Sunday, February 1, 2015

What It Is – week ending 1 February [2015]

With apologies to Dave the Thune (as well as Mike Baron & Steve Rude).

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

Completed chapter 15 of the novel (draft 1) this week, and in the process a throwaway name from an earlier scene – tossed in to make it feel more like a coming home party – evolved into a full character, with multiple narrative threads expanding in my mind as she “came onstage” that will make her a very important person in this second part of the book.  It was one of those surprises these made-up characters throw at you that you hear authors discuss all the time, and it was exciting.  I look forward to seeing where she goes.  

With the close of January, it was also time to take stock of my writing progress so far, for 2015.  With the novel, I am 65,000 words into this first draft, which translates to 240 manuscript pages.  And for the year, I’ve written 33,400 total words with only one day that I did not write, which puts me ahead of last year’s pace.  I can’t remember the exact number, but in January, 2014, I know I wrote just over 30,000 words and that total may have been at 31,000, but it wasn’t any more than that.  So, my goal to improve on last year’s writing total is on pace, so far.  But there are eleven more months to go.  We’ll see. 

I read Michael Lewis’s book, Boomerang, which examines the recent global financial crisis.  Lewis visited Ireland, Germany, Greece, and did some reporting in the U.S. to get a better understanding of what went wrong in these countries to lead to the historic economic collapse experienced throughout the world.  What he found is interesting, and he puts it forth in as plain language as possible.  It was a quick read, and a depressing one, and it doesn’t leave me hopeful for the future, especially considering the United States seems to be the only country, of those he profiled, unwilling to take to task those who put us into this fix. 

Also reading the second Grendel collection, Grendel’s Legacy, written by Matt Wagner with art from the Pander Bros.  I’d read this a number of years ago, but did not remember much of it.  It’s a great follow-up to “Devil by the Deed,” the first Grendel story.  It expands the mythos through Christine Spar’s seizing of the Grendel mantle, as well as the introduction of Tujiro, a white-furred Japanese vampire whom Spar vows to take down for his kidnapping and killing of her son – a crime the police are unable to investigate fully, spurring her to steal the mask and blade of Grendel and take on that persona.

Wagner takes a different approach to the storytelling this time – a more traditional comic narrative, while incorporating a “journal” from Spar that allows him to get into the head of his main character without thought balloons – and the art from the Pander Bros. is dynamic and distinct without moving too far away from the style utilized by Wagner in Deed.  It’s a top-notch book, and I’m looking forward to completing this and moving on through the Grendel cycle.  Well worth checking out, if you’re a fan of the medium or of Wagner’s mainstream work. 

I’m making my way through Quentin Tarantino’s body of work and watched Jackie Brown this week.  I remember not enjoying this film as much as his previous two, when it first came out, so I was curious what my reaction would be this time. 

Loved it. 

Though another crime film, this is a different movie for Tarantino.  Specifically, it varies from his first two film in the structuring and the tone and the violence.  Not that he doesn’t play with time or have a string of dead bodies scattered throughout the film.  Mainly, I’d say, it’s the tone.  Though it hinges on violence and crime, Jackie Brown is a quieter film – no Steve Buscemi rolling over a car and smashing the windshield as he flees the police, no loud diner stickup that goes wrong when Tim Roth gets to Sam Jackson’s character, and no gimp.  And I think it suffered, in my mind, by comparison to Reservoir Dogs & Pulp Fiction.  But, damn, this is a great movie. 

I love the characters in this.  I love the fact that Tarantino isn’t afraid to linger on them and let us try and get to know them (think Max Cherry in the music store to get a Delphonics tape), and I like how this quietude helps to punctuate the big score toward the end of the film.  When Jackie hands over the money to Melanie (Bridget Fonda) and then comes out of the dressing room, frantic and panicking, Tarantino’s choice of music, the hurried motion of the camera as it circles and then follows Pam Grier, and Pam Grier’s acting in that scene, all work so effectively to enhance the drama and the anxiety, in the audience, and it wouldn’t have worked as well if, up to that point, the film hadn’t had all of these long, quiet takes.  The frantic camera is such a contrast to what’s come before, it immediately pulls you into the scene, and the tension rises.  Smart filmmaking, and a great film.  Now, I’m looking forward to plunging into uncharted territory with Kill Bill and Django. 

Also finished up season 2 of the Newsroom this week.  I am an unabashed fan of Aaron Sorkin, and I thoroughly enjoyed this.  This season followed an interim producer, who came up from the D.C. office, and the war crimes story he tracked down.  Like a pitbull, Dantana (the interim producer) would not let go of this story, no matter how unlikely it seemed.  He felt so strongly about it – because, he felt, the government had been given a pass for five years, despite violating myriad civil rights in their war on terror – that he ended up doctoring a video interview, in order to help prove his case.  It was riveting, and the fallout from this revelation had dramatic repercussions that, beautifully and naturally, tied into the personal issues Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) had with his executive producer, MacKenzie McHale, with whom he’d been romantically involved, years before. 

Sorkin seems to be a firebrand for television and film critics, often revolving around his characters – though I can’t speak to these criticisms fully, since I’ve only skimmed those articles, but I think I want to change that and find out what their beef is.  I realize his characters are often idealized – overly idealized – and there are moments when this infringes on my appreciation of a scene.  But those infringements are rare.  Sorkin is the opposite side of the coin with David Simon – something I want to write about at some point, in more depth – he gives us the ideal that is possible, while Simon shows us the ugly underbelly we refuse to see.  He also likes to write the “smartest man in the room,” which seems to have become a TV trope in recent years.  Sure, that could be annoying.  But if one is aspirational, at all, and if one wants to hear people on TV say really smart, snappy things rather than bland, trite things, then Sorkin (and Simon and David Milch and Vince Gilligan and Matthew Weiner, etc. etc. etc.) is your guy. Can’t wait for season three.

I also wrote a short piece on Sandman: Season of Mists, volume four of Neil Gaiman’s magnum opus.  The Comic Geek Speak guys are going through the entire series, one volume at a time, with their Book of the Month Club, and, this being one of my favorite all-time comic series, I felt compelled to add my voice to the discussion.  You can check out what I had to say here. 

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.  


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