Friday, April 27, 2012

I feel an obsession coming on . . .

My life has been changed.

This past Tuesday, I went to the Hollywood Theatre to watch a movie in the ongoing Grindhouse Film Festival here in Portland with my friend Scott. This was a movie I remember seeing once when I was much younger (my memory is one of watching this on TV while visiting my grandparents in Arizona one summer afternoon). And it wasn't the kind of movie I really thought I'd ever drift back to.

But when it was announced that a 35mm print of King Kong vs. Godzilla would be playing, I knew I had to go.

And I'm so glad I did.

I'm a zombie movie guy. I love my Hammer Films. I'm a huge fan of horror movies of many different sizes, colors, stripes and eras, but there's been a huge lizard-sized hole in my monster movie experience for years.

The abbreviated version of how I became a monster movie fan involves a young Derek stumbling across the Crestwood House Monster Series of books in the children's section of the local library.  My parents took movie ratings pretty seriously, and I wasn't allowed to partake of the scarier films, television or even books, but since these Crestwood books were in the library, I was allowed to take those home, and I devoured them.  Each book was devoted to either a specific film or series of films, and while I did read the "Godzilla" edition and was able to etch a few names (Godzilla, Mothra, etc.) into my memory, I didn't really pursue watching all the films.

(One of these days, I'm going to go through eBay and places like Powell's to pick up these books and add them to my shelves. Oddly enough, the only one of this series I currently own is the "King Kong" installment.)

Once I had a car (okay, actually, once I had a driver's license which I could use to set up an account at the video store), I started renting horror movies left and right, but still never got into Godzilla or any of the other kaiju films.  Mystery Science Theater 3000 introduced me to Gamera, but other than that, I didn't have much interest in checking out the rubber monster movies.

I feel sad for the younger Derek who didn't get a chance to enjoy these movies earlier.  But now that King Kong vs. Godzilla has whet my appetite, I'm looking forward to diving into the Godzilla films.  I started listening to Kaijucast, and I can't wait to start watching these movies in order.  I haven't done a lot of research yet, but I'd think in the day and age of Blu-ray and region-free DVD players, I should be able to get my hands on most of them, right?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Couple/Three/Few More Upcoming Events

As I look at my calendar, I see that I have some events coming up to get excited about . . .

Saturday, April 21st - The 2012 BoneBat Comedy of Horrors Film Fest - Redmond, WA. This was a lot of fun last year, and I'm looking forward mostly to the shorts Steve and Gord of the BoneBat Show have gathered this time around . . . (Yes, I said I like Steve and Gord's shorts . . . )

Tuesday, April 24th - The Grindhouse Film Festival - Portland, OR. This time around, they're showing a 35mm print of King Kong vs. Godzilla . . . and I can't wait!  This will be the first time I've been to the Hollywood Theatre since they've had their new seats installed, and I'm eager to try them out before . . .

Friday-Sunday, May 11th-13th - The H. P. Lovecraft & CthulhuCon - Portland, OR.  I'm a long-time attendee of the HPL Film Fest (I've been going every year for around the past ten years), and this year, the Festival is happening in May instead of October. New management took over last year, and last October's show was a little light on content compared to previous years (although there were some FANTASTIC films shown!) so I was thrilled that this May's event spans the traditional Friday though Sunday weekend. I don't think any announcements have been made regarding what films will be shown, but if previous Festivals (under either regime) are any indication, I'm sure I'm going to walk away with a few new titles added to my Must-Buy-Movies list!

Friday-Sunday, May 25th-27th - Crypticon - Seattle, WA.  We're only going to be there Saturday and Sunday, and while I don't have any details yet, I'm scheduled to be a panelist again this year. I'm also VERY excited at the prospect of meeting Ricou Browning.

As much fun as it is to watch movies I wouldn't normally get to see or meet celebrities and the like, the best part of these events is having an opportunity to meet with and hang out with friends. In some cases, these festivals and conventions are the only times/places that I get to see some folks, so if you're going to be hitting up any of these events, drop me a line - I'd love to meet ya'!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

My 7 Dirty Little Reading Secrets

Over at Cinema Fromage, Casey posted his his 7 Dirty Little Reading Secrets, and I thought I'd take some inspiration from Casey (and, indirectly, from Book Riot since that's where Casey found the meme in the first place) and address my own 7 dirty little reading secrets (in no particular order).

