Sunday, November 30, 2014

What It Is – week ending 30 November [2014]

With apologies to Dave the Thune.

Every day.  1000 words.  That’s the goal.

Ever since I completed the first part of the novel, along with the opening scene to part two, I’ve found my attention straying to other ideas.  In last week’s “What It Is” I noted that I’d completed the first draft of a new short story.  This week, I’ve split my time between another new short and a pitch for a short comic story, which I sent off yesterday.  The pitch was based on the short story I wrote last week, with minor tweaks so that it fit the guidelines of the submission call, and revolves around a childhood experience with an abandoned house that was obviously haunted (the light on the second floor was a testament to that), and I'm pretty happy with it.  We'll see where it goes.


This newest short story has been more of a chore to get out of my system.  Sections have been written and re-written a few times, and, despite having a good idea of what I want to write, it has taken longer to get the words down than normal. 

One thing that might have been holding me up was the fact that I didn’t know exactly how it ended.  But then I latched onto an idea and decided to write that final scene.  In the writing of the ending, some things came into focus about the story for me.  Initially, the parents of my protagonist were even less than background characters, hardly visible at all.  But with the final scene, they are front and center, as their daughter is returned to them at a point when they must care for her.  This provided the dramatic tension in that final bit, but I needed to seed in more of the parents interactions with their daughter in earlier parts for it to have the right emotional resonance at the end.  This had me rethinking those first couple of scenes I’d already written.  They will need some heavy revising.  It also spurred me to come up with other scenarios to include, substituting some of what’s already been written.  And all of this is working toward making this a far stronger, and more emotionally compelling story than it had any right to be, when I first conceived of the story.  I’m really looking forward to finishing up this first draft.

And, at this point, I think I’ll just wait and return to the novel in January.  Because Santa letters are next up on the list, and that’s something I can’t let slide. 

ECHOES (2011) by Joshua Hale Fialkov & Rahsan Ekedal, published by Image/Top Cow. 


Fialkov is a writer who has never disappointed.  And yet, maybe because of the methodical way in which he’s been building his writing career – with books such as Elk’s Run, Tumor, and the Bunker – he is someone with whom I’ve been familiar, but who is a writer I don’t often think of when thinking of writers I follow.  But, man, I need to change that, and Echoes solidified that for me.  This was an amazing book. 

Brian Cohn suffers from schizophrenia, just as his father did – an abusive father whose final words to his son were a confession of all the young girls he killed.  Brian investigates, finds these tiny dolls crafted from the skin and tendons of the girls, right where his father said they would be.  And when another girl shows up dead, with the doll arriving at Brian’s home, Brian wonders if he might not be doing the same thing his father did. 

It’s a chilling story that keeps readers wondering if it’s real or just a figment of Brian’s fractured imagination, exacerbated by his mental instability.  There are moments, truly chilling moments, that do not seem to make sense, hinting at some supernatural reality (or, again, the ravings of Brian’s mind) that threatens to derail the very real story being told by Fialkov and Ekedal.  But, in the end, Fialkov brings it all to an incredibly satisfying and reasonable conclusion, a conclusion that you will not see coming, despite it being the only one possible.

THROUGH THE WOODS (2014) by Emily Carroll, published by Margaret K. McElderry Books. 

A collection of five horror stories from Carroll, these are some of the moodiest comics I have read in a long time.  Carroll manages to infuse every story with a sense of dread and anxiety that is all too real, utilizing a beautiful cartooning style and a limited color palette to draw readers into the narratives and then play on their own fears as she lets each one unravel in their hands. 

There really is something magical going on in these stories.  None of them rely on the “shock” one finds in filmic horror.  None rely on huge, intense reveals, though there are revelations to be had.  None rely on grossing the reader out, though there are grotesqueries to be found.  Instead, Carroll hides the horrors in plain sight, either using shadow or the edges of the panels or the facades of other characters’ bodies (sometimes used by the grotesqueries of the stories) to chill her audience.  It is this, punctuated by some imaginative page layouts and shards of color, particularly sparks of red, and her facility at writing that evokes the chills to be found within this collection.  Great stuff.


So, the internet was abuzz with the release of the first teaser trailer of the new Star Wars film.  And everyone’s excited. 

Except for me. 

I don’t know.  This should be right up my alley.  Star Wars is ingrained in my DNA – it’s the reason I gravitated to science fiction and fantasy in my reading and viewing as a kid, and it’s why I had such a large collection of classic action figures (or mini-dolls, if you prefer) to pass on to my children.  I get excited when I see those retro-carded figures in stores.  And I get excited when I see a cool R2-D2 or Stormtrooper sculpt (as with the Pez dispensers I recently saw when shopping).  But this . . . nothing. 

