Horror Novel Reviews conducted a new interview with me last week. The questions were excellent and it was a great time discussing horror, religion, and writing! Read it here!
Horror Novel Reviews conducted a new interview with me last week. The questions were excellent and it was a great time discussing horror, religion, and writing! Read it here!
In the past I have credited Wes Craven for sparking my love of horror, and H. P. Lovecraft for nurturing that flame. Of course, there were countless other story tellers, and countless stories across hundreds of paperbacks, comics, and VHS tapes that helped shape what kind of fan, author, and even what kind of person I am today.
A Nightmare on Elm Street is always my go to when asked about the most influential film in my life, but recently I’ve begun to think that another horror villain, even more iconic than Freddy Krueger with his bladed glove, filthy hat, and muted Christmas color sweater, may have had a significantly deeper impact on my development. I’m not talking about Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, or Charles Lee Ray. The character in question is not some masked stalker, but rather a drop dead gorgeous, red and white, 1958 Plymouth Fury.
Just tonight, I finished reading Christine (listening to the audiobook rather) for the first time, and while I found myself enthralled by the book, and the extra dimensions it added, there was a feeling of melancholy over the one big difference between the novel and the screen adaptation. The 1983 film (which bore John Carpenter’s name as the draw, in lieu of Stephen King) had been a staple of my childhood VHS rotation, competing heavily with Dream Warriors, Monster Squad, and The Lost Boys. Every weekend I would grab a new horror movie from June’s Video Hut – Maniac cop, 976-Evil, The Gate – but still, every weekend, Christine would make it into the VCR at some point.
In retrospect, I think the reason I kept going back the story of Arnie Cunningham and his possessed ride, was that, to me, it wasn’t primarily a horror movie. Sure, it had all the marks of one. A respectable body count, made up of the typical slasher movie victims. An unstoppable killing machine. Discordant music and supernatural phenomenon. But that was all periphery, because to me Christine was a love story.
Arnie Cunningham was probably the first character in fiction that I ever truly related to. I’m not sure how old I was the first time I saw the film, but I was old enough to be the least popular kid in my grade, and too young to start reinventing myself as the teenage occultist/death rocker I would become a few years later. I was always a smart kid, but I was a loser. I always put up with people’s shit, and I felt very, very alone in the world. Just like Arnie.
I still remember the surge of satisfaction, watching Arnie go from nerdy victim, to bad ass and dangerous, behind the wheel of the most beautiful vehicle I had laid on eyes on, before or since. His clothes and his hair changed. He stopped being the victim, and the object of pity. He even got the girl, over his cool, jock buddy. Christine had been like a catalyst for his chrysalis, not that I would have used those words back then, but I recognized it as such, and I yearned for the same thing.
Then came the part when Buddy Reperton and his gang, kindred spirits to the grade school townies who put me through hell, trashed Christine. In their small-souled anger they smashed, bludgeoned, and punctured this work of art that meant the world to the guy on the screen, who was so much like myself. They destroyed her, because he loved her, and because they were too stupid and petty to do anything but destroy. And then… then they literally took a shit on her.
I seethed with anger at that. The first time I watched the movie was the most intense of course, but with each subsequent viewing it still pissed me off. In their faces I could see all the shitty, mean-spirited kids from my school, and I knew in my heart that if I ever had something of such beauty in my life, they would try to take it, just as they did my dignity each and every day
As such, it should come as no surprise that wild excitement gripped my heart when Arnie’s car took to the road and hunted down the “shitters”. I know that sounds fucked up, especially coming from a kid of maybe ten years old, but remember, this is before Nerd-Chic was a thing. There were no safe spaces, and Columbine had yet to teach administrations that bullying should be taken at least a little bit more seriously. All the “ignore them” and “toughen up” speeches in the world didn’t make things better, but watching that ghostly ‘58 run those bastards down kind of did. Those dirt bags, so far as I was concerned, were getting just what they deserved, and I watched Christine dole out her cruel justice over and over and over. I found it heroic, rather than scary, to watch her speeding down the road, engulfed in flame, her high beams set forward in singular purpose.
And she did it all for him.
She did it all for him. That idea was fucking beautiful to me, and it kind of still is. Before I ever desired a woman, or crushed on a girl, or even tried to sneak a dirty magazine, I fell in love with Christine. In my mind I was Arnie, and she was doing it all for me. Because she loved me too, and god damn, I needed that. Not the way your parents love you just for existing, but the way a lover sees that special magic in your soul and says, “You are the most incredible person in this universe, and I would murder the world to see you smile”.
