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8.31.2007

The October Country

As we turn the corner on the summer and head into that lovely period of decline we know as autumn, I'm saddened by the fact that here in Florida, it stays green and hot. Almost year round, it does that.

Sure, we do have one or two hard freezes in North Florida. It's a rarity, but we get some cool days, and the further north you drive on these beautiful little two-lane highways, the more color you'll find in the trees on the horizon.

Woodsmoke on the air. The crunch of leaves underfoot. College football.

All of it points me toward a favorite collection of short stories by Ray Bradbury, found in The October Country.

Mine's a lovely little 1954 Del Ray paperback, yellowing and well-used. It has a terrific piece of surreal artwork on the cover, and an ominous foreward that sets the tone for Ray's strange landscape.

October Country

...that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain...

I like it.

And this isn't nostalgic Ray. This is mean Ray, dark Ray, cynical Ray. Tales of murder and mutation and the long reach of the grim reaper abound in this little book.

It fits in the front pocket of my jeans, and I never tire of the stories, so it's my go-to travel companion when I need to wait. DMV or doctor's office, I have tales like "The Crowd" to occupy my time.

Bradbury is a lyrical writer, a wordsmith in the strictest sense. His prose is lovely to read. And when you juxtapose such fine language with such horrific content, it really is a crazy salad. These stories invoke some of the same feelings of dread that one experiences when reading Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" or Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper."

My favorites include "The Dwarf," a wicked little tale of revenge and come-uppance when the protagonist repays his tormentor for a cruel practical joke.

"The Small Assassin" was way out in front of the PTSD discussion in our country surrounding the feelings of alienation (and, in some cases, outright revulsion) about the act of childbirth. I love the pacing in this one. I love how rational people slowly give themselves over to the possibility that a baby, the universal symbol of innocence, is a calculating murderer. I love the truth in the plot construction. Though no one takes her seriously, it's Alice Leiber's protests that something is well...off with her son that makes this such a heart-breaking story.

A mother always knows, I guess.

They're all great. The consistently excellent nature of this collection sets it apart as a foundation for shaping my own fiction. I have two tomes that I re-read prior to any period of prolonged short story composition-this one, and Nightmares and Dreamscapes. For my dollar, it doesn't get any better.

"The Wind." "The Scythe." "Uncle Einar." Bradbury's imprint is found in all of the horror writers that have followed him. Just look beneath the surface, and you'll see ol' Ray there, having a grin at your expense, but clearly delighted that you thought of him.

What a writer.

What are you guys reading? Which stories fuel your production when it's time to work in the short form?

8.30.2007

Death Sentence

Said Klaatu to the people of Earth: Are any of you out there? Please kick some knowledge (or drop some science) in the comments sections if you have books/movies/trends/experiences to share!

Death Sentence comes out this week, and the promotional synopsis looks interesting. And (and this is a big one-cue the drum roll) it stars Kevin Bacon. Yes, that Kevin Bacon. It's been awhile since we saw him in the movies, but you have to admit, his filmography is filled with some classics. Without checking his bio on IMDB, I'll just say I really enjoyed:

Footloose (who doesn't?)
Apollo 13
The Woodsman
Sleepers
The River Wild
Stir of Echoes

I love Stir of Echoes. I love the hypnosis scenes, I love the block parties, I love Bacon's tortured obsession and his insatiable thirst for OJ.

It's an underrated film, based on Richard Matheson's under appreciated novel (can't wait for the screen version of I Am Legend!). I try to catch it every year around Halloween.

I think Bacon has shown tremendous range and depth in his various turns. Boyish in one role, tired and aged in the next. Gregarious and confident, then sullen and haunted. He's one of a group of aging Hollywood vets whose stuff I'll pretty much always turn out for (Kurt Russell, Kevin Costner, Bruce Willis).

So let me ask you. Which are the best Kevin Bacon films?

Pop by tomorrow when we talk books.

8.29.2007

Query Letters

Ah, the query letter. Much has been written in the blogging community about this important marketing tool. For a truly exhaustive discussion, consult the archives of the venerable (and now retired) Miss Snark. Her blog was educational, clear and savagely enjoyable to read, so if you're embarking on the process of securing an agent, do yourself a favor and look through her offerings on the subject.

