Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Friday, October 12, 2012

After Nine Days, I Let the Horse Run Free

Do you remember that part in the book Interview with the Vampire (not the movie) when the vampire has to bury himself deep in the ground and then come up a couple of decades later as a new person after everybody he knew before forgot he was alive?  That is basically what I did in 2009.

I started a new day job career, but it was an excuse to stop screenwriting for a while.  Back in 2008 I saw the end of what was going on in DVD and thought I would take some time off to look at what the next model would be post-80s video store boom and post-90s DVD store boom.  Despite a few really interesting changes, like Netflix Streaming, I don't know that the new model is really there in the same way it was during those two crashing waves before (and may never be).

I really think the new future for the independent writer is the ebook.  With Kindles and Nooks flying off shelves and free/cheap downloads from Amazon by the pound it has that Wild West feel that the heady days of Direct-to-DVD did, when I was working on Among Us and before we were done shooting the distributor wanted four more. 

People are so starved for ebooks, the way they were for  my mockbusters like The DaVinci Curse, that writers are putting up all kinds of things and doing pretty well, or well enough.  Readers are willing to take chances on things they wouldn't normally, and all kinds of niches are springing up.  This, by the way, is how I built my fragile screenwriting career, in that long tail.

I have been afraid that if I wrote about this, however, I would have to do something about it, like many of my friends who also worked in the D2DVD market and then moved over (looking especially at Gary M. Lumpp, Scott Phillips, and Bill Cunningham) as well as some pals who published tree-killers but have a new life in the e-world (looking especially at Allan Guthrie).

I have been slowly, achingly, trying to write again after a couple of false starts, clawing myself up from the cold earth.  I have written an entirely screenplay over a long weekend, but my brain doesn't seem to be wired for other types of writing.  I am thinking if I write it here, somebody might hold my feet to the fire to keep going.  If I have any real updates, I will put them here.  I do have a title:  The Gun with the Blonde-Eyed Green.

Until later, I'm at johnoakdalton@hotmail.com.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012


I just got back from my third great year at the Blue Whiskey Film Festival with probably the strongest field yet of screenings and lots of interaction with filmmakers--I believe 20 out of 32 films screened in competition had representatives there either IRL or through the magic of Skype.  I really loved the french film A.L.F. which was the unanimous choice for Best of Fest, but there was plenty of other stuff on my personal favorites list, including Quitter, Machinehead, Being Bradford Dillman, The Guy Who Lived In My Pool, The Hole, I Am Bad, Things I Don't Understand, and Future Inc.; and a couple of really solid documentaries, including Average Joe, Kinderblock 66, and 5 Days in Denver.

Powering Up at BWIFF

I've said it before, you will never go hungry in Palatine.  One of my favorite things besides watching hours and days of films and then talking about them with people is going to eat at great places in the area.  Number one for me is Billy's Pancake House where we host the annual Filmmakers Breakfast and I continue to winnow away at my twilight years by trying (and failing) each year to eat something called a Meat Skillet.  I also always stop at the 24 Hour donut shop Spunky Dunkers, where you expect you might see Raymond Chandler banging away on a typewriter on the last stool.  And this year we had dinner at a new place that looked like a set Robert Rodriguez could film a shootout in.


Part of my enjoyment in going to film festivals is living my life vicariously through more talented people like Gary Lumpp, Michael Noens, and Steve Coulter, who I took my (I think) sixth annual photo with.  They look the same, I am getting fatter and balder.

Friday, July 20, 2012

#Shedpocalypse Rising

72 hours over 13 days, 15 boxes of nails and screws, 8 flats of shingles, 12 tubes of caulk, 4 cans of paint, 3 banged thumbs (all mine), 8 Band-Aids, 1,100 pounds of lumber, lots of water, a summer of record heat, and primary operations have been completed on my new shed/mancave.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Back on the Book Beat

The latest installment of "Book Beat," my long-running column for the magazine Pomp and Circumstantial Evidence, a part of the Magna Cum Murder Mystery Conference at Ball State University:

A retired British policeman impulsively buys a child from a drug addict; a sometime private eye rescues a dog from an abusive man at a park; and an elderly actress struggles with dementia while co-starring on a hit detective show; how these stories cross, loop back, and fold in on each other forms the heart of Started Early, Took My Dog.

