Humphrey Bogart made many, many films. Several of them are stone cold classics while others… not so much.
Arguably the most bizarre film he made is likely the subject of this piece, 1939’s The Return of Doctor X. Bogart said of this film:
“This is one of the pictures that made me march in to [Warner Bros. studio chief Jack L. Warner] and ask for more money again. You can’t believe what this one was like. I had a part that somebody like Bela Lugosi or Boris Karloff should have played. I was this doctor, brought back to life, and the only thing that nourished this poor bastard was blood. If it had been Jack Warner’s blood or [Harry Warner’s] or [Sam Warner’s] maybe I wouldn’t have minded as much. The trouble was, they were drinking mine and I was making this stinking movie.”
Clearly, Mr. Bogart had little love for the movie but, you know what? He really wasn’t bad in it in a role that, let’s be honest, probably would have worked better with Karloff or Lugosi.
Been a while since I posted some personal thoughts on the writing process but, as I’m not elbow deep in the 7th Draft of my latest Corrosive Knights novel, I realized it was a good time to go into at least one very important -perhaps THE most important!- element in writing:
Make every word, sentence, paragraph, and chapter count. Trim the fat and, even more importantly, be on the lookout for it.
Authors are like any other people: You’re -quite understandably- proud of things you can do. This goes for things you do on your job to things you do in your free time and can take the form of many things. Whether it be cooking a meal, cleaning your home, setting tile, building a dog/tree house, running a personal best mile, etc. etc. etc. one takes pride in one’s accomplishments and creative writing, in my case specifically, is what I absolutely live for.
I love the act of writing a book, even when its a freaking pain in my ass and things don’t seem to be quite right and it takes too long to get through a certain section or you bemoan all the time spent before your computer or reading through the printouts.
The satisfaction comes at the end, when you know you’ve done your best and created something you’re proud of and, even more importantly, you’re certain its something others will enjoy.
But here’s the thing: You can’t fall too much in love with your work and get to a point where you’re blinded to potential weaknesses.
When I was elbow deep in Draft #6 of the book, there was a section in it toward the beginning that, frankly, wasn’t all that exciting to read through. I would go even so far as to say I found it something of a chore to read.
I didn’t think much of it at the time, figuring I was either exhausted (as I frequently am… I fear sometimes I work myself a little too hard even as another part of my mind berates me for not working hard enough!) or too concerned with other sections of the book that needed work or… whatever.
So here I was yesterday in Draft #7 of the book and I get to that same part and… its boring me.
This time around I put the draft down and decide to take a bathroom break. As I do so, I think about that section of the book (a chapter, really), and recall my similar feelings when I read that particular section a while back.
I have sudden, blinding insight and realize, perhaps one draft too later (but better late than never!) that if I’m feeling bored reading this particular chapter, and its my own freaking work, then how will others react to it?
So I think some more. The chapter is important to the story so eliminating it entirely is out of the question. No, I realized, there was a need to take another careful look at it and read it yet again and try to see why it wasn’t working.
Though I was past that chapter, I returned to it, resolved to unlock this mystery.
With that mindset, I realized the chapter had more bloat than others. I simply went into too much description of things that ultimately didn’t matter all that much to the story, even though the events in the particular chapter were important to the overall novel.
And I became a surgeon and carefully went over the chapter line by line by line and cut all the things that were not necessary while keeping all the things that were. In the end, I suspect the first half of this chapter will be roughly half the length it originally was, but readers will move through this chapter much quicker and the points I was trying to make will be made that much faster.
The late author Elmore Leonard had a fascinating list of 10 Creative Writing Do’s and Don’ts (you can read the full list here). My favorite bit of advice is his very last point:
Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. My most important rule is one that sums (this) up: if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.
I love that first line: Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. In other words, when writing a novel or story of any kind, the author should try their best to keep the stuff people want to read and remove/delete/eliminate the stuff they don’t want to read.
Sounds simple but, of course, it isn’t quite so simple. For six drafts I had a chapter in my latest book which bothered me yet, dense as I am, didn’t see it for what it was: Bloated. It was only on the 7th pass that I recognized there was a problem and addressed it.
This is why I work through as many drafts of my novels as I do and take great pains to make sure they’re released when they’re ready. While it may take a reader a day or two to read one of my novels, it takes me of late two full years to write these works. But that’s the time needed and that’s the time it takes.
