Saturday, June 28, 2008

A New Process

Creatively it's been a really good week for me. In my spare moments I've been working on the beginnings of the comic book project and I''ve been having a lot of fun with it. It will definitely be action oriented, but hopefully have some layers so it's not just action book.

It's a completely different experience, though, from how I normally write. My writing usually develops very organically. I start with a very vague concept and write a scene that explores it a bit. Then I start thinking about what has to happen before to lead up to that moment and what has to happen afterward, and write those scenes. Pieces start feeding into one another and after a time I have a full story. It makes for a slow process but it's the way I've always done it.

But I realized after the first talk Miss L and I had about the comic book project that this method wouldn't work. I needed to make my ideas more concrete before bringing them to her to illustrate them. I would even need to (shudder) outline.

So for now I've started simply, creating worksheets for major characters, jotting down ideas like how they look, what music they like, what they do when they get nervous or scared. And as I think about these pieces their backgrounds and their personalities start to fill in. And with it some of the plot points for the main story. There's a long way to go before Miss L will start getting pieces of the full arc----I don't know it yet myself----but for the first time in a long time I feel like I'm on the right track with a story. We'll see how I feel in a couple of weeks.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Teeth Move Lacks Bite...sorry, couldn't resist

This past week I watched the movie Teeth, a horror/black comedy flick directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein and starring relative newcomer Jess Weixler. It's been out for about a year and has been making the rounds of various film festivals across the country. It's also been getting talked up a lot on a bunch of blogs and horror-related websites I read so I added it to my Netflix list.


Weixler plays Dawn, a pretty, perky high school girl who's obsessed with keeping her virginity until marriage. I say obsessed because it's all she talks about. Dawn's also part of group that preaches and pulpit-pounds like the most ardent Christian Revivalist Minister. But being a high school girl she gets led astray anyway. Dawn is the victim of date rape when she discovers she has Vagina Dentata, or a set of teeth down inside her genitalia. The rapist is mortally wounded when he loses his own genitalia mid-coitus; things then speed up and get stranger as more people die, an OBGYN loses a hand and the story takes some odd turns into matricide, fratricide and incest.

While I love the concept, the delivery left me a bit bewildered. What I think they were going for was a horror/comedy in the same vein as Kentucky Fried Movie, while also poking fun at things like teen comedies and having a bit of fun with social mores. But it just didn't work for me.

I blame it partly on the cheesy dialogue and partly on the acting----there really was no discernible talent in anyone save with some small moments with Weixler. But mostly I blame the direction. After the first incident you can see the jokes and the scares coming from a mile away. The bar is never really raised and the joke stays pretty much the same throughout the movie. Some more accomplished techniques and a tighter plot could have at least raised the tension level a bit. But when Dawn's dates are wounded and they start screaming I wasn't sure if I was supposed to be horrified, shocked or amused. In the end I wasn't any of those things. If I was anything, I was bored.


Saturday, June 14, 2008

Review: Breath by Tim Winton

In Breath, the eighth novel by two-time Booker nominee, Winton transforms the dangers of surfing and thrill seeking into a powerful metaphor for the transition from childhood to adulthood. Bruce “Pikelet” Pike and his best friend Loonie are twelve-year-old boys looking for a way of life different from what home and school offer them. Living in a small working class town on the west coast of 1970’s Australia, they turn to surfing as their ultimate escape.

Breath by Tim Winton

At the beginning the two manage little beyond paddling offshore on flimsy boards. But everything changes when they meet Sando, an aging hippie-guru with a love for sports and danger. Sando takes the two boys under his wing, first by simply letting them store their boards at his Oceanside home and later by encouraging them to chase after increasingly dangerous waves. Ordinary life becomes boring and colorless to the boys when compared to the exciting magic they feel when blasting through the churning surf. The surfing sequences are beautifully and excitingly describing, giving an easy hook to an otherwise emotionally complicated novel.

Jealousy enters the relationship when Sando takes Loonie on a surfing tour through the Pacific Islands, leaving Pikelet behind with Sando’s bitter wife Eva. Pikelet and Eva bond through their pain at being left behind and both question the place of thrill seeking in their lives. Their friendship takes an sexual turn that’s likely to make many readers uncomfortable, especially when the sex becomes as extreme and dangerous as surfing with Sando.

To be honest, I'm not sure what people will make of the sex. It kind of comes out of nowhere and seems slightly out of place with the story. I suspect the edgy ending, which is hinted at in an opening frame with Pikelet as an adult, was Winton's initial idea for the novel and the marvelous surfing sequences grew out of it. It works for me, in that both explore the idea of crossing boundaries and finding where your own personal limits are. But some readers I fear will be so shocked by the ending content they'll miss the point of Winton's otherwise pretty potent message.


