Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Odds and ends

What a lousy weekend. Don Knotts, Darren McGavin and Octavia Butler died. They were all good at their respective crafts and each was important to me in some way. Unfortunately, I've not read much Butler, although I have at least two of her books on my shelves. I guess it's about time I corrected that oversight. (And if you're interested in Butler, be sure to check out the Bat Segundo Show interview.)

In my writing life, I've actually gotten a little bit done. I've pieced together all the parts of my current short story. It doesn't add up to a first draft. There are holes in the narrative, there are parts that I wrote at least three times and there are plenty of parts that just don't work. The worst thing is that the ending is not earned, either for the character interaction or the supernatural aspect. I need to add foreshadowing and character work. So writing and revisions continue.

This may be the most true truest post on writing ever.

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Cave chambers of New England

Professor Hex linked to a fascinating article about the Upton Cave:

"The caves -- ranging from Putnam County in New York’s Hudson River Valley to southern Maine -- bear many similarities to "beehive" chambers built in Ireland by ancient Celtic tribes, said Barbara Toomey, the Massachusetts coordinator for the New England Antiquities Research Association.

Here's another site about "America's Stonehenge." According to that site, there are 62 of these chambers in Connecticut, and yet I've never heard of one of them.
They give the example of the Gungywamp in Groton.
Besides containing beehive chambers and petroglyphs, the Gungywamp site has a double circle of stones near its center, just north of two stone chambers. Two concentric circles of large quarried stonesó21 large slabs laid end to endóare at the center of the site. Extensive fire burning on some of the slabs is apparent which leads many to believe it was an ancient altar. Nearby there are several large pillar stones and one boulder slab that have been carefully positioned along astronomical site lines.

I may have to take a road trip one of these days. Fortunately for me, I can learn more about it through The Gungywamp Society.

iBooks bankrupt

Publisher iBooks has gone bankrupt, according to Johnathan Strahan, among others. The company has apparently been on the skids since the tragic death of founder Byron Preiss. For Strahan, this means his anthologies, Science Fiction: Best of 2005 and Fantasy: Best of 2005, are left in limbo.

I think it's a tragedy. In the last few years, iBooks has reprinted some of the great works of science fiction. On my bookshelf next to me, I can find Roger Zelazny's Damnation Alley and the first two Wild Cards anthologies thanks to iBooks. They are also responsible for republication of Cordwainer Smith's Nostrilia and Robert Silverberg's Nightwings. I'm sorry to see them go.

Masters of Science Fiction

ABC has given the green light to Masters of Science Fiction, according to Sci Fi Wire. The show, produced by the same people who made Masters of Horror (which I've only heard good things about), will adapt classic science fiction stories into TV movies. They've already named Harlan Ellison, Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury stories among those they adapt. ABC has agreed to four episodes, but the company plans on doing six.

Now I wonder who they'll get for directors. Masters of Horror combined great horror short stories with famed horror directors. Who are the classic science fiction directors?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Not much to say

I've been writing, getting closer to a finished draft, but I'm not there yet.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A Scanner Darkly trailer

A full length trailer for "A Scanner Darkly" is up now. [Link found via SFSignal.] Check it out.

The movie uses a drawing technique first pioneered in Richard Linklater's "Waking Life" in which real actors are drawn over. In some ways, this is perfect for this movie. However, most people are going to be used to seeing this technique in recent commercials. And it looks pretty stupid in those. Every time I see it, I think to myself, why not just film the people? At least, this movie has a purpose behind using it. In the book, by Philip K. Dick, a central idea is that new technology makes it impossible for people to hide their identities with new identities. Also, it's a major plot point that you don't know how much delusion is going on.

I'm still excited about this film, despite the above worry and Keanu Reeves acting. The other actors -- Robert Downey Jr., Winona Ryder and Woody Harrelson -- are all people who I've loved in some films and actively hated in others. They all have certain tics they rely on that bug me, but sometimes they get past it. (Reeves rarely ever does. They can just sometimes make the movie around him, like The Matrix.)

On the plus side, the film looks very faithfult to the book, which is one of Dick's novels I highly recommend.

UPDATE: Fascinating article from Wired on the troubles Linklater faced in making this film happen, particularly concerning the animation. The story also makes me feel better about Reeves, who is a big Dick fan (I crack up just writing that) and worked for scale pay to see this film made. If only he were a better actor.

Friday, February 17, 2006

New writing gadget

I downloaded something new. It's called yWriter and it's a program to help you create writing in a project format. (Link found via Paperback Writer.) It breaks down your stories scene by scene (or chapter by chapter). This was a perfect thing for the work I've been doing on my current story since I approached it exactly that way. Plus, yWriter allows you to add character notes, goals and conflict notes for scenes, and even allows you to keep track of the time elapsed in your narrative.

