Coming to a close

For the past week or so, I’ve been watching the 1944 Universal Studios serial The Great Alaskan Mystery, and tonight I’ll screen the final two chapters. As preposterous as it all is, it’s been entertaining. The story revolves around a ray gun, initially meant to work as a sort of particle/matter transporter beam, but when a special type of energized quartz is used to power it, it becomes a catastrophic atomic death ray. Bad guys want it. Who they’re affiliated with has never really been disclosed, but since one of them speaks with a German accent, must be Nazis, although I have to admit, that’s one hell of a fifth column in No Man’s Land, Alaska.

The dangers and near-death close-calls experienced by the heroes are patently absurd and the bad guys, save two, are laughably witless and inept. The only two with any brains is the man who wants to sell the weapon to the highest bidder, and the scientist-spy who was working on the ray gun project in the first place. In fact, the spy is, without question, the smartest of the bunch.

There’s a plucky heroine thrown into the mix, of course, but after the first two chapters, she’s basically reduced to rendering first aid and shouting “Jim!” to either warn her hero boyfriend of approaching baddies or when searching for him when, by all accounts, he should be dead on the side of the road or blown into a million pieces.

I can understand why kids would enjoy these serials back in the day, they’re pure escapism and unashamedly so.

 

The Flesh Eaters (1964)

Because distraction can be good for the writer’s soul, I recently indulged my latest obsession (veteran character actor Martin Kosleck) and watched the low-budget 1964 horror flick, The Flesh Eaters. I was wary; too many times I had bought a movie, unseen, or wasted two hours watching on tv, a movie with an actor I liked, only to discover they only had a two-minute cameo at either the very beginning or two-thirds of the way through what was otherwise a crap fest. I am pleased to say that wasn’t the case here.

The Flesh Eaters begins with personal assistant Jan Letterman chartering a plane for her employer, actress Laura Winters, from down-on-his-luck pilot Grant Murdoch. Laura needs to make the curtain for the play she’s starring in out-of-state. The real question is whether she’ll sober up in time, because she’s three sheets to the wind with a portable liquor store in an overnight bag. There’s also a little problem of a tropical storm heading their way; Murdoch says it’s too dangerous to fly. Jan offers him triple his fee and since he needs the cash, he takes the risk.

In mid-flight, heading ever closer to the storm, they experience engine trouble and Murdoch makes an emergency landing on a small island off the coast. They quickly discover the island isn’t uninhabited as they meet Dr. Peter Bartell, marine biologist conducting crustacean experiments (his pleasant, German accented voice and steely eyes are no cause for concern. None at all). After finding a human skeleton washed ashore, the doctor brushes it off to a shark attack, then offers the trio safe haven in his tent further inland.

The next morning, glimmering fish skeletons are littering the beach. Something is amiss. A little later, a beatnik named Omar makes it to the island on his shabby raft (how in the hell did that survive a hurricane?). Things go from bad to worse when the stranded travelers realize they’re trapped on the island, the waters infested with some sort of flesh-eating amoeba.

This is considered to be one of the first gore movies, released a year after Blood Feast. Unlike its predecessor, The Flesh Eaters is a pretty decent low-budget B movie. The acting isn’t bad, the B&W cinematography is great, and it has some fairly good practical effects, the flesh-eaters themselves most notably.

I’m happy to say Martin Kosleck has a sizable role in this as Dr. Bartell. He’s the villain, of course, and, as usual, delivers. All the actors do a decent to good job playing their trope roles, even Ray Tudor as Omar, the insufferable proto-hippie (watching him makes you understand why Eric Cartman hates them).

One of my favorite scenes is tied to an earlier one. The set-up: Shortly after the three make it to the island, Dr. Bartell takes a moment to talk to Laura. Noting she has a thing for macho Murdoch, he tells her it’s brains, not brawn, that makes a man attractive. Apparently, although he may be studying hermit crabs, he himself is not one when the opportunity to get it on with a still desirable actress is presented (how she retains her looks despite being a big-time lush is beyond me). Needless to say, she shoots the doctor down. The payoff: Later in the movie, however, she makes a play for him. He suggests they duck behind a secluded dune. I immediately say there is no way he’s getting any, because he’s Martin Kosleck, and his characters never get any! What happens next had me laughing out loud, in a good way.

I was skeptical about this movie, but it ended up being a lot of fun. A shifty scientist with a German accent, a busty blonde who strips to her bra to fashion a bandage for the injured hero, a Maynard G. Krebbs type, and some cool flesh eating creatures. Gather your friends, and in keeping with the spirit of the movie and Dr. Bartell, get some shrimp and crab legs and make a night of it. Just keep an eye on your drink!