The last thing I want to do is write something that bores people… especially me! 😉
So I finished up my latest draft of book #7 in the Corrosive Knights series (read about that here) and wanted to give myself a bit of a break yesterday so I popped in the latest Netflix film I had on DVD.
Titled Anti Matter and released in 2016, I can honestly say I have no idea how that movie got on my radar or why I put it in my Netflix que. Regardless, there it was and, having the free time, I put it on. Here’s the movie’s trailer:
Ana has discovered a way to make small objects “disappear”. She consults her friend Nate and shows him the results of her experiment and he, in turn, brings Liv, a “wild child” but brilliant fellow student into the experiment which, they soon find, isn’t just about making things disappear: They can effectively move matter from one place to another (shades of The Fly!).
Their experiments progress nicely and they manage to transport plants, then a caterpillar, then a cat, all while protests against animal cruelty are staged near their lab. Outside of this trio, however, no one knows what they’re up to and, with stars in their eyes and thoughts of becoming rich beyond their wildest dreams lurking just under the surface, they are forced to speed up their experiments to see if the ultimate immediate matter transportation is possible: Sending humans from one point to another.
As the one who created this experiment, Ana decides to be that first test subject.
But afterwards, things get strange and suddenly she finds herself having a hard time remembering things and her two friends and lab partners are suddenly acting very strange. Is she paranoid or is there something sinister going on?
Anti Matter is a low budget, perhaps even minimally budgeted film which nonetheless manages to present a clever, at times quite deep story to its viewers. However, and this is one of the film’s biggest problems, the “shock” ending is something I suspect almost everyone can see coming from a mile away and, further, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense given the story presented.
The actors are fine in the roles, though if there’s one quibble I have it is that I would have switched actors playing Ana and Liv. The protagonist, Ana, is played by Yaiza Figuero and, unfortunately, she has a noticeable Spanish accent (she is originally from Puerto Rico) and didn’t seem quite as comfortable in front of the camera as Phillipa Carson, the actress who played Liv.
But this is minor compared to the film’s biggest problem: The script.
As I’ve stated many times before, a great script/story can do wonders to any movie, low or high budgeted. In the case of Anti Matter, the story concept is quite good, though perhaps not the most original, but the story as presented has many flaws which become only more and more apparent after a) you realize what’s going on (again, that realization should come well before the movie’s end to most viewers), and b) once that realization is made, much of what we’ve seen to this point starts to make little sense.
I will discuss this in some more detail in a moment, but as it involves some rather massive SPOILERS, I’ll leave it for now.
There is a lot to like about Anti Matter. I applaud the fact that the movie’s makers took what had to be a very low budget yet nonetheless tackled some interesting issues in its science fiction milieu. I applaud the fact that they were trying to give us a science fiction film that made us think rather than resorted to cheap action or violence or “shock”.
But on the other hand I have to fault them for not thinking their scenario all the way through and giving us a film whose story, unfortunately, falls apart with close scrutiny.
A true shame.
Now, on to…
YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!!!!
Ok, so now let’s get into the meat of the matter: Where I felt Anti Matter’s script let down the story proper.
As I mentioned before, we have a scenario that, while interesting, is not incredibly new to the science fiction genre: Matter teleportation. As I mentioned, this has been used in the movie The Fly and Star Trek and a whole host of other sci-fi works.
So our protagonist, Ana, decides to be the first subject in this matter teleportation experiment but when it is done, she begins to experience odd things. She cannot remember things well. She finds herself not hungry. Her two lab mates, too, begin acting strange around her, as if they’re hiding things from her. Even her mother, whom she calls frequently, starts to act strange over the phone.
To make matters worse, when she goes to her apartment, she finds someone is there, breaking in. The person wears an odd Monkey mask and, in the movie’s only real action sequence, Ana fights the disguised intruder, even breaking through the glass window of their apartment and falling a floor down to the ground (this particular sequence, by the way, stood out like a sore thumb and felt like maybe it shouldn’t have been there… it seemed a little too “action” for this otherwise cerebral film).
So what’s happening?
Again, it felt too obvious to me: Clearly this Ana wasn’t the “real” Ana. Somehow, the matter teleportation experiment created two Anas, and I knew the “real” one was hidden somewhere.
Surprise, surprise, that’s exactly what happened.
