Note: There will be SPOILERS here. Be warned!
Also, this is essentially a first draft. Because of grad school and other commitments, my time is very scarce. I haven’t added any images, or have even really re-read it. My apologies on any lost thoughts. Someday, I may revise it and repost. But for now, because a few people have actually asked me to write this…
In 2013, shortly after seeing Man of Steel, I wrote:
Overall, I really liked Man of Steel. It’s not as good as I’d hoped it would be, but it’s the best Superman movie we’ve had since Donner’s 1978 film, and it’s just different enough to be its own thing. I’m looking forward to what happens next. If Goyer and Snyder were smart (and they are) they’d go with a more personal story instead of the spectacle.
Well, David S. Goyer, Chris Terrio (who joined Goyer as a writer), and Zack Snyder didn’t go as personal as I’d hoped back then, but then, my views changed as well. After seeing Man of Steel a few more times on Blu Ray, my opinion of the film changed: I loved it. I find parts of it a masterpiece of fantasy/science fiction filmmaking. I understand why fans might not like the movie, but I don’t understand the vitriol the film has garnered in the last three years, either.
Naturally, I was excited when Warner Bros., DC, and Snyder announced Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. And now here it is and with it…well…a real clusterfuck of press. I saw it this morning as I write this sentence (11 hours after the film started), so my thoughts may change over time. Still, here we go….
The Super/The Day
Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman. I’ve been a Ben Affleck fan since I first saw him and Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting. I haven’t seen everything he’s been in but I like him as an actor and director. He’s a talented guy who should option my Boston-based horror novel. I mean…um…. Anyway, here is a suave Bruce Wayne in public, a haunted, obsessed Bruce Wayne/Batman when he’s not, and a mean Batman. Affleck brings an urgency to the character that it needs. He is also the most Batman-looking of all the Batmen there’ve been. The opening scene of him racing through Metropolis to that city’s branch of his company as the end battle of Man of Steel plays out is great to watch. The dogged obsession he has over taking down Superman, who he sees as a global threat, is palpable. And, finally, the realization that he’s wrong is superb. His Bruce Wayne/Batman may be, in many ways, the most realistic one we’ve seen, which is something considering the juxtaposition of the fantasy elements of this film.
Jeremy Irons’s portrayal of Alfred makes me forget about Michael Caine’s Alfred, which I really don’t want to do. Irons plays a different Alfred and yet hits the essential notes of the character. It’s a thankless role in many ways since Alfred rarely sees action, yet this version seems as though he may loom large in the future Affleck-written/directed/starred Batman film. Either way, I loved the character and the portrayal.
Henry Cavill’s Clark Kent/Superman is still one I love. As was the case in Man of Steel, this Superman is conflicted, though he is growing into the role of the Superman fans love. He wants to do right by the world, and by those he loves in the world, but lives in a fucked-up time period. On the one hand, he’s the most powerful man in the world, on the other, no matter how hard he tries, he’s an outsider. The difference between him and Bruce Wayne is that Clark Kent is willing to let his feelings be known and attempt to become better. Wayne is fine with allowing his obsession and issues reign over his life.
Wonder Woman. Gal Gadot did a very good job as Diana Prince and the eventual reveal of Wonder Woman. I enjoyed watching the character come to life and make Superman and Batman look a little silly.
The rest of the supporting cast is great, too. Amy Adams turns in another great performance as Lois Lane, Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White remains a favorite, and I really liked Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. There are other great performances in this film, as well, like Holly Hunter and Diane Lane.
I liked the story. Look, it was all over the place, I’ll admit, but there was enough there for me to follow along and I liked it. I liked the way Lex Luthor manipulated things and the arrival of Doomsday. I even liked the–albeit forced–Justice League characters. I even liked the way it ended, with a giant question at the end of what can happen next. It made me happy.
Zack Snyder’s direction is heavy-handed. He is not a subtle filmmaker and he can’t pass up a frame that may look like a comic book frame. He’s a fan and it shows. I liked that. I also liked that he and the screenwriters are really trying to show the mythological components of these characters. Yes, it’s a little too Christian for my tastes at times, but it’s okay.
Vacant places. I’m going to throw in that whenever mass destruction is about to happen, we’re notified that no one lives in the place it’s going to happen. It’s ridiculous but it made me smile.
Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL did a great score. I loved it. Loved it. Loved it. I may have to get the soundtrack.
The Kryptonite/The Dark
Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is under-utilized. I mean, he’s a major source of the conflict and I love what they did with him, but his ending was a little too Jokerish for my tastes. Maybe that’ll change.
The story is weak overall. Look, I liked the story, but considering the movie is 2 hours and 31 minutes, it could’ve been a little stronger. I would’ve liked to learn more about Superman/Clark Kent and his relationships with his Earth friends, and maybe see a little more Wonder Woman considering how important to the ending she was. There’s a lot going on, but it’s all very much at the surface without much depth.
Doomsday was a little weak in the looks department. That said, I still liked him. It’s weird, huh?
As I said before, the introduction to the other Justice Leaguers felt forced. I get what they’re doing, but I think it could’ve been handled in other ways.
It’s too dark. And I’m not talking about the look of it, though it is a bit too dark, but rather, the feel. There were small children at the viewing I went to and I felt bad for them. I’m going to write about this soon, by the way. So this is my little coming attraction, I guess.
The Dawn After the Battle
Like I said, I really enjoyed this movie. I enjoyed the characters, the situations, and the whole movie. It amazes me how many bad reviews this is getting. I have theories. I think that there’s a percentage of people who are growing tired of the superhero movie and at the very announcement of this movie, they began to dislike it. I think that even the stars of it are fashionable to dislike for some reason. I think that a lot of people go into the movie with preconceived notions of who these characters should be and aren’t willing to accept adaptations that fall outside that vision. In the end, it promised me a chance to see the two best superheroes onscreen together for the first time, excuse me, three best superheroes onscreen together for the first time, and they delivered it. Yes, it’s over-the-top in places. Yes, it takes itself too seriously. But so do most comic book fans, most nerds. We are the target audience, after all.
I really liked Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, and recommend seeing it without all the balderdash on the ‘net in your head. See it on its own terms. If you still dislike it, then so be it. But me? I loved this movie. I can’t remember the last time I left the theater this happy.
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.
That handsome cover belongs to a reprint anthology my story “The Umbrella People” is a part of. There are stories by others whose names make me giddy, like Ray Bradbury, Kealan Patrick Burke, Elizabeth Engstrom, Tim Lebbon, John R. Little, William F. Nolan, John Shirley, Tim Waggoner, and so many others that my head’s a-spinnin’! I’m very proud to be a part of this group of writers.
This will be the third printing of this short story. Its first publication was in the first issue of Dark Discoveries, which is what qualified it for this antho. Its second publication was in my short story collection Catalysts, which was actually published by James R. Beach and Dark Discoveries Publications. I decided that, in honor of this publication, which is due to be released from Dark Regions Press this Tuesday, that I would write a few words about the story.
“The Umbrella People” came to me around 2003. At the time, my parents took me, my then-wife, and my older daughter out to dinner every Saturday to a pizza place in a nearby town. It was a good little restaurant. Their pizza was great, and so was a lot of what they cooked, comfort food meals. It was raining and as we sat in our booth, my mother put her umbrella under the table.
“Don’t let me forget my umbrella, people,” she said.
“Where are they?” I asked.
“Where are what?”
“Your Umbrella People.”
She called me a smartass, we all chuckled, and went on with the meal. For some reason, though, the idea stuck with me. And, like most ideas, the longer it stuck, the darker it became. The world itself was growing darker. I was unhappy in my marriage. I was restless and confused. And the world was going crazy. We were about to go to war over lies that our own government was telling us and things seemed, at the ripe ol’ age of 24, bleak. A storm was coming, it seemed.
And so I began writing.
At the time, I worked at a bus station, behind the counter. An entire wall was made of a mirror above the counter if you stood in the waiting area. From my vantage point behind the counter, it was a window. I would bring my Olivetti manual typewriter to write, after January 2003, I brought my notebook computer, a Toshiba Satellite that lasted me until 2010. I wrote the story at the bus station.
