Category Archives: Books
Do you want the general update first? Yes? All right.
I received my Master’s Degree in May. I am officially a master. I get a seat on the council without whining. So there’s that. I’ve been catching up on reading that I put off while reading for the graduate program. Don Winslow’s The Power of the Dog and The Cartel…holy shit! These are good books. Stephen King rewarded me for the Master’s by publishing The Outsider in May and kicked my ass with it. Jeremy C. Shipp’s The Atrocities was a hallucination nightmare and recommended. There are other things, too, but we’ll worry about them another time, if at all.
I’ve been writing, too. I’m editing Echoes on the Pond and should be doing revisions next week. I should be able to begin submitting to agents/publishers by August. I also started a new novel, which is a middle readers novel. My youngest daughter loves novels as much as she loves picture books. At five years old, she’ll sit and listen as her Mom and I read a chapter or so a night. This has been going on for about a year. While I was still in grad school, she asked me to write something for her. Well, it just so happens that I had a story I came up with when I was between 10 and 12 years old, I even drew a picture of it. Funny enough, I found the drawing about four or five years ago in my parents’ attic and brought it home. It’s a slightly revised version of that original idea but I’m writing it now. I also wrote my first (good) short story in a few years and submitted that. It feels good to be back on the horse.
And that’s the thing, that’s the real topic of today’s post. It feels so good to be writing again for me and, by extension, you.
I’ve spent the last two-and-a-half years writing academic papers with only a few small forays into my own writing that I feel like the world is mine for the taking. But it has also led me to think about (or rethink about) (or re-rethink about) some things. This blog is one of them. Now, before you get all sweaty and freak out, having waited oh so long for a new post from me and now you’re afraid I’m about to say I’m going to stop, calm down. If there is anyone out there reading these posts, I assure you, I intend to keep them coming. I’ve thought about several topics to write here on the blog in the last few months. They include:
- How the deaths of Carrie Fisher and Margot Kidder made me realize how their characters taught me about women when I was a child
- Writing about keeping the dream alive when everything seems to be working against it
- General observations about the world
- A remembrance of Harlan Ellison
The first and last things especially have hit hard. The thing is, though, as I look at the time that I have, it’s limited. I can either work on my novels, stories, general fiction that I hope to submit and get paid for, or I can write blog posts about things that I’d love to talk/write about but there’s no chance of getting paid for it. Money is very much in my mind right now. I owe over $100,000 in student loan debt. And even though on paper my wife and I make a pretty good income, the cost of living is rising ridiculously. This past month alone, I’ve found myself tight in the wallet, and I foresee next week is going to be really hard. Part of this is that changes will have to be made, and I dig that. But I also need to be able to earn some extra income. So while I’d love to be able to write more here, I think I’m going to look into turning these ideas into essays, columns, whathaveyou.
Now, I may look into Patreon at some point, once I’ve hit my writing groove again, and if I do, you will be the first to know. I may pitch some ideas for columns, too. Maybe bring back American Gauthic or something else entirely. I don’t know. But if going through grad school taught me anything, it taught me that I can juggle some of these things more than I ever thought I could. And if the last three weeks have done anything, they’ve lit a fire under my ass.
What happened in the last three weeks to do this? 1) The money thing. 2) The death of Harlan Ellison
If you’ve been a longtime reader of mine, you know how much Harlan Ellison meant to me. Since his death, I’ve been watching commentaries and listening to his lecture CDs put out by Deep Shag Records. It has reinvigorated me. I’d like to write more about Harlan but I think that should be its own post, and I also have another idea. You’ll know when and if I pull that other idea off.
So there we go. As the world burns around us, I am doing my thing. Writing, telling stories, and watching. I will report back, I promise. How and when is the real question.
It’s here! Discoveries: Best of Horror and Dark Fantasy, edited by James R. Beach and Jason V Brock, published from the great Dark Regions Press. Not only can you get it through the above links, but you can order through Amazon as well. Besides my story “The Umbrella People,” which I wrote about last time, there’s a ton of great stories in the book. So go get yourself a copy, already.
I posted a quick update at the end of week 1 of my grad school online course and wrote, “when I look at the syllabus, I see that the remaining nine weeks are going to be very busy.” I am at the start of week 8 of 10. I haven’t completed week 7 yet. I shouldn’t be here, but fuck it. I drank coffee between 8:30 and 9:30 so I could work on a paper that was due tonight by midnight and that I’m still working on because…well…I’ll get there. I promise.
First, the good news. I’ve been maintaining a mid-90s grade. For weeks I was at 94. I dropped to 93 last week, then to 91, and now back to 93. I’m happy. Considering I have little idea of what I’m doing, I seem to be doing it well. I do feel as though the readings have been sinking in, though I rarely understand what I’m reading. I keep looking at the novel I began reading in August, The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne, which I’ve read tiny snippets of in between Freud, Marx, Lacan, Jackson, Conrad, Woolf, and many more, and want to cry. I’ve loved Byrne’s prose since beginning it but, goddamn, no time. I have Stephen King’s new collection, The Bazaar or Bad Dreams, Christopher Golden’s new novel Dead Ringers (about doppelgangers, which I fucking love), two collections by Charles Beaumont, and more novels that I’m eagerly awaiting to read. Shit! I forgot! The PS Publishing collectible re-issue of Harlan Ellison’s Ellison Wonderland that I’m so eager to read….
But…work. Work-work. School-work. Report card grades were due in the last few weeks. Discussion posts, prospectuses, proposals, analyses were all due in the last seven weeks (and still more are due in the coming three), and that’s not the personal stuff.
Pamela’s car died at the end of September. My computer died this past week, which means this is the first thing I’ve truly written on my brand new HP Pavilion All-In-One desktop computer. Whee. Well, that I’ve truly written that wasn’t for my class. Oh, and my teenager got her driver’s license and my toddler turned three. I found out that my sudden (and by sudden, I mean since the spring) exhaustion is not anemia but may be related to my Crohn’s Disease, so my meds have changed a little, but only in the last two days. So I’m still a refugee from a George Romero flick most of the time.
But, Bill, I hear you say. What about the novel? Are you working on that? We’re waiting for this masterpiece you’ve spent the last century or so talking to us about!
First, it’s not a masterpiece. It’s good, I promise, but not masterpiece material. Maybe future classic… But seriously, I’ve worked on the last edit three times since starting the course. I intended on working on it this weekend when my notebook died. That threw out that idea. However, perhaps later this week. I have about 50 pages left to edit, and then I’m bringing the edits to my manuscript. I still have to check to see if my queries that I’d written had been backed up to Dropbox. I believe they were but I’m not sure. Honestly, I’m afraid to check. I may try to see if I can get the stuff from my hard drive soon.
Anyway, I’m still alive and still dreaming. My goal is to have the novel completed and have begun the query process by the end of the year. I can’t wait to start writing the next book, too. It’s about a man and his child and…oh, you’re going to have to wait. In the meantime, I’ll be returning to the world of the girl, her therapist, and the ghost to tie up loose ends, and working on my grad school work.
Be good to yourselves and good to others. The world needs more of that right now. I’ll try to check in again around Thanksgiving.
I’m rather obsessed with writers’ workspaces. Their desks, offices, writing sheds, whatever it is they use, however they use it. I know I’m not alone on this, but I think the first manifestations of this obsession occurred before I was even aware of it.
Stephen King’s novel The Shining made me want to be a writer, which I’ve written about. I’ve also written about the television segment that led me to buy the book. It was an episode of ABC’s Primetime Live that aired on August 23rd, 1990, the day before my 13th birthday, that got me interested in buying King. As I was reading The Shining the following day, I turned to the About the Author page and saw that King lived in Bangor, Maine, which had to be nearly as uncool as New Bedford, Massachusetts, the small coastal city where I lived, if not even more uncool. Beyond that, though, there was an image in the Primetime Live profile that kicked open the doors of my mind. The image was of King sitting at a manual typewriter, clacking away. He was in a dark room, alone, with no other apparatus around him. Even at 13, I understood this was a set-up shot, done strictly for the television piece.
The power of that image rocked me, though. It made me think of Billy Crystal at the end of Throw Momma From the Train, where he’s sitting at his desk, finishing the last paragraph of the novel he never thought he’d be able to write. It made me think of Chevy Chase in Funny Farm where he’s trying to write a novel that never really seems to come out for him (though his wife writes a children’s book). I’m sure it made me think of Richard Dreyfuss in Stand By Me, working on his tale. Who knows? Maybe somewhere in the flotsam of my mind was Kathleen Turner at the beginning of Romancing the Stone, finishing her novel in a most unglamorous way. The thing with the image of Stephen King sitting at the typewriter, though, was that he was a real writer. He wasn’t an actor playing a part, he was a guy who was paid (a lot of) money to write books. And from what I’d seen that morning at Waldenbooks, he wrote a whole bunch of them, too! There was even a book club devoted to his work that ran commercials on TV! Remembering that image and reading a novel by him walloped me like a trailer truck come to life to mow me down. Later that day, I set up two or three milk crates, put my Royal Quiet De Lux manual typewriter on top, and began writing.
