From a narrative perspective, this work is very accomplished. The story follows a pair of orphaned Indian boys as they hustle their way into adolescence in many of the worst environments in India. The actors who play the youngest versions of Salim and Jamal (check IMDB for spelling of their names) are fantastic in the first act. They share an undeniable chemistry and their genuine sibling affection for each other is palpable. Salim is the elder. He's hard (as evidenced by the sale of his brother's prized autograph) and he's dangerous. He's imposing toward the other urchins in the garbage piles and begging scams. Jamal is the romantic. He's the dreamer. His character ultimately matures and blunders onto the popular Indian version of the show Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?
The sad story of the early life of these brothers sets in motion a string of coincidences, punctuated by their on-again, off-again companionship with a young girl named Latika, that ends with...well, I don't want to spoil it. You need to see this.
Latika and Jamal dream of a life together in a house on Harbour Row, but what they face is a series of degradations and hardships that only drive them further apart. The narrative initially outlines events set in the past before culminating in an impressive climax, realized in the present.
Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later) is a strong director, though he has his bad days (Sunshine, The Beach) as well. He's 100% on top of his game here. The shots are vibrant, India alive in a wash of pastels and muted tones that come together in some form of horrific beauty. Boyle keeps the pace up, and the editing is a huge strength. The parallel narrative sequence of the first two acts rivets the audience to the action on the screen. And, as in many of his better films, he illustrates a superb grasp of sound. The soundtrack pulses through almost every shot, the songs complementary to the emotions of the characters on the screen.
And the acting. Dev Patel nails it in his portrayal of Jamal. He plays the role of the self-deprecating dreamer perfectly, and is a wonderful foil to the charismatic Anil Kapoor. Frieda Pinto is striking in her turn as Latika. All in all, this one was very well played.
I haven't been as happy leaving a theater as I was after leaving Slumdog in a great long while. I hope that the goodwill that this film has garnered in the early awards season (four Golden Globe nominations) carries it into January.
Go see this film. You'll be happy you did. Oh, and don't miss the Bollywood dance at the end.
I had a hard time getting to sleep last night and didn't drift off until after midnight. I read in bed (Bentley Little's The Academy) until about 11:50, and then just passed in and out of shallow rest until sometime after 3:00.
Then I got down to business and dreamed one of the most vivid nightmares I've had in a long while. It was set in an imposing old apartment building in Portland's Goose Hollow Neighborhood. The place, a former luxury hotel, had undergone a series of crazy renovations, and I was an architect that enjoyed touring the place a couple of times a week.
I was on the second floor when I met a little girl in a Christmas dress. She walked with me, sharing information on the people who lived in the building, until we got to a stairway leading to the penthouse apartments, which I'd never seen before. The little girl produced a key and we went up.
There were two apartments--one on the north side of the building, one on the south--divided by a long hallway. Behind one door, I could hear a low-pitched hum. The other doorway was framed with lightly frosted glass. I could see a woman behind that glass, and she was fumbling with something. She had on all of this crazy make-up, and the girl told me we should go back downstairs.
That's when the woman started shooting. And shrieking. And chasing.
I tucked the little girl under my arm and sprinted for the stairwell. The woman gave chase--down five flights of stairs until I burst into the dim lobby of the place. The girl scampered away, out into the streets I guess, and I just hid--in a hollow beneath the stairs.
The last thing I remember was the woman, her face painted hideously with Kabuki makeup, sticking the barrel of an enormous gun in my face.
I awoke moaning about a nightmare, but it was 5:56 and Jeanne was long gone. Man, it creeped me out something fierce and, though I was able to fall back asleep, the opening line to the story I just wrote in two hours played over and over in my head. It was there when I was eating my bagel and having my coffee. It followed me while I perused the sports section. It was under my skin and dying to get out.
Here it is:
The Chamberlain did not change as it grew older, but instead became more clearly itself.
It's a play on an old quote I recall from a composition text. It might not be a crackerjack hook, but it captures exactly the sentiment of the dream I had last night.
