journey into the dark side of astronomy for 75% off with discount code SEY75 through tomorrow at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1025608


Lost Sons: The Battle of Manhattan

Clash of the Titans!

Duncan Kord has traveled the world for many lifetimes. The thousand-year-old Viking warrior was given immortality by an advanced race of beings who literally snatched him from the brink of death on a battlefield in Norway centuries ago. Not only did they save him, they infused his body and mind with the essence of a powerful dragon. Despite his powers, Kord kept mostly to himself, wandering the world, guarding his secrets. Kord’s life changed when he discovered the invader responsible for killing his wife and family and destroying his village all those years ago, is alive and well, and living in New York.

William Jefferson Sagahr has amassed a fortune over many lifetimes. Now living in Manhattan, the powerful magnate is head of a multi-national oil company. The thousand-year-old mercenary warrior was also given immortality and special powers by the same beings who gifted Kord. But Sagahr is nothing like Kord. A twisted evil resides within him, bursting out to wreak havoc on low-income neighborhoods in New York.

Kord travels to New York to confront his ancient nemesis and avenge his Nordic people and his dragon brethren. Sagahr wants to avoid his immortal enemy and hold onto his financial empire while feeding the darker urges burning inside him. A clash of these immortal titans in the heart of Manhattan would mean thousands of deaths and billions of dollars in destruction. Industrialist Brian West and police Lieutenant Robert Mackey must corral these two ancient warriors and keep their powers from leveling the Big Apple.

Lost Sons: The Battle of Manhattan by Greg Ballan is available for 75% off the cover price with discount code SEY75 through tomorrow at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1161235


Legends of the Dragon Cowboys

Legends of the Dragon Cowboys brings you two weird western adventures by authors David B. Riley and Laura Givens. Their heroes ride boldly out of the Far East to find their way in a mythic land of danger, romance, and adventure.

In “The Venerable Travels of Ling Fung” by David B. Riley, a wandering businessman encounters a Mayan god, crooked enterprises and Yeti, the Abominable Snowman, when all he really wants is to open a gun store. Ling Fung is not any ordinary Chinese entrepreneur–he’s highly skilled in Kung Fu and he can shoot good, too. While his heart is set on business, providence seems to have other plans for him.

Laura Givens brings wily acrobat Chin Song Ping to the Wild West in search of adventure and fortune. He finds little fortune, but plenty of adventure. Chin Song Ping is a scoundrel, a gambler and a trouble magnet. His heart of gold lands him in schemes to outwit would-be gods, cannibal ghosts, insane robots, Voodoo despots and the ultimate evil–bureaucrats. But he is a romantic, and the love of his life is the true treasure he seeks. The odds are always against him but if he survives he will become the Western legend he always was in his own mind.

The Wild West just got a lot wilder!

Midwest Book Review says, “These two Western novellas are seasoned a dash of exotic adventure, featuring cowboy protagonists who hail from the Far East and pursue their dreams in the tough-as-nails frontier. Riveting from first page to last, Legends of the Dragon Cowboys is enthusiastically recommended for public library collections and connoisseurs of the genre!”

Get the book for 75% off at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/751811