Something very similar, yet very different happened, happened several years later, again involving King. For a time in the 1990s, former King chronicler George Beahm, who’d written three books on Stephen King, began publishing a fanzine called Phantasmagoria. I don’t know how I came across it. Maybe from the Stephen King column in Cemetery Dance? Probably. Anyway, I subscribed to it. In one issue there was news that King was one of many writers who were featured in a photograph book about writers at their workspaces. It was called The Writer’s Desk and it was by a woman named Jill Krementz. I’d find out soon enough that Ms. Krementz was married to the writer Kurt Vonnegut (who appeared in the book, of course). I was working at a big chain bookstore at this point and decided to order it. It must’ve been summer or fall of 1997 because my girlfriend (who would become my wife, and then my ex-wife) was pregnant with my teenager. I remember that because the book was $35, which was too much money to spend considering how my life was really about to change. But I ordered the book because I knew that I wouldn’t have to buy it (it was the company’s policy) and I figured I’d look at it on break and then shelve the book for someone else to discover and buy.
Before I even opened the book, the cover mesmerized me. I had no idea who the woman on the front cover was (it’s Eudora Welty) but on the back cover was Toni Morrison, whom I knew though I hadn’t read yet; Tennessee Williams, whom I also knew but hadn’t (and still haven’t…and I don’t think I’ve seen any of his plays, either, which saddens and shames me); and Stephen King. I began looking through the book and found the huge quantity of writers and pictures that went back into the early 1970s. The photos were accompanied by quotes, or small musings on writing, or their desks from the writers. There were many writers whose names I recognized even though I hadn’t read their work. There were many more who were introduced to me by this book. I knew before I got halfway through flipping through the book during my break that I needed to have it.
It gave me a charge. To see where these people produced their work made me want to work. To see how simple it really was, this so very difficult task of wordslinging. Some of the writers have work spaces that are stately and well put together, organized. Some are a mess. Many used typewriters (remember, the book was published in 1996 and many of the pictures were taken in the ’70s and ’80s) though quite a few used computers. There was even a few who had notebook computers. Quite a few of the writers were working longhand.
I found myself cutting out pictures of writers at their desk should they appear in magazines or in the newspaper. Once I got a computer I began finding writers at their desk online and, for a while, kept a folder of images. I still have the folder though I hardly save to it anymore. There’s no need. A quick Google search (or a few, depending on your word-use) will come up with thousands of pictures. I’ve also discovered I’m not the only one obsessed with this. There are at least two blogs I know of, Write Place, Write Time and Writers at Work, that share photos of writer’s work spaces. Write Place, Write Time was cool because it had photos taken by the writers they featured, as well as a small piece about their work environment. Unfortunately, after a strong 2011, the posts began to be few and far between until they seemed to stop in June 2013. Still, it’s fascinating to take a look at. Writers at Work collected photos from around the ‘net and posts them. Some of the pictures are sent in by blog readers.
As I said, a quick internet search will show that writers and their workspaces are quite popular. Why is that? I think it’s partly because writing is so solitary, and so personal, that one wonders if they’re weird. So to see the famous French mystery writer George Simenon has an arsenal of pipes ready to go while he works, or that Tennessee Williams has another typewriter leaning back behind the one he’s using in case there’s an issue, he can just swap out (anything from a bad key to a change of ribbon; there’d be no slowing him down when he was hot!), makes me think maybe my rituals and quirks aren’t so weird.
I think the other thing it does is inspire. And I don’t mean that in some mystical, mythical sense of the word, either. I mean seeing writers, past and present, at their desks and knowing that from that person came a body of work, sometimes huge, sometimes not, all important, really makes me want to sit at my modest space and work. It makes me feel like if they can do it, and they basically have the same tools I do, then maybe–just maybe–I can do it.
It doesn’t take much work to know that I love Harlan Ellison’s work, and that I think the man himself is pretty keen, too. Even a new reader of my blog/website will know fairly quickly. So this Christmas was a pretty good one considering I got two of his books as gifts. One was the Subterranean Press edition of his classic 1958 collection The Deadly Streets, which I’d read this past summer in one of my paperback editions. Subterranean makes handsome volumes and this one is no exception. Now I need me the matching Gentleman Junkie so I can have the set. Anyway, Pamela did great. The other Ellison volume I received was Harlan Ellison’s The Sound of the Scythe, which features the full-length novel The Sound of the Scythe, published in its entirety for the first time, as well as four novellas. I feel the urge to talk about this book.
The Sound of the Scythe opens the book. Like most of Ellison’s novels, it’s a short one. It’s about a man named Emory who is moved to revenge against a former friend of his, a powerful man who is intent on destroying Emory’s life for the simple reason that he can. The book is a science fiction story that has the main character moving across the stars, trading faces (and, in some cases, bodies) to exact his revenge. It’s pure Ellison. Equal parts angry, loving, fantastic, and scary, one can’t help but feel Emory’s pain and even disgust in himself until the final pages. Still, while the novel is entertaining, it’s the lesser piece of the four that comprise this book. The fact that it was published for the first time in over 50 years, and was rewritten and unabridged, and the fact that it’s Ellison’s second novel, are the main selling points. I enjoyed it a lot, but it isn’t my favorite piece in the book.
The book’s second piece is Ellison’s novella “Mefisto in Onyx.” This story is about Rudy Pairis, a man who is able to read minds, and how he’s duped by a serial killer to switch bodies. The story is really good, though I found that the introductory meeting between Rudy and his closest friend, deputy district attorney Allison Roche, to be longish, since it comprises most of the story. Still, I enjoyed it the first time I read it back in my early-twenties when I read the 1997 collection Slippage, and I enjoyed it even more this time around.
The third piece is the novella “All the Lies That Are My Life,” which appears to be a semi-autobiographical tale about two writers. While I have this novella in the 1980 collection Shatterday, I still haven’t read the collection. This novella floored me. When I reached the end of it, I wanted to go back to the beginning and start over, and I wanted to curl into a ball on the couch and cry, heart-broken. It’s that kind of story.
The final novella of the book is one of my favorites, “The Resurgence of Miss Ankle-Strap Wedgie.” I first read this story back around 2000/2001, in the fourth volume of the doomed Edgeworks series, which collected two of Ellison’s collections: Love Ain’t Nothing But Sex Misspelled (1968) and The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World (1969). “The Resurgence of Miss Ankle-Strap Wedgie” is in the former collection. I read it again as part of 2001’s The Essential Ellison: A 50-Year Retrospective. This novella is a Hollywood story about a former movie star by the name of Valerie Lone who is found waitressing at a roadside diner by a movie studio’s publicity guy–Handy, who is the main character–and a producer. They lure Lone back to Hollywood, seeing it as a way to make their current movie, a spy picture starring Robert Mitchum, more interesting to the public.
The novella is heartbreaking. It got me back when I was 23/24, and it got me again, harder, at 37. I stayed up late one night this week finishing it, even though I knew how it ended. And when I finished, I wanted to cry.
And that’s why I’m writing about this book. The four longer pieces by Ellison are at times quite funny, and beautiful, but they’re all heartbreaking. They move one to look at the world, and at themselves, and ask the difficult questions. What constitutes bravery? Why do we allow ourselves to become entrapped by outside forces? Why do we ignore the songs within ourselves for false senses of security? What is love?
These are things that run throughout Ellison’s work, and they are why I love his writing so much. When I’m done, I’m usually wrecked, but I feel better for it. So click the link. Get yourself this book, or the others that I mentioned, and ask yourself those questions.
According to Tim Burton, after Batman Returns came out and was a hit, he was willing to go back to Gotham City again. While he may have hesitated going back for the first sequel, being allowed to really let his imagination go within the Batman’s universe must’ve been to his liking. So when he met with Warner Bros. executives, he launched right into his ideas for Batman III. Except, the execs weren’t reacting in a favorable way. Burton began to realize that it wasn’t just his ideas for a Batman sequel they weren’t in favor of, they weren’t really interested in having him return. So Burton bowed out of the movie. The execs, probably realizing that some of the fans of the first two movies might get upset, signed him on as a producer.
The general idea seems to be that Batman Returns was too dark for many people. Children going into the movie were frightened by the Penguin and parents were no doubt horrified by the sexual jokes and innuendo throughout. Warner Bros. wanted to make Batman more family-friendly. Somehow or another, they went to Joel Schumacher, director of such family fair as The Lost Boys, Flatliners, and Falling Down.
Michael Keaton had been asked to reprise his role as Bruce Wayne/Batman, and seemed willing to do so when Tim Burton would possibly direct, but then didn’t seem sure. Schumacher had seen Val Kilmer in the film Tombstone, where he played Doc Holliday, and thought he would make an interesting Bruce Wayne/Batman. Kilmer accepted the role.
The basic feeling, according to the extras on the Batman Anthology Blu-ray, was that Warner Bros. wanted to reinvent the franchise. Schumacher met with Burton several times at the beginning stages of the movie.
Batman Forever came out to more media hoopla than even the first movie. The merchandising of 1989’s Batman seemed almost an afterthought. By Batman Returns, mini-Penguins appeared in McDonald’s Happy Meals. For Batman Forever, everything was marketed.
By now, I was coming to the end of my high school career. Weeks after I graduated elementary school, Batman came out. Weeks after I graduated high school, Batman Forever came out. By now, I was older, hopefully a leeeetle wiser. I didn’t need Dad to take me, I could go myself. I was rather surprised by the movie as a whole (even though I’d read the novelization, written by the great Peter David. If you haven’t read his novel Sir Apropos of Nothing, go do so! Phenomenal work).
