Wulfrik is Howling at the Gates

Posted in Uncategorized on April 15, 2010 by clwerner

Last week saw the final touches on my first novel in the new Warhammer Heroes range being published by the Black Library. I guess since the first character from the game being given this grand treatment was Ludwig Schwartzhelm, one of the good guys from the Empire, it was only natural the second book would be a bad guy, one who serves the loathsome Dark Gods. Wulfrik is just that kind of guy, a barbaric villain whose arrogant boasting brought a terrible doom upon him. Now he’s fighting against the curse of his own gods, trying to save his spirit from destruction when he eventually fails his terrible masters.

It’s always fun to do the bad guys. I don’t cotton to the mollycoddling mentality that every villain needs to be softened up for the reader’s consumption. If somebody is going to seek out a book about orcs, then I imagine they want some bloodthirsty monsters running about chopping things up and laughing about it afterwards. Anything less than that and, well, I’d sure feel cheated and deceived. There has, however, been a creeping sickness in RPGs and fantasy literature to take the bad guys and soften them up until they start looking like the good guys. We’ve seen it done with vampires and werewolves and dark elves. It seems orcs are due to get their turn next. Bah! Whole thing leaves a nasty taste in my mouth.

Have no fear for Wulfrik and Chaos in the Warhammer world though, they’re still as evil and nasty as ever. One nice thing about Chaos is there’s always somebody worse out there, and that’s the general idea behind Wulfrik’s saga. You can get behind him because he’s a much truer and noble character than the scum scheming behind his back, not because he himself is a softy. Anything but! Through the book, I think I’ve matched Wulfrik against more monsters, madmen and mutants than any other character in any single Warhammer book ever published. There’s quite a few nasty surprises in there, as well as an ending that even your demented author found disturbing.

So, if you always wondered what Sinbad the Sailor would be like if he was Norse and had the Ruinous Powers filling his soul with soot, keep an eye out for Wulfrik at the end of the year.

Elementary, my dear Moriarty

Posted in Uncategorized on January 17, 2010 by clwerner

With the recent hype over the new Sherlock Holmes movie (which I haven’t seen due to various factors) I’ve been revisiting one of my favorite characters in fiction. There’s no question that Sherlock Holmes is one of the greatest creations any author has ever fabricated. I’m not sure how much of Conan Doyle’s mentor Dr Bell is in Holmes, or how much of the author himself is in there for that matter, but whatever alchemy Doyle used, it works and then some. It’s easy to forget how multifaceted Holmes really is, especially after all these years of pastiches and films derived from the character. Alot of people tend to consider Holmes an encyclopedia, an unfailing know-all, or, as some film treatments of ‘The Speckled Band’ misquote: ‘a Scotland Yard jack-in-the-box’.

The real character is much more complex. As Dr Watson points out, Holmes possesses an amazing knowledge, but only in very specific areas. In the arena of poisons, his command of botany is second to none. However, the man doesn’t even understand the fundaments of keeping a garden. He knows every bit of ‘sensational literature’, that is crime reports, but lacks even a rudimentary familiarity with literature proper. He’s absolutely disinterested in politics and astronomy (doubly ironic since the great work of his nemesis Professor Moriarty is a volume titled Dynamics of an Asteroid). It could be argued that his emotional state is almost child-like. He has a child’s facsination and facility for observation, but largely lacks the more complex emotions and appreciates them only in a detached, almost clinical fashion for the most part. I think this comes out quite often in the ‘canon’ stories where he fails to notice or be impressed by the physical qualities of some of his female clients.

The one flaw in Holmes’s character that always comes up is his dependence on cocaine, his ‘seven percent solution’, but this is often treated in a flawed way by other writers and film directors. They fail to appreicate the reason Holmes resorts to ‘the needle’ – his driving need for mental stimulation. Like an adrenalin junkie, when he’s in the thick of a complex problem, he has all the stimulation he needs. It is the quiet between storms, the boredom of the hum-drum and commonplace that saps his mental fortitude and drives him to the stimulation of drugs.

