Thursday, August 31, 2006

Happy "From Hell" Day

At about 4:00 in the morning, 118 years ago today, a patrolling constable in Whitechapel discovered the body of Mary Ann Nichols near a slaughterhouse. She was Jack the Ripper's first victim.

Writing is Hard: Letting go

In his most recent Newsarama column, Marvel Comics' Editor-in-Chief and artist Joe Quesada said something about the act of creating that got my attention.

When a fan asked him how he stores his comic collection, Joe used the question to seque into another topic: "I have next to nothing of the comics created over my tenure in my collection. I remember an artist once telling me that you will never be able to do your best work until you lose reverence for the work that you do. I found that to be an incredible truth about creation, if you hold it too dear you tend to focus on the tree and not the forest. It's the same with what I do as EIC. While I love the books that we're currently producing and feel that we get better with every issue, I don't hold any of it in reverence or permanence. Spend too much time admiring any accomplishment or holding onto one for too long, don't be surprised if you never have any more."

I've written some stuff that I'm pretty proud of, but I'm green enough that I haven't really been tempted to fall in love with my own work yet. It's an interesting, potential pitfall though that kind of goes along with the concept of "killing your darlings." I can see how getting emotionally attached to your work could cause you to lose the objectivity you need to know when it needs to be better. Something to keep in mind for later.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

To See: Giant Monsters Attack Japan!

Because I'm writing a comic about giant monsters destroying the world, I'm interested in other stuff going on in the genre. I don't know if this counts, but Trey Parker and Matt Stone are making a movie called Giant Monsters Attack Japan! Production starts next year.

Because it's them, expect it to be intentionally corny. Especially since they'll be using guys in rubber suits to play the monsters.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

It's times like this that I wished I lived in Britain

I'm so behind on all the Doctor Who news.

Apparently, there's a Captain Jack spin-off in the works called Torchwood that'll air on BBC Three this fall. I don't know how I feel about that. On the one hand, Captain Jack is a cool character and I'm interested in seeing a show about his adventures. On the other, I can see myself not enjoying it because I'd be constantly troubled about the fact that there was no Doctor in it. Best to give it a shot and see, I guess.

Too bad they've scuttled the Rose Tyler spin-off. At least it would've had Billie Piper in it.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Lost action figures

McFarlane Toys has released images of their line of Lost action figures and playsets. They don't look like the kind of thing you can really play with, but man are they ever pretty.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Hotel Transylvania

Anthony Stacchi and David Feiss are directing an animated movie called Hotel Transylvania. They describe it as a domestic drama a la The Sopranos, but with classic monster characters. The Bride of Frankenstein is leaving the Monster; Dracula's Daughter is causing problems for her dad; the Wolf Man and the Mummy have troubles of their own. So far, so good.

What concerns me is the comedic level of the previous work of the two directors (see below), as well as their take on the concept. In an interview with Sci Fi Wire, Stacchi says, "As a kid... I always felt bad for the monsters. I didn't get the sort of Victorian horror of Frankenstein and Dracula. I was like, 'Why don't they leave them alone? Why are they beating them up? Why do they shoot King Kong? Leave them alone.' And I always wanted to do a movie where you'd get to see that other side of them and see why they were these sort of sad, tortured souls. I mean, Frankenstein didn't ask to be made. Werewolf didn't ask to be made a werewolf. Or the rest of them."

The thing is, King Kong, Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man did a pretty darn good job showing that their monsters were both sad and tortured. There's no need for a cartoon made by the creators of Open Season and ALF: The Animated Series to hammer that idea home. As for "the rest of them," maybe I didn't see the same versions of those movies that Stacchi did, but I'm pretty sure that Dracula and the Mummy were just evil and deserved what they got.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

To Read: The Evidence of the Sword

Speaking of Dean Koontz's Frankenstein books, he's plotted them, but isn't writing them by himself. One of his collaborators (on the not-yet-released third book in the series) is crime author Ed Gorman, who I bring up because he's got a new column at Bookgasm called "What Ed Read."

In his first article, Gorman recommends The Evidence of the Sword, a collection of mystery stories by swashbuckler writer Rafael Sabatini. So, the author of Captain Blood and Scaramouche also wrote "deductive detective fiction set in various historical times?" Sold!

