MinInterviews

NiB Review Re-post: A Taste of Blood Wine

I was just thinking about this book and its sequel this morning, lovely lurkers, and so I thought I should re-post my Nerds in Babeland reviews of both. The first one includes one of my famous 5-question MiniInterviews with the author.

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Book Review / Interview: A Taste of Blood Wine by Freda Warrington

Review / Interview by Prof. Jenn

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There are so very many vampires running around in pop culture these days. Between True Blood and the Vampire Diaries, and the continued popularity of Twilight (and does anybody still read Anne Rice?) we are inundated with the sexy undead these days. So why would Titan Press want to republish a vampire book, into the midst of the maelstrom? What does A Taste of Blood Wine have that makes it a worthwhile reading endeavor?

One word: character. This is not a romantic and mystical Dracula knockoff falling in love with an ingenue with no personality. This is a realistically-drawn female nerd who still has a healthy dose of fear for the main vampire character even after she sleeps with him. The vampire himself is downloadscience-minded (I mean, doesn’t it totally make sense that an immortal undead bloodsucker would try and use science to figure out how the heck this is happening to him?) and not at all whiny and apologetic about being what he is. He’s no brooding Edward or whining Louis, but a real person, still grieving for his family in completely realistic ways, and yes okay he happens to be beautiful, but isn’t it wonderful that he falls for the nerd, not her social butterfly sister?

The setting, too, is something unusual–we don’t get typical Victorian or contemporary society, but England in the 1920s. What a compelling scene, to see our friendly neighborhood vampire strolling across the WWI battlefield, finishing off some wounded for his existential crisis lunch. The Crystal Ring, which connects vampires to their geography in this universe, is also a compelling concept, as is the use and flouting of traditional vampire tropes.

The vampires of Blood Wine can exist in sunlight, though they don’t sparkle. They cannot be killed but fire or stakes in the heart, but can be crippled and rendered useless by extreme cold (and indeed killed by some forms of extreme cold, as we see. No spoilers here!). It’s fascinating to see how the various vampires have dealt with their “condition” in a realistic way: from Karl’s pragmatism in the face of grief, to Kristian’s insane self-worship and cult following, to Ilona’s pure rage, and then of course our hero Charlotte’s love-fueled choice, it’s all compelling.

Bottom Line: A Taste of Blood Wine is a great read. Highly recommended.

Image Credit

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Now, please to enjoy the below interview with author Freda Warrington.

5 Questions: Freda Warrington

Interview by Prof. Jenn

1)      With all the vampire craziness happening these days (between the popular TV shows and Twilight), what made you desire to add your own take to the lore?

Actually my Blood Wine series was originally written and published in the early 1990s, long before the explosion of Twilight, The Vampire Diaries, and other more recent vampire fiction! In fact I began the first, A Taste of Blood Wine, way back in the 1980s as escapism from a difficult period of my life. So my influences were old school: the Hammer Horror films with a brooding Christopher Lee, the original Dracula novel, and Carmilla (by JS LeFanu) along with a selection of classic stories and the first couple of Anne Rice novels. Why did I want to add my own take to the genre?

             Well, I’d long been fascinated by the vampire as a lonely, mysterious, dangerous yet intelligent and strangely attractive figure… However, I was frustrated that he or she was always a monster to be hunted down and staked. Ms Rice brought new life to the lore by showing vampires as thinking, feeling beings with their own story to tell. Part of their tragedy was that any kind of relationship with humans – other than predator and prey – became impossible. But I wondered, what would it be like if you could break through that barrier, despite the difficulties, and come to know this mysterious stranger as an equal?

             So I did what I always do when I can’t find the story I want to read. I wrote it myself!

             Obviously, human-vampire relationships and romances are commonplace now, but when I first started A Taste of Blood Wine, it was something quite fresh and unusual. My shy heroine Charlotte meets the devastatingly gorgeous, enigmatic Karl. At first he terrifies her, then gradually he begins to fascinate her…

             The three books – A Taste of Blood Wine, A Dance in Blood Velvet, and The Dark Blood of Poppies – were first published in the UK by Pan Macmillan. They went out of print for a number of years, despite many plaintive emails from readers who wanted them and couldn’t find them. In fact I was just on the point of reissuing the series myself, when Titan Books stepped in and republished them in gorgeous new covers. I’m also writing a brand new fourth one, The Dark Arts of Blood. If you look at my website, www.fredawarrington.com, you’ll find all the details.

2)      The early ‘20s is an unusual time period to experience as a vampire novel setting. What made you choose this era?

When I wrote the earliest version of A Taste of Blood Wine I actually set it in the 18th century! Later, when I came to rewrite it, I found that time period too Georgette Heyer-ish. I wanted something more modern – so my characters could zoom around in cars if need be! – but not too modern. I settled on the 1920s as a period that had not been overused, a decade with a perfect blend of old and new. You’ve got the Edwardian world morphing into the modern world, scientific advances being made, women starting to achieve emancipation. It’s a period of glamour, but also of horror, because the shadow of the First World War still hangs over everything. The social changes of the ‘20s mirror the internal journey that Charlotte makes as she develops from being a shy, suppressed individual into becoming her true self.

