|Fresh Dirt Archives: April-June
And it is through Girl that holiday delights come, such as her informing me that "yule" is a burning log and that she used to think the verse before fa-la-la went "Johnny now come gay-time carol." And then she asked me what Jesus did with the myrrh, something I'd never thought to wonder myself, but she eventually decided Joseph probably saved it for him until he grew up. (Which still doesn't really answer the question--what do you do with myrrh? Regift it?) And she invented a new version of "Twelve Days of Christmas," going "Three unipegs, two turtle pigs and a goat in a pear tree." Unipegs, I learned, are a cross between a unicorn and Pegasus. She came up with all this in the space of a 15-minute drive. Yes, I count my blessings.
I've been grooving on Tegan and Sara's album The Con, which has been out half a year but which I only bought as a rare impulse buy while Christmas shopping. It's so emotionally complex, the melodies are syncopated and original, and the harmonies are creative, plus it flexes some pretty cool pop muscles in places. I'm a bit bewildered that my worldview is so accurately reflected by 27-year-old lesbian identical twins from Canada. I doubt if age, orientation, or nationality have much to do with it, but I've listened to it nearly nonstop for the past week.
A contributor's copy of Black Static # 2 popped up in the mail, containing my story "Must See To Appreciate," a skewed version of haunted realty (and yes, that's realty, not reality, though many people pronounce it with three syllables--real-uh-tee). If you do that, or you say "heighth" with a th sound on the end, I promise I will never buy property from you. Buy it, not for my story, but for the fine work by F. Brett Cox, Christopher Fowler, Steve Rasnic Tem, Lisa Tuttle, Mike O'Driscoll and plenty more. I love everything put out by TTA Press and it's a quality, honorable publishing enterprise. Also got an acceptance for my hillbilly paranormal story "Bone By Bone" for a future issue of Cemetery Dance Magazine.
Comics by their nature need much more action than either a movie or novel, because you don't want a bunch of panels where talking heads are spouting balloons. And I've learned a couple of other advantages, such as the use of the "info box" to do the work of backstory or explanation. You simply can't do it in a movie script without clumsiness, and even the subtle "graphic over" often seems a little out of place, and most voice-over simply sounds like a stumped screenwriter resorting to the source material because she couldn't find a way to visually project an important passage.
I watched the director's cut of "Blade Runner" a couple of weeks ago, Ridley Scott's vision that didn't include the dorky Harrison Ford monologue over. Not only was the monologue unnecessary, it did more than just add clutter--it was so lifeless and wooden (I assume intentionally, to maybe make us think he was a robot) that it annoyed to the point of distraction. I'm not saying "Always trust the director's vision," because movies are art by committee and too often the writers seem cut out of the most essential final decisions. But people love "rock stars," and it is more convenient to anoint the actors or directors, people who serve as the Face. That's why the minor and goofy hubbub over the allegedly atheist Golden Compass was known as "the Kidman movie" instead of the creation of author Phillip Pullman. On the other hand, authors tend to be randomly shot less often than other celebrities, so maybe it's not all bad.
Then I realized they created "moments," and maybe it doesn't touch millions but it sure matters when it happens, like when I finally figure out one of their lines in the mad harmony mixes.
"Everything decays, pyramids and palaces to dust, empires crumble in, wedding cake begins to must and moulder...and what made me think we're any better, and what made me think we'd last forever?"
I don't know if I'll ever "make it big" as a writer, and I have a ton of loyal readers, and I'm so incredibly humbled by it. Once in a while I get morose that I'm not a bestseller or a household name, but the truth is, I believe we get what we deserve and we find the level we're supposed to achieve as long as we stay on the path. I'm not selling a million copies, but just maybe I am creating a few moments for people. And it doesn't matter much if those moments happen while the book or script is sitting on a media executive's desk or if a down-and-out college students picks up a battered and used copy in a thrift shop. Empires crumble in, all paper goes to dust, but those moments endure.
