Underworld: Awakening and the great gender swap

I finally caught up with Underworld: Awakening, a movie I'd put off seeing because I liked the first two Underworld films so much. Although technically the fourth in the series, chronologically it follows the second (the third was a totally unnecessary prequel), and picks up the story of Kate Beckinsale's Selene after the events of Underworld: Evolutions. Why, if I'm Read more

Blade Runner: crocodile tears in rain?

I'll say up front: this is totally fanboy rambling.  Take it as such. In Ridley Scott's classic film Blade Runner, evil corporate head Elton Tyrell explains to hero Rick Deckard how the Nexus 6 replicants, the closest the company's come to true human beings, have emotional issues since they're born fully adult and live only four years. Tyrell: We began to Read more

High Hopes: is talent finite?

This weekend, I finally listened to High Hopes, the most recent Bruce Springsteen album. Yes, it came out on January 14, and I bought it then, but I hadn't listened to it. There  were many times when I listened to a new Springsteen album multiple times on its release day, and almost exclusively for days after that. But something's happened to Read more

Some thoughts on a Star Trek rewatch

  My oldest son and I just finished watching the first season of the original Star Trek series. We watched the episodes in "production order," meaning the order in which they were filmed. That way, we could see the growth of the show, the way the actors find their characters, and how the Enterprise itself is more and more developed. Read more

Writing on demand for MY BLOODY VALENTINE

Every writer has at least one weakness, something they don't do as well as they'd like. They know it, and their readers know it. Raymond Chandler knew he didn't do plots well, which is why the structures of his novels a) don't bear up to scrutiny, and b) are often cribbed from his previous short stories. Of course, what Read more

The Only Good Musical is About Actual Musicians

Posted on by Alex in Eddie and the Cruisers, filmmaking, movies, music | 9 Comments

Although music forms a huge part of many of my novels, I don’t, as a rule, like traditional musicals. People bursting into song, unless it’s played for laughs (as in Cannibal: the Musical, an early film by South Park’s creators), overwhelms my suspension of disbelief. Even something as monumentally clever as Little Shop of Horrors stops dead (and never recovers) for the cliche ballad, “Suddenly Seymour.”

What I do like are movies about musicians, especially rock and roll musicians. They provide a realistic context for all that singing and dancing. And the best ones feature music that tells its own story, that fits seamlessly into the tale being told during the non-singing bits.

Here are a few great ones that you might not have heard about. (I’m not going to get into biopics like Walk the Line, Ray or Great Balls of Fire, or movies where stars play themselves, like A Hard Day’s Night and Purple Rain. Those are separate topics.)

Eddie and the Cruisers, from 1984.

Eddie and the Cruisers, from 1984.

My favorite is probably Eddie and the Cruisers. You can read my thoughts on the novel here. The movie, while shying from the book’s more interesting concepts, presents many scenes (and a lot of dialogue) verbatim, and it does a good job capturing the book’s atmosphere. The music, by East Coast native John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, is also top-notch, embodying the Jersey Shore sound (back when that term had nothing to do with some of the worst people ever to make millions on TV) and yeah, echoing early Springsteen, but if you’re doing a movie about a legendary New Jersey rock star, that’s hard to avoid. Still, not everyone loves it, so I’d recommend making your own decision.

A close second is Phantom of the Paradise, Brian de Palma’s classic glam-rock parody. Paul Williams, who also plays the film’s villain, composed all the songs, and they’re wonderful in the way they reference both the plot and each other (“Faust,” a deadpan parody of serious singer-songwriters, is itself parodied within the film by “Upholstery”). And each musical number is, for the most part, set up so that there’s always “source” music (i.e., an onscreen explanation for where the music is coming from), something you seldom get in traditional musicals.

Grace of my Heart is loosely based on the life of Carole King, from her Brill Building years as a songwriter through her breakthrough as a performer. In an inspired bit of forethought, the music is written by pairs of songwriters: one Sixties veteran working with a newcomer (i.e., Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello). And since the protagonist is also a songwriter, the film gives you a great idea of how these things were (and are) done. The movie itself constantly inverts expectations: for example, Denise (Illeana Douglas at her best) is introduced to Cheryl (Patsy Kensit), another songwriter whom everyone (including the audience) expects to be a rival; instead, they become best friends.

The Idolmaker is Taylor Hackford’s classic story of a guy who’s got everything except the looks to be a star, so he fashions first his cousin, then a busboy, into prefab teen idols. The music was originally supposed to be done by Phil Spector, but (surprise) he proved unreliable, so Jeff Barry stepped in at the last minute. And if this is how Barry responds to pressure, then he should be given unrealistic deadlines more often. Of the five onscreen numbers, three of them are absolutely fantastic in both musical terms, and as scenes in the story.

