Revisiting Coppola’s ‘Dracula’ 28 Years Later

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Amid the tumult of our addlepated society, millions are hopefully taking little excursions into the realm of entertainment, now and then, to relieve the inner-cranial pressure that threatens to explode with caldera-like potency not seen since Yellowstone’s last prehistoric tantrum.

Even if your diversions are random at this point in time, do try to find the wherewithal to enjoy such jaunts … while you may.

My diversions of late have been markedly random. Aside from writing them, books seem to hold less appeal to me than ever before. Voices crooning and screeching from my music system only serve to remind me that humans exist, and movies, in general, have been off my Recreational Activity List for quite a while, due to the fact that most of them have nosedived into the Abyss of Substandard Bilge, there to take-up murky residence with (surprise!) most contemporary books and musical endeavors.

Adventures into dusty and near-forgotten archives of amusement, however, have yielded more satisfying results. Stylish old horror films, for example, can distract the mind from current existential quandaries while performing the neat trick of “staying on theme,” emotionally: doom, gloom, terror, helplessness, death, apocalyptic destruction, and, well, monsters.

Anyhow, I opted to forge into such territory the other day and find some goddamned movie to occupy my otherwise fevered brain for a couple of hours. With my bandwidth running low out here in the hinterlands, I turned instead to the cobwebbed alternative of an old DVD player and its attendant collection of discs, scattered in a dilapidated cardboard box in the closet. To spare myself the creeping madness of choosing, Choosing, CHOOSING, I committed to the first jewel-case my fingers managed to grab amid the hodgepodge.

It was Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula. Or, one might say more accurately, Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

This was a great “random grab,” if for no other reason than the fact that Beverly Hills Chihuahua was also lurking somewhere in that heaving cardboard receptacle. (A friend had loaned that film to me years ago for a “kick.” I never watched it and never returned it. Perhaps tellingly, a return was never requested, despite ample opportunity).

Dracula it was, then.

What a leap back into the quasi-misspent days of my youth. More to the point, what a head-trip to watch it again, no matter the moment in time.

I remember going to the cinema to see this rapturous, doddering epic as a mere lad in 1992, the year of its release. To say that Coppola’s take on Bram Stoker’s classic novel had been highly anticipated back then would be putting it mildly. The expensive adaptation caused quite a stir, as I remember. Hollywood critics were poised with their own vampiric fangs ready to draw blood. One can see why; the estimable Coppola was still smarting from the rickety reception of The Godfather Part III and his tackling of another lavish production, one considered well out of his artistic wheelhouse at the time, did not inspire confidence from the bone-picking set.

General audiences, however, were far more willing to give the film a chance—rumors of a “new, never-before-imagined” interpretation of Dracula tantalized. The cast list didn’t hurt, either, at least at first glance. Gary Oldman was not exactly a marquee-level name in those days, but was still a respected actor and beguiling choice to play the legendary Vlad Dracul. The addition of Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder was irresistibly befuddling, but quite wise from a business standpoint because they were hot box office properties.

The film became an unexpected hit around the globe.

What I remembered most about seeing it on the big screen 28 years ago was the lush, transporting cinematography by Michael Ballhaus, crafted fluidly under Coppola’s determined and innovative direction. The whole production unfurled in visual terms as an ever-dazzling chiaroscuro, a nightmarish landscape of insinuating, erotic colors and equally tempting shadows. Much credit was also be given to the effulgent-yet-ominous and mesmerizing designs of costumer Eiko Isioka, whose work leapt from the screen in brushstrokes evocative of Fellini crossed with Hieronymus Bosch.

Then there was Gary Oldman’s extraordinary performance, a reading that not only broke the mold as far as the titular vampire’s canonical portrayal in film as a caped Svengali wearing a burial suit, but which foreshadowed eloquently the subsequent, sometimes annoying, trend of exploring the wronged, “good-sided” soul-qualities of characters otherwise relegated to the camp of Absolute Evil (think Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West in Broadway’s Wicked or any number of reimagined comic book movie villains that have since been “origin-storied” out of their asses).

Even diminished on the smaller screen, the film holds up surprisingly well today. The scope is sweeping and perhaps overlong. The script is jerky-jerky at times. Yes, Keanu Reeves is atrocious in the role of Jonathan Harker, exhibiting all the engagement and charisma of that tall, wooden pepper-mill you stopped using in 2003 and stuck in the very back of a kitchen cupboard, towering awkward and alone above other obsolete utensils. Winona Ryder isn’t much better, but quite lovely in spite of her affected, I-just-got-back-from-the-mall-in-Petaluma performance. Anthony Hopkins doesn’t look like he’s enjoying  a single minute of his duties, occasionally boisterous but as dead behind the eyes as any vampire might ever hope to be. Still, Sadie Frost is superb as a supporting player and the sets are so deliciously atmospheric that one is happy to dismiss the miscasting issues and simply revel in the dreamscape Coppola has conjured, particularly since the narrative ends up being sufficiently cohesive and faithful to the novel’s peculiar spirit.

