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.
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