Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Random Thoughts

First, if you have any interest whatsoever in speculative fiction, you should read James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon. An excellent, informative, entertaining and long overdue biography. Highly recommended.


Second, if Flannery O'Connor were alive today, I'd camp out on her front porch, sidestepping the peacocks, telling her how wonderful she is each time she opened the door. I've been chipping away at several of her stories from The Complete Stories. O'Connor read lots of Joyce, Kafka and Faulkner and that conglomeration of influences shows up in many of her stories. Many of the stories are humorous, disturbing, horrific, strange, violent, absurd and nihilistic - often all in the same story. She had the uncanny ability to capture small-town Southerners and yet bring out universal concepts, moral judgments and the possibility of redemption from them, and the supernatural, all without stooping to preachiness.

O'Connor was a Roman Catholic, but denominations are never clear from her stories, at least not to me. What amazes me is that so few Christians have read (or have even heard of) O'Connor. These are amazing stories. Start with her most famous, "A Good Man is Hard to Find," which is itself very easy to find: it's been anthologized just about everywhere.


On the writing front, 600 words tonight on an almost-finished short story.

Now Playing = The Complete Columbia Stanley Brothers

Friday, September 22, 2006

Getting Unstuck or The Battle of the Jeffs

Some excellent comments from the last post. Thanks to all.

It is tough to leave a story alone for awhile. I tend to want to struggle through the muck, waving knives and swords at anything that moves (or doesn't move), getting in the way of my story. But following Ford's advice, I went back to a story that had fizzled out awhile back. I focused on why one of the characters acts the way he does and several pieces of the puzzle fell into place, not all at once, but little by little, like a trail of clues leading me forward. The story is working and I'm excited about it. Like VanderMeer mentioned, I have a general idea of what's going to happen (or might happen), but I'll be open for any self-discoveries I or my characters might find along the way.

This from Sarah Monette. Advice, help and suggestions you can get from others, for which I'm thankful. But you've gotta do the work. Good stuff, Sarah.


Watched another Blast from the Past on DVD last night, Let's Scare Jessica to Death from 1971. It's a good example of some of the 70's low-budget horror films that often work better than the stuff being made today.

Everybody have a great weekend -

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Sort of starts off real slow and then it fizzles out altogether*

The last two stories I've worked on (for the past month) have done exactly that. With both stories, I've started off with a good idea, run with it, then bogged down trying to find the finish line. I can tell that I'm manipulating the endings, something Jeff Ford warned us against at Clarion. I can even point to specific sentences and tell you "That's where it's happening, right there." But I can't seem to "unmanipulate" it.

I suppose that these stories will take care of themselves in time. Probably the thing to do is leave them alone for awhile and let Fred take over. It's frustrating, but everybody goes through it. (I hope they do.)


I've found that sometimes such fizzling out comes after reading a lot of really great stuff, then trying to write too soon afterwards. It's sort of like watching Roger Federer play tennis then picking up a raquet and hitting the courts. Anyway, lately I've been reading some short stories by Flannery O'Connor, one of my favorite writers.

There's much to admire in O'Connor's work. I certainly appreciate all the Southern touches, but I marvel at how she weaves a spiritual element into each story. The South is filled with spiritually, and not all of it good. O'Connor knows how to bring this out without beating the reader over the head with it. She also knows the importance of word choices. So many of her sentences could have been written with slight differences, but sacrificing much. Hers is a true world of wonder with enough strangeness to satisfy spec fic readers (even non-Southern ones).

My reading has been all over the place lately. In addition to O'Connor, I've been reading:

Scott Westerfeld
Jeff VanderMeer
Anton Chekhov
Jasper Fforde
Hans Christian Andersen

No wonder I can't write anything....

* from Neil Young's introduction to "Don't Let It Bring You Down" from the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young live album 4-Way Street.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

"Can you do this? Without CGI?"

Beam Me Up?

It was more like "Beat me up" if you wanted to own the three seasons of the original Star Trek series on DVD just a few weeks ago. The price of each individual season has lately dropped from over $100 to $45 at Costco. Hmmmm...usually means there's a "new" edition coming out soon....

And there is. CBS/Paramount will begin broadcasting digitally enhanced versions of the original series, beginning on September 16, so the DVDs won't be far behind. (But at what price?)


The most noticeable change will be redoing many of the special effects, created with 1960s technology, with 21st century computer-generated imagery (CGI). Upgrades include:

Space ship exteriors – The Enterprise, as well as other starships, will be replaced with state of the art CGI-created ships. The new computer-generated Enterprise is based on the exact measurements of the original model, which now rests in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
Show opening – The Enterprise and planets seen in the main title sequence will be redone, giving them depth and dimension for the first time.
Galaxy shots – All the graphics of the galaxy, so frequently seen through the viewscreen on the Enterprise's bridge, will be redone.
Exteriors – The battle scenes, planets and ships from other cultures (notably the Romulan Bird of Prey and Klingon Battle Cruisers) will be updated.
Background scenes – Some of the iconic, yet flat, matte paintings used as backdrops for the strange, new worlds explored by the Enterprise crew will get a CGI face-lift, adding atmosphere and lighting.
The refurbished episodes also feature higher quality sound for the famous opening theme. The original score by Emmy Award-winning composer Alexander Courage, has been re-recorded in state-of-the-art digital stereo audio with an orchestra and a female singer belting out the famous vocals. A digitally remastered version of William Shatner's classic original recording of the 38-word "Space, the final frontier..." monologue continues to open each episode.

