Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Double-congratulations!

I was chatting with my younger brother yesterday, and he casually mentioned that he's finished the first draft of a piece of fiction. I congratulated him, of course, and then he just as casually mentioned that it weighed in at 350 pages.

Wow! Congratulations, Kevin!

And then earlier today, I heard from my friend Casey (over at The Not-So-Amazing Criswell that one of his stories has found a home.

Congratulations, Casey!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

My brain is good at . . . something

Why is it that when I want to focus on a horror short story, my brain wants to work on a dark fantasy novel, yet when I start throwing words down for the dark fantasy novel, I start thinking about that horror short story?

I spoke with Bren about this not too long ago, and she told me (and I'm paraphrasing a little bit here) that she thought my brain was really good at coming up with excuses not to finish anything.

I'd like to think that I'm a creative guy. I love to write, to storytell, to let my mind wander, and I've always accepted that I have a few projects going at once because that's just how my brain works.

But I've been thinking a lot about what Bren said, and I think she's right. She and I have further discussed this, and these excuses to not finish things might even lead to a subconscious fear of success. That's certainly not something I'm comfortable with.

Another thing that Bren has said to me in the past that I've taken to heart is, "No!" This is typically in reference to when I tell her I need to pick up a new notepad when we're out shopping. (You should hear her when I tell her I'm thinking about buying a padfolio!)

I've got plenty of notepads laying around our home, some used, some bent as they were shoved into backpockets, some stained with rings of coffee or tea, some forgotten and shoved in a drawer . . . when I look in my gym bag, I find two notepads right now!

I'm not going to try to turn off the too-many-stories-at-once engine, but I am going to start putting those orphaned notepads to good use. As far as my fiction goes, at least for now, those ideas need to be put somewhere while I focus on completing a singular story before moving on to the next.

Now to decide which story to finish . . .

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Meme of Reading Questions

In an effort to keep my blog active, I thought I'd give this meme a shot. (I found out about it RoeSpot - More Coffee, Please..., who linked it back to Booking Through Thursday.)

1. Favorite childhood book?
"The Prydain Chronicles" by Lloyd Alexander.

2. What are you reading right now?
The Glorious Deception: The Double Life of William Robinson, aka Chung Ling Soo, the "Marvelous Chinese Conjurer" by Jim Steinmeyer; The Magic Island by W. B. Seabrook.

3. What books do you have on request at the library?
None currently.

4. Bad book habit?
I'm always picking up more books (either from the library or the used book store) than I have time to read.

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?
The Magic Island by W. B. Seabrook.

6. Do you have an e-reader?
No.

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?
I prefer one at a time, but I can typically read one fiction and one non-fiction simultaneously.

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?
No.

9. Least favorite book you read this year (so far?)
Personal Effects: Dark Art by J. C. Hutchins and Jordan Weisman.

10. Favorite book you’ve read this year?
Neverland by Douglas Clegg.

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?
Not as often as I probably should.

12. What is your reading comfort zone?
Horror fiction and horror film reference.

13. Can you read on the bus?
Yes.

14. Favorite place to read?
Anywhere at home.

15. What is your policy on book lending?
Depends on the book.

16. Do you ever dog-ear books?
No.

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?
No.

18. Not even with text books?
No.

19. What is your favorite language to read in?
English (my only option).

20. What makes you love a book?
When a writer gives me characters that feel real, a setting that makes me jealous that my own world isn't nearly as fantastic or interesting, or information that is new to me, I know I've found a book that has earned my love and respect.

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?
Can I just say, "Ditto," and refer to Question 20?

22. Favorite genre?
Horror.

23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did?)
Mystery.

24. Favorite biography?
Blood and Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard by Mark Finn

25. Have you ever read a self-help book?
Yes.

26. Favorite cookbook?
I don't have one.

27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?
Bijou of the Dead by Robert Freese.

28. Favorite reading snack?
My only preference would be something that doesn't leave fingerprints.

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks.

30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?
Depends on the critic.

31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?
If warranted, I will give a negative review, but I will do my best to back up my negative review with critical commentary, and I'll also try to find something positive to say (I try to do this over at Mail Order Zombie).

32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you chose?
Romanian.

33. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read?
The Compleat Crow by Brian Lumley

34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?
I honestly can't think of one right now.

