Wednesday, October 12, 2022

A Variety of Vampires

It’s that time of year again. The days grow shorter, the nights grow colder, and Halloween is on the way. For the past few years, I’ve been fortunate to have libraries ask for me to talk about vampires and this year I’ll be speaking at 7 p.m. Oct. 25 at the Schaumburg Township District Library, and at 7 p.m. Oct. 27 at Lake Villa District Library in Lindenhurst.

When Potomac Publishers approached me to do another book in their Most Wanted series (My book Chicago’s Most Wanted was published in 2005), it seemed perfect timing. I’d just finished the fourth book in my vampire series (what would later be called The Chicago Vampire Series) and was looking for a home for the series. I had a vampire vibe going on and vampires seemed like it might be perfect for the Most Wanted series. I wasn’t aware just how perfect the subject was until I started researching Vampires’ Most Wanted: The Top Ten Book of Bloodthirsty Biters, Stake-wielding Slayers, and Other Undead Oddities (2011). Researching that book opened my eyes to just how varied the legends are when it comes to these terrifying parasites.

When To Touch the Sun, the first vampire book in The Chicago Vampire Series, was published, someone put up a review for it on Amazon that, while incredibly impressed by the ending, they none the less began it with, “vamps have a heart?????? Not in any other vampire stories that i have read.”

(My vampires are not technically dead, the cause for vampirism being biologically-based).

It reminded me of one of the questions I was often asked while publicizing Vampires' Most Wanted: “Should vampires sparkle?” Stephenie Meyer’s curious device to keep her vampires in a dark and gloomy place in her Twilight series had caused a slight controversy with some vampire purists (in Meyer’s series the vampires are not hurt by the sun but rather sparkle when the sun hits them which draws attention to them)

My reply to the question remains that vampires should do whatever the story calls for. There is no one true vampire. The notion of vampirism has appeared in cultures around the world as long as we could tell stories and recognized the power of blood.

At the core of the vampire is the need for the creature to take a life essence from another to survive. Sometimes this essence is given freely. Sometimes it’s stolen. But other elements that make up the story: The causes, the abilities, the weaknesses, differ per culture and time. I believe that it’s this variety that has given the vampire legend a resilience that other legends just don’t have. As I say in the Forward of my book, the vampire has the ability to become what we need when we need it. From god to ghoul to innocent bystander, it’s run the gamut. It has evolved as we have, becoming more complex as our own questions of life and death have grown deeper.

The popularity of the vampire has ebbed and flowed but writers usually come along to reinvigorate the genre. For example, the vampire was at one time considered little more than a walking corpse. They were monstrous, terrifying. The legend was essentially a cautionary tale to convince people not to break a societal taboo (or they’d return as a vampire, or be attacked by a vampire, or lead to others becoming vampires) and while certain ideas differed from culture to culture, there was nothing sexy or sparkly about the vampire.

The Pennengalen from Malaysia

The Romanian Strigoi

The Jiangshi of China

When gothic writers began exploring the darker side of life, they created vampires with motivations beyond the obtaining of blood. Polidori’s “The Vampyre” presents us with a creature that could be mistaken for an average man whose motivation seems to center more around revenge than it does the seeking of blood as if his true craving is for psychological pain. Le Fanu’s “Carmilla” seems to fall in love with each victim she chooses. These vampires were attractive, alluring. 

Carmilla attacks her friend Laura

Stoker’s Dracula kept his vampire nebulous but hinted at a history filled with power and cruelty. Dracula wasn’t just an animated corpse; he had been a noble and somehow had retained the vestige of the power that he possessed centuries before.

Still the was description of the vampire in the novel Dracula does not exactly scream "sexy." He's an old man, tall, with dense white hair, a bushy white mustache and massive eyebrows. And this was close to how he was portrayed in the plays. It was Bela Lugosi, with his piercing gaze and imperious demeanor who brought a mysterious allure to the role, first on the stage and then on the screen. He only played the character twice on film, but his portrayal would provide the iconic image for Dracula and vampires for decades to come. 

The interest in vampires seemed to wane in the 1950s, despite the Hammer Studios’ successful take on the Dracula legend. After all, the atomic age showed us the destruction that science can cause. How frightening was a vampire in the face of that? Richard Matheson was one of the first to use science to reclaim the vampire in his 1954 novel I Am Legend. By using a disease to describe the vampiric affliction affecting his friends and neighbors, he made the notion of the vampire more plausible to a culture less inclined toward fantasy.

In the late 1960s, Dan Curtis created the first Gothic soap opera when he presented Dark Shadows. A character that was meant to be used only a few episodes, ended up sticking around after the popularity of vampire character Barnabas Collins helped ratings soar through the roof (and saved the show from cancellation). 

Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins

For his part, Frid had intended to do the short acting gig and go back to his native Canada, using the money earned to open an acting studio. He ended up becoming a teen idol. 

When Anne Rice took the focus off the vampire hunters and put it on the vampires themselves the next great resurgence in popularity occurred. By giving the vampire a chance to present his autobiography she reminded us of something that had been lost all this time. No matter how they were created, magic or science, vampires were at one time humans. Is it possible that they did not automatically give up their humanity after turning into vampires? It's what haunted the character of Louis long after Lestat offered him the choice to live forever.

Brad Pitt and Kirsten Dunst: Interview With The Vampire

This theme has opened up the story telling dramatically. Where at one time the human history of “the monster,” the origin story if you will, generally remained unexplained, it is now an integral element to the vampire story. We want to know what led to the conversion. That’s half the fun.

I found it enjoyable to puzzle out the origin stories for my novels in which I wanted to present characters dealing with a strange, sometimes deadly disease. In my series, the morality of the vampires, good or evil, is what it was before they became vampires. Narain Khan is a good man going through the decades trying to retain his sense of morality despite the strangeness of his condition and the difficulties of the situations that arise from it. The person he was before his conversion often wars with the person he must sometimes now be to survive. As his nemesis Reg Jameson tells him, “I must say, Khan, I don’t envy you your life. You always seem as though you’re placed in situations where, no matter what you do, you stand to lose something.”

Remembering the vampire’s humanity has made it easier to take the creature from monster to romantic hero, super hero or teen dream. Even Dracula was given a romantic facelift in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 adaptation of the novel. Love was Dracula’s motivation for going to England. He was intent on tracking down Mina Harker, who he believed to be the reincarnation of his wife.

Winona Ryder, Gary Oldman: Bram Stoker's Dracula

Now novels, TV and films use this sympathy for the vampire to draw people into the universe they create.