I picked this up on a whim based on the title alone, having never heard of Kate Atkinson.  I found a rewarding, complex mystery that may be one of my favorites of the year.

The story picks up threads of the notorious Manchester Ripper case of the 70s and reaches all the way to contemporary times, following the life arcs of many complicated, fully-realized characters, including tarnished cops and well-meaning criminals.  The diverse storylines, which include a humorous running background thread about a cheesy cop show, are very nicely tied up at the end.

Atkinson is a fine literary writer with all of the requisite beats for mystery fans.  Recommended. 

A terrible accident derails a train in a snowy Norwegian mountain pass, and the survivors--including a paralyzed former policewoman, a troubled teenager, a magnetic religious leader, and at least one killer--manage to make it to a ski lodge--where their real problems begin--in Anne Holt's thriller 1222.

Even though the novel has the locked-room trappings of an Agatha Christie novel 1222 is quite a crackling thriller, despite featuring an unusually dour protagonist (even by the high standards of the typically gloomy Scandinavian mystery) in the paralyzed, retired detective.

The storytelling is exceptional, ratcheting up the suspense as the reader learns about a mysterious passenger sequestered behind armed bodyguards, various political ramifications involving high levels in the Norwegian government, and an increasing body count.

Holt is apparently quite popular in her native Norway, and although this is one of the later novels in her series featuring the reluctant police detective I believe it is the first translated into English.  I hope to see more of this series.

Two old friends--who bonded over shared sociopathic tendencies and various addiction problems-- find themselves chasing an old girlfriend who ran off with another man, a cache of drugs, and a prize leather jacket; soon things get worse, then worse again, in Ray Banks' Wolf Tickets.

I thoroughly enjoyed an early outing from Edinburgh noir author Banks, Dead Money, another very tough crime novel, so I was eager to pick this one up.  Once again this novel features two knockaround protagonists--although in this case with chapters in alternating voices--and a storyline that veers from sardonic humor to chilling spatters of violence.

The main drawback to Wolf Tickets is that at times I had a hard time delineating between the two voices; but this one also comes with a warning for the casual reader who is unprepared for various scenes of violence, torture, and abuse (of substances, other people, and The King's English).

This came to me from Blasted Heath, a highly admirable ebook publisher from across the pond who are putting out some crackling contemporary noir.  Recommended for fans of the hard-boiled.

Federal marshal Raylan Givens takes on a variety of Kentucky criminals, from organ traffickers to corporate thieves to cold-blooded killers, in Elmore Leonard's Raylan.

Leonard's laconic, trigger-eager lawman has appeared in several earlier crime novels but has become more prominent since the FX television show Justified featured the character, in a solid portrayal by Timothy Olyphant.

Unfortunately I found the storytelling in this one more television-sized, picking up characters and situations from the show and sometimes riffing on them in different ways; but I felt Raylan never really creating a large enough stage for the characters, as one might hope for when freed from the constrictions of TV production.

That being said, it is a quick, enjoyable read and pretty solid for a late entry in Leonard's bibliography, which has run hot and cold in recent years.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Dawn of the Shed

So while I was goofing off in Italy the roof collapsed on my aged gardening shed.  I thought I would just order one from Lowe's and build it myself.  Shortly thereafter a truck pulled up with a little flat box that looked like the one I got when I built my daughter a kitchen playset when she was little.  Only this one weighed over 1,000 pounds.  2 hours of inventory in a 50+ page instruction booklet and then almost 25 hours of working through 9 boxes of nails in 90 degree heat and it's time for a good old-fashioned Amish shed-raising.  If I am still alive after I will post more pictures.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

From Italy, with Gelato

Welcome back to Italy, the land of the shrug--maybe today, maybe tomorrow, maybe open, maybe closed, maybe electricity, maybe not, maybe the bus is running, if not go and have a nice plate of pasta and a glass of vino.  As you can see, they haven't cleaned up a lot since I was here last year.  This statue, in the Boboli Gardens, looks like something left over from Planet of the Apes.

