The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Technically This Means I Have Nowhere to Sleep…

Posted by BigWords on March 15, 2020

Wow, things went sideways really quickly. So the whole of Europe is, basically, in hibernation until the virus blows over – which would be awesome if I wasn’t desperate to get out in the sand and start work. Getting people to follow me to Spain was a big ask, even without everything else that is going on, and it now seems that I’ll be without a full crew or, more worryingly, my cast.

Which is a pain.

I’m thinking that things escalating thanks to the Corona virus might have something to do with me – every time I try and do something the universe goes all out in trying to fuck me over, so when I attempt my most ambitious project to date…

Yes, the ego. Insufferable, isn’t it?

There are so many reasons that I shouldn’t be happy.

Firstly, there now looks to be very little in the way of cast or crew from Italy, France, or Spain available for the foreseeable future, which is an enormous pressure on an already tight schedule. I have neither the time nor the inclination to rush around securing alternative people, given that so much of the planning was built around three people who are no longer in the running at all. I’m not sure if this is a minor or massive delay as yet, and holding out hope that things get back to normal as soon as possible is my current strategy.

And if I haven’t mentioned it before I really, really dislike lugging a giant bloody camera around. I need a camera operator.

Then there’s the fact that I don’t have access to a vehicle, which was a setback I didn’t see coming. This is one of those problems which, if I could stop freaking out (which had led to my right eye flaring up in protest), would likely be a fixable issue, but at the moment there’s no way around it.

And the amount of money I’m dropping on getting everything together is, quite frankly, obscene. This is the biggie – the single most terrifying, insurmountable, overwhelming aspect of the entire plan. Once the money is gone I’m going to have to bust my ass or figure out what else I’m willing to sell. At present I am of the mindset that it is preferable to sell a kidney rather than any of the comics or books.

I can’t rely on selling more stuff to fund things, and I’m not sure that I can sell more – the British comics are not going to go (they are earmarked for many, many things which require their presence in future), and I can’t imagine getting rid of any of my vintage SF books. They took a ridiculous amount of hunting down, and so few of them regularly come up for sale that I would never be able to rebuild the collection.

Without the footage in hand by the end of the year I’m not sure how things will go.


I. Can’t. Stop. Smiling.

There are moments I catch myself in a reflection and am reminded of Gwynplaine, yet I can’t help myself – there is currently a mountain of stuff I need to sort through properly and pack neater for transportation – I ordered most of this a while back and had put it all to the back of my mind. A significant portion of the costumes are here, a few trinkets and ornamentation, and a lot of equipment – it was all waiting for me at the post office, which explains the pile of “sorry we missed you” cards.

I still haven’t got a bone flute, the bullroarers, or all the fake furs which are going to be needed, but the amount of items to have already been shipped is slightly staggering.

I’m not used to such efficiency.

That bone flute, which needs to be present by the start of shooting no matter what, is giving me problems. Porcelain replicas look awful in comparison to actual bone, and the thought of having to sculpt and paint a prop is giving me the shivers – that, right there, would be at least two or three weeks work, if not more, to get it looking completely right. Then there’s the larger instruments (including a particularly difficult-to-describe horn I want made to look like an antler), which are going to take a lot of money throwing to get right.

Finding people to create things not in general use for thousands of years is a pain.

I’ve been hunting through various strange and obscure corners of the internet looking for people who have non-standard fabrics in an attempt to get some of the costumes rounded out, but that’s proving to be as frustrating as everything else. Mammoth-fur wraps, for example, aren’t a thing. Not even close to being a thing. I’m fairly certain that someone, at some point, has attempted to recreate what they would look like, but all of the photographs, and the ones mocked up for museums, aren’t doing it for me.

Costumes are incredibly important to get right, and nothing can appear on-screen which remotely looks modern. I’m keeping as far from the look of 1981’s Caveman as possible.

Already acquired in preparation is:

  • A monitor that was on offer, and so beautiful I couldn’t help myself. One of the most expensive items, but which can be calibrated to reproduce exactly the footage fed into it. As I’m not completely sold on using digital after the last week’s fiasco, and as the temptation to shoot on film is so strong, this input might be from a small secondary camera, or for use shooting inserts.
  • Old glass lenses, some still having yellowing stickers attached from when they were originally bought / last used. I’ve always had it in the back of my mind to use as much traditional things as possible – looking specifically at the way some all-time classics were shot – and I’ve noticed the lenses in behind-the-scenes footage. Even if I only get to use them with some incidental footage they will be worth it.
  • Awesome headphones which, I’m sad to say, cost about the same as my laptop.
  • A clapperboard – and seriously, when did these get so damn expensive? It was one of the items I wanted to get quickly, so I wouldn’t overlook it in the rush, and goddamn, is it ever the most expensive thing per square inch. For its size it is remarkably loud, and the LED letters are certainly attractive, but I’ve questioned how much it is really worth since dropping coin on it.
  • A light meter. Actually there are two, as I decided the first was good enough when I saw it, and it didn’t cost too much money (a concern that isn’t going to disappear), but then saw an amazing one that I couldn’t pass up. It looks like it belongs in a SF film, and it feels more comfortable in my hand – the slight expense incurred here is worth it.
  • A tripod. I’m not completely convinced it’s suitable – I nevertheless picked it up because it was old extending tripod with really neat little feet, probably from the fifties or sixties. It looks slightly underwhelming, and there’s serious doubt in my mind as to its ability to take the weight of a full camera rig, but it was so adorable (and somehow sad looking) that I had to buy it. I’ll find a use for it.
  • A bounce board I was gifted from a lovely chap who shot a bunch of fan films back in the day, and who has since upgraded much of his equipment. Free stuff is better than nothing, and I’m not going to pass up anything at the moment.
  • Three cases in which all the equipment needs to be crammed. These were sized according to space aboard the yacht I had expected to be available, although at present the cases are holding a disturbing number of books. The shipping cost was a lot more than anticipated though, which makes them decidedly not a bargain.

There is also a weird wooden handle in the box that the filters arrived in, and I’m not completely certain what it is for, but it is with the rest of the equipment at the moment. Actually, there are a few things which are a slight mystery to me, though I’m trusting that all of the things I’ve decided might be important will come in handy, so I’m not going to start culling them from the equipment list as yet. I’m certain that once things get rolling they will find their role.

There’s also a small stack of folders so I can organize everything obsessively up until the last moment. And stationary. Lots and lots of stationary, because. C’mon, who doesn’t love reams of paper, shiny new pencils, gel pens, and note paper?

I don’t know, for sure, how much that little stack came to, but it seemed like I needed it given how much planning and information dissemination was on the cards.

Although there’s no need to splash out as yet, I’ve also been looking at top-of-the-range computers on which to edit everything, and which I can utilize in the FX process – it will be a few months before I need to make a decision on how I’ll approach this, but I desperately need to upgrade this computer already. Having only had it for the blink of the eye it is already starting to show signs of not being up to the task of coping with me. The bottom corner of the track pad is slightly warped, and there is a slight depression on a few keys.

But… the stuff – the amassed “things needed for the film.”

That’s taking up a lot of room.

The stuff is taking up a lot of room, and even adding italics to that sentence doesn’t do justice to how much space it is consuming. I only realized this when I took everything out of their boxes and had a look-see at what I actually had. There would be more room if I had been able to keep my curiosity at bay and left them as they were packed, but this is me – I had to check out everything to see if the deliveries were right. It is all good, as far as an initial inspection goes, though there was no room to move once it was all spread out.