35. Favorite Poet?
Robert E. Howard.

36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?
I go back and forth between having too many and none at all. I'm not a huge fan of our local library/library system, so lately, I've been going to the library less and less.

37. How often have you returned book to the library unread?
I'll do this if I get a book home and discover that it's not quite what I thought it was when I checked it out, or I have so many books checked out that I hadn't gotten to it before it's due.

38. Favorite fictional character?
I'm going to hold off an answering this one right now (and the next one) as I think I want to address this fully in a future Plan D entry.

39. Favorite fictional villain?
See Question 38.

40. Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation?
Any Robert E. Howard or H. P. Lovecraft collection (if I'm not bringing a magazine instead).

41. The longest I’ve gone without reading.
Maybe a week.

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War (see below).

43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?
A television.

44. Favorite film adaptation of a novel?
When I was a kid, I loved Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, but these days, I spend a lot of time with Conan the Barbarian (even though it's a terrible adaptation of any of Robert E. Howard's actual short stories). Also, Universal's classic horror films - Dracula and Frankenstein - are some of my favorites (again, though, they are not the best adaptations).

45. Most disappointing film adaptation?
The Mist.

46. The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?
I'd rather not say as my wife might read this!

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?
When I'm in a brick-and-mortar bookstore, I always double-check to see if the book is written in first-person perspective. If it is, it better catch my attention right away, because I typically do not enjoy this perspective choice in my fiction.

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?
Boredom.

49. Do you like to keep your books organized?
I do, but I haven't organized them in a long time.

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?
This is something that Bren and I have been addressing a lot lately. Since she has an e-reader, a lot of her books are now stored electronically, which has allowed us to release some of her novels into the wild. If the book is a reference book, a special edition, or an out-of-print/rare novel, I'm more likely to kep them. I also collect my favorite authors, which means I'm constantly needing to reorganize my bookshelves (when they are organized - see Question 49).

51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks. (It might not be fair to say I'm avoiding it. I'm about halfway through it, and have not made it a priority to finish it. The listeners of my podcast might hate me a little bit for this!)

52. Name a book that made you angry.
The Bride of Frankenstein: Pandora's Bride by Elizabeth Hand

53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?
I don't typically pick up a book unless I expect to find something to enjoy/learn.

54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.

55. Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading?
The Bantam Books "Indiana Jones" novels that were published from 1991-1999.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Thursday Thirteen: Lovecraft Media Adaptations



The Thursday Thirteen is a recurring feature here at Plan D in which I post a list of 13 items/movies/books/etc. of any given category. In honor of H. P. Lovecraft's birthday tomorrow, August 20th, I (in no particular order) present my Top 13 Lovecraftian Media Adaptations. (Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind tomorrow!)


1 - The Call of Cthulhu (based on the short story "The Call of Cthulhu" by H. P. Lovecract, film directed by Andrew Leman, 2005). Almost everything about this movie is spot-on perfect. Creating a film based on a short story that really wouldn't seem to lend itself well to any kind of adaptation would prove to be a disastrous experiment at best by some more established filmmakers, but the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society (and this isn't the first time that name is going to appear in this Thursday Thirteen) wisely chose to tell the tale as a silent film. This allowed for some stylistic choices to be made regarding how some of the more fantastical elements of the story would appear on screen, and it almost all works. My one gripe - and it's a minor gripe - is that for a silent film, the sound is awfully crisp and clear. That is, the accompanying score sounds more like a modern film score, and while this does fight the silent film illusion a LITTLE bit, it also allows us to enjoy a wonderful score by Troy Sterling Nies, Ben Holbrook, Nicholas Pavkovic and Chad Fifer, so I'm not going to complain too much.

2 - Re-Animator (based on the short story "Herbert West - Reanimator" by H. P. Lovecract, film directed by Stuart Gordon, 1985). Let's be honest - this is a terrible adaptation. The sex, the gore . . . it's not very Lovecraftian. That said, Re-Animator is a GLORIOUS film, elevating splatstick to an absurd level, having fun with the audience, the material and the cast. Jeffrey Combs deserves special mention as this movie wouldn't be what it is without his dry deliver, disdain and wit as Dr. Herbert West. This wouldn't be the only time he appears in a Lovecraft adaptation, but it's certainly one of his most affecting and effective roles.

