Briefly: Bradbury

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I tend to avoid these tribute books–the ones I’ve read about Richard Matheson and Roger Zelazny only reminded me of how much I miss those two fine writers.

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Yes, I’m vamping, deadline to meet, gimme a break!

So far, SHADOW SHOW is the best of this weird, often unsatisfying sub-quasi genre. Neil Gaiman’s “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury” is an odd story about just what the title says. Harlan Ellison’s “Weariness” is one of those non-stories sometimes called a “meditation” that works beautifully. So many of his work in the last decade has been about avoiding the “this happened, then this happened” quality of straightforward stories, and this is another example. He spent years writing crime and SF stories in traditional modes, and it’s fascinating to watch him change his style over the years. This one should be read without any preconceived ideas.

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Hoity-Toity magazine-thing McSWEENEY’S, beloved of people who talk about “the art of story” when I talk about “stories,” mashes together a couple of anthologies, one edited by Bradbury, another by “Hitchcock.” They forgot to mention that Hitch didn’t actually edit or intro the books with his name on them, but I guess they don’t do that in these Hoity-Toity Art magazine-like objects. I’m only mentioning all of this because I labored through the opening letters and am just sitting down to start this tonight. So this is even less a review than my usual non-reviews, but I feel we’ve grown close and I want to be completely honest with you. Plus, I’m late, gotta run.

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From MR. MAC to MR. M

 

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I like the “stained 70’s horror anthology found in a used book store” look. No one else did.

“Mr. Mac” appeared in my first collection, currently reformatted and re-covered as BLOODSTREAMS, should you want to read the original. I liked it enough that I put it out as a single.

The covers were primitive and didn’t get across the tone of this small-town nightmare.

Like a serial killer with too many bodies for that little sewing room, I decided to expand. At first I didn’t see HOW I could add to the story. We see glimpses of Mr. Mac over the years, and that elusiveness is what makes him creepy.

I wrote and abandoned a short story about a boy who finds an unmarked grave in the woods and tries digging it up. I liked it, but it I didn’t have an ending because I didn’t have a story, just a situation.

What if…?

I operated on Mr. Mac. First, I changed the title, first to “Mr. Montgomery” and finally to ?Mr. M.” More mysterious, and a wink at the movie M. I made the hero less of a loser, because I’d fallen into a rut of making my heroes be unlikable nobodies. Now he isn’t a superhero but he’s not a complete geek loner. I added a girlfriend, because people have those, and that was the spark that lit ‘er up. Having a girlfriend gave him someone to respond to; we see him happy, we see him engaged with someone smart and artistic, so we have some way to compare his behavior with Mr. M.

Finally, I grafted that short story about the boy digging onto the end, and I was done. Except I’m never done when I reach the end. This is why the one piece of advice I feel comfortable in giving is “Write until you finish a draft.” When it’s done, when you can see the whole, you can see what works and what doesn’t. Before that, it’s all just this mist in your head–“OK, I know the end, so I don’t have to write it, I know he goes to the castle and gets the lollipop, so…”

No. You THINK that’s how it’ll be, but it isn’t, so “I think that’s how it’ll be” is of no value. Finish.

I finished, but all I had was a finished draft. It didn’t take long to see that I had to tighten up the girlfriend’s role–she vanishes for a big chunk of the story. In doing that I saw how I could use her to build up the supernatural aspect, by having her disappear. When she shows up again, it alters the reader’s idea of what’s been going on.

I couldn’t have known any of that if I didn’t first finish a draft and then THINK about why the girlfriend was just kind of there. Now she was someone who had her own path.

Then came the major change. That story scrap had energized the story, gave me something to build on, but it was too much. Added to the existing (and good) climax, it just tired you out. I knew I needed those weird scenes, though. So I pulled them out of the climax, dropped them in the middle, and boom–the hero has a major scene in which he encounters horror and weirdness in the middle. Once he gets out of it, the reader is now eager to see what happens when he gets to the (original) climax. And now that climax is built on what came before. It’s just as weird, but it has more heft because it connects to the boy-girl thread.

I like this story a lot, and it’s 15,000 words, where the original was 5,000. If you go buy it, read it, love it and POST A REVIEW I’ll be your friend. OK, you’re special friend. Thanks!

Bright, Hot Mess: ONE FROM THE HEART

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Hmmm…

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A mashup of wonky artistic choices, ONE FROM THE HEART was a financial disaster. Francis Coppola had a dream, to direct from a trailer filled with electronic equipment inside a studio in which the sets were so connected that actors could walk from set to set while Coppola sat in his trailer calling out which camera to cut to, like a director of live T.V. For a time, directors tried to bring some of the cynical, sour ‘realism’ of the seventies and eighties to musicals. NEW YORK, NEW YORK, ALL THAT JAZZ and this were attempts to fit modern themes into ‘corny’ musical movie frameworks. Less successful than SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER or FLASHDANCE, which were less musicals than dramas with scenes in which characters danced in realistic settings, these attempts to reshape musicals for modern times met with mixed success but didn’t start a renaissance for musical films. ONE FROM THE HEART might have put the kibosh on musicals for awhile all on its own; it definitely killed Coppola’s ideas for an electronic studio. George Lucas’ method for making the STAR WARS prequels was the closest anyone came to Coppola’s method.

