Thursday, June 08, 2017

I'll Be Your Savior, Steadfast and True

This blog post first appeared (in a differently edited form) in my e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP, which you can subscribe to in the sidebar of this blog.

Summer has come to the Back Five.  Mowing and trimming, putting out a garden; a big chunk of tree fell in the side yard, after a storm, and a laconic elderly man with an axe came by to chop it up for firewood; the chickens are growing, so I need to read a few chapters ahead in my chicken raising book to see when they might start laying eggs.

Speaking of chickens, some friends wondered why I was so eager to read TENDER WINGS OF DESIRE, the free romance novella KFC gave away on Kindle for Mother's Day.

Something about it resonated with me.  Surely many people downloaded it for the express purpose of making fun of it, which is why some people rent movies I wrote; in this case, many have reported back that they were surprised that it is pretty good, and straight-faced.  I have been slowly poking away at it in little spurts on the Kindle app on my phone, but I would report the same thing thus far.

But like in writing b-movies, you have to believe entirely in the world you created.  In horror fandom, they can always smell a rat when you are phoning it in, and I am guessing it is the same with romance fandom, and possibly in any fan base.  So the anonymous author had to believe in what they were doing, and do the best they could for the fans.  It's my job too, and when I see somebody else doing it, I have to give a little salute.

Plus there is the thought that a fast food franchise believed that somebody might want to read a book.  Not goof around on an app, or play Angry Fried Chickens, but sit down a read a novel.  And they were right.  That is really something to meditate on.

Loyal readers of this e-newsletter know that to escape the unbelievable fiction of world events I have been reading a lot of printed fiction.  Somehow I read eight books in May and any number I could recommend for my secret book club pick for May.  GLAXO by Hernan Ronsino was such a great hard-boiled noir I keep casting around in my mind for people to recommend it to.  THE NIGHT OCEAN by Paul La Farge was recommended to me, and is this rabbit-hole metafiction that starts with the real-life friendship of H.P. Lovecraft and a gay teenager living in Florida and grows to encompass many other real figures and all of sci-fi fandom.  But my heart is with Patton Oswalt's SILVER SCREEN FIEND.  On Earth-Two, Patton Oswalt and I grew up together and played D&D and went to movies at the old downtown Rivoli.  But for any reader it explains how anybody could love movies so much.  I listened to the audiobook version, read by Oswalt, and I would suggest you do the same.

Enjoy the long summer days and we will talk soon.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Carriage of the Spirits

This post originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in my e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP which you can find out all about by subscribing in the sidebar of this blog.

The iron sparked and smoked and gave away in a gush of water just as I was lowering it to my dress shirt--if that wasn't a sign to get off the hamster wheel for a few days, I don't know what sign I need. 

So I am taking a long Memorial Day weekend, drinking a pot of coffee by myself and trying to heroically finish SIX FOUR by Hideo Yokoyama, a 600-page Japanese detective novel that is mostly about the internal mental struggle of a press officer whose daughter has gone missing just as an old kidnapping case heats up.  And by heats up, I mean at about page 400.  But it is so different from anything I know about style-wise that I want to keep reading.

But my movie which I codenamed TWICE SHY is cooking right along.  It is actually on its third title and I like the third one the best.  I did three drafts and I think it is finally pronounced done and going into production at the end of July.  I got some pretty cool news about it last night that makes me want to find that GIF where Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach all give each other the side-eye in THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY but I don't even know where to find GIFs.

TWICE SHY was the first script I sold that was written entirely in my new house, at this little desk in the corner where a big animal vet used to do his work, starting in the late 1950s.

Everybody thinks that if they can't be the next Michael Tolkin they will just write a bunch of SyFy movies but it is harder than anyone thinks.  Get somebody to hire you, then wait to see if that director can get the movie made, then wait and see if a distributor will buy it, then wait and see if you can actually find it somewhere.  There is o such thing as "just" making b-movies.  I invite anyone to try it who thinks so.

When I was visiting with the Horror Society in Chicago a few weeks ago somebody asked me about writing spec scripts. The truth is I think I wrote one or two very early on--in the late 90s, in longhand on a yellow legal pad, and then laboriously typed them into MovieMagic on a big PC squatting in the corner of the study--but I have never sold one and not very many people seem to want them.  Directors or producers already have ideas, and titles, and sometimes posters, and sometimes street dates, before they have shooting scripts.

