Look for the following Elder Signs Press authors at this year’s Penguicon, located at the Troy Marriott hotel in Troy, Michigan.

STEWART STERNBERGThe Ravening [@ssternberg](panels: Writing Groups, Using Social Networking for Promotion, Is It Steampunk Yet?)

RICK MOOREHigh Seas Cthulhu (Contract Negotiation for Writers, Plagiarism—How Do I protect Myself?)

CHUCK ZAGLANIS High Seas Cthulhu (Writing Groups, Attack of the Plot!, Art of the Critique)

CHRISTIAN KLAVER: The Anthology of Dark Wisdom (Attack of the Plot)

CHRISTINE PURCELL, author and acquisitions editor (The Art of Critique, And Let It Be Said!, Come Out And Play With Big Brother, Is It Steampunk Yet?, and Big House-Little House-or-Self Pub?)

And ESP may be represented by others as well; we’ll keep you up to date….and you never know, the infamous Rachel Gray, co-author of What ToDo When You Meet Cthulhu: A Guide To Surviving The Cthulhu Mythos may be in attendance. One never knows. Never.

New Season

The first day of spring—thank you.

Not only should we be grateful for the changing weather, at least those of us in the Midwest (and probably the Northeast), but with the warming temperatures comes the first wave of new films. At one time studios usually held back motion pictures for release until close to Memorial Day, however around the early 80’s it was discovered that March could be a lucrative box office season, or at least warm audiences up for the popcorn fest to follow. Of course August and January are still reserved for the worst of the worst, but let’s take a look at what’s happening out there this year…at least from a genre perspective.

The most obvious films to draw  our  attention are Battlefield, Los Angeles, Suckerpunch and Source Code. You might overlook Bonnie and Clyde vs. Dracula, but save it for late night rental. And if you were smart, you’d give Battlefield, Los Angeles a miss as well.

As special effects get easier to produce, you’ll see more of these films with astonishing effects (Skyline), but which are absurdly written and cobbled together with a cast in the middle of a production which might become a career killer. Hopefully, Aaron Eckhart, star of Battlefield: Los Angeles will be able to redeem himself. This is a far cry from the role of the tortured D.A. Harvey Dent, A.K.A. Two-Face in Nolan’s The Dark Knight.

It’s not that this film is that horrible, it’s just that it doesn’t grab the audience.Several startling images are dangled in front of you and you are appreciative, but it isn’t enough. The characters aren’t engaging and the storyline doesn’t keep you on the edge of your seat. Perhaps there’s a message somewhere about illegal aliens, but it isn’t worth wading through fluff.

Source Code, on the other hand, has Jake Gyllenhaal. He is an actor who manages to find depth in characters where none may have existed in the script. Here he is a soldier suddenly in the body of Chicago commuter. Tripped through time and space, he is confronted with the challenge of averting a disaster, to keep the train he’s on from being blown up. Set for release for an April 1st release, it has already begun receiving several favorable reviews. Of course, if you can’t wait until then, there’s always Sucker Punch.

Directed by Zack Snyder, the man who gave us 300 and The Watchmen, you know you’re going to get something visually exciting. Sucker Punch looks like a bit of Japanese  anime with a grindhouse mentality. The early reviews are mixed, but given the Snyder’s cult status and the trailer, I’m betting this will be a surprise success this spring.