I'm not selling much at the moment but the stuff I'm putting on paper feels like it's the best ever, like I'm finally figuring out what all those words are for. Sure, I'd love a fat bank account, but man, I've got dreams to share. That's pretty cool. Hopefully, we'll have a moment together. Please pass the potatoes.
I should have known better and I probably did know better, as aside from Terminator II I can't think of a single sequel that I've really enjoyed. I've always resented serials, remakes, and unending sequels because it feels like a slick marketing trick to me. Plus, of course, there's the core truth that the movie you go to see can never "end," only set up more potential episodes. I much prefer an experience, an arc with a beginning, middle, and end, where the characters change (and maybe even marry or die, or both) instead of dumping you back where you started, say, on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise or the galleon of Jack Sparrow.
So Rob Zombie's "Halloween" is a movie I would not watch if it were the last movie on Earth. People actually turned away at the ticket booth on that last night when they found out the other screen, which had featured "3:10 to Yuma," would not have a second showing. Those I talked with who had watched "Halloween" expressed regret, but they pretty much got what they expected and went in knowing it. Zombie's "The Devil's Rejects" may be the worst movie ever made, red pornography slathered over shallow characterization that celebrates "evil" without justification or explanation. There's no point besides torture, no underlying message except perhaps that the director is really cynical about his audience. (And if you try to sell me on the notion that the story is "about" a family's loyalty and love bound in their common fondness for mutilation, then you desperately need therapy, and I don't issue that prescription lightly).
Message boards were abuzz when Zombie and the classic "Halloween" were linked for a remake, and most every horror film fan was already locked into a commitment, an unreasonable reaction to a carefully packaged product that had no chance of delivering anything new or inventive. In short, hardly worth two hours of time. I have nothing against Rob Zombie, and I've heard people say he's a real cool cat. Wonderful. I just will not watch his movies, even when they're killing theaters. And I wonder about all the other uninspired movies that are killing theaters.
Of course, Hollywood is the exact opposite, and films are more likely to undeservedly be labeled "horror" because the movie audience for the genre is very loyal and broad. A run of popular horror films has never really carried over or created interest in horror fiction, and I think it's safe to assume this will always remain true--with the recent National Endowment for the Arts study showing a continually declining readership, I believe there will never be a large horror book audience. That doesn't mean people don't read, or that people don't like scary stuff; horror is just as dead as westerns and big-bug monster fiction. Kind of makes you wonder why anybody bothers writing the crap...
Oddly enough, I'm not bitter about it, though I have not yet embraced the idea that I either need to write something else or cleverly disguise the weird stuff in my books. I just kind of fell into a groove, and I don't even read that much horror fiction myself. I don't even view it as a "problem." It's not like I can say, "You're stupid if you don't like horror" or "Everybody loves horror," because it's clearly untrue. It's just reality. Lucky for me, I've never had much use for reality.
I got a wonderful letter from him some time back, after I had written to let him know of his influence on my work and asked him for a blurb. He declined the blurb but was truly humbled by my praise--I'll always treasure that letter. Though he had largely retired from writing, I will always keep copies of his books around and find his books are instructive texts on human nature and the collective beast of society.
Some quick recs of newer things: Writer Joe Schreiber, whose latest release is "Eat The Dark." He writes with a dark, gritty style that punches effectively, and he has a nice turn of phrase. Liam Jackson is another newer writer I've discovered, who is publishing under the guise of "not-horror" and will soon launch his second trilogy with St. Martin's Press.
The movie "Roman" is probably available at your local DVD outlet, and it stars Lucky McKee and is directed by Angela Bettis, in a sort of reversal of their roles in the cult hit "May." This movie annoyed me at first with the very bad focus and color (I'd think they could afford a slightly better camera) and the atonal and grating soundtrack, but after it was over it really stuck with me for a long time. "The Girl Next Door," the new movie based on the book by Jack Ketchum, with some of the coolest people in the industry involved. It has limited theater release but should be making the rounds on DVD in a few months.
