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1.31.2008

Hatchet



I've seen some terrible horror movies in my time. Some were so bad they were good (Slither and Creepshow). Others just sucked. And then there are the ones that make zero sense and prompt you to laugh all the way through.

Hatchet is one of the latter. Adam Green's cameo-laden schlock-fest probably turned out just the way he hoped it would. It's filled with wooden dialogue, B-list actors and implausible plotting. Victor Crowley is a freakishly muscular mongoloid who stalks a stretch of swamp in the Louisiana Bayou.

The most redeeming aspect of this film is watching the actor that played Kenny (Bud) on the Cosby Show. He makes jokes about having crabs and drops f-bombs like Andrew Dice Clay. I sort of liked him better when he was hanging out with Rudy.

Joel Moore's "acting" here is laughable. "We need to stick together!" he shouts in one scene. It's supposed to be an urgent sentiment, but it cracks you up when you hear it on screen. He could just as easily be discussing the weather. Tamara Feldman seems like she could have a career in the talkies, but this film won't advance her career. Watching her muster tears in this stinker just makes your heart ache. What could she have been thinking about to actually start those waterworks?

Suck, suck, suck. Hatchet scores an 'F' grade. This weekend gives us Jessica Alba in The Eye. I'll skip it and see Michael Clayton instead.

1.30.2008

Hmmmm....

So it turns out the chorus to this song isn't "Feed me breakfast." It used to always make me hungry for waffles...

All Things King...

I knocked out the first three chapters in Duma Key last night and I'm really impressed so far. I think the prose style and voice that King has cultivated over the years is at its strongest and most vivid in Lisey's Story and in the pages I've sampled here. The exposition is masterful. Edgar Freemantle's horrific injury and the heart-breaking dissolution of his marriage is rendered with unflinching, brutal simplicity in the first thirty pages.

That's one of the things I like about King. For many of his contemporaries, this would be the novel. We'd get 300 pages on the accident and the divorce and the ennui suffered by our protagonist as he debates suicide.

Here, it's merely the catalyst for what looks to be an engaging mystery. I have to say I admire where King's gone in the last decade. While his early stuff is solid, a lot of the stuff he wrote in the '90s missed the sharp edge of Salem's Lot, Carrie, Cujo and Pet Semetary. And It didn't have the prose punch that some of his later stuff is packing. I like all of it, but I think his last two books are treading into new territory.

Here's a link to a great interview with King. And man, take a look at the artwork for the Gunslinger comic book.

Today I knocked out a sizable chunk of research on wheat farming and sheep ranching. Quick! Anyone! When is the best time of the year for a successful lambing season? How often should I shear my sheep? Which crops should I rotate for optimum nitrogen to raise wheat in the soil of Eastern Oregon?

As part of an infrequent effort to gauge my progress, I'll list some stats here:
  • Words written in 2008: 26,873
  • Short stories revised to final draft: 1

1.29.2008

Space and Time Magazine

With a newly designed website and over forty years in publication, the venerable Space and Time Magazine is another professional market for your speculative fiction. Their catalog reads like a who's who of superb stylists in the field of speculative fiction, with Ketchum, Morlan, Hodges, Ford and Jacob.

I'm curious. Which magazines do you folks subscribe to? One of my new year's resolutions is to support the small press a bit more this year, and while I have picked up a couple of single issues of magazines in the last month, I'm looking for recommendations on a good spec. fic. publication. I'd like a solid blend of the three genres in each issue...

1.28.2008

Characterization

They've compiled a list of interesting interviews culled from the Paris Review over at Vulpes Libris. Take a look at this nugget from Stephen King:

Stephen King is even more direct. When not rebutting critics who disapprove of his use of brand names in fiction (“It’s a Pepsi, OK? It’s not a soda. It’s a Pepsi. It’s a specific thing. Say what you mean. Say what you see”), he speaks directly about every writer’s aim: “I’ve always thought that the sort of book that I do – and I’ve got enough ego to think that every novelist should do this – should be a kind of personal assault. It ought to be somebody lunging right across the table and grabbing you and messing you up.” King tells several amusing stories about the “research” he has performed to create authenticity in even his most nightmarish thrillers. In one case, his wife discovered him tying his son to his bed (“I think it was Joe because he’s the more limber of the two boys”), only to be told that King was hoping to discover whether a person would have to be double-jointed to free himself.

I think it's excellent advice. The writing needs to get underneath the reader's skin. And how do you get there? It's the people at the center of the story we need to focus on. It's their motivations for their behaviours, their idiosyncrasies and their morals. We need to feel their pain and share in their victories.

Obvious, right? Well, after thinking on it and working on the draft of my ranching novel, I think I need to spend less time with the landscape and more time with polishing the characters and the conflict.

