Saturday, December 29, 2018

connecting the dots & the 6 degrees of separation in popular culture

Wikipedia as a source

"Six degrees of separation is the idea that all living things and everything else in the world are six or fewer steps away from each other so that a chain of "a friend of a friend" statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps. It was originally set out by Frigyes Karinthy in 1929 and popularized in an eponymous 1990 play written by John Guare. It is sometimes generalized to the average social distance being logarithmic in the size of the population."

Sometimes when watching movies or television from the 1960s and 1970s you uncover a common practice.  Television series would repeatedly use actors and actresses in different roles where they'd appeared previously in a different role.  If you "binge" watch a series this becomes readily apparent. 

In my experience Hogan's Heroes is by far the worst in this regard, but, I am aware I have not watched a lot of programs where that degree of use is worse.   Also, however much this might seem that I am pooping on the practice, I am not.  I don't assume most people would think it that bad at the time either.  I have seen very famous character actors in uncredited roles, and it makes me smile.


Dick Wilson, also Charmin's Mr. Whipple appeared as a semi regular character, Klink's adjutant officer, Felix Gruber also appeared as numerous variations of members of the underground.


I was watching Dragnet and by an actor's voice knew he'd been behind the voice in a brief cameo in a movie I love, King Kong versus Godzilla.  Rodrigo Infante was tagged!


In tonight's experience I saw an actor, Leonard Stone, in a Dragnet episode, and had other times in the series as well.  His face is very recognizable.   I'd seen him in MASH, in SOYLENT GREEN, in WILLY WONKA, and dozens of episodes of television programs from the day.

I am not saying this all for any desired effect, or any major point to be made.  It is just different than the present in terms of programs I've watched in the last 20 years...

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Boardgame Wars to end all boardgame Wars

With the advent of computer games there was focus upon battles and in fact wars that were the most easily adapted as well as, the ones that the players would pay to play.  This led to somewhat of a lack of games in wars that were nonetheless important to the present world's layout, and political alliances, as well as a vacuum in games about wars that were less dramatic, less exciting in result, than the epic or strategic, decisive conflicts. 

This doesn't mean there shouldn't be games about them.

"There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today." David Beatty 1st Earl Beatty


I do not play computer games, or actually, many video games.  The boardgame world that interprets various wars and battles is more complete than the computer or video games in terms of overall attention to the many conflicts of humanity.

"At eleven o’clock this morning came to an end the cruellest and most terrible War that has ever scourged mankind. I hope we may say that thus, this fateful morning, came to an end all wars." David Lloyd George

I was pleasantly surprised to learn of a number of games about the First World War that I had never played, which was a great event that still ripples the pond of the present.  In these three images are boardgames to consider, in each theater, format and alliance.


“Fight on and fly on to the last drop of blood and the last drop of fuel, to the last beat of the heart.”
  Baron Manfred von Richthofen



FROM WIKIPEDIA World War I (WWI or WW1), also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918. More than 9 million combatants and 7 million civilians died as a result of the war, a casualty rate exacerbated by the belligerents' technological and industrial sophistication, and tactical stalemate. It was one of the deadliest conflicts in history, paving the way for major political changes, including revolutions in many of the nations involved.

The war drew in all the world's economic great powers, assembled in two opposing alliances: the Allies (based on the Triple Entente of the United Kingdom, France and the Russian Empire) and the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary. These alliances were reorganised and expanded as more nations entered the war: Italy, Japan and the United States joined the Allies, and the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria the Central Powers.



"Men, I am not ordering you to attack. I am ordering you to die. In the time that it takes us to die, other forces and commanders can come and take our place."  Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Merry Kaiju and a Happy New Year


The 12 Kaiju's of Christmas for me include monsters, guardians, robots, prehistoric beasts and protectors of his people.  These are treasured moments and memories in my life, and I have to say, if you look closely, most of these creatures came about a long time ago.  I am told by my son, who I love, that I am old.  Well perhaps.


But recently, I have great hope.  I've loved movies about the beasts and ideas and genres of my past, but, recently, Pacific Rim, Godzilla 2014, and Kong Skull Island give me as much or more joy as those of my childhood.  And while some people hated, or did not like any of these, I am not saying they are fucking greatest movies in the cinematic history of mankind.  Movies by Tim Burton, Akira Kurosawa, Fritz Lang, Ridley Scott, and precious few directors don't just appear out of the blue.  We have to enjoy some movies for what they are, others for what they did with what they were, and enjoy those few gems we have a chance to see. 

Tim Burton once referred to Godzilla Versus King Kong as a cathartic experience, or even, a joyful experience to his sensitivities as a child.  I so agree. 

And while it happens that not every movie that gets a series continues to be great, I like the movies I've seen recently and have great vast expectations for the future.


LONG LIVE KAIJU.  ALL HAIL OUR PROTECTORS FROM THE MONSTERS WHO WANT TO DESTROY THE EARTH!


Monday, December 17, 2018

The World of Animation

I get asked quite often what Netflix series I watch and particularly, what anime series I like. I don't watch anything on television I don't get cable and don't have good reception on broadcast, so I watch cooking shows and documentaries on Youtube. But I have liked some animated series. I am not able to watch some shows I'd otherwise watch, but Netflix and HBO and the sort, not really my thing.




