Monday, August 31, 2009

Starting Over

Well despite the fact that I like certain aspects of my sword & planet short story, Slavers of Trakor, I have decided, after much editing and rewriting, that it isn't suitable for its intended purpose. Basically the story structure is weak. Therefore I have begun another s&p story today, with the working title of A Candle for Miraj. The new story features the same protagonist and the same world as Slavers so a lot of my work is already done in terms of world building and such. I already know a lot more about Trakor than I did when I began Slavers and I'm keeping Candle in continuity with Slavers in case I can ever think of a way to salvage the earlier story. But hey, I said I would finish Slavers and I did. And I'll finish the new one too.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Reading Report

This weekend I read Jeffery Deaver's mystery/thriller Roadside Crosses and S.M. Sterling's SF novel, Dies the Fire. Neither impressed me enough to get an actual review here. Both had interesting premises and both didn't live up to them as far as I'm concerned. Then I began a biography of Renaissance era soldier of fortune John Hawkworth. Liking that much better. Goes right in with last weeks reading of a general history of the Renaissance in Italy. Fascinating stuff.
Fiction-wise I'm running dangerously low. I'll probably start Joe Abercrombie's The Blade Itself pretty soon, the first in his First Law trilogy. I'll pick up Robert B. Parker's Rough Weather in paperback this week, but I've already blogged about that just below. New Repairman Jack, Ground Zero, should hit soon. Beyond that, the pickings look slim just now in the fiction world. May have to do a few more re-reads of older stuff. We'll see.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Savage Place

Last year's Spenser novel, Rough Weather, was the first Robert B. Parker Spenser that I didn't buy in hardback in not quite thirty years. That's because I simply didn't enjoy the previous two Spencers. Maybe the previous three. So I decided to just wait for the paperback. I haven't given up on Bob by a long shot. I've raved about his recent westerns and I gave a glowing review of his young adult novel, Chasing the Bear, earlier this year. But it was Spenser, the long running private eye series that introduced me to Parker and I used to eagerly await each year's new release. Then, about ten years back, the books started to be kind of hit or miss, with way too many missing. I'd really enjoy one, then the next one or two would be so so. Finally there were two clunkers in a row and I began to wonder why I was paying hardback price for these things. So last year, though it was very difficult to walk by a new Spenser novel in the bookstores, I let it go.
This weekend, feeling nostalgic for the days when Parker couldn't miss with me, I pulled out the 1981 Spenser novel, A Savage Place. In this one, Spenser heads for Hollywood to protect a television reporter named Candy Sloan, who is looking into a film studio's possible mob ties. She's had some threats and she needs someone to act as a bodyguard while she continues to investigate. Things heat up quickly and soon Spenser is hip deep in murder, gunplay, and fisticuffs.
And you know something? I still love this book. It's a quick read, barely 200 pages in paperback, and it's classic Parker. Author Ross MacDonald once said that the private eye hero was less a character than a window for the reader. The world is viewed through the protagonist's eyes, and while his actions may act as a catalyst to set things in motion, he is ultimately more observer than participant. That was probably true of MacDonald' s hero, Lew Archer, but it's not the case with Spenser. Spenser becomes emotionally involved in his cases, and perhaps in this one more than most. Though Susan Silverman is the love of Spenser's life, he definitely shares something with Candy Sloan, which makes the novel's tragic end a hammer blow to the normally unflappable private eye. Spenser does indeed find himself in A Savage Place. (The title comes from Coleridge's poem Kubla Khan.)
Perhaps it's not fair to compare some of the later, pared down Spensers with A Savage Place. It's a darker, grittier book than the majority of the others and as such is atypical of the series. But it seems that other, older novels, such as Looking For Rachel Wallace and the classic Early Autumn (my very favorite) still shine brighter. Maybe that's just me. You can never discover something twice or regain the enthusiasm of an early love.
The paperback of Rough Weather hits the shelves next week, and I will pick it up and give it a read. Who knows? Maybe this will be one of the hits instead of one of the misses. If so, I can always pick up the hardback as a remainder. And if not, I can re-read some of the old Spenser novels yet again.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sunday Morning

