30 November 2009

The graphic versions of “Pigeons from Hell”

Today on Black Gate, I am again going back to my earlier material. Expanding on my August post about Robert E. Howard’s short story “Pigeons from Hell,” I review the two comic book adaptations, which are radically different in approach from each other.

First: Scott Hampton’s 1988 version for Eclipse Comics.

Second: Joe R. Lansdale’s and Nathan Fox’s 2008 version for Dark Horse Comics, now collected in trade paperback

Go over to Black Gate and to read more about it.

29 November 2009

Uncanny: My Favorite Boris Karloff Performance

This article is part of the Boris Karloff Blogathon event.

The gods of Egypt still live in these hills, in their ruined temples. The ancient spells are weaker, but some of them are still potent. . . .
I grew up with something of the wrong Mummy, and I’m afraid that I’m not alone. As a child, I perceived the reincarnated Egyptian menace as a bandaged, stumbling, slowpoke my great-aunt could outrun. And Universal’s continuing marketing of the character in the late ‘70s and 1980s, when I was first watching their movies on TV, is mostly responsible for this. This version of the Mummy from the four films in the 1940s was apparently the most marketable for the studio. So when I finally saw the entirety of 1932’s original The Mummy, I was stunned by what I saw—and surprised I had not known about it earlier. The evil undead sorcerer whose love has lasted through eternity, but whose humanity has left him as he kills his way toward the reincarnation of Princess Anck-es-en-Amon . . . why didn’t somebody tell me that Boris Karloff started it all, and that it was so awesome?

24 November 2009

You also get a badge . . .

The word-count validation machine at National Novel Writing Month’s website went up a few hours ago, so I got an “official win.” The real prize of writing a novel is the first draft of a novel, of course, but NaNoWriMo provides a silly little PDF certificate (and, honestly, this year I think NaNoWriMo admin has gone a touch “silly” in its official announcements, videos, etc.; please, folks, let’s go a bit more dignified next year) plus some badges for your own website. I do like the badges, so here’s mine:
The Viking Longboat from last year was better, however.

The end of National Novel Writing Month 2009

Yesterday afternoon, I typed the 81,164th and 81,165th word of the first draft of my new novel: “THE” and “END.” So ends this year’s National Novel Writing Month event, stopping for me on the twenty-third day.

(Actually, once I transferred the novel from WriteRoom—the word processor I use for first drafts—over to Microsoft Word, the word-count changed to around 80,750. MS Word uses different criteria for “words” than WriteRoom. Not that it matters; to my mind this is an “80,000 word” first draft.)

I moved faster on this book than last year’s NaNoWriMo project, although I had more free time in which to work. This, however, is the top limit of how fast I want to write a first draft: an average of 3,500 words per day. I feel for my own writing that I need to give myself breathing room between writing sessions, and not to make beating my own records a goal. Using discipline to write to the end of the first draft is important—that’s why I set deadlines and participate in NaNoWriMo in the first place—but simply making a word-count goal to go faster than before would eventually damage story effectiveness. Yes, first drafts are always weak, but they don’t have to be horrendous. And doing about 2,000 words a day, although slower than what I did this year, would also make me feel happy with my pace and dedication.

At this point, I have no distance from my newest work to judge its eventual fate. I won’t read over it for at least a few months, since I have some re-writes on my earlier books (including last year’s NaNoWriMo novel) to get done first. I have to get ready to hit the publisher and agent circuit with the polished books. I also want to write a few more stories in the Ahn-Tarqa setting to better help me understand the events that unfold in this novel; mounds of new data surfaced as I wrote the book, and I need to play around with them in isolated works to see how they operate.

So . . . after a break today from any sort of fiction writing (I never took off a single day during the past twenty-three days, and my mind is a touch fried), tomorrow I switch back into “editor” mode and tackle that huge stack of drafts of stories and novels.

Review: Batman/Doc Savage Special #1

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

DC Comic’s Batman/Doc Savage Special #1, a one-shot designed to set up a new alternate universe called The First Wave, hit the newsstand last week. As I posted before, this is one of few mainstream superhero comic ideas that to really excite me over the past two years, since it would re-imagine the modern comic heroes into the world of 1930s pulp. No super-powers, no aliens, just guns and gadgets . . . plus the re-appearance onto the comics pages of the some of the classic figures of the pulps.

