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I am, as I usually am, writing on a couple of different pieces at once. Though I have the plot outlined for my Mythos noir story, “The Night Hours“, I’m taking my time writing it because the research is so important. Noir is about a lot of things*, including a focus on setting. It has to feel gritty, slick, and damp… sexy, and hopeless, all at once. To build that kind of world, I have to combine HP Lovecraft’s Innsmouth with enough real, late 1930s, set dressing to convince you this all could have happened. There’s so much visceral and emotional information you need to buy into for a noir story to work. You can’t relax into it if the little details aren’t right.
I can already tell that this is going to be the start of something bigger, so I don’t mind spending the time. My Innsmouth is economically depressed, as befits Lovecraft’s description, and the years after Black Tuesday. It hasn’t got WWII to really bring the money back in, but the fishing is good, the rent is cheap, and a lot of people who couldn’t make a home somewhere else are starting to settle there. But it’s still a weird place, under the surface.
There’s the expected mix of boarding houses, secretaries, busboys, and messengers; all part of a migrant population which ebbs and flows like the tide, and from whom the occasional missing person isn’t really missed. The weather isn’t great: constant fog, dense rain, snow and sleet and slush in the winters. And too often, the strange things get ignored, because it’s easier than focusing on something you can’t control anyway, when you’re barely getting by yourself. The First Church of Christ (Deluge) teaches that the Flood got interrupted, for example, and will be back again soon to wipe us all of the face of the Earth. How weird is that? But they give out bread on Tuesdays, and host a free fish dinner on Fridays, so their congregation is always full.
It’s Fall in Massachusetts, in 1939…
Music is the biggest source of daily entertainment, with a record player in almost every house. We just lost the great Tommy Ladnier. The Duke Ellington band is popular, and so is Benny Goodman’s, but Count Basie is starting to catch up. Jazz, blues, and swing abound, blend together, and influence each other greatly. The major touring bands are predominantly white-fronted, playing more swing than jazz (timed for the foxtrot and other couples dances), but the smaller clubs are either still in the midst of their jazz uprising or starting to play “jazz revival” style–and more importantly, people of color play in, and front, many of those bands. Wilder Hobson’s American Jazz Music and Frederick Ramsey / Charles Edward Smith’s Jazzmen are published, and both try to convince the world that Dixieland is the true jazz. Dizzy Gillespie has joined Cab Calloway’s band, Charlie Parker is developing Bop, Louis Amstrong is starting to be considered “too commercial”, and Nat “King” Cole is using only a jazz trio–piano, guitar, and double bass–instead of a big band, and though he hasn’t yet given up playing piano to focus on his singing, he is doing the occasional vocal set in between instrumental pieces. John Hammond has arranged the first of two performances of “From Spirituals to Swing” at Carnegie Hall.
I have a hundred different things to talk about – cons and writing and publishing and life – but I’m also dealing with deadlines (external and self-imposed) so I’m going to try to catch up with everything in bits and pieces. Today I wanted to update you with my television watching preferences.
Though “television” isn’t true in my case, since I watch everything online. I have a tv, in storage at a friend’s house, and I’m going to pick it up soon, but I don’t use it to watch shows. I use it to play Xbox. Just so you know.
But I can get everything I want to watch online via Hulu, Netflix, or other sites, so I’m good there. Right now I’m watching:
- Daily Show – News, satire, and interviews. Perfect.
- Colbert Show – just started watching this again; my writing projects are fairly dark and I needed more comedy in my life.
- Once Upon a Time – I’m a sucker for fucked up fairy tales. It’s got some issues – the main character, Emma, is beloved of pretty much everyone in the entire show, yet is flatly one-dimensional and grumpy to boot. I do like seeing how various fantasy characters get translated into “real world” people, and it gets bonus points for bringing Frankenstein (the doctor, not the monster) into the show.
- Grimm – of the two fairy tale shows, this one’s my favorite, as it mixes Grimm’s Tales with a Portland police procedural. Dark, bloody, sexy, fun.
- Alphas – eh, I loved season one, and I’m still watching season two (in theory) but I’ve got three episodes in the queue I haven’t gotten to yet. I’m afraid I may be over it.
- Haven – Inspired by a Stephen King short story, mixes people with powers/curses, a police show (sense a trend?), and some great actors.
- Castle – I go back and forth on this. Last season I was over it, but then a few people recommended this season as having gone back to what made earlier seasons good, so I gave it another chance. I won’t make time to see it, but if I’m bored/sleepy/have time to kill, I’ll catch up.