3)      What lies in store for us in the sequels to A Taste of Blood Wine?

Ooh, without giving too much away… For a start, I couldn’t drag out the “will-she, won’t-she” tension of whether Charlotte will become a vampire over three or four books. In fact it never occurred to me to do so, because I wrote the first book as a one-off. So A Dance in Blood Velvet begins to explore the complications and difficulties of actually being a vampire. Not least the pain of leaving her family behind – every choice my characters make carries a price, and I’d also like to point out that these are vampires who are NOT AFRAID TO BE VAMPIRES! No abstinence or living on animal blood for them!

             So just to give a flavour – an old flame of Karl’s intrudes unexpectedly into their new life, in such a wretched state that Karl can’t abandon her. Feeling insecure and rejected, Charlotte becomes fascinated and then disastrously obsessed by a prima ballerina, Violette Lenoir. However, Violette has secrets of her own, not least a mystical connection with the dark goddess Lilith. There’s also a pair of rival occultists in the mix – very much in keeping with trends of the 1920s! – who really stir things up for Karl and Charlotte.

             As for book three, The Dark Blood of Poppies, that will be issued in May 2014 in the UK and October 2014 in the USA. You can see the cover on my website, it’s stunning – all blood-red and “Black Swan” style gothic gorgeousness! Anyway – it continues the story of Karl, Charlotte and Violette, and also introduces a different flavour of vampire-human romance in the form of the bitter, twisted vampire Sebastian, and the warm, passionate, but equally-screwed-up-in-a-different-way American beauty Robyn. If you want power struggles, tragic romance, painful voyages of self-discovery, sex, death and general mayhem, look no further!

             I don’t want to say too much about the new one, The Dark Arts of Blood, as it’s still a work in progress, but I’ll try… Just as Karl and Charlotte think they’ve reached a state of equilibrium, a new menace arises that may be connected to a guilty secret in Karl’s past. Meanwhile, Violette tries to hold her ballet company together when her principal male dancer, the splendid, egotistical and irreplaceable Emil, goes off the rails in spectacular fashion and disappears… This one is set in 1927 and has silent films, the rise of fascism (but not where you might expect it) and yet more fraught relationships, murder, madness and mystery. In fact I think this one will turn out to be more of a mystery story than the first three… wait and see!

4)      It’s a brilliant stroke to have our main vampire protagonist exploring the science behind his condition—trying to find a solution or an explanation. Do you have a scientific explanation set in your head for your universe, or are you discovering along with Karl?

You could say I’m discovering along with Karl and Charlotte! I have an explanation that’s more metaphysical than scientific, although it could turn out to be scientific on a quantum level. See my answer to the next question…

5)      Discuss the fascinating concept of the Crystal Ring a little more for our readers.

The Crystal Ring is a parallel dimension of reality that my vampires can enter. This enables them to vanish, to escape danger, and to travel rapidly to distant places (so they’re not arousing suspicion by feeding in the same area all the time). More than that, it’s deeply entwined with whatever strange force makes my vampires, vampires. I can’t exactly remember where my idea for the Crystal Ring came from but I think it was partly inspired by the paintings of John Martin, and just from looking at the sky – you know when clouds form amazing shapes that resemble mountains you could actually walk on? Oh – and also a documentary about certain sea creatures (sharks or rays, I think) being able to perceive the Earth’s magnetic field and use it to navigate. I thought, what if my vampires could do that?

   The Crystal Ring, also known as Raqia, is an unearthly place like a stunningly beautiful sky-scape, but semi-liquid, so they can more or less float or fly through it. Basically it occupies the same space as the sky. It’s not somewhere the vampires actually live. In fact it can be dangerous, because if they stay too long they become torpid and unable to escape back to Earth. The very highest level, called the “Weisskalt”, is so icy cold that a vampire could be frozen there forever – a fact that plays a big part in the plot, naturally.

             The nature of this mysterious realm defies science, so Karl struggles to find an answer. Each character has his or her own theory. For example, the megalomaniac Kristian in the first book, a religious zealot who believes vampires to be “instruments of God”, insists that the Crystal Ring is the actual mind of God. Others, with more of a guilty conscience, might think it’s a layer of Hell. Charlotte comes up with a more plausible theory – as rational as something so weird can be – but I’m afraid you’ll have to read the books to find out!

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Reposting of the Big, Huge, Guy Adams MiniInterview and Review

More from the archives of the blog that was, lovely lurkers. This is a MiniInterview of the illustrious Guy Adams of Sherlockian fame, as well as reviews of several of his books.