Happy trails...

1.26.2008

I Am Legend

Richard Matheson's short novel (173 pages in trade paperback) is a revelation of economy. The prose here is crisp and tidy, the imagery vivid and clear. Matheson's Robert Neville is clearly more conflicted than the character we saw played by Will Smith in the the most recent film adaptation. He's haunted, literally, by the loss of his wife Virginia, who comes back from the grave to feast on his blood. In one heart-wrenching scene Neville recounts the pain of having to drive a stake through his own wife's heart. He discusses burning his daughter in a hundred-foot deep crater with the rest of the infected, the torment dripping from the page. He medicates himself with whiskey and chain smokes, a far different portrayal than the ultra-fit Neville we saw on the big screen recently.

As is often the case, the book is better, though much, much darker than the film. I haven't seen Omega Man, so I don't know how close that one is to the book, but I'd love it if a production company would greenlight Matheson's story as it was written. I'd love to see the handling of the night people's adaptation to living in the sunlight and I'd love to see the evolution of the relationship between Neville and Ben Cortman.

And the conclusion! I love the fact that Neville is revered (hey, I saw this recently in Jeremiah Johnson) and feared by the night people, so much so that they must execute him. He becomes legend and myth in this final scene, and for all of his torment and misery throughout the course of the story, it's truly an appropriate finish. This is a masterwork and deserves an 'A' grade.

On the other hand, I'd give The Halloween Tree a C/C-. I love Ray Bradbury. I know that nostalgia and sweeping descriptions of childhood are his literary signatures, and I often find them enchanting. But in this case, the book was stuffed to bursting with it and it becomes too sappy for my tastes. See, sometimes Bradbury's wicked also, and it's that version of Ray I should have been looking for. This piece, by the way, seems geared toward young adults and I'm sure that a great many fell in love with it when it was first written in the early '70s.

1.24.2008

Cloverfield and Jeremiah Johnson


"My name is Elizabeth McIntyre and I don't know why this is happening." These are the last words, delivered into the lens of a camcorder, of one of the female protagonists in the NYC-destruction creature feature Cloverfield.


That single line captures the appeal of the film: unpredictability. We don't know why that monster is attacking the city, but we don't need to here. It's happening. That's it.

Critics have derided the largely unknown cast here as "vapid, shallow twenty-somethings trying to flee the city in a disaster." Yeah, and film critics are bastions of culture and the arbiters of interesting conversation. I'm sure Ebert and Roper debate nothing less than the violent political imagery in the late poetry of W.B. Yeats when they're off camera.

Come on, folks, it's a party. And the video documentary set-up of these young, urban professionals forms the storytelling core of this film. Director Matt Reeves gives us twenty minutes of backstory--and we don't need anymore than that. In fact, it would ring hollow to do so. When was the last time you gave a biography on camera for all of your friends and family at a wedding when the ultimate goal was to give the finished product to someone who knows everyone anyway? Sheesh...

No, Reeves effectively sets up the film with this engaging twenty-minute sequence then sets out to create a harrowing little thriller that gives new definition to the title Escape from New York. After the first explosion registers in mid-town, the characters' behaviour trends toward what most Americans do in times of crisis. They form survival tribes. I often think of how things would go at the college if we were socked in by chemical warfare. Say a cloud of zombie gas. We'd form our own unique tribes, based on things like race, gender, location, strength and the like.

Well, that happens here. Our videographer Hud has a crush on Marlena, who barely remembers him from their previous encounters. But in a chilling scene in which the group is attacked by beasties in the subway, Marlena stays behind to save his life. Why? He's in their tribe now--she feels an esoteric responsibility to restore their group if she can.

The film doesn't pull any punches on gore. When Marlena is...ummm, affected by the bite she suffers--well, it's pretty gross. The scenes of combat on the streets are compelling, and I especially like the aerial views of our monster.

Some don't like the ending, but I think it's effective. Since the premise of the film is that we're watching a secured government tape, I'd love for the same group to create a traditional rendering (multi-camera, high production) of the aftermath and/or build-up of what took place. Call it a companion and use this footage as part of the logos for a more traditional telling.

Overall grade is a B+. Go see it.

Now when most of us think of the idea of epic storytelling, we think of all the CGI armies in clunky films like Kingdom of Heaven or Troy. That's been the trend, anyway, over the last ten or so years in film.