It’s interesting that all these movies are, from a contemporary perspective, period pieces, some on purpose (like The Idolmaker) and some, though current at their release, through the passage of time (like Phantom of the Paradise). It seems as if movies about or starring today’s musicians, like most modern pop music itself, has lost its passion.

What musicals about musicians would you add?

Evie Let Your Hair Hang Down*

Posted on by Alex in creativity, gender roles, love, movies, originality, pop culture, Underworld, Van Helsing | 1 Comment

(Warning: SPOILERS!)

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First, let’s get the criticism out of the way.  The Mummy Returns is not as good as The Mummy.  It’s repetitive, contains far too much CGI (something that would later overwhelm and derail writer-director Stephen Sommers’ career in Van Helsing), and the plot hinges on absurdities that not even genre films can easily accommodate (even I wince when the little boy is referred to as, “The Chosen One”).

But even with all that, it does something extraordinary with its female lead, Evie O’Connell. And few people seem to have noticed.

The Mummy introduced Evie as a bookish, clumsy Brit working in Egypt. She was almost a cliche: the beautiful woman who doesn’t become beautiful to the hero until she later takes off her glasses (and puts on a lot of eye liner). In her first scene, she trashes the entire Cairo Museum library. Later she makes several bad decisions, such as reading aloud from the Book of the Dead, that move the plot forward. But despite all that, she’s a resourceful woman who isn’t interested only in being the hero’s girlfriend: she also wants to be taken seriously as a scholar

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A lot of her appeal, of course, comes from the actress playing her, Rachel Weisz. This future Oscar winner projects an innate intelligence and humor that fills in the gaps of the character as written, making her fully rounded (no pun intended) and compelling. To see how crucial this casting was, just check out the third film, where Evie was played by Maria Bello to no great effect.

At the end of The Mummy, Evie has fallen in love with adventurer Rick O’Connell, inadvertently acquired a fortune in treasure, and established (to her own satisfaction, at least) that she’s as good an Egyptologist as any man. It’s a suitable ending for the character as presented, and even though there’s a final clinch between her and Rick, it’s difficult to imagine a future in which the proper English lady and the shady American ne’er-do-well live happily ever after.

Except that’s just what they do, because of the kind of character development that you seldom see in the movies.

The Mummy Returns, although released only two years later, sees the O’Connells eight years after the events of the first film. They’re now married, and have an eight-year-old son, Alex. When the story opens, they’re on an archaeological dig in Egypt.

Already the film’s interpersonal dynamics are completely skewed. Rick, the dashing hero of the first adventure, a man who joined the French Foreign Legion and went off to find a lost city of gold, has apparently been domesticated. Clearly Evie is in charge, and more importantly, Rick is perfectly fine with that. They have a somewhat Nick-and-Nora air to their exchanges, implying that marriage (and subsequent parenthood) has not rendered their relationship stale. (As screenwriter and novelist Melissa Olson put it, “They ignore their kid to make out several times. Including when he dicks around with a supernatural device, leading to his kidnapping.”) Imagine any other hero of this sort of franchise–Indiana Jones, Jason Bourne, even Captain Kirk or James Bond–happily turning over the keys to his life.

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And throughout the film, Rick is never the one with the ideas. He does plenty of fighting, but he’s never the clever one. That falls partly to their son Alex (who is depicted as a pretty good combination of his parents’ demonstrated traits), but mostly to Evie. She is the scholar, the one gifted with psychic visions, and the one who saves Rick at the climax instead of the other way around.

When Evie is killed, a helpless Rick begs his dying wife to tell him what to do. Our hero, the tough guy who carries the guns, is completely at a loss without his wife to guide him. Again, this is an abdication of the hero’s power you might find in an indie or foreign film, but in a big-budget, big-studio action movie? (And Rick is not the one who brings her back to life; Alex, their son, does that.)

"Tell me what to do!"

“Tell me what to do!”

But even our first look at Evie in the second film shows how things have changed. Gone is the demure, bespectacled librarian; in her place is a confident woman who doesn’t hide her attractiveness. And think about that for a moment. When’s the last time you saw a movie, or read a book even, in which marriage and motherhood made the female protagonist sexier?

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You rightfully hear a lot of complaints about the way mainstream Hollywood depicts women. That’s why something like The Mummy Returns is so surprising. Whether it was there in Sommers’ original script, brought up due to behind-the-scenes machinations (Rachel Weisz’s career was certainly on the rise, and she may have insisted on a stronger character), or simply inadvertent, the fact remains that in this movie it’s the woman who makes the decisions, outsmarts the bad guys and saves the hero.

