Monday, April 27, 2015

Guest Post: The Movie that Made Me by William D. Prystauk

An award winning screenwriter, filmmaker, and educator, William D. Prystauk began writing stories when he still had hair. A former member of BDSM groups in New York and Philadelphia, he brings his knowledge of the subculture to BLOODLETTING, adapted from his script that won second place in the 2006 Screenwriter Showcase Screenwriting Contest and was the top mystery submission. He’s an assistant professor of English at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania. When not writing, he co-hosts The Last Knock horror podcast. Bill enjoys life with his wife, author and editor Ally Bishop, and their puppies. He’s proud of his alternative music and horror movie collections, and the fact that he never leaves any sushi behind. You can find more out about Bill at Here's the book description...
     Punk rocker and sadomasochist Denny Bowie, a “legwork guy” for a private investigation firm, is out to find the killer of five masochistic men and his childhood friend, fetish photographer Tommy Heat. He gets back with Penny Dallion, the Goth-girl of his dreams, and is enthralled by the hot and androgynous Erin Marr, his new boyfriend. While investigating Tommy’s murder, Denny discovers pictures missing from Tommy’s meticulous collection. These photos not only hold the key to the killer’s identity, but may also prove Penny’s involvement in the murders. Embroiled in New York’s vibrant S&M subculture, Denny revisits old haunts: fetish clubs in Greenwich Village. With the killer getting closer with each passing hour, Denny’s time is running out.
It was nighttime, and I was in Kearny, New Jersey’s Lincoln Theatre (better known as the Stinkin’ Lincoln) to watch a movie called Blade Runner.

I liked science fiction because it could take me anywhere, and that’s all I cared about. Sure, I loved Harrison Ford since Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, and Rutger Hauer was cool, but before I became more of a lover of film, I hadn’t realized that it was directed by Alien’s Ridley Scott, my favorite movie of all time.
Right from the beginning, I was drawn into the dystopian atmosphere, and I didn’t mind what many had come to hate: Harrison Ford’s voiceover narration. But when I engaged Blade Runner, it was clear that this wasn’t a simple science fiction. Although some films in the genre had weight and merit, many lacked depth and seemed to be disposable when it came to value.

As I watched the film, the value grew. This wasn’t some silly story with freakish aliens and manly space captains, but something of intelligence that kept me mesmerized. And I became so absorbed in the story that when Roy Batty (Hauer) shoved his fingers deep into Dr. Tyrell’s (Joe Turkel’s) eyes as he crushed the man’s skull, I stood up and yelled, “He killed God!” It was safe to say that at sixteen, my mind had been blown.

Blade Runner asked one simple question: What is humanity? Sure, we all know what it is to be human, but what if you were a Replicant with an incep date and a four-year lifespan? Replicants looked human, but were emotionally under-developed, and although they could garner memories and engage in a human experience, they were slave labor to be discarded.

Granted, it sounds almost comical for a company to take the time to create something that doesn’t last as long as a cheap microwave, but the Tyrell Corporation did what they could simply because they could do it. Proving that their Replicants were “More human than human” filled the good doctor with pride. It was more about showing off what he could accomplish regardless of longevity. And it’s not that he hadn’t tried to extend their life spans, but that had failed.

Roy Batty was tough, and hostile, because he wanted “more time”, something many people wish for because we live with regret, guilt, and a sense of obligation that we may only realize is a waste of energy once we’re on our deathbeds. Roy also recognized at the end of his life, even though he appeared to be physically capable as well as good looking. On the surface, he had it all, including experiences “people wouldn’t believe”. But now that he had come back to our little blue ball after being off-world for nearly his entire existence, he wanted to embrace many more experiences.

In that scene with Dr. Tyrell where Roy murdered his maker, his “father”, I could imagine standing before whatever made me to demand the same extension of life.

The man sent to track down Roy and his compatriots, Blade Runner Deckard (Ford), seemed to be nothing more than a man on a mission, even though he had developed a disdain for killing Replicants or “skin jobs”. But if these Replicants weren’t human and ultimately didn’t count, why should Deckard feel anything for them? Deckard is human, and although the world is crumbling around him thanks to pollution and environmental destruction, he too is looking for some semblance of humanity among the garbage.

