Guest blog: STEPHANIE L SCHMITZ

Posted in Guest-blog with tags , , , , , , on April 27, 2011 by simonmarshalljones

In what seems like an age, here comes the first blog in a while and it’s a guest blog to boot. SL Schmitz is an American author who has just released her first full-length novel, Let it Bleed, published by Dead Tree Comics and which I edited. Here she talks about a much anticipated event which is happening this weekend in Austin, Texas – the World Horror Convention 2011 (which visited these shores last year, in Brighton). I know many of my friends have winged, or are winging, their way over there to attend, and Stephanie explains the allure of such a meeting of friends, colleagues and fans.

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Some people get excited meeting movie stars. Other people dream of meeting rock stars, or television personalities. Am I strange? I don’t care about meeting famous people; I am probably among the few who worship and adore David Bowie, but have no desire to meet him. I am in awe of Patti Smith and Nick Cave, but would have absolutely nothing to talk about with them. Our conversations would be stilted, boring. Meet Princess Diana when she was alive? Why? Beyond the courtesy, there would be very little to discuss. But there is an event which I am greatly looking forward to, more than any other event this year: the World Horror Convention in Austin, TX.

There is something unique about the community of Sci-fi, Horror, Fantasy, Mythpunk, and all other genre writers. With all of the changes happening in the publishing world today, the authors involved in indie publishing  feel like they are on the pioneer trails; as if they were living in the wild, wild e-west of creativity and exploration. Via social media sites we chat with one another, delighting in each other’s publishing successes and journeying together through the perils of reviews and blogs. It is a community well worth exploring, but demanding of respect – whoa to the author who pushes too hard to be “liked” or who cannot stop spamming about their self-published epic novel. Banishment can and does occur.

And finally, it is now the end of April 2011 and various authors, editors, publishers, reviewers, directors and more are all making their way to Austin, Texas for the great and secret show known as the World Horror Convention. There, we will shake hands and hug the ones we have only met through email and comments. We will gladly buy one another’s books and listen to one another’s readings. There will be pitches and launches and press parties and many, many cocktails. There will be accents from all over the globe. The horror writing community is small, but it is growing. Not like the crazy fads of Steampunk or the hero worship of comic books – there will not be 50,000 people all dressed up like Princess Leia or Jules Verne at this convention.  Oh, there might be a Countess Bathory or a Lord Varney here or there, but overall this community is more subtle. We are shy folk, most of us prone to dark corners and quiet garrets where we scribble the most gorgeously awful scenes of zombies and vampires and dragons. We just want to meet one another, and make connections. We want our peers to read our stories, and we want contracts to be signed, books to be bound.

So as I leave for Austin, I carry more copies of my own novel than I do clothes to wear. And I have room for all of the purchases that I shall be making! When I return, I will have 50 extra lbs. of books to read, and will devour these new stories gladly. Hopefully, they will all be signed, and I will have the memory and the memorabilia to sustain me until 2012.

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Stephanie’s website can be accessed here and you can purchase Let it Bleed from here via Amazon.

Abolisher of Roses: book trailer video

Posted in Books, News with tags , , , , , , on March 18, 2011 by simonmarshalljones

In my ever expanding quest to get the word on Spectral Press out there to all and sundry, may I present to you the debut of the very first book trailer video, spotlighting Gary Fry’s chapbook, due to be published May 2nd 2011… enjoy!

Gratitude must be extended to Mark West for putting this together for me over the last couple of days – an absolutely sterling effort! For more details of how to purchase this chapbook, please go to spectralpress.wordpress.com.

Japan Earthquake Aid Auction

Posted in Events, News with tags , , , on March 17, 2011 by simonmarshalljones

We’ve all seen the footage of the recent magnitude 9.0 earthquake of the northeastern coast of Japan, and the ruin and utter devastation that it caused to both human and animal life. At times like these one is forcefully reminded that, despite being the so-called ‘dominant’ species on this ol’ blue planet of ours, with all our sophisticated technology and science, we humans are still nothing compared to the might of Mother Nature. We often feel helpless in the face of such overwhelming catastrophes.

However, some people, just like Johnny Mains for instance, decide to do whatever they can to help the affected people of Japan, in however small a way. So, Mr Mains has set up an auction with some choice goodies you can bid on, the money going to charity to help with the efforts being made to get Japan back on its feet. EVERY penny that can be sent Japan’s way is a penny more than they had, and will bring recovery about just that little bit sooner.