Until I hit on an ingenious solution.

The bedroom – or, at any rate, the room which had a bed in it – is now the equipment store and clothes department for the film. It is scary crazy how many things I need for this, and there are two outstanding items that are going to require careful consideration on storage, or else I’ll run out of space completely. I’m not sure how to proceed from here, but there are a couple of solutions which aren’t horrendously expensive: either I get another storage space to keep everything in, or I get a little office space somewhere. There’s bound to be a few units available.

I am holding back on the traditional storage unit option given how much everything has cost me so far. There’s insurance to consider as well, and I haven’t got back in touch to clarify any conditions which might be in the small print. I may not be allowed to let some of this out of sight…

For the foreseeable future I’m sleeping on the floor.

Don’t ask me how I’m going to shoot a film without a complete cast and crew – I haven’t planned this out again, minus all those absent due to various restrictions which might or might not be in place – but I’m damned if I’m going to let things fall apart completely. I can always use the equipment for other (smaller) shoots.

I’ll likely get hell for suggesting this, and it is admittedly a very dark notion, but…

This is the perfect time to grab a camera and get stock footage of deserted streets and businesses. There are precious few times when these shots can be accomplished sans a large crew asking people to stay back for a moment when the footage is being captured, and as long as there are abandoned areas already present I can see no problem making good of what is available.

Yes, I’m probably slipping towards the dark side there…

Simultaneously with other plans, I’ve begun putting together the basis for sound design with a ridiculous list of do’s and dont’s. Building off all my complaints with what others are doing, or have done (I contend that 13 Eerie was ruined by poor music choices), I’m taking control of as much of this as I can without spending a fortune. At some point I’m going to need to get in a studio, but for now I’m content to do things in a decidedly low-fi manner. It merely needs to be “good enough” until I have footage.

The other extreme from 13 Eerie is what Nolan has been playing around with, mixing down sounds and speech to an impenetrable level – subtlety is better than bombast, and having every utterance audible (and each sound distinct yet not overbearing) is the only approach which would appeal to my perfectionist tendencies. It is a tad harsh to state this but the movement away from proper music to digitally generated tracks is one of the worst things to happen to music in the history of music.

Digitally created soundtracks are bloody awful. There, I said it. Where are the sweeping melodies, the softly rising and falling themes, and the heart?

A great deal of what I am doing has never been done before, which is the most exciting aspect of the entire process. I’m getting to break new ground. One specific problem I’ve noticed with music described as being Paleolithic is that there are sounds which would never have been achievable with the tools at hand forty-something thousand years ago. I can completely understand the need for people to use digital tools in creating (not recreating) sounds from prehistory, but synth has a distinct feel which interrupts my enjoyment of these tracks. By using only sounds that can be justified, a different nature to the soundtrack will evolve naturally.

And I’m completely ignoring all modern music theory – there is a beautiful Japanese logic, wherein music should conform to breath rather than beats, which feels better. There are other things I’m adopting as I work through this, mostly listening to various old recordings of peoples whose contact with the modern world were limited. I’ve noticed that most mainstream tracks seem to promote a more meditative, relaxing nature, but this gives me a whole world of problems – that calming sound isn’t what would spontaneously occur.

There’s a crazy-old CD of Native American tracks (probably manufactured in the late eighties or early 90s) which I picked up on my wanderings. A plain jewel case, with the CD only containing the name of tracks, as simplistic a packaging as I have ever seen. Despite looking like a cheap knock-off, it always sounded far fresher, more vibrant, and really alive when compared to the beautifully packaged, high-value releases such as Sacred Spirit. There are numerous shouts, overlapping chants, random noises, and laughter mixed in, and that makes it far, far more realistic than the smoothed out, clean, and ultimately rather disappointing, studio-bound material.

Chaos, and unpredictability, must be built into the sound of a world before civilization took root. It only popped into mind in the last couple of weeks, but any music needs to include the sound of wildlife in the background. It’ll likely need the crackling and popping of a fire in the sound mix as well.

I have started painting the poster (which is massively presumptuous, but which is a relatively free step on this journey) although the specific tone is hard to judge. Too funny and it looks like a knockabout comedy (which it isn’t), too dramatic and it looks like Quest for Fire (which is so isn’t), too scary and it looks like another fantasy knock-off of Conan (which… okay I’ll allow that to stand). I can’t paint any facial features in, as that’s still a question mark, but I can at least try to figure out the layering of costumes with this.

And I’m writing the novelization (technically an adaptation of the script at this point), which is another leap of faith.

Because budget isn’t a concern I’m going to reinstate a couple of things omitted from other versions, streamlining it in places where the visual-led story elements don’t make sense, and generally making it slightly deeper – things which can’t be done on film, like really getting into the characters’ heads, is the main requirement. While it is tempting to include a massive lecture on the reams and reams of research done in preparing the script I’m doing my best to restrain myself.

Maybe a ‘Making Of’ book would be another way to make some money out of this… At least it would be cheap therapy.

When I decided I wanted to do this I concluded that the film should be released before my 45th birthday as a statement. Mostly “I’m still alive,” which is an awful statement. I need a better one, but lack of sleep and all the stress is making me slightly (okay, massively) useless at the… brain use. Uh… Cognitivation. No, ratiocination.

Thinking – “thinking” was the word I was thinking of.

It makes sense that this would be a later release, rather than falling in the first quarter, so September or October 2022 would be about right – as the nights are still warm enough, when a stoner comedy with hints of dark fantasy would be most appreciated.

That hopefully gives me enough time to get everything up and running in the allotted time. It isn’t a brilliant strategy to work back from an unknown date two years hence, but as long as that is at the back of my mind I have the momentum to keep pushing through all of the delays, external forces, and obviously the mistakes I’ll inevitably make.

Once the novel is done and dusted I’m going to start penciling the comic. No need to tackle everything at once …then I can work out the script for an audio adaptation, plan out a fun little game based on the characters, and see if there is anything else I can knock out in anticipation of this being moderately successful.

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Skipping Merrily Through a Minefield

Posted by BigWords on March 4, 2020

The goddess is obviously in a playful mood. Just when I think everything is rolling along smoothly, whoomph – the hand of the divine reaches down and starts plucking at carefully woven threads. This isn’t something that comes as a great surprise, given the last few years, but I was sorta hoping for a little more time (and to be permitted some degree of preparation) before being hurled into yet another mess.

There’s Big Ticket Items which are, at present, still-outstanding purchases – it isn’t that I haven’t tried to tick them off the list, but the prices are nowhere near stable enough to guarantee that I will be able to get things at a price which doesn’t cripple me. So when I was told that one of the desperately needed items was on sale extremely cheaply I dragged myself off to see for myself. In the meantime, however, one of the hard drives was slowly dying (unbeknownst to me), and the report on a yacht I had planned on using came back with disappointing news.

It is so reassuring to have bad news waiting on you, isn’t it? Like there’s a sentience to the universe, and every action results in three repercussions entirely unrelated to the action itself. “Cosmic snakes and ladders” was my initial though, “and some bastard’s playing with a loaded die.” And before you say anything, I know that doesn’t make complete sense, but I can’t help immediate reactions to yet more obstacles being set.

If anyone compares life to a marathon, remind them (from me) that the course isn’t changed throughout the event, nor are obstacles rolled into everyone’s path. And there are no trenches for people to leap over. And nobody is firing a sub-machine gun over the runners’ heads. In fact, the more I consider marathons as a sport, the more I am convinced that these are all going to be implemented at some point – we’re fast reaching a point where The Long Walk and The Running Man would sit happily between abuse-as-entertainment from Jeremy ‘Killer’ Kyle and psychological warfare as seen on Love Island and its ilk.