Thanks, Ed!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Review: (Dean Koontz's) Frankenstein

I've been on a Frankenstein kick lately and finally got around to seeing the made-for-TV movie that Dean Koontz helped create and then disassociated himself from. Koontz decided to publish his version as a book series instead, which made me really curious about how bad the TV version could be.

Turns out, it wasn't as bad as I imagined. I like the idea of casting two comedic actors (Parker Posey and Adam Goldberg) as the detectives on the trail of a serial killer. It freshens up the characters who'd have otherwise been cookie-cutter. Nice use of Michael Madsen too, who plays what you think is the exact same character he always plays, but then turns out to be someone completely different. It's kind of the equivalent of casting Sean Bean in a role where he doesn't turn out to be a traitorous villain halfway through the movie, or casting Brian Dennehy in a role where he turns out to be a really nice guy.

I don't know what Koontz's problems were with the movie (I've got -- but haven't yet read -- the first book in his series), but one nitpick I have with it is that they don't have the guts to call the mad scientist Dr. Frankenstein. Instead, they give him the lame name Dr. Helios and claim that he's the inspiration for Mary Shelley's novel. I guess that's probably because Frankenstein dies at the end of the novel, but some retroactive tweaking of Shelley's version of events could have fixed that. Oh, well.

The doctor's motivation was pretty cool. He's been making creatures for the last couple of hundred years and is a perfectionist. He doesn't think of his creations as human, so he simply discards previous versions on his quest for the perfect model. When one of those previous versions starts a killing spree, that gets Posey and Goldberg involved. Eventually the doctor's first creation (the inspiration for Frankenstein's monster) shows up and helps the detectives track down the killer.

As a serial killer movie, it ain't half bad. As a Frankenstein movie, I'd rather have seen a more direct connection to Shelley's book, like I said, and the Monster was too good looking (like in the Hallmark adaptation, but with big scars instead of a skin condition), but still... not a bad movie. It's got me excited to read Koontz's books to see what he does differently.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

30 Days of Night Movie Update: Building Barrow

Speaking of world-building, somewhere -- in a secret workshop -- Barrow, Alaska is being built. Before long it'll be populated by Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, and a ton of the ugliest, nastiest, scariest bloodsuckers you ever did see.

Pretty cool.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Writing is Hard: World-building

Romance editor Anna Louise Genoese wrote a cool article on... well, it's on rejection letters, but that's not why I'm linking to it. Rejection letters are cool. I collect them. They mean that I'm actually submitting stuff, which means that I need to have a lot more than I do. But like I said: not the reason I'm bringing the article up.

In critiquing a specific rejection letter, Anna Louise talks about writing good, historical fiction; something that I'm interested in doing. She says: "The most common problem that I have noticed in historicals that are submitted to me is [that]... [a]ll the dialogue and narrative is very contemporary, but the setting is 1272 Occitania (or whatever). It's very hard to find a balance between historical accuracy and the contemporary..."

I know that's true. I once wrote an historical novella and made the choice to write the dialogue in a contemporary style. I rationalized that if I was going to be historically accurate, the dialogue would be unreadable, but I get now what Anna Louise is saying. In fact, some trusted writer friends at the time tried to tell me the same thing and I refused to listen. You can write dialogue in a narrative voice that sounds historical, even when it's not completely accurate. But it's not easy.

It's the literary equivalent of hiring British actors to star in your period film set in Germany. They won't be speaking German or even have German accents, but American audiences at least will accept it because it sounds old and European to them.

"Another problem that goes hand in hand with this one is the problem of research. Both published and unpublished historical authors often don't do enough research, which results in people who know anything about the particular time period cringing. OR! Or authors do too much research and then want to cram in every single thing they know about the time period. Which results in everyone cringing..."

[Transporting the reader back in time] is world building. It's not about flowery language. It's about adding in the details that make the world your characters live in real. World building is not just something that sf and fantasy authors have to do -- it's something every author has to do. I have never been to Olathe, Kansas, so if someone writes a book about Olathe, KS, I want there to be details that make the setting come alive in my mind. I want to be able to picture what it looks like and understand the way the characters feel about their location. The same goes for the time period."