Ah, well.  I’ve got a year’s worth of articles, images, and trailers ahead of me, and I expect those will whet my appetite enough to get me in line next December.  Odds are good that will happen, but they haven’t got me hooked yet, and that wasn’t the case after I saw that first trailer for Phantom Menace (and we all know what a wreck that was)

And, as always, check out my friends – Brad & Matt and Don McMillan for their own weekly recaps on things comic-y and geeky, and we'll see what's what in seven.  


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens Official Teaser Trailer #1

Now, I'm a fan of J.J. Abrams, and I saw Star Wars (the original first one) in theaters when I was five years old and have it baked into my DNA, so this is aimed squarely at my nostalgic heart.  But, after watching this teaser (keyword being teaser) I am . . . not impressed.

I felt nothing when I watched this (a wholly different reaction than the one I had to the Phantom Menace trailer, I should point out) - it's nice to see we're going back to Tattooine AGAIN (I guess), and the X-Wings racing over the water are intriguing (I guess), and it's the return of the Millennium Falcon, but it doesn't "feel" like Star Wars, not at all.  Which isn't necessarily bad or good, it just is.

So, I'll wait and see if they can spur me to peel away those dollar bills for the theatrical experience, or if I'll wait for the Netflix release.  But a year out - despite the excitement I've seen from friends online - they need to work a little harder to grab me.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

What It Is – week ending 23 November [2014]

With apologies to Dave the Thune.

Every day.  1000 words.  That’s the goal.

Got sidetracked and took Sunday and Monday off from writing.  Which afforded my mind a chance to wander, and an incident from my childhood reared up (an abandoned and run-down home a few blocks over from my house, which had a single light on in a second floor room – prompting chills and the question of why the electricity was still on in the house).  Over the course of the week, I wrote a story using this as a springboard, something I’d wanted to do for a long time, and I’m fairly happy with the first draft.  A bit under 5,000 words, I know it will need some serious cleaning up.  But I like the point of view I took and the tone I tried to carry throughout the whole thing.  Anxious to revise this and set it off in the wild sometime next year.

CINDER & ASHE by Gerry Conway and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez.  Once you get past the horrendous Cajun accent Gerry Conway places in one of the main character’s mouths, this is a pretty good series.  Beautiful artwork, a compelling and multi-layered storyline, with a mystery that makes sense.  Good stuff.  If you can get past that damn accent.

THE FADE OUT & VELVET from Ed Brubaker (writer), Sean Phillips (artist: Fade Out), Steve Epting (artist: Velvet), et al.  I haven’t been getting new comics for a  number of months now, preferring to save my money and get collections through the library when they become available.  But Brubaker and his team of collaborators pulled me back in.  I was at the local independent bookstore/music store/video store/game store/comic store, Bull Moose Music, and saw a couple issues of the Fade Out and issues 6-8 of Velvet (I already have 1-5) and had to pick them up.  And they were fantastic.  The thing about these books, besides the engaging and exciting stories, is that they often include short essays in the back related to the narrative material.  They’re the extras you expect in the collection, but they’re in the single issues.  So, for that, and for the fact that I have loved most everything Brubaker has done, independent from the Big Two, I allowed myself to be pulled back in.  And I was not disappointed.  Looking forward to getting these on a regular basis.

THE MULTIVERSITY by Grant Morrison, et al.  And, since I was perusing the comic racks, I figured I should check out the fourth issue of Multiversity, Pax Americana, by Morrison & Frank Quitely, which was burning up my social feeds online this week.  Wow.  When these two artists collaborate, it’s always brilliant.  Taking on the Charlton characters, they infused the comic with many of Alan Moore’s best-known formalistic approaches to telling comic book stories (which, it should be pointed out, are not crutches he used but techniques utilized in specific stories).  In Morrison’s hands – and this could be due to the apparent feud between Morrison and Moore – these feel like tricks used to say:  “See, I can do this too.”  They are well done and enhance the experience of reading the book, but they don’t feel as essential as when Moore utilized them in books such as Watchmen and Promethea.  Could be my prejudice showing through, but I can live with that. 
The earlier issues were also available, and I picked them up too.  They’re just as enjoyable.  Looking forward to seeing where this all ends up.  (and man, that Cameron Stewart cover for the Shazam issue looks phenomenal!)

BATMAN: STRANGE APPARITIONS by Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers, Terry Austin, and others.  Finished this book up this week.  It was really enjoyable.  Rogers’s art is amazing in this.  I don’t remember it being as good when he did the Silver Surfer, with Englehart, years later.  But it holds up in this.  And the stories are fun too, even if some subplots are too quickly wrapped up for my taste.  Overall, I would definitely recommend this, especially to a Batman fan.  Great art, good writing (for the most part), and some interesting twists that will keep you engaged. 

