Monday, August 31, 2009

Watch this now: Don't write a book

Lewis Black advises all of us to not write a book. Watch it now.

"The Burning of Los Angeles"

In Nathanael West's novel The Day of the Locust, a wannabe Hollywood artist works on a surreal mural called "The Burning of Los Angeles".  The flames currently engulfing a huge swath of the Angeles National Forest cannot be ignored, even if they are not in sight and your home is in no danger, for the smoke hangs over the city and the scent of burning is always there.

Me and mine are safe but many others are not. Please keep those who've evacuated and the firefighters in your thoughts and your prayers, and let's hope the fire is put out soon.

Review: 42nd Street Forever Vol. 5 - Alamo Drafthouse Edition

My review of the latest trailers compilation in the 42nd Street Forever series, the Alamo Drafthouse Edition, is up at Horrorview. Check it out.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Going to my cave

There's a bit in the movie Fight Club where, as part of a meditation process, people are encouraged to go to a place in their mind that's safe and comforting - their cave. 

Last week I went to a place I think of as my cave. First, camping for three days at El Capitan State Beach. I've been going there since I was a kid and I've always loved it there. After exiting off the 101 you drive down a road through the woods - ancient oaks that form a canopy overhead. Once you're checked in and set up, take a walk to the beach. The campsites are on high sandstone bluffs that overlook the beach, and you take a path and stairs down to the beach. It's a south-facing beach so the waves aren't much but you don't have to worry about rip tides. And even if you aren't camped very close to the bluffs, if you wake up late in the night and listen, you'll hear the sigh and boom of the surf. Lovely.

After three days we broke camp and went to one of my other favorite places, Solvang (where I always go for my DIY writer's retreats). Again, a place of physical and mental comfort, a place where the waiters and storekeepers recognize me and where I can find tasty pancakes at pretty much any time.

Not only do I feel much more relaxed now - not to mention primed and ready to finish the revisions on Undertow - but I realized afresh just how much these two places have worked their way into my subconscious, and in particular into my KellyVerse town of Los Cielos. The coastal geography of Los Cielos is similar in many ways to El Capitan (particularly the bluffs and the vegetation - brambly plants and wild anise); and elements of Solvang such as the surrey bikes and some of the shops have crept into the town too. It's almost a feeling of deja vu to see how something that's long been a part of your life (so much so you've taken it for granted) immerses itself into your creativity and into your work. 

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Review: Godzilla vs. Hedorah

Sorry it's been a while since the last update! Was off camping with the husband and the kid this last week (more on that soon).

Anyhoo, here's my Horrorview review of the utterly loopy kaiju Godzilla vs. Hedorah. Be sure to read the comments for a dissenting opinion by Horrorview's Big McLargeHuge.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Review: Jake's Wake

My first review at the new-and-improved Horrorview is up: my two cents on the novel Jake's Wake. Check it out.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Zut alors! Actual post about writing!

I realized, looking over the blog archives for the last month and a half make it look like I've forsaken writing for watching movie trailers and hobnobbing with minor celebrities. 

Far from it.  

In the interest of etiquette (and because I'm superstitious and afraid of jinxing things) let's just say that a window closed on one project but a door may have opened on another. So a quick juggling of priorities is in order for the next month or so. Trust me, it's all good.

In the meantime, I want to talk about something called world building. That is, creating the fictional world your characters live in. I used to think this term was only applicable to science fiction or fantasy writers and while it is of great importance to these writers as they build Middle Earth or Westeros, it's also important on worlds that are part of the everyday U.S. geography and culture. For example, Stephen King's town of Castle Rock.

I began to realize the importance of world building as I worked on my mystery Undertow. The novel is set in a town of my own invention, a California beach city that's also home to a small university. The town, Los Cielos (Spanish for "the clouds") had appeared in an earlier "trunk" novel and will probably be the setting of at least one more future book. As I started not just seeing the town through different characters' eyes but taking the characters about all their business in the town, I began to understand the importance of setting, and of creating a believable place for these people. 

It's important not just to give the reader a sense of where all this is taking place, but it gives the characters more room to breathe and behave like actual people. As I thought more and more about this location I thought about what the characters liked and didn't like about the town. For example, where did they go for dinner? That could vary a lot - so I understood that I needed to create different places for the characters to go. So there's the fancy place you go for a romantic evening out, the funky place on the pier that serves everything deep-fried, the awesome tavern.  Likewise, depending on my characters' circumstances I got to take them to different parts of the town - the swank place where the rich people live, the houses rented to the university students, even the sad apartment building where people who've just gotten divorced or otherwise had their lives upended live (think of the apartment inhabited by Paul Giamatti's character in Sideways).  Questions that have to be asked, depending on the story's needs, are: What are the town's employment opportunities besides the university? What's the crime rate like?  The challenge is to make even a great place to live not too idyllic and twee, or it will lose its believability.

It sounds like work but it's surprisingly fun. And I'm really looking forward to world-building in a future book - where I get to build a seedy amusement park. Now that will be a thrill!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

"You are all weirdoes"

Several people have asked me about the Sam the Eagle "You are all weirdoes" mini-poster I got at Comic-Con. Here it is over at 

I'll get a frame for mine this weekend and hang it in my office. Next to this poster seems appropriate.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

I have no response to this

Courtesy of the Judge a Book By Its Cover blog, the cover art of a book titled The Little People. I'd tell you what's on the cover but no words will do it justice. Just go and look. It's work-safe and all, just.... not right in so many ways.

I must have it in my library or I shall die.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

New look for

Fabulous Jim over at has been working to bring the site in line with Web 2.0 and the results can now be viewed!  Check it out!  

Looking good! Best of all, now you can leave comments about a review, so feel free to tell me what you think of my reviews (as long as you agree with me).