She goes on to list a bunch of details you'd want to include in a story set in Olathe in, say, the '60s, before saying, "Then the question becomes, how can you convey these things to the readers without boring the crap out of them? There's no easy answer to that! Read a lot of historical novels and see how those authors do it. Then take their techniques and make those techniques work for you."

That's something that I plan to do. I've got a lot of historical fiction on my Reading List, so one thing I'll be paying attention to as I go through the pile is how the authors balance historical and contemporary prose, as well as the amount of detail their research has uncovered.

Anna Louise closes by giving plenty of links to sites that help writers know what kinds of questions they should be asking (and answering) when building a setting, so the whole entry is a very useful, highly recommended read.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Review: Hallmark's Frankenstein

Even though I didn't care much for their take on Blackbeard, I'm a huge fan of Frankenstein and wanted to see how Hallmark handled it. Pretty well, it turns out.

It's not flawless, but it is the most faithful adaptation of the book I've ever seen. I'm a huge fan of Kenneth Branagh and his movies but I'm still miffed at him for making something called Mary Shelley's Frankenstein that has the nerve to include a scene of Frankenstein's making a second creature out of Elizabeth's corpse. Hallmark's version was faithful enough that when it was on TV, it ran a disclaimer at the beginning saying that teachers could record it and use it in their classrooms.

Even the monster looked more or less the way Shelley describes him, and that's a big deal to me because my definitive look of the monster will always be the way Bernie Wrightson drew him based on Shelley's description. That was another big disappointment of Branagh's film: DeNiro's bald creature.

Hallmark's version of the monster isn't perfect though. He's actually not monstrous enough. Some more work on the make-up to make him look dead was needed and they should have distorted the actor's voice to make it deeper and more gravelly. As it was, he looked and sounded like a nice young man with a skin condition. He certainly didn't come across as the kind of person who would cause people to go mad with fear; running in terror or driving him from their homes with beatings and curses. It made the first half of the film hard to buy. Why was Dr. Frankenstein (played by the guy who played Paul Atreides in the SciFi Channel's version of Dune) so repulsed? Why did the blind man's father chase the monster away, even after an explanation that it was the monster who'd been chopping all the family's firewood for the last few days? You need a really nasty-looking monster to pull that off.

Once you get into the second half of the movie though, and the creature's relationship with the world is just part of the backstory, the cat-and-mouse game he plays with Frankenstein is exciting and compelling. Frankenstein, as in the novel, has proven himself to be such a jerk that you're actually rooting for the monster at this point. You hate what he does to Elizabeth, but you actually kind of understand his point of view. He's wrong and you wish he wouldn't do it, but you don't hate him a tenth as much as he hates himself. And you're just as frustrated as he is with Frankenstein who just. won't. give him. what he. wants! For God's sake, man, just make the other creature and let it be over!

Same feeling I got from the book.

I'm buying this one. I wish that the monster could've looked and sounded more horrifying, but other than that (and a bad German accent by William Hurt when everyone else is content to use their own), it's an excellent adaptation of the greatest monster story ever told.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

In the Village

We never had re-runs of The Prisoner when I was growing up, so I've never seen an episode of it. What I know about it is two things: a) all my friends who've seen it, love it and b) it was cancelled before it ever revealed what the heck was going on. I'm afraid that b) has always overshadowed a) and kept me from being too interested.

But now, Christopher Nolan (Memento, Batman Begins, The Prestige) is reportedly very close to signing a deal with Universal to direct a movie version. I may never know (or care) what it was like to watch the original series, but I'm always up for a Nolan film so this is close enough.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

We can live forever, barring accidents

I hadn't dared hope it would be so soon, but the second season of Doctor Who -- with David Tennant as the Doctor -- will get going in the States on the SciFi Channel on September 29th. And you know what that means, don't you?

More Rose.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Happy Rob Roy Day!

Sir Walter Scott would've been 235 years old today.

I loved Ivanhoe as a twelve-year-old and have been meaning to re-read it ever since. I was disappointed to learn that Rob Roy had as much to do with the movie as the actual Robin Hood legends do with that Kevin Costner flick, but it was still a good read. Scott knew his way around an adventure story. Action, drama, romance... he had it all.

Friday, August 11, 2006

To See: Hollywoodland

I really hate the idea of Ben Affleck playing George Reeves (especially after watching the first season DVD for Adventures of Superman not too long ago), but I'm fascinated by the mystery surrounding Reeves' death. I'm really looking forward to seeing Adrien Brody investigate it.