But consider a movie like Jeremiah Johnson next time you try to define the notion of epic storytelling. Robert Redford plays the titular character here--a mountain man looking for solitude after growing fatigued with his role in the war with Mexico.
The link above provides the synopsis, if you're interested. I just think the narrative structure of the film was amazing. Sydney Pollack's firm guidance here leads to a thoroughly satisfying story. We see Johnson starting out--green as all get-out in the imposing landscape of the Rockies. He has some luck and makes some solid friends (Will Geer steals a lot of scenes here as Bear Claw) and becomes a legend in that part of the country.
The story is interrupted by long stretches of original musical composition, and the songs on the soundtrack augment the status of the film as a process of myth-making by putting his life to song.
Pollack does a great job of making the landscape a character and Redford is more than up to the challenge of enduring long stretches in the film on his lonesome. The conflict between the Crow and Johnson is handled in a way in which you can't wholly fault either side. It's just such a moral conundrum that makes this a complex film for analysis.
It's one of the best westerns I've ever looked at. Hell, one of the best films in general. I'll give it an 'A' grade and I hope you'll take a look at the epic story of one man's life.

1.23.2008

The Nitty Gritty on Advances

There's a perception that if you've published a book, you're rollin' in the cheddar (nice street lingo, eh?). But with estimates positing that 3,000 books are published each day, that's a pretty saturated marketplace. There's not a tremendous amount of loot (eh?) to spread around.

Tobias Buckell undertook the admirable and laborious task of charting advances for 108 authors in the genres of Science Fiction and Fantasy. His findings were pretty telling on what a debut author can expect for a first genre piece. Take a look at Buckell's report here.

A median advance for a first novel hovers around five grand. The numbers seem to illustrate that a little bit of staying power helps (if you pump out a couple of books you can reasonably expect about thirteen grand). Having an agent helps.

Some of the really encouraging numbers in this survey: 89 of 108 authors sold multiple books; the range extended as high as $600,000. There's money to be made, but this sample does reveal a little of the reality that most hopeful scribblers are looking at.

But I think this is kind of a moot point for most writers. I know it is for me. I mean, money is good. I trade it for goods and services. I need it to maintain my lifestyle at a certain level of comfort. But mostly, I go to the word-well each day to slake my thirst. For most writers, that's it. You just got to get the words down--you got to tell the story. If you should happen to become wealthy, be very happy that people like to read your words and pay your good fortune on to the next writer.

And that's not even to discuss the idea of the break-out novel. Take a look at that post and tell me there's not an awful lot of career-building going on behind every writer's success. When you think about queries, synopses, submission schedules, rejections and promotion it makes your head spin.

Oh, and there's the writing every day. That little thing.

But with all of that, it's still worth it because the thirst doesn't go away. By the way, I had a nice drink this morning.

So what do you think? Are those advance numbers about what you expected, or is that amount of lettuce (eh?) absurd?

1.22.2008

Noctem Aeternus

I printed the PDF magazine Noctem Aeternus this weekend and was very pleased with the quality of the publication. Michael Knost's foreword does a nice job of setting the table for an excellent first issue. Charles Coleman Finlay's "The Rapeworm" and Cherie Priest's "Target Audience" were well written and interesting. I hadn't read either author prior to this weekend, and I immediately placed holds on some of their work with the Jacksonville Public Library.

There's a nice blend of non-fiction to go with the stories here, though I'd say the interviews could improve a bit. Campbell and Zombie are a pair of solid subjects, but the questions never really go beneath the surface to touch on anything that sounds new or insightful to the field of speculative fiction.

All in all, though, this is a great market. I look forward to future offerings from Knost and will encourage my students to sign up for this one.

1.18.2008

Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse

I can't recommend this anthology enough. It stands as a definitive collection in the sub-genre, and I have to say that Night Shade Books did an impressive job with the project. Editor John Joseph Adams has a nice eye for strong writing and clearly has read widely in the field. The text includes a recommended reading list in the back, as well as ads for some interesting titles that have been published by Night Shade.

Stephen King's story "The End of the Whole Mess" is a classic, and kicks off the fun here. I've always loved this story, and it's among the favorites of my students in our Lit. offerings at the college. The voice of the narrator, the sense of pressure to get the words down before the calmative takes effect, the loving depictions of the relationship between the brothers and the scope of the damned idea itself make this one a truly great piece of writing. I find shades of this story in lots of what I've been doing with my own short fiction, and it's been all I can do to prune them out. We'll talk favorite King stories at another date, but this one is right up there for me.

Cory Doctorow's "When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth" is one I blogged about earlier in the week. It's an excellent story that you can read at www.craphound.com.

Octavia Butler's "Speech Sounds" is a jarring look at the things that are lost when we poison ourselves. It's an artfully crafted look at how language and the ability to express oneself form the cornerstone of life and civility, and how a world would look without those things.

"The End of the World as We Know It," by Dale Bailey, is a heart-wrenching tale of loss and the curse of survival. It explores the idea of loss on an individual level, and posits the theory that when we lose someone we love, we experience our own version of the end of the world. Really well written.

