Thursday, February 28, 2008

Another Blast From The Past - Vampiric Thrills With Anne Rice.

Besides Stephen King, who got me hooked on the horror genre in the early 70s', another author whose books have left a lasting impression on me was Anne Rice, especially with her Vampire Chronicles.

I remembered picking up a copy of Anne Rice’s Interview With The Vampire in the late 70s’, largely piqued by the interesting title and wanting to try out books by not so-well known authors (Anne Rice at that time, have yet to become the highly popular author that she is now). And what a thrill it WAS!

Rather than being just creepy, evil and one-dimensional creatures of the night, Anne Rice’s vampires were imbued with so much depth, pain, loneliness and fluid sexuality that one just can’t help but identify with her vampires’ sufferings.

The lush and descriptive background that the stories were set in - from ancient Egypt in Queen of the Damned to biblical history in Memnoch The Devil - together with her immaculate grasp of history and the beauty she creates with her tales got me fervently hooked. So hooked, that I remembered eagerly waiting for her next novel in the Vampire Chronicles.

Rice's magical tales and her rare ability to make readers identify and connect with her characters' sense of alienation, their search for the meaning of their existence in a human world, and her excellent casting of vampires as metaphors for the human condition, have made names like Lestat, Louis, Armand, Marius and Akasha very special and memorable to me. And I have yet to come across vampire literature that can match the depth and breadth of the tales by Anne Rice.

Even though I have read her other books like The Witching Hour series and The Mummy, it has always been the Vampire Chronicles that made Anne Rice such a great author in my mind.

Sadly, for me anyway, since 2005, having reaffirmed her Catholic faith, Rice announced that henceforth, she will “write only for the Lord “ and that there will be no more such vampire tales.

While I respected her decision, I also mourned the loss of such rich vampire literature. So, to readers who have yet to experience the magic of Anne Rice tales, here are my favorite Rice’s tomes and I hope you will experience the same vampiric thrills as I did.

The Vampire Chronicles
Interview With the Vampire
Published in 1976, this is the first of her Vampire Chronicles and the book that started my vampiric thrills. Set apart from other works of the vampire genre by it’s confessional tone from a vampire’s perspective, it has the vampire Louis relating the story of Lestat, a vampire with a conscience. It is an engrossing tale of the despair of an alienated being who searches for the meaning of his existence, and his conflicts because he cannot find redemption and does not have the strength to end the evil that he is.

The movie adaptation in 1994, with Tom Cruise as the vampire Lestat and Brat Pitt as Louis, was a rare and surprise hit of novels brought to screen. As an indication of its popularity, Interview With The Vampire remains the best-selling book in the Vampire Chronicles.

The Vampire Lestat
Set in the late 18th century to the late 1980s’, the 2nd book in the series is a rich narrative of the beginnings of the anti-hero, the vampire Lestat. From his origins as a penniless aristocrat to his becoming a vampire at the hands of Magnus, a vampire elder, The Vampire Lestat is an extravagant and dazzling story spanning prehistoric Egypt, ancient Rome to 20th century New Orleans.

The Queen of the Damned
My favorite among the Chronicles, The Queen of the Damned explores the rich history and mythology of the origin of vampires. Dazzling in depth and lush in historical myths, the story tells of the awakening of Akasha, Mother of all vampires, after more than 6000 years of slumber. Awaken by the electrifying songs of Lestat, it is now up to him to stop her monstrous plan of ruling the world of the living.

Breathtaking, imaginative and complex in plot, it is a must read for fans of vampire literature. The 3rd book in the series was also adapted into a movie in 2002, with the deceased R&B star, Aaliyah, as Akasha and Stuart Townsend as Lestat.

The Tale of the Body Thief
Published in 1992, The Tale of the Body Thief is a departure from Rice’s previous settings in history, with the novel set entirely in the late 20th century. Dealing with Lestat’s desperation to be free from the nightmare of his own immortality and his efforts to regain his lost humanity, it tells the tale of a mysterious figure, Raglan James, who has the ability to switch bodies and thus, possesses the cure for Lestat’s depression and conflicts. A unique and unconventional tale of despair and redemption.

