Saturday, October 22, 2016

These are a few of my favorite things (read: influences)

Favorite indy book: The Patron Saints by T.M. Wells

A long time ago, long before anyone I know was blogging, long before the A-to-Z Challenge, long before the Insecure Writers Support Group...Well, you get the point.  Anyway, the very first time I learned indy books existed was actually on a Star Trek message board.  Wells was going by the handle BoynamedSue (this was also before I became a big enough Johnny Cash fan to fully appreciate that) and posting the working results of what turned out to be his first novel.  I had the pleasure of reading along and offering comments along the way.  Never mind that this twisted tale of Catholic guilt (the main character is a troubled guy whose tattoos, of patron saints, talk to him) struck an immediate nerve with me, but that I ended up loving it all the way around.  If you ever wondered why the stuff I write doesn't really resemble anything else your blogging buddies are doing, it's because of Wells and the example he set early in my writing life.  At the time, I was concentrating mostly on Star Trek fan fiction (which is something I still do on occasion), and didn't really know what I'd do with my own creations.  When I graduated from college, I babbled to one of my professors an idea about Gutzon Borglum literally talking with the faces he was carving into Mount Rushmore.  Looking back, it's suddenly easier to see where I came up with that.  I'm still working toward that story, and I still have Wells to thank for that.

Favorite mainstream book: 2666 by Roberto Bolaño

This was something I discovered more recently than The Patron Saints.  But it arrived like a thunderclap into my life, a book I discovered randomly when browsing the catalogues delivered to the bookstore I was working at five years ago.  You can't always predict how someone else's glowing praise will turn out for you personally, but in this instance, 2666 more than delivered.  Still the most ambitious, stunningly executed, and intelligent book I've ever read, I've since devoured most of the late author's work.  Split into five volumes, 2666 encompasses a number of seemingly unrelated perspectives in trying to finally explain the still-unsolved deaths of a multitude of women in a Mexican border town.  I've included a tribute of sorts in one of my own books, The Whole Bloody Affair, which is otherwise not at all to the literary achievement of 2666.

Favorite movie: Alexander

Dismissed as Oliver Stone's convoluted vision of Alexander the Great and a stateside box office failure (it scored big internationally, however, much like Troy earlier in 2004), I watched this because I was already at that time a devoted fan of Colin Farrell (something that remains true to this day).  But I became fascinated by the movie itself (and the many other cuts that followed; for what it's worth, I would probably recommend The Ultimate Cut, which is the most recent one), in all of its aspects, which is probably in total the most complete cinematic experience I've ever experienced.  The acting, the storytelling, the perspective, the music, everything; it's a true masterpiece, one I hope in time will be easier to recognize.  A lot of the movies I've embraced in recent years (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The Fall) have fallen well off the public radar, and this is not me merely be contrarian.  I like blockbusters, too.  I've talked previously about my love for Star Wars (someone commented that maybe I should broaden my horizons; they clearly had no idea), which is about as mainstream as you can get.  But the movies that mean the most to me are true creative triumphs, epic visions that need only one movie to convey them, which is not to say they are superior to the sprawling visions of George Lucas and his kind, but that sometimes it's better to be able to tell one complete story. 

Favorite TV series: Lost

From the first few seasons, I wouldn't really need to explain this one, but the longer the series continued, and the more complicated it became, the more demanding, the more it lost (heh) viewer support, so that you're probably well familiar with the overall opinions of how it all turned out, as more of a disappointment than success.  And yet, this was a TV show made for me, which delved so deeply into its characters, and its story, I was riveted for six seasons.  For me, this was exactly like reading a good book (2666, say).  When JJ Abrams later launched Fringe, which is as close as anything I've seen come to Lost's achievement (if you're at a complete loss as to what Fringe is, think of The Flash but without the superheroes), I knew beyond a doubt that Abrams was one of the defining creative voices of his generation, which, yes, Star Wars fans can maybe agree with, too, now.

Favorite comic book: "The Return of Barry Allen," The Flash

This was an early '90s comic book storyline, which means (if you're not a comic book geek) Barry Allen did not return, having been dead for about a decade and still some fifteen years from actually returning.  Instead, this was a story that focused on Wally West, the former Kid Flash, who had replaced Barry as the Flash some years earlier but was still struggling with living up to his mentor's legacy.  This remains the most profound statement on the nature of superheroes I've ever read.  It's hardly the most famous, and writer Mark Waid actually is better known for a lot of other stuff, his Flash comics in general, in part, but for me, there's absolutely no question.  James Robinson gets a lot of credit for exploring the idea of legacy in his classic Starman run, but it's Waid who got there first, and did it best, by surrounding Wally with characters who in a lot of other hands would never have worked nearly as well: the Golden Age speedsters Johnny Quick and Jay Garrick (the original Flash) and especially the so-called Zen master of speed, Max Mercury, whom Waid cobbled together from various existing characters but in the end made wholly his own, and none of them came off as old and tired, but rather a lot like Yoda (there's Star Wars again), guys you really want on your side, but in the end aren't really capable of fighting your battles for you.  The villain, by the way, is the Reverse-Flash, so fans of the Flash TV show really wouldn't have that hard a time keeping up with the story, so to speak...