I'm disappointed with the "Dying in Hollywood can make you a legend" tagline though. Reeves' death contributed to the Superman Curse myth, but it didn't make him more famous.

Ahhh... Western Tales...

I got a little wistful catching up on Bookgasm after being out of touch for a week when I saw their review of the done-too-soon Western Tales of Terror anthology. I've got a couple of connections to it besides just being an avid fan (for all the reasons Bookgasm mentions).

I'd actually had a couple of stories accepted for it before it was cancelled. That's where I met WToT's submissions editor Jason Rodriguez who's now the editor on Forces of Nature, the robots vs. monsters comic I'm writing. But more than that, my Forces of Nature partner Jason Copland was in issue #4 and illustrated a story for Stuart Moore that Bookgasm calls "the finest piece out of the entire title’s run." Very nice. Reminds me that I need to share some of Jason's Forces of Nature stuff here.

Anyway, I'd forgotten how much I missed Western Tales until I read that review.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

30 Days of Night Movie Update: Melissa George

Cross-posted from Comic World News:

According to her official website, Melissa George (Alias, The Amityville Horror) has been signed to play Stella Olemaun opposite Josh Hartnett in the 30 Days of Night movie. Personally, I was hoping for Bryce Dallas Howard, but Melissa was pretty awesome in Alias, so I like her too.

In other 30 Days movie news, director David Slade has a short video update on the Ghost House Pictures site about where he is in the production schedule.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

To Read: Walt Disney: Conversations

The University Press of Mississippi sent me a press release about a new book called Walt Disney: Conversations. I sometimes despair at what Disney's company has become (though you'll never hear me complain about Pirates), but there's no denying that he was a brilliant creator.

The book collects profiles and interviews with Walt and presents his views on things like popular culture, the role of entertainment in defining American life, and how to run a theme park. As a study on creativity, it should be fascinating.

To See: The Reaping and The Prestige

I think it was at before one of the showings of Pirates of the Caribbean 2 that I saw trailers for both The Prestige and The Reaping and nearly peed in my pants. These both look so good.

Unfortunately, I just learned today that The Reaping is being pushed back to 2007. Don't know why, but it sucks. I've never been this enthusiastic over a Hilary Swank movie.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The need for Pan

There are some Peter Pan items in the news lately, even if you don't consider the comic Alan Moore recently wrote about Wendy's doing naughty things with Alice in Wonderland and Dorothy of Oz.

One thing that's happening is that the producers of Hairspray are developing a movie version of the Peter Pan musical for ABC. The musical's been shown live on TV before, but this'll be the first time it's been done as a film. No one's been cast for it yet.

In the To Read category, I've been wanting to check out the Pan prequel novel, Peter and the Starcatchers, written by Ridley Pearson and Dave Barry. Now I want to even more because they've just released a second prequel novel, Peter and the Shadow Thieves, and are working on a third.

I've always loved Peter Pan because of the pirates, but I didn't truly appreciate it until I saw Finding Neverland. I wrote about it on Pardon My Wench right after I'd seen the film and, because I need to remember the lesson from time to time, here's what I had to say about it:

"Just recently, I wrote about how I need to find my voice and release the little boy in me who fell in love with making up stories. I've been thinking about that since then and have been practicing less self-censorship lately. And then I went and saw Finding Neverland.

"I went because I love Johnny Depp and because I love Peter Pan, but I got so much more out of it than I expected. I love Peter Pan because of the pirates, but I don't think I ever really got the point Barrie was trying to make with the story until tonight. It's a little kid who refuses to grow up yeah yeah sure sure 'inner child' blah blah blah. That changed tonight. After Finding Neverland, I got it.

"It's a powerful, powerful film and I found myself getting emotional during a couple of scenes, both of which depict the acting out of Barrie's play. Thinking about what made me emotional during them has had a profound impact on me. I don't know how profound yet. But it's important. It'll be life-changing if I let it. There may be some mild spoilers to follow, so watch your step.