Christine taught me what love is, beyond my mother and father. That moment when Arnie tells her to show him what she can do, and she trusts in him enough to reform before his eyes. How her belief in him transforms him from a door mat to a man, and his belief in her makes her immortal. The way she is willing to rip herself apart to cut down anyone who’d harm him. And yes, even her mad, wild jealousy, that I would experience later in life before time and experience tempered such things.
Sometime after the murders start, Arnie and Dennis are talking about love. Dennis thinks Arnie is talking about Leigh, but of course he means Christine. His words hold a wisdom though, and as much as I needed to believe them as a child, experience has taught me that they are indeed true.
“Let me tell you a little something about love, Dennis. It has a voracious appetite. It eats everything. Friendship. Family. It kills me how much it eats. But I’ll tell you something else. You feed it right, and it can be a beautiful thing, and that’s what we have.
You know, when someone believes in you, man, you can do anything, any fucking thing in the entire universe. And when you believe right back in that someone, then watch out world, because nobody can stop you then, nobody! Ever!”
And then of course, there is the end, when Arnie and Christine face off against Leigh and Dennis in a final confrontation. Arnie dies, impaled on dagger of pre-safety glass windshield. A voice from the radio sings “I’ll forever love you” as Arnie fades into oblivion, in the metaphorical arms of his lover. Then Christine loses her mind in sorrow and anger, and no matter how many times I had seen the film, no matter how many times I had watched her get crushed, I rooted for her to win.
Despite watching that tape over and over until some voracious, dying VCR chewed it up, I somehow never read the book, until now, nearly thirty years later, and I’m glad I waited. In King’s novel, things are different. It is an excellent read, but the feeling is just not the same. LaBey, Christine’s former owner, is the driving force behind the car, and behind Arnie’s transformation. If there is any love story, it’s a trailer trash romance between the unsympathetic Roland LaBey and his sexy Plymouth fury, who manipulate and use Arnie for their own means. In the book, Arnie dies like he lived, a loser manipulated and bullied by those around him. It’s a scarier tale, and a hell of a lot darker, but for once, I like the happier ending, if you can call it that.
Christine was, and still is my Cinderella, my Beauty and The Beast, my Tristan Und Isolde. It was my first glimpse at passion and to this day, I can’t think of anything more romantic than Johnny Ace singing “Pledging My Love” as Christine’s headlights illuminate Arnie’s dead body. It’s no wonder I married a woman of the same name.
I started this whole rant talking about my biggest influences being Craven and Lovecraft, which is true. My work, and my world view, borrow heavily from Lovecraft’s cosmic nihilism. And sure the Springwood Slasher may have haunted the dreams of my youth, and sparked my love of horror. But Christine… Well, you never forget your first love.
Expanding upon the idea of my Wyrd Horror readings, I’ve put together a new YouTube program called Wyrd Bookshelf. In this first installment author James Chambers, comic artist Rick Marcks, and myself discuss the Image Comics hit, Wytches!
Curtis: Hi Fred, you just finished up narrating and producing the audio book for my novel, It’s A Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad World. Can you tell us a bit about your experience on the project?
Fred: I always start a new project by reading the entire book, studying the characters and the style, and marking the script with color codes for different voices, as well as other performance notes. I approach it like a theater director — casting (creating a unique voice and personality for each character), figuring out pacing and story arc, finding the emotional core, and planning the style. This book had some unique challenges which made it especially fun to work on.
The genre doesn’t fit one defined category. I tried to perform it in a way that would present its unique mixture of gritty thriller, graphic horror, pulp fantasy, and tongue-in-cheek humor all at the same time.
But the characters were what made this book especially fun for me to narrate. Each one was evil, corrupt, and despicable, yet they all had some redeeming quality. They were bad because they themselves were victims. As an actor, it is important to find the heart in each character you portray, no matter how evil that character may be, and find what motivates them, so that the audience (or reader) will be able to connect with each character. Your writing gave me all the tools that I needed. You skillfully wove a backstory into each character to give us insight into why they behaved the way they did.
