The Way of the Word

30. July 2011

Review: Witch Doctor #2

Publisher: Image Comics. Cover Price: $ 2.99. Written by Brandon Seifert. Art by Lukas Ketner

Dr. Vincent Morrow, the Witch Doctor, has a choice: take care of a Cuckoo Faerie infestation (a faerie that steals and kills human children and replaces them with her own offspring), or join Absinthe O’Riley on a creature hunt. The latter scares even Morrow, so he decides to handle the infestation. Which is a job he actually considers to be beneath him. Meanwhile, Abby’s hunt is successful, and when Morrow returns home, he finds a surprise monster in his office.

Witch Doctor is a comic that makes me cry: “Why didn’t I have that idea?” Because the idea is really simple: you take one part of House MD and one part Re-Animator, shake rattle and roll it, and you get the medical horror drama Witch Doctor.

Of course, as simple as that premise sounds… Well, the result is more than that. Far more. So much more that I’m convinced that Brandon and Lukas are really bugf*ck crazy.
Consider that we’re talking horror, and you’ll realize that it is a compliment. Because the creators take the idea of a medical/scientific approach to the supernatural and think it through, without shying away from the consequences. The result is a horror comic that is sick, bizarre and over the top fun. While Ketner’s art fails the Shooter Test (it is sometimes impossible to tell what goes on in a panel if you didn’t have the words), that is due to the nature of this beast, and not at all detrimental to the fun.

The characters are also wonderfully off-beat. Dr Morrow is Dr House as Jeffrey Combs might play him, his paramedic Erik Gast is the straight man to Morrow’s over the top approach to the situations they find themselves in. My main problem is the second assistant, Penny Dreadful. And not because I dislike the character. But she’s a scene stealer. Seifert and Ketner make her strange and mysterious, always leaving hints at her nature without explaining anything. The problem is that the character is so fascinating that she becomes a distraction when she is on-panel. Which, yes, is once more a back-handed compliment.

If you like horror, you owe it to yourself to buy this comic. Because it shows a completely new and original approach to the subject matter, with a ton of in-jokes and references to the more classic versions.

Verdict: Extremely recommended!

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Review: The Mis-Adventures of Adam West #1

Publisher: Bluewater Comics. Cover Price: $ 3.99. Written by Reed Lackey. Art by Russell Dauterman.

Actor Adam West has problems: his values and ideas are out of fashion, and because he refuses to compromise them he doesn’t get any more work. But then something amazing happens: a strange amulet that he gets in the mail not only makes him young again, it also transports him into a spy adventure — which he eventually recognizes as one of the scripts he had recently rejected.

Like most of my generation, I have a soft spot for Adam West. Which is why I broke my rule of not spending more than $3.00 on any one comic, and impulse-bought this one. I was rewarded with a charming little story of a man who feels his time has passed, and who (apparently) is about to get the chance to prove everyone wrong.

The writing is competent and rather nostalgic. It manages to evoke sentiment in the reader — if you’re like me, you’ll feel with Adam West because you agree with him; if not, you’ll probably scoff at his old-fashioned notions. But you will react in some way.

The bad thing about this comic is the art. Invoking the Shooter Test, it’s servicable. You can tell what happens in each panel even if there were no words. But it is no more than that. The art is a bit too simple, too bland to excite. And frankly — if your comic is officially licensed by Adam West, then you should draw him in a way that the readers will recognize him even if you don’t say, “This is supposed to be Adam West.”

All in all, The Mis-Adventures of Adam West is a charming comic, and the only reason I won’t get the next issue is the price tag. I’ll keep an eye out for the TPB, though.

Verdict: mildly recommended.

Review: Marksmen #1

Publisher: Image Comics. #1 of 6 Cover Price: $1.00. Written by David Baxter. Pencis by Javier Aranda.

In #1 of Marksmen, we meet Drake McCoy, a Marksman for New San Diego in a postapocalyptic USA. Drake is out to fetch some tech for Dr. Heston, who (seems to be) in charge of New San Diego’s science division. While doing his looting, he is attacked by a clan of cannibals and rescued by fugitives from the city of Lone Star in what used to be Texas. The fugitives are on their way to New San Diego to warn them of an impending attack by the religious fanatics who run Texas, because Lone Star has run out of oil and now wants New San Diego’s tech to keep their civilization running.

Marksmen was an impulse buy. I figured, I can’t really go wrong for just $1.00.
I figured wrong.