Memnoch The Devil
Probably the boldest and most controversial book in the series, Memnoch the Devil goes back to the beginning of Creation and is a breathtaking and ambitious tale that reinterprets biblical stories to create a complete history of Earth, Heaven and Hell.

Imaginative as only Anne Rice can be, Lestat finally meets the Devil, who calls himself "Memnoch" and he takes Lestat on a whirlwind tour of biblical history, Heaven and Hell in an attempt to convince Lestat to join him in a noble quest. Lestat even meet God and his time on earth as Jesus. Lavishly narrated, it is an epic reinterpretation of biblical history and brought the Vampire Chronicles to a close.

Not surprisingly, with Rice’s portrayal of God as a flawed being and the idea that Jesus sacrifice was insufficient, Memnoch the Devil came under severe criticisms from Christians as being heretical and blasphemous.

*Related posts :
- In Memory Of Gary Jennings
- A Blast From The Past - My Journey With Stephen King

Friday, February 22, 2008

A Blast From The Past - My Journey With Stephen King.

Looking at how Duma Key, the latest book by Stephen King, is rapidly climbing up the bestsellers chart reminded me that the horror master has not lost his magic touch and at the same time, brought back many fond memories.

My journey with Stephen King began more than 30 years ago, in the 70s', when I was still a boy. Like most children during the 70s' who made do with hand-me downs, including books, I remembered being attracted by the book cover of Salem's Lot, brought to school by a better-off classmate. The black cover, with an etching of a girl's face and a drop of blood at the corner of her mouth, captivated me. Well, guess what I did? I "borrowed" the book (it's still with me) and so begun my journey with Stephen King.

Over the years, I have read most of King's books, including his earlier novels Carrie, Cujo, Christine, Firestarter and even books that he had written under a pseudonym, the "Richard Bachman" novels like Rage and The Regulators. So ardent am I a fan of his, that I have also watched all the movie adaptations of his work (unfortunately, the adaptations are all bad except for Misery).

Spell bounded by his rich imagination and his gift for telling compelling stories, Stephen King was largely responsible for my induction into and love for the horror genre. And every time the word "horror genre" comes up, his name will automatically pop up in my mind. So, going down memory lane, here are my all time favorite Stephen King books :

Salem's Lot
The book that started it all. Published in 1975, it came about when Stephen King asked his wife : "What if Dracula came to modern America?" "He will probably be knocked down by cars in Sixth Avenue!" said his wife.

Originally titled "Second Coming", this is the only book in my life that I finished in one night and it left me scared *stiffless. Set in a small town, it tells the story of the arrival of an old vampire, his corruption and decimation of the town populace and the struggles of a man to fight this menace. Rich in characterization and plot, it stands out among the many vampire novels during that time.

*Readers are advised that I, sometimes, take liberties with the English Language and there is no such word as "stiffless."

The Shining
Having watched the movie adaptation of this book, with Jack Nicholson as the derange father, I felt the movie paled in comparison in fleshing out the sense of eeriness of the hotel and the helplessness of the young son.

Published in 1977, though a simple premise of a couple with a young son isolated from the outside world in a old haunted hotel up in the Colorado mountains, the story fleshed out brilliantly the eeriness of the hotel and the helplessness of the young son in trying to deal with both the demonic forces and a murderous father. King's description of the derange morphing of the father got me hooked on this book and made me think twice about looking too long at a mirror.

Even among favorites, there are "favorites". I have read "IT" a total of 4 times over the years and I had never gotten tired of it. Published in 1986, it is one of King's few books of the monster-horror genre. Set in Derry, Maine (like most King's books), it tells the story of a evil clown who lurks in sewers and lures children to their death.

Spanning across their childhood years to growing up as adults, it also describes the heroic efforts and determination of a group of children in fighting this evil. King's superb characterization of the group's fears and their triumph over evil, especially the stuttering leader Bill, made "IT" a book to remember for a long time. And "IT" was definitely no clown.

The Talisman
Imagine a book that can transport you to another world, a parallel universe, a world so different and enchanting that you do not want to return. That was what the magic of "The Talisman", my all time favorite, did to me. Published in 1984, the book was King's collaboration with Peter Straub (another great horror master).