In the last few months I’ve been revisiting alot of the old Holmes movies. Starting of course with the classic Basil Rathbone features of the 1930’s and 1940’s. Rathbone was one of the better actors to portray Holmes and, for alot of us, he’s the guy we grew up with watching his exploits on rainy Saturday mornings on public television reruns. I find it interesting that the first two Rathbone films were done by MGM and made as period-pieces set in Victorian times. When Universal continued the series in the 1940’s, they followed the example of the Arthur Wortner series of Holmes films made in England in the 1930’s and updated the character to what was then modern day. As a result, Rathbone spent as much time foiling murderers and jewel thieves as he did defending Britain from Nazi agents and saboteurs.

If I have one complaint about the Rathbone series it is the way Nigel Bruce’s Watson is presented as a buffoon most of the time, more because of the huge influence this interpretation of Watson had on future writers and directors. I think it is the legacy of Nigel Bruce’s Watson that disturbs me, because he’s quite entertaining in the role and has masterful chemistry with Rathbone. Dennis Hoey makes probably the most memorable Inspector Lestrade, played mostly for laughs but immensely entertaining. He even played the same character in ever way (except name) in Universal’s ‘Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman’, which confused me as a kid and kept me wondering when Sherlock Holmes was going to show up to stop Lawrence Talbot.

Another favorite of mine growing up was Sir Ian Richardson and his two forays as Holmes. I still say that his version of ‘The Sign of Four’ is the best, mainly because it packs the story with alot more action and has a more satisfying denoument than the novel itself. Ian Richardson makes a pretty good Holmes (though he – and every other actor to portray the great detective would soon be perpetually upstaged by Jeremy Brett’s definative interpretation) and David Healy makes a very effective Watson. Being a villain at heart, of course, the stars for me are the bad guys and this version of the story plays them for all they’re worth. Joe Melia’s Jonathan Small is a nasty, vicious character, lacking some of the sympathy of Doyle’s story but making up for it with loads of menace. His friend, the Andaman Islander Tonga, is played by dwarf actor John Pedric and is by far the most frightening Tonga in all the film versions. In other presentations of the story, we’re told Tonga is a cannibal. In this one, we can believe it, with his filed teeth and penchant for devouring raw bloody meat.

The other Holmes story done as a vehicle for Ian Richardson was ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’, and although made in 1983 at the same time as ‘Sign’, Watson was played by Donald Churchill instead of David Healy. Churchill’s Watson isn’t the capable helper from ‘Sign’, but cast a bit too much in the bungling ‘Nigel Bruce’ cast for my taste – especially noticeable in a story like ‘Hound’ where Holmes is absent for such a long stretch. These faults aside, there are some really great things to be had. Having watched almost all of the different version of ‘Hound’ made over the years I can safely say this one has the most terrifying dog. I’m not sure what breed he is, but he’s big, black and ferocious. As someone who grew up around great danes and pitbulls, I’m not someone who is overly impressed by the dogs I see in movies. This one had even my jaded sensibilities impressed. He’s a lesson that a few camera tricks are worth more than all the CGI in the world. They should teach that in film-school and brand it on the foreheads of certain directors as pennace for past sins.

Oh, and look for an unexpected role by Brian Blessed and a quick cameo by Ronald Lacey as Inspector Lestrade. Lacey is one of my favorite character actors, probably best known for playing Gestapo agent Todt in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’. He did similarly slimey villains in ‘Red Sonya’, ‘Flesh and Blood’ and ‘Sword of the Valiant’.

Moving right along, one of the best things about the new Holmes movie has been the release of so many old Sherlock Holmes material to DVD. The BBC Sherlock Holmes series from the 1960’s (or, rather, its surviving episodes) was one such wonderful surprise. Seeing Peter Cushing back in deerstalker and inverness cape was a real treat and adds not one but two versions of ‘Hound’ with him as Holmes. An all around fun series and leaves one rather sad that the BBC destroyed so much of their archives (Dr Who fans, I feel your pain).

I’m working my way through an even earlier Sherlock Holmes series at the moment, the 1954 series with Ronald Howard as Holmes and Howard Marion Crawford as a very capable and highly entertaining Watson. Ronald Howard’s Holmes can be a bit too absent-minded for my tastes, but I’m quite shocked with how tight and effective many of the scripts are considering the show ran in a half-hour format. One episode, titled ‘The Mother Hubbard Case’ is a particularly effective and disturbing mystery – fully worthy of the great detective.