Sheesh. This story poured through me. I wasn't going to work on anything in the short form until I was through with Book #2, but this couldn't be helped. I'll polish it over the coming weeks and see where we are.
That said, I'm always thankful when the projector up there gets cranked up. It's sometimes hard to take and I get a little scared, but a few seconds of frightened moaning is worth every minute of suspense that a good horror tale can provide a reader.
"Life in the Chamberlain Hotel"
When was the last time you put a fiver in the tank? Tenth grade? Amazing...
On to other things. I like holiday movies. Always have. It's not the holidays if I can't hit the theaters once a week between Thanksgiving and Christmas for the late-season prestige picks. Jeanne and I saw The Day the Earth Stood Still last week, and we both kind of enjoyed it. It wasn't anything special visually (there were a few nice shots when Klaatu and Helen tried to hide in the New Jersey woods), and the leads didn't share much in the way of chemistry.
Incidentally, I'd like to see Jennifer Connolly go back to acting. She now pretty much traipses through every movie she's in, mouth slightly agape, making that "Damn-I'm-surprised-this-is-happening!" face over and over. She can do much more. If you haven't seen A Beautiful Mind, then take that sucker for a ride. Great movie.
The critical reception of Four Christmases was dismal and that scared me off. Too bad, because with that cast, a sharp satire on America's love of divorce had potential.
But I thought I'd list a couple of films that fall outside the realm of The Santa Clause, et al. Not every holiday film needs to bubble along with holiday cheer, and these ones offer a little naughty with their nice.
Die Hard: Man, this movie changed my life. I've maybe seen it a dozen times, but the first time was transcendent, and my love of the American action film was kindled. Bruce Willis plays NYPD Lt. John McCLane, hoping to reconcile with Holly, his estranged spouse in Los Angeles. Little does he know that the purely evil Hans Gruber has plans for the Nakitomi Plaza. McClane, shoeless and battered, punches back at the terrorists, single-handedly restoring order (but not before the body count shoots through the roof). Great holiday film.
Gremlins: Joe Dante's horror comedy about when good Christmas gifts go bad is lots of fun. Just sitting here typing these words evokes that creepy little music and visions of a swimming pool filled with monsters. Speaking of that creepy music, take a listen.
Anybody see anything good lately?
Take a look at what this book means to Cherie's promising career here, and then pick up a copy for yourself or for a Christmas gift. The work is well worth it and you'll be happy that you did.
Mr. King is a master short story writer. While I feel his novels have generally improved throughout the years, I think much of his earlier short fiction was superior to the stories in this collection and in 2002's Everything's Eventual. Night Shift (1978) was excellent and Skeleton Crew (1985) was great.
But Nightmares and Dreamscapes (1993) was the absolute goods when it comes to King's short fiction. His three finest short tales are found in the pages of N & D: "The End of the Whole Mess," "Crouch End" and the all-time favorite--"You Know They Got a Hell of a Band." The writing in Nightmares (and in the two collections listed above) has more teeth to it. Ever the American craftsman, King repeatedly espouses the practice of putting the story first. The tales in those first three collections illustrate that ethos to great effect. I haven't felt the same about the work in his last two collections, though. The stories just don't have as much zip.
But that's not to say there aren't some true gems in this batch. The story by the title listed above is one of these--maybe the best thing he's written in the short form in a decade or more.
Told in the third person, "The New York Times..." is a heart-wrenching story about loss and connection. It tells the story of Anne, whose husband has been in an accident. Days after the tragedy, her cell phone rings. I don't want to spoil the story, and I'm not by simply saying that it's him (James) on the other end.
But where is he calling from?
The story is about the afterlife, and the little things--those tiny nuances that dictate memory and create meaning in everyday life. In this case, it's there in the language, in the inside jokes James and Anne share, in the shared frustration of something as simple as not charging a cellular phone.
