September 8, 2008: Author Stephen Dobyns Discusses The Church of Dead Girls, Next Month’s BOTMC Selections, and Take a Tour of the FX Stage I

Today, we are joined by author Stephen Dobyns who has kindly taken the time to answer some of your reader questions about his novel The Church of Dead Girls. To those of you who didn’t take part in last month’s book of the month club discussion – I strongly urge you to pick up the book and read it before checking out the Q&A. Trust me, it’s a very quick read. Once you start, you’ll be hardpressed to set the book aside and could well finish it in one sitting (maybe two if, on your first night of reading, your wife yells at you to turn off the freakin’ light because it’s almost 3:00 a.m.).

With this month’s discussions fast-approaching, I’ve decided to pull the trigger on next month’s BOTMC selections…

In the SF category, it’ll be The Traveler, by John Twelve Hawks. Okay, this one is interesting for two big reasons. One is the book itself. The second is the mysterious author (Twelve Hawks isn’t his real name) who, apparently, lives “off the grid” and has never even met his American publisher. My initial reaction was to dismiss this as a slick PR stunt but, in looking over the author’s official website, I have to admit that Twelve Hawks, whoever he is, offers up some smart, oft-times scary food for thought. Would the enigmatic Mr. Twelve Hawks be willing to come out of hiding to field some reader questions on his work? Doubtful buy, hey, it wouldn’t hurt to ask.

From Publisher’s Weekly: “Twelve Hawks’s much anticipated novel is powerful, mainstream fiction built on a foundation of cutting-edge technology laced with fantasy and the chilling specter of an all-too-possible social and political reality. The time is roughly the present, and the U.S. is part of the Vast Machine, a society overseen by the Tabula, a secret organization bent on establishing a perfectly controlled populace. Allied against the Tabula are the Travelers and their sword-carrying protectors, the Harlequins. The Travelers, now almost extinct, can project their spirit into other worlds where they receive wisdom to bring back to earth—wisdom that threatens the Tabula’s power. Maya, a reluctant Harlequin, finds herself compelled to protect two naïve Travelers, Michael and Gabriel Corrigan. Michael dabbles in shady real estate deals, while Gabriel prefers to live “off the Grid,” eschewing any documentation—credit cards, bank accounts—that the Vast Machine could use to track him. Because the Tabula has engineered a way to use the Travelers for its own purposes, Maya must not only keep the brothers alive, but out of the hands of these evil puppet-masters.”

Discussion on The Traveler will begin the week of Monday, October 27th.

In the fantasy category, it’ll be Acacia, by David Anthony Durham. This is one I’ve been dying to get around to for quite some time but I held off on because I wanted to make it a BOTMC selection. Well, it’s finally been released as a mass market paperback, so no one has an excuse not to pick it up. Author David Anthony Durham is a celebrated historical novelist, multiple award winner, with three novels in development as big screen adaptations (including, yes, Acacia).

From Publisher’s Weekly: “In this sprawling and vividly imagined fantasy, historical novelist Durham (Pride of Carthage) chronicles the downfall and reinvention of the Akaran Dynasty, whose empire, called Acacia, was built on conquest, slaving and drug trade. The Acacian empire, encompassing “The Known World,” is hated by its subjugated peoples, especially the Mein, who 22 generations earlier were exiled to the icy northland. Having sent an assassin to kill the Acacian king, Leodan, the rebel chieftain, Hanish Mein, declares war on the empire. As Acacia falls, Leodan’s treasonous but conflicted chancellor, Thaddeus Clegg, spirits the king’s four children to safety. When the Mein’s rule proves even more tyrannical than the old, the former chancellor seeks to reunite the now adult Akaran heirs—the oldest son Aliver (once heir to the throne), the beautiful elder daughter Corinn, their younger sister, Mena, and youngest brother, Dariel—to lead a war to regain the empire. Durham has created a richly detailed alternate reality leavened with a dollop of magic and populated by complicated personalities grappling with issues of freedom and oppression.”

Discussion on Acacia will begin the week of Monday, November 3rd.