If there is one thing that gives my narration a signature, it would be my skill with accents and character voices. I try to create a uniquely identifiable voice for each major character so that the listener will know who is speaking, even without the dialog tags. I use a combination of pitch, tone, cadence, personality, accent, and dialect. I have done dozens of different accents in my numerous prior narration projects, but I had never done a Rhodesian accent before. This accent had to be different from the more common British dialects (Cockney, Cornwall, Australian), but still definitely a British derivative. I listened to various clips on YouTube and studied the special qualities of that accent. While there is no way for a non-native doing a quick study to create a truly genuine accent, the goal for a narrator is just to capture the flavor and style of that accent to give the impression. I focused on a few specific vowel sounds, the pacing, the oral posture, and the cadence, and finally got into the flow to make him sound natural.
The biggest challenge, however, is when characters with different accents are in dialogue with each other, which happens in numerous scenes in this book. To perform an accent, I have to get my mind and vocal apparatus focused in a certain way. Switching back and forth in rapid succession often leads to bleeding and blending of one accent onto the other. That is where I had to stop and start frequently in my recording, doing several takes, and then edit it together to sound like it is one continuous conversation. Thank goodness for editing software!
Curtis: In my opinion the strength of Bad World is with the wild cast of characters. Did you have a favorite amongst them, or did you find yourself rooting for any over the others?
Fred: As I said, the characters were what made this book the most fun for me. There were definitely some characters that I rooted for over others, but I don’t want to give away any spoilers. I would say that my favorite character was The Rhodesian. His passion, pragmatism, humor, and even dare I say his heart made him the most special for me.
Curtis: You are an Audible Approved narrator. What exactly does that mean?
Fred: Audible Approved is a status that Audible grants to narrators who have passed a rigid quality review by the Audible production staff. As defined by Audible, “Audible Approved producers are the best audiobook producers in the business. Most have narrated and/or produced 25 audiobooks that are available on Audible.com and have a verifiable record of achievement in the audiobook industry.”
After a narrator has established enough of a track record, he or she can apply for this status. Their work is then carefully reviewed by the Audible production team to determine if they qualify. Once this status is granted, their future work continues to be monitored to make sure it remains up to the standards. Like other Audible Approved narrators, I am very diligent about Quality Control – making sure that the reading is accurate, the sound is clean with no background noise, and the mastered recording has consistent sound levels. I also make sure it sounds like one continuous read, even though in actuality there are many retakes and edits.
I am honored to be included in this category.
Curtis: With so many narration projects do you have much time to read for fun? If so what are some of your favorite recent reads?
Fred: I have a very diverse life. Audiobook narration is just one of many things that I do. I also freelance as a nationally certified sign language interpreter, teach speech and theater as an adjunct instructor at the local community college, direct and choreograph local theater productions, and even do some book editing and proofreading.
My available time to read for fun is sporadic. When I do, the genres that I lean toward are mysteries, theater autobiographies, fantasy, and any book with quirky characters and a unique sense of humor. Recently, I enjoyed reading the Jana Lane Mystery series by Joe Cosentino. It follows the adventures of ex-child star Jana Lane, who uses the skills she learned in the movies to help her solve murder mysteries. The author has a great sense of humor, knows the show business industry inside out, and creates a cast of wonderful idiosyncratic characters in each book. The fifth book in the series, “Rag Doll,” just came out a few months ago. The first book is “Paper Doll.”
Curtis: How about your favorite book of all time?
Fred: That is a difficult decision, since there are so many books that are my favorites in different categories. If I had to select one overall favorite, I think it would be the “Tales of the City” series by Armistead Maupin – especially the first three books in the series.
Curtis: Your background is in theatre and puppetry. How much overlap is there between that and narration? Are there challenges unique to audio book narration?
Fred: There is a great deal of overlap. As I mentioned, I approach each book as a director approaches a play. I also create each character as an actor would, finding their motivation, creating their back story, and working from their emotional core. I even treat the narrator as a character. When I worked as a puppeteer, I created many character voices and learned how to have each character perform in dialogue with each other in a live situation (no opportunity for retakes and edits). This gave me many of the skills I use in narration.
After working for several other puppet companies, I created my own successful puppet theatre company (Pegasus Productions), which I ran for 10 years, sending out several troupes to tour the US, as well as creating and performing puppets for industrial films and TV commercials. I created soundtracks for each show, which gave me the recording and editing experience that is vital in recording and producing audiobooks.
There are also some unique challenges that makes audiobook narration different. The audio must stand on its own and present the story without the support of any visual performance. The narrator character takes the place of the visual performance, bringing the scene and the action to life. That voice and personality is different in each book and often provides my greatest challenge.