It's fairly well established that writers are about the least powerful element in the television/movie hierarchy, best summed up in the one-liner, "Did you hear about the actress who was so dumb she slept with a writer to get ahead?" It's also fairly well established that without a good script, media of most any kind is a load of steaming goat dung (and note that even talking-head infotainment and "reality" shows are scripted to some degree to create a structure).
I don't have television service and television writing doesn't interest me, though in the past I've enjoyed such shows as "Law and Order" and "MASH." However, I would never say, "I don't care about the strike because I don't watch television." I am a writer. I'm also a libertarian. I am not a member of the Writers Guild, though I would certainly join the instant I qualified (you have to sell a pretty major project, and dues are $2,500 a year--this isn't auto workers trying to get dental care for their kids). I'm not educated enough on all the facets of the dispute between producers, studios, and networks and the rank-and-file wordsmiths who slog away in conditions that would be considered "air-conditioned sweat shop" if they weren't compensated so well.
But the basic issue is the battle over electronic rights and allowing the writers to share in profits from electronic distribution and new media. Since Internet downloads may very well supplant DVD sales in the same way DVD replaced VHS, which replaced 8mm home movies and school-room film projectors, then writers stand to lose a significant source of income not only for themselves, but for future generations of writers. And since no doubt the Internet itself will be supplanted by new and unforeseen technology, the battle is crucial. This is happening in the world of fiction, too, as publishers become increasingly aggressive about gobbling up rights, even ones like e-books that have no value at the moment.
No doubt many people have the idea that "If it's on the Internet, it's free," and writers who squeal when they see someone posting their work without permission may have no qualms about illegally downloading music or illegally copying a DVD or CD. I admit, I've copied two or three CDs in my life, but I also acknowledge that it is stealing if I give those copies to people so they won't have to buy them. I don't pretend it's not stealing, and I can't condone it or support, just as I engage in other immoral behavior that I know is immoral. Just because I do it doesn't make it not a sin.
In this case, I support the writers--because I am a writer and because I am a screenwriter whose livelihood may one day be affected by the decisions at hand, but also because I believe in fair distribution of profits and that writers should share in the success of their work. Corporations control most media, and centralization of power means the money flows to fewer destinations, thus making the corporation even more powerful. And note that "corporation" isn't a faceless building that you feel justified in stealing from (if you shoplift at Wal-Mart, it's still stealing), it's a collection of people who make decisions based on perceptions of what is good for the corporation. Those perceptions are influenced by public opinion as it relates to profit, and though my one little diatribe won't change Rupert Murdoch's mind, it's a little like in "Horton Hears A Who," where the combined voices of tiny creatures eventually swell to a revelatory crescendo. Seems pretty moral to me.
"Walk The Line"--didn't that guy Phoenix win an award? He sang well but mostly he flopped around on his belly in the mud and talked out the side of his mouth. Still, I guess Cash is cool, so the award is probably about Cash as much as anything. (I was raised on Cash--not the money, but the old "Ring of Fire" era. I even like the latter stuff that became hip with the college kids).
"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"--this movie seemed vaguely familiar but I must have watched it back in my drinking days. Ironic that there are spots in my memory about a movie where memory is erased. It was good. Except I'll never watch with another commentary track again--who cares if the writer had an infected tooth while he was pitching to the studio? Or that the director describes verbatim what's happening on the screen as if relaying it to a blind person? I've yet to experience a running commentary that wasn't inane. I could only take 30 seconds of it.
"New York Doll"--awesome documentary about the bass player for the New York Dolls and how he prepares for a reunion concert 30 years later. An incredibly warm and human story about the power of dreams. Highly recommended.
