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Monday, November 29, 2010

So you want? (#pubtips)

You may have seen the video called "So You Want to Write a Novel" that has been making the rounds. It is funny-- I've pasted it below if you haven't seen it. And it's easy to laugh at this guy, the imaginary wannabe writer with his nonsensical requests (Do you want to be a ghostwriter? I'm not a very good speller.) To me what's most telling about this person is his notion that writing is easy. It's easy to laugh at this.

And yet, and yet. I worry about this stuff, because I see a lot on the web that sort of divides the reasonable writer with reasonable goals from the idiots, and whattayaknow, the writer making the post is always on the side of reasonable. I'd like to throw out a few of my own pointers for writers:

You don't have to tamp down your expectations. I hear this all the time: don't expect to be a bestseller. Don't expect to make a lot of money. Don't expect that you'll get any reward from writing other than the satisfaction of a job well done. Actually, I'd back off the expectation of satisfaction as well.

Jeez, guys-- what kind of business people are we if we blithely expect to fail? This is terrible advice. I get that we want to keep writers from having unrealistic expectations, but I guarantee you that expecting failure guarantees it. Expecting no money guarantees it. Expecting no readers guarantees it.

Write your ass off. Finish the work. Make it awesome. Sell it. Do as much marketing as you can, as though you were opening a restaurant and you'll starve if it doesn't go. Expect big things. Don't be a jerk, and keep writing your ass off.

I've been writing professionally for about 17 years. In every single project I simultaneously carry two thoughts: this is genius and this is garbage. The first is what keeps you going, because guess what, no one else will be your advocate. No one else has to. Even your agent has other clients. You-- only you-- are the one to believe in you. You have to believe in you more than anyone else. The second thought (this is garbage) keeps you working your ass off.

Funny video, though.

Leslie Nielsen's Last Word (And Funniest Quotes)

RIP Leslie Nielsen, February 11, 1926 – November 28, 2010. I wanted to post a wonderful moment in Nielsen's Dracula: Dead and Loving It.

Also, Funny or Die was good enough to run a list of Nielsen's funniest lines-- reprinted below. Thanks, Leslie.


Ted Striker: Surely you can't be serious. 
Rumack: I am serious... and don't call me Shirley.

Rumack: Captain, how soon can you land? 
Captain Oveur: I can't tell. 
Rumack: You can tell me. I'm a doctor.
Captain Oveur: No. I mean I'm just not sure. 
Rumack: Well, can't you take a guess? 
Captain Oveur: Well, not for another two hours. 
Rumack: You can't take a guess for another two hours?

Rumack: What was it we had for dinner tonight?
Elaine: Well, we had a choice of steak or fish. 
Rumack: Yes, yes, I remember. I had lasagna.

Rumack: You'd better tell the Captain we've got to land as soon as we can. This woman has to be gotten to a hospital. 
Elaine Dickinson: A hospital? What is it? 
Rumack: It's a big building with patients, but that's not important right now.

Police Squad!:

Dutch Gunderson: Who are you and how did you get in here?
Frank: I'm a locksmith. And, I'm a locksmith.

Frank: We're sorry to bother you at such a time like this, Mrs. Twice. We would have come earlier, but your husband wasn't dead then

Frank: Is there a ransom note?
Ed: Yes, the butler found it; it was tied to this window and thrown into the rock garden. I sent the note to the lab; they're demanding one million dollars.
Frank: Why would the lab demand a million dollars? 

Frank: Well, you take a big chance getting up in the morning, crossing the street, or sticking your face in a fan. 

The Naked Gun movies:
Frank: I'm Lt. Frank Drebin! Police Squad! And don't ever let me catch you guys in America

Frank: Wilma, I promise you; whatever scum did this, not one man on this force will rest one minute until he's behind bars. Now, let's grab a bite to eat.

Jane: Would you like a nightcap? 
Frank: No, thank you, I don't wear them.

Ed: You want to take a dinghy? 
Frank: No, I took care of that at the press conference. 

Frank: It's the same old story. Boy finds girl, boy loses girl, girl finds boy, boy forgets girl, boy remembers girl, girls dies in a tragic blimp accident over the Orange Bowl on New Year's Day. 
Jane: Goodyear? 
Frank: No, the worst.