Wonderfully told, rich in characterization and plot, it tells the story of a boy, Jack Sawyer, and his travels in a parallel universe - The Territories - in search of the "Talisman" to save his mother. I was spell bounded by the rich imagination of the authors with their description of this parallel world and its inhabitants. Most of all, their concept of "Twinners", our twins in the parallel world, made this book such a wonderful read and further introduced me to the magical world of the "fantasy" genre.

When I first read the synopsis at the back of this book, my first thought was : "This is so unlike Stephen King, what is there to be scare about a fan and an author?" How wrong I was! Published in 1987, "Misery" was unlike King's previous books with its story about a rabid fan and her favorite author.

With only two main characters in the story, only King can turn it into a bestseller. His story of an author being kept prisoner by his number one fan and forced to bring back a character from the dead was a masterpiece. And the movie adaptation was, in my view, the only one of the many King's adaptations that was able to fleshed out the story. Kathy Bate's portrayal of the fanatical fan was fanatically good.

*Related Posts :
- In Memory Of Gary Jennings

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Phyllis A. Whitney - A Lifetime Of Words.

For a person with a voracious reading habit, there was a recent piece of writing that I wished I never laid eyes on - an obituary. Beloved American novelist Phyllis A. Whitney, whose romantic suspense tales has sold millions of copies, passed away recently at the age of 104.

Born in Yokohama, Japan, the superb and gifted story teller wove her magic for more than 80 years and words were her life even before she began writing professionally. She started writing at the age of 12 while still a student, and worked in libraries and bookstores, eventually serving as Children's Book Editor of the Chicago Sun and the Philadelphia Inquirer in the 40s'.

After graduation from Chicago's McKinley High School in 1924, Phyllis began to write seriously, starting with short stories. A prolific writer, her first hardcover success came in 1941 with A Place For Ann, a book for teenagers, and by 1960, had 37 books and hundreds of short stories.

Hailed by Time Magazine as "one of the best genre writers" in 1971, her popularity reached international proportions by the mid 1960's, particularly in England and the Scandinavian countries.

While she had great success with juvenile mystery, turning to adult fiction brought her international fame. Striking a chord with readers, her adult romantic mysteries always had a vulnerable female protagonist, offered optimism and have happy endings. Among her bestsellers were Feather On The Moon, The Flaming Tree, Daughter Of The Stars and her last novel in 1997, Amethyst Dreams.

Re-known for her exhaustive research, Phyllis A. Whitney also won many literary awards and accolades.

In 1961, Whitney's sixth juvenile mystery, Mystery of the Haunted Pool, received the prestigious Edgar Allen Poe Award for best children's mystery story of the year from the Mystery Writers of America. She won the same award again three years later with The Mystery of The Hidden Hand.

In 1975, Phyllis A. Whitney was elected President of the Mystery Writers of America. In 1988, she was named a Grand Master, the pinnacle of achievement for a mystery writer, by the Mystery writers of America, honoring her high quality work and contribution to the genre. With this lifetime achievement award, Phyllis A. Whitney joined the exalted ranks of former honorees like Alfred Hitchcock, John le Carre and Agatha Christie. She also received another lifetime achievement award - the Agatha in 1989 from Malice Domestic.

Phyllis A. Whitney's 1956 novel The Trembling Hills was also recently reprinted in the United Kingdom as part of the Hodder Great Reads series "celebrating the best and most-loved popular classics of the 20th Century." All in, she wrote more than 75 books and her works have been published in more than thirty countries.

* Fans of Phyllis A. Whitney can sent their condolences here

* Related posts :
- For More News From The Literary World

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Boy Who Saw Angels.

A Short Story by My Den
All he wanted was to die at home. On 20 Jan 2007, with his parents by his side, *Adrian got his wish and was finally relieved of the pain he bore for four years. Adrian was only seven years old.

"Look at those round eyes!" a delighted Joanne said. "Going to be a very handsome man when he grows up!" echoed Dan, both joining in the celebrations of *David and *Mary on the birth of their first child.

Adrian's birth was an answer to a long wished-for prayer and filled his parents lives with purpose and hopes. With his ever-present laughter, Mary loved to bask in the compliments heaped upon her son by both friends and strangers. But things changed when Adrian turned

"The sudden onset of fevers, chills and flu accompanied by the loss in appetite and rapid weight loss were serious enough for the hospital to conduct blood tests and a bone marrow biopsy on Adrian. I am sorry but Adrian is suffering from acute leukemia," said Dr. Wong. David's and Mary's world collapsed.