Sunday, December 2, 2018

Art and the propaganda to build a new society

“All art is propaganda. It is universally and inescabably propaganda; sometimes unconsciously, but often deliberately, propaganda.”  Upton Sinclair 


Art is a means of expression.  Creative ways of presentation can draw new ideas, and new perspectives.   Or art can serve the corporate state and allow and encourage the state to dictate values, ideas, and desires, or more, create a new version of the history of that state.  Beyond that, the corporate state can cause a false memory to grow.

“The receptivity of the masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous. In consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan.” Adolf Hitler

Human minds wander, gathering recollections and beliefs, and a disciplined presentation of a certain few points can cause the mind of an individual to believe in, but actually remember falsehood.

“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”  George Orwell

Not every piece of propaganda by a state is wrong, necessarily, but causing people to believe in space exploration isn't an enormous or great thing. Most consider exploration and space to be a fine thing.  But add space exploration which is a far off desire to that of the presentation that the state can only grow and serve more people if you accept its version of reality, means, getting people to agree that space exploration is great is not the point, but, the concept is, only by following the Soviet leadership can we achieve this great goal.  Of course we think the environment deserves saving, we only have one planet.  But, saying such through the auspices of the Soviet state means, only by supporting the state can we save the planet.


The Soviet Union was not, necessarily aimed at evil goals.  The rise of the collective state is meant, at least in the theoretical, to be a beneficial spreading of the resources to all the people, rather than to the wealthy, the elite or the powerful.  In practice we know that the truth was quite different.  The state served the political elite.  Does that mean we should declare all of the state bad?  In this case, we should at the very least recognize that the corporate state killed anyone who disagreed with it.  It starved 5-8 million Ukranians who refused to go along with farm collectivism.


You might rightly think that one failed experiment doesn't remove the rightness of the goal.  But in practice collectivism does not work.  It hasn't worked.  The small European states that had a working socialist model had a small population, a generally ethnically similar population, and most of these efforts ended up failing.  Cherry picking the results leads to a overly bright view of collectivism.

"Communism forgets that life is individual. Capitalism forgets that life is social, and the kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of communism nor the antithesis of capitalism but in a higher synthesis. It is found in a higher synthesis that combines the truths of both."  Martin Luther King, Jr.

I might here be accused of suggesting I think Communism is evil. I think how it was practiced was evil.  Do I throw in Socialism with the Communist failures?  No, but, I think we have ignored the mass insanity it often requires to make it work.  If you tore the theories apart as people tear apart capitalism, you might end up thinking nothing works.  And the truth is, there are reasons why capitalism works that are often ignored.  Did the US grow economically due to pure capitalism?  No.  It grew upon the backs of tobacco and cotton farmers and the availability of cheap, indeed, even slave labor.  If you think slavery would have been removed if it wasn't a waning economic boon, well, you need to reassess your view.



But maybe, if it makes you feel better, I should be seen as thinking economics are rarely moral agents.  Distribution of wealth often follows how much or little the citizens desire wealth.  My values are not conducive to being a participant in any society.  And if you suggest I deserve to starve or not thrive as a result?  Ok.  I think humans have systems that require exploitation, wherever monetary wealth is concerned.

“There is nothing in the record of the past two years when both Houses of Congress have been controlled by the Republican Party which can lead any person to believe that those promises will be fulfilled in the future. They follow the Hitler line - no matter how big the lie; repeat it often enough and the masses will regard it as truth.” John F. Kennedy

Art that expands the state and the corporate state's ideology serves a master that we should be wary of, and distrust the message.

“It is possible to argue that the really influential book is not that which converts ten millions of casual readers, but rather that which converts the very few who, at any given moment, succeed in seizing power. Marx and Sorel have been influential in the modern world, not so much because they were best-sellers (Sorel in particular was not at all a widely read author), but because among their few readers were two men, called respectively Lenin and Mussolini.”  Aldous Huxley

Monday, November 26, 2018

A Walk through the Comics of Awesome

I am asked often why I like the comics, and have spent a long time explaining my view of their excellence.  I do not think all comics are adult, nor should they be.  But the world of comics has become a one of producing stories for a wide variety of interests, ages, and tastes.

Recently when Bill Maher mocked the sympathy about the loss of Stan Lee to comics fandom, he assumed comics were infantile garbage.  He is a fool.  And, as many libertarians of both the right and of the left, he is an asshole.

Comics are way to tell stories.  Some are silly shit.  Some are juvenile, but many are truly ascendant pieces of art that raise the genre to more than anything immature or foolish.

I am not a fan of much of Bill Maher, and Libertarians, however principled are often assholes.  But my best friend, another great friend, and a retailer who left the field due to illness, all being libertarians, were among the finest humans on earth.  So, not all Libertarians are bad.  Maybe Bill isn't evil or a snob... or maybe he is.


 


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Asking questions about Comics

Someone who ultimately didn't join Peter Urkowitz and I upon this article, asked a question that made me think if there was a reasonable answer... Who was the most important person to have worked in the comic book industry in any fashion?

One of the most ardent supporters of my creative work is Peter Urkowitz.  He is a dear friend, a talented artist, and a moral kind person.  He is now writing poetry for public consumption, and we are working together on a future work that will blow the world's balls off.