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Vampire Books for Blood!

I've gone ahead and listed Pale Moonlight over at Vampire Books for Blood, a nifty concept that is soliciting donations to the American Red Cross and Canadian Blood Services.  If I manage to sell any copies of Pale Moonlight in October, I'll donate a dollar for each one.

I found out about this thanks to C.D. Gallant-King, who it should be noted wrote a book called Hell Comes to Hogtown.  C'mon, it's a great title!

Anyway, even if you're not interested in reading my book (or worse, if you already have), check out what the other participants are offering! 

...Pale Moonlight is a book I wrote seven years ago, shopped around for a while, and then finally self-published two years ago.  The great irony about it is that it was partly inspired by a relationship my sister had that helped her get over an earlier relationship, which itself has since turned out horribly.  If you know comic books at all, it's kind of written in the fashion of Neil Gaiman's Sandman, in which the story kind of becomes a series of stories in the process of trying to explain how the priest Plato Finnegan manages to confront the vampire who has been preying on his sister, even though he seems to be the least qualified member of the heroic ensemble that assembles around her, including a Van Helsing type and a man who describes himself as a modern pirate (but not in the Captain Phillips way).  The thing about Plato is that in a weird metaphysical way he's also a dragon.  Yeah, it's that kind of story...

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

IWSG October 2016

The Insecure Writers Support Group meets every first Wednesday.  If you miss a few months, they drop you from the list, so it's important to check that out and sign up again if you continue to post.  Anyway, this month's prompt is:

"When do you know when your story's ready?"

This is something that's incredibly important to me.  I'm of the mind that half of writing is actually thinking.  Probably more than half.  Say you have a story idea.  Sit on it.  And then continue sitting on it.  During this period where you are sitting on it, you should be thinking about it.  (Otherwise it would be kind of pointless.) 

The idea, if you're thinking about it, begins to change.  To evolve.  To grow more complicated.  Unless you're a crazy genius who can think up ideas fully formed (and let's face it, if you're a member of something called the Insecure Writers Support Group, and I don't mean to offend you, you're probably not a crazy genius) (or you really, really are; it depends), chances are you need to give your ideas some time to grow.

People have this crazy idea that writing is the art of stringing sentences together, a series of events and characters doing things.  But that's not the story at all.  The story is what it all means, what all these events and characters mean to each other.  I'm not saying that every story has to be an infinitely complex work of great historical significance.  You can get people to like lightweight, meaningless (and yes, poorly written) drivel.  Like everything else in life, reading takes shape as a popularity contest.  But if you want to be honest with yourself, you want to write the best possible thing you can, so that if a complete stranger, who didn't otherwise imagine themselves reading your book, whether because they're not inclined to the genre you write in, or never heard of you, but just thought the idea sounded neat, ends up reading your story, they won't hate you with the heat of a thousand suns.

Not to exaggerate or anything.  I'm just saying, it shows when you don't think things through.  I'm not talking about disagreeing with your conclusions.  I'm not talking about writing as an academic exercise.  I'm not saying you should write such intricate plots that events and characters become meaningless.  I'm just saying, the more you think about a story, the more it should appear logical, all the way around.

Because the more you think about an idea, the more it changes, the more it makes sense to you, and therefore, hopefully, others. 

That's when you know you're ready to write, when you've more or less thought everything out.  Some people think that's kind of the job of revisions, but I think if you've waited that long, you didn't wait long enough to write the story to begin with.  I mean, sure, you can change things after you've written the thing, but it shouldn't resemble tossed salad.  If you write a story like tossed salad, I'm just saying, maybe you shouldn't be writing. 

Writing the story is an entirely different matter, of course.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

IWSG September 2016

The Insecure Writers Support Group meets on the first Wednesday of every month (except in leap years, when it happens on the first Wednesday of every month, the distinction being completely nonexistent, so let's...just move on).

When do you find time to write in your busy schedule?

Taking on the responsibility of working as my niece's primary caregiver for the next year means I have less time to myself than I've had previously.  It used to be, I could massage time a little, if I didn't have a lot, but that's just no longer possible.  So after she goes to bed, I have to figure out what I want to write, because now it's the split between blogging and writing, and writing has suddenly taken on a greater premium than ever.

I used to be a pretty nutty blogger.  I mean, I still technically have a heaping handful of blogs active.  But "active" is not very active these days.  I've slowed down a lot over the past year, but things are changing even more now. 

