Saturday, July 20, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 29

Another really slow week for me, creatively. Finished reviewing the new novel's opening chapters and planned for the next few scenes. After writing into the dark for the previous six novels, I'm doing a hybrid for this new one. Yes, writing into the dark, but there are scenes and guideposts I intend to hit.

There is another new project going on that I've been working on for about a month now, but I don't want to reveal what it is just yet. Why? Because what I'm doing is something I want to do without any or much feedback. Well, that's a bit crappy of a....what's the term when creatives say a thing but never reveal said thing? Can't remember, so let me a bit more direct.

There is a series of movies many in the world have watched and I've never seen. Just last month, I decided to watch them all in order and write reviews about them. I've now watched and reviewed six of the films. My reviews have added up to over 10,000 words so far, and I've still got a few movies left to go. The reason for my comment above about feedback is that these movies have passionate fans and I don't want to get some feedback before I actually watch the movies on my own.

Anyone care to guess?

The Moon Landing at 50

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing! It's been great living in Houston this week and just about every TV station has a special or two. Even the networks are getting in on it. On Tuesday, CBS moved Blood and Treasure up to 8 pm, making me miss it when I tuned in at nine. But there was an Apollo show so I was assuaged.

I finished AMERICAN MOONSHOT by Douglas Brinkley this week. It's a political history of the moon landing through the prism of John Kennedy's evolving philosophy about the validity of the moon shot. Good book. Here's my review.

For those of y'all old enough to remember, what was it like living through that momentous time? What was it like going through your daily life knowing Apollo 11 was flying to the moon? I'd love to hear your reminiscences.

Oh, and if you've not already discovered it, you can follow everything that transpired fifty years ago at It is exactly what you think it is. Everything that was said back and forth, photos, elapsed time, all in one great website. I joked with a co-worker earlier this week that if you were a space junkie and had some sort of recuperation that involved you laying in bed for days, this would have been a neat way to pass the time.

The actual landing was 20:17 UTC. You'll have to do the math to figure out what you're local time is. For us in Houston and the Central Time Zone, that will be 1:17 pm today. I've already set my alarm on my phone so I can return to the website listed above and scan some TV channels to see if anyone is doing a "live" broadcast. Hope so.

Enjoy the week, and enjoy the moon landing fifty years on.

Friday, July 19, 2019

American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race by Douglas Brinkley

I am a degreed historian with a knack for remembering dates of historical events. As 2019 dawned, I knew we'd hit the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landing this summer. Tomorrow. I also knew there'd be a slew of new historical accounts published to commemorate that momentous giant leap for mankind. Which one to read? When I saw noted historian Douglas Brinkley's name among the list, I made my decision.

American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race isn't necessarily a play-by-play of all the steps the United States took to land Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon fifty years ago. Instead, it is more a political biography of two men--John Kennedy and German Wernher von Braun--as they both came of age in Depression and war. Most of us know the basics of Kennedy's life history, but Brinkely zeroes in on space and the filter through which he described Kennedy's life. What did he think about Sputnik? Where was he when Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space? What did Kennedy really think about space?

Which made for a fascinating way to examine Kennedy's experiences and how he came around to seeing the moonshot as a Cold War technique to use against the Soviet Union. Late in the book, Brinkley wrote one of Kennedy's defenses of the massive amount of money spent to land men on the moon was worth it considering the alternative--a shooting war against the Soviets, if not nuclear war itself--was too horrible to contemplate.

Von Braun, on the other hand, was more of a mystery to me. I first read about him in James Michener's novel, Space (1982), and again earlier this year when I read Apollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon by Jeffrey Kluge. His story was a troubled one. With eyes on the skies and dreams of sending rockets and men to the moon, von Braun, in Brinkley's words, made the Faustian bargain in World War II, to build the V-2 rockets with slave labor, the end results of which were the deaths of civilians when those rockets were launched against England. Sure, von Braun was a crucial member of the NASA team in the 1960s to engineer the Saturn V rocket and an constant cheerleader for the importance of the moonshot, but at what cost? Did it even out his activities in the war? Should it? Still, it was interesting to learn more about him and the relationship he and Kennedy formed.

Speaking of relationships, what I most enjoyed was the descriptions of the camaraderie Kennedy formed with the Mercury 7 astronauts. I had always seen photos of him with them, but never knew how close some of them became with the president. Which made his assassination much more personal. Brinkley described where each of the astronauts were when they learned of Kennedy's death. For most of them, it was the radio.

As a native of Space City, USA, I have always been keenly aware of the role Houston played in the history of NASA and space exploration. Some of my favorite parts of Brinkley's book was the discussion of Houston and the surrounding areas during the 1960s. If Armstrong took the one giant leap for mankind, then the manned space program was Houston's leap forward.

Brinkley went on to write the great irony of Kennedy's death helped NASA get the funding it needed to land Armstrong and Aldrin on the moon in 1969. President Lyndon Johnson felt no problem with using Kennedy's vision, as set forth in a pair of 1961 speeches, to get the money. Was it worth it? Johnson himself, as vice president, delivered a report which laid out all the ancillary benefits humankind could reap as a result of doing what it took to put men on the moon.

Think about this: the device you're using to read this review is likely a cell phone. That computer-in-your-palm is exponentially more powerful than the computers used to shepherd Apollo 11 to the moon. The GPS system we all use to get us to where we want to go is a result of the space race. Might we have eventually got to the moon and invented all this technology without the great race? Most likely, but the pace would have been much slower.