Consider this passage:
Anne goes to the extension on the bed-table, wrapping a towel around her, her wet hair thwacking unpleasantly on the back of her neck and bare shoulders. She picks it up, she says hello, and then he says her name. It's James. They had thirty years together, and one word is all she needs. He says Annie like no one else, always did.
King cranks up the pathos on this one, and the story really does (in ten quick pages) spur the reader to consider his or her life. It causes a person to roll over in bed and kiss the person sleeping there--to maybe lay closer to that person in the night, thankful for the solidity and proximity of a shared connection.
The tale is rife with concrete imagery and some very solid phrasing. It moves well and concludes in stunning, crushing fashion. It's the type of story that people learning to write in the short form should study, to be sure.
Stephen King's story appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction a few months ago. You can probably hunt it up on the internet, but I'd recommend taking out the collection. I'll be commenting on a couple of the stories here over the coming weeks and, while it's not as great as N & D, there is still much to discuss in this collection.
I did the second pass-through on a short I wrote in two sittings yesterday. I'll take one more run through and try it out soon. Book #2 is in the polishing stages. I hope to have it ready for Bernadette in the first month of the new year.
Here's hoping you're writing through the holidays, and taking care in these rough economic times.
Man, I had a hard time with this film. Baz Luhrmann's film is certainly ambitious. It started with great promise, but then it just...kept...going.
The opening twenty minutes were pretty entertaining. The film portrayed the early '40s fetchingly; Luhrmann strung together an interesting series of overlaps, fades, dissolves and jumpcuts to divulge the backstory. We learn about Australia's Stolen Generations. We learn about the character played by Hugh Jackman, a man strangely only called "The Drover" throughout the whole film. Honestly, even after he married Lady Sarah Ashley (played in typical fussy, constipated fashion by Nicole Kidman), she just called him "Drover." What was the man's name?
But after opening with such promise, the whole thing devolves. The narration is told in broken English by an aboriginal boy named Nullah (Brandon Walters). The kid has promise, but he annoyed throughout this film. It's hard to think of child actors over-playing their roles, but that's just what happened here.
The film is a series of seemingly insurmountable tragedies. Nullah's mom dies, needlessly, in one scene. They have a crazy cattle drive (one good scene in the film) and a hit-and-miss romance. Ashley's husband is murdered and a creepy aborigine named King George dances around in a thong and follows the characters throughout the movie. There's a subplot about an evil cattle baron (even the villain here is dull). Oh, yeah, and there's some stuff in there about a war as well.
I've heard critics mention this film in the same breath as Gone With the Wind. Not even close, friends. I was laughing in the third act as Luhrmann trots out every romantic cliche in the book. Slow motion shots of the little kid running for The Drover and crying his name at a reunion. "Drover! Drover!"
There's, of course, a case of mistaken identity as we worry about whether Ashley was killed in the bombing. There's a bunch of sentimental crap in there about The Wizard of Oz.
Honestly, this is the biggest jumble of cinematic hoo-ha I've seen in a while. If you still go to this film, bring plenty of supplies. It checks in at 165 minutes and they don't pass particularly quickly.
I'd like to see Milk, and Gran Torino looks interesting, but this season's pick of "prestige" films just doesn't look all that appealing to me. I'll be seeing The Spirit on Christmas day I guess.
So what are you folks looking at? Anything out there worth seeing?
I composed the first original fiction this morning that I've written in two weeks. The holidays can tackle your work if you let them, but I've got a clear path to a productive December ahead of me.
This wasn't a complete surprise, given the economy, but HMH was the first major publisher that I've read about halting new acquisitions.
This is the first time I've checked in online here in what feels like forever. Thankfully, I have a lot to write about in the coming weeks and I won't be such a stranger. I've got a couple of reviews to post and some good news on a couple of story placements I'm pretty proud of. I hope the Thanksgiving holiday went well for everyone, and if you haven't been reading that book there on the right of your screen, make it a priority. That man can yarn with the best of 'em, let me tell ya.