(For a similarly unexpected hero/heroine inversion, see my earlier blog post on Underworld.)

*This blog post’s title comes from this.

Interview: filmmaker Lisa Stock

Posted on by Alex in creativity, faeries, filmmaking, interview, Lisa Stock, movies, pop culture, SyFy, Titania film, writers, writing, writing advice | 3 Comments

When it was announced a few years ago that Joss Whedon would be doing the new Wonder Woman movie, I was of the unpopular opinion that he was dead wrong for it. My main reason was that, in all the shows he’s produced and scripts he’s written, he has yet to show he can write about anything other than boys and girls. Wonder Woman, as her name implies, is a woman: an adult. Whedon’s female characters, from Buffy to River to anyone you care to name, are girls. In my opinion.

Whedon’s take on Wonder Woman didn’t pan out. But ever since, when I’ve watched movies (especially genre ones), I’ve tried to notice if their female characters are actually adults, or stuck in wish-fulfillment girlhood (often those doing the “wishing” are male, but that’s another topic).

Recently my friend artist/filmmaker Lisa Stock (she did the epic trailer to my vampire novel Blood Groove) commented this topic. About her upcoming project Titania, she wrote, “The heroine in Hollywood movies often becomes a warrior, while still maintaining her purity and innocence. It’s unrealistic of course, but a hard balance when movies want their females characters to go all ‘Buffy’ during the big battle at the end of the story. I’m avoiding this in Titania for a number of reasons – first and foremost my heroine is a Woman and not a Girl.”

Filmmaker Lisa Stock

Filmmaker Lisa Stock

Me: So what, in your view, is the difference between a woman and a girl, character-wise? And why is this important?

Lisa: A woman doesn’t need to prove anything.  She’s not figuring things out for the first time, she’s probably tackling them for the 20th time, so not as much surprises her, and she comes to the game with more knowledge of who she is. That doesn’t mean she has nothing to learn, but perhaps she draws more from past lessons and applies them with more focus and confidence.

In genre film and TV, there are few female characters who truly seem like adult women. In fact, only two come quickly to mind: Ripley from Aliens and Alison from Eureka. Who would you hold up as an example of a truly adult (in terms other than chronologically) female genre character?

On TV – I just started watching Continuum on SyFy.  I like Kira.  She’s a woman, seasoned in her career, and not impressed by the young punks. She’s smart, thinks things through and has patience. In film – I think that Vianne (Juliet Binoche) in Chocolat is my favorite character.  She remains true to herself despite being shunned by the townsfolk, and blamed for catering to all their sins. Ultimately, she wins people over by her honesty – a good trait to have.  Though that is more magic realism than high fantasy – my work tends to be more magic realism.  Michelle Pfieffer has created some memorable fantasy characters, Isabeau from Ladyhawke comes to mind – a true lesson in patience and endurance.  And she’s still my favorite Catwoman.  ;)  I love anything Angelica Houston touches, including Vivianne in The Mists of Avalon - which is a very women-centric story. Morgaine (Julianna Marguiles) is also a true woman to me, not so bothered by the small things, but tackling her larger journey.  Particularly, in the end, when she holds on to and recognizes her own beliefs in the “new religion.”  It’s their ability to adapt and at the same time stay true to themselves – rather than force change or boast of victory – that defines these characters as women for me.

How will Titania’s adulthood manifest in your film?

She’s already an adult.  Like some of the characters I’ve mentioned above, she has a journey to complete.  It’s not necessarily going to change who she is, but she’ll call upon all her resources from past experiences and mistakes to overcome her wounds – both physically and emotionally.  She’s more in control of her emotions, she’s more introspective, she also has a good laugh at her own expense occasionally.  Much like Vianne, she’s a fish out of water, and never sees a situation in which she needs to compromise her own beliefs or be swayed by someone else’s.  Not that all girl characters do this – but I find more often than not, that girl’s are up against someone else.  In Titania, she’s pretty much up against herself.  Perhaps that’s the ultimate obstacle we all face, ourselves.  If you figured that out before you were 40, you’re way ahead of me!  LOL! 

What advice do you have for creators, in all forms, about being aware of the difference between a woman and a girl?

Who is your character, not what age demographic is she?  How would you speak to her if you were to meet on the street and start talking? Don’t generalize about either a woman or a girl. The best characters are the ones who are unpredictable and (even in fantasy) facing challenges we can relate to or want to see them succeed in.  That has to come internally even if action is involved. Make them honest and they’ll live forever.

Thanks to Lisa for taking the time to answer my questions. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and check out her website at InByTheEye.