And, finally, in the horror category, it’ll be Necroscope by Brian Lumley. This one is a classic, the first in an immensely popular series by famed horror master Brian Lumley.

From the publisher: “Harry Keogh is the man who can talk to the dead, the man for whom every grave willingly gives up its secrets, the one man who knows how to travel effortlessly through time and space to destroy the vampires that threaten all humanity.

In Necroscope, Harry is startled to discover that he is not the only person with unusual mental powers–Britain and the Soviet Union both maintain super-secret, psychically-powered espionage organizations. But Harry is the only person who knows about Thibor Ferenczy, a vampire long buriedin the mountains of Romania–still horribly alive, in undeath–and Thibor’s insane “offspring,” Boris Dragosani, who rips information from the souls of the dead in a terrible, ever-lasting form of torture…”

Discussion on Necroscope will begin the week of Monday, November 10th.

Congratulations to Antisocialbutterflie and Cat4444, the random winners of last month’s BOTMC discussions.  You’ve won a year’s subscription to Fantasy & Science Fiction.  I’ll be pestering you in the coming days for your mailing information.

I’d like to thank everyone who submitted questions for director Will Waring. He is furiously working away on them as we speak. Atlantis Production Designer James Robbins, meanwhile, has his hands full with an upcoming series, but I’m sure he can make time for a few questions. So, if you have questions for James, start posting them.

And, finally, scroll down to the bottom of this entry for the first part of our tour of the FX Stage.

Over to author Stephen Dobyns…

Antisocialbutterflie writes: “1) How did you come to the decision to keep the audience disconnected from the narrator for most of the story? Why did you decide to change that in part 3?

2) Was there some historical event in particular that provided inspiration for the stepwise breakdown of the community?

3) How did you come to the decision to make the narrator gay? Was it to make him a target of “the Friends” or was there another reason.

Thanks so much for giving us a wonderful book and answering our questions.”

Dobyns: The narrator remains “disconnected”, as you say, partly for reasons of suspense and partly because he sees himself as an outsider because he is gay. In a larger town or city being gay is usually accepted, but in small towns it can create problems. When I taught at Syracuse University in the 80’s and 90’s, a young woman, Sarah Ann Wood, disappeared from a town resembling Aurelius. The culprit was not identified for a number of years, if at all, and I imagined how, in a small town, such a horrible crime might cause the townspeople to begin to look at one another with increasing suspicion. In such cases, historically, attention becomes focused on people who seem somewhat different.

CTim writes: “I really enjoyed the novel but was left very confused at the end. Why, in your mind, did the guilt party commit these murders? Was he just crazy? And why so much time between the first murder and the later abductions of young girls?”

Dobyns: The murderer’s confused sexuality led him to be attracted to the first girl and to be appalled that he was attracted. Usually, a man who feels this way then blames the woman, or girl, for attracting him. It is easier to blame her than to blame himself. Seeing her as guilty of corrupting him, he then has to punish her in order to save her from herself; the saving part is in his church in the attic. Having killed once without getting caught, he does it again and again. He takes a hideous pleasure in the killing, which he sees as purification, yet he also has a wish to be stopped, to be caught. And in the end, after he has been shot, he punishes himself by cutting off the offending hand. There is that line in the Bible: “If thine eye offends thee, pluck it out.” That’s what I was thinking of.

Thornyrose writes: “For Mr. Dobyns. Which of your works would you recommend to someone not familiar with your works, as a first, second, and third choice? Which is more satisfying, teaching, writing poetry, or writing fictional prose? In Church of Dead Girls, we were presented with what I’d call a psychological horror thriller. Have you done any more “traditional” horror stories? What do you think of the genre in general? Finally, what aspect of getting a book published is the most rewarding, and the most frustrating? Thank you very much for your participation in this forum. While I was not a fan of “Church of Dead Girls”, I netherless appreciate the craftsmenship and imagination that went into writing it.”