We chat a lot, and I am usually humbled when I have a small thought that he speaks about and I learn how very little I know, and he is in fact, a librarian, so hell, I should know better.  He is bright, and as worthy a human for a friend as there exists.

We began chatting this subject and we arrived at the present list, which considers builders of the industry, publishers who shaped the market, artists and writers who created work that influenced others and enjoyed great sales.

Some of the names you the reader will recognize.  But some are either from a period of the industry's history when writing or drawing comics didn't result in stardom, or, were more influential in the work that followed than their own circumstance.  We included talents from across the oceans, in both east and west directions.

Robert Crumb is associated with the world of underground comix, but has a great deal of recognition by purveyors of high culture, and art, in general, and as such, could be pointed to as a major talent.  But at the same time I say that, he is also not as widely recognized due to this not working in the mainstream. 

The list includes two amazing women who were instrumental in making the comics world better, Jenette Kahn published DC Comics, and under her reign she encouraged new imprints.  When DC comics birthed the imprint Vertigo, Karen Berger was the very excellent editor there.

Some non-frontline talent or influential parties was Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, publisher of the first true comic book.  Another is Phil Seuling who was responsible for the rise of a direct market that allowed more independent comics and experiments by major publishers.

And, while everyone on this list deserves attention, some are here for their determination, Dave Sim's Cerebus ran 300 issues, as an independent, and never saw it fall from his ownership or vision.  Joe Kubert was a very successful artist, but chose to create a school to help artists discover their talents to create comics.  Some might dispute the concept, but some very successful people can be named that would considerably establish how great the work he did as an educator was.

Row 1

Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Stan Lee, 
Jenette Kahn, Karen Berger

Row 2

Neal Adams, Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, 
Bob Kane, Will Eisner

Row 3

Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Kazuo Koike, 
Goseki Kojima, Moebius

Row 4

Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson,  Osamu Tezuka, 
Robert Crumb, George Herriman, Harvey Kurtzman

Row 5 

Phil Seuling, René Goscinny, Dave Sim,
Dennis O'Neil, Hayao Miyazaki

Row 6

Neil Gaiman, Roy Thomas, John Byrne, 
Bill Finger, Joe Kubert



Monday, November 12, 2018

Stan Lee is gone, Long Live Stan Lee

Stan Lee was long lived, and so, people began to go into mourning prematurely numerous times. With false news, hoax news, and jumpy obits, Stan Lee was remembered, mourned, and again remembered and mourned. 

His work as publisher and primary writer of Marvel Comics changed the world of comics and sequential art story telling.  Some modern readers could not appreciate what he meant to comics, not for being jerks or ignorant, but, for the fact that in his day he ramped up the excitement of comics, wrote a heroic universe that was linked and connected to each story, long before those sorts of things were done within the industry. While his work would be seen as less mature, less well developed than many of the works from modern/today's writers, they would likely not have existed due to three factors. 

1) Stan Lee essentially saved the comic industry by raising the industry's sales, visibility, and brand quality and story quality.

2) Stan Lee's writing went beyond the sap that was understood as emotion in the works previous, and engaged the reader with a personal story, and thereby, effect.

3) Stan Lee told stories that had echo effect on other stories ongoing.  If Spider-Man was unmasked you could damn well be sure that Hulk, Captain America or Iron Man would have mentioned it in near concurrent timing.  Nothing happened in the vacuum of underdeveloped universes as had happened before.

I've been told when I explain things like this I am somehow talking down to the reader.  Well here is a bombshell for you, I found Stan's work to be less fulfilling than others had suggested.  But, I cannot, as historian of the medium, as appreciator of the form, or as someone who appreciates his ability to read comics in the present, I cannot ignore his power and his creative revolution. This isn't meant to complain, at all about Stan.  I want each reader to understand that Stan Lee was every bit as important as his fans believe he was.  This isn't a commentary utilizing taste.  It is a factual statement about his place in an industry that itself is often is perceived, even by those who love the product it creates, as being small, small minded, or unimportant.

I am not someone who is a completist, but I have read almost all of the 1960s Marvel hero works.  I would not have today's Marvel universe if it had not known the work, the life, the energy of Stan Lee.

Stan Lee was a giant.
Giants should never go without the laurels they earned.

LEE IS DEAD
LONG LIVE STAN LEE!!


Thursday, November 8, 2018

Interview Week: The Writing Craft with Jamie Delano


What is the writer secret origin of Jamie Delano?  What caused you to become a writer?

I suspect the blame can be laid primarily at the feet of my mother. She infected me with the word virus, whispering sly poems and bedtime stories into my innocent hypnagogic ear almost before I could speak. My brain was thus catastrophically rewired with an innate fascination for the structure and music of language which I have been struggling to accommodate ever since. Even after sixty years I’m still not sure I’ve forgiven her for this cruel affliction.

What writers formed the larger part of your influences upon your writing?  Has that group of writers remained as your influences or have other writers, perhaps colleagues, new discoveries, or change in outlook led to more and or different ones?

