I am an anomaly.  For those of you that know me, this will come as no surprise.  I found a great deal of humor during my cancer treatment, my favorite musician is Elton John (no, I’m not gay), and I write gut-churning scenes of horror while listening to Christmas songs.  And, if that was not enough, I’m a huge fan of a television show that most people my age have never even heard of.

Dark Shadows ran on ABC from 1966 to 1971, a Gothic soap opera centering around the eccentric Collins family in the small shipping town of Collinsport, Maine.  The characters were typical fair for soap operas—all with secrets and somewhat broken moral compasses.  The series went along for nearly 200 episodes with mostly blah storylines ripped largely from classical literature, but then the producers decided to take a risk and created the character of Barnabas Collins, a 175-year old vampire, who is released from his coffin and introduces himself as a cousin from England.

Barnabas, portrayed with wonderful intensity and and often humorous tendency to forget lines by Jonathan Frid, turned the show into a sensation.  Children and adults alike would hurry home in the afternoons to watch Barnabas attempt to work through his many, many issues—his search for his long-lost love Josette, his witch ex-girlfriend Angelique (played by the brilliant Lara Parker), his guilt and anger over becoming a vampire and the lives he has taken, his desire to help those who, like himself, have crossed the wrong people.  Originally designed for a storyline lasting only a dozen or so episodes, Barnabas Collins became the core of most of the shows 1225 episodes.  Throw in a dashing werewolf or two, some menacing ghosts, a European nobleman with a penchant for black magic, and more time travel than a Harry Potter book, and you have one of the premier shows in television history.  Even considering the missed lines, the cheesy special effects, and the crew’s numerous appearances on the show, Dark Shadows was, and still is, prime watching.

Recently, Tim Burton signed on to make a new movie based on Dark Shadows, with long-time fan Johnny Depp agreeing to play the role of Barnabas Collins.  More recently, the duties of preparing a script for the movie went from Burton’s frequent collaborator, John August, to Seth Grahame-Smith, author of the mashup novels Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and the book I’m currently reading, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

I hope Grahame-Smith does an excellent job paring down the 600+ hours of television, 12 or so hours of miserable revival series, and two moderately successful spin-off films from the original into an entertaining script that appeals to fans old and new.  That said, if asked to offer advice on the movie, I would say the following:

–Scrap Victoria Winters.  In the original series, she became the governess for David, but when the actress (Alexandra Moltke) became pregnant and wanted to move on to other things, the character vanished into 1795 and never returned.  The show didn’t need her then, and the movie doesn’t need her now.

–Keep the original theme music.  Sure, update it if need be, but the theme for the original show is an iconic audio experience for the spooky and supernatural.  It sets the tone perfectly and I’d love to hear people whistling the tune as they exit the theater.

—Focus on the Barnabas/Josette/Angelique storyline.  Everyone loves a good love triangle (e.g. Twilight), and Angelique is too good of a character to leave out.  When William Congreave wrote, more or less, that “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”, he obviously never had sex with a witch, then wanted to marry her employer.  Angelique called upon Hell to deal with her fury and that made for some interesting dilemmas for Barnabas.

–Don’t treat Barnabas as some incarnation of evil.  On the other hand, don’t treat him as some angelic, Cullen-like vampire either.  The closest comparison to Barnabas I can make is to someone with a drug or alcohol problem.  He feels intense guilt over what he is and what he has to do to survive, but he can’t stop himself without outside help.  Barnabas is a blood junkie, constantly fighting against the need for a fix.

–Let Dr. Julia Hoffman sit this one out.  If the film does well enough, bring her in for a sequel.  For now, there is just too much going on introducing the other characters to throw dear Julia in.  The unrequited love she had for Barnabas and their complex friendship makes for a great story, but that will have to wait for another film.

–Go for the special effects.  Audiences have grown used to high-dollar blockbusters that spend a fortune on special effects.  I think to capture the attention of a younger crowd, there needs to be action scenes that were never in the original series, particularly on the lines of the later Harry Potter movies where the effects add to the dark atmosphere of the stories without overpowering them.

