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My Writing Process (Blog Tour Entry)

I loathe chain emails. I’m not sure if they existed in paper form, but the thing which always killed me was the warning at the end. Like something out of a Steven King novel: “If you dare break this chain of old, a thousand locusts will descend upon thy host until only misery and bones are left to thee.”

Chain Letter

 

I snub my nose at such dire warnings. And I’m insulted that you feel that the subject manner itself is not good enough to spur me into action. There are many things that are difficult in this digital age, forwarding something on is not one of those things.

(Though I wonder if some of my recent bad luck is a result of not sending along that latest one… hmm, maybe I should rethink my stance.)

But a Chain Blog Tour? Well now, that is a horse of a different color. And when a fellow Guild-mate taps you then you do your best to appease the chain-blog gods. So with that in mind a little something to say about J Edward Neill.

I’ve known Mr. Neill since high school, brought together by a shared love of basketball and roleplaying. For the many years I thought about writing a book, he was sitting in his dark cave (or mountain top or volcano fortress) actually putting pen to paper, fingers to keyboard to create his fantasy opus: Down the Dark Path. And much like in sports where they tell you to play against better competition in order to get better at your craft – I use him as one of my gauges. Of course, this week he’s come out with Book 2: Dark Moon Daughter… so my work is cut out for me.

 

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What am I working on?

Sometimes I feel like the question should be “What am I not working on”, but let’s see:

The White Effect – My science fiction story about a man who finds that his world is rebooting, and he is one of the lucky (unlucky) ones who realizes what’s happening. It is currently with BETA readers with my next draft being targeted for late summer.

Hollow Empire – Serialized Dark Fantasy is all I’ll say about this one until it is out. This one is done, I’m just in the process of hiring some proofreading Australia experts to make edit or two on it. This process has slowed due to some recent life developments, but I’m hoping (and I’m sure my co-writer hopes as well) to have this one all wrapped up in the next month or so.

Gilded Age – My Steampunk creator-owned comic series through Terminus Media. Issue 2 is set to have final inks and colors begin any day now, and in the meantime I have final edits on issue 3’s script.

Entropy – A post-apocalyptic comic series set at the Ends of the Universe. Co-written with Robert Jeffrey II (see below for more on him), we merely wait for the artist to be unleashed upon this project.

The Edge of the World – A story in the vein of Journey to the Center of the Earth where our heroine seeks to find her missing uncle. I am 15,000 words into the first draft of this one.

 

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

With my comic writing, and The Gilded Age in particular, I’m trying to write character based stories and create a world from them as opposed to plopping them into a world. With my novel, The Dark That Follows, I’d say that it differs from “standard” urban fantasy in that it isn’t a romantic story where you wonder will they/won’t they. Instead it is about a man in way over his head just trying to do the right thing.

 

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Why do I write what I do?

As you can see above, I’m a little all over the place with regards to genre (for better or for worse). I guess I just follow that old rule of write what you’d like to read, and since I don’t just read fantasy or science fiction or urban fantasy or super-heroes exclusively my brain ensures that almost everything I work on is something different from the thing I wrote before. I take everything I’ve read, everything I’ve watched, everything I’ve ever heard and put them through the grinder of my brain and then something comes out. If it is interesting and moves me, then I write about it, if not, I move onto the next project.

 

How does my writing process work?

It starts with music. Something to write to. Recently it has been 10 Years, Chevelle, and Deftones. Once I have the right mood set I generally have a decent idea of what needs to happen within the story, so much more plotter than pantser. For a comic script I tend to write out a 1-2 paragraph summary of the major story beats and then start writing dialogue. Only after most of the dialogue is written do I go back and fill in every panel’s description and manipulate the pace of the comic. After a couple of passes I send it on to my editors, do one more pass with their notes, and then end up doing a FINAL-FINAL pass during the lettering stage as I can see the whole picture (literally) and see if something needs to be added or subtracted.

With my novels I have the story beats, but I write out-of-order most of the time, jumping from one scene to another and then piece things together like a puzzle. After that first draft is done I follow Steven King’s advice and put it in the drawer for 6-8 weeks to gain perspective. After that time I do my second pass, and if I’m happy with that version I might reach out to a couple of BETA readers for thoughts. Another draft follows that and then the editor. And then the final draft.

But at some point I do say “pencils down” because while we can tweak and refine our work forever, it doesn’t mean we should. Release it into the world and move onto the next project.

 

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Artist Highlights (or Next on the Tour):

Robert Jeffrey II: Robert is an Atlanta-based freelance writer whose portfolio includes a multitude of work in the arenas of print/web journalism and comics. His work with Atlanta-based Terminus Media includes comics (his creator owned/ 2014 Glyph Comic Award winning “Route 3” and “Daddy’s Little Girl”, “Terminus Team Up”, and B. Robert Bell’s “Radio Free Amerika”) and contracted client work including custom comics and animation scripting/editing duties for clients such as the Center for Disease Control and Nitto Tires.