Guest blog: Dale Short on his film Recovering Racist

Posted on by Alex in biography, filmmaking, fundraiser, guest blog, interview, movies, politics, video trailer | 1 Comment

I was honored to be the first contributor to this documentary Kickstarter project, and rather than attempt to convince you myself, I asked acclaimed author Dale Short, one of the people behind the film, to explain where the idea came from and how important it is.  And please check out the video trailer at the end of his article and consider making a contribution.

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Dale Short

Dale Short

We like to think of ourselves as rational people, in control of our destiny by judiciously making the decisions our daily lives consist of—each choice as clearly conspicuous as the pair of branching roads in the famous Robert Frost poem.

We can maintain this illusion pretty well until we start thinking back on how many of those significant branchings-off have struck us completely out of the blue, the results of pure chance that we never saw coming.

My own most recent example is a workshop I was asked to teach for an organization of professional writers/bloggers in the Birmingham, Ala. area. The topic was “Interviewing for Story,” and the group’s program chairman had a great idea: Why not invite a guinea pig…uh, guest…the members could interview afterward, to test our newfound skills?

Our guest was the pastor of a local church: a distinguished-looking white-haired gentleman in a business suit. His tone was friendly and approachable, and I settled in to hear whatever was par for the course, from someone of his profession and background.

That’s not what we got.

Rev. Lawton Higgs told us, in a matter-of-fact style, about a day in 1984 when a routine event changed his life: as new pastor of a large metropolitan church, he was always mindful of recruiting new members. One special focus of church growth was seeking out members of the community whose lives were “in transition”…a new neighborhood, a new job.

So when he saw a moving van at an apartment building near his church, he headed over to greet the newcomers. But mid-crosswalk he saw that the new family was black. His church was white. He stood there, emotionally torn.

Higgs “came face-to-face,” he recalls, “with my history, and my experience, and my struggles with all this ‘racial inclusiveness’ stuff, and my encounter with Martin King in seminary, and I was paralyzed there in the road.”

He says he realized that if he didn’t invite the new residents to church, “then God had no use for me and my ministry in Birmingham. I discovered that my beliefs were incompatible with God’s call to love one another.”

That was the day that the pastor became, as he puts it, “a recovering racist.” He’s since worked to found a multi-racial, multi-cultural church in a city still haunted by its civil rights past. He ministers to the homeless, and works daily as an advocate for the poor.

When our group of professional communicators had heard Higgs’ story, the auditorium was silent for a while. The old phrases “You could have heard a pin drop” and “There wasn’t a dry eye in the house” are sometimes overused nowadays, but in that instant they were unavoidable.

Before the day was out, another member of the writers’ group and I started formulating a plan to bring his story to a wider audience by writing and producing a documentary video about his experiences. With that in mind, we’ve just unveiled a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter to bring the project to fruition.

Though Higgs’ life-change as a “recovering racist” is decades old, we’ve found that the story is very much a contemporary one as well. In “walking the walk” of his beliefs, he’s at times a lightning rod for opponents in the community whose views on race and politics are more in keeping with the region’s Jim Crow era.

At a juncture in America’s history when a bitter election campaign has brought to the forefront the deep veins of religious intolerance and racism in our culture, we’re confident that the story of “A Recovering Racist” will be instructive, inspirational, and challenging to everyone who cares about social justice and a spirit of reconciliation.

I invite you to watch our three-minute trailer, share it freely with friends, and consider becoming a supporter of our documentary video.

And if anybody asks how you came to find out about the project, tell them that pure chance sent you.

What Does Revising Look Like?

Posted on by Alex in creativity, fantasy literature, movies, novel, Red Reaper, storytelling, writing | Leave a comment

 

editing

The photo above is a page from the in-progress Red Reaper novel I’m writing with Tara Cardinal. The print text* is the first draft. All the notes are corrections for the second draft (or first revision, if you prefer).

This passage had some interesting challenges. Tara wrote it before she turned it over to me. Since this story is being told in first person by the character Aella, the voice has to be consistent throughout, and my first job was to try to do that. Since Tara created this character and her world, she’s the final arbiter of what’s properly “Aella-ish,” but I’ve tried to find my way to the same voice without simply mimicking her writing style. After all, if I was just going to do that, she might as well write it all herself, which she could do quite handily if she didn’t also have to, oh, make movies like Scarlet Samurai: Incarnation.

At this stage, two things are foremost in my mind: clarity, and rhythm. Clarity is simply knowing what point you want to make with the scene or passage, and tweaking the words to reflect that. Rhythm is trickier. It’s about finding the story’s (and in this case, the character’s) natural voice. The best way to do that, especially when you’re doing something in first person, is to read it aloud. At points where you stumble over words, you’ll usually find that your rhythm is off. It’s as simple as that.