Watching Holmes movies and shows, I’m sure it’s only a matter of getting some free time before I start back into the stories again. It’s always nice to revisit Doyle’s creation. Although sometimes the pastiches can be alot of fun. Probably the three I consider the best Sherlockian stories never written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would have to be John Gardner’s Return of Moriarty (though I thought as genius as the novel was, its sequel, The Revenge of Moriarty was abysmal), Loren D. Estleman’s Sherlock Holmes vs Dracula (which has a pretty good follow-up: Dr Jekyll and Mr Holmes), and Cay Van Ash’s perfect pairing of my favorite characters in Ten Years Beyond Baker Street in which Sherlock Holmes is pitted against the insidious Dr Fu Manchu.

Now if I can just get the courage up to go see how Robert Downey Jr. does in this new movie…

Vermintime

Posted in Uncategorized on May 27, 2009 by clwerner

Any frequent visitors to this site will know that there hasn’t been much in the way of updates lately. Partly this has been due to the hectic schedule getting Forged by Chaos completed, but also it is due to the soon to be launched website Vermintime. Vermintime will be the ‘official C. L. Werner’ website and is the brainchild of programming wizard Brandon Waggle. Look for it to launch early next month.

In the meantime, I am happy to report that one of my stories is soon to be available on the web through Big Pulp, a western titled ‘My Name is Charlie Day’. You can visit their website at http://www.bigpulp.com

Halloween and all things macabre

Posted in Uncategorized on October 26, 2008 by clwerner

Halloween has always been my favorite time of year, the one time of year when you weren’t weird for reading about ghosts or prowling video stores looking for werewolf movies. Never mind all the old pagan origins of the holiday and the stern disapproval of fundamentalist doctrine, I loved the holiday, loved the build-up as slowly, bit by bit, monsters and jack-o-lanterns started infiltrating store shelves, loved how all my favorite horror films would escape their normal habitat of airing in the wee hours of the morning to become prime-time events.

Some particular favorite memories were the specials that would air on the networks (in the pre-cable days, they were pretty much the whole enchilada). ‘It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown’, the Fat Albert Halloween special, the always popular Garfield Halloween with its ghost pirates and candy-candy-candy. Growing up in California courtesy of an unforigvable decision on my sire’s part to move the tribe from New York to the other end of the continent when I was still a yonker did give me the benefit of experiencing ‘Movie Macabre’ when it first aired in the late 80’s. No matter how bad the movie she showed, Elvira was enough to keep you watching. Her Halloween specials were always a highlight, normally two, sometimes even four old horror films, ranging from the genuinely scary like ‘Legend of Hell House’ to absolute crud like ‘Night of the Zombies’. I can still vividly remember a vignette with John Carradine on her Halloween show where he recited the story of ‘The Littlest Pumpkin’. It was the touching tale of this lonely little pumpkin, who, as Halloween approached, was left all by himself in the pumpkin patch as all the larger pumpkins were taken away one by one. But then a little girl came and gathered up the Littlest Pumpkin and he was so happy. She took him home and trimmed his stem and washed his shell and made sure he was nice and warm. The Littlest Pumpkin was so thrilled that someone cared for him and loved him and that he wasn’t alone anymore. Then, John Carradine’s voice dropped from soothing tones to his normal garrulous croak as he ended the story: ‘Then the little girl took a big carving knife and cut open his head and scooped out his brains. She gouged holes in his face and set fire to his inards and left his carcass smouldering on the front porch.’ Yes, I still find that funny.

Another local station would play the classic Universal films during the week leading up to Halloween. You’d get a Frankenstein day, with the first film in prime-time and some sequels running in those wee hours I mentioned a bit ago, then there would be a Wolfman night, Dracula night, etc. Needless to say, I was a very sleep-deprived boy that week, this being in the time before VCRs. Still, it is to the forebearance of my father that I usually got a pass for abusing my health for that week, even if I still have Cal Worthington car commercials playing through my brain at night.