I read very little science fiction. I like my science fiction on the (silver or television) screen, and compared to the other genre fiction I read, science fiction takes up very little real estate on my bookshelf or on my Kindle. It's not that I don't LIKE science fiction (one of my favorite novels - The Last Stand of the DNA Cowboys - is a science fiction work), but I'm just not as drawn to it as a genre as much as I am toward fantasy, horror or anything else prose- or short-story-wise. (Although I am eager to get into Haywire after having interviewed author Justin Macumber here and here.)

Growing up, I always preferred Dragonlance over Forgotten Realms novels. This might just be a matter of having read the Dragonlance Chronicles before reading anything Forgotten Realms-wise, but (and if I can geek out here for a moment) I always felt as if the readers got to watch the characters in the Dragonlance stories grow from the equivalent of 1st-level D&D characters to the higher-level heroes they became, whereas the characters in the Forgotten Realms stories already started out as the high-level types that easily maneuvered their way through their world.

I still can't believe that I enjoy reading Westerns. If you had told me two years ago that I'd enjoy going through the Western section at Powell's as much as I enjoyed browsing the horror section, I would have laughed, but now . . . I'm hooked. I've not made the plunge into Louis L'Amour or any of the so-called Western "standards" (outside of James Reasoner's work). Rather, I find myself doing what I normally do when it comes to other genres I enjoy - I gravitate toward the more obscure, rare, out-of-print stuff. (The last Western I read was Lobo Gray by L. L. Foreman.) Even Western movie-wise, I'll take a subtitled Spaghetti Western starring folks that have never worked in Hollywood over something starring Clint Eastwood (no disrespect to Clint, mind you!).

It took me a LONG time to get around to reading The Lord of the Rings, and the first time I started the first book, I didn't finish. I understand Tolkien's importance in the grand scheme of literature, fantasy or otherwise. I get it. I respect it. But I already knew the story . . . or most of it. It was hard to be a fan of fantasy fiction in multiple mediums without really knowing the material second-, third- or fourth-hand. When the Peter Jackson films rolled out, I decided to finally give reading the series a shot, and I made it through all but the last chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring. When I realized that the titles of the individual tracks from Howard Shore's film score from the the first Jackson film were all the names of the chapter titles in Fellowship..., I just sort of . . . stopped.

I never read Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park . . . but I lied that I did. When the Speilberg film was about to hit in 1993, I was excited to see it, and the family of my then-girlfriend was also excited, so we all made plans to see it together opening weekend. I don't remember the specifics of how we got to this point, but somehow or other, an agreement was made between me and her father that I had to read Crichton's novel first. I didn't want to. I ended up with a copy of the book, but I never cracked it open. My reasoning at the time is that I wanted Spielberg to tell me the story, not Crichton, but I kept that reasoning to myself. I did a little research (harder to do in the pre-Wikipedia days), found out what some of the differences were between the novel and the film, and called it good. After watching the movie with her family, I made some noise about how I was glad Jeff Goldblum's character didn't die like he (apparently) did in the book, and called it good. It never came up again.

I cannot read more than one novel at a time. I know people who can, and do regularly, but I just can't do it. My brain isn't wired to handle it. I can read one novel, one reference or non-fiction book and a collection of short stories at the same time, but I can only chew on one novel at once.

Reading is both the best and the worst thing for my writing. When I read fantasy, I want to write fantasy. When I read horror, I want to write horror. When I read superhero fiction, I start thinking about how I can create my own superhero prose. And I've already started thinking about Westerns (see above). On the one hand, my brain is able to pick up on the rhythms, pacing, flavors and sensibilities of whatever genre I'm enjoying at any given moment, and the creative blood starts pulsing through my brain and the words flow . . . in that genre. But the moment I switch gears and start reading something else genre-wise, even if I'm in the middle of a writing project, I'll start feeling the pull to change genre gears writing-wise as well. Eventually, I know I'll have a nice variety of stories in many different genres, but damn if it doesn't make it hard for me to stick with one or two writing projects through to the end before I find myself drifting . . . all because I started reading something in a different genre (and I can't help myself!).

Monday, April 2, 2012

Throwing Down the Words - An Interview with Justin Macumber - Part Two

D: Earlier you mentioned writing in all three genres of fantasy, horror and science fiction. Do you think there's a difference in your approach to writing in any specific genre? 