After massive recession the United States government collapsed and a civil war erupted between the cities and states to keep any last resources to themselves. This destroyed our country’s infrastructure and most of its population… the Big Collapse.

Out of the ashes rose New San Diego, one a few cities that survived by cutting itself off from the outside world. Rebuilt by a roup of top scentists and protected by the Navy Seals stationed at the Coronado Navel Base, NSD became a technological utopia. Sixty years later the ancestors of those Navy Seals still protect the city as… the MARKSMEN.

That’s the intro from the inside cover. Spelling, grammar and word usage are diligently copied.
Notice the problem? If so, you clearly did a better job than the writer, editor and publisher of this comic. The lack of English language competency shows throughout the comic, in bad word usage, spelling and word balloons pointed at the wrong person (at least according to context).

The story and the characters are also rather derivative. The Marksmen, as shown here, are slightly reminiscent of Judge Dredd and his cohorts, and the first half of the story is borderline “Judge Mad Max vs. The Hills Have Eyes.” The only moderately original idea is that the scientific utopia, which going by the very few hints in this comics is something of a science-based military dictatorship, is about to go up against an invading religious-fascistic dictatorship.

The art is servicable. With some more practice, Javier Aranda might eventually get to be pretty good. As it is, his figures are stiff, and he relies heavily on stock poses. However, his art passes what I call the Shooter Test: you can tell what’s going on in each panel even without the words.

There are of course hints of problems and complications to come, but I know for certain that I’m not going to be around to read about them.

Verdict: Very Not Recommended!

1. June 2011

Novel in Progress: Die Young

It’s funny how some things develop sometimes. How the real world needs of the writer can influence a story, and actually make it better.

Case in point: Die Young. I’m writing without an outline. I know the crime, I know who did it, and I know why they did it. As I write it, I uncover the story just as the investigator, Shaw, does. And sometimes it surprises me.

Case in point: I recently had a scene where I needed someone to leave a building. If I’d ended the scene with that character leaving, it would have been glaringly obvious, a couple of pages later, why he left. At least to me, but I’m writing this assuming that the readers are at least as astute as I am. So I needed to extend the scene beyond that, but without forcing it, or at least making it seemed forced.

What happened was that the scene ended on a completely different major development, a development that I hadn’t planned, that I hadn’t foreseen, but that made complete and total sense.

Another thing was that I didn’t feel good yesterday. I was tired, distracted, preoccupied all day long. I decided to put that into the story: by giving Shaw some sleep-withdrawal, then have something happen, and let him wonder if he missed anything because he was too tired. The obvious answer is yes. 🙂

I also realized that I have accidentally created an extra viable suspect. I’ll have to nurture that character, just to see where it will take me.

Lastly, I realized that I overlooked something obvious. Because the case originally ties into the adult entertainment industry, I had Shaw begin his search for the endangered Amy Mason there. He hasn’t found her yet, nobody knows her. The obvious thing I overlooked: just because the bad guys work in the adult entertainment industry doesn’t mean that Amy has to work there. However, I’m not sure that this logic error is something that needs fixing. For one thing, the case is only two days old, story time. Shaw spent the first day looking for Diana Young’s killer, and the second day looking for Amy Mason. In the story, he has just woken up to day 3. Now, I could go back and add a line or two where he considers the possibility that Amy Mason might not be connected to the adult entertainment industry, or I could have him realize that over breakfast on the third day. I’m not sure yet which is better, but I’ll need to decide before continuing.

Frankly, I lean towards the latter, having him realize it. Shaw’s human, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t overlook the obvious. “I missed the obvious, but at least I only wasted a day looking in all the wrong places — places that I probably would have searched anyway, even if I had thought of it.” Something like that.

24. May 2011

Novel in Progress: Die Young

I was rewatching On Her Majesty’s Secret Service yesterday evening, and I wonder: in both the novels and the movies, Marc-Ange Draco never shows up again. But he should. For those who don’t know the story: in OHMSS, Bond marries a woman named Tracy. Tracy is the daughter of Draco, who happens to be a major figure in international organized crime. At the end of the story, Bond marries Tracy, who is just afterwards murdered by Bond’s arch enemy Blofeld.

Yet neither in the novels or in the movies does Draco become involved in hunting down Blofeld to avenge the death of his beloved daughter. Sure, it’s Bond’s stories and Bond’s enemies, but I find it very much out of character of this kind of person (who earlier in the story staged a major assault on Blofeld’s fortress to rescue his captured daughter) that he just, well, seems to shrug it off.