When I bought Batman/Doc Savage Special #1 at my local comic book store, it was the first time I had bought a “monthly” mag in a few years. Usually, I wait to purchase trade paperbacks, but this was a must-have. There was no way I could wait until this got collected with the issues of the upcoming regular First Wave series, which doesn’t start until March. And, unfortunately, Batman/Doc Savage Special was over all too quickly. Another reason I usually don’t buy monthlies and wait for the book publication.

21 November 2009

Movie Review: Son of Godzilla

Son of Godzilla (1967)
Directed by Jun Fukuda. Starring Tadao Takashima, Akira Kubo, Bibari “Beverly” Maeda, Akihiko Hirata, Kenji Sahara, Yoshio Tsuchiya.

By the second half of the 1960s, Japanese cinema was coming to the height of kaiju (giant monster) craziness. Ironically, at this time the Godzilla series took a bit of a budget hit and shifted its direction. Toho placed much of its top kaiju talent on films such as Frankenstein Conquers the World and King Kong Escapes. The Godzilla movies moved away from massive city-stomping epics and instead went off to the islands for a cheaper vacation.

Son of Godzilla (Kaiju Toh No Kessen: Gojira No Musuko, “Showdown on Monster Island: Son of Godzilla”) was the second of the “island” pictures, and also the second Godzilla film directed by Jun Fukuda. Much of the same crew that worked on the previous year’s Ebirah, the Horror of the Deep (a.k.a. Godzilla versus the Sea Monster) came back for this second tropical adventure. Along with Fukuda, there was also effects director Teisho Arikawa and composer Masaru Sato. Although it is tempting to call this the “B-squad” of monster-movie making, they ended up crafting two fine and underrated films in the series. After the heavy SF spectacles of the previous films, the adventure movie aspects of both are refreshing.

18 November 2009

Star Trek 2009 on DVD

Yesterday was the official Region 1 release of the Star Trek (2009) DVD. Amazon.com, with its usual promptness, delivered the two-disc edition right to my door, along with a fresh new copy of the classic Jimmy Stewart Western, Broken Arrow (1950)—a film I promise I’ll give a good going over on this blog some time in the near future. I used watching Trek ‘09 as a reward for making my requisite word-count on my novel for the day. Movie-viewing rewards I’ve found are among the best ways to encourage me to sit down and keep writing. And there’s something about the grand optimism of classic Trek that is conducive to my writing.

Although I enjoyed the new film immensely during its first run, I only watched Star Trek ‘09 once while it was in theaters. You can read my original review here, but I was eager to see how the film stands up on disc and after a few months of pondering it, reading other reviews, and watching the cultural impact.

17 November 2009

Book Review: Web of the Witch World

Web of the Witch World
By Andre Norton (1964)

As I wrote last week, my feelings about Andre Norton’s popular fantasy novel Witch World have improved since the time I first read it, so I decided it was the right moment—with the travils of earth-vistor Simon Tregarth fresh in my mind—to move into the direct sequel, the following year’s Web of the Witch World. The title refers to the net of control that the mysterious Kolder of the first novel have spread throughout the continent. This is second adventure of the “Estcarp Cycle,” and picks up with the discoveries about the Kolder made at the end of Witch World: they are alien visitors from another world who arrived in this world of magic and feuding medieval nations (influenced by the Crusaders Kingdoms) through a gateway, much the same way that Simon Tregarth did.

Web of the Witch World has the same intricate political backdrop as the first novel, but it moves faster and delves deeper into the Kolder danger, finally offering a resolution that makes it almost a necessary read after the first book. The Kolder bring more of their scientific abilities, including submarines, energy weapons, and full mind-control devices into play, and the novel moves farther from straight-forward fantasy and into the realm of science fantasy. The cover I’ve picked to show here captures the sharp turn away from the more fantasy-themed first novel to the science fiction that was more common in Norton’s early writing.

16 November 2009

Book Review: Conan the Hunter

So right now I am at 58,600 words on my new novel. I’m moving at a steadier pace than the earlier, headier days of NaNoWriMo, and that’s positive for this part of the novel, where the pieces are coming together for the finale and the book has hit a rhythm that doesn’t need the faster run to keep it moving. I still expect around 75,000 words, but I sense the possibility of 80,000. Regardless, I should have it finished before November 30th.