J: Well, yes and no. I mean, writing is writing. It's one word after enough, hopefully put down in such a way that they create a vision in your mind that make you think, make you feel, and transports you out of yourself. And no matter what the genre is, the central importance is character. Whether they're on the bridge of a starship or exploring a deep dark cave, you have to care about them and be invested in what they're doing. The difference is that sci-fi and fantasy usually don't take place in our world, of if they do our world is so changed it feels strange to us, so there's lots of work there to help the reader understand it, or at least feel comfortable enough that they'll go along with you despite the oddities. Horror, more often than not, does take place in our world, so we already start off on a firmer comfort level. The trick, then, becomes twisting that world into something that will scare your readers. I think the only genre more dependent on manipulating emotion than horror is romance. In horror you want the reader to feel like they know the world and understand it. That way, when you turn it upside down and throw them into the darkness, it's all the more upsetting and frightening. So, with sci-fi and horror, my job is to take the unknown and make it believable. With horror my job is to take the known and make it horrifying. Whether or not I'm successful at that is something other people will have to answer.

D: Why do you think science fiction and fantasy get to hang out on the same shelf in the bookstores, but horror, if it has shelf space at all, has to hang out by itself?

J: Because horror isn't the powerhouse genre it once was. Back in the 80s and into the 90s, horror was huge. Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Robert McCammon, John Saul, and more sold books in massive numbers. But then, somewhere in the mid- to late-90s, that started to shift. King got more into his Dark Tower series, which is an amalgamation of just about every genre out there, Dean Koontz shifted into thrillers, McCammon just sort of disappeared (he's back now, somewhat, with Subterranean Press), and everyone else just drifted into obscurity. That's not to say there aren't still people writing it. There are, and with zombies becoming such a huge phenomenon you're seeing more horror come out in that vain, but for the most part there just aren't any big hitter names anymore. Really only King is still a bestseller, but much of what he puts out now isn't straight horror. Is this because people don't want horror anymore, or is it because the authors who made it big wanted to stretch beyond that niche? I honestly don't know. And now, with the next generation growing up on stories like Twilight and other urban fantasy novels that use horror tropes in more tame ways, I wonder if horror isn't being watered down to the point it'll never be what it once was. We'll just have to see.

That said, if you want to read some interesting stuff, check out an author named Joe Hill. He's Stephen King's son, and I can tell you he didn't get book deals just because of who his daddy is. The guy is an amazing writer. His first novel, Heart-Shaped Box, is astonishingly good, and his follow-up, Horns, is damn near as good. He also writes a comic book series called Locke & Key that I cannot recommend enough. Great stuff.

D: With your gaming background, have you found any of what you've created for a role-playing session or campaign find itself in your prose?

J: No, not with my D&D stuff anyway. I unfortunately stopped playing years ago. I'm sure if I found the things I wrote back in my early days, I'd find stories directly impacted by my gaming, but now it's all purely part of my origin story.

D: What is your writing process? Pants-er or outliner?

J: Early on I tried to write by the seat of my pants, but after being burned a couple times by writing myself into corners and gaping plot holes I learned that I should be more careful and thoughtful about my stories. There's only so many chapters you can highlight and hit the DEL key on before you decide there's another way, you know? So now I outline like an SOB. My process usually goes like this: I get a basic idea. I then sit down and mull that idea over in my mind, try to figure out what the story is really about. Once I have a larger idea in mind I'll open a Word doc on my computer and start doing a rough list of notes about characters, some scenes that popped into my head, the overall story I want to tell, that sort of thing. When the story is actually a firm idea with actual shape to it and ideas, I go to my friends and talk it over with them, see what they think, if they can spot any early flaws, and have them ask me questions that force me to think beyond what I have so far. I'm a big believer in brainstorming ideas with other people, because too often our enthusiasm for the initial idea can cause us to overlook problems and ignore inconsistencies or logic issues. Other people won't, and I need that. Once I've brainstormed it and think I have the general feel of it, I open a new doc and begin outlining the book from beginning to end. I try to be as detailed as I can, but I also leave room for improvisation. Only when I have the outline finished will I open a new doc and actually start writing the story. Now, some people (and by people I mean other writers) have remarked that this sort of writing seems too calculated, that outlining removes the wonder and discovery that makes writing fun. To them I say, "Poop." Not only did I do all that discovery and enjoy all that wonder while I was brainstorming and outlining, but I always leave myself open to changing the story if suddenly a new idea hits me while I'm writing. I would never ignore a great idea just because it didn't fit my outline. My outlines are organic things; they change and grow and evolve as I write. I never feel like I'm locked down. Plus, just because I know where I'm going doesn't mean I can't delight in all the unexpected little things that appear along the way.