All in all, Dracula remains a feast for the imagination, a welcome respite from the vicissitudes of a world at wars seen and unseen, and I felt as if I could have walked right through the screen, onto the blue-chilling snow, and into that coach on the Borgo Pass, hurtling toward doom and an invitation from Gary Oldman to cross the dreaded castle threshold.

There are worse, far less elegant ways to escape the ongoing tribulations. Dig into your own box of oldies. See what cinematic ghosts may perchance arise.

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Jonathan Kieran’s new, dark, and disturbing supernatural/metaphysical epic, Wistwood, a tale of cosmic horror, is available now at all major international retailers and outlets. Buy it in digital form or in print today. Want a short-cut? Click on the link above and to the right. All of Mr. Kieran’s efforts are there stacked, ready to be purchased and voraciously consumed.

Wistwood Featured by Duffy the Writer

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An article I wrote detailing the impetus behind writing Wistwood, as well as delineating some of the novel’s primary themes, has been published on the outstanding Australian blog, Duffy the Writer. Within the context of the piece I also reference a few of my own literary influences and ponder the timing of Wistwood’s release amid the unexpected onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Invisible horrors, whether in life or in literature, are never to be underestimated.

Have a look at Duffy’s fine blog and my particular contribution HERE.

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Jonathan Kieran’s new, dark, and disturbing supernatural/metaphysical epic, Wistwood, a tale of cosmic horror, is available now at all major international retailers and outlets. Buy it in digital form or in print today. Want a short-cut? Click on the link above and to the right. All of Mr. Kieran’s efforts are there stacked, ready to be purchased and voraciously consumed.

Three Cheers for Goodreads Winners

The Goodreads Giveaway contest for Wistwood has ended and 15 winners were duly selected from a group of 2,109 entrants vying for a chance to acquire a print copy of the novel. The response on Goodreads–the greatest community of devoted readers on the planet!–exceeded expectations, and I’d like to congratulate the winners personally. Your copies of Wistwood are on their way to you via Amazon, with expected arrival dates for each copy slated around May 18-ish, due to the slightly slower priority shipping schedules necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. But you shall have them soon, indeed, and I wish you all a memorable reading experience, whether intrigued by the exalted or the intensely disturbing aspects of this magical, terrifying, and perhaps enigmatic opus. If you like the book, feel quite free to render your thoughts in review; this wordsmith shall remain eternally grateful … perhaps for several eternities.

Otherwise, have a great time meeting Brask, Schuyler, Shep, Marge, The Landlord, and all the other denizens of Wistwood, and (if you wish) be ready to interact with me when it comes to another special contest we’ll be holding in September in the lead-up to Halloween 2020. There’ll be some “extra special” giveaways planned for those who have read the book, those who are reading it, and those who have added it to their lists.

Meanwhile, I’ll be checking in with the Goodreads crowd frequently throughout the Summer, so if you have any questions about the book or the Wistwood screenplay I’m currently working on, do not hesitate to drop by for a spell (no pun intended).

Much thanks and respect to EVERYONE for their interest and support!

Jonathan Kieran (“Jon”)

Big Sur, CA

May 11, 2020

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Jonathan Kieran’s new, dark, and disturbing supernatural epic, Wistwood, is available now at all major international retailers and outlets. Buy it in digital or print today. Want a short-cut? Click on the link above and to the right. All of Mr. Kieran’s efforts are there stacked, ready to be purchased, and tantalizingly consumed.

Wistwood Contest on Goodreads

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Well, well, friends and connoisseurs of evocative, disturbing, atmospheric and horrifyingly twisted chiaroscuros in the form of literary epics, take heed! You may soon be able to experience the dual adrenaline floods generated by letting the savory decadence of my craftsmanship soak into your tastebuds AND by winning something for free.

Yeah, you heard me.

Goodreads is currently holding a contest and 15 blessed and highly favored winners will win print copies of my new supernatural horror novel, Wistwood.

It’s Day Three of the contest and already more than 800 fans have entered, eager for their chance to bathe in the baleful blood of Providential reward, but there’s still 9 whole days left to put your name into the mix. If you’re not a member of Goodreads (and you really ought to be) then hightail it to Goodreads.com and sign-up for all sorts of opportunities (but especially for Wistwood.) 

If already a Goodreads devotee, fly from this site and enter the Wistwood contest forthwith. All it takes is a magical click of the following link:

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Jonathan Kieran’s new, dark, and disturbing supernatural epic, Wistwood, is available now at all major international retailers and outlets. Buy it in digital or print today. Want a short-cut? Click on the link above and to the right. All of Mr. Kieran’s efforts are there stacked, ready to be purchased, and tantalizingly consumed.

Early Wistwood Love from Goodreads

Consumers of literature in all of its breathtaking diversity are guaranteed to be found lurking among the virtual stacks at Goodreads.

How lovely it is to receive some early love from the reviewers there so soon after the release of Wistwood. 

I never thought that a horror book can have beauty in it. I stand corrected.
Wistwood is a poetic nightmare that will take you on an emotional rollercoaster ride. It is a book that every reader must and will experience in his/her own way, there is no way around it. It is an allegory of life itself, intense and disturbing, yet at the same time full of beauty.
A one in a million piece of craftsmanship that will touch you one way or another.