Robert’s life long dream is to win a pop-locking battle to save a community center.

 

Sean Taylor: Bad Girls, Good Guys, and Two-Fisted Action is the official writing blog of Sean Taylor. But it’s not just a place to promote his stuff. It’s a resource (he hopes) of information about writing and creating genre fiction, literary prose, comic books, and just about anything else you can create with pens, pencils, paper, or word-processing software and a printer. On this site, you’ll be able to find publishers calling for submissions, tutorials about the craft of writing and editing, interviews with other writers, links to helpful and fascinating articles about the art, craft and business of writing and publishing, etc. — and of course, yes, you’ll also be able to keep up with whatever Sean has his writerly little paws involved in too.

 

 

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John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and now the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program. He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

The Deep, Dark Hills of Eastern Kentucky

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(note: This post lists many, many television shows. I am usually a stickler for punctuation and ideally each title would have quotation marks around it. But that would drive me insane and I’m not going to do it this time. I’m sure it will bother me way more than it bothers you. -chad)

The Sopranos started a revolution.

The Wire transcended television and became high literature.

Breaking Bad was an incomparable example of quality, integrity, and sharp, bold storytelling.

Sherlock brought us both the Cumber and the Batch.

Game of Thrones leaves people who would never pick up a fantasy novel salivating every week for more sex, swords, and devastating character deaths.

True Detective was (is)… so mind-bendingly good I’m still not sure if it really happened or if it was a dream.

Mad Men. Six Feet Under. Dexter. The Walking Dead. Rome. Entourage. True Blood. Curb Your Enthusiasm. Band of Brothers. Sons of Anarchy. Girls. Treme. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Lost. Louie. Community. Bates Motel. Hannibal.

We all know it. Several have said it. It’s not the point of this post, but it’s important to say:

Over the last decade plus, television has surpassed film in both cultural relevance and quality.

Most of these shows air or aired on cable, basic and premium, but not all. We are, if you can look past the pile of shit that is reality TV, past the umpteen-million Star Search clones that clog the networks every year, in a Golden Age of TV. An age that could never have been foreseen by Philo Farnsworth and his brother-in-law Cliff (that’s for the Sports Night fans out there – “I can make glass tubes.”)

Tonight, one of my all-time favorite shows is having its fifth season finale. Next season will be its last. It doesn’t get a lot of press or awards (it has won a few) and its final episode won’t generate anything close to the hype surrounding the last stand of Walter White.

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But Justified is my favorite show on television.

I admit it’s not the best show, but it’s definitely my favorite.

Because Justified is the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of cable TV.

And I love me some peanut butter cups.

In order to explain that (the metaphor, not my love for the candy), I have to briefly mention two amazing shows that I purposely left off the above list.

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Deadwood. This HBO show had a lot of things that made it difficult to find an audience: it was a western, it deliberately paced, sometimes complicated, and written by David Chase with an almost Shakespearean style of dialogue that was at times impenetrable. I fucking loved it.

It was great to have a full-on, serious Western on TV. A dirty, violent, sometimes sexy, somewhat-based in history, western in which the great Ian McShane claimed the word “cocksucker” as his and his alone for all time.

In ran for three season and ended in a less-than-satisfying way, because they were not 100% aware they were making a series finale when making the season 3 season finale. When it ended, we were promised a TV movie or two to wrap things but, but they never materialized.

Deadwood was so good, but I have never revisited it. Because I know it doesn’t pay off. I know I won’t get any more satisfaction getting to the end than I did the last time. It’s a real shame.

Deadwood went off the air in 2006.

One of the stars of Deadwood was an actor I had already been a fan of for years, ever since his turn as the “good” drug dealer in Doug Liman’s Go. The character he played was real-life Deadwood lawman Seth Bullock.

The actor’s name is Timothy Olyphant.

We’ll call him “chocolate”.

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The Shield. Due to the well-deserved supremacy of The Wire and The Sopranos, the other great crime/cop show of the last decade has been largely forgotten. But The Shield was grade-A amazing damn television. Michael Chiklis’s Vic Mackey was Walter White before Walter White. As a crooked cop who always ended up doing the wrong thing even when trying to do the right thing, he didn’t break bad: he broke worse. And worse. And worse.

It was a boundary pushing show. Taking a cue, I think, from NYPD Blue, it tested the limits of what you could say or do on (cable) television. Watching the pilot, I couldn’t believe the language they were using, even so far as talking about a guy’s “cock”. (And yet, they still never said “fuck”. Censors are weird.) The violence, the all-around moral bankruptcy, it was astounding.

The Shield also aired the most single harrowing scene I have ever watched on television. If you haven’t seen the show I won’t give it away, but, near the end of its run, it does something that is so heartbreaking, so unexpected, and so utterly painful to watch that it kept me up at night. Fuck the Red Wedding. Fuck Buffy’s mom dying. This moment… oh man I wish I could get into it but it would take so much setup… just thinking about it hurts me deep.

