30 November 2008

The End of NaNoWriMo and Orphans of Fenris

At a touch under 75,000 words, National Novel Writing Month concludes, as does the first draft of my novel Orphans of Fenris. I had not expected to finish the book within the frame of National Novel Writing Month, and had prepared myself to keep going into early December. However, my productivity was higher than I anticipated, driven by the general excitement of taking part in a world-wide writing support group, writing on my NEO in groups in cafés, and my new appreciation for coffee. (I bought my first ever home coffee-maker during the month.) Also, because I started with an outline—short for me, but extensive for most other NaNoWriMo participants—I was able to keep some control over the plot and guide it to the right finishing length. Seventy-five thousand words is the perfect length for the first draft of a young adult novel. Over the process of revisions, I expect it to swell and contract, and finally end up a 65,000 words… a great length for the genre.

These last two days were difficult, although not in the same way that other stretched earlier in the month were hard-going. With every novel I’ve written, I’ve approached the last day with a sense of sadness. Here it comes, I know as I sit down for the last session at the keyboard, the time when it all wraps up and I’ll type the words THE END. All the work, joy, pain, and the time spent with my characters concludes here. After this, I’ll let it go for a while. I’ll return for the long revision process, but the grand first act of creation (“It’s alive! It’s alive!”) ends at this point. It’s such a strange feeling.

I have plenty of writing projects to keep me busy during December while I let Orphans of Fenris marinate away in a drawer (and in two hard drives, two flash drives, my iPod, and online storage—I’m a back-up nut).

National Novel Writing Month has been an incredible experience, even for someone who has already written a few books before. I’ll eventually write a long article about my adventures in this unusual world, the Iron Man Triathalon for writers, for my blog at Black Gate, and of course I’ll give all my readers here the heads-up about that.

The Chrysalids

Welcome back to LibraryThing Early Reviewers. This month’s book…

The Chrysalids
By John Wyndham (New York Review Books, 2008/Softcover $14.00)

The reason that John Wyndham’s 1955 post-apocalypse novel The Chrysalids has risen back into print is that its theme of religious fundamentalism crushing the human spirit has never seemed more germane. In its original publication, it must have resonated for Wyndham’s portrayal of a post-nuclear world with mutations struggling to reach a new balance, and the reflections of communist witch-hunts in the puritanical society that must root out differences at all costs. Today, the book’s critique religious fundamentalism and its intolerance of broader thinking is what will strike the reader—and I imagine will strike with force. The Chrysalids feels as if it were written yesterday.

“WATCH THOU FOR THE MUTANT!” So says the Repentences of Nicholson, a book as holy as the Bible in the wastes of a future world some thousand years after God sent the Tribulation. (If you immediately think of the horrid “Left Behind” novels, congratulations—you know the fundamentalist thinking Wyndham is about to address.) “Offences” and “Deviations” must be destroyed when found, and the people of the town of Waknuk in the land of Labrador look out for the dangerous people of the Fringes, who raid into the civilized lands.

The narrator of the story is young David Strorm, who lives in Waknuk with his family, one of the town’s more prosperous and strictly observing. His father Joseph is especially unforgiving in eliminating Offences. One day while playing, David meets Sophie Wenders, the sweet girl whom he discovers through an accident has six toes—a blasphemy according to the Definition of Man. David has the innocence and the kindness of a child who hasn’t perceived yet the hatred of the world in which he lives. Already he is the “free-thinker” who starts to look beyond what he calls “the monotonous Sunday precepts” that do not “join up with reality.”

The true fear here is difference, individuality. The Norm is a sacrosanct word with a capital ‘N,’ and “The Norm is the image of God.” David’s curiosity and his friendship with Sophie brings him more and more into rebellion with the common wisdom.

The book gradually introduces the idea that David can communicate telepathically with other children, and a small group of them have linked together. David’s Uncle Axel, his best friend and a man with a deeper understanding than other adults, informs David never to reveal this ability to anyone. But when David finds out that his new sister Petra has the “thought-shaping” ability at an almost unbelievable level power, his world and that of the others like him will change forever.

The book’s power lessens as it closes in on the finale and turns away from Wyndham’s philosophy and exploration of an intriguing futuristic community and instead heads into a standard action and escape adventure. The post-apocalyptic world outside of Waknuk isn’t portrayed as vividly as the early stories from Uncle Axel would promise, and Wyndham’s simple writing style—so effective for David’s insular world—weakens in this broader scope. The finale, however, is thought-provoking, creating both hope and fear with the new order that David and the others like him find themselves entering.

The other post-holocaust book that The Chrysalids most immediately brings to my mind is its contemporary, The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett, another novel that should receive a new printing in this era when it speaks louder than it ever has before. A more contemporary comparison is Lois Lowry’s young adult classic The Giver. If The Chrysalids were written today, it would definitely fall into the young adult category and have more focus on the teenage lives of its youthful characters.

The retail version of The Chrysalids contains an introduction by speculative-fiction author Christopher Priest, but was not available in my review copy, so about that I can say no more.

Read the review at LibraryThing.