The bat costume in this one returns to the muscle sculpt, only more stylistic. And yes, there are nipples on the suit. My reaction then, and now, is: Who cares? Why not? Well, it’s silly. Yes, it is silly to put nipples on a rubber bat suit that will be worn by a grown man in his 30s so he can fight strange people in other silly costumes. Do you get it, yet? The whole thing is silly. Calm down. Drink your juice. Anyway, I like the look of the main bat suit in this movie. It’s sleeker, it looks pretty badass. It’s fine. And Robin’s costume isn’t bad either. Within the realm of this universe, it’s fine.
Jim Carrey as the Riddler kind of steals the show. His manic energy starts at Frank Gorshin’s level, and then goes atomic. Just as Jack Nicholson and Danny DeVito got lost in their roles, nearly stealing their shows, Carrey’s Riddler does the same. That said, I’m going to withhold any more of my comments on Carrey’s performance for later.
The irony. Not within the script or story itself, but that the reason Warner Bros. went with Joel Schumacher is because of how dark in tone Batman Returns was, yet, Batman Forever has moments nearly as dark, if not darker. And it would’ve been even darker if they’d kept the actual characterization and personal journey that Bruce Wayne goes through in this movie. In Peter David’s novelization of the script by Lee Batchler, Janet Scott-Batchler, and Akiva Goldsman, and apparently in earlier cuts of the movie, Bruce Wayne is suffering from nightmares of repressed memories. In a metaphysical/symbolic scene, Bruce eventually faces a giant bat from these nightmares and makes the decision to be Batman…forever. See? For some reason, most of the scenes were cut. Still, the movie is still pretty dark in both tone and actual darkness.
Michael Gough as Alfred still rocks. His care for Bruce is evident, and the way he works with the newly-orphaned Dick Grayson (Chris O’Donnell) is realistic and entertaining.
The attempt to expand Bruce Wayne’s story. Apparently, Joel Schumacher had proposed doing an adaptation of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One. When Warner Bros. declined, insisting on doing a straight sequel, Schumacher had the screenwriters go back to the Waynes’s murder and expand on the story. While much of this material was cut from the final film, what remains has Bruce Wayne choosing to be Batman. The idea is that in the first two movies, and even through much of this one, he felt a need to continue. Now, facing his past and coming to terms with it means that it’s no longer an obsession so much as a job. In many ways, this is actually a good (albeit weird–who wants to dress up as a bat and fight deadly criminals?) thing for the character. It means that Wayne has come to terms with his parents’ deaths and can begin the process of healing. Whether remaining Batman forever will help in this healing is doubtful, but it’s a step to making Bruce Wayne a more fully realized character. And I’m all for that.
The acting is bad. Joel Schumacher gets a bad rap from Batman fans. They’ll call him inept, and silly, and frivolous, and that kind of thing. He’s really a decent director. The Lost Boys should’ve been silly, but it’s an effective horror movie. His John Grisham adaptations, and movies like Falling Down all have characters you care about to some degree, with fairly good acting. But perhaps too much time was spent on costumes, effects, neon, lighting, nipples and bums, neon, Jim Carrey antics, and neon to pay attention to the actors’ performances. Val Kilmer, who can turn in great performances, is horrible as Bruce Wayne and only marginally better as Batman. He’s wooden, stiff, and his voice never emotes. Nicole Kidman, who has pretty good acting chops, gives a performance one expects from a high school production (I’ve actually seen better acting in high school performances, to be fair). Her character, Dr. Chase Meridian, is one of the worst psychiatrists I’ve ever seen, and throws herself at Batman almost immediately.
Some people weren’t thrilled with Robin’s introduction to the Batman movie world, but I was cool with it. Batman had Robin longer than he didn’t. But Chris O’Donnell is pretty bad in this movie. I think he does the best he can with the script, honestly, but the role isn’t great and he’s not great in it. It’s a shame, really. I would’ve loved for Dick Grayson/Robin to have worked.
I gave Jim Carrey some props before, and he does steal the show, but when he’s onscreen, it becomes a Jim Carrey movie. An early-1990s Jim Carrey movie. So we have Batman vs. Ace Venture: Pet Detective/The Mask. (Wait…I need a ticket to Hollywood…I smell a million-billion dollars!). He overacts the entire time he’s onscreen. The subtly of his performances in The Truman Show and Man on the Moon are nowhere to be seen here. And the worst…
It pains me to do this, but Tommy Lee Jones deserves his own paragraph here. His take on Harvey Dent/Two-Face, in this movie called Harvey Two-Face, is horrible. I blame the Akiva Goldsman and Joel Schumacher. Schumacher wanted Jones to play Harvey Two-Face immediately. Jones wasn’t so thrilled. In interviews given at the time, he even says it took him a while to warm up to the idea of playing this character and that it was his son’s enthusiasm for the character and movie that really got him to say yes. There’s no problem so far, because I think Jones would make a great Harvey Dent/Two-Face. Yet, it’s pretty apparent that Goldsman’s rewrite of the Batchlers’ script lightened the tone of the characters, and Schumacher wanted things to be more theatrical. The fact that Jim Carrey’s portrayal of Edward Nygma/the Riddler was allowed to get so out of hand, it almost meant that Tommy Lee Jones had to be large. And a big part of that is…
Your definition of a “comic book” is different than mine. Throughout the documentary features on the Batman Anthology Blu-ray set, Schumacher, Jones, and just about everyone else working behind the scenes keeps referring to Batman Forever as a comic book movie. This is fine. That’s exactly what Batman Forever is. The problem is that the readers of comic books of 1995 and the filmmakers who made Batman Forever based on the Batman comic books they grew up reading were coming from totally different places. Consider this: The two comic book stories that convinced Tim Burton to take on directing Batman were Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986) and Alan Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke (1988). Both were new stories that came out right around the time Warner Bros. offered the movie to him. His initial reaction to the offer, if I’m not mistaken, was No thanks. It was upon reading those two mid-1980s stories that Burton decided he might be able to make this movie, and signed on. Those are two of the darker stand-alone Batman tales from that time period, and, along with Miller’s Batman: Year One (1986), set the tone for Batman stories for the next thirty years.
In nearly every interview that is on the Batman Forever disc, from actors to director and everyone in between, we hear about their memories of Batman comic books growing up, and how they did everything they could to make the movie like one of those comic books. Schumacher, born three months after Batman’s debut in 1939, would remember him from the 1940s and 1950s, during Batman’s more zany days. Hell, he may have even been one of those kids at the movies watching the Batman serials. Even Chris O’Donnell mentions the TV show as a fond memory, saying in an interview on the disc that he didn’t really like Batman Returns because of how dark it was.
So Warner Bros. gives Schumacher the word to tone down the darkness, and he obliges by making a comic book movie in the style of comic books he grew up reading. The people working on the movie don’t care, because their memories of Batman comic books are from the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Maybe some of the 1970s, though by that time, Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams, under the stewardship of Julius Schwartz, was bringing Batman back to his dark roots.
I hate to say it, but Schumacher was doing exactly what he was told to do, in the exact way he felt it should be done. So if the movie looks overproduced, it’s because he’s making a Schumacher comic book movie. And it does look overproduced in strange ways. One last thing, though, I don’t necessarily buy that Schumacher was unaware of what was currently going on in comic books at that time. He seems like he’d have his thumb on pop culture. I’m not sure why, but that’s how it seems to me. Also, if I have the story correct, he originally pitched doing an adaptation of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, which would’ve been more in line with his filmography. Warner Bros. was more interested in doing a third story in the already-existing universe, but lighter.
The film is hypocritical. After Two-Face–sorry–Harvey Two-Face–kills Dick Grayson’s entire family (for some reason, they give him a brother, because losing your parents isn’t enough), Bruce Wayne takes the young man in. Now, Chris O’Donnell looks too old to be taken in by Bruce Wayne. Dick Grayson was originally supposed to be around 12 when Wayne took him in back in 1940. O’Donnell looks like he’s in his early 20s. So there’s that bit of miscasting I failed to mention above. Anyway, once Dick finds out Bruce is Batman, he wants to join him as a partner. His main goal: to kill Harvey Two-Face. Bruce tells him that killing Harvey won’t do any good. That he’ll be empty inside and still grieving. Now, this is touching. We know that Batman has killed his parents’ murderer (the Joker, in the first movie) and didn’t stop being Batman. He’s still solemn, dark, and brooding. And now suffers from nightmares. He’s also killed the Penguin and a whole bunch of henchmen along the way. Who knows who he’s killed between movies? And now, he doesn’t want to kill anymore. All right, I’ll buy that. Yet, guess what happens at the end of the movie? Yeah. Harvey Two-Face Dent dies. Batman does something that eventually leads to Two-Face falling to a rather gruesome (off-camera) death. And Robin is obviously satisfied. And that is the message we’re delivering to little kids.
The CGI is horrible in the movie. I know it was toward the beginning of CGI work, but you had pretty good looking dinosaurs roaming around two years prior in Jurassic Park, and Forrest Gump running through CGI work the prior year, so your Gotham City computer landscapes, and vehicles, should probably look better than they do.