The Shield was a hit, especially for FX, and lasted 7 seasons. The finale was quite good.

The last episode aired in 2008.

One of the stars of that show was an actor I had never seen before. He played Shane, a cop that teeters over the edge and becomes a monster that even his mentor, Vic, a monster himself, can’t control. He is the center piece, actually, of that harrowing scene I mentioned above. You may have seen him in the last few years in films like Lincoln, Cowboys & Aliens, and Django Unchained.

His name is Walton Goggins.

We’ll call him “peanut butter.”

Two years after the end of The Shield, Justified debuted on FX. Centered around two Elmore Leonard characters -Raylan Givens, a deputy US Marshall forced to go home to Kentucky where he grew up, and Boyd Crowder, a white supremacist, arsonist, criminal hillbilly scumbag- it is a crime show with a western feel to it.

Who play these two men?

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Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins.

Chocolate and Peanut Butter.

Two great tastes that taste great together.

An actor from one of television’s best westerns and an actor from one of television’s best crime shows starring in a show that is both a western and a crime show.

I was hooked before the pilot even aired.

Dickie_Bennett_infobox_3I could go on and on about the great qualities of Justified but if you haven’t seen it, I want you to experience it yourself. The dialogue is razor-sharp, very much in the vein of Elmore Leonard’s style. In fact, before he passed he said it was his favorite adaptation of his work. The story lines, while not groundbreaking, entertaining as hell and always pay off in satisfying ways. The show runner, Graham Yost, also has an unbelievable eye for guest stars, for bringing in faces you recognize but never feel like they’re stunt casting. Margo Martindale (who won an Emmy for her role). Jeremy Davies. Jere Burns. Mykelti Williamson. Neal McDonough. Patton Oswalt. And, this season, Alicia Witt, Amy Smart, and Michael Rapaport, turning in his best performance since Dick Richie.

But, really, the number one reason to watch Justified is that it’s fucking cool.

Olyphant as Raylan is just fucking cool.

Goggins as Boyd is just fucking cool (in a scary way sometimes but still).

The rest of the supporting cast is fucking cool (especially the great Nick Searcy as Raylan’s put-upon boss).

But they’re more than just cool. The dynamic between Raylan and Boyd is a lot like Alan Moore’s vision of the Joker/Batman relationship (nerd alert!). Or, okay. Both their fathers were criminals. Let’s say, instead, that they were alcoholics. Now. Most children of alcoholics (and other addicts) that I have known go one of two ways. They either eschew the fire water entirely, doing whatever they can to not turn out like their parent, or they fall the same way, losing to the genes that carried down the terrible disease.

Raylan is a man determined to not be like his father. Boyd, on the other hand, has chosen to continue the family legacy. But neither are that far from the other. They both walk a very delicate line and that balancing act is the heart of the show. A good man who sometimes finds himself doing bad things and a bad man who I think sees himself as righteous, even though deep down he knows he’s damned.

Have I mentioned I love this show?

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When they announced Justified would be ending after season 6, I was at first sad because I don’t want to see it go, but then was grateful. Because I still enjoy tuning in every week. It’s the first thing in my Tuesday DVR recordings that I go to. And if it can go out providing the same amount of entertainment, without collapsing like The Office or Six Feet Under or, let’s face it, most shows, then I’m all for it ending.

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So I guess this has just been a plea for folks to watch my favorite show. I’m sure I haven’t done a great job selling it, but trying to sum up 5 years of a show without spoiling stuff and trying to keep my word count down is nearly impossible. I would rather the uninitiated see for themselves.

I know Game of Thrones just got back. I’m stoked too. And Silicon Valley looks very promising. Veep is great. And Hannibal? Hannibal is about to get real damn interesting. But, after sweeps, after the season is over, if you haven’t watched or caught up on Justified, I cannot recommend it enough. There’s plenty of time to get through the first five seasons before the final one airs next year.

Enjoy this Golden Age. A time when television has never been better. When television is, and I’m speaking as a film nut, a more satisfying experience than nearly any film that hits cinemas. It may not last forever. Hollywood has a habit of fucking up good things (see the indie film boom of the early 90s).

Like I seem to be doing lately, I leave you with a song. “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” is not the theme song to the show, but it is its soul and they often use it to end their seasons. It’s been recorded by many, but here is Brad Paisley’s version, the version I heard first. Not normally my kind of music, but it sums up the spirit of the show more than any words I can conjure.

How to Improve the Oscars (for me)

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I used to love the Oscars. Some of my favorite memories of my life in Los Angeles involves getting together with my friends, anywhere from six to ten to fifteen of them, grabbing junk food and booze, firing up the TiVo, ordering a pizza, filling out our ballots to gamble on the winners and losers, and watching the show designed to celebrate everyone in the room’s favorite art form. We’d have a good time bullshitting, laughing at the good jokes, tearing apart the bad ones, arguing over who deserved to win what, getting real competitive over the stupid pool, and getting hammered enough that by the next morning we had already forgotten who won Best Picture.