Danke!

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Jonathan Kieran’s new dark, creepy, disturbing, epic, Wistwood, is available now at all major international retailers and suppliers. Buy it in digital or print today. Want a short-cut? Click on the link above and to the right. All of Mr. Kieran’s efforts are stacked there.

 

WISTWOOD: Sometimes …

… the deadliest secrets are the ones we keep from ourselves.

Author Jonathan Kieran returns with the epic novel WISTWOOD, a terrifying, dark fable for darkening days. With a hint of redemption to wash the horror down.

by Roger C. Lindstrom

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When author Jonathan Kieran described his life as semi-reclusive I didn’t take him all that seriously. Until I drove out to his house to take photographs and conduct an interview for our Arts edition, that is. Just finding Jonathan’s place in the forest highlands behind Big Sur was a wild adventure. Civilization ends and scary woods begins. Past hairpin turns, mountains, and boulders tumbling down hills you eventually find his place, forty-five miles from Carmel. No houses are seen from the roads out here. It’s beautiful but it could be a scene right out of Wistwood, Kieran’s new psychological horror and supernatural novel that comes out April 21.
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Jonathan was gathering wood in a satchel when I finally got there but gave me a warm welcome to his secluded ranch property, complete with a winding stream not twenty feet from his back door. I could easily see how someone might be able to write in this amazing spot.
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While able to chat and take some photos to accompany the interview, a newly fallen oak tree limb on the property needed attention, so we decided to postpone the sit down interview. Within a week, the COVID-19 social distancing protocols were in place, so we decided to do everything by email, even though production on our print weekly has now been suspended indefinitely, along with so many other local enterprises. It was still great to meet Jonathan and happy to give him the interview to run with. Jonathan’s frightening, mysterious new novel, Wistwood, will be available for special Amazon preorder on April 7th and officially released in eBook and print on April 21th. Enjoy the back and forth of our online interview!
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You released an elaborate trilogy of fairy tales in 2012 with the Rowan Blaize series, one of those books written entirely in epic verse, which was totally unusual in this day and age. Then you turned out a scathing look at internet comments sections in 2015. The Midwest Book Review praised the book and described it as “… the possible first stirring of internet anthropology.” Now five years later we hear from you and this new novel, Wistwood, is beautiful but chilling. It covers themes like hell on earth, afterlife, human envy, greed, beings from other dimensions, and the idea that darker forces are at work among us. Congratulations on the book, but why so long between works and why this particular novel, now?
 