29 November 2008

Mechagodzilla Chronicles: Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)
Directed by Jun Fukuda. Starring Masaaki Daimon, Reiko Tajima, Akihiko Hirata, Shin Kishida, Hiroshi Koizumi, Goro Mutsu

So far in my in looking at tokusatsu films, I’ve dealt exclusively with director Ishiro Honda, the Japanese master of science-fiction and fantasy films. I also haven’t reviewed a single Godzilla film. Today I’m changing both trends at once with a Godzilla film from “the other guy” who directed Godzilla movies during the classic “Showa” era, Jun Fukuda.

This movie also begins an exciting set of reviews for me, as I examine a series-within-a-series: The Complete Chronicles of Mechagodzilla! Five films stretching over three eras featuring the robotic duplicate of the Big-G.

We start with the definitively titled Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla.

Godzilla movies weren’t doing swell in the 1970s, but neither was the Japanese film biz. Economic collapse, plus the enormous popularity of television, killed off the country’s once-thriving studio system that had brought us everything from The Seven Samurai to Crazy Cats Go to Hong Kong. The death of special effects genius Eiji Tsubaraya in early 1970 also undercut Japanese science-fiction films. Space Amoeba was the final kaiju movie made under the old studio system.

Godzilla films still turned a profit, but with a younger and younger audience accustomed to watching monster action on the enormously popular superhero television shows that had overwhelmed the airwaves, such as Ultraman. Under-funded, padded with stock footage, and targeted to kids, most of the Godzilla films of this era, well, suck. Sorry to use such high-falutin’ terminology.

26 November 2008

Diego El Oso

Finally, after a month of nothing on her blog, my sister has put up some more photos of my nephew, Diego the Spaniard. She told me once she was going to send me photos of him in his tiger Halloween costume, but I guess I will have to be satisfied with him in a bear costume:

25 November 2008

Book review: Conan the Raider

My first post on Black Gate’s official blog is a casual start: a review of a Conan pastiche novel. I have a history with writing reviews of neo-Conan novels (any Conan story not written by creator Robert E. Howard), and got my start in online book critiques by braving to read and report on these novels when most fantasy fans wouldn’t touch them. It’s had some rewards along with the poorer material. I’ve made quite a few acquaintances in the fantasy community after my reviews started to get attention. So for my opening salvo on Black Gate, a Conan pastiche review seemed ideal.

The novel under analysis is Conan the Raider by Leonard Carpenter, a hit-and-miss writer among the stable of authors who wrote the Tor Conan series. I’m happy to report that this is so far the best of Carpenter’s Conan novels that I’ve read.

Read the entire review here.

Official: “NaNoWriMo Victory”

There it is, ladies and gentlemen, my trophy for my victory in National Novel Writing Month 2008. Awarded for writing 50,000 words (or more) of a novel in the month of November. Today was the first day of “verification” at NaNoWriMo, so this badge makes the winning “official.”

And the book still isn’t done… I think it will finally land at 75,000 words for the first draft, and I hope to reach that goal by the 30th. I may not have to keep writing in December after all!

24 November 2008

Alphabet Movie Meme

I’ve gotten tagged by The Lighning Bug’s Lair to take part in The Alphabet Meme Project started by The Blog Cabins, which is to list an A–Z of favorite films. This is tough, since a few of my favorites would compete for the same letter of the alphabet, so some tough love was required in places. I have posted the rules afterwards.

(I am also wagering that Q: The Winged Serpent shows up on a lot of lists. Not much selection in Q-territory.)
  • Alien
  • Barry Lyndon
  • Chinatown
  • Duck Soup
  • The Empire Strikes Back
  • The Fountain
  • Goldfinger
  • The Haunting (1963)
  • Invasion of Astro-Monster
  • Jaws
  • King Kong (1933)
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  • Manhattan
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984)
  • The Outlaw Josey Wales
  • Poltergeist
  • Q: The Winged Serpent
  • The Road Warrior
  • The Searchers
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • Unforgiven
  • The Vikings
  • The Wild Bunch
  • X the Unknown
  • Yosei Gorasu (Gorath)
  • Zodiac
The Rules (from Blog Cabins)
  1. Pick one film to represent each letter of the alphabet.
  2. The letter “A” and the word “The” do not count as the beginning of a film’s title, unless the film is simply titled A or The, and I don’t know of any films with those titles.
  3. Return of the Jedi belongs under “R,” not “S” as in Star Wars Episode IV: Return of the Jedi. This rule applies to all films in the original “Star Wars Trilogy”; all that followed start with “S.” Similarly, Raiders of the Lost Ark belongs under “R,” not “I” as in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Conversely, all films in the Lord of the Rings series belong under “L” and all films in the Chronicles of Narnia series belong under “C,” as that’s what those filmmakers called their films from the start. In other words, movies are stuck with the titles their owners gave them at the time of their theatrical release. Use your better judgment to apply the above rule to any series/films not mentioned.
  4. Films that start with a number are filed under the first letter of their number’s word. 12 Monkeys would be filed under “T.”
  5. Link back to Blog Cabins in your post so that I can eventually type “alphabet meme” into Google and come up #1, then make a post where I declare that I am the King of Google.
  6. If you’re selected, you have to then select five more people.

Movie Review: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb

Time for more of the films contained on the recent Icons of Horror Collection: Hammer Films two-disc DVD set.