"Never in all my years as a bookseller have I seen a retail climate as poor as the one we are in."
I think Jeanne and I are going to find ourselves in that 40% of Americans spending less on Christmas this year. In our situation, it's primarily due to shipping. I do sincerely enjoy shopping for others, and I try to send things. You know, honest to goodness items? Gift cards always felt lazy, somehow.
Not anymore, my friends. I hope everyone likes Barnes and Noble...
But last night I did something I never thought I would. I joined the Book of the Month Club. I was looking for Stephen King's Secret Windows. That little gem is hard to find, let me tell you. Not a copy in all of Jacksonville's fine public library system. I had to track that tome to its source, and they had me at hello with the five books for a buck deal.
Now, I like rare books. I like first editions, and these BotM items have no collectibility or resale value. I know that. But here's the rub: I don't care. I'm going to read them and then pass them along. I only need to buy four books in two years, and the discounts are pretty good. I buy twice that many books in a month sometimes, so it's a pretty nice deal.
There's none of that sending-the-card-back nonsense, which in and of itself is a mark in the internet's favor. So why did I have a stigma about the club? I guess I was a bookstore snob. There--feels good to say it out loud. I do love bookstores, and I won't stop visiting, but in these rough times, I can buy books for everyone on my list and ship them directly from the club.
That's pretty sweet, I think. So how is this economy affecting your book buying? You grabbing 'em in stacks or peering over shoulders?
I just finished The Shadow Year. It's the type of novel that makes you marvel at the comfort and ease of captivating storytelling. Ford's prose is clear and perceptive and very fluid. This story is told through the eyes of a very young first-person narrator, a young man whose observational powers and imagination are clearly complementary to his passions: investigating a prowler and recording his thoughts in a dog-eared journal.
When you're in the presence of a master storyteller, the yarn seems to transcend the boundaries of time. As I read The Shadow Year, I kept telling myself just one more chapter. An hour later I'd look over at the clock and see it was after midnight. As I said, there's a purity and cadence to the prose that is worth studying. Consider this passage:
The antenna cried mercilessly all night, and I tossed and turned, thinking of the man in the white car, my fear in the library, and spying Mrs. Hayes's tit. I could sense the evil as it crept forward day by day, dismantling my world, like a very slow explosion. I woke and slept and woke and slept, and it was still dark. The third time I awoke to the same night, I thought I heard the sound of pebbles jangling in soda cans. The plan had been to send George out after whoever it was who was taking the ladder, but I didn't move, save to curl up into a ball.
Ford tells a story of a year in the life of a boy, but this is no ordinary life. The tale is filled with ghosts and villains--both of this world and outside of it. The whole thing is draped in a palpable quality of menace, a sense of dread that seems to come off the pages in waves.
The piece moves well and is a satisfying overall read. This book, and American Gods, are the best of what I've read in the long form this year.
Here is Jeffery Ford's blog. Pay him a visit and read his novels and short stories. You'll thank yourself for the investment.
But there are dark days also. There are the days of waiting. The days of revision. The expiration days, when a story finally shrivels on the branch and passes into the ether.
There are the rejections. There's that damned blogosphere and all of the snarky comments on the intertrons.
There are the naysayers, shouting from the rooftops about the death of one of the world's most vital technologies: the book.
We have the queries and the proposals and those danged synopses.
It's a lot to consider, and that's all before you find a home for your writing project.
Whenever I need a brace against all the work that accompanies the joy of writing, I visit this blog. That's right, it's called Editorial Ass. Don't worry, it's safe to look at in the workplace.
Moonrat's website is truly a beacon in the sea of information that is the world of publishing.
She's an entertaining writer with a lively voice. She's a stern educator on publishing industry standards. She's generous with her time and with her opinions, and she's passionate about promoting literacy and an appreciation for books.
I'm impressed with the attention and support she provides to her clients. One of the common complaints about the publishing industry is that editors no longer labor over the books they purchase. Just a few minutes on Moonrat's website shoot that myth to pieces.