A much later tradition developed in high school. I used to ride down to a local comic shop and buy a big bag of old Marvel monster comics, stuff like Werewolf by Night, Tomb of Dracula, and Fear! These would tide me over until the evening when a local radio station would play reruns of ‘CBS Radio Mystery Theatre’ and then follow up with a further two hours of alternating horror and mystery programs from the golden age of radio. This revolving roster included such fare as ‘Arch Obler’s Lights Out’, ‘The Lives of Harry Lime’, ‘The Black Museum’, and ‘The Weird Circle’. I think ‘The Witch’s Tale’ was also a part of the line-up, but can’t be entirely certain. Likewise for ‘Hall of Fantasy’. Finally, sometime after all the radio shows, and if it was a Friday, I could steal out and watch late-night reruns of ‘Kolchak: the Night Stalker’. Being the night owl, I was obliged to tape these for my less stalwart brethren, who could never manage to hang through the whole regime of late-night TV when the channels would abandon themselves to replays of ‘Lost in Space’ and ‘The Rat Patrol’. Ah, the days before the thrice-damned infomercial devastated television forever more!

Back to specific Halloween remembrances, sometime I developed the peculiar tradition of watching ‘Halloween’ only on Halloween night. I detest the ‘slasher’ genre and loathe it as the killing blow to gothic horror as embodied by the films of AIP, Hammer and Tigon. That said, there is just such craftsmanship about the original ‘Halloween’ that even I admire the film despite my prejudice. Typically timed so it will be the last thing I do before conceding Halloween night to slumber and the advent of All Saint’s Day, watching the film has become a strangely nostalgic experience over the years.

Of course, there are some things I miss. Back in high school I used to dress up and scare all the little ‘uns creeping up to the doorstep to scrounge some candy (and I made sure it was the good stuff, if you traumatize a smurf he should at least get a full-size Three Musketeers out of the deal), a radio with a mix of scary sound effects and horror theme music playing in the background, some weird lawn ornaments setting the atmosphere. My mother recently confided that if I was still around there, they’d go all out for Halloween with the animatronics and such not. Seems my role would be guardian of the goods, so to speak. The ridiculous prices some of these displays fetch, I can’t say I blame her.

Apartment living spoils festivities like Halloween. You don’t really get any trick-er-treaters and there’s noplace to stuff a disembodied mummy claw so it looks like it is digging out of its grave. There’s a warning in there someplace, I am sure, but I think those Cal Worthington commercials keep me from recognizing it.

Wherever, and whatever, you are, fondest hopes for a happy and reasonably safe Halloween (ie, nothing more severe than slight maiming). And if your swag contains Tootsie Rolls, please forward them to the usual place. My father had a penchant for intercepting those when his sons brought home their loot. ‘Inspected for your protection’ my eye!

The Dark Knight

Posted in Uncategorized on August 16, 2008 by clwerner

It’s been a long time since I enjoyed a movie as throughly as ‘The Dark Knight’. Let’s just get that statement out in the front right now. Hell, I think the last movie I saw more than once in a theatre was ‘Return of the King;, and bear in mind I was seeing stuff for free as a manager at a theatre. I’ve caught this one twice now, and keep feeling the urge to get my backside over there for a third outing.

The Nolans have created a beautiful script that draws upon some of the greatest Batman storylines, while still creating something that is certainly its own unique monster. Squint, and you can see panels from ‘The Long Halloween’, listen to some of the dialog and you can picture panels straight out of ‘The Killing Joke’. This is how a comic book movie should be done: by people who understand and respect the source material, and who are good at what they do. Christopher Nolan strikes me as a director who is not only brilliant at what he does, but also secure enough in his own talent to absorb input from those around him. There are far too many prima donas in the director’s seat who can’t say the same, so I give huge amounts of respect and credit to Nolan for not being one of them, for having the vision to allow his cast to take the script in directions it perhaps wasn’t going when branded onto the page.

And what a script! What a friggin’ movie! From the opening bank heist to the final denoument, this thing rolls like a ten-ton wrecking ball, never giving you a chance to catch your breath really, always keeping you waiting with anxiety for the next twist to come about. Nolan does the conjurer’s trick, always directing the mind one way while pulling his sleight of hand. Not surprising for someone who gave us ‘The Prestige’ really. However, all the twists and turns are logical, well thought out and compliment rather than distract from the overall theme and plot. The characters remain true to themselves throughout, the entire cast has a clear and steely grasp on who they are portraying down to the smallest quirk and expression.