Though that’s not to say that the idea of the vampire as deadly feeding machines is gone. Graphic novels like 30 Days of Night and the film based on it, films like Daybreakers and Fright Night (the remake a better film than the box office made it out to be) still feature the vampire as a dangerous threat. 

Which is great. The fact is there is room for all variations on the tale. And in this piece, I’ve only touched upon a fraction of the characters and stories that have come before. One reason I like giving talks on this subject is because I can discuss the well-known as well introduce the obscure.  

So, while I think the idea of vampires sparkling in the sun as some sort of threat to them is a weak concept (I prefer the notion that the sun is a true danger to them because I believe the character, good or bad, needs a definite vulnerability to help with the dramatic tension of the story), Meyer is simply doing what countless story tellers have done before her. What I did with my vampires whose origins are more scientific than supernatural (and thus their beating hearts). She reinvented the creature to fit the universe she created and this universe has found fans. Fans who may create their own universe that will help keep interest in the vampire alive. As long as we don’t forget the sheer variety that came before, this is a good thing.

Friday, October 7, 2022

Acting Out the Scene

 I love writing dialogue. The rhythm and flow of it. The revelations that come out between the characters.

I think part of my attraction to writing dialogue is that it can bring out the inner performer in me. When you're writing dialogue between two or more characters, you may have imbued each with some of your personality, but you really have to become them to do justice to the scene. Even when just writing a monologue, a character's distinct personality and voice must be appreciated. When I'm writing a scene between two or more people, I may know the concept of the scene and I may know the outcome I want from the conversation, but sometimes how to get to that point is a complete mystery because I'm not really sure what the characters' responses will be to each other until I'm deep into the scene. And if I force a statement to achieve the desired outcome to the scene it can often seem just that: Forced and not true to the characters.

So writing a scene between characters can become Academy Award time as I start dreaming up the dialogue by acting out the characters themselves. I've had whole arguments with myself, or rather the characters have, as I work out interactions and confrontations down to facial expressions and gestures. You can imagine how this appears to other drivers at a stop light when one character is animatedly telling another the facts of life.

I never stopped to think of how much acting can go into writing until I started writing confrontations between the brothers in my second vampire novel Ujaali. The brothers are reunited unexpectedly and each carries a good deal of baggage regarding the other. There's a deep love there, but circumstances have forced an antagonism that must be worked through. Their relationship heals, but it's slow and takes place over proceeding novels. The resentment the younger brother feels for the older brother is strong and has turned to hatred over the years, but it can't be a hatred so strong that they can never reconcile. What I hoped to instill in the dialogue between the brothers, even with all the anger and accusations, is a regret at the chasm that had built up between them. And of course it's that regret that eventually helps heal the rift. 

But they're both stubborn and angry, and dealing with each other right after their forced reunion is not going to be easy. Releasing pain and anger in a situation like that can be a long process. When writing the dialogue between them, it helped to feel that resentment along with the underlying affection and familial bond that would help bring the two brothers back together in ensuing novels. For me, acting out the scenes helped me create conversations that were much more realistic.

An excerpt from Ujaali:

Before Aziz could respond, a commotion in the room caught their attention and they turned to see Narain grab Channing by the arm and toss him into the wall. The two ran into the room just as he was bearing down on the doctor, screaming curses at him. They caught him as he had his hands around the doctor’s throat and after some effort, both Aziz and Jameson were able to pull Narain off the man and force him against the wall where they did their best to hold him. The strength in his fury astonished them and Jameson wondered if it would be necessary to get some ferals in to hold him back from killing the doctor. Realising Reg was one of those holding him back to Narain switched his anger to him, yelling, “I warned you, I would not allow you to hurt her.”

“What are you talking about?” Reg said, leaning heavily against him, doing his best to hold him back with one arm.

“Calm yourself, please, Narain,” Aziz said, “Tell us what’s wrong?”

“Look at her hand, you fool,” Narain hissed. “Her left hand!”

Risking a turn of his head, Aziz glanced at the table his sister was on. The doctor had gently placed her hand on a cloth covered tray and Aziz’s eyes grew wide when he noticed that the first digit of her pinky had been snipped off by the pair of large surgical shears that were now on the floor. The severed tip lay next to the rest of the pinky on the bloody cloth.

Gasping, Aziz shot a warning glance at Reg, though he retained a firm hold on his brother. “What has he done?”

Eyes narrowing as he viewed the pinky, Reg said, “Doctor, what exactly is the reason for this?”

Hoarsely and in great pain, Channing said, “I need to gauge the rate of her healing abilities.”

“That has nothing to do with why we’re here!” Narain screamed.

“Oh dear God, it does if the problem she has is physical,” Reg fumed.

“Look, Bhai,” Aziz tried to reassure him, “this will solve nothing. She’s asleep. She didn’t feel it.”

“You don’t understand,” Narain growled. “You don’t know these people. They’re dangerous.”

Aziz held him firm. “She isn’t hurt and we know the finger can be repaired.”

“Provided the digit isn’t lost,” said Jameson slyly.

Narain renewed his struggles and this time Aziz released his hold, allowing him to go after Reg.

Aziz watched the two struggle, losing his patience. If Narain would settle down for a moment, Aziz could perhaps think straight. Were there any designs upon hurting any of them Jameson’s people certainly had ample opportunities to do so. Even his brother’s vigilance wouldn’t have been enough if Channing had decided to use a sedative on him. It certainly wasn’t enough to keep him from maiming Ujaali. But it wasn’t permanent. They all knew that. And Channing’s reasoning for what he did made a certain amount of sense.

“Listen to me Narain,” Aziz said, grabbing his brother and holding him off Reg. “Listen. You know she’s not seriously hurt. You know the pinky can be re-attached. It will be fine. But he needs to see how she heals. He needs to understand her completely.”

“And besides, she has nine other fingers,” Reg sniped.

Furious, Narain broke free from their grasp and lunged not for Jameson, but for Dr. Channing, pulling him to the floor and preparing to go for his throat. Shocked by the violence, Aziz found his own anger and kicked his brother sharply off the man, sending him skidding across the floor. When Narain regained his foot and prepared to attack again, Aziz lashed out and punched him hard across the cheek. When his brother rose again, he smacked him once more, leaving Narain kneeling on the floor rubbing his jaw, the fight evaporating.

Rounding on Reg and the doctor, he said, “We’re going out to cool off.” He grabbed Narain by the shoulder and pulled him up.

“I said one of us stays here at all times,” Narain insisted, swaying a bit.

