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MorgEn Bailey - Editor, Comp Columnist/Judge, Writing Guru

Welcome to the three hundred and fifty-fourth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with fantasy and religious fiction author and 30-day challengee Christopher C Starr. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.

Morgen: Hello, Chris. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.

Chris: Hey everybody! So happy to be here. Something about myself…hmmm.  Well, I’m shorter than I sound on paper, my favorite color is blue, I’m an Aquarius (and, ladies, I like candlelight dinners and long walks on the beach). My favourite food is lasagne (and I married an Italian), I frequently change the words to popular songs to suit my mood (or embarrass my kids) and I honestly…

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Celebration of Wickedness Day 28: TEDDY RUXPIN #atozchallenge

I’ve been around my share of bears in my day. Oh no, not real ones! I’m not crazy; I’m referring to the talking, necktie-wearing, pick-a-nick basket stealing, snuggly-soft, shirt-no-pants variety. These guys, I’m generally cool with. Sure, Pooh had an unhealthy addiction to honey; Yogi was a petty thief—and a repeat offender; the Snuggle Bear fought the Battletanks, lost, was rebuilt into a bionic bear…and lost again.

But there’s been one of these muthafuckas I’ve hated for years.

When I was 12, a company called Worlds of Wonder decided the thing that was missing in little kids’ lives was a bear that would talk back to them. That could read stories to them. So they made one. Around the holidays in 1985 came this talking-ass, creepy-ass, storytime-ass bear, Teddy Ruxpin.

Now you might be thinking, “Dude, it’s a toy. It’s a teddy bear.” And if you were there, your face is all wrinkled up with “C’mon man, Teddy Ruxpin was awesome!” Yeah, whatever. Teddy Ruxpin scared me. That’s why I’m pissed. Read the paragraph above-I was 12, right? Far too old to be creeped out by some talking bear in a short set. Okay, so let me tell you what happened.

Back in the glorious days of the 80s, when they had entire TV shows dedicated to what the upcoming fall cartoons would be, when Molly Ringwald proved you didn’t have to be buxom to put lipstick on with your boobs, back when someone had the bright idea that shoulder pads were sexy—back in the fantastical 80s there used to be multiple toy stores. Toys R Us actually had competition and one of those stores was Children’s Palace. Now, being 12 and in the 80s and in between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi (which meant we hadn’t confirmed if Darth Vader was Luke’s dad or not), my brother and I were infatuated with all things Star Wars. On Saturdays, we’d take our allowances and go and buy a starship (him) and a playset (me).

On one of those fateful Saturdays, we went to Children’s Palace eager to buy a TIE Fighter and a Hoth world playset. I get in the store and there are aisles—AISLES—of Teddy Ruxpins. Hundreds of them. It was a little creepy. But that wasn’t what did it. I saw all those bears, had seen the commercials and watched Teddy reading stories to little kids and I stood in front of one of the boxes and said, “I thought he was supposed to come to life! He doesn’t do anything! Ol raggedy bear!” I must have been too close to one of the demo bears because Teddy woke up. He woke up! His eyes rolled around and he looked at me and said, “Hi! I’m Teddy Ruxpin. Will you be my friend?”

WHAT? NO!!

I screamed. Like a girl. High and loud. And I ran. I ran deep into Children’s Palace, yelling about Teddy Ruxpin coming to life, thinking that he was possessed like something out of Poltergeist. No, I don’t want to be your fucking friend. No, I don’t wanna read a story. I wanna buy my Hoth world playset with snowsuit Han Solo and go home. Look at that—my big ass hugging my dad because I was scared of Teddy Fucking Ruxpin.

I lost all my cool points that day. I’ve been mad about it ever since.

Freaky fucking bear.

Say what you wanna say. I don’t care. He’s my villain because he scared the shit outta me.

PS: YES! Entertainment re-released Teddy Ruxpin for some ungodly reason. That fun factoid makes the damn bear my Y in the A to Z Challenge. Tomorrow is A to Z Free Day. For the Celebration, though, we’ll be looking at one of the recognizable and influential Bond villains, ever, Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

Celebration of Wickedness Day 27: MAGNETO #atozchallenge

Hey hey hey everybody! Welcome back to another installment of the Celebration of Wickedness, the place where you can finally admit your love for the darker side of life. It’s ok; you can be yourself. We’re all friends here. Gather round. Today, we’re looking at the arch-nemesis of the X-Men, the Master of Magnetism himself, Magneto!