3 - From Beyond (based on the short story "From Beyond" by H. P. Lovecract, film directed by Stuart Gordon, 1986). Again, Gordon adds the sex and gore to a story originally devoid of it, but it doesn't matter because, again, he's having fun with the material, and again, he's brought Jeffrey Combs along for the ride. While Combs' role in From Beyond is another stroke of the mad scientist engine, his Crawford Tillinghast is different enough from his Re-Animator role that both films can be enjoyed back to back without any characterization bleed through. I also prefer Richard Band's score from From Beyond over his work in Re-Animator; it's more subdued and allows for its own tone poetry to speak louder than its inspiration, whereas Re-Animator's score intentionally brings to mind Bernard Herrmann.

4 - Darkhold: Pages from the Book of Sins (Marvel Comics comic book series, 1992-1994). This 16-issue series wasn't necessarily based directly on a specific Lovecraft story, but it's hard not to look at the comic and see certain Lovecraftian elements at play. An Elder God named Chthon penning an ancient tome of magic? A collection of writings so powerful iron-bound scrolls couldn't contain it? A history that crossed paths with Kull, a creation of Lovecraft-penpal Robert E. Howard? A group of doomed would-be heroes tasked with trying to collect the errant pages of the book before those who read them corrupt the world and themselves? It's a bit more action-packed than anything Lovecraft would have written (this was a comic book of the 90s, afterall), but it certainly wears its Lovecraftian influence on its spine.

5 - Dark Adventure Radio Theatre (audio dramatizations based on various H. P. Lovecraft short stories, produced by The H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society). Presented as period radio programming, the HPLHS adapted At the Mountains of Madness, The Dunwich Horror, The Shadow Out of Time and The Shadow Over Innsmouth between 2006 and 2008. With their work on The Call of Cthulhu and the upcoming The Whisperer in the Darkness film, it appears their radio theatre work has come to an end, which is too bad because these CDs are phenomenal and hold up to repeat listenings.



6 - AM1200 (film directed by David Prior). AM1200 isn't based on a specific Lovecraft story, but it certainly captures the feel of some of the man's works by way of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. A man who manages to find himself on the losing end of some questionable professional decisions finds himself driving the deserted roads of . . . somewhere when he stumbles across an odd radio signal on the AM dial. Investigating what this radio signal might be may not be the first bad decision Eric-Lange-as-Sam makes, but it may ultimately be his last. The sound design, the cinematography, the performances - this is a solid short.

7 - Out of Mind: The Stories of H. P. Lovecraft (film directed by Raymond Saint-Jean, 1998). There is no known motion picture film of Lovecraft himself, bu Christopher Heyerdahl's performance of the man is probably the closest we'll ever get to see Lovecraft on screen. Telling the story of a young man in the then-present day (he certainly had a 90s wardrobe and haircut) who is bequeathed more than just material goods when a will is executed. He finds a connection to the legacy of Lovecraft, and Lovecraft himself comes face to face with . . . his own face (when he sees his face on a t-shirt). Out of Mind gets a little meta, and it made sense . . . it IS a Lovecraft story, after all.

8 - The Love Craft (created by Eric Morgret and K. L. Young). Every time I watch this, I laugh, but the first time - in a crowded theater at the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival, was the best.



9 - The Unquiet Void. Composer Jason Wallach has since moved on to other projects, but his albums The Shadow-Haunted Outside and Poisoned Dreams have left a lingering oppresion that I can't listen to over-and-over again without taking a break. This is dark electronic synthesized music that springboards from the writing and themes of Lovecraft (among other influences), and my wife once told me I wasn't allowed to play the music out loud at home because she thought it just sounded "evil."