There are lots of books that discuss the engineering feats needed to land the Eagle in the Sea of Tranquility fifty years ago tomorrow, including all the intricate details of all the various Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions. But if you want the political version of that story centered on one man who saw the potential of a victorious moon landing for us here on Earth, then American Moonshot by Douglas Brinkley is a good recommendation.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Privy to a Secret: The Exquisite Playing of Ludovico Einaudi

(A year ago today, I posted this on my main author site. Today, I post it here on its one year anniversary.)

“Privy to a secret.” Those were the words my wife said to me after we walked out of Houston’s Jones Hall last night and got in our car. We each took turns pointing out things we liked and enjoyed from “An Evening With Lucovico Einaudi,” but it was her words that summed it up best.

And we have Radio Paradise to thank.

Radio Paradise is an online streaming music service curated by husband-and-wife team Bill and Rebecca Goldsmith. Operated out of California, the music from Radio Paradise varies widely. You can easily go from “Lady Grinning Soul,” an album cut by David Bowie, to John Coltrane’s “Blue Train” with stopovers featuring Talking Heads, Tears for Fears, Cat Stevens, and The Black Keys. It is one of the few listening experiences nowadays where you truly have no idea what song is coming next.

We heard Einaudi’s music a few times on the station. My wife loved it enough to seek out his music. In the course of her online research, she discovered he was coming to Houston. With zero hesitation, we bought tickets. They were a pair of rear balcony seats, but it didn’t matter. We were in the hall. Ominously, when we walked up to the front doors yesterday, we read signs stating balcony seat ticket holders must go to the box office. The balcony, it seemed, was closed. The looks of worry were etched on more than one face, but I suggested it was likely because the orchestra level wasn’t sold out and they were consolidating everyone down there. Turns out, I spoke the truth. We ended up on row R, a definite upgrade.

Literally, I know Einaudi’s music by the three or four tracks I’ve heard on Radio Paradise. In each of those, it was solo piano, so that’s what I was expecting. The setup on stage was for six musicians with a grand piano in the middle. Interesting, the piano keys faced the audience. That meant we would get to see Eunaudi’s hands while he played but his back would be to us. I hadn’t seen that before, but it turned out perfectly fine because not only was Eunaudi the composer of the music we heard, he acted more as a conductor to his band.

Band. That’s not quite the correct word to use, but orchestra doesn’t fit, either. This collection of musicians consisted of a cellist (who played both acoustic and electric cello), bass (doubled as an extra synth player), percussionist (not a drummer), guitar (who also played some percussion), and a violinist (who picked up acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and played a small organ). Projected on a large screen behind the group were various images, hypnotic in their complexity and which worked so well with the music. Most of the time, the accompanying musicians were in shadow, so you’d only see them in silhouette against the screen.

It’s a little difficult to figure out words to describe the music of Einaudi, but exquisite is up there. Wikipedia lists “minimalist” first. No, this doesn’t mean fewer instruments. It is, according to Richard Rodda, “…the repetition of slowly changing common chords in steady rhythms, often overlaid with a lyrical melody in long, arching phrases…[It] utilizes repetitive melodic patterns, consonant harmonies, motoric rhythms, and a deliberate striving for aural beauty.” It’s the last phrase that is key. “Aural beauty.” What is remarkable about Einaudi’s music in all of its aural wonders is the personification of the music. When you listen to a symphony, a rock song, a jazz piece, or a Broadway tune, there is a common understanding of the music. Beethoven’s 5th Symphony or Dave Brubeck’s “Time Out” all have those familiar melodies we can sing on our own. With Einaudi’s music, you can’t. Instead, what you are treated to is a unique musical experience that won’t or can’t be repeated ever again. It’s like being in the presence of a great artist and his musician friends as they paint with sound. There is a meditative quality to Einaudi’s music that gets inside your mind as your ears take in these sounds and chords.

One fun thing was to take note of a couple of particular instruments. One was a sort of crystal piece, held by one hand while the other used a violin bow across the surface. The resulting sound was akin to rubbing your wet finger around the rim of a wine glass. The conical-shaped instrument—smaller at top and much wider on the bottom—changed pitch depending on the location of the bowing. The other unique thing was a metal rectangular sheet, suspended by a wire. The percussionist held it by the wire, lowered the sheet into a clear container of water, and used a mallet to strike the plate. He would raise and lower the sheet, creating different tonalities. Lastly, the electric cellist would rub his entire open palm up and down the strings. The aural effect was of a person breathing. Watching these performers last night was itself a work of art.

It’s a rare concert I attend where I know basically nothing about the music I’m there to hear. The experience was utterly mesmerizing. In other settings at other concerts, the performers do their thing for you. If you’re there to watch your favorite rock band, you jam with them and sing along. Einaudi’s concert is a personal journey, communal with all the other folks in the crowd. You all hear the same notes but you take away something entirely personal. The audience knew Eunaudi and his music, as evidenced by the cheers as he walked out, and the loud, boisterous, and prolonged exaltation at the end.

Like my wife said, it was like we got a peek into a man and his music unknown to a large part of the world. Or maybe it was just unknown to me. Don’t’ know. By all indications online, the Houston date was the last in North America after only a handful of dates across the continent. I’m again so happy to live in a city like Houston that can attract an artist such as Ludovico Einaudi, and I’m quite happy to be in on the secret of his exquisite music.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 28

Another slow week from the offices of Quadrant Fiction Studio but there was a great highlight of the work week.