Frank: I'd known her for years. We used to go to all the police functions together. Ah, how I loved her, but she had her music. I think she had her music. She'd hang out with the Chicago Male Chorus and Symphony. I don't recall her playing an instrument or being able to carry a tune. Yet she was on the road 300 days of the year. In fact, I bought her a harp for Christmas. She asked me what it was

Frank: Now, Jane, what can you tell us about the man you saw last night? 
Jane: He's Caucasian. 
Ed: Caucasian? 
Jane: Yeah, you know, a white guy. A moustache. About six-foot-three. 
Frank: Awfully big moustache.

Frank: This is Frank Drebin, Police Squad. Throw down your guns, and come on out with your hands up. Or come on out, then throw down your guns, whichever way you wanna do it. Just remember the two key elements here: one, guns to be thrown down; two, come on out!

Hapsburg: I don't recall your name on the guest list. 
Frank: That's OK. I sometimes go by my maiden name.

Lt. Frank Drebin: Oh, that would be me. I've been swimming in raw sewage. I love it!

Quentin Hapsburg: Que sera sera... You do speak French, don't you? 
Lt. Frank Drebin: Unfortunately no, but I do kiss that way.

Frank: Like a midget at a urinal, I was going to have to stay on my toes.

Frank: Like a blind man at an orgy, I was going to have to feel my way through. 

Ed Hocken: You might end up dead! 
Frank: "You might end up dead" is my middle name. 
Ed Hocken: What about Jane? 
Frank: I don't know her middle name.

Ed Hocken: We heard about you and Jane. 
Frank: Jane, Jane. That name will always remind me of her.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

If Buffy Minus Whedon is Bad, You Will Never Remember It

I've been reading the coverage (it crops up and dies down, and has been for the past year) of a refreshed Buffy, The Vampire Slayer produced by people involved in the original movie. Which is to say, the Buffy reboot would be a remake of the film without any of the characters or concepts that Joss Whedon and company attached to the television series in its seven year run.
If you never watched the tv series Buffy, what's at issue here is that while the movie was a vampires-in-high-school farce adventure, the TV series was a West Wing-funny, long-running, fantasy soap opera parody. They were utterly different in tone, and the TV version was successful whereas the film was not, and everyone seems confident that what made the difference was the iron-fisted creative control of creator Joss Whedon, whose unique voice permeated the show. Not so the film, where Whedon was but one voice. Point, Whedon and seven years.

My first instinct to the idea of a reboot without Whedon is: bleah. AKA Casino Royale, and not the fantastic James Bond reboot starring Daniel Craig, but the bizarre 1967 failure that happened because a group of creatives (we use that term even when it doesn't fit) had the rights to make a James Bond feature outside of the popular cycle. Remember this one? No?
So the most likely result here? Yes, they make a Buffy reboot without Joss Whedon, and it slips instantly into oblivion next to 1997's The Saint and all those Star Trek stories written after Gene Roddenberry died. Oh, wait, that one doesn't count.
And while we're at it, having the original creator onboard doesn't always help; witness Dan Curtis' own short-lived reboot of Dark Shadows in the 90s-- which I haven't seen. Maybe it was brilliant but didn't catch on.
Which is to say, who the heck knows if a Buffy remake would be any good? My personal feeling is still this: why again haven't the producers simply offered Joss Whedon boatloads of currency to write and produce their Buffy for them? Wouldn't that be the most logical way to proceed?
But if that doesn't happen, rest assured that if the reboot isn't any good, you'll never remember it.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

TXLA Lone Star Amazon List

For those shopping for a middle grade reader, here's a single Amazon list of all 20 books on the TXLA Lone Star Reading List. Pass it on!