I can spray a few off at random (say: Robert Louis Stevenson, Rosemary Sutcliffe, Alan Garner, Arthur Conan-Doyle, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Captain W E Johns… through to… J G Ballard, G K Chesterton, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, William S Burroughs, William Shakespeare, Robert Stone, Raymond Chandler, Jim Thomson, James Ellroy, J P Donleavy, Flann O’Brien… among several thousand others) but, bottom line, just about any author I read in my formative years, as well as those I continue to read today, by necessity must be considered ‘influential’. We are all products of our combined experience and our interpretations of this. Experience is cumulative and ongoing; intelligence is adaptive, and understanding and perspective evolves according to this accretion of information. I haven’t given up considering the written thoughts of others yet (although maybe I am a tad more discerning than I once was), and so I continue to be influenced daily, while, in the nature of all us perpetrators of writing crimes, perhaps influencing (for good or ill) others in my turn.

How do you approach writing dialogue and do you think it is the more difficult task a writer does?  Why or why not?

Writing dialogue is tricky. Some find it trickier than others. 

Many claim the ultimate goal is ‘naturalism’; I’d say, listen to the average natural human vocal interaction, with all it’s stuttering, barely coherent sentence fragments, syntactical shorthands, non-verbal enhancements, etc, and tell me that is what you want to read on a page…

The writer’s craft is to suggest a style of natural speech while – especially in comics, where text-space is extremely limited – intensifying the delivery of information and emotion carried by the dialogue. It need not be entirely Shakespearean, but a degree of ‘poetry’ in phrasing is also to be desired. All writing should be easy on the ear, have its own appealing music, without appearing ostentatious. Often, the most seeming ‘natural’ writing is the most worked. I have spent entire days of my life trying to make brief dialogue exchanges hit the right notes and rhythms and sound pleasing. That’s what writers are supposed to do.

The ability to hear the voices of your characters in your head is also useful. 


Do you write as a result of inspiration or dedication and time at the keyboard?  If you read other writing, do you automatically begin to mentally edit that, or think, I would have gone a direction?

I write as a result of compulsion, driven by guilt that I am not fulfilling my self-assigned pointless life-function when I can’t face the bastard blank page terror again.

I am a ‘keyboard thinker’. My stories only reveal themselves when my tapping fingers summon them from void to screen before me.

It is one of the costs of being a ‘full-time’ writer, in my experience, that one’s wholehearted enjoyment of the work of others is diminished by a carping critical internal voice that constantly insists that this passage or another could be improved by some ultimately pointless and arrogant edit- the clauses of a sentence rearranged, a comma more, or less, here or there… I think this small-mindedness is fair, as long as you are prepared to be as ruthless and petty in criticism of your own work too.

If you were to give advice to a new writer what would you say?  Did you find most of your writer voice alone, or did it arise from education, time in the field, and influences from others also at work in the field?

Ignore the advice of others, especially when imparted through the agency of ‘Ten Things You Must …’ lists.

Write when you feel like it: writing for the sake of it is futile and ultimately counterproductive. You don’t have to write every day to be a writer. Any fool can blather out ‘a thousand words a day’ but the effort is worthless if you don’t get them in the right order.

That said- the only way to improve as a writer is through practice. It can always be better next time. That’s why you go back to the keyboard and start the next thing.

Edit. Edit the fuck out of everything. Edit each sentence as you write it. When you eventually hit ‘The End’ start editing again from the beginning.

Learn from the work of others. Don’t imitate it. If you are a writer, your individual voice will make itself apparent. Learn to recognise it. Listen to it and let it speak when you do.

Expect to be miserable for a great deal of your life as you wrestle to master your recalcitrant craft, aware in the deepest recesses of your soul that, ultimately, in the universal scheme of things, it’s all just pointless drivel and no one really cares.

You will be known to many readers for your run on Hellblazer, but, you've written in many other fields, and formats.  Do you care how people think about your body of work, do you say "well yes I did Hellblazer, but I've also done all sorts of other work" what do you want people to think when they hear your name with regard to writing?

If I’m honest, yes, I do care how people regard my body of work. Of course I’m grateful that many people have enjoyed – and massively expanded on – work I did on, say, Hellblazer thirty years ago. But I have written far better stuff since. It would be nice if more people appreciated that too, but I’m grateful for those that do; and, in the end, I’m not writing for other people but to satisfy myself and pass the endless dreary hours of my life in an entertaining and absorbing fashion.

I want people to think when they consider my oeuvre that at least I took the job seriously, applied myself to developing my craft, and never, however tempted, just resorted to phoning shit in.

Do you have practises and habits of writing?  Do you write daily?

Frankly, these days, I consider I’m doing well if I write seriously on a yearly cycle… There is not an endless supply of words; sometimes you need to conserve them. Especially when billions of them are being blurted into the global earhole every second. Why add to the raucous cacophony merely for the sake of it? Well, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

When I do have a work in progress, my practice is to circle the stairs to my study for hours before warily mounting them to turn on the evil machine, cajole the cooperation of my characters in revealing what it is they want to say and do, and write down as much of it as I am able. When the ‘flow’ is exhausted – after one hour, or eight – I stop to eat and pay attention to humans inhabiting the real world around me for a few hours, before spending the quiet after-midnight hours reviewing the day’s earlier output, refining it as much as I am able, before retiring to sleep and let my unconscious mind process the following day’s direction of literary travel/travail…

You write mostly prose now, I think, does that use a different writer muscle, or, is writing writing regardless of the style, format, time taking to write it?