Scanner issues prevented me from producing this image in full color, but the corrections are done in red ink, just like they say you’re not supposed to do in school anymore because it might hurt someone’s feelings. One advantage of this, in conjunction with the use of such a small font*, is that it gives you a quick visual idea of how close you are to a final draft. When there’s lots of red on a page, you still have work to do. When there are only one or two red marks, and they’re for minor things like commas or single words, you know you’re close to the end.

So, this is what part of my process looks like. Keep in mind, though, that every author does it differently, and every author’s process is valid. The only thing that counts is what ends up on the final page, in front of a paying reader. How it gets there is almost beside the point. Which is the way it should be.

*Yes, it’s in 8 point Times New Roman. I’ve worked in that size since I had a job proofing legal contracts, and realized I could read 8 point type fairly easily (one of the few practical values of near-sightedness). It saves both paper and ink.

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Interview: Vanessa Horrocks, writer/director of Her Tragedy

Posted on by Alex in interview, movies, writers, writing | Leave a comment

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I met Vanessa Magowan Horrocks at TeslaCon three years ago, at a seminar she gave on homegrown filmmaking. She was sharp, dedicated and had a clear artistic vision, and listening to her describe the travails of independent film production, I also realized she was funny and entertaining. So when I heard she was financing a new feature film through IndieGoGo, I invited her to answer some questions about it here. And note: there’s still time to get in it, by following this link to the fundraiser or the one in the video at the bottom of the article.

AB: One of the first lines in your funding video, “Home isn’t some special magical place. It’s just a word,” really registered with me. For a large part of my life, I’ve never felt like I had a “home” in the sense that everyone else seems to mean.  How much of this is your own feeling as well, and why is that such a crucial part of the story?

VMH: I think this sentiment reflects my own feelings that living someplace, calling some place your home doesn’t make it your home. In my own experiences, after I left my parents’ home, my home to go to college, I felt perpeturally out of place. I moved around a lot, and found that I never called my dorm or my apartment home. I also spent as little time there as humanly possible. Of course eventually I came to that cheesy Hollywood realization that home has more to do with being happy and surrounding yourself with people who love you, but it’s still a toss up for me. I still call my parents home, ‘home,’ and my own apartment my ‘place.’

As for the film, we have a lead character who was a foster kid, and made her own way in life. Being isolated is a great way to never feel at home. The other characters tease her, calling her a weary traveller and things like that, but one of the journeys she takes in the film is to find that sense of belonging associated with the word ‘home.’ I think you have to be so certain of yourself to know that you’re ‘home’ and what that really means.

The title, Her Tragedy, promises a rather grim experience, and you reference Tennessee Williams in the funding video, a writer certainly not known for happily-ever-after. Is that your intent with the story?  What other films cover similar territory?

I definitely am not a fan of happy endings, mainly because endings aren’t a realistic concept. More accurately, they could be called, ‘stopping points.’ If your film has a happy stopping point – the second you cut to black things will change. Happy is not sustainable in the way that films would have you believe. It’s not that I don’t believe that people can be happy, its just that I don’t think its very interesting. Similary, sad endings can feel heavy handed or simply aren’t worth the tortuous journey the audience took with the characters to get there. My favorite type of ending is bittersweet – or more accurately, realistic. I think the most interesting endings are the ones that are realistic – the guy doesn’t kiss the lipstick off the girl, but maybe they hold hands, or stay up all night talking. The soldier doesn’t return from the war and see a little girl with a flower and suddenly feel A-OK, but maybe he gets a coffee and takes a sip and and looks out into the street and reflects. He’s not A-OK, but he’s okay.

The ending of Her Tragedy was very difficult to write. We had to figure out how to balance not leaving the audience completely depressed while not giving them the Hollywood ending. I think that endings like, Winter’s Bone, Closer, and The Romantics are good examples of what we were going for. As for the content of the film itself – I think it is really different than most of what’s out there. As for the synopsis, “a young woman returns to…”  it sounds like just about every indy dramedy ever, but that is part of why we let the title be a giveaway of the content. We don’t want people to think the film will be “a heartwarming romp” or some such thing.

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Even though you’re a low-budget film funded through IndieGoGo, you’re putting forth the effort for a full-crew production, with designers and all the other big-budget positions filled.  How does working on this scale affect your artistic choices?  How does it compare to your other feature-length films?

As for the effort we’re putting forth, I think it is our first attempt to put forth our best. Our first feature, called Anatomically Incorrect, was a bit of a train wreck. We tried to do too much too soon, and it got way over our heads. It was, however a completely invaluable learning experience. Our next project we went into with the mindset that we just wanted to keep learning. That one, called Interlaced, yielded terrifically interesting results. It was an experimental project, which helped, but we did some big stuff in it – a funeral, a wedding, a dream sequence. It was important for us to get back in the saddle after Anatomically Incorrect or we would have lost our confidence permanently, I think.