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All Things Guy Adams Sherlock Holmes, all the time

by Jenn Zuko 

First of all, can I just express my extreme nerdy jealousy that Mr. Guy Adams gets to write all these? I mean, how do you get that gig?

Well, I got a chance to ask the man himself. Before we get to that, though, take a gander at my reviews of his many Sherlockian books.

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Sherlock Holmes: the Breath of God

What happens when Holmes is faced with the supernatural? Not the faux supernatural, like the Hound of the Baskervilles, but the actually unexplainable?

Or is it?

The Breath of God is a novel that fits right in with the Doyle canon and the best of the non-Doyle canon (I’m thinking Nicholas Meyer in particular). What it does well is maintain that Watson centered narrative which is so essential to a powerful Holmesian story, in my professional opinion. The thing is, Holmes is such an extraordinary creature, that to be inside his head diminishes the astonishingness of him. Having the story told from outside him gives us the opportunity to marvel at his prowess and be mystified by his flaws. Knowing his flaws personally would be too wearing for a story, though it could make for a fascinating character sketch.

The great thing about the plot of Breath of God is that you really don’t know what to think of the magical things that go on, just like Watson. Even up till the end there are certain threads that don’t end up tied up neatly. That’s not to say Holmes doesn’t figure it all out in the end, but… Man, I’m about to spoil things. Okay, I’ll stop. I’ll just say this: it’s mysterious, exciting, slightly meta (love the moment when Holmes says he needs to pull a Hound of Baskerville move), and the end is quite dramatic. Plus there’s philosophical dilemmas and some mashups of historical and fictional characters from that time period, which you all know I love when done well.

Bottom line: Sherlock Holmes: the Breath of God is a rollicking good time, and a book I’m happy to shelve next to the canon.

sherlockblogheader.jpg.size-525_maxheight-346Sherlock Holmes: the Army of Dr. Moreau

I actually reviewed this one in depth before, it’s what made me want to do a big ol’ review on all of them once I realized Adams wrote the Sherlock Case Book too. Here it is on Nerds in Babeland.

As you can see, I kinda liked the Breath of God better.

Sherlock: the Case Book

As a giant fan of the BBC series Sherlock, I had to add this companion book into my collection. It covers anything and everything about the first two seasons of Sherlock. It includes story synopses from the point of view of John Watson’s scrapbook, complete with his notes, photos and police reports, even phone call logs. But the highlight of the synopses is the post it note conversation between Sherlock and John, plastered all over the scrapbook pages. Oh, and Mycroft makes a brief post-it note appearance. At its best, the conversation is charmingly contentious, as you would imagine between those two. It does, though, get a bit old. Sherlock may be impatient with an intellect lesser than his (as anyone’s is), but he isn’t incessantly whiny and bitchy. The bitchiness factor tends to take away from his massive intellect as a character.

The documentary type bits are great (although I did find a couple inaccuracies), like a nicely done DVD extra. And of course one of my favorite parts is the By the Book sections. I’m wondering why there isn’t a By the Book section for each episode, but I guess I’ll just let my More You Holmes blog posts supplement them. (Wow, did I just shamelessly plug myself? :sigh: Sorry Mr. Adams, I couldn’t resist. And thank you for the compliment and bookmark. Squee!)

Bottom line: if you’re Sher-locked, you absolutely need this book.

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And now… (drum roll…) here it is: the MinInterview with Guy Adams himself.

5 questions: Guy Adams

interviewed by: Jenn Zuko

1) What choices do you make in your novels re: references/adherence to Doyle and your own original departures, and why? Have you created a backstory for Holmes that helps you in writing him through novel length stories?

A lot of it is instinctive to be honest. Everyone views stories and characters differently as they can’t help but bring their subjective viewpoint into things. I have therefore written what I think is a completely accurate version of Holmes and Watson. Other people will disagree as MY Holmes and Watson won’t be the same as THEIR Holmes and Watson.

I suppose I bring a little more humour into their relationship but that seems natural to me between two men who have been so close for that long. They’re a marriage.

I’ve also chosen to let Watson grieve over a dead wife. Doyle was — rightly — too busy building stories to dwell on  the emotions of his characters but I wanted Watson to have that. We’ve all loved and the idea of losing someone precious would cling to you, it plays a fair part in the action of The Breath of God.

The backstory is all Doyle though, I’ve read the stories many times over the years and that’s always the history I bring with me.

I have included favourite characters from other Holmes stories, such as Mycroft, Shinwell Johnson and Langdale Pike. Purely because those characters seemed helpful to the stories I wanted to tell.

As both novels blend Holmes with other fictional characters there is a natural inclination to bring the flavour of those works in too.

2) We share an acting background, so I have to ask–how does your acting training inform your writing, and vice versa?

It informs me hugely when it comes to character and dialogue. I played Holmes a couple of time too so that has hung over the whole process as I already feel close to the character.

