Review – Winter’s Tale

After seeing the trailer that “Winter’s Tale” by Mark Helprin has become a movie, I got goose bumps from watching the scenes that I read as a teenager in the early 1980’s. Alas, I saw the movie and it was a disappointment. The novel itself might be “unfilmable,” a special category that “The Lord of The Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien had for many years until Peter Jackson brought it to life in three movies, as two-thirds of the novel was left out of this movie adaptation.

The novel was about the turn of the century (1899-1900) and the coming of the millennium (1999-2000), the struggles between good and evil, love and death, past and future, and the city of justice known as New York City. A host of different characters occupies each time period, a few transcended both time periods, and several were immortal.

The first thing the movie does was toss out the coming of the millennium theme. Since the real-life millennium came and went without a herald of angels proclaiming the second coming of Christ, and even the Y2K computer disaster went out with whimper, it’s understandable that the movie would shift the timeline forward to 1916 and 2014.

Without the millennium being the implicit theme for good and evil, the film had the devil (Will Smith) in a Jimmie Hendrix t-shirt and the villain, Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), being the demonic mastermind of a criminal enterprise. Their job is to prevent miracles from happening in New York City in general, and by Peter Lake (Collin Farrell) in particular. This explicit “angels and demons” theme was a somewhat unnecessary distraction.

The movie focuses on the brief and tragic romance between Peter Lake and Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay) as star-crossed lovers from opposite ends of society. He’s a thief who got caught cracking her father’s safe and she’s the dying daughter of a newspaper magnate. All scenes concerning these two were faithful to the novel for the most part, enough so that I broke out in goose bumps and/or tears.

The latter half of the movie where Peter find himself in present day New York City goes by in a star-sparkled flash, which this movie has too many as a nod to the “city of light” theme from the novel, rushing to the final battle between good and evil that the miracle Peter does perform in bringing the dead back to life is almost an afterthought.

The script fell short of expectations from having read the novel despite the superb acting of a talented cast. A faithful adaptation would have required a longer movie—perhaps a trilogy of movies—to capture the sweeping themes and the characters from the rest of the novel. Since I can’t separate myself from the novel, I’m not sure how the movie would work for someone who has never read the novel.

A Slightly Different Kind Of Demoness

I seldom get reviews for my short story and essay ebooks. When I got a head’s up a few weeks ago that TeraS of was reviewing my recent short story ebook, “Some Bad Decisions,” where a serial killer finds himself rolling in a world of hurt with a “succubus” prostitute, I welcomed the full-length review even though I got skewered with a pitchfork for taking some obvious shortcuts with the succubus character.

More telling to me personally is that I just found it hard to care to know or see anything more about Jane when the story was finished with. She just wasn’t a Succubus that I could like in any shape, way or form. It’s rare for me to say that, but in this case it’s true. She was a means to an end, a direction in the story, a way to tie up loose ends in more than one way.

Guilty as charged. Plain Jane as a succubus—or, more precisely, a sexy demoness—tied up quite a few loose ends. Until I read the review, I haven’t given any serious thought about what a succubus was beyond being the deadly prostitute who takes revenge against a serial killer stalking prostitutes on the Las Vegas strip. I wrote a straight forward horror short story with a huge dollop of sex added, which is something I don’t like reading from other horror writers.

As a short story writer, I always danced around the sex scenes because most print publications didn’t go there. “The Unfaithful Camera” was my most “sexually explicit” short story to date, where a little boy comes home from school to find his father and older sister doing the “bouncy bounce” in bed. That’s all, folks.

Writing a sexually-explicit short story for an erotica horror anthology on a short deadline was a special challenge. The editor rejected the first submission as being too short and a requested a revision. I doubled the length of the story by playing the characters against each other and sharpen their personality quirks. The editor accepted the second submission without a peep about how I handled the sexuality of the succubus character. But that was also the general complaint about the anthology: too much horror, too little erotica.

I find myself wondering what Jane was really like… this image of her was formed, as I said, to ensnare Claude and I have to wonder if she isn’t more than just a being of terror as she was here. There is a hint of connections with the Vegas underworld in the story and I find myself wondering about that aspect of her, and where it would take her story in the future should the author continue the story from here.

I’m thinking about moving Plain Jane the Succubus out of the horror genre into the urban fantasy genre for a novella, novel and/or series. The short story will be rewritten as the first chapter from Plain Jane’s point of view as she eliminates a serial killer that she later discovers was the wrong guy. With the planted evidence implicating her, the homicide detective designates her the Las Vegas ripper, the supernatural underworld turns against her, and the chase is on for her to find the real serial killer before something really bad happens to her.

I’m going to take my time developing the longer story. Urban fantasy is not the same as horror. I need to know more about the supernatural creatures that inhabit the Las Vegas underworld, which I know little about except for the Godfather movies. I’m more confident about writing sex scenes now that my second sexually explicit short story is available in print. Maybe I can nail down the erotica part this time.

Are You A Freudian or Jungian Dream Analyst?

I woke up from a dream a few days ago where I was riding a train and typing away on a manual typewriter before being thrown off the train and the typewriter being drop kicked behind me. That’s a weird dream. Dreams that I want to remember tend to slip away like ether into the nothingness. Dreams that I don’t want to remember tend to linger about like Chinese food left in the kitchen wastebasket over a hot weekend. The train dream decided to stay.

Naturally, I posted that summary to Twitter to start off my day. I was then invited to post my dream on Freud-It by a friendly Twitter bot, a Twitter-related dream analysis website where people can offer their own opinions about your dreams. The nice thing about the Twitter community is that the niche websites—TweetPsych and Twittascope—can tell you something about yourself. I didn’t post my dream on Freud-It because I used my own blog for dissecting my dreams and rants.