The Ana we follow from the experiment on, we find in the movie’s climax, is an echo, a “non” being fragment of the real Ana. Further, we’re told that the lab partners have been dealing with her for days now, that she can’t remember things from one day to another because she hasn’t the capacity to do so. They’re acting suspicious, in part, because they’re tired of dealing with this echo and going over the same thing day after day with her.
But this time around, things come to a head and the “real” Ana appears to tell the echo she needs to go back into the machine. The unreal Ana doesn’t want to, she fears for her life, but the real Ana tells her she will simply go back to being a part of her. So she steps into the teleportation area and disappears, forever.
I ask the following: If this Ana was an echo that was running wild, why the hell did the real Ana and her lab partners let this craziness go on for so long? Why the hell did they leave this disturbed non-person to roam the city and university freely? Were they not afraid of what she might do?
And if she couldn’t remember things from day to day, effectively becoming the same being every time she woke up, why didn’t they simply confront her the first day with the real Ana and explain things? Why let this charade go on for so long?
Look, I really was rooting for this film to succeed, even though I could see that twist coming. But the problem not only lies with that twist but with how it was handled. Almost everything from the point where Ana is transported to the end made little sense and, even worse, ultimately torpedoed the film’s story because of this.
Been a little bit since my last update of 5/17/18 (you can read it here) but the news is -at least to me!- incredibly exciting: I’m finished with the 6th draft of my latest Corrosive Knights book, #7 in the series and the Conclusion to the Corrosive Knights story…
As you can see from the graphic above, this book will be followed by an 8th book which serves as an “epilogue” to the Corrosive Knights story line and which I’ve already finished the first full draft.
Before getting into details, a quick anecdote -and warning!
Yesterday morning I finished up most of the book save for, quite literally, the last three pages. Much as I wanted to finish it all up, I had to leave the computer and the draft behind to do some other work. I would not be able to return to finish those last three pages until after 5 P.M.
So I return home and, while the food’s cooking, sit down in front of the computer to finish up those last bits of the book. Again, 3 pages worth.
I turn the computer on and… something weird happens. I use Microsoft Word for my writing and have the file both on the hard drive and on my One Drive. I do this in case I’m able to use my laptop elsewhere to work on the book. Highly recommended.
It’s been a very long time since I did the hard drive back up. In fact, the last time I did it was when I started the 6th draft of my novel, a month ago…
I tried to load up both Word and Excel (this is for my other job), then try to load up files for each program and then… nothing.
Neither file loads up.
I get a very, very sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I shut both programs off. I restart them. I try to load the files back up.
Now I’m sweating as my creative life flashes in front of my eyes. The work I’ve done on draft #6 of the book was mentally very strenuous. I’ve done so much damn work and the idea that all of it, right up to three freaking pages before the very end, may be gone just about gives me a stroke. I wonder if I have the mental strength to get into that book again, should I have lost all the work I did to this point.
Seriously, I didn’t think I could. Not right away.
Desperate, I shut everything down and restart the computer. Once its up, I load up Word and click on the latest draft of the book and…
Needless to say, the first thing I then do is make ANOTHER copy of that draft on my hard drive before getting to work and finishing the whole thing off. Then, I made ANOTHER back up copy of the finished product.
Moral of the story: Make multiple backups. Then, make some more. Just in case.
Back to the update: Book #7 of the Corrosive Knights series is, in my humble opinion, one of the most challenging to work on. With this series I’ve created a story that unfolds over 20,000 plus years and I’ve taken great pains to make sure this story, which is complex, isn’t complicated.
Further, Book #7 is a concluding chapter and therefore it HAS to focus on and resolve all the major plot points I’ve raised/opened from the first book (Mechanic) on.
And so far I’m incredibly pleased with the results.
I noted, when I began the 6th draft of this book, that the first half of this book is good but the second half was what required work. I realized this after I read through that draft (from 4/21 to 5/16) and then started putting the corrections/additions into the computer (this took me from 5/17 to 6/26). In terms of time spent on this draft, its taken a little less than 2 and a half months to go through this draft.
I suspect, strongly, draft #7 will take half that time.
Why? Because I’ve dealt with all those issues in the little more than second half of the book and feel that all those issues I knew were there were dealt with via my revisions.
As of yesterday, this book is that much closer to being ready for release. To date, I’ve written six books and spent nearly ten years working on this series and, while we’re approaching the end, I’ll be damned if I don’t release something that isn’t my absolute best.