"How We Got in Town and Out Again," by Jonathan Lethem, is a keen discourse on virtual reality and endurance competitions. Think The Long Walk crossed with The Lawnmower Man.

The only glaring exclusion I saw was not including Lansdale's "Tiny Little Stitches on a Dead Man's Back." Otherwise, this one is golden, folks.

I'm off to Cloverfield. Ciao.

1.17.2008

Advance Review of Cloverfield


Entertainment Weekly liked it. I'd love to hear what you guys think if anyone sees it.


Here's a look at the upcoming films lined up in my queue at Blockbuster online:


Cocaine Angel

Jeremiah Johnson

Amazing Grace

Reeker

Away From Her

Future Shock

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Lonesome Dove

Amazing Stories (Season One)

They Crawl

The Children

Dog Soldiers

The Scarecrows

Dune
Here's a nice cut.

A Real Mystery

Take a look at this story. Lots of loose ends here that can make for a neat story...

The Orphanage


First, let me say that I watched The Host again last night and it was every bit as good as it was in the theater. I love the editing--that sucker really moves nicely. I also like the acting and it's flat-out hilarious that they bust out with an Italian Polka in the scene where the family busts out of the decontamination facility. An awesome movie (A)!

The Kingdom was interesting. I liked it ok. It's hard to watch in a few spots--namely those shots where the kids are packing the explosives full of marbles and jacks. And the final sentiment is a dilly. A flawed third act renders this one a B-.

We saw The Orphanage last Friday (B+) and I have to say it was excellent! It's a charming film, well paced and nicely acted. The setting is beautiful--an ornate old orphanage on the banks of the boiling ocean. There are plenty of chilling moments in this one, including a real shrieker in the middle, but it's a slow build. It's the kind of horror movie I prefer--one that assumes I can sit still for two hours.

Belen Rueda is awesome. In a lot of ways, this film reminds me of The Others (great movie), but I liked Rueda's turn here even more than I enjoyed Kidman's. Her abilities here make the conclusion believable.

Take a look if you haven't yet. I'll review Cloverfield next week.

1.16.2008

Writing Process--Keeping a Journal

Soooo...not much to say out there on the AdSense, I take it. And it would appear no collaborative creepy fiction is on the horizon for those reading the blog. Fair enough. My request for advice on google AdSense still stands, so please comment if something comes to mind.

I bought another journal the other day. I've always used the college-ruled comp. books--the ones with the cheap binding and dorky place for you to write your name on the front. You know, $1.49 at Walgreens. But I got a nice journal on sale at Books-a-Million the other day and I've already begun to fill it with lists, ideas, story fragments and notes.

I always enjoy reading the author's notes on the inspiration for where the writing comes from. Lansdale, King, John Cheever, Ernest Hemingway and Ray Carver have all talked in depth about how their stories were born.

The stories about their processes are equally amusing. King writes that James Joyce used to write in a milkman's uniform, thinking that the white in the jumpsuit caught the light and reflected it onto the page to accommodate his poor eyesight. Cheever wouldn't allow himself his "gin at mid-morning" until he conquered 750 words, and Hemingway used to place his typewriter on top of a set of dressers, then pace back and forth, typing when the words came to him. This was in Cuba, purportedly. He wouldn't allow himself a seat until he'd taken care of the day's work.

I write this because I firmly believe in documenting the process. There's some invaluable advice from writer Jeff VanderMeer over at this site. He gives you some of his guidelines for writing a novel in two months. There's a ton of useful insight there.

One of my guidelines would be to get a journal. I read each night between 10:00 and midnight. That will change in May when I'm back at the college (I'm on my summer break right now), but for now I'm just setting 'em up and knocking 'em down. Often, after I've packed my head with all of that fantastic storytelling, I'll have a solid idea. If I can't sleep, I tell myself a story. Sometimes that grows into something worth writing down. I jot those droppings in my journal.

I plot in there. I keep track of what I've been reading. I put in dates and specifics for tragedies (more of those lately) and triumphs (hoping for more of these) of the human condition, usually culled from the world news.

Keeping a journal (and I know that's what I'm doing here, but there's something more immediate about dragging the pen, I think) and communing with it daily will orient you to the project more soundly. You'll come prepared.

And speaking of newsworthy events, how many of you are already dreaming up the "cloned-food-supply-goes-bad" epic?

1.15.2008

Jim Baen's Universe and a Couple of Questions

No doubt most of you writing sci-fi are well versed on this wonderful market, but I thought I'd link to Baen's Universe this week for the uninitiated. This is really a fine online market, with stellar fiction, non-fiction, artwork and lots of useful links. I noticed in the notes sections on the authors in Wastelands that Baen's published quite many of them before the anthology was put together.