The remastered episodes have been converted from the original film into a High-Definition format, which gives viewers a clearer, crisper, more vibrant picture than before, even when viewed in standard definition. Once stations upgrade and start broadcasting HD signals, the episodes will be all ready for viewers to enjoy in HD.

Just for fun, here's a look at the new enhanced Enterprise.

I don't know how I feel about this. Sure, I realize that the show (especially the unenhanced edition) is major cheese, but I grew up on the show and have fond memories of it. Like many of us from my era, this was our first introduction to sf. And even though I haven't watched any of the newer Trek incarnations in the past 20 years or read a Trek novel in 30 years, I still love watching the old shows. (Some of them, anyway.) I like watching the old cardboard sets, the cheap fx, the universal rock-planet that appears in each episode.

Sure, it would be nice to see a cleaner picture, a better soundtrack, and fx with less of a cheese factor. But what can you do about Shatner's bad acting?

Still, I think of those old episodes as an old friend. He stumbles around a bit and embarrasses you sometimes, but he's still hanging in there.

"He's dead, Jim."

Yeah, well....yeah...

Monday, September 11, 2006

Going There

This from Sarah Monette's blog. Competition is something that's part of life; there's no getting around it. It's in how we view it -- and ourselves in it -- that counts. As a teacher, I always tried to instill in my students the idea that you're primarily competing against yourself, trying to go deeper, to explore what you're capable of, which ususally involves moving outside your comfort zone.

When I look back at my stories that show the most promise, nearly all of them involve a journey for me, the writer, to a place that is both challenging and uncomfortable. When I strip away all the safety barriers and protective coverings, I find some pretty incredible stuff waiting to be discovered.

That happened this morning for about an hour with a story that had just stalled for the past several days. It took me to a place that's both scary and challenging, but I stood there in the middle of it and learned a lot about the story and myself. The story is certainly not finished, but the truth (and the power) of it is rising to the surface.

It's a lot easier to compare yourself to other writers, though. But what good comes from it? As Sarah rightly says, there's always a writer that wins a bigger prize or whose book stays on the bestseller lists longer than yours. Those things are ultimately out of our control. But you can control how you challenge yourself by getting out of your comfort zone and making some discoveries that might not feel so good for awhile. But your writing will be stonger.

It's true. Give it a try.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

James Van Pelt's The Last of the O-Forms

I just finished James Van Pelt's second collection of short fiction, The Last of the O-Forms and Other Stories. It doesn't take much reading to realize Van Pelt is not only a very good writer, he's also comfortable in a variety of genres. In the fifteen stories in this collection, you'll find sf, fantasy, horror, an homage to Lovecraft, post-apocalyptic stories, stories about high school kids, little kids, birds and animals, a poker tournament, Bogart, Astaire and more.

Van Pelt knows about all these things, but more importantly, he knows a lot about what it means to be human, even when your surroundings pressure you to become something other than human. That he can do this without coming across as heavy-handed or sappy is pretty amazing.

Take, for example, the post-apocalyptic "A Flock of Birds." All we know is that something has wiped out most of the North American population, only about 50,000 people remain. Van Pelt isn't really concerned with how it happened. (Lord knows, it could be any one of a hundred ways.) What he is concerned with is how we handle the days that follow. A middle-aged, balding man named Carson spends his days watching for rare, near-extinct birds while taking care of an ailing woman who has wandered into his house. We've seen this scenario before, lots of times, but Van Pelt doesn't go where you think he's going.

He's never predictable in any of these stories. They're all fresh, well-told and memorable. The title story is one of the most powerful, unsettling tales I've read this year. The only thing I can't understand is why Van Pelt isn't talked about more.

Saturday, September 02, 2006



Mission: Impossible - The Complete First Season will be released on December 5, just in time to be placed in the stocking of that special someone. Whoot! I have fond memories of the opening credits, the lighting of the fuse followed by a flurry of (what I then thought of as) lightning-fast images of fast cars, ticking clocks, masks being ripped off, stealth-filled shifty-eyed glances, all driven by Lalo Shifrin's much-parodied yet unforgettable theme music. I fear that after forty years this show will now look like major cheese puffs, but I don't care. I've waited a long time to see this show again and purge all images of Tom Cruise from my memory.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Rain, Stories, Novels, Fortune Cookies

Ah, the rain at last. Refreshing, isn't it?

Finished a new story this morning, a 7,000 word monster that may need to be further tamed. It's in the hands of my First Reader right now. Hopefully I'll send it out early next week.

A good friend of mine gave me a gentle nudge to get the revision on my YA novel going, so that's just what I'm going to spend the next few months doing. The novel comes first, then the short stories. Maybe I should tape that to the computer screen.

From last night's fortune cookie:

"Life is a tragedy for those who feel and a comedy for those who think."