Monday, July 26, 2010


As an educator and a student of human nature, I am always trying to understand behavior trends. During the last school year, as I was trying to get together a series of photographs to represent my kids, I couldn't help but notice that almost every shot of someone's face had a tongue sticking out sideways. It was either that, or they were puckering their lips in a carp-like fashion.

What? I ask the kids about it and they usually shrug and give me the most succinct answer they can muster: "Dunno."

An anthropologist would say sticking out one's tongue is an early form of non-verbal communication. It can also indicate delayed physical development.

I've read some responses on the net trying to explain this behavior, all of them unsatisfactory. Usually a teen writing about it tends to use txt-speak, offering numerous emoticons and spellings like "gurl" "cuz" and "sez". The answers given are just as pithy:  "Cuz we're crzy!!!" "It's kewl."

Now I figure most of us are fairly bright. I'm interested in you trying your hand at an explanation...for instance: "Overexposure to chemicals is causing a regression to a primal lizard state." See? I can accept that. Or: "It's seizure activity."  Or even: "It's a new mating ritual designed to discourage procreation."

Just don't tell me "It's all good."

I know better. I've seen enough to know that just ain't true.

Friday, July 16, 2010

My Five Most Chilling Film Moments

Two fun blogs (The Vault of Horror, and The Horror Digest)  have recently devoted time to discussing a potential list of the most chilling moments in horror film, or as they've put it: The Top Ten Willy Inducing Moments. As a lover of horror, I have to take myown turn at a similar list. I'll give you only five though.

1. "The Bag Scene" in Audition. Unfortunately, I can't describe the scene in this outstanding Asian horror film because it is a major spoiler. Let me assure you though, you could take seven or eight scenes from this work and put them on the list, Audition is that disturbing. You don't even want to know what is going on the picture on the left. For those who have Netflix, I do believe it is available on instant viewing.

2. The appearance of the ghost of Miss Jessell in The Innocents. An understated moment, and all the more chilling for its subtlety, the scene is filmed in daylight, and firmly establishes the link between the children and evil spirits haunting the estate, as well as developing the theme of the corruption of the innocent. This 1961 black and white film starring Deborah Kerr, based on Henry James' Turn of the Screw, is amazing for its unsettling atmosphere and sustained tension.

3.Some horror films take time to set the table, not revealing the horror until the tension has been firmly established. Night of the Living Dead establishes its eerie feeling over the opening credits, with cinematography looking as though the camera was first covered with burlap before shooting. Within minutes of the famous line: "They're coming to get you Barbara," the dead are on the move and the relentless pace continues until its depressing ending. Below, if you wish to peek, is an excerpt.

4.Interesting how so many of my favorite horror films are black and white. I suppose there is something about the ability of monochromatic cinematography to create an eerie sense of reality and fantasy. Hitchcock's Psycho has to make my list. Before the blood spattered cinema of today, Hitchcock worked to scare rather than shock an audience. Psycho's Norman Bates is creepy and threatening even by today's standards. My moment from this film? The shower scene. And by the way, let's stop and give a passing nod to the brilliant score by Bernard Herrmann.

5. I would have embedded this, but embedding was disabled by Warner Brothers. Here, instead, is the link, if you wish, to Merrin's arrival in The Exorcist. It's a short scene, but beautifully filmed and thick with tension when viewed within the context of the motion picture. Essentially, the scene involves a cab pulling up in front of the house at night. The Georgetown neighborhood's streets are damp and the air is dense with fog. This moment is moment of quiet, a brief respite from the horror that has come before it, but it is also a caution to the audience that something even more horrible is about to occur. The image was so powerful, it was used in many of the posters when the film was first released.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Man In The Hat

I am still working on my website, trying to make up my mind what I want. I am not sure though how different it is having a website than having a blog. Oh it used to be tremendously different, but with the advances in blogspot and wordpress, I keep asking myself if I should be so hurried to get it done. That being said, the first Stewart Sternberg newsletter should be coming around in the next couple weeks. You'll see a button on the right here, and eventually on my website, for those who want to sign up. Also, if you want to hear my daily rants, observations, whines, tickles, and exaltations, check out my twitter account.