When I heard Killer Kyle was returning to ITV, I may have said “fifty quid on a suicide within three months of it returning.” I immediately felt guilty, of course, about making light of such a horrible outcome, yet somehow it seems about right. As the death toll from reality television mounts up it becomes, somehow, more easy to see where the faults with these shows lie, as well as the damning contribution that the writer’s strike made back in 1988. These things have a way of bringing unintended consequences.

Things from the past affecting the present. How novel a concept…

I really shouldn’t be this sarcastic, but I can’t help it.

The hard drive had been moved around so much that it is a wonder it survived this long, and a fair percentage of its time tucked inelegantly into a cardboard box overfilled with tech which should have had better treatment. Still, better for it to have given up the ghost when it was being used as a back-up rather than having irreplaceable items on it. I’ve been planning on getting a few hard drives in preparation for later – guessing as to how much I need, there was 50TB scheduled to be bought at some point anyway, and this hiccup merely pushes that purchase forwards in my schedule. Given that the last time I shot anything was probably on S-VHS, I have no idea how much memory I’m actually going to need.

The big problem, and one I have no answer to at the moment, is losing my means of transport. I was going to stow everything in a friends yacht and sail over to Spain when the time came, but it isn’t going to be ready in time. In fact, I don’t know if the damn thing will ever be able to hit the open water again given the extensive list of repairs needed, so that’s a whole list of transport and schedule issues thrown in front of me. I don’t want to use an HGV or something, as that merely escalates costs ridiculously, and there’s the minor long-standing issue of proper paperwork to deal with.

To add insult to injury, the server I traveled so far to see had been gutted. There’s no way I could get it cleaned up, restored, modernized, and fully working, unless I devoted a significant amount of time to that process – and if there is one thing I am desperately short of it is free time.

It wasn’t a completely wasted trip. I got a half-hour horror/thriller script written during my down time, specifically designed to feature a single actor in one location, which is sufficiently amusing a notion that it may very well skip ahead of the feature in plans. Depending on the way things go with transport I may be forced to shoot material here, then work out a way to get my ass out to Spain.

Although I wont be able to film, edit, score, and package this short in time for FrightFest at the end of August, I still want to have something to pass around.

Now… About the hard drives:

There are a staggering number of models on this computer. I hadn’t planned on spending more money this month, nor having to find any extra space, but I don’t want to delete any of my planning and development stage before I’m certain that everything which will be required at a later date is safely tucked away somewhere. This is a rather worrying development given that I haven’t got to the stage where the large files were to be expected.

It was always the video files I was prepared for, especially as I want any footage to look as good as possible before getting tweaked (color correction and the like) in post – Blender was never given consideration as to how much space it would take up. While 19 GB isn’t, by any standard, a massive amount of space for models, coupled with reference images and all of my art accompanying the models it soon adds up.

When I get myself a decent HD camera there will probably be a shortage of hard drives soon after1.

Despite them not working at the moment I’m keeping test blends which do things that I can’t see attempted anywhere. I figure that I’ll pick up enough knowledge of the software to come back to them, and the prospect of recreating immense set-ups is something to be avoided. Really, going back and recreating anything ought to be avoided unless absolutely necessary2 – only by looking forward, and folding in new techniques and skills, can creations be the best versions possible.

They really aren’t working, in case you are thinking that they merely need a little tweaking. Whilst some steps are relatively simple – modeling and animating – others are proving slightly more obscure3. I don’t want to get too much into that here, as there’s a whole bunch of things which require thoughts on, and having a dedicated space for ruminations was meant to free this blog for the other notions which were bouncing around in my brain.

Looking back isn’t a bad thing. I find myself, when events aren’t going to plan, considering many things which would be far better if attempted now. One of the lists I slapped together a few years back now appears… well, thin. And given that so much has been released after that was compiled, in various media, it might require a more comprehensive study. The question of what to write in order to keep the money flowing in isn’t the big question: the questions are how and where.

Here’s where I very likely dig a hole for myself…

Most things I’ve sold have been one-off payments4. This isn’t a bad deal, whatever you may think. I’ve been more than happy with the earnings, and the fact that people I’ve sold things to are really cool individuals doesn’t hurt – but I’m going to be having a few months blocked out where blasting out short stories or non-fiction articles isn’t going to be possible, and during those periods it would be nice to get some money coming in. There’s also been a growing feeling that I should maintain some control over the work I create, so this means going it alone.

Now, given that I’ve previously – and extensively – noted all the problems which pen names brings up, you might expect that there will be an onslaught of material appearing under my name, but this would produce two insurmountable problems for me:

<strong>One</strong>. There are short story collections, novellas, novels, and non-fiction of an extremely wide variety. Having everything appear under my own name would confuse people who are looking for more of the same – and even limiting myself to only issuing novels under my name wouldn’t solve this, due to my (previously noted) penchant for mimicry. There’s so much difference from one novel to the next that a casual reader would be forgiven for thinking that they emerged from completely different authors.
<strong>Two</strong>. It is a Very Bad Idea to skip willfully across genres with little regard for any audience those works would garner. While it is possible to dual-path readers (King manages to mix his horror and crime output magnificently), by the time one gets to four or five genres it can be confusing for people arriving late to the party. The notion of restricting myself is tedious, and I would only end up subverting, undermining, and twisting genre works anyways (no change there), so having these separated out makes complete sense.

This means, in case you are wondering, that I am seriously considering a clutch of pen names to fund things to come.

The how, therefore, in getting through the next few years is clear.

As for the where… Okay, so Smashwords is the obvious choice. It is, alas, a choice which is presently overflowing with great novels5. But this train of thought wouldn’t be half as entertaining if I merely went ahead and started uploading – there needs to be something contained within the process of using pen names which elevates their use somehow. If I’m going to use this long-standing tradition6, then it needs to contain an added component which others have omitted until now. It needs to make sense in the greater scheme of things.

Most importantly, it needs to be fun. What’s the point otherwise?

A few of the quick ideas generated to push this on felt a little too forced. Gimmick naming, wherein the list of pen names would consist entirely of, say, obscure 16th to 18th century playwrights, or French philosophers, or the names of tertiary characters from Victorian literature, is something I am really trying to keep myself from using. It would be interesting to see how quickly they would be identified, but might be a touch too eccentric. It would also be fairly easy for people to see where the story within drew possible inspirations.

If I can keep from playing too deeply with references (another challenge) then my time and energy could be better used on the contents.

And, because this is me, there’s going to be a standing invitation for people to attempt to ‘out’ my pen names. Normally a verboten activity, I’m going to encourage you to see if you can find where I’ll be dropping books. Other authors (unless they have explicitly stated they are open to this) are to be regarded as completely off the table – and I’m going to be very disappointed if people start exposing authors who have good reason for trying their damnedest to maintain a level of secrecy – but you can expose as many of my forthcoming pen names as you want.

In fact, lets make that a game. I’ll throw up a page here with the pen names once they have been correctly identified, with each getting their own page listing the works under that name, and a mention in the “biography” section of who was first to correctly identify me as the hand behind that name. Fuck it, if I’m going to make a mockery of the use of pen names I’ll do it with panache.