And what about today’s Black Gate post? I dug a bit into my archives to find some reviews on Conan pastiches I’ve never published and found one: Conan the Hunter by Sean A. Moore. I’ve yet to publish a review of one of Moore’s Conan novels (he only wrote three), and now’s the time to fix that. So while I keep on focused on my book and three other writing projects that need finishing in the next few weeks (I’ll let you know more as the info because relevant), please enjoy another foray into the non-Howard Conan land and it’s pain and occasional joys.

13 November 2009

I win again

50,195 words.

I win. Again.

The 50,000th word of my novel for National Novel Writing Month 2009 is “I.” Which makes complete sense as the novel is written in first-person.

In fact, that might be an encapsulation of the difficulties and joys of writing this novel. This is the first novel I’ve written in first-person. I had previously only done a handful of short stories using this POV, but since one of those stories is the lead-in to this novel, the novel required that POV as well. Sometimes, getting so deep into the main character’s head is wonderful; the trouble is, I can’t actually get out of it either. Everything must come through the filter of her perceptions.

Here is the complete sentence where I hit the 50,000-word mark:
"Different how?" I knew why, but if I didn't ask, it would seem suspicious.
Last year, I reached this point in a café, but this year I was in the much less thrilling location of my apartment and sitting before my iMac.

The book still isn’t finished. It has at least another 25,000 words to go, but at this point I can feel the shift moving toward the finale. The last few days were the “hump” I have to struggle through with each book, filled with extreme frustrations, so I hope that the remaining noveling of the month will move smoothly toward the planned exciting conclusion.

Tonight, I celebrate with popcorn, champagne, and a double-feature of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Godzilla: Final Wars.

And tomorrow . . . onward!

10 November 2009

Write-or-Die spreads fear toxin from your desktop

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

I crossed the 37,000 word line today in my novel. And this get me to thinking about some of writing help that other National Novel Writing Month folks use…

Last year I did a series of posts about the “hi-tech lo-tech” devices that have emerged to help authors remove themselves from the distractions of today’s tech-crammed environment. The temptations that lure people away from writing seem to increase exponentially with each month, but these clever creations have found ways to use technology to create settings that don’t evoke technology, combining ease of use with the simple feeling of a clean sheet of typing paper. I’m as devoted this year as I was last year to the Alphasmart NEO and WriteRoom (which has a PC equivalent called DarkRoom), but I had reservations about the third lo-tech helper I discussed, Write-or-Die, the work of a certain Jeff “Dr. Wicked” Printy.

I blogged at the time that Write-or-Die wasn’t the sort of writing help that I needed: a web application that provides punishment if the writer did not continue to pound away at the keys in a steady beat. Many people love it, and claim they would never meet any of their daily deadlines without the program’s specter of terror, like the Scarecrow from Batman Begins hovering over them with his fear toxin, forcing them to dash forward. But I never found it that useful a tool—and I had a fear of losing my writing that was stronger than Write-or-Die’s punishments of annoying sounds and un-typing my last few words.

However, Dr. Wicked has a November present for writers: a desktop version of Write-or-Die, which he wrote using Adobe AIR so it runs on both PCs and Mac OS X. It isn’t free like the older online version, but Dr. Wicked asks for the modest fee of $10 for the application. If you find the online version immensely helpful, you’ll discover the desktop version doubly so because of its new features, and worth the investment.

I took the desktop Write-or-Die for a spin, and it does provide a major improvement in functionality, giving users visual control that they lacked on the online version. For me, the biggest improvement is the lesser fear about losing my hard-typed prose to some internet error or a wonky “auto-paste” to the clipboard. (This never worked for me on the online version, so I always did a “select all-copy” before leaving the screen.) Hitting the “done” button on the application saves the document in a text file onto the hard drive, and writers can save multiple times and overwrite the old file. The program even asks you if you want to provide a chapter marker when you do a further save.

The full-screen feature and the ability to format the screen with the common web fonts and different colors are also immensely appealing. And there’s finally a “tab” function! The lack of any kind of “tab” was one of my serious gripes with the online Write-or-Die. Although the desktop program doesn’t add an an actual tab character, instead making three spaces, this at least breaks up text on the screen for easier reading. The application also allows users to disable the “done” button (and hence the ability to save) until the reach the word- or time-goal they set before starting the session.

