The Dreariness of Fantasy…Mostly

I find myself closing most fantasy these days. Closing it before finishing the book. And this is something that is anathema to me. I can’t abide starting something and not finishing it. If you do that too many times in life, it starts to numb your soul. Eventually, it will leave you with little life left.

But I cannot finish most fantasies these days. They leave me in despair, just as most broadcast news, entertainment, politics, the things that pass for popular culture, they usually do the same. Darkness is winning the battle against hope.

There are no more Tolkiens left. He was a unique man, granted, born and educated during unique times. He correctly saw the fall of the West, despite two dreadful wars that were won against the evil of totalitarianism. There are other ways for countries to fall in battle than on mere and literal battlefields. The West, despite defeating Hitler, was losing its war to the Visigoths of culture within the gate.

And Tolkien saw that. He also saw that heroes were not to be found among the might of men, but amidst the humility of the weak waiting upon the divine rights of providence. Aragorn could not save the West. Even Frodo himself could not, but the inexorable and quite hand of providence could, leading the little hobbits along their unlikely path to a fixed appointment with doom and destiny.

If Tolkien’s perspective was not clear, then consider, in The Return of the King, his juxtaposition of Aragorn leading the might of the free West to the gates of Mordor and subsequent despair as the armies of Sauron are revealed, versus Sam and Frodo wearily making their way to the fires of Mount Doom. The message is painfully evident: the heroism of Man can only go so far (and not that far at all). The real cog of history is the tiny wheel that labors away in obscurity and, at the end of the day, must rely on much deeper strengths than itself: the crooked, providentially cursed life of Gollum, the Eagles, sacrifice.

Light in the darkness. As opposed to most stories these days, which are dreary variations of meaningless in the darkness, sex in the darkness, violence in the darkness, navel-gazing in the darkness, darkness in the darkness. When you’ve read one or watched one, you’ve read and watched them all.

Mind you, before you accuse me of complete despair and sweeping statements, I said “mostly.”

And what is my pompous recommendation? Read more of older books. Dip cautiously into newer books with a critical eye and ear. Be careful. Young trees do not have much to speak of in the roots department. But old ones do. And the old trees that had rotten roots dipped down into diseased waters, why, they’ve already fallen down and crumbled away.


Bill Cosby and Bill Cosby’s Art

The spectacle of Bill Cosby imploding across the American skyline is a sad and dreary sight. It’s no shooting star, that’s for sure. It’s more like a radioactive barrel of garbage, flaming down through the concrete highrises of Hollywood.

Cosby’s treatment of women over the decades, if true (and it certainly looks like it’s more than true with the multitude of accusers and painfully specific detail), is reprehensible, evil, and without excuse.

However, the situation brings into focus an old question: is the art separate from the artist? Can we still enjoy Cosby’s art (his sitcoms, standup, etc), despite his despicable actions?

Many people are returning tickets to his shows these days. Networks are canceling reruns of the Cosby Show. It’s clear that sentiment is on the side of not separating Cosby art from Cosby the artist.

But, is that logical?

Many artists down through history were reprobates, villains, loathsome creatures. Richard Wagner, the composer, is often cited as an example of a foul individual (given his views on races and master races), despite the beauty of his music. Should we not listen to his operas because of who he was as a person?

George Bernard Shaw, the fantastically talented writer who, among other works, wrote the play Pygmalion (remade into My Fair Lady, for those fond of Audrey Hepburn). But Shaw was also an ardent defender of Stalin and an enthusiastic supporter of eugenics. He believed that the less desirable portions of the human population should be culled out. Shaw considered poison gas an admirable solution for mass killing. Shaw, obviously, was a monster of a human. Does that mean we should stop reading Pygmalion and stop watching Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle?