That being said, it is summer, and the mind turns to writing a spec script, as I don't have anything else to work on right this second.  It is usually summer when I think about it, except last summer when I just moved to a place in the country and had a bunch of farm living to get used to.  I have mentioned before that I have a little dystopian story I want to tell, but who wants to read that kind of stuff now when you can just look out the window?  Plus I watch THE HANDMAID'S TALE on Hulu every week (which might as well be titled #Pence2020), and have nightmares after every time, so why would I do that to somebody else?

But I have a few more ideas, so we will see what happens.

Thanks for sticking with me.  Enjoy Memorial Day weekend.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

That Night We Split A Rattlesnake

The following blog post came from my e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP, which you can subscribe to in the sidebar to get sneak previews of what I'm working on.

A week or so ago I was in Chicago for Trash Movie Night, where I screened JURASSIC PREY for some friendly fans. I truly enjoy visiting this group of people, even when I feel a little trickle of fear every time they cheer loudly when somebody gets murdered.  The Q&As are always good, and I even had a guy say, "I gave this movie a bad review on Amazon, but when I watched it here, I liked it better."  Nothing wrong with that.

JURASSIC PREY the movie keeps getting dynamited out of the ground after a long time just like the lead dinosaur in the story.  There is now a U.K. release, and naturally the box art looks nothing like the stop motion rubber dinosaur inside.

The British website Nerdly, which rated PETER ROTTENTAIL one of the Top Ten Worst Horror Movies of All Time, didn't hate it.  And the Schlock Pit liked it even better than hate.

On the new movie front, the secret project I titled TWICE SHY for the purposes of this e-newsletter is percolating right along for a July production shoot.  I am going to try and visit the set and may even be put to work as a PA.  I have tried in the past to PA for some of my movies and tell the director not to mention who I am so I can hear the actors say truthfully whether the script sucks or not.  I've never been able to pull it off long enough to find out for real and for true.  Having a television production background is handy for these things and also helps me realize what might take a million dollars to do in a movie that, politely, doesn't have that kind of budget.

For April my secret e-newsletter Book Club is Daniel Pyne's CATALINA EDDY.  This is three novellas, loosely threaded together, that represent different time periods and genres of crime writing.  The first, The Big Empty, is set in the 50s and is about a P-I trying to figure out who killed his estranged wife; the second, Losertown, is set in the 80s and is about a prosecutor trying to catch a big-time drug dealer; and the third, Portugese Bend, is a modern thriller about a paralyzed detective and a crime scene photographer teaming up to uncover the true identity of a murderer.  The political side is sometimes painted in broad strokes, but the California noir is pretty cool.

Good luck with your own ongoing projects, and see you soon.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Picked Up A Monkey Skull To Go

Thanks to the Horror Society for hosting me and JURASSIC PREY at Fat Cat Chicago Monday night!  Really good Q&A and a lot of fun.  I have been there three times, twice as a guest (with this film and SEX MACHINE) and once watching my pal Henrique Couto screen BABYSITTER MASSACRE, and I have always enjoyed the Chicago horror fans, who aren't afraid to yell at the screen when they spot inconsistencies and cheer on murder, which may seem a little out of context to outsiders.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The City of Big Shoulders (from carrying books)

I went to the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention in Chicago this weekend and only spent 20 dollars on all of these beauties, including some Ace Doubles, a Harry Whittington MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., a Robert Sheckley spy novel and some Walter Wager I SPY novels written as "John Tiger."  Good times.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Walk the Dinosaur

This post first appeared, in a slightly different form, in the e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP, which you can subscribe to in the sidebar.

I have been off the grid a bit lately.  For one, I have been building a DIY chicken coop, carefully designed by my dad, for the last six weekends, pounding nails until my hands throbbed.  Secondly, I just wrapped on a new freelance project.

I had been turning down work for a while--what with moving, and probably the busiest year I've ever had at the day job in a long time, I'd decided I needed to go away for a bit.  Sometimes I feel like I have to do like Lestat did in INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE--burrow down into the ground and pop out a long time later as somebody else.  But I didn't feel like being gone quite so long.

I have patterned a lot of my e-newsletter on the one I admire from writer Warren Ellis, who comes up with code names for all the projects he is working on under nondisclosure, only revealing them when they become real.  So in that spirit I am calling this one TWICE SHY even though I can't tell you the real name anyway because I'm not sure one has stuck.  I'm getting to the point of only wanting to do projects that really catch fire for me, and this one did; an opportunity to write a second movie on a topic I like, and a chance to set it in a different time period--in this case, that ancient forgotten era that represents my early teen years.

If all goes well, this one should lens in June, and I was asked if I was interested in visiting the set, which a writer should never take lightly as by and large nobody wants to see you anymore after the screenplay is turned in.  So it's flattering, and I think I will try to do so.