(The Flesh Eaters is available to stream on Amazon or can be watched for free on YouTube)

Utilizing audio in your writing

I was going to write a post about my grand plans for adding an external monitor to my work space. It’s a nice one, but it’s not working out the way I wanted or hoped. All that effort comparing models, price, etc. wasted. Perhaps it’s just a period of adjustment.

I was beyond pleased the other night when I discovered some items for the novel written out on a couple of legal pads. I’ll be adding those things today and also wanted to take a look at another chapter that needs notes crafted into actual, readable, prose. I have some recordings about that chapter that I’d like to revisit, I just have to find them.

Perhaps I mentioned this before. I use a digital recorder in my writing process. This started with the episode guides. I’d watch an episode, taking handwritten notes, then I’d dictate those notes into a recorder. The episode was fresh in my mind, and sometimes, I’d recall something that I hadn’t written down, or an inconsistency, plot hole, or call back to an earlier episode. I didn’t plan on keeping any of those recordings, but they were fun to listen to because of the looseness. They were quite raw, occasionally filled with obscenities, rants, and laughing jags. I’ve saved most of them. Alas, very early ones were deleted due to the first recorder I was using not having capability of file transfer. I honestly didn’t think I’d be saving them. I lost well over two hundred entries.

On that first, inferior, recorder, I also began making notes for various works in progress. This novel, surprisingly, wasn’t one of them. I didn’t think I’d dig it out of the trunk and do anything with it. How wrong I was. With the purchase of a better recorder (stereo, Mp3 files, and USB transfer), not only was I making my episode guide recordings, but I started talking through the novel. There were a lot of things that needed to be changed, developed, or sorted out, and using the recorder was a way to do that. It quickly became apparent that I’d need a second, dedicated recorder solely for the novel. Purchase made.

recorders

I usually do those recordings at night, over a drink or cup of tea. Hit record and start talking. For parts of the story that were nebulous, stream of consciousness rambling eventually got me to something substantial and concrete. And since it’s recorded, I can listen back, and it settles in my subconscious, so the next recording is more to the point, more focused (and, sometimes, parts are worded exactly the same). I resolved two major issues using this process. The number of files was high, but eventually I got it. Unfortunately, transcribing all those files can be overwhelming, especially when some run up to forty-five minutes. Some, however, are a concise two or three minutes; a quick note to add something to a scene, or dialogue.

Part of the reason I like using a recorder is because it’s immediate; think it, speak it, and it’s there. Although I’m a fast typist, I would still lose things. Another benefit is emotion or enthusiasm. I find that when I’m immersed in a dictation, emotion, vocal inflection, and tone of voice for the characters in a given situation come through. Angry, confused, delighted, sorrowful, it’s there. And the beauty of it is, I can listen back to those files and hear what I intend to convey in the written word. My stories have plot, of course, but they are also very character driven, and tend to have a lot of layers. This method helps in those areas as well. It’s also useful to read a chapter into one and see if the writing has the right flow and rhythm, and gauge whether the words make sense and are accessible to readers.

For me, reorders are as essential a tool as pen, paper, and computer.

 

Changing course

There’s always so much to do in the self-publishing world, and it’s exhausting. It also pulls you away from what you want to do most, write. Sometimes, I use these other things, these necessary evils, as a way to procrastinate.

The first was in finding the perfect image for the book cover. I became obsessed with it. Once I found it, I toyed with how to use it, slightly modify it, and looked for the perfect font. This was over a year ago, the book still incomplete. But I had a cover.

I distracted myself with re-issuing earlier, unrelated, books using my own ISBNs in order to have a little more control over my work. This involved learning the ins-and-outs of Bowker and IngramSpark. Easy enough, except, IngramSpark has different requirements for cover files. Another distraction, which included upgrading from Photoshop Elements to Photoshop and re-learning how to do certain actions in a more powerful program. And hey, I also switched aggregators to distribute my e-books wide. Fortunately, that’s an easy system to use, except…you know, I really need to add an active, hyperlink table of contents to those books. Let me distract myself with that for a week or so.

Okay, book cover? Check. Reissues reissued? Check. Understand how Bowker and IngramSpark work? Check. Understand enough of Photoshop to do what I need? Sure. E-book hyperlinks? Got ’em.