2011 Texas Lone Star Reading List at Amazon

On the list this year:
  1. Bacigalupi, Paolo. Ship Breaker. Little, Brown, 2010.
  2. Bell, Cathleen Davitt. Little Blog on the Prairie. Bloomsbury, 2010.
  3. Brande, Robin. Fat Cat. Knopf, 2009.
  4. Carter, Ally. Heist Society. Disney Hyperion, 2010.
  5. Childs, Tera Lynn. Forgive My Fins. Katherine Tegen Books, 2010.
  6. Condie, Ally. Matched. Dutton, 2010.
  7. Deuker, Carl. Payback Time. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010.
  8. Dionne, Erin. The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet. Dial Books, 2010.
  9. Falkner, Brian. Brain Jack. Random House, 2009.
  10. Fisher, Catherine. Incarceron. Dial Books, 2010.
  11. Gephart, Donna. How to Survive Middle School. Delacorte, 2010.
  12. Golding, Julia. Dragonfly. Marshall Cavendish, 2009.
  13. Henderson, Jason. Vampire Rising. HarperTeen, 2010.
  14. Klass, David. Stuck on Earth. Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2010.
  15. Shulman, Polly. The Grimm Legacy. Putnam, 2010.
  16. Shusterman, Neal. Bruiser. HarperTeen, 2010.
  17. Sonnenblick, Jordan. After Ever After. Scholastic Press, 2010.
  18. Stork, Francisco X. The Last Summer of the Death Warriors. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2010.
  19. Wiles, Deborah. Countdown. Scholastic Press, 2010.
  20. Yancey, Richard. The Monstrumologist. Simon & Schuster, 2009.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Vampire of the Week #1: The Chonchon

This week's look at a vampire from around the world from the guy who knows: Alex Van Helsing.
This week: Chile's Chonchon, the head with wings.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Night of Dark Shadows: Creepy, Moody Horror

 "Mrs. Collins? Did you ever stop to think that perhaps you don't belong here?

Early on in the 1971 film Night of Dark Shadows, a writer looks out the window of a stately New England mansion and sees thickly gray skies and leaves so deep they seem an ocean. For a moment he sees someone hanging from the branches of a gnarled old tree, and then the vision is gone.

I have no history with Dark Shadows. I just discovered the series a few weeks ago (incredibly, given the prominence of it) and found myself entranced by the gothic soap opera, the great houses and endless hints at something darker beneath the surface of the characters' lives. The soap opera thrived on stretching stories out forever. The first movie, House of Dark Shadows, compressed the storyline of vampire Barnabas Collins down to one feature-length drama.

The second Dark Shadows movie, Night of Dark Shadows, is a different and better film than House of Dark Shadows. House was intended to appeal to fans of the series and worked to present the show's most popular storylines. By the second movie, the show had been canceled and the original cast had moved on. As a result, creator Dan Curtis chose to tell an all-new story of Collinwood Mansion. I think the result is a better, creepier, and more evocative horror tale.

Here, Quentin Collins inherits and returns with his new bride to his family's maginificent New England estate, Collinwood. Immediately he begins to experience ghostly visions: the hanging, old funerals, rainy processions.

Night of Dark Shadows is the perfect brandy-and-blanket movie.Everything about it evokes something cold and deep, even before the spirits arrive on the scene to interrupt the creepy piano score and gorgeous upstate New York setting. And they do appear, but this is more a witch-and-ghost movie than a vampire film.

The visions Quentin suffers are sometimes genuinely chilling, such as the sudden vision of a screaming child in a window. The movie treads along at a slow pace, like all gothics must. It is all about evoking a feeling of unease, of suspected betrayal and doom.

Mind you, this is not the sort of thing I write. I write books that start with people falling out of airplanes and ends with them stealing speedboats, and there is generally some kind of deathtrap in every chapter. I write action or action horror, depending on your preferred word. But I am haunted by the gothic, with its hidden corridors and hints of old wounds and old curses, and cold November days.

Beautiful work.

Trailer (this is a trailer for both movies; the trailer for Night of Dark Shadows starts at 2:40.)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"Gotham City 14 Miles" Review

If you're a Batman fan, I totally recommend checking out Gotham City 14 Miles, a searching and multi-faceted collection of essays on the Batman TV show.  Writers as diverse as Paul Dini, Jeff Rovin and Chuck Dixon check in with chapters covering what made the show different, what made it a hit, why we still remember it (and even judge other Batman versions by it) and why many fans have a distince love-hate relationship with it.
I think I enjoyed Dixon's essay most of all; the comic writer discusses how he tried to add back tips of the hat to the TV show in his comics writing-- and also dishes on just how hard it is to write a Riddler script.