JK: As far as the interval between books is concerned, I’m not exactly a churn-em out kind of writer to begin with. Craftsmanship is paramount for me, and that requires a definitive, stable period of time and devotion. Plus, an idea really has to take firm hold in my psyche and in my gut before I’ll even consider the burden of writing a long-form work, which is an enormous undertaking.
But, frankly, availability of time has been the biggest issue by far. I started building a house in 2016, with all that that entails, for the purpose of moving into it, staging it, and then selling it. That took over two and a half years. There was really no time or sense of the “settled” sort of quality required to tackle a big new book project. That changed when I sold the house, moved back to the Ventana wilderness, and Wistwood was born subsequently. But I’d had lots of ideas on my mind, for sure, during that interval, and was busy with illustration work and research for other scraps of projects that have been gestating. Really, though, I flat out didn’t have the time to devote to a novel from 2016 through early 2019.
As to your question ‘why this particular book?’ Well, look around the world. Look at humanity—stressed, confused, scattered, and off its proverbial rocker in every sphere from religious mania to social media to politics to environmental anxiety. Pervasively so. There’s a worldwide “disconnect,” I call it, on a number of levels. It creeps me out that humans have more information and innovation at their immediate fingertips than at any other time in the history of our species, and yet we’re more addled than ever, and searching for meaning more desperately than ever. And I don’t think it all comes down to a simple explanation like, “We have too many choices.” I sense something possibly more sinister at work. Organic, but sinister.  I suppose I’m a little bit surprised I wrote such a raw, explicit tale as Wistwood, but not really surprised that this kind of story was lurking in my brain in the first place. That it was hanging around. There’s always been a dark undercurrent running through my work. How could I be too surprised that a heavy-duty psychological horror piece eventually emerged from my strange brain?
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It’s a complete departure from your previous works for sure. How does that square with the idea of trying to build a loyal following of readers, etc?
JK: I know that it might not make a lot of sense to a lot of people, on the face of things. Usually a writer finds one genre and sticks to it. It certainly the smartest thing to do, I imagine, in terms of a commercial perspective. But I’m atypical in many respects. My personal interests and fascinations are broad, eclectic, and always marked by intensity. Even my parents and teachers noted this when I was a child. If I’m interested in something, it’s never just a passing fancy: I’m intensely interested, devoted. And I remain so regarding a fairly wide array of subjects and phenomena.
My abilities are diverse, as well. I can compose and perform music. I’ve been an actor. I’m a fine woodworker. A professional illustrator—that’s how I got my professional start with arts in any form. Research is likewise a passion and I’m a crackerjack at that. Research work is an art form, I believe. A category unto itself. But for me, a vivacious curiosity for answers and meanings, radiant or dark, is at the heart of all these approaches. It’s the common thread. Life’s one big treasure hunt for me, really. I know of no other way to put it than to say that I’m zealously fascinated by what fascinates me … and am lucky to have the ability to interpret and manifest my discoveries in artistic ways, I guess. If people respond, wonderful. If not, my dedication to my interests does not change.
At the opposite end of that assessment, I can say that if something bores me, it bores me utterly. To say that I might be a tad obsessive-compulsive would not be missing the mark. Not unhealthily so, according to those who love and know me best—and believe me, I ask from time to time!—but you gotta stay on top of that stuff, too. Occasional self-scrutiny is good for the soul and the body, maybe more-so for writers. Scrupulousness, however, is not.
How would you summarize Wistwood as a novel for someone unfamiliar with any of your works or for fans who know your other works but might be surprised to see this new type of story from you?
JK: Ideally, novels should not be over-explained by an author. No story should be, in my opinion. Discussion among readers is great. Go for it, readers, and thank you. But from a writer’s standpoint, I think a story should run on its own fuel, if you will. That being said, people benefit from little explanations ahead of time, so Wistwood is the story of a conflicted, maybe even tormented, young guy, Brask Adams. 28. Life‘s been rough on him. He has a sudden change of fortune and wants a second chance at things, a fresh start, in this remote California wilderness town, away from the world’s noise and ruin. But second chances always come at a cost. Sometimes the cost is economic. Sometimes the cost is emotional. Sometimes the cost can be life itself. And sometimes, the cost might be eternal. In Brask’s case, his pursuit of a second chance finds him caught in the middle of supernatural forces he could never have imagined to exist. He’s not a believer in anything. And yet he‘s in this place, in the town of Wistwood, for a reason. He learns, along with a lot of other characters, that the deadliest secrets are the ones we keep from ourselves.
It’s a character study. The narrator is omniscient. Part of the vibe of this story concerns what people are willing to say and present to others as opposed to what’s truly going on in their hearts. That sometimes wild dichotomy. The near-necessity of using varying degrees of falsehood to survive and stay sane in a society. It’s definitely a horror story. Explicit. Graphic in places. Yeah, there’s some metaphysical inquiry involved. Human arrogance is another big theme, I’d say. But, ultimately, it’s about a desperate guy in trouble, a guy who’s seeking answers, like many desperate people do, in places that look promising at first, but which turn out to be much, much worse than their original troubles could ever be.
I hope people respond to the craftsmanship, the storytelling, the characters, the twists, the scares. Life is scary. Books can be scary too. I mean, it’s entertainment. It’s a work of entertainment. With everything of gravity going on in the world right now, certain people might find some escape in it. I know that I love to dig deep into a gripping book when the outside world seems especially off the boil.
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Do you think that this time of pandemic will drive people in greater numbers to rediscover books as an escape or will they be too distracted to read and look for easier forms of entertainment like videogames or movies, etc.?
JK: Who knows? I haven’t got a lot of positive things to say about the general state of the human attention-span, at this point in time. But I don’t want to underestimate people, either. That’s a terrible mistake to make, when outright dismissing people in a cynical way and diminishing what they are capable of achieving under duress, for better or for worse. People can still surprise you in wonderful ways. Our species has proved this time and again over the centuries, mostly in moments that will never be told or remembered. But the effects of humans rising to their various challenges, great and small, go forward in time. The ramifications are still felt, I believe. And that does give one a certain amount of hope.
As for entertainment, people have always sought it in periods of stress because there has never been a prolonged time on this earth when humans have not been under some form of significant stress. This is not the kind of world in which we live. This is not the way the planet itself functions and operates. But for the unique quality of human mercy, and civilization as its corollary, this is otherwise an “eat or get eaten” planet. Wistwood explores this aspect of our world. This unpalatable, difficult truth. For all its great beauty, it is a violent, unforgiving place.