You know, I should really try and have an online presence. It’s what all the kids are doing nowadays, can’t be a dinosaur, can I? Yes, it’s already tough trying to get a blog post up twice a month, but, go for it. So, I created a Twitter account, which I avoided for years because I didn’t think I was succinct enough. Turns out, I am. Found some great people to follow, too. It’s so entertaining to distract myself and procrastinate reading those tweets.

Hmm, I hear about AMS ads. I should really look into that. Warning: start trying to build a list of keywords for ads and you’ll be at it for days. Or weeks. And, wouldn’t you know it, as I search for relevant words, authors, and book titles, I find books that interest me. I should order this or that book and distract myself from my writing a bit more. True story, last night, I had some books in my cart but wasn’t logged into Amazon. I closed the browser and thought, you know, I don’t really need those books. Besides, I have a stack of titles I haven’t even read yet. Screw it.

Well, after all those diversions, I’ve come to a decision that’s going to require a lot of willpower. I’m not sure I’m up to it, but, damn it, I’m going to try. No more distractions, no more procrastination. I’ve got to focus on the novel. I don’t care how small the progress, as long as it’s progress. To that end, I’ll still try to update the blog twice a month. I’ll still be checking in on Twitter, but not to waste time or procrastinate. The book is far too important.

Reading, writing, soon to be reviewing

Unfortunately, other things kept me from getting much writing done the last two weekends, but things are looking good going forward; pesky, specific errands are out of the way and my calendar is clear. In fact, last night, lying in bed, I had a thought that would make for a good sentence in a paragraph I had written earlier in the day. I got up, grabbed a flashlight, and made for the next room, where I jotted it down on a legal pad. All that for one sentence. Thing is, I knew I’d forget it if I didn’t make the effort. So many words, sentences, and paragraphs have been lost in the past due to inaction. I used to do a great deal of ‘head’ writing while lying in bed back in the day. Thankfully, I’ve moved away from that, it’s only occasionally that I have an idea in those moments. I’ve successfully retrained my brain to avoid thinking plot and character developments when I should be catching zzzs.

I’m also in the process of reading a fantastic book. I honestly haven’t been this engrossed, excited, or blown away in a long time. I’m enjoying it so much, I slowed my pace to make it last. Of course, I had to order another title or two by the author right away, convinced I’ll need another fix sooner rather than later. I’m holding off on saying anything about the title until I do a review, although I’ve mentioned the book and author on Twitter.

Hoping I get at least a little writing in tonight, then, back to reading.

This and that

Update on my goings-on.

One of the books I was reading really started to irritate me at about the half-way point, so I set it aside. It can be a problem when reading a story collection of one author. Problem is, I have two more collections by the same writer on the to-be-read list. I think it will be a while before I get back to any of his works. In its place, I started to read a novel. I like it well enough for what it is, but it’s not a page-turner. More of a slow simmer type of book.

All the re-issues are out, including e-books with active ToCs. Even better, a quick check of a couple of titles on Amazon shows the correct file in the Look Inside.

Now to the important stuff. In an attempt to jump-start my writing, I thought working on something else would help. Perhaps something in a different genre. It did and it didn’t. As I began thinking things through for the new project, I quickly realized I wasn’t feeling it. There were some elements I liked, but the story lacked a purpose. The general idea, I think, would work better as a vague, ambiguous short, with no resolution. A bizarre kind of day-in-the-life.

What did happen, however, was that I turned to my novel instead. Over the holiday, I worked solely on that. Did I make a lot of headway? No, but I tackled some of the things I had been avoiding and was satisfied with the results, at least until the next round of editing. It was a good day’s work.

 

Still in a writing rut

I haven’t done any work on the novel. I considered working on another idea, a horror novella, something lean and mean. Different. I made some notes one day, but I didn’t like the direction it was going. I need to think about it some more. I did, however, mock up a fairly decent cover that conveys horror/suspense. That counts for something, right?

I finally managed to get another book review out. It’s posted to my YouTube channel or you can find it here on the website under Podcasts.

“Whatever happened to that Silver Brook redevelopment plan? Wasn’t someone going to revitalize the resort, make the area shine again?” Connie asked.

“It was a disaster before it started. Herb Fenley and Lou Klaussen approached me about it. They were looking for investors. I turned them down, I know a dog when I see one. Then they promised me the moon and the MIlky Way. Exclusive listings of luxury condos and a handful of mansions they had planned. I told them Silver Brook is a limbo, a no-man’s land. Nobody would willingly live there, at least, nothing human.”