It was during a fairly productive time in my life and I was doing a lot more writing than I have time for now. The story flowed out without many issues. I remember thinking how odd the tale was how strange. I was very proud of it.
Now, thirteen years or so later, I’m still very proud of the story. I know James Beach loves the story, and it was a major impetus for him allowing me to write a column for Dark Discoveries between 2004 and 2011, as well as taking a chance on my first collection of stories. Others who’ve read it also seem to really like it. I wrote a short film script based on it and intended to try to make the movie myself for a long time. These days, I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to make it happen.
I also think about the Umbrella People sometimes, and wonder what happened after the story. I think there may be a novella there, but it’s still unknown to me, foggy. Maybe someday, a character will speak to me and I’ll be able to find out what happens next, and then let you know. Until then, I’m happy the story has found a new, really cool home and I’m looking forward to you making this particular Discovery.
All right, let’s do this!
Yeah, I don’t buy that enthusiasm, either. Term 1 is done and so is my first grad class, which I passed with an A. I’ve already begun term 2. Go me.
Echoes on the Pond, aka the novel, is finished. For real this time. It now weighs in at 114,800 words, which is still long for a “first novel” but it’s what I could do right now. I think the novel is strong and, as of about two minutes ago, I just sent a query letter to an agent. So we’ll see where that goes. I suspect that by next week, I’ll have signed the Standard Bestselling Writer Contract. Yeah, and maybe pigs will fly outta my butt.
Star Wars is opening tonight. I’m here. I’ll see it tomorrow. I’d planned on doing my movie essays about the previous six, but, as the lady said, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.” This is the first Star Wars I haven’t seen opening night since I was a kid. Ah, well, that’s what happens when you grow up and your friends move away.
I already know the next novel, so I’m itching to begin it. I want to do a little more work on synopses for Echoes before I begin the next novel.
I’ve had a lot to say lately but little time to say it. I began first drafts of two posts that never made it here because I didn’t think they were good enough. So here’s what you get.
Take care, and have a great holiday season!
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.
It was about a week before the new school year was to begin, this past summer, almost two months back now. Pamela and G had just gone to bed so it was sometime between 8 and 8:30. I was in the kitchen, reaching for the sugar to make my tea and thinking about the following week, the big ol’ return to school and another year as The Best Teacher You Will Ever Have when I had an epiphany: I’m a really angry guy.
If you chuckled when you got to the end of that paragraph, shame on you. This thought chilled me. I mean, I know I’m angry in the same way I know I’m a man, that I have brown hair, too many moles, and ten fingers (one of them weirdly crooked). I know this like I know I have a wife, two daughters, living parents, and friends. But every now and then I still look around and think, Damn! I have a beautiful wife who is able to deal with my stupidity! or Damn! My teenager is pretty freakin’ awesome! or Damn! The toddler is really smart and beautiful and empathetic! It dawned on me that the years of therapy, the growing up, and the calming down that I have endured have simply really been sleight of hand. The anger is still there. And it scares me.
I have near my workspace a quote from Nikki Giovanni that goes, “Rage is to writers what water is to fish.” This seemed really cool when I first found it and taped it to my notebook computer (dead five years now) ten years ago. At 28, being an angry young man seemed like the thing to be, which was good for me because I was an angry young man. I saw all, knew all, and wasn’t afraid to let you know it. At 38, I don’t want to be angry.
I know the anger is a part of me, and it’s a large factor in why I write, why I create, why I insist on trying to succeed in my goals and dreams. I’m still working on grudges that began in elementary school. It’s such an ingrained part of who I am, that I forget just how angry I am, all the time. It’s exhausting.
There’s a scene in Marvel’s The Avengers that comes at the end. There’s been talk throughout the movie about how Bruce Banner is able to not be the Hulk all the time, and he said he had a secret. It all comes to a head at the end of the movie.
When Banner says that line, “I’m always angry,” the audience erupted in applause both times I saw the movie. It’s become a popular meme on the ‘Net. For some reason, anger, and the lack of control of anger, has become a sort of thing people are happy to have and will applaud.
It fuckin’ sucks, though. To have this fire burning in the pit of my stomach, day in, day out, never quite sure when it’ll flame up…it’s tough. People will say things like, “You need to learn to chill out,” or suggest meditation and all that, and I do it, man. I do deep breathing exercises, I write, I journal, I go to happy places, I look at all the good things in my life, all that stuff. But the anger is still there.
I’m angry right now. Something at work got me angry. A few somethings, actually. I’m angry about grad school. I’m angry for no real reason except…well…look at the world!
I’m only writing this because I want you to know that this is not fun. I don’t consider this a plus to anything in my life. I think my writing would be just as good without the anger in the same way that I do my best writing when I’m happy and not depressed, despite what the popular mythology surrounding writers is.
So, yeah…that’s my secret, I guess. I’m always angry.
Today is the end of my first week as a grad student. I have no fucking idea what I’m doing. Because I don’t have time to drive and attend an actual brick-and-mortar class, I’m doing my Master’s program online. I decided to do English Lit because that’s what I did for undergrad and because I think my life isn’t painful enough. Also, I couldn’t get a satisfactory answer by anyone what online school’s education programs would be accepted by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
So it goes like this: the professor (they use instructor) gives you reading and an assignment. You have to post one assignment by 11:59 PM on Thursday, and a second by 11:59 PM on Sunday, and that’s your module. So I did a fuckload of reading last weekend including Freud and Marx and others, and Shirley Jackson’s classic “The Lottery,” which really was the sugar that helped the medicine go down, and then wrote my response, commented on at least two, and then took a quiz for today. The academic writing was…well…you know how I’m writing this right now? You know how it reads? Yeah, well, it’s the opposite of this. It’s like Alice through the looking glass. I’m writing, something I know how to do (and some say I know how to do well), but I don’t feel like I’m writing. I feel like I’m…I don’t know. Farting in the wind?
Anyway, I posted my writing Tuesday night and wasn’t able to sign in again until yesterday. It seems fairly well received, except I threw out all MLA citations and stuff because fuck you, that’s why. Apparently, mostly everyone else did, too, so the instructoprofessor will be nice to all us grad students who should know better.
Then, yesterday, I signed on to take a quiz about two future major projects. The two questions were so mind-numbingly…devoid of anything I read, that I was shocked.
Still, when I look at the syllabus, I see that the remaining nine weeks are going to be very busy. I should be reading right now, but I know you missed me.
I also decided the role I would play was frightened and super-stressed new grad student with an extremely busy home life. It’s an easy role to play since it’s 99.9% true. That .1% is just an asshole part of me that refuses to tell the truth. When I look at the syllabus, I’m like, “Wait! Isn’t this online schooling supposed to be easier?”
But the school’s all like, “No way, man. We need to prove that we’re a legitimate institution and not something that has Sally Struthers in the commercials.”
I let the school know I diggit, and I’m proud of it, and then we go out for coffee at the student café, which is very comfortable and always has a good acoustic performer. It’s a good time.
All right, so now I have to read about this, that, and the other thing, and start rereading Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness, which I last read a decade ago. I can’t remember much about it so this should be fun.
Twice in the last 48 hours on my Facebook feed I’ve seen posts that start with “Kids these days…” or some equivalent. Whenever I hear that, especially coming from someone my age or within shooting distance of my age (I was born in 1977), my immediate response is, “Fuck you.” I can’t help it. I don’t actually say that, but I think it. Usually I just bite my tongue and let them have their say. There’s no use arguing with an old person.
I turned 38 just over a month ago. I could easily look at kids (which seem to be getting older and older every year–when did people in their early-20s start being “kids” to me?!) and think that they’re all self-involved, entitled, clueless little twerps who don’t remember anything because of their super-computer-phones. I could say that when I was a kid, things were better. We had only a few channels on TV (depending on which part of my childhood, either five or 57) and had to use our imagination to play. I could say all that and I’d be right about some of those things, but most of it would be bullshit painted pink by the rose colored glasses of being an adult.