Question One: If you're using google AdSense, please put your two cents in on whether you like it or not in the comments section below. Lots of writing blogs use the service to make extra money, but there are lots of complaints out there also. A couple of the bloggers I correspond with swear by it, but I'm a bit leery.

Question Two: The past couple of years, Stephen King has worked with his readers on a collaborative effort to create a story. Google Docs has the capability of allowing multiple writers to edit and draft a piece--they need only log in with their google i.d. I thought the idea sounded fun, but I'm interested to see what others think. Is a group story something anyone would want to work on?

Here's a video to help you formulate your responses (inspired by all of the apocalypse stories I've been reading lately--not to mention the fact that I watched The Kingdom last night)...

1.14.2008

Novella vs. Novelette and Cory Doctorow

The Science Fiction Writers of America define a novella as a work of fiction between 17,500 and 40,000 words in length. A Novelette checks in between 7,500 and 17,500 words. Not to go definition crazy on you, but it's an interesting distinction that has a fair impact on your ability to market your work.

I mentioned in a previous post that most markets cap their fiction at 4,000-5,000 words. It's a nice short story length, but for those of you writing stuff a bit longer, you know it's difficult to find a home for the stories. Asimov's, Analog and Fantasy and Science Fiction magazines all have strong track records of purchasing novelettes, and they'll serialize novellas also.

I mention this because I read a great story by Cory Doctorow last night. "When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth" is a novelette I came across in Wastelands, an anthology of stories chronicling life after the apocalypse. This is an exciting, heart-wrenching little tale about the system administrators behind the scenes--the guys and gals that keep this electronic super-highway up and running. When the shit hits the fan, it's a group of twenty or thirty dorks holed up in the clean rooms that decides to take matters into their own hands to rebuild civilization. And the meek shall inherit the earth and all that...

Doctorow's voice is excellent and he blends the esoteric language of "dot.this" and "dot.that" with the straight science fiction. He writes about the techies in a complimentary fashion, always self-deprecatingly, and hits the nail on the head for creating a world where all the major cities are in ruins.

He's a Canadian and the Toronto skyline he describes, with the toppled CN Tower, is harrowing. He edits this website and here's another link to his info. I'm going to grab a collection of his short stories next time I hit my local Books a Million.

Wastelands is a great anthology (review on Friday), and I know these writers were contacted to contribute and not the other way around. This is how it goes, in most cases. But for those of you wanting to get your stuff into themed collections, try this link. Ralan.com is a great resource, meticulously updated, and the anthologies link in the menu has a lot of markets searching for work.

And last but not least, have you heard these commercials about yanking the Whopper at Burger King? Sheesh! If this stuff is for real it really burns me up. Americans can't get passionate about politics enough to select competent leaders and supposedly a quarter of us didn't read one (1!) book last year, but we can get fired up over a stupid hamburger.

Ok, ok. It's a good hamburger. But still...

1.11.2008

High Cotton and Eat The Dark

I skim through about a half-dozen websites each morning to see what's going on in our country. Yesterday, I was pretty surprised to come across this story in the Willamette Week. I like this paper (they've won some impressive national awards for their investigative reporting) and I think the writing is pretty strong.

"Trial by Facebook" is a story with a lot of layers to it. I think, in a situation that is admittedly described as "gray rape" by the victim in this case, the decision by the students to publicly decry Shaw-Fox as a "rapist piece of shit" is a little over the top.

You can call it feminism, and the fact that he was suspended for a term by the college does add some heft to the case, but it's not a criminal complaint. Unless he's a convicted sex offender, I think it's defamation (at the least) to label him a rapist in a public forum.

Sure, it's free speech (unless you maliciously injure a person's reputation or character). Sure, it's posted on a website that's screened only for users with a password (though it was picked up and published on other sites after a short time).

But in a setting such as Lewis and Clark, a small school with about 2,000 students, this type of "he-said/she-said" sexual blame-game can ruin a person's potential to earn an education (his and hers). I'm not sure this should be debated in the public sphere.

Now am I excusing his behavior? No. Please don't think that I am. The guy sounds like a turd (by the way, there's a large distinction here between saying he sounds like a turd and calling him a rapist, mind you). But this is an interesting case-study, if nothing else, in how the internet can work as a vigilante, de-facto court of public opinion. Is he a rapist? Not in the eyes of the American justice system. But on that campus, it sounds like the verdict is in.

I do applaud Hunter's courage in telling the story and holding Shaw-Fox accountable for what sounds like a very unsavory encounter, but am I alone in thinking that the Facebook site was inappropriate? Take a look at the story and let me know what you think.