D: How long did it take for you to get from Word One of Haywire to completing your final draft?

J: From the first word being typed until the last edit was made for the publisher, it was about three-and-a-half years. Before anyone thinks I'm really slow (which I am), realize that within that time was a year or so in which I was trying to find a publisher/agent, and then another year when I thought the agent I found was handling it for me. The actual first draft of the novel probably took me four months or so, and the final edit was a month-and-a-half.

D: Let's get back to your new novel. What can you tell us about Haywire?

J: Haywire is the story of what happens when our own technology and brilliance are turned against us. In a future time when we've expanded into the solar system and settled across the various moons and planets, an alien race called the Hezrin invade and immediately begin a campaign to conquer us. We fight back, but our usual weapons of war have little impact, so we have to resort to nuclear options to fend them off. They return in even greater numbers, and again we use nukes as our only means of defense. Unfortunately, with a weapon like that you end up doing harm to yourself as well. Things look grim for us, but at our darkest hour a scientist steps forward with a technology that could turn the tide -- nanites. Using these microscopic machines, the scientist is able to take ordinary soldiers and turn them into super humans, with strength and speed far beyond anything dreamt of before. The nanites also act as an armor, a second layer of metal skin that can reshape itself to handle whatever situation the soldiers might find themselves in. These super soldiers, now known as Titans, take the fight to the Hezin, battling toe to toe with them, and eventually they drive the aliens out of the solar system. The Titans know, though, that eventually the Hezin will return once more, so they vow to chase them and fight until humanity is safe. This is the backstory to what Haywire is about.

One-hundred years later a Titan finally returns. Unfortunately she brings word that on the eve of their victory against the Hezrin after their century long war, the aliens unleashed their final weapon. It was a nanovirus designed to rewrite the Titan nanites and turn them into bloodthirsty monsters with one goal in mind -- the destruction of humanity and all they'd fought so long to protect. Now the Titans are coming, and she's the only one that was able to defend herself against the virus and get away. Her hope is to find a way to cure the Titans of their infection, or failing that, find a way to kill them. Haywire follows her struggle as she, along with a Titan scholar and her teenaged son, searches the solar system for a way to averting disaster. Arrayed against them are space pirates, federal agents, covert operatives, and ultimately the infected Titans. Will they succeed? Will the Titans be stopped? And what will they have to sacrifice along the way? Read Haywire and find out.

D: Your brother designed the cover of Haywire, didn't he? How did that come about?

J: Yeah, he did. My brother Scott is one of those SOBs that is good at damn near anything he tries his hand at. Music, writing, art, whatever. If he puts his mind to it, he can do it better than I can, and by a large margin. I actually hate that about him. But, his one fatal flaw (and all super villains must have one, right?) is that he can't seem to settle on one particular art form to channel his energy and concentration into. He dabbles in them all, which is good because it keeps him well rounded, but sometimes I wonder what he could do if he chose one and really put everything he had into it. If he does, I just hope it's not writing. That's MY thing, dammit.But yes, my brother did the artwork for Haywire. When I was writing an earlier novel that'll probably never see the light of day he did artwork for its cover, and even then he was talented, but it wasn't until I asked him to do the cover for a short story collection called The Ties That Bind that I saw what he was really capable of. Even now, today, when I look at that cover I'm blown away. It's as good or better than much of what you'd find on a bookstore shelf. The fact that I didn't have to pay a penny for it was the cherry on top. It really is amazing work. So, when it came time to publish Haywire, my publisher said that he had people who could do the cover or if I had someone in mind he'd be open to taking a look. I said that my brother wanted to take a whack at it, and a short while later I presented the cover you see today to him. I think it's really incredible work, and David was thrilled with it too. I'm honored to have my brother's art be the face of my story, and I know that there will be a lot of people who read it entirely because that cover caught their eye (pardon the pun) and drew them in. I can't thank Scott enough.

D: What's next?