In this sense, protagonist and antagonist are the same: Deckard and Roy are two sides of the same coin. Though Deckard may think shooting down a Replicant female, in the back no less, is justifiable because she could harm the human population, Roy has no qualms about fighting for more time amongst the people who made him because he knows he’s disposable. If they don’t care about him, why should he care about any human who stands in his way? Deckard and Roy are kindred spirits separated by the slimmest of notions. And in Deckard’s case, killing off the escaped Replicants will allow him to retire (again) and become human (again) with whatever amount of time he has left in this world.

Although I did hate that voiceover after Roy passed on, where he too would fade like “tears in rain” as if he never existed at all, Deckard has a new lease on life. The stronger, more physically resilient Roy could have killed him, but since Roy knew his time was up, why not let something live? After all, Roy had lost everything. His lover, Pris (Darryl Hannah) had been killed by Deckard, and all his Replicant friends were gone. So were his only human connections to the world: Tyrell, his creator, as well as other minor deities who had developed his skin and eyes.

By letting Deckard live, Roy expressed the human trait of mercy, maybe the cornerstone of humanity. After all, as the premier species on the planet, to stop and not kill when other predators keep going says much about intelligence, decision-making, and control.

Deckard lived to fight – or just live – another day. He quickly learned that Roy and the others were human though they were artificial. And maybe that element of humanity could be found in other species of animal or straight-up robots. Humanity, therefore, isn’t for the human, but for the creature that wants to rise above the primordial essence of simply existing. To appreciate life, art, and culture without a cursory need to destroy or triumph.

Blade Runner and its theme cemented the fact that genre can have value and depth, and can certainly change us. As a writer, this helped me shape my stories in tone and theme. Not simply, “What am I trying to say?” but to try and write something people would want to talk about and reflect upon regardless of genre and perceived validity outside of academic circles.

When I left the Stinkin’ Lincoln that night, Blade Runner burned red hot in my mind and forced me to ask questions of life, commitment, desire – humanity – and how far one must go to make something happen for the better. Ultimately, this is what all great stories do: engage the audience to ask questions. Thanks to Blade Runner, I never looked at science fiction the same way again, and I only wish more films could have the humanity to help us embrace more questions about our existence.

 Here’s where you can find Bloodletting:
Book trailer on YouTube

Monday, April 20, 2015

Guest Post: Place Matters by Dean Klinkenberg

Dean Klinkenberg is the author of Rock Island Lines, a new mystery series featuring Frank Dodge and Brian Jefferson. He also writes the Mississippi Valley Traveler guidebooks and blogs about the river at Klinkenberg lives in St. Louis.

Here’s the description for Rock Island Lines:

   Frank Dodge is in over his head. A writer, he made the trip to the Quad Cities to pursue a story that sounded too good to pass up, a story about the legacy of a big character from a Mississippi River town, a brutal gangster named John Looney. Looney got rich as the ruler of the Quad Cities’ underworld in the early 20th century and created a national crime syndicate long before anyone heard of Al Capone or Meyer Lansky. Dodge is a freelance writer and lives from paycheck to paycheck and needs the story, needs the cash.  
   Dodge has heard that Miguel Ramirez is probably a descendant of Looney. Ramirez was raised in south Texas, near where Looney died, and came from a family and an area that presented many opportunities to get in trouble, which he took advantage of. Ramirez moved to the Quad Cities for chiropractic school, to turn his life around. He’d be the first Looney descendant to come back to the Quad Cities since the 1920s.  
   Unfortunately for Dodge, Ramirez dies—is murdered—shortly after they meet and the police suspect that Dodge is the killer. The Moline Police interview Dodge about the murder and suspect that Dodge is hiding something, which he is. 
   Dodge calls his best friend, homicide detective Brian Jefferson, to help him clear his name and to figure out what actually happened to Ramirez. When Jefferson arrives, Dodge reveals how he met Ramirez and how the two got along well enough to drink their way across the Quad Cities and through the night.  
   The FBI also has an interest in the murder, in Ramirez. With local police and the FBI investigating the case, the pressure is on Dodge to tell everything he knows, everything he did. While Dodge won’t get his story about a Looney descendant coming back to the Quad Cities, the story of John Looney just might have the clues that will prove his innocence and save his life.