This week, Nathan Bransford's blog chronicles his disdain for beginning queries with rhetorical questions (Did you ever leave to check the mail and come home to a naked man making a sandwich in your kitchen?).

My take on it is simple: research and personalize. The blogging community has served as a fantastic tool for learning about the nebulous publishing industry. It's a great place to share feedback and network with other writers.

But I'd say the best information comes from the industry insiders-the agents and editors who pull back the curtain and write perceptively about their trade and the business of selling manuscripts. Check the links on the right of this blog for a list that will be updated periodically.

The first step is to drill down on your genre, then take out a resource like Writer's Market, a fairly up-to-date source filled with reputable agents. If you want to keep your search online, look at agent query and try to compile a list of agents that represent your genre.

After you have a list of potential business partners, begin looking for some information on them. Many agents have websites that are frequently updated with notes. Many, many of them blog, and you can get to know them that way. Pay attention to the guidelines-you must ensure that you've followed the instructions on their site to the letter.

Formatting? 10-12 pt font in Times New Roman or Courier New is preferable. If you can get it all down in 12-pt font, nice work. The letter will look professional and the agent will appreciate not needing to squint.

Now, if you can personalize your letter, the opener is the place to do it. If you read the agent's blog, briefly mention that. If you met them at a conference, mention your experience. I think this illustrates that you're serious about learning about the industry, and you've taken some time to get a feel for who this person is.

Then you need to hit 'em with a hook. Maybe summarize a central theme. Look to capture the story in a single sentence. I started my query to Bernadette with a simple declarative sentence:

Evil came to Oregon in the winter of 1807.

Move onto a synopsis. One to three paragraphs that encapsulate the setting, plot and characterization. No cliff hangers. If you feel the need to use a rhetorical question, this would be the place to use it.

Mention your education, if it's relevant to the storytelling or the quality of the writing. If you're a cop and you're working on a police procedural, that's in. If you have an MFA from the University of Iowa, that's in. If you spent your youth hunting gators in the Florida low country, and your book's about that topic-of course it's relevant.

Credits next. Generally speaking, if you have published your writing in reputable (i.e. edited and competitive) publications, include that. If you write for a living-whether in journalism or technical writing, mention it. If you have no credits, merely mention that this is your first novel, or say nothing at all.

Prior to signing off, make some modest comparisons to books and writers that sincerely influenced your writing. This illustrates that you have a feel for the market-that you're thinking about where your piece might fit in. Be realistic though. J.K. Rowling's books were excellent, but I feel bad for all the agents that need to read query after query claiming to feature the next Hogwarts.

There are many writing forums and communities out there that will help you refine your query letters (absolute write is a supportive place). When you finish the first draft, let it sit for a spell before revision. The key is to say as much as possible, with attractive, active phrasing, in as small a space as possible.

Be considerate. Don't be boastful. Don't sell yourself short either, or put yourself down.

So I'm curious, guys. How have your queries worked out? Where are you in the publishing process?




8.28.2007

Amazing!

Take eight minutes out of your day and watch this clip. I have never seen anything like it!

Talking Horror

Two questions: What is the next big thing in horror fiction?

Also, what type of horror writer are you? Do you go for the splatter side of things, or do you prefer to give your reader the creeps?

With the announcement of Justin Cronin's three-book deal for an apocalyptic vampire deal (Agent Lori Perkins nicely details the deal here-second post from the top), I think it's kind of fun to attempt our predictions of the next big trend in horror fiction. Zombies have been strong over the last decade or so, and I'm noticing more trade paperbacks leaning toward supernatural splatter (just finished Brian Keene's Ghoul). I also read Ray Garton's The Folks this week. Ick. Well written but flat-out gross.

I received a batch of pleasant rejections from my agent yesterday, and one editor did say that he tends to purchase more of the "splatter" variety of horror. I wrote Bernadette back and told her I don't know that I'll ever write that style of horror effectively. I tend to want to create a sustained tone with my audience, and I tend to shoot more for the psychological aspects of fear as opposed to the visceral side of it (I never got into rotting bodies, festering boils, teaming maggots and the like).

