Show me the books he loves and I shall know the man far better than through mortal friends - Silas Weir MitchellI read both recent books by Vaughn R. Demont, The Vampire Fred and House of Stone, and both of them play a perfect balance between cleverness and lightness. Completely different in themes (Vampires and Elves), both characters have a funny intake in their own situation, and the writing style of the author is rich, without for this making too heavy the reading. I highly recommend to check you out this new author, and meanwhile welcome him as Inside Reader: it's a particular list (as its author ;-)), and so you will find other item other than books.
Vaughn R. Demont's Inside Reader List
1. Lenny Bruce - How To Talk Dirty And Influence People
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Fireside; First Edition edition (May 1, 1992)
Amazon: How to Talk Dirty and Influence People
“I am influenced by every second of my waking hour.” – Lenny Bruce, How to Talk Dirty and Influence People (p. 188)
To understand my process, I feel I need to understand that which influences and has influenced me. I’m a writer, working in the genre of urban fantasy, so it might seem odd that I would lead with a controversial comedian from the Sixties that I’d only heard of because I’d watched the Christian Slater film "Pump Up the Volume". While I could easily carry his final line from his autobiography out on my shield and simply go with the point that a writer must keep himself open to receive inspiration and influence from all sources, the rest of his book influenced me as well.
I could use his various arrests for obscenity as a platform, about how in my own writing I’m hoping to rail against the “phonies” and “pretentiousness”. Sure, Lenny went out on stage to challenge the status quo, but he still went out there to get paid, do his job, and have a good time. When I first started taking writing classes in undergrad, I was put under the impression that what I was doing was a sacred and noble pursuit, that I was pulling the abstract from the ether and translating it into words that lesser mortals could understand. I was given works by towering masters of the craft who could, or had changed the world with their words. This continued even into graduate school, where my head was crammed with works by authors I’d never heard of that I read dutifully, perhaps out of some vain hope that I’d emerge from the chrysalis of those hallowed pages ready to deliver my own Great American Novel.
Instead, in secret, like the kid hiding comic books in his biology text, I studied other sources in popular media and realized what I wanted to do with my writing: I wanted to tell a good story about characters that I liked, maybe sell it to a publisher and start to pay off my student loans. It’s hardly lofty, but I found myself, I love what I do, and I find influence in my waking hour. Every second.
2. Elmore Leonard - Out of Sight
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks; Reprint edition (April 14, 2009)
Amazon: Out of Sight: A Novel
Though Elmore Leonard had been recommended to me on a few occasions, I didn’t even start noticing his works until I saw the movie Out of Sight and found out it was based on one of his books. I went out and rented Jackie Brown and Get Shorty and quickly went to the college library to read every Elmore book I could find.
I loved his research, all the little tidbits that were wedged in without feeling like they were wedged in, the constant reusing of characters from previous books and alluding to plotlines that were never quite resolved. I loved how Leonard had created a living breathing world that went on even when he wasn’t writing it.
But most of all I loved his dialogue. It was crisp and witty and sharp but most importantly it was real. I could hear the characters in my head saying the lines, and I knew that I could read the lines aloud and not roll my eyes at them thinking how corny it sounded. When I read Leonard’s dialogue, I knew that that was how I wanted my characters to sound: like regular people. I didn’t want a reader to suspend disbelief because my protagonist sounded wooden or was using a level of diction that wasn’t accessible.
His settings were believable as well, and not just because they were actual places. It’s all too easy to set your story in a real world city and still have the skyline seem little more than set dressing. With Leonard’s stories, you never question why the story is set in Detroit or Los Angeles or wherever because you can’t imagine the story occurring anywhere else. The settings were real because you could tell that no matter how dirty and dingy and crime-ridden these places, they were described with the utmost love and care. It was from recognizing this that I expanded the writer’s maxim of “write what you know” to Elmore Leonard's take of “write what you care about”.