J: Well, hopefully later this year my second novel will be coming out. It's entitled A Minor Magic, and it's being published by Crescent Moon Press. In a total departure from sci-fi, A Minor Magic is a post-apocalyptic story about Skylar, a young girl in Tennessee. When she was a small child the world was burned by a mysterious fire that ravaged the planet, killing most of the population and destroying our civilization. Those who survived never knew what caused the fire or where it came from, and in the years that followed they had to struggle just to survive. Among them was Skylar. Everything changes though, when one morning a decade after the great Burning Skylar unexpectedly develops magical powers that manifest in blue flames leaping from her hands. The elderly family that has been raising her sees this and believes she's somehow part of what happened ten years prior, so they exile her from the only home she's ever known. The book follows her journey as she tries to find her place in a world that's been destroyed, and tries to find out just who she really is and where she came from. Right now I'm finishing the first draft of my next book, a horror novel entitled Still Water. Inspired in equal parts by Silent Hill and H.P. Lovecraft, this is the story of a small West Virginia coal mining town and the ancient evil that's been sleeping for millenia in the mountains around it. Flood stories exist in nearly every religion and culture the world over, and Still Water posits the idea that what if there really was a flood a long time ago that was meant to wash the world clear of evil, but then what if not all of that evil went away? What if part of that evil and the water meant to cleanse it was locked away in a cavern? What would happen when that cavern was accidentally breached and the water holding the evil at bay began to drain away? That's Still Water. After that? I have no idea. I have ideas for about half a dozen novels I could work on, but I'm also thinking about getting back to some short story writing. We'll just have to see. If Haywire takes off and people demand more, I have other stories to tell in that universe. The same for A Minor Magic. I want to satisfy my audience, and I want to satisfy myself, so we'll see where this writing thing takes us.

You can find Justin online at his website at Moment's From a Writer's Life ( You can hear him on the following podcasts: The Dead Robots' Society, Fit-2-Write and The Hollywood Outsider.

His short stories and books, including Haywire, can be found at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

FDR: American Badass! - A Quick Review

I did end up going to the second night of the Faux Film Festival last night, and after a number of short films - some good, some a little long, one being a flat out commercial for a a paperback collection for an online comic, and none of them featuring werewolves - I was hit over the head with a little film called FDR: American Badass!

I laughed out loud quite a bit at spots, and Barry Bostwick was FANTASTIC as FDR, but for my money, I think the spotlight actor in the film was Bruce McGill as FDR's assistant/best friend/right hand man Louis.

The story is fairly straight forward - a German werewolf attack leaves Governor FDR with polio, and as he's recovering, he announces his plans to run for president. We get to spend some time w/ FDR and Louis as they stump around the country looking for votes, and eventually, as history tells us, FDR becomes president.

And his son does something horrible with a flower vase.

It turns out World War II starts because werewolf Hitler, werewolf Mussolini and werewolf Hirohito want to take over the world, and FDR and his crew (which includes Ray Wise as Douglas MacArthur, or, as he puts it, Dougie Mac), aren't going to stand for it.

Oh, and Kevin Sorbo shows up as Abraham Lincoln.

While I laughed through a lot of the movie, it did seem to run a little long, and ALMOST overstayed its welcome by the time the credits started rolling. Some of the gags did not work (including a recurring bit involving Axis power phone operators always getting the wrong number when Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito try calling each other to discuss their world domination plans), and there are so many joke attempts hitting one right after the other that there really wasn't a chance for the audience to just laugh and enjoy the film. And not all of the jokes worked and some even felt a little dated, especially when it came to the characters of George Freeman (played by Deon Richmond) or Curtis (played by Ahmed Best). Both characters are black, and are supposed to be funny because they can scratch a record or play basketball or whatever . . . it just was a LITTLE off-putting. The overall film is NOT politically correct (you can tell that from the trailer!), so I suppose I should have expected the one character who knows about smoking pot just happens to be the black guy, but still . . .

The movie does show its low budget seams, especially when it came to any of the CG work (bullets, explosions, etc.), as well as the climax of the film itself. But I was glad to see it with a group of people in a kind of run down movie theater (even though it strangely started smelling like feces for some reason or other between the short films and the feature - thankfully that passed), which is probably the best way to see the film (with a group, not with that smell).

I haven't looked to see if FDR: American Badass! is available on DVD/Blu-, but I imagine with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies coming later this year, someone somewhere would want to distribute a film in which Franklin Delano Roosevelt fights werewolves.

This was the first time I've ever gone to the Faux Film Festival here in Portland, and I'll definitely keep an eye on it in the future because it looks like it brings in some interesting flicks. I don't know if I'll need to sit through another block of shorts, though - I'll be paying attention for the features.