vice anticipated, and evil postponed

Just a few quick things this time around.

1. Okay, this is a little exciting

Of course, it’s the movie vs. the book, blah blah blah, but come on. A movie of a Thomas Pynchon novel? And a Pynchon novel that I’m somewhat obsessed with? That’s an event!

(There’s plenty of time to be disillusioned after it actually comes out, when I remember that I’m not a huge fan of the director, and the lead actor annoys me, and…)

2. In other news about movies directed by people named Paul Anderson, the final Resident Evil film has been postponed.

Well, an RE movie wouldn’t be the same without Ms. Jovovich doing all of her own stunts, so I’m happy to wait. Beats the hell out of body doubles and CGI.

3. I’ve decided to pause work on my current story. I think it’ll be good when I do write it, but this isn’t the best time to write about Jan Sleet’s relationship with her mother.

I’ve started making notes and writing scenes for a different story, actually, and it’s interesting to think about it because it will be set some years in the future relative to most of what I’ve written so far.

I’ve talked before about the things I’ve learned from Tolkien, for example how to spend your life writing about a single world, but while his tales of Middle-Earth covered many ages of the world, mine have really only covered a few years in the lives of my characters.

Maybe it’s time to let them grow up a bit.

4. Meanwhile, I do recommend my most recent story, “One Night at the Quarter,” which I’m quite pleased with.

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links: creativity, and a funeral

Two links today.

One is from The New Yorker: “Creativity Creep” (It’s not a great title, but the article makes interesting points about how “creativity” is increasingly valued by what it produces — and these days in terms of what it can produce that people will want to buy. As a writer who writes but doesn’t seek to make money from it, this is always an interesting topic to me.)

The other link is from my novel, U-town. I’ve been thinking about funerals, and I wanted to link to the funeral that I wrote about, a long scene that still pleases me. This is smack in the middle of a very long novel, and there are a ton of characters, so it will probably be pretty thick going, but I wanted to post the link in case anybody would want to peek in.

To set the scene, Marshall (assistant to Jan Sleet, who was not invited — she’s about the only significant character who won’t be there) is going to pick up his friend Vicki, who is going to the funeral with him. Vicki works in a club called The Quarter, so he’s going to meet her there. The funeral is at midnight, so the club is closing at 11:30pm, because all the regular clientele will be at the funeral anyway.

The funeral is for Carl, who was the drummer in a band called Kingdom Come, and Jenny, who was the girlfriend of the guitarist in the band. The funeral is being put on by a local motorcycle gang called The Jinx.

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condolences, cremation, and in medias res

This will probably meander a bit. In addition to recent events, I was sick last weekend and part of last week.

An interesting thought came to me after the last post, and it’s reflected in the comments there. Does coming into the middle of a story actually help to get us hooked on it?

  1. The first comic book I ever bought was the second half of a two-part story (Fantastic Four #26 – “The Avengers Take Over”). I remember at the time thinking that comic books, which I’d been told were very childish, were more difficult to follow than I’d expected.
  2. As I said in the comments to the previous post, I got hooked on Dark Shadows despite coming into the middle of the series and into the middle of a story.
  3. I saw the movie Serenity before I ever saw the TV show Firefly, and I was eager to go back and catch up on all the characters and history.
  4. The first Resident Evil movie I saw was #3 (Extinction), and I was intrigued by the fact that the characters obviously had some history that I wasn’t aware of.


I’ve also been thinking about condolences, for obvious reasons, which made me think of a book called This Immortal, by Roger Zelazny, which I’ve started reading again.

There’s scene in there where Conrad, the protagonist, has just heard that his wife has died. He’s conducting a tour of post-apocalyptic Earth, for an alien visitor who he dislikes and who someone is, apparently, trying to kill. The suspects are his traveling companions, many of whom he knows very well, and he wonders if, as they come one by one to offer him their condolences, one of them will reveal something.

He’s making an effort to be a detective to help take his mind off his grief, but it doesn’t work. How people offer condolences doesn’t have much to do with what’s happening at that moment — it comes pretty deep from who they are and the culture they come from.

I’ve read the book many times, over decades, and it’s all very familiar territory — one of my favorite of his books if perhaps not one of the greatest.

And it’s always fun to be reminded of how playful Zelazny was with language. (His book Lord of Light has an absolutely terrible pun in it, and I’ve heard that he wrote the whole book to get to that pun — which is unlikely but not impossible.)

For example, Conrad is at a diplomatic function, and he’s stepped out onto a balcony with a woman who was his lover the previous summer and who is, and was, married to one of his best friends.

As they talk, discussing the fact that he is now married also, he notes that:

…she had lots and lots of orangebrown hair, woven into a Gordian knot of a coiff that frustrated me as I worked at untying it, mentally…

I love the placement of “mentally” there, but then I’m a connoisseur of scenes with palpable sexual attraction which is not, for whatever reason, being turned into action.

The book is steeped in mythology (for example, Conrad’s wife is named Cassandra, and, yes, she periodically makes predictions which he disregards, and which always turn out to be right), but it’s very down to earth. This was pretty much Zelazny’s favorite mode, and he wrote a lot of books which balanced these elements in different ways.

For example, like Alien and The Fifth Element, this is the future where everybody smokes (also a Zelazny trademark).

It also has the riddle of the kallikanzaros.

“So feathers or lead?” I asked him.
“It is the riddle of the kallikanzaros. Pick one.”
“You’re wrong.”
“If I had said lead’ . . .?”
“Uh-uh. You only have one chance. The correct answer is whatever the kallikanzaros wants it to be.”
“That sounds a bit arbitrary.”

Conrad, who is Greek, explains that this is an example of Greek subtlety, which is not actually very subtle.