The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964)
Directed by Michael Carerras. Starring Terence Morgan, Ronald Howard, Fred Clark, Jeanne Roland, Jack Gwillim, George Pastell, Dickie Owen

This is Hammer’s second Mummy film, after 1959’s fine The Mummy, which starred the classic Lee-Cushing line-up and had director Terence Fisher at the helm. The sequel has a lower profile, with Michael Carreras directing, producing, and (under the pseudonym Henry Younger) writing, and a cast of non-Hammer regulars, with the exception of ubiquitous character actor Michael Ripper. Michael Carreras was the son of Hammer founder James Carreras and was one of the studio’s important executives and producers during its Gothic Golden Age. His directing career has less luster than his producing one, however. He would also direct (without credit, taking over when the original director died) a later Hammer mummy film, Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb, based on Bram Stoker’s novel Jewel of the Seven Stars.

I’m doing more blogging

I’m starting blogging at another site tomorrow. Black Gate magazine, a print magazine of fantasy, has started a blog at their online site, and I am one of the featured bloggers. My blog entries will appear on Tuesdays. I’ll always notify you folks over here when something new pops up over there, but it would be great to have you visit the site regularly and read the other bloggers as well: Theodore Beale, Judith Berman, James Enge, Leo Grin, John C. Hocking, and Howard Andrew Jones. And hey, get a subscription while you’re over there!

22 November 2008

Movie review: Space Amoeba

Space Amoeba (1970)
Directed by Ishiro Honda. Starring Akira Kubo, Atsuko Takashi, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Kenji Sahara, Yu Fujuki

You may have seen the Japanese movie Kessen! Nankai no daikaiju Gezora, Ganime, Kamoeba (“Decisive Battle! Giant Monsters of the South Seas: Gezora, Ganime, Kamoeba”) under the title Yog—Monster from Space, which was how American International Pictures released it in 1971. It played in this version on TV for many years, until vanishing with most other tokusatsu films from the airwaves in the 1990s. Now the film returns on DVD under its official English title, the less colorful Space Amoeba, Japanese language version intact and with a new English dub. Reason to celebrate? We’ll see.

The Japanese studio system that grew with the country as it emerged from the hells of World War II came to an end in 1970. Theater attendance dropped dramatically, major studio Daiei (which created the Gamera and Daimajin franchise of monster movies) went bankrupt, and Toho dropped their contract talents and slashed budgets, and the once imperial special effects department was shut down. The new, tigther-belt era of Japanese fantasy filmmaking had arrived.

Space Amoeba is the swan-song tokusatsu movie of the old system, the last of the classic era monster films. It would be director Ishiro Honda’s last special-effects film for five years, and it also marked the end of his collaboration with effects supervisor Eiji Tsubaraya, who had created the magic behind most of Toho’s tokusatsu movies. Tsubaraya was originally slated to do the effects for Space Amoeba, but his death on 25 January 1970 ended that hope, leaving Latitude Zero (1969) his final film. Teisho Arikawa took over as Special Effects Supervisor. Arikawa had worked as Tsubaraya’s special effects cameraman for years and had supervised effects on some of the lesser tokusatsu films on Toho’s schedule when Tsubaraya was too busy. Teruyoshi Nakano, who would handle the VFX duties on most of Toho’s ‘70s and ‘80s science-fiction films, served as Chief Asssistant Special Effects Director.

21 November 2008

Early Reviewers delivers The Chrysalids

Thank you LibraryThing and Random House, for again providing me with a free advanced copy of a novel to read for the Early Reviewers group!

The last book I reviewed for LibraryThing Early Reviewers (also the first one) was the tepid new thriller The Charlemagne Pursuit by Steve Berry. It still won’t reach shelves until next month. This time, I received a book “new” in printing only: The Chrysalids by John Wyndham. This is a science-fiction classic originally published in 1955. The reason copies are getting sent out for review now is that New York Review Books is releasing a new printing of it, and they want to drum up interest in a classic that might need extra help getting to the next generation audience. It’s sad that we have a current bookseller culture so focused on NEW that many great works of the past get pushed aside. The current world of big publishing has a very short-term memory, and university and small presses often must take up the slack.

John Wyndham is most famous for the novels The Day of the Triffids and The Midwich Cuckoos. I’ve never read The Chrysalids, a post-apocalyptic tale, and I’m excited that I have the opportunity to review a genre classic for Early Reviewers.

The advertised printing has an introduction by Christopher Priest (author of The Prestige) but I won’t be able to comment on that because the advanced proofs don’t contain the introduction.

20 November 2008

Pre-order The Black Angel

A quick update on the progress of the reprint of The Black Angel, the classic novel from Cornell Woolrich. Originally, Pegasus Books informed me that the book would be available in December, but it has gotten pushed back a month, to January 20th (a pretty important day for the U.S. as well). Go pre-order it here. I can't over-emphasize how great this novel is, one of Woolrich's classics, and I want it to sell well enough that Pegasus will provide us more Woolrich, particularly Black Alibi.

18 November 2008

Movie Review: The Gorgon

The Gorgon (1964)
Directed by Terence Fisher. Starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Richard Pasco, Michael Goodliffe, Barbara Shelley, Patrick Troughton

I know that Halloween has come and gone, but I’m still going to pretend that we’re living in the crisp winds of October and go ahead and review one of the Gothic classics from Hammer. The eerie skies of the fires of Southern California have helped with a certain spooky, ghastly mood this November.