I think of the division between lots of early Stephen King (although Carrie and Salem's Lot both buck this trend) and his later stuff (Bag of Bones and Lisey's Story). The early stuff was high on the gross-out factor, the writer's equivalent of the on-screen carnage in most modern horror films like Hostel and Audition. The later stuff points to the veiled horror that happens either off-screen or in the plot set-up. In my novel , when the Wendigo awakens to find a few hunger pangs in his belly, he sets off to get a bite to eat (or three). In the opening chapters, he takes a number of Astorians from their homes, and while I find this horrifying, I don't glamorize their deaths, nor do I use hyperbole in my depiction of the monster. It's his human form, the ghost of French trapper Louis Bascombe, that's most frightening. It's his gluttony and selfishness-and the act of cannibalism he committed that cursed him to become a Wendigo-that gets under my skin. Maybe it's just me, but I often find that when horror is executed well, less is often more.

As for my first question up there, I'm going to finish the haunted love story I'm working on, and then it's on to my ode to the haunted house. Only this won't be a house, it'll be an apartment building. And it won't be haunted so much as alive.

Neat.

What do you guys think? Where are we going, and which brand of horror fiction has a greater impact on you?

8.27.2007

Writing Process

Afternoon,

I don't know if you guys even care to discuss it, but Michael Vick apologized today for his part in the dog-fighting ring. Do you think he was sincere? Can he resurrect his career and/or rebuild a positive image?

I wanted to follow up on last week's discussion of conflict with a quick note on plotting. I'm working on my second novel, a haunted love story set on a ranch in Eastern Oregon. The impetus for the plot came from a news article I read about wolves reclaiming habitat in the Blue Mountains. I wrote what felt like a great set of five chapters, and now I look up and it's two-thirds of the way done (to the first draft-though I revise the previous day's writing with each new session).

The character and setting details come to me at all times of the day, so I subsequently accumulate scraps of paper with notes on them. The end table near my bed is crammed full of them. On Wendigo, I sketched out a writing schedule and outlined the last fifteen chapters. I haven't felt the need to do that on this work in progress.

So I'm curious. How much time do you spend in organizing? At what point of the writing process do you do this (early or part-way through)? How many of you just "grip it and rip it," as Roy McAvoy says in the underrated film Tin Cup?

I ask because the seed of a real dilly of an idea is germinating in the back of my mind for novel three. I'm happy to keep building on my WIP, but man, I'm excited to sit down and draft a plot outline for this next one.

To plot or not to plot (and if so, how?). That is the question...

8.25.2007

Pac-10 Preview

I may live in the heart of SEC country, but I love Pac-10 football! It makes for some tiring days in the fall, waiting up until 10:30 to watch the Ducks play on TBS, but it's well worth it.

Here's how I see the year shaping up:

1. USC-The Trojans will suffer a single loss, when they visit Autzen Stadium to play the Ducks on September 27. They'll be tested at Nebraska and Washington, and will have their hands full with UCLA on December 01. Watch them roll up Notre Dame in South Bend. I think USC will go 11-1 and play for the national championship against Michigan.

2. Oregon-The Ducks will lose twice in 2007 (and Dixon will start, and play well). They'll play Michigan tough at the Big House on September 08, but they'll fall just short. Look for Cal to come in and sting the Ducks at Autzen on September 29. Aside from those losses, the Ducks will have a fantastic year, with a win over USC and a 10-2 record. Now, if Bellotti can just get us back to bowl dominance...

3. Cal-I'm stoked to see Cal whip Tennessee on September 01! When the Vols come to Strawberry Canyon, they'll see speed, speed and more speed. I think DeSean Jackson will open a lot of eyes this year on a national level, and Nate Longshore is a very good quarterback. They lose at UCLA and Colorado State and at home against USC. 9-3...

4. UCLA-The BYU game will be interesting on September 08. Dorell's team can play defense, and their offense is coming around. I see UCLA losing at home against Oregon and Notre Dame and losing on the road to USC and Oregon State. 8-4...

5. Oregon State-It'll be interesting to see how long Riley's quarterback platoon will last. Losing Sammy Stroughter will hurt, but the defense returns a lot of starters and is tough and physical and Bernard is a very good back. The Beavers drop the Civil War to the Ducks and lose at Cal, USC and Washington State. 8-4...

6. Washington State-Brink to Bumpus must be in full effect for this prediction to materialize, but I like the Cougars to get back to a bowl in 2007/08. They drop a game at Wisconsin on September 01, and lose at Oregon, USC and Cal, and at home against UCLA. 7-5...