Comics-to-screen afficianados should check this one out!

Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising on 2011 Lone Star Reading List!

Guys! Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising has been added to the Texas Library Association's 2011 Lone Star Reading List. This is a big deal: the selection committee looks at all the books published over the year and chooses 20-- TWENTY!-- to recommend to Texas Middle Grade readers. This is a HUGE honor for this work.

Huge! This is a book with vampires and motorcycles. The kind of thing I wanted to read!

So: thank you genuinely and profoundly, selection committee. You are all friends and I deeply hope you know how thankful I am. I hope to see you all out there in the libraries.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Coolness: BitDefender "Win a Trip to Transylvania" Speepstakes

Virus-scan software BitDefender is offering one of the coolest sweepstakes ever: Grand Prize is a trip to the company's Romanian lab and what the company is calling "Dracula's Caste." (Which Dracula's castle this would be, I have no idea-- still, how cool would that be?)

The notice from BitDefender says:
When it comes to digital security threats such as computer viruses, ID-Theft, or cyber criminals BitDefender says “Bring It On”. We invite you, your readers, your friends and your family to join us in the fight against online threats by participating in our “Bring It On” Sweepstakes for a chance to win our award winning BitDefender 2011 software and other great prizes such as:
--Grand Prize: 4-night/5-day Trip for two (2) to Dracula’s Castle in Bucharest, Romania
--Monthly Prize: Apple iPad 16GB
--Weekly Prizes: BitDefender 2011 software with a bundle of three (3) software products/services: Registry Booster, Password Manager and Privacy Armor

To enter, visit the BitDefender Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/BitDefenderGlobal/120189635022?ref=ts  and click on the Sweepstakes tab.

Outstanding self-editing tips from Aimee Salter

I love reading about writing-- at least the nuts-and-bolts stuff on writing, on the craft, the trade, the way we choose and use words and why who buys what. All that.

The soft-focus stuff about why we write somehow escapes me; I feel better when I write and worse when I don't, and the rest is blather. But I love practical advice that improves my actual writing, so I read a lot of books and articles about the craft. I've mentioned Stephen King's On Writing, but of course I also love Card's How to Write Fantasy & Science Fiction, Syd Field's Four Screenplays, Dibell's Plot, and too many more.

A lot of these books even contradict one another: write with an outline, or just go? Bounce ideas off friends or work in secrecy? Edit now or write something else first? Of course they contradict one another. This is an art. You get better by studying and practicing, but there is no perfect.

I just found a blog that I absolutely love from Aimee Salter that is full of practical, useful, hammer-and-nail writing advice. Salter specializes in advice that helps you eyeball your own work for obvious pitfalls:

Seek and Destroy "was"

I've left this one until last because when you go through your manuscript searching for 'was', prepare to be there for a while. And each replace will be a little more involved. In most cases you won't be able to simply delete 'was' because you'll have to change the tense of words around it. But the seemingly endless task is worth it.

In most cases, the change is simple: "I was leaning on the windowsill." becomes "I leaned on the windowsill." Or, "I was faced by half a dozen upper-class snobs." becomes "I faced half a dozen upper-class snobs."

See the difference?

Now of course, you could read that and say, but my sentence really needs a "was", and maybe it does. But these are tools to help get rid of the rest, and set those sentences apart.

I have been writing for a long time, and I feel that only in the past few years have I gotten my legs under me. Exposure to tools like Ms. Salter teaches would probably have helped me, if I had sought them out and had the sense to use them. Check out her Self-Editing Tips and Tricks blog!

Two great reviews of Daughters of the Shadow, focusing on Colleen Wing

What a Friday! Today I woke up to find two new reviews of Shadowland: Daughters of the Shadow #3 that warmed my heart. If you haven't checked the series out, I encourage you to, because that way I might get to write more issues about Colleen Wing, New York Samurai.