Any manipulation of words for the purpose of education, entertainment or polemic can be considered ‘writing’. It’s basically the ordering and communication of thought through the medium of language.

Writing for comics requires different techniques, maybe, to writing novels, because of the intrinsic differences between the respective media; but it’s all an exercise in wordplay. A comic script requires narrative and dialogue, and art direction which will inspire an artist to bring aspects the storytelling to the page in a graphic format. That same descriptive function is still necessary in  a novel, but communicated to the reader’s imagination directly, rather than mitigated by the vision of an artist.

The major practical difference, as I see it, is that comics are collaborative, and more structurally restrictive, while novels are solitary enterprises and potentially endless.

Is there any area, format, field of writing that remains mostly unplowed territory?

You mean in general, or personally?

Personally...

I regret not developing an early love for poetry. I was tempted by journalism at one point. But, on the whole and being kind of lazy, I don’t really feel I have much unrequited capacity weighing on me.

Writers, artists, makers of film all have a fire in them called creativity.  Would you have found an outlet eventually, if you had not become first a comic writer?  Is there a better path regarding a writer's creative and financial journey?

I have a few different way in which I express my ‘creativity’. Writing has not left me much space to exercise them. Take away the writing and I’d do more photography, probably some painting, gardening, even education…

I consider myself very fortunate to have found a slot in an industry that allowed me to earn a moderate living for a few decades writing comics. If I had not, my life would have been more miserable, and fewer people would have read stuff I’ve written, but I think I would still have considered myself a writer and been forced to fulfil that calling on some level. As I say, words are a disease and, once he has contracted it, a writer has no option but to spread the infection as far and wide as possible, so that others may suffer with him.  Jamie Delano 2018


Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Interview Week: The Writing Craft with Seán Martin

  
You’ve written poetry, plays and prose, which of those three disciplines are you most fond of? Is it the discipline that you find yourself best at? 

I suppose poetry, as I’ve been writing it the longest. I see poetry as underlying everything else - the best films are poetic, the best fiction. But of the other disciplines, I want to write more fiction.

Many people enter the field of writing with purpose and others find themselves writing as a reflection of opportunity or new epiphany. When did you decide in life to become a writer and why do you think you did? 

I always wanted to be a writer. I remember my father asking me when I was about eight years old what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I replied that I wanted to be a writer. He did not encourage me. He said ‘you can’t be a writer until you’ve got something to write about.’ That was his way of discouraging me, but in a sense, he was right. You need to find what it is you want to write about, and then write it. Having said that, I spent a long time focussing on other projects (films), and only thinking of myself as a part-time writer. Now having lost a certain amount of faith in filmmaking, I want to concentrate more on the writing. 

What life experiences have helped in developing your life as a writer? Do you think that your education was helpful beyond the basics of learning skills to go along with your talents? 

As a child, I always liked writing stories, and being asked to write a story for school was the best homework ever. But beyond that, I’m not sure how much my education played a part. I had a brilliant English teacher, Mr Thompson, whose enthusiasm and passion (and humour) were certainly a major factor in getting me interested in reading contemporary writers. I don’t think any life experiences as such played a part in my writing, more my developing perception of the world.

You’ve addressed the Templars, Black Death, the Gnostics, the Cathars and much more in your work. As I’ve told you in private conversation, I think your Templar book was the best of the many books I’ve read about them… Do your plays and or poetry involve those subject matter? Do you pursue the exotic aspects of Christianity to understand better the wide span of the Christian world? Is it a matter of belief or curiosity? 

I’ve written a couple of poems with Cathar themes, and I’ve been trying to write a poem about alchemy for years, but keep not finishing it. I see all those books being linked by my love of all things mediaeval; and also heresy (or free thinking). I’ve always been opposed to the idea that someone can tell you what you can or can’t imagine. I’m interested in church history, but that’s about as far as it goes. I’m deeply suspicious of organised religion, and the three Western monotheisms in particular. It always seems to be that the heretics and outsiders are closer to the truth. (Whatever that may be!)

What part of writing do you wish you could improve upon? Which of your talents regarding writing is your strength?

I wish I was more disciplined and productive! I’ve always been rather stop-start in my writing schedule; blame poetry for that.

Do you follow a routine in writing, is it done daily, do you write the book first and then offer it to publishers, or, do you give a proposal and then write the work thereafter?

I usually do a proposal, and then take it from there. When writing, I try to work every day, but it doesn’t always work out like that. I can often take days off, and then write a lot quickly.

What subject areas do you desire to approach in your non fiction, and do you intend upon covering other than European history and cultural? 

I’ve toyed with the idea of doing a book on the Dark Ages. I know most historians tend to use the term ‘early middle ages’ now, but I think Dark Ages is more evocative. And we’re living in one at the moment. My PhD, when it’s finished, will hopefully become a book. It’s on the Scottish metaphysical fantasy writer David Lindsay who wrote A Voyage to Arcturus. 

What internet tools do you make use of in writing, do you use the “Cloud”, does Wikipedia help, or do you have grammar or spell check? Do you think perhaps that using those tools makes a writer, say a writer like me, lazy or forgetful and too dependent upon them? 