The story is really pretty bad, and I think it’s the deletion of Bruce Wayne’s dark psychological problem with nightmares. It was the glue that held the story together and by getting rid of it, you lose the emotional thrust of the movie. And in an attempt to lighten the mood, the movie resorts to bad one-liners. The movie opens (after a lame CGI credit sequence that feels more like amateur filmmaking than major Hollywood movie) in the Batcave. Batman quickly suits up (nipples!) and we find the new Batmobile coming up from the floor. Batman walks dramatically, theatrically to his mark, where he stands beside the Batmobile, a perfect stop for movie stills in magazines. Cut to: Alfred standing nearby, holding a tray of food. “Can I persuade you to take a sandwich with you, sir?” Batman replies, “I’ll get drive-thru.” That’s our introduction to Batman in this movie. His first line. “I’ll get drive-thru.” It’s not like they’d planned on using footage for McDonald’s commercials. Oh…
The Batmobile is horrible! It looks like…well…a toy car! The glowing lights in the wheels? And what is it with all the strange lights, anyway? Neon and projected lights and lasers everywhere!
Batman has two costumes. This is in line with the comic books, to a degree. Especially in the 1940s and 1950s. There is a prototype costume that Bruce Wayne wears after the Riddler has destroyed the Batcave and his costumes. It’s a bigger costume that’s supposed to have some extra features, though there don’t seem to be many. It makes Batman look bigger, and Val Kilmer look silly. At least it allows him a second suit-up (butt cheeks!), just in time for the final act of the movie, when he’s about to go get the bad guys.
Overall, the movie fails not because of the nipples or ass crack on the bat suit, not because of the bad acting, not even because of Schumacher’s overproduced, overly-theatrical ways. The movie fails because the emotional core of the movie is gone. The concern is more for action figures and merchandising than on telling a good story. Even Dick Grayson’s story, which should make us care, has no real emotion to it. He’s angry and wants revenge. Who are the Grayson’s? Why should we care?
On June 16th, 1995, opening night, I saw the movie with a friend. The 10 PM showing. I remember liking it more back then than I do now. Who knows why? I certainly don’t. But I liked it enough to watch it a few times after it came out on video. Still, I didn’t watch nearly as much as the two Burton movies, so that’s probably telling.
Anyway, Batman Forever did quite well at the box office. It was a no-brainer for Warner Bros. There would be a fourth Batman, and Joel Schumacher would direct. The possibilities were endless. What could possibly go wrong?
1989 was a big year for Batman. It was his 50th birthday and it was the year he would appear in a major motion picture for the first time in 23 years.
Beginning in the early 1970s, Batman (and comic book) fan Michael Uslan tried getting Hollywood interested in bringing Batman back to the big screen. After pitching his idea to producer Benjamin Melniker, the two went from one studio to the next, eventually winning over the producing team of Jon Peters and Peter Guber. Still, there was little interest. Until the end of 1978.
With the success of Superman: The Movie, Warner Bros. wanted to do what DC Comics itself had done 40 years prior and follow the film up with a new superhero movie. They brought the property back to Warner Bros. (who owns DC Comics) and began the task of bringing Batman to the big screen again. However, nothing seemed to work. Treatment after treatment was pitched to Warner Bros., which would agree, and then change their minds. Tom Mankiewicz, who’d ghostwritten revisions to Mario Puzo’s script for Superman and Superman II when Richard Donner was on both projects (and given the onscreen credit of Creative Consultant), even wrote a treatment. Getting the right director was difficult and pinning down the tone of the movie, and character, was also difficult.
After his success with the Warner Bros. release of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985), Tim Burton was asked to direct. Not a comic book fan himself, he was intrigued by the imagery of Batman and the Joker. More treatments were written and things weren’t official until Burton’s next movie, Beetlejuice (1988), was successful. Warner Bros. officially greenlit Batman and the stage was set for one of the biggest film franchises of all time.
I knew none of the above. I was a kid, fer chrissakes! What I did know was that in December of 1988, Entertainment Tonight promised a first look at the new Batman movie and I was intrigued. They showed a part of the trailer and I was blown away. I distinctly remember Batman turning around to face the camera, bloodied, his mask dark rubber, ears tall like they were in the comic books. I’d already heard that Michael Keaton–whom I knew from Mr. Mom, Gung Ho, Johnny Dangerously (I love this movie!), Beetlejuice, and a movie I loved called The Dream Team (I haven’t seen it since about 1990, so forgive me if it’s bad)–would play Batman, and I wondered how that would be. I didn’t understand, at that time, the controversy of the decision other than he was known as a comedic actor and Batman was an action/adventure role. I didn’t really know that Batman was supposed to be dark because, even though I had a bunch of Batman comic books from the early-1980s, I hadn’t really read them. I was too young when they came into the house. I still had them and would go back and reread them, but at this point, that was still months away. Seeing that first glimpse of Keaton as Batman got me excited, but I was still a little confused. To me, Adam West was still Batman. I was 11 years old, give me a break.
Sometime around March the marketing machine really started and Batman tee shirts, posters, lunchboxes…the list goes on…started popping up. I remember walking through JC Penney at the local mall and seeing a bunch of Batman tee shirts, for someone my size! At this time, superhero clothing was still for little kids. I was in sixth grade (my last year of elementary school, back then). Also, I was a “husky” 11-year-old.
Batman was everywhere. One of the first adult novels I ever read on my own was the paperback novelization of the movie, written by Craig Shaw Gardner.
1989 was a big year for movies, and that summer was particularly good. It featured not only Batman, but also Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Ghostbusters II, Lethal Weapon 2, and A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child. I got to see Batman, Indiana Jones, and Freddy Krueger in the movies that summer. The other two I saw on VHS when they came out. Either way, it was a good summer.
We went to see Batman a week or two after its release and there was still lines going around the building. We saw Honey, I Shrunk the Kids instead. Finally, my father took me one Saturday afternoon to see it. By now, I’d read the novelization and had read a behind-the-scenes magazine. The movie still left a big mark on me.
Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Last year, when it was announced that Ben Affleck would play Batman and geeks cried out in a rage, I laughed at them. Maybe they were too young to remember, but I do remember the Michael Keaton fiasco. His Bruce Wayne stands apart from any that had come before or since. He is seemingly a normal guy, looks completely normal. He certainly does not look like someone who dresses like a bat and fights crime at night. Yet, it totally works because of this. As Wayne, he is scattered and scarred, trying to find some sort of normalcy but having trouble. When we meet him at a charity benefit being held at Wayne Manor to help save Gotham’s bicentennial festival, Vicki Vale (played by Kim Basinger) taps him on the shoulder and asks if he knows who Bruce Wayne is. He says no, she thanks him and walks away, and he stands there with a pen he’d been using to sign something with. He realizes he has the pen and doesn’t know what to do with it. He stabs the soil of a huge potted plant with the pen, leaving it there, to be instantaneously retrieved by Alfred (Michael Gough), who also saves a champagne flute. It’s the perfect introduction to a man who continues being the child he was when his parents were murdered in front of him. It’s only after a strange conversation with Vicki Vale and reporter Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl) that we see him in his true self, looking at a bank of monitors in the Batcave.
His acting as Batman is somewhat stilted and emotionless, but this makes sense for someone trying to conceal his identity. The costume itself provided lots of limitations. In trying to achieve accuracy between the comic books and the movie, the costume designers chose to make the mask and cowl go right down to the cape. Unfortunately, the latex foam rubber used to make the mask meant that Keaton couldn’t turn his head without ripping the cowl from the neck. Also, with the thickness of the mask near his eyes and around his head, he had trouble seeing and hearing. Taking all this into consideration, Keaton did a helluva job. Even without it, his tone was correct for the movie overall.
Jack Nicholson obviously needs to be mentioned, though I almost ask myself Why bother? Everyone knows he did an excellent job as the Joker. Yes, he may have hammed it up some, but the character hams it up. He had the energy that Cesar Romero brought to the role (mustache and all) in 1966-1968, but was sinister and deadly. And as much as I’m a Robin Williams fan and truly think he would’ve been great in the role, Jack Nicholson as the Joker seemed like destiny. Not only that, but he brought a certain amount of respect to the movie.
The production design is pretty amazing. The idea of making a wholly original city that looks like a nightmare come to life is inspired. Taking the idea that Gotham City is a tortured, sickly, corrupt city and then making it look that way in an outward manifestation was bold. Anton Furst’s designs are nightmarish and effective. Compared to the studio backlots used in the serials as well as the 1966 TV series, or the Los Angeles skyline and surrounding country roads, and unlike Superman: The Movie (and Superman II), which used New York City as its Metropolis, this film had Gotham City as its own thing, unlike any other city. It was a place you’d barely want to walk in the afternoon, never mind after dark.
The Batmobile. How do you top the 1960’s iconic Batmobile? Well, here you go. It’s sleek, sinister, and not at all kitschy. It’s a more realistic Batmobile, to be sure. Where the 1966 Batmobile (as well as most of the comic book versions before and after) were gaudy and seemed to almost be an advertisement to the city of Gotham that Batman had arrived, this Batmobile is scary.
Michael Gough as Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne’s butler (and surrogate father) is amazing. Understated, elegant, and fatherly, he is the heart of the movie. In the scene where Bruce Wayne and Vicki Vale have their first date in Wayne Manor and end up eating with him, he turns a clichéd scene into something real. Throughout the movie, he is truly the one Bruce Wayne listens to. You get the idea that while he goes along with Wayne’s idea to dress up like a bat to kick some criminal ass, he doesn’t completely agree with it. As such, one of the movie’s most controversial scenes makes sense. More on this later.