- Go On – I’m normally not a sitcom girl, but this has Matthew Perry and John Cho being snarky and adorable and talking about sports, so I’m in.
- The occasional (as I can catch one, or at least find recaps of) Houston Rockets game.
- I’ve seen some great movies lately, like Before Sunrise and Indie Game: The Movie
What I like about Hulu and the rest of those sites is that I don’t have to be tied to a schedule. I couldn’t keep up with any of these shows if I had to sit in front of a screen at a certain time. I often go days without watching anything, and then watch a couple of hours worth at once when I get the time.
Anything I’m missing out on?
I promised you a review of this film a few months ago, I know. If it makes you feel any better, I watched it again, just for you, to be sure that I felt the same way about it. That’s the kind of friend I am. Quick review: It’s the best alien invasion film I’ve ever seen.
Why? It’s ok. You can ask me that. Here’s the answer:
The film opens on a shot of the night sky, with a single star falling from the heavens, before panning down to reveal fireworks over London. The camera settles, not on the downtown, not on the homes of the wealthy, but on a tube station and a young white woman talking to her mother on her mobile while walking home past street vendors hawking flowers and vegetables. Her hat doesn’t match her coat that doesn’t match her pants and her scarf – well, let’s just assume that an elderly aunt knitted it for her and move on. Kids run down the street with sparklers, as the woman walks into a residential neighborhood with more graffiti than street lamps. A sudden burst of fireworks startles her but there’s no one behind her; she’s jumpy, though we don’t yet know why. She finishes her call with a plan to meet for Sunday dinner, and looks up to see her way blocked by a group of kids wearing dark-colored hoodies and bandanas over their faces. Crossing the street doesn’t stop them from surrounding her and mugging her. Suddenly that falling star is a meteor crashing into a car only a few feet away from them, and the invasion’s begun.
My massive catch-up from the cinematic offerings of 2011 continues (click here for part 1 of my mini-reviews), mainly veering away from Hollywood and into the independents.
Thank the Elder Gods for that.
I love a good Hollywood action/adventure type flick as much as the next person – and being a comic book geek, it’s possible I like them even more than most. But as a writer I’m always, always, looking for the story in everything, and much of the mainstream offerings lack witty dialogue, charming character building, or even something as essential as a workable plot. When you take away the car crashes and super powers and music montages, and just show us some people talking their way through a story, we can see the writer at work. Those are the movies I prefer.
I did squeeze in two more Hollywood movies – the romcoms Crazy Stupid Love and Friends With Benefits – before slipping back into familiar territory with One Day, The Art Of Getting By, Beginners, and Another Earth. (more…)
I love movies. I love how a great director and great actors can take a script, which is just the skeleton of a story, and flesh it out with sets and sounds and camera movements and jump cuts to make emotions. Turning it into the warm body of a film, with strength and heart. When I was young I attended the Academy of Art in San Francisco, and worked on a degree in Screenwriting (with a minor in Cinematography), wrote a few films (and saw them produced), and learned a lot about the film-making process. Though I figured out that screenwriting was basically organizing thoughts and notes to create an outline for someone else to finish – and therefore not enough to keep me interested – I still use some of what I learned then in my writing now.
When I went to UPenn I studied mainly Art History – which is one of the best degrees for a writer in terms of teaching you about art, culture, history, and how to think – but I also got a chance to take a couple of film criticism classes. I loved them! I’ve done classes on Japanese film, both pre-WW2 and post, noir films, and adaptations, and those four classes together showed me most of what is being put back into (recycled, adapted, homage’d) modern movies. Over the years I have learned to write screenplays, see a script cinematically, and think critically about film. But the biggest thing that informs my view of film is that I have watched so many of them. I’ve even worked in movie theaters in order to have access to all the celluloid I want. This has led me to watch a lot less “Hollywood” blockbusters, because I can see the predecessors in the work. Which is to say that I’ve watched enough classic, indie, and foreign films to know all the myriad ways that Hollywood is ripping them off. Why pay to see what’s already been done, and often done better, by someone else?
I ended up only seeing one movie in theaters in all of 2011, my all time low. I saw Contagion, which was wonderful, and that was it. This had, honestly, more to do with my year than with what was available, and so I started off 2012 by renting a handful of “hit” movies that I actually had wanted to see. In the last three days I have watched the final Harry Potter film, Super 8, Captain America, Thor, and Fright Night. What did I think?