If you've written a novel and you're serious about pursuing publication, check in at Editorial Ass and educate yourself. You'll find yourself in the company of a fine group of supportive working writers, and it won't be long at all until you think of yourself as part of the editorial mischief.
Happy Second Anniversary, Moonrat!
I thought Nannette Croce's "The Foundations of Churchill" was particularly well written. Croce's atmospheric piece is a commentary on the shifting nature of safety and security in America. It's well paced and the narrator is perceptive, if a little ineffectual.
Also, I visited the horror section of the video store today and a question occurred to me: What's the creepiest original score out there in the world of cinema?
How about this one?
I don't care how much they bug me, I won't let our children join a creepy choir...
Or maybe this one?
What about this beauty?
Yeah! Here's another:
Of course, this is maybe the gold standard:
Whoa! Play them all at once and let it rip. That's...well, that's weird.
You ever feel that way?
Well, here's a short summary of the stuff I've seen in the last few weeks. Probably more tricks in this bunch than treats.
I'm paraphrasing, but in the letter she mentions that the capacity to commit violent acts against others is one of the truest qualities we possess. She writes that moments of senseless, explicit violence reveal our truest, most authentic selves more than almost anything else in life.
That's no epiphany, of course. O'Connor's sentiment forms the narrative essence of Fight Club. It's there in Faulkner's work--in Carver's work.
But her thoughts on the subject were interesting and certainly worth getting a look at if you're working on a piece that has violence at its center (in terms of theme, and not mere plotting).
But actually, I'm writing this post about replicating authentic dialogue. In O'Connor's story, the antagonist is a murderer called "The Misfit." He waxes philosophical in a couple of sections and O'Connor paints him with some broad linguistic strokes:
"I was a gospel singer for a while," The Misfit said. "I been most everything. Been in the arm service both land and sea, at home and abroad, been twict married, been an undertaker, been with the railroads, plowed Mother Earth, been in a tornado, seen a man burnt alive oncet," and he looked up at the children's mother and the little girl who were sitting close together, their faces white and their eyes glassy; "I even seen a woman flogged," he said.
Considered a master of the Southern Gothic, O'Connor's got her phrasing down pat, but it becomes distracting in spots. I think there's a very fine line between believable and over-the-top on this subject.
Sometimes, King's folksy Maine feels spot on (Bag of Bones and "Rainy Season" come to mind), but other times it's too much ("It Grows on You" and "Home Delivery").
There are some unique speech patterns in Oregon that have found their way into my work. But, more often than not, I find myself pruning the "pert nears" and "up tos" in the revision process.
Composition theory question: How much is too much when it comes to replicating speech?
- I want to work with these people for the long term. I want them to understand that I respect them and their business.
- It keeps me writing. I had a dilly of an idea today on a jog, and I'll get to work on it soon. Eleven short stories hardly qualifies as prolific, but I'm spending a lot of time with a novel as well.
So what do any active submitters feel about the policy? Any opinions, one way or the other? Any awkward stories out there?
As an aside, the heat has finally broken out here on the peninsula. We had cool air and low humidity, and I jogged out to the Round Marsh. And you know, when it cools down like this in October and the smell of woodsmoke is thick on the air, you can almost see the Confederate Ghosts in the mangrove swamps, slogging through the muck on their futile mission.
Look closely. They may not be dressed in Confederate greys where you are, but America is filled with ghosts and this is their busy season...
Sure, Romero's shuffling horde has its charms. They're relentless and single-minded. They look much scarier. They tend to move in packs and I love the groans.
And you don't feel quite so bad about offing them as you would one of the true zombies of Haitian lore. These zombies, whose souls have been captured in the interests of politics, greed and personal vendettas, maintain a semblance of who they were in life. Relegated to slavery, these tortured individuals must do the bidding of the bokors who have corrupted them.
