Monday, July 31, 2006

And on the left side of the railing...

I've known for a very long time that my strengths in writing are best suited to longer works: novellas and novels. And, oddly, I seem to be able to write decent flash fiction. But shorts... I struggle with them. Part of this is personal preference. I don't like reading short stories, so why should I think I would like writing them? I don't like them for the same reason I don't particularly like songs, but prefer opera, or symphonies, or a film score. I like my moods sustained. I want to go into something and stay there. I don't want to be amused for mere minutes when I could disappear into a world for hours.

That's not to say there aren't short stories that I enjoy, and I do read shorts regularly. And yet, when I look back at the stories from, say, F&SF magazine, the first two that pop to my mind are Kate Wilhelm's "Naming the Flowers" and Adam-Troy Castro's "The Funeral March of the Marionettes." Both are novellas, not shorts. Both awed me. Both rank among the best stories I've ever read. The other one that really stands out is "Death and Suffrage" by Dale Bailey, which was much shorter and just as fabulous, and any and every story written by M. Rikert. I would buy anything she wrote, sight unseen, because her stories are always that good. But those are about all that I remember by title and author. A handful out of.... fifteen years of diligently reading the magazine? That's not to say I didn't enjoy most of the stories I read. Because I did. F&SF consistently prints good stories. It's just that in the realm of the shorter stories, it's more difficult to find something truly inspiring.

So I write short stories infrequently, and most of them get read by maybe one person I trust, and then they get filed away in the "practice" folder. Because that's what 90% of my shorts feel like to me. Just practice sessions, experimenting with voices and tense and structure. They're useful for that. I have only three or four shorts that I really like and think would be worth working on. And the one I like best of all, I'm not ready to write. I know that. I'm missing something yet that would allow me to do it justice. And so it sits, just a title, the outline of the story, and a few experimental paragraphs, waiting.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

At least I'm making writing progress somewhere!

More Combat! fanfic posted. Part 2 of my story "The Reckoning."

It's weird to me to watch how this story's translating from screenplay to prose story. Part 1 and 2 combined equal just the teaser and Act 1. Part 3 (still in progress) is Act 2 and 3. And Part 4 is Act 4. I didn't really consciously break it down that way, it's just the way it went. I remember when I wrote the script last year, it was hard because I'm used to 5-act television shows. Combat! is only a teaser and 4 acts, and my mind wanted to bust the story automatically into 5. I think my first draft WAS five, and then I shifted scenes around and cut some stuff to make it the proper 4.

Odd too, because there are two distinct versions of this story floating in my head. The original screenplay, which I can still see with all the camera cuts, music, etc., exactly as if it had been filmed in B&W and aired back in the '60s. And now the new story version, which, while the same plot and same actors and much of the same dialog, runs very differently. For one thing, it's now widescreen. For another, it's color. The scenery is no longer "stock" C! locations, but something new. Even the music is different. I can play the same scenes from each version side-by-side on my mental silver screen, comparing them, and it trips me out. The new one looks like a modern movie remake! Which, as much as I hate remakes, is oddly apt, because instead of just writing down what I see happening in the original version, I'm being forced to re-imagine the story in its new prose context. Which is turning out a lot harder and more time-consuming than it was supposed to be.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

One of THOSE nights

A night of writing and deleting. First a huge long email. Delete. Then a long LJ entry. Delete. Then a shorter LJ entry. Delete. Then a super-short private entry just to mark today down so I don't forget it. And did I gain anything from all that writing and deleting? Yeah, actually, cuz they were things I needed to say to somebody, even if it ended up only being myself. And all that sounds depressingly angsty, but it wasn't at all. It was me being strong and fiercely happy and closing a door that's long needed closing.

Friday, July 14, 2006


Dang it -- I did not get the garage sale contest story written. It's still sitting in my brain, but it's missing whatever spark it needs to come to fruition. I have the setting, the events, the character, but it doesn't work yet, not even enough to write a draft of. Sigh.

This is just not my year for short stories. Even my C! fiction is all novella-length.