Dobyns: I have a lot of different types of books. The poetry is most important to me, and the selected poems, Velocities, would be a good introduction. My best novels, I think, are The Two Deaths of Senora Puccini and The Wrestler’s Cruel Study. No, I have no “traditional” horror stories. M.R. James wrote “traditional” horror stories, but you probably mean someone more recent. Any genre novel is limited by its genre, meaning that it serves up melodramatic answers, or conclusions, for moral questions. I’ve written ten mystery novels in my Saratoga series, and although I take great pleasure in them, they are still limited by the genre. Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov are both mysteries, but their greatness is due in part to the fact that they transcend the mysteries to something more important. As for publishing, what is rewarding is the writing of the book. Then the publishing, if it happens, is all gravy.

GateTech writes: “What challenges did you face in making use of the first-person narrator? Did you sometimes find yourself hamstrung by the details in writing scenes in which the narrator doesn’t appear? What made you decide to tell the story this way? Was it to lend it an air of familiarity for the small town setting?”

Dobyns: A major difficulty of a first person narrator is that the action must happen in front of him or her. My character cheats a little by imagining scenes that others have told him about. However, a number of great writers have violated first person narrator taboos. My story was influenced, in a small way, by Dostoevsky’s The Devils, in which the first person narrator constantly describes stuff that he could never have known. But despite this, the novel is still credible. I wrote it in first person because I wanted the narrator to be a participant and to feel the pressure—real or imagined—of being watched.

Kellyk writes: “Question for Mr. Dobyns. I loved the small town setting of your novel. I was wondering if you drew on any childhood memories or experiences growing up to help paint a very realistic portrait of the people and places. And were you influenced by any other writers?”

Dobyns: As I say, I was influenced in part by Dostoevsky’s The Devils. Also I was familiar with towns like this when I taught at Syracuse University. In addition, my mother was from a very small town 40 miles north of Utica, NY, and growing up I often went there to visit my grandparents, aunts and cousins. In writing about Aurelius, I kept thinking of those small New York State towns.

A Honshuu writes: “This was a wicked good read. Actually took me a couple of days because I didn’t want to miss anything. Now that I’ve had a taste, I’m now hungry for more & will be hitting the local library for all they have. Thank you!”

Dobyns: Thanks for reading and enjoying the book. A writer can’t ask for anything more.

 

August 25, 2008: The Church of Dead Girls, the Mailbag, and a Walk Through the Production Office

The fact that this book club covers three different genres each month often requires me to do a bit of research in order to come up with quality selections, especially when it comes to the horror category. It’s not that there aren’t plenty of worthy books out there, only that I’m not as familiar with the genre as I am with SF and Fantasy. To help in the selection process, I usually consult a number of online sites for worthy candidates. And so it was I came across Stephen Dobyns’ The Church of Dead Girls while perusing a website dedicated to the best in genre fiction. Although it was the macabre title that caught my eye, the positive reviews were what sealed the deal. And, in sitting down to read The Church of the Dead Girls, I quickly discovered that the luridness of the title actually belies a book that it is surprisingly literate.

When a young girl goes missing in a small town, the community is horrified. A search is organized, an investigation launched, but when they fail to yield palpable results, suspicion is cast, first on strangers and newcomers, and then inward as the tiny community faces the prospect that the guilty party may be one of them.

The focus here is less on visceral horror and more on the collective mindset of a community pushed to the very edge by paranoia and a frenzied search for answers. Dobyns does a terrific job of establishing the neighborhood, its inhabitants, and the quaint, small town mentality that quickly devolves in the face of mounting fear and frustration. Troubled by the local authorities’ inability to solve the crime and protect their children, certain townspeople take matters into their own hands. Friendships are strained, the community fractures, and a support group formed to help in the search for the missing girls becomes a roaming mob that corners frightened suspects and bullies their way in to private homes. There’s a particularly unsettling scene in which the mob, tipped off by a supposed psychic, shows up on a resident’s doorstep demanding to search his home. His initial stalwart resistance quickly dissipates when he realizes that his reluctance to cooperate makes him even more suspicious and, before long, he is encouraging the local sheriff to come in and run lab tests on the premises. Individuals are targeted, neighbors turn on each other, and it’s all deeply fascinating to follow because the characters and their responses to the horrifying developments feel very, very real.