Eat the Dark is a textbook example of cinematic writing. Joe Schreiber's three and four-page chapters dial up the tension and serve the text admirably in telling a story that unfolds through about six different perspectives. The technique of shifting perspectives is largely successful, though in a few spots it makes me wonder how Frank Snow, the predatory maniac, can be in so many places at once.

Snow is a monster and Schreiber doesn't duck any punches with the gore. There are a few moments that turn the stomach as Snow takes out a team of police officers charged with securing him during a hospital that is scheduled to shut down the next day.

Schreiber does a nice job of building suspense as the characters, with few resources, fumble through the dark corridors of the abandoned hospital. It's this disquieting setting--a place none of us likes in the daylight, let alone in the dark--that adds a layer of fright to the text. We're familiar with the hospital, but it takes on additional dimensions of menace in the context Schreiber has created here.

I also read High Cotton this week. What can I say? Lansdale's stories are tremendous. "Tiny Little Stitches on a Dead Man's Back" is a very fine story that I hadn't read until I picked up this collection (handsomely published by Golden Gryphon Press). It's a heart-breaking tale of the apocalypse that hums along nicely and blends sentimentality with horror.

Lansdale provides notes on these stories, and he mentions that at one point in his career he wrote about a short story a day for three solid months. He writes eloquently about his love of shorts, and this is now up there with Nightmares and Dreamscapes for me as a catalyst for my own work in the short form. I knocked out the word count for my novel today, and so I'm off for a jog and then I'm going to hit the word processor and get in some work on a short. If you haven't read Champion Joe's stuff, go to his website at www.joerlansdale.com and give it a look. He posts a free story each week.

Enjoy the weekend!

1.10.2008

Cloverfield


Not much this week in the new releases, which means its time to get caught up on some of the good holiday movies that I didn't get out to see. I've been watching the first season of The Wire on DVD (excellent) and had a look at the gut-wrenching Jack Ketchum film The Girl Next Door. It's well made, perhaps too much so. The film made me get up and leave the room at one point.


I'm really excited to see Cloverfield. I think the video diary technique adds a layer of verisimilitude (ha! I knew I'd fit that one in sometime on the blog!) and I'm curious to see how JJ Abrams works in the longer format.

Speaking of Abrams, Lost is back on the air at the end of the month. Does anybody care anymore?

1.09.2008

Pushing Through

You're an amazing person.

I'm amazed at the way you're up when the stars are still out, writing before putting in a full day's work. I'm amazed at the way you find the time at the end of the day, when the kids are screaming and the house is a mess.

I'm amazed at the way you pore over your rejections, looking for the slightest clue that will unlock a better reception the next time around before moving on to the next round of stuffing envelopes and researching markets.

I'm amazed at the way you come to the writing on those days when it feels like your head is stuffed with cotton and every sentence comes out in passive voice and the plot in front of you is spinning ever closer to that yawning abyss. I'm amazed when you summon the strength to highlight huge sections of your work and then delete it without conscience. I'm amazed at the way you doggedly get to work at rebuilding the story.

I'm amazed when you feel the courage to share with others that you have a passion for writing and I admire the fact that you're willing to let others judge you. I'm amazed at the way you control your emotions when a friend innocently says, "I'd like to write a book some day, when I finally get the time. How hard can it be?"

I'm amazed at your resilience and your willingness to keep going. Writing is hard. The next time you feel like you're up against the wall and you're not sure if you even want to try to find a way over it or around it or straight on through it, take a deep breath and know the truth of your situation.

You're an amazing person.

1.08.2008

Horror Literature Quarterly

Well, well, well. Get a gander at this little beauty. A collection of scholarly explications on speculative writing (sorry, I'm listening to The Professor and the Madman on tape and the words are dancing in my head).

Solid writers, nice rates and an attractive design. Maybe it's time to dust off some of those gothic lit. essays...

1.07.2008

Some Random Musings

I'm happy to say that I passed my driving improvement test. I scored 39/40 correct, stumbling only on a question about crumple zones on standard-sized cars. I think, after seeing my score, that I truly feel vindicated in having not selected a party traffic school. I was able to concentrate on my studies instead of pledging a fraternity or hitting all of the parties, but I suppose the true test will take place in an hour when I drive my car for the first time since I received all of this improvement.

Keep your fingers crossed.

I received my Christmas books from Books a Million today, and I have to say I'm pretty impressed with their discounts. I received a pair of first edition King hardbacks for under $13.00 (with S&H). Nice. I also received a Bradbury, a Lansdale, a Matheson and the collection Wastelands. They will ship out a Sarrantonio title soon. Seven nice books for under $70.00 total is very nice.

I'm reading Joe Schreiber's Eat the Dark (cover to your right). It's a pretty crisp, fast-paced thriller that is told in three and four page chapters. I have to say that I like the brevity. The novel checks in at a svelte 193 pages, making it, with Willy Vlautin's The Motel Life, a pair of nice reads I've had in the last year that check in with low word counts.