People are definitely hungry for distraction and edification,  but mostly for distraction, these days. The difficulty, or one of them, is that distraction now comes in a mind-boggling array of easily obtainable forms that are not, by any means, of equal quality and beneficence. I appreciate the concept of relativity, but I am not a relativist. All things are not equal, in terms of contributing to the actual health of the human mind and spirit. Wide-ranging crises, like the one we are now experiencing with the COVID-19 virus, often lead people to step away from the chaos and rediscover some deeper values, the less frantic commercial forces vying for their attention. Like I said before, escaping into the world of a well-crafted book, reading the words and entering that realm via your own imagination, is unlike any other form of entertainment. In times like this, some people will opt for greater discernment, some for less. Let the chips fall where they may, because they’re gonna fall.
Would you mind listing your five favorite books of all time and how or why they have inspired you in your own life and work?
Oh, wow. List requests like this are fun, but they’re never reliable for accuracy, at least in terms of constancy. Favorites come to mind in one setting, one little space of time, and then they change frequently, fluidly. But I’ll give it a shot in this moment, though in no particular order:
HOWARDS END by E.M. Forster—This may seem a strange choice for a guy who’s currently releasing a supernatural, psychological horror novel, but Forster’s work has had a big influence upon me, and this classic in particular still resonates. The economy of his writing style—while always managing to be breathtakingly insightful—is a unique voice in all of literature, in my view. He’s practical, he’s subtly witty, he’s penetrative in a masterful way, he’s brutally honest. And this tale of Edwardian class differences and the ultimate value of honoring one’s heart’s desire is perfection. Obviously, for me, the book turns on the fact that the Wilcox family, in their wealthy arrogance, deliberately rejected the mother’s dying wish to leave her house to someone she knew would love and honor it. They tried to interfere with fate, but fate will take its course and become an equalizer of humans—throwing down the mighty and lifting up the lowly. But even that might not last because the world is the world is the world. Fate and karma may punish, but there’s no permanence. People still have to pick up the pieces and use it or lose it. It’s my favorite book.
THE GOLDEN ASS by Apuleius—The only true novel that has survived to us from ancient times, it’s also the first known and greatest picaresque ever. And the ersatz intermezzo featuring the tale of Cupid and Psyche remains one of the most thrillingly gorgeous literary experiences I can think of. I can’t glorify this tale enough, however it was wrought, and there’s much debate on that count, of course. I’m thankful to have existed on earth just to have read it.
My personal styles of thought and criticism and composition tend naturally toward the parodic and the picaresque, and I have to channel that, to an extent, when not appropriate for a certain kind of project, like a horror tale, but it’s always there. Always informing. That’s why I was drawn like a moth to lamplight when I first encountered books like The Golden Ass, Don Quixote, or even A Confederacy of Dunces. I recognized in these works little glimmers of my own tendencies toward satire and smart-assery. And it’s an extravagant pleasure—a blessing, maybe—to encounter familiar voices. We need the affirmation of like-minded souls. Works like this, from any age, codify that experience of confraternity. Quite a privilege.
BROTHERS KARAMAZOV by Fyodor Dostoyevsky—Maybe it seems contrived to include this on a five favorites list, but I do worship the book, and Dostoyevsky’s talent itself. No one can break your heart, or your brain, like a Russian genius. It’s music and tragedy and comedy and faith and nihilism and redemption in one impossible symphony. Dostoyevsky leaves no stone of the human condition unturned in this colossus, and the truth hurts, but it hurts beautifully because of him. I still read the book every few years. It’s a marvel. A sacred text, for me.
A HIGH WIND IN JAMAICA by Richard Hughes—This is a tale of spoiled children who are shanghaied by pirates in the aftermath of a hurricane in Colonialist Jamaica, and it’s one of the most surreal masterpieces I have ever been lucky enough to savor. Frightening, funny, ribald, devastating, disturbing. It shows no mercy. It’s like Lord of the Flies on absinthe. I wish more people knew of the book, but it’s also nice to treasure those best-kept-secret works. This is definitely one of those. A weird delight.
SHOGUN by James Clavell—This epic of historical fiction will never fail to make any faves list of mine. I have to include it here, out of reverence, even if it is probably not really in my Top 5 (more like Top 15). It was the first huge, doorstopping book I read as a little kid and it has held up masterfully. Impeccably plotted and characterized, it paints an indelible portrait of that astonishing time and place. It takes balls to attempt a work of this magnitude and complete it so damned brilliantly. I stand in awe. I enjoyed writing little stories as a kid; I was precocious and was reading material way beyond my age group. But this gigantic book riveted me at ten years of age and made me want to sail the seas with Anjin-san and plot to save Toranaga’s fiefdom. Reading experiences like that are beyond price. They form your soul, your spirit. And if you have the inclination, they make you want to write big stories of your own when you grow up.
What’s next for you in terms of work? What can readers expect given your winding path?
Well, a screenplay for Wistwood is being written right now. I’ll be shopping that around. And there are three long-form projects that are absolute “must-complete” works. I’ve been prepping those for years. Lifetime love-labor works. Those are the only three projects I care deeply about finishing before I die, to the point of saying “everything else can go to hell.” But if fortune smiles in terms of time and long life, I’d also like to complete a few lesser goals: a book about my twenty most memorable world travel experiences—and, believe me, I’ve got some gems; a book about my perception of the spiritual/metaphysical crisis now engulfing the Western world is also a plan; I also want to finish a play I’ve started.
But we’ll see about all of that. Otherwise, I’ll be happy in my woodshop, reclusive but always observant. That’s my ultimate contentment, and I’m grateful for it with every breath. Gratitude saves lives. Believe me.
Any guilty pleasures your readers might be surprised to know about?
As far as books are concerned? I’ll read most anything good about ancient Egypt, dinosaurs, and great white sharks. Those things have constituted something of a Holy Trinity since childhood and, in some respects, I’m still just a big kid. One should certainly grow up and embrace adulthood; this world is no picnic. But people should never lose one or two of their childlike qualities entirely, I believe. Ergo, I still laugh my ass off at old Warner Bros. Bugs Bunny cartoons and have been known to secretly fling peas at someone across a dinner table just for the hell of it.
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Jonathan Kieran is the Amazon bestselling author of the Rowan Blaize series of fantasy works, the acclaimed non-fiction work Confessions from the Comments Section, and now the epic new psychological horror novel, WISTWOOD. Click on the book cover at the upper right to preorder and purchase Jonathan’s harrowing new work.