The story is told from the perspective of a town resident, a single, male high school teacher who, over the course of the novel, also falls under suspicion. On the one hand, the first person narrative allows for a familiarity that immediately connects us to community, its history, and various players. On the other hand, I found that the first person account became a bit of a distraction when the story shifted to events that took place outside of the narrator’s experience. Of course we are told that someone present inevitably filled him in on what transpired, allowing him to retell the tale, but often the description is so specific in terms of thoughts and action that it defies credibility.

That was my only major bump and, after a while, I came to accept the convention. Still, it directly relates to my only minor bump which comes at novel’s end with the reveal of the guilty party and subsequent wrap-up. Since it’s a first-person account, we are never offered a glimpse into the abductor’s thought processes. What was he thinking? How did he justify his actions in his mind? We are offered hints through dialogue yet nothing in the way of true insight and this is somewhat unsatisfying given the depth of the other characters.

Overall however, I found The Church of Dead Girls to be an incredibly absorbing read. I read the first 100 pages the first day, then stayed up into the wee hours of the next morning to finish the last 300+ pages. Smart, creepy, and engrossing.

Well, those were my initial thoughts. What did everyone else think?

I’m afraid I’m going to have to hold off on questions for author Stephen Dobyns as I’ve been unable to get in touch with him since our preliminary discussion about his guest blog here. I suspect he is either incommunicado or, more likely, a loyal McKay-Teyla shipper incredibly ticked off by the events of The Shrine.

In the meantime, I’ve heard back from both Lexa Doig and Sharon Taylor. Their guests Q&A segments will appear in the coming days. I’ve sent your questions for our prop master, Evil Kenny Gibbs, his way. Over the new couple of days, I’d like to gather questions for director Andy Mikita who has taken time out of his busy schedule to dialogue with you. So if you have any questions for Andy, let’s see ’em!

Today’s video: Take a stroll through the production office!

The mailbag:

NaniWahine writes: “1) In light of the cancellation *swallows a sob*, was the season/series finale (Enemy at the Gate) re-written to tie up some loose ends and give us a closure? Or was it written in anticipation of the possible end, and therefore will remain as originally written?

2) Are Carson, Lorne and Zelenka expected to make an appearance in the SGA film?”

Answers: 1) Episode 20 will remain as originally scripted. 2) Too early to tell.

Shadow Step writes: “On a different note, could you explain why David Nykl gets a credit for a 3 second walk past?”

 

Answer: Sure. Because his scene was cut for time.

AnneTeldy writes: “Other than a quick backstory of Michael, is there anything else I should explain to the unwashed heathens few who don’t watch the series?”

Answer: Nope. They’re pretty much good to go.

Loren writes: “The Fantasy Book of the Month Club Selection – do you do this yourself, and post the book on your blog, or is it a separate site that we can join up at?”

Answer: Hi, Loren. All you need to do is consult the Book of the Month Club information on the right sidebar. It will list upcoming books and the dates on which we will begin discussion. On that day, I will post my thoughts and then everyone else is free to weigh in as well. If the author is an announced guest blogger, feel free to leave questions for him/her.

Chelle DeBoer writes: “Can you recall all your teachers from primary and secondary school??”

Answer: Mrs. Ballard, Mrs. Vowels, Mrs. Kuteh, Mrs. Graham (who used to tap dance on desks every Friday afternoon), Mr. Dubruille, and Mrs. Chartrand.

Montybird writes: “To follow up on Sandy’s question regarding whether or not the cast could do more of the commentaries on the Season 5 DVD set, could you persuade Joe F. to let Ivan Bartok do a featurette on him???”

Answer: Hmmm. Ivon has a special feature surprise in store for you in the season 5 box set.

Majorsal writes: “is sam in ‘enemy at the gate’?”

Answer: She is.