This dream was inspired by the Christmas Day terrorism incident where a wannabe terrorist tried to set off his explosives in his underwear on a plane arriving at Detroit. (First the shoe bomber, now the underwear bomber, and, since I’ve seen too many Tokyo splatter movies, the bra bomber will be next.) The initial reports said firecrackers were lit on the plane. I can imagine a string of Lady Fingers firecrackers being lit by some prankster. When I was a little boy, my brother threw firecrackers at my bare feet to see me dance, and was soon in a world of hurt with our mother coming out the front door and a sheriff patrol car pulling up behind him. (This was in the early 1970’s when the sheriff deputies would take people behind the local convenience store to beat out a confession and were regarded as more dangerous than the Hell’s Angels living down the street.) When I told my family about the plane incident, they immediately expressed the desire to toss the guy off the plane without a parachute.

I have never flown in a plane. I have taken the Caltrain commuter train between San Jose and Mountain View, and the Amtrak train between San Jose and Sacramento. When I took Amtrak to Sacramento, I would take my laptop with me for the 3.5 hour trip to either write or watch movies. These days I travel light with a notepad and pen to write and my iPod Touch to watch movies. When I had my dream, I had a manual typewriter.

Typewriters weren’t unusual for me.

I fell in love with an IBM Selectric typewriter when I was in the principal’s office at kindergarten, watching the little gray ball spin to put black letters on the paper. (This was the meeting where my parents were informed that I was mentally retarded and I would spend many years confounding my Special Ed teachers by blowing out the evaluation tests at the college or genius level.) Long before computers started showing up in the local stores, I was checking out the various models of typewriters. I had half-dozen typewriters when I was growing up and later gave them up when word processing became practical in college.

After my mother died of breast cancer in 2004, I went through a period of reclaiming my childhood by possessing objects that would trigger positive childhood memories, like Lava Soap and Johnson’s Baby Shampoo. When I decided to get serious about being a writer, I ordered a manual typewriter from Amazon. My Dad thought I went off into the deep end when he asked what was in the box that we stopped by the post office. But being the writer of my childhood meant having a typewriter. I later got an electric typewriter that I still use to compose the rough drafts of my short stories and novels.

If you’re on a train with a manual typewriter, the repeated click-clack sound of the keys striking the ribbon to put ink on the paper could be mistaken for firecrackers and perhaps more annoying than a crying baby. Today’s train conductors will not physically throw people off a train—moving or not—for fear of a liability lawsuit. I was coming back from on Caltrain one Friday afternoon when a young couple were drunk like a stunk and wanted to get naked to have sex on the train. They didn’t get that far but they were crawling all over the seats and each other. The train conductor called ahead at the San Jose downtown station to have the police waiting to arrest them and physically remove them from the train. The train conductors of yesteryear wouldn’t hesitate to manhandle someone off a moving train into the wilderness or murder outright if that was necessary.

What does my dream mean? Who knows? Or, more precisely, as the second rabbi explains in the Coen brother’s movie, A Serious Man, “Who cares?”

On a related note, “The Red Book” by Carl Jung is becoming a surprise bestseller this holiday season. Handmade and printed in Italy, the 416-page book weighs in at nine pounds and has a $195 sticker price. This book of dream interpretations has been never been published until now. What’s the difference between a Freudian and Jungian dream analysis? I have no idea. When I took psychology in college, I got an “A” for the course because I was interested in applying psychological principles to the user interface design of software. I was never interested in what made people tick or why they lose their marbles. Although as a fiction writer, I’m not above poaching a Freudian/Jungian metaphor for my own purposes.

NOTE: This blog post was first published on Once Upon An Albatross… blog.

Review – A Drifting Life

A new graphic novel by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, “A Drifting Life,” is a semi-fictional autobiography of the post-World War 2 Japanese manga scene, and perhaps the thickest (856 pages) I have ever read. Bracketed between the end of World War II in 1945 and the Peace Treaty in 1960, this story is about Hiroshi Katsumi learning to become a manga artist, his early work in the magazine contests, working for a single publisher with shady business practices, working with other artists and multiple publishers as a collective of independent artists, misadventures with women, and a political awakening that redefines a young man. At times brutally honest, startling and revealing about the human condition, this book is a masterpiece.

Most artists internalized their fears regarding their work. Although Hiroshi has his doubts from time to time, all his fears were externalized by his older brother, Okimasa. They both aspired to be manga artists but the younger brother was more prolific and constantly refining his work more than his older brother, creating a tension between the two that range from mild verbal sparring to outright abuse. Hiroshi is constantly escaping to get away from his older brother by being a substitute basketball player at high school, working on his manga at his aunt’s place under the roar of American bombers flying out of the airport, or watching what would later become classic movies from America (Shane, Snow White, and Dumbo) and Japan (Seven Samurai and Godzilla) that would influenced his work. He later moves to Tokyo to live with other manga artists and find better business opportunities.

What I admired the most about Hiroshi is his willingness to keep working from project to project to create a critical body of work that enabled him to advance to the next level of his career. We see a steady progression from shorter lengths (four-panel on postcards) to telling longer stories (32-pages) to creating full-length books (128-pages), struggling and mastering each level along the way. He experimented with different techniques for storytelling and visual presentations from classic literature, hard-boiled detective mysteries, and movies to keep the stories fresh and interesting, and learned how to manage the business side with different artists, projects, and publishers. Being an artist is hard work. This book that took ten years to make clearly demonstrates that.

If you’re an aspiring manga artist or writer, and want to know how to successfully manage your career, this book is a must read.

NOTE: This blog post was first published on Once Upon An Albatross… blog.