7. Arizona-Is this the year we see the rejuvenation of the Desert Swarm defense? Not likely, but I like the direction Mike Stoops has brought the program in the last few years (remember when Arizona was good-back in the '90s?). Willie Tuitama is a great athlete and the Cats have ten starters back on defense. They lose at BYU, Cal, Oregon State and USC and at home against the Ducks, Cougs and Bruins. 5-7...

8. Arizona State-Give Dennis a year to attract his outlaws to Tempe and the Sun Devils will be back in the thick of things. From what I hear (Pete Prisco's radio show-he's an alumnus and writer for CBS Sportsline), the team is brutal and the offense is stagnant. They'll beat Stanford, San Diego State and San Jose State...3-9

9. Washington-I hate these suckers more than any other team in college football. As much as I've enjoyed them being down the last few years, it's better for Oregon football fans when the U Dub is at least decent. I think the program is in the right hands with Ty Willingham, and I expect that next year they'll be a player at the top of the standings. This year will hurt, though, as they play the nation's toughest schedule. They'll beat Syracuse in the Carrier Dome and will beat Stanford on the road. I like them to win at Hawaii in the final game of the season. 3-10..

10. Stanford-Harbaugh's a character, and he did a great job at San Diego, but this will take some time to turn around. I think they pull an upset at TCU. That's it. Not a great year for The Cardinal. 1-11...

No one can say the Pac-10 doesn't play anybody. I look at these teams' non-conference schedules and I'm astounded by the quality of the opposition. The SEC is a tough league, and they do beat each other up, but so do these teams on the West Coast. Out here in Florida, it's all about directional schools-Middle Tennessee, Eastern Carolina, Western Michigan...what's that all about? I give Tennessee credit for tussling with Cal, but the rest of these teams are playing patsies...

8.24.2007

Roadwork

For my money, there's no better artistic feeling than when the act of composition is pure and fluid. When the story shines in your mind and the words stack up at the spillway of the dam in your head, then tumble out and filter through your keystrokes and onto the page-that's when you feel the invigoration of the writing process. And it's these days-the ones where it comes in a torrent and you look up and the hands on the clock have somehow moved, but you weren't sure when-that often lead to the best of your work in progress. They require less editing than the trench warfare days, when you need to motivate yourself to dash off a word count, knowing full well it'll end up on the cutting-room floor when push comes to editing shove.

You can probably tell I enjoyed my writing today.

Let's talk books. In the last year, I've been profoundly moved by two very different books. I pert near shed a tear at the conclusion of Cormac McCarthy's beautiful novel The Road. The same was the case for Richard Bachman's Roadwork.

Bachman is the caustic alter-ego of Stephen King, and while I have yet to read Blaze, I think Roadwork is my favorite of the Bachman Books.

Roadwork is the story of a man haunted by the loss of a child, a marriage and a way of life. Barton Dawes, our story's protagonist, is a man on the edge. His job is at risk. His marriage is under strain. His house will soon be gobbled up under the contemptible auspice of eminent domain. He decides, against his baser instincts, to sabotage the laundry that provided him with his middle-class, suburban lifestyle. Better to sink the ship than deed it to the corporate raiders. He, and this is most painful, allows his lies and deceptions to kill his marriage, letting it whither on the vine. And he ultimately decides to blow up the unnecessary road that will take his house.

Bachman's prose is clean and spare. The narrative moves fluidly and crackles with political messages about topics like consumption and waste and pork-barrel bureaucracy. Bachman's ability to create rich characters (Dawes is a doozy, and I love the Italian gangster, Magliore, that sets him up with the explosives) only dips on one account. I would have enjoyed more depth on Mary, the tortured wife who illustrates some round characteristics after her split-up with Bart, but never truly illustrates the dynamic character one would hope to see from her.

Bachman compensates us generously for the lack of exposition in Mary with his depiction of Bart. This story works because of Bart. Bart represents an ideal-a line in the sand for the existential man that suddenly wakes up in middle age to the discovery that things hadn't gone according to The Plan. As he gets kicked around by the system, we begin to care for him. As he slowly opens up to the fatalistic opportunities (a tryst with a drifter; consorting with the mob) that validate his awakening vitality, we fear for him.

