Archive for September, 2013

This is my brain on ideas.

The battle for getting published rages onward. I was the recipient of what some might call a karmic smackdown last week, something I’m just now beginning to crawl out from under. There was this publisher that was taking open submissions for their 2014 release schedule, and I reckoned my manuscript was a shoo-in. Such flights of hubris aren’t my typical modus operandi and, accordingly, I was not selected. And I went straight into a funk, the likes of which I hadn’t experienced in a hell of a long time.

It’s good to find oneself back on the ground, bruised but not broken, and hopefully stronger for the experience. So, while the majority of my query letters haven’t yet been answered (which means they also haven’t yet been rejected), I figure it’s time to get to work on the next story in case, you know, someone wants to throw a multi-book contract at me and I can say, “Heck yeah I’ve got other stories – check this shit out!”

I’m told this is how it can happen. I do have a gripe, however, and it’s about what I’m seeing a lot of in my search for representation. It’s the Young Adult trend; nearly every agent is clamoring for YA material of late, all hoping to get a piece of that sparkly vampire / young wizards / dystopian kid-battle market. Don’t get me wrong; I think it’s wonderful that young people are reading in large numbers, and I quite liked the Hunger Games books, and it goes without saying that I love the Harry Potter series unabashedly. Twilight, however, can ____ my ____. And I guess now is a better time to be shopping around a manuscript than during the ‘chick lit’ fad of a few years ago, and the creepy soft-core-S&M-Fifty-Shades thing seems to be losing steam as well. Eh, screw it. It’s no different than the zombie craze that I mostly enjoyed, so again maybe patience is the key to this. When the genre wheel spins again, maybe it’ll be my time.

In the meantime, I’ve laid down eleven hundred words on the next story. I like it, and I think it’s going to be good. Seriously messed up, but good. I’ve become rather obsessed with a thing in the news of late, really disturbing stuff that I honestly cannot wrap my head around, and it dovetails nicely into a general idea I’d been noodling around for a couple of years and I think its time has come. Stay tuned, kiddos.

I have to admit, I’d never heard of this movie until it landed in my mailbox; that said, I can’t believe something so undeniably awesome totally flew under my radar for thirty years. Yes, it’s schlock, but it’s old school schlock, and isn’t that really the best kind? Give me stop-motion and process shots any day, because at least they’re organic and we know someone was actually putting hands on the props to make them work.

Q – The Winged Serpent at Zombie Hamster

Further, marvel at the aerobatics involved in the final action sequence, and understand that the stuff they’re doing is no longer allowed.  I could rant for hours, but you get the idea. This movie was more fun than it had any right to be. Super big thanks to Larry Cohen for making such a great movie. Also, a big shout out to Shout Factory for their spankin’ new Blu-Ray release of Q – The Winged Serpent!

It’s been a rotten week. I don’t even want to get into what made it bad, so I’ll just leave it at that.

Moving forward, I took a recent look at a couple of John Carpenter’s classics, and gave them a few scribbles.

The Fog

Prince of Darkness

With regard to Prince of Darkness, I’m going to take the soapbox for a moment, because I think way too many ‘fans’ claim disappointment with this film, and they seriously need to re-examine their reasons for liking his films. Carpenter is a goddamn visionary whose career is made up of more than just Halloween. Granted, Halloween is an excellent film and, for my money, the only slasher film worth a damn. Because it was the first, and not part of the crapalanche of ripoffs that followed it. He followed Halloween with The Fog, which is a traditional ghost story, and a damn good one. He’s done fantasy adventure (Big Trouble in Little China), romance (Starman), urban paranoia / class warfare (They Live), and so many others that are all different, all unique. Prince of Darkness attempts, and to my eye succeeds, in looking at theology from a scientific viewpoint, and does so quite intelligently. It is very much a Big Picture film, is worthy of repeat viewings, and will long be considered one of the great films in Carpenter’s oeuvre.  So there.

1980’s Terror Train. No matter how you slice it, it’s just not a great movie. Cheesy and wildly predictable, it was a quickie cash-in on the unfortunate ‘slasher film’ era. That said, for those of us coming of age during that time, the movies were simple fun, offering distraction without much thought; only with age do I realize that the Reagan-esque moralizing was so heavy handed, and that a jump-scare isn’t really a scare at all. It’s a startle at best, immediately recognized and quickly forgotten. For the viewer, there’s no terror on this train, but what the hell – at least we’re enjoying the ride.

