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. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Miss Simon's Brute released

I've finally concluded, and released, Miss Simon's Brute.  I've included with this post all the labels to where I've written about the development and history of this story here, but the most important thing for me is that this is a milestone for me. This is the story I was working on two Novembers ago, with the insane wordcount challenge I'd given myself, that I abandoned the day my mother was admitted to the nursing home where she'd die five months later, which began a lengthy writers block I hadn't been able to escape until this year. 
Brute is a version of the classic fable of Beauty and the Beast, which is a favorite of my older sister's, and I initially conceived of the project as a favor to her.  I set it during the War of 1812 (which has factored into other things I've written), specifically in the aftermath of the Battle of York, which precipitated the retaliatory burning of the White House.  The story ties together the lives of an Irish immigrant, an Indian orphan, a Canadian widow, and the eponymous individual, a hulking black man whose lynching motivates the shattered lives of the immigrant, orphan, and widow to find new purpose.  During the course of the story, hidden truths are revealed, such as who the Brute really is, which deepen its emotional impact.
Like Sapo Saga and Miss Simon's Moxie before it, Brute is a novella, a shorter work meant to focus my writing and give potential readers something meaty to sample.  Writing the earlier stories made it easier to finally work on and complete Brute, besides.
Brute also serves as a tribute to the writer Jerome Charyn, who through the support of Lenore Riegel has become all the more important in my life as one of the giants of literature, despite the fact that awareness of his efforts has remained at a minimum in the fifty years he's been producing his insights into the American psyche, past and present.  He often includes characters like the Brute in his stories, although for my version I chose to move the character front-and-center, whereas Charyn usually has him in support (unless he's Abraham Lincoln).  

You can buy paperback and ebook editions.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Miss Simon's Moxie is released

I've just released Miss Simon's Moxie, a political satire featuring Miss Simon and Tim Laflamme, two characters who've previously appeared in my fiction, as well as the soft drink Moxie, which is hugely beloved for reasons not entirely to be understood, and celebrated annually in my hometown of Lisbon, ME!  Paperback and ebook versions are available.

Writing this novella was part of my continuing efforts to get back into the swing of writing, and also having shorter things available for interested readers. 

No, that isn't Frank Anicetti on the cover, but it might as well be.  Frank recently retired as the proprietor the Kennebec Fruit Co., which was better known as the Moxie Store.  He's a living legend in Lisbon, and is directly responsible for the Moxie Festival that brings thousands of visitors to town every year (incidentally, this occurs on the second weekend of July, so this coincidental timing is also somewhat fortuitous). 

Even if you've never heard of Moxie, you can also construe the title to indicate Miss Simon herself, because the old gal certainly has moxie, too...

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

IWSG June 2016 - Writer(s) in the family...

(We join the regularly-scheduled-meeting-of-the-Insecure-Writers-Support-Group, already in progress...)

This past weekend I had a chance to visit with Wit's family again.  For those unfamiliar with Wit, that's the alias I gave my cousin last year.  She was my writer-in-the-family that I got to talk to about this sort of thing (writing).  She also happens to be fifteen.

So it turns out her sister likes writing, too.  Her sister, whom I'll call Soul, is younger than her.  I had no idea, until this visit, that she likes writing, too.  So it kind of derailed what I had intended to talk about during the visit.

I ended up, briefly, chatting with Soul about writing.  Turns out she likes writing in notebooks.  I told her that's good.  I'm told the act of physically writing is a good creative outlet in and of itself.  It stimulates the brain to think in ways it wouldn't when, say, typing on a keyboard.  I told her, truthfully, that sometimes I begin new stories by writing some of it out in notebooks I carry with me everywhere.

And that's pretty much the extent of my writing conversations from the weekend.  Never even touched base with Wit.  The weekend ended with possible plans to meet up again for the July 4th weekend.

I'm talking to you about this, not to remind you about Wit, or to tell you about her sister Soul, but because I'm sad about chickening out.  When I talked about Wit last time, I was flush with the idea that I had a writer in the family.  At last!  Their mother, and her sister, have always been among my kindest supporters in the family, and so it was nice to know they were fostering little writers of their own.  I mean, despite what the Internet may have you believe, writing is a lonely calling.  Isn't that the whole point of the IWSG?  (Maybe it's just me, but isn't the group better for alleviating loneliness than insecurity?  Well, it should be.)