I must admit, downloading freeware like this is mostly a way for me not to write. I fidget around with the program, get everything sorted in it exactly right. All of which just eats away my writing time. Despite that, the program actually was helpful. I started going through the pieces I've written so far and editing them. They're not as bad as I thought. This will hopefully put me back on track. I've been writing different versions of the same scenes, over and over. And it's not helping. Getting organized with this program helped me get it all in order and figure out what I'm doing. I may even be nearing a finished first draft, just some connective tissue needs to be added. I can hardly believe it.

Actually, maybe that first draft should be amended to say "zeroth draft." When I read writers' blogs, they seem to write a first draft and then send the thing out to their first readers. I don't think my first draft of this story would be ready for anybody. Is this me being too cautious over my drafting? Or is it that writers get better over time and their first drafts are just cleaner and better?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Wrestling squid and octopus!!

My god I must have this film: The Calamari Wrestler. Read that first link, there is a great description of what this is all about and some pictures. I've added it to my wishlist. I must have it!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Catching up

I haven't posted anything on my writings in the past week or so. Sorry about that, for those of you who are interested. I haven't stopped writing, however. In fact, I've been writing and writing and writing on this story, though I'm still nowhere near completing a single draft.

I started this story writing out a plot outline, writing character sketches and getting a solid idea behind what happens at the end of it all. And I've found out that those things don't corner you at all. In fact, I've found a million different ways to go with this story and I've already tried hundreds of them. I keep writing the beginning of the story and then start over from a different perspective. I've tried third person omniscient, third person from each character's point of view, first person by one character and first person by the other character. I've also written in different voices, not quite finding the character's voice I'm looking for.

This is both good and bad. The bad is obvious. I've been laboring over the same story for a few weeks now with no real results to show. The good is I'm learning. I'm learning what can be done, I'm learning where I'm weak and I'm learning I don't know all I thought I knew.

That last one is especially important. I've been writing nonfiction for newspapers and blogs for the last 12 years. You'd think that would help me. It doesn't. I'm learning what I've read a million times over the years from writing books and author interviews: You learn to write fiction by writing fiction. That's it. You can study and that will help, you can pick apart other stories. But until you keep at the keyboard and create characters and have them interacting, you don't learn anything.

So I'm struggling. I haven't grown weary of the story. This is a good sign, I think. It means there's something to it, something I'm trying to reach. I have confidence in the rickety plot and ideas I'm working through. I just need to keep working.

I also need to focus. I write every day now. Now I need to spend more time each day. I waste much of my day and only spend about an hour on a day's writing. This is terrible. I get antsy. I'm working on getting control of this.

One day at a time, I'm working to become a better writer.

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Discovering Cordwainer Smith

Chris Roberson is having the profound joy of reading Cordwainer Smith for the first time as an adult. I only read Smith's stories about five years ago and it was truly a mind blowing experience. I read "Scanners Live in Vain" from the Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume I and was amazed at how good this thing was. So I took a trip to the library and found The Rediscovery of Man, a complete collection of Smith's short stories.

Every science fiction reader should read this book. It's absolutely essential. Smith's stories speak to today, most of them holding up better than the more welll known golden age science fiction. His imagination knows no limits. And most, if not all, of these short stories are tied together in a history of the Instrumentality. Do yourself a favor and read these books. At least check out "Scanners Live in Vain," it is a classic story. (You can read a little bit about the story here.)

Here are some good links about Smith:

Andreas Katsulas, RIP

Andreas Katsulas has died. He was 59. Katsulas was best known (to me anyway) as G'Kar on Babylon 5. Katsulas and Peter Jurasik's Londo were the best reasons to watch that show. Sad to see him go, especially at such a young age.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

"The Bamboo Sword," Shuhei Fujisawa

Late last year, thanks to the magic of Neflix, I saw a Japanese movie called "The Twilight Samurai." It was excellent and I recommend it highly. It's a drama of a working man disguised as a samurai tale. The samurai of the title is burdened by debt from his wife's funeral and does not make enough money as a clerk to pay it off. But his greatest joy is raising his daughters and watching them grow. Secretly, he's also a masterful swordsman, which will complicate his life further.

The film was a wonderful character study. For those wanting samurai action, it's there, but it's very restrained. It was one of my favorite films of last year. The movie was based off the stories of Shuhei Fujisawa, who wrote stories of samurai that reflected the problems of the lives of modern Japanese working people. He was one of Japan's most popular writers.