I earlier posted about an upcoming two-disc DVD release from Columbia that packs together four ‘60s horror movies from Hammer Films, those wonderful British gents and ladies who gave us so much Victorian Technicolor terror. Icons of Horror Collection: Hammer Films brings together Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964), Scream of Fear (1961, actually a black-and-white contemporary thriller), The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960), and the one I have the most interest in, The Gorgon (1964).

The Gorgon is the only movie in the collection featuring the full unholy trinity of Hammer fame: director Terence Fisher and stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. (Fisher also directed The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll, but only Christopher Lee appears in it.) The Gorgon is an often overlooked film in Fisher’s canon, like The Phantom of the Opera, so here I come to the rescue.

17 November 2008

I win

50,635 words.

I win.

The 50,000th word of my novel for National Novel Writing Month is “rote.”

Here is the incomplete sentence where I hit the 50,000-word mark:
Ten years of living aboard the ship and finding ways to escape the cold shells of people she once knew made it almost a rote...
Pause. I was in Literati café with two other NaNoWriMo writers, DizzyMissLiz and Larking. I announced that I had hit the 50,000 word target, the magic work was “rote,” there were high-fives, and then I announced out loud to everyone in the café that I had written 50,000 words of a novel in seventeen days.

Breathe out, and:
…action to clamber around the decks unseen.
On to the rest of the novel, which still has at least another 20,000 words in it before it comes to the words THE END.

Onward! Ride Shadowfax, ride! Let slip the dogs of war! OOOOOOOODIIIIIIN!

16 November 2008

Fictional characters respond

Hey look! 50,000 words stands within reach. Tomorrow, I imagine, which means I will officially “win” at National Novel Writing Month (I won’t get the actual winner badge until word-verification starts on the twenty-fifth). However, the book will continue on, marching toward the 70-80k that looks like its final length for this first draft.

Last week, I wrote a few letters to my characters.

They’ve decided to write back. Some are not that happy (which pleases me; if they have it easy, that means we have some drama missing somewhere).
Kalla writes:

Ryan, you jerk, you had a tiger gouge my arm! Where in the world did the tiger come from? I’m glad I’m finally getting a mother figure, now maybe I’ll stop pouting about having killed someone. But I have no idea how you’re going to get me out of this fix.

Juquon writes:

Why don’t I get to be a POV character? And… you’re not seriously having hyperspace intelligences take over my mind? Oh hell, you are…

Corvus writes:

[Corvus is temporarily unconscious and unable to come to the phone right now.]

Alyse and Espe write:

We want to kill the computer.

Celeste writes:

Ryan, I am a freakin’ emotional mess. The scene where I had to cradle my dead daughter while the world around me seems not to care: why did you make that keep going and going and going? Now I’m crying in heaping sobs over gravestones and flipping out for almost any reason at all. But I did like shooting that tiger. Uhm, where did the tiger come from?

Roche and Adler write:

Whoooo-hoooo! We’re back in the book! We’re kicking butt! We’re blowing things up! We’re going rock this damn place, just try to stop us!

Fenris writes:


Haxan and Devoss and Nomura and Leland and the people Celeste keeps inventing and all the rest of us aboard the Jormungand write:

Thanks for finally explaining who we are and why we’re so weird. Now stabilize our damn dialogue.

The tiger writes:

I’m dead now. Don’t smoke. By the way, where did I come from?

The Sepia Sorrow of So. Cal

You might have heard that Southern California is experiencing the worst series of fires in forty years. I’m in the middle of the Santa Monica and West Los Angeles Sprawl, so I’m nowhere near the many brush fires, although I know many people at work who are dangerously close to them.

A horrible, choking red smoke has covered all parts of the city; when I went out to my car this morning, it was covered with ash. Staying outside for too long makes breathing difficult—I’ve never experienced such horrible air quality in the thirty-two years I’ve lived in L.A. I’ve decided not to go out dancing tonight because of it: bad air, few people will be able to make it, and the freeways are a mess.

There is a minor benefit to this tragedy: the alien sepia tone of the sky. My whole apartment is suffused with the light of the moon Titan. It feels like stepping into an old print of a silent film. I’ve tried to capture the appearance in this photo I took I few minutes ago. The picture didn’t quite grab the light quality, so I fiddled with it in Photoshop to make it “feel” right:

Movie Review: Quantum of Solace

Quantum of Solace (2008)
Directed by Marc Forster. Starring Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amarlic, Judi Dench, Giancarlo Gianni, Gemma Arterton, Jeffrey Wright, Joaquin Cosío

Amazing. Only two films into the re-boot of the James Bond series, and the enterprise has already run off the rails. I don’t know how Eon Productions achieved it with such speed, but they’ve gone from a fresh start to a tedious, mindless picture in a mere two years.

Yes, Quantum of Solace is a bad film. It’s loud, dumb, filled with uninvolving action scenes, and plotted with a pencil tracing straight lines along a ruler from Point A to Point B without any reason except that the movie has to get to Point F eventually. It thieves form the Bourne series relentlessly, can’t work up any of the actual drama that its predecessor managed, and is so workmanlike under director Marc Forster that for all the pyrotechnics it is acutely, painfully boring. At least it clocks in under two hours.