“Rob, don’t start that shit —”

“I’m not starting anything,” he soberly replied, and she thought he paled slightly. “The whole project fell through when Herb Fenley disappeared…during an excursion to Silver Brook.”

 

Books and non-books

Checking in with a quick update. With the reissues out of the way, I have some time I can devote to other things. One of them is reading, something I haven’t done much of over the years. Yes, years. The problem was I couldn’t find books I liked. Except for horror, I’m not much of a genre reader, and I gave up on contemporary fiction somewhere around 1992 (literary fiction that seemed only to meander and thrillers that were too formulaic). I read some 18th century plays, a penny dreadful or two, then basically gave up reading altogether.

But I wanted to read. Something new, different, that I would potentially like, rather than something I’d want to throw across the room or complain about wasting my money on. I finally found some authors that filled the void, Ray Russell and Charles Beaumont. Both 20th century authors and Chicago natives (curious, that), who wrote horror and weird fiction. Russell’s works tend to have invisible layers. When I’m finished reading, I find myself sitting and thinking and those layers slowly start to become visible. Many stories are like little puzzle boxes that, surprisingly, can have more than one resolution.

I’ve started to read the first of three Beaumont collections. I’ve read three distinctly different short stories and they were all good, ranging from horrific, to fantastically whimsical, to slightly gritty and depressing. An interesting observation I’ve made is that Russell tends to be careful with language, meaning he doesn’t usually use curses or obscenities. If he does, it’s rare and rather mild. Beaumont will use expletives more liberally, but not gratuitously, they feel right for the situation. I really want to savor these Beaumont stories, so I’m only reading a few at a time, and I have one other Russell book to read. Reviews will be forthcoming. Russell’s tend to take more time to review because I have to think about them more, and oftentimes, as I’m thinking, I hit on another aspect I hadn’t considered before. Those invisible layers again.

That’s the good news. The bad…I haven’t been motivated to write. I have ideas, I have notes, I have a pile of things that need to be addressed. But, damn it, the motivation isn’t there. I’m considering making some changes. Handwriting some things, moving to a different work area, something, anything, to jump start the process. Maybe I’ll become so frustrated and angry with myself, I’ll start working again out of sheer spite. Here’s hoping.

I need to focus

I finally got the third edition print versions of the episode guides out in the retail wilds. I was really just procrastinating, but the KDP Print uploads went off without a hitch. Received the IngramSpark proofs yesterday and, no surprise, I’m less than impressed with the quality. I considered a podcast/video about it, but deleted what I recorded. Maybe I’ll do one in future. I’d like to get the last available guide re-issued but can’t quite muster the enthusiasm to make those changes.

Since the guide project became a black hole that merely sucked my time and resources into a void of nothingness, I’m not continuing. Energy could be better spent on the backlog of novels and novellas I have.

I bought a microphone for audio recordings and think I’ve found the best settings and set-up. Still need a windscreen, but I’m making due for now. I rambled on for quite a bit last night on a new book review and still need to do a bit of editing.

More importantly, I need to focus on my novel. I kept telling myself if I just got those re-issues out of my way, I could dive back into it. Truth is, I find more distractions so I can continue procrastinating, like doing book reviews or anecdotal videos about writing.

So here’s my plan: get the last completed guide out by the end of June. The book review I mentioned is almost done, so I’ll post that in the next week or so. Another book I wanted to review I need to re-read. Since it’s a horror novel, I can always aim for a Halloween timed review. What’s that leave? Work on the damn novel. Here’s hoping.

 

Stuff and more stuff

I’ve been remiss with blog posts, I know. I was focused on updated editions of the guides. I have one more to go, but I’m not rushing it. I don’t know when I’ll get to it. For all intents and purposes, I’m burned out. Too much work, no real reward.

I’ve started doing some podcast videos on writing (using anecdotes of my own positive and negative experiences) and book reviews. I have two reviews on deck, so to speak (it is baseball season after all), and another review I’d like to do, but I need to re-read the book again. I’m holding off on recording the two because I’m waiting for a new microphone which I’m sure will make a big difference in audio quality. And it’s audio only, cameras don’t like me (not anymore anyway, time and age is a cruel bitch).  I have a face for radio, as the saying goes. And possibly a voice for silent movies.

Anyway, that’s where things stand at the moment. I’m Just trying to clear things off the over-filled plate and reclaim a bit of sanity. I’ll add a link to my pitiful fledgling YouTube channel in the sidebar. Below is the podcast (audio only) version of my latest YT post.