Making a Connection

I've known Paul Bishop digitally a few years now. I contributed to the brand-new 52 Weeks - 52 TV Westerns, out just this month. Here's a link to the paperback copy.

This week, I got to have a Skype chat with him. It was over my lunch hour at the day job. I found an empty conference room, fired up my iPhone, and he and I talked for almost the entire hour. It was wonderful to actually see and speak with a fellow author. I don't know about y'all but if I hear an interview with an author and I can hear their voice, then I can "play" it in my head when I read an email or a comment said author makes.

But Skyping is so much better! We had a good conversation about the writing business, what he's doing, what I'm doing. I left that particular lunch hour on a high. Thanks, Paul.

The New Project

The new book is going well. I didn't make as much progress and I'd have liked to this week, but that's okay. I'm not rushing it. I want to take my time with it and make sure it is the best it can be before I start talking about it in earnest.

Out of the Blue Reading Choices

I started two new things this week, both out of what I typically choose to read. First is the latest Sandra Brown paperback TAILSPIN. Why? Well, the cover caught my eye at the grocery store last Sunday. Curious, I read the back cover blurb. Sounded good. But I've never read a Brown novel.

Still not quite sure, I ended up returning home and downloading the preview on my Kobo ereader. By the time I reached the end of the free content, I was hooked. I ended up buying the book. And dang if I'm not enjoying it. Who knew?

The other interesting reading choice is a trade paperback of ARCHIE: 1941. While the Archie comics started in 1941, they often took a pass on the important issues of the day, according to the introduction. With this modern comic, Archie and his companions actually face World War II. I've only read chapter/issue one so far, but I'm hooked.

Apollo 11

Starting this Tuesday, 16 July, the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing begins. Think about this while you go through your week. Apollo 11 launches on Tuesday. It doesn't land until 20 July, which is Saturday this year (it was Sunday in 1969). Imagine being in that space ship from Tuesday until Saturday. Three full days plus. Could you do that? I think it would be, um, difficult.

Anyway, enjoy this anniversary this week. I know I will.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Spider-Man: Far From Home

I enjoyed most of the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movies. I saw neither of the Andrew Garfield ones. But I love Tom Holland's two movies not for the super-heroics--which are, nonetheless, awesome!--but for the Peter Parker parts.

Homecoming was basically a John Hughes film if Hughes did a high school super-hero movie. Far From Home is like when your favorite sitcom blows up in the ratings and they take a trip to Europe. I'm looking at you Family Ties Goes to London (or whatever it was called).

Far From Home is a hilarious romp of a film with super-hero stuff thrown in. All the razzle dazzle stuff is what you'd expect. But its the Parker stuff that really counts and has meaning. I went with my teenager and he really enjoyed it. I suspect he sees his own high school in the scenes because I certainly saw mine.

Mysterio Walked Out of the Comics

While I'm more knowledgeable about Batman Rogues' Gallery, Spider-Man has some great ones. Most look pretty cool, but Mysterio always stood out on a large part because of the helmet. Or fish tank. Or Apollo helmet. Whatever you call that thing that serves as a mask. You knew back in the Maguire days they'd likely never attempt Mysterio for the sheer technical factor of making it look good and real.

Which is why this modern-day Marvel cinematic universe is so good. With CGI, anything is possible. And Jake Gyllenhaal as Owen Beck (AKA Mysterio) does a fantastic job. Going in, I knew Mysterio's origins, but the trailer made it appear like something else. When all is revealed, it is a great twist (although it kind of was a riff off the Vulture's origins from Homecoming).

High School Life

Coincidentally, I watched Far From Home the same weekend as I started to watch Stranger Things 3. Both deal with high school and teenagers in such an honest way, both were joys to watch. (I'm not done with Stranger Things so zero spoilers. Got it?) In Far From Home, I love how the entire movie is built around Peter's one plan for the trip to Europe: buy a gift for MJ, give it to her, and tell her how he feels. That's all a teenaged boy should have to worry about.


And bravo for the writers having MJ figure out Peter's secret. C'mon. It's in the trailer. But it's great to have these major co-stars figure out heroes' secret identity. As cute as it was in the 1950s and 1960s to have Lois Lane concoct all sorts of schemes to reveal Clark Kent was Superman, it's refreshing to have them in on the secret and be a part of the team.

Stellar Cast

As with every Marvel film, the cast is fantastic. It is the secret sauce that makes this more than just your friendly neighborhood Marvel movie.

Jacob Batalon as Ned Leeds, Peter's best friend, steals every scene he's in. I first saw Angourie Rice in Shane Black's 2016 film, The Nice Guys. Man, is she a talented actress, and so good as Ned's girlfriend. The two teachers, played by Martin Starr and J. B. Smoove, also chew the scenery as both an inept teacher (Starr) and one who doesn't want to take credit or blame when things go south (Smoove). And I called it in the theater (and confirmed later) that Peter Billingsley played one of Mysterio's henchmen. Yup. The kid from A Christmas Story is in a Marvel film. Granted, he was also in Iron Man, but I forgot.

I also appreciated how Samuel L. Jackson and Cobie Smulders realized they were in a funnier film than any of their earlier ones and adjusted. They were still Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but they played the characters with a wink and a smile.