Part of us wants Bart to follow the safe patterns that have become part of his circuitry. Reconcile with Mary. Get another job in middle management. Look for a new house in a gated subdivision.

But part of us (a pretty big part, actually) wants him to keep on boozing and blow the damned freeway to Walla Walla, Washington.

It all makes you squirm, and it adds up to a whopper of a lesson in self-examination.

I really enjoyed The Long Walk, and I think The Running Man was a neat yarn, but Roadwork is the Bachman story that has stuck with me the longest.

And on further analysis, I suppose The Road and Roadwork aren't really that far apart. McCarthy's work focuses on the end of the world. Bachman's focuses on the end of a world-a sorrowful prospect indeed that plays out in those moments of quiet desperation that Thoreau discussed so many years ago.

On a happier note, this guy is really neat. Gotta love Oregonians and their pioneer spirit.

So let's swap. What do you guys recommend I read?

8.23.2007

September Dawn

I think Ryan made a perceptive comment in his last response to the post on frightening places.

Jaws might have ruined it for all of us! I feel for all the surfers that lose limbs to sharks (how surreal must that be!). I like to surfcast for big fish in the Atlantic, and I worry when I get out there up to my waist.

Ponds and lakes? I read Swamp Thing when I was a kid. I know he was a good dude, but one of the episodes I read had a bunch of bloated wraith-like phantoms living in the bottom of the lake.

And don't get me started on the flooded town in Deliverance.

Places carry energy, and I suppose that's why we enjoy tempting them. Ryan swims for recreation, but as a nice byproduct he gives the old adrenaline a workout as well.

This week's bunch of films includes a little number called September Dawn. It stars John Voight (we'll have to see which Voight shows up--lately he's been cashing lots of checks) and Terence Stamp. This is a love story set in contrast with the grisly massacre of a wagon train in Utah at the hands of the Mormons. It's been a dirty little secret of the west for decades, and it's formally known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Bentley Little features the massacre prominently in his novel The Walking, and I reference it briefly in Wendigo.

Every four or five years we get a top-notch western. The Unforgiven. Open Range. I'm hoping this will live up to the potential offered by such a historically noteworthy event.

What are you guys watching?


Late Note:
Oh boy are the critics hating this sucker! I'm reticent about plunking down the dough to see a film so roundly bashed by a disparate group of critics. Anyone that takes a look, please offer a short review!

8.21.2007

Closets...

Florida continues to expand. You drive around Jacksonville and think the limits to growth will be reached soon, but according to the United States Census, that day's a long way off. The Census says Florida's population will climb above 30 million people by the year 2030, and the state claims that 1,000 people move here every day.

What does this have to do with closets, you might ask? Well, when I drive around Northeast Florida, I notice lots of homes in the process of construction. And when I think about those homes, I think of the relative innocence of the spaces that will soon become closets. Sure, right now they're exposed to the light of day. They spend the early part of their lives drenched in balmy Atlantic sunlight, nothing more than a skeletal frame.

So much potential, these closets.

Then they put up the drywall, and things start to change. They get a coat of paint, and then someone moves into the house, and they hang up their things.

Hopefully they don't hang up themselves.

And it's after they've been lived in a bit that the shadows begin to form. When the hiding spots reveal themselves. When the doorways open. When someone, or some thing, stops by for a spell--maybe decides to put down some roots. Read Stephen King's 1982 short story "The Boogeyman" for a particularly insidious example of this malevolent tenant.

When I was a kid, I was OCD about the damned closet. I checked and re-checked during that interminable time between brushing my choppers and turning out the lights. I remember one occasion, after just finishing an episode of Ripley's Believe It Or Not that featured a Chinese man with two faces (he had a second mouth, a hole for a nose and an eye that, I kid you not, he could blink on command--all on the side of his head) and a mummy.

That night I scrunched up in a ball and fixated on the closet door. Before long, I was sure it was the lid to the mummy's sarcophagus. The longer I looked, the more it began to vibrate--one of those strange effects of staring at something too long, when things move in and out of focus.

After that sleepless night, the policy changed in the room my sister and I shared in our home on Morrison Street in Pueblo, Colorado. We became a night-light district. Sad to admit, but the Fred Flintstone light we brought in really did its part to keep the beasties on the other side of the door.