“We’ll make an exception this time.” To the other two, Aziz said, “You fix her finger and fix it right and if anything else happens to her, you’ll have the two of us to deal with.”

All but shoving Narain out of the room, Aziz followed close behind making sure his brother didn’t take the chance to run back into the exam room. Even in their worst battles of the past few weeks, he hadn’t seen Narain this worked up and it unnerved Aziz. Narain was supposed to be the level headed one; the older brother. The more experienced of the two vampires. This was not just anger fuelling his passion. Indeed it was also fear, though fear of what Aziz couldn’t tell.

Once outside even the crisp night air did little to cool Narain’s ire. He paced in front of his brother, his gaze glued to the ground as if furiously trying to work out a problem with an answer that remained just beyond his grasp.

“Aziz,” he growled low, “you don’t know what you’re doing.”

“You need to calm down,” Aziz told him, making sure he was in easy reach of the door should his brother bolt.

“You don’t know what these people are capable of! We need to get her out of there. I made a mistake.”

“No Narain, she stays here.”

“What are you saying?” Narain demanded, gesturing. “We can’t stay here. You don’t understand. You don’t know…”

“These people?” Aziz finished, shouting over his brother. “No, Narain, I don’t know these people. Nor do I really know you.” Narain was silent, a stricken look crossing his face and Aziz said, “Yes, they cut off her finger. Gruesome but we all know not permanent. Weren’t you the one, however, who suggested we kill her? Just a few moments ago you nearly tore the throat from a normal man who would never be strong enough to fight back. Tell me, Narain, who should I be more concerned about trusting?”

The desperate need to retort was written all over his brother’s face but Narain had nothing to respond with. All the brothers had done since reuniting was to show each other hostility. The reunion had been forced upon them and the only thing uniting them was the shared desire to help Ujaali. Narain was almost as much a stranger to Aziz as Jameson was and Reg had shown the younger brother a darn site more respect than Aziz’s own brother had.

With some of the fight drained from him, Narain stood still, slowly rubbing his face, his only response being a repeat of, “I made a mistake. I should never have brought either of you here. I should never have involved him. We need to take Ujaali and leave.”

“No, Narain.”

“We’ll take her back to my condo. We’ll figure something out.”

“No, we won’t Narain.”

“Aziz, we must!”

“She stays Narain.”

“Dear God, Aziz! Why would you want her to stay here?”

“Because I want my sister back!” Aziz’s shout echoed across the empty fields, forcing Narain to take a step back. Letting his own frustration grip him, Aziz leaned forward, gesturing between the two of them, saying, “You and I don’t know what to do for her. We tried but we just don’t know.” Pausing, he fought back tears. “You…you didn’t know her, Narain. You knew our sweet five year old sister but you didn’t know the grand lady she became. If I have any pity for you it’s that you missed out on that. She was my friend, Narain. My confidant. My connection to Ma and Baba and Zaheer. She loved me despite of what I became. I don’t care what monstrous thing they’ve supposedly done to you or you’ve done to them. These people might be able to

help her. As long as they don’t kill her, and that would be pretty hard to do, I’m willing to give them some room to work.”

Breathing heavily, Narain asked, “And if they should kill her?”

Aziz raised his hands. “What’s the alternative, brother? I suppose it’ll leave one less task for you to carry out.”

For a moment, Narain looked as though he had just been punched in the gut. Then, a hard look came over his face and his jaw set firmly. Coldly, he said, “I have given Jameson’s people one month. If Ujaali doesn’t show signs of definite improvement within that time, no one, blood or otherwise, will keep me from taking her away from this place.”

Not another word was spoken as Narain stalked back into the barn, leaving Aziz alone with his regrets outside.


When Aziz responded with, "I want my sister back!" I felt the anguish he experiencing. And when he told Narain, "You didn't know the grand lady she'd become" I could feel the power of Narain's guilt which he'd been carrying for decades.

Yet Aziz couldn't resist getting a lick in when Narain's suggestion that they might kill her prompts Aziz to state, "I suppose it'll leave one less task for you to carry out."

This remains one of my favorite confrontations in the novel.

Of course this works well with humor also. I like to mix a little humor into my novels, no matter how serious the plot. I've found that in life humor can wriggle its way into even the darkest of times. If you can act out how characters might interact with eachother, you can flavor the writing with humor that comes off natural to the reader. But again, you have to understand your characters. Sure it's a great comeback and perfect for the scene, but would Character A really be the type to say something like that? Yet you can't really attribute it to Character B cause it doesn't fit him either. You might need to give up the comeback altogether. 

Excerpt from Ujaali:

Ujaali had regained consciousness slowly, but once she was awake, she was very much awake. She knew Narain, but didn’t really know what to make of him. So she alternated between pulling him close for a hug and pushing him away when the hug lasted longer than her limited patience allowed. Aziz, having experienced Ujaali’s frame of mind for some time now, spoke to her carefully, as if speaking to a child, yet being completely honest when he explained what happened the night before. Narain wasn’t sure how much she actually understood. There were moments when she seemed to be going more by Aziz’s tone as she stared at him, than by the words he spoke. He was incredibly patient with her, however. Indeed over the years they had forged a special bond that stood them in good stead during this current crisis. Narain couldn’t help but be grateful that this bond managed to keep her as calm as possible for the energy coursing through her fairly radiated from her.

They’d moved the party from the spare bedroom out into the living room where Narain offered his sister some of the blood he’d gotten from Cassie the night before. She grabbed it without hesitation and bit into the plastic, unconcerned with any dribbling that came from it. She then scurried under the dining room table where she could enjoy her prize in peace. Narain had been amazed to see that his sister had her vampire teeth. His had taken weeks to come in as his dental anatomy took time to alter. The teeth, the strength, the durability. It was not an immediate process normally, yet with Ujaali, it had been very quick indeed.

Aziz’s repeated whine scattered Narain’s thoughts and he snapped, “I’m thinking, Aziz.”

“You’ve been thinking all day.”

Defensively, Narain pointed to her saying, “It’s taken us all day to get her out from under the dining room table. This is actually an improvement.”

“Yes, if she lived in a kennel.”



Narain was about to reply when he noticed Aziz pointing at Ujaali. He turned to her and saw her staring intently at them, the bag of blood half finished before her mouth. As if taking on the role of a peacemaker, she blinked a few times, first offering the blood toward Narain, then maneuvering it to indicate an offer to Aziz.

“You see,” Aziz said, slowly taking a seat next to Narain on the sofa. “She can connect sometimes. She doesn’t like to see us fight.”