Where we live shapes how we live. This is not a great insight on my part, but I think it’s something that many fiction writers don’t do enough with. There are exceptions.

In Northwest Angle, for example, William Kent Krueger sets a mystery in the remote corner of Minnesota where the characters live on the water (or ice) as much as they do on land. It’s a place where people have adapted to the short summers and the brutal winters, where self-reliance isn’t just an abstract political value, but a set of skills necessary for survival. While the characters we meet may be geographically isolated—there is no coffee shop where they can meet for a chat every morning—they are connected to each other anyway, through family or cultural bonds. They know how to get in touch in a pinch, even if it means taking a boat for a half-hour skip across the Lake of the Woods.

The place where they live, the Northwest Angle, is part of what defines who they are and how they live. Knowing something about that place is as central to understanding the characters as is learning what they think and do. In fiction, however, some writers treat place as nothing more than a table setting. It can be so much more.

Places have depth. Maybe when we think of places with layered histories, we think of European cities like Rome or Athens where building a subway requires digging through thousands of years of the past. All of our places, though, have complex histories, if we take the time to explore them.

A previous house I lived in, a century-old three-story Victorian beauty in St. Louis, had over 90 years of human history that included several deaths and an owner who stored his Harley in the foyer. That house would be a great vehicle to trace the rise, fall, and return of urban neighborhoods, following its residents as it transitions from a home for a wealthy family in a new subdivision to urban pioneers in a declining area to middle class couples in a gentrified neighborhood. But even before that house was built, that place had a history. How many native peoples walked across, fought on, or loved on the land my house occupied in the past 10,000 years? How was their experience of that place similar to or different from mine? How has the place I know been shaped by the people who were here before me?

Where we live, the world around us, shapes us, sometimes in obvious ways. If I lived in San Diego, I imagine I’d be tanned most of the year, my friends and I would exchange ideas on new uses of avocados, and at least some of my social life would take place on a beach. If I lived in northern Minnesota, I’d know a thing or two about curling and how to operate a snowmobile, my social life might revolve around swapping recipes for hotdish, and my friends and I would express our gratitude that, however bad the weather was that day, it could be worse. Just imagine how living in those two different environments might shape the psychological and social lives of the people who live there. Are you more likely to be an optimist if you lived your life in San Diego? Are you more resilient than other folks after living through a couple of decades of winters with little sun and sub-zero cold?

I write about the Mississippi River and environs, so I have no shortage of great places to work with. There are many towns right on the river and people who live in a wide range of housing situations, from blufftop mansions to homemade houseboats moored to shore. It’s easy to imagine that the people who live in those different abodes don’t lead the same kind of lives and probably see the world in very different ways, too.

In the novel I’m writing now, Double Dealing in Dubuque, one of the characters, Big Dan, lives in a cabin in the backwaters of the river. While many people see the river as a place to go for a few hours of recreation, it’s Big Dan’s world. He doesn’t just inhabit the floodplain forest, he’s a part of it as much as the fish and the birds. Years of fishing and foraging for food have shaped his values and how he sees the world and his place in it.

I had a lot of fun writing about Big Dan. I challenged myself to bring out the relationship between the man and the place he lives in, but I wrote with a light touch. It would be easy to end up with a caricature—he’s just Grizzly Adams by the river!—or make him as interesting as a floodplain cottonwood. He has to be more than a collection of driftwood and hawk feathers but those objects can also speak to his character and how he relates to the world around him.

The world we live in impacts our lives in ways small and profound. Fiction is a great place to explore that dynamic, to go deep into the interplay between place and character.

What are some of the most memorable places you’ve come across in fiction?

Find more works by Dean at his Amazon author page, on Goodreads and through Twitter he's @MissValleyTrav.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Thrills and Mystery Podcast now has a home on Youtube

For those who prefer their podcasts in video format, we now have a YouTube channel where you can enjoy all of the past and upcoming content The Thrills and Mystery Podcast has to offer. Add the channel to your subscriptions list, and you'll be informed of new podcast releases simply by logging into your YouTube account. 

To make things simpler for you, the channel trailer is embedded below. Watch this sample, and if it seems like a format you'd prefer, simply go to the channel page and click on the subscribe button.

Here's a link to the channel.