Have you ever seen this guy? Magneto can manipulate one of the most fundamental forces known to mankind. Do you have an idea of what falls under the magnetism umbrella? The entire planet is a magnet. Compasses use magnets. We’re talking light and radio waves! Gamma radiation, x-rays, microwaves. This guy can control the shit you need to see and hear and find your direction. If you’ve seen X2: X-Men United, you saw Magneto orchestrate one of the coolest and foulest prison escapes on film: he’s trapped in a completely plastic jail cell so he has Mystique seduce a security guard and inject liquid metal into his ass (literally), pulls the liquid of the guy’s bloodstream the next day—killing him in the process—turns the metal in tiny balls that tear up the cell, then into discs that he can walk on. And just walks out the prison. I once read a comic where Magneto thought Spiderman was a mutant and to test it, he beat Spidey’s ass by throwing him around using the IRON IN HIS BLOOD.

Magneto is a bad man.

Long before he was Magneto, Master of Magnetism (you have to say his whole name every time), before he was an arch-villain with a bucket on his head, Erik Lensherr (that’s Max Eisenhardt to you diehards) was just a young Jewish boy. During the Holocaust. In Auschwitz. Nothing like seeing your mother killed in front of you to bring out some latent mutant powers, huh? He escapes from the Nazis—kinda—runs away with his pregnant wife, who in turn leaves him after he kills an angry mob while trying to protect her. But things take a positive turn and get good for a little bit—he makes a friend in Charles Xavier (Professor X), they decide to work together to find mutants, train them, protect them and promote mutant causes. Good stuff, right? Yeah, until Erik kills a guy. Well, a former Nazi.

Erik calls it justified. Charles calls it murder. This is awkward. See, good guy Charles wants humans and mutants to live in harmony; bad guy Erik thinks anti-mutant sentiment is a slippery slope into another holocaust. They have a falling out and become enemies.

But here’s the thing: Magneto is right.

You have to understand, the X-Men were created during the rise of the nuclear age and the Civil Rights Movement. They represent the complex social question of how you treat people who are different—but still people—and, in this case, pose a potential threat. This is a question the United States has been trying to address since its inception. Instead of races or sexual preference, there are people who can walk through walls, can shoot lasers out their eyes, can control the weather, can read minds and freeze entire populations. Their capabilities are tremendous and deadly but they’re people. Human beings. And in many cases, they’re kids.

When faced with choosing the path of nonviolence, living in secret, trying to get along with humans and potentially facing another Holocaust; or standing proud, different, fighting back and ensuring it never happens again, Magneto is on the right side on this one. You don’t have to agree with his methodology (he’s actually okay with murder, theft, conspiracy, terrorism, mass destruction) but you have to appreciate his point: humanity has a history of horrible acts in the name of homogeneity. He knows. Lost his parents because of it. Was a victim of it.

Magneto is right. And this makes him not only one of the most incredible villains ever, he’s one of the most complex and compelling characters in literature. Why? Because he’s mad as hell and he’s not gonna take it anymore. And with power like his, he doesn’t have to.

And tomorrow, at long last, you get to find out why I hate that little bastard Teddy Ruxpin.

Celebration of Wickedness Day 26: PET SEMATARY

I’m cheating today—today is supposed to be my W day in the A to Z Blog Challenge and I’m supposed to be writing about the Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz. But the truth is, I hate that movie. I’ve always hated it and, next to The Sound of Music, it is the one film I will actually get up and walk away from (well, that, and Escape from LA—that’s the only movie I ever left a theater behind). I got nothing on the Witch—she rides a broom, she tries to set the Scarecrow on fire, she hates Toto, she has an issue with water (and probably is FUNKY), and she has an army of Monkeybats at her disposal. That’s about it.

So, instead of me making crap up, I invited a friend to the Celebration: I am honored to introduce poetess, novelist, author, essayist (God, I feel like a slacker—I’m not done yet), blogger, academic, Ph.D. candidate, Audreyanna Garrett. And since she loves the dark stuff as much as I do she’s gonna talk about PET SEMATARY.