“Then she’ll be a very disappointed young woman,” Narain said reaching out his hand to the bag to indicate that the blood was for her. Scrutinizing her as he had for the past several hours, he said, “I suppose there must be something firing though.”

“She remembered you immediately,” Aziz told him. “And actually forgave you for stabbing her.”

“Aziz!” Narain spat. Ujaali held the blood forward again and Narain smiled, raising a finger to his lips. “You do that every time I get angry at Aziz and you’ll starve.”

Aziz was right though, she did seem to sense some sort of kinship with both of them. It was her unpredictability that they found difficult to deal with. Perhaps it truly was only a matter of retraining her. Aziz and he, with the sun trapping them inside, could find a number of things to keep them busy for their minds were clear. Arguing seemed to be their top distraction. Ujaali, half mad with whatever tormented her, had very few options to keep her highly-strung personality busy. Narain was beginning to understand the attitude of ferals. Their choices were limited to prowling, eating or hibernating by their mental abilities.

Rising slowly, he held out his hands to calm her newly agitated state. “It’s alright, sweetheart,” he said softly. Narain looked at Aziz and indicated that he should remain seated. Meanwhile, he carefully and quickly took the bag from her and before she could protest, he put a hand on her back, coaxing her from the chair. “Ujaali, I watched Ma train you as a child. I hope it works again.”

“What are you doing?” Aziz said curiously.

Softly, Narain explained as he seated his sister at the dining table, “If we can reach her, we may be able help her mind connect to old skills.” He looked up at Aziz. “Civilise her as you would a two-year-old.”

“I’ve known very few civilized two-year-olds,” Aziz said, and chuckled at Narain’s grin.

Motioning with his hands, Narain said, “Now stay there darling until I come back,” keeping the blood visible to her intent gaze.

Grabbing a mug from the counter, he placed it in front of his sister, then poured the blood in it. Ujaali stared at it, confused. She knew the container held blood. The things she’d been given to ease her hunger since awakening were at least soft and pliable, her teeth piercing the bags easily. But this object was cold and hard. Ujaali stared at it, then up at Narain, then back at the mug. Indicating that she should pay attention, Narain took the mug and raised it to his lips then lowered it, a coating of the blood still on his lips. He ached to drain the mug but he held back, instead making a show of licking his lips, hoping that Ujaali would understand where the blood came from. If she could not grasp the connection, he feared it could be possible that her reasoning skills were damaged. Still, one test wasn’t proof positive.

Blinking, she touched his lips, and stared into the mug. Her teeth showing, she lowered her face to it and bit the side, chipping off a huge chunk then spitting it out furiously when no blood issued forth. The chunk clattered across the table and before Narain could get it, Ujaali snatched hold of it, hissing and lashing out, slicing open his forehead.

Jumping to his feet, he grabbed his bleeding head, shouting, “God damnit, Ujaali!”


“She cut me, Aziz!”

“Narain, shut up and look at her.”

Wiping at the remnant of blood from the fresh but no longer bleeding cut, he sat back down and looked at her. Blinking Ujaali stared at Narain’s face, still holding the chunk, her arm outstretched as if she was so fascinated by the healing cut that she forgot to lower it. She reached out, brushing back his hair from his forehead and lightly trailing her finger down the inch and a half scar. She looked at the blood on her fingers that she’d wiped from his forehead, then licked it, her brows furrowing.

Could she tell the difference between normal and infected blood? he thought. He could now and physically she had developed much more quickly.

Getting an idea, Narain grabbed the chunk from her hand, and used it to slash her arm. The violence against his sister turned his stomach but he felt it necessary to test his theory. Ujaali hissed at him, but he held her arm for her to watch the cut seal up and heal. With the amount of blood she’d been feasting upon her system was much more efficient than his and the scar was already disappearing. Cocking her head she touched it, then turned her attention again to the cut on his forehead which now looked to be a scar a few years old.

Eyes wide, Narain smiled, glancing sideways at Aziz. “She’s getting it, Aziz. She’s reasoning out the connection.” He bared his teeth showing her the fangs normally concealed behind his canine teeth and her eyes widened as she followed suit.

Taking her hand, she led him from the table and over to Aziz and without saying a word, he lashed out with the ceramic shard, connecting with his brother’s cheek.

Aziz grabbed at his cheek. “Narain are you mad!”

But Narain pulled his brother’s hand away so Ujaali could get a look at Aziz’s healing cheek. Kneeling before Aziz, she watched, fascinated, then reached up and shoved her fingers into his mouth.

As Narain laughed triumphantly Aziz brushed her hand away, mumbling. “Okay, okay, hold on.” Then he bared his teeth and the fangs emerged.

Grunting, she smiled and indicated that Narain should look. “Yes, sweetheart. Sadly he’s related to us.”

She touched Aziz’s nearly sealed scar, then Narain’s nearly healed forehead and then her now flawless arm. Then she crawled from the sofa and stood up, walking over to the mug and studying it. She reached two fingers into it then pulled them out, tasting the blood on her fingers. Then she looked at Narain before turning

the mug and taking a drink from the side still intact. Blood still dribbled down her chin and Narain noticed another large rust stain forming on his rug but he was so grateful at the sight that the loss of his rug didn’t matter.

“There may be hope,” he told Aziz as they both watched her. “Do you see that?”

Aziz glanced down at the drops of blood that fell on his sleeve. “All I can see is my need for a new shirt.”

“She’s able to reason,” Narain said, still grinning. “Not only that, she enjoys the discovery. Your average feral wouldn’t care about anything which doesn’t involve feeding. Not only is she capable of learning, she may very well want to. We may have a chance at getting our sister back.”

Aziz chuckled with a small sense of relief and walked over to Ujaali, taking a napkin to wipe her chin. She smiled up at him, then grabbed the napkin and shoved him away violently. Good naturedly, he looked at Narain and said, “We may have to start with curbing the attitude.”

Narain merely grinned, watching the interaction, grateful for some hope brightening what had been a very dark time. They were not out of the woods yet. He had no way of gauging how far Ujaali would progress. The thought that this one-time bright woman, wife, and mother of six, might now have only an infantile mental capacity concerned him but even that would be better than her being the mindless killer he had feared she was. Anything was better than a feral.


I had a great deal of fun writing scenes like this between the brothers. The tension is there between them, but there's also a great deal of love (though of course at that point neither would admit it).

So putting on your performers hat during the writing process can help you get inside the characters and result in more realistic dialogue.