I’m a teacher. I work with 14-15-year-olds, and occasionally the 16-18-year-olds, too, and I can tell you first hand: these kids rock. First off, they’re dealing with a world that’s completely different. Born at the tail-end of Generation X, we grew up with the remnants of the Cold War and the fear that Gorbachev (remember him?) and Reagan would push The Button at any minute, annihilating everything we knew and loved forever. No more Star Wars, Masters of the Universe, Strawberry Shortcake, or the Shirt Tails. Kids these days live in a world where there are school shootings at least once a month and in a world where no one cares if you’re a Communist because they’re too busy fearing you’re a terrorist. Even my oldest students, the seniors, have little-to-no memory of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks. My teenage daughter was 3 when it happened. The freshmen were born the year it happened. These kids have been raised under the PTSD that the entire nation (world?) suffered as a result of that horrific event and its aftermath.
Next, when I was a kid I was bullied. From around 5th grade to my sophomore year of high school, things were pretty rough. I was chased home, ostracized at school, jumped on at least three-to-five occasions, threatened innumerable times, belittled, and basically treated less-than-human by many. I was smart, the teachers loved me, and I was horrible at sports. Oh, and I was quirky, which was the worst. Naturally, being home was my favorite place to be. I could play with my action figures, or role-play, and let my imagination fly. Even after most kids my age had put away their toys, I continued to sneak my action figures. I had to. The stories in my head were too much. I was safe at home.
Kids these days have the internet. Shut off their computers, you say. They have their phones. Take away their phones. Sure. Go for it. Go ahead. While you’re at it, give me yours. Some of you can. Some of you can’t. When kids are bullied these days, it doesn’t stop when they go home, but continues online. Cyberbullying sounds like a bad idea in 1980s science fiction stories written by William Gibson or Bruce Sterling, yet we’ve been hearing about it for almost a decade. Teenage suicides are on a rise and it ain’t satanic-themed heavy metal albums that are contributing, or Dungeons & Dragons, no matter what Tipper Gore says. It’s the ease in which the tormentors can go after their prey.
Where are the parents? you ask. Did your parents know everything you did? I don’t think so.
Another thing I hear: Kids these days are spoiled and entitled. Oh? And you weren’t? Tell me again about how much you enjoyed your Atari 2600. Or your Nintendo. What? You had a Commodore 64? Wow! You must’ve been rich. And remind me about the joys of MTV, Nickelodeon, and HBO. I had some of these things, some I didn’t. Coming from a lower-middle-class family, we didn’t necessarily have all the toys and gadgets, but my kid sister and I were pretty spoiled just the same. Just because the toys are different now doesn’t mean that we were that different.
Yeah, well, kids these days have no respect for adults. I know a kid who was playing in his backyard and began climbing a post that was in a neighbor’s yard. When one of the people in the apartment house saw him on the post, he was told to get down. The person was a nice guy that the kid had known his entire life. For some reason that day, maybe it was because the kid’s friend was there, maybe it was because the kid was an asshole, the kid started saying the neighbor had halitosis. He even sang a song, “Haaaalitosis! Haaaaalitosis! Halitosis! Halitosis! Ha-AA-aa-lito-o-o-sissss!” (To be sung like “Halleluiah”). Yeah, you know who the kid was. This would’ve been around 1990. Kids haven’t had respect for adults since around the 1950s when teenagers began being an economic force. Please don’t tell me that things are worse now in the regard. They’re different, sure, but not that much worse.
How are they different?! Well, for one thing, parents aren’t on anyone’s side except their kids’. Do you know how difficult it is to give a student a failing grade? They have to have a progress report signed by a parent. A phone call home or a parent-teacher conference has to be set up. Everything has to be documented. Why? Because of you, you helicopter! Why don’t the kids respect adults? Because you don’t.
Look, man, I’m a fucked-up guy. I have anger issues, touches of depression, I’m a wise-ass, and I’m a bit egotistical. If my daughters skip any of these problems, I’ll be happy. If either of them grow up well-adjusted, I’m happy. Honestly, your kids see the best of me! Why can’t the same be said of you?
I could go on and on, but I’m not going to. I’m tired, and I have to teach your kids in the morning, but I want to say one more thing before I go….
Working with teenagers has been a high-point of my life. Kids these days a sharp as knives, ask tons of important questions, understand things you and I would’ve run screaming from, have somehow managed to stay children in some ways while having to grow up real fast in others. Kids these days are seeing injustice and are pissed off. They’re seeing that the same ol’ same ol’ isn’t working, and while you’re sitting on your ass bitching about why they’re inferior, they’ve already processed what’s broken and what needs to be fixed. And they’ll fix it. Because kids these days, they’re growing up, and they’ll be able to look at the little old man and woman on the lawn, shaking their fist, and continue walking by, listening to music on their phones, and understanding that they’ll be the ones to do what none of us could: fix society.
With the death of Wes Craven still carving the hearts of the horror community, many tributes have flooded social networks. They’re heartfelt, and many show great imagination. Some, however, are showing the wrong Freddy. I know what you’re thinking, What do you mean “the wrong Freddy”? How many Freddys are there? The answer is nine. There are nine Freddy Kruegers. Official Freddy Kruegers, I mean, that have been in the films (and even on TV). Two actors (primarily) played him. I know, it may not seem like a big thing, but seriously, if you’re so much a fan of something that you want to make a tribute to it, then do it right. And since I’m a teacher by day, I’ll take it upon myself to teach you.
Any questions? No? All right, let’s begin with a….
What is wrong with these DVD and Blu-ray covers?
If you answered “Nothing,” then this why we’re here. The Freddy Krueger on the cover of the Blu-ray cover of the A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 & 3 collection isn’t in either of those movies. It’s the Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street 4. Hell, the house doesn’t even appear in any of the movies. Now the cover of the Nightmare on Elm Street Collection DVD cover is even more problematic. This collection offers all the Nightmare movies from 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street to Freddy vs. Jason, all of which starred Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger. However, the cover shows Jackie Earl Haley’s Freddy Krueger from 2010’s A Nightmare on Elm Street remake—er…reboot, sorry. Oh, and poorly Photoshopped onto Mr. Haley’s Freddy’s body is the classic Freddy glove. And by classic, I mean the glove from Freddy vs. Jason, which is supposed to look like…oh, we’ll get to that in another lesson.
Anyway, let’s begin….
A Nightmare on Elm Street, written and directed by Wes Craven and released in November 1984 smacked the horror movie across the face. The slasher subgenre specifically. Instead of a masked stuntman stalking victims, audiences were given an actor whose face was the mask. The makeup, designed by David Miller, was a fantastic representation of the burn scars in Craven’s screenplay. Craven and Miller purposely decided to stray from realistic burn victims to create something that would be realistic but fantastic. Englund’s makeup is layered in spots, so the burned flesh appears to be falling away from the muscle underneath, and there’s even melted pieces dangling. Vaseline and K-Y Jelly was applied to the makeup to give it a nasty sheen. And if you want to nitpick further, Fred Krueger’s sweater only has green stripes on the torso, the arms are red.
For the 1985 sequel, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, written by David Chaskin and directed by Jack Sholder, the makeup changed. Kevin Yagher picked up the makeup effects duties and redesigned the look. He and Sholder decided that Freddy should appear older, more healed. Gone was the double layer of makeup, never to return, and instead came a single layer of prosthetics but with more of a sculpt. Yagher thought a sharper chin and cheekbones would be more intimidating. He also gave Freddy’s nose a hook, a symbolic reference to one of cinema’s scariest villains, the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. The fedora Freddy wears is also different. It’s bigger with a wider brim. Freddy also occasionally had brown eyes in this movie. Finally, the sweater isn’t as thick as it was in the first movie, and green stripes have moved onto the arms. There are other differences in costume and such, but let’s focus on the face in this lesson.
In 1987’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, written by Wes Craven & Bruce Wagner and Chuck Russell & Frank Darabont, and directed by Chuck Russell, Yagher returned but changed the makeup again. The chin was dropped and the cheekbones were lessened. The scars became more defined again, though not as much as in the first movie, and the revealed muscles are a light, light pink, almost the same as the flesh. The differentiation between the open flesh and the melted flesh can only really be seen in bright lighting, which there is little of in this film. The hook nose is also brought back a little, though it’s still present. Finally, the fedora has changed again. It’s small than both of the previous movies’ hats, though more in style with the first film’s hat. The sweater’s thickness and bulkiness is also different.