Shadowkurt at CBR found that the book was different from what he expected and certainly from the often-generic solicitations, but
"Where the book shines, however, is the characterization of the women. The high point is the conversation between Colleen and Misty. Anyone who feared that Misty would get jobbed for Colleen to shine can relax; she’s shown as the kind of friend you can call out of bed in the middle of the night and get the advice you need. She does not say “I told you so”, but accepts that Colleen is right to make her own choices even if some of them may be wrong, and she considers Colleen to be the one of them who would incur greater disadvantages if it meant doing the right thing (which is the way Zeb Wells wrote her too, by the way). So the two reconcile and Misty gives Colleen her blessing to go ahead and form her own team. Colleen herself is spot on as usual, though she’s got much less internal narrative than in the earlier issues (except at the very beginning and end). Her best part came during the duel with Black Lotus whom she defeated despite a concussion and a foot pinned to the ground, all the while admiring her opponent’s skill."

Meanwhile, Adam Chapman at CXPULP thought it was one of his favorite tie-ins:
"More crossover tie-ins should be written like this one, which manages to tell a good story and actually do something with a character, while at the same time crossing over and making it feel more incidental instead of the most important thing about the book.
Henderson has a great handle not just on how to write Colleen Wing, however, but also how to write Misty Knight, and how to write the two women together. The characterization of the two is fantastic, there's a very realistic sensibility to the conversation, as we manage to have a nice little scene which manages to do some solid character work for both characters, as well as show the deep bond and friendship between the two women. There aren't a lot of duos in comics that are comprised of two women, but Henderson succinctly shows why these two women are such great friends, and how they complement each other."

Okay, now here's a question. Why do I paste snippets of reviews in my own blog? It does seem untoward, but my reason is that I hope it moves you to check out the work. So please forgive the self-promotion.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Carrie by Stephen King (review)

A reader could pick up Carrie today with no knowledge of what would become of its author, no idea that Stephen King would become what Dave Barry calls "Big Steve," the guy who churns out a bestseller a year at least, even after getting run over by a runaway van. Forget all that: Carrie, released in 1974 was Stephen King's first published work. There was just the book. And though America had produced a lot of fine horror (Shirley Jackson had long moved into a sort of canon, Rosemary's Baby was quite recent, and Richard Matheson's Hell House even more so,) Carrie was different.

Carrie, to pretend you don't know, tells the story of a beautiful girl who has been stamped and pounded into submission by her high school classmates in the small town of Chamberlain, Maine. Oh, Carrie has trouble at home, too; her mother is a fundamentalist so fanatical that she regards the other fundamentalists as servants of the devil. But Carrie's real problem is high school. King recognizes this with razor acuity: take away Carrie's loony Mom and there's still a good chance that high school will be every bit as soul-crushing for Carrie as it is for countless other scapegoated, clumsy, unhappy and uncomfortable teens. Carrie is first and foremost not a girl who turns out to possess raw and dangerous power, but a girl who just can't take one more day of meanness, and another day of meanness always comes.

Stephen King has written about one of the instances from his own childhood that brought him to write Carrie. He told the story of a girl he went to school with who was a little awkward and backward and certainly poor, poorer in a poor town to start with. She was teased for her grooming and her looks and her awkward gait. King tells a story with an almost Cinderella tone, that one year this girl came back from Christmas break with new clothes. There was a visible shift in her, a confidence everyone noticed. But the crowd turned, and the teasing increased, and King says he watched her shrink back, never to try to break out again. That's Carrie, but I think for most of us, it's at least a few more.

Carrie takes place in and near a high school in a small town in the early 1970s-- the book reads like a letter from that era, especially because it's essentially an epistolary novel, made up of roughly half straight narration and half articles, interviews, what have you. The changing viewpoints both in the narration and through constant changing of source make this feel like one of King's most modern books, even though the brand names, the customs of high school, the little details clearly signal an America of nearly forty years ago. This matters: take away the Bob Dylan lyrics people copy into one another's yearbooks and you've still got a world of no cell phones and no Internet, no cable TV, no escape outside the community. It was a lonelier world, to be sure.