The introduction to District Attorney Harvey Dent is a great thing, and the fact that they cast a black man, Billy Dee Williams, to the part is even better. It meant that there was the idea that a sequel could be made and that one could see Dent’s transformation into Two-Face. Because of knowing for this movie, it would make the tragedy of his story that much stronger. Williams turns in a solid performance, too, though he’s not given the screen time he should be.
Danny Elfman’s score is top-notch. The opening titles music alone (a slow reveal of the bat symbol) is as good as John Williams’s Superman theme (or his Star Wars or Indiana Jones themes, for that matter). Where Williams’s Superman theme was bold and hopeful, heroic, Elfman’s Batman theme is heroic, sure, but also dark and mysterious. The rest of his music is every bit as quirky as director Tim Burton is, and bold as the hero Batman is.
Tim Burton’s direction is brilliant at times. His quirky storytelling ability that led him to direct Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and Beetlejuice (which was originally going to be directed by Wes Craven, with a darker, meaner script) and made them instant classics doesn’t seem right for Batman, yet he does a great job with the piece. The movie could move a little faster, and the dialogue could be better, but overall Burton’s vision of the characters–and of the nightmare that was Gotham City–made the movie unique and made it a movie unlike many other superhero movies, before or since. It’s set in a time unto itself. It could be the 1940s, except the TVs are all in color, and Vicki Vale’s wardrobe and car are definitely 1980s (so is Bruce Wayne’s wardrobe). I wonder if this is his way of saying that Vicki Vale is more progressive and ahead of the curve than those around her, or if it means that Gotham is behind the times. After all, she’s a visitor. Batman’s gear could be from the future. Burton’s vision is complete and the world he provides for us is complete.
Kim Basinger as Vicki Vale is all right most of the time, and terrible at others. Of course, how she got the part has become part of the legend of this movie, but I’ll repeat it for those who may not know (which is a Good Thing, it means you have a life!). Originally, Sean Young had been hired to play the part of Vicki Vale, photojournalist. Part of Bruce and Vicki’s date was supposed to have them horseback riding on the Wayne Manor grounds. About a week before shooting, Young was getting acquainted with the horse she was supposed to ride and she fell off, breaking her arm. The producers decided to recast the part since it was so physical. The list of actresses available in such short notice, with the talent they were looking for, was short. Basinger was on the list and she could drop everything and move to England for three-to-four months, so she was hired. Again, she’s not terrible, but maybe a little more time, a better script, something would’ve helped. In scenes with Robert Wuhl’s Alexander Knox, she goes from friendly to sharp instantly. Her delivery of some of the lines is almost as though she’s practicing them. I also think the script and/or directing has her screaming too damn much. She just came back from a war, according to the story, and now she’s screaming the classic scream queen scream in every other scene? Once or twice? Yes. But….
I’m not a fan of Alexander Knox. Robert Wuhl is a gifted comedian. His HBO specials Assume the Position with Mr. Wuhl and its follow-up are brilliant, but I can’t stand Alexander Knox. I couldn’t when I was 11/12, I can’t now. He’s supposed to provide comic relief, which I’m fine with, and he’s supposed to be the audience’s point-of-view, but I find him taking away too much screen time that I would’ve loved to have seen go to Bruce Wayne, Batman, or even Vicki Vale.
The writing and pacing are a little off. Part of this, no doubt, has to do with the 1988 Writers Guild strike, which affected many movies and TV shows that year (it’s mentioned in my essay on A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master). The dialogue in places is spot-on and perfect (the Joker’s dialogue, Alfred’s dialogue), other times it’s pretty bad (most of Vicki Vale’s lines, many of Bruce Wayne’s). As far as pacing, there are some cool action pieces throughout the movie, but there are times when it’s dull and boring. I also have to wonder if getting Jack Nicholson actually hurt the movie. He was billed before Michael Keaton, who played the title role! His fee and demands are stuff of legend, as is his earning on the back end (which is quite common now), but I wonder if having spent so much on Nicholson made the movie more about the Joker. Of course, one plot point that gets fans angered is Alfred letting Vicki Vale into the Batcave, something that co-screenwriter (and writer of the original story) Sam Hamm says he had nothing to do with, pinning it all on co-screenwriter, the late Warren Skaaren. While many have been very upset with this it does fall within the realm of possibility for this movie’s Alfred. There are certainly enough hints from Alfred that he wishes Bruce would lead a more normal life, and that Vicki might be a way to that life. So I’m not mentioning that as a bad part of this movie. Because the real thing, I think, is–
Batman kills everyone. In the comic books, the one thing that separates Batman’s style of vigilantism from that of, say, Charles Bronson’s Death Wish character is that Batman will not kill. Batman will break every law in the book if it means getting the culprit, except for killing. In the stories when he’s had to kill, it often leads to follow-up stories where he’s dealing with the killing. In 1989’s Batman, though, Batman is like Rambo. Off the top of my head, Batman kills: Jack Napier (accidentally, though Jack actually survives both the fall into and the submergence in a vat of green chemicals, Batman doesn’t know that until the Joker appears); Joker’s thugs when the Batmobile drops bombs in Axis Chemicals in an attempt to kill the Joker; in Gotham Cathedral, at the end, one of the Joker’s goons leaps from a high place and falls through the floor (while Batman didn’t kill him, he didn’t try to help him, either, which I think comic book Batman would have); and another of the Joker’s goons gets dropped down the length of the cathedral when Batman swings up, grabs him with his calves, and drops him to his death; and, of course, there’s the Joker, who Batman uses the Batbolo (?!) to tie to a gargoyle as the Joker’s helicopter is trying to lift him away. Killing the Joker was a huge mistake because it meant that he couldn’t appear in any sequels. Of course, I’m sure that movie magic would’ve brought him back, as so often happens in comic books, but it would’ve been weak.
When the box office receipts cleared the air, Batman did several things: It revitalized interest in Batman in a mass way that hadn’t been there (except when news got out that Robin would be killed off in the comic books in 1988); it started a huge movie franchise for Warner Bros., who’d sold the film rights to Superman after Superman III; it gave DC Comics a popular film franchise character to capitalize on, something that hadn’t happened since around Superman III (because 1988’s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace was a turkey in every way); and it gave Tim Burton a shot at the big leagues. Up until this movie, Burton was the quirky director of quirky films that turned in a profit. After this movie, he was Tim Burton, the director of Batman. It allowed him to make what could arguably be called his most important movie, Edward Scissorhands.
The even bigger side effect, I think, is that the success of Batman brought a generation of kids to comic books that might have neglected them beforehand. Sure, the mid-to-late-1980s are filled with important comic books that showed the artform as something more than just throwaway entertainment. Names like Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, and Neil Gaiman became household names for people who read a lot. If you were a reader, chances are you saw articles about Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen and V for Vendetta, Batman: Arkham Asylum, and The Sandman and may have been interested in them. But the huge success of the movie Batman brought kids like me into comic book shops for the first time to not only buy the various (and plentiful) Batman comics that existed, but got them interested in other titles. It even made comic books seem like a possible career path. I think that without Batman, I might not be writing this. Batman got me to look at comics again, to read them again, to go to the local comic book shop every Saturday, to want to draw and write them. This eventually got me into the local Waldenbooks, which eventually led me to buy The Shining by Stephen King, which made me want to ditch the art thing and just write.
With Batman, Warner Bros. had a new hit that could become a franchise. So of course, it wasn’t long before they approached Tim Burton about a sequel. And fresh off the success of Edward Scissorhands, he said yes.
This Saturday marks my 5th wedding anniversary to Pamela, and I have to say that I’m a little surprised. Surprised that five years have passed, surprised that she’s been by my side for seven years, and surprised that I haven’t somehow fucked the whole thing up. There’ve been near-misses, but here we are with an awesome 19-month-old girl and still crazy in love.
Sunday marks the 11th anniversary of the e-mail that would change everything. I know it because it came the day after my best friend’s wedding to his wife. The e-mail was from Elizabeth E. Monteleone telling me that my short story, “The Growth of Alan Ashley,” had been accepted to Borderlands 5, the fifth volume of the cutting-edge horror/dark/weird fiction anthology that I’d only grown up reading. She and her husband, the writer Thomas F. Monteleone, co-edited the anthologies that had published some of the biggest names in the field, and several newcomers who would go on to become Elder Statespersons of the dark genres.
For me, the sale would be true recognition of hard work. Within 24 hours of the acceptance, their publishing company, Borderlands Press, released their first advertisement for the book. This ad listed all 25 contributors, including Stephen King. This was a dream come true.
“The Growth of Alan Ashley” appearing in Borderlands 5 (and its subsequent paperback from Warner Books, From the Borderlands) opened doors for me. Some I walked through, some I missed, some I still hope to walk through more than a decade later.
A lot has happened in the last 11 years. My life had been turned upside-down and rightside-up and everything in between. Still, I am hugely proud of my association with Borderlands and with my story. “The Growth of Alan Ashley” is a piece that I can look at and think that, at least once in my life, I wrote something that was as good as any other writer working at that time.
The story was reprinted (slightly edited) in my collection Catalysts. Since Catalysts sold out, it’s been out of print.