Tamijb writes: “I saw The Shrine for the second time today. Although I know you didn’t write it maybe you can ask my question? In the scene where the team is on top of the stargate they show the parasite floating on the water. I didn’t realize till later because I didn’t know what it looked like. Was that intentional? Was that forshadowing? Did anyone else catch it?”

Answer: That wasn’t the parasite. That was a piece of floating gunk. Sorry.

Dezrai writes: “Okay, gotta point out some…inconsistencies which you, the other producers, MGm and SCI FI are spouting. You all keep saying that you just found out about SGA being canceled and it wasn’t canceled to make room for Stargate Voyager?? This says different. It is from an article by SyFyPortal:

“Brad Wright did tell us in April that he personally did not want to go back to doing two shows simultaneously again,” Sumner said. “They did ‘SG-1′ and ‘Atlantis’ simultaneously for three years. That’s 40 hours of television each year, and he wasn’t eager to going back to that knowing that [MGM] wanted to do more movies for ‘SG-1.’ Either ‘Universe’ would have to wait until ‘Atlantis’ was done, or ‘Atlantis’ would have to be done right now.” We really can’t trust any of you, can we?”

Answer: I see. So based on Brad’s stated preference in April, you assume that the show was canceled three months before the season premiere even aired and all of the producers knew about it and have been quietly sitting on the news ever since? With all due respect (and I mean that in the not nicest way possible), that is one of the most offensively stupid displays of connect-the-dots reasoning I’ve come across in quite some time.   For the record, Paul, Carl, Martin, Alan, and I held out hope for a sixth season pick-up until the final announcement – which came LAST WEEK.  To suggest we’ve deceived its fans or the people we’ve worked with all these years is beyond obnoxious.         

JAG writes: “Not much talk has been issued about Teyla in any episode after the Queen. Can we expect to see her in episodes after, or do many Teyla fans have some hearbreak in store for them?”

Answer: Prodigal.

June 26, 2008: My green initiative, more special guests, and next month’s Book of the Month Club picks.

A little bit of early 20th century charm in early 21st century Vancouver.

The gang is cranky because I woke them up to look at some shots.

Salad days.

Breaking news on the bulletin board.

Bones is dubious.

The Mastermind Mark Savela

Hurray! Today, I received my $100 Climate Action Dividend from the government of British Columbia. According to the document that accompanied the check: “…this year’s Provincial budget is making it easier for British Columbians to choose a lower carbon lifestyle.” I suppose, for instance, the $100 could be put toward the purchase of a scooter or a hand lantern or one of those pedal-powered generators that the Professor built on Gilligan’s Island. As most of you know, I incorporated some major lifestyle changes last year to help reduce my carbon footprint (read all about them here: http://josephmallozzi.wordpress.com/2007/07/07/july-7-2007/) so the prospect of having this extra one hundred dollars to spend on my green initiative is heartening. Of course, technically, it’s not really an extra $100. I mean, the government would like us to think it is and their use of the term “revenue neutral” to describe their new carbon tax would imply that, at the very least, we’d break even in the long run. And maybe if I didn’t partake in lavish excesses like driving a car or heating my home, I would break even. But, sadly, because of my unstinted addiction to things like food and water (which, incidentally, is trucked in to supermarkets by companies that will be hit with this new gas tax and inevitably pass the cost on to consumers), it looks like the government’s grand gesture will mean very little to me in the long run. Still, $100 is $100. I could use the money to create a new state-of-the-art compost heap. Or, follow Fondy’s suggestion and use it to purchase one hundred dollars worth of gas to fill my SUV which I would leave idling through most of Friday. I’m inclined to go with the latter.

Hey, a great response to yesterday’s announcement that actress Janina Gavankar (aka Dusty from the upcoming Stargate: Atlantis episode “Whispers”) will be swinging by to chat with us. I’m going to continue gathering questions until Friday night at which point I will send them Janina’s way and, hopefully, receive a response from her some time this weekend. Also, on the same topic…

I thought it might be fun to profile various of the behind-the-scenes players on Stargate: Atlantis by having them follow Janina’s lead. So, in the coming weeks, you’ll be able to query the likes of Visual Effects Supervisor Mark Savela, writer-producer Alan McCullough, and Production Designer James Robbins. It’ll be a real a real treat for a) those interested in television production and Stargate: Atlantis and b) a lazy blogger looking to fob off an entry on some poor unsuspecting soul. I’ll keep you posted on upcoming guests.