Closets are
portals. They're hiding spots. You never know what you'll find on the other side when you open one up.

And they scare pretty much all of us.

The only place that may hold as much sway over our pre-sleep psyches are the spaces beneath our beds. Me? I don't let my hand drift below the frame of our box spring--at least not while I'm awake.

No reason to tempt fate.

Ball's in your court, horror fans. Which places give you the willies?

8.20.2007

Conflict...

When I was in ninth grade, I read William Golding's Lord of the Flies. It was my first exposure to a formal discussion of conflict as the engine that drives the story. We looked at the four primary types of conflict:

An excellent post on the nature of conflict can be found here.

My take on the topic? It's pretty simple. Conflict should engage two central storytelling elements:

  • A decision or choice for out protagonist(s) to make
  • Real consequences as a result of that decision

It manifests itself in any number of ways, but the outcome is almost always explicit action. Fight or flight? Over the Misty Mountains or through the Mines of Moria (and yes, despite Randall's analysis here, I am in the LOTR camp)? Dash out Piggy's brains with a conch shell or retain that final shred of humanity?

The major distinction to make is analyzing the arc of your story. Complication marks the outset of conflict. It's the stage in the narrative structure that precipitates the choice the protagonist(s) need to make. It's the catalyst that creates the choice that will drive the tension of your plot toward the climax (the reader payoff, baby).

So when it comes time to sketch out that next project, ask yourself a few questions:

  • How do I want to test my hero or heroes?
  • What do I want to their actions to say about their character?
  • What details need to precipitate this test?

Drawing a line between the complication and the conflict will lead to tighter plotting and make for a stronger piece. That said, which examples of conflict are most memorable in your experiences with literature?

8.17.2007

Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey

Quick post on an extraordinary book, but first, a poem.

Now that you've digested that little treat, let's talk about Chuck Palahniuk's newest, Rant. Those of you reading this at my
website know I'm an admirer of Chuck's work. I like his creativity and his curiosity in working in different structural arrangements. Rant is a good example of each of these qualities.

Told in short snippets culled from recollections made by friends, families, teachers and those that have grown up beneath the shadow of Buster Casey's legend, the book is at times riotously funny and horrifically gruesome.

Buster Casey is a Palahniuk standard-a character that feels most vital in moments of suffering. He allows himself to be bitten by poisonous insects. He thrusts his arms into gopher dens, hoping to contract rabies.

And he gets his wish, developing an ultra-virulent strain of the affliction and becoming a "super spreader"-a modern version of Typhoid Mary whose actions lead to a large segment of the U.S. becoming infected.

Set in a dystopic future where the expanding population has required curfews based on night and day, the novel treads on lots of familiar Palahniuk territory. It comments intelligently on the effects of social anxiety and a unique quality of nihilism associated with urban life.

Buster is something of a prophet. Those who follow him spout his musings, relegating them almost to a form of religion. In one affecting recollection, Casey remarks "We'll never be as young as we are right now." Simple words-powerful idea.

This is a very superficial look at a book I highly recommend, but I'd challenge those of you that have looked at it to comment here. For those of you that have not read it, head to Powell's Books and grab a copy. Support your Oregon writers.

Enjoy the weekend and I'll see you back around these parts on Monday, when we talk about
conflict (does anyone feel bad for the Cobra Kai kid when he gets kicked in the face?).

P.S. Man, Random House rolled out a nice
site to promote the book.

8.16.2007

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

I was about ten years old when I first saw the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Don Siegel's classic film aired on network television on Halloween night, and after I'd made my haul of loot and traded as many of the bit-o-honeys to my sisters as I could, I settled in to watch. My mom loved the film. She sat and watched with us, and though anything that had been filmed in black and white felt dull and mundane to kids who had lived all their lives in the age of technicolor, this little beauty held our interest.

I teach this film in my criticism course here at FCCJ. I understand now that it stood as an allegory for the uncertainty and apprehension of the Cold War. I can appreciate it for its (generally) fine performances and fluid pacing.

But the reason I show this film-the real reason-is that it gets under your skin. I love the scene when Dr. Miles Bennell (played by Kevin McCarthy) discovers the pods in the greenhouse, and they split open and spew a healthy dose of ominous gelatinous goo. I remember watching, fascinated, when Bennell and his best girl Becky (great turn by Dana Wynter) perch in secret above the town square and truckloads of alien spores are unloaded to mindless drones, like hurricane rations after a rough storm.

