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by Sandy Auden

Producer/writer/director Stevan Mena takes us behind the scenes on horror comedy movie Brutal Massacre; Keith de Candido talks about writing Dean and Sam Winchester Supernatural novels; and Fiona McIntosh updates us on the four novels she's writing this year, including the new Royal Exile.

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Material for possible inclusion here should be sent to Sandy Auden at SFSiteNews@live.co.uk.

November 2008
Stevan Mena On Horror Comedy Brutal Massacre

Brutal Massacre Horror fans are in for a treat with film Brutal Massacre. Writer/producer/director Stevan Mena's new flick pokes endless fun at the horror movie industry as we follow Director Harry Penderecki (David (American Werewolf in London) Naughton) as he makes what could be the last film of his career.

Penderecki needs to deliver a hit movie but as he goes on location to begin filming, everything that can go wrong does go wrong -- from almost getting shot by mistake on a firing range to getting arrested for illegal use of someone else's property. Can Penderecki wrap up the movie and save his career in the face of some enormous problems?

Stevan Mena played a central part behind the scenes on Brutal Massacre but why did he want to do it? "I did the film because I thought the subject matter was ripe for satire," he says. "And since a lot of the events in the movie are based on factual events that actually happened, it made the film sort of a cathartic experience for me. It's always therapeutic to be able to laugh at yourself.

"I also thought it might be a good idea to try something totally different after my first film Malevolence."

With Brutal Massacre being a movie about making a movie and everything going wrong, did real life imitate art? Were there similar problems behind the scenes of the real movie? "Well, a lot of the inspiration for the film came from my production of Malevolence. But, actually, during the making of Brutal, the shoot couldn't have gone smoother or been more fun.

"The only thing that comes to mind is the cold (two weeks of sub-freezing temperatures) and also that where we shot the shooting range scene was actually right near a shooting range. And the person who brought it up was actually the woman we cast in that scene! She was a local. And she waited until the end of the day to tell us. Luckily no one was hurt, but that is a true crazy story of life imitating art."

Some scenes were easier than others though. "The most difficult scene to shoot was the one where Carl gets killed. It became so complex and also I was the one who actually threw the knife, since no one else wanted to take responsibility if someone got hurt. And I'm not a good knife thrower, I'm about as good as Bernadette Peters in The Jerk. So we were there a long time."

Being so close to the writing process also gave Mena a soft spot for some of the characters. "My favorite character is Harry. Even more so after watching what David did with the character. He is so funny in the film, with just the right mix of sadness and humility.

"Harry's pain runs so deep, and only an artist that has spent years struggling against insurmountable odds to achieve recognition and validation for their work can fully understand."

"I actually didn't realize that Harry's character had an emotional arc until I shot the scene where David is arrested. I realized that people will empathize with his cause regardless whether they understand independent film or not. Harry becomes a struggling everyman in that scene, and I really felt bad for him. And the thought of Krenshaw [who'd caused the problem in the first place] laughing from the tree line off camera to me is hysterical."

His role as writer also helped Mena with directing the movie. "For me, comedy is all about timing and the character's delivery and disposition. I knew how it should sound, and where the emphasis should and shouldn't be. So if something didn't sound right when spoken, it was easy for me to tell, I didn't have to confer with anyone. And it gave my actors faith in me and helped them relax a bit. I think they all did an amazing job!"


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Keith DeCandido Talks About Writing Supernatural

Bone Key With the Supernatural TV series growing in popularity, Titan Books has expanded the Supernatural universe with a series of original adventures that see Sam and Dean Winchester heading into more ghostly dangers around America.

In the latest book, Bone Key by Keith R.A. DeCandido, Sam and Dean end up in Key West when an old acquaintance of their father calls to say that the coastal town's many ghosts seem to have gone into overdrive. Soon after the brothers meet the ghost of Ernest Hemingway, they discover that a demon couple who escaped from the Devil's Gate are supercharging the local spooks for their own purposes. But things go from bad to worse when the powerful spirits of a long-extinct Native American tribe decides to take its revenge on the "settlers."

This is DeCandido's second Supernatural novel (he also wrote the first book in the series, Nevermore) so what does he enjoy about writing stories about the Winchesters? "The brotherly banter," he admits. "These two sound exactly like two people who were raised together. I found I had much more fun writing the scenes of the two of them together than the scenes of them apart -- and both Nevermore and Bone Key had them separated at critical moments, unfortunately.

"But Dean is slightly more fun to write simply because a) he gets the funnier lines, generally and b) he has such fantastic taste in music."