There are eleven lots, including:

One of the last remaining copies of Back from the Dead, published by Noose and Gibbet Publishing, and signed by 8 of the contributors

A letter from Herbert Van Thal, the editor of the Pan Book of Horror Stories back in the day, to one of the authors appearing in one of the anthologies. These are very scarce items – so bid now to get your hands on a piece of publishing history.

A rare Italian film poster for Peeping Tom, signed by Columba Powell, son of the director Michael Powell and who also played the young Mark Lewis in the film. That would look good on any wall.

A signed rare NEL hardback copy of James Herbert’s The Spear, a book which apparently landed him in court – a case which he lost.

A first Pan Books paperback edition of The Executioners by John D. MacDonald that has been signed by director Martin Scorcese (who directed Cape Fear, based on the book).

Also, a signed hardback copy of Spectral author Gary McMahon’s Rain Dogs, which was published by Humdrumming Press.

There are plenty more desirable items – just go over to Johnny’s Occasionally Horrific blog to find out what they are, their starting prices and how to go about bidding. Let’s see just how much can be raised!!

And now showing on the other channel….

Posted in News with tags , , , , , on March 14, 2011 by simonmarshalljones

… you can find details of the next Spectral Press publication, Gary’s Fry’s Abolisher of Roses, which is available for preorder from today – but numbers are limited! The chapbook itself will be published the first week of May, which will be upon us sooner than you think! For all the gen, go to http://spectralpress.wordpress.com now!

GET TO IT!!

Another blast from the past…

Posted in Nostalgia with tags , , , on March 11, 2011 by simonmarshalljones

My good friend Nick Williams reminded me the other day, just after publishing my blog about The Mysterious Cities of Gold and Ulysses 31, of another anime that figured a great deal in my childhood (and I WAS actually a child when I first saw this series) – Marine Boy. This was actually one of the very first anime to be dubbed into English for the US, Australian and UK markets (although I think Astroboy took the distinction of being the first anime to be shown in Britain) and was one of the few anime to be produced in colour.

The history of the 78 episode series, reading the Wikipedia entry (with the usual proviso that Wiki isn’t entirely the most accurate fount of knowledge), is convoluted to say the least. Starting off as Dolphin Prince (3 b&w episodes), then metamorphosing into Hang on! Marine Kid (13 colour episodes) and finally into the Marine Boy (78 colour episodes) that people of my generation know and love, it didn’t really take off until Seven Arts Distribution in the US got hold of it. It was first broadcast in the UK in 1967-68 and, from the very moment I clapped eyes on it, I was hooked.

I was four or five years old when it was shown on BBC TV and it was everything a young boy could possibly want – a boy who, just by chewing special gum, could swim indefinitely underwater and who used an amzing boomerang to destroy ships and underwater craft. Plus a beautiful mermaid creature called Neptina as his companion and a dolphin, Splasher, who appeared to understand his every word.

But the biggest draw for me was the theme tune – it is singularly THE most recognisable theme somg for people of my generation. Every time I hear it, it sends shivers up and down my spine, as well as propelling me back along the years to the time when I was a young lad, trying to cope with being newly diagnosed as a diabetic and facing a lifetime of injections, non-sugary foods and having to test for my bloodsugar levels (which involved testing urine in those days – not the spohisticated blood-glucose monitors we have now). It instantly reminds me of the kindly district nurse who used to come every day to administer my insulin, and who finally taught my mum and dad how to inject me. It was also around that time or just after that I started school – in fact, I can remember my very first day in infant school, which was 43 years ago!

In subsequent years, I’ve made sporadic attempts to locate episodes on VHS or DVD and I have now learnt that a complete set of all 78 episodes is available for $49.99, so, once I am flush, or I find a generous benefactor, I’ll be acquiring this slice of nostalgia. Once more, I’ll be a five year-old boy sitting transfixed in front of the TV and watching the adventures a boy who can breathe underwater, a white dolphin and a girl with a fishtail instead of legs.

Rewriting the classics: good idea/bad idea?

Posted in General Musings with tags , , , , , , on March 10, 2011 by simonmarshalljones

Johnny Mains posed a question to me yesterday – whether it was a good idea or otherwise to take an old, classic story and rewrite it to suit modern sensibilities. Johnny has himself rewritten a few horror classics in his time, bringing them into the harsh light of the 21st century. However, most people’s immediate reaction would be, I suspect, a resoundingly loud “NO!” and, perhaps a few years ago I, too, would have fallen into that camp. Now, I find myself myself wondering if it IS such a bad thing, after all. I would venture to say that such acts of ‘updating’ stories have been done ever since the very first story was set down on bark/papyrus/paper.