I went to a Samhain ritual on Halloween, though I am not technically Wiccan or pagan. I just enjoy the fellowship and I'm never one to pass up a chance to commune with those on the "other side," though I don't know all that many dead folks I'd care to hook up with. During the anointing bit, I drew the Seven of Wands for my Tarot card. It is very apt; I can't remember my card last year, but it was pretty much a bummer. However, the Seven of Wands is a card of competition and overcoming obstacles and fears to make your dreams come true. Every time I've ever drawn a Tarot card or had a reading, it always points to that type of creative success. I keep hoping for the one that promises lots of sex, but I guess I'm destined to just write and be content. Or maybe write well enough to get rich and buy all the sex I want. I can't imagine any other reason to be rich...
We have this feature at my newspaper called "MountainTops" where each week the staff chooses some kind of favorite. This week, it was "favorite line." My entry is:
Chicks with bricks and
blocks and clocks come.
In my research, I learned Seuss is actually pronounced "Zoice." Zoinks. But I guess if six billion people pronounce it wrong, that makes it right, right?
Got contributors' copies today of Legends of the Mountain State, a collection of stories based on West Virginia folk tales. My story "Silver Run" was inspired by the haunted train tunnels that abound in the coal country. It's a little cynical, almost Twainish, and probably is pretty honest about my interpersonal relationships with females, such as they are. I feel my last couple of novels were cynical, too, but I think the newer projects move away from that a little, mainly by making women more prominent and heroic figures and moving away from the value of a "core relationship" to the plot. Let's face it, family moving to haunted house, couple under stress, couple resolves their differences while overcoming Evil is a pretty tired scenario. And I've yet to see that actually happen in real life.
I do a lot of thinking about storytelling, in whatever form, and usually I can figure out the ending, or the two possible plot twists, very early. I think it's because I'm thinking along with the creator, not because I'm a genius or anything. Most creators paint themselves into a corner in the second act, so it's delightful when something completely works for me. I've been under the weather so I've been on the couch watching a lot of movies. I'm not stretching my brain much. Recent ones have been Revenge of the Zombie Army, Boogie Nights, The Emperor's New Groove, The Astronaut's Wife, and The Attack of the Killer Leeches. Okay, this may surprise you, but for pure storytelling skill, here's how I rate them:
1) The Emperor's New Groove. This movie is just plain awesome. It has charm, humor, and heart. A good moral lesson without being cheesy, decent animation without copping out for the visual extravaganza and losing the story. This is the kind of thing I would be very proud to create. This is probably the fourth time I've seen it and it still holds up.
2) The Attack of the Killer Leeches. Roger Corman. That tells you all you need to know. Lack of budget and inflatable vinyl monsters aside, this one delivered exactly what it promised and maintained its tone. Square-jawed, hairy-chested hero saves the day with a little help from his friends and the support of the loyal but overprotective gal pal. An honest movie, with a solid plot and interesting characterization.
3) The Astronaut's Wife. I love Johnny Depp, he's probably my favorite actor now that Eastwood and Nicholson have aged out of prime time. He does a great job here as the warm man turning cold, and Charlize Theron is easy on the eyes, but the plot is little more than a big-budget version of a Corman effort, with an inherently flawed premise. It gives nothing away to say that once the big mystery is revealed, you automatically realize that the plot development is contrived solely to benefit the convenience of the storytellers--the reality is that the premise doesn't require the cooperation of Depp and Theron at all, it could happen to anyone, or everyone at once. It gets even worse when they try to throw in "twists" when there are really only two possible outcomes and neither would be a surprise.
4) Revenge of the Zombie Army. Old b & w with zombies that basically just stare straight ahead and do whatever their master bids and never so much as munch a finger. But it is built around a timeless conflict, a man's love for a woman and how he's willing to shed morality to win her, while knowing she loves another. Despite some ham-handed production and predictability, it still has some heart.