That group of friends, though, is now scattered to the winds. Those get-togethers, at least at that scale, are a thing of the past. And every year I have enjoyed the ceremony and the show less and less. This has little to do with which films are honored. There have only been a few times when a particular film winning has elated me and a few more times when a particular film winning enraged me. In general, they pick fine films that are not always my favorites of that year, but are quality nonetheless. (With some exceptions, of course. <cough> Crash <cough> .)

My lack of enthusiasm about the Academy Awards has been created by, over the last 20 years of caring about film and chasing my Hollywood dreams, witnessing the cycle of sameness and lameness from which they seem incapable of escaping. It’s wearing thin. They do the same thing every year, make the same mistakes, and, on the rare occasion when they do something edgy, usually involving a “hip” host, a few people complain the next day and they immediately respond by at least three consecutive years of safe, uninspired hosts that offend absolutely no one because they are incapable of doing it if they tried.

Some of my friends still enjoy watching the Oscars and that’s great. I, less so. So, being a selfish, selfish, man, here is a quick list of the things I would change about them to make me like them better. Just me: a film lover, film expert, and filmmaker. Some of these things may only satisfy me, but I know some would be welcome by others as well. But I don’t care about them. This is all about me. What I’d change. For starters, I’d…

1. Dump the outdated and time-consuming “Best Song” category. This award is a remnant from the days when musicals were a viable genre and for some reason we’ve kept it going. There are two major problems with this category. Firstly, it is not about film. It is about music. And it’s often times not even about music in a film. So many of the nominated songs don’t even appear in their respective movies until the end credits. Most of the rock songs are ones not good enough to put on the respective band’s album. If they could find five songs a year that are actually used IN the movie, in a meaningful and artful way, then maybe I could see keeping it, but they never do. It’s usually two songs like that and three by famous musicians that you probably only heard if you’re one of those people who stays for the whole credits, like me.

Problem number two, of course, is that this category is a horrible time suck. Because the producers feel the need, every year, to have the nominated songs performed during the ceremony. With five songs, plus the actual giving of the award, you’re looking at maybe 20 minutes that could be cut from a 3 ½ hour show. Now, I don’t really care about the length of the show, but I’m a movie geek and I live on the West Coast. But for those in EST, that half hour is a big deal, especially since the awards are always on a school/work night.

Also, this makes “Best Song” the most important award of the night, proportionately. “Best Director” takes up maybe four minutes total, but “Best Song”? It’s 10% of the show! Seems like a lot of time wasted on something that really has nothing to do with making movies.

2. Speaking of wasting time, let’s cut the short film categories. I know this sounds harsh and rather un-filmmakery of me, but let’s be honest. No one cares about these awards except for the nominees and their loved ones. But this show is an entertainment, meant to celebrate the glamour and art of Hollywood, and, to use last night as an example, STEVE MARTIN received an honorary Oscar off-screen in a previous, untelevised ceremony while the winners of “Best Short Documentary” got to speak on TV. I know, I know. Let these folks have their moment. I get that and I understand. But, again, this show is supposed to be entertaining and I know very few people that don’t use those awards as an excuse to use the bathroom. We don’t have to cut them entirely, just lump them in with the technical awards, the ones they do earlier on that celebrate the stuff that they don’t want to bore you with on TV. That’s where they belong. Sorry.

3. Restrict the host to just… hosting. I like Ellen DeGeneres. I thought she did a pleasantly bland good job Sunday night, with a fairly decent ratio of hits to misses. Thought her opening monologue was good and safe, which is fine, and several of her interjections here and there were good for a laugh. My problem is with the sketches. Especially when we get into hours two and three. The costume changes. Going into the audience to get Meryl Streep to take a selfie or make Martin Scorsese eat pizza. It makes the show too much about the host and not about the films. And I just don’t find them funny. The pizza bit last night just made me feel uncomfortable and awkward. That far into the ceremony, sketches like that just make the whole thing seem unnecessarily longer. I want my host to have a monologue to greet us, then spend the rest of the night introducing presenters, throwing in jokes here and there to make us smile. But that’s it. I don’t give a flying fuck if they “broke Twitter” with their group photo.

4. Diversify. Apparently Oscar voters are 94% white, 76% men, with an average age of 63. And boy does it show. Both nominee Julie Delpy and my friend Bob Ray pointed this out in the last few days. Are those numbers representative of Hollywood in general? Yes, and it’s one of its great shames. And it’s nowhere more apparent than in an Oscar broadcast. It explains the same people being nominated year after year. I mean, Meryl Streep is a great actress but not every film she makes is worthy of recognition. They refuse to acknowledge the work of Andy Serkis in Lord of the Rings and Scarlet Johansson in Her as “acting”. They have one category reserved for “quirky” films, “Best Original Screenplay”. Nearly every year it is given to the year’s “weirdest” or “edgiest” film as a consolation prize, because there’s no way we’ll ever give Pulp Fiction or Lost in Translation or Her or Django Unchained or Eternal Sunshine “Best Picture.”