Stayed up way too late last night, questing with some of my Lord of the Rings Online friends, so I got up later than usual. Now I'm sitting here with the windows open, having just consumed a four cheese omelet and some sausage and now finishing off some shortbread with my coffee. It's a cool morning out there, with maybe just a tinge of fall, but I won't think about that. Fall makes me restless, so I should try and put it off, though it is indeed my favorite season of the year.
Picked up a good book on the Renaissance in Italy yesterday and read about half of it. I find it fascinating to see all the religious, social, political, and geographic circumstances that had to collide to create that period of rebirth. Plus, the Italian city-states interest me right now for writerly reasons I won't go into.
The cats are still here. Owing to various and complicated events in Trish's life, they may be with me permanently. That's fine with me. Bruce is sitting on the window ledge watching the birds in the tree closest to my apartment. Amelia is drowsing on the floor just behind me, She's been here long enough now that her standoffish ways have mostly vanished, and now, like her brother, whatever room I'm in is the rooms she wants to be in.
I've no real plans for the day. I did all my running around yesterday so I'll probably just hang out. Might read. Might write. Might draw. Might not. We'll see. Happy Sunday.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Conan, Kirby, and Tales of Asgard

I was lamenting the other day, along with some other comics fans, that my hero, Jack Kirby, had never drawn an issue of Conan. Jack did a cover for Giant Size Conan #5 which is pretty cool, but Conan's face was redrawn in the printed version by John Romita Sr. so the final cover isn't pure Kirby. Romita also inked a cover Jack had done for one of the Marvel Calendars on which Conan appeared, and pretty much obliterated most of Jack's style. Not an easy thing to do. There's at least one pin-up of a barbarian that Jack drew which may be Conan. It shows up a lot on the internet. Anyway, that's pretty much it for Kirby and Conan.
So does that mean we never got to see how Jack would have handled a Sword & Sorcery comic? Nope. Fortunately for us, Jack drew a back-up feature in Thor called Tales of Asgard. Initially a feature which retold the Norse myths in comic book form, it eventually became a showcase for Kirby to draw the adventures of Thor in Asgard, presumably before he came to Earth as a super-hero. See in Asgard EVERYBODY is superhuman, so Thor's adventures are more like those of Conan. He fights monsters. He rides horses. He engages in massive battles as only Kirby could draw them, and he fights alongside three fellow Asgardian heroes, the Warriors Three, who are armed with swords and daggers and maces. And oh yes, he fights sorcerers too. It is the stuff of high adventure and gives a good idea of how Jack might have handled Conan. Of course, some people think the first five or so issues of Conan the Barbarian that Barry (Pre-Windsor) Smith drew are a good example as well, since Smith's early work is very much in the Kirby mode, but it's ersatz Kirby. ToA is the real thing. I was looking over some of the Asgard stories this weekend in Volumes one, two, and three of Marvel's Essential Thor and really enjoying them. I kind of wish someone would put together a volume of all the Tales and nothing else. And come to think of it, Marvel is currently reprinting Tales in newly colored newsstand comics. Me, I prefer the black and white version so I can see all the Kirby Magic.
There's also a one-off Kirby comic called Atlas, which a lot of folks point to as an example of Kirby sword & sorcery, but it always struck me as being closer to a Steve Reeves Hercules movie. Still, it does have sort of an S&S feel to it. So no, we never got a Kirby issue of Conan, but there's some stuff out there that comes tantalizingly close.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Writing Report Redux

Okay, I've finished 'Slavers of Trakor' for the second time, and this time saved it in numerous places. Yeesh. Came in at 7084 words in first draft, so about the right size. It came out a little more downbeat than I had expected, but there's a lot of fighting and action and aliens and monsters. I do like it, though it will need some editing. Anyway, putting it aside for a few days so I can think about other things.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Watch The Guild


One of the members of my Kinship in Lord of the Rings Online put up a recommendation on our webpage forums for the web based comedy series, The Guild. I went over to have a look and sat down and watched the entire first season. This is a funny funny series, especially for online gamers and it stars Felicia Day, the actress who did such a great job playing Penny in Doctor Horrible's Sing Along Blog. The series follows the adventures of a bunch of MMORPG gamers who meet in real life. The finale of season one is a Boss Battle which is an absolute classic.
I followed some links to Felecia's web page and then to her blog and was rather surprised to find that she also created and wrote the series and that she is a big online gamer herself. She also reads a ton of fantasy books and she gave a rave review for Joe Abercrombie's Best Served Cold which I also went on and on about a few posts ago. Felicia is now officially my favorite actress. Check out The Guild at:

http://www.watchtheguild.com/

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Wilson, Wexford, and Wally Wood