The next four years of Adrian's life were spent in and out of hospital, undergoing painful chemotherapy. "It was so painful to see Adrian undergoing chemo, injecting drugs to the brain through a catheter under the scalp," choked Mary. There were also the side effects - the constant nausea, vomiting, mouth sores and lost of hair that three year old Adrian had to coped with.

"Please Ma, no more chemotherapy," pleaded Adrian on hearing about his third relapse in Sept 2006. "I just want to live normally with whatever time I have left. I want to go to school, to Disneyland and I want to be at home when I die." Adrian knew he would die without treatment.

"It's time to let go," with a lumped in his throat, David told his wife. "Let's grant him his wishes and allow him to enjoy whatever time he has left with us."

For the first time in his life, Adrian went to school, something which he always longed for. A trip to Disneyland, Hong Kong, was also made possible with the help of "Make-A-Wish" foundation which grants the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses. Adrian waited every night for his father to come home from work so that they can spent time together. He enjoyed his time left in this world tremendously.

Holding her son's hands, "Adrian! Look out for the angels!" Mary besieged. In the early hours of 20 Jan 2007, Adrian's condition took a turn for the worse. He was so cold and in so much pain. Choking back tears, she could feel her son's life slowly ebbing from his tiny hands.

Summoning a last drop of strength, Adrian look at his mother and shouted :"Mama, I can see angels, angels, angels!"

Adrian will always lived in my heart. A brave young child whose life was cut short by a terrible illness and my heart goes out to his parents. Tribute should also go to "Make-A-Wish" Foundation for making possible the wishes of children with terminal illness.

*Names were changed to protect privacy

*More stories by MyDen
- A Live Unlive

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Short Story Writing Contest.

For aspiring writers, head over to BeboAuthor for the perfect writing contest. Totally free to enter and requiring no registration, the short story contest is open to anyone and other than erotica, all genres are accepted.

Just send in a short story of at least 1,000 words and win attractive prizes ranging from one year’s free hosting, including domain name, for a WordPress blog, one year Flickr Pro account, Amazon vouchers to Entrecard credits. So, put on your creative caps and submit your entries before March 21, 2008.

*About BeboAuthor (from the website) :
"I first set up this blog to give those with author pages on Bebo a place to advertise and promote their work outside of Bebo. The aim of that was to have another way to get visits to their pages and hopefully a little bit of support and constructive criticism too. I began to review or advertise these author pages through my posts.

With that in mind, I felt that anyone interested in writing should have a place to promote their work which is why anyone can leave their links here in the link submissions page or else in the genre of their choosing. I occasionally talk about some of these unpublished works but I also review books, share any writer’s resources I find and talk about as many different areas of writing as possible.

I like the idea of writer’s sharing their ideas and readers having a chance to get to know writers who, with a bit of encouragement and advice, could someday be published. Although I have focused on young writers in particular, this blog should be for anyone interested in reading or writing."

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Mangling Wednesday - What You Says?

Mangling Wednesday is a new category that I am starting and is a light-hearted attempt to put into print the hilarious moments that I come across in my daily life - moments when the English Language is mangled in daily conversations.

There is no intention to mock anyone and neither am I as linguistically sound as I wish I was, and I am as susceptible to committing these faux pas as the next person.

Mangling Wednesday also features a fictional and pompous Professor X, and his attempts to correct, in his own words, " those grave grammatical sins!"

What You Says ?
(Overheard at a cafe about his date yesterday.)

"So, I asked her what she want to eat. She says: "I doesn't know. You choose ok!" So, we went to Long John Silver."
"So, what you all do next?" asked his friend.

Unable to contain himself any longer and biological programmed to correct grammatical mistakes, Professor X walked over to the two teenagers and with a huff, said :
"First of all, when you are relating an event in the past, you should say ".....what she WANTED to eat," and it is 'she SAID' and not 'she says.'"

"It was also atrocious that your......girlfriend said : "I doesn't know!" Only
'he' or 'she' take a 'doesn't know' and 'I', 'you' and 'they' use 'don't know' or 'do not know'."