I wonder how this is handled by editors, as it seems a fair amount of novelists' early books come in at 50,000 or 60,000 words. I wonder if the size of the piece impacts the advance, or the decision to acquire. If there are any editors out there that could speak to this, I'd sure love to hear from you in the comments section. Same goes for any authors who have written works of that size.

Finally, did anyone else catch that Simpsons joke last night about the death of the print medium? Nelson offered his signature laugh when it was revealed that there was a (gasp) print journalist covering the Springfield caucus. The times, they are a changing.

That said, I'm heading out to exercise. I think I'll bring my sports page into the sauna when I'm done. Take that, Kindle.

1.06.2008

Sheesh...

So Florida operates on the points system, which is a huge disappointment to anyone that wants to put his or her foot down a little bit. I was zoning out in traffic a few weeks ago and got busted driving 70 in a 55-mph zone.

In a construction area.

There were two cars in front of me and one behind me. We were all in the right lane. We were travelling safely in traffic. When the tricky bastard in the unmarked Impala put his lights on, the sucker behind me moved into the left lane. I pulled over (in Oregon, those lights mean you need to pull over/get out of the way).

I asked the officer (actually a nice guy, I strike the "bastard" reference above) why I got the ticket when there were four of us all travelling at that speed.

"Because you were the one that pulled over," he replied, simply.

Hmmm....

So now I'm doing traffic school so I don't accumulate points on my license. I wouldn't sweat it if I hadn't gotten a ticket last year too. It's four hours of learning little facts like this:

Large vehicles tend to be heavy, while smaller vehicles are not as heavy. Heavier vehicles require more room to brake in adverse weather conditions.

Hmmm....

So I have to sit at the computer for four hours and pay $35.00 dollars and take a stupid test to finish this up. The driving course runs on a timer and I'm prompted to frequently answer random questions to ensure that I'm staying at the keyboard. More sneaky bastards.

So I added a trio of markets and a host of photographs to my website. Oregon was great, but it's hard to argue with the type of weather we're having in Florida today. It's a beautiful 75 degrees with bright sunshine and low humidity. I'll be on the beach here when this unique form of torture is over.

One more rant, and further evidence that Wal-Mart is run by the Goat with a Thousand Young. I love Latin culture. I adore the Spanish Language (beautiful and fun to speak), the rich tradition of Latin literature, the music and forms of celebration. If I didn't live in the States, I'd live in Mexico over most other countries. That said, we don't need another damned holiday in this country, Three Kings Day! Of course the stores are into this, but it's just another consumption-motivated endeavor on their part.

Any excuse to celebrate friends and family and expand my culinary horizons is welcome in my book (and I have to say Mexican is my favorite ethnic cuisine), but enough is enough already. I'm keeping my money in the bank, bitches.

What to do next? I think I'll organize my favorites.

Here's another thing I just learned: Always adjust your head rest so that the center of the padded section is directly in the middle of the head. If you are a taller driver, keep your head rest in the “up” position. Many drivers leave them in the “down” position. This does not allow the restraint to properly cushion the violent backward movement of the head in a whiplash situation.

1.04.2008

The Lonely Silver Rain and The Green Ripper

I've kicked off 2008 nicely with a pair of Travis McGee adventures. John D MacDonald excels at pacing and plotting. His meticulously outlined stories and vivid characterizations make this series a bellwether course in my literary diet. With better than twenty titles in the series, McGee stands as perhaps the most fully realized serial character I've ever encountered.

And I truly believe he'd kick James Bond's ass.

That's not a terrible comparison, really. Bond is smart. He's deadly. He's good with the ladies.

And McGee is all these things, too. It's just that he also has a soul. He cares deeply about the people around him. In The Green Ripper, he takes down a cabal of terrorists. The action sequence is really quite horrific--very graphic. That said, he acknowledges the lives he takes. He ruminates on the terrible things he's capable of doing to others.

He acknowledges luck as a major aspect of his longevity, but he's bright enough to know that his sacrifices (the way he trains, the things he forgoes to keep himself in shape) enable him to survive.

He's a blend of humility and pragmatism. He's both a drifter and an anchor. A lover and a fighter. And he's a shrewd observer of the human condition.

I'm moving on next week, but I've enjoyed spending some time with Travis. I'll catch up with him, maybe at his place (slip f-18, Bahia Del Mar Marina) for a Mexican beer, later on this summer.

Man, I could use a flagon of Boodles on ice...