3. Simon Pegg & Jessica Hynes - Spaced
Actors: Jessica Hynes, Simon Pegg, Julia Deakin, Nick Frost, Mark Heap
Directors: Edgar Wright
Writers: Jessica Hynes, Simon Pegg
Producers: Gareth Edwards, Humphrey Barclay, Karen Beever, Lisa Clark, Nira Park
Format: Box set, Color, DVD, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
Number of discs: 3
Rated: NR (Not Rated)
Studio: BBC Warner
DVD Release Date: July 22, 2008
Run Time: 350 minutes
Amazon: Spaced: The Complete Series (2008)
Spaced is usually at the top of my list for when I'm having a crappy week and need to recharge. By the time the final scene hits I can't help but feel better and inspired. It’s not that complicated of a series, really. Two twenty-somethings find themselves in need of an apartment, and fake a relationship to score a decent flat advertised for “professional couples only”. Hilarity, awkwardness, and sexual tension ensue.
Even though all of my characters live in the United States, they still inhabit a place very similar to that of Spaced. The characters I write are all living in a world where you're assaulted by pop culture every minute of the day and it influences the way people perceive things. How many times have we made decisions based solely off how a similar situation played out in a movie or on TV? I got a lot of that from Spaced, which starts as a Sit Com but quickly turns into an extended riff on pop culture as well as a love letter to it.
4. Richard Florida - Who's Your City?: How the Creative Economy Is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Basic Books; Reprint edition (June 30, 2009)
Amazon: Who's Your City?: How the Creative Economy Is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life
While I’ve heard them referred to as the “Passover Questions” in regards to building the details of a plot, I’ve always referred to them as the “questions of urgency”: Why could this only happen to this person? Why could this only happen on this day? Why could this only happen in this place? The latter question I will admit is one that I tend to lean on while reading any story. I ask myself why Anita Blake could only hunt vampires in St. Louis when Austin would do just as well. Why can Harry Dresden only work openly as a wizard in the Chicago area? Could Whiteout have happened in any place other than Antarctica? And of course, why can my own novels only take place in an urban setting?
I also made the decision to create a whole new urban area rather than go with an established city. While I took some Urban Sociology in undergraduate school, I found that Richard Florida’s books were an excellent resource for building the world in which to set my story. I didn’t want to drown the reader in sociologist lingo, but I wanted to make sure that the concepts put forward by Florida were utilized well in the creation of the five different sections of the City.
All in all, I’ve found that Florida’s works have made a lot of sense for the city-planning, not only for how each section works and develops, but also which supernatural creatures and gods would likely be found where. As gods are often humanized, you’d have to expect them to have their own preferences where’d they set up digs and feel comfortable working as it were. Hopefully it’ll all work, and the reader will see the choices I’ve made and agree with how the City works.
5. Neil Gaiman - The Sandman
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Vertigo; Reprint edition (October 19, 2010)
Amazon: The Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes & Nocturnes
I have to wonder if it’s possible to be an urban fantasy writer nowadays and not owe a debt to Neil Gaiman’s astounding Sandman series. I’ve read them all, as well as the Death spinoffs, and all of his books. When I started studying under Rachel Pollack at Goddard College, I have to admit I was bragging to all of my friends that my “Gaiman Number” was suddenly a 2 or 3 depending on how you figure the scale, despite that I’ll probably never be lucky enough to meet Mr. Gaiman in real life, and that I’d been pronouncing his name wrong.
What can I say about Gaiman’s work that hasn’t been said a hundred times before? Should I talk about the power of dreams, the necessity of endings, the power of story, the magic in the everyday, the modern fables that remind humanity of its soul? I wouldn’t go so far as to call Gaiman required reading (that’s a kiss of death, after all), but I for one am a better writer because of his work.
6. Joss Whedon - Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Actors: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alyson Hannigan, Nicholas Brendon, Anthony Stewart Head, James Marsters
Directors: Joss Whedon
Format: Box set, Subtitled, Full Screen, NTSC
Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.1), French (Dolby Digital 2.1)
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Number of discs: 39
Studio: 20th Century Fox
DVD Release Date: August 1, 2006
Amazon: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - The Complete Series (Seasons 1-7) (1997)
Like a lot of pop culture trends in my life, I was a Johnny-come-lately with the work of Joss Whedon. Before I’d started watching Buffy, I was mostly only familiar with the movie of the same title, and, like many shows that start as mid-season replacements, I thought it would be kind of lame. I was wrong, obviously, and I proceeded join the Cult of Whedonites not long after.