Then again, I'm not sorry, because I knew exactly what I was thinking throughout the weekend.  I didn't want to come off like I was desperately trying to connect with them.  From my own experience, conversations are best when they happen organically.  I spent nearly a decade away from Wit and Soul as it is.  They grew up considerably in the time I was away!  So really, I'm just getting to know them again.

But it's good to know they like writing.  That's something to work on, right?  And that's what writers always do.  They find something to work on.  And we're always busy, aren't we?

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Sapo Saga has been released

I've just compiled the story I serialized over at Sigild V for last month's edition of the annual A-to-Z Challenge, and while the result is surely short, I'm proud to present Sapo Saga to the world.  Here's the back cover, too, so you know what it's about:

Basically it's the condensed version of a classic space opera epic, told from the perspective of twenty-six individuals recounting their relationship to the story, which at its heart details to heroics of Ulysses and the redemption of Zuri, both of whom are heroes of the Sapo Order and saviors of the planet Zala, and are equally desperately needing to be rediscovered by a galaxy that has forgotten they were real people.  The people lending their thoughts strange from friends and relatives to the persons responsible for finding out the truth about what really happened.  Central to the whole thing is the mysterious Kindly, the android depicted on the cover.

You can purchase it here (digitally, here).

Speaking of that cover, yes, it's the first time I've delved into creating a distinctive, art-centered cover, so on that score, it marks a transition in my self-publishing.  Thanks for your continued support.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

IWSG May 2016 - May the 4th be with you...

This is an Insecure Writers Support Group post...

I love Star Wars, in part because it stands as a triumph of the imagination.  George Lucas took things he loved (old sci-fi movie serials, Hidden Fortress) and showed everyone why he loved them.  (This makes him a little like Quentin Tarantino, actually.)  And the first version he came up with (later adapted by Dark Horse Comics in its The Star Wars) is virtually nothing like the saga as we'd get to know it.  Hollywood literally spent twenty years trying desperately to catch up with it, and it was such a tough job the fans eventually considered that Lucas himself wasn't up to it when he created the prequel trilogy.

His imagination, however, was a powerful lure.  I grew up with these movies.  By the time I was old enough to watch them, the original trilogy had already been completed, and my family watched them over and over again.  I was young enough to be extremely impressionable, in a number of ways.  The scariest parts of the movies were things I wasn't really ready to face.  I vividly remember that iconic moment when the Emperor removes his hood and reveals his ugly...Wait, you say that never happened?  Well, it did for me.  That, and tiny, shrunken Princess Leia.  I mean, that was a gimme, right?  Only if you didn't understand how the scene was being presented in that prison cell.

Beyond that, and in conjunction with Star Trek (I know, right? most fans like one or the other), Star Wars was to have a profound impact on my budding creative life.  Like Hollywood, it was to be a daunting journey.  I didn't write a word of Star Wars fiction until about a decade into my budding career.  (I've previously written about the huge challenge I set for myself later, the 101 Star Wars Variations.)  A lot of writers tend to be inspired by what they read rather than watched.  That certainly seems to be my experience, anyway.  There are definitely writers who crib from their viewing habits (it's always obvious), but it's far more common (see George R.R. Martin and other famous fantasy writers, obviously following in the footsteps of Tolkien, for instance) for reading habits to be exposed.  Most sci-fi writers still exist in the insular world of book logic, including those actively penning Star Wars (and Star Trek) fiction.

Well, not me.  Star Wars was too important to me.  And yeah, I've been chasing it ever since.  Probably a foolish obsession, I know, but one I can't shake.  It defines the term "saga" for me, and what I always wanted from that saga, but never found except in the movies, what I've always wanted for my sagas.  I mean, what would be the point otherwise?

It's not all Star Wars (or Star Trek).  Last time I checked in I talked about the need for inspiration that truly inspires you, and a large pool of it.  But without Star Wars, my pool would be considerably more shallow.  In both senses.

Is it an impossible dream?  Who knows?
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