Monday, January 14, 2013

"Lengthening Shadows"--Commentary

In case you missed it, last week I released a brand new tale set within The Coming Evil Trilogy. Lengthening Shadows is an e-novella set between Enemies of the Cross and Dark Hour. It sets the stage for that final book in The Coming Evil Trilogy--due to hit the market in February 2013. So, here we are for a commentary on the new story. However, because Lengthening Shadows introduces many concepts that will be explored in full in Dark Hour, I'm saving the commentary on those aspects for Book Three's commentary.

There is one thing that Lengthening Shadows has that marks it as a unique entry in the saga--the inclusion of The Arbigast Group.

An early roster of the Arbigast Group appeared in my short story "Flesh and Blood" found within the pages of The Midnight Diner Vol. 3. The Arbigast Group is my answer to the grizzled monster hunters--a not-so secret passion of mine. I get a thrill at the idea of a group of guys getting together for the sole purpose of hunting evil. I've always imagined what kind of brotherhood might exist in such a group, facing nightly terrors that the world refused to believe in. I imagined it would be a life of quiet sacrifice and no glory--save for the moment you were slaying some unthinkable creature.

More specifically, the Arbigast Group, and its inclusion in The Coming Evil Trilogy, was informed by two sources: John Carpenter's Vampires (based on the amazing John Steakley novel Vampire$) and that Schwarzenegger flick End of Days.

The leader of the Group--Jon Arbigast--is a thinly veiled homage to James Woods in Vampires. He's crude, loud, a bit egotistical, and a drunk. But, at the heart of him, he's a man who loves his team and would gladly die for them. I'm pretty sure Vampires was a flop at the box office and pelted by critics as being misogynistic. I suppose some of the latter criticism is warranted, but there is such a tenderness that Woods adds to his tough guy monster hunter that really left a lasting impression on me. I wanted to create a character like that to explore. Being knee-deep in my Buffy obsession at the time, it was refreshing to see hunters struggling to win. I had become so used to a hunter who barely had to fight to defeat a hellborn foe--and always had a cutesy comeback, to boot--that it was quite shocking to be reminded of how "blue collar hunters" had the harder battle. These guys had to rely on their teammates and their quick thinking and every inch they gained in the war against vampires was won only with blood and tears. I wanted to write hunters like THAT, not like Buffy.

Years passed. 2003 rolled around and I was looking to break into writing for the Halloween film franchise--ironically enough, also a John Carpenter movie. I wrote a script that saw a group of mercenaries--either originally built by Dr. Loomis or inspired by the wild-eyed bogey chaster--hired to hunt down Michael Myers. I even pitched it as "John Carpenter's Vampires meets Halloween". This team was called The Loomis Group. I made a lot of contacts that year in the Halloween machine (which would eventually lead me to write "White Ghost") and knocked on Dimension Films' door in order to pitch it. But, things fell through, no one returned my calls, and the script languished. Same old story. I was pretty bummed, even though looking back, I can already tell that my super action movie take on a Michael Myers movie would have probably ticked off quite a few diehard fans. Perhaps, then, it's better it didn't get made. Nevertheless, I really liked the concept and I liked the characters. Seeing as how I'm not a guy who likes to let a good idea go to waste, I started thinking about turning this script into an original story and bringing this group to life in an original work.

However, I couldn't very well call them "The Loomis Group" anymore (Well, I guess I could, but I didn't want to). I was aware that John Carpenter took the name "Loomis" from Hitchcock's Psycho. I decided to return to that source and mine Psycho for another name. Ironically I turned to the closest thing to a "monster hunter" you could get in the movie--that of private investigator Milton Arbogast, coolly played by Martin Balsam. I spelled the name phonetically, though, making for a one-letter difference. After giving the characters a name-change, I had a handful of gunslinging spook killers, but no one to pit them against.

I said my other inspiration for the Arbigast Group came from End of the Days. Now, I've only seen that movie once, and that was in the theater on opening weekend way back in 1999, but I remember that I did not like it at all. Back then, I was just starting to formulate the early versions of The Coming Evil in my mind, and it struck me that a big muscle guy with lots of guns and a mean snarl wouldn't do a lick of good against the Strange Man. The entire point of the Strange Man was that he had to be fought with faith, so, early on, I had the question of what would happen if the traditional Hollywood tough guy went toe-to-toe with my monster. So, after 2003, it finally clicked that I could bring in my Arbigast Group into The Coming Evil Trilogy.

The results are found in Lengthening Shadows.

That idea rotated in the back of my mind for a number of years, until I finally brought the Arbigast Group into the first manuscript of Dark Hour. But, honestly, I had so many things going on in that draft and was well over 200 thousand words (Enemies of the Cross was 120k for a point of reference) that I had to cut something. So, I took all the scraps from Dark Hour, re-fitted them, and produced Lengthening Shadows--a prequel tale.

Still, though, I struggled just a bit with whether to bring the Group into the world of The Coming Evil. Now understand that practically everything I write "fits together" into a single mythology. From Rift Jump to The Coming Evil to most (if not all) of my short stories. So, from the moment I first wrote the Group in "Flesh and Blood", I knew they were connected, but I hesitated on making that connection blatant. Why? Because the Group hunts various kinds of monsters, but I wasn't sure how open my Coming Evil readers would be to the idea that more supernatural creatures than the Strange Man existed in this world. The Coming Evil is rooted very firmly in a Christian worldview, and I was aware that most of my readers also adhered to such a view. How would they feel about me dropping in werewolves, vampires, and the like into their belief structure? Especially since I couldn't give the "Coming Evil explanation" for werewolves and vampires in this book, due to time constraints.

I essentially had to drop the bomb that traditional monsters were real without giving any explanation for them at this time. I wasn't sure how that would go, or if I was going to stretch the bounds of believability in the fictional universe I had created. In hopes of diffusing the tension a bit, I was careful when describing the things that Arbigast faces not by their traditional names, but by the somewhat vague description of "ghouls, ghosts, phantoms, things in the closet, things under the bed, flesh eaters, dead walkers, blood drinkers, savage man-beasts, unnatural predators, everything people feared as children and grew up to laugh at, before they discovered they were real".

I thought this would suffice to get across the idea of the things Arbigast faced without having to get TOO specific. Ideally I'd like to continue writing Arbigast stories sometime in the future, and then I can get more into the specifics of my versions of the classic monster mythologies. We shall see.

There is, at the moment, one other short story with ties to the Arbigast Group slated for publication and that's "Divide and Conquer" coming soon in the Monsters! anthology. That story also connects the Group to my other monster-chaser character Vinnie Caponi: Urban Mythologist who made his debut in last Halloween's A Cat of Nine Tales occult detective anthology. Could there be a full-length Arbigast Group novel in the future? Honestly, I'd love that, but at the moment, my plate is full enough for two Greg Mitchells. I need to clear that away before I'd be able to dive into such a project. But the Group definitely has more stories in them, and it would be great to finally cut loose and just write about some denim-clad gunslingers traveling the American backroads, blasting away every kind of monster I can think of. Sigh... Only time will tell.

Thanks for sticking around for these end notes to Lengthening Shadows. I hope everybody checks out the e-novella. It's available for $2.99 at Kindle and Smashwords. And most importantly, be here in February when we release Dark Hour!

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