Dalton Trumbo, one of the Hollywood figures investigated in the 1940s by Congress for Communist connections. By his own admittance, Trumbo was a dedicated Communist. For some people, myself included, such a philosophy is highly distasteful, particularly in light of the fact that Trumbo was a Communist during the Stalin era, a time of brutal repression and mass murder in the USSR. Despite being such a worm and an apologist for a bloody dictator, Trumbo also wrote some fantastic screenplays, among them Leon Uris’ Exodus, Spartacus, and Roman Holiday.

Roman Holiday! Who doesn’t love Roman Holiday? Never before has film seen such a heart-wrenching romance. Two hours with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn in Rome contains more bittersweet fire than a thousand Nicholas Sparks movies.

So, back to the original question: can one still enjoy Cosby art, despite Cosby the artist?


The new Tormay tale: The Seal Whistle

Tormay TalesFinally. My newest Tormay tale is published and live on Amazon. Still have to get it up on B&N and other places, but Amazon is the gorilla we all have to genuflect before these days.

I’ve only published two stories so far in the Tormay Tales series, The Silver Girl and The Seal Whistle. Tormay Tales isn’t a proper series. It’s just a loose collection of stories that take place in Tormay featuring whatever characters have been whispering the most insistently in my head.

The Seal Whistle is of interest to me because it uses a small story from The Hawk and His Boy as its foundation. There’s a scene in the Hawk when Levoreth Callas is riding across the Scarpe plain and she muses about a certain notable family and one of its rather mysterious members. Anyway, I don’t want to ruin the story for you. It answered some questions for me, and I hope it does the same for you.


Tomi Ungerer and other wonderful oddities

As far back as my memory can stretch, back to the time of the dinosaurs, wooly mammoths, and 5 cent ice cream cones at the Thrifty’s Drugstore (you know, the kind they would scoop with those weird vertical-sided cylinder scoops), my life as a tiny sentient being included the books of Tomi Ungerer.

Ungerer, as you doubtlessly already know (and if you don’t, well, all I can say is: may deep and everlasting shame be poured upon your head like warm chocolate fudge syrup, running down your beard, or lack thereof, in great cascading rivers until you either become engulfed in hungry ants, jump into the shower, or ameliorate the situation by running out and buying all the Tomi Ungerer books you can get your fudgey hands on), is a brilliant writer-artist of French birth, responsible for such classics as Moon Man, Crictor, The Hat (one of my perennial favorites), and Orlando the Brave Vulture.

Ungerer, being vastly imperfect like the rest of us, also wrote some erotic twaddle for adults. However, I won’t comment on that, other than to say that everyone has a streak of idiocy in them (yes, I consider erotica idiotic, so sue me).

But what, you might ask, seeing that your brain has been laboring all day with images and thoughts of ISIS, Putin and his recent nuclear remarks, Ferguson, Jonathan Gruber, and Albert Gore’s insistence that the weather is changing (yes, it is does change, you poor Ritalin-deficient man; it changes like the roses in my garden, the length of hair on my children’s heads, the entropic state of their bedroom, and the price of gasoline), what does Tomi Ungerer have to do with the anything of anything these days?

Ah, well, somewhat excellent question, but don’t you know that the best children’s stories offer a way of understanding the world? They make sense of things that don’t make sense anymore, particularly from our adult perspective. Take those murderous cretins that compose ISIS. The hat in The Hat would make short work of their diabolical plans, being a hat with a sense of justice and a great deal of autonomy. I imagine the hat would fly hither and thither (pardon me, Mr. Ungerer, for borrowing your words) until it plopped down on an wittering and nattering imam, sending him stumbling about until he realized the errors of his ways, shaved his head and became a devotee of Richard Simmons.

One can only dream. But that’s the power of (excellent) children’s stories. Sometimes dreams have much more truth in them than the prosaic tedium of our everyday lives.

No. I am not currently on any medication.

What about those other wonderful oddities? Well, one can wonder, but that isn’t odd. It’s quite normal, so carry on.