So hang in there, kind folks.
The work on Book #7 moves along nicely. Today I’m giving myself a day to rest and unwind before printing up this latest draft and quickly moving on to draft #7.
I strongly suspect, based on being able to fix the things I knew needed fixing in draft #6, that future drafts will focus more on the actual mechanics of the writing, ie spelling and grammar and streamlining bloat versus actual “creative” writing.
Once I fully reach that point, things will move much quicker and the book will soon be available.
Politically, meanwhile, Lynch is all over the map. He voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primary and thinks – he’s not sure – he voted Libertarian in the presidential election. “I am not really a political person, but I really like the freedom to do what you want to do,” says the persecuted Californian smoker.
He is undecided about Donald Trump. “He could go down as one of the greatest presidents in history because he has disrupted the thing so much. No one is able to counter this guy in an intelligent way.” While Trump may not be doing a good job himself, Lynch thinks, he is opening up a space where other outsiders might. “Our so-called leaders can’t take the country forward, can’t get anything done. Like children, they are. Trump has shown all this.”
While it is tempting to take these paragraphs and say something along the lines of “David Lynch is such a brilliant filmmaker… how could he?!”, I suggest one read the whole article instead of focusing on this one element.
The article paints a portrait of a man who is, at the age of 72, essentially isolated in his own world and has been, one can surmise, for quite some time now. His studio is described as a “bunker”. He is asked about going out to see movies (you would think, as a filmmaker, he’d be interested in seeing other films) and he says he doesn’t go out to see movies. How about seeing them at home? Not interested.
Look, I’m no David Lynch apologist. I love some of his works, especially the film Mulholland Drive (a brilliant work which doesn’t seem to get the love of Blue Velvet or Twin Peaks). I think he is an important figure in the film/TV industry.
I’ve always said people should separate the person from the work.
There are works by many people that I absolutely love, but when one looks at the person behind the works that I love so much, I’ve come to realize that some of them may be fascinating while others… not so much. Some, I would even say, were people I would want absolutely nothing to do with had I encountered them on a personal basis.
I, someone who cannot stomach Donald Trump and feel he’s a plague on this country and, by extension, the world, don’t feel David Lynch is some kind of an idiot or wacko. Based on the article, it strikes me he is a man who is so isolated and seems to have so little interest in things outside his world, that it shouldn’t be surprising he would say something like that about Donald Trump.
I feel his statement reflects his ignorance of general events more than anything else and its freaking sad to read but, seriously, what can you do about it? Tell Mr. Lynch to read more? To immerse himself in current events? If he did, I suspect he might develop a more nuanced –perhaps!– understanding of things going on outside his world and -again, perhaps!– his opinion might change.
Having said all that, it ultimately doesn’t matter all that much. Perhaps as a fan of David Lynch you may be disheartened -to put it mildly- with his opinions. If they impact you greatly, you can certainly choose to not follow him and his works anymore. That is within your ability to do.
Otherwise, take it for what it is: The depressing reality of one artistic person.
For the first twenty-thirty minutes of watching Thor: Ragnarok, I strongly feared I was about to repeat the Guardians of the Galaxy experience, ie see a comedic action/adventure/superhero film that most critics/audiences like but which Mr. Contrarian here would absolutely hate.
And it was a terrible sinking feeling, because I really enjoyed director Taika Waititi’s What We Do In The Shadows and was hopeful his comedic skills would suit the Marvel Universe films.
But those opening minutes were a freaking chore to watch, first with a confrontation between Thor and Surtur, who is presented as considerably less powerful than those familiar with Thor and his mythology would think, followed by a semi-amusing (but which went on too long) cameo by another prominent actor, to an incredibly unfunny Dr. Strange cameo (I recall a video clip released shortly before the movie was released hyped up the great “chemistry” between Benedict Cumberbatch as Strange and Chris Hemsworth as Thor. There may be chemistry -though I feel this is arguable- but the whole encounter, IMHO, was dull reflected with the groan worthy line “not tea”.), I felt my fingers reaching for the remote, to shut this whole thing down before more permanent damage is done.
And then, after most of this (IMHO!) boring/unnecessary stuff is dealt with, the movie proper actually began.
Thor and Loki meet Odin and then face the movie’s “big bad”, Hela (Cate Blanchett… merely OK in the role but that is more related to the fact that the script doesn’t give her much more to do than be evil) and things finally get off the ground and the movie starts to rock n’ roll.