Finally, I have been volunteering at as a blog editor. So far I've had folks such as Lois Grech,(post upcoming), William JonesLee Clark Zumpe, Stephen Mark Rainey, Charles Gramlich, Christine Purcell, Sidney Williams, Chris Welch, Charles Zaglanis, and Theresa Lucas contributing observations, reviews, and interviews. Come to think of it, we haven't had an interview in a while. And, there is always rumor that Ferrell Moore and the elusive Rachel Gray will become involved. Don't bother looking for Rachel, she is as invisible as the late J.D. Salinger. I will be adding more contributors in the coming weeks. If you have a mind to write about genre, and you don't mind keeping company with the above names, drop me a line and we'll talk. Always looking for more voices.

Visit Elder Signs Press' blog, and listen in on the site's twitter page.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Vampire-Werewolf Triangle

So there I was watching Twilight: New Moon, and I get to thinking...what's with the recurring love triangle thing with werewolves and vampires. Laurell K. Hamilton has Anita Blake struggling with the triangle between hunky werewolf Jason and hunky vampire Jean Claude. Charlaine Harris has Sookie Stackhouse mooning over hunky vampire Bill and hunky werewolf Alcide (and several other shapeshifters along the way). Patricia Briggs has Mercy Thompson and her love triangle.

What the hell? Is there a struggle between being attracted to hairy guys, but wanting to wake up to Mr. Smooth? If this pattern happened once or twice, but it is a dominant trope or theme. Guys going to the bar take note..try shaving half your face, turn first one way and then the other when hitting on a woman, throw her off balance.

Movie Bob wrote: "The vampire is the slick sophisticated guy, the werewolf is the butch blue-collar guy, the girl can only pick one..."

Is that what is really happening, is there some sort of class statement going on? I find that hard to believe. However, if it is so, then I would be fascinated to see a detailed demographic of the fans of this twist in paranormal romance to see what their backgrounds are, politically and economically, as well as their ages. Are they twenty-somethings? Are they employed? Are they older women? 

Or is it something else. 

Is it instead possible that the vampire represents one type of sexuality and the werewolf the other. The vampire is slick, seductive, his lovemaking is slow and a form of wish-fulfillment. In his ability to reach into the psyche of the woman, he is the ultimate male --- sensitive to her needs, even the needs she never knew she possessed. On the other hand, the werewolf is a beast. He doesn't care about her needs, but is driven by raw lust. No real committment here, unless the commitment follows the path of the pack. 

Wanna date a werewolf? Hide the breakables.

The above ponderance about this triangle sounds flippant. However, I think it is something worth discussion. Maybe even on a panel at a convention, with Edward fans on one side of the aisle and Jacob fans on the other. As writers, it's worth analyzing audience behavior and understanding how to direct our narratives to reach an audience intentionally or unintentionally.

And what about zombies?

You notice no one is interested in bedding the zombie? It would be sort of like being married. Your husband watches TV and occasionally shows interest, but his performance is mundane and predictable. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Thinking About the Young Adult Market

I have written before about trying to anticipate trends in public taste where literature is concerned.

Who knew that the YA market would bleed into the adult arena to the point where so many readers of the Twilight Series were over the age of eighteen? Who knew the young adult market, energized by Rowling's Harry Potter series, would soar to such heights?

Some people in the market have posited that into the YA arena, there's a developing "literary" influence which I would argue has been there all along (I won't bore anyone with another tirade about "literary" fiction). Some have also pointed to the importance of that manufactured market as a way to instruct young people in issues related to social awareness and self-worth. Even with a book such as Twilight, which one would think of in terms of literary cotton candy, critics have found messages regarding female empowerment and a Mormon philosophy. Want to peek at the debate, here is a posting from The Motley Vision, a site on Mormon arts and culture.

 Like it or not, the YA market has been the fastest growing market on the shelves. Step back from discussions about vampires and zombies and see the venue in which they have been dominating audience. Vampires? At this time I would wager the audience is predominantly female, with the majority between 16-25 years of age. The venue? Books. Sure, we can fall back on Buffy and the film versions of Twilight, but instead consider how much adolescent literature being pushed through Barnes and Noble is centered around vampires. The world of wizards, fairly dominated by males, has just about run its course and been shoved aside.