...we don't drink with another man unless we respect him

Interesting, how there are just some movies that compel me to start talking to the screen. Mostly, I'm a quiet peaceful viewer. But every now and then, I just have to start shouting at the characters. This happens very occasionally in books, too, where the frustration level just rises to a point where you want to jump in the story and take over. I'm trying to think of the last book I was muttering through... I know there were a couple submarine novels awhile back, but I don't remember which ones. Probably George R.R. Martin's Ice and Fire series, LOL!

Talking back to the material -- is this a good thing? Is this something you want to evoke in readers? It indicates a nice involvement in the story, but for me, the need to start yelling at them also almost always stems from frustrations with characters not doing what I want them to do. What's right, what's fair, what will save their lives.... There has to be the proper balance, so that you don't stay too frustrated too long and give up on them.

(Reminds me: my sister is slowly reading through my current novel. She just announced to me yesterday that she couldn't discuss the book any more with me until she was done (she's about two-thirds through). Why? She explained: because things are happening that she doesn't like, and she is afraid her conceptions of how things should go and what is actually happening on paper are not going to reconcile, and so she told me she doesn't know what to think anymore. That she's afraid to think ahead, and that she just has to keep reading to see how it turns out. Seems like a fair indication that I've done my job as writer on this particular work.)

The movie that prompted this is "Attack" from 1956. Shockingly brutal WWII movie for the middle of the '50's. (I was completely wide-eyed at the gruesome fate one of the leads met. Just didn't expect that at all.) I liked the film a lot, but the pacing was off a little to make it truly effective. It slowed down in a few places where it shouldn't have, and people talked to much. Again. Why do they insist on making characters chatter like jaybirds while they're under enemy fire? This is driving me nuts. The rest of the dialog was top-notch, it just got to be disproportionate in the wrong places. The movie played like an overly-long Combat! episode with the wrong cast. Trim out the excess, and it would have been awesome. As is, it's merely the high end of good.

The cast made the film. Jack Palance, Lee Marvin, Eddie Albert, William Smithers. I've always loved William Smithers, and he was absolutely great in this. WS was in one of my favorite Star Trek episodes, "Bread and Circuses," as one of my all-time favorite Star Trek characters. Looking back on it, of course, Capt. Merik would rank highly: he follows my classic attraction pattern: essentially good but flawed man has to redeem himself. Guess I started liking those types VERY early in my life, very early indeed. This was his first feature film, and watching him and Lee Marvin go at it... yes. WS truly carried this movie, even with the other big names chewing up the scenery around him.

And, yes, I talked a lot to the screen the whole time. The story was one of those that sort of demanded it. Incompetent infantry captain screwing up left and right, getting men killed, not acting when he needs to. I wanted to shoot him in the first scene, because I just knew he was going to get a lot of good people killed with his cowardice before the end of the movie, which he did. But it wasn't all frustrations and "get back to your post!" and "Shut up!" and "Shoot him already!" kind of comments. There was also a fair amount of genuine cheering when people did things right and said some very cool things. And the ending -- ah, the ending was just exactly right! Dig it.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Seven Days in May

Continuing with catching John Frankenheimer movies, I watched "Seven Days in May." I like this one better than "Manchurian Candidate" too, but probably not as much as "The Train." What a cast this movie has! And everyone in this movie is perfect for their role. And Frederic March as President... he's even more perfect. I think he has officially taken over the number one spot as my favorite screen President. The man is amazing. And Edmund O'Brien! I watched him not too long ago in "D.O.A." and couldn't believe this was the same person. He was awesome here, my favorite character in the movie, and he had my favorite moment in the movie to boot. He plays a Senator you want to discount, because he drinks heavily and seems like he might be slow... but he's not at all. His character is extremely smart under the exterior, and I just dug it. And the script was by Rod Serling. And the score was by Jerry Goldsmith. What, were they making this movie just for me to like?

It was odd, because I knew what the movie was about, and, as a writer, I immediately had the story plotted out the way I thought it would go. Woops. Not even close. I thought it would be more secretive, with Kirk Douglas running around uncovering the plot, when in fact, everything's brought out in the open early on. This is not remotely an action movie, which I'd been sort of anticipating, but it was never boring, never slow, because the people and the dialog and the tension of the way it was filmed kept it moving. Fascinating.