Right now, you probably wonder why I talk about that instead of my progress on Die Young, which is what the NiP posts are about. Oh, it’s simply: it made me realize that I need to kill Amy Mason.

What, huh? Or rather, what, who? Isn’t this novel about who killed Diana Young, Teh SexKitteh?

Yeah, sure. The problem was that I needed a stronger hook for Shaw to remain involved after the first 20 pages, so I added a missing person quest.

Now, some pages later, I’m stuck. I didn’t know how to advance the story. Which is why I started to watch movies instead of working on Die Young. Distract myself, let my subconscious work on the problem. I was getting so desperate that I was considering doing a Hammett. You see, there is something that Dashiell Hammett does in his stories that I don’t like: he relies too much on coincidence to move the story forward. I’m sure you’ve seen the movie The Maltese Falcon, with Humphrey Bogart. One thing that happens over and over again in the story (the novel too) is that Sam Spade’s investigation gets stuck, and then someone comes in out of nowhere, drops a clue and vanishes again. Without Spade having to do anything for it. I hate that. But I was starting to think that perhaps I needed to do something like it as well.

Then I remembered that I had already set up a solution to it. Shaw had already talked with a contact at the NYPD’s vice squad. That one could come up with something, which meant that the information wouldn’t come out of nowhere.

But that raised another problem: once Shaw has Amy, he doesn’t have to continue to work the case. Problem solved, case close. I’d be back to square one.

That’s the problem with a MacGuffin: once the hero has acquired it, end of story.

The solution came over breakfast this morning. I was re-reading Maison Ikkoku and thinking about how I haven’t killed anyone in far too long. Which tells you far too much about how my mind works. (Although, to be fair, I mostly thought about how nobody has tried to kill Shaw yet in this novel, and realized that so far, noboy had any reason to.)  Anyway, it was then that I realized how to solve all my problems at once:

I have to kill Amy Mason. That would fix the dead end I’m currently staring at, it would provide a nice break in the story’s current lull, and it would give Shaw added incentive to get his ass in gear.

It’s like with comics. In comics, if you’re stuck, you blow something up. (Come to think of it, that’s also how they handle it in blockbuster movies.) Here, I’m stuck, so I’ll kill Amy Mason in order to move the plot forward.

22. May 2011

Vampires Don’t Sparkle!

If you like vampires (the scary kind that doesn’t sparkle in the daylight), you might want to consider spending 99 cents on Streets of Blood, my vampire novel. Only available for the Kindle.

Amazon US: http://amzn.to/jeNxaE

Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/j1e19E

Amazon Germany: http://amzn.to/jMhUdp

29. April 2011

Novel in Progress: Die Young

The single worst problem when I’m supposed to work isn’t writer’s block. It’s distractions.

It’s late in the evening, and I’m rather tired. It’s been a long day, and I haven’t slept well for two nights. I’m currently rereading James Clavell’s Shôgun, which is one of my all-time favorite novels. I haven’t read it in several years, and it feels fresh and exciting again. It’s difficult to tear myself away from the novel, and I have to expend a lot of willpower to not boot down the computer and lose myself in Japan of AD 1600.

I have several DVD box sets that I still want to watch. Among them two seasons each of Magnum PI, Starsky & Hutch and Home Improvement. I’m a member of media swap groups, so I don’t have to buy used books or DVDs or CDs. I swap out stuff that I no longer want or need, and get back stuff that I do want. The problem is willpower: it’s hard to resist impulse swapping. When I decided to write Die Young, I locked the unwatched DVDs away, to remove the temptation.

One thing I do to reduce distraction is that I write on the notebook. The notebook has  no internet connection. It has no games installed. It’s a pure work machine.

And yes, the internet and games are massive chronovores. I just finished translating a movie that took twice as long as it should have because, well, I didn’t like the movie, so I spent more time on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking places, or playing Half-Life, than I should have. And yes, I got Half-Life through one of those swap groups. It’s a major effort to not check the swap groups all the time for interesting stuff, because while I work on Die Young I wouldn’t want to take the time to watch movies anyway.

The matter is made worse by the fact that I don’t have a deadline. Die Young is a sequel to The Coldest Blood, which hardly anyone has read. Nobody’s waiting for it. It makes no difference if I finish it this year, or next year, or not at all. I’m pretty good with deadlines. That movie I mentioned above, the one that I disliked so much I procrastinated too much? I still turned it in a day early. Go me, right? Yeah – I know, though, that I could have turned it in much earlier than that. Then I would have had a bit more breathing space with the other four deadlines I have right in front of me. The next translation is due on May 2, then another on May 9, then a couple of columns on the 18th, and then there’s another translation that I need to squeeze in somewhere along the way. Busy, busy, busy. I don’t really have the time to slack off, to be distracted.