This is the central plot device in The Serpent and the Rainbow. It's a nifty little film, and Wes Craven's debut at the helm. The piece features a young Bill Pullman, full of piss and vinegar as he scours the island for a bokor (played engagingly here by Brent Jennings) who helps him attain the coup padre (zombie powder) to bring back to the states for medical testing.
The film has a creepy undertone, and Craven shoots the exotic Haitian culture with obvious delight, lingering on the Carnivalesque pageantry of the natives. There are glass eaters. Fire eaters. Human pin cushions. Possessed inmates in an insane asylum.
The film began shooting on the island of Haiti, but when political unrest threatened its production, the principals moved it to the Dominican Republic to wrap. Whatever the case, the setting is pretty in many of the shots. Craven does a nice job of making the environment stand up here as a strong aspect of the storytelling.
The effects are ok. Craven intersperses dream sequences with the residual hallucinatory effects of Pullman's Dr. Alan, who is pursued by a grotesque corpse in an old wedding dress. She creeps into his dreams, spewing a python from her decaying jaw in one chill-inducing shot.
Dr. Alan falls for Haitian doctor Marielle Duchamp. This romance brings him back to the island, despite a local general's warnings to stay away. It's here that Craven's film gets a little interesting. It dabbles, briefly, with Haiti's long history of political corruption and turmoil.
Zakes Mokae plays General Dargent Peytraud. He's impossible not to watch, stealing every scene he's in here. Those eyes! Dude might want to pop them back in his skull when he's done with a shot.
But it's a good little horror film. It's draped in mystery and menace, and although there are some corny moments, it definitely deserves a place in the discussion for inclusion in the pantheon of influential American zombie movies.
Run out and rent it, but don't let anyone blow that coup padre in your face, man. As Louis Mozart so eloquently puts it, "There are no second chances."
You get your Tales from the Darkside. You get your Monsters. Of course we get treated to scads of The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone.
By the way, I really enjoyed the mid-'80s run of The Twilight Zone. I have a dozen copies of the magazine and I recently re-watched all of the episodes from that short run. The directors were eclectic and talented, and the stories in that period slanted decidedly more toward horror tales. I think they are well worth another look for those of you with Net Flix or Blockbuster Online accounts.
I love the influx of horror films (I have high hopes for Quarantine, though I probably shouldn't). I love the perfectly timed release of anthologies and novels in the genre. And I love the ubiquitous Halloween-themed issues of speculative magazines.
I love rooms of the undead nonchalantly munching on human forearms.
I eagerly await the fall issue of Cemetery Dance over at the college. It's always packed with six or eight top-quality horror yarns. I'll keep an eye out for Arkham Tales and Electric Spec, a couple of online magazines that promise to serve up tales of the macabre right around my favorite holiday (how nice is it that Halloween is on a Friday this year?).
So I think it's pretty interesting that lots of these magazines call for submissions early in the summer. The lead time is usually late August or early September. The guidelines always ask for Halloween-themed stories, but that's pretty vague, of course. So I guess the question is, what makes a great Halloween story?
Do we need witches? The occult?
How about madmen or psychos? Stormy night slasher tales?
What about ghosts and haunted houses?
When I think about the stories I like around Halloween, I think about tales that are:
- unsettling in tone, style and theme
- set in the fall, and which use the holiday itself as a backdrop
Bradbury (I know, I know, I like the guy--it's not a crime, folks) played on this well. In The October Country, the title is more than just an orientation point. It is, literally, the setting for a number of the stories.
King has written a number of memorable Halloween stories, and I'll put Champion Joe Lansdale up there with the best of 'em. I'll toss the question out there if anyone is inclined to mull it out loud here: what makes a good Halloween story?
Special thanks to Lyn Perry for publishing my story.
I hope to have some very good news (I don't want to jinx it) for all of you soon about a number of projects that have garnered some flattering attention. I'll have more updates later in the fall.
As always, I appreciate all of you reading and, if you feel so inclined, please drop me a note on "Dust Country."