After Interlaced, we did some shorts, mostly Hunger Games fanfilms because I am a huge nerd, but suddenly we realized that our work had made a really terrific leap forward. We felt ready to try another feature, so we collaborated with a local stand up comedian to make a film called He Gave Her His Phone. That one is in post-production and, though we went in with very little expectation, we worked very hard, and it turned out really excellent. We didn’t have the full crew like on this one, but we had more than we had worked with on Interlaced and our shorts. Here’s the link to the trailer, because it’s cool to see what we did with no budget.

Finally we came to this film idea – which we had been rolling around in our heads for a few months when the opportunity came up to team up with the South Carolina team we are working with. I think it is the first film we have gone into with any expectation really – we think that this film will help us make an impression in the community. It’s excellent film festival bait, and we have assembled an out-standing cast. We just thought the crew should match the quality of the script and the cast, so we went out on a limb and contacted people to do things like music, costumes, and artwork. Everyone has responded incredibly well to the script, and so has been more than willing to jump on board. We have been incredibly fortunate.

Visit the IndieGoGo page here.

Thanks to Vanessa Horrocks for speaking with us today. Remember, if you (like me) are tired of what passes for movies these days but aren’t actually a filmmaker, the only way to change things is to support the people like Vanessa who are trying to do it differently.

Revealing a New Project: the Red Reaper

Posted on by Alex in authors, conventions, creativity, criticism, Eddie LaCrosse, fantasy literature, fiction, gender roles, heroes, Kate Beckinsale, movies, novel, Red Reaper, Wake of the Bloody Angel, writers, writing | 1 Comment

Back in November of 2009, I stumbled across a teaser trailer for the fantasy film, The Legend of the Red Reaper. It promised to be an action-adventure fantasy, and starred an actress I’d never heard of at the time, Tara Cardinal. As I watched the trailer, I realized that whatever the standard fantasy tropes on display, this was also something new and compelling. Here’s part of what I wrote to Tara back then:

“One of the things that bothers me most about fantasy films is the persistent notion that wispy, willowy girls can stand up to large, large men in a physical confrontation. I’m all for strong women characters, but at some point you have to acknowledge the laws of biology and physics…In the trailer, you look like you can stand up to the male warriors. You’re not the size of a pipe cleaner, your arms aren’t sticks, and you’re not dressed like an S&M show refugee (not that there’s anything wrong with that). You’re depicted as a warrior, and from what the trailer shows, you behave like one.”

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If you’ve read this blog for very long (or endured one of my rants at a convention), you’ll know that one of my pet peeves is fantasy’s version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, namely the Ass-Kicking Waif. Buffy is probably the best known, but there’s also Milla Jovovich in The Fifth Element, Summer Glau in Serenity, Scarlett Johansen in Iron Man 2 and The Avengers, Kate Beckinsale in Underworld, and so forth: all tiny, busty, girl-women who appear to have just graduated from high school. Individually these characters are valid within their worlds, and there are always justifications for them (supernatural power, science gone amok, etc.). Cumulatively, it seems like this is an excuse for male creators to have their feminist cake and eat it, too. So to speak.

For my own fantasy writing, I’ve been careful to avoid that. In my Eddie LaCrosse novels, I’ve featured women who are actual adults, and if they’re depicted as warriors, they have the physique for it: they’re tall, they’re visibly muscular, and they don’t need excuses like supernatural power. And to me, that doesn’t make them any less attractive. Check out Jane Argo in Wake of the Bloody Angel and decide for yourself if I did it well.

This is the long way around to my announcment that I’m writing a prequel novel to The Legend of the Red Reaper with its creator/star Tara Cardinal.

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Tentatively it’s titled, The Cave of Archerode: A Red Reaper Novel, but as always, that can change. This is a spec adventure simply because I like the material and admire its creator’s vision. It’s also new territory for me, and I hope you’ll enjoy reading about our progress.

Keep an eye out for more updates as we go. You can read an earlier interview I did with Red Reaper’s director here. And watch for the release of The Legend of the Red Reaper later this year.

Rant: the high cost of low quality

Posted on by Alex in creativity, fiction, James T. Kirk, movies, originality, pop culture, self publish, Star Trek, writers, writing | 2 Comments

Last night, the wife and I saw Skyfall. I’ve seen every James Bond movie in a real movie theater since Live and Let Die, so my streak continues. I thought Skyfall was an adequate spy thriller and action film, but not much of a James Bond movie. Perhaps, given how this one ends, the next one will be more of a return to the Bonds that had an element of distinctiveness. You’d never mistake a Bond for a Bourne back in the day, the way you can now.