1.03.2008

I Am Legend

I Am Legend is really an interesting film. It opens with a bang, offering up a glimpse of Manhattan over-run with weeds and decrepit vehicles. Will Smith plays Robert Neville, a military scientist that has survived a viral outbreak that has exterminated 90% of the population. The majority of those left behind are flesh-hungry, wraith-like creatures of the night. This is one of the critics' largest complaints with the film, that the CGI is less than impressive with the beasties. I agree, but I don't think it obscures the film in the theater. Five years from now we'll likely laugh at these creations, but in the short-term they weren't a major distraction for me.

They do, however, represent a missed opportunity. I think Francis Lawrence (rumored to be developing Palahniuk's novel Survivor for the big screen) did a nice job in introducing us to the creatures, creating high tension as Neville follows his beloved dog into a pitch-black office building. Lawrence decides to keep the creatures in shadow, and we merely see their pale, emaciated backs as they prey on something (the wet, smacking sounds of their eating nicely accents the scene). I think he could have kept this up far longer into the film. When they mount an all-out assault on Neville's armored home later in the film, we've lost most of our fear of them. They move too mechanically--their facial gestures don't scare us.

Again, sometimes less is more. Leave 'em in the shadows, for God's sake, and let us scare ourselves a while longer.

The film is worth the price of admission, though. Smith can really act. If you've ever seen the episode of The Fresh Prince when he gives Carlton drugs and Carlton almost overdoses, you know what I mean (and I'm being serious, folks). He carries the film admirably and breaks your heart in one scene in particular. If you've looked at the film, you know it's hard to handle when he seeks out some companionship in the deserted bookstore.

I love the pacing of the first hour of the film. It's fascinating to plumb the depths of human motivation, and we get a great case study here. Smith's Neville has a real sense of purpose--he works on his research, hunts, cares for his animal and tries daily to contact others. But just beneath the surface we see another side of him. He's losing it, and it's the scenes that show his manic side that are most honest.

I don't dislike the conclusion as much as many that have reviewed the film. The religious and faith-based overtones aren't so immense that they spoil the film for me, and I'm alright with the happy ending. It's interesting to see that you can have a great film like Children of Men (blends a happy and sad conclusion nicely) that critics love, then you get the shocking ending of The Mist (not loved by critics) and then you have the luke-warm reception here. While Children is clearly the best film, it would be interesting to see what folks thought if this one had a darker third act.

Final analysis: 'B'

We get
There Will Be Blood this weekend. With a title like that and Daniel Day Lewis in the lead, how can you go wrong?

1.02.2008

Writing the Marketing Tools

As I add flesh to the bones of my work-in-progress, I'm acutely aware of my reading habits. This is a good thing, because by reading widely and paying attention to my genre I can make the most studious judgments on where my book fits in the market.

Compiling a list of comparative titles is no doubt a tiring aspect of the life of an agent or editor. I imagine they get tired of all the writers whose work is a complete mis-read for the list they compare it to. And I'm sure they get sick of hearing that every title is the next DaVinci Code or Harry Potter.

But if done with objectivity and sincerity, I think the comparative titles (listed in the conclusion of the pitch to editors) list is an essential aspect of getting your work published. It illustrates that you, as a writer (read insulated and sometimes considered, well, less than savvy about the marketplace), are thinking about your career and how to carve out a place for yourself on those crowded bookshelves.

Some tips:
  • Choose some pretty current, recognizable titles. I've compared Wendigo to a pair of my favorite stories, but I'm not sure how many editors have read Boy's Life and/or Bubba Ho-Tep. Hopefully they've at least seen the film version of the latter. The third title was King's Dreamcatcher.
  • Think about other forms of media. Movies. Television. The cultural spirit of the country at the time you are writing. My WIP is a cross of Meet Joe Black and King's Bag of Bones. Think about the demographic groups that will read your novel and try to target your pitch materials to creative titles they will respond well to.
  • Try a little flattery. If you work closely with your agent and he/she is willing, try to individualize the pitch to include a title or two that the editor has acquired. It shows you know what's out there and doesn't hurt that you admire his or her taste.
  • Be realistic.
  • Be realistic.

I'm working on my synopsis of #2 at the same time that I'm polishing it. B and I have had cursory discussions about maybe dropping into NYC to visit with a couple of editors, but we'll have to see where the work is to make that happen.

I'm off to the word well for the day, but if you're getting close to finishing up your novel, take my advice and start thinking about the marketing. I know the temptation is to take a deep breath and be happy that you finished it, but that's only part of it. Now you need to think about the query, synopsis, comparative titles list, pitch and author press kit.

1.01.2008

Tales of the Zombie War

Here's a fun market. I particularly enjoyed the "vital zombie information" link at the top. Will 2008 be the year of the zombie revolution? Hard to predict, but all indications are leaning that way.

Load up on your blunt, beating implements folks!