Yagher’s makeup for A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988), written by Brian Helgeland, Jim Wheat and Ken Wheat, and directed by Renny Harlin, is very similar to the previous movie’s makeup. The chin is given only the tiniest bit more definition and so are the cheekbones. They’re not the overdone version seen in Freddy’s Revenge, but are just noticeable. Also, the nose is a little more hooked again. The patterns of the exposed muscles are very similar to that of the third movie’s but are more define by their paint jobs. This is, arguably, the most famous Freddy Krueger look. At least for anyone who was aware of Freddy in the 1980s.This was the face that appeared everywhere! The hat is very similar, if not the same one as, the third movie’s. Ditto the sweater.
David Miller returned to Springwood in 1989’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, written by Leslie Bohem and directed by Stephen Hopkins. Some of the wounds on Freddy’s head in the original film were quite big and Miller went back to that. He kept the hooked nose but lost the cheeks and chin. The neck is almost chicken-like. Freddy looks withered and old in this movie. The hat is seemingly similar to the previous two entries but the sweater is different, brighter in color.
When Freddy returned for the final time in 1991’s Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, it was only natural his originator should return. By that I mean David Miller did the makeup again. With a script by Michael DeLuca, director Rachel Talalay’s Freddy Krueger is a strange hybrid between the 3/4 makeup and the 5 makeup. The fedora has changed again, looking much more like Indiana Jones’s fedora than ever before. The sores on Freddy’s face are a little smaller and the cheeks, chin, and nose are amplified again, but there’s a strange fleshiness to the face now. Maybe Englund gained weight? Either way, the makeup is some of the weakest in the franchise, because in close-ups, it looks like a man wearing a rubber mask.
Do I even have to talk about Freddy’s look in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare? Craven’s true return to the franchise as writer-director had him rewrite the rules and turn a magnifying glass on his own movie. The Freddy in this film isn’t really Freddy Krueger, but rather an evil spirit/demon that had inhabited Freddy. The look is purposely different, though Craven said in an interview sometime in the last year or so that he thinks he maybe should’ve left Freddy’s look alone. I disagree. David Miller also did the makeup for this movie.
How do you follow up a masterpiece? With a cheesy money-grab monster fight. Still, in 2003 I paid my money down to see Freddy vs. Jason, written by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift and directed by Ronny Yu. In recent years, this makeup had superseded the Yagher makeup from The Dream Master as the most recognizable, though it obviously has its origins in Yagher’s design, which is a smart choice. That big spot that’s roughly the shape of South America on Freddy’s left cheek is like a feature-defining mole. I can’t seem to find any one person responsible for the look of Freddy in this film, but do you really care? Neither do I. (Not true, I do care, but it’s past my bedtime and I need to finish this thing!). Anyway, the chin and cheek enhancements are gone again. The hooked nose is far less prevalent but still there. The exposed muscles are much darker in color while the melted flesh is much brighter in color than their predecessors. This makeup really looks like a fan-made version of Freddy’s makeup. I wonder if they moved to silicon in this version. Anyway, the hat is different, still Indiana Jonesish, but by this point, what were the chances that Harrison Ford and company would return to that old franchise? The sweater is also much, much too dark.
And, finally, the Freddy Krueger makeup for the 2010 remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street, written by Wesley Strick and Heisserer and directed by Samuel Bayer, goes realistic. To break free from the fantasy look that David Miller and Wes Craven agreed upon in 1984, they wanted Jackie Earl Haley’s Freddy to look more like a true burn victim. The problem is that when the camera is anywhere but up close, Freddy’s head looks like a meatball. Digital effects meant to enhance the design only hurt it because their work doesn’t match up from scene to scene, making there no one definite look to Freddy in this film. Even the hat changed throughout production. Basically, like the movie itself, the look is a mess.
All right. Are you ready for your test? I’ll let you review the material for a few moments and we’ll begin. Ready?
What’s wrong with the DVD cover and the Blu-ray menu?
And next time, we’ll talk about the differences in Freddy’s glove between movies.
The first time I saw the name Wes Craven, it was in TV Guide, around 1986. It was in the synopsis for A Nightmare on Elm Street, which read something like, “Horror maven Wes Craven’s tale of teenagers terrorized by a killer in their dreams.” The fuckers gave it two stars if I recall. In the following years, his name popped up on TV more, usually for commercials of his follow-up movies: “From the creator of A Nightmare on Elm Street, Wes Craven, comes…” Shocker. The People Under the Stairs. The Serpent and the Rainbow. As I found and read Fangoria, and other stuff about horror, I learned more about him, but it really wasn’t until I was in high school and I saw interviews with Craven that I learned really learned about him.
When I saw the news of his death last night, I was rocked. It came on the night before I was to start a new school year as Mr. Gauthier, so maybe I wasn’t as rocked as I may have been two weeks ago, when I wasn’t as stressed. Still, it was a shock and very, very sad.
I can’t say I’ve seen every Wes Craven movie because I haven’t. I feel like I only saw the original The Last House on the Left in the last eight years. I saw The Hills Have Eyes sometime in the mid-1990s. I saw Shocker and The People Under the Stairs when they first came to cable. I know I saw The Serpent and the Rainbow but can’t remember when, though I think I was in high school. Deadly Friend was viewed not long after seeing A Nightmare on Elm Street the first time, but I didn’t know who Wes Craven was and it was on cable as I was discovering horror. I barely remember any of these movies except the first two. Have I seen Swamp Thing? I don’t know. I’ve definitely seen pieces of it, just as I’ve seen pieces of A Vampire in Brooklyn.
Truth be told, I’m really quite astonished that I haven’t seen more of his movies. I really only know his creating and contributions to the A Nightmare on Elm Street series and directing the Scream movies. This upsets me.
Craven has been someone I would’ve loved to have met. When I found out he bought a house on Martha’s Vineyard, a ferry ride away from where I live, I sometimes thought it might be cool to run into him somewhere, let him know how much he meant to me, and ask if he’d have coffee with me. I know it’s crazy talk, like a deranged stalker or something, but Craven had this feel about him that he was approachable and would sit down for a conversation.
What I think was my favorite aspect of Wes Craven, other than writing and directing my two favorite Nightmares, the original and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, is that he wasn’t just a guy who was into horror for the sake of making money, but that he was actually releasing fears, his own and others. When you look at someone like Sean S. Cunningham, creator of Friday the 13th (and mentor of Craven’s), this is a guy who made horror films for a fast buck. His producing of Craven’s first film, The Last House on the Left, came about because low-budget horror movies were starting to do well. He told Craven, who was itching to direct a movie, that if he wrote a horror movie, Cunningham would let him direct it. What probably wasn’t expected was that Craven would actually make a movie that was almost too dark, too scary, too violent, a movie that became an underground classic almost immediately.
Craven loved cinema and understood how to scare. He saw it as cathartic and necessary. The creation of Fred Krueger is an amazing story of thought, feeling, and psychology. Breaking the mold of having a stunt person play the killer and instead hiring Robert Englund, who knew no boundaries to get the desired effect, Craven revolutionized the horror film bad guy. Suddenly they all had to have personalities, make quips, and find creative, supernatural ways of killing. A range of sharp objects and tools were no longer good enough, they had to have interesting weapons or a cool new way of killing.
Then in 1994, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare just knocked the whole block castle down. It’s a shame it didn’t do better business at the box office, but the movie is, I think, a masterpiece. He asks important questions. Do horror films negatively impact their viewers? What about the people who make them? This line of questioning is woven throughout his Scream movies.
Wes Craven was 76. He was an old man who lived a great life. This doesn’t stop my sadness. A Nightmare on Elm Street is up there with Star Wars as movies that shaped me. Knowing that he will never make another movie, never impart more of his wisdom, and never scare the hell out of me deeply saddens me.