Don’t Force the Mix (and sundry)

If you’re the ‘water’ in an acquaintance that simply isn’t working out, get the hell away from the ‘oil’ as fast as your feet will carry you.

If you’re the oil, don’t worry about it. You’ll just rise to the top.

These words (my own) popped into the windmills of my mildly wheeling brain the other night for reasons upon which I shall not elaborate, due to the fact that said reasons are not really worthy of elaboration, and the remark above explains everything in a nutshell … or in a bottle of salad dressing, if you prefer.

Yet, I have no doubt that we can all relate to this truth, no matter which corner of the globe we happen to occupy at any given time, living life as best we can while the whole extravaganza spins onward through space, hurtling like an over-enthusiastic vaudeville act desperate to make an impression amid hosts of competing performers on the vast, star-glittered Stage of the Cosmos.

In short: don’t waste time with people who don’t appreciate you. Life is over in a blink.

Be the oil in the equation. A bit of self-preservational slipperiness and “density privilege” can come in handy, every now and then.

In other news, much more important and–at long last–rock solid information about the upcoming novel is forthcoming. There have been a few snags along the route as decisions took unexpectedly different twists and turns at various junctures in the past eight months, but all is well in hand and exciting developments are set to be revealed with aplomb and a slew of firm specifics in the coming weeks.

Much thanks for all patience during the interim, and do stay tuned. It will be rather worth it if I do say so myself.

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Jonathan Kieran’s epic new book, WISTWOOD, is slated for release in Spring 2020. Kieran is also the author of the Rowan Blaize series of classically appointed contemporary fantasy books (Brightbourne 2012), as well as the critically acclaimed (Midwestern Book Review, Manhattan Book Review) Confessions From The Comments Section: The Secret Lives of Internet Commenters and Other Pop-Culture Zombies. In addition, Jonathan creates and draws the irreverent Zanzibar Circus cartoon and comic strip. His work has been featured on The Daily Dot.com and in a plethora of other ‘zines, papers, and alt-weeklies. Click on the book covers above and to the right if you want to learn more about Jonathan’s current and upcoming titles or purchase them at Amazon.com.

ZANZIBAR CIRCUS 12.25.19

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Jonathan Kieran’s epic new book, WISTWOOD, is slated for release in Spring 2020. Kieran is also the author of the Rowan Blaize series of classically appointed contemporary fantasy books (Brightbourne 2012), as well as the critically acclaimed (Midwestern Book Review, Manhattan Book Review) Confessions From The Comments Section: The Secret Lives of Internet Commenters and Other Pop-Culture Zombies. In addition, Jonathan creates and draws the irreverent Zanzibar Circus cartoon and comic strip. His work has been featured on The Daily Dot.com and in a plethora of other ‘zines, papers, and alt-weeklies. Click on the book covers above and to the right if you want to learn more about Jonathan’s current and upcoming titles or purchase them at Amazon.com.

ZANZIBAR CIRCUS 11.13.19

zanz1119

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Jonathan Kieran’s epic new book, WISTWOOD, is slated for release in Spring 2020. Kieran is also the author of the Rowan Blaize series of classically appointed contemporary fantasy books (Brightbourne 2012), as well as the critically acclaimed (Midwestern Book Review, Manhattan Book Review) Confessions From The Comments Section: The Secret Lives of Internet Commenters and Other Pop-Culture Zombies. In addition, Jonathan creates and draws the irreverent Zanzibar Circus cartoon and comic strip. His work has been featured on The Daily Dot.com and in a plethora of other ‘zines, papers, and alt-weeklies. Click on the book covers above and to the right if you want to learn more about Jonathan’s current and upcoming titles or purchase them at Amazon.com.

Lovably Bad Kids’ TV On-The-Cheap: Mr. Dressup

TODAY’S DUBIOUS HONOREE: MR. DRESSUP (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 1967-1996)

A single adult man who keeps a biologically unrelated little boy living in a tree in his backyard? Welcome to kids' TV from the CBC!

 

GUILTY OF VEHICULAR FANSLAUGHTER: Ernie Coombs (Canada’s answer to Mr. Rogers … only a lot more caffeinated and likely to bounce off the cardboard walls)

RUDIMENTARY ANALYSIS: Nothing touches the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) for producing tatty but creative kids’ shows that were built to last and rife with mangy-looking puppets suffering from Borderline Personality Disorders! As a bumpkin-child in the woods of upstate New York, I couldn’t wait to fill my impressionable mind with that one-of-a-kind brand of folksy Canadian Crazy that the CBC pumped into our living rooms on a daily basis via programming like The Friendly Giant and the legendary Mr. Dressup.