I watched it a second time with the director's commentary, and that was great. Some things I took for granted, seeing if for the first time in 2006, forgetting it came out in 1964. Like not realizing the movie was supposed to be set in the future, and that they sci-fi'd up the technology. They created video-conferencing and several other things, which didn't actually exist at that time. The cars they chose were mostly European vehicles so they wouldn't look familiar to audiences of the time. Now, they just look like 1960's cars, and I couldn't have told you what model and make they were. Never occurred to me I wasn't supposed to recognize them. Kind of spins the movie differently when you switch the context back to when it was made. Not to mention the movie's very premise, which in 1964 with the Cold War going on, would have been all too real for the audience, who would have brought their own tension and fears into the theater.

And he told a fabulous little tale that all writers will appreciate. The movie takes place, as the title says, in seven days. The novel on which it was based started on a Sunday and ended on Saturday. Frankenheimer shifted it a day, so it began on Monday, and would therefore have to end on Sunday. Which gave him a problem. See, the story hinges on the last day coinciding with the Preakness race, which is always run on a Saturday. His last day was now Sunday, and he was completely screwed as far as the horse race was concerned. He spent a couple of sleepless nights, debated how to get around this, was completely stuck.

He played tennis frequently with a writer friend of his (dang it, I've forgotten the name!) and they would bet their time instead of money. So, apparently, his writer friend owed him twelve hours of writing time. So unable to resolve the problem, Frankenheimer called him up to avail himself of the twelve hours. His friend said, so, if it only takes me an hour or two, is the debt clear? Frankenheimer said, absolutely. And the guy promptly said the solution was easy: you simply have a shot or two showing a poster advertising the Preakness and stating clearly "First Sunday Running of the Preakness!" Problem solved, in five minutes. And that's what Frankenheimer ended up doing. And he said no one ever questioned it or critiqued it, they just accepted it. Hee-hee!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

If all else fails

Write more fanfic! Part One of my Combat! story "The Reckoning" is posted online here. Check it out!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Issued: one "get out of jail free" card

There's this cute, but unproductive character who's been hogging up quite a bit of mental brain time lately. So, I go to banish him tonight, and what does he do? Reminds me I haven't written my garage sale contest story yet. With a sweet smile. Except, I'm finally learning, see. Sweet hides sly and devious. I tell him crossly the flash piece has nothing to do with him. And he says, "Doesn't it?" with an even wider smile.

The thing with creative brains is, they don't stop working just because you tell them not to. So while my conscious brain has its hands over its ears singing loudly "la-la-la-la-la," the creative part is actually seriously considering what he's saying. Stupid easily-duped imagination. Stupid smug character.

He'll be insufferable now.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

New idea

Hm, had fascinating idea today. No story to go with it yet, but it's an idea I'll keep around, see if something hooks up with it. If it's my normal thing, this is #1 of the inescapable triumverate required by my brain to create a story. Now I just have to wait for 2 and 3 to appear.

This idea was triggered while watching "The Train" today. What a fabulous movie that was! I may have to buy it so I can re-watch it whenever I want to. It's the second John Frankenheimer movie I've watched in the last week, the other being "The Manchurian Candidate." "The Train" was much more up my alley, fond as I am of the whole brainwashing theme. But in "The Train" I get WWII, damned bloody awesome Resistance fighters, trains crashing and derailing left and right (real ones too, not some dumb-assed special effects), strafing planes, Burt Lancaster... what's not right up my alley? (And yes: "The Manchurian Candidate" = mostly talking; "The Train" = mostly action, so which film I'm going to like better is pretty much a no-brainer.) Nice and tense story, and some great camera work and angles that just made me go "OOOOOH!" in the most appreciative way. Otto Preminger's the last director to get me ooo'ing and ahh'ing over their camera work, but this one ranks right up there, particularly some of those long shots at the end. I can't wait to watch it again with the director's commentary turned on. John Frankenheimer provided what I still consider the best commentary I've ever listened to, for "Ronin" (a film I absolutely adore), so I can't wait to hear what he says on this one, see if it's in the same vein.