Friday, July 28, 2006

On the road again

July is kicking my butt. Tomorrow I'm hitting the road again, this time to a lakeside resort with my family for a week. I hate that I'm not spending as much time on the blog this month as I want -- and if there was an Internet connection where we're going, I'd be blogging from there -- but that's the way it's going.

This should be it for a while though. I'm staying home after this.

Writing is Hard: Blowing up the Death Star

It's our fault. Our technology warped nature and created the beasts. We showed the planet that we hated it, and it found a way to hate us back. For the last fifty years the human race have been helpless before the monsters. We've run; we've hidden; we've cowered; we've died. But half a century is long enough. Humanity has developed a weapon that can fight back.

I'm working on a comic with Jason (Empty Chamber) Copland called Forces of Nature. It's about giant robots fighting giant monsters, sort of a cross between Transformers and Godzilla with a healthy helping of Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. The logo above is what happens when I try to convert a TIF into a JPG, which I have to do for some reason to get it to show up in Blogger. I don't hate those colors, but they're not "official." Then again, I suppose it's early enough in the life of this thing that nothing's official. The Florida State fan in me sort of likes this version. If you want to see the way it was designed though, click on the logo and it'll take you to the huge, original file.

That was an ugly digression. What I was going to say about Forces of Nature is that it's not just a book about giant monsters and giant robots beating the crap out of each other. That would get old and I wouldn't want to read it, much less write it. So, when Jason and I started really talking about making this book happen, I backed as far away from twenty-two pages of slugfest as I could. I spent my time thinking about the setting and the characters and how it was all going to develop. That's good, but I went too far and my first script lacked the excitement you'd expect from a book about monsters and robots wailing on each other.

Fortunately, we have an editor who knows what he's doing. Jason Rodriguez also edits the excellent, critically-acclaimed, Harvey Award nominated comic Elk's Run. The first thing he did when we brought him into Forces of Nature was to inject some serious thrills into the book again. We haven't lost any of the character development or the cool setting, but the first scene went from a lackluster fight between a giant monster and six airplanes to a glorious battle with thirty planes weaving and diving around each other as they try to bring the beast down.

Rodriguez also helped with the ending. My original ending was appropriate for the growth of the main character, but it was sort of like ending Star Wars with Luke's decision to follow Obi Wan to Alderaan. It's a major step for Luke and a complete story in its way, but would anyone really have been interested in The Empire Strikes Back if the first movie had ended there? You need to blow up the Death Star at the end to make it exciting. And that's what Rodriguez did. He reminded me that I needed to blow up the Death Star.

It doesn't seem that profound now, but it was a big revelation for me. I've spent the last couple of years thinking about and working on the craft of writing; making sure that there's a real story in the story and not just mindless plot. But damn it, you have to have some fun too. The balance between those two is where I need to be.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Check It Out: Douglas Preston interview

Bookgasm made me a Douglas Preston/Lincoln Child fan. Now they've interviewed the Preston half of the team in a nice conversation about the writers' partnership, movie adaptations of their work (including The Relic), and what we should be reading.

On the partnership: "Neither one of us has the final say. When we’ve found ourselves at loggerheads, which happened early on, when we were both absolutely unyielding in our beliefs, we said, 'There’s obviously a problem with both our approaches, so let’s throw them both out and find a third way.' And that third way has always worked better."

"When (Child) came up with the idea for Utopia, he originally brought it to the partnership and said, 'Wouldn’t it be great to do a thriller set in a theme park?' and I just had no interest in it. I don’t like theme parks. It was just a personal thing. So I said, 'That’s a really good idea for a novel, but it’s not for me.' I just didn’t want to spend a year of my life in this theme park."

On movies: "Unfortunately, Pendergast (a major character in many Preston/Child novels) is owned by Paramount Pictures. Even though he didn’t appear in The Relic, when they bought the novel, they bought the character rights. So the only one who can make a Pendergast movie is Paramount, which has had a chilling effect on any progress."

On reading material: "I used to like Michael Crichton, but his last few haven’t thrilled me as much. I think he takes a hot-button topic and a controversial stance just to get people riled up, and I think that’s manipulative. However, I will say that The Andromeda Strain is one of the great novels. I mean it. If he had never written anything else, he’d still be thought of as a great writer."

Writing is Hard: Branding yourself

At Comic-Con I met a writer named Caleb Monroe whose work I've enjoyed. Caleb's got a marketing idea that I like too. I don't know if I'm bold enough to adopt it myself, but I like how he's thinking. He's considering creating a logo for his name that would go not only on his website and business cards, but also on the credits page of any comic he writes.

What I dig about this is that Caleb's figuring out ways to turn himself into a brand. Newsarama had an article about this recently. A logo is one way to do it, but the Newsarama columnist, Eric (Lackluster World) Adams, focuses on the way you present yourself in public. How you build your reputation. Mention Alan Moore, for example, and people will think of the long-haired, scary-looking mage before they've picked out a single, definitive work to associate with him. Grant Morrison is the rock star. Todd McFarlane, the abrasive sports fanatic. I doubt that McFarlane intended for "abrasive" to become part of his brand, but that's the point of Adams' article: you have to be aware of how you're presenting yourself or you risk acquiring a negative brand.

This is something I need to work on. Not that I struggle with being a jerk; I'm a pretty nice guy. But "nice guy" isn't a strong brand, and I need to give more thought to developing my brand without becoming fake or something I'm not in the process.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Destiny! Destiny! No escaping that for me!