Next time you see someone at the stop light talking to themselves and gestilucating wildy, you might just be watching someone writing their next novel. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

She-Hulk: It's All About How The Story is Told

From the moment its first episode aired, the Marvel TV show She-Hulk: Attorney at Law has taken a significant amount of  hits from fans, and not-so much fans, and fans-cause-it-gets-us-YouTube-viewers, etc. 

The sad part is that a lot of the criticism is warranted, though much will be dismissed as "gripes from basement dwelling manbabies" (Because that's the reaction to any criticism on a project such as this). Don't get me wrong, there are a goodly amount of those out there, but, having watched six episodes of the series now, I can say even some of their complaints seem valid. So I thought I'd address some of the problems I find from a storytelling aspect.

When I heard Tatiana Maslany would be playing the title character I was intrigued. She was amazing in Orphan Black and I was excited to see what she might do with this. And in that first episode, I saw a spark of what she could do with the character. A spark of what could be done with the character. But it all seemed so disjointed. 

                                   Maslany's characters in Orphan Black

The show is meant to be a comedy, but it carries with it the weight of a superhero show that automatically brings to it elements of action and suspense. Marvel has shown that they can mix comedy, action, and suspense successfully. In She-Hulk, however, neither the comedy nor the superhero elements really hit their mark. 

This could be due in part to the running time of the episodes. If it were handled as a true situational comedy, 30 minutes might be enough time to provide a satisfying show. But 30-minute long episodes in a 9-episode season doesn't give a lot of time to set up a character's origin, current situation, how the new powers affect her current situation and any story arcs they may be trying for to tie the show into the larger Marvel Universe (which is pretty much a thing now with every Marvel property). 

Still, I think they made a major blunder by not using the character's origin story from the comics to start the series off. 

Admittedly, I'm not comic book reader. I think they're a great art form, but I prefer my stories in a more linear fashion. I found the couple of comic books I've tried irritating to read, despite the glorious illustrations. I do, however love superheroes and have always been a big fan of the movies and TV shows. 

So I was unaware of the comic book history of Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk when I began to watch the show. And the fact is that typically, the histories of these characters and the storylines that appeared in the comics are toyed with and tweaked a little when movies or TV shows are created for them. Sometimes the storylines used span several issues or more of the comics and involve a variety of concepts that just can't be fitted into a two hour a movie or a 9-episode TV show. Sometimes ideas are altered to reach a larger audience that includes, like myself, people who aren't familiar with the comics or different age demographics. 

It's an interesting balancing act that producers and writers of this genre have to undertake. I just don't know if the writers for She-Hulk are up to the task. And unfortunately, it doesn't seem as if the writers are getting very good direction from the top.

From the moment we meet unassuming Jennifer Walters, we know she can become She-Hulk because she breaks the fourth wall in mid-scene and tells us so, which I guess is something that the character does in the comics. But to me it was a jarring introduction to the character. A TV show or movie such as this needs to embroil the audience in the fantasy. It goes back to that delicate balance. For however long the episode or movie lasts, the audience is being asked to forget the real world and take part in the make believe. 

When a character breaks the fourth wall, that can break the grip the piece has on the audience. If done right, it's a whole different kind of fantasy that the audience is invited to take part in. If done wrong, it just makes the viewing awkward. While breaking the fourth wall may have been something done in the comics, I don't know if it was the best choice for this TV show. Or if they wanted to use it, I believe it needs to be employed in a much better fashion. When Jennifer Walters (or She-Hulk, depending on what form she's taken) speaks to the camera it doesn't seem a natural part of the story. It seems like a device used because the writers didn't know how else to make a point. 

To tell She-Hulk's origin story, we're flashbacked to when Jennifer Walters was enjoying a visit from her cousin, Bruce Banner a.k.a Hulk (cameo by Mark Ruffalo) who is not in Hulk form. The cousins are involved in a car crash and Bruce is knocked unconscious (one would question why the "big guy" didn't come out at that point, but...). Jennifer saves Bruce from the burning car but as she's doing so, some of his blood just happens to stream into a deep cut she sustained on her arm, infecting her blood stream with his gamma enriched blood.

And THUS She-Hulk is born. Or created, or whatever you call it. 

It is possibly one of the most ridiculous origin stories ever dreamed up. It is a sin of convenience and is nothing like the origin story that appeared in the comics. Here's where I think the writers had their first misstep in terms of the story itself. 

In the comics, Jennifer Walters, cousin of Bruce Banner, is also the daughter of Los Angeles County Sheriff William Walters. Coincidentally on the day that Bruce is meeting with her to tell her of his condition, henchmen of crime boss Nicholas Trask gun her down and Bruce is left with a terrible decision. Knowing he's of the same blood type, he gives her an emergency transfusion knowing full well that his gamma enriched blood may cause the same condition in her that he is currently battling. 

And THUS She-Hulk is born. 

The origin story used by the comics is ripe with possibilities. A cacophony of story lines that could be explored as the series progressed. Starting with Jennifer trying to get a grip on these new found powers as she tries to live as normal a life as possible. Mixing comedy and pathos is entirely possible to do successfully. Most of the Marvel movies have achieved this mix. 

But according to an article that appeared on the Website Inverse, the folks at Marvel felt the mob hit story didn't work well with the tone they wanted to set for the show. Again, it's hard to tell what tone they were actually going for, but I'm assuming they meant a comedic tone. 

Also, according to series creator and head writer Jessica Gao, "You'd have to set up a ton of backstory...You can't just drop that in."

Which goes back to the severe time limit the creative team has to play with for the series, which might make establishing a backstory a challenge. Still, I believe you could use that or a similar origin story, with its supposed ton of backstory to set up Jennifer and her series. It might have meant a one hour-premiere episode (or two episodes) as opposed to the 30 minutes they started with. You wouldn't even need a mob hit storyline. Jennifer could have been simply hit by a car and needed an emergency transfusion which only Bruce could supply. It's doable, but the writers of the TV series chose the easy route, to, I believe, the detriment of the series itself. 

Yet, while Gao seems concerned about dropping in backstory when setting up the show's universe, she has no problem ignoring it when it entails characters they want to use for the show. Perfect example, at the end of the first episode, after we've had the info dump portion where Bruce tries to help Jennifer understand her condition (and it turns out Jennifer can transform at will), we finally see Jennifer the lawyer at work in a courtroom. Without warning, a woman crashes through the wall and throws a table at the jury, which Jennifer, now Hulked-out, catches easily. This woman that we discover later is named Titania lunges at Jennifer who punches her back into the wall where the attacker sprawls, dazed. 

Now fans of the comics will probably know that this woman is an arch nemesis of She-Hulk and they may have been quite excited by her appearance, but those like myself who don't know the comics had no clue who she was. 