Two words sum up to me why the Academy needs a demographic overhaul:

Bette Midler.

I mean, what the fuck?

“Wind Beneath My Wings”?

Are you shitting me?

I’m sure some people loved it but it just showed me how out of touch these people are. You choose to honor the dead (including Phil Hoffman, who was not mentioned by anyone except for the In Memorium montage) by having her come out and sing a song that was corny as hell five minutes after it came out three hundred years ago?
Felt so lame to me. But just to me. Again, this list is all about me.

5. Drop the “Themes”. The last several years, each Oscar broadcast has chosen a theme. Last night’s theme was “Heroes”. Never mind the fact that 90% of Hollywood Films are about some sort of hero, therefore making the theme of the night “movies”, it is the reason we got three uninspired montage-tribute things that were just a bunch of shots of “heroes”. They had no narrative to them, no energy. They served no purpose other than for people to go “hey, I’ve seen that!”. I just thought they were horrible. I haven’t seen any of these “themes” really work, but this year’s was so boring and vague. Again, wasting time.

6. I know I mentioned this before but it bears repeating: Seven songs were performed and three short films were given awards, but the Lifetime Achievement awards, given to real Hollywood legends, have been pushed off the broadcast into the same purgatory as the tech awards. Wouldn’t you have rather heard Steve Martin talk than listen to Pink sing “Over the Rainbow”?

7. Have them earlier in the year. This may not be possible, but one of the bummers about the Oscars these days is that all of the major categories are decided well before the ceremony. Sunday night it felt like all four actors had already won and were just showing up to collect their trophies. There was absolutely no suspense last night until “Best Picture” and even that was only between two films. With the Globes and the Spirit awards and the countless critics’ awards, it has started to feel like the Academy awards are simply reactive. That the members vote based on what has already won other things. I think the inevitability of the awards this year was the key factor in me not being excited. They have to do something to bring in some suspense. Because there wasn’t one minute last night that I found to be compelling or surprising.

8. My last point is probably untenable and stupid but I couldn’t help thinking about it last night. I think the Oscar broadcast would be a whole lot better if it went…

Live to tape.

“Live to tape” is what shows like the “Tonight Show” and “Daily Show” do, which is record a show like it’s live, with commercial breaks and everything, but then air it later. Very little TV that look live is actually airing live.

What this does, in addition to not making the creators of these shows live like vampires, is give them the chance to make little tweaks. Ever notice on “The Daily Show” when there’s a weird cut in an interview? You notice it, it’s weird, but it means the conversation went long and they had to trim it down to get to their network mandated runtime.

But it gives them the chance to have the interview and, if it goes over, cut it down to the parts they think are most interesting.

In the age of Twitter and the internet, I don’t think this is a possibility, but I would love the Oscars to do the same. Go live to tape the afternoon of.

Think about it. Record the whole thing, including letting the damn winners give full speeches and not playing the less famous ones off in 30 seconds. Then, once it’s on tape, the producers can make decisions. “Okay. Spike Jonez’s speech went long so let’s cut the pizza bit. Oh, that montage didn’t go over to well. Let’s cut it.”

They could deliver a fat-free entertaining broadcast if they could have five hours to make some cuts. And they could get it down to 3 hours, easy.

Problem is, of course, that the winners would get out into the interwebs before the show ever aired and no one wants that. But, to be fair, for years the West Coast (where the Oscars are held) got the whole show on a tape delay every year so that it fell in primetime. It’s a recent development that it airs here live at 5:30. And we dealt with it. If you really, really care, there are ways to avoid knowing what happens.

I just think it would make a better show.

But it will never happen.

So those are some things that would make the Oscars more enjoyable for me. As much as I bitch, I still do love the Oscars. I will watch them next year and the year after that. But I am consistently disappointed by their resistance to change. One can mark it up as “tradition”, I suppose, but to me it’s just stale.

Signing off,

your resident grumpy old man,

chad

Chad’s (Insignificant) Hollywood Tales : Deutschland, Deutschland!

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As this post goes up, I am in the air, flying from San Francisco to Atlanta for the holidays. I will also be flying with an infant in my arms, so, if you never hear from me again, it won’t be because of anything tragic other than a complete and utter mental breakdown.

So this week’s post has to be fast. I’m going to tell a quick story about the weirdest 90 minutes of my life.

Is this Christmas related in any way? Sort of, only because it involves air travel and that this story really started at Christmastime 5 years ago.

In 2008, Dakota Skye won Best Picture at the Charlotte Film Festival. They tell you this ahead of time, these smaller festivals, to entice the production to send a representative. There were two other festivals going on at the same time, all of which we were invited to, so we had to split up. Director John Humber and actress Eileen Boylan went to Canada. Producer Shaun O’Banion and actor Ian Nelson went to Michigan. Me, having grown up in the South, volunteered for / was assigned to North Carolina on my lonesome.