Thankfully, this March, Kodansha will be publishing "The Bamboo Sword and Other Samurai Tales." Here's the book description from Amazon:


This delightful collection of eight stories evokes life in early seventeenth-century Japan, a time when peace finally reigns after centuries of civil war. Tokugawa Ieyasu has defeated his rivals to become shogun, and is busily establishing the regime that ruled the country for the next two and a half centuries.

It is a period of political upheaval full of intrigue, rivalry, and betrayals. The samurai are still valued for their swordsmanship, and are a cut above the peasants, artisans, and merchants in the social hierarchy. Without battles to fight, however, these career warriors struggle to retain their sense of pride and meaning in life as they attempt to settle into mundane jobs and family life. Occasional flashes of the sword are tempered by the sympathies, conspiracies, kindnesses, and enmities arising between people from across the social spectrum.

Fujisawa brings a distant culture richly to life, with characters that modern audiences the world over can relate to presented against a detailed, realistic historical backdrop.
This is one of the books I'm most looking forward to this year. There's an article here about popular literature in Japan and how it relates to this book.  Apparently, Fujisawa's work is seen as "reassuring," and the article talks about the use of cliches. The book is reviewed positively here.

Happy Valentine's Day

I don't usually bother mentioning the holidays here, but I'm feeling full of love today. I hope all of you have someone you love today, whether that's a lover, spouse, friend or family. Spread the love.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Pieces coming together

So I spent some time listening to Akira Ifukube's fine themes as I wrote. I quickly learned that thundering marches aren't the best listening when writing scenes of two people talking. Too much epic going on in the room. But once I turned it off for a little while, my writing went smoothly.

I now have about seven different pieces of this story in separate Notepad files. I think I need to write a little more before I try to bring them all together. It's almost a certainty now that I will try writing the story from a first person point of view when I get to my first rewrite. It will add a different perspective and might help me get the flow of the story right.

I read a great Ramsey Campbell ghost story in The Dark (for links, see at left under "What I'm reading"), "Feeling Remains." Structurally, it seems to be similar to what I'm working on, except done from the first person perspective. When I started writing, I thought stories like "Canavan's Backyard" by Joseph Payne Brennan and "The Black Gondolier" by Fritz Leiber had similar structures to what I was working on. Those two stories have something supernatural happening to a main character that is viewed from a distance by a second character. That's the way I approached writing this story.

Now, I think the first person perspective, like in Campbell's story, may help me get closer, more emotionally involved in the story. It certainly will bring the fear forward.

Of course, my story isn't going to be half as good as any of those. If you're in the mood for horror, by the way, all three of those stories are great.

But I'm still feeling good about the story and I don't have any urge to back out of it or throw it away. If I can at least continue to tolerate the story through a rewrite or two, I'll have achieved something.

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RIP Akira Ifukube, 1914-2006

I've written a long post on the death of Godzilla composer Akira Ifukube at my Giant Monster Blog. Truly a sad day.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Emerging from inactivity

Today was a day I felt like writing. I wrote a whole section of my short story and I feel the pull to write more. This is good as it comes after four days of inactivity (in writing). Those are always dangerous times for me, when I'm away from a story for that amount of time, the inspiration, the love of the idea, can all float away.

This story though, I have good feelings about it. I intend to finish writing this first draft and then really revise it. This is territory I've not much explored. I'm terrible about a) not finishing stories, b) not doing anything with finished first drafts. So once this story gets past the first draft stage, it will be revised. This may be the first story I feel confident enough in to send out. We'll see.

In the meantime, I have a few more pieces to finish, then I have to assemble them into a semblance of story. I've been writing in the third person. I'm going to read it over when the first draft is finished and see if I think it would be better in first person. I've thought about even just going ahead and doing a second draft in first person.

All that will be decided later though. Right now, I just have to keep my eyes on the prize and get to the end.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Building things out of words

Some good blog entries about writing (or simply "writer's porn" as I've heard others call it.) Elizabeth Bear writes about writing better than almost anyone else. Read her
journal. This entry on thematic and narrative concerns in fiction is
absolutely terrific. I've been listening to Mur Lafferty's podcast I Should be Writing lately and have been enjoying it. As the title puts it:
A podcast by a wanna-be writer for wanna-be writers. Let my stack of rejection letters and battle scars benefit you.
And so far, it has at least helped me feel better about my writing to know others go through similar things. Author Tim Pratt is pretty great too. I've only read a few of his short stories, but I've loved them. He posts about writing his novel and the pit of despair he hit after rereading some of it. That's the way I feel most days I reread my stuff.