So the whole scene seemed like either a desperate excuse to have She-Hulk use her powers in the courtroom, or a set up to a storyline to be picked up in the second episode. Unfortunately, it wasn't picked up so outside of some slight exposition from news stories, explanations of this apparent rivalry is ditched in favor of watching Jennifer lose her job at the DA because they think her tie to She-Hulk would be detrimental to the office (her saving the jury led to a mistrial being declared on the case she was trying when it happened).

Titania doesn't make a substantive appearance until episode 5 when we learn that she is a popular influencer who had the smarts to copyright the name She-Hulk, a name Jennifer herself has been trying to step away from. Which could be a fun premise for an episode of a show that involves lawyers if there still weren't so many unanswered questions. We still don't know really what Titania was looking for when she burst through the wall of a courthouse and started taking people down. Is she an influencer or a criminal? Is there a pre-existing rivalry between Titania and Jennifer or did the rivalry start there? In episode 6, Titania's fury at She-Hulk is so great that she shows up at a wedding of one of Jen's old friends (the wedding storyline itself being a confusing mix of tones) and demands that she turn into the green goddess so they can have a throw down. 

So rather than establish any sort of backstory in the rivalry between She-Hulk and Titania, Gao and her writers instead chose to just, "drop it in." The audience, I guess is supposed to just run with it. It's a concept used so poorly it's as if the writers forgot how valuable character history and context can be for a story. 

Possibly the longest exposition occurs after the car accident.

In the first episode, Bruce tracks Jennifer down after her first "hulk-out" and takes her to an island gifted to him by Tony Stark where Bruce hopes to prepare his cousin for what she may now find herself facing as someone with the Hulk condition. You see, Bruce knows a little something about being a Hulk having lived with the condition and its violent potential for decades, and even though he's acquired control over the power, he fears how easy it might be for it to overpower his cousin.

Oh, but he needn't have worried. The writers of the She-Hulk television program have decided that their Jennifer Walters will not face the serious, and infinitely more interesting challenges that the Jennifer Walters of the comics faced. No, from day one on that island we discover that she can control the thing it took Bruce half his life to control. Jennifer Walters can turn into She-Hulk at will and keep from becoming her when angry. Why? Well because, as she tells Bruce, as a woman whose been catcalled and mansplained all her life, she has had to control her anger for fear that expressing it might lead to her being viewed as unreasonable because of her gender.

As I watched this scene, and as a woman, I honestly winced at how ham-fisted it was.

At the risk of combining the comics too much with the series, this is the Wikipedia article on Brian Banner, Bruce's father.

And if one wants to keep with the cinematic Hulk (and not including Bill Bixby's brilliant version of the creature), Ang Lee's unfairly maligned 2003 movie offered us a story line in which Bruce's father actually conducts experiments on him and that, combined with the gamma radiation Bruce endures while saving someone else, turns on the genetic switch that leads to The Hulk. Now an unpredictable creature of destruction, Bruce must leave his love and run from the military, going into hiding until Natasha Romanov tracks him down hoping to bring him onto the Avengers initiative. From there he's tested continuously as he tries to help save the world and having to accept that he is useful in both his Banner form and his Hulk form. Still the destructive power of The Hulk is such that he sends himself into space out of fear of the damage he can cause.

But yeah...catcalls. Okay. To be fair, misogyny does occur and can have serious consequences for women suffering from forms of it. There's no problem with putting a message in the dialogue. But in this scene it seemed out of place. And again, because we knew so little about Jennifer to begin with, it didn't resonate as well as it could have perhaps in another scene. So not only did it unbalance the scene, the message itself was too heavy handed to be appreciated.

And that could be the key problem with She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. There are really no stakes for Jennifer Walters. She's not had a bad life up to the car crash, and after, she has nothing to lose becoming She-Hulk because, not only can she turn into She-Hulk at will, unlike the versions of Bruce's Hulk before Professor Hulk that we see in Endgame and this series, she doesn't lose her intelligence or sense of self. She is Jennifer Walters, only taller, greener, stronger and physically gorgeous. 

She even gets a job in her chosen profession thanks to She-Hulk.

The writers seemed so afraid of backstory that they didn't really establish one for their lead character aside from her being Bruce's cousin and a lawyer in the DA's office. We don't really know what makes Jennifer tick. We don't know what challenges she's faced in life. So consequently, often times her disparaging remarks about how her life has changed after She-Hulk entered it come off as slightly whiney considering that while she was let go from the DA's office, she was out of work for a millisecond before landing an even better job. 

Of course there is the drum beaten in every episode. Apparently she's faced a stereotypical level of misogyny in her career. That's a huge running theme throughout the show. Jennifer Walters has faced so much misogyny in her life that she's learned to control her temper to the point where even a genetic mutation can't break down her defenses. Of course as you watch the show, aside from a male co-worker cartoonishly written as a misogynist, you really don't see her assailed by that much misogyny. The worst part of her post gamma-ed life seems to be that Jennifer tends to attract men who are more interested in Jennifer when she's in her She-Hulk form than they are when she's regular Jen.

In fact, this seems to be the one true dilemma that they've allowed the character to face: She is resentful of She-Hulk because her alter ego seems to be more popular than she is. One can appreciate that. We've all had that uber-popular friend who can light up a room while we're hiding in the shadows. The difference here is, Jennifer is that uber-popular friend. Unlike the Jekyll and Hyde existence that Bruce has been living, Jennifer slips in and out of She-Hulk like a party dress. And since we're not really given a gauge on what Jennifer's life was like before She-Hulk stomped into it, we're not really sure if regular Jen has ever had to take a back seat to anyone among her peers before. 

We're also not sure how successful a lawyer Jennifer is because despite the title of the show being She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, and post gamma-ed Jen being hired to head a superhero division of a law firm, there's precious little in the way of actual law being practiced. 

Gao's original vision for the series had included more law scenes. In fact, she had considered making the storyline that featured the Abomination (a past nemesis of The Hulk) in a multi-episode trial. But the writers all came to the realization that none of them had experience writing courtroom scenes. Theoretically this would be a fixable problem. Even a couple of viewings of Boston Legal could help. But rather than do the work needed to bring them to that level, they chose instead to turn away from the more legal aspects of of the story, ditching the more compelling concepts for yet one more cliched take on a woman not feeling complete unless she can find a boyfriend.

