My Books



“I actually could not put the book down. It is well written and kept my interest. I want more from this author.”
Reader review of Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead on Amazon.com 

All books available in paperback and as e-books from major online bookstores.
See below on the right-hand side of this page for specific links to sellers.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Vampire’s Father

Since this is a book blog, every once in a while I try to make a point to write about a book. I mean, other than the one I am currently writing.

It takes forever for me to actually finish reading a book because, well, I spend a lot of my time trying to write them. Also, I have a habit of reading several books at the same time. Well, not literally at the same time but over the same period of time. I will switch from one to the other and back again, depending on my frame of mind. This draws out the time needed to finish reading—kind of like downloading multiple files at the same time.

Anyway, I managed to finish one recently. In fact, I read two, both by Joseph Caldwell. Last year his memoir In the Shadow of the Bridge was published. If you’re not familiar with him, he is a New York-based playwright and novelist. He seems to be best known for the so-called Pig Trilogy, a series of humorous mysteries featuring a crime-solving pig, but that is not why I was interested in reading his life story. It had to do with a television show for which he did some writing in the 1960s. I’ll give you three guesses which one, but if you’re a regular reader of my movie blog, then you get only one guess.

Yes, he was one of several writers who worked on Dan Curtis’s Dark Shadows and, as it happens, a rather crucial one in terms of the development of the series. In a bid to save the show from sinking ratings, he and Ron Sproat were tasked with coming up with “a vampire for the kids for the summer” in what was meant to be a temporary plotline. The result was Barnabas Collins, and the rest is history.

Despite the never-ending fan interest in Dark Shadows to this day, there really aren’t that many biographies out there by or about people who were involved with the show. I have written about R.J. Jamison’s Grayson Hall: A Hard Act to Follow and Big Lou: The Life and Career of Actor Louis Edmonds on my movie blog, and interestingly, my review of that latter book has consistently been one of the biggest magnets for page hits on my website for the past decade. Caldwell’s tome is the first one I have come across by one of the writers.

In the grand scheme of things, Caldwell’s work on soap operas (he also wrote for Love of Life and Secret Storm) takes up less than a chapter of his book. Mostly, he concentrates on his life as an oft-struggling writer from Milwaukee in New York. The bridge of the title is the Brooklyn Bridge, and the tenement in which he lived in 1959 (when the story begins) was angled against the span. His narrative is punctuated by two fateful encounters on the bridge with one William Gale Gedney. The book’s arc is dominated by the two men’s relationship, and the author’s lifelong, mainly one-sided attachment to Bill. It’s a touching story of devotion and a glimpse into the bohemian writer’s life in mid-20th-century New York. Early on, his close circle of friends included James Baldwin, whom he knew as Jimmy. It is also an interesting self-portrait of a gay man who steadfastly remained Catholic even when rejected by the official church.

For a Dark Shadows fan, it is like being a kid in a candy shop to get the story first-hand of how Caldwell and Sproat concocted the idea of Barnabas over dry bourbon Manhattans in a gay bar on West 23rd Street and how they used their own experience as gay men to inform the vampire’s tortured “exclusion from the human family, the prohibited fulfillment of shared love.” It was something of a shock to read Caldwell’s assertion that producer Dan Curtis was “a committed homophobe,” given that the man employed so many gay artists. In Caldwell’s telling, though, Curtis was simply clueless about the true diversity of his cast and crew.

In reading about his first novel, In Such Dark Places, published in 1978, I became curious to the point of acquiring a copy. It is about a young man from a small town who moves to the city and becomes a photographer. He gets mixed up with a boy living by his wits on the street. In the thick of writing my third book about Dallas Green, I had to wonder if Caldwell and I had somehow written the same story. His novel is an interesting read, and it was somewhat a relief to find it actually had little in common with either Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead or Lautaro’s Spear. Still, I suppose parallels are there if you want to look for them. For one thing, Caldwell’s Catholicism is very present as are various Hispanic characters, and for another, the protagonist Eugene does go on a quest in search of the missing boy. In the end, it is the story of a young man trying to find his way in a world that often seems strange to him. Hmm… maybe there are more similarities than were first apparent. If so, they only flatter me.

Despite the presence of the word “dark” in the title (and “shadow” in the memoir’s title), readers perusing the novel for links or commonalities with Dark Shadows won’t find many—other than the gay protagonist’s aforementioned “exclusion from the human family.” Well, there is one possibly overt DS nod. The boy’s surname is Stokes, which figures notably in DS lore, and his first name is David, which was also the name of both the child actor (Henesy) and his character (Collins) who figured prominently in the series.

Speaking of Dallas, rest assured that the third installment of his story will be available Real Soon Now. Watch this space.