AUDREYANNA SAYS:
Pet Sematary is one of the scariest movies I remember seeing as a child. As much as I loved watching scary movies, I would find that they were not that scary. This movie was the foundation for determining whether a movie was actually scary or suspenseful. I think we get scary confused with suspense and surprise. Of course the ability to scare has elements of surprise, however it also has everything to do with shock and creativity.

My father first introduced me to this movie when I was about 11 years old and I still hold this movie in my TOP 5 on the list of the SCARIEST movies of all time. Pet Sematary was one of those movies that you had to be prepared for anything. Stephen King had a great idea to develop a story around the chemicals in the fertilizer in a Pet Sematary and it’s ability to bring life back to the dead. It introduced the idea of bring loved ones back from the dead and it also diffused the thought that it was a good idea. As you empathized initially with the loss of such innocence, we learned very quickly why that was not the best idea.

As much as we love our loved ones, bringing back from the dead isn’t always the best possible option. Sometimes we have to learn to leave well enough alone.

I could not contribute to the Celebration of Wickedness without discussing Pet Sematary. The characters, story and plot (THANK YOU STEPHEN KING) are awesome and this movie goes down as one of the TOP FIVE SCARIEST MOVIES OF ALL TIME.

I hope you watch it and enjoy!

NOW BACK TO ME!
Thanks, Audreyanna! For me, this was one of those “Dude, do you seriously think this is a good idea?” type of movies. Made it a little hard to accept. Until the kid got hit by the truck. (Of course, in my crooked little way, I thought that part was funny) But as a parent, I can understand the anguish that would go along with your child’s death. And the lengths we would go to in order to make it right. When the Celebration comes back for Round Two (consider this an announcement) we can discuss how deadly the boy really is—he’s like 2 feet tall, like Chucky!

AUDREYANNA GARRETT:
I discovered my passion for writing early, and developed a relationship with a pen and paper before I had many friends. Writing was my way of expressing how I truly felt without dealing with the misinterpretation so often encountered when trying to express myself verbally. I started with a journal, my journal housed my poetry and my poetry and thoughts developed into blogs. I have established and maintained three blogs to date. Each blog encompasses a different chapter of my life, utilizing trials and joys of my journey to exhibit my growth process.

Through my work, and all future literary projects, I seek to motivate, encourage, support, spread love and provoke conscious thought into the lives of many.

Audreyanna’s everywhere but, here’s how to catch up with her:
Website: www.audreyannawrites.com
Blogs: www.theverticalperspective.blogspot.com, www.soulpoetspeaks.blogspot.com, www.audriwrites.tumblr.com
Twitter: @audriwrites
Facebook: www.facebook.com/audriwrites

You can also find her books on Amazon

Celebration of Wickedness Day 25: DARTH VADER #atozchallenge

You knew this was coming, right? There is no way I can have any coherent discussion about villainy without addressing the Dark Lord of the Sith, the personification of evil for like 3 generations (cuz Lucas keeps re-releasing the SAME MOVIES!), your friend and mine—Darth Vader!

I was 4 the first time I saw the dark-suited wonder. It was at a drive-in and we’d gone to see Star Wars (the original, not this Episode 68 crap). I was two feet tall then; Vader was 20. He walked through the doorway of a ship, had to duck, surveyed the carnage and stepped over bodies without a word. No villain I had ever seen had been so imposing and made such a minimalist entrance. But what did he need to do? His stature said everything; his very presence conveyed everything we needed to know. But in case there were questions, in case we were unsure if he was the bad guy, the very next time we see him he picks up a man by the throat, asks him a question and BROKE HIS NECK BEFORE HE ANSWERED IT! And then threw his ass across the room.

This was more than my little 4-year-old mind could handle.

For the remainder of the next 2 hours, I watched this guy choke a dude out without touching him (in a meeting, no less! Not an argument, a regular Monday morning status meeting, Vader is choking folks!), blow up homegirl’s WHOLE planet, kill an old man and try to shoot down a kid in a fighter plane. And he wasn’t asking people to do this for him—he held the lightsaber, he was flying the ship. He definitely got his hands dirty. Did I mention this was a PG movie?