Thor: Ragnarok may be the third Thor film but it eschews the past Thor films and instead tries hard to be a thematic twin to the 1980 film Flash Gordon. Don’t believe me? Check out this trailer…
If you’ve seen Flash Gordon, you probably know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, this trailer might give you some idea (and compare it with the trailer for Thor: Ragnarok below).
Thor: Ragnarok, like Flash Gordon, presents bright and very wild sci-fi worlds and at times the goofy encounters the hero has with the various wild creatures all while keeping his chin up despite the long odds against him.
There is the appearance of yet another very big superhero in this movie whose role, I strongly suspect, was meant to be a surprise but that didn’t happen (the trailer below shows who I’m talking about, in case you don’t know). That character’s appearance adds to the overall fun of the film as does Jeff Goldblum’s delightfully bizarre turn as the Grandmaster, Tom Hiddleston’s wonderful return as Loki (he just gets better and better in the role!), and Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie.
But a special mention should be made to Karl Urban as Skurge. His role is relatively minor but his character has the best story arc within the movie, from big mouth fool to unwilling ally in evil to… I won’t give it away, but with little actual dialogue and plenty of acting with his eyes and body posture Mr. Urban gives viewers a sense of a man in great conflict. Very much liked his role.
In sum, if you decide to see this film and you’re just about to shut it off after the first twenty or so minutes, stick around. The good stuff comes after the bad.
Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, though best known for playing Frankenstein’s monster and Dracula respectively, appeared together in several films from 1934 to 1945, the first of which is the subject of my latest piece, 1934’s The Black Cat. Ostensibly based on the Edgar Allan Poe story, the movie involved satanic worship and… a chess game. Great stuff!
Other Karloff/Lugosi team ups include The Raven (1935), The Invisible Ray (1936), Son of Frankenstein (1940), Black Friday (1940), You’ll Find Out (1940), and The Body Snatcher (1945).
I can’t help but smile when I see the two together, though, thinking about Martin Landau, playing an elderly drug addled Bela Lugosi, going on a tear about the acting “talent” of Boris Karloff in the film Ed Wood. May have to catch that one again.
Here’s something very different from the stuff I’ve been presenting: A piece penciled by comic book legend John Byrne (the original piece was posted by Mr. Byrne here: www.byrnerobotics.com/forum/fo…) and inked by yours truly.
I think my piece looks fine… though I also feel my inks have somehow buried the typical “look” of Mr. Byrne’s art. When inking someone else’s pencils, there are inkers whose inks may complement well the pencils while in other cases they might “overpower” the penciller’s work.
I think this kinda/sorta happened here, even if the ultimate piece isn’t bad on its own. My only excuse for this is that the “pencils” I used for my digital inks were drawn from a photograph of the pencils (its there to behold!) and there were parts that were hard to distinguish.
I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll write about it again:
A number of years ago, perhaps as many as 25+ years ago, I was driving near a friend’s house and on my way, likely, to a mall or bookstore and noticed, on the other lane, two or three parked police cars.
The officers were out of their vehicles and stood over a black gentleman, an older man with white hair and beard, who was slumped against a wire fence. Beside him was a shopping cart with some junk in it, likely this homeless man’s earthly possessions.
The man didn’t move. His head was down, as if asleep, and the officers, though standing around him, didn’t disturb him.
Not that they could have. It was obvious this homeless man had passed away and the officers were waiting for an ambulance to come and take the body away.
I found the whole thing incredibly sad to see. This homeless man, lying dead on the ground, with only strangers around him and would likely be interred with few, if anyone at all, knowing of him or caring.
Today those same feeling came back to me when I read this article, which someone else posted on reddit. From allthatsinteresting.com and written by Kara Goldfarb comes this story…
I know I’m going to spoil the article, but the headline essentially tells the story: Joyce Vincent was a 38 year old woman who died in her apartment sometime around December 2003 (a more specific time of death could not be determined) but her body wasn’t found until January of 2006, when her social housing apartment was about to be repossessed due to unpaid rent.
How does a young woman who had contacts and friends die but no one notices for 3 years, and the only reason for the discovery is because of unpaid rent/repossession?
It’s a tragedy, of course, no less different from that man I spotted all those years before, a lost soul whose ties to society were severed and whose disappearance from this world would mostly go unnoticed.