The Good, the Bad, and the Nerdy

I spent a lot more time this year looking for fumetti on the streets of Rome and Florence; here is a very respectable stack of Tex comics, an inexplicably popular series that has run for more than 50 years about a Texas Ranger in the American Old West.  I bought several because they were easier to understand than some; even I know Tex shouldn't camp in Il Canyon Della Morte when there are mummies around.

You Say You Want A Revolution

I remained fascinated by the posters plastered around Rome.  This was my favorite last year, and this was my fave from this year; a poster for a Communist rally (who knew there were still Communists?) featuring a foxy young comrade yelling through a megaphone at, I think, Lou Dobbs.

From the Land of Sky-Blue Water

Rome has a reputation for healthful waters, and they pipe it out to you everywhere, as ubiquitous as a fresh plate of pasta (I recommend the carbonara, anywhere).  The fact that a fellow traveler observed a dog lapping from said fountain didn't diminish its sweet goodness.

I Wasn't That Uneasy

Polite Engrish in Rome.

There Goes Tokyo

Graffiti is plentiful in Rome, and this was my favorite of the year; though I wish I had my camera with me when I saw the Jim Morrison with the monkey face.

Open City

Weird street art, offered without comment.

Everyday Italian

Typical Italian pizza, diametrically opposed to what you would expect, with things like eggs, pineapple, and other items we generally don't put on our pale knockoffs.  But I looked this one right in the face and it went down easy.  It's hard to eat a bad meal in Italy; I also sampled the wild boar and the wild hare and found in them greatness (with only a little buckshot).

Roman Holiday-ish

The Mouth of Truth--you know I was sweating putting my hand in there.  But I ain't lying if I say I hope to go back someday.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

SPACE Oddities

My old pal Tom Cherry decided to table at the Small Press and Comics Expo this year, a great show in Columbus Ohio that we have both visited several times.  I offered to help him table, which mostly meant I walked around and talked to other cartoonists and then drew sketches that forced people to take a wide berth around his booth.  A fun day and a neat event.


Tom Cherry's wares on display at SPACE.

Sketchy SPACE

Demand was minimal for my offbeat convention sketches at Tom's table.

SPACE Barbarism

I have been following Tom Scioli's career for a long time and met him some years ago at SPACE.  Here he is signing American Barbarian for me, a lunatic masterpiece.


Some of the stash I picked up at SPACE.  I am a longtime fan of Pam Bliss and really like her mixed-media Green Peas and Chickenhorses and was pleasantly surprised by something I'd never heard of before called Indestructible Universe Quarterly.  I picked up some new Cynicalman and King Cat Comics and really enjoyed meeting King Cat's John Porcellino.  I have been reading his autobiographical comic for over ten years and had the surreal experience of feeling like I knew somebody I had never met before.


Tom Cherry signs a copy of one of his minicomics for a fan named Simba.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Cooler Than Me

Me working the door at the Mike Posner concert put on by my university, taken with complete irony by my daughter.  I can't remember for sure but I think my last concert might have been They Might Be Giants, not exactly the same crowd.  However, I did like this show, especially Mike Posner's unusual covers, including Wonderwall, Rolling with the Deep, and Evil Woman

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Hoosier Silver Screen

My first trip to the Indiana University Cinema in Bloomington, Indiana, a hip, alternative film venue as evidenced by these two hip, alternative dudes.  This is me and director Miguel Coyula at the screening of his film "Memories of Overdevelopment."  I met Miguel some years ago when his movie "Red Cockroaches" played at Microcinema Fest in South Dakota, where I was a festival judge.  Since then Miguel has played in some less prestigious venues, such as Sundance.  He was so busy at IU we didn't even get to reminisce about sharing a bunk bed at American University in Rapid City.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What We Talk About When We Talk About Bigfoot

Fellow Hoosier Brandon tweeted to me, Tried to fall asleep earlier this morning to a copy of Among Us I found the other day. Too much fun for the sleeping.  Brandon isn't the first one that has tried to fall asleep watching my work.  But what is fascinating to me is that it seems like interest in "Among Us," which came out in 2004, has never really waned.