I use Google Drive and Docs a lot. Wikipedia can be a good starting place, but for serious research, I always use the National Library of Scotland here in Edinburgh. When I lived in London, I used the British Library a lot. Real books win out over websites every time. I find spell-checkers and auto-fill/auto-correct very annoying and try to avoid them.


What is the best advice you’ve received as a developing writer, and, what advice do you hear commonly given that you think is perhaps not as good or less than helpful? 

A difficult question to answer, as I’ve received a lot of good advice over the years. I think realising that it was OK to write about the things I’m interested in was crucial. You have to write what you are, in a sense. If you’re not doing that, then perhaps you’re not writing what you really should be writing. I think the famous adage, ‘write what you know’ is perhaps not very helpful. You need to write what you’re passionately interested in.

With such an esoteric set of works, do you risk having the mainstream dismiss your work, or, are people more sophisticated now than previous generations? How do you engage the mainstream if they are either defenders of the orthodoxy, or, rather, nutjobs? 

You always run the risk of being dismissed. But I’ve had good reviews from the mainstream media as well. I think it really depends on the reviewer! I don’t really think about engaging the mainstream. I just want to write more books, and hope that they will find readers, one way or another. This could be via mainstream publishers or small presses. I think a writer these days has to work with all available channels, moving between them as appropriate.



Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Interview Week: The Writing Craft with Alan Dean Foster



We've done many interviews prior to this,  (all of which were very generous of you to do), I am going to focus here upon what experiences create a writer, what interests you, and how you create.

What is your first memory as student of writing when you knew what you wanted to do? What about becoming writer would you say is a universal formative moment or event for all future writers?

I was a graduate student in film writing at UCLA.  While other students were struggling to complete their assignments, I was usually done in a few weeks.  Just for fun, I thought I would try my hand at some short stories.  The twelfth attempt sold, and to an editor/ writer I admired: August Dereleth.  The next one sold to John W. Campbell.  It was at that point that the light went on and I thought I might have found something I was pretty good at. 

First sale is often a formative moment for all writers, no matter the genre.

Obviously any creative artist is influenced by the world in which they exist, but, you write science fiction primarily, how does a sci-fi writer know what can only be speculated upon, and in a consistent way?

I’ve found that those who write SF are frequently inspired by reading it.  Having experienced the imaginary worlds of others, they begin speculating on their own.  As to consistency, that’s something that is all too often lacking in much SF.  Just because a world is invented does not mean it exists without rules of its own.

A number of my own works have been inspired by my travels other countries and experiencing other environments, other cultures.

When you write dialogue, do you hear the character voices speaking in the sound of their voice, and if not, do you have a way to write dialogue so it becomes more, for want of a better term, ethnic?  Or a product from their universe?

I always hear characters speaking in their own voice…including the aliens.  As for writing ethnicized dialogue, sometimes I’ll make a deliberate effort to utilize invented, non-human speech patterns.  It’s a balancing act between making a character “sound” alien, and having them remain comprehensible.  The most extreme example in my own work is in the recent novel STRANGE MUSIC, where I’ve tried to render alien speech that is always sung into comprehensible English patterns.  I did it by adapting the rhyme-scheme Longfellow used in his Song of Hiawatha.

Did you desire to world travel before deciding upon becoming a writer, or, did creating worlds and peoples inspire you with a desire to world travel?  How hard is it for a writer to create a culture, a people different from any earth culture?  Is that the key to great sci-fi, language and culture?

If I could’ve found someone to pay me for traveling I might never have become a writer.  I blame it all on Scrooge McDuck (or rather his creator, Carl Barks).  Scrooge traveled all over the world having marvelous adventures, and I wanted to go with him (but not if I had to pay my own way).  Later on I discovered a book of Richard Halliburton’s travel writings.  Halliburton is largely forgotten today, but he was big stuff in the early 20th century.  I still remember a b&w photo of him standing in front of the Taj Mahal.  Then there were the books of Frank “Bring ‘em back alive” Buck, a guy who used to collect for zoos and circuses.  Travelers and adventurers all, and I wanted to be one of them.

Wrong century for that sort of thing, but I’ve done the best I can.  Experiencing other cultures certainly helps in creating new ones.  The culture of the world in DROWNING WORLD is a directly based on that of Fiji.

Do you write something creative daily?  What kind of routine do you get into, or, do try to not have a routine, and work out of pure fire, not labor?

When I’m working on a project I force myself to write something every day.  Might be just a paragraph.  Might be crap.  But I find that once the words start appearing, it’s like turning on a tap.  It’s the getting started that’s the hardest part.  Like getting a reluctant car engine to turn over.  Once it’s running, you’re usually good until you deliberately turn it off. 

Pure fire, or inspiration, is fine for dilettantes.  Working writers have no time to wait around for either one.

I am not herein asking for you to choose a favorite writer, but, as a writer what creative talent inspires you as a role model more than any other?  What is it about that choice that causes that response in you?

Robert Sheckley, master of the SF short story.  Dozens of brilliant ideas thrown out like fireworks.  Most writers would settle down and get an entire novel out of one of his ideas.  Bob just tossed ‘em off and hurried on to the next one.  Also Balzac.  If he could write dozens of novels with a quill pen, no contemporary writer has the right to claim they can’t “get through it”.