Considering The Corn

Author Avery Debow (you can buy her ebook Resonance now on Amazon) ponders her response to the macabre potential of cornfields and their role in the psyche of dark fiction.
In the summer the wind whooshes through them, funneling eerie howls down their ranks.  In the fall they rustle and hiss like sheaves of paper tossed on a flame.  When shorn, they’re nothing more than rows of withered sticks.
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They’ve   graced movies and novels alike, sinister rows leading many a protagonist to a gory fate.  But, what is it about cornfields that are so downright creepy?
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As a resident of Maryland’s Eastern Shore—where corn grows aplenty—I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking about what it is that makes this proud vegetable such a horror staple.
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My first awareness of the menace cornfields can provide came from the movie, Dark Night of the Scarecrow, a 1981 film about a mentally challenged young man wrongfully accused of attacking a little girl.  The enraged town posse discovers him hiding in a nearby cornfield and kills him.  He returns as a scarecrow to wreak vengeance, and the running and screaming through the endless stretches of green begins.
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I think my horror in this case came not from the quasi-sentient straw man propped up in the center like a compass point, but from the vast, cornfield itself. Step inside a field and start walking, and suddenly there is no other world but the sharp-scented forest of stalks. There are no landmarks, no changes in the sea of monotonous verdancy, just an endless trek into the unknown, where anything at all may lie in wait.  It is the perfect obscurity cornfields offer that goads me, the horrifying thought of seeing nothing—until it is too late.
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Once the nights turn cooler, the lush foliage turns to rasping husks.  The wind catches the dried leaves and rattles them like a bag of bones.  The gaps between the skeletal stalks widen, highlighting the desolate darkness within.  It is all too easy to imagine The Children of the Corn’s pack of patricidal children lying in wait, the crunch of deadfall under their tiny feet sounding from all directions. I’m left spinning in place, eyes flicking from shadow to shadow, waiting to see which will produce the means of my demise.
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Even when the concealing foliage is shorn to within a few inches from the ground, cornfields retain their ability to convey pure dread.  A friend  once rented a house set off a winding dirt road in the middle of a corn farm.  He would go onto his back porch and smoke in near silence, his eyes never ceasing their trek across the acres of stunted brown pegs.
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“Can’t you just see fast zombies racing across that?” he once said, gesturing to the horizon with the glowing end of his cigarette.
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I could see it, almost perfectly.
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I could imagine the cornfield’s glee as the zombies sped closer from all sides, spewing from the belly of the beast that birthed them. Instead of cocooning the terrors lurking within, the cornfield would have spread all of its cards onto the table, laying out the worst of its contents for me to helplessly witness.
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Maybe this helps explain why I drive a little faster past the spans of ominous stalks. Or why my mind is open to the idea that almost anything can occur within their ranks. The shallow ditches which border the fields are the line between the warm reassurance of my—relatively—safe world and the dread-inducing potential lurking in the shadows of the corn.

The Inimitable Lois Gresh

Blood and Ice, the novel from bestselling author Lois Gresh launched this past January and since then the book has received strong praise. Although enjoying the enthusiasm of its reception, Lois has continued to show her industry by overseeing the launch of a collection of her short fiction from Chaosium and is in the process of editing an anthology for Arkham House.
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ESP cornered her to discuss Blood and Ice and to give readers some insight into this amazing woman.
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Stewart Sternberg: Blood and Ice is a vampire novel, sort of, but you tend to find ways to freshen fading tropes. Why is this novel different? This isn’t the sort of vampire one finds running around paranormal romance or urban fantasy novels, is it?