For instance, earlier this month these dudes spent more time analyzing "Among Us" than I have.

I'm glad this movie has had some legs.  Although it was not the first screenplay I sold, it was the first one that got made into a movie, and I think it probably has the most of my own voice in it--for better or worse--than anything I have written since.  I am pretty proud of how it turned out, and you can also catch my audio commentary on the DVD.

Plus, you get to see me in the Bigfoot suit in the startling denouement of the film.

I said something last month about offering up a Book of the Month from my attempt to read 50 books a year.  For February I am offering up a double-header:  for the old school, the melancholy metafiction Breakfast of Champions; but if you've read it, anyone who reads this blog regularly will love Ready Player One.

Until later I am at johnoakdalton@hotmail.com.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

On The Book Beat

I have written "Book Beat" for Pomp and Circumstantial Evidence, the magazine of the Magna Cum Murder Mystery Conference, for a number of years.  Here's my latest entry:

The Drop by Michael Connelly
Harry Bosch works two crimes at once in Michael Connelly's The Drop; first, a cold case about the long-ago murder of a young woman and second, a politically-charged case featuring the death of the son of one of Bosch's old foes.
The Drop refers to the possible murder or suicide of the young man, who went out the window of a hotel; but it also refers to a slang term about Bosch, Connelly's world-weary and only slightly tarnished L.A. cop, nearing retirement.
After a bit of a lull, I think Connelly's books have been consistently strong over the last few years.  He is a former reporter, evident in his clipped prose and hard-nosed style, which I enjoy.
I think the Harry Bosch novels will stand as one of the great contemporary mystery series when Michael Connelly finally closes the last chapter.  Recommended for mystery fans.

The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen
A Copenhagen cop is wounded in a shootout, while another partner is wounded and a third killed; in the aftermath, the burned-out cop is content to be assigned to the cold case files deep in a windowless basement.  However, he meets a janitor/driver named Assad (with mysterious skills far above his station in life) and is gradually coaxed back to life in The Keeper of Lost Causes.
This is the first of Jussi Adler-Olsen's crime novels translated into English, and it is quite a tale.  Our cop and his assistant become interested in a female politician who went missing five years before and is presumed dead.  They rather quickly find out there may be more to the disappearance and take off on a winding mystery, leavened by surprising bits of humor in the relationship between the two lead characters, somewhat rare in the typically gloomy Scandinavian mystery.
Meanwhile, a parallel story is a particularly gruesome one as the missing woman deals with being imprisoned and tortured in a small chamber for years on end, a grim counterpart to the main plot and more in line with the typically downbeat offerings from these authors.  The burned-out cop's intent to keep his feet up and drink coffee often acts as an agonizing contrast to these scenes.
I found this to be one of my favorite reads in the Scandinavian mystery genre and would recommend this to fans of Stieg Larsson and others.

Dead Money by Ray Banks
A pair of British salesmen spend their evenings drinking and gambling and get in trouble slowly, then quickly, in Ray Banks' noir Dead Money.
Banks gives his protagonist that Jim Thompson spin that I always appreciate, where his actions make sense to him even as the repercussions for those actions grown in intensity; a classic "unreliable narrator" story often favored in crime novels.
Banks writes in a clean style, looped with inky black humor, and the plot goes at a lightning pace, heaping dread upon dread.  My only complaint is that I felt that the novel probably needed one or two more chapters to fully realize all of the plotlines set forth.
I was pleasantly surprised when I was emailed a copy of this novel for my beloved Kindle from Blasted Heath, an e-publishing outfit.  I have become a fan of these U.K. crime writers, quietly supplanting their Scandinavian brethren who have gotten a toehold on U.S. shores in recent years.
I will definitely look for more from Ray Banks and would recommend this to fans of the genre.