When I look at my writing, I realize that I’m influenced just as much by the work of Joss Whedon as I am by Neil Gaiman. I write urban fantasy, but every book I write is initially conceived as a series, and I love the ability to overlap one character’s story with another, have the events of one story influence another, much as Whedon did with Buffy and Angel. I’m sure plenty of authors out there have done this (I know Elmore Leonard has), but for me, the primary influence in writing an urban fantasy series is Joss Whedon.
The series itself, as well as the characters, grow so well over the course of 7 seasons, not just exploring the ins and outs of monster hunting, but also life, death, love, friendship, destiny, and just how messed up and terrifying high school, college, and entering the real world can be, even without the presence of vampires.
7. Rich Burlew - The Order of the Stick
Paperback: 116 pages
Publisher: Giants in the Playground (June 1, 2007)
Amazon: The Order of the Stick, Volume -1: Start of Darkness
I’m a gamer geek, and I don’t really mind admitting it. I cut my teeth on Dungeons & Dragons when I was 8 years old, and the fantasy genre has stuck with me ever since. I’ve played from 1st edition up through 3rd, and I’ve always had a laugh or two at the various comics, like Knights of the Dinner Table or Dork Tower that show the stories that give all gamers some common ground for discussion.
Order of the Stick first started as a comic like that for me. A friend sent me a link to one of the archived strips. I started going through the entire archive not long after and emerged from it 3 days later with a much deeper respect of Mr. Burlew than when I went in, and believe me, I went in impressed already.
The comic, the story of a group of adventurers off to save the world from disaster from the machinations of an evil arch-villain starts as a fun romp through a traditional fantasy setting with plenty of 4th-wall humor and lampshade hanging for the fantasy-trope conscious reader. But with every strip, the characters grow, the setting expands, and the emotional investment deepens. For stick figures. Despite the silliness that abounds in the comic, there’s plenty of excellent storytelling here, even for the reader who’s never played a tabletop game in their lives.
8. Richelle Mead - Succubus Blues
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Zebra; Reprint edition (August 1, 2010)
Amazon: Succubus Blues
If I could pick anyone, living or dead, real or fictional, to be my fag hag, it would be Georgina Kincaid. While Richelle Mead is currently better known for her Vampire Academy series, it’s her Succubus series that always has me scrounging together cash for a pre-order. Mead’s take on the succubus legend and mythos as well as her excellent use of Seattle as a setting (never once have I questioned why the story could only happen in the Emerald City)… Where do I even begin my fan-boy raving?
Mead manages a deft balance between humor, romance, dark fantasy, and a touch of the erotic (it does feature succubi and incubi), all enough to make me wish I had Georgina’s discipline when it comes to reading her favorite author (she forces herself to only read 10 pages a night, I devour the book inside of 6 hours).
9. Jim Butcher - The Dresden Files
Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Roc; First Edition edition (April 10, 2000)
Amazon: Storm Front (The Dresden Files, Book 1)
The third part of my urban fantasy Holy Trinity (the other two are Gaiman and Mead), I was first exposed to Jim Butcher, oddly enough, by a guy I was desperately trying to date. I was attending SUNY Oswego and working on a novel that later inspired all of my currently published books, and I gave it to said guy to read. He wasn’t interested, but he wouldn’t stop going on about some guy named Harry Dresden. “He’s so awesome! He’s a freelance wizard who advertises in the yellow pages, but there’s more to it than that. It’s awesome. Makes for good plot.” I wasn’t exactly interested, especially because he’d used “awesome” twice, but I figured with a subject for discussion I’d have a better chance at scoring his phone number.
A couple months later I was charging through the Dresden Files and the guy I’d been chasing became an afterthought. Honestly? I don’t even remember his name, but I have him and his dreamy brown eyes to thank for finding one of my favorite authors.