Other advantages: users can choose their own annoying sound, set any time or word goal desires instead of settling for the menu choices, and greater control over the grace period before the punishment starts. Still no electro-shocks, as promised. Get to work on that, Wicked Ph.D. (Or should I just come out with it and call you Dr. Jonathan Crane?)

It’s all good stuff . . . but I am still not going to use Write-or-Die for any of my important fiction writing. Even with all these new advantages, the push-push-push “where there’s a whip there’s a way” style of writing doesn’t work for me. I write speedily as it is, and I do believe in concentrated writing, letting energy flow, and not turning back to make extensive edits when working on a first draft, but I only need a block of time, a full-screen writing environment like WriteRoom, and a stopwatch hidden on the desktop to clang after the period of time I’ve promised myself to fill up to get me into a good authorial zone. I don’t go back far to do any tinkering—that sort of editing would kill my forward momentum—but I often need a bit of time to think about the next sentence or idea before moving forward. I don’t see this as wasted time, but productive writing time and part of the process. When I use Write-or-Die, I find myself thinking too much about time and numbers, and not about what I’m writing; this make Write-or-Die a form of distraction. The improvements for the desktop edition are great ones, and I’ll use it for writing experiments and “sprints” to get ideas flowing, more than I ever did the online version, but it doesn’t jell with my standard writing style.

However, it does work for many writers and gives them a boost of energy. For them the desktop edition will come as a gift from the muses. Well, not a gift, but ten bucks is a bargain.

08 November 2009

Book Review: Witch World

Witch World
Andre Norton (Ace, 1963)

I am about to reach my NaNoWriMo word-count goal for the weekend of 34,000 words—which means I have added 10,000 words over Friday and Saturday. So let me take a breather before the last 1,600 word dash for tonight and give you a book review. A review of the sort of book that helps me focus on what I want to achieve in my writing.

Andre Norton (born Alice Norton) is one the great masters of the Young Adult science-fiction novel, or as it was termed when she was first publishing, “juveniles.” But like Robert A. Heinlein, the other great in this field during the 1950s, nothing about her novels was “juevnile” in a derogatory sense. These books have just as much appeal to adults as they do to the teenage boys to whom they were initially marketed. Where Heinlein often wrote about younger main characters, and put his books in a milieu that highlighted politics, technology, and society, Norton wrote straightforward adventure tales, usually starring tough loners male figures.

Norton had a long and prolific career, the sort that makes even highly successful authors feel blocked and embarrassed. Successful speculative fiction writer C. J. Cherryh once remarked: “I’ve seen a complete collection of Andre Norton’s books, and it haunts me to this day, sort of like the sight of an unscalable Everest.” In the last decade of her life, Norton principally worked on collaborations with other authors such as Mercedes Lackey, Lyn McConchie, and Sherwood Smith. Norton died in 2005, and the recent dearth of titles from her on the bookstore shelves is due to the legal wrangling over her estate, which comprises a the massive number of volumes. According to her official website, the legal issues were finally settled in March of this year, and many of her books should start reappearing in book stores.

07 November 2009

NaNoWriMo 2009: Week 1

Midnight tonight brings an end to the first week of National Novel Writing Month 2009, the first 168 hours of novel writing. To keep pace for making 50,000 words by midnight on the 30th, writers should have reached 11,669 words by the end of today. Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo, posted a video at the website urging everyone to push to get to 15,000 by the end of Monday. A good sentiment; I wish the video weren’t so freakin’ embarrassing to watch. Seriously, Chris, an Ewok? You think an Ewok will inspire people? BRING ON GODZILLA! Now that’s inspiration.

Me? I’m at a touch over 30,000 words. This puts me on pace for most of the first drafts I’ve written, including the book for NaNoWriMo last year. I’m a touch ahead from last year, but that’s because I took a day off from writing anything during the first week of last year’s NaNoWriMo, and I’ve written every day this year so far.