“Some people ask why people would go into a dark room to be scared. I say they are already scared and they need to have that fear manipulated and massaged. I think of horror movies as the disturbed dreams of a society.” — Wes Craven
I don’t remember when, but sometime last fall I mentioned on Facebook (and maybe Twitter) that I was becoming obsessive about wanting to try more tea. As a teenager, I began drinking tea. My gateway was the same as many others, simple ol’ Lipton tea. At some point I graduated to Bigelow or Twinings, usually English Breakfast, but sometimes Earl Grey. I drank these well into my twenties, adding Chai into the fold. And then in 2003/2004, my life sort of went haywire and I became a separated father of a precocious youngster, a full-time college student, and a full-time employee at a bookstore. A bookstore with a café. Suddenly, I was drinking coffee. The teas in my cabinet grew old and dusty as my new love became Queen.
I still love coffee, but about two years ago I started to think more and more about tea. Passing Teavana stores at malls didn’t help. Posts about tea by Neil Gaiman and Joe Hill didn’t help.
As a matter of fact, Joe Hill’s post got me to go try a new English Breakfast tea, Tazo’s Awake tea. Which I loved. And still do, it’s my favorite tea. So I began drinking that in the afternoons instead of my second (or third) cup of coffee. But I wanted more and didn’t know where to start.
That’s when Pamela came to my rescue. After seeing that post, she got me some tea for Christmas.
All right, so what you see there is Fortnum & Mason’s Royal Blend Tea, the official tea of the Royal Family since forever, available in the States exclusively through Williams-Sonoma. Also in the picture is Tea Forté’s World of Teas single steep set which had some amazing teas in it. I loved Moroccan Mint and Bombay Chai, and liked most of the others very much, too. Well, this has done it.
Tazo also makes a great Chai tea, too, but my problem has been finding a caffeine-free tea that I enjoy. On a recent trip to Western Massachusetts, I happened upon the Republic of Tea’s Cardomon Cinnamon herbal full-leaf tea and decided to try it. Let me tell you, it’s fucking great. It’s like Chai without caffeine. I mean, how good is that? I just finished drinking a cup in that cute mug my wife gave me for Christmas. I think my friend Jorj would like it since he’s a fan of Chai.
So those are some standout teas I’ve tried in my recent plunge into this whole new world. Feel free to recommend some teas you like. So far, I haven’t like Darjeeling much, but it may just have been the one I had from the World of Teas set.
This is the last time, I promise. Until the next time, anyway. I’m currently printing out the 3rd draft, the “final” draft, of my novel Echoes on the Pond. It’s not so I can just look lovingly at the brick of pages but so I can do another draft. I know, I posted that I thought I was done back in May, but I’d said I was 98% sure I was, and, well….
But that’s my method. Until the piece is published, I tinker. Maybe not in any kind of routine way, but whenever the fancy strikes. In this case, it’s because I’m gearing up to look for a home in it and I had a fateful conversation with one of my readers that corroborated a few things in my head and something my wife kind of pointed out.
My goals with the 4th draft aren’t too drastic:
- Tighten up the story a bit…look for typos and silly turns of phrases that I may have missed the last two times, or created during the last draft
- Make sure the characters are being themselves and are true to form
- Specify a few vague places (and I can only think of two that were mentioned)
- Delete a character’s onscreen presence
That last will be the closest thing to real rewriting that I’ll need to do. Pamela had mentioned the character in question as early as the 2nd draft, and when my other reader mentioned her, I knew the small feeling in the back of my mind was right, she needed to go. This means several deleted scenes and one heavily rewritten scene. Basically, this 4th draft should take long and it shouldn’t hurt the work I’ve done on the query letter or synopsis.
It’s the game we play, trying to make sure the story is what we want it to be. You have to be passionate about this if you’re going to try to make a go of having a career in the arts.
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.
Writers have been called professional liars. I know I’ve heard Stephen King and Peter Straub say it. I think I’ve heard Harlan Ellison say it. And there’ve been others along the long, long road I’ve taken from the age of 13 to now, a month and two weeks away from my 38th birthday. Hence, the lie in the title. I just wanted you to read my blog. But while I have you here talking about the lies writers tell, I want to remind you that while fiction is (usually) wholly made up, the real reason fiction is important is for the truth it tells. It doesn’t matter what genre you write in, what kind of story you’re telling, the truth of the characters, the situation, the emotions are what keeps the readers coming back.
Anyway, I haven’t posted since May because I lose track of time easily, it happens, but I’m here now and I’m working on an essay for the blog that’ll go live either tomorrow or Sunday (Monday at the latest, I promise). It’s not one of my movie series essays, though I plan on writing about two different series this year (I’m sure you can figure them out considering my nerd pedigree), but I think you’ll like it. For now, a small update.
As I mentioned back on May 12th, Echoes on the Pond is (I think) done. I’m sure I’ll be called back to tinker here and there, but I’ve begun the process of writing a query letter for possible agents or publishers. If you don’t know what a query letter is, it basically pitches your book to an agent for representation in helping sell it, or to an editor, in the hopes of buying and publishing it. Think of it like this, Echoes on the Pond weighs in at 126,500 words. In it’s current manuscript state (Times New Roman, 12 pt font, double-spaced) it is about 490 pages. The query tries to boil that down to 150 words. I have a few other things I want to work on regarding submission, like a synopsis and outline, in case they’re asked for. I already have a few agents I’m interested in querying so we’ll see how that goes.
I also wrote a short story. The first draft weighs in at a hefty 8,400 words, which will definitely be whittled down later, after it’s been given time to settle. The story came to me one morning while driving to work. The teenager was sitting in the passenger seat, quietly hating Monday (or Tuesday) morning, and for some reason, the idea came and I instantly knew I had to write it. I didn’t start until the end of June and finished it two nights ago. It’s an unpleasant little ditty with unpleasant characters and chocolate, and that’s all I’ll say right now.
So right now, I’m trying to decide which big project to work on next, since there are several that I’m pretty passionate about.
Anyway, that’s the check-in. We’ll talk soon.
Hey, Kids. Do You Like the Rock N Roll? Or How David Letterman Made Life Bearable & Helped Me Through Adolescence
I’m sure that I tried to watch David Letterman on TV before August 30th, 1993. By that date, I was six days into being 16 and I’d been suffering from insomnia (or poor sleep habits, either/or) since I was 9. This means that I would’ve tried watching Late Night with David Letterman at some point, and I faintly remember doing so. Trying, that is. Just as I tried to watch The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. I mean, all you heard about back in those quaint days of the 1980s was about how Johnny Carson did this, or said that, and then there’d be reminiscing by the adults in the room. Mom would mention the Potato Chip Lady. Grandma would chime in that Ed McMahon was “a bullshit artist,” but then reminisce about something Carson did. Carson was too damn old for me, though, between 9 and 14, and Letterman…I don’t know. There was something off-putting about him at that time in my life. And he stood too close to the camera. I’m sad to say that my first introduction to the late night talk show was The Arsenio Hall Show.
When Hall’s show premiered in January 1989, I was 11. I didn’t discover it until later that year, I think. I’m sure if I did research of who appeared on his show, and when, I could come up with a more accurate time, but who really has that kind of time? He’s not the topic of this story. The topic or not, Arsenio Hall’s show was cool. It had music that I liked, humor I liked, and was on at 10 PM on channel 64. That was the Fox Channel affiliate out of Providence, Rhode Island. (The show also aired at 11 PM on channel 25, the Boston Fox affiliate). Arsenio was speaking to me, it felt. Far more so than Johnny Carson. And as far as that Letterman guy with the gap between his teeth, weird hair and eyes…why’s he standing so close to the TV?!
Though I had many good times with Arsenio, by the time 1993 had come, I wasn’t watching nearly as much. I was still watching, but not as often. I was interested in the Late Night Wars from afar, though, and had been since 1991. In June of 1991, NBC announced that Johnny Carson would be retiring and that Jay Leno would be his replacement. To me, Jay Leno was the Doritos guy with the chin, who appeared on TV a lot and was supposed to be funny. He even made a buddy cop movie with Mr. Myagi himself, Pat Morita. You don’t remember the movie? That’s because it was a buddy cop movie starring Jay Leno and Pat Morita! The movie had aired on Cinemax and it always seemed to be on when I was looking for something to watch. Of course, I’ve never actually seen the movie. But I digress…. The entertainment magazines my mother subscribed to that I lovingly read cover-to-cover were very much about the “feud” between Leno and Letterman. When The Tonight Show with Jay Leno debuted in 1992, I feel like I tried watching it but found it…well…unfunny. Leno was no Arsenio Hall, I’ll tell ya! When rumors began that David Letterman was about to jump ship from NBC, the news had a field day. Again, I was mildly interested. I remember seeing video of the press conference where the news broke that Letterman had accepted an offer from CBS and would be taking his show and leaving. I remember reading about NBC not allowing their “intellectual property” to go with him and how he was going to have to change certain things.