TURING’S CATHEDRAL by George Dyson.  I’m 100 pages into the birth of the digital age, and it’s fascinating.  So many names I’d never heard of, scientists, theoreticians, and thinkers – BIG THINKERS – all working toward the creation of a computer, in the early twentieth century.  Good stuff. 

I’m always behind in my movie and TV watching (a not unwelcome result of being a father and writer – these both take time).  But this past week I finally decided to check out Peter Jackson’s THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, or the movie that should have encompassed the entirety of the book but did not.

Yeah, throwing my prejudice right out in front of this one.  The Hobbit was the first book that totally enthralled me and captured my imagination.  It was second grade.  Mrs. Corey read it to us.  I discovered that my uncle had a copy, and I borrowed it so that I could re-read each chapter at home.  I distinctly remember lying on my stomach, up on my bed, and reading my uncle’s hardcover edition – the smell of those, or similar, pages jolts my nostalgia-button in a manner that little else can.  I love that book.

So, it was with trepidation that I read about the three-film adaptation Jackson and his crew were planning.  And this is from someone who loved their Lord of the Rings films and felt them to be exemplary adaptations from Tolkien’s masterpiece. 

So, the first Hobbit film.  It’s entertaining, moves along at a brisk pace, is well acted and engaging, with beautiful scenery and amazing sets and special effects (though some scenes felt surprisingly awkward and not well done, but if you’re reaching beyond your grasp, that is, in general, a good thing).  Certainly, details were changed – as was the case with the Lord of the Rings films – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  When translating a story from one medium to another, it is imperative that the creators understand the differing strengths of each and adjust accordingly.  In that regard, I would say Jackson, et al. have acquitted themselves nicely. 

That said, I don’t find it to be a good adaptation of Tolkien’s book. 

However, I don’t know that I can fault them.  The major issue I have with the film – and let me state that I did enjoy it, and the “issue,” as I see it, did nothing to lessen that – is that it is not faithful to the book.  Unlike the Lord of the Rings, this movie shies far away from the tone of The Hobbit, as written by Tolkien.  Whereas the novel is a book for children that can be appreciated by adults, the film is one that I could never recommend for children.  But, it does match nicely with the tone of the initial films, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which makes a lot of sense.  The vast majority of those seeing these films will never have read any of the source material.  And creating a children’s story after the success of the epic Rings movies would be foolish.  I understand completely why they did it.  I just wish it was a film that I could share with my youngest boy. 

For that, I’ve still got the book, and the Rankin/Bass film.

Thanksgiving next week, which means Christmas is coming up quick.  I’ve always loved this time of year – living in Maine, we used to get the type of snow and scenery you’d find in a Norman Rockwell painting; not so much nowadays.  I love Christmas trees and decorations and the classic TV specials and finding just the right gifts for everyone (we don’t shop at the mall, so it’s far more enjoyable than it could be), and I love the fantasy of the entire thing, the magic of Santa bringing joy to kids.  I prefer a secular Christmas – the holiday being a holdover of pagan rituals – and I really get into it.  So much so, that I have taken on something that J.R.R. Tolkien did for his children and write letters from Santa to my boys.  These always include some little adventure or mishap that occurred at the North Pole in the past year, which is the fun part.  I write them on nice, heavy-stock paper or, if I can find it, distinct handmade paper, using a dip pen, while sealing them in wax.  It’s one of the things I look forward to most, at this time of year.  It also means work on the novel will probably be put aside for a bit, but that’s okay.  This is more important.

As always, check out my friends – Brad& Matt and Don McMillan for their own weekly recaps on things comic-y and geeky, and we'll see what's what in seven.  


Friday, November 21, 2014

9 Things You Need to Write a Novel

9 Things You Need to Write a Novel

From Toby Litt, via Warren Ellis's Orbital Operations newsletter.

Perhaps the most important quote from the above-linked piece (of very, very many):

"Here, though, is the ultimate and very simple secret of writing a novel:  If you write 1,000 words a day for 75 days, at the end of those 75 days you will have a novel-length-thing.  This novel-length-thing may not be a great novel, or even a good novel, or even a novel, but it's a lot closer to being all three than the nothing you had before."  

Sunday, November 16, 2014

What It Is – week ending 16 November [2014]

With apologies to Dave the Thune.

Every day.  1000 words.  That’s the goal.

Finished part one of the novel this week.  52,600 words down for that first draft.  I’d planned on letting things percolate for the weekend before returning to it – ten years later in terms of the narrative – but found myself workring and reworking the first scene of the second part that I had to get it down.  Did that yesterday.  So, I’m ready to press on and see where it takes me. 