I have a lot of stories I want to work on.  Two comic book contest scripts are in the pipeline, and the IWSG now has a story contest, with a rapidly-approaching deadline.  I can easily write 5,000 words, but things are different now than when I was pounding out novellas this summer.  That's three projects, all needing to be written soon.  So I don't have time for blogging, or messing around, like I used to, and that's all there is to that.

It's a great change of pace, writing in the evening when you've spent the day interacting with a goofy one-plus-year-old.  Starting tomorrow (last night I started outlining one of the scripts), I should hopefully have gotten some of the work done, and come up with the new kind of discipline I'll need to make this work for the next year.

Wish me luck!

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Burrito, the Night Circus, and a cat named Boo!

I've been fairly quiet the last few weeks, across my fleet of blogs.  I mean, more quiet, because there's no denying I'm no longer posting near as much as I did in years past, for a variety of reasons.  But recently it's because I've moved again, and taken on an awesome new responsibility.

A little over a year ago, Burrito was born.  Obviously, that's not her real name.  Anyway, Burrito is my sister's daughter, the sister I've lived with and/or near for most of the past decade.  Starting last October, we renewed the tradition when she went down to Florida for some training, so someone would be available to watch Burrito, and then we all went back to Virginia.  When we left Colorado, I saw Virginia for the first time, a fleeting glimpse, really, before heading back up to Maine so I could help make my mother comfortable in the little over a year she had left from a hellacious battle with cancer.  So I got to spend ten months in Virginia, get a sense of how my sister was living while I was away, and watch Burrito grow.

Now I'm a full-time caretaker of Burrito, since my sister has shipped out overseas, and couldn't take her daughter along.  I consider this a huge privilege.  I'm one of those people who never imagined they'd have such an awesome responsibility.  I've watched two nephews grow into early boyhood in Maine, but it's different seeing (nearly) the whole process firsthand.  I've seen a lot of behavior George Lucas stole for Star Wars (Luke Skywalker's reactions in The Empire Strikes Back, for example).

Anyway, that's just a little peek behind the curtain.  I'm don't tend to get too personal in my blogging.  You may be wondering why I'm talking about this on a writers blog.  The last month, I slogged through Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, which I picked up earlier this year at an airport, fully expecting it to be a magical experience.  If I had extremely limited literary experience, it would have been.  It was anything but.  I have no idea why a major publisher would have touted this as a viable adult read.  It was about as good as a young adult book would be.  In my Goodreads review, I called it Suzanne Collins' version of Lost, which was still being generous, because Collins would've included a nonsensical third act, like in Marvel movies.

What I decided about Morgenstern is that she embodies what has become an unfortunate trend in books, and perhaps the culture in general: personality before talent.  As far as I can tell, it used to be that you had to have talent before anyone cared what kind of personality was behind it.  But now you're supposed to have the personality, which kind of ends up overriding the talent.  Talent is meaningless and unnecessary in this equation.  It's a nightmare!

I'll now mention the other family member I'll be watching for my sister: Boo.  Boo is a white furball of a cat, whom I've known since 2004.  My decade+ tagalong with my sister has included many great experiences with Boo, who single-handedly (paw-edly?) made me into a cat person.  But as anyone knows, cats aren't dogs.  They don't just, usually, let you get close to them.  I wish we treated writers like cats treat humans.  You have to get to know their work before a relationship is possible.

Before Burrito, there was a lot of things I didn't understand about babies, and I think it benefited my relationship with her.  That's what I'm talking about.  Be more like Boo, be more like Burrito.  Be less like Erin Morgenstern.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

A Crime Against Art

In 1941, Orson Welles released his masterpiece, Citizen Kane, to the world.  It was to be the last movie he would have full creative control of, following by a career of studio meddling and diminished opportunities.  All this because of his abrasive personality.

I think this is a crime against art.  While it can't be argued that he never again made meaningful contributions to film, Welles should have been held up as the very pinnacle of Hollywood's early legacy.  For years Citizen Kane was the standard by which critics judged American film, and regularly topped their lists of the best movies ever made.  Just imagine if the filmmaker responsible for it had been encouraged to fulfill his potential, had been allowed to make films unobstructed the rest of his life...

Welles had a considerable ego, the product of an upbringing in which he was repeatedly told of the greatness that was ahead of him.  He literally thought he could do no wrong, that naysayers only got in the way, and that anyone who wasn't with him was against him.  There's always room for contradiction, and in fact is necessary for personalities like that, to help keep them in check, but what happened to Welles was a willful destruction, just as if someone had tucked Shakespeare out of the way, and thus deprived us of his later genius (there is in fact a clear distinction to be found between his Elizabethan years and the plays written under the rule of King James) and rich legacy. 