Mid-Credits and Post-Credits Scenes

Whoa! So often, these scenes serve as in-jokes (Howard the Duck) or setups to future films (Iron Man and just about all the others). Rarely have end credits scenes basically shook the titular character's world to the core. Especially since the next Spider-Man movie isn't even on the map. Are you kidding me?

Spider-Man: Far From Home Gets It

Character, character, character. It goes a long way to grounding a film and keeping the audience invested. All the folks involved with the Tom Holland Spider-Man films understand what makes this character tick. Holland gets it, too. I know there another actor will someday play the web-slinger, but he'll have big web-shooters to fill.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is a wonderful film and a great way to end Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Bring on Phase 4!

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 27

A short week at the day job proves timely for the writing job.  It a lot happened this week so this’ll be short.

The new book goes well. I started on Monday, 1 July, and I’ve written every day so far. Up to 8,553 so far. With this book not being a western or mystery/Thriller—it’s a slice-of-life tale—I’m having to rely on different muscles, namely the writing kind. When you’re writing a mystery, sometimes you can skate through the story as long as you have a Crime and a detective. Doesn’t mean it’s easier or that it can’t have character. It just means there’s a given narrative thread to follow.

Not necessarily so with this book. So far. I’ve already realized there is some tension between my lead characters and it’s already reared it’s head. Good. A little tension isn’t a bad thing.

Best thing is the excitement. It’s always fun starting a book. Just got to maintain the excitement through the rest of the month as the story progresses.

New Book, New Technique

For as many writers there are, there’s are that many ways to write. Many authors I’ve read about use the following method. Write a set number of words, the go back and review what’s been written, fixing words and things along the way. Then, when they reach the place where they stopped, they keep going from there. Repeat as needed. The theory is you keep going over your words in your Creative voice, and, by the end, you’ve got a pretty clean first draft. You’ll still have to edit it, but all the nit picky work will have been done.

I’m trying that way this time. It’s new for me. We’ll see how it goes.

I also read my chapter aloud and pick up a lot that way, especially with dialogue.

Fishing and Gunfire

The wife loves to fish but we don’t do it very often. Yesterday, we did. Out in west Houston, there are some stocked ponds. We went out there yesterday afternoon and spent the day fishing. Well, she fished and caught fish. I think she caught something like ten little fish. I fed worms to the fish.

Funny thing is the spot is within earshot if the gun range. So the “fireworks” continued on into yesterday afternoon.

Kinda funny.

Spider-Man: Far From Home Gets It

I enjoyed most of the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movies. I saw neither of the Andrew Garfield ones. But I love Tom Holland's two movies not for the super-heroics--which are, nonetheless, awesome!--but for the Peter Parker parts.

Homecoming was basically a John Hughes film if Hughes did a high school super-hero movie. Far From Home is like when your favorite sitcom blows up in the ratings and they take a trip to Europe. I'm looking at you Family Ties Goes to London (or whatever it was called).

Far From Home is a hilarious romp of a film with super-hero stuff thrown in. All the razzle dazzle stuff is what you'd expect. But its the Parker stuff that really counts and has meaning. I went with my teenager and he really enjoyed it. I suspect he sees his own high school in the scenes because I certainly saw mine.

Character, character, character. It goes a long way to grounding a film and keeping the audience invested.

Well, like I said, this was going to be a short post. In the next few posts, I will discuss new marketing ideas I plan to try, and a new outlook for the second half of 2019.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 26

As of Monday, half of 2019 is gone. How is your writing?

Mine? Well, it is not where I expected it to be on New Year's Day. I had envisioned a couple of new books under my belt, ready to be edited, revised, and published. Then again, I also expected 1 July to be the day my fourth Calvin Carter novel would be published.

Ain't gonna happen.

When the Publisher Rejects Your Book

Countless writers have received rejection letters from agents or editors or publishers. Heck, back in 2006 and 2007, I got mine, too.

Which makes the indie publishing concept so enticing. There are no gatekeepers between a writer and a reader. The only thing stopping a writer from publishing a book is...well, nothing. As long as the writer can learn how to upload files to Amazon, Kobo, or whatever.

Which makes the fact my publisher rejected the fourth Carter novel so interesting, *I'm* the publisher.

As I wrote last week, I realized the fourth Carter book, Brides of Death, as written, wasn't up to par of the other three. Brides follows the pattern of all six Carter novels: Carter is assigned a case, he investigates, he gets into and out of scraps, and he completes the assignment.

But the chapter detailing the assignment and what actually happens don't match. An easy fix would be to revise the assignment chapter, but then I'd have to re-title the book. The other alternative is to keep the title (which matches the assignment) and insert extra scenes into the book to show Carter and his partner investigating the actual assignment. That would make for a more in-depth book, which is a good thing, but there was no way to get it done by 1 July (actually 27 June because Amazon needs some lead time).

So I'm temporarily delaying the book. I don't want to put crap out, and if I had published the book as is, it would have been that. I'm the first reader and if I found an issue with the book, then other readers would have as well. Let's avoid that.

Granted, astute future readers can read the book and this blog and draw their own conclusions, but I have no power over that. Control the controllables. Make the book better and move forward.

What is Forward?

My wife is a small business owner as well (she makes jewelry under, so I asked her opinion. She agreed with me not to publish at this time. I jokingly said, "It's not like there are dozens of readers who would be upset at my decision."

That jibe hit home harder than I expected. Yes, my sales are not awesome, but that doesn't always bother me. I am unfocused when it comes to marketing, and I need to rectify that.