The selection of the Key West location for Bone Key was quite a personal choice for the author. "Key West is one of my favorite cities. I've visited it many times, it has a ton of ghost lore already and it was also a place the show was unlikely to go to, as there's really no way to make Vancouver look anything like Key West."

Nevermore But the show has still made Vancouver look like many places around the US and has delivered three seasons of episodes with some considerable success. DeCandido has his own theories for its popularity: "It's because the show goes beyond what it needs to be," he said.

"Honestly, the show could easily succeed on the CW if it was just about two pretty men who drive a cool car and shoot demons in the head. And they do all that, but the show is much more than that: it has developed a rich history/mythology of its own, the characters are incredibly engaging -- not just the two leads, but the supporting cast, particularly Bobby -- and the show is just fun."

Will DeCandido be doing any more Supernatural novels? "I'd love to. At the present time, the license only covers the three books that have been released. In fact, it originally was only for two, but Nevermore apparently did well enough that they commissioned Bone Key. If Warner Bros. and HarperCollins want to do more, then I might be tapped to write another. But until there's a new licensing agreement, it's academic.

"But I would love to do another, and so would my editor. So we'll see."

In the meantime, the author has plenty to be getting on with. "Coming in November is a four-issue Farscape comic book miniseries that I scripted from a story by the show's creator, Rockne S. O'Bannon, and we'll be doing more miniseries beyond this. I'm also working on a StarCraft manga series for TokyoPop called Ghost Academy, which should debut in late 2009 or early 2010. Also in 2009, I've got a bunch of Star Trek work (a comic book, a short story, a novella, and a novel) and a StarCraft novel called Spectres, which will be a sequel to my 2006 novel Nova."


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Author Fiona McIntosh Is Having a Very Busy Year

Fiona McIntosh has no less than four writing projects on the go this year covering fantasy, children's fantasy, crime and historical mainstream genres.

She kindly took some time out to give us the low-down on what's coming upů.

Royal Exile Royal Exile, Volume 1 of the Valisar series is out now. Can you tell us what it's all about?
Valisar is a return to the familiar stomping ground of a faux-medieval Europe. If I had to describe its "atmosphere," I'd say it's reminiscent of The Quickening -- that's how it feels as I'm writing it anyway.

It centres around the brutal arrival of a tribal warlord from the steppes into a prosperous region known as the Denova Set... a clutch of realms that were formed centuries previous through prominent noble families, but acknowledge the might of the Valisars, who rule Penraven. The realms are equal in theory but in daily life, Penraven is looked upon as the strongest and most powerful.

The usurper brings his marauding horde into the Set and devastates the royal families, saving Penraven for last. All that stands between the charismatic warlord and empire under his rule, are the royal children of Penraven -- we meet them at the beginning of the story. The boy heir; another son -- not blood and severely retarded -- and a daughter, born just hours before the warlord claims the Valisar throne. And then we're off on a huge adventure and I have absolutely no idea where it will go in book 2, A Tyrant's Blood.

I am loving the story, enjoying the major characters and really looking forward to finding out what this is all about. Considering I'm working to a simple storyline I don't know how I've managed to create nine separate storylines that seem to have branched off the main one! This is typical me and the unfettered way that I write but it keeps it interesting and, as a author, it keeps me intrigued as to what is going to happen to these characters I've grown to enjoy.

Can you tell us more about your children's novel, The Whisperer?
This is a large standalone fantasy adventure that will probably suit 8-11 year olds. It has all the hallmarks of my adult fantasy and is a fast moving adventure that has plenty of tension and suspense. It features a boy who is a "grunter" in a circus, running about the scaffolding and setting up the big tent. His brothers are performers -- an amazing balancing and contortionist act.

The boy tries unsuccessfully to keep secret his strange ability to drop in on people's thoughts. Then a girl joins the circus, bringing with her some of the most rare and reclusive animals of the land and the boy befriends her.

We also learn that the realm is preparing a welcome feast for the infamous Duke Janko, brother to the King and head of the army, returning triumphant from wars in the north where he has secured the borders. In the palace we meet the young prince and heir, and his protector, both highly suspicious of Janko and what his arrival back into the city may mean.

You'll have to read it to find out how the story shapes but there are some terrific characters that I realise I've quite fallen for and it may prompt me to write a second novel featuring them, although it will be a whole new tale, of course!

What changes to your writing did you need to make to do a children's novel?
Writing children's fantasy is certainly not easy -- no one should be fooled into thinking that the stories must be simple therefore much easier to craft. That's a fallacy. I've worked as hard, if not harder, on this book than my adult fantasy because you have to be specific. I can't expect my young readers to make great leaps in the story as I tend to expect from my adult readers. Adults seem to trust the writer to fill in any gaps somewhere along the way. I believe younger readers will start questioning straight away if I don't make the major structure of the story absolutely clear.

