Monday, June 29, 2009

Happy birthday to Ray Harryhausen

Special effects maestro Ray Harryhausen turns 89 today! So glad you're still with us, Ray.  Hope to see you at Comic-Con.

Celebrate by watching the skeleton fight scene from Jason and the Argonauts and then Kali's dance from The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. Ray's career has been a long and varied one but these scenes are perhaps my favorites of his. 

Nerd alert: if that magician making Kali dance looks familiar, he should - it's Tom Baker of Dr. Who fame.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Go ahead, judge a book by its cover

Or read an awesome blog that does just that. Judge A Book by its Cover showcases weird and awful book covers. I especially like the attention given to vintage pulp covers - can't ever get enough of those - check out the "Pop Sensation" tag for the pulps.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Review: Blood - The Last Vampire

Went to a screening recently for Blood - The Last Vampire and here's the review.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Writing-oriented gear

As part of my "sporty nerd" wardrobe I'm assembling for Comic-Con, I bought a baseball jersey that says: "My muse is a mean, mean muse".  It is too cute. Now the question - do I wear it with the black fedora or the Panama hat?

Writing craft: Building toward moments

I read a comment online recently - can't recall exactly where or what the context was:

I thought one of the primary steps in writing was knowing which moments you were going to build to.

This comment stuck with me because it's very much how I approach writing. I don't start writing when I first get an idea. I let the idea simmer in my brain and become a story (an idea is not the same as a story, but that's a topic for a later entry). I think about who the characters are and what makes them tick and what happens to them and how it's all going to end. In one case, I even knew what the very last line of the book would be before I started writing.

I don't outline, but I do have the general story arc in my head. I know how it starts, and I know how it ends. And in between the start and the end I have an idea of the milestones along the way.

The milestones are often major events in the plot. Or they can be moments when nothing much seems to happen but a character has a turning point that changes the course of his arc over the rest of the book.

But just as important as those big moments is how we get to them. In between those moments, a lot of work has to be done. The characters have to get from milestone to milestone in a believable way - and that's not just the plot but the characters' emotions and psychology. Character X can't start behaving in a way that totally contradicts everything that's been established about him just so he can make the plot go the way the writer wants it to. (I see this in books, and movies too, and call it the Character Arc Loop-De-Loop). Likewise, the book's pace and setting need to build to the moments. With some exceptions - such as a fight-for-survival thriller that takes place over one night - the book needs to breathe. It needs to give the readers an anchor, a stake in the story and the characters' fates.

A character's big life-changing event will have more impact if the reader understands about the character's life before the big event. This will make the event resonate more. What's been lost? What's been gained? Where does the character go from here? And why should anyone care?

The big moments should grab you - the builds in between the moments help ensure that the big moments do grab you.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

My Simpsons avatar

It does kinda look like me...

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Great Gig on the Web

I was looking for some background music while I was writing and stumbled on 4EverFloyd, an all-Pink Floyd internet radio station. You can listen to the station via the Web or on iTunes. They even play requests!

It's not perfect - the songs are played individually and so you can get some odd little fragments (i.e., part 3 of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond") and there are no solo tracks.* But it's fun for when you want some Floyd but don't want to commit to one of their albums in its entirety.

 *I like Pink Floyd solo albums and I am not ashamed. Well, except for Fictitious Sports. No one likes that one.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Not going to be writing my own version of À la recherche du temps perdu any time soon

So the other day I ate a madeleine, but was not instantly transported down the halls of memory for seven volumes of books.  Perhaps the madeleine was inferior? Or was Proust overthinking it a bit? It is a mystery.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Review: Shark Attack 3 - Megalodon

My review of the craptastic giant shark movie Shark Attack 3: Megalodon is up at Check it out.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Readerville closes its doors

The fine book-and-reading Web forum Readerville has closed its doors. My diminished amount of free time means I hadn't spent much time there in the last year or so, but the site was invaluable for the wonderful writers it introduced me to - so many books I never would have read had it not been for that site - and wonderful people I met.

Readerville will be missed.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Books into Celluloid: Nightmare Alley

My latest Books Into Celluloid column is up at BookBalloon, taking on Nightmare Alley.

(Oddball trivia: William Lindsay Gresham, author of Nightmare Alley, was the first husband of Joy Davidman Gresham, who would later go on to marry C. S.  Lewis. Both Nightmare Alley and Lewis' Till We Have Faces are dedicated to Joy, which considering how different those books are, is a bit strange.)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Save the date: Comic-Con San Diego

Oh mais oui, next month will be that geek extravaganza Comic-Con

Last year I went to Comic-Con for the first time ever (as a present to myself for my 40th birthday) and had a very good time that included:

  • Scoring a couple of the EC comics reprints, which my good friends Erik and Gerry then got signed by Al Feldstein, one of the last surviving creators of the EC comics
  • Attending the Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog panel and the Mystery Science Theater 3000 reunion panel
  • Seeing the ever-wonderful Ray Bradbury
  • Scoring some rare lobby cards for the movie Pink Floyd: The Wall
  • Getting autograph and photo with current top-ranked imaginary boyfriend Nathan Fillion
  • And let's not forget the simple joy of communing with like-minded nerds

Of course, Comic-Con being so crowded and with so much going on, I completely missed out on runner-up imaginary boyfriend Hugh Jackman and caught only a glimpse of yet another imaginary boyfriend Bruce Campbell; missed the live Dr. Horrible performance; missed so many other things.

What will this year's Con be like? Who can say? All I know is that I'll be there - all four days - Thursday July 22 - Sunday July 26. I'll be wearing a hat (black fedora or straw panama, depending on my outfit) and most likely will have a big grin on my face. 

Monday, June 1, 2009

Review: Phase IV

My review of the 1970s sci-fi thriller Phase IV is up at  Unusual film, very deliberate (both in the smart sense and in the slow sense) but oddly affecting. Check it out.

Now that's what I call writing: Cormac McCarthy

If ever a book warranted a second reading, it's Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian. It's all too easy for a reader to get lost in the Faulkner-on-LSD syntax and vocabulary and overlook the story itself. 

But with a second reading the ornate language becomes familiar and it's easier to enjoy the book (as much as such a bleak, violent book can be enjoyed).

There are so many passages that I love, that border on crazed poetry. Sometimes it will be one line:

He is broken before a frozen god and he will never find his way.

Or whole paragraphs like this:

He rose and turned toward the lights of the town. The tidepools bright as smelterpots among the dark rocks where the phosphorescent seacrabs clambered back. Passing through the salt grass he looked back. The horse had not moved. A ship's light winked in the swells. The colt stood against the horse with its head down and the horse was watching, out there past men's knowing, where the stars are drowning and whales ferry their vast souls through the black and seamless sea.

And here's probably my favorite passage in the book:

And they are dancing, the board floor slamming under the jackboots and the fiddlers grinning hideously over their canted pieces. Towering over them all is the judge and he is naked dancing, his small feet lively and quick and now in doubletime and bowing to the ladies, huge and pale and hairless, like an enormous infant. He never sleeps, he says. He says he'll never die. He bows to the fiddlers and sashays backwards and throws back his head and laughs deep in his throat and he is a great favorite, the judge. He wafts his hat and the lunar dome of his skull passes palely under the lamps and he swings about and takes possession of one of the fiddles and he pirouettes and makes a pass, two passes, dancing and fiddling at once. His feet are light and nimble. He never sleeps. He says that he will never die. He dances in light and shadow and he is a great favorite. He never sleeps, the judge. He is dancing, dancing. He says that he will never die.