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Lois Gresh-Blood and Ice combines weird science fiction and vampires. The actual vampires are microscopic bits of ice that can assemble into shapes, but only after they’ve learned that blood provides the required sustenance.  At first, they exist as ice in Antarctica, and they don’t drink blood at all. They learn this practice from early explorers such as Wilson and Scott.  The book gives new ice-vampiric interpretations to early Antarctic expeditions.
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A secondary plot involves a young girl, Chloe Desmerais, from a small village in the Pyrenees.  She escapes from an abusive home and finds herself in the clutches of something that may be worse than what she left behind.
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SS- These are compelling characters. The science if a nice twist, but the characters make the novel.  Blood and Ice. That wasn’t the original title, was it? What’s the story behind that?
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LG– You would ask that question, Stewart! I originally called the book Icy Pricks. William Jones said we couldn’t call it that because of the connotation. Well, I hadn’t thought of that!  I was just thinking that my vampires were icy pricks because (a) they were made of ice, and (b) they were real jerks!  To get my title Icy Pricks in there anyway, I sprinkled the phrase throughout the book — not too much, but enough to make sure William would pick up on it and have a good laugh. (And now, thanks to you, Stewart, I get to use the phrase Icy Pricks again.)
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SS-You’ve just had this novel launch, you have a short story collection coming out through Chaosium, and for you’re editing an anthology for Arkham House. Busy woman. Are you intending a sequel to Blood and Ice? What kind of other projects are we expecting from you?
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LG-At this time, I’m proofreading Eldritch Evolutions, the collection from Chaosium – look for it in March, 2011.  And yes, I’m editing an anthology for Arkham House.  (Guidelines are on my blog – http://loisgresh.blogspot.com)  I’m also writing the novel Deadly Dimensions, which should be released by Arkham at the end of 2011.  In addition, I’m writing an untitled book for St. Martin’s Press that will be released either late in 2011 or very early in 2012.
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SS– When do you sleep? That’s a lot of work. If they were going to do a film entitled The Lois Gresh Story what actress would have the lead role? And could I do a cameo?
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LG– A film about my life could permanently mangle people’s minds.  You may want to do some test showings in select theaters – do they have a theater in Arkham Asylum?
.Stewart Sternberg ("The Ravening") and Lois Gresh ("Blood and Ice") at a recent book signing
[pictured Stewart Sternberg(The Ravening) and Lois Gresh(Blood and Ice) at a recent book signing]
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SS-Forget your usual modesty, why should someone run out now and pick up Blood and Ice? Sell it in a Haiku.
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LG-This isn’t a Haiku, but how about this one?
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Icy Pricks
call them Blood and Ice
but they’re
really
Icy Pricks
or
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Icy Pricks descend
and thrust nip and dip blood is
a lost snow angel
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I mean…
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Blood and Ice a great
book that you must read now and
Frost on lime-lit pane

Genre In Film, a Coming of Age?

At one time a fan would be hard pressed to find a big-named actor at the height of his or her career in a genre film. Mostly actors whose faces were associated with genre were cast in genre — Lon Chaney Jr., Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, etc. Oh sure, there were exceptions, but they were rare and mostly done for novelty sake. Usually an actor in a science fiction film was on the downward slide.

Things are different now. It’s not unusual to see important talent fighting the supernatural or taking on threats from outer space. In fact, genre films are even being nominated for Academy Awards, something unthinkable before the last few decades. In the past they may have been occasionally nominated (2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, The Exorcist) and even handed a consolation prize for special effects or make-up. However Hollywood kept science fiction and fantasy at bay, refusing to look beyond its Saturday afternoon appeal.

These days, genre gets its due. Consider the praise and awards heaped on The Lord of the Rings, and Heath Ledger’s post-humous Oscar for his portrayal of The Joker in The Dark Knight. This year, Inception is up for a Best Picture Award (although Christopher Nolan was snubbed for a best-director nomination).

Perhaps what is happening is that those kids raised on genre, those who sat in the theaters breathlessly watching light sabers or cheering for the heroes battling a gigantic monster as it carved a wake of destruction through Tokyo or New York are now those who are making today’s films and voting.

Maybe. Or perhaps the films have simply gotten better and genre has grown up.

The Manly Art of Tying a Tie

Looking to make a statement at your next convention? Don’t quite have the money to go for full out Steampunk gear, but want to look debonair?

Here’s a quick costuming idea from College Humor you may be able to pull off with items already in your closet. If you have about twenty green ties.

No go forth and win some masquerade prizes!

Come The Old Ones

So first it was a green blob in space seen through the Hubble telescope, but now the scientists are wising up. They’re starting to realize that when the Old Ones come, it’s not going to be all rose petals and lace. No, Sir. According to a paper published by scientist Conway Morris either we’re alone, or we’re the main course. That’s right, Yog-Sothoth isn’t coming back with good intention. Surprise.