This is likely going to ruffle a few feathers. Y’know, as long as this is kept constrained I can’t see the harm in letting it play out. This is hardly the worst thing I’ve done, in case anyone thinks that by moving the goal-posts so far I’m wilfully attacking the core conceit of a pen name. It has the beneficial side-effect of forcing me to alter my writing style when working on something, and it challenges people to use analytical skills when approaching a text – the entire idea itself is something which makes pen names <em>more</em> interesting as a concept.

Don’t think I’ll make it easy for you – there wouldn’t be any sport in that. I’ll take things on my end seriously, applying all of the things I would were I to seriously be attempting the use of a pen name. There won’t, for example, be any of the usual pithy indifference of status6, or mockery of my usual subjects of scorn. You are going to have to work for your bragging rights.

And there’s the other thing.

It is difficult to put the following into words without causing at least some consternation and annoyance, so before I dig into the other reason why I’m using pen names I’m going to make an important distinction which needs to be made between what I’m doing and, for example, people writing erotica. There’s a damn good reason why a person might not want their name to appear on the cover of… Red Hot Sex Slave or something.

I have no idea if that is actually a book. It sounded like a title which could exist so I ran with it. If there is actually a book with that title, and if it is under the author’s own name, I apologize profusely, but the title sounds lurid. I’m imagining someone tied up in bondage gear on the cover, a goofy grin on their face. Somewhere between one of those gorgeous fifties paperbacks – with improbably pneumatic women, and men in elegant suits – and a grubby eighties straight-to-videocassette feature. It has the ring of authenticity about it.

Man, I need to write that. The hell with the rest of this post, that sounds like an interesting little novella which I could knock out in a few hours…

What was I saying? Oh, yeah – there’s a real and serious reason for people to use pen names. I’m not dismissing that. What we need to think about, in regards to pen names, is the authenticity of the contents in relation to the authorial persona when it comes to awards. There’s a long list (a very, very long list) of pen names who have won awards, but in most cases the identities of those authors are either an open secret or are the subject of rumors, speculation, and general chit-chat.

Most of the works which one can pinpoint as by a pseudonym are pretty good, and truly deserve any awards they pick up.

Buuuuut… (there was always a ‘but’ coming) I’m ruling myself out, here and now, for any and every award. Don’t even think of suggesting a work which appears from my pen (or keyboard, actually, but pen sounds better), or else I will step in. Not only am I prepared for this – albeit unlikely – eventuality, I am more than willing and capable of putting the kibosh on any unwanted celebration that a pen name might garner. Although there are certain awards I would definitely want on my shelf, I wouldn’t want to look at one which didn’t have my name on it. I’m not, therefore, going to chase anything.

Pen names don’t count.

Once more, because people might be skimming – this is only in relation to me.

There are a bunch of reasons behind this line of thought, but the main thing I keep coming back to is the integrity of the lists. While others may be happy with any name on the lists, the thought of sitting back and letting a patently false name mar any awards list makes me uncomfortable. A great many things I refuse to let stand have, over the years, been points of principal that have attracted bemusement, scorn, and disbelief. It doesn’t matter what you think, it doesn’t matter what the rules state, and it certainly doesn’t matter what popular opinion decrees.

What matters is my ability to focus on things which are important (to me), and not have to deal with thorny dilemmas which are a distraction.

Someone ought to start tallying up all the things I refuse to do for dumb moral reasons, then slap me with the printout. Yes, I am well aware that this is yet another thing that isn’t actually a thing. This is an issue which only exists in my head, and nobody else cares. I get it. I completely accept that I’m the only person who has a problem with accepting a pen name’s eligibility for awards, but that isn’t going to appease me any. I want no part of awards outside those which I am eligible for under my own name.

You don’t have to understand, and you don’t have to like it.

1. I’ve already begun playing with models constructed from bits of cardboard and plastic, using the crappy webcam to block out shots I’m planning as best I can. It has almost zero focus capabilities, and a terrible picture, but I can get the overall impression of what I want – making the leap to an animatic less problematic, and shortening the amount of time it will take to step up to the finished article.
2. Recreating lost footage, such as missing Doctor Who episodes, are an exception. Moving things across media is also a valid use of recreating what was, and it is largely when there is little original input into the finished article that I get annoyed at seeing people reuse things. If there isn’t something new brought to bear on a work then there isn’t any need to remake it – which is my main problem with film remakes appearing so often. Very few seem to have had proper development of the ideas inherent to their properties, making for an unsatisfactory and cheap experience.
3. There are so many ways in which I despise the lighting set-up, camera placement, and UV unwrapping in Blender, none of which are as intuitive as other software makes the processes. There’s more on this at Digital Hume. I may yet splash out on something a little more to my taste, though the budgetary concerns are playing a massive part of my thinking as yet.
4. Complaining about payments, and the loss of rights, helps nobody – anyone thinking that there’s something inherently wrong with a sale shouldn’t go through with it, and that isn’t just my way of saying “let me grab that opportunity, thanks” – and I expect everyone to be doing their homework on what they are giving up when they sell something they have created. Merely because I am satisfied with the money paid for my writing doesn’t meant that anyone else should settle for what they determine to be a bad deal.
5. Yes, the novels are good. A great many covers may leave something to be desired (and I’m going to get around to that eventually), but the writing is, overall, of a very high standard. My sampling may not have been extensive, nor covered all genres, but of what I have read there is much to be impressed by.
6. Don’t. Really, don’t… If you are going to start listing off how this is a problem of epic proportions, I don’t want to hear it. People have been using pen names for centuries, and if you have a problem with my decision to use pen names then you can take any commentary elsewhere. I’ve found a way to make it fun and interesting.
7. This is not going away. Here, where I get to bang my brains out on the keyboard and mash gray matter into my words, is going to remain a place where I don’t have to acknowledge that there are tiers. Nobody is more important than anyone else by virtue of their back catalog. I’m not going to tip my hat to anyone, and I don’t expect anyone to view me as being more important merely because blah, blah, blah. Watch this. Now, tell me – does it make any sense to maintain a status quo which has been so thoroughly demolished over the years. There may be a t-shirt reading “I am vulgar and I don’t know my place” waiting in my future…

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Onwards and… Outwards? Offwards? Something.

Posted by BigWords on February 24, 2020

It has been far too long since an opportunity arose to cover my status, and while I don’t want to appear too positive at the moment – which is adequate encouragement for the universe to poke me in the ribs again – there’s enough to be getting started with…

My awareness of cultural artefacts seems to be remarkably low in relation to my liking. I’ve missed a lot. These last couple of weeks I have been catching up on as much as I can (strictly within my budget, because I have one of those now), but there are a lot of novels, television series, films, songs, and computer games to have appeared while I wasn’t looking. Some of what I’ve seen impressed me, a handful depressed me, and a couple are now on my All Time Classics list. It isn’t a great batting average, but I’m guessing that there are great works which I simply haven’t heard of, so when I get around to them the overall score for 2010s Media is likely to rise.

Where to start? Well, I’m skipping Game of Thrones. I know it had a big place in people’s lives for a while, but there’s no point in watching that until I give the last couple of books the once over. It was never a series I fell in love with – having read a few books, and seen the first two seasons before The Big Interruption – and it feels, in places, like a love letter to Gormenghast as much as a brand new work. That isn’t an insult, on any level, and I’m going to get around to it eventually.

I’ve seen Lost in Space, as it was always a franchise which held great promise, and though it has been strange to see such a new take on the set-up, I’m glad I set aside the time. While there are things I would have liked to see developed, and characters who demanded more screen time, it has been an overall successful reboot. It is also one of the few shows which made me consider how little I note really good works outside of the evergreens – it is easier to spend a few thousand words complaining about the dross which inflicts itself on my eyes, but I ought to have as much (if not more) verbiage pointing out where the cards have fallen perfectly.