Much like Mead’s Seattle, Butcher’s Chicago has had an influence on the development of my setting, finding the supernatural existing in the everyday. The masquerade is slightly lifted in the Dresden Files, though, where the police has a special section for dealing with supernatural phenomena, with the titular character often serving in a consultant capacity to kickstart the plot. Also, I don’t think there’s an author in urban fantasy that better handles the Inevitable Couple trope better than Butcher in regards to Dresden and Murphy.
10. Bryan Fuller - Dead Like Me
Actors: Ellen Muth, Laura Harris, Callum Blue, Jasmine Guy, Cynthia Stevenson
Directors: Brad Turner, David Grossman, David Straiton, Helen Shaver, James Marshall
Format: AC-3, Box set, Color, Dolby, Dubbed, DVD, Widescreen, NTSC
Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Number of discs: 9
Studio: MGM (Video & DVD)
DVD Release Date: February 17, 2009
Run Time: 1415 minutes
Amazon: Dead Like Me: The Complete Collection
My memories of Dead Like Me are inexorably entwined with food. I first saw the series after a failed attempt at a Battlestar Galactica marathon (the TiVo was misbehaving), where my housemates and I had just returned from a late-night snack run. We were all set up to eat sub sandwiches and watch 5 hours of BG, and found ourselves needing to find a replacement. Dead Like Me was picked at random, and after that, every single episode we watched always seemed to be while we were eating. Ever since I can’t think of turkey subs, cans of Mountain Dew, or stacks of waffles without thinking of Georgia Lass, the protagonist of the series.
Considering I’m a bit of a thanatophobic, I thought I would be put off by a show about Grim Reapers and the everyday drudgery of reaping souls from those destined to die from Rube Goldberg-ian twists of fate. But the show is carried by Georgia Lass for me, an 18 year old college dropout who’s killed in the opening episode by a falling toilet seat and subsequently recruited into the ranks of the Reapers, approaching it all with the same deadpan humor that was so furiously cultivated by my generation. The show is dark comedy at its best more often than not, playing around in matters of death and loss, building an intriguing mythology while highlighting the real difficulties that death leaves for those left behind. What really struck me about the series was how well it captured the everyday lives of the Reapers. They still need to find day jobs, pay rent, all while occasionally being called to do something truly supernatural, but ultimately thankless. It stands in stark contrast to most other mediums in urban fantasy, where the supernatural is often wealthy and well-connected.
About Vaughn R. Demont: Writer, Scorpio, and self-professed waffle-addict, Vaughn R. Demont (the R stands for truth, justice, and sleeping late on Saturdays. It also stands for Radcliffe) received his Bachelor of Arts from Oswego State University, and his Master of Fine Arts from Goddard College, where he studied Creative Writing and being poor. He has published numerous stories online including The Last Paladin series, The Vampire Fred: Wicked Game, and the recently released House of Stone.
Vaughn R. Demont. Writer, gamer, waffle-addict.
"House of Stone", a new urban fantasy novel coming from Samhain Publishing in June 2010!
Free Fiction Fridays!: http://vaughn-r-demont.livejournal.com/tag/free_fiction_fridays
House of Stone by Vaughn R. Demont
Paperback: 296 pages
Publisher: Samhain Publishing (May 3, 2011)
Amazon: House of Stone
Blurb: A modern knight, a noble quest, and a magical sword. What could go wrong?
Welcome to the City, where gods run nightclubs, goblins hire out as mercs, sorcerers work their magic, the Fae hold court over every neighborhood…and humanity is blissfully ignorant of it all.
For minor Fae noble Richard Stone, life is going well. He has a decent fiefdom (okay, it’s a slum), a budding acting career (okay, so it’s porn), and one of only five magical swords in the City. An arranged marriage is barely a blip on his worry meter—until his family blade loses its magic. The shame of it puts his noble standing in jeopardy.
To regain his status, Richard needs help. Fortunately, his new bride is a sidhe knight and his servant Simaron has, er, his back. Together they embark on a quest to find the demon who slew his father, investigate a conspiracy that goes to the highest echelons of Fae nobility, and discover a secret family legacy that could ruin his House.
All while keeping up appearances to a society that demands perfection. And they say a noble’s life is easy...