Borderlands 5 is now available as an ebook from Borderlands Press. Some of the reprint rights for some of the stories weren’t granted for this edition (for instance, no Stephen King) but it is still an amazing roster. I can’t go through my favorite stories entirely, because it’s been 11 years since I read the book, but I remember being blown away by Gary Braunbeck’s story “Rami Temporales”.
I hope to be able to get Catalysts republished in some form sooner than later, but for now, for a damn fine read, I can say that buying Borderlands 5 will be the best $3.99 you can spend. Honestly, I’d splurge and get all the Borderlands anthologies.
Friday. Friday. Friday. F.R.I.D.A.Y. Friday.
This has been a long, emotional week. My 15-year-old was here most of the week because her mother was on vacation and that was great. She was mostly on her computer, which is normal for teens, yes? But she also played with the baby and played along with us. It was great. Yesterday, she went back to her Mom’s until next weekend. My heart broke as she walked across the street to the house, her bags in her hands. I get to see her every day now, but it’s still difficult leaving her.
This week also saw my return to work-school for the 2013-2014 year. I was happy to see my students from previous years, and some co-workers. The week leading up to the new school year is always stressful for me, but this year was particularly bad. I’m in a new classroom and not everything is ready. And because I deal with a different set of freshmen every four-and-a-half days until January, and four days have already gone by, and I’m still not unpacked in my new room, and I have no time to do that or much of anything…stress. Oh, and I have more students than I ever had before. That’s fun, too. I won’t get into that. The older students are great, but I even messed up with them this week.
Oh, and I miss the baby during the day. I’ve jokingly called her the hostage-taker all summer, but this week I missed her bad.
I’m tired. Tired. T.I.R.E.D.
But there’s some good.
After a very enthusiastic recommendation by the teenager, and seeing how many people loved it, and finding the Vlogbrothers YouTube videos, I finally decided to read John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. Ho-ho-holy shit, it’s good! I’m about 80 pages from the end and am dreading it, but can’t stop. Green is a major talent and he’s made a fan of me. Which is weird because we’re the same age. I mean, the same exact age. I mean, we were born on the same day.
Which means our birthday was last Saturday. We turned 36. Yay, us. My birthday was laid back, nice.
Another great thing: The Harlan Ellison Channel on YouTube. I’ve written about discovering Ellison on Sci-Fi Buzz and now, thanks to his friend, Academy Award-nominee Josh Olson, the commentaries he did, as well as some new videos, are available online. Or are becoming available. Goddamn, I’m happy. The fact that it went up in time for my birthday was a great present. It has helped get me through this week.
So that’s that. I should go to bed. Later.
The deranged traditions of science fiction “fandom” are overwhelmingly attractive, particularly to those few boys and girls who are the outcasts of their high school classes because of wonky thought processes, a flair for the bizarre, and physical appearance that denies them the treasures of sorority membership or a position on the football team. For the pimply, the short, the weird and intelligent…for those to whom sex is frightening and to whom come odd dreams in the middle of study hall, the camaraderie of fandom is a gleaming, beckoning Erewhon; an extended family of other wimps, twinks, flakes and oddballs.
– Harlan Ellison
“All the Lies That Are My Life”
I have been a fan of comic books, science fiction, fantasy, and horror for a long, long time. Comic books began coming into the house at a very young age, as did superhero toys. Star Wars caught me quite young, as well, and opened up a lot of possibilities in both storytelling and the beginnings of science. Horror was huge in the 1980s, when I was a child, and by 1987, I was a full-fledged horror fan.
I’m not a stranger to fandom. Everywhere I look around my workspace I see something that indicates fandom. Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and literary figure action figures are to my right on a bookcase (that’s devoted almost entirely to Stephen King books). Freddy Krueger and superhero action figures are on the Harlan Ellison bookcase. There are other strange tchotchkes around my work area, too. Hell, this very blog has seen me geeking out, or being a fan many times.
After the last few weeks, though, I think I might have had my fill. I may be ready to turn in my geek card. I may be ready to walk away from fandom.
The first incidents that irked me came through the news two weeks ago. In one week, Todd McFarlane, Mark Millar, and Gene Conway essentially said that comic books have always been for guys and if a woman is interested in them, they just need to accept that. I’m paraphrasing, of course. But you can look it up.
As a parent of two daughters, one of whom is a 15-year-old who is discovering fandom, this gets me very angry. It leads to the bigger discussion that has been popping up in the last year or so about the mainstreaming of Geek Culture and, especially, Geek Girls.
The first idea is that Geek Culture exists because it is a safe haven for those whom Harlan Ellison so eloquently write about above, the kids like me, whose minds are faster, weirder, and more prone to flights of fancy that others in their peer groups. Kids to whom social interaction is a difficult thing. Kids to whom the idea of people with powers, or flying around time and space in a police box, or any number of other scenarios are more comforting than going to a party. Now, suddenly, people who were never considered geeks, or ever considered themselves geeks, are going to see the movies that feature these symbols of adolescent impotence and calling themselves geeks. They’re going to ComiCons and wearing tee shirts with the symbols of these fantasies on them. And, goddamnit, how dare they it belongs to US!
The second idea is far, far uglier. The second idea is that attractive young women aren’t allowed to call themselves geeks because they are attractive and girls. A fat, pimply, odd girl is acceptable because the Omega Moos know what it’s like to be ostracized because of their looks or their brains, but the pretty ones do not. How dare they wear superhero- or science fiction- or horror-themed tee shirts?! How dare they call themselves geeks?!
Both arguments are total bullshit, of course. The mainstreaming of geek culture means we won. It means that all those lonely nights working on whatever dreams we had are paying off. We’ve watched them and we’ve reported back on their lives and they’re giving us their money for it. The Geek Girl argument is just simple paranoia that builds when one has been bullied too much. It’s the thing that makes us not trust the pretty, the beautiful, the self-assured.
That’s the first piece of ugliness.
The second piece of ugliness is only 48 hours old. Thursday night, Warner Bros. announced that the actor chosen to play Batman in Zack Snyder’s follow-up to Man of Steel, joining Henry Cavill as Superman, would be Ben Affleck. I wrote about the decision here. I like it. I think Affleck is a fine actor, a very good director, and he will be fine in the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman.
Well, it seems the fanboys/-girls don’t agree. Online petitions have been started trying to oust the actor from the project. Memes ridiculing the actor have gone viral. The sad thing is, these fuckers will be buying the goddamn action figure in droves in 2015 (as my friend RJ Sevin said). These numbskulls don’t remember the hoopla surrounding 1989’s Batman when it was announced that Jack Nicholson would be playing the Joker and Michael Keaton would be playing Batman. Nicholson sounded great, but Michael Keaton?! Mr. Mom?! Beetlefuckinjuice?!
I was too young to know the severity of it in Xeroxed fanzines and letter columns of various magazines, but I’ve heard stories. I remember the mainstream media was also shocked and dubious. No one thought Michael Keaton would make a good Batman. And yet…the fans were so very sad when it was announced that he would not be reprising the role in the third Batman movie, 1995’s Batman Forever. Even after the disastrous Batman & Robin (1997) fans held out hope that Keaton would return to the franchise. A few years back, these same fanboys were upset about the casting of pretty-boy Heath Ledger as the Joker, and look how that turned out!
The brouhaha over the casting of Ben Affleck would be amusing to me if it wasn’t so vicious and coming from the “professional” websites of the comic book industry. And on the coattails of the other two problems I wrote about above, it’s enough to make me think that maybe…maybe…I’ve had enough.
I mean, I don’t have to stop liking the stuff I like. Maybe I don’t even have to stop writing about the stuff, though I have to wonder if my essays on the Nightmare on Elm Street and Superman movies are a teeny, tiny part of the problem. I like to think that they’re not unnecessarily mean, but let’s face it, they’re written by a fan for a fan. But maybe it’s time to leave the reading about such things behind. Maybe it’s time to unfollow Newsrama, and the Batman sites, and the other sff sites that have this attitude. I’ve already decided that there will not be any more money given to Todd McFarlane (though I made that decision back when I found out how much of a liar and thief he actually is).
The problem is that the fans of these types of stories will talk at length about heroism and strength, of openness and inclusion, of progressive action and of harmony among all. And yet, when it has come time for them to act as the fictional heroes they worship, they have failed. Not all of them, but a vocal segment that seems to be, well, quite large.
Groucho Marx used to say that he wouldn’t want to be a part of any club that would have him. I’m thinking that this might now apply to me and fandom.
Prove me wrong.
So the response seemed pretty good to last week’s posting of my first essay in the Nightmare in Gautham series. I will begin revising the second essay tonight or tomorrow to have up on Thursday.
In case you missed it, last Friday I posted my short story “Snow Day” to the site. If you haven’t checked it out, please do so. People seem to really enjoy it. It’s a favorite of mine to read aloud because you can usually hear the audience react. Very cool.
Work on the novel continues and while I’m sure you’re sick of hearing about this faceless novel, I assure you that I’m making headway on it. And just to make stuff more interesting, I’ve begun a novella for fun. I don’t know if it’ll go anywhere, but I’m having fun with it.
Winter is finally winding down and I’m happy for it. It’s been a busy one. The baby is now 4 months old and the teenager turns 15 in less than a month. Talk about vertigo.