I was interested. I don’t know if it was my budding maturity, being a wise, old 15, or if it was just interest in the entertainment business, but I was interested. So on August 30th, 1993, most likely a week before I would start my junior year of high school, I tuned in to one of the CBS affiliates at 11:35 PM, and watched the very much-hyped and ballyhooed first episode of The Late Show with David Letterman. There’d been so much talk, so much analyzing, so much…mythology building, how could I not?
I was hooked.
From Paul Newman’s surprise appearance in the audience; to Tom Brokaw storming onto the stage, grabbing a cue card, and announcing, “This joke is the intellectual property of NBC,” and then storming off (Dave’s comment: “That’s the first time intellectual and NBC has ever been used in a sentence”); to his comment about how the Top Ten List will cost the show $10 million; to Bill Murray spray painting Dave’s desk and taking him outside to introduce him to the people; I loved it. But, while I loved all that stuff, the thing that really spoke to me, the thing that really hooked me was David Letterman himself. At 16, I felt like a mutant. I mean, who doesn’t? But I’d been bullied for a 5-year stretch. I liked to read and write, and I loved movies way more than other kids my age seemed to. I still secretly played with my action figures because the words couldn’t be written down as quickly as the ideas would come. I had an unhealthy fascination with stand-up comedy. And I had a sense of humor that those around me called “witty,” “warped,” “weird,” and “unfunny.” I was also super sarcastic and was always in trouble for that at home. And here was David Letterman making jokes that only one person in the whole room was actually, truly laughing at: himself. Through the magic of TV, I was laughing, too. I got it.
Between 1993 and sometime in 1996/1997, I watched Dave every night. During my senior year in 1995, the National Honor Society took a field trip to New York City and I went to the Ed Sullivan Theater and had my picture taken in front of the marquee. When I got home, I sent for tickets and in August 1995, I went to New York to see The Late Show. I talked to Rupert Gee. I saw Van Halen (with Sammy Hagar) perform. Most importantly, I saw David Letterman. He was standing as close to me as the oven is to my right. Ten feet? I sat right behind then-executive producer Bob “Morty” Morton. In one shot of Morty, you can see a Star Wars baseball cap. That’s me. Unfortunately, except for the performances by Van Halen, the show kind of sucked. I was thrilled to be there, and still remember it fondly, but it wasn’t Dave’s best. Hugh Grant had been arrested with a prostitute earlier that summer and his first public appearance to promote his first big Hollywood movie Nine Months had already been booked…on The Tonight Show. Jay Leno scored his first #1 night since Letterman began his run on CBS and he never let it go. Well, except for when he let it go.
Anyway, The Late Show with David Letterman was just what I needed, just when I needed it. I became obsessed with the show and with David Letterman. And with late night TV. I loved Bill Carter’s phenomenal The Late Shift, which documented the whole Carson-Leno-Letterman fiasco. I studied how Letterman did his show. The set-ups, the remotes, the sarcasm. He interviewed people and he helped them along, but he was also fun to watch. Unlike Leno, who seemed to wait for his opportunity to throw in a joke, Letterman actually conversed with them in the time permitted by the format. He was also able to make those around him stars. From the owner of the Hello Deli next door, Rupert Gee, to the stage manager Biff Henderson, to his mother, Letterman took whoever happened by and made them a character you followed. Sure, it was partly inspired by what he saw another former NBC employee, Howard Stern, do but he found a way to make it his own, and unlike another late night host I won’t mention, Letterman often praised Stern for giving him the idea to do those kinds of things.
More than all that though, I saw another mutant who was full of self-loathing doing his best. He came out each night in a nice suit, he told jokes, he had a good time, and he made people happy. I wanted to be him. Or, at least, I wanted to be like him.
I’d already begun writing by this time, and was honing my craft writing (bad) books and (bad) short stories, but I secretly wanted to either be a filmmaker or, because of Letterman, a late night talk show host. Had I been a little more courageous, I may have tried my hand at stand-up comedy with the intention of someday having my own show. And now that I see Jimmy Fallon, who is only three years older than me, doing what he’s doing, I think maybe I should’ve attempted it. Ah, well, it is what it is. My time has come and gone and I have novels to write, oh so many novels, but Letterman is still an influence.
Unfortunately, I haven’t really watched Dave in a long time. I’ve seen the odd show here and there. Thanks to the Internet, I will often catch interviews a day or so after they air (especially when Howard Stern, Steve Martin, or Robin Williams was on). I watched it the night G was born in 2012, after watching the election results.
David Letterman isn’t perfect. His show wasn’t perfect. But I loved it. It’s going to be weird in September once Stephen Colbert sits behind the desk and becomes host of The Late Show. It’s going to be weird that Letterman won’t be there to hear about the next morning. I think about that. The pillars of our youth begin to crumble at some point. I understand why so many people were sad about Carson’s departure now. Even Leno’s. Late Night TV is going to be very different. The new guard is in place. But I think it’ll be good. Because when they talk about the late night host who inspired them, they don’t mention Carson, and they sure as shit don’t mention Leno. They all mention Letterman. Fallon, Kimmel, O’Brien…all of them. They all name David Letterman as the guy who turned them onto their paths.
Looks like there are a lot of mutants out there.
See that? That’s what’s at the very end of my manuscript for Echoes on the Pond. The reason I’m showing you is because—and I say this knowing it’s not 100% true, but roughly 98% true—I’m done with it. I have a few people giving this third draft a read, and if they all hit on things that have popped up in my head recently, or hit on things the other readers hit on, then I’ll do another sweep of the novel, but it’ll be a short one. The kind that takes a week or two instead of months. Of course, if an agent or editor at some point asks for changes that’ll make the novel better, I’ll be more than happy to oblige.
As you can see, I’ve been on this bastard for a long time now. When I began the novel in April 2008, I thought that I’d finish the first draft in three/four months, the second draft within six months, and then have the third draft to shop around in 2009. All long-form writing I’d done prior to this book indicated that should have been the case. Of course, things were different.
It’d been four years since I’d started—and finished—anything of significant length. Between 1998 and 2004, I wrote many novels. Most were pretty bad, few were terrible, and a couple were…good. For the time. They were written by a younger guy, of course. I turned 21 in 1998, so being in my early-twenties, I didn’t have much perspective on life, but I had an itch to tell stories and the insanity to think I could do it.
By 2008, I was in my early-thirties, had been through a divorce, severe depression, some of the hardest times in my life, and hadn’t written anything worthwhile except for several abandoned novels, garbage short stories, and little else of value. Well…that’s not entirely true. I wrote my late, great column American Gauthic for Dark Discoveries, a gig I really enjoyed doing and would love to do again, given the opportunity. I’m proud of those essays, though I admit that some of them are a little…well…wince-inducing. I also wrote papers for college, lesson plans, and blog posts.
But here I sit, twelve days after finishing what I consider to be my final edit, and I’m looking forward to what’s next. I have about six book ideas. Two horror(ish) novels, two “mainstream” novels (that I think may be darkly comic), and two YA novels. Way back in my mind are the science fiction novel takes on two Shakespeare plays that I’ve wanted to do for a long time now.
I think I’m going to do one of the YA novels. I want to do it something that’s fun, plot-driven, and fast. In other words, the kind of book I would’ve wanted to read when I was a kid.
Other than writing, I’ve got the real work ahead of me on Echoes…: Figuring out what the fuck to do with it now.
It’s a good place to be, though. Actually, it’s a great place to be.
We all say that when our child is born s/he won’t watch TV. Nope. Our lil one is going to learn the treasures of play and literature early, and while the TV won’t be off-limits, it will definitely be regulated more than when we were kids. I said that back in 1997 and early-1998 when my first daughter, Courtney, was in gestation and shortly after her birth in April 1998. By the following April, she loved Teletubbies, Elmo, and Blue’s Clues. By two, she was an avid fan of Bear in the Big Blue House, the Muppets, Rolie Polie Olie, and Little Bear. Throw in Franklin as well. I hated Sesame Street back then, and Barney, too. She got those when she was with her cousin or when I wasn’t home, which was rare.