And speaking about boys? While many may embrace the world of the vampire, I would argue the love of zombies is predominantly male, following the above age span of 16-25. I would also bet that while the vampire has strength in literature at this point, zombies have come into their own basically through cinema.

This is changing. One only has to look at the explosion of animated dead novels and short stories suddenly becoming available. How deep an impact will zombie's make? That remains to be seen, but probably not as deep as the vampire's indentation. The walking dead have a different and limited appeal. When writing The Ravening, a survival horror novel which features zombies, I knew the appeal wasn't an identification with romanticization of the monster, as it is in vampiric fiction, but instead with the people struggling to survive (also I should note The Ravening isn't YA)

I don't know where the future is in YA, or what will next grab the imagination of boy or girl audiences. Where is the next Eregon? The next Harry Potter? The next Twilight? I'm sure the corporations will let us know.

All this being said, I would argue that vampiric and survival horror fiction, will retain an audience. Even when the folk at Barnes and Noble relegate it to a back shelf, or take away its identification tag altogether, even when the vampire is no longer en vogue, the vampire will still sell, reclaimed by its original audience and beloved by those who prefer the shadow to the sunlight, the world of the weird to the mundane and hyper-real.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Silly Season Is On Fire This Year

In journalism the mid to late summer is sometimes referred to as "Silly Season". Mostly because the dog days of summer tend to offer up few major news stories and so serious media sometimes turns to something frivilous to hold reader interest. This summer, I think the season has started early. Bigfoot, Men In Black, UFO sightings, vampires, and other spirits of the night have all made appearances and we're only in early July.

Perhaps we need "Silly Season". With the other news so dreadful these days, especially with two wars, and suffering economy, and an oil spill which just keeps on giving, we can use some distraction.

So what "Silly Season" tales have been hitting the headlines?

One story which hit the press last week involved a woman who crashed her car by ramming it into reverse to avoid hitting a vampire. As I mentioned in tweet, thank god it wasn't a zombie.

Bigfoot? Of course there are Bigfoot stories revving up, one newspaper recently provided information of a sighting involving a 10 foot tall creature described as having "beautiful hair." I wonder if it was in a mullet? Another story, this one from North Carolina (no, I'm not going to insert a snarky comment here, it would be too easy and you deserve only snarky comments where they reflect wit and true snarkiness) involves a 911 call. It's a compelling listen. As hilarious as the caller is, asking: "Would I get in any trouble if I shot and killed this beast?", the 911 operator is priceless in her attentiveness.

The always reliable Fox News this June published this non-sensational headline for the discerning reading audience:  Vast UFO Cover-Up a 'Cosmic Watergate,' Says Nuclear Physicist.The headline says it all. Even the other, more reliable Rupert Murdock toy, The Wall Street Journal, recently jumped into the season with this headline: Italian MEP Worried About UFOs.To be fair, it was a covered by many different news sources.

In you were reading the Tucson Citizen this week, you would have seen a story about a haunting at a Bank of America. The banks have been haunting me for some time, so I was pleased to read this. Turnabout is fair playAnother newspaper, on a different haunting, led off with headline: Possible signs of ghosts found at museum. The story, run by the Washington Examiner from an Associated Press feed, was an account of a Mason Dixon Parnormal Society investigation.

Finally, I'll fess up to my own Silly Season tale. Below is from a blog posting a year or so ago.

In 1995, while living in Detroit, I remember turning on my radio in the morning and hearing that something had crashed in Windsor. Apparently a fireball had been seen over Ohio and travelled over Michigan before crashing into a trailer park there. Later that morning, a second story followed where a representative from emergency services told the press a craft had been found in the wreckage. He later denied this, claiming to have been joking at the time. By late afternoon the radio stopped broadcasting information about the story. News of the fireball was played down and the fires in the trailer park were instead attributed to arson.

I don't know what happened, but such a story was grist for Silly Season. It should have been plastered everywhere. And while CNN and few other sources gave mention to the incident, it received none of the attention one would have expected. It amazingly whispered into nothingness.

Some UFO enthusiasts have started calling this "The Windsor Incident"
One website even has a blurred videoclip.

Most Detroiters I talk to scratch their heads when I bring this up.

It was Silly Season, after all, and we all know what sort of stories play in Silly Season.