The frustrating thing about the show is that there is a glimmer of something there. The duality that Jennifer must face in her life. The creation of a "superhero" law division. Jennifer occasionally having to jump into the fray herself (or rather, as She-Hulk) and all the ramifications inherent in that. If handled well, this show could be exactly what, presumably, the producers and writers were hoping it to be: A smart, fun, fantastical comedy. But there needs to be more meat on the bone for this story, and a better sense of direction. And actually, a little better character development wouldn't hurt either. It's a bit hard to root for characters when you don't really know them.

Some shows take a little more time to find their way, but we live in an age where if a show isn't ultra successful from the first viewing, the productions companies behind it have little patience to nurse it along until it hits its stride.

I hope She-Hulk: Attorney at Law gets the chance to smooth over the wrinkles to become that smart, fun, fantastical comedy they're trying to make. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

When Anger is the Only Thing Holding You Together

Life happens.

If you're lucky, life happens joyously for the most part. Sometimes it happens lazily. 

Sometimes if trouble occurs it's navigable, doesn't linger or leave too many scars behind.

Sometimes though, life surges in with cyclonic force, picking you up and shaking you around the way a hyperactive Dachshund might shake a favorite toy. If you're lucky, it doesn't last long. If you're not lucky, then you hold on for dear life until the upset ends, and are allowed only the briefest of inhales before it starts all over again. And again, and again.

A decade ago I had plans. The decade itself, however, had other plans. Ten years later, I'm working on stitching my life back together and not quite sure I have enough thread. There's only so much shaking a toy can take

Hence the reason my blog has been neglected for as long as it has. I apparently made a valiant attempt to attend to it in 2018, popping on 5 posts (as opposed to the 23 I put up in 2013), but even after only four years, 2018 seems like such a long time ago. Let's see if I can be a little more frequent this time.

Let's start by discussing anger, and bitterness, and, grief, and frustration. You know those complicated emotions that rise up to slap the crap out of you for hours or days or weeks or years. The power of these emotions terrify us because they're so uncontrollable and yet sometimes they're all we have to roll on. They're all the energy we can muster.

When you're knocked down enough, hope evaporates. When hope evaporates, faith struggles. Your belief in anything comes under fire. Love and joy come to seem ridiculous by virtue of their sweetness. There's nothing even remotely sweet about what you're enduring and in the midst of it, it doesn't seem as anything sweet will ever find its way back into your life.

So, after enough of this, there comes a point when anger truly is the only thing holding you together. It's the only thing getting you out of bed and forcing you through life every day. And it's the only armor you have to protect you when life beats you down again. 

The power of anger is glorious and it can serve you well, though sometimes at a great cost to others. It can lead to the creation of great works, it can lead to movements, and change for the better. Even on a personal level, sufficient fury can help you vow, "I'm so pissed off, I will not go down without a fight!"

But only if channeled correctly. Which can be a difficult thing when you're in the maelstrom, still raw and ragged from the struggle just to hold on. Will you control anger or anger control you?

And once you make it through that maelstrom, if  you make it through that maelstrom, will you be able to leave that darkness behind? Will you be able to reconnect with that person from so very long ago who was sure everything would be okay before it wasn't okay and continued for so long? Negativity becomes a habit hard to break. An instinctual response when you've lived for years waiting for the next shoe to drop. Can those bits you've allowed to freeze over be warmed back to life?

There's the person you were, and the person you became to get through. The challenge after all this time will be to find the real you.

Friday, December 28, 2018

All Hail Queen Part II

My top favorite Queen songs, #5 to 1. 

5.  Innuendo

Innuendo is another example of the musical glory that is Queen. It’s a song I can listen to over and over (and have). It's a dark song with grand themes at a personal level. The song, the title track from the band's 1991 album, was written by Taylor and Mercury, inspired by Led Zepplin's Kashmir which shows through in the majority of the song. The rhythm is relentless, the song starting with a drum roll that leads into a suspenseful sting making you wonder where it's headed. The opening lyrics speak of the sun, desert sand, crashing waves, and mountains crumbling into the plain. Through it all, "We'll keep on trying/tread the fine line." Later the song speaks of "Our lives dictated by tradition, superstition, false religion/through the eons, and on and on." 

The middle part is pure Mercury, shifting gears and tempo to a more positive song. There's a flamenco guitar solo repeated later using electric guitars, the solos book ending a bridge filled with elaborate orchestration. In it, Mercury insists that, "You can be anything you want to be, just turn yourself into anything you think you could ever be." All it takes is for you to "Surrender your ego."

History sometimes leads us to read meaning into lyrics that perhaps weren't there when the song was written. The album was recorded from March 1989 to November 1990. Toward the end of that run, Mercury was most definitely dealing with his mortality. A man who had so often been able to be anything he wanted to be, was slowly losing that magic. The lyrics are almost taunting in that regard. This could be why the bridge ends with the urging, "Surrender your ego. Be free, be free, to yourself." Accept what can't be changed.

Then the song dives right back into the relentless bolero, slapping us back to reality as Mercury demands,

"If there’s a god or any kind of justice under the sky/If there’s a point, if there’s a reason to live or die/ If there’s an answer to the questions we feel bound to ask/Show yourself, destroy our fears, release your mask." The very thing a dying man might demand. Whether or not this played a part in the creation of the song, as with The Show Must Go On, it lends to the lyrics and Mercury's performance a whole other dimension. Hope then acceptance. There are things we cannot change, but we also can't help but try. Just as the sun hangs in the sky, this is in our nature.

4. Spread Your Wings

The first Queen album I bought was "News of the World" which features two of their most iconic songs We  Will Rock You and We Are the Champions. Both brilliant anthems. But it also features one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard in Spread Your Wings. Written by bassist John Deacon, it's a story song about a young man named Sammy being encouraged to leave his job mopping up the Emerald Bar to pursue his dreams. Fear, complacency, whatever makes it difficult for him to spread his wings and fly away. It starts out gently with Mercury's piano, as we're pulled into the song and Sammy's dilemma. Eventually it builds to a rocking crescendo as the narrator pleads with the young to take the risk while his boss insists he should be happy sweeping up the Emerald Bar. It was a song I listened to over and over (along with All Dead, All Dead and My Melancholy Blues). Maybe it resonated with me because even at 13 years old I related to Sammy's plight. I knew I should spread my wings but was too afraid to try.

3. Bohemian Rhapsody

Considered by many to be Queen’s magnum opus, even today it remains an audacious song: A song longer than three minutes at the time was not a favorite among radio execs. Were it not for their success, it’s unlikely that the Beatles could have persuaded radio to play Hey Jude at 7:11 in length (some stations did actually edit it for length). On top of its length of 5:55, Bohemian Rhapsody boasted a mix of ballad, and straight up hard rock along with…an operatic section of all things. And the song is about some guy named Scaramouch who everyone wants to do the Fandango, not to mention the whole cry out for Galileo. What’s that all about?