I am headed back to Chicago on Monday, April 24 for another Horror Society Trash Movie Night where the lunatics of the Horror Society will be screening my rubber dinosaur epic mockbuster JURASSIC PREY (which I wrote under the title MEATEATERS before it was mockbusted).  For better or for worse, this is the screenplay that helped bring me out of a years-long self-imposed exile because I couldn't turn down writing a stop-motion dinosaur movie for my old friend Mark Polonia (that and HAUNTED HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW for director Henrique Couto, because I couldn't turn down writing a movie where the only superfluous word in the title was "on."  Speaking of flattered, I was very flattered to be asked back after just screening SEX MACHINE there in December.  It was flat cold zero with about a half foot of snow or more last time, so I think we can do better on weather this time--though it's still April in Chicago, so it's a tossup.

I'm a little behind on my secret e-newsletter Book Club, so let me get both February and March out of the way.  I can't get John Darnielle's creepy UNIVERSAL HARVESTER out of my mind, a skin-crawling sketch of midwestern life centered around weird footage spliced into VHS rentals at a lonely store in rural Iowa.  Next I have to recommend the absolutely bats PIRATE UTOPIA by Bruce Sterling, a post-World War I-era thriller about a little upstart sliver of a country between Yugoslavia and Italy chock full of anarchists and rebels with names like "The Art Witch" and "The Ace of Hearts"--all the more crazy because it is (somewhat) grounded in real events.

Talk to you again soon, thanks for sticking with me.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Captured and Ordered in the Army of Mars

Proud to be asked to return to my old haunt, WCTV, for Red Wolves Read, a live reading event on public access television.  I chose selections from THE SIRENS OF TITAN by great Hoosier author Kurt Vonnegut, which is the first book of his I read as a teenager.  SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE is one of the great novels of the 20th Century, and BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS is a great melancholy read for an adult, but this one will have a special place in my heart and is a good place to start for new Vonnegut fans.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

On the Book Beat

I have been reading a lot this winter, so my latest Book Beat column (for the Pomp and Circumstantial Evidence magazine, from the Magna Cum Murder Mystery Conference) has plenty to chose from.

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith
Somebody sent London P.I. Cormoran Strike a severed leg, and he has several suspects to choose from in the latest thriller from J.K. Rowling (writing under the Robert Galbraith pseudonym) Career of Evil.
Rowling was outed as Galbraith some time ago, but it's a good thing that she is still using the name, so an unsuspecting young muggle doesn't inadvertently wander into this story.  It is chock full of adult elements, including gruesome murders and dismemberment, spousal and child abuse, and plenty of fighting and gunplay.
But it is Rowling's characters and situations that go beyond the genre trappings; Strike's troubled childhood with a rock star father, his loyal assistant Robin on the verge of making a bad-luck marriage, and various family members and friends are well drawn and interesting.
This is the third in the series, and all are recommended to mystery fans.

The Girls by Emma Cline
At the end of the 60s, at the end of her parents' marriage, a teenage girl gradually disconnects from suburbia and falls in with a growingly dangerous cult in Emma Cline's debut The Girls.
The Girls has elements of literary fiction and elements of thriller, with the obvious parallel being to the Manson murders.  But at its center Cline's novel is really about a young girl's awakening sexuality, and her attraction to a magnetic young woman in the cult.
How this relationship slowly, and then quickly, destroys lives around them is the spine of the story.
This is a solid read for those with any type of fiction interests and is recommended. 

The House Husband by James Patterson and Duane Swierczynski
A cop just a day back from maternity leave stalks a serial killer who targets families in The House Husband, from James Patterson's Bookshots line.
Bookshots are thrillers and romances in the beach read style, but at about one-fifth the size.  All are overseen by Patterson with a co-author, in this instance Duane Swierczynski, whose books and comics I have been interested in on their own merits.
This story, told in alternating chapters by the cop and the killer (who seems to lead the mild life of the house husband of the title) hits all the expected beats, but a twisty ending and a Philadelphia setting add value.
I enjoyed reading this quickly, as intended.

The Widow by Fiona Barton
A woman gradually begins to suspect that her husband is responsible for a child's disappearance in The Widow by Fiona Barton.
Barton's novel is at both times a portrait of a marriage and a psychological thriller, and the story ratchets up the tension by peeling back the onion through one revelation after the next.  Although I saw the ending coming, it was sufficiently suspenseful throughout.
The Widow benefits from having various chapters told from alternating points of view, mostly from an ambitious reporter and a dogged police detective, but also including the mother and the husband.
The Widow tries to land in the same range as The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl, with pretty good results.  For fans of thrillers.