The Hobbit and Kardashian marketing

I must say I’m not that enthused about Peter Jackson spinning out The Hobbit into three parts. He’s taken quite a few liberties with Mr. Tolkien’s untouchable tale, some of them rather benign and some of them (girl elf-Fili, or Kili, whatever, love story) reprehensible. Jackson should have his beard shaved off for that one in the manner of the king’s emissaries who were humiliated at the court of Edom (or wherever).

At any rate, it’s galling that Sir Jackson (Sir Jackson? that’s what people get knighted for these days, as opposed to fighting the Moslems at the battle of Tours?) has gone the route of Kim Kardashian marketing with the good Professor’s wit. Spin it out, enlarge it, hash and dash it and repackage it with something shiny.

Yes, I’m going to go see the movie. Even though I’ll gnash my teeth from time to time (sans popcorn, as it doesn’t seem to agree with my health — little agrees with my health these days; save me, Jonathan Gruber!, or at least let me know when I’m supposed to die so I can schedule my dry cleaning accordingly).

And, yes, I’m almost ready to publish the latest Tormay story. Hopefully before my dry cleaning’s date with destiny. Wait. Am I talking about clothes or closure?

And, yes, winter is coming, and that has nothing to do with George Martin. It’s simply winter, a much more profound and persistent entity than any Stark.


Love Song!

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Yes, you read that correctly. I just wrote and recorded a genuine love song. For my wife (who patiently puts up with me, etc). The song is a bit on the messy side, but who cares? I don’t. I just enjoy the creative process. I tend to forget the bouquets of roses and the Hallmark cards and the trips to Tahiti, but I guess I can write a song every now and then.

So. Man up. What’s the last creative thing you did for your spouse? You don’t have to write her a book or build the Taj Mahal or conquer Persia, but, hey…the creative impulse is one of the few things that sets us apart from the raccoons and the moray eels. Even those little wiener dogs. They don’t have a creative bone in their wiener-like bodies.

Get going. Even if it only consists of toothpicks and superglue. It’s still creative.


Technopeasants

The Middle Ages aren’t that long ago. If you look hard enough, you can still see them in the rear view mirror. What’s even worse is that we’ve driven in a circle and we’re right back in the middle of serfdom. The view in your rear view mirror is the same scene you’re seeing through your windshield. The only difference is that we aren’t peasants; we’re technopeasants.

I’m not a Luddite by any stretch of the elastic imagination, but modern technology has minced us fine, mixed us well, rolled us flat, and then stamped us out into cookie cutter serfs, bumbling about with our iPhones and wifi and recycled lives. Our words and thoughts are second-hand, bought and sold by the pop-culture ragmen who collect their pennies and then trot off to the castle to pay their dues. Diversity is mandatory and tolerance will be strictly enforced by the royal executioner. Joy and happiness have been traded in for fleeting pleasure.

The main difference between a peasant and a technopeasant is speed. The peasant couldn’t read. He didn’t have a microwave. And he probably had to go milk his own goat for his breakfast gruel. The technopeasant can read, but he reads microwavable disposable stories. He gets his milk out of carton and wouldn’t know what to do with a goat if it kicked him in the stomach.

The technoaristrocrats are a mix of business lords and government bishops, colluding and collaborating and grown fat on their schemes of style, regulatory indulgences, convenient spectacles.


The Offense (and Pain) of Joy

No, this is not a post about Fifty Shades of Grey. Far from it. And I mean extremely far from it. As far as the east is from the west, both in navigational and theological approaches.

I recently wrote a piece about joy for a friend’s blog. Misha Thompson runs a site dedicated to joy and all the different aspects of what that entails. Before you start thinking of bunnies and small unicorns frolicking on hills of candy, let me set you straight. Joy has nothing to do with happiness. They’re different beasts. One is as insubstantial as the average politician’s code of ethics. The other is ponderous and powerful and reaches through time to other places.

I wasn’t too happy (there’s that blasted word) about writing on joy, because I had a sinking feeling about where the essay would take me. Anyway, hop on over to Misha’s blog and give it a read. Joy and happiness both have a great deal of influence over how people write. And what people write. More on that some other day.