And yet they pulled it off. In a big way. Recorded in 1975, the production challenged studio equipment of the day and took three weeks to record. The lyrics can be taken either metaphorically (alluding to situations going on in Mercury’s life) or literally, a story song in three parts, as a libertine anti-hero regrets the choices he made and begs for his life and his soul.

Perhaps the true genius of Bohemian Rhapsody is that despite its musical intricacy, despite its obscure references and unclear narrative, everyone feels comfortable enough with the song to have a go at it. Perhaps the most famous example of this is the scene in the 1992 movie "Wayne’s World" where Wayne, Garth and their two friends are driving around in a car and the song comes on. According to Mike Myers who played Wayne, this was based on experiences with his brothers and friends. When the song came on, everyone had a “Galileo” to sing and there was trouble if someone stepped on another’s “Galileo.” Apparently producer Lorne Michaels originally wanted a Guns N' Roses song, but Meyers, for whom the song was a masterpiece, stuck to his guns and the song stayed. To much better effect. The joy of that scene in the movie is that everyone has done the same thing. We all had a whack at it while driving around alone or with friends. In fact the movie helped the song become popular again nearly twenty years after its release.

Released in October, 1975 it was a daring work on many fronts that paid off. Decades later the song is still being praised for its legacy. It was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2004 and was appears in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. It even made history recently when it hit Billboard's Hot 100 a third time after the release of the 2018 movie of the same name (the first time of course was when it was released and the second was after the release "Wayne's World" which helped it reach #2 on the chart). Reaching #9, it seems the movie Bohemian Rhapsody has given the song another opportunity to be heard by a new generation.

2. Killer Queen

I was ten years old when Killer Queen sauntered onto American radio, encouraged on by a few crisp finger snaps and driven forward by the bass. This song was my introduction to Queen. I had no idea what a “Moet et Chandon” was or a “Geisha Minah” or for that matter a good portion of the lyrics Freddie Mercury was singing. I didn’t care. The song was so crisp and clean and perfectly produced that I had to hang on for the ride and was grateful I did. Starting out with a piano, other instruments entered the song like special guests at a cocktail party which is kind of how this whole song felt: Like you were listening to a conversation at a high class cocktail party about one of those women who are too cool to settle down. Holly Golightly still going strong in the '70s. It was sophisticated and scandalous but by the middle of the song was able to get a bit raunchy too. Okay, at ten years old I had no clue who Holly Golightly was and perhaps the subtext wasn’t that clear, but I knew there was something going on in that song (Mercury would later say that the song was about "a high class call girl" but also that "...classy people can be whores as well"). And it had a guitar lick that hooked you and would not let go. Musically you wanted to hear what they’d throw in next.

The single was released in October, 1974 it was featured on their album “Sheer Heart Attack” and became their first international hit.

While in some respects it's a lower-key song than others that would follow, it established Queen as a musical force to be reckoned with thanks in part to the quality of the craftsmanship. It was a perfect example of the elegance that the group brought to rock music and helped pave the way for a song like Bohemian Rhapsody to be accepted by the audience. Over forty years later, it still sounds fresh, sophisticated and slightly scandalous.

1. The Show Must Go On

While some would put Bohemian Rhapsody or even Killer Queen in the top spot, for me The Show Must Go On tops them both. Not only for the music and production values but for the poignancy of the song. A man, a showman, very near death, insisting none the less that the show must go on. What must it have been like for Mercury, the reality of his own mortality looming over him, to sing those words (or for  that matter the band to watch him sing them)? And yet he does so, giving every piece of himself to the performance. There’s an audacity there that only Freddie Mercury could pull off. The song, released as a single on Oct. 14, 1991, is very much about the state of Freddie Mercury's health at the time of recording. Written primarily by May with some input from Mercury, the lyrics are those of a man refusing to give up the ghost but realizing it’s a losing battle. Mercury did not want pity, which was one reason he kept his diagnosis of HIV/AIDS a secret and tried his best to carry on with the show, wearing more and more makeup to cover the ravages of the illness he would succumb to only a month after the song’s release. The lyric, “Inside my heart is breaking/my makeup may be flaking/but my smile still stays on” becomes even more striking for that fact.

Brian May was uncertain whether or not Mercury had the strength to sing what is a vocally strenuous song to perform even for Mercury in perfect health. According to May in a later interview, however, “He said, ‘I’ll fucking do it darling’—vodka down—and went in and killed, completely lacerated that vocal.” The consummate showman, Mercury knew the importance of that song to his legacy and was not about to miss out on that last bravura performance.

I can’t imagine how difficult it was for May to broach that topic of failing voice with Mercury as well as for the whole band to hear the final playback of that song, his voice so strong and determined, knowing the struggle Mercury was facing would soon be over. In many ways the song must have been cathartic as they said in music what they couldn’t say with words.

The video released for The Show Must Go On features only a few glimpses of Mercury in his declining year, concentrating instead on clips from his career up to that point. The editing is brilliant, the clips a perfect accompaniment to the song. In many respects this makes it even more heartbreaking to see the scenes of past glory accompanied by that song. I seem to remember seeing this video after hearing news of Mercury’s death on Nov. 24, 1991, and it brought me to tears to watch. Still chokes me up a bit.

When well done, music can cause a gut reaction. The beauty of Queen is that all their songs have that epic quality to them. Listening to the Show Must Go On brings on a euphoria over the entire band’s performance, and a sadness that, despite the insistence that the show must go on, it simply can’t.

Honorable Mention: All Dead, All Dead

This is an honorable mention. A song I was recently reminded of when I came across the video Queen put up for it on YouTube several months ago.

This is the another song on News of the World that I couldn't get enough of. It's a hauntingly beautiful song about a childhood friend that had passed away. I only recently discovered that Brian May wrote the song about the death of his childhood cat. As a cat lover myself who had her own childhood friend (a sweet orange tabby named Starsky), this made the song even more poignant for me. The lyrics are sheer poetry and May's voice, combined with Mercury's delicate piano playing reveals the sense of loss and grief that even the loss of a pet can produce. There is a version of the song with Freddie Mercury singing, but I think May's voice is better suited to the gentle tone of the song. Someone described it as a warmer sound.

So there you have my top ten Queen songs. Feel free to let me know what yours are. 

Dedicated to Starsky, my childhood friend.