Characters in this story I've found are more black and white with less shades of grey, although curiously my villain is probably the least clear cut. Duke Janko is a very loyal man to the realm. He's just not very loyal to his King but for reasons that he believes are entirely justified. It makes him interesting at an adult level but for younger readers I just want them to get thin-lipped and slit-eyed the minute he appears. So the good guys are clearly drawn and the battle lines laid down! The characters can be larger than life of course in fantasy for younger readers. You want them to leap off the page so that the reader's imagination is quickly fired.

And with writing this book I tried not to have any quiet time. I don't really know what the magic recipe is but I just wrote it as though it was for my two boys when they were aged 10. And I know they would have wanted something that ripped along at a blistering pace, constant danger, and to have lots of imagery. Actually... [grin] I'm sure that's how I write all my books!

Bye Bye Baby What about the new crime novel? How do you feel you are growing into the crime genre?
The first crime novel I wrote was released last year in Australia and was called Bye Bye Baby. It's Britcrime (because I think the Brits write the absolute best crime) and I felt naturally drawn to my English roots -- in fact I set it initially in Brighton where I was born and raised. In that book we met DCI Jack Hawksworth of Scotland Yard on a particularly perplexing and especially savage series of murders and he is asked to head up the operation. It all turned personal and Jack's life and career was threatened.

Book 2, Beautiful Death, is a new operation with an even more ghoulish string of deaths that seems to have no links or clues and once again Jack Hawksworth is called in. Jack has been in recovery for a year but his boss thinks it's time to bring him back into the front line on an operation that has all the hallmarks of a case that could throw London into panic -- he needs his best man on the job.

I'm taking more risks, making my story line more complex this time. I've done a lot of research for this novel including spending two weeks tramping around London locations, so all of that effort is coalescing now to make this a very worthy follow up to Bye Bye Baby.

This is how it happened for fantasy. You get better and better at your craft and in this second crime novel I've learned more about my characters and they have history now so I can play with that and develop them as people. It takes time to establish oneself in a new genre but I love to read crime so hopefully that is reflected in how I write it.

Why is the historical mainstream novel something you've wanted to do since your first fantasy novel?
The mainstream novel I'm going to start at the end of the year has been simmering at the back of my mind for the past decade. It was the book I was going to write first but never really felt equipped to do so and the calling to fantasy was so strong at the time that it was shouting the loudest and got my attention. And because I enjoyed success with Trinity and it needed a follow up, I wrote The Quickening. And then Percheron and Valisar had taken ahold in my thoughts and I was on a roll with my publishers, so I kept pushing this historical saga to the back of my mind.

But late last year it re-emerged and demanded some attention. It wouldn't go away and I realised I had to act upon it so I have now scheduled time to write it.

Why do you finally feel ready to write it?
Because by the time I sit down in front of my computer to write chapter one I'll have fourteen novels under my belt. I've been working with some of the best publishers in the world and I have learned so much over my seven years as a published author that my confidence to tackle something that is so personally important to me is finally at a point that I can trust it.

You know, published authors are rarely egotistical creatures who believe their work is so hot it sizzles. Most of us probably just feel relief that our editors love the manuscript, that it gets onto bookshelves to deadline and that readers enjoy it. I firmly believe I'm only as good as the last book and I just keep hoping I'm improving in my craft and it doesn't occur to me to believe that there still isn't a mountain to scale in terms of learning.

And because the first novel I ever attempted to write was picked up by HarperCollins and is now published in various languages, I've had to do a very public apprenticeship worldwide with my writing. It's only now after years of working with editors and really beginning to appreciate my own ability as a storyteller, to totally trust the curious way in which I plot nothing but simply freefall in the stories I write, that I feel I'm up to giving this book that is so close to my heart a chance at being written. It always felt a bit like Everest in my mind. But now I'm ready to climb my mountain. In fact I can't wait!

Royal Exile is out now; Beautiful Death (published under the pen name of Lauren Crow) is out in April 2009; The Whisperer will be released in June 2009; and A Tyrant's Blood in September 2009.


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Copyright © 2008 Sandy Auden

Sandy Auden is currently working as an enthusiastic interviewer/reviewer for SFX magazine; a tireless news hound for Starburst magazine; and a diligent interviewer/reviewer for Interzone magazine and SF Site. She spends her spare time lying down with a cold flannel on her forehead. For background information, visit www.sandyauden.co.uk.


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