Mr. Dressup was probably the “King” of cheesy children’s TV, at least for youngsters in our region who depended upon the seemingly limitless pipeline of entertainment thrift utilized by producers just across the border — producers who had to stage a show with nothing but four or five Ping-Pong balls, construction paper, two asbestos oven-mits and maybe a ukulele. The brain-trusts in Toronto knew how to BRING IT! I only wish today’s bloated and shiftless TV execs could do in an hour with their $9 million budgets what Mr. Dressup’s team obviously did in 10 minutes for a few bucks and a six-pack of Carling-O’Keefe.

Mr. Dressup ran daily from 1967-1996, amassing over 4,000 episodes packed with wanton childishness. That was the whole point! Like most children’s TV programs since the days of Caesar and Cleopatra, the setting and context of the actual characters on Mr. Dressup lacked verisimilitude. Wait. Scratch that. The set-up made absolutely no freakin’ sense whatsoever. First of all, you had a loner-type adult person with no fashion-sense and no apparent prospects for marriage (Mr. Dressup) living in a tiny house crammed with semi-magical knick knacks and strange outfits that were kept in something called a “Tickle Trunk” while, out in the back yard, a child biologically unrelated to the adult lived in a tree.

Uh huh.

On the Mr. Dressup show, the treehouse-dwelling child was a freckled puppet named “Casey”. Casey looked like an unfinished Lady Elaine Fairchilde marionette stolen from the Mr. Rogers set, fitted with a blond page-boy wig and wrapped in a tea-cozy. A parade of disheveled, disoriented and equally unrelated puppet-people streamed constantly through the door of the little house to visit the adult loner and the boy he kept in the backyard tree. This highly unusual and improbable “family unit” was unexplained and therefore taken for granted by the viewing public at the time. We called it “the magic of children’s television.”

Today they call it “a particularly disturbing episode of Law and Order:SVU.”

But that’s how kids’ programming rolled in the days before unseen parents allowed their irritating real-life children to play in the park unsupervised with an obese purple dinosaur on Zoloft that taught them to chant endless verses of black magic composed by Lucifer, Lord of Hell.

In terms of plot, the Mr. Dressup show was rather formulaic and predictable, which was an attribute beneficial to a developing child’s mind, I believe. That whole dynamic has certainly changed. Mr. Dressup, ever-exuberant in his bow-tie and suspenders, would greet his friends in TV Land and prepare them for a morning of storytelling that always involved the retrieval of some indicative costume from the Tickle Trunk. The costume was usually made out of colored gauze, tinfoil and discarded candy wrappers, but we didn’t care, as kids. Sometimes, to our horror, the Tickle Trunk wouldn’t even open, forcing Mr. Dressup to actually “coochie-coo” the damn thing until it coughed-up the goods. That trunk was a coy little tramp.

Once Mr. Dressup donned the Kleenex cape or the fake beard made out of cotton yanked from a thousand Q-tips, he would tell some brief fairy tale that sent us all off to Imagination Town in our pea brains. After that it was time to head out into the backyard for a visit with Casey in the treehouse. The best part about Casey was actually his constant companion, Finnegan the Dog, who looked like an unlaundered sailor’s sock after a nine-month tour of duty. Finnegan the Dog was great because he was entirely mute. Couldn’t bark a note. Couldn’t growl. Couldn’t talk. He was the only silent creature of Irish extraction I ever saw. Mr. Dressup or Casey would talk to Finnegan or ask his opinion about something and the puppeteer would merely make Finnegan’s “mouth” move silently and he would whisper the answer in Casey’s ear. Casey would then translate/interpret Finnegan’s response. He was the original Dog-Whisperer, that Casey.

The entire, belovedly creepy Mr. Dressup crew -- l. to r. the clearly "out of it" and obviously overmedicated Aunt Bird, Alligator, Mr. Dressup, Casey, and Finnegan the Dog

An assortment of guests would soon follow. An alligator-puppet cleverly named “Alligator” might drop by to yammer-on about God-Knows-What and at least once a week you could count on a visit from Aunt Bird, who was the show’s requisite “dazed and confused” elderly puppet. Poor Aunt Bird never made much sense, always looked like she had possibly been mauled in an alley by Finnegan the Dog’s more aggressive canine relations, and she was a definite candidate for Lady Rogaine or whatever it is they recommend for women with unsightly bald patches. Sometimes in tow with Aunt Bird was her niece, Miss Biz, a bug-eyed specimen who was as neurotic and disconnected as Elaine Stritch. Miss Biz, with only about a dozen strands of pink, wispy boa-feathers protruding from her lumpy head as “hair” clearly inherited the Female-Pattern Baldness gene from her dizzy aunt. I always figured there must’ve been an ostrich or maybe a vulture in that follicle-challenged bird-family’s woodpile. Anyhow, after all of this pointless but riveting Goodness, Casey and Finnegan would go to sleep in the treehouse, Aunt Bird and Miss Biz would fly off to whatever sorry, hair-lined nest they called home and Mr. Dressup would conclude the show with a consultation of the Wise Old Owl, which was a framed picture of an owl that would magically come to life and open its cardboard eyes, roll them, say: “Who, who, to-wit, to-woo …” and then offer some word of encouragement to insecure children all over the world … or at least within a 150-mile radius of Toronto, Ontario.