I really wanted to go to Charlotte mostly because my friends and family in Atlanta, if they wanted to, could easily make the drive to see the film with an audience. This was especially important for my parents and brother. They had all seen in on DVD, but I wanted them to experience a screening, along with my Q&A after. I spent a few days with my family in the ATL then, with my brother in tow as my “assistant” drive up to Charlotte.

Schwerin, Germany

Schwerin, Germany

The festival was fun. Small, but fun. Saw a really great documentary called Immokalee, USA that you should check out if you can find it. After the first of two Dakota Skye screenings, which went well, I was approached by two German men. They informed me that they worked for the Filmkunstfest Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, a film festival in Schwerin, Germany, which is a quaint city of 100,000 or so, north of Berlin, close to the Baltic and on the way to Denmark. It wasn’t quite the Berlin film festival, but very few fests are.

These two men explained to me that their filmkunstfest was a sister festival with Charlotte and that they had a best-picture exchange program. That whatever won best picture at Charlotte played in Schwerin the next year, and vice-versa. Dakota Skye, as that winner, was invited to play in Germany.

I thought little of it. Just because it seemed unlikely to happen. So I took their info and passed on the director’s, for he was the one that handled that stuff.

That Christmas, I was home in Atlanta when John called me. We’d been invited to Germany. It wasn’t a 100% free ride, but they were willing to pay enough of it to make it worth considering. He was definitely going, and I was also invited. The question is, did I want to?

You see, for the first 30+ years of my life, I was a scaredy-cat flyer. My brain knew it was safe, but it had a hard time communicating that to my gut. And I had never been to Europe. The only time I had spent outside of the country was a half-day trip down to Rosarito I took once with my friends Colleen and Matt. I really wanted to go, but the flight a flight from Los Angeles to Berlin scared the ever-loving shit out of me.

But when these types of opportunities pop up, you can’t say no. You just can’t. So I agreed to fly to Germany to show our movie.

Cool enough, right? But this is where it starts to get weird.

tumblr_mumheh8g0D1rd1x99o1_500For those of you unfamiliar with Dakota Skye, all you need to know in the moment is that the film is full of subtitles. Not subtitles in another language, but in English. They are burned into the film. They are an integral part of the story. Which pretty much makes Dakota Skye un-subtitle-able for foreign audiences. Because at any given time there could be three sets of titles on screen: one interpreting the spoken English, one English-language story-based one, and then another to translate the English-language subtitle itself. Just imagine all that text on the screen. Untenable. Unwatchable.

So the only way for Dakota Skye to play in another language is to dub it. That at least gets rid of one set of subtitles. But being a tiny, tiny film, we had no ability to put together a German-language version of the film. But the festival organizers told us that they would take care of that. All we had to do was show up.

Okee-dokee.

So in early 2009 John and I flew to Germany. And I did pretty well for my first trans-Atlantic flight. In fact, ever since then, my fear of flying had reduced greatly. What’s a four hour trip to the East Coast when you’ve sat through 14 hours to get to Europe?

4526_80751054924_3806585_nWe landed in Berlin, got our passports stamped, and I was officially a world traveler. After spending the night in a hotel by the airport, we were met next day by one of the two men I had met in Charlotte. He would be driving us up to Schwerin (maybe a two hour drive). He was late in meeting us, which I told him destroyed my perceptions of German punctuality, but he explained to me that he was actually Bavarian, and, from what I could gather, Bavarians are to Germans as West Virginians are to Ohioans.

On the drive up to the festival, the weirdness began. The festival rep, riding shotgun while another man drove us, broke out a document. It was the English to German translation of Dakota Skye. Being the writer of the film, I was intrigued. He started asking me questions to make sure he had things right. Certain cultural references, even things as simple as bowling lingo, wouldn’t translate, he said, so he needed my help finding alternative ways to say things.

Wait a minute, I thought. The first screening is tomorrow. In fact, we discovered, we were the OPENING NIGHT FILM. And the dubbing hadn’t been done yet? They were still tinkering with the script. Then we found out the bizarre and terrifying truth:

They would be doing a live dub.

A live dub involves a person standing in the projection booth with a microphone who then talks over the film’s natural audio (which is also audible), reading from a German script. One person doing every voice, just reciting the translation in a monotone. It’s like what you see in movies about the United Nations, except in this case it’s for a dramatic (and more dangerously, comedic) piece with several distinct character voices, both male and female.

And the man who would be doing it was like 40 years old.

A man.

Dakota Skye stars a 19 year old woman playing a SEVENTEEN YEAR OLD GIRL. So you’re telling me, Mr. Bavarian, that my teenage female protagonist is going to be dubbed by a full-grown man?

“Trust us. We do this all the time.”