But today, I feel pretty good. I reread what I wrote yesterday and I thought it was quite fine -- for me anyway. I started on another section of the story.

I've been taking an unusual approach to writing this story. I first plotted it out, which I've never tried before. Then I wrote a possible beginning for the story (though, now I think it won't be). Yesterday, I wrote the climax of the story. Today, I started writing an incident that happens half way through the story. Each of these sections of the story have been written on seperate Notepad files. When it's all written, I can combine them all and figure out how they should properly be arranged. In the meantime, I can open up any file on any day and pick up on a different part of the story, or edit a different part of the story.

I don't know if there are any benefits to writing this way, however, it does give me a more tactile sense of the structure of the story. I have all these pieces and then I'm going to build my story from them. It's like I'm building a desk, but it's made of words. Or something. I'm not sure I'm describing this well, but I'm enjoying this method. Your mileage may vary.

More writing tomorrow.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

A climax and thoughts on genre

Another day's writing is done. Today, taking a cue from yesterday's thoughts, I wrote out of order. I decided to write the climax of the story, when the narrator is confronted with the transformed protagonist. It came out more soft, less scary than I hoped. I'm wondering if maybe I'm writing a fantasy story rather than a horror story? I won't know until I write more of it. Even if it's purely fantasy, it will have some dark moments.

The question about whether this is a fantasy or horror story brings me to something I've been thinking about. In a podcast of The Agony Column's interview with The Rolling Darkness Review (Glen Hirshberg, Dennis Etchison and Peter Atkins), Etchison says that when he sits down to write, he never thinks "I'm going to write a horror story," he just thinks "I'm going to write a story." I've heard this from a lot of professional authors, and with some it shows. (Etchison is one. Many of his stories, always sold as horror, could be published in literary magazines with ease.)

But as a wannabe, new writer, I sit down and actively think "I'm going to write a horror story now, in fact it will be a ghost story and it will be about the transformation of a character." When I'm deciding on a story, that's the starting point. If it strays
off from that genre course, I let it. It doesn't have to end up a
horror story, that's just my initial idea.

John Gardner in his book "The Art of Fiction" tells young writers (I'm trying to remember this off the top of my head) that the easiest way to begin is to pick a genre -- a ghost story, a relationship story, a romance -- then combine it with another genre or an unusual technique.

So, I don't think I'm completely wrongheaded to start out thinking about what genre a story is. I just can't become caged to a genre.

Tomorrow, with some knowledge of what's going to happen, I'm going
to write other sections of the story, whichever parts interest me. I'm
thinking I'll write about the protagonist and his dreams. I'll also go
back and edit what I've written so far. I've been doing a little of
that every day. Maybe I can make better sense of the climax I wrote today.

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The Dark Crystal returns

SciFi Wire says that a sequel to The Dark Crystal is in the works and Genndy Tartakovsky (of Samurai Jack and Clone Wars fame) will be directing.

Set hundreds of years after the first movie, the sequel follows a mysterious girl made of fire who steals a shard of the crystal in hopes of reigniting the dying sun.
Dark Horizons reported a bit about the sequel back in May. They include this important tidbit:

"The Dark Crystal created its own world. We are now going to fully explore this universe through the sequel film, which will be followed up with an animated series as well as interactive games and other media," said Lisa Henson. "Knowing the franchise's worldwide appeal, we're thrilled to leverage Odyssey's expertise in family entertainment within the independent film-sales community."
That report also includes a much longer (and somewhat different) description of the new movie.

This is great news. I absolutely adore the original. And most importantly, Brian Froud is returning to help design the new characters for the film. Froud did a lot of work behind the scenes on the look and history of the Dark Crystal. I have a copy of his book "The World of the Dark Crystal" and it's one of the prettiest books I own.

The only thing that concerns me is that the Henson company will go too far. The original film is great in and of itself. There is the potential that the company will take this chance to drain the "franchise" for all its worth. If all the books, movies and cartoons are good that's not a problem. But there's always a fear they will besmirch the memory of the original. (Although, I still have a copy of the original. It's not going anywhere. So I can always ignore sequels if they turn out to be bad.)

Here is a decent (and almost up to date) Dark Crysal fan site: The Book of Habidad.

UPDATE: Chris Roberson writes about his obsession over the movie's novelization when he was younger. I can relate. I loved that book and still have it around here somewhere. I have no idea how it would hold up today. It was written by A.C.H. Smith, who wrote the novelization for Labyrinth as well as a few other books, but I really don't know anything else about him. This page includes a few small excerpts from the book, mostly dialogue. Also, Smith seems to be a playwright.
I'll also note that the original screenwriter, David Odell, appears to be returning for the new film as well.