It’s amazing how such low-budget yet creative and lovingly crafted productions had the power to mesmerize children, once upon a time. These characters became as familiar to us as friends when we were young and life was a bit simpler. It all went down not that long ago — as noted, the Mr. Dressup show racked-up 29 years of whimsical entertainment and over 4000 little episodes before the Tickle Trunk demanded a cut of the syndication profits or went on the fritz and refused to reveal its secrets for the unappreciative ADHD demographic of the burgeoning Cyber Age. That’s okay. When the asteroid hits and the Zombie Apocalypse is unleashed upon what precious little is left of civilization, we’ll all be forced to live in treehouses with pets rendered mute by radiation poisoning. I figure I’ll be one of the few who’s ready.

Thank you, Mr. Dressup.

DEFINITIVE DIALOGUE: “Three little birdies, happy and gay. Three little birdies fly away.” (Classic chart-topping Mr. Dressup lyrics)

WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Ernie Coombs, who played Mr. Dressup for almost 30 years on the CBC, went on to become a popular figure on the college lecture circuit, especially for generations of students who had “grown up” with the beloved children’s program. Ernie Coombs passed away in 2001. RIP, Mr. D. As for the OTHERS …

Casey from the Treehouse

Perhaps scarred by a youth spent living in the backyard tree of an unrelated adult male, Casey found the transition to adulthood somewhat difficult. Between government checks and visits to his parole officer, he still finds time to audition for local children's theater and enjoys macaroni art. He lives in Winnipeg.

The discombobulated “Aunt Bird”

WARNING GRAPHIC: This is a photo from the Ottawa Police Department's homicide unit, taken Thanksgiving Day 1996. It is the last known photograph of Aunt Bird. Her surviving family members refused to speak to Pop HazMat about the murder, which appears to have been related to the infamous "Savory Stuffer's" string of serial killings that terrorized Canada in the late 1990s.

The Tickle Trunk

Of all the Mr. Dressup cast-members, the Tickle Trunk appears to have fared the best in private life. Tickle Trunk (pictured on the left) is now owned by Lance and Bartholomew,  a fabulous Greenwich Village couple who specialize in restoring worn-out receptacles of all shapes and sizes. "We needed a place to keep our collection of damask napkins and, well, we certainly love to tickle," said Lance. "It was really a no-brainer."

 

Of all the Mr. Dressup cast-members, the Tickle Trunk appears to have fared the best in private life. Tickle Trunk (pictured on the left) is now owned by Lance and Bartholomew, a fabulous Greenwich Village couple who specialize in restoring worn-out receptacles of all shapes and sizes. “We needed a place to keep our collection of damask napkins and, well, we certainly love to tickle,” said Lance. “It was really a no-brainer.”

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Jonathan Kieran’s epic new book, WISTWOOD, is slated for release in Spring 2020. Kieran is also the author of the Rowan Blaize series of classically appointed contemporary fantasy books (Brightbourne 2012), as well as the critically acclaimed (Midwestern Book Review, Manhattan Book Review) Confessions From The Comments Section: The Secret Lives of Internet Commenters and Other Pop-Culture Zombies. In addition, Jonathan creates and draws the irreverent Zanzibar Circus cartoon and comic strip. His work has been featured on The Daily Dot.com and in a plethora of other ‘zines, papers, and alt-weeklies. Click on the book covers above and to the right if you want to learn more about Jonathan’s current and upcoming titles or purchase them at Amazon.com.

ZANZIBAR CIRCUS 8.27.19

belfzan

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Jonathan Kieran’s epic new book, WISTWOOD, is slated for release in Spring 2020. Kieran is also the author of the Rowan Blaize series of classically appointed contemporary fantasy books (Brightbourne 2012), as well as the critically acclaimed (Midwestern Book Review, Manhattan Book Review) Confessions From The Comments Section: The Secret Lives of Internet Commenters and Other Pop-Culture Zombies. In addition, Jonathan creates and draws the irreverent Zanzibar Circus cartoon and comic strip. His work has been featured on The Daily Dot.com and in a plethora of other ‘zines, papers, and alt-weeklies. Click on the book covers above and to the right if you want to learn more about Jonathan’s current and upcoming titles or purchase them at Amazon.com.

ZANZIBAR CIRCUS 7.12.19

zanz712

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Jonathan Kieran’s epic new book, WISTWOOD, is slated for release in Spring 2020. Kieran is also the author of the Rowan Blaize series of classically appointed contemporary fantasy books (Brightbourne 2012), as well as the critically acclaimed (Midwestern Book Review, Manhattan Book Review) Confessions From The Comments Section: The Secret Lives of Internet Commenters and Other Pop-Culture Zombies. In addition, Jonathan creates and draws the irreverent Zanzibar Circus cartoon and comic strip. His work has been featured on The Daily Dot.com and in a plethora of other ‘zines, papers, and alt-weeklies. Click on the book covers above and to the right if you want to learn more about Jonathan’s current and upcoming titles or purchase them at Amazon.com.