But it got better. In The Empire Strikes Back, Vader got a theme song that they now play in football stadiums. He killed his own people THROUGH THE TV. He didn’t even have to make the pinchy move with his fingers. Vader killed one dude while talking to another. When Han Solo shot at him, Vader caught the lasers in his hand and snatched the gun away. From the other side of the table. Then invited Han Solo to dinner. And then, to entice his own son to join him, Vader tried to freeze him, then beat him up by pulling shit off the walls with his mind, cut off Luke’s hand and told him, “Oh yeah, I’m your dad. We should totally go into business together.”

I am intentionally ignoring Return of the Jedi—I felt like it was an anticlimactic end to a stellar character. And I hate Ewoks. I could expound on Vader’s activities as Anakin Skywalker in the prequels but they truly are just the icing on an otherwise disturbing cake. And these items don’t actually illustrate why Darth Vader is so awesome: Vader gets it done.

I’ve said it before. He doesn’t give a damn what the obstacle is, what the challenge is, what’s in his way. As he told one of his admirals when their ship was getting blasted by asteroids while pursuing the Millennium Falcon, “Asteroids do not concern me, Admiral. I want that ship, not excuses.” Vader makes it happen. And he’s perfectly fine doing the dirty work himself.

But the truth is, what makes Darth Vader so incredibly potent as a villain is his rationale: Vader doesn’t have shit to lose. Think about it. His wife is dead, his mom is dead, his best friend tried to kill him and left him for dead, he has 4 prosthetic limbs, got burned alive and he’s permanently entombed in a leather burn unit. He killed everybody close to him, thinks his kids are dead, and his boss is a guy who figured out how to live forever. What else can happen to this guy? And when you truly have nothing to lose, you have nothing to fear. And when you have nothing to fear, well, there’s really nothing you won’t do, is there?

And that is what makes Darth Vader my favorite villain of all time.

Tomorrow, the Wicked Witch of the West breezes through. She’s gonna get you and your little dog too!

Celebration of Wickedness Day 24: KEYSER SOZE #atozchallenge

“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” And the greatest villain no one ever knew is today’s Letter U: Keyser Soze from The Usual Suspects.

If you haven’t seen the masterful film or aren’t sure if you want to, or if you’re a little Soze-curious, you should stop reading. Seriously. Just stop reading now: I’m gonna ruin it. Keyser Soze is the unseen antagonist in The Usual Suspects—a film that pulls together Bryan Singer, Kevin Spacey and a tier-two Baldwin brother in a pretty good piece of cinema. The film revolves around a group of criminals—everything from crooked cops to killers to con men—who are blackmailed into attacking a drug ship for a legendary figure called Keyser Soze. We never see Soze: he acts through his lawyer instead. The movie opens with all of our protagonists dying except one, Verbal Kint (Spacey) who weaves an incredible tale of intrigue to a police detective.

We learn all kinds of stuff about how awesome Keyser Soze is; about how he’s gonna replace Scarface as the new Level of Rawness in hip hop circles; about how, when men invade his home, rape his wife and kill one child, he kills the rest of his family rather than give in to their demands. We learn that Keyser Soze doesn’t like to be trifled with, doesn’t like to lose, and, despite his reach and influence in global crime, is happy letting the world believe he’s a myth. Through Verbal Kint, we learn that Soze manipulated these guys, blackmailed them, had them killed. And just when the story is over and Verbal is free to go, we learn that Verbal Kint is Keyser Soze. And we learn that the whole story is a lie.

The whole story is a lie.

In four minutes of mind-blowing realization, we are shown that everything that Kint has told us about the people, the plot, motivations, rationale—all of it—is an off-the-cuff story driven to throw off law enforcement, made up of details from an over-populated corkboard that sits behind the police officer. He made it all up. Right there, in the cop’s office, dead to his face. Made it all up.

So what makes him awesome? It is not that Keyser Soze took on another identity, adopted a frenetic speaking style and fake cerebral palsy. It is not that he concocted a plot, recruited an eclectic group of criminals to do his dirty work, actually joined said gang in said fake identity, only to have them all killed and be the sole survivor so he can get arrested and talk his way out of it (did you catch all that?). It’s even that, once arrested—which was intentional—he tricked the police into letting him go free only to disappear for good. That’s not what makes him awesome. It’s that he lied to us.