Terror Train at Zombie Hamster

“And that’s the Critic’s Corner for this morning. Now please slow down, so that I may murder you in a creative fashion with my giant mustache.”

Scream Factory gave this 80’s flashback a nice Blu-Ray release and for that, I thank them. It’s great to showcase the smaller films, once considered throw-aways, because one never knows how they might age and, for we who are aging, they’re oftentimes accompanied by a flood of nostalgia.

And yes, the movie had me reduced to giggles most of the way through because, although they kept referring to the killer’s costume as Groucho Marx, I could not stop seeing his uncanny resemblance to beloved film critic Gene Shalit, and the notion of Gene running around a train causing mayhem just ruined me. I freely admit that this is my fault, as I’m fairly certain that the filmmakers didn’t do this intentionally. Unless they did, in which case, congratulations – you are now epic.

Last week, I had the delightful opportunity to check out a film called Cockneys vs Zombies, and found it to be quite fun, if perhaps a little light on the red and the ultraviolence. But what the hell, it has Brick Top and Pussy Galore killing the undead and the most suspenseful pensioner-with-a-walker chase sequence ever committed to film. Want to know more?

Cockneys vs Zombies at Zombie Hamster

Although the Zed-word genre may seem to be running on fumes, it appears there may still be some ideas to be mined, and this one does it pretty well. Shout Factory’s Scream Factory sub-label presents this nifty little film, packed with fun extras.

It’s almost at that point.

Another week has come and gone, with no communication from agents or publishers. I keep hearing that no news is good news, but I’m beginning to question that adage. No news is just no news, and that isn’t necessarily good, now is it? Yes, it’s still very early in the process, and I am dreadfully aware of that. I am also aware, however, that patience has never been a strength of mine, a fact to which anyone who has known me for more than fifteen minutes or so can readily attest.

I love writing. I love that it enables me to access the deep dark stuff and bring it into the light, play with it a while, and maybe even let it go from time to time. I’m used to that, comfortable with it. Where I have difficulty, however, is now having to go into marketing mode, which is totally different, and somehow snag the attention of an overburdened agent, to make them stand up at their desk and proclaim to the world, “Holy shite! This is what I’ve been waiting for, what I’ve been working toward all my life!”

Because it’s that bloody good. Crap. I mean, I think it is that good, but where is the line between confidence and arrogance? How does one tread that narrow trail without falling into the abyss on either side? I mean, here in this forum, I can sit back and say that I rather like my weird little story, and that I think it’s pretty good, but when out in public, after Epic Steph has purposely brought it up to strangers, I go completely mute, or close to it. Close enough that I’d be better off not speaking at all. I think I’ve already covered this in a previous post. Damn.

How do writers deal with the mind-bending stress of the waiting? I’m barely a drinker, I don’t smoke anymore, and writing is my only vice. So…how to indulge in a vice to escape the anxiety, when the vice itself the cause of that anxiety?

Yeah. Chew on that a while.

I watched two movies today, wrote essays on each of them, and am about to get into a third; I’m so thankful that I have this outlet, this vessel into which I can dump the lunacy that the waiting is causing. I remember thinking how pretentious it was that Stephen King wrote a story (or was it two?) about a writer going mental over writing, that to draw attention to his own self for doing what he did was such an absolute wank. But now I get it. No, I’m not going to do a story about the sweet agony of the creative process, the labor of love and a bunch of other, pithy junk about writing – I’m simply saying that I sort of get it. And I guess I’m doing something of the same thing by venting it out on this site. But hey, feel free to bail on this at any point, because I know, better than most, that this is just me, killing time, and waiting the interminable wait.

Screw it. Movie time.

 

darkstarI recently took a look at an old favorite, which I had the absolute pleasure of seeing on the big screen in my younger days. This 1974 film revels in its low-budget glory, alternating seriousness with the type of goofiness that can only come with the profound boredom of protracted interstellar travel and the inescapable overfamiliarity of one’s shipmates.