–Keep enough references to the original series to keep the time-tested fans interested.  Fans who grew up watching the series will tolerate a fair amount of change as long as there are anchors here and there to tie them to what they know and love.  Keep some of the more memorable elements (e.g. Barnabas recounting the tale of Josette’s death by candlelight in the study, etc.) and throw in other references that only die-hard fans will catch (e.g. perhaps have a painting of Quentin Collins in plain sight, have the original music box in the story, maybe even throw in a few of the funnier flubbed lines).  It’s a hard thing blending new fans into old ones, so don’t make it harder than it has to be.  Give us all something to love about it.

–Finally, stay true to the characters.  Barnabas is afflicted, not an affliction.  He kills because he has to kill and he hates Angelique for it, even as he loves her as the only person who truly understands him.  The two of them are linked as strongly as any two characters in the original series (this is evidenced in the show when, at the end of their storyline, Barnabas realizes that he has loved Angelique) and they should provide the main conflict of the story.

So, Mr. Grahame-Smith, if you read this, I hope you will take my words to heart.  I’ll watch it regardless, but whether I enjoy it is now largely up to you.

I’ve been a very naughty writer the past few months, both on here and with my fiction. I could give a multitude of excuses–tired from work, tired from cancer, tired from children, tired from being tired all the time–but one factor in particular takes the lion’s share of the blame, one which I am still working through–discovering what kind of writer I am and what kind of writer I want to be.

I read widely, as most wannabe writers do or should. Fantasy, science fiction, suspense, humor, mysteries, historicals, literary fiction, and so on and so forth. I usually have at least two different books going at the same time, almost always completely different from one another. For example, I have been most recently reading Last Words: A Memoir by George Carlin and The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem.  Also, I’ve been listening to an audio version of Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyer (if I hear one more time about how beautiful Edward is, I’m going to puke on my treadmill.)  I have no trouble keeping them all straight, as long as they are completely different from one another.

Like my reading habits, my writing preferences stretch across the spectrum.  I have written fantasy novels and short stories, both contemporary and traditional.  I have written hard-boiled crime stories.  I have written about vampires, werewolves, and zombies.  I have also written moving stories about Christmas and stories about Christmas with zombies.  I’m as eclectic on the writing front as I am when reading and that, in part, has led to some difficulties of late being productive.

My problem is that I have lost track of what kind of writing I do best.  I have a particular style that works for me and, through the course of my reading, I find other people’s styles attractive and I tend to drift toward how other authors write rather than sticking with what I know works for me.  The result was that everything I wrote seemed flat and lifeless to me and, for some time, I couldn’t figure out why.  What I finally decided was that I was too concerned about the individual words and how pretty they were and not concerned enough with telling the story.  Word choice is important, don’t get me wrong, but you cannot shake your responsibilities as a writer (i.e. telling a story) just because you want to string together a few pretty phrases or mind-jarring images.  Style, I have learned, is not only deciding who you are as a writer, but also who you are not.  While I may admire the work of Lethem or Michael Chabon or Umberto Eco, I am not them, nor should I pretend or aspire to be.  The stories I see best are not those where I can drift into pages upon pages of literary navel-gazing, but ones where dynamic characters interact and move the story forward through dialogue, action, and a few well-chosen images meant to represent everything else I’m not describing in the scene.  I may admire the creators of literary masterpieces, but I am not, for now, among them.

So, with this new realization that I should just tell the damn story and get on with life, I can feel the constrictions I’ve placed on my writing beginning to lift.  For the first time in several months, I’m beginning to hear my characters again–at a distance, but drawing close enough so that I can capture what they have to say and put it down.    The best part about writing, to me, is going back through something I’ve written and not remembering the act of typing it, knowing that whatever is on the page came from the characters and the situation rather than from my attempts to force something onto the screen.  That unconscious effort produces the best of my writing.

Speaking of writing, I placed my first short story, "The Hunt", at the ezine Flashes in the Dark .  It will go live on August 5th and I encourage everyone to stop by and check out the site.  It publishes "horror flash fiction in daily doses" and provides a fun, quick escape for anyone out there looking for a little darkness in their otherwise sunny lives.  I still have a few short stories out on submission, including one entered in the Short Story Award for New Writers at Glimmer Train, rated as the least accepting market at Query Tracker.  In the meantime, I am looking for more places to submit my stories and will update when something comes of that.