What factors are necessary for a writer to become a professional and published creative talent?  Are the basic talents transferable, that is, can a writer, with time become a good artist? Can a painter decide to write, and after time because of the nature of creative talents, become a good writer?

There are creative polymaths who have done both, but I don’t think you can train yourself to do it.  The talent has to be in you.  Barks is a good example.  A fine artist and, I think, and even better writer.  Not very many composers also wrote their own librettos, and vice versa.  In film, we have Preston Sturges, who not only directed but wrote some of the funniest and most pointed comedies of all time.  It’s a rare gift.

I’d love to write classical music.  I hear it in my head all the time, but since I have no music training and can’t play an instrument, I have no way to get it out.  Need direct mind to music paper transfer (there’s an old Astounding magazine story about that, by Katherine MacClean, I think. Late ‘40’s or early ‘50’s). 

Do you believe humans will find a way to travel in space that is good enough to escape the world crisis of over population, climate change, war, pandemics?

Well, Arthur Clarke said that if experts declare that a thing is impossible, it almost certainly is possible.  I think we’ll get off the planet, but I’m not sure it will be in time to escape our own follies or in sufficient numbers to ensure the continuation of the species.  Maybe some other species will come rescue us.  If they do, it will not because we deserve it, but because they’re either curious, bored, or both.

If humans could escape earth, and find a planet empty of human like analogues, could they create a better society, knowing what we did to our first planet?

“Could” being different from “would”. I’m afraid we haven’t matured very much as a species. What might give us a chance to create a better society elsewhere would be the advent of truly intelligent machines. These would free us from drudgery (who’s going to clean the toilets in that better society?) while perhaps also preventing us from indulging our baser instincts.

In 50 years what will things may happen daily or simply regularly and become mundane, that we cannot now perceive in the way and size of it?  How can a writer imagine the future, without having a gift of prophecy?

You try to extrapolate as best you can from current trends in society and technology.  It’s much easier to write about a future a thousand years from now than it is from fifty, because the latter is so much more closely tied to a known present.  It depends how realistic you want your future society to be.

For example, how would society adapt if someone invented an infalliable lie detector?  If you refused to use it, everyone would assume you had something to hide.  Politicians, educators, CEO’s…not to mention married couples.  Such an invention would change society in ways we can scarcely envision.  For the better?  That’s another question.

And that’s what SF is all about: asking questions.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Interview Week: The Writing Craft with Chuck Dixon




Since we've done many interviews (all of which were very generous of you to do), I am going to focus here upon what experiences create a writer, what interests you, and how you create.

What is your first memory as student of writing when you knew what you wanted to do?  What about becoming writer would you say is a universal formative moment or event for all future writers?

In elementary school we were given an assignment to pick a picture from a box and make up a story about it. They were photos the teacher clipped out of magazines. I asked if I could have more than one picture. The teacher said okay and I rooted through the box until I found five or so pictures then made up a story that linked them in a story with a beginning, middle and end. Each kid had to stand up in front of the class and tell the story of his picture. My story was the only one that got laughs and applause.

             That’s when I thought, “Hey, this is what I want to do.”

What is it about writing that drew you in?  Were you a hopeless revisionist with a desire to fix the world's history?  Were you a lover of the written word?

I just liked stories and I liked relating them to others. And I liked hearing other people tell stories and admired anyone who could tell a story well. I’d listen to my dad talk to his friends about their experiences in Europe and the Pacific during WWII. It was better than TV. We had a priest at our parish who was really good at telling stories. I met a lot of really interesting people when I went to work after school and heard unforgettable stories from them.

The most educational part for me was whenever I got into a conversation with someone about movies. I learned a wealth of knowledge about storytelling listening to a former prize fighter relate the plot of the movies he’d watched on the TV the night before. This guy was a high school drop-out and zero education in film making or literature. But the guy could get all worked up relating the plot to Vera Cruz or Forty Guns. He’d not only get across the story but the character nuances and the important snippets of dialogue. He was a movie consumer not a critic but intuited everything about what he was seeing. Listening to him taught me a lot more about what we all expect from a story and what entertains us, move us or makes us laugh than a film degree ever would.

But to make a living telling stories I had to get over the hurdle of writing. I taught myself to write by reading other writers and, very important, reading criticism. I’ve never been a wordsmith and admire those who are. In comics you need to be terse and work broad but there’s not a lot of call for eloquence or artful writing. The pictures do all that.

Now that I’m writing more prose I had to work on that muscle. It was intimidating, still is. But one thing I’ve learned is that it doesn’t come easy to anyone. In prose you do more re-writing than writing. In comics you have to get it right the first time. In prose you go back and tweak and polish and tuck.

When you write dialogue, do you hear the character voices speaking in the sound of their voice, and if not, do you have a way to write dialogue so it becomes more, for want of a better term, ethnic?  Or a product from their universe?

I often base a character’s voice on someone I know. If I can’t do that I think about where they came from and what I know about the rhythm or patois of that region. I generally avoid ethnic. If you listen to actual people talk rather than listen to TV or movie dialogue, you discover that people have their own way of communicating as individual as they are. I always listen for phrases I’ve never heard before.

But then again, there are folks who learn to converse from TV. You know, the kind of people who speak in aphorisms or sound bites. I hear conversations all the time that are so loaded with pat phrasing and platitudes they could be from a Disney Channel sitcom.