But we also saw previews for Jack Reacher, Django Unchained, and A Good Day to Die Hard, none of which did their job and convinced me I needed to see them. In fact, both Jack Reacher and Django Unchained reinforced my prior decision not to see them. And that, along with the trailer for the new Star Trek Into Darkness (which might as well be called Star Trek Jumping on the Nolan Bandwagon) hitting the internet, got me thinking seriously about something.

Why are we, as fans and consumers, satisfied with this?

JJ Abrams’ Star Trek was loud, noisy, and funny. It also had plot holes big enough for the Enterprise itself, and reduced one of SFs great heroes (James T. Kirk) to the status of a punk with a chip on his shoulder. I go into more detail here, but it’s the kind of movie that diminishes in retrospect, or with repeated viewings. Now there’s a new one, with a villain Abrams is playing coy about, only letting slip that it’s a “canon” figure. Khan? Gary Mitchell? Harry Mudd? Who knows? And more importantly, why should we care? Those stories have already been told, and told well. Yet here we are, as a demographic, getting excited about this movie when we should be ignoring it until someone comes along with some real, genuine new ideas.

The original “Django”

Similarly, Django Unchained, by virtue of being a Quentin Tarantino film, is practically guaranteed to be made up of parts of other movies, most obviously the spaghetti western Django series. More so than any other filmmaker working today, Tarantino has been praised for what is essentially sampling: taking bits and pieces of original creations and recombining them. He has yet to really create anything on his own, and it seems likely that this one will also have knowledgeable film buffs nudging each other and going, “You know where that’s from?”

The new “Django,” “unchained” from originality.

I understand completely the corporate mentality behind this: they’re known quantities, they’re existing properties, and most of the heavy lifting of creating them has already been done. What I really don’t get is why fans are excited about it. Another Star Trek movie that retreads vast swaths of the existing canon instead of “boldy going,” as its own damn catchphrase says? Bruce Willis, looking really old, in another Die Hard movie?

Then again, maybe I do get it, and just wish I didn’t. We’ve devalued our artists to the point that they can only make a living cranking new versions of old things. As a popular internet meme says, we’re willing to pay more for coffee at Starbuck’s than we are for music and literature. We justify piracy as entitlement. Girl of the moment Lena Dunham gets $3.7 million for this, while many formerly published authors are having to self-publish their own ebooks now.

And it seems we, as the consumers and fans, are satisfied with this.

I don’t have an answer. I wish I did.

The Dickens, I Say

Posted on by Alex in authors, eBook sale, family, fantasy literature, Memphis, movies, novel, originality, tv, writers, writing | Leave a comment

The most famous Christmas story, besides the Biblical one, is without a doubt A Christmas Carol. Charles Dickens distilled the holiday spirit down to its essence with his tale of the miserly Scrooge who reforms his ways just in time for Christmas dinner. I love reading the actual story at Christmas, and watching my favorite* film version:

Yet take a step back from the many versions of this story, as well as the gargantuan list of other media (TV, radio, movies) that use it as a template and look at it from a fresh perspective, and Dickens’ accomplishment becomes that much more amazing.

The first edition of Dickens’ masterpiece

I mean, think about it: it’s a horror story, with genuinely scary ghosts (I defy anyone to not get a shudder from the Ghost of Christmas Future), a protagonist who advocates imprisoning children for debt, and its most sympathetic character (Tiny Tim) dies for lack of health insurance (okay, maybe not exactly that, but I stand by the analogy). Who puts all this in a Christmas tale?

A genius, that’s who.

Whatever his inspiration (and I’ve never researched it to find out), Dickens understood something basic about storytelling: the importance of balance. If his ultimate aim was to tell a heartwarming story for the holidays, he knew he had to even that out by adding dark, sometimes twisted elements that would balance the sweetness.

(You know who else understands this? David Lynch. In his best work–Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, even Twin Peaks–he balances the genuine affection the characters feel for one another with horrific violence and bleakness. But if there was only one element without the other, his films would be just like everyone else’s.)

How important is balance in a holiday story? Watch any Lifetime or Hallmark Christmas movie and see how insipid it is when it’s all sweetness and warmth. Without the darkness, there’s nothing to make the light stand out.

Nothing says Christmas like…AHHHHHHH!