Observations on the first week? Is it different than last year? It’s a new novel, a different world, so that’s quite different, of course. I’m doing freelance and tutor work instead of doing a day job, so that alters everything. And I went in with less planning on the novel than last year, so I feel my work this year is a bit “wobblier,” but I don’t have a fear that what I’m writing is unsalvageable garbage. I won’t really have a good opinion of it until I read through it a month after I finish it. But so far, it seems close to what I anticipated it might be. Even though it looks like I’m writing in a fast delirium, I do take care as I write, use the backspace, make minor edits, and try not to simply pound out random thoughts when I get stuck. That works for some people, but I do need my first draft to feel cohesive, if not necessarily “good.” My high word count comes not from speed, but from training myself over years of writing to simply sit down and just write and not get up until I’ve put in the promised time. In some parts of my life, I’m not very disciplined, but when it comes to writing, I’m fierce about it.

Once I finish this “Weekend of 10,000 words” I’ll drop down to shorter amounts during the workweek . . . but if I have my pattern properly marked out, I should make it to 50,000 words on Sunday the fifteenth. However, I can already see that the book will go to around 75,000 words, so I’m in for the full month haul like last year. I think 75,000 is my magic first draft number. It seems the right start for a Young Adult novel.

05 November 2009

Movie Review: Godzilla Raids Again

I’ve gained enough momentum on my National Novel Writing Month Book, reaching 21,607 words today, that I thought I could throw a review at you. And it’s been far too long since I reviewed a Japanese special effects film.

Godzilla Raids Again (1955)
Original U.S. title: Gigantis the Fire Monster (1959)
Directed by Motoyoshi Oda. Starring Hiroshi Koizumi, Setsuko Wakayama, Yukio Kazama, Minoru Chiaki, Takashi Shimura, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Haruo Nakajima.

Godzilla Raids Again is the first sequel to Godzilla (1954), the film that gave Japan a new genre and the world a new iconic monster. Chances are good that, unless you’re a fan of Japanese cinema, you haven’t heard of Godzilla Raids Again—or at least, not under that name. Usually, the second installment in a long-running series is one of the best-known, but that isn’t the case with Godzilla Raids Again. Although it is an inferior film to the first by a substantial margin, its obscurity has more to do with the way it was released in the U.S. in 1959 than with its substandard quality. After all, Godzilla vs. Megalon is atrocious, and it’s one of the most widely seen of all Godzilla films. (Unfortunately.)

Paul Schreibman, the producer of the U.S. version of Godzilla Raids Again, decided to re-title the film Gigantis: The Fire Monster. Not only did Godzilla lose his name on the marquee, but the dubbing stole it away from him as well, changing the film from a sequel to a “new” movie with a “new” monster. Schreibman misjudged the possible box-office appeal of the name “Godzilla” (and, to be fair, the monster only had a single film to his credit at the time) and tried to pass this off as a different monster. It was poor decision, as evidenced by the general anonymity of this film among the public. Not until 2006 did Godzilla get his name back on the film stateside, when Classic Media released a DVD of both the original Japanese and Americanized versions. They even digitally added the title Godzilla Raids Again over the spot where Gigantis: The Fire Monster had appeared on the American version… although the dubbing still insists on calling the creature “Gigantis.”

03 November 2009

Novel-boosting movie scenes

First off, I crossed the 10,000 word-mark today for National Novel Writing Month, making for a great two-day start. I anticipate a busy week, so I wanted a strong head of steam going in. In general, a book goes better if I can get momentum worked up at the beginning, instead of having to fight to get it later. Unfortunately, I can’t show you the actual progress with a word-count widget on this blog yet, because the tech people at NaNoWriMo haven’t activated them yet because they have to deal with the most insane surge in site hits and sign-ups the event has ever experienced. I do hope that they’ll finally be able to turn the widgets on tomorrow—I really miss having the progress report glaring at me from on my website.

And, believe it or not, I have a Black Gate post for you today. It has a connection with NaNoWriMo, but without specific a mention. I’ve provided a list of my favorite movie scenes that I use for “inspiration” when it comes to writing a novel. Not necessarily story inspiration, just “get to it” inspiration. The Road Warrior contains ones of these scenes, as you might guess from the picture. (And you thought I would actually review The Road Warrior? A favorite film, but I think most of what can be said about it has been said. It’s the rare film that I love, but which I don’t feel like discussing at great length.)