The film wears its age like a gold star, and showcases the blooming brilliance of its young creators, one of whom we lost way too soon. Directed by John Carpenter and co-written by Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon, I present the philosophical, knuckleheaded odyssey that is Dark Star.

Dark Star at Zombie Hamster

illiteracyIf you are reading this, chances are someone taught you how to read. So, please read further, because I’d like to take a couple of minutes to step away from my usual writer’s neuroses and film talk, to address an issue about which I care a great deal: Illiteracy. I started reading at a very early age, and as such, I have no memory of not being able to read. The same cannot be said for a staggering number of people around the world, even in the twenty-first century. It’s really quite amazing that this is still a problem, and it most certainly is a problem.

Illiteracy means not being able to fill out a simple job application, not being able to read to one’s children, to not be able to write to friends and family members. It means not being able to read a court summons, or a sign on the highway. To not experience Middle Earth or Hogwarts (while good, the movies just aren’t the same), to not be able to learn about the awe-inspiring nature of the universe. To not be able to enjoy Lovecraft or Poe, Vonnegut or Steinbeck. To be adrift in a sea of communications with no compass, no map.

Consider the following facts about illiteracy in America, from Do Something:

    1. Two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare. Over 70 percent of America’s inmates cannot read above a 4th grade level.
    2. 1 in 4 children in America grow up without learning how to read.
    3. As of 2011, America was the only free-market OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) country where the current generation was less well educated than the previous.
    4. Literacy is a learned skill. Illiteracy is passed down from parents who can neither read nor write.
    5. Nearly 85 percent of the juveniles who face trial in the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, proving that there is a close relationship between illiteracy and crime. More than 60 percent of all inmates are functionally illiterate.
    6. 53 percent of 4th graders admitted to reading recreationally “almost every day,” while only 20 percent of 8th graders could say the same. (2009 study)
    7. 75 percent of Americans who receive food stamps perform at the lowest 2 levels of literacy, and 90 percent of high school dropouts are on welfare.
    8. Teenage girls ages 16 to 19 who live at or below the poverty level and have below average literacy skills are 6 times more likely to have children out of wedlock than the girls their age who can read proficiently.
    9. Reports show that low literacy directly costs the healthcare industry over $70 million every year.
    10. In 2013, Washington, D.C. was ranked the most literate American city for the third year in a row, with Seattle and Minneapolis close behind.
    11. Long Beach, CA was ranked the country’s most illiterate city, followed by Mesa, AZ, and Aurora, CO.

    I cite stats about the US because that’s where I live and I wouldn’t think to criticize other countries, although it is safe to say that this problem is not limited to any particular country or culture. Obviously, there is something wrong here; I’m not going to get into the politics of illiteracy, because no single person or administration can carry the blame. This issue is generational and cultural, as well as political. That capable residents of any country, no matter how few, are unable to read or write is an indictment on the failure of that country to look after its own people. That there are cultures and governments with a vested interest in maintaining an illiterate populace goes without saying, and it is only by education that there can have any hope of change.

    Most communities have some sort of literacy program but, of course, many of these programs are perilously underfunded and in desperate need of volunteers. If you have an interest in donating your time, please consider volunteering at a literacy program in your area, which can be found here:

    Pro Literacy

    The ability to read and write are fundamental cornerstones to self-sufficiency and self-respect. If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading, and thank you to the person who taught you – they obviously did well.

masters_of_horror__cigarette_burns_-_john_carpenterYep, it’s that time again. I have a new piece up at Zombie Hamster, this time it’s about John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns, which was part of Showtime’s Masters of Horror series.

The thing about horror writing is that, when the film or book or TV show is good, it touches a part of us, something deep, which we can’t readily separate from the source material. It becomes personal, bringing not just our fears into the light, but also our desires, our obsessions. In this case, while the base story is about locating a supposedly lost film, it’s really about the everlasting quest for the next thrill, the next scare, and that’s the magic of this film. It captures our desire to see that which shouldn’t be seen, to learn that which we’d probably be better off not knowing.

It’s about the pursuit of the forbidden, the profane, that last door at the end of a long and darkened hallway that both attracts and repulses, and the truths that may be exposed when it is finally, irrevocably opened. This is the heart of horror.