15 November 2008

Movie Review: Gorath

Gorath (1962)
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Starring Ryo Ikebe, Yumi Shirakawa, Takashi Shimura, Kumi Mizuno, Ken Uehara, Akira Kubo, Akihiko Hirata, Jun Tazaki, Kenji Sahara

We come now to the third and final movie in Toho’s “Space Opera” trilogy from director Ishiro Honda and special effects supervisor Eiji Tsubaraya. And once more, I’ll turn the podium over for a moment to Japanese film expert Stuart Galbraith IV, quoting from his book on Japanese science-fiction and fantasy movies, Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo:
Possibly the best Japanese science fiction film of all. . . . [Gorath’s] relative failure (compared to the huge success of the less expensive King Kong vs. Godzilla, made that same year) resulted in fewer ambitious, more monster-filled opuses and, in essence, signaled the end of an era.
Not that I mind those monster-filled opuses, but Galbraith is correct that we wouldn’t see many more science-fiction films from Japan on the scale of Gorath after 1962. Atragon does comes close, however, in tone and intent. And is Gorath Japan’s greatest science-fiction film? Like Galbraith says, “possibly.” I hesitate to nominate any of my favorites in the Honda-Tsubaraya canon as the supreme work, but Gorath would make the short list. That the U.S. hardly knows of its existence is one reason that Ishiro Honda has never gotten his full day in court in front of American critics.

14 November 2008

Break-through! 40,000 and change!

Okay, 40,435 words as of 7:45 p.m.! Victory for the evening!

I’m having a Canadian Whiskey and Coke to celebrate, and them I’m going put on the suede shoes and dance the blues with the ladies at the Juke Joint down the street.

Remaining goal for the weekend: at least get to 45,000 word. But I bet I can do better than that.

That Gorath review—expect it up early Saturday morning, when I get back from dancing. It’s already saved in draft form and only needs me to hit “publish” next.

Writing incentives, plus Tokusatsu Saturdays

Yesterday was supposed to be the first day I took off from writing my new book since Tuesday, the 4th, when I and the rest of the nation were a bit busy. I still ended up jotting down some eight hundred words—but considering my output to this point, that’s practically a vacation day under lazy tropical skies.

The official end of National Novel Writing Month, the 50,000 word goal, rapidly approaches for me, although I will still have a long way to travel until I consider the first draft finished, the point when I type “THE END,” save it in a million places, and then forget about it for a few months while I work on other projects. (I believe the best way to re-write a book is to basically forget that you wrote it in the first place, so when you pick it up again to revise it you have a pair of fresh and critical eyes.) I want to reach 40,000 words tonight, less than a three thousand-word run, but Fridays are notoriously hard days on which to get writing done, at least for me.

However, I am instituting an enticement for myself this evening. I promise myself a reward if I achieve 40K. Or, to look at it another way, I will withhold a planned pleasure from myself if I don’t reach 40K. Four blocks down the street from my apartment tonight is a monthly blues dance called The Juke. I don’t get to walk to many dance events (think of the petrol savings!), and I usually have a good time at this event. But, I will only go if Orphans of Fenris reaches 40,000 words sometime tonight. Which means I have until about 9:00 p.m. to get to that point before I start losing out on dancing time.

So watch for my word-count update in the sidebar tonight. If it gets above 39,999 words, you’ll know I went and got my blues dancing on. If not, I stayed home and watched Space Amoeba and felt horribly guilty.

Oh, speaking of Space Amoeba, tomorrow I’ll post my review of Gorath, making for the third Saturday in a row that I’ve put up a review of a Japanese tokusatsu (live-action special-effects) movie. So I have decided to declare an on-going series: Tokusatsu Saturdays. In homage to those great Saturday afternoons spent watching monsters movies on local TV stations in my youth, I’ll continue to use Saturdays to post reviews of live-action Japanese science-fiction and fantasy movies and TV shows. Maybe not every Saturday, but I’ll try to hold myself to some sort of schedule.

Update: I did it! With nearly 500 words on top of it. Blues time.

12 November 2008

Dear fictional characters

Okay, I’m at 36,500 words in the first draft of my new novel, and at the current pace and with my outline for the next week of writing, I should hit the 50,000-word goal for National Novel Writing Month on Tuesday, twelve days ahead of schedule.

Which won’t remotely mark the end, however, since this book hasn’t caught sight of the end yet. I still expect 80,000 words.

Today, I’m going to let everybody into my writing head for a moment, as I present to you letters that I’ve written to my characters. At this point in my narrative, strange things happen, frustrations start, pleasant surprises emerge. So, imagining that I can twist my characters to do whatever I want, I’ve sent off these missives to each other them:
Dear Kalla,

Actually, I’m reasonably happy with you, even though you murdered someone in cold blood in the first ten thousands words when I had no idea that would happen. That’s okay, it has developed (intermittently) into an interesting internal conflict. On the other hand, I’m not sure why you keep getting smarter and smarter, thus forcing me to think about how I’m going to justify all this knowledge in the re-write even though you’ve lived for all seventeen of your years stuck in an underground slave camp on a far-flung planet. And thanks for not developing a romantic interest in the story. You aren’t supposed to and you haven’t. Really, thanks.