Speaking of which – Kage Baker will be answering your questions this coming week! Finish up In the Garden of Iden so that you can weigh in with your opinion once discussion begins. Then move on to K.J. Bishop’s The Etched City because K.J. will be joining us the following week. Then motor right into Jennifer Pelland’s Unwelcome Bodies as Jennifer will be joining us the week after that. It’s all there in the right sidebar, folk, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

As for next month’s BOTMC selections… Well, let’s face it. It’s not really a Book of the Month Club. It’s more of a Book of the Month and a Half Club as I want to give participants time to read all three books if they so choose. And, if you’re looking to get a jump on August’s picks, here ya go.

In the SF category, it’ll be Lois McMaster Bujold’s Cordelia’s Honor. Now this is an omnibus made up of two novels, Shards of Honor and Barrayar, so you have a choice of reading one or both.

From the publisher: “In her first trial by fire, Cordelia Naismith captained a throwaway ship of the Betan Expeditionary Force on a mission to destroy an enemy armada. Discovering deception within deception, treachery within treachery, she was forced into a separate peace with her chief opponent, Lord Aral Vorkosigan—he who was called “The Butcher of Komarr”—and would consequently become an outcast on her own planet and the Lady Vorkosigan on his.

Sick of combat and betrayal, she was ready to settle down to a quiet life, interrupted only by the occasional ceremonial appearances required of the Lady Vorkosigan. But when the Emperor died, Aral became guardian of the infant heir to the imperial throne of Barrayar—and the target of high-tech assassins in a dynastic civil war that was reminscent of Earth’s Middle Ages, but fought with up-to-the-minute biowar technology. Neither Aral nor Cordelia guessed the part that their cell-damaged unborn would play in Barrayari’s bloody legacy.”

Discussion on Cordelia’s Honor begins August 11th.

 

 

In the FANTASY category, it’ll be Catherynne M. Valente’s The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden.

From Publisher’s Weekly: “A lonely girl with a dark tattoo across her eyelids made up of words spelling out countless tales unfolds a fabulous, recursive Arabian Nights-style narrative of stories within stories in this first of a new fantasy series from Valente (The Grass-Cutting Sword). The fantastic tales involve creation myths, shape-changing creatures, true love sought and thwarted, theorems of princely behavior, patricide, sea monsters, kindness and cruelty. As a sainted priestess explains, stories “are like prayers. It does not matter when you begin, or when you end, only that you bend a knee and say the words,” and this volume does not so much arrive at a conclusion but stops abruptly, leaving room for endless sequels. Each descriptive phrase and story blossoms into another, creating a lush, hallucinogenic effect.”

Discussion on The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden begins August 18th

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And, finally, in the HORROR category, it’ll be Stephen Dobyns’ The Church of Dead Girls.

From Library Journal: “Despite the lurid title, Dobyns’s latest novel (he is a poet and author of the “Saratoga” mystery series) is a compelling mystery that shows how the people in a small town change because of a series of murders. First, a promiscuous woman is murdered. Then three girls disappear in succession. The narrator reports how the symptoms of fear escalate into a raging disease consuming the community. Cloaking prejudice and fear with righteousness, certain citizens target individuals who are on the community’s fringe. By the story’s end, no one escapes suspicion. Many characters and the complexities of human interactions receive well-rounded treatment. This absorbing tale, fit for any general collection, is highly recommended.”

Discussion on The Church of Dead Girls begins August 25th

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I was at The Bridge today to preview some of the Whispers visual effects shots with Mark Savela. While there, I made a point of snapping some pics of the VFX gang still hard at work (and eating the occasional salad). Check out their quaint red brick dwelling. Probably the last place you want to be when the big one hits, but charming nevertheless.