So what have I been up to this weekend? Well Friday was my father's birthday so I took he and my mom to breakfast this morning. That was fun. I finished my Sword & Planet short story but through some computer error I lost the last five pages right after I finished them. That was less fun. I hate having to write something over and will actually have to wait a few days before I do so in order to be able to come at it fresh.
I read F. Paul Wilson's next to the next to the last Repairman Jack book, By the Sword. Not my favorite of the series, I have to say. The plot seemed more involved with secondary characters than with Jack, and truthfully I didn't care much about most of the secondary characters. Oh well. At least Jack finally meets Glaeken, the former barbarian from prehistory, a bit more civilized now after being alive for over 15,000 years and the guy who was in at the beginning of the Earth's battle with Rasalom the Adversary. I find it a lot of fun that the genesis of Wilson's six book Adversary Saga and close to twenty Repairman Jack books is a little sword & sorcery story called Demonsong.
Anyway, I also began Ruth Rendell's newest Inspector Wexford mystery, Not in the Flesh, but decided about three chapters in that I wasn't in the mood for a whodunit, so I put it aside for later. Then I switched to non fiction. A comment that Wally Wood friend and biographer Bhob Stewart made to one of my older posts made me decide I wanted to pull out Bhob's book, Against the Grain: Mad Artist Wallace Wood, and give it a re-read. I did and I still recommend it as a major book for anyone interested in the history of comic books. It's not only a good biographical study of Wood, but it also contains an enormous amount of information about the history of comics, especially some of the lesser known companies such as Avon, and about the famous EC Science Fiction comics.
On the reread, the chapter that fascinated me the most was a long conversation between Stewart, Bill Pearson, Nick Cuti, and several other of Wood's friends and colleagues in which they share memories of Wood. In some ways Wood's story is a tragic tale of a man who was his own worst enemy, but jeez was he a talent. No one, but no one, could do the things with a brush and a bottle of ink that he could. Back when I was learning to draw I spent a lot of time studying Wood's art. I can't ink worth a darn, but I still learned a lot about drawing. I can still see Wood's influence in the way I draw profiles and my women still have some Wood influence as well. In fact a friend of mine, on seeing some of my early work years ago, noted that I "Drew men like Kirby and women like Wally Wood." That's less apparent these days as I have assimilated many other influences, but it's still there to some degree. I used to keep a copy of Wood's 22 Comic Panels that Never Fail pinned to my drawing board, and when I was working in commercial art I kept a sign stolen from Wood on the wall beside my desk which read "Never Draw What You Can Copy, Never Copy What You Can Trace, and Never Trace What You Can Cut Out And Paste Down. Makes me wonder what Wood could have done with photoshop. Anyway, I highly recommend Stewart's book. Still available from TwoMorrows Publishing, the fine people who bring you The Jack Kirby Collector.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Writing Report III

5242 words on 'Slavers of Trakor' (which may not be the final title) with one major scene to go. I was told I could go over the 6000-7500 word limit if I needed to, but I think it will come in under 7500 words. I think...

Made My Day

Stopped by my local Publix grocery store today, only to find that they had added a small selection of British foods including my very favorite UK candy, The Galaxy Bar. Wooo! Formerly I had to go to a Farmer's Market to get them. Now they are just up the street. My day is made.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Writing Report II

Somewhere around the 4000 word mark on Slavers of Trakor. Stopped just short of a big fight scene. I'm known for writing fight scenes, and part of the "trick" to writing them is that I always write them at a sitting because that seems to make them more immediate. If I start a scene and have to stop and come back to it, I lose touch with the scene, so it's best if I can write the whole thing without stopping. When people ask me how I write such exciting fights scenes I say, "I imagine people attacking me." Somewhat flip, but basically true. My background in martial arts certainly helps.
One of the things I've found while working on this story is that I've had to dust off my Science Fiction Writer hat. Sword & Planet is usually more fantasy than SF but there are definitely some SF elements in the S&P stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs and his followers. Have to give a bit more thought to alien cultures and technology.