I finally finished The Twelve, Justin Cronin’s follow-up to The Passage. I enjoyed it but not as much as the first book. I’m interested in seeing where he goes for the third book.
My teenager has gotten me (finally) into Doctor Who. I’m in the 4th series (the Tenth Doctor) and am enjoying it, as I’m sure all of you have.
That’s pretty much it right now. Talk to you later.
I’d begun writing this heartfelt piece about my daughters and I stopped, realizing that I’d pretty much already covered that territory in “The Happiness My Girls Bring Me.” The reason I wanted to write about my daughters is because my new daughter, Genevieve, was born two-and-a-half weeks ago. For a guy who is still amazed at the incredibility of having such a beautiful, intelligent, and cool 14-year-old, looking at this new, amazing baby is mind-numbing.
So I guess you can figure that I’ve been pretty busy, between being Dad to Courtney, New Daddy to Genevieve, Bill (or Honey Bun) to my wife, Mr. Gauthier to my students, and Bill Gauthier as I edit the novel, I haven’t had much time to sleep. Or blog. But here I am (and there I was, sleeping). I decided I’d just give you a buffet of thoughts and likes. Grab a plate, pull up a chair, and let’s dig in.
I’m reading Justin Cronin’s The Twelve, the much ballyhooed sequel to his bestseller The Passage. The hoopla surrounding The Passage drove me to read it and I was swept into Cronin’s world. There were some things that made me stumble at first (the change from the near-almost-present-future to the far future) but the book was solid and I enjoyed it immensely. So I waited eagerly for The Twelve and even pre-ordered it for download. I’m just over a third of the way through and am loving it. Cronin employs a similar technique with this novel as with the first, going back to the beginning of the vampire/zombie apocalypse (the first novel shows where it begins) but then jumping ahead quite a bit. I’m entranced with the writing and with the story. It’s an epic tale being told in a non-linear way that I’m happy to go through. See this smile? Yeah. That’s because of the book.
I began reading John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War in the hospital but didn’t get very far. I’ll return to it once I’m through with The Twelve. I liked what I’ve read, though, and recommend Scalzi’s blog, Whatever.
I went for a while (2000-2007) without watching much TV, but in that time, things have changed. TV has gotten better. Right now I’m absolutely charmed by Don’t Trust the B— In Apartment 23. It’s insane and makes me laugh. Suburgatory is pretty good, too, and I’ve been a fan of Modern Family since it’s first season (though I missed half of it). But the one show I cannot miss is Boardwalk Empire. The quality of the writing, acting, and production is astounding. I’m not a huge gangster guy. Though I like crime novels and movies, organized crime flicks don’t do much for me. Boardwalk Empire is so much more than that. This season introduced audiences to Gyp Rosetti, played by Bobby Cannavale, one of the scariest characters out there.
Before you ask me about The Walking Dead, the answer is no. I haven’t seen it. It’s on my Netflix queue. I’ll get to it and I’m sure I’ll enjoy it, but for now, I spend my Sunday nights in Atlantic City, circa 1924.
So, that’s what I got for ya. Nothing amazing this time. Except for the daughters, but you already knew that.
All right, sorry for the bad pun in the title of this little post. I just wanted to quickly let you know that I just finished reading Locke & Key, Volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez. I know I’m late to the game on this one, but you might be, too. Or maybe you haven’t read it because it’s a comic book/graphic novel. It took me a bit to actually read it, I’d had it sitting on my iPad for most of this year (and I’d meant to buy the damn collection for several years). Everything I’d read about Locke & Key has made me want to read it. Rave reviews. As time passed, I almost became fearful that the hype would hurt the book once I got to it.
It didn’t. Locke & Key reads like an HBO show. It’s multilayered, intelligent, filled with emotion, and scary. This book actually scared me. Joe Hill mesmerizes me with his prose work. His scripting for Locke & Key is every bit as careful as his prose, his characters every bit as fleshed-out. The story never feels forced and the characters are believable. Gabriel Rodriguez’s art is great. At first glance the characters seemed to cartoony for my tastes but that feeling didn’t last. It’s the details in every panel that helps with that, not to mention the subtle characterization in his drawings. His art won me over within the first page and I can happily say I’m a fan now.
So that’s my ten cents on Locke & Key, Volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraft. It’s rare that I get so excited about something, but in this case I can’t not be excited. It’s not as good as I’d heard it was, it’s better.
This past weekend I got to meet up with two of my best friends, Toby and Jorj. They feel like they’re my oldest friends but that’s not the case. I met Jorj in 1997/98, just before my daughter was born. He introduced me to Toby in 2000, a week after my first wedding, and Toby and I became fast friends. I got to experience a lot of things I’d longed to do in childhood with Toby and Jorj. I helped create a comic book. I wrote while Jorj and Toby handled the art. It was submitted to one place (and rejected) but it was a great time. We made a movie together (which I’m still editing, even though it’s been 11 years since production) that is a cross between Star Wars and Looney Tunes. I spent an afternoon reading comics with Toby. Naturally, our conversation turned to those things and stuff from our childhoods. We didn’t know each other in childhood. Jorj and Toby met in college. I met them shortly after that. Yet, there was a certain amount of collective memory that was great. Comic books (Toby and I), movies (all three), favorite cartoons (all three) Transformers (Toby and Jorj), Masters of the Universe and Star Wars (all three)…it was great.
Now most of a week has passed and I still think about our conversations. It’s funny how much we–and now I include you in this–are pieced together with the media we grew up with. Who knew that 25 years later I’d look back at Moss Man with such happiness? It’s one of the reasons I started my other blog MediaBio (which I’ve neglected but plan on going back to sooner than later). I’ve seen it with my students, too, how quickly the older ones (mostly graduated now) look back on Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers (I shiver just typing those words together in that string) and smile. These shows, cartoons, and toys become major strands in our cultural DNA.
It makes me smile, but I also worry a little. It seems with each generation, these things become more important than they were. And I have to wonder if they hinder more than help. As someone who was raised obsessed with media, I can see how my life is where it is because of it. What happens with 24/7 television, and entertainment on the ‘net, and the steady stream of media that is there for you all the time? When I can turn on TV and find several shows on pawn shops, several on hoarders hoarding everything from massive collections to trash to animals, several shows on ghost hunters, on children going through dance competitions and beauty pageants, families of rednecks, religious psychos, and crazy people, I have to wonder if the sums we’re putting out there aren’t going to hurt.
An argument can be made that there’s always been garbage to consume via media, but the amount of garbage is horrifying. On the flip side of that coin, there is more quality television than there ever has been. Television series that are like novels in their complexity of character and storytelling. I haven’t seen Breaking Bad but know that’s a favorite, as is Mad Men and Sons of Anarchy (neither I’ve seen, all I want to). Boardwalk Empire is a favorite of mine, as was Lost. Even sitcoms like Modern Family make their traditional counterparts seem like hack writing and acting.
I guess it’s because I love it so much that I worry. What will today’s children sit and remember fondly in 25 years? What will we think about then?
I’m not fond of being a slow reader. I discovered I read slowly fairly early on. There are people who read two books (or more) a week and that just befuddles me. There are occasional books that will take me a week to read, but often a book–a novel, that is–will take me a month, which is one reason I attempt to read more than one book at a time.
My mother used to read nearly a book a day, and at first that kind of upset me. Sure, I was 13 and she was 27 years my senior, but still. As I got a little older, in high school, I discounted her total by saying, “They’re mostly Harlequin novels.” This wasn’t an entirely fair assessment. Yes, they were formulaic. Yes, they were often the size of the covers for my Stephen King novels, but still, they were books. My mother, who bought a Kindle a few years back and hasn’t read Harlequin novels for probably 15 years, still manages to read several books a week. I’m still stuck with one or two a month.
I had a professor last summer who said I wasn’t a slow reader so much as a careful reader. I have professed to enjoy letting the language of the novels I’m reading to melt on my tongue like good chocolate, but is that a good thing? I know it’s not a race, but come on.
The book-a-month isn’t set in concrete. There are novels that I speed through. Nonfiction also tends to move faster. But it still stings. On Twitter, I feel stupid posting my #Fridayreads because many times it’s the same goddamn book! Here’s a for instance for ya:
I just finished rereading Stephen King’s Dark Tower novels, including the new one, The Wind Through the Keyhole. Eight books in this series. I began reading them in January. I finished The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower (I read them chronologically, placing The Wind Through the Keyhole between books IV and V) last week. I even put down the other novel I was reading, Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad, to focus my attention on Unca Steve’s books. Of course, within days of finishing The Dark Tower, I finally finished Goon Squad (I loved it).
Because of my slowness, there are many books I haven’t read that I desperately want to. I have had books in my To-Be-Read pile for nearly a decade. Of course, there are always new ones added. It doesn’t help that classes I’ve taken throughout those 10 years have forced me off my own track and onto their tracks for a bit.
So I do my best. Right now I’m reading Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, which I’ve never read and was at the top of my stack o’ books even before his recent death. It’s length makes me believe I should be done with it by the end of this week, maybe even sooner. I’m also reading Joe Hill’s Locke and Key, Volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraft. I may also begin one of the nonfiction books I have about the television industry, one by Bill Carter and the other by Warren Littlefield. There are still some writing friends whose books I have to read, not to mention the classics….
Yeah. Well, I have my work cut out for me. Enjoy your reading, while I might be behind, I know I’ll enjoy mine.