5) Boogie Nights. The late 1970s disco era was already old and square when I was entering my formative cultural years, so I try not to let that influence my look at the structure. Okay, we get it: the porn industry is filled with desperate, vapid, cynical people. Anybody who watches five minutes of real porn understands this already. And it would have worked if it had maintained that air-headed tone throughout, but somewhere near the end of the second act it veers off in a totally random and violent direction and becomes another movie. Sure, there is violence in any seedy industry where funny money abounds, but to have it happen all at the same time to a small group of people in separate incidents seems way too contrived and basically broke the contract with the audience, and Humpty Dumpty could not be put together again. All I ever heard about this movie was "It's Burt Reynold's comeback," which is probably the only thing anyone could really say about it, for better or worse.
Okay, so now I've figured out what works and what doesn't. And I'm sure you're thinking, "Gee, Scott, if you're so damned smart, why aren't you writing blockbuster movies with heart?" Good question. I think I'll go do that right now.
It don't do to think about
things like that too much. If she was here,
I've been having pretty good luck getting movies at the local library, instead of the video store that offers plotless CGI noise adventures like Resident Evil, which are basically like watching your friend play a video game. Last week I got "Lolita," which was wonderful, though I thought it missed some of the subtle social parody of the book--the movie relied on voiceover lines from Nabakov's book to add the necessary literary and academic distance to a movie that's basically about a pedophile. It's a delicate dance to try to make him sympathetic, and the very fact that is name is "Humbert Humbert" immediately clues in the book reader that this is not to be taken too seriously. If you read this blog much, you know I believe most types of voiceover are signs of a weak script or else material that maybe has no business being addressed on screen.
Also watched a movie with Madeline Stowe and Aidan Quinn where the blind Stowe gets eye implants and "sees" a killer and the cop Quinn falls for her while trying to protect her--except his goofy Gumby hairdo and dopey high-school-clarinetist looks make him laughable as a hardcore, seasoned detective. Anyway, I can't remember the name of that one, so I can't warn you away.
Oh, yeah, also the 20th annual Year's Best Fantasy & Horror is out, containing, well the best fantasy and horror of last year. Yeah, of course, one of the stories is mine, or I wouldn't mention it! "Dog Person" is an odd one, very dark, and certainly you should buy the book anyway, because it contains the best fantasy and horror. And an overview of the genres for the year. And my story. Did I mention you should buy it?
Still working on both the script and graphic novel of "The Gorge," it's approaching the two-thirds point. There's a new ezine called Dark Scribe Magazine that just came out, and it's awesome, edited by the very capable Vince Liaguno. It really does read like a magazine, with lots of material and gorgeous layout. And it doesn't hurt that it has moi as an interview subject, at my salty, tarted-up finest. It's free, though registration is required. Definitely worth checking out. Also a little interview up at Hauntmasters, the site of the group that let me go ghost-hunting with them.
Here's a still from the movie "Buried Beneath," in which I played a member of the police board that scolds a detective who "doesn't play by the rules." At one point, in a vision, we become bloody-eyed, vacant zombie demons. Finally, a role for which I was born and have been practicing all my life...
Oddities--the local weather forecaster kept going on about a "risk of rain," as in "There's a 30-percent risk of rain." Media pundits have gotten so much stupider in the decade-plus I've been in the business, notably through their banal and offbase editorializing while supposedly making unbiased observations. A "risk" might accurately be applied to a hurricane, but not for rain in an area that has been in a drought for several years, as much of North Carolina has. Indeed, the risk would seem to be in continued dry conditions. Another newscaster kept reffering to "they" in the weather forecasts, even being so doofed as to say "They are forecasting dry conditions so they can run up our water bills." Who is this "they" with so much power? And how can this type of radio "personality" be trusted with the airwaves in the event of a real emergency? The trouble started when TV heads began referring to story subjects by their first names, in shallow attempts to create an emotional connection between the victims and the viewers. Reporters have increasingly taken on the role of social commentators, something for which they're no more equipped than the average trash collector--except, of course, for the proximity of microphones.
My antidote, besides being an obvious curmudgeon, is to click off the dial whenever possible--and I do. Of course, the Internet contains more stupidity than every other medium combined, and I contribute my share of the noise. Click away if you dare.
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