Hopefully, having been an actor I can feel my way through stories. I can think in terms of the characters, bring them to life a little more.

3) What’s your favorite Sherlock Holmes story? What’s your favorite media adaptation?

I’m terrible at picking favourites because mood always gets in the way. Probably The Adventure of the Red-Headed League.

Media adaptation is even more difficult somehow because there’s such a wide variation, all of which bring something interesting.

I adore Jeremy Brett in the role (especially with Edward Harwicke, a gentle, wise Watson).

The relationship between Downey Jr. and Jude Law is lovely too though, whatever you may think of the action movie bells and whistles the two of them spark beautifully off one another.

But how can we ignore SHERLOCK? We simply can’t… it’s glorious and a flawless version of Holmes and Watson.

Sigh… who knows which of them I like the most?

I’m not a great fan of Rathbone. No… let me be clearer, I love the films but he and Bruce are not MY Holmes and Watson, they are some other pair entirely who I enjoy spending time with but don’t recognise as the same people.

4) Tell us the story of how you got the Sherlock Casebook gig. How closely did you consult with Moffat and Gatiss, or did they set you free? Did you interview the actors, creators, etc. yourself for those non-fic bits?

I’ve worked with BBC Books on a number of projects and, knowing that I was a fan of Holmes, I think I was just the safe choice for them. It wasn’t something I had to pitch or fight for. They just dropped me a line explaining that they’d got the rights and would I like to do the book.

Hartswood were heavily involved. Steven, Mark and Sue Vertue all chipped in on the material as I was writing it, correcting things and ensuring I didn’t contradict anything they might want to do in the future.

I attended the commentary recordings for the DVD and Blu-ray and did some interviews then. That was excruciating actually as my dictaphone packed up. Benedict was loveliness itself, working his way through a cup of soup while I got more and more stressed trying to get the thing to record. “We really are going to have to get on,” he said softly as I began to consider just crawling under one of the microphone stands and dying of embarrassment.

I had an absolutely wonderful chat with Andrew Scott on the phone. We gassed on for over an hour with me deciding I’d like to be his best friend. No doubt he has already been in touch with his lawyers to discuss restraining orders. A lovely, clever, brilliant actor.

Everyone was a joy, it was great fun to do.

5) Any more Holmesian projects on the horizon?

I hope to write more Holmes novels but that’s up in the air at the moment depending on Titan’s future plans. I have a lot of other novels I’m working on at the moment but I’d always go back, I could happily write Holmes stories forever!

5a) How do you get to write using these already-created characters? Is there some kind of copyright process you have to go through? (I’m asking for a friend…:) )

This is a tricky one!  Strictly speaking, Holmes is out of copyright so you can do what you like with him (as is the case with all the other characters I used). That hasn’t stopped a few attempts on the part of the Doyle Estate to insist otherwise.

Copyright law is different all over the world so your friend would have to check the specific terms for where they wish to publish. It all comes down to either how long ago the original author died or how long since first publication of the original work.

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MiniInterview: Ian Healy

Another from the MiniInterview archives: this one of Ian Healy. I am honored to be writing the introduction to his latest superhero novel, and I have enjoyed each and every one of them I have had the pleasure to read and/or review. This is an interview from a few years back, but his websites etc. should be current, except for the LEGO-based webcomic. Unfortunately that ended a while back, but you can still look at the archives for it on Healy’s website: http://www.ianthealy.com/blog/. Look for his excellent work on Amazon or through his website.

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5 Questions: Ian Healy           Interviewer: Jenn Zuko 

1) What attracts you most about speculative fiction in particular? What about it were you drawn to as a kid and what attracts you to it now?

I like the fantastic aspect. The first SF film I recall seeing in a theatre was The Empire Strikes Back. Spaceships zooming around, laser swords, and asteroids! I was hooked. Ever since then I’ve sought out science fiction entertainment. An offshoot of that was superheroes, which appealed to my inner vigilante. I still have my very first comic book: Captain Carrot & His Amazing Zoo Crew #12.

Nowadays, the attraction to me is things that aren’t now but may be someday, or things that might have been. I write stories that I wish I’d read, because nobody else has written them yet. I hope that maybe someday, a starry-eyed 10-year-old will pick up one of my books and find the same love for speculative fiction I did.

2) What writer/s do you want to emulate?

Oh, where to begin? Let’s go with this list: Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Mike Resnick, Alan Dean Foster, Paolo Bacigalupi, and George R. R. Martin for now.

3) Handwriting or computer: why, and what kind? What do you do about writer’s block?

Smartphone and computer. My penmanship is atrocious. I’ve gotten very good at writing on my phone and have completedIanH more than one manuscript mostly with my thumbs.

It’s been years since I last had writer’s block. I always have so many projects in my queue that I can always work on another project if I’m stalled on one. It’s rare for me to stall, because I tend to always be thinking about what’s next, even when I’m not writing.