Lost in Space is great. As is the few bits of Black Mirror I’ve caught up on, and so too Haunting of Hill House. These aren’t perfect, but they are very, very polished. Selected reviews will appear here at some point, but I’m not going to promise that I can keep from being annoying and pointing out the deficiencies in what has been screened in my absence.

I can’t say the same good things when it comees to film. It is tricky to arrive back online and be anywhere near analytical about the overall state of cinema, but my feeling is that something dreadful has happened in the last few years – it took my viewing of a few films (out of their release order, mind you) to catch on to something which has been at the back of my mind since seeing the trailers for Age of Ultron, and now it is impossible to shake:

Things have a certain look which I don’t really appreciate.

Did everyone get handed a set of standards that I’m not aware of? Is there now, from some strange office, a list of things which have to appear in every film? There’s a hegemony in popular entertainment – originating from I-don’t-know-where – which bothers me. Why does everything share certain stylistic tics these days? X-Men: Days of Future Past may be the most depressing, most cynical thing I’ve seen in years, and the reboot of Charlie’s Angels was a huge missed opportunity. The Fast & The Furious franchise has fallen to the level of a Cannonball Run sequel, and I’m fast losing patience with DC films. I haven’t seen Joker yet, and may not even bother.

It may merely be that I’ve picked the wrong films, in which case… My bad. But I really do get a sense of constant déjà vu when things appear again, and again, and again. Is this just me? Am I alone in thinking that we are seeing the regurgitation of a select few concepts? Is cimena eating itself?

There was a time when any genre offering was beyond tempting, but when there’s so little that these films offer it is hard to care.

Literature has served me better, with a few Stephen King books released over the last few years catching my eye immediately. I’m always going to turn to him for compelling characters, interesting plots, and great set-pieces, but King’s still serving up rather disappointing endings when he isn’t on top form. Scalzi, as always, brings a new sensibility to what he writes, and it has been interesting to see him stretch out a little and play.

Of course, things don’t stand still, and it is depressing to see the names of all who have passed while I’ve been… busy. Damn. I’ll state categorically that it is unlikely I’ll catch up on the what, where, when, why, who and how, even with the extra hours I have, so over the coming months I’m going to be rather useless. If I say something dumb (which… come on, this is me, of course that’ll happen) then it is likely because I didn’t arrive at everything in order. I’m dipping into the last few years at random and pulling what catches my eye, but there are things I’m going to overlook.

Which is partially why I gave myself three objectives:

1) Get good at Blender. It is the reason Digital Hume exists, and it isn’t an isolated thing I’m attempting. I know people are going to ponder the reasons, so I’ll be forthright about my intentions – I really want to get the Untitled Fantasy filmed, especially as it doesn’t need a lot of tricks. If I can get my shit together, good enough to create an animatronic of the entire script, then it pushes it closer to a done deal. My communications with a semi-pro director aren’t proceeding as fast as I would like, and the notion of going ahead and shooting the main desert battle with placeholder FX is at the forefront of my brain.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that sequence, and I’m pretty sure it can be done on the cheap with the right software.

There’s also a game which I ruined. My fault completely. It deserved better, and it really is an interesting side-step from what everyone else has done. There are a few properties – in other media, thankfully – which came close, but nothing has stayed in the headspace in which that game exists for long. It is something that nobody else will take on (for obvious reasons, when you finally hear more about it), so I have a duty of care to get it out there.

2) Fix at least one book a year. It is ambitious, yes, but going back and editing millions of words down into a coherent, appropriately long, intelligent narrative is something that has been on the To Do list for far too long. I’m not sure how many words I’m going to have to redo completely (I have many, many versions of the opening to my Piper homage), but the complex stuff is at the front of the list. I may even drop some new stuff straight to free ebooks, as I have no idea where to place the more experimental work. You can blame my re-reading Tristram Shandy compulsively for those.

Although the priority is on things that I feel are Important (capitalized for importance), I’m not overlooking the fun little things. At some point I’m going to have to ask for help in getting the little comic strips completed, but I can’t see that being something which demands immediate attention. They don’t really built to anything grander, so they aren’t part of my plans in the short term.

3) Get the Database back up and running. This is, in all likelihood, the most complex of the things on my To Do list. See, the version I’m currently working with is a copy of the backup, missing key elements, and with horrendously broken code – the Javascript is hacked to bits, and there are missing tags all over the place. I really screwed up big time, but I didn’t think I would actually need the backups. I should know better by now, but optimism beats practical consideration all too often. I mentioned some of the problems in the previous post, but that isn’t stopping me from proceeding, albeit slowly.

But the issue with the Database is that it has always eaten money like there was no tomorrow. I’ve been adamant that it wouldn’t carry advertising, but that’s something which I’ll address at a later point. It has also grown rather larger than it should, taking in television, film, music, literature, radio, computer games, and other media, outgrowing its original intention. I can’t do simple things, as has been proven time and time again, as there is always more information out there which adds to understanding. I want to be as complete as I can, but that always seems to lead to the same problem – too many words.

One of these days I’ll learn to sit back from the keyboard and say “done” without feeling a lingering need to add one more thing. Then another. Then…

So that’s the short term and interim goals. I also have a couple of things I’m dragging out from the folders to see if I can make them sing, but I would rather focus on a few things that are clear and have defined conclusions than start on what could end up spiralling into massive ventures.

There’s something I’ve only touched on here briefly, and that’s going to be a long-term goal – making things self-financing.

Whatever the (justifiable) arguments about monetization are, it pains me to talk about the Database as anything other than a source of information. I don’t want to start getting it grubbied up, and it feels wrong to stick a bunch of pleading notices on it. I want it kept clean and pure. Yes, that is horribly, unrealistically hopeful, especially as the thing hemorrages money, but it was set out in the original statement, and I don’t like changing these things so long after the fact.

The game should make its money back, and the books… Well, they’re questionable. There’s a lot of stuff which I know I’ve included which I know puts people off works, but those are essential for the stories to unfold properly. Call that idealism. Whatever. I’m not going to make things ultra-commercial merely to make money – yeah, I have integrity, don’t act all surprised and shit.

I’ll figure out the proper course of action eventually, even if I end up zigging when I should zag.

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And There’s More…

Posted by BigWords on April 12, 2016

The one thing I am missing more than anything is real-time interaction. These posts are going to be appearing, and I have no way of gauging the reaction to any of the surprises I am throwing out there. Viewing indie publishing as the seventh of the Big Six, which is not as revolutionary a notion as you might think, probably comes closest to a game-breaker, but I am already ahead of the curve in considering this.

There is a chance, for those reading yesterday’s post, that some people are already working out ways to game the system – to get links to their books with the least possible effort so they can get as much out of it as possible. Here’s where I step in with a little thing called Balancing (Wikia) – if you are considering what I have already put forth, I suggest learning about balancing and (please, I’m begging you) take into account the way it works.

Somewhere online there used to be a fantastic quote about balancing – I think it was about MechWarrior or a similar game. It basically laid out the fact that it was possible to have an immensely overpowered playable character while keeping the entire game from revolving around the acquisition of more firepower. You don’t have to understand any of that to get a good understanding though. I’ll break down the principle as it applies here.