Which is what I plan on doing for the rest of the summer. I've got three books in the series out now. Why not promote them? See if there's even an audience for the type of book I'm writing. Sure, they were a blast to write, but what if I'm the only reader? After a bit, is there a reason to keep writing them if my reason for writing is to share stories I tell to the general reading public and the general reading public doesn't respond?

It's a quandary. Well, no, it's not. It's an opportunity. I plan on spreading the word about the Calvin Carter, Railroad Detective series far and wide. Why not build the audience with the three books currently available, build anticipation to books four, five, and six?

Speaking of audience, I read a fanTAStic blog post this week.

We Are in the Entertainment Business

You know this, right? Books are entertainment, just like TV and movies and music. But, before Thursday, me, like many of us writers, thought the book/ebook was the goal. We indies are our own publishers, and publishers produce books. Sure, we knew that our characters could be licensed, but that was only after we had a book, right?

Well, not exactly.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith attended the Licensing Expo in Las Vegas. Dean has a series of videos up where he discusses what he learned from the expo. Kristine started on Thursday with the first part of her Business Musings: Rethinking The Writing Business. It will blow your mind wide open.

If you are a writer who thinks larger than a book or books, you owe it to yourself to read her column every Thursday. Jump on board now and learn with her. It's like going to school, but it's stuff you want to learn.

Filling the Tank

Finished listening to THE SCAM by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg. It's a good thing I enjoyed the book and was already going to listen to others because this one ended on a cliffhanger.

Watched Toy Story 4. Enjoyed it quite a bit.

Watched The Old Man and the Gun. Liked it pretty well. Good to see Redford go out on a good film.

Still loving Masterchef. Could watch Gordon Ramsey demonstrate cooking things all day.

Enjoying CBS's Blood and Treasure even more after this week's episode.

Started listening o the audio of Good Omens. It's my current book for the SF book club.

All of this is to say I'm filling my tank with good content that I can bring to bear on the story I'm starting on Monday. But I'm also rethinking said story. I had one in mind...and then another just roared into place. So I'm likely going to go with the flow. It'll be something rather different for me, and that both excites and scares me.

Just the right place to start a new story.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Batman '89 Comic Adaptation

In those pre-Internet days, you had two choices if you wanted to experience a film: see it over and over (I did) or purchase the novelization (I also did). But what if you wanted to see the movie when you were at home? Well, that's where comic book adaptations come into play.

Finding My Copies

I have all my comics in comic boxes. The large majority of them, especially the ones I purchased prior to 2000, are all bagged. My younger self also arranged them in order, with Batman titles filling at least half the boxes. But over the years of me wanting to read this or that, I would scour the boxes, looking for whatever. As a result, the boxes are not always in the same order. Naturally, when it came time for me to search through my boxes looking for both versions of the comic adaptation (Baxter format and regular paper), they were in the last box.

The Big Guns

To adapt Batman '89, DC Comics brought in some of the biggest names in the business. Writer Dennis O'Neil was, along with artist Neal Adams, responsible for bringing the darkness back to the Batman comics in the early 70s. The Adam West TV show had made Batman a bright, sunny character and that take moved into the comic books. Not after O'Neil and Adams took control. Who better to write the movie version doing the same thing?

Jerry Ordway was the artist working on Superman at the time (and future Shazam writer/artist) with a  distinctive style easily seen in a panel or two. What he brought to the Batman movie special was photo-realistic pencils sketches of the actual actors and gorgeous layouts.

Nipping and Tucking

With only 64 pages, O'Neil and Ordway needed to trim the 126-minute film down. But they also had to showcase--ahead of the actual movie premier and audience reactions--what they thought would be good scenes. Thus the big fight scene between Batman and Joker's goons after the museum escape is completely gone. Gone, too, is Michael Keaton's iconic declaration "I'm Batman" in the opening.

Cool Additions

Yet O'Neil and Ordway add things that were likely in the script but which didn't make it on screen. In the moment where Joker takes over the TV airwaves, in the movie and comic, you see a guy tied to a chair with the words "Not an Actor" flashing on screen. Well, in the comic, Joker spoons Smilex liquid into the man's mouth...and kills him. Pretty dark stuff for a movie, but one with a visceral impact.

In the finale, when Joker is throwing out his guaranteed "free money," a character (who resembles the way Ordway drew Clark Kent) looks at the cash. It was Joker's face...on a one dollar bill. That would have been a nice addition to the film.

The most interesting addition is at the end just after Commissioner Gordon finds Joker's dead body, they also find Batman's cape and cowl. When they lift it, reporter Alex Knox is under it. He quips, "Can I still make the late addition?" as we see a mask-less Bruce Wayne sneaking away. Perhaps the novelization covers this, but does that mean Knox is in on the secret? Pretty much implies it.

I know I read the comic a few times before I put it away in its bag decades ago. I saw the movie enough times and read the novelization to get large chunks of the story memorized (still thirty years later), but I always enjoyed the comic. O'Neil and Ordway were fantastic, and they made a book that can stand alongside the blockbuster movie.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Batman at 30

Just like thirty years ago, I held off watching this 1989 movie until this weekend. I wanted to build anticipation and excitement. It worked.