Desperado: A Mile High Noir by Manuel Ramos
A down-on-his-luck guy reluctantly helps an old high school friend who is getting blackmailed--but when the old friend turns up dead, things quickly go from bad to worse in Desperado:  A Mile High Noir by Manuel Ramos.
Ramos hits all of the right genre beats, including a can't-win-for-losing protagonist, but adds interest by setting the story in the center of Latino culture in a gentrifying Denver.
I would recommend this novel to any noir fans, especially readers who want to hear from a different voice in the genre.

The Bastards of Pizzofalcone by Maurizio de Giovanni
A group of unwanted cops are sent to staff a precinct on the verge of closing; but when an affluent woman is murdered, they have a chance to redeem themselves both personally and professionally in The Bastards of Pizzofalcone.
This is the first novel in a new Italian crime series from Maurizio de Giovanni, bringing the lead cop over from his solid thriller The Crocodile.  Lojacono, called "The Chinaman," teams up with a handful of tarnished heroes on this and several other cases that thread throughout, as they try to hold various aspects of their personal lives together.
de Giovanni acknowledges Ed McBain and his "87th Precinct" books in the writing of this novel, and his nods to the source material show throughout.  Fans of McBain will enjoy this outing, a story that would fit right into that series but seen through a different cultural lens.
I thought the mystery was somewhat slight, but the characters and situations highly interesting, making it a fast read.

Silenced by Kristina Ohlsson
An immigrant killed in a hit and run, a vicar and his wife in a murder-suicide, and a young woman being terrorized in Bangkok are all tied together, and it's up to a special squad of Stockholm detectives to figure out how in Kristina Ohlsson's Silenced.
Ohlsson weaves a tangled plot, even more knotty with the complex backstories of the team of detectives trying to solve the various cases.  One is pregnant by a married lover, another senses trouble at home, a third is going through a volcanic divorce which is impacting his work.
Characters you can invest in, and sharp storytelling, make Silenced a satisfying read, especially for fans of Scandinavian crime stories.

The Believer by Joakim Zander
A woman in New York is a trendspotter for hip companies; back in Sweden, her younger brother Fadi becomes radicalized and heads to Syria; and in London, another woman has a laptop stolen after a night of drinking.
How these three storylines connect, and are connected to shadowy government agencies, is at the center of Swedish thriller The Believer by Joakim Zander.
This is a big, globe-trotting book ready-made for a movie adaptation starring Emily Blunt.  In the writing world, I would most closely equate Zander with late-era John LeCarre.
Slices of immigrant life in Sweden adds value to one of those big conspiracy storylines it never pays to think too hard about.

The Oslo Conspiracy by Asle Skredderberget
A young woman is murdered in Rome, and her younger brother killed in a schoolyard in Oslo; it is up to an Oslo cop with a Norwegian father and an Italian mother to stitch the two cases together in The Oslo Conspiracy from Asle Skredderberget.
I enjoy a lot of Scandinavian mysteries, but I'm not sure I've ever read one with a protagonist quite like this; typically the main characters are quite morose with myriad emotional problems, but Milo Cavalli--from a moneyed family, with plenty of girlfriends  and a penchant for globe-trotting and other fine things--is positively breezy by comparison.
The plotting is a breezier as well, reading a bit more like a beach thriller with action scenes with backdrops in various cities and a storyline featuring international business,, crime gangs, and the mysterious sinking of an Italian ship years ago.
Much lighter than the average Scandinavian thriller, for better or worse depending on one's tastes; either way quite readable.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Riding Into the Sunset, I Wish I Could Be

I have been involved in a very active Facebook group featuring pulp fiction and pulp paperbacks of all kinds, and it is the most co-dependent group of addicts I have ever been around--most of them middle-aged guys like myself who like going down deep rabbit holes and finding offbeat stuff.  A box of westerns was going through the mail service, and you could take out what you wanted and put in stuff for the next guy.  The top row is what I took out, the bottom row what I put in.  I blame writing CALAMITY JANE'S REVENGE for my renewed interests in classic western books and movies.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Red Wolf Nation

Finished the first IU East women's basketball season in the brand-new Student Events Center.  I was PA Announcer for a team that ran the table and went undefeated in the new facility, capping it with winning the River States Conference championship on the home floor.  A great group of people to work with.  Go Red Wolves!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Where the Hot Springs Blow

This entry first appeared, in a slightly different form, in my e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP, which you can subscribe to in the sidebar.