Hollywood does it all the time – taking a universally acknowledged classic and bringing it up to date, without taking away the essential core of the tale. It clearly does this to make it fit in with the way the world is now, to make it relevant to today’s people so they’ll actually want to see it. After all, it costs money to make a film and, naturally, the producers want to see their investment returned. The important thing is that the heart of the story itself is retained – in other words, whatever trappings it’s clothed in, the story is still recognisable.

Some people complain about ‘messing with the source material’, so to speak, but most seem to accept the idea of reimagining a story in visual terms to suit present times. A good director/screenwriter will pick up on the essential ingredients that made the story so well regarded in the first place, and develop its themes and subtexts in such a way that modern-day audiences will immediately recognise what’s going on beneath the surface. Society, and the people in it, despite changes in mores, fashions and lifestyles, remains fairly constant, although the mindset of a member of a previous society may present something of a problem to delineate properly. However, people are generally the same, regardless of era. By transplanting it to now, the story is made more accessible and ‘readable’. Some would even argue that by updating it filmgoers are encouraged to go and read the original story. So, in that sense, one can fully justifiably say that it’s a good thing.

Conversely, others would say that it’s taking the story out of its correct context, and that perhaps the strength of the original narrative comes from its being placed within the milieu in which the writer placed it, ie his/her own times. That may be true to a certain extent, but, like I pointed out above, humans were more or less the same then as they are now – the only advantage I can see is that we have more sophisticated technology, sophisticated in this context meaning more complex and able to do things faster. Add in the fact that  I am not that interested in, for instance, period dramas (although my wife enjoys them), and it might be that modern reinterpretations will allow me to enjoy the classic story without all the trappings of bygone times (although I am immensely interested in history).

Literature, however, is a different matter. I would wager that people are much less forgiving if an author rewrites a classic story. For some people, I guess, literature is much more precious in terms of cultural value. But is this really so? None of the writers whose work eventually attained the status of classic ever had that in mind when they sat down to write their books. Most, if not all, of them wrote because they had a burning desire to do just that: write. And the stories they wrote then, certainly in terms of themes and plotlines, are the same in some respects as those that are written now.

But, and let’s be honest here, the way some of the classics have been written present obstacles to some people. I am one of those who loves how the English language has evolved over the centuries, and I find immense enjoyment from reading old stories – how the language flows, the use of broader vocabularies or words that are no longer extant, or the use of classical references or words in Latin or ancient Greek. Writing is much more streamlined and concise these days, frippery and wordiness being frowned upon. It’s no wonder, then, that there are those who think reading the classics is either ‘difficult’ or ‘boring’. The richness of the English language escapes a lot of people these days.

And I guess this is where rewriting the classics comes in to a certain extent. I am neither for nor against them per se, nor do I see them as inherently pointless. Language DOES evolve, as do societies, and there will always be people who see the past as being irrelevant to them in particular and to everything else in general (and that attitude, I think, speaks of a failure of the teachers of history in our schools to engage their students with the subject properly). In that case, I suppose that rewriting the classics serves a distinct purpose, ie bringing the ‘classics’ to the attention of modern audiences and perhaps getting them interested in researching further. I tend to go for the originals anyway, but that’s me – not everyone is motivated by language and writing in the way I am. In a broader context, however, I can’t say for certain whether this amounts to a good thing or not – that’s for each individual to decide.

Would I publish such a story within the pages of Spectral? Doubtful, although a story based on/inspired by a classic might receive consideration. For the most part, however, although I don’t see any harm in re-envisioning the classics and hauling them into the present century, it’s just not my thing in general (although, to be fair, I have read such stories and some of them have been highly entertaining and clever).