Dork that I am, I gave serious thought to waiting until 23 June to re-watch Batman, but opted for a family movie night on the 21st with the wife and the boy. The wife doesn't love superhero movies. She saw Batman in 1989 largely because of Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson. Her favorite superhero movie is The Dark Knight, and Christian Bale and Heath Ledger her favorite actors in a Batman film. The boy also doesn't love superhero films like I do, but these last few Marvel films and Wonder Woman and Shazam he's enjoyed. 

All of that is just to set the stage for us breaking out our VHS copy--yes, VHS copy--of the 1989 film. Like they did with Superman last year, I had hoped I could again see Batman on the big screen, but here in Houston, that chance was May. We couldn't make it, so original VHS tape on the flat screen.

The first two things on the tape were the Diet Coke commercial with Michael Gough's Alfred and an animated segment with Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny talking about ordering a catalog to purchase Warner Bros. merchandise. I had that catalog and I ordered stuff. Ball cap for sure, but the rest is lost to time.

Then, the movie started.

The Theme

Visually, the opening credits are only there to let you read the major players who got this movie made--thanks Michael Uslan!--but the real star is the theme. Danny Elfman, then known as the front man for Oingo Boingo, was the composer. Like director Tim Burton, an interesting choice. Actually, many of the choices for this film were interesting and out of the box. Those choices are what makes the film special.

Elfman's Batman theme is second only to the Superman theme by John Williams for me. It is dark and propulsive, with a good mix of strings, high brass, and mellow horns. It was an instant hit in my mind thirty years ago, and it remains one of my favorite themes of all time. As good as we have it now for superhero movies, the musical cues are fairly unmemorable. The Avengers theme is the only one I can recognize when I hear it, but I can't for the life of me hum it. The Dark Knight's music by Hans Zimmer is great and moody, but it's mainly whole notes. Elfman captured the spirit of Batman in music not only in this main theme but also throughout the film.

The Opening Shot

There are moments throughout Batman cinema that are truly magical and have stood the test of time. I'm thinking the moment when Keaton's Batman first sees Michelle Pheiffer's Catwoman. Bale's Batman makes his first appearance in Batman Begins. The heist scene to open The Dark Knight. Or the motorcycle chase in The Dark Knight. The warehouse fight in Batman v Superman. Even the museum escape in Batman '89.

Nothing trumps the opening scene in Batman. Say what you will about Burton's choices for the rest of the movie, but he nailed the introduction of a dark and serious Batman in five minutes. Gone was any whiff of Adam West's TV show Batman. Here was a man, dressed all in black, who could get shot and rise again. If I had to pick a single favorite Batman moment on screen, this is it.

The Voice

"I'm Batman." Those are the first words we hear Keaton utter from behind the cowl. It's a deeper voice, but nothing like the growl Bale used. In many ways, it's very much like the choices Kevin Conroy did for the animated series. By using a slightly higher pitch for the Bruce Wayne voice, Keaton was able to merely deepen his voice for Batman. Plus, in the re-watch, for the first half of the film, he doesn't speak many words as Batman.

Still, Ben Affleck's Batman using a voice modulator is probably the best way to go.

My Favorite Bruce Wayne

I've written many books since the last time I saw this movie--I honestly can't remember how long it had been--but I appreciated how one of the central mysteries for the characters of Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) and reporter Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl) was to find out more about Bruce Wayne. They get themselves into the party at Wayne Manor to ask the mayor and Commissioner Gordon about "the six-foot bat in Gotham City" but then end up meeting Wayne himself.

Of all the actors who have played Bruce Wayne to date, my favorite Wayne is Keaton. I have always thought he walked the knife edge of genuine crazy. If each one of Batman's rogue's gallery is a distorted mirror version of Batman/Wayne, then Keaton's version shows you how close he really was to the edge.

He's distracted, but remembers everything. He's unassuming in a natural way, not like the put-on Bale has to do. To outward appearances, he seems normal.

Which is Bruce Wayne's way of deflecting. Keaton does this wonderfully.

Nicholson's Joker

How have I gone this long without talking about Jack Nicholson. If you follow Michael Uslan on Facebook--the man responsible for bringing a darker Batman to movie theaters--then you'll have seen his newspaper page talking about The Shining and how he took white-out and a green and red marker and drew over Nicholson's face in the famous "Here's Johnny" scene. Back in 1989 before I saw the movie or the trailer, I was partial to Peter O'Toole because he already had the grin. But the prosthetics they put on Nicholson was better.

And man did he chew up the scenery. Yes he was funny and over the top, but on the re-watch, something struck me again, especially since Ledger's Joker is more recent. Nicholson's Joker actually seems crazier than Ledger. Nicholson's version seemed to have everyone on edge. I mean, he out and shoots his "number one guy" Bob just because Batman stole the balloons in the finale. Ledger's Joker is an agent of chaos, but an agent who plans out everything. Nicholson plans out how to distribute Smilex gas and how to disrupt the city, but in his inner circle, I think working for him would be scarier.

Here's what age does to a person. The museum scene where Joker and his crew deface the priceless paintings: now I cringe where in 1989, I just smiled. It's a real crime he perpetrated, a crime against history, and honestly worth more than anything he could steal.

How Does It Hold Up?

Like James Bond films, everyone has their favorite movie Batman. Everyone has their favorite movies. Is Batman '89 the greatest film ever made? No. Is it the best Batman film? Maybe not. The Dark Knight is darn near perfect. It prompted the Oscar folks to expand the choices for Best Picture, so much so that Black Panther got a nomination.