Fast forward nearly 15 years. In March 2012, Pamela found out she was pregnant. She declared not long afterward that our child wouldn’t be raised on the glass teat. I agreed, but without the force that I had 15 years prior. I knew better. After you’d gone from reading to playing puppets to playing dolls to playing blocks to reading to more blocks to running around to…you need a break. And that giant rectangle in the corner will help with that.
G is 2-and-a-half. She loves to read. She loves to draw. She loves blocks, playing, jumping, exploring, dancing, puppets, make-believe, and so much more. She also loves TV. I’m not passing judgment on myself or my wife, we do our best to limit her TV-watching, but there’s shows she likes and, damnit, we kinda like them, too. So if you’re feeling guilty about your toddler watching TV, here are some shows that we watch and I think they’re good entertainment, as well as a little (sometimes a lot) educational.
All right, I know this goes without saying, but you have to understand something: I grew up hating Sesame Street. I loved The Muppet Show, which would air on Saturday nights at 7 PM, but Sesame Street was never my thing. Even when Courtney was a little one, I didn’t like it. And by then they’d gotten Elmo. Ugh. The sound of his voice sent shivers down my spine and goosebumps over my flesh. I was in my early-to-mid-twenties. Now I’m in my mid-to-late-thirties and I’ve finally discovered Sesame Street. And that high-pitched, bright red monster? Yeah…he’s kinda cute. He’s still not a favorite of mine, and I’m no fan of Abby Cadabby, but I’ve finally discovered why Sesame Street has been around for 46 years. From parodies on Game of Thrones, Star Wars, the failed Spider-Man Broadway musical, to the simple stories and whimsical moments, I’ve become a fan.
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood
I’ve written about how Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and Fred Rogers have been there at important moments in my life. Thanks to Amazon Prime (or the PBS Kids website), the classic show is easily available for binge-watching. It’s by no means complete, but it’s still great. However, if you don’t have time for fussing with that, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is a great modern take. Produced by the Fred Rogers Company and Out of the Blue, the show is created by Angela Santomero, who co-created Blue’s Clues and Super Why! The titular Daniel Tiger is not the Daniel Striped Tiger that you and I grew up with, but rather his son. DT, as my wife and I call it in code, is a kinda-sorta sequel. It takes place in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, which has the giant clock, the castle, the treehouse and tree, and the Museum-Go-Round, and familiar characters like Daniel Striped Tiger, X the Owl, Henrietta Pussycat, Lady Elaine Fairchilde, and King Friday XIII and Queen Sarah Saturday with their son Prince Tuesday are all there. However, the new characters are the real stars of the show. Daniel Tiger, O the Owl (X’s nephew), Katarina Kittycat (Henrietta’s daughter), Miss Elaina (Lady Elaine’s daughter), and Prince Wednesday are the focus of the show. There are other new characters like Mom Tiger (the original Daniel, who is now an adult, is known as Dad Tiger) Music Man Stan (Lady Elaine’s husband and Miss Elaina’s father), Dr. Anna, and Baker Aker are all new additions. And of course, the neighborhood wouldn’t be complete without Mr. McFeely.
The show is broken into two segments with neighbors from our world (usually from Pittsburgh) in between and its focus is emotional development, just like Mister Rogers. Santomero’s work on Blue’s Clues and Super Why! comes into play as Daniel will greet us each day with, “Hi, neighbor!” and include us in the story, asking us to participate throughout. Small jingles help teach the lesson of the show. Pamela and I have found these jingles useful as we try to navigate G through the world. “Use your wor-or-ords. Use your words!” has come in handy when she’s been frustrated. “When you have to go potty, stop! and go right away! Flush and wash and be on your way” is another good one. And this past winter, with all the sickness we all seemed to get, singing “When you’re sick, rest is best, rest is best,” has come in quite handy. She’ll sing these lessons to us as well. When I made a mistake recently, G chimed in with, “Keep trying, you’ll get beh-etter!”
My one complaint is some of the creative choices that were made. Harriet Cow is no longer a resident or teacher in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, instead it’s a human woman named Teacher Harriet. And poor Anna Platypus is nothing more than…a puppet at the pre-school. Her entire family is wiped out. There doesn’t seem to be a Westwood, no mention of Lady Aberlin, and nearly no outside conflict. Lady Elaine, the biggest grump in Fred Rogers’s day, has had work done, married, and never plots, schemes, or even complains. Other than those few small things, it’s an excellent show.
Neither Pamela nor I were impressed when we first watched the PBS/Imagine Television adaptation of the classic book series by Margaret and H.A. Rey, but Curious George has grown on us and G loves it. Yeah, the plots are far-fetched and silly. I enjoy making fun of the fact that all these humans can’t seem to figure out what a monkey can, but it’s fun and, more or less, educational. Fluff, but good fluff.
A show starring an African American girl as a play doctor, whose mother is a real doctor, Dad seems to be a stay-at-home dad, and a fun little brother may seem foreign, even to Gen Xers like me, and it’s wonderfully so. I can happily turn this show on and know that, if nothing else, my daughter will see a positive female role model as well as an intelligent, beautiful, and fun person of color as the lead. Creator Chris Nee and her staff also write some great stories for this wonderful little girl with a huge imagination. The lessons aren’t just medical-based, though they often are, but they also cover the landscape of the human heart. A wonderful show if you haven’t checked it out. And if you have a boy and are afraid it’s a “girl’s show” (which I’ll get to in a little while) it’s a great show for him, too. He should also be inspired.
It’s British. It’s funny. We love it.
Sofia the First
When I first heard of this show I though, Nope. No need for Disney Princesses in this household. Now I’m a fan. So is my wife. And, more importantly, so is my daughter. The show has a feminist ideology that is proud to be “girly,” but isn’t hampered by it. What I mean is…well…let me tell you about the show and I think my commentary will make sense.
Sofia and her mother, Miranda, are commoners. Miranda is a cobbler who is hired to make shoes for King Roland II. The King and Miranda fall in love at first sight (this is Disney, after all) and they marry. Now Sofia is a princess with two step-siblings, twins James and Amber. There’s no mention of their mother that I know of. Anyway, Sofia is the average girl who’s been thrust into this new world of magic, royalty, and etiquette. She handles it well. James is a typical boy who is sometimes real nice, and other times a fool. But it’s Princess Amber, Sofia’s new sister, that I really want to focus on. Amber is the typical “princess.” I put the word in quotes because she behaves in the way a woman (or girl) who fancies herself a princess and makes demands of those around her in a fashion that is unbecoming, rude, and can never be fulfilled would behave. For instance…
I know of a couple a few years younger than my wife and I who married around the same time we did, and had their first child around the same time G was born (Pamela’s first child). The guy is a public servant. Let’s say a firefighter. Good guy. Stand-up guy. Nice guy. His wife is a “princess.” Her engagement ring not only had to have this, but this and that, as well, and it better not be under…ooohhh…$XX,000. She must have this, and have that, and she simply cannot work with two children (they’ve had another) though she’s constantly dropping them off with grandma and grandpa so she can go to yoga, or for coffee, or…. She is a “princess” and has called herself one. You know these kinds of “princesses.” Unfortunately, I’ve known a few myself. Get it?
Amber is that kind of princess. She is the kind of princess that girls growing up on a steady diet of Disney Princesses believe they should be. Of course, none of the Disney Princesses are actually like that. These Real World Princesses base their princessism on “And they lived happily ever after…” assuming that these women would become those kinds of princesses. She is full of herself, wishes to do as little work as possible, is rude, is narrow-minded, and is obsessed with appearance both in terms of clothes and what others think. This is not the complete picture of Amber. The show’s writers are very good at adding dimensions to the characters and Amber can be quite kind, giving, and selfless. She’s also quite intelligent. But the overwhelming portrayal is of the typical mythical “princess.”