Dear Juquon,

I’m not sure what to say to you. The sounding-board job gets a bit dry, and I’m sorry. I know you want to beat up people, but I’m about to do something really nasty to you. And, by the way, I don’t think you’ll live to see the words The End. Sorry. By the way, my spell check really hates your name, and my fingers aren’t fond of it either.

Dear Alyse and Espe,

You two completely exasperate me. You have an important task in this story, but your dialogue is the hardest single thing to write in it. You are so going to get the major overhaul in the re-write. I might even make you one person. I’m glad you aren’t POV characters—I would have given up around 5,000 words.

Dear Corvus,

Uhm, are you on some serious hallucinogens? Every time I switch to your POV, I get this weird feeling that I’ve lost contact with reality and that nothing makes a lick of sense. You could seriously pump up the word count if I let you, but I’m not letting you get that out of control.

Dear Celeste,

Hey, you are getting to be a blast to write. Honestly, I mean that. But you’re also forcing me to invent other characters willy-nilly. Like that Leland fellow. Uhm, what am I supposed to do with him?

Dear Fenris,

Yeah, I know, you’ve got your name in the title. You aren’t alive. You don’t have a body. I think you’re plotting worse things than I originally planned. Please don’t make this get more complicated than it needs to be. But on the other hand, maintain that drama.

Dear Adler and Roche,

I haven’t forgot you two. But you have a nasty habit of having your chapters appear in places where they kill the pacing. Yeah, I know, quick fix. I guess you can get me out of trouble if anybody else starts to bore me.

Dear Haxan and Devoss and Nomura and Leland and the people Celeste keeps inventing and all the rest of you aboard the Jormungand,

Damn, but I can’t figure out how you people are supposed to talk. Can you please show some consistency?

Big scary monsters,

Yeah, I’ll let you loose soon. Promise. Big damage in the last quarter of the novel. Don’t let me down.

Thanks to all for listening, now get back to work,

Your author,


11 November 2008

Does Obama read Howard?

I have a question for our future president, Barack Obama, and I promise this has nothing to do with politics.

An article for Telegraph, the British newspaper, lists “The 50 Things You Might Not Know” about President-Elect Obama. I already knew a few of them—I’ve taken an interest in the man since 2004—but the top one on the list surprised me: “He collects Spider-Man and Conan the Barbarian Comics.” Hey, cool… Obama is a geek like me! And apparently a member of the Merry Marvel Marching Society. Will Stan Lee get invited to the White House? (How about Steve Ditko, or am I just being a loon?)

But here’s the question I have for our the soon-to-be-leader of the Free World that arises from the revelation:

“Future President Barack Obama, if you enjoy Conan the Barbarian comic books, have you also read and enjoyed the original Conan stories by Robert E. Howard?”

Because I so hope the answer is “Yes.”

To know that my president reads and enjoys the same violent, depressing, weird, fantastic pulp literature of the 1930s that I do would… well… it would make me weep joyful tears of blood.

Please Barack, tell us how much you love “The Queen of the Black Coast.” Do you prefer “The People of the Black Circle” to “Red Nails”? How many times have you read The Hour of the Dragon? Do you also like the Kull stories? How about Solomon Kane? And what’s your opinion of some of Howard’s stories with racial overtones, like “Black Canaan”?

I know you’re a busy man, you’ve got a huge schedule ahead of you and a country to run, but I’d like to start a symposium with you one day: “U.S. President Sits Down with Fans of Robert E. Howard for Serious Talks.” When you’re president, Mr. Obama, reach out to the pulp lovers. We’re a small and sometimes misunderstood group, but we’re damn interesting company, I guarantee. Better than those Wall Street blowhards.

And make sure the last word at your inauguration speech is… “CROM!”

08 November 2008

Further NaNoWriMo progress: Almost at 25,000!

Another progress report from the front-lines of National Novel Writing Month.

We have now entered Week Two. According to NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty’s book No Plot? No Problem!, “As you write your way through the next seven days, know the Week Two hurts so bad because you’re making huge strides in your book, solving a year’s worth of plot and character problems in one overcaffeinated week.”

My own experience with my other novels is that the three-quarters mark is the toughest section. It’s “The Wall,” “The Hump,” the obstacle that once you get past, the rest is (relatively) smooth sailing. For the writers who started with less plot than I did, I imagine life does get tricky this week.

However, I am running into trickiness after a brisk first week. I’m currently at close to 25,000 words, the halfway mark, on the eight day. Darn good, especially considering that I wrote nothing on Tuesday, November 4th, a major day in U.S. history—no way I was getting any writing done.

Odd things have started to happen in the book, as I expected. The main character has surprised me with some of her strange developments and emotional turmoil. I started the book with her as a bit of an enigma, but she’s shown plenty of surprises and I’m starting to enjoy her a lot. Other characters are changing into having different roles, and the general tone has come out to more grim and violent than I originally expected. I’ll have plenty of work ahead of me on the revision, when I look over all these emerging ideas and see what the book really wants to be.

The novel is also showing its potential length. NaNoWriMo aims at 50,000 words for the month, but I will definitely spill over into December, after writing tallies have stopped, and keep going until the book finishes. At the 25,000 point, the story seems to only be at the one third mark, so I think I’m looking at a 75,000 to 80,000 word first draft.