Turning to the friend : "And it is not "So, what you all do next?" but "So, what did both of you do next?"

"Furthermore, to inject eloquence into your conversations, use 'And' or 'Then' instead of the incessant 'So' that both of you are so fond of!"

The young man glared at Professor X for a second, then turned back to his friend and continued with gusto : "So, I says to her......."

Sunday, February 3, 2008

For The Love Of Writing.

Writing in itself is a remarkable experience. It is an act of discovery and of joy, and it gives meaning to thoughts, feelings, hopes and life. And writing a book is an even more impressive achievement - a labour of love that can take months, maybe even years. But what if we are lacking in the only tools we have for writing - our hands?

Imagine the severe limitations, the frustrations of being unable to express ourself in print if we are unable to use our hands to write those words that are crying to be written. But the human mind is, in fact, boundless, and here are some inspirational examples of authors who, through sheer determination and grit, transcended their physical limitations and produced brilliant works of literature :

1. The Diving Bell And The Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby.
About the author : Jean-Dominique Bauby was a prominent French journalist and editor of French Elle when he suffered a massive stroke in Dec 1995 at the age of 43. When he regained consciousness 20 days later, he was completely paralysed except for being able to move only his left eyelid.

Writing Method : To describe Bauby's method of writing as painstaking is a gross understatement as he literally wrote the 139-page book letter by letter. He would compose whole paragraphs in his mind, editing and memorising sentences for hours, got someone to recite the alphabet and he would blink when the letter he required was reached.

His Book : The Diving Bell And The Butterfly is a poignant memoir about living with Locked-In syndrome, a neurological disorder in which a person is of sound mind but almost completely paralysed. An extraordinary book that paints a luminous portrait of a mind dancing within a frozen body, it was an international bestseller and sold 150,000 copies in its first week of publication in France.

Wistful, witty and written with considerable humor, it is a remarkable tribute to the majesty of the human spirit. The book was also made into a movie in 2007 by American director, Julian Schnabel and won the Best Foreign Language Film at the 65th Golden Globe Awards.

Sadly, Jean-Dominique Bauby passed away two days after the book's release at the age of 44.

2. My Left Foot by Christy Brown.
About The Author : Christy Brown is an Irish poet and painter who was born with cerebral palsy. As a child, he was incapable of voluntary movements and despite the advice of the medical community to institutionalize him, his mother remained supportive of him. Remarkably, at the age of five, he grab a piece of chalk with his left foot and scrawled a mark - the letter "A"- on the floor, stunning his family in the process.

Writing Method : As suggested by the title of his autobiography, he used his left foot to write, type and even paint, but was also helped by his brothers, who recorded as he dictated.

His Book : Imprisoned in a world all his own and seemingly without any means to communicate, My Left Foot is an inspiring account of Brown's life and the struggles he had to overcome. Published in 1954, when Christy Brown was 22, it is a triumphant story of his battle to learn to read, write and paint, all with the aid of his left foot, and his yearning for acceptance and fulfillment. Giving readers a first-hand account of what it is like to be a person with severe cerebral palsy, My Left Foot is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit.

Christy Brown passed away in 1981 at the age of 49 and his book was adapted into a movie, with Daniel Day-Lewis as Christy Brown, in 1989.

3. A Brief History Of Time by Stephen Hawking.
About The Author : Recognised as one of the most brilliant theoretical physicist in history, Stephen Hawking was stricken with Lou Gehrig's disease when he was a 21-year-old graduate student at Cambridge University. He subsequently lost the use of his limbs and voice, and is now almost completely paralysed.

Writing Method : Using a special infra-red device which detects blinks from his eyes, he communicates with the computer attached to his wheelchair, allowing him to "type". Through an electronic voice synthesizer attached to the computer system, it also allows him to "speak".

The Book : A Brief History of Time, published in 1988, was an iconic piece of science writing which has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide and was on the London Sunday Times bestseller list for a record-breaking 237 weeks. Using a minimum of technical jargon, Hawking helps the average man understand highly complex topics like the origin and nature of the Universe, black holes and gravity with vivid clarity.

*Related posts :
- Poetry & The Innocence of Children
- Of Old Book Stores & Literary Gems.