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.

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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.

Posted in fantasy, film, other people's thoughts | 5 Comments

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”



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!

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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.


“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…

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New Project: Ford F5

Ford F5My new project. Restoring this old Ford F5. It’s somewhere between a 1947 and a 1952. I’m not doing the actual restoration, but I’m overseeing the various people working on it: one to cut away the superstructure and lines on the back and build a metal frame for a flatbed, another to sandblast and paint, one to build the wooden flatbed, another to stencil, glass and rubber, reupholster, a few missing parts to be replaced (headlights, some chrome work), mechanic to check the engine (decent chance it’ll run; if not, it’ll become a static decorative piece at our farm). Should be fun…

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Danger and Dreams and Draft Beer

Oddly enough, we live in a world of danger. Quite enough danger, thank you very much, so why is it that a great deal of books written these days devote themselves to danger and death (and the occasional draft beer)? Is it sublimation? A way for the unconscious to articulate and corral the actual dangers of our world into something controllable (that can be burned, in the case of a paperback, or thrown across the room, in the case of a kindle, nook, etc)?

Who knows?

Who cares?

At any rate, it’s intriguing to consider the dangers that abound. A plethora of dangers. You could easily die in a car accident, pretty much any day of the week (unless you live in a place like the inner Sahara, where there are few cars, but where you will probably die of dehydration, quicksand, raging Bedouins, viper bite, camel stampede, invasion by neighboring dictator, Ebola, etc–so I don’t think you, in that situation, need to be much concerned about car accidents). That’s the easy one.

Or, you could die from a black widow spider bite. Or a brown recluse bite. Or a puff adder, rattlesnake, pit viper, black mamba, asp, adder. Or a crazed meth-addict who, hallucinating, mistakes you for a yeti and, concurrently, believes there’s a hot market for yeti pelts in Hong Kong. Or a tiny asteroid falling to Earth that has your name on it. Or a stout man, preoccupied and texting his girlfriend as he drives his golf cart (while you are sunbathing on the 6th green of the local golf course–you really should sunbathe at home, in your back yard, or at the beach).

Or you could die due to the sudden application of a concrete garden gnome that Mrs. Melba Schwartzenbaum throws out of her ninth story apartment window, under the mistaken belief that it is actually a diminutive house-breaker wishing to steal her silver spoons (the gnome, of course, falls on your head while you’re walking on the sidewalk below–you should’ve driven to work [sometimes being green does not pay]). Or you could die of boredom while waiting in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Or, your plane could get shot down by Russian-backed Vermont separatists. Or, attending a Justin Bieber concert due to losing a bet, you could be crushed under the stiletto-heeled hooves of a stampede of shrieking females (you have my sympathies–to die with such a soundtrack playing in the background would be doubly crushing). Or you could choke on a morsel of tender, succulent lobster, an insignificant portion of a larger meal served with crusty garlic bread, boiled new potatoes in mint sauce, scallops, and a cold draft beer (you see, beer does show up at peculiar times, such as in monasteries during the Dark Ages).

Or, depending on your mental prowess (or lack thereof), you could die after converting your beach chair into a flying contraption by attaching several hundred helium balloons to it, bringing along a canister of Slim Jims, a bottle of water, and the latest John Grisham book, after which you float up into the sky, soaring up and up and up, toward the heavens, only to have a significant number of your balloons attacked by a murder of crows, thus sending you plummeting into the smoke stacks of your local electric power plant (there are certain, small advantages to solar, I suppose).

I hope you have the point by now. Life has plenty of danger on its own. All the more reason to read P. G. Wodehouse, rather than the latest shoot-em-up. All the more reason to consider carefully why you are not living in Mosul, rather than Mr. G. Ibrahim (late, of Mosul). All the more reason to be rather thankful.

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The Rangers ready to start filming


Woodland location for The Rangers

The Rangers will start filming on August 15. I have to admit, it is much more peaceful to just write scripts and let other people film them. I get to lounge around in California while Ron Newcomb (director) and Scott Mathias (producer) and their teeming minions do all the hard work out in Virginia. I’m already feeling tired just thinking about their shooting schedule.

Anyway, like I said, they’re going to start filming on August 15 and will be filming for 9 absolutely packed days. Two crews, four cameras, breakneck speed. Quite a large cast, lots of extras, actors flying in from quite far away (Scandinavia, for some of the elves, I think). What’s more, this is a period piece.

The dwarf Tiberius from The Ranger

The dwarf Tiberius from The Ranger

Yep. Period piece. The Rangers is not specifically a spin-off of The Lord of the Rings, but it comes close in look and feel. Medievalish setting. Elves. Orcs. Rangers. Wizards. Lots of weaponry. Fighting. Magic. A dragon makes a brief appearance. Definitely a period piece (those are much harder to pull off in terms of sets, costumes, etc, in case you’re wondering why I mentioned it).

Like I said, I’m lounging in California while they’re doing the heavy lifting. Filming, if you’re not getting the hint, is not glamorous. It’s a lot of work. Hard work. There’s a great deal of time that’s already gone into the pre-production phase: scouting, casting, a great deal of armor, weaponry and clothing had to be constructed, script development (I’m about to finalize the 9th draft), securing crew, finances…

Anyway, like I parentheticalized above, I’m about to finalize the 9th draft of the script. After that? Onto the next script. I’ve got a fairly goofy idea for a romantic comedy. If I can’t get Ron and Scott to go for it, I think I’ll shoot it myself out here in California. Which means I’ll be doing all the hard work…

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