But Batman '89 holds an honored spot. It was the first movie Batman (not counting the serials). It showed the world what was already happening in the comics: the character had grown and matured, darkened for a new decade. Nearly every choice made while crafting this film was bold and interesting: the casting, the director, the art director, the music, the marketing. Let's not forget about the marketing.

Sure, as a storyteller, I can poke holes in the story and I can grouse about how many times Basinger's Vicki Vale screams, but what's the point. Batman '89 was a cultural phenomenon and remains one of the most important superhero films of all time.

The Ongoing Legacy

And it remains of the most important films of my lifetime. It came at the perfect time. I was twenty, in college, and working my first real summer job (at a movie theater!). I've often said that my lifetime in comics these past fifty years was a great time. As I grew up, so did comics. I was the perfect age for Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns to signal a new era in comics. It made Batman '89 possible in the minds of executives and the public.

In 2019, when superhero and genre stuff seem to rule the box office, the TVs, and the culture, 1989 was the year in which all the non-geek folks came to appreciate stuff we geeks had loved all our lives. With Batman '89, we could finally say "See? This is good stuff."

I know Michael Uslan, the man who bought the film rights for Batman in 1979, had many sleepless nights in the 1980s as every door in Hollywood slammed in his face. No one wanted or understood the idea of a serious, cinematic Batman. But I am so glad it took as long as it did, culturally, to get our first dark Batman movie. I can't imagine the film having the impact it did in 1989 if it were released, in, say, 1986. It would have just been a movie geeks saw. Thanks, Mr. Uslan, for persevering and staying true to your vision.

Batman '89. I have so enjoyed reading all the articles and posts about this movie this month as we celebrate its 30th anniversary. I'm glad I got to experience it when I did, at the age I did, and I still love it. I will always love it no matter how many more Batman movies they make.

Come back Wednesday for my take on the comic adaptation by Dennis O'Neil and Jerry Ordway

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Real Batman Day: June 23 1989 (2019 Edition)

[As of today, in 2019, the 1989 Batman movie is thirty years old. This is a piece I wrote two years ago and I am re-posting today with some 2019 thoughts. The original version is here if you want to compare, but I've updated this post for 2019. Ever since 1989, the date of June 23 has been fixed in my mind. It will always be the true Batman Day for me and likely millions more.] 

Where were you 30 years ago today? Probably standing in line to see Batman.

The Date

 It all began with a symbol and a date. A simple poster considering what it wrought. For months, all you needed to know was June 23. You could look at a calendar and count down the days until Friday, June 23, 1989. That was the date in which Batman would finally appear on theater screens in the manner akin to his origin.

It may be difficult to imagine now, in 2019, a year in the golden age of superhero movies, but there was a time when a single superhero film dominated everything. And I mean everything.

The Cast

Batman, the 1989 film directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Jack Nicholson as The Joker, was a cultural phenomenon in every sense of the word. The long gestating film had started production the previous year and if you thought the backlash the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman created was something [or Richard Pattison in 2019], you have no idea when the casting of Keaton, primarily known for his comedies, caused. I can’t remember my own impressions for Keaton, but I remember quite vividly my thoughts on Joker. My choice, if you were going by the comic book look and feel, was Peter O’Toole. Sure, he was older, but he had The Grin. But when Nicholson was cast, I was like “Of course!”

Pictures in Starlog the spring of 1989 gave us the first glimpse of the all-black Batsuit and Keaton in it. I was sold! Then photos of Nicholson’s Joker emerged and I was so excited! I was and am an easy mark in that respect. A lifelong comic book fan, it was so cool to see Batman in real life. More thoughts here.

Batman ‘66

Let me pause here a moment to comment on the 1966 Batman. At the time, I was 20 and had come of age just as comics realized they could be darker and grittier. I was almost the perfect age to read The Dark Knight Returns and Year One and The Killing Joke. So, in 1989, I was distancing myself from TV’s Batman, the way I was first introduced to the character. Gone in my mind was the funny Batman. Here was the grim Batman, the way he was in the 1940s comics and the 1970s comics. Ironically, 30 years later and with the passing of Adam West, I’m ready for grimdark Batman to go away or, at least, make a way for more than one version.

The Preview

Back in those pre-YouTube days, the only way you could see a trailer was to go to a movie and buy a ticket. I’m not sure how but I learned that the Batman trailer (or maybe this teaser trailer because I remember the opening on the Batmobile's rocket) was attached to “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.” Boom! I couldn’t get to the theater fast enough. There it was, with no music and what seemed like unmixed sound, was Batman, alive, moving, beating up bad guys and driving a kick-ass Batmobile with fire out the back! And Joker. Heavens, how awesome he looked. And I loved the line Robert Wuhl’s reporter asked: “Is there a six-foot bat in Gotham City?” And Batman crashing through the skylight? The only question in the spring was how many days until 23 June?

The Movie

I can’t remember for sure if I went to the midnight showing or day one showing. I worked at a movie theater the summer of 1989—a great summer of movies*—so I’m pretty confident that I saw it at midnight with the throngs of other folks. Like just about everyone, I lost it. This was the movie we had been waiting our entire lives for! The Danny Elfman score. The opening scene when the mugger asks what are you and Keaton says “I’m Batman” (still my absolutely favorite part). The gadgets. Keaton doing a wonderful job. Nicholson chewing scenery. The fight in the alley with the sword guy. The Batmobile doing…anything. The menace of Joker. The reveal that Joker/Jack Napier killed Bruce’s parents. Prince’s music. The Batplane. The quotes (“Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?” “Never rub another man’s hubarb” “I didn’t ask.” “You wanna get nuts? Let’s get nuts.” “My life is…complicated.”) The final confrontation. The final scene with the Bat-signal. It was utterly awesome.