Reciprocal links between titles are a bad thing. It shunts the reader back and forth between a tightly-centered community of writers, limiting the opportunity for a reader to discover new, exciting works, and isolates those outside of the community which is heavily promoting their material. It is, if you like, a part of the balancing process. Links are not something to be traded, but something to be offered (without the expectation of same) because a title is worth promoting.

And where, the cries undoubtedly come, do these links go? Ah, that’s the best part. After the text of course. You have the standard “other titles by this author” bit, where people who have enjoyed the title can go find more books, then you have “by this publisher” for titles that are from the same publisher. Right after these, there needs to be a “Recommended Reading” section, where the good stuff you love and want to highlight goes. This is the special little section which guaranteed you a place in the hearts and minds of authors and readers.

But wait – what if someone does all this, then starts acting like a dick? There’s a solution for every problem, and this one is especially simple. You don’t simply start removing links to an author who is using fake reviews, or slamming others on their blog, or… Whatever the flavor of the day for bad behavior is. We need to cultivate the respect of our audiences, and that comes with a cost. The cost, in this case, isn’t financial. We need patience with those who are, perhaps, a little looser in their concept of respect and wisdom.

We need a naughty step.

A reference, I am certain, which needs no explaining to a large number of people reading this. For those unfamiliar with the concept, it is a “time out” for people behaving badly.

Which brings us to another problem – who determines what is bad behavior? I, certainly, have neither the time nor the patience to go through thousands of authors’ blogs and websites to vet the ideas which might be considered inappropriate, and I wouldn’t want to even if I had the time. That ain’t my job. It’s something the writing community needs to have a long discussion about.

Okay, so that’s two serious posts in a row.

For the moment, while this is still something on paper rather than an all-out attack on the stability of the overwhelming forces at play in publishing, lets decompress – here are three cool things everyone can undertake in the next week.

  1. A Recommended Reading page on your blog or website, highlighting at least ten indie books you feel deserve wider recognition. Leave links in the comments – when I get back online I’ll okay any which have been held up in the spam filter.
  2. Reach out to your fellow authors and talk. No ‘buy my book’ nonsense – just normal interaction. I know you can all do this, because I was reading your blogs before my ‘vacation.’
  3. Start writing up your lists of books for the back matter of your forthcoming books. As you go forward you should hopefully see how this brings readers to minor works, and as it costs nothing to do it ain’t exactly a stress factor on your schedule.

Tomorrow I promise there will be less serious, though none the less interesting, thoughts on something which has been bothering me since I caught up on happenings in the world.

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When ‘Good Enough’ is Good Enough

Posted by BigWords on April 7, 2016

There are things which are plausible enough in and of themselves to pass for an explanation, and there are things which demand explanation in order for some clarification beyond the Shrug of God. Then there are things which you can drop in with no thought other than the cool factor – and those are the most interesting references. For me, whenever there is something thrown out there that suggests foresight, there’s always a tingle of excitement that the universe lined up things just right.

Okay, this is stretching the original text, but just read the subtext:

It is the great prerogative of Mankind above other Creatures, that we are not only able to behold the works of Nature, or barely to sustain our lives by them, but we have also the power of considering, comparing, altering, assisting, and improving them to various uses. And as this is the peculiar privilege of human Nature in general, so it is capable of being so far advanced by the helps of Art, and Experience, as to make some men excel others in their Observations, and Deductions, almost as much as they do Beasts.

Robert Hooke; Micrographia (1665).

And while we are at it…

The next care to be taken, in respect of the Senses, is a supplying of their infirmities with Instruments, and, as it were, the adding of artificial Organs to the natural.

Robert Hooke; Micrographia (1665).

Doesn’t that just scream transhumanism? Am I the only one who sees that?

Consider this a challenge of sorts – don’t settle for merely repeating the same quotes seen peppering the text of every other novel. Dig deeper, read works which you wouldn’t otherwise consider, take the time to understand the message you are delivering, and (the really important part) bring something new to the table. Originality isn’t a requirement, because we all know where striving for that leads, but at least carve out something new.

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The Thing I Can’t Talk About

Posted by BigWords on April 6, 2016

Towards the end of the month, in a shade over two weeks from now, there’s going to be an announcement which goes a little towards explaining exactly why I have trekked halfway across the UK to get internet access, but right now, sitting the wrong side of the official kick-off, I can’t go into any details on what is going on. The plan, as it was, began with a request to jump in with an established group doing… well, that part is hugely complex.

The skinny on why I went in a different direction, and joined with the folks I am currently producing words for, is that the other options all required things I didn’t have easy access to. Or any access to. The option of doing what I wanted, rather than conforming to other requirements, was too strong an enticement, and – the important part – I was getting to bring a lot of my work to the table. I have a lot of material which has never been seen in any way, ranging as far back as scripts from the 90s. There’s plenty to play with.

There’s many things which I am changing in the process of making material which can sell easily – some essays are being repurposed into fiction, a television proposal for a sitcom is being heavily altered, and I’m having to get used to the idea that the lack of equipment can be as much of a push towards solutions as it is a pain in the ass. It won’t stop me complaining abut ancient software and terrible hardware, but if all goes well I will be able to upgrade when the money starts coming in again.

The only way that the Thing I Can’t Talk About is having any effect on my day-to-day life is the time everything is taking. I had planned out a lot more I wanted to do before things got close to the announcement, but there’s a hundred and one things which need immediate attention (and I am on point all the time, apparently). I haven’t done this much design work or editing in years. I’ve even been doing small amounts of CGI in aid of moving projects forward, which – on a computer over six years old – isn’t the most relaxing activity.

It also means I can’t take on any other work while things are so busy. Which kinda sucks when I’m mostly in this gig for the green. I still haven’t seen anything which is meant to come out in the first wave of material, but it should be fine given the nature of the folks who I’m dealing with. Anything that sucks? Hell, I can take the blame for anything which isn’t polished and shiny – as long as there isn’t any throwing of vegetables and fruit, which I don’t approve of. Throw candy my direction instead.

As soon as I get info, I’ll link it here.

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The Black Terror: Roundup 1

Posted by BigWords on May 24, 2013

So, you may be wondering – if this all fell together so easily, why am I not doing anything with the character? Well, because others are still working with The Black Terror. They may not be using the character to his full potential, and – in all likelihood – there will never be a proper exploitation of all the things that make him so interesting, but that doesn’t matter. I can’t play with the character while there are stories published elsewhere. One of the main elements that makes me excited about a property is being out there on the sidelines of what people are doing, taking characters in new directions and ignoring the (often insipid) popular movements. Maybe there’s room for a comic-book title featuring the character which is less mainstream, but as long as he is appearing elsewhere I won’t be involved in the character.

This example isn’t a particularly unique insight into how I patchwork a grand story together from thin material, and I could have done an equally in-depth piece on The Lady In Red, or even Robin Hood (if anyone is using the character, please get the historic “great forest” feeling in there somewhere), but it shows how a great story can be told about even minor characters. When I have expressed dissatisfaction with the stories which I have been reading, it is mainly because people aren’t being either as bold or as intuitive in their extrapolation of characters as they should be. I want the wild and intelligent elements to come to the forefront, and be played with – I need more intelligent material to pore over than many people are willing to write. It is neither difficult nor time consuming.