4) Is there a novel coming out? How can we find your work to read, and what would you recommend?

I have just released three sthort stories and one novel in ebook form via Smashwords. The novel, Blood on the Ice, is a humorous urban fantasy involving vampires and minor league hockey. At $5.99, you’re getting pretty good entertainment value since most ebooks will cost you 2-3 times that. You can find it here, along with links to my other stories. www.smashwords.com/books/view/38012

I have a regular blog at www.ianthealy.com where I write about my work and all things writing-related. I also maintain a daily webcomic, The Adventures of the S-Team, done in LEGO, about a team of superheroes. Updated Mon-Fri, it’s at www.ianthealy.com/comic. Finally, I have a workshop/blog about improving action in your writing. I also critique scenes submitted by other writers there. www.writebetteraction.com.

5) How does your webcomic fit in with the rest of your writing? Do you ever get inspired for your fiction work by working on the comic, or vice/versa?

The webcomic began as a simple fun diversion, and most of the time it still is. I’ve learned how to be funny with it, and that’s translated into my less serious works like Blood on the Ice or the short story “In His Majesty’s Postal Service.”

So far I haven’t been inspired to write something in prose from the webcomic, but I reserve the right to do so in the future. 🙂

MiniInterview: Geoff Kent

More MiniInterviews recycled from the blog that was, lovely lurkers. This is my piece on Geoff Kent. he has just directed a play called She Kills Monsters (that I’m so pissed I didn’t get to my audition for) that’s playing now. This interview was from…um…a few years ago…

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5 questions: GEOFFREY KENT                Interviewer: Jenn Zuko 

1.) What made you get into the stage combat world in the first place? What theatrical endeavors pointed you to the SAFD and what made you work your way up the rungs to Presidency?

After college I was cast as Prince Hal in Henry IV, Part One and “survived” the fights. I felt uncomfortable and fearful and it affected my performance in those scenes so I sought out local training. If I wanted to be a classical actor it seemed obvious that swordplay was going to be a part of it.

I took several classes locally and completed a few Society of American Fight Directors Skills Proficiency Tests. This is a codified 30 hour course on different weapon styles. At the time there were six: Rapier & Dagger, Broadsword, Smallsword, Sword & Shield, Quarterstaff and Unarmed.

After collecting those I attended a regional workshop in Chicago where I was encouraged to attend the national SAFD Advanced Actor/Combatant Workshop in Vegas. That was the game changer. It helped me to finally connect playable actions and objectives to the physical world of fighting. Story was tantamount, “fancy moves” got in the way.

The local SAFD teacher moved away in 1997 and then the work started coming to me, quite by accident. Eventually it took over and stage combat now provides me with a means to support myself as a teacher and choreographer. It also opened acting and directing doors to me I would not have had otherwise. My acting work at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival and the Denver Center Theatre Company would not have happened without those skills.

As for the route to President? I served on the SAFD Governing Body as the Actor/Combatant representative and, after

Geoff and I performing at my first appearance at the CO RenFaire. 1996.

Geoff and I performing at my first appearance at the CO RenFaire. 1996.

becoming one, the Certified Teacher representative. SAFD President that just somehow happened, not sure anyone else wanted it. ☺ It is a LOT of email as the head of the board of directors, we are also the volunteer employees. It was a pleasure to serve and start to move the SAFD from a club model to a business model. Not an easy transition. Currently I am now the SAFD Fight Director representative as I attempt to collect every seat.

2.) Do you enjoy fight direction, or performing more? What roles/choreography stand out to you in your career?

I love the attention to detail, safety and acting beats that fight direction affords. It is helping me grow into my director pants. ☺ But I still love acting and performing physical action. It is where I feel most comfortable as an actor and where I do my best work. I imagine there may come a day when my knees, back, neck, etc. won’t want me to sling steel. Until then I am still a glutton for fight roles. I’m looking at you Warwick!

Choreography that stands out? Hrm. I loved the challenge of developing Three Musketeers for CSF.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDzzX9WWARQ

The final product couldn’t contain all the ideas I had but it was fun to develop the first fight and play with pre-sketched character rules.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=jseP00TiVt4

In Richard III at the DCTC we killed 17 people. Loved coming up with ways to do that. Made me get inventive.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sit7BEsn6as

For favorite acting it would have to be Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing. I’ve played him twice, most recently at CSF. He is comfortable to walk around in, I share his sentiment, both for and against marriage, and I love peeling away his layers.

This summer I am playing Mercutio. A role I have long pursued, finally have… and am terrified of. Should be interesting.

3.) What’s your favorite theatrical weapon and why?

My favorite is more of a style than a weapon. In early 2000 the SAFD introduced “Single Sword” as a testable weapon. Originally intended as a weapon easier to learn than the complexities of Rapier & Dagger, it has morphed into a repository of classic moves from Hollywood Swashbucklers. We teach it with lightweight epee’s primarily but in reality it works with broadsword, quarterstaff, anything. Errol Flynn did it with anything handed to him.