Last January, 2010, or maybe it was summer 2009, if I could find the printout…
Anyway, it doesn’t matter, I received a private message on MySpace (remember that place? Good times, man! Gooood times) from a new publisher that was getting into ebooks. They asked if I was interested in publishing the ebook version of my 2007 short story collection Catalysts.
Now, this flattered me. The fact that someone had read it, and then was interested in publishing it, is still something that flatters me. Luckily, I didn’t immediately reply. First, I have mixed feelings about Catalysts. The stories were written between 1998 and 2004, we’re talking from when I was 21 until 26. In other words, they’re stories written by someone just beginning to learn his craft. Beyond that, there’s at least one story that I really don’t like anymore. I know what I wanted to do with it, I know what I attempted to do with it, but ultimately I failed with it. (This strikes me as funny since it was one of the stories from the collection that was published on its own, and I’ve received emails saying it’s a favorite from a few deranged souls). I’m not saying the stories in Catalysts are bad. Far from it. I really love most of the 13 in that book. Two of which have inspired the novel I’ve spoken about so much. One gave me a goddamn career! And Tom Monteleone’s foreword still brings tears to my eyes and makes my head spin. But I think you know what I mean.
Second, I didn’t know who this publisher was. I’d never heard of it. So I looked it up. They were beginning with some ebooks from some writers that fans of the horror genre would recognize, but I noticed that these ebooks were smaller works, novellas, not anything big.
At the time I was (and still am) playing with the notion of doing one, two, or three stories in a small ebook and selling them for cheaper prices, in the way the Amazon will sometimes sell individual short stories from writers, or in the way that musicians will sell individual songs as well as the whole album. I thought (think) that if you put the two/three stories together with a central theme, maybe add a special introduction or afterword, that sort of thing, it could be an interesting way to get stories out there.
So after a week or so (I’m a busy guy), I sent a reply to the publisher that thanked him/her/it profusely, said how honored I was to be considered, but that I wasn’t interested in doing the whole collection as an ebook. And then, in a much shorter, more concise, and more businesslike format, I wrote what I just wrote above. I ended the email with something akin to, “Let me know your thoughts on these ideas. I look forward to hearing from you.”
I never heard back.
When I deleted my MySpace account last summer, there was the original message left unanswered. For the helluvit, I just Googled them. It appears they closed down. It appears that last fall or summer, they stopped replying to emails, Facebook messages, MySpace messages. Their MySpace remains with 6 friends, one being Tom.
It’s not cool, but I had a feeling about them.
A quick note: I’ll probably be shopping Catalysts around to epublishers later this spring or summer, once my day job and classwork are done. I’ll let you know how that goes.
I began writing a long, in-depth piece on Bruce Springsteen’s new album Wrecking Ball but stopped. There are several reasons why:
- There have been many reviews of the new album, all of them spectacular.
- The Boss doesn’t need my help.
- Why the hell would you care about my readings of “Shackled And Drawn” or “We Take Care of Our Own”?
So, basically, it works like this: I love the album. Big surprise there, right? There are some pretty cool elements to it and I enjoy it. I wish I had the dough to see the concert when it comes back around these parts (Springsteen and the E Street Band played in Boston about a week and a half ago by this writing). If you really do care about what I think, and you haven’t bought Wrecking Ball, do so. I promise it’s intelligent, heartfelt, and damn fine listening.
I finished my third reading of The Dark Tower III: The Wastelands the other night and am now reading volume IV, Wizard & Glass. It amazes me how much I enjoy King’s work. His talents are so damn sharp and he creates such a great world, I sometimes feel as though I’m living a fool’s dream writing my little stories and books. Yet, I can’t stop. So, what’s a guy to do?
Keep writing, I guess.
How is it that this is my first post of 2012?! For anyone who actually follows my website, I apologize. The Day Job has been very busy and when I’m not doing work for that, I’ve been, well, writing, which is (I assume) kinda sorta the reason you’re here. I’ve been wanting to try to post more often, shorter posts, and we’ll have to see what comes of that.
Things I’ve been doing lately that you may (or may not) find interesting:
I’ve been re-reading Stephen King‘s The Dark Tower series. I’m about a 3rd of the way through the third volume, The Waste Lands, and am re-enjoying these books. This is, of course, to prepare myself for King’s new novel: The Dark Tower: The Wind Through the Keyhole. I also watched Cujo last week. I haven’t seen the movie since I was a teenager (or perhaps in my early twenties). I enjoyed it again, and feel it still holds up. I’m still reading A Visit from the Goon Squad, which I began in January. I was enjoying it but have been too immersed in a variety of things that make me long for the comfortable familiarity of the King books. More about King’s books, etc, in another post.
Another favorite of mine, Bruce Springsteen, has been promoting his upcoming album Wrecking Ball with appearances at the Grammy Awards and, this week, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. The Springsteen camp (his kid sister starred in the 1980s teen slasher flick Sleepway Camp, in case you wondered) has been releasing for one day only one track from the album. Overall, I’ve been enjoying them, though I still love the first track (available on iTunes, et al) “We Take Care Of Our Own“, which has the “Born in the U.S.A.” kind of anger in it. I’m looking forward to the album on March 6th.
There’s stuff in politics, and on Facebook and Twitter that I’d like to comment on, but I don’t have time right now. But come back soon, I’ll do my best to begin posting more often.
Happy Leap Day.
Everybody’s doin’ ’em. I’m not. I’ve had ups, I’ve had downs. You’ve had ups, you’ve had downs. If you’re visiting this site, you that I had two novellas published this year: Alice on the Shelf by Bad Moon Books in January, and Shadowed by Delirium Books in March. You’ve bought them and read them and enjoyed them, that’s why you’re here.
Unless that’s not why you’re here.
Maybe you found me via WordPress or another link and you liked it here, in which case, I urge you to click on those links I just provided and pick up a copy of my books. They’re available in that old tree pulp stuff–whatsitcalled?–paper, or as ebooks. Further links are provided to places where you can give your hard-earned money to this working writer.
Either way, I’m glad you’re here and reading this. Instead of looking back and all that, I want to say thank you. Thank you for reading and for responding. It’s been a strange, wonderful, frustrating year.
2012 will hopefully bring you and I together even more. I submitted a novella yesterday and we’ll see where that goes. If the publisher decides it’s not a right fit, then I’ll go elsewhere. Word is that some of my past will be coming back to light this year, more on that when I know more and the ink is dried.
In terms of writing, I have the novel Echoes on the Pond to finally finish up and submit, as well as another that I started writing a few months ago to also work on. I have a few novella ideas, and one that needs to be overhauled that I hope to finally get to. I’d like to write some more short fiction that is actually good, since that’s been a while. My wife and I have been talking about doing a blog together for a while and I think we finally found the right way to do it, so stay tuned for that. I also have some ideas for some nonfiction I’d like to do, though we’ll see. Perhaps a screenplay or comic script might actually be done this year. I promise, if you’re reading this and looking for more work from me, I’m doing my best. I have a lot of work to do for the day job, but with your support the writing work has an easier time getting done.
I’m hoping to attend NECON this year and actually stay, not let my social anxiety get the better of me like it did last time. I may try to do more of that sort of thing in general, if possible.
So basically, that’s that. Happy New Year, and I’ll see you around.
Tomorrow I turn 34. Not a terrible number, but not as good as 26. Though I have to be honest, my 26th year was pretty bad. My thirties have definitely been better, even though I still often feel a sort of desperate need unfulfilled. But that’s neither here nor there, happy birthday (tomorrow) to me! However, along with my birthday comes The End of the Summer. People who have jobs outside of teaching and who do not have children may have forgotten what The End of the Summer is like. I know I almost did until Courtney started going to school, and then I began working at one. Next week at this time, I will be talking to a group of freshman students who will only be in my class for four-and-a-half days before a new group comes in. Don’t ask. So, for this week, I’ll continue to pretend I get to write full-time. Don’t cry for me, Argentina, because things are happening.
Anyway, I haven’t read much else since I posted my list a few weeks back. I finished Robert McCannon’s The Five, which was excellent. A rock novel with a large amount of suspense and a surprising supernatural element that reveals itself slowly, very slowly. “Is it a horror novel?” I’ve been asked. “Who cares?” is my response. It’s a damn fine novel that I recommend. It brought me through the range of emotions and the final chapter was heartbreaking and hopeful, devastating and inspiring. Read this book.
When finished with The Five, instead of focusing on either The Freelancer’s Survival Guide or The Rising (and please don’t take this as anything more than my own need at the moment) I began reading Sleepless Nights in the Procrustean Bed by Harlan Ellison. Now, if you’ve followed my blog or follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you know I love Harlan Ellison’s work (I’m pretty fond of the man, too, at least from a reader’s perspective and the two phone messages he left for me) and I felt like I needed a dose of Ellison right about now. I’ll probably be done with the slim collection of nonfiction before I have to go back to the Day Job, in which case I will focus my attention on those other two books.
Another discovery I made this summer is the BBC hit Being Human, which inspired the SyFy version that I have never seen. Being Human has some missteps in the writing here and there, but my wife and I have enjoyed it. At it’s best, it’s the relationships between the main characters I enjoy. They have a chemistry that works well. Pamela and I are into the third series and we’ll see what happens from there.
So that’s it for now. I’ll talk to you soon.