Curtis: A while back I wrote a horror retelling of Pinocchio (Pinocchio & The Black Pantheon). Do you have any creepy puppet stories, or am I hoping for too much?
Fred: Unlike in horror fiction, in real life, puppets only come alive when a skilled puppeteer manipulates them. However, there are times when the puppet’s mechanisms malfunction. In those instances, they start moving out of control and create unintended creepy effects. The funniest story was when I was doing a marionette show of some fairy tale (I don’t remember which one). I was manipulating the prince character, and suddenly his head detached from his body. With no body to anchor it, the head was floating freely in the air. Every time the puppet moved, the head would lag behind, and then swing in front. I hope the kids in the audience weren’t too freaked out.
Curtis: What are some other books you’ve narrated that you think my readers might enjoy?
Fred: The book that I have narrated that I think would most closely align with the tastes of people who enjoy It’s a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad World would be:
They might also enjoy:
Curtis: Any advice for writers looking to make the jump to audio or for would be narrators?
Fred: For writers: ACX.com is a great platform for matching up writers/rights holders with narrators/producers. They have wonderful tutorials and support. It is important to find the right narrator for your project. Every book has a different personality and different requirements. Each narrator has different skills and specialties. While one narrator may do a masterful job on one kind of book, he or she may be totally wrong for another book. Would your book be better served with a male or female narrator? Do you want a narrator who can do strong character voices and accents, one who has a rich velvety narration, or one who has great comic timing? Think about what other qualities would best serve your book. Give the narrator any guidance you think might be needed as far as character traits and accents, pronunciations, or any stylistic needs of the book. Finally, once the book is completed, put special effort into marketing your audiobook. You can use many of the same techniques you use to market your print and e-book, but there are also audiobook specific outlets.
For narrators: It is important to have some training or experience in either acting or public speaking. You also need to have some knowledge and practice in recording and editing the spoken word. Do some research and self-study, or attend some classes at the local community college or adult learning center. Listen to other audiobooks, make some practice recordings of books and determine what genres you best fit. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Audacity is a great totally free editing software. While it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the expensive platforms, it has more than what you need to get started in the field. In fact, still use Audacity as my basic recording and editing software. It is vital to get a good microphone and interface, have quality headphones, and a well-dampened acoustic space to record. You don’t need to spend a fortune, but you do have to make some initial investment in quality equipment. ACX.com has wonderful tutorials to help you put together your editing studio and guide you through the basic recording, editing, mastering, and quality control process.
Curtis: Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. Please take this opportunity to shamelessly promote any upcoming projects you have.
Fred: So far, I have completed 74 book projects. Right now, I am busy with a live theatre project, but am keeping my eye out for my next exciting audiobook project. I do have a few series that I have been working on that I anticipate continuing with future books when they are ready: The Doorways Saga by Tim O’Rourke, The Island of Fog series by Keith Robinson, and The Tales of Gaspar by Brian Michaud. You can find out more about my activities, hear some samples of my other books, and see my full list of credits on my website at http://www.FredWolinsky.weebly.com
I’m trying a new thing here. It’s called Flash Fiction Fridays. Each week I’ll be posting a piece of short fiction for your reading pleasure. If you are a creative type feel free to leave your own flash fiction in the comments and link to your sites!
The Vampire Murders
by Curtis M. Lawson
Issac watched the beast through his sights. Its eyes were black holes, their gravity pulling the light and life from anything they gazed upon. Its fangs poked out from ebony lips in a mockery of a human smile. Razor blade nails jutted from each extended digit.
The vampire stood outside of the club, surrounded by posers and sinners. It pretended to smoke, letting the white ghosts of scorched tobacco drift from its mouth, but Issac knew it did not breathe.
From the fire escape he took his shot, catching the creature in the face. The projectile exploded on impact, releasing a cloud of garlic. The vampire fell back, hissing and screaming.
The monster’s human consorts scattered like so many roaches. Knowing the window was short, Issac ditched his gun and jumped down from his steel perch. The hunter landed on the monster and the two tumbled onto the filthy cobblestone.
Issac released a thin cable from his belt and wrapped it around his enemy’s throat. With swift, powerful motions he sawed at the beast’s neck until its head was no longer attached. Holding the severed head aloft, he waited for the monster to crumble to ash.
But it didn’t.