I love it because it was developed by Hollywood. Most weapon styles have their roots in specific history (Broadsword, Smallsword, etc). “Swashbuckling” was really developed by Cinema. They added things that just look good and they created room for acting beats independent of the logic of martial blade play. O, and It can be ridiculously funny.

Danny Kaye in “The Court Jester”

www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3oURsGzs9o

And for personal mockery, my single sword test from my teacher training workshop.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ooxZ8B0vZ8

4.) I have heard that in the upper ranks of the SAFD they ask that the actor/combatants learn a martial art. You chose Aikido—what about it in particular jived along with your experience in stage combat?

The SAFD doesn’t have an official stance on martial arts. I know great martial artists that are great stage combat teachers… and bad stage combat teachers. I know stage combat teachers with no martial arts training that are awesome… and some that really need training in a martial discipline. It is all subjective really.

For me, I studied a little boxing and then Gracie ju-jitsu to get started. Loved both but neither suited me. I can’t really spar and work as an actor. Can’t roll into a show limping or visibly bruised, ya know? I stumbled upon Boulder Aikikai by accident through SAFD Fight Master Chuck Coyl. His words, “What are you an idiot? Go take classes there.”

It suited me. Classes are very quiet, no “Ki-yaaa!” which always feels ridiculous to me. It is a self-focused journey and non-competitive. It also has a “lifetime to master” attitude and all the veteran students and teachers also regularly take the basic classes. There are no visible belts and the like, everyone is equal. I love the pursuit of a silent slow-mo forward roll. I love the balance.

And it is fun to flip people. ☺

5.) Any interesting horror stories? Joyous success stories?

Too many to list. I’m about to sink my teeth into Tracy Letts’ newest play, “Superior Donuts” at DCTC. It is an epic battle between a 50 year old criminal and a 60 year old hippie. It is of obscene length and is designed to overstay its welcome. The audience wants him to just stay down. Like Cool Hand Luke, but with older actors.

And ours is the first production in the round. I’m expecting a little bit of column a, little bit of column b on that one.

MiniInterview: Ethan Nicholle

More from my MiniInterview archives. This interview coincided with the coming of Nicholle’s Axe Cop vol. 3 (as well as Bad Guy Earth). Nicholle is the artist/adapter to wildly popular oddball comic series, Axe Cop. For more about the background of Axe Cop and the strange and wonderful way it is written, go here and be prepared to waste some time.   ~Jenn

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5 Questions: Ethan Nicholle     Interviewer: Jenn Zuko

1) How has Axe Cop evolved as Malachai has gotten older? How do you see him evolving as Malachai continues to get older? What’s coming up in Axe Cop’s future that we can get excited about?

Malachai’s tastes and interests are changing pretty rapidly, so Axe Cop’s attention span is at about the same rate.  Whatever is going on in Malachai’s life makes it into the story, for instance the family just got a new dog, so he called me to tell me there is a new dog character in the Axe Cop universe.  I’m as interested as anyone to see how Axe Cop changes as Malachai grows up.  I’m open to whatever works.  The most exciting thing in Axe Cop’s future, next to Volume 3 coming out on march 28th, is the new print-exclusive miniseries titled Axe Cop: President of the World which launches in July.

2) Axe Cop’s fan base exploded pretty quickly. How did this fandom affect how you composed Axe Cop? Did it affect how Malachai composed it? How about the feedback you both have been getting at conventions?

It just sort of rocketed us into making more Axe Cop and really fast.  When I first made Axe Cop I assumed it would be a fun thing to do with axecopseriesimg_1335305966Malachai whenever I visit (which is about 3 times a year).  When it blew up, I decided we should strike while the iron is hot and start making more of these things.  It became a lot of fun and quite an interesting project.  Especially working on the more long form stories with him and spending entire months with him.  We get awesome feedback from fans, the support for Axe Cop is huge and people who love it REALLY love it.  I think there are people out there who love it more than Malachai and I combined.  I think that Axe Cop popped up right when people were getting tired of the more negative, gritty and edgy style that was the “thing” for a while, and Axe Cop is such a breath of fresh air in that world.  It is totally sincere and innocent and it inadvertently parodies comics that take themselves too seriously.

3) I noticed in Volume 3, there are many “Ask Axe Cop” episodes as well as a lengthy guest appearance (on the website, there have been several more guest appearances recently as well). What are your thoughts/feelings about the collaboration? Do the guests appeal to Malachai, and does he springboard off of those?

Malachai has gotten ideas from the guest episodes.  He really liked the one where Axe Cop has little axes on his arm hairs.  He pretty much stole that concept for himself and made Axe Cop have sword arm hair.  The guest episodes are a lot of fun, especially the ones where people follow the model and team up with their own kids/nieces/nephews to make an Axe Cop story.