In every movie, even if the main characters don’t know what happened, we generally do. We’re usually privy to the machinations of heroes and villains, able to watch the story unfold from all angles and points of view. In The Usual Suspects, we don’t ever get to know what actually happened. We’re hanging onto the same story to police are listening to. Verbal Kint’s tale is the movie and Verbal Kint’s tale is a lie. The entire movie is a lie and Keyser Soze pulled the wool over our eyes. He pulled a fast one on all of us, let us figure it out the same time the cops do, got up, walked out, dropped the limp, got in the car and disappeared. Then credits. End of movie.

I don’t know about you; I’ve never had a villain mess with me personally. Not while the movie is actually running. This was a fantastic example of drawing the audience in and we fell for it. Hook, line and sinker. And if that wasn’t an amazing trick, I don’t know what is.

If you only knew the power of the dark side—that’s right, bring your lightsabers and inhalers: Darth Vader will be casting his shadow on the Celebration.

Celebration of Wickedness Day 23B: CLUBBER LANG

This is my favorite part: “Hey Woman! Hey Woman! Listen here. Since your old man ain’t got no heart, maybe you like to see a real man. I bet you stay up late every night dreamin’ you had a real man, don’t ya? I’ll tell you what. Bring your pretty little self over to my apartment tonight, and I’ll show you a real man.” That real man is our Letter T (for Mr. T.) in the A to Z Challenge and the only man to beat the cowboy shit outta Rocky Balboa: Clubber Lang.

Rocky Balboa is an American icon, a testament to that can-do, against all odds spirit that makes this country great. Now I’m a Rocky fan. I’ve seen 5 out of 6 movies in the theater; I own the blu-rays. I have a Rocky T-shirt. My dog’s name is Rocky. I don’t always work out but when I do, it’s to the Rocky theme (stay thirsty, my friends). I’ve used Rocky lines on my wife (I don’t tell you how to be a woman; don’t tell me how to be a man).

So I walked into Rocky III thinking I was gonna see Sylvester Stallone whoop on some no-name dude with a funny haircut. I already knew Rocky was gonna win—his name is on the title, right? I mean Rocky was all impressive beating up sides up beef in the cooler. Until I saw Clubber Lang beating up sides of people in the ring during his montage. He knocked some poor sap completely out the ring! You hear what I said? OUT THE RING! You train for, what, 8-10 months, maybe more, to get into ring with some cat for him to punch you out of it? This was the equivalent of Mike Tyson before Tyson was boxing.

Clubber Lang was something special. Aside from the fact that his mama named him Clubber, take a look at his stats: he mounted an aggressive and successful campaign for the title and told anybody who would listen what he was doing (I want Balboa! You hear that, old man! You tell Balboa to come here!) He did it all by himself (I live alone. I train alone). And he knocked Rocky out in two rounds. Two! When Rocky fought Apollo Creed the first time, they went 15 rounds and it was a split decision. And they each spent 6 weeks in the hospital. The second time, they went the full 15 rounds again and Rocky beat Apollo on the count. Clubber comes out and lays Rocky’s shit out all across the canvas and killed his manager in the process in less than 6 minutes.

The truth is, Clubber Lang broke Rocky. He broke his body, his mind, his spirit. And then he talked shit about it.

I’m talking classic lines like “I don’t hate the man but I pity the fool,” and “I’m gonna beat you like a dog! A dog!” He said, “I’m gonna torture him. I’m gonna crucify him. Real bad”—as though there is moderate crucifixion, medium torture. This crap happened before the fight, during the fight, after the fight. On TV. Cross country. In the locker room before the rematch. In the ring before the fight started. Called out Rocky’s woman. Tried to fight Apollo during introductions. This cat never shut up and had the muscle to back up everything he said. It was an impressive, systematic, methodical breaking of a man. It took a cross country flight to South Central and two muscle-bound men in mesh half-shirts playing in the ocean to get Rocky back in the ring.

Why is Clubber Lang one of the best villains? He broke the hero. He broke an American icon. He broke a man with a statue. Kicked him when he was down. And got a cartoon and a breakfast cereal out of it. You gotta tip your hat to that.

And so, we are back on our regular schedule. Tomorrow is Kyzer Soze from the Usual Suspects.