And yet, there is that copy of Shôgun over there, beckoning me to boot down, call it a night and immerse myself in the adventures of John Blackthorne, the Anjin-san, and the rise of Toranaga-sama to Shôgun.

If I were smart, I would try to use it to motivate me. Tell myself that somewhere down the line, some guy with a notebook computer and word processing software will try to resist the distraction of Die Young.

But only if I can resist temptation.

By the way, you might know the writing rule ‘kill your darlings.’ Well, every now and then, I get one that is very very difficult to kill. This time: His confusion was so obvious that I didn’t know if I should feel sorry for him or invite him to poker night. Tell me: is that a potential classic, or what?

27. April 2011

Novel in Progress: Die Young

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Okay, to be honest, it wasn’t all that great either way. Sure, I had a good writing session last night, but I’m rather unhappy with my output. To the point where I had to decide, against my habits, to fix it in revisions.

What happened?

As I told you in a previous post, I discovered that the first chapters of Die Young emulated Robert B. Parker’s method of one chapter per conversation.  Once I discovered that I had done that accidentally, I decided to continue that way for the first in-story day of Shaw’s investigation.

That meant I had to start Chapter 6 from scratch. The problem with that was that Chapter 6 is an exposition chapter. Shaw received evidence and draws his conclusions. That’s much more difficult to pull off only in dialog. From that you can probably understand why I started and scrapped that chapter five times before just hacking it out and telling myself I’ll fix it in revisions.

Then there was the final conversation before Shaw confronts the person who did the actual deed. I had wanted to get more hard information about anesthesiology before getting to that chapter, but I forgot. I had read up on it to see if my idea on how to do it would work, so I winged it with what I remembered from that. So I’ll get the hard data and insert it into the placeholders when I do the revisions.

One thing I am happy with is that I managed to work in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to The Coldest Blood. In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, The Coldest Blood is the first Shaw novel. It’s available for only 99 cents on Amazon US, Amazon UK and Amazon Germany. I’m quite proud that I managed to make a reference that you can consider light snark from the character if you don’t know The Coldest Blood, but if you do know it you’ll catch a different layer of meaning.

If a blog post had chapters, I’d call the next one Evolution of a Suicide.

There are some things I always knew I would do. One was the killers’s motivations. There’s the Mastermind, and I know their motivation. And there’s the trigger person, and I knew how their motivation would result in Shaw really getting involved with it.

Huh? What?

Yeah. Exactly. The problem with the idea of Die Young was that Shaw initially gets involved out of curiosity. But that’s not enough to make him take the case. It’s not believable that he should put aside paying work (okay, which he doesn’t have) and get into danger just because he’s curious. I knew I needed to provide him with a stronger reason to go after the Big Bad. I found that reason in the Trigger Person’s motive for their part in the murder. That had also been slightly tricky, because the Trigger Person needed to go against their apparent own interest to do it. When I found an answer to why someone would do it, I also had the answer for Shaw’s motivation to follow this through.

The other thing I knew from the beginning was that I wanted to leave it vague just how much the Trigger Person knew. Did they know they were murdering Diana Young? Did they think they were doing something else? Did they know and just fool themselves into thinking they didn’t? I think I pulled that off. Which leaves the next thing nicely poignant.

The suicide.

Another thing I always knew was that I wanted the Trigger Person to commit suicide in front of Shaw. (No, this is only a mild spoiler, because it happens only 30 pages into the manuscript.) As I worked towards it, I had this image of him chasing the Trigger Person up to a roof, where the Trigger Person confesses their part and jumps. As the story progressed, that became implausible. There was no way that the Trigger Person could stay out of Shaw’s reach long enough to get to the roof. There was also no way that Shaw would meet the Trigger Person on the roof. For the leap into death, they had to be in a closed room high up in a building. Problem: windows, and windows that high in New York, AFAIK, don’t open. So I needed the Trigger Person to have a way to smash the window. Solution: the Trigger Person brings a gun, to shoot out the window. Waitasecond — if the Trigger Person has a gun, they don’t need to shoot out the window, they can shoot themselves … Also, that they had brought the gun has some interesting implications about the Trigger Person’s state of mind after the murder.