3349_1163286039552_6122236_nSo we were swept into the film festival as American celebrities. We did a press conference, in which we said maybe two sentences between both me and John, went to the reception, saw an art show, and were interviewed by two German teens for the festival newsletter. They were good kids who two days later we found ourselves drunk with, another bit of culture shock. They were full of questions about how Americans see Germans. I’ll never forget when one of them said to me, “World War I started because someone killed an Austrian; World War II started because someone didn’t.”

Very true.

 

 

So, opening night of the festival. The theater is filled with donors and older folks and people and suits and here we were about to present our little American romantic comedy filled with masturbation and marijuana jokes. I mean, this was our crowd:

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You can understand why we were nervous.

But nothing could prepare us for what came next:

The weirdest 90 minutes of my life.

I very rarely sat through a Dakota Skye screening. Add my natural anxiety to my filmmakers’ anxiety to the fact that I’ve seen the damn movie a thousand million times, but there was no way John and I were going to miss what we were sure was going to be a train wreck. We sunk down into our seats before it even started.

And then it started.

Whoa boy.

During Dakota’s festival run, we had screenings that were good, great, and mediocre. But there were certain moments, and definitely certain laughs, that always landed.

Not so much in Germany that night.

So the movie starts and the moment our heroine begins to speak, this deep, male German voice comes over the speakers, talking over everything in an attempt to German it up. And wow was it awkward. The laughs definitely did not come when they were supposed to and did when they weren’t. Sometimes the scene would move too fast for the translator, and he would just give up on it. I didn’t know what he was saying, but I definitely heard him stumble and stutter a dozen times. A handful of people walked out. We weren’t sure what everybody else was thinking, but from our point of view it was a disaster.

And it was the most fun I had at a Dakota Skye screening.

Because there was no pressure. Because it wasn’t our fault. The audience understood what was happening. They were seeing the movie, which is great looking for a 100k film, but is still a 100k film, but they weren’t hearing it, and it’s a fairly wordy piece. They had no idea what was going on. At moments, neither did I.

It was kind of hilarious.

It was without a doubt the longest, strangest, most surreal, blissfully uncomfortable hour and a half I have ever experienced.

So after the polite applause, John and I were brought up, with a translator, to answer questions. The first question I was asked, by the moderator, was “How was it seeing your film in German?”

“That was the weirdest 90 minutes of my life,” I said. And, before the translator got out a word…

THE WHOLE FUCKING THEATER FUCKING LAUGHED.

At my joke.

IN ENGLISH.

Son of a bitch…

Turns out a lot of folks in Germany speak English; you’d think the Germans running the festival would have known that.

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The next day we had a screening of the film in a much smaller theater and without the dubbing, just in the original English. And it played very well. Got laughs. Got good questions after. It was a typical, fun Dakota Skye screening. Go figure.

3349_1163285399536_6501020_nA lot of awesome things came of that trip. I got over my fear of flying long distances, paving the way for subsequent trips to Italy, France, Italy, England, and Italy. Got the first stamp in my passport. I spent a day in the gorgeous city of Berlin, going to the Pergamon Museum and the Brandenburg Gate and a near-secret bar that didn’t open until after 11:00. John and I met legendary cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, who shot many films for Martin Scorsese, including Goodfellas, one of the greatest films ever made. Discovering currywurst. Finding a section in the record store called ‘Black Music’. Legally getting drunk with 19 year-olds. Seeing London, kind of, while landing and taking off from Heathrow while making connections. It was all-in-all fantastic.

But the highlight to me, which would be the lowlight to some I guess, was watching my movie, hearing my words, badly dubbed in German in a room full of people. Watching romantic scenes between Dakota and Jonah with the same man playing both parts. The utter silence during the film’s biggest laughs. Looking at John with complete and utter amazement at what was happening. Disappointing the sold-out opening night crowd. Experiencing something so crazy and wrong and embarrassing and so out of our control that all we could do was laugh and take some video to show people later. I wish I had that video now; I’d totally post it here.

It was glorious.

To me, at least.

Anyway. That’s today’s sort-of-Hollywood tale. I won’t be posting Christmas Eve, which is my next turn, so Happy Holidays and stuff.

Chad

Digital Painting: A Year in Review

Come Home Brother, Nov 2012

Come Home Brother, Nov 2012

In the summer of 2012 I bought a refurbished Wacom Intuos4 Small (I’m using a Medium now.) with some extra money I earned house sitting for my younger brother. I played around with it for a couple months before I made the conscious decision to devote serious time to learning to paint in Photoshop. Instead of easing into it, I dove head first, deciding I would paint a portrait of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki as a Christmas present for my daughter. I spent all of November and the first part of December learning as I went. There were a few times I thought I’d lost my mind but I finished it in time for Christmas and realized I’d opened a new door for my creativity.

There are so many things wrong with that first painting, Come Home Brother, but it’s not all bad. After wrapping it up and placing it under the tree, I wanted more. Kind of like Kirsten Dunst’s character Claudia in Interview with a Vampire when she has her first taste of blood, “I want some more.”