Carte Blanche by Jeffrey Deaver
James Bond is back in action against a recycling magnate with a death fetish in Jeffrey Deaver's low-stakes initial outing with 007, Carte Blanche.
Despite some globe-trotting through Eastern Europe, England, and South Africa, overall this is a bit of a banal spy story, whether the name of James Bond is attached or not.  And yet it is hard to identify this retooled Bond, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who still likes fast cars but has more politely contemporary views on drinking and women.  The main character really could have been any protagonist of this type of story.
Although I have enjoyed Deaver's crime fiction from time to time, I was a bit put out by a mechanic in this story that kept cheating the reader by holding back key plot elements until later reveals, almost as one might see in a screenplay.  That being said, if Deaver does another Bond novel I will probably check it out to see where he goes with it next.
It might be unfair to critique Deaver's take on Bond so quickly on the heels of Sebastian Faulks' superior Bond novel Devil May Care, which fits directly into Fleming's original series where he left off in the 60s.  I would have loved to see Faulks do another one that fit directly into the canon.

Plugged by Eoin Colfer
An ex-soldier leaves Ireland for what he thinks is the relative peace and solitude of suburban New Jersey, only to get wrapped up in a few riotous days of kidnapping and murder in Eoin Colfer's Plugged.
Colfer is probably best know as the author of the Artemis Fowl young adult novels, and seems to have made a concerted effort to reach the other end of the spectrum with this foul-mouthed, raunchy action-oriented comedy.  The "Plugged" of the title refers to not only the euphemism for killing but also two characters' obsession with hair transplants done by a shady doctor (whose ghost speaks to the protagonist throughout).
Although I felt the humor seemed strained at times, I enjoyed the action and plotting of this brisk little story and would look for more of Colfer's adult work.  It is definitely not for young adults, however, and woe be to the parent that buys it for a young person.

The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson by Douglas Lindsay
A dour barber with delusions of grandeur working in a second-tier shop dreams of murder and retribution; meanwhile, a squad of bored, weary, bickering cops hunt a serial killer terrorizing Glasgow.  Where these two storylines intersect, in a maelstrom of violence, is at the heart of Douglas Lindsay's The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson.
The description makes it sound like pretty grim fare, but Lindsay's novel is full of surprising humor, and is almost surreal in spots.  If Thomas Harris and Nick Hornby opened a barber shop, and Douglas Adams was the first customer, the three of them together might brainstorm up something like this.
I was caught unawares at first, but once I got into the rhythm of the storytelling I found myself wrapped up in Barney Thomson's misfortunes. Lindsay writes in more of a cinematic style and probably owes more to post-modern directors like Quentin Tarantino than the noir traditions of authors like Cornell Woolrich.
The downside of having an unlikable schlub as a protagonist is offset by some humorous writing and interesting ideas.  There has apparently been enough interest that Barney Thomson returns at least twice more, and I'm sure I will look for these as well.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Volunteers #1 Cover

Welcome to VOLUNTEERS #1, May 2004.  The germ of this idea came in the shadowy days after a bad migraine, when I was thinking about "found art"--making art out of whatever flotsam and jetsam happened to be lying around.
Thus, all of the dialogue in VOLUNTEERS #1 was chosen at random from old comic books I plucked out of an overflowing box, with the following caveats:  the comic book must be at least 15 years old, and preferably an obscure title or one no longer in print.
I wrote each one on a post-it, and kept re-arranging and re-arranging them until they made sense.  As you might suspect, I threw out a lot.
One might recognize the stalwart Volunteers from their guest-starring role in my prior comic book experiment, BAD EGGS #1, a 24 Hour Comic Book.

Volunteers #1 Page 1

TIGER-MAN #2, Atlas, 1975

Volunteers #1 Page 2

GHOST STORIES #18, Dell, 1967

Volunteers #1 Page 3

GHOST STORIES #18, Dell, 1967 (Continued)
SON OF DRACULA #1, Atlas, 1975

Volunteers #1 Page 4

The issue's title comes from a text fiction story written by Gerry Conway in ALL-STAR WESTERN #1.

Volunteers #1 Page 5

G.I. COMBAT #158, DC, 1973
THE TOMB OF DRACULA #30, Marvel, 1974