So all in all, I’m happy with some things that I managed to do, but I’m unhappy that I left so much “to fix in revision”. But if I hadn’t, I’d probably still be tinkering with Chapter 6 (the exposition chapter, remember?). It’s probably better this way, even if I feel not very good about it.

23. April 2011

Novel in Progress: Die Young

Progress on Die Young is slow but steady. And as the saying goes, that wins the race, right?

On the chapters so far, I’ve borrowed a page from Robert B. Parker. If you look at how he did things, you’ll see that each chapter is one conversation. His protagonist has a conversation, end chapter, new chapter with new conversation, end chapter, new chapter with new conversation. Even if the two conversations happen in the same location. Start chapter, have conversation, end chapter. Start chapter, have conversation with the other person sitting at the table, end chapter.

So far, I pretty much did the same thing in Die Young. Shaw has a conversation, end chapter, next chapter is a different conversation in a different location. I’ll admit, though, that I did it that way mostly because I like to shift chapters between locations, not between conversations. I didn’t realize I was emulating Parker until after chapter 3.

So far, it makes sense to do it this way. I’ve got Shaw driving around, meeting people and asking questions to solve the murder of porn actress Diana Young. Three or so chapters from now, I’ll break style. Once Shaw has identified the person who actually administered the poison, I’m going to return to the pulpier, action-ier style of the Mickey Spillane school that I already used in The Coldest Blood. (Obviously, Spillane and Parker are two of the greatest influences in my own mystery writing.) Hopefully, the stylistic shift won’t be too upsetting, because it will be accompanied by a narrative shift.

21. April 2011

Novel in Progress: Die Young

Yes, I admit it. I haven’t talked about the progress of Die Young for a while, because there hadn’t been any. I had written one page in February, and then nothing.

On Sunday evening, I booted the notebook again and continued work. I’m not going very fast — I’m a slow writer anyway — but I’ve completed the first three chapters now.

As the plan goes, the first couple of chapters will chronicle the first day in the investigation, which will end with Shaw confronting the person who pulled the (metaphorical) trigger. That is going to open a completely different can of worms, and will keep Shaw busy (and in danger) for the rest of the novel.

The funny thing is that I got back to it because I was bored. I had one free hour. In such cases, I usually either watch a TV series episode on DVD or read. I didn’t feel like watching anything, and because I planned to get a certain book from the library the next day I didn’t want to start on any books. (I’m a one book at a time person.)

So instead, I did a bit of work on Die Young.

I’ve recently noticed that there is one piece of advice that’s frequently given: don’t stop the flow. When you’re writing, don’t go back to edit, just hack it out and leave all the edits/corrections for revision. I have  a friend who works that way, and he’s fast. Even I admit that the advice makes sense. Unfortunately, I can’t make myself work that way.

When I have a scene that contradicts an earlier scene, I feel compelled to go back and fix that. If I think of a better phrase for something I wrote earlier, it’s the same. I edit and revise constantly. Which, yes, is why I’m a slow writer.

I have also considered that I could post the chapters of Die Young here on the blog as I finish them.  That idea came, in part, from wrapping up a chapter evey night (so far). The main obstacle is that it’s not a pace I’m sure I can maintain. And unless I can maintain a regular update schedule, I wouldn’t want to start. On the plus side, it would be the whip I’d need to keep me going if I get another block. I put Die Young aside after one page because I’m not required to continue working on it. I have no deadline, and there isn’t anyone in the world who is actually waiting for this novel. There is no pressure to finish this. Turning it into a blog novel would provide that pressure. And yes, that would be a good thing.

What ultimately decided me against it, other than my worries about meeting a schedule, is the above-mentioned fact that I revise constantly. If I post chapter 1 today, next week’s version might be completely different after the story has progressed in a way that might have required many changes to chapter 1. Or simply after revising individual sentences as I thought of better ways of saying them. A good example is a running gag that I decided to add to the story, so I added it to chapter 1.

The running joke is that when Shaw tells his friends about knowing Diana Young, aka the porn starlet Teh SexKitteh, they all reply, “I didn’t figure you for the type.” When he clarifies that he knew her because she actually lived in his neighborhood, they make an unbelieving comment.

By the way: if you want to encourage me to finish Die Young and/or present the chapters on my blog, you can do so by leaving comments to my Novel in Progress posts and by buying The Coldest Blood, which is the first Shaw novel. For the latter, just follow the link on (your) right-hand side of the screen. It’s only 99 cents per download, and it’s DRM free.

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