Conway’s paper, published by Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, presents a reasonable argument, pointing out that any species heading for Earth, like humans, have been subject to forces of evolution. And you can see what evolution has done to us.

We’re horrible.

What Conway obviously misses is that the Old Ones are NOTHING like us, but in fact so beyond our experience that trying to anticipate their arrival in any meaningful way is absurd.

According to another author from the same publication, psychologist Albert Harrison, should aliens arrive, their presence would probably be greeted with joy as opposed to horror.  Foolish humans. Perhaps instead of consulting professional journals of scientific thought, one should consult the interpretation of canon as put down by Rachel Gray in the excellent What to Do When You Meet Cthulhu.

Not Easy Being Green

A green blob in space? Haven’t these people ever heard of the Old Ones? According to an article on sciencemag.org, an object in space, which has been named Hanny’s Voorweep (I think Azathoth’s Playground would have been a more apt monniker), is speculated to be an enormous cloud of hot gas. Some of this information, as well as several spectacular images, were recently made possible by the Hubble telescope.

Scientists speculate the cloud is gas from a black hole (any resulting jokes out there will be considered a sign of immaturity). The greenish color is apparently caused by radiation exciting oxygen atoms. Some others of us speculate the green is a miasma of destruction spewed forth in preparation for the Old Ones to make their final leap between the stars to reclaim that which was once their.
I’m just saying.

Naming Names

Writers have long enjoyed paying tribute to family and friends by naming characters after them or even giving those characters some of their traits. Sometimes it’s done with the utmost affection, sometimes it’s done with a gleam of mischievousness.  This is different from drawing on real personalities for the purpose of satire or criticism, it’s instead a charming tribute. Since writers draw from experience, it is inevitable they’ll use elements from their immediate environment.

However, sometimes naming and creating characters is of a more deliberative nature. Both Stewart Sternberg and Lois Gresh, authors of the two most recent ESP releases, The Ravening and Blood and Ice actually had contests for readers to become included in their work.  For The Ravening, Stewart Sternberg conducted a trivia contest at a convention and the winner was named and used as a minor character, who would later be eaten. Lois Gresh ran a contest through the net, cautioning the winner that she (or he) might have his (or her) blood drained.

Some might think this is a corruption of the writing process and a commercialization of art. Stewart Sternberg and Lois Gresh might both offer instead, it’s just having fun.

DC Online–a gaming addiction fix

The massive multiplayer online role-play game World of Warcraft has long been known as “gamer crack.” Next week, this form of MMORPG gaming will hit the console experience as DC Online Universe is released for the Playstation 3, and I’m predicting a good many people are going to lose sleep, eat poorly, and spend too many hours drooling before a television screen. I’m going to be one of them.
This is a smart, attractive game, allowing a player to roam freely through the DC world, causing mayhem or saving his fellow citizen from an assortment of comic villains and their henchmen. Like most online role play games, the more you play, the stronger you get, and the more areas of map you are able to unlock. Like World of Warcraft, team creation will come into play as some of the challenges are too difficult to tackle alone. There will also be the usual “player v. player” action and a chance for “arena” play. This is the most logical step for fans of either the successful Justice League Heroes or its stronger counterpart, Marvel Alliance and Marvel Alliance 2. And yes, there will be a Marvel MMORPG coming to the XBOX 360, but right now DC and Sony have the jump on the competition and their entrance is stellar.
Playing the beta version of this game, I was stunned by the graphics and game mechanics produced by the use of the Unreal Engine 3.  Gotham City was dark with amazing structures to climb or fly over, crawl under, or knock down.  Scaling a building just “felt” right.
I was also impressed by the story element in the game and the structure provided to keep things moving for the casual player. That’s not to say one has to follow any particular path, players have a wide open stage on which to frolic? Did I say “frolic”? Sounds like a name for my next superhero.