There’s a lot of stuff I won’t touch. I dislike the thought of writing something just because it is popular at the moment. I could do a helluva vampire novel, but what’s the point? There’s already too many mediocre attempts at Twilight-lite fiction, and by adding to the considerable number of titles muddying the genre I would merely be committing the same literary necrophilia as those who I am irritated by. Playing follow-the-leader is fine for children, but for authors it is a sign of desperation and lack of strength. Standing clear of the traffic already clogging up genres is the only way for people to grow as writers, and avoiding any confusion is paramount to establishing that most important of credentials – originality. I know people are gonna be headdesking at that word, as there is nothing truly original left, but having a degree of originality in the writing is different to plot.

I scratched the notion of doing something with Black Terror rather quickly, so I never got to the point where I had a page-by-page breakdown, and had I managed to quell the feeling that I was stepping on the work being done with the character elsewhere I would have created a tighter focus on the conspiracy drawing him to The Spider (or his niece, as she will have that name by the 1940s). The problems inherent in bringing any character back from the public domain are that they aren’t controllable – others have the ability to go ahead and use the characters in any way they see fit, and there is no right or wrong in their use. There might be entirely uninteresting uses, but those aren’t “wrong” per se. Just not to my taste.

There’s a lot of characters which I have a passing interest in the future of. Most of them are in the public domain, and freely available for use, though it is a hard sell convincing myself to tackle them when there are others utilizing them. One of the most neglected Golden Age areas is the Egyptian characters. This bleeds into the pulps as well, infusing the magnificent discoveries with a sense of wonder, mystery and horror. The use of Egyptian heroes (Ibis and Kalkor in comics, right through to low-budget films) have always felt as if they were slightly underdeveloped. I’ll go so far as to make note that modern comics don’t have a grasp on just how much there is still to be done. Hawkman, long an Egyptian-tinged hero, never felt as if he was truly connected to anything approaching reality.

For anyone writing characters tied to Egypt of the 40s, reading Montet’s 1958 record of his expedition is pretty much essential background research. And as for the lighter depictions of WWII – really, are people sitting down with a DVD of Saving Private Ryan and claiming to have done the necessary historical research? Yes, I may be overstating just how irritated I am with much of the comics on the market right now, and there are good things appearing, but there seems to be too many light and breezy versions of history which are presented as having some validity when they merely reprise what has gone before. Like anything else, this results in lowered fidelity with each removal from the source material.

Although it should be obvious, I have no intention of writing for DC or Marvel. I know most people would be desperate to get their hands on those characters, but the quality of the writing – overall – has been rather low from what I have read, and I would feel bad if people following the adventures of a character were subjected to one of the intermittent crossovers through anything I did. There hasn’t been a worthwhile one since the original Crisis back in the 80s, with each money-grabbing, poorly plotted mess becoming more and more irrelevant to the mainstream. Mainstream readers don’t care about superheroes, and they care even less for stories built on the continuity snarls of superheroes.

For a while now I have been concentrating on developing and building up material for my own titles, but… Yeah. This hasn’t been a good couple of years. There will be a proper something appearing at some point which will go some way to answering what has been happening with that material, but it is a ways off just yet. And it won’t be the kind of things that you can go get anywhere else.

Having laid all that out, I think I have covered everything I set out to do. Time to leave this via a nice, relaxing piece of music…

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The Black Terror, Part Three

Posted by BigWords on May 23, 2013

Back to the Skull & Crossbones… Man, that is so full of potential. And it opens in to a lot of things that can add depth to the character. It was while sketching out a basic timeline that I realized that I could strengthen the ties back and forth between the stitched together elements. Going back to the Herbert West story, and the explosion that aborts the experiments on Major Sir Eric Moreland Clapham-Lee, D.S.O., I had another feverish moment of canon-welding. There’s a funky character called Phantom Raider Of The Sky whose visuals and history fit the tone and mood which I was going for. And it fitted with the general theme of the characters being bound by events from the past, unable to escape the consequences of actions taken by others.

By incorporating other characters using the logo, I was able to form a timeline – John Perry of the Daily Clarion running a series of stories which seem to be using the Terror image, but it is Black Fury; a Japanese assassin of The Black Dragon Society trying to dirty Benton’s name; the actor Perry Knight appearing in a play in town… With the increasing appearance of the skull and crossbones surrounding Benton, it was also a way to increase his discomfort about having a secret identity, and the thought that someone might have discovered his role as Black Terror could be used to rack up the tension. It also led to a way to get other old properties tied into the continuity. Of course, having the plot set up through happy coincidences and conspiracy theories wasn’t enough. The basic reality of the character outside the fantasy has to be right for verisimilitude.

There are a few essential posts for anyone writing chemists working in a drugstore in the forties. There are not one, not two, but three posts which Sarah Sundin has written that are essential to capturing the atmosphere of the era. It was reading those posts that I realized I needed to show Benton in the white outfit (and that hat) which held so great an era-appropriate tinge. Nobody has really caught the forties flavor of the character, and it is stuff like the uniform which helps. Small details. I was reading books on vintage automobiles for something else a few years back, though I don’t have those to hand. Irrespective, there are places to get a feeling about the cars in play at the opening of WWII

One of the things which attracted me to the character was the political edge about the character. One of the foes was Alderman Peters, lining his pocket and providing shoddy constructions, then there was the fact that his girlfriend worked for the mayor – it was a milieu almost built for a heady mix of corruption and political shenanigans. There isn’t another character from the forties so readily adaptable into a clever, in-depth examination of the ways that the war impacted on life. Even the throwaway element of his professor turning to crime for funds due to his research being appropriated for the war effort was strong enough to drag in some other character moments. It had the potential to be the forties version of The Wire if handled correctly.

When I talk about being able to see the connections which exist under the surface of a story, it is all this stuff I am talking about. It isn’t difficult to whip up something so complex and intelligent in a couple of days. I mentioned that there was a need for something more personal in the character – the original comics present a remarkably solitary figure despite friends – and it was in family that the character would face his greatest fears. He needed a brother. There’s a film which has slipped into the public domain that felt like the work of a divine hand, a narrative that tied itself into the character so well that there was little choice other than to accept Charles Benton as Robert’s erstwhile brother.

And the serum in that film is soooo right.

So, with all the pieces of the puzzle falling into place remarkably easy, it was time to address those guns. I am not adverse to characters wielding firearms, and in stories which take place in a pulpy, film noir world, there needs to be at least one scene where a character empties a revolver. But all the time? It gets too similar and tired, and there isn’t a link to the character’s other moments – with being a chemist, I had the notion that there might be more to the use of knockout gas or something… Small vials of milky liquid thrown at enemies rather than gunplay also fits with the attention paid to pugilistic tradition. This, in turn, keeps the character fresh and interesting when paired with characters who are more closely associated with carrying firearms.

Oh, and because he’s into boxing, it opens the door for Costigan to make an appearance at some point.

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The Black Terror, Part Two

Posted by BigWords on May 22, 2013

I am not, never have been, and probably never will be a full-blown conspiracy theorist, but I know people who are. It is handy to know such people, as having complex, and contradictory, plots by secret organizations explained is something I never tire of. Honestly, that shit is hilarious. It is all the fault of the Masons, the Bilderbergers and… IDK. Disney. Whatever. But the thought that there could be some agency behind certain events made me think of cool and interesting ways to weave an air of uncertainty through things. Hence the requirement that the ideology of the conspiracy peeps bleed into everything from an early point and get more pronounced as Robert Benton is dragged into the middle of the whole mess. The CIA would not come into existence until 1947, so I started thinking.