Friday, June 13, 2008

A Little Research. Very Little.

After work today I made a stop at Best Buy to make a last minute Father's Day purchase. I also ended up getting something cheap for myself, something I'm hoping will help with the comic book project.

One area I really don't know that much about are all the tropes and character types in martial arts movies. And since the story will be in part a martial arts tale I should know a bit more. One thing I'd like to do, at least I think, is play around with the basics in a part homage, part satire kind of way. So for $10 I picked up a collection of 8 old-style kung fu movies. A lot of them look to be of the Drunken Master variety, so they'll probably be pretty wacky. For the uninitiated, a Drunken Master learns to fight while intoxicated, with the idea that it makes the moves more unpredictable. Of course it makes for a lot of good slap-stick as well.

I loved this stuff as a kid, but haven't seen any in years. I remember watching these every Saturday afternoon after the cartoons finished on one of the local channels. I didn't really understand them, but I loved them anyway. The odd mix of fighting and comedy with plots so convoluted and kitschy Russ Meyer would be could an eight year old boy not love it? I'll either still love this stuff or it will drive me nuts. Time will tell.

Of course this is all solely for the purposes of serious research.


Saturday, June 07, 2008

Synchronicity With Paper Weapons

I've had this fledgling idea in my head for months that I just haven't done anything with. The basic premise is a suburban high-school kid who thinks he's a highly trained ninja. I'm not sure yet how much is true and how much is in his head, but I think it's a story that could walk a fun line between real and imaginary and make all kinds of jokes and references to things I like.

Sitting in one of the webcomic panels at Balticon Miss L suggested working on the story together as a serial comic. She did a sketch and we've tossed around a couple more ideas.

Thursday I sat down and wrote a rough draft for a couple of scenes involving paper throwing stars. But while I appreciate the art of comics I really don't know how to write for comics, at least in the technical sense. How much do you write beyond the plot and dialogue? How detailed in descriptions do you get, and how much freedom do you give the artist? My only reference really is a book I read on Neil Gaiman, who's apparently a real stickler for detailing out how he wants every panel to look on the page.

So yesterday I went to the comic book section in my library with limited success. Not surprisingly most of the books focus on drawing and layout, but we did have one by Dennis O'Neil titled The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics. I started flipping through it and what do I find but this:


Now I'm not particularly religious or even spiritual. But I do believe that sometimes the universe gives us little hints when were on the right track. This little paper shuriken is more than a little hint. I don't know where this project will go or if anyone other than Miss L and I will ever see it, but I'm more sure now that we need to give this story a shot and just see where our creativity takes us.


Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Review: Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow

Ok, I admit it. I was a little worried when someone first sent me a note that I had to read this book. I mean a book-length epic poem about werewolves? It would either be touched by genius or be complete trash. Fortunately, Toby Barlow's first novel Sharp Teeth leans more towards the genius side of things than trash. I'll never doubt suggestions from friends again.


Ruled by competing packs of werewolves, the seedy underside of L.A. is far stranger than anyone ever imagined. Lycanthropes hire themselves out as hitmen and pushers, both driving and feeding off of the criminal world. The center of the story is Anthony Silvo, a self-professed loner and dogcatcher who falls in love with a mysterious woman; this unnamed woman leads a second life as a werewolf and works for Lark, the leader of the most dangerous werewolf pack on the streets. The growing relationship with Anthony causes the woman to regret the wild choices of her past and seek out a new life. Meanwhile, Lark suspects competing packs of lycanthropes are after his power and he prepares for a massive, city-wide conflict. Other side-plots include a Detective Peabody’s investigations into werewolf-related murders and a hysterical bridge tournament that might have ties to the L.A. drug trade.

Now about the poetry. I'm a poor judge of what makes a good poem; I just don't have the expertise to judge it fairly. But I can say that Barlow's style is free verse and it seems like he uses it well. The line breaks are used mostly to play with rhythm and to highlight particular words or phrases. After a page or two you get used to the flow and really enjoy what he's put together. It’s also to Barlow’s credit as a storyteller that the genuinely touching moments between the woman and Anthony work as powerfully as the most graphic violence in the story.

The dark humor and mix of high brow/low brow culture---Barlow makes just as many references to Greek philosophy as he does old horror movies----is good fun. It's like a slasher horror movie told through the words of someone who can actually write without (too many) cheap tricks. I debated over reviewing this, because it's already gotten a fair amount of good press. But I loved this enough that I felt compelled to share anyway.