10 - Return to Innsmouth (based on the short story "Shadow Over Innsmouth" by H. P. Lovecraft, film directed by Aaron Vanek, 1999). I saw this movie at just the right time. I was reading Lovecraft, experimenting with the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game and clicking all over the internet, looking for Lovecraft-themed websites. I found http://www.miskatonic.net/ (which is surprisingly still online, even if it hasn't been updated since 2007), and through their "Campus Store," I found this movie. I bought it, and watched that VHS tape repeatedly, made my friends watch it, and would be fortunate enough to meet the filmmaker once we moved to Oregon and I became a regular at the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival. This movie tells essentially the same tale as the film Dagon, but does so on a much more intimate level (partly due to budget, and I'd like to think partly by design), and when I watched it, I immediately found Lovecraft much more accessible. His work wasn't just to be studied anymore - I could find my own tales and themes within his work, and I have Return to Innsmouth to thank for that. (As I typed this, it occured to me that I haven't watched this movie in a few years, and I'm starting to wonder if I still have the old VHS copy of it. I'll have to dig around my closet later tonight to find out!)

11 - Marblehead: A Novel of H. P. Lovecraft (novel written by Richard A. Lupoff, 2000). This is less Lovecraftian and more about Lovecraft . . . sort of. There's a lot of alternative history in this book; Lupoff brings Lovecraft into contact with folks like Theodore Hardeen (Harry Houdini's brother) and a mess of Nazis. Lovecraft finds himself involved in a bit of espionage, and while he's fairly useless when it comes to any actual spy action, this is still a fun read, and of course, I was thrilled by the Robert E. Howard chapter. This novel was originally released as Lovecraft's Book by Arkham House in 1985, but after presumably lost pages from the original manuscript were found, it was reprinted as Marblehead.

12 - Cool Air (based on the short story "Cool Air" by H. P. Lovecraft, film directed by Bryan Moore). When you think Lovecraft, you think nameless horrors, gibbering masses of leathery wings and soul-gripping tentacles, Elder gods and Deep Ones, indescribable colours and mad magic makers daring to record their words for unknowing future generations to fear. "Cool Air" isn't this. Instead, it's, by design, more Poe than typical Lovecraft, and Moore's adaptation didn't try to shoehorn the story into the so-called Cthulhu Mythos. He let the story stand on its own, but he did expand it, giving Jack Donner's Dr. Muñoz more face-time than the original story called for . . . and it works oh so well.

13 - Beyond the Dunwich Horror (film directed by Richard Griffin). This is a guilty pleasure. Someone took Lovecraft to the grindhouse . . . and left him there. This is another movie I saw at the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival & Cthulhu-Con, and at first I was hesitant about watching it. A friend of mine, Big Mac over at The Shadow Over Portland, told me he had caught an earlier screening of the movie at the festival and described it as a Lovecraft film by way of Fulci. I was sold. This movie is a bit of a mess . . . a gloriously messy mess . . . and I found myself loving it despite my better judgment. It's a fun movie, tapping into various Lovecraft stories (like The Dunwich Horror), and if you check your inner Lovecraft scholar at the door, but hold on to your B-Movie-loving core, I think you'll dig it.



(Have a suggestion for a future topic of The Thursday Thirteen? Email me at MailOrderZombie@gmail.com . . . )

Friday, August 13, 2010

Have you read 'Dark'?

Earlier this year in April, I was fortunate to have two short stories appear in the anthology Dark: A Horror Anthology (and, yes, one of them was a zombie story - I can't seem to get away from them!), and the editors have asked the contributors to reach out to anyone who's read the book.

Have you read the book? If so, would you consider leaving a review at websites like Amazon or Goodreads?

Thanks for your support!

New digs

It may not look like much right now, and I'll be tinkering with the layout and adding a few more bits and pieces to this site over the next few weeks, but it is a Friday the 13th, which was the target date I set for myself to get Plan D up-and-running, so here it is . . . !

I will be letting all my old blogs limp into whatever dark and cold corner of internet where abandoned websites go to die, and while I did struggle for a little while with the idea of porting over some older posts to Plan D, I ultimately decided that I want a fresh start. (I'm not deleting those old posts, but I suspect my ownership of the http://www.improbabilia.com/ will expire soon.)

As mentioned briefly in the About Derek M. Koch and Plan D entry, I'll be using this blog to write about everything from my writing process and (hopeful!) successes to my thoughts on horror fandom and media, from random thoughts about movies, books and other media to . . . well . . . whatever I can come up with!

What I will not blog about here is zombie movies. I've got Mail Order Zombie for that. (That said, I reserve the right to talk about podcasting and my podcast appearances here!)

Oh, and one more thing - the feed for this site is http://feeds.feedburner.com/planderek . . .