I’ve spread out my canvas of writing locations during these first eight days, which was always one of my goals in taking part in NaNoWriMo. I’ve done plenty of writing on the desktop in my apartment, but I’ve spent two Saturdays at the Beverly Hills Library, was on my own at a nearby Coffee Bean last night, and wrote with another NaNoWriMo writer, Larking, at Literati in Brentwood on Monday. There’s another Write-In at Literati tomorrow, and I think we’ll get even more people. I was pleased with the results of the Write-In, since I’ve never done writing with another person like that, but it ended up working well for me—you feed off each other’s energy, and its less distracting than you might imagine. Plus, you can take a break and discuss various frustrations/triumphs.

So, onward and upward. To Arkham, and the Stars!

Movie Review: Battle in Outer Space

Battle in Outer Space (1959)
Directed by Ishiro Honda. Starring Ryo Ikebe, Kyoko Anzai, Minoru Takada, Koreya Senda, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Len Stanford

Welcome to the next installment in my review of the Toho “Space Opera Trilogy” from director Ishiro Honda and effects designer Eiji Tsubaraya. After The Mysterians, an even more robust and epic alien invasion threatens all of Earth (although mostly a certain Pacific island nation and its largest city).

Uchu daisenso (“Great War in Space”) is pretty much the Independence Day of Japan—a slim plot and sketchy characters on which hangs a barrage of ceaseless special effects action. Except Battle in Outer Space is far better than Independence Day, and I can only imagine that director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin felt angry that Ishiro Honda’s twenty-seven-year earlier film was so superior that they got the rights to Godzilla and ruined it on purpose just to show him.

Okay, that’s a conspiracy theory I made up and I’m trying to spread around. Help out if you can.

Nevertheless, Battle in Outer Space is as big and action-packed as you could want in a science-fiction adventure. It’s only competition in its day for alien-invading coolness is Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, a much less pricery film shot in B&W, but with Harryhausen’s magical effects to make the destruction of Washington a killer of a finale. Battle in Outer Space, however, has the full-court press of Toho Studios’ money, color film, TohoScope, and brilliant effects team ready to blow you away. And they do.

07 November 2008

Book Review: The Spy Who Loved Me

The Spy Who Loved Me (1962)
By Ian Fleming

I needed to read an Ian Fleming novel after completing SeaFire. I had to have the great, true James Bond back.

And yet, I picked up The Spy Who Loved Me from my James Bond bookshelf (underneath my Chinatown poster), the 007 novel with the least amount of James Bond per square inch. Why did I do this?

I did it because, even though I have re-read the Fleming novels over and over since I first zipped through them at age thirteen, I have probably read The Spy Who Loved Me the fewest times, tied for that dishonor with The Man with the Golden Gun, the worst of the lot. This book needed me a bit more than the others.

Unlike The Man with the Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me isn’t a poor book. But it is a strange one, and has much less of what readers usually enjoy about 007 novels. It got a lukewarm reaction when published in 1962 (the year Dr. No hit theaters), and still sparks debates among Fleming fans today.

Before any readers plunge into The Spy Who Loved Me, they need to know three important facts about it:

05 November 2008

Book Review: SeaFire

SeaFire (1994)
By John Gardner

It is 007 season again, as a new film flies up in our face in a media blitz. The blaring digital billboard at the corner of Sawtelle and Olympic flashes nothing but ads for Quantum of Solace, played in rotation like “Stairway to Heaven” on a Led Zeppelin-only satellite radio station.

But those double-Os on the billboards are infectious, so when this time of year comes around, I get hungry for some literary Bond. I’ll probably read another of the Ian Fleming books; I’ve gone through them multiple times since junior high school, but they never get old. I’m even willing to read the worst of the lot, The Man with the Golden Gun, although I probably won’t.

However, I feel a duty to finally slog through the last of John Gardner’s Bond novels. I finished off Death Is Forever this time last year, not long after Gardner’s death, leaving only two unread. I said I would get to SeaFire soon, but here it is, a year later, and I haven’t budged. But now I will. SeaFire down, only COLD (or Cold Fall as it’s titled in the U.S.) to go.

Please, hold the applause, he writes cynically.

02 November 2008

My first official NaNoWriMo progress report

The first two days of National Novel Writing Month have come and gone (well, as I write this, there are thirty more minutes remaining before Day 2 is officially over), and I’ve managed a pleasant 9,136 words so far on my new novel Orphans of Fenris. Plenty of shocks have already occurred in the 9,000+ words, and I’ve already started a long dissertation in my notebook on the various revisions for afterward and some of the surprises I might yet pull in the coming days.

Writing a novel is always an intoxicating experience for me, an altered state of being that mixes heady joy with fear and tensions. Doing this all as part of NaNoWriMo makes it even more intense, since I have a deadline and a pack of other people along for the ride. I have yet to do any “write-ins,” where the authors gather in a communal place like a coffee shop and write together, but I look forward to attending some in the coming week.

Saturday was intense. I started at 12:00:01 a.m. on the click of the atomic clock up on my web browser. By the time I went to bed at 2 a.m. I had gotten some 2,500 words finished—and felt good about them. I woke up the next day and went to the Beverly Hills Library and worked out another two thousand or so words on my NEO. Then that night, after dinner, I returned once more to the desktop and ended with a bit over 7,000 words for the first day—the most I’ve ever written in a novel in a single twenty-four hour stretch. Let me tell you folks, getting a good head start feel powerful.