Harvey Dent is made a tragic character in a way I don’t think has ever been accomplished so fully in any other medium. We see this crusading DA, his ambitions and determination, his fierce commitment and unwavering courage. We see his hopes and dreams, the warm human being beneath the armour of Gotham’s white knight. And the whole time, we’re sitting there with a numb feeling, knowing the horror that will ultimately befall this character. The whole thing is pulled off with a Hitchokian flair. As Hitch always said, let the audience know more than the characters, let them know there’s a bomb under the table and then spend awhile with your characters just idly chatting away, oblivious to the doom quickly ticking away below them. That is the kind of nerve-wracking tension every scene with Harvey Dent has, the more we come to admire and feel for this heroic figure, the more anxious we become. When the grisly pay-off comes (hey! spoiler for anybody who hasn’t read a friggin’ comic book in thirty years) and Harvey becomes Two-Face, it is handled with such pathos and almost sadistic brutality that it’s like a concentrated effort to take our worst fears for the character and then one-up them. The change from crusader to monster is the main theme of the movie, really, and it works brilliantly. Not once does Harvey’s transition into Two-Face seem forced or contrived. If there is a single fault with the movie, I would say it is the lack of screen time given to Two-Face. He’s so amazing in his scenes, and they contrast so starkly with Harvey Dent that it would have been nice to see more done with him.

Gordon is even better than he was in the first film, Gary Oldman has this part down to a degree where I stop thinking of him as anybody but Jim Gordon while watching it. Again, we get a character who is fully realised, down to the smallest foible and nuance. Gordon has alot of screen time in this one and plays a pivotal role, it’s actually really nice to see him even more prominent than in ‘Batman Begins’.

Alfred and Lucius Fox are both given more to do as well, each getting their moments to really shine. Again, Caine and Freeman give such amazing performances, it’s not going to be easy to ever think of the characters without comparing them to the portrayals of these two professionals. They also get all of the best lines. Well, all of the ones that don’t come from a clown, that is.

Batman, well, he’s still the Bat, and it’s nice to see a little of how his one-man crusade has actually started to clean up Gotham. Christian Bale is an actor who, I hate to say, never impressed me until ‘Batman Begins’. In fact, I had so detested his previous work, I had pretty much written off ‘Batman Begins’ until I was pretty much dragged to it by my friend. I don’t have any qualms saying I was as wrong about his fitness to be Batman as a person can be. He IS the part. Everything is there, the debonair public mask as Bruce Wayne, the brooding intensity and carefully restrained violence of Batman, all of it very carefully layered so that you are never sure where Batman stops and Bruce Wayne begins. It is also great to see Batman doing detective work rather than simply fisticuffs and techno-gadgetry (unlike a couple of god-awful films I could mention, but won’t). You get the clear impression that the Bat’s brains are every bit as cutting edge as his League of Shadows-trained body and his Wayne Enterprises military hardware. There are also some great moments where some logical developments of Batman’s career are dealt with that lend an even greater touch of realism to the movie, such as copycats and some of the loose ends from funding Batman courtesy of Wayne Enterprises. Plus, we get to see Batman in Hong Kong! How cool is that!

Okay, okay, enough of the rest of the movie. We all know what the focus is. We all know what character dominates the whole thing, whether he’s on screen or not. Remember what I said about Bale as Batman when I first heard about it? Well, I felt the same way about Heath Ledger, though after being so wrong last time I wasn’t saying word one until I saw what made Nolan choose him. Well, I didn’t see Ledger in this movie. What I saw was The Joker. I can really credit some of the wild stories out there that this part consumed the actor, because it is probably the most frightening (yet gruesomely funny) villain ever put on screen. Even with the Burton film, as great as the Joker was, you still knew that was Jack Nicholson. Not here. No, this was the Joker, pure and simple. The actor disappeared into the part the way I’ve never seen happen, not in anything. not Kurosawa, not Hitch, not anywhere.

A deranged sociopath with a lethal sense of humour, a death wish, and completely unpredictable mood swings. Forget all that ‘Clown Prince of Crime’ stuff from the Romero-era, this is the Joker as he first appeared back in 1940, as he became when ‘The Laughing Fish’ storyline appeared in the late 70’s. This is the dangerous, murderous clown who giggles while he plays his deadly games, completely unable to feel the slightest empathy for anyone, himself included. Again, every little tic and gesture adds to the character, from his slouching, almost slinking posture, his almost reptilian way of licking his lips, his split-second changes of mood and expression; all of it adds up to one scary character. What makes him even scarier is this is a smart man, whatever his insanity, he has a methodical and calculating mind. These aren’t the Riddler’s mind games, testing intelligence and critical thinking. These are sick manipulations of morality and willpower, calculated efforts to strip away all that is good and decent and expose the brute animal at the core of every human being. The Joker is good at knowing what makes people tick, and that is what makes his character both fascinating and terrifying, giving him a power to dominate from off-screen that probably even Sauron would envy.