4) How do Axe Cop, Bad Guy Earth, and Bearmageddon inform each other? Do you have a particular favorite issue?

Well Bad Guy Earth is just more Axe Cop, but it is written in a longer format.  It’s more of our attempt at “feature length” Axe Cop story telling.  Bearomageddon I wouldn’t say is informed by Axe Cop much mainly because I created it before I created Axe Cop, I only finally started to release it after.  I think Bad Guy Earth is my favorite thing I have done so far just because it is so out of the box and such a fun/crazy experiment in creativity.  A lot went into making it.

5) Who are some of your artistic inspirations? Is there anyone you even now try to emulate in your work? What is one of your artistic dreams? (e.g. have you always wanted to draw a certain superhero/create a world that you haven’t yet?)

My biggest influences growing up were Bill Watterson, Gary Larson and the many artists who drew the Ninja Turtles.  Later I got into indie comics and became a big fan of artists like Jhonen Vasquez, Evan Dorkin, Ethan Van Sciver (who was indie back then) and Sam Keith.  I have a lot of respect for Doug TenNapel because I like that he emphasizes storytelling and he really pushes creativity and wonder in his work.  I think I try to emulate that.  I have never really dreamed of drawing other people’s characters, I have always wanted to make my own stuff.  So I don’t know what my dream project would be.  I think right now Axe and Bearmageddon are dream projects, and I’ll have other ones down the road.

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→ Here is the link to my Nerds in Babeland review of Axe Cop vol. 3: http://nerdsinbabeland.com/archives/6087

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MiniInterview: Jeff Wills

More from my Mini-Interview archives: this of Jeff Wills, New York-based theatrical artist (and a damn good writer, too).

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5 questions: JEFF WILLS                                                Interviewer: Jenn Zuko 

1.)    What steered you towards physical theatre/clowning as you moved through your theatrical education, as opposed to a more psychological, Stanislavsky-esque style?

My undergraduate education was devoid of style work, focused mainly on Stanislavsky and Meisner techniques, but the first mainstage show I performed a major role in there was The Three Musketeers, as d’Artagnan.  It was at a time when I was trying to decide what larger purpose theatre served, and what it could do that other media couldn’t, and the human body and real things happening in real time seemed like important aspects of that.  Then in my early professional career I fell in with the commedia dell’arte and circus-theatre groups, where those ideas really carry into characterization (not to mention humor) and I was hooked.

2.)    How do you feel Commedia dell’arte has evolved since its inception in old Italy? Why do you think it works for audiences now?

This is an interesting idea, because many people will tell you the commedia dell’arte is an old, dead form, but it’s an jwillsimportant aspect of the philosophy of my troupe – Zuppa del Giorno – that it is a living tradition.  From my perspective, the influence of the commedia dell’arte can be seen in just about any timeless comedy of the last century, from the silent comedians to Judd Apatow films.  It might be impossible to summarize its evolution over the past half a millennium, but I will say that what seems to resonate for people is the ways in which the form creates a common language among its audiences right from the start by the use of character archetypes.  Everyone knows the mask they’re being presented with when a performer takes the stage or screen–whether it’s a drunkard, a merchant, a lover (or all three)–and so the story is inclusive right away.  Combine that with all the ways in which the style invites audience participation and you’re talking about creating a more community-themed catharsis than the more predictable individual experience.

David Zarko, our artistic director, likes to point out how everyone used to know the same dances.  We would get together and there would be a common forum for interacting on an unspoken emotional level.  Social interaction rarely like that anymore, but the commedia dell’arte and theatre inspired and influenced by it is one of the things we still have that invites that unique and important experience.

3.)    What artists are you inspired by? Any heroes you try to emulate in your work?

Too many, probably!  The first that comes to mind is Buster Keaton, simply because I find his comedy to be a very pure and timeless experience, and of course because he was a tremendous acrobat.  I have a real love of all silent comedy, to the extent that my particular clown character still doesn’t talk!  I love dancers of just about every variety, and have a real fondness for Gene Kelley.  In terms of contemporary artists, I take a lot of inspiration from Julie Taymor (more Titus and Lion King than Spider-Man), Bill Irwin and David Shiner.

4.)    Any interesting performance horror stories? Recounts of joyful victory? What’s the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to you onstage? The most exhilarating?

Maybe college makes for more dramatic events, somehow.  I was in a production of Julius Caesar in which I was on the charging end of Caesar’s coffin as the mob rioted.  It was hundreds of pounds on a gurney with a plywood top that I had to essentially brake as we rolled down a ramp into the vomitorium.  One matinee the lights went down a little quickly and we got disoriented and just as I was moving my hands from the sides of the gurney to the front, one corner collided with the doorway and the corner of the plywood ploughed almost all the way through my right palm.  Looking back, my whispered cries of “Medic! Medic!” backstage while holding my bleeding hand seem hilariously inapt but, at the time, it seemed war-like, I suppose.