Sofia, on the other hand, is Disney’s reinvention of the Disney Princess. She is kind, intelligent, imaginative, quick-to-laugh, inclusive, open-minded, strong, resilient, and human. She has faults. Sometimes she gets a little full of herself. Sometimes she’s jealous. Sometimes she does wrong. She is given an amulet that, unknown to anyone, gives her the ability to speak to all the princesses that ever were. This means that she sometimes gets to speak to Cinderella, or Belle (from Beauty and the Beast), or Ariel (The Little Mermaid), or any of the other Disney Princesses. The classic princesses aren’t in every episode, not even close, but are in enough to help move product–I meant…er…to rewrite some of the less feministic aspects of their original stories.
Sofia makes Amber a better person. Amber isn’t one- or two-dimensional. She is well-written and changes a over time.
This is a show that teaches about emotions, tolerance, how to treat people, and kindness. Like the aforementioned Doc McStuffins, it tells girls that they can do anything. I am a fan and highly recommend it.
I have to mention Arthur. The PBS series based on the Marc Brown books is great. I used to watch it with Courtney, and now G loves it. Yeah, it’s a little old for her, but she still digs it, and so do I. Their stories have skewered standardized testing, the loss of original intent with the American Girl doll line, and other topics that one wouldn’t expect in a children’s show. It’s really not a pre-school show but it’s on when I get home from work and G watches it and enjoys it.
I could go on and on, I’m sure. Sid the Science Kid (G loves it, Pamela and I don’t, though it preaches science and we’re for that, so we stomach it), Peg + Cat (also from the Fred Rogers Company; Pamela and I love it, G isn’t as fond), Dinosaur Train (fun show), Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, and Caillou (which I used to hate, have now grown more fond of, but Pamela hates; G loves it) are a few of the others. If it sounds like G consumes too much TV, it’s because that is a lengthy list, but it’s not watched all in one day, and she rarely goes above the 2 hr limit that researchers have found is bad for kids. On the rare days she does go over the 2 hr, she’s sick, I’m sick, or Pamela is sick, and it’s a good way to keep her calm while someone rests.
And if you’re thinking that a lot of these shows are girl shows, I suggest you chill out. I think Sofia the First, the “girliest” of these shows, can be great for boys to watch if they sat down and actually watched them. The stories are often filled with adventure and Prince James is a great role model for them. Basically, if they’re not interested, fine, but I think we should be beyond worrying about such things.
Now I’ll climb off my soapbox and go watch some TV. Maybe Doc McStuffins has an interesting new case, or Sofia has a new adventure.
On Monday, March 30th, I figured that I’d be done doing pen-edits on Echoes on the Pond by the end of the week and work would move to the computer to begin editing the manuscript. I had about 50 or so pages left and had been editing about 10 pages/night. This took me about 20 minutes or so, which was great. I felt accomplished and it allowed me to rest for the marathon that would be the computer edits. I knew, however, that the last 50 pages of the second draft of Echoes on the Pond were going to be the toughest to edit. This contained the most new material, an ending that I wasn’t completely satisfied with, and a bunch of things that needed fine-tuning. Meaning, unlike the rest of the 450 pages that preceded it, the last 50 pages were almost like a first draft.
By Thursday, April 2nd, with only 35 pages left, I realized I needed to add some stuff. There was a leap in the story that was all right but felt, to me, slap-dash. My thinking was that if I felt like it was slap-dash, and I wrote the fucking thing, then any reader would feel similarly. So I decided to write this new stuff while I was in the midst of the chapter. I also chose to write it out by hand in a notebook, for the helluvit. I’ve been reading up on writers who’ve given up the word processing program for the pen and paper. Writers I admire like Joe Hill and Neil Gaiman are but two who are big on handwritten first drafts. So I figured I’d dip my toe in for this new stuff. I worked on the 3rd and 4th, and meant to on the 5th but was too tired from driving for four hours, to and from Western Mass, where my in-laws live.
And then came the bug.
I got a bad stomach bug that knocked me on my ass Monday and Tuesday. Then came grading that needed to be done by Friday on Wednesday and Thursday. By Friday night, I was wiped out, so I just read.
Last night I finally returned to the novel, and wrote some more by hand. I’ve done 9 pages by hand so far and will probably be done with this new section tonight. Then I’ll have about 25 pages left to edit. Still, I’m sure there’ll be some funky stuff in there which means that it might take me more than three days to finish my edits.
A part of me feels like I’m stalling. I’m a little freaked out about beginning the research into publishers/editors, which I intend to do (as well as get my grad school stuff in order) once I’m on the computer every night again. But mostly I’m not worried. This novel hasn’t come easily for me but I’m fairly happy with it, and that means a lot. And that’s the thing I keep rediscovering as I work on it: I’m happy telling the story. Sure, it’s taken me from 2008 to work on this novel, but who cares?
When you’re writing, it’s the act that counts. It’s telling the story to the best of your ability. The fun and challenge of it.
Either way, the end is near. And I’m going to enjoy every minute of it.
And then start it all over again with a new project. That’s what we do.
When I was a kid, my father would say, “When I was a kid…” and I’d roll my eyes, sigh, and be the snot that I was. I often reminded him that it was The Eighties, which is just about how I thought of them, capital- and italicized. I blame bad sitcoms and teen movies of the day that were all over HBO. When I was a teenager, I was only slightly less obnoxious. After all, it was the nineties. Most of the time, when Dad spoke of his childhood, it was to complain. He’d be complaining about the costs of things (he’ll still go into that spiel if you bring up costs of anything). He’d be complaining about how I behaved. He’d generally be complaining. My father was born in 1941 and basically grew up in the country, in a lower-to-mid-middle class family. Life wasn’t perfect, but when he talks about when he was a kid, you’d think it was.
This has been on my mind a lot lately because of the snow. Since January, eastern Massachusetts has received a lot of snow. Boston says it’s about 8 feet, or maybe 10. Down my way, not much better. We haven’t had a full week of school since the week before Martin Luther King, Jr Day. The last week of January, we had two days of school, Monday and Friday. The following Monday and Tuesday were no good. The Monday that followed was no good. Now it’s February vacation and, depending on how the weather goes this weekend, we may not have school again at the start of next week. I’ve had a lot of time to think, to stew.
And you’re annoying me.
Not you, you’re fine. But you, back there. The one standing on his/her own memories and ego. Yeah…you. You posted this on Facebook and/or Twitter:
When I was a kid, they didn’t cancel school until snow actually started.
When I was a kid, it took more than cold weather to stop me from ______.
Those aren’t the only things you’re posting either. From religion to politics to pop culture, everything was better when you were a kid. My response:
This especially annoys me from people who are around my age (I was born in 1977). Look, I do think we played outside more, with less rules, than the kids of today have. We didn’t have play dates, we played. By ourselves. Meaning, no parental involvement. But I’m not here to talk about that today. I want to talk about the weather.
You’re right, you old fart. When you were a kid–when we were kids–school wasn’t canceled until the snow fell. There was a certain alarm to listen for at 5:30/6:00 AM, and a specific radio station to listen to. I spent many sleepless nights in elementary school gambling and losing on the chance that we would get walloped by snow and I’d have a snow day.
That’s gone because science.
Have you noticed that in the past…oh…ten years that weather reporting has been pretty goddamn accurate. Maybe not 7 or 10 days in advance, completely, but it’s gotten pretty good. Chances are, if the 7-Day says that snow is coming at the end of the week, by the fourth day in, they know for sure and it’s only the matter of how many inches we’re getting, which they’ve gotten pretty good at predicting, too. It simply makes more sense now to close school the night before than to chance it at 5:30 AM. It allows parents to make accommodations in advance.
Science isn’t the answer for everything, of course. Your insistence that kids were better when you were that age is just plain bullshit, because I was a kid at the same time, or know human nature better than you, and it’s simply not true.
Look, there are always things we long for and changes to culture and the world around us that take us away from the good. I’m not denying that. Republicans have systematically shot down regulations that gave us better things and replaced them with cheaper, crappier stuff. Democrats have been too nice to do what’s necessary to get those regulations back. And all sides have been bought off a little too much in the places that count.
For the most part, though, things aren’t any worse now than they were. They’re just bad in different ways. And there’s still a lot of good, if not great, out in the world.
So stop 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.