Oh, and he is so damnably, darkly funny. It was my big fear that Nolan would make the Joker so dark and murderous that his humourous side would be completely lost. What I loved about the Bruce Timm series was his ability to maintain both parts of the character seamlessly. Well, Ledger does the same thing, and in spades. Take for instance when Batman first confronts him. The Joker shoots out a window, presumably to make an escape, and is using Rachel as a hostage. When Batman tells him to ‘let her go’ and the Joker responds ‘Poor choice of words’ as he drops her out the penthouse window, you really get the impression the idea of dropping her didn’t occur to him until Batman ‘suggested’ it. And, of course, the way his face shifts from threatening to a malicious grin is both amusing and disturbing.

Another great, and telling scene, is when they do catch the Joker. Sitting in his cell, there’s a lingering shot of him just sitting there staring that is scarier than every shot of Hannibal Lecter. Without even saying anything, just with the way his eyes look, there’s just this feeling of wrongness about the Joker, like what we’d call a soul just isn’t anywhere behind those eyes. Again, there’s a great tip of the script to ‘The Killing Joke’ with the Joker displaying his penchant for ‘multiple choice’ personal history. It adds another creepy layer to him and is a great bone to throw to the fans.

It is a real pity Ledger never got to see this performance for himself, nor bask in the glow of such a critcally acclaimed display of his talent. I can’t really say anything else on that subject except add my regrets and condolences.

So, if you are reading this and still haven’t gotten out from under whatever rock you are living under and seen ‘The Dark Knight’ I suggest you check your pulse. You might just be dead and not noticed.

Why Bad Guys Have All The Fun

Posted in Uncategorized on June 28, 2008 by clwerner

Hold on a moment and think back to the last novel you read. Who was the most engaging, memorable character in the entire book? I’m going to bet a crown against a groat it was the villain. These much maligned, much abused characters are so much more important than the prancing, preening heroes with their bold displays of selflessness and courage. The villain, more often than not, is the driving force behind the story, the hero is just reacting to his machinations, playing defense to the bad guy’s offense. There’s almost invariably a code of ethics when it comes to heroes, but the villain, why he can just about do anything he damn well pleases, and the reader knows this. No matter what else they have figured out about your plot, your characters, even your ending, the villain always has that potential to break the mold and do something that isn’t in the rules. That makes them exciting and unpredictable.

Think back to comic books. I believe it was Stan Lee who once said you can get much further with a good villain than a good hero. Every hero needs a strong nemesis, the Lex Luthors, Red Skulls and Jokers of the world. Many heroes come to be defined by their foes, their own greatness magnified by the utter villainy of their enemies. Where would Sherlock Holmes be without Professor Moriarty, or Sir Dennis Nayland Smith without Dr Fu-Manchu? Who would give a hoot in hell about Van Helsing without Count Dracula? There’s a reason everytime the Godzilla series hits a low point the producers at Toho call in the three-headed space dragon King Ghidorah to guarantee a boost in the next film’s attendance.

My current project has some juicy villains, the kind of guys who would knife your grandmother for the loose change in her couch. Okay, maybe not that bad, but they would certainly strangle her cat. As an author, slinking around in a villain’s mind can be both rewarding and disturbing. It allows you to cast off all the inhibitions and social moores that you have. For a time, you become Hans Dietrich, leading his band of grimy smugglers through a sewer, bringing contraband into the city right under the nose of the authorities, all the while trying to find every angle to manipulate and control his gang, no matter how sleazy and untoward. You can be the brutal Gustav Volk, using casual violence to put a period at the end of every sentence, splashing a guy’s nose across the wall just because he looked at you wrong. You can be the scheming Kratch, plotting treachery against everything and anything in an unending chain of betrayal and back-stabbing. It can be liberating to think of things like honour and duty as dirty words, if only for a little time (thinking that way too long means you are either a politician or a lawyer, either way you’ve turned in your membership card to the human race).