July is killing me. Between a long Independence Day trip, Comic-Con, and a family vacation next week, I'm just not around much this month and I apologize. Next month should be less hectic.

Something I wanted to post before Comic-Con was a link to Bookgasm's review of Rogue Angel: Destiny by Alex Archer. I doubt I would've picked it up from the cover alone. Looks like a book about a fallen angel and the Heaven vs. Hell on Earth thing is played out. Fortunately (and this is going to be weird to say), Rogue Angel seems to be ripping off Lara Croft more than Neil Gaiman.

Now, I'd rather read actual Gaiman than Tomb Raider any day. But if we're talking about derivative material, I'm much more interested in a story about a hot motorcycle-riding treasure hunter fighting robed assassins in foreign locales over the sword of Joan of Arc than I am in something by an author who's trying to imitate the inimitable.

I'm a little concerned about the hot treasure hunter's ability to will the sword to appear and disappear in her hands, but I'm going to hope that that's adequately explained in the book and that the Rogue Angel title doesn't mean that our heroine is somehow actually a magically powered angel and just doesn't know it. 'Cause then we're back in Gaiman-rip-off territory again.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Gone Conventioning

I've just been crazy busy lately trying to get ready for Comic-Con International: San Diego. I'm planning to meet up with a lot of friends there, but I'll also be using the time to pitch a comic series or two to publishers. There are some details about one of them here.

So, that's why I've been neglectful in posting lately and why I'm liable to continue that trend for the rest of this week. It sucks too, 'cause there's quite a bit of stuff I've been saving up to talk about.

I'll do it next week and tell you all about the show too.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

With his faithful, hot companion...

Doctor Who Third Season SPOILERS below:

A while back I posted about Billie Piper's leaving Doctor Who and mentioned that the rumored replacement was British soap actress Freema Agyeman. Agyeman was in the last couple of Piper's episodes, so the speculation was that her character would replace Piper's as the Doctor's companion. Speculation was half-right.

Agyeman is in fact going to play the next companion, but not as the character she played at the end of this season. This character's name is Martha Jones and didn't die at the hands of the Cybermen.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

But you HAVE heard of me!

Captain Jack Sparrow may be the worst pirate that Commodore Norrington had ever heard of, but he made Newsday's list of the Top Ten Best. The full list goes:

10. Patchy and Painty
9. Jean LaFoote
8. Blackbeard and Jean Lafitte
7. The Crimson Pirate
6. The Dragon Lady
5. Jack Sparrow
4. The Black Pirate
3. Errol Flynn
2. Captain Hook
1. Long John Silver

They seem to have awarded extra points for innovation and trend-setting, so I'm not going to argue their picks. Jack's my favorite of the bunch, but he does owe a lot to at least the top three names on the list. If nothing else, the list is useful because it brought The Black Pirate and The Crimson Pirate to my attention.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Happy "Some Pig" Day!

I have a soft spot for talking animal stories. Maybe one day I'll analyze that and tell you what I figure out.

In the meantime, today is the 107th birthday of Charlotte's Web author E.B. White. According to Garrison Keillor, White and his wife "eventually moved to a farmhouse in Maine, where White kept animals. He was particularly fond of his pigs and felt guilty about turning them into ham and bacon. One day, while he was walking through his orchard, carrying a pail of slop to his pig, he got an idea for a story about how a pig's life could be saved. He said, 'I had been watching a large spider in the backhouse, and what with one thing and another, the idea came to me.'"

Monday, July 10, 2006

Doctor Who: The Lost Episodes (and what the BBC's doing about them)

One of the thorns in my side regarding my love for Doctor Who has always been that whoever's in charge of these things won't just release a season-by-season series of DVD box sets for my collecting ease. Instead, they just put out sets of random stories from all over the show's long history.

I thought that Doctor Who: The Beginning might be a step towards correcting that trend, but it's probably not. And the clue to why may be right there in that set. The Beginning collects the earliest Doctor Who episodes, about half of the first season. It's got all the episodes of the first three story arcs, but when it gets to the fourth, "Marco Polo," it only has 30-minute condensed version and the explanation that the rest of the story is "lost."

Apparently, "Marco Polo" isn't the only story of the series to have missing pieces, and that would make a comprehensive, chronological collection difficult to produce for sure. Another story with lost episodes is "The Invasion," a Cybermen episode from Patrick Troughton's time as the Doctor during the show's sixth season. Two episodes are missing from the story, but what's cool about this one is that the soundtracks survived and the BBC has arranged for the episodes to be re-created as cartoons for DVD release.

It looks like I'm still going to have to collect the series haphazardly, but I love that the BBC is doing what it can to get even the lost stories out. You can see a teaser for the recreated episodes here.

Friday, July 07, 2006

To Read: Ten Second Staircase

Bookgasm comes through again with another recommendation going on my To Read list. Ten Second Staircase is the latest in a series, so actually there are four books going on the list: this one and the previous Full Dark House, Seventy-Seven Clocks, and The Water Room.

Part of the attraction comes from the fact that I share my last name with one of the series' detectives, but mostly I'm all about the villain of Ten Second Staircase, a "V for Vendetta-style masked, caped rogue" called The Highwayman. It's also a locked-room mystery and I'm a sucker for those, especially ones that get compared to Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie.


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