Because he was difficult to work with?  Because he was difficult to work with.  Sure, some of it was because he struck a blow against the powerful media tycoon William Randolph Hearst (you'd have to know now that this satire exists in Citizen Kane, because no one really cares about that anymore, except as intellectual curiosity), but Welles's idiosyncratic approach to his work was used against him just as impressively. 

It's true that hindsight often gives better perspective on the events of history, but sometimes the present speaks for itself, too.  Welles garnered Oscar nominations for Best Film, Best Director, and Best Actor while winning for Best Original Screenplay.  You'd think that was proof enough of his talent.  It's also true that Citizen Kane wasn't a box office draw, and studios then as now considered this a primary factor in their continuing creative decisions.

Was that good enough?  I'd like to think not.  Today, that wouldn't be the case.  Young directors making a big splash with a small production today usually are given bigger opportunities the next film, and their future opportunities are defined by those results.  Welles, he was simply buried, and his every decision second-guessed.  Again, that's the nature of filmmaking, but with Welles, this instinct was particularly vindictive.  It makes no sense, but again, ego had everything to do with it.  Other people wanted to prove he wasn't as good as he, or anyone else, thought he was, and worked hard to prove it.  Numerous completed films were taken out of his control and violently recut (The Magnificent Ambersons is the most famous example), with the excised material callously discarded.

Some of this may sound worse from a modern standpoint.  Early Doctor Who was lost to history, too, because film preservation as we know it simply didn't exist in years past.  But my basic argument, that what happened to Orson Welles can be summed up as embarrassing to the history of art, stands.

Because people didn't like him.  Really?  One the great creative visionaries of the past hundred years, stymied because people didn't like him?  It's like saying Pope Julius II would have had the right to end Michelangelo because of their complicated relationship.  Thankfully, that one ultimately resolved itself (see: The Agony and the Ecstasy). 

To be a fan of Orson Welles is to be entangled in the debate of what could have been, following restoration efforts, comparing competing cuts (I own a set of the film Mr. Arkadin in which there are several versions to be considered).  Nowadays directors release their own competing versions (Ridley Scott and Peter Jackson routinely provide extended cuts, for instance), but that's not what I'm talking about with Welles (Terry Gilliam is a more recent example of this phenomenon, and as such his Brazil has a similar fate and collection).

What I'm saying here is that, within reason, stay out of a true artist's way.  It benefits everyone.  The best of art of timeless.  History understands that.  Cultures are made on the backbones of art.  When countries fade away, only the art remains.  I wish Orson Welles could have benefited from his peers thinking that way.  Because we all would have, in turn.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Miss Simon's Dime Novel now available!

This summer I've been hitting the books pretty hard...writing novellas, anyway, and Miss Simon's Dime Novel is the last of them.  Rounding out the Americana Trilogy, Miss Simon and her lover Jim Herbert have a discussion about that most hallowed of geek debates: whether or not it was cool for George Lucas to monkey around with the notion that Han Solo shot first.  To do so, Jim proposes examining a different story, a fictionalized account of early cowboy actors Jack and Al Hoxie (they stopped making movies roughly the same time John Wayne was making a name for himself), and a rivalry that results in another shootout (which, historically, never happened).  Does Jack Hoxie, the more successful of the two, shoot first, or his half-brother Al, who in real life was honored by the state of California for his role in ending a hostage crisis?
Jack's life was a crossroads of popular entertainment, straddling the line between the traveling Wild West shows of the 19th century and the dawn of Hollywood in the 20th.  He starred in numerous rodeos and circuses before and after his years making movies.  The closest you'd come to knowing anything about him now is Three Godfathers, a 1916 film featuring Harry Carey, a fact history remembers with the second remake from 1948 featuring John Wayne and Carey's son, Harry Carey, Jr., and later echoed by the smash 1987 comedy Three Men and a Baby; if Wikipedia, for instance, were properly edited, all of these connections would be so much easier to make.
Dime Novel plays fast and loose with the facts, but they're all present, from the fact that Jack's father was commonly known as Doc Hoxie, to his mother's name being Matilda Quick (seriously, the guy's parents had the best names), to his stepfather being accused of murder, to his early first marriage to a woman named Pearl and the second daughter he later had being named Pearl, too, to...It's a dime novel version of history, from a modern perspective, as close to Quentin Tarantino as I'll ever get.  This is the Western for modern times, with the myth ratcheted way up and the humanity even higher (if that makes any sense to you, then you're exactly my target audience).
Writing it was the perfect way to end the summer for me, building on everything else I'd worked on, pushing the word count a little upward (it's the longest story of the four I've written this year), and because it's a drama about two specific characters, the focus remains tighter than what I've done lately, too (actually, it's the first time I've ever done a long-form story with only two main characters, unless you count Leopold's Concentration). 
As always, available in paperback and ebook formats. 

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