The downside is that sometimes thinking the way your villains think can become dirty and loathsome, unpleasant in the way a lingering headcold or a persistent toothache can be. I’m reminded of the dark elf story I did for Inferno several years ago. The characters were such amoral, self-centred faithless curs that crawling around in their heads for any length of time made me feel in need of a shower. Getting into the bloodthirsty, savage mentality appropriate for orcs always has the side-effect of making me irritable and short-tempered at the day job. Writing about skaven and creeping about in their heads often makes me a bit paranoid and nervous, which can be directly linked with spending so much time thinking about and committing to the page characters who live, eat and scheme in a state of perpetual paranoia.

 I think it is a necessary evil, though, to bring such characters and creatures to vibrant life. If you can’t get into the head of your character, understand what he is and why he does what he does from the inside out, then you might need to rethink your character. It is the difference between a throw-away gunsel and a completely realised baddie like Tuco from ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’. All the attention to detail, the understanding that not only is Tuco what he is, but that on a day-to-day basis he doesn’t feel any need to apologize or moralize about what he is and what he does, is the thing that makes that character work. It is also the thing that makes me cringe with the spate of ‘neo-villains’ that crop up in modern fiction like Wicked where the author feels that they must beat the reader over the head with constant reminders that the villain is really, at their core, someone good who just had a bad time.

Balderdash! Most villains are that way because they know bad guys have all the fun. Blofeld gets to dump disappointing underlings into pools of pirahna! Mr Hyde gets to trample annoying children! Eddie the Dane gets to shoot guys in the face! No hero gets away with this stuff, but the villain does and dammit, he feels no need to apologize. Our horrified fascination is all the author needs to explain their actions, not a maligned childhood or bad schooling. The best villains don’t justify their actions: they know they’re above that kind of distraction.

Cemetery Without Corpses

Posted in Uncategorized on June 13, 2008 by clwerner

That would make a great name for a horror-flick, don’t you think? ‘Cemetery Without Corpses’ just sounds like some weird 1970’s Italian exploitation flick. Maybe something with a bunch of stupid kids playing with black magic in a graveyard and waking everybody up. I always thought it would be fun to do a line of ‘Drive-In Trash’ type novels. Stuff like ‘Zombie Xpress’ and ‘Sasquatch vs Chupacabras’. Absolute mindless entertainment chock full of sex, violence and pissed-off monsters. I really wish I’d been old enough for the days when movie houses still abided by the four food-groups of European horror films, Kung-Fu flicks, Spaghetti Westerns and big-budget Hollywood war films (even if I groan every time I see an M-60 pretending to be a Panzer V).

On the plus side, sometimes we do still get some great horror films out of Europe. The latest was ‘Outpost’. This thing had more mood and menace in its first twenty minutes than any six Hollywood snoozers. Well-cast, admirably scripted, and with a setting that eerie enough before the Nazi ghosts start showing up. The director and writer also understood something that continues to ellude Hollywood: it’s not how your monster kills somebody, it’s the way they do it! Seriously, these ghosts are some messed up dudes. Then again, I doubt if being undead would really improve a bunch of SS men anyway!

It made a nice diversion from my many writing chores and the tedium of the day job. The new Warhammer effort is coming along, but a bit slower than I wanted it (though I usually don’t really get rolling until chapter five or so in most cases). One of the characters almost seems to be chanelling Chris Latta’s Starscream from Transformers. Really weird since I didn’t plan him to be that way. I’ll have to keep an eye on this guy and make sure he doesn’t start rewriting the book to give himself a bigger part! And, no, I won’t be divulging the nature of the book: the marketing guys at the Black Library need to do something to earn their pay after all.

The Occult book for AE-WWII is coming along nicely. Again, I can’t divulge too much, but it was alot of fun doing research for this one. Finally an excuse for all those WWII books I spent last summer ordering off eBay. The thing that always strikes me about history is the more you read, the more you realise how much you don’t know!

Finally, I have been invited to contribute a story to Flashing Swords and their upcoming anthology Rage of the Behemoths. Perhaps perversely, but I always like short stories better than full novels, so it’ll be nice working on a smaller piece after a steady diet of novels for the last few years after Inferno! ceased publication. I have an interesting piece in mind and hopefully my editor will think so too when I get around to the down and dirty of writing it.

 

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