The organization started as the OSS in WWII (concurrent with the timeline of the Black Terror), and as I needed a face for the OSS I settled on The Spider’s niece, Silvia Rodney. She linked the voracious information-gathering and the complex manipulation elements together, and I decided to recast her and (post mortem) her uncle as members of an offshoot of a secret society. The skull and crossbones emblem, having a degree of relevance to this, meant I could pepper the number 322 and 42 in various permutations throughout the story. In the use of the chest emblem, even though there was the existing chemistry relevance, the added symbolism that the new threads brought meant I could explore some of that yummy Lovecraftian goodness with good reason.

Having this secret organization funneling research into superpowers, reanimation and other psuedoscientific things seemed highly amusing. And, in my mind anyways, Herbert was somehow still alive after encountering his misbegotten creations – possibly yelling “Nades, Suradis, Maniner” before the undead figures could dismember him. Regardless, the thoughts were flowing about the potion, the heroic persona, and the boxing connections. The most important element of all being the potion, which had felt too contrived and simplistic for a character who was quickly becoming more than a mere superhero in my mind. Transformation sequences in comics, film and literature are ten-a-penny, and normally don’t interest me as much as the question of identity and… well, stories which can be done.

Lets just step back for a moment and look at transformations.

There have been a bazillion transformation sequences in television, on film and in comics – ranging from the fetishistic Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers and Transformers sequences which lavish attention on shiny, shiny weapons and vehicles, through to… Well, the obvious character. There’s a reason I chose that video to highlight the problems of making a worthwhile transformation sequence. There are any number of examples to choose from, but in looking at The Black Terror’s appearance, there needed to be something extra. There are all kinds of reference material available about the effects of certain compounds on the human body, though this is one area where anything is permitted. Outside the remit of reality, and open to any interpretation, it is the most truly free elements the character permits.

The classic transformation sequence in fiction is rather… bland. Just take a look at the recent Captain America film to see my problems with the traditional form – it is too clean and simple. I like the idea of something more dramatic. I had a two page sequence planned, with thirty panels depicting the veins standing up in Benton’s neck, face reddening, a mad grimace twisting his features. His forearms pulling up in decorticate response as foam comes from his mouth, then twisting his head to one side, jaw clenched, before slumping to the ground. It is here that the big departure from the established continuity was required – I wanted to make Timothy Roland older, maybe in his early twenties. And that let me use the line “No doctors. And don’t tell anyone about the compound. If anyone asks, then… tell them it was formic acid or something.” A nice nod to the original comics, while keeping the horror elements.

Having laid out most of the main elements, there was one lingering problem that kept coming back to me. I hate masks. They are all too easy, and muddy the boundary between the adventure heroes and more stereotypical superheroes. I dislike superheroes, and the inclusion of the mask bothered me. Having established that Benton is a master chemist with access to potentially game-changing compounds, it made sense to make another leap for the sake of drama. There’s an exciting difference between a mask and a “visage of terror” (a line used repeatedly in Weird Tales). The use of chemicals to transform his face into an ashen, horrible image of pure terror – completely unlike his normal face – while in costume was the hook I needed to get into the story.

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The Black Terror, Part One

Posted by BigWords on May 21, 2013

When I point out that I don’t see characters in isolation, it can be rather confusing for those who may not be au fait with the Wold Newton conceit. Accepting that there needs to be examples here, I’ll use the bare bones of the script I had played with at the beginning of December. First though, I have to explain why the character in question was considered. I want to get through this as cleanly as possible, though I may accidentally omit some piece of vital information, and leave some of my research or references obscure. There are a lot of things that I used to flesh out the concept, and even though it is all in files on the computer, most of it is buried in pages and pages of plot and notes on important (to me) details irrelevant to this post. Nudge me if I am being too obscure.

Back when Dynamite Entertainment started getting attention, I was (understandably) excited at the prospect of various characters being brought out of limbo and returned to print. The final products were, unfortunately, not handled to their full potential. No specifics. Just… Disappointing comics, from where I was sitting. That basic problem I highlighted about research was hampering my enjoyment, but more than that, there was a feeling that not enough fun was being had with the main characters. Whatever the final products, the fact that they are willing to explore unconventional characters makes me feel rather warm and fuzzy. Dynamite, in time, might turn out to be the company whose titles I am going to read most of.

Well… Aside from the glorious mayhem Dark Horse publish. I’m always going to have a soft spot for those guys.

So here’s the thing – Black Terror didn’t feel right to me. I had first encountered the character in the Golden Age comics I have been collecting, and it came as a bit of a surprise to see Alan Moore kinda miss the point with his use in Terra Obscura. It wasn’t a bad series, by any means, but it didn’t feel like he had his heart in the reinvention of the character. Then I saw the Dynamite version, and… Oh dear. In the original comics, he states at one point that he didn’t usually use firearms, though he was proficient in their use. I liked that. Something in not routinely using guns felt completely in line with my thoughts on heroes. He didn’t need to be packing heat to defend himself.

Which made me think, for some reason, that boxing might be a sport that he was interested in. It made sense to me that he would have been working out to get his physique, and it fixed a minor plot point that I had been pondering, though it also opened up an explanation for his name – happy coincidences figure a lot in the way I put stories together. Small hooks bring in new ideas, generate plots, character moments and explain relationships. The boxing angle needed another element, and it was when I began looking into his occupation that I got the notion that his “lucky accident” in the lab wasn’t so much of an accident. Then I realized that he needed a family. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Black Terror, originally created by Richard E. Hughes (a very prolific author) and Don Gabrielson, and continued for a while by Patricia Highsmith, was a natural choice for my taste. The skull and crossbones costume, a career in chemistry that lent itself to some interesting and original stories, and a supporting cast which spoke to small town Americana of the early forties. There’s an incredible amount of minor detail present in the original comics, with numerous political angles creeping into the otherwise traditional superhero comic elements. It took me about a year to finally see something in the character that I had missed, though within a day I had the complete origin down in my head, beginning with the most unlikely of moments.

Robert Benton is a genius. He’s able to put chemicals together to craft elixirs granting him great strength, but we never find out much more about the potion from any of the Nedor comics. I have limited interest in the use of the character in modern titles, and my focus was entirely built around what could be done with the character in a new way, so I purposefully ignored modern material. The question of why this great mind had been sidelined to a small town when he could have been an asset to the war effort bothered me. It was a question which required answering in order to make anything of his life hang together. The answer was boxing. Being a medical student in the thirties couldn’t have been cheap, and the answer was obvious when I started connecting the dots.

There’s that schooling to deal with, though. Where did he study? It was more for a humorous reference than anything else that I decided on Miskatonic University Medical School, but with Herbert West being a former student it felt right. When I had decided on him being reprimanded for attending illegal boxing matches as a medic, thus limiting his employment, it made sense he would end up in a small town rather than in a prestigious position in New York. When I was filling in the background, I also remembered a motto which felt like something that the university would have carved above the entrance to the chemistry wing – “Aureum Seculum Redivivum”. It isn’t often you can do a chemistry joke doubling as a comic book one…

The illegal boxing ring not only tied the character to one of West’s experiments, it also led to me thinking about the name, and the influence of Bill Richmond in his mind. The strength of this let me off the hook a little on the reason for such a dumb name. His love of boxing, and a sense of history would play into nearly everything, though a third element would soon distract me. Adding some Lovecraftian elements and boxing may, to any other writer, have been more than enough fleshing out, but that damn chest emblem needed elaboration. It was too simple to use piracy as a hook, and it left a bad taste in my mouth thinking about such a potentially powerful symbol being wasted. There was something much more powerful to play with right under my nose. An avenue leading straight into the middle of another plot generating idea.

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