That’s why it’s more fun to write characters from the past. In the past you were only exposed to those around you. If you didn’t know how to say something or describe something, you had to find the language or make it up. These days, we’re drawing closer to a national patois that, while rich, is kind of homogenized by exposure to social media and television.

As we've discussed privately, you are scholar of military history. What area of the human violent past is the one of most interest to you, and which area is the one that you know the most about?  Do those two streams of thought enter a confluence and influence each other?

I have a very toy soldier approach to history. By that I mean, not terribly scholarly. I read about or look into a period until my curiosity is satisfied. Basically, until I understand the gist of things and have some understanding of it.

For example, I know next to nothing about the War of the Roses. I wouldn’t know where to begin. But ask me to write a story about the Russian Civil War or the Boxer Rebellion and I’m all over it.

So much of the history I know is through osmosis, just being exposed to lots of material from a young age. I grew up in the Civil War Centennial and every kid I know lived that period through books and toys and trading cards. That kind of exposure early on creates an enthusiasm or, at least, an awareness. I know my own kids aced history every time and they credit all those hours of setting up battles on the living room floor.

Do you write something creative daily?  What kind of routine do you get into, or, do try to not have a routine, and work out of purely wild  fire, not labor?

Even if I don’t write daily I’m thinking of stuff to write.

And I try to set a goal each day. Two to three thousand [CD1] words of prose or five pages of comic script. If I reach the goal early I watch a movie. But a lot of days I’m still sitting there through supper.

Then some days it is a wild fire. Last week I was averaging eight or more pages a day and finished the equivalent of two comic books.

And no weekends.

Do you work well with a deadline, or, are you better by any means going at your own pace and creating as it happens?  Is that typical, do you think?  I know I've been as much as two years ahead of my own mentally kept schedule, and when I am particularly moved by the concept, I can do it in very little time.  But, having a deadline slows me down, actually... I guess I have a mental block there.

I need a deadline. Even if it’s one I assign myself. And I generally beat the deadlines given to me by publishers. I have my own schedule to meet if I’m going to balance all the work, And my schedule supersedes the publisher’s every time. I know I want to stay well ahead of the demands so that I have built-in downtime in case something special comes along.

I recently wrote a 100-page graphic novel that was thrown my way out of the blue. Because I was ahead of my deadlines I could take the two weeks needed to get that job done. I was adapting a screen treatment and I can fly through those.

Sometimes the tighter the deadline the better. What I call mini-deadlines. Like when I’m sitting and staring at the screen and my wife pops in to remind me of an appointment I have that afternoon. Suddenly I have NO time to meet my quota for the day. The mist falls away and my fingers are flying on the keys. It’s giddy-up time.


Many writers I know in the world of comics love the work artists do, but find themselves so different than the artist individually that they clash.  Do most people clash over money, or work load, or, simply put, different minds not communicating?

I don’t clash with anyone. I respect the time and effort the artist puts into the work. He’s selling it. He’s the first thing the reader sees. And, while I write full script, my scripts are flexible. I always make it clear that I’m open to collaboration. 99% of the time it works. And the 1% when it doesn’t the reader never knows.

What creative work did you most enjoy?  What work of yours would you most like to return to?  Why is that?

It sounds corny, but as long as I can invest myself in the characters I enjoy it all. If it’s Batman or Raggedy Ann, if I can get into the character it’s all fun. And when it’s not fun it’s a challenge and that’s kind of fun too. My main concern is meeting the reader’s expectations and trying to exceed them. The most daunting thing I think I ever worked on was two Transformers projects. I wasn’t that conversant with the franchise, but I knew the fans were dedicated. I sweated that one so as not to let anyone down.

On the other hand, adapting P.G. Wodehouse’s Right Ho, Jeeves to comic book form felt so right. I was so conversant with the novel after countless re-readings that I knew just what was needed (and not needed) to make it work in the medium.

Most of the stuff I’ve written in comics is in the rear-view mirror for me. While it would be fun to go back and re-visit some of those characters, I have a lot of new stuff being thrown at me all the time and all of it with fresh challenges to be overcome.

How much of writing is how to understand and find serenity, becoming free of ego, and what amount of writing is grabbing the subject by the horns and going for the wild ride?

As far as ego goes, I know I have one. We all do. But honestly, it’s more about the story than about me. I want to be the invisible hand. If the writing gets noticed I’ve failed. I really want to make the story I’m writing belong to the reader. Probably the most pretentious thing I’ve ever said right there. But it’s true. I’d rather have someone tell me they enjoyed the story rather than tell me I’m a great writer.

Nothing pleases me more than a comic fan telling me that that they cataloged or re-bagged their comics and were surprised at how many of their comics were written by me. That tells me that they liked the story without remembering who wrote it.

You've written great alternative history, and straight forward history subjects, is writing the alternative history easier because you now control the path?  What categorized alt history work by others is a favorite of yours?

I loved The Iron Dream because it’s just so nuts. There’s also a Richard  C. Meredith’s Timeline trilogy. I was fascinated by that. But I don’t follow a lot of alternative fiction. I’d rather read actual historical fiction or non-fiction.

That said, I’m on the down slope of the next book in my Bad Times series and half of the action is set in a parallel world where the Mughals and Normans are in a war over the North American continent.