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Julia and Garr dance into Fellini’s AMARCORD.
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“No, it’s not a real snake.”

According to his commentary on the DVD the idea was eventually abandoned and the expense of the film came from starting to shoot it one way and switching to a more traditional manner. That’s his story and he’s sticking with it, but it doesn’t encompass the real issues: casting, script and a visual approach that squashes the actors and the story. (I ended up listening to the commentary track instead of the sound track.)

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Kids, these are called ‘miniatures.’

Frederick Forest, Teri Garr, Harry Dean Stanton, and Lainie Kazan are okay as ‘normal’ people, but they are dropped inside this incredible fantasy world of Las Vegas, and they are lost. The idea is valid, I guess, but with such huge, garish sets, your attention keeps getting pulled away from these ordinary people. If the characters were larger than life they would fit this outsized world.

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Forest accidentally breaks the third wall.

Larry McMurtry wrote a couple of novels set in Las Vegas, following a showgirl who was a ‘normal’ person, but he followed her away from the stage–the reader can imagine all the lights and hotels as a place she works, but the stories took place in apartments and cramped neighborhoods. The main characters here are just overwhelmed. From the first shot, I was sitting there thinking about how hot it must have been on these sets, not what the director intended. Raul Julia and Nastasha Kinski as the leads’ fantasy figures work with the fantastic sets–they belong in this world. While Forest and Garr are likeable, they aren’t compelling–you watch them trudging through this noisy, bright world and just wish they could get someplace quiet and normal for a while.

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It’s a nice world to look at, if you don’t mind the constant headache.

When Garr walks into her kitchen, the lights come on without her touching a switch. Later, when she and Forest talk, red light appears behind Forest for no practical reason–Coppola says the red light symbolizes Garr’s character. You watch these lighting tricks and wonder what you’re supposed to be thinking and feeling about it. The whole thing grinds to a halt for me in the junk yard scene. It’s a moody blue set, but we see the top of the studio, on purpose–we’re supposed to appreciate the artificiality, or something. Then Kinski does a high-wire walk while Forest conducts junk cars playing their horns, a complete fantasy moment. The stylized realism of the early scenes is now shot. The inconsistency of the movie’s style just kills involvement. Later, Coppola made TUCKER in a stylized way, but it was consistent and fit the story of a man and his dream.

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The big dance scene with Garr and Julia, in the middle of a crowd, is closer to XANADU than SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN. It’s so overscaled, with so many dancers flailing around that it comes off as a very elaborate Superbowl commercial. But keep in mind that I hate musicals.

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Coppola shouted “CUT!” thirty times before giving up and waiting for them to drop from exhaustion.

The Tom Waits score and the songs sung by Waits and Crystal Gayle shouldn’t work–Waits is the last person I’d think of to score a movie about Vegas–but they fit the tone Coppola was aiming for, a romantic melancholy. (Waits probably couldn’t have done this ten years later, his voice and music becoming a lot rougher by then.) The music fits the night time setting, creating a sense of the regret people have late at night after the big night out has disappointed.

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“What’s in the trunk?” Aliens.

 

 

The problem is just that the pieces do not fit. The characters and their bumpy romance might be interesting in a more ordinary setting; the colorful, overpowering sets might work with more pumped-up, burned-out characters in an American TRAINSPOTTING–they’d fit nicely in the druggy scenes of FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS; and the music would fit with more stark imagery.

It’s a weird movie, like nothing else I can think of, a broken fantasy with lots of neat pieces. Just don’t expect it to add up to much.

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BONE SHOES is free today

I know the Kindle KDP program gets dumped on by many, but I like that it makes it easy for lazy people like me to share my work with potential new readers. I’m inept when it comes to creating free files to pass out to new readers.

Bone Shoes is FREE today (Sunday), so please get yourself a copy. Read it, and if you like it, review it on Amazon, which is a huge help for struggling writers such as the undersigned. If you don’t like it, you clearly have excellent taste, but I’d appreciate the feedback.

 

https://tinyurl.com/y93arj5u

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Revised Edition of BONE SHOES Available for Kindle

The only story I’ve ever sold to a young adult publication, BONE SHOES ┬áis a 10k-word novella about death, growing up and naked blue people. Written long before AVATAR, it is nothing at all like AVATAR, but when folks read “blue people” they instantly think, “Oh, some AVATAR fan fic thing, screw that,” but this is nothing like that. I haven’t even sat through AVATAR! And they only make an appearance for a paragraph. So, yeah.

ANYWAY, I like this little story, and I think you will, too. It’s had a top-to-bottom rewrite, so even if you’ve read it before, it’s almost a new story. I can’t make up my mind about several approaches for the cover so I stuck with the old one. Give it a chance, it’s an unusual story for me, both dark and gentle.Bone Shoes FINAL Cover 4 2017 x

https://tinyurl.com/y8de3nax