When I set out to write “A Ghost and a Chance,” one of the stories in my holiday collection Time of the Season, I had a simple conceit: I wanted to drop my own Victorian/Edwardian Spiritualist character, Sir Francis Colby, into Dickens’ tale. Since I wrote about Colby in a faux Victorian voice, I thought it would be fun to use actual text from Dickens, and see if I could hide the seams between that and my own stuff. And it was fun. But it also made me recognize just what a gigantic accomplishment Dickens had managed. He gave us both a classic Christmas tale, and a legitimate horror story. He combined two genres that shouldn’t work together at all, and made them both complement and enlarge each other.

And it takes a genius to do something like that.

Want to see if you can spot the Dickens in my story? You can find it, along with two other holiday tales, here for only $2.99!

*Not saying it’s the best, just that it’s my favorite. I grew up watching it on WREG-TV out of Memphis.

The Next Big Thing blog tour

Posted on by Alex in authors, Burn Me Deadly, Dark Jenny, dragon, Eddie LaCrosse, fantasy literature, fiction, film noir, King Arthur, movies, novel, release date, Robert B. Parker, Shakespeare, Tor Books, Wake of the Bloody Angel, writers, writing | 3 Comments

My friend from the Heroic Fiction League on Facebook, Violette Malan, graciously invited me to participate in The Next Big Thing blog series. Each author answers the same set of questions, and passes them on to five more authors, who post their answers the following week and pass them on to five more authors, and so forth.

You’ll find Violette’s answers here, and my list of invited contributors at the bottom of this post. My answers begin right here.

What is your working title of your book?

It’s currently called He Drank, and Saw the Spider. I’m batting .500 in my initial titles making it to print (for example, Wake of the Bloody Angel was originally called The Two Eddies), so we’ll see how this one does. This time, my title is both a line from the book, and also a shout-out to the source material.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

It was inspired by The Winter’s Tale, one of Shakespeare’s last and most complex plays. It’s a genre-bending story of betrayal and reconciliation, and a real head-scratcher the first time you read or watch it. It’s best known for one of its stage directions: “Exit, pursued by a bear.”

My initial idea was, “What if Eddie was dropped into the Autolycus role in the plot?” The final book is considerably different, but that was the inspiration.

What genre does your book fall under?

It’s sword-and-sorcery, but crossed with a healthy dollop of pulp detective fiction; “sword noir,” I guess. One reviewer called it, “Sam Spade with a sword.”

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I’ve said elsewhere on this blog that the ideal casting for Eddie LaCrosse is Alien-era Tom Skerritt.

But otherwise, I prefer not to lock down the images of the characters. Each reader will have his or her own ideas, and I don’t want to get in the way of that. I’ll worry about it when an actual movie deal happens.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

As a young mercenary, Eddie LaCrosse saves an abandoned baby from a bear; sixteen years later, now a private sword jockey, he has to save her again, this time from a complex plot involving magic, murder and an insane king.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It will be published by Tor in 2014.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About eight months. A lot of that was research, reading up on Shakespeare, rereading his plays and internalizing a lot of Shakespearean scholarship. It may seem simple to take a plot or character from Shakespeare, but to do it justice you also have to understand what that character means, and how he or she functions in the play. For example, there’s a character loosely based on Caliban from The Tempest; Caliban has been used to represent everything from Irish bog people to a half-human fish monster to the plight of third-world citizens under Western occupation. If you’re going to put someone like him in your book, you have to decide what he represents for you, and how that affects the story and the other characters.

This is the same approach I’ve used for my other Eddie LaCrosse novels. Burn Me Deadly, for example, is about dragons, so I researched what people thought of them back when it was believed they really existed. Dragons were never simply animals, they were embodiments of beliefs and supernatural powers. If I wanted my dragons to carry that same weight of “believability,” I had to decide what they embodied in the world of my characters.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

My Eddie LaCrosse novels are always compared to Glenn Cook’s “Garrett, P.I.” novels and Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. The influences I’m most conscious of are two Bobs: Robert E. Howard and Robert B. Parker.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

One of the consistencies of my Eddie LaCrosse series is that each book embraces a set of existing tropes; Dark Jenny, for example, is Arthurian at heart. In this one, I wanted to put Eddie into a Shakespearean story, so I looked for the best one to drop him into. I chose The Winter’s Tale because there’s a mystery at its heart.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s a fun and funny story. Eddie’s girlfriend Liz once again plays a major role, the first time since Burn Me Deadly. There’s action, suspense, magic and romance. There’s a mad king, a sorceress, and sheep. Lots of sheep.

Thanks to Violette for including me in this blog trail.  Now, here are my five awesome and talented writer friends who will be posting their answers next week.

Teresa Frohock, author of Miserere.

Kelly Barnhill, author of Iron Hearted Violet

Jen K. Blom, author of Possum Summer

Matt Forbeck, author of Amortals and Carpathia

Kelly McCullough (pending), author of Bared Blade and WebMage