What do you think – what is YOUR stance on such literary endeavours? Do you think they’re a good thing, or a bad thing? Let’s get some debate going…

Blasts from the Past…

Posted in General Musings, Nostalgia with tags , , , , , on March 9, 2011 by simonmarshalljones

During my enforced rest over the last few months (see previous blog entry for details), to keep myself from total boredom and the creeping onset of ennui, I indulged in watching something that I have been fascinated with since childhood – animated films and serials. Back then I went through the stages of watching series such as Scooby-Doo, Hong Kong Phooey, The Pink Panther, all the Warner Bros cartoon shorts, the slightly obscure DePatie-Freleng version of Dr. Doolittle (does anyone actually remember that?), the various Charlie Brown shows and the full-length ‘classic’ Disney movies. Then I progressed onto longer films like Watership Down, Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings (which, perhaps oddly, I absolutely love, despite its very obvious flaws), the same director’s Fritz the Cat and Fire and Ice, the strange and surreal Fantastic Planet (original title: Le Planete Sauvage) and an obcure little porn cartoon called Jungleburger (classic dialogue: the villainess says at the end “So what if I have six tits?”). Add into the mix other obscure gems which I’ve completely forgotten plus, later in my twenties, my discovery of anime, and I must have seen thousands of ‘cartoons’ and suchlike.

However, during that brief restful sojourn, I revisited a couple of series for which I have a particularly fond attachment – The Mysterious Cities of Gold and Ulysses 31. Both of these were French/Japanese co-productions, and both were screened over here in the eighties. Okay, I admit, I was in my early twenties when I watched these shows, programmes that were resolutely aimed at younger teens, but, to be quite frank, I didn’t care. The two shows exhibited a modicum of imagination severely lacking in mainstream British and American productions of the time, a fact which  inspired me to watch them in the first place. I would avidly sit down every week and be glued to the TV set to follow the respective character’s adventures.

The Mysterious Cities of Gold was a 39 episode adventure series set against an historical background: the Spanish conquest of South America and the avaricious search for gold (and it didn’t stint on the cruelty exhibited by the conquistadores towards the natives in the greedy search for the yellow metal). The plot mainly centres around three children, Esteban, Zia and Tau, and their search for the fabled seven cities of gold, located somewhere in the impenetrable jungle. The show contrasts rather sharply the reasons for the search – the children want to find family or solve the mystery of who they are and their place in the world, while the adults accompanying or chasing them only want the wealth that will inevitably follow on from finding a city completely made from gold. It paints Western culture as avaricious, superficial and greedy – not as inaccurate a picture as all that, judging from the history of the actual conquest.

Ulysses 31, on the other hand, mixes Greek legend with sci-fi action and adventure. It updates the legend of Oddysseus (Ulysses is the Latin variant of the name) but sets the action in space. Ulysses has angered the gods by destroying Cyclops whilst in the act of saving his son Telemachus – and his punishment is to wander through an unknown part of the Cosmos in his spaceship in order to find the Kingdom of Hades, so that he can eventually return to earth. Simultaneously, Zeus, who hands down the sentence, also puts Ulysses’ crew into suspended animation and they will only be returned to life when the Kingdom of Hades is found. Accompanying our hero and his son is Yumi, a tiny blue-skinned girl from the planet Zotria (her brother Numinor is also there, but he’s  in suspended animation along with the rest of the crew) and Nono, a small and very nervous robot. Twenty-six episodes were made, a fairly short number for a Japanese production, but boy did they pack in a lot of action. It’s very typically Japanese fare and, stylistically, is also typical of eighties anime. And of course, there’s that stirring opening theme song… (there are also the tantalising rumours that there will be sequels to the series due in the near future, but who knows…?)

It’s funny how you remember, or not remember, things. I distinctly remember not catching the first episode of either, but coming coming into them with episode two with Cities and three with Ulysses. But, having watched all 39 episodes of the former, I remembered surprisingly little of it, apart from the characters and the Solaris ship and the Golden Condor. I also didn’t remember the short factual films at the end of each show, filling out the historical details of that particular episode. I am only a third through Ulysses and I remember more of that one, but I’ll report back when I’ve seen them all.

Be that as it may, however, what utterly delightful (and thrilling) blasts from the past. Whilst it would be true to say that technically I am more in tune with the anime of today, it was still a hoot watching these shows and reacquainting myself with them after something like thirty years. Back then, of course, I never thought that there’d be any means by which I could see them again, other than the terrestrial channels deigning to rebroadcast them. Which did happen with Cities I think – once. So, I for one say ‘Huzzah for the internet!’…

Now, to make my life complete, I need to find a source for Battle of the Planets or, better still, the original Science Team Gatchaman, which will be miles better than the bastardised Sandy Frank bowdlerisation screened on British TV (7 Zark 7, the robot who ‘starred’ in the linking sequences, was never in the original Japanese version…). Having said that, I’d still watch, if only for the sake of nostalgia…

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