It's a zippy read, too: the book is about 200 pages long, maybe less. King wrote an introduction for a recent edition; that probably gets it up to a workable length, though one suspects that "King's 2011 Carrie," if it were to exist, would be about 500% the size of the original.

Forget all that. This is a book about the pain of high school. The pain of being alone, of daring to ask if for once, the bullying would just... stop. And of a very special moment when it totally doesn't.

Go back and read Carrie.

Glog on Alex Van Helsing

The Garcia Middle School in San Antonio has prepared the first "glog" I've seen on Alex Van Helsing in preparation for a school visit I'm doing next week. A glog, for those of us for whom this is new, is basically an interactive scrapbook-slash-poster on the web.

I think this is so cool. I wish when I was a kid I could have done this for the Three Investigators and The House with the Clock in its Walls.

You can check out the one from the Garcia Library here, and a preview is below (Thanks to librarian Lucy Podmore for setting this up!)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Frankenstein nuts will LOVE Frankensteinia blog

As a Frankenstein freak, I revel in obscure elements and details that have attached to the phenomenon that Frankenstein has become. I think phenomenon is the right idea, one that would apply to Dracula and... what else? Spider-Man?

What makes something a phenomenon, anyway? It's not just a book turning into a movie, or else I'd have to describe the phenomenon that is Prince of Tides. With certain concepts like Dracula and Frankenstein, the core concept someone finds a life of its own, and can acquire and slough off the accoutrement of different versions along the way.

I wanted to share a new blog I just came across-- Frankensteinia, a blog "tracking Frankenstein and all things related in the arts, media and popular culture." And what an awesome blog-- you could spend days checking out alternate book covers, production stills, movie reviews, and book reviews, running the gamut from 50s comic art to recent scholarship on Mary Shelley. I'm just in awe.

Check out Frankensteinia.

Monday, November 8, 2010

House of Dark Shadows

Dark Shadows-- and the movie that reduces it all to a slick 90 minutes-- is a case study in gothic, true gothic, complete with governesses and long shadows, whispered secrets and vampires rising from crypts. I wanted to spend a moment on Dark Shadows before I return to my own crypt, of sorts.

The clock is ticking for me. This week I'm doing what should be the final touches on the outline for Alex Van Helsing 3, and then we get to writing that book.  I've been enjoying the break-- along the way I've written a couple of new proposals, one of which hasn't gone out and who knows if it will, and read a lot of books as well.

This past week, though, I've been watching Dark Shadows, a gothic vampire soap opera from the 1960s. It's strange to me that I never watched this show the many millions of times it's been re-run over the years. Dark Shadows fandom has been a phenomenon I was aware of but had never actually taken part in, and as with all such things I always felt a certain painful detachment, as though I should know these characters. For a vampire fan, not having watched Dark Shadows was like not having seen Bela Lugosi in Dracula. It's okay to tell someone you never got around to watching Daughters of Darkness, but Dracula?

So Dark Shadows is like that. But hark: you can now catch it streaming on Netflix streaming, which seriously I advertise so much you'd think I worked for them.

Dark Shadows concerns a lot of things, because it's a soap opera, but chiefly it concerns vampire Barnabas Collins, who has returned to the stately Collinwood in coastal Maine, where he plots to find his lost love and control the people around him. You can literally watch this series the way it was first intended, one episode after the other. But of course watching it would take years, which is why in 1970 Dan Curtis (who would go on to make one of my favorite Draculas) took his own series and made a movie out of it.

The movie, called House of Dark Shadows, is available on iTunes and through Amazon, and it retells the story of the soap opera in vivid Hammer-esque color. Here, Barnabas returns and falls in love with Maggie, a woman he believes to be the re-incarnation of his lost love (Curtis and Richard Matheson would re-use this plot in Dracula, introducing an element that everyone remembers but wasn't there in Stoker's novel). The movie has some pacing issues but what I loved most was the gloomy, gothic sense of it all, the great house, the vampires in gossamer, the unabashed use of crosses and traditional vampire trappings, and finally the absolutely jaw-dropping beauty of Barnabas' and Maggie's almost-vampire-wedding. Truly, that's some beautiful vampire imagery.

Here's the trailer. Check out House of Dark Shadows.