On the fairer side of things, I once did a comedy for a small regional theatre in which I played a character who was a reincarnated dog trying to look out for the family who had owned him.  It was great fun in general – finding the physicality of a dog trying to act human – but the most fun was that the director was so on board with my physical choices and ideas that she made sure the set was adapted to them.  So, at the climax, I got to climb up and along a bookshelf on the upstage wall, jump from there onto a banister on a second-level staircase, then leap from there to the downstage center floor to clobber the bad guy.  Great.  Fun.

5.)    You (like me) are a writer as well as a performer (and a teacher). What do you enjoy most? How does one feed into and play off the other?

The enjoyment of one to the other is so different that it’s difficult to rate them, but I’d say there’s nothing I enjoy in quite the same way as performing.  The highs and lows are more extreme, so there’s a balance to that experience, but the sheer vulnerability of it and the way in which performing exists in a moment is in a way incomparable.  I love them all, of course.  They’re very different skills in my opinion – I think the best teachers have some performance instinct, but being a good performer does not in any way make one a good teacher, and the most brilliant writers can be awful, awful performers and teachers.   But all have a common root in storytelling, or narrative communication.  For me, writing satisfies the part of me that craves more control when I’m being a performer, and teaching ties both instincts together in a way that’s all about reaching out to others on their own level, and doing so with adaptivity.

I’m curious about your answers to your own questions!  Thanks,

Jeff

Revisiting the MinInterviews

On the blog that was, lovely lurkers, I did a Magic Five Question Mini-Interview with a plethora of pretty awesome creatives. Since those have dissolved into the ether, I have decided to re-publish them at my discretion (and depending on which I still have in my document archives). Here’s the first in the rebooted series.   ~Jenn

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5 questions: RYAN FORD              Interviewer: Jenn Zuko Boughn

1)      Why Parkour? Why not martial arts, gymnastics, or dance?

My athletic background consists of mostly team sports like soccer and football but also some individual sports like track and field and tennis. I never got into martial arts, dance, or gymnastics as a kid, but now I wish I did because of the application of similar body awareness skills in Parkour. While I never really considered most individual sports, Parkour was different because I could automatically relate to what was going on in the first videos I saw; climbing trees, jumping rocks, and exploring my surroundings were things that I always did. I think Parkour is so alluring because while it seems like something only superheroes do, there is a little part in all of us that relates it to the things we used to do as kids.

2)      What was the process like to open your successful Parkour studio? How were you able to open the Boulder branch? How are the schools different/same?

Opening a successful Parkour gym was definitely a labor of love. The hardest part of making it a reality was the lack of precedent. We were the 3rd Parkour gym in the world so it was difficult to find any guidance or models to help us learn how to make it work. After teaching out of other gyms for several years, we opened our own gym in downtown Denver with the money we had saved up. After a year of being downtown, we moved to a much bigger space in Englewood. Several months after that, we opened our gym in Boulder. The 2 schools are very much alike in equipment, curriculum, and other aspects because a core group of people have helped them grow and evolve together. Ford

3)      What is the difference between Parkour and Freerunning? (I’ve also heard “street gymnastics”)

Parkour is an art of movement in which you train the body and mind to overcome obstacles in an efficient manner. Freerunning is more creative and allows you to find your own path. Simply put, Freerunning is creative and aesthetic while Parkour focuses on efficiency and utility. It is good to know the differences, but they share many of the same movements, philosophies, and benefits. With APEX Movement, we try to teach them equally and also encourage people to explore all other kinds of movement related activities.

4)      Since I’m a stage combat/stunt fighting specialist, I have to notice and ask: have you noticed that most fight scenes in film have a Parkour aspect to them? How do you feel the two fields combine? Do you like or dislike the theatrical combat/Parkour correlation?

I think it is great to have them combined. Fight or flight go hand in hand so it makes sense to have the lines blur in Hollywood action scenes. In fact, I think it makes the action much better when there is a creative use of the environment. I would much rather watch Jackie Chan flowing through his environment while kicking ass than 2 thugs going at it in a hand to hand pummel-fest.

5)      So I’m a woman about to become 40* with bad knees and years of dance, martial arts, and aerial dance experience. Is it too late for me in Parkour?

It’s never too late to start Parkour. People ask me when did I start Parkour so I ask them, “When did you stop?” Parkour was in every single one of us as a kid. The core philosophies and movements are very instinctual and were what our hunter-gatherer ancestors had to do to stay alive. Parkour should be done by everyone, at varying scales, because it keeps you healthy and challenges your mind. It is not about comparing yourself to others, it is about establishing your current level, and improving your abilities from there. Whether it is through basics or advanced movement skills, there is something for everyone to accomplish and improve upon.

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*I’m now about to turn 42. But then, that’s life, the universe and everything, so.