Today was a busier day, so my limited time only allowed about about 2,100 words, which still is above the daily requirement of 1,667. (I have to go dancing, you know.) This puts me at a comfortable 9,000 and change after the two days. I don’t expect I’ll get much done of Tuesday, since I’m attending the official Obama Los Angeles Election Night Party at the Century Plaza Hotel, so I’m glad I’m currently at three days ahead of the NaNoWriMo schedule. I expect to knock out another 3,000 words tomorrow as well, since I have nothing planned in the evening.

The story continually surprises me. Although I have a nine-page outline and a solid idea on the story—much different than most NaNoWriMo authors who like to walk in with only a wisp of a notion reagrding what they want to write—I still am allowing myself detours into weird ideas and characters behaving in unusual ways. I keep generating new notions and then jot them down in my notebook in long hand. Already, I can sense that this book will shoot far over the 50,000 words of NaNoWriMo’s goal and I will keep writing into December. I expected that, but the details and characters emerging these first two days have made it a solid plan. I’m in for a long, exciting, and sometimes terrifying ride with Orphans of Fenris. So far, it’s the most violent novel I’ve written, which has come at me unexpectedly. I’ll see where this goes. Anything can change in the revisions.

01 November 2008

Movie Review: The Mysterians

The Mysterians (1957)
Directed by Ishiro Honda. Starring Kenji Sahara, Akihiko Hirata, Momoko Kochi, Yumi Shirakawa, Takashi Shimura, Yoshio Tsuchiya.

Starting in 1957, director Ishiro Honda, special effects maven Eiji Tsubaraya, and producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, the men behind Toho Studios’ Giant Monster Madness, created three excellent space opera adventures (with an occasional giant monster in a guest-star role). The SF trilogy of The Mysterians, Battle in Outer Space, and Gorath, hasn’t received much attention in the U.S., and Gorath has yet to surface in a Region 1 DVD or Blu-ray.

I’m here to fix this attention deficit. Today starts my triple-review series of these remarkable science-fiction spectaculars.

(A fourth film related to the series, although not a space adventure, Atragon, is also on Region 1 DVD. I’ve previously reviewed that, so go take a look.)

We start with the most traditional movie of the three, and the one with the most exposure and success in North America. Get ready for burrowing giant robots, Markalite laser guns, and candy-color-coated aliens who need women! You’ll find it all in The Mysterians!

The November plan

To inaugurate November, it rained in Los Angeles. This is what we call a winter storm in Southern California.

October had the largest number of posts I’ve ever done in a single month on my blog since it’s inception in March of 2007. The blog has started to evolve more and more into focusing on movie and book reviews, and I’ve had a wonderful increase in visitors and comments.

Therefore, I have to describe a few differences you’ll see this month, and make a couple of excuses.

This morning, at exactly 12:00:01 AM, National Novel Writing Month started, and on the stroke of twelve I commenced writing my new novel, Orphans of Fenris (working title? Maybe, maybe not). You can keep track of my progress on the word counter at the top of the blog, and the month-tracker on the sidebar. As of this post, I’ve made it to 5,721 words, which puts me two days ahead of the schedule to meet 50,000 words by the end of the month. So far, this first day has been a deliriously wonderful writing experience: I love the thrill, the dangers, the frustrations, and the unexpected joys of writing a novel. I feel more alive than ever when I’m in the middle of writing a novel.

However, this will slow down a lot of my pleasure reading: I have to make some sacrifices this month, so expect fewer book reviews. Movie reviews may drop down a bit as well, even though I’ll use movie-watching as a way to take breaks from writing. I won’t have as much time to write my standard in-depth film reviews during this month, so if you see less of them, that’s the reason. I do have a book and movie review coming up in the next few days, one connected to a certain movie premiering on the fourteenth.

So expect some writing updates from the frontlines of the novel-writing war, and few of other surprises, but don’t expect the blog-mania of last month. October has that certain power, and poor November cannot match it.

Final Halloween poll results

Halloween and October are gone (lower head in memory of absent friends), so time to report the final results of the “Foundational Weird Authors” poll.

The ultimate standings based on 33 voters:

1. Edgar Allan Poe—20 votes, 60%
2. H. P. Lovecraft—16 votes, 38%
3. Bram Stoker—14 votes, 42%
4. M. R. James—8 votes, 24%
4. Arthur Machen—8 votes, 24%
5. Ambrose Bierce—8 votes, 21%
6. Other—4 votes, 12%
7. Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu—3 votes, 9%
8. Robert W. Chambers—2 votes, 6%

I’d like to congratulate the completely obscure Robert W. Chambers for scoring two votes. He almost tied with the more famous Le Fanu, whose poor showing is the biggest surprise for me in the poll.

The other results are what I expected. Poe is the most widely read (you had to read “The Fall of the House of Usher” in high school, didn’t you?) and Lovecraft the most popular among the sort of people who would read my blog. I’m very happy with the showing of Machen, tied with Bierce, in the poll, since he’s one of my favorites here.

It isn’t October anymore, but you can enjoy these folks all season long.