Ranger Filming Finished

elves and rangers

Elves and rangers

The Rangers wrapped up filming out in Virginia. The footage is looking great! The locations were mostly in Rappahannock County, which provided some gorgeous, pristine scenery. The cast and crew numbered somewhere north of 60, in addition to a lot of kind support from local businesses and the Culpeper Chamber of Commerce.

Anyway, now it’s time for post-production: color correction, sound design, any necessary dubbing, editing, etc. Ron Newcomb, the director, is hoping to have things wrapped up by the end of the year.

elves on the skyline

Elves hunting orcs

The Star Exponent, out of Culpeper, had a very nice write-up about the project. Among other things, the article touches on the angle of community involvment. Local business owner Rick Combs summed up the perspective of the locals on the film project:

“It’s an excitement being brought to Culpeper,” he said, “and it’s a nice movie about good triumphing over evil in the end. If they want to make more movies here in the future, there is a business community that will support them.”

Sabine

Sabine

Just as a quick aside, there’s no reason why films need to be primarily made in the Southern California area. That’s an outdated concept. With the substantially decreased costs in necessary technology, the willingness of talent to travel, and welcoming communities as evidenced by Combs’ comments, I bet that indie film will be flourishing even more in the years to come.

Our hope with The Rangers project is that we can use this initial film to spur more interest and development of further stories in that fantasy world. There’s quite a market for that genre and, as a writer, it’s a fantastic genre to create in. If you’re a finance person and interested, get in touch with me.

The Rangers cast and crew

Rangers cast and crew

Fantasy has certain unique attributes that are not easily available in other genres. For one thing (and I think this is key and dreadfully important), you can deal with the subject of joy. Not joy in terms of happiness, but joy in terms of the knowledge that the world is broken and it shall one day be made whole. More on that idea later, as it has wide and deep-reaching ramifications. Both Tolkien and Lewis dealt with it in their fantasies, as did George MacDonald. I hope to re-enter the Rangers world very soon and, amidst the orcs and elves and rangers dealing death and fighting the darkness, find the heartbreak of joy.

By the way, thanks to Jessica Mellow, Sebrina Scott and others for the use of the photos. If I missed someone to attribute for a photo, please let me know!


Rangers in full-swing of production

director and elves

Elves, director and makeup.

The Rangers, the latest indie film I wrote (with Ron Newcomb and Scott Mathias) is currently shooting in Virginia. Thankfully, I’m out here in California, hidden away and safe from the lunacy that usually comprises a set. Having worked for several years in television (all location dramas and documentaries for the BBC, ITV, etc), I have scars… Anyway, here are a few pictures I’ve culled from various Facebook posts from the cast and crew.

In all honesty, I’m actually torn. My introvertish self loves that I’m miles away…yet, I do love location projects. Yes, they can be tedious, but there’s a certain fascination seeing how a shot comes together, seeing how a director and actors interpret a scene, seeing how a location colors a scene.

orc

“Bring out the Bieber so we may put him in our dinner stewpot!”

One of the main things that interests me about indie film is the control aspect. Typically, a writer has zero control over their script, once it gets sold. They’re often not even welcome on set. With indie film, however, some amount of control is maintained (stress on “some amount”). Not all, of course, unless you want to go the Robert Rodriguez route (too much work for me–that guy must be insane). The Rangers is my second indie film to go into production, and it is whetting my appetite for a third.

With the combination of film and novel, nowadays, one can create a property in novel form and then bring it to film afterward. If the budget is kept low (see: minimize locations, minimal to zero special effects, contentment with B-list actors and locals, crowdfunding), it is legitimately possible to pull off a decent project.

Kulta Blackhand

Kulta Blackhand

And then sell it? Yes, of course. You’re not necessarily going to end up in theaters, but you can certainly get it on foreign television, Netflix, iTunes, video-on-demand.

Anyway, like I said, despite my oysterish nature, I’m starting to think more and more about producing my own projects, instead of just writing scripts. Heck, if Robert Rodriguez can do it…