The idea was shocking, and it had Americans talking. The lesson was that it could happen to you. It could happen to your town. Someone (it always works best when we use vague pronouns) could swoop into America and unalterably change everything about the way you lived your life.

Heavy stuff.

A fourth version of the film (there were a pair of competent re-makes) titled The Invasion arrives in theaters tomorrow. It stars a pair of fine actors in Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. Kidman is very capable of delivering a delightfully subtle performance. This should be right in her wheelhouse. And Craig is excellent in just about every film he makes (look at the film Layer Cake for a fine performance).

You can view the trailer
here.

I was jogging on the treadmill yesterday at the local gym when a caption flashed across the bottom of the screen. U.S. plans to increase use of satellites for domestic intelligence, it stated. The Patriot Act. Government wire-tapping. Metallic celestial spies that can take detailed photographs of your house.

I think Dr. Bennell had it right in that final, indelible scene. Siegel does a fly-away shot as Bennell stumbles into a stream of traffic on a busy California highway. A truck filled with pods trundles past him as he bounces from car to car, shouting frantically.

"They're already here!" he screams. "They're among us! They're already here!"

Indeed they are, Doctor.

Body Snatchers had a profound impact on me. It scared me half to death. I have high hopes that The Invasion does the same.

So now the ball's in your court. Which movies got under your skin when you were a kid?

8.15.2007

The Ground Rules...

What are the ground rules, you might ask? Pull up a chair and let's chat about blogging. Let's talk about the intents and goals of this little corner of the world, and the types of conversations I'd love to facilitate here at The Byproduct.

That title, by the way, is derived from of a creepy little short story by Rod Serling titled "The Whole Truth." It first appeared in a 1962 Bantam edition of The Twilight Zone. The cover artwork proudly blares the finer features of the stories found inside those yellowing covers--bizarre, zany, supernatural!

These are the books that have always captivated me, and it's the spirit of tales like "The Whole Truth" that I'd like to discuss here. I'd like to chat about movies like Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Thing and The Shining. I'd like to create a platform to discuss all of the fine writers producing great work in the field of speculative fiction--those still with us and those that have cut the path through the woods. King and Poe. Lovecraft and Little. Straub and Bierce. Bradbury and Asimov.

But back to blogging. The brevity of this medium is both a curse and a blessing. Reading a blog takes just a few moments out of your time (except for the blogaholics--an addiction we'll discuss at great length down the road a spell). In many cases, these posts don't take long to put together. But after the words have gone to that great digestive tract in the sky, the hunger tends to kick in again. Folks return the next day for their fill, and it can be a mild disappointment to stumble across a well-loved blog and find it overgrown with disuse--like that creepy house on the corner that all the neighbors claim is driving down the property values, but no one really wants to bring it up with the owners because they keep strange hours and seem to avoid direct sunlight.

So I do pledge to keep my yard neat. While some things can't be avoided and the hedges might get bushy at times, I'd like to keep this space flowing from Monday to Friday. And any decent yard has a sense of propriety to it. It takes a plan to make it work, and things should be in symmetry with each other. So with that in mind, we'll adhere to a regular schedule of content posts here at The Byproduct.

On Mondays and Wednesdays we will feature news and commentary on the world of writing and publishing. We'll discuss the craft of composition (process, characterization, pacing, inspiration) as well as the process of publishing (submissions, formatting, researching agents and publishers).

Tuesdays will be reserved for special topics in speculative fiction. We'll discuss our favorite books and movies and also common themes and creative innovations in the field. Fantasy. Science fiction. Horror. I think next week we'll begin with a little discussion on the intrigue surrounding that venerable home to our finest creepies and crawlies--The Closet...

On Thursdays we'll discuss landmark films and preview the upcoming weekend's offerings.

Fridays will feature book reviews and news.

My hope is that you'll find our discussions informative and enjoyable. I plan on linking liberally to resources on the web (music, film clips, short fiction markets) and I'd be delighted if you would do the same in your responses.

Welcome to The Byproduct, which is, as our friendly narrator Rod Serling would say, submitted for your approval...