Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Writing craft; Right where I left you

Haven't done any work on the mainstream MS since August, as I've been busy with revisions on Undertow. But now the revisions are complete and Undertow is in someone else's hands. Back to the mainstream MS (I swear I'll think of a title one of these days).

A bit odd getting back into the story after the hiatus. Usually I keep bashing on and on until I finish a book but the hiatus was necessary. Think I'm finding the rhythm again, though. It's like seeing some friends you haven't visited in a while and catching up with them (fortunately I left the characters in a good situation for a change, hee hee).

Probably about 6 or 7 chapters and this one will be finished. Hoping to get that done before things get too crazy with the holidays.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Listen up: Ennio Morricone

As if his movies in themselves weren't enough reason to like him, I give props to Quentin Tarantino for using Ennio Morricone's music. Part of what made Inglourious Basterds so special was the excellent use of Morricone's music (my personal favorite is probably "Un Amico").

Inspired by this, I recently tracked down A Fistful of Film Music, a compilation of Morricone's scores that covers several decades. The compilation's out of print but used copies are available online and it's an excellent introduction to his work. There's classic spaghetti Western music such as "Una Pistola Per Ringo" and the lovely "The Ecstasy of Gold" (this latter one bridges nicely Morricone's Western scores and his more lyrical works such as the score for The Mission).

But Morricone's got his fun side as well with "Ad Ogni Costo" - if I ever get published and use the advance to buy one of these, I'll put "Ad Ogni Costo" on a continuous loop and play it as I drive about town. Or if I'm in a bad mood I'll play "Il Giardino Delle Delizie" and its half surf guitar, half progressive rock sound. Then for the drive home, "Regan's Theme" from Morricone's score for Exorcist 2: The Heretic (ignore the movie clips, I'll tackle that film in a future review).

And guess what? On Sunday, October 25 I'll be seeing Morricone at the Hollywood Bowl. I cannot wait!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Watch this now: Firefly - The Big Damn Musical

Oh mais oui. Check this out - extremely shiny.

I never see this issue discussed in writing manuals

Now that phase 3 of revisions on Undertow is complete, here comes the big question: What do I do with all the marked-up pages? Recycle is the obvious answer of course (which will prevent the Lorax from showing up to finger-wag, not to mention prevent angry trees from exacting revenge a la Evil Dead 2).

Yet it seems there ought to be a more practical use for these busted pages. Paper airplanes? Stuffing a mattress? I thought of giving them to Young Master to turn into confetti, but now that he's learning to read that might be such a good idea - with my luck he'll decide to test drive his reading skills on a page with some f-bombs.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Writing craft: What's in a name?

Depending on your writing style, you can take a while to decide what a character looks like. You can have the character's backstory meticulously mapped out before you start writing or you can discover it as you go along. But one thing you have to have is the character's name.

I've heard that Annie Proulx finds many of her idiosyncratic character names from cemetery tombstones. It's a question I don't often see asked of writers - how do they come up with character names? I think it's an important question because the right name can work so well for a character - think of Thomas Covenant in Stephen R. Donaldson's books. Of course the wrong name can not work so well - I confess I giggle every time I think the name "Rayford Steele" in the Left Behind series.

As for my own naming process, I generally try to avoid "loaded" names - those can work well, as in the aforementioned Thomas Covenant or Vonnegut's Billy Pilgrim. But in the wrong hands they can be deadly and I'm not up for the risk. Probably the closest I've come to a loaded name was giving a female sociopath the name Juliette - I named her for De Sade's Juliette, not Shakespeare's Juliet.

Often I get a mental image of a character, and think a bit about the character's situation when the story starts, as well as about his or her past. For first names, I start "trying on" character names to see what fits. Baby name web sites are quite helpful for this, especially if I'm looking for an unusual name or one that fits a particular ethnic heritage. This leads us to last names - when I know a bit about the character I have an idea of his or her family background and from there will look up surnames relating to that character's heritage, whether it's Irish (Cahill, Bannion, Kincaid, Monahan), WASP (Halsey), Armenian (Danayan), Czech (Novak), French (Beaumont, Delacroix, Pavour), Portuguese (Salto), German (Kessler), or relatively generic (Thomson, Whitman, Finley, Cross).

I don't think there's a writer alive who doesn't love certain words just for the way they sound (I'm strangely fond of the word "congeal"), and names are no different. I have a mental list of names, both first and last, that I just like the sound of. I named a character Evie for a girl I knew in college - I'd always liked the way her name sounded and was pleased when I found a character to give it to. Likewise the last name Kincaid, which just had a nice ring to it.

A good source for surnames is your workplace's employee directory (it helps if you work for a big corporation). I needed an ordinary name for an ordinary character and had the first name (Jennifer) but couldn't think of a surname. After trolling through the directory for commonplace names, I found the name I needed (Thomson - and it was a weird feeling when I one day ran into a person named Jennifer Thomson. Thankfully she looked nothing like my character or I'd have been really creeped out.)

Occasionally I'll take a name from fiction - I gave a character the last name Tally after reading Ray Bradbury's haunting story "The Lake", for the lost and drowned girl the narrator mourns for. Another character's surname, MacReady, came from the name of Kurt Russell's character in The Thing.

And I also like to name incidental characters (what my Mom calls "the milkman who arrived on the big day" characters) after writers I like. So far I've taken surnames from Annie Proulx, Richard Yates, Anna Quindlen, and more I can't recall now. There are too many names - I can't remember them all! I need to start keeping a database!

Monday, September 21, 2009

My true motive revealed!

I gave my Dad, for his birthday in June, George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. Yes, I did it because I knew he'd like this awesome series. But I had another, darker, more sinister reason.