I ended up reading 18 books in January, well on my way to reading 50 books this year, my usual goal.  I don't know if it was because of hunkering down for the winter, getting ready to go on some sort of creative binge, afraid to watch the news, or all of the above.

But my book club entry for January is Warren Ellis' NORMAL, for a lot of reasons.  It was Ellis who gave me the idea to do an email newsletter.  He is a long-time comic book writer who has written several challenging genre novels.  This one was published in chapters via Kindle and then came out in paper.

He always gives you a lot to think about.  This one is about a trend forecaster who starts to lose his mind predicting a bleak future, and ends up in an asylum.  After another patient is murdered in a locked-room mystery, he tries to put the pieces back together.  Pretty nutty overall.

I have this perverse desire to read gloomy Scandinavian mysteries in the winter; I guess to realize that my life, and my Indiana winter, isn't that bad (If you have already read all THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO books go looking for Jo Nesbo, Arnaludur Indrioason, Helene Tursten, Asa Larsson, for a start).

I thought I would jump on some Scandinavian movies and have by and large found them surprisingly cheery and sometimes outright funny.  Some pretty good ones I have seen lately are A MAN CALLED OVE, THE 100 YEAR OLD MAN WHO CLIMBED OUT THE WINDOW AND DISAPPEARED, IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE, FORCE MAJEURE.  IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE has Stellan Skarsgard as a snowplow driver, if you really want to think we have it easier here.

We are closer to the end of winter than the beginning, a good thing.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Trying To Relax, Up In The Capsule

This entry first appeared, in a slightly different form, in my e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP which you can subscribe to in the sidebar.

I have been on a crazy reading binge lately, having knocked out a dozen books this month, reading one about every other day or so.  Either it's winter, and I'm in burrowing mode, or I am getting ready to have a big chunk of creativity, or maybe both.

I had a crazy fall, and turned down some screenwriting work, but it may be time to get back in the saddle.  I have had an idea for a dystopian sci-fi screenplay since last summer, but let's be honest, is this really the right time to write a dystopian story?  And whether it is or isn't, I suspect a lot of people are cranking on them right now anyway.

I have been reading a lot of pulp paperbacks again; spaghetti-flavored westerns and hard-boiled mid-century noir and other fast reads.  There is something about these authors from this time period, somewhere in that span of time from the 1950s to the 1970s, writing for the spinner racks, many of them borderline alcoholics or chasing other demons, churning out a book a month sometimes under a handful of names, often not their own.  I have an affinity for them the way I do following the peculiar rhythms of VHS horror movies, and threadbare spaghetti westerns on broken-down sets, and DIY backyard epics.  To be reminded that putting your butt in the seat and working is just as valuable or perhaps more so than being an artistic genius.

Speaking of spaghettis, my homage to those movies, CALAMITY JANE'S REVENGE, is free on Amazon Prime right now, if you still have missed it.  I named most of the villains after bad guys played by Klaus Kinski--memorably the guy that gets a match lit off of his face in A FEW DOLLARS MORE, but I love him as "Hot Dead" in I AM SARTANA YOUR ANGEL OF DEATH--if you wondered how much I really love Italian oaters.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Time, Time, Time, See What's Become of Me

Portions of this post first appeared in my e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP.  You can subscribe to the right.

Even though it was below zero, and the snow was coming down in the way it only does when it is coming off of Lake Michigan, I had a great time in Chicago with the Horror Society screening SEX MACHINE.  We had a small crowd, but all engaged and interested, and the Q&A ranged far and wide.  I hope to one day be back screening another movie--we talked about JURASSIC PREY, which is lunatic enough for this crowd.

With Christmas money, I am renewing subscriptions to The New Yorker and The Alantic and plan to renew my Showtime streaming subscription to binge on THE AFFAIR, SHAMELESS, and MASTERS OF SEX over the holidays.

In the meantime, I just wrapped up a pretty good thriller series called SPOTLESS and am cooking along through THE GIRLFRIENDS' GUIDE TO DIVORCE since I made my wife watch SPOTLESS.  Even though SPOTLESS is about French crime scene guys living in England, DIVORCE, with its California culture and lifestyle, seems farther away to me, somehow.  THE CROWN is quite good, unbelievably soapy and yet by and large true, and THE DETECTORISTS is pretty good but so mild that I sort of can't remember what any of it is about.  JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR. NORRELL is good for those with Harry Potter withdrawal and I liked EASY because it was shot in Chicago and I saw a few familiar faces from that community in it, and knew some of the people hanging out behind the scenes.

Obviously it is winter, and the Netflix binge is underway under a cold and dark sky.

Happy New Year, everybody.