Batman got everyone. The hard-core comics fans flocked to see the movie multiple times. The casual viewer enjoyed it. Your grandpa enjoyed it. Everyone, it seemed, had seen the movie at least once, and chatted about it. Was it the last great common movie everyone saw? I’m not sure, but it was certainly a milestone.

Oh, and the merchandise! Good grief! Batman stuff was everywhere. And, yeah, I bought my fair share. Why the heck not? Up until then, the amount of Batman/superhero stuff available to purchase was meager at best. Nowhere near what it’s like today.

I can’t remember how many times I saw the film. Enough for me to memorize huge chunks of the movie. [In my re-watch here in 2019, I told my boy this movie is in the top 10 movies I have seen the most number of times.]

Looking Back

The irony now, for many of us who distanced ourselves from the 1966 Batman in 1989, is that the Batman '89, when compared to the Christian Bale films and Batman v Superman, looks more campy than we ever saw at the time. But that’s only in comparison to what came afterwards. Sure, the immediate next film, 1992’s Batman Returns, went very dark, only to be brightened by 1995’s Batman Forever and, ahem, 1997’s Batman and Robin. When you compare those four films, Batman is the second darkest. But it’s still funny when you look at it now. Something the new Wonder Woman movie (and Shazam and Spider-Man: Homecoming ) realized and got correct.

But not in 1989. In that year, we comic book readers thought our time had finally arrived. We had our dark Batman. What was next? Another Superman? What about those Marvel characters? And when’s the Justice League gonna land in our laps?

Well, we still had to wait another decade until 2000’s X-Men to kick off this current Golden Age of Superhero Movies. This current run of films has produced some truly great movies (The Dark Knight; Spider-Man 2; Batman Begins; all three Captain America movies; Avengers; Ant-Man, Wonder Woman, and, of course, Infinity War and Endgame) but it all had to start somewhere. Technically, the run started in 1978 with Superman The Movie (Boy, am I so happy they didn’t put “The Movie” at the end of “Batman”), but the run of superhero movies started with Batman.

I’m so glad I was alive at the time to enjoy it.

Come back tomorrow for my 2019 review of the movie.

*Here in 2019, I'm celebrating the Summer of '89 Movies by re-watching them and writing current reviews.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Dead Poets Society
When Harry Met Sally
Star Trek V
License to Kill
Ghostbusters 2
Lethal Weapon 2
The Abyss.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 25

This week, I got to fly.

See ya next week.

Naw, I'm just kidding. But I really did get to experience the one super power most people would select if given the choice.

A Great Father's Day Gift

My wife, boy, and parents all pitched in a bought me two flights at iFly, the indoor skydiving place just up the road from where I live. I had always wanted to try it, but never got off high center. Then, a few weeks ago, I commented that a friend of ours did a tandem jump as part of his bucket list. The wife quickly nipped that in the bud--I am the bread winner of the house--by signing me up for the indoor, safe version.

And it was a blast! If you want to read the entire story, here you go.

Brides of Death Review Complete But...

I finished proofing the fourth Calvin Carter novel. Today, I'll be formatting it and uploading it to the various bookstores. As a reminder, I go with Amazon and Kobo direct and leave the rest of Draft2Digital. Part of me thinks I ought to just use D2D, but I like the ability to use Amazon ads and I don't think you can do it without going direct with them. If anyone knows differently, please let me know.

In proofing the book, there were large sections I particularly enjoyed. Yeah, I know it's my book, but I hadn't read it in awhile. I was pleasantly surprised with some of the twists and turns. I especially liked how Carter himself was further fleshed out.

But what I realized was I think I titled it incorrectly.

Now I'm faced with the prospect of not only re-titling the book--not a huge problem because I haven't uploaded it--but having to go back and revise all my previous books. Again, with the ebooks, it's just some busy work, but not difficult.

The issue will be the paperback covers. Not the revising of the cover image, but it's the cost. At Amazon, I merely have to re-upload a new cover. No charge involved. But for IngramSpark, there will be a charge. A monetary penalty for me not reading the book sooner and knowing the title was wrong.

Lesson learned.

Reading and Learning and Taking Notes

I've been listening to THE SCAM by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg and I'm soaking in the story and the structure. I listen every morning as I get ready at home and my morning commute. Scott Brick narrates the book. I could listen to him read the phone book or algebra formulas. I love spending my mornings with him.

When I hit a passage that want to remember, I send myself a reminder on my phone. Then, when I get to my office, I do two things. I pick up the paperback I keep in my car and mark notes on the actual passages. Then, I write the notes in my Simplenote file on my computer. That way, I have notes on what I liked and what worked and how the story is told. At the end of a book I enjoy or thought was written well, I create an outline in which I place all the notes I took.

Constant learning. It's how I progress as a writer.

Do you have a way to read and learn from books you read?

Batman '89 Week

Starting tomorrow--forever Batman Day in my mind--I'll be having a few entries about the 30th anniversary of Tim Burton's Batman. I re-watched the movie last night and will have some 2019 thoughts on the film. And more.

Come back, read, and enter the conversation and the reminiscences.