Because I wanted someone to commiserate with me while I wait for book 5! And behold! My scheme was even more successful than I had planned, for Mom is now hooked on the series too! We can all wait together!

Of course, I did feel somewhat bad about this so I've promised that when A Dance With Dragons comes out, I'll buy them a hardcover copy. So we can all read it together. Whenever that may be.

(I promise, this will be the last time I grumble about the wait for A Dance With Dragons. I'm a writer, I know how these things go.)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Today's a good day

Lots of awesomeness today, from the sublime to the ridiculous.

  • Phase two of revisions to my mystery novel Undertow is complete. Third and final stage begins tomorrow. Schedule is well in hand and the MS is looking good. Big shout-out to all my Constant Readers, especially Erik, Gerry, Alyca, A. J., and Karen. Thanks, all of you. Dinner at my place when phase 3 is done - be there.

  • Made a batch of lasagna today with help from Alex the sous chef. It's my Grandma's recipe and I got very nostalgic for dinners at her house, especially Christmas eve. I miss you, Gram.

Review: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2

My review of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is up at Dog will hunt!

Friday, September 18, 2009

A pause for refreshment

Taking an evening off from revisions. What to do, what to do... say! Here's some fun with David Lynch!'s assessment of David Lynch works - WARNING: Contains nightmare-inducing Laura Dern face from Inland Empire

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Out of print but still in demand

This is pretty cool:'s top ten lists of the most sought-after out-of-print books.

Some pretty interesting titles. I'm a bit pleased that I have one of these titles (Stephen King's Rage, which I have as part of the Bachman Books anthology). And I see plenty of other titles I wouldn't mind finding in a used bookstore: Dark Carnival, No Blade of Grass, The Big Country. And a Salvador Dali-illustrated Bible? I'd be all over that.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Random kvetch

Revising is not nearly as much fun as writing.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Catching up: Julia, Basterds, and more

Been a busy couple weeks what with Young Master starting school and various other goings-on, so I'm going to do a big catch-up post.

Julie and Julia: Saw this a little while ago and I know that's going to come as a surprise to most of my readers who are used to me watching things that have blood and mayhem and explosions (haven't forsaken that of course, as you'll learn as you read on). But as a foodie I had to see this, and it was quite the enjoyable evening, once I got over my surprise at being in a movie theater almost entirely filled with women.

Meryl Streep should definitely get an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Julia Child; she's not an imitation or a caricature but a woman both talented and modest, who leads an incredibly rich, fulfilling life and helps inspire others yet never lets that go to her head.

The movie also celebrates food and the pleasure it brings - not just to the palate but to the people we gather around us to share in a meal. Unfortunately this seems lost on many of the people who've been buying Mastering the Art of French Cooking and are dismayed to learn that (gasp!) many of these recipes can't be banged out in 20 minutes or that (quelle horreur!) you actually have to use butter or pork fat! As Charlotte Freeman of Bookslut points out in her excellent column about the Child's classic cookbook, America has been made to fear food or to view preparation of it as tedious. Forget that. I've made Child's French onion soup and yes it took me several hours but it was not nearly as difficult as I would have imagined, and it tasted divine.

The Julie segments are much less successful (see the review at Cinema de Merde, which sums it up nicely), and it's to Amy Adams' credit that she makes these sequences work as well as they do. My favorite "Julie" scene is when she comes home from a bad day at work and says that the great thing about cooking is that no matter what else is going on in life, you know that if you put the pieces of a recipe together, you'll have something very tasty at the end of it.

Amen to that! It's why I made one of my favorite comforting meals tonight - spaghetti carbonara and bruschetta (made with roasted garlic and red, yellow, and orange tomatoes for extra visual appeal). Yum.

Inglorious Basterds: For once I'm glad that another Horrorview reviewer beat me to the punch and reviewed this movie before I could (good review, A.J.!). Because two days later I'm still not sure I could summon the right words. It's Tarantino's most mature work (bear in mind I haven't seen Jackie Brown) yet it's still so recognizably his - no one else could have made this movie. It is one that I will long to re-experience for the first time. I can't recall the last time a film put me through the wringer of suspense so much, and so well. Bravura acting all around, especially Christoph Waltz, whose SS officer is such a believably human monster.

Review: Mad Monster Party

My review of the 1967 Rankin-Bass monsterfest Mad Monster Party is up at Horrorview.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Review: Psychomania

My review of the 1973 British undead biker movie Psychomania is up at Horrorview. Take a gander, it's groovy baby!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Farewell summer

Well, summer's officially at an end, now that Labor Day weekend is over. I'd rather it hadn't ended in such dramatic fashion with the Station Fire but the worst is over - my neck of the woods is out of danger and the air is even breathable again.  But we made the most of the weekend, heading down to Disneyland where we stayed overnight and had a very enjoyable time.

School has started for Young Master and I'm gearing up for some deadline meeting - I have a top-priority project for my mystery Undertow to be done by the end of the month, and then I plan to resume work on the mainstream book and have the first draft of it done by the end of the year. 

I'm glad I have all this to occupy me as this time of year is my least favorite. I'm tired of summer but the weather here usually doesn't get the memo that summer's over until end of October at least. I've never much cared for Halloween as I'm no good at costumes and don't have much of a sweet tooth - yet because I have a kid I can't ignore the holiday and spend it in my usual way (turning the porch lights out to fool trick-or-treaters and lurking in the back room watching something like Suspiria or maybe The Changeling ). For me, the next thing to really look forward to is Thanksgiving, when I'll cook up a righteous feast. In the meantime, I'll be putting the nose to the grindstone, and enjoying every minute of it.