"The first scene I misted up in depicts Opening Night of Peter Pan. Everyone is nervous about what the play's reception will be. Barrie's last play was a bomb and no one has a lot of confidence in him, especially with all the weird stuff he's throwing into this one. The main character's a fairy? There's a man playing a dog? And a crocodile with a clock inside? And you're going to ask London Society to come to this play in their tuxedos and evening gowns and respond... how exactly?

"Then Barrie gets an idea. He asks the play's producer to reserve 25 seats, scattered around the theater, but won't say who for. On Opening Night, after a suitably dramatic period of time, Barrie's guests arrive. They're all children from the orphanage. To the shock, sneers, and derision of London's upper crust, the children take their seats all over the auditorium and the play begins. At first, the fears of the naysayers come true. The guy in the dog suit comes on stage and begins to prepare slippers and make beds in the nursery. London is bored. Some people start frowning and whispering, some simply nod off. But then the laughter is heard. Not mocking laughter, but the laughter of delighted children at the antics of the dog. Gleeful laughter. Infectious laughter. It spreads throughout the audience and soon mutton-chopped gentleman and bejeweled ladies are giggling right alongside scruffy waifs. Barrie knew what he was doing. The children needed to be there to teach the grown ups how to appreciate what they were seeing. They helped turn 'theater' back into 'play.' And my eyes got watery watching it happen.

"I don't want to spoil the second scene for you, but the scene I just described was only warming up for what was about to come. It was another production of the play for a different audience and this time... This time I was full out, tears-streaming, lip-quivering weeping. I didn't understand it at first. It wasn't like the end of Old Yeller or The Champ or even the scene in Return of the King that always gets me when all of Gondor bows before the hobbits. It was just a play. A beautiful, beautiful presentation of the play, but it was still just a play. And then it hit me.

"I was crying for every person in the world who's so wrapped up in life that he's forgotten what it means to dream. I was heart-broken for every person in the world who's so serious about her responsibilities that she's lost the ability to use her imagination. I was profoundly sad for the part of myself that closes off emotionally and questions whether an action I'm doing or a phrase I'm writing will be perceived as appropriate or proper. The part of myself that wants to be grown up.

"And I got Peter Pan.

"I need Peter Pan.

"Not just in my writing, but in my life. It's not about avoiding responsibility and making someone else take it all on so that I can live a carefree life. It's about taking the proper attitude towards responsibility and having fun with it. And dreaming. And making up stories.

"I don't know that I've found my voice. That's just going to come with more and more writing. But I've found the little boy. I see him on the face of my son and I feel him dancing in my heart and at last I'm ready to let him out.

"Thank you, J.M. Barrie."

Monday, August 07, 2006

Lost in San Diego

Some minor spoilage from Lost Season Three below:

Who knew there was a Lost panel at the San Diego: Comic-Con? Not me, and I was there. So were Jorge Garcia (Hurley) and Daniel Dae Kim (Jin), as well as a couple of the producers. I guess we just weren't in the same place at the same time. Must've been while I was standing behind Rosario Dawson in line for a Coke.

So, amongst the other things I didn't hear any of them say about the show's third season (starting October 4th) was the news that J.J. Abrams is co-writing the season premiere and will direct a mid-season episode. Also, there will be revelations galore like why Locke was paralyzed, why Libby was in the asylum with Hurley, and why the island has healing powers. There will be plenty more Desmond, which is good because he's now my favorite character on the show. And, oh yes, Kate will "hook up."

Probably not with Henry Gale.

To Read: The Ruins

Scott Smith, the guy who wrote A Simple Plan, has a new novel out called The Ruins. Forgetting for a minute that he wrote both the novel and the screenplay that Sam Raimi's amazingly suspenseful thriller was based on, there are a few reasons why The Ruins is going on my reading pile.

First, it's about an abandoned archeological dig. In the jungle. If there's any setting more captivating to me than abandoned old buildings (see: The Keep by F. Paul Wilson) it's the mystery and danger of the jungle. Put 'em together and I'm sold.

Second, it's about four, innocent friends who find the ruins with the help of a couple of strangers while on vacation in Mexico. I'm a big fan of Hitchcock because of his ability to put completely normal people in the most horrifyingly stressful situations. I'm not necessarily saying that Smith is another Hitchcock, but judging from A Simple Plan, he knows psychological tension and horror.

Finally, Stephen King says that "it does for Mexican vacations what Jaws did for New England beaches." This I have to read.


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