The riddle gives us the great scene much later, when Conrad has been tortured and is about to be killed, and, at the final moment, he starts to laugh and asks, “Feathers or lead?”

His would-be killer is a cultural anthropologist and knows the legend, so he turns around, quickly, just in time to be squashed by the sudden arrival of Conrad’s (giant, armored, mutant) pet dog.

There’s another, even better, last-second rescue later (Conrad is a tough individual, but he does require rescuing from time to time), but that’s a huge spoiler, so I won’t.

Anyway, it’s been nice to revisit such familiar territory. Maybe it’s been comfort fiction — the literary equivalent of comfort food.

Over at the blog Pages of Julia, Julia just reviewed a book called “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (and Other Lessons of the Crematory),” which is another subject that’s been on my mind recently.

The books sounds interesting and entertaining, though I’m not sure I’m ready to read an entire book on the subject. I did leave a rather extensive comment on the blog post, though.

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some can stand alone, but not all

I haven’t been writing much in the past few weeks because of recent developments, but I’ve written a paragraph here and there in my current story, enough to start to realize that that a problem I’ve been ducking for a while now has to be solved.

It is the question that always comes up when you write serial fiction. How much do you rely on your readers having read what has come before?

I remember there was some comment when the second Lord of the Rings movie came out, that it started cold — with no prologue, no quick summary of part one.

In that situation, of course, it was a pretty good bet that the audience had seen the first one, and quite possibly read the books as well.

On the other hand, I remember Joss Whedon saying that in television your first six episodes are each the pilot. You can’t rely on people starting at the beginning (and in fact you really want the audience to grow as you go along, meaning you have to do your best to help them come along with you).

In my case, I try not to count on readers being familiar with what’s come before. The Jan Sleet Mysteries book follows A Sane Woman and U-town, but it’s designed to stand alone. The same with Stevie One.

The two stories I’m writing now, though (tentatively called “One Night at the Quarter” and “It Was A Dark and Stormy Night“) are kind of working out to be two halves of one story. They’re about parents, of course — one about a father and one about a mother — and those two things do kind of go together (even though the father and mother don’t meet in the stories).

So, I’m saying they’re Part One and Part Two of the same story. The first part is done, and it’s around 35,000 words, so if the second part is about the same length, then it will be a novel, more or less.

This is not absolute — I think “It Was a Dark and Stormy Night” can be read alone — but readers would have to work a little harder in terms of who the characters are and how they relate to each other.

Heck, the first comic book I ever read was the second half of a two-part story, and I managed to find my way through.

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astoria (1916-2014)

My mother, and sometimes artistic collaborator (she drew the cover for A Sane Woman, for example), died on Saturday.

She was 98 years old, she had a full and productive life, she was cogent and 100% herself right up to the end, and she died in her sleep and apparently without pain.

I will miss her (I miss her already, actually), but that’s about as good a run as any of us get.

Cover of A Sane Woman

(Obviously I’ve also been thinking about my father these past few days. I wrote about him here.)

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I just saw this movie, and I have some things to report.

Lucy, as has been widely reported, centers around the “humans only use 10% of their brains” thing, and, yes, that is entirely not true. If you’re the sort of person who’s going to worry about that while you’re watching the movie, I think you’d probably be happier seeing something else. I just saw a nice trailer for some movie with Helen Mirren and an Indian restaurant, for example.

(The magic in Harry Potter, the warp drives in Star Trek, Middle-Earth, and the Force don’t exist either. Sorry :-( ).

Anyway, I thought Lucy was fun. Completely bonkers, yes, but fun. It’s a little like a lecture on the inner workings of the human brain as delivered by Quentin Tarantino (well, in that case it would have been even better, but that gives you an idea).

Lucy, who is a student (and apparently not a very good one since she’s supposed to be in college but she’s clearly around thirty years old), has a really sleazy boyfriend, who locks a mysterious briefcase to her wrist, gives her some really bad advice, and then gets killed. Lucy is in a state of 90% terror and 10% defiance for the next fifteen minutes, ending up with a big bag of drugs sewn into her “lower tummy,” which then gets ruptured, spewing the drugs into her system.

(By the way, this movie must be the most unabashedly pro-drug movie made since, you know, 1969 or something. The leaking drugs have only good effects; when Lucy gets into difficulties she snorts more drugs which make things better; and then at the end she gets all the drugs that were in the other drug mules, and, well, I won’t reveal what happens, but, as we used to say, wow, man. Far out!)

Anyway, here are two very pertinent links from The Atlantic:

  1. Scarlett Johansson’s Subversive Vanishing Act” (a very interesting commentary on three of her most recent movies — though I think they neglected to draw out some lessons from Captain America The Winter Soldier, the movie where the fact that her character is female is pretty much irrelevant — it’s not really a gendered role, which is interesting in the context of what they say about the other three movies).
  2. Lucy: The Dumbest Movie Ever Made About Brain Capacity” (This review made me like the movie much more than I did already — everything in the movie is a deliberate riff on people who are this clunk-headed and literal. After reading this, I want to see it again.).

The best scene is probably the driving scene, where Lucy pilots a police car through Paris at high speed, including zipping through oncoming traffic for periods of time, causing many accidents but not being in one. The cop whose cars she’s driving asks where she learned to drive like this.

“I’ve never driven a car before in my life,” is her completely deadpan reply.

I was going to write about Guardians of the Galaxy, too, but I’m having too much fun thinking about Lucy. Here’s my one thought about Guardians for now: It’s pretty good, definitely worth seeing, and if you jacked up the things which are good and dialed back the ones which are bad — a lot — it would be Serenity.

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