Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Jason Henderson

Jason Henderson is the author of Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising (Summer 2010) from HarperTeen, which has been named by the Texas Library Association to the 2011 Lone Star Reading List, a list of the top 20 books published in the previous year for middle grade readers. His new book, Alex Van Helsing: Voice of the Undead comes out in July 2011. An active writer of comics and games, his most recent comic series is Marvel Comics' Shadowland: Daughters of the Shadow. His most recent game screenplay was for Activision's Singularity, for which he was nominated for a 2010 WGA Screenwriting Award.

Last month I asked Henderson what he was reading. His reply:
I believe the axiom that you have to read if you want to write. For me it’s true because reading exposes me to the different ways other writers tackle the everyday challenges of storytelling-- with every book I pick up new methods of conveying pace, tone, point of view, voice, and on and on. Does it work, though, this utilitarian purpose for reading? Who knows? I can’t report whether it has made me a better writer, but it can’t have made me a worse one, and I got to spend all that time reading.

I always have a little parade of books I’m working my way through.

For several years nonfiction dominated my reading list until it began to overwhelm me; I was reading a lot of cynical war histories and after a while it was seeping into my everyday thoughts: everything in life was a cluster**** like the wars I was spending all my time reading about. This brings up another important point: no reader gets out of a book completely untouched; you will be affected by what you read. This means you should think carefully before spending time with a work. I still read some depressing nonfic, but I try to mix it up a little more.

I read a lot of books about movies, and the most recent I’m looking at is Paul Meehan’s Horror Noir, a look at horror movies with film noir elements. I’m loving Meehan’s book, because often when I’m working I like to play old movies in the background, and books like this one help me choose the next movie to play. It’s heavy on 1940s movies I haven’t seen. (Sure, I’ve seen Cat People, but Isle of the Dead? The Leopard Man?)

There are certain books on film I go back to again and again. I am always pulling out Danny Peary’s Cult Movies books. Peary goes through hundreds of films, providing a synopsis and essay on each, so you can turn to Peary as a guide to cult favorites from Casablanca to Mad Max. Now, you might ask: film guides? Can’t you use the net for any of that? The answer is yes for some things like details, but when it comes to big collections of essays, it may as well be a book or e-book so you can devote hours to it.

Since I write a series in the universe of Stoker’s Dracula, I constantly consult certain books on vampires and Dracula again and again.

Just recently I read Charles Butler’s Romance of Dracula: A Personal Journey of the Count on Celluloid, a chatty review of Dracula films. Butler is knowledgeable without coming across as fussy, and it’s a great recap of the history of Dracula films.

I am eternally in debt to the New Annotated Dracula edited by Leslie Klinger. This is the most footnoted Dracula ever. I opened the book and laughed because Chapter 1 had a footnote-- literally, a footnote after the words "Chapter 1." It also has a number of essays on vampires and the writing of Dracula, with an excellent introduction by Neil Gaiman.

One book I just cracked into is an early copy of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, which won’t be out til late Summer. Cline is the genius behind a lot of comedy routines you may have seen online—he had a whole album called Ultraman is Airwolf, including the brilliant When I Was a Kid, which told about how impossible it is to describe growing up in the 70s and 80s. (Listen to it here: Ready Player One is going to be a major hit. It’s a science fiction book about a young man trying to win a prize by solving a series of pop-culture-based riddles in a virtual world. I have just begun it, and Ernie Cline’s voice is as sharp and instantly irresistible as ever.

There’s one genre I read very little of and that would be contemporary vampire stories. Not because I wouldn’t appreciate them—I’m sure I would—but I prefer not to read them because I don’t want to find myself unconsciously copying someone else’s work. As mentioned, I take it on faith that I will be affected and influenced by what I read. That influence may be very minor, just a tremor, but I prefer to leave vampire stories written anytime after 1980 or so out of the potpourri that influences what I write. So when it comes to vampire fiction, I stick to the classics, like the new Dracula above (more of a reference book) and countless old vampire stories. I cannot say enough about The Vampire Archive, an anthology heavy on turn-of-the-century vampire stories like Carmilla and Wake Not the Dead. It is a fantastic place to start if you want to get into old vampire literature.

So, that’s a look at my desk today, as I contemplate a new series, wait to return to editing Alex Van Helsing Book 3, and wait for Alex Van Helsing: Voice of the Undead to come out in July. I’m gonna get back to Ready Player One.
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--Marshal Zeringue