Also wrote up a couple of posts for the site this week.  But more about that below. 

And, at this point, I’ve got 34 consecutive days of writing under my belt – the longest stretch, by far, this year (or any other, for that matter).  One needs to take a break, recharge the batteries, especially with a day job and a family that needs attention, as well.  But, even though I’ve made plans to take a day off here and there during this streak, it hasn’t happened.  Feeling pretty good about that. 

Finished up Difficult Men this week.  If you’re a fan of the seminal television shows of this “third golden age” like the Sopranos, Deadwood, and the Wire, and you enjoy peeking behind the curtain, you should pick up this book and read it.  It’s fascinating.  Check it out.

Also been working on the to-read comic pile next to the bed this week.  Here are few quick hits:

Suicide Squad 21-22 by John Ostrander, Luke McDonnell, and Karl Kesel.  I love this book.  These two issues wrap up a subplot about a senator’s attempted blackmail of the squad, in order to get their assistance in getting him elected.  As with any Squad story, it ends the way you’d expect, but the details aren’t quite what you might have seen coming.  Great stuff.

Dr. Fate (1987) by J.M. DeMatteis, Keith Giffen, and Dave Hunt.  This is a series that eluded me when I started collecting, despite the house ads that enticed me.  Glad I finally got to read it.  Revealing how the “new” Dr. Fate came into being post-Crisis, it was a fun, if forgettable, tale that included one of my favorite enigmatic JLI characters.  

Firestorm 62-64 + Annual 5 by John Ostrander, Joe Brozowski, et al.  Crossing over with the Suicide Squad, this storyline has Dr. Stein suffering from seizures as an inoperable tumor threatens his life, leading to Firestorm’s declaration he will transmute the fissionable material of all the world’s nuclear warheads if the United States and Russian governments cannot reach an arms agreement.  When the Squad is brought in to deal with Firestorm (followed closely by the newly-formed Justice League), things go from bad to worse and Colonel Rick Flag must battle on the opposite side of Batman for the first time (which will lead to an interesting confrontation in the Squad’s own book).  In the end, the audience is given a “new” Firestorm, the full of extent of which is, at the time, as yet unknown.

Doctor Mid-Nite (1999) by Matt Wagner & John K. Snyder, III.  The introduction of a new Doctor Mid-Nite (unknowingly, I seem to have collected a selection of series with a common theme), this book is almost terribly overwritten with too much talking and exposition and not enough “action.”  The art from Snyder is lovely, and the overall storyline, with a few exceptions, is fairly good.  But this didn’t need to be three oversized issues.  If it had been cut down a bit, I think this could have been something approaching “really good.” 

The Phantom (1987) by Peter David, Joe Orland, and Dennis Janke.  This story incorporates the 21st Phantom, in the present, and the 13th Phantom, nearly 150 years in the past, in an overarching narrative thread with the Phantom in combat with the Chessman family.  This was a pretty good story – engaging, with smartly staged parallels, and a satisfying conclusion – but the real star here was Joe Orlando’s artwork, which was a rarity at this stage in his career.  Fun stuff, and beautiful to look at.

Star Reach Classics by Frank Brunner, Len Wein, Howard Chaykin, P. Craig Russell, Dave Sim, et al.  A collection of the best from the not quite underground/not quite mainstream anthology series, Star Reach.  It’s a showcase for some legendary creators, and the art is wonderful in every issue.  But, with the apparent exceptions of Russell and Lee Marrs, it seems to have been an excuse for the artists to draw boobs and get them published.  Not bad, but not great either. 

I also read the new Ms. Marvel collection by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona.  Starring the first Muslim hero in mainstream, western comics, this was a fun read and and important book. Check out my full review here. 

Still enjoying the Flash on the CW.  Loved the introduction of Captain Cold, and the hint at Heat Wave’s forthcoming appearance.  This continues to be a fun series, offsetting the dour and grim tone that so many superhero TV series and comics seem insistent on utilizing.  It also helps that the Flash is my favorite superhero.  Bleeding Cool had an interesting theory on its site about the connection between Barry Allen and Dr. Wells, which I expanded upon here. 

That’s it for this week.  Looking forward to starting Turing’s Cathedral next week, as well as continuing to plow through my comic to-read pile.  Once I whittle that down, I plan on reading the entirety of Matt Wagner’s Grendel.  I’ve read a bunch of it, but not all.  Really looking forward to that.
And, as always, check out my friends – Brad & Matt and Don McMillan for their own weekly recaps on things comic-y and geeky, and we'll see what's what in seven.