My second attempt, The Reluctant King, wasn’t perfect as either, but it’s still one of my favorites. I have a 16×20 print hanging in my studio.

Reluctant King, Jan 2013

Reluctant King, Jan 2013

I promise, this isn’t a Loki post! I’m not denying I have a bit of an obsession, because I do, but. . .  I do what I want! LOL To be honest, painting Loki was a perfect way to learn. I was painting something I loved and I didn’t have to worry about completely mucking it up as it wasn’t something I was going to market. It gave me freedom to experiment. Sometimes the experiments worked and other times they didn’t but it was all about learning. I was determined to improve. Failure was not an option.

Over the last year I’ve explored different painting techniques and experimented with a myriad of Photoshop brushes. In my early paintings it was common for me to use several different brushes for various aspects of a painting. Now I often only use one or two brushes for the bulk of a painting. I save special brushes for little details and sometimes I don’t use them at all. Glancing at the images above you might think the opposite is true. As the year went by my painting style/voice evolved. I like to think my paintings became more rich with detail. My journey also revealed that painting in Photoshop is not all that different than painting in oils or acrylics. The core concepts are the same.

So what’s the point of all of this? The paintings above are only a sample of what I created this year. I’ve painted nearly every day, I’ve read numerous tutorials/workshops, watched videos, studied other artists (both digital and traditional) and adapted my traditional painting skills into a digital medium. I may still have a lot to learn, but I wanted to show other artists, especially young artists, that with determination, passion, perseverance and maybe a little luck you will get to that place you want to be. It doesn’t happen overnight but it does happen. This is true whether you’re working in traditional or digital. I encourage you to take a look back through your sketchbook or portfolio. Find what you painted in December of 2012 and compare it to the last painting you completed. Better yet, go back 5 years and compare what you created then to now. If nothing’s changed then you aren’t creating often enough. You have the gift, but your skill can only improve if you practice, practice, practice.

I’m planning to take my art to the next level in 2014. I have so many things planned, many of which I can’t really discuss yet. You can stay in loop though by following my Facebook Page. I make announcements there and on Twitter before I get a chance to post to my own blog!

New York Comic Con Recap – Stories from the Con

New-York-Comic-Con

Even a week and a half later I’m still recovering and reflecting from my experience over those (very) long four days. I went up as part of Terminus Media‘s 3-man team. Our goals were to sell some comics, do an interview with the kind folks at Comic Con, and just begin to get the word out about our books. In the coming weeks, I’ll get a little more into Terminus and our books, but for this post I wanted to share a handful of moments/stories from the convention (or just from those four days).

Steampunk Guy

When you are passionate about something in the “Geek Culture” you want everyone else to know it. Maybe you love dropping obscure knowledge or quoting the movie/tv show/book/comic/whatever on some unsuspecting person.  But the biggest thing, is that much like a Superhero, it is your solemn duty to stamp out any perceived ignorance about your LOVE. This means that you must constantly be vigilant for anyone who might take this LOVE’s name in vain. I mean Heaven help those who might get something wrong about that thing you LOVE.

So the comic book that I’m currently working on… the thing which has sprung forth from my little brain is The Gilded Age.  Now this is a Steampunk book (at least according to me… the creator).  That is an important piece of information. I’m at the table and this guy comes up dressed in a Steampunk inspired costume and the following conversation happens once I give him my 30 second spiel about The Gilded Age and he begins to flip through the comic.

Me – So I want to build things through the characters… from their eyes before I throw you in the deep end with dates and everything.

Him – Well that’s not really Steampunk.  You know, that’s what people want, they want all of that information and then they’ll want even more from you.

Me – Well I guess that’s what I like about the genre is that it is open to various ways of telling a story.

Him – Yeah… no, people want it all at once.  That’s what Steampunk is about. <pause> What’s your Point of Divergence?

Me – Sorry?

Him – Where the timeline breaks off?

Me – Oh, well, I haven’t gotten into it, but it has more to do with DaVinci and his inventions than something like Babbage.

Him – Hmm. <takes a moment to flip through the issue again> This isn’t Steampunk.  This is really Arcane Punk.

Me – Ok.

Him – Do you know what <some art related criticism> is?

Me – No, sorry, I’m not sure what that is.

Him – Of course you don’t. You’re just an artist. But it is done wrong in this book.

Me – Well, actually I’m not the artist. I’m the writer.

Him – Oh.

During the whole conversation I’m alternating in my head between channeling Samuel Jackson and just smiling. It took some self-control, but I kept smiling.

Arcane Punk

He bought a copy though.

Airport

After the con was done we had to head back to Atlanta so we got to the airport way early… like your Dad gets to the airport early (three hours early). I’m fine with it even if we had to abandon our booth a couple of hours early, but I’d rather have a moment to grab a little food and rest.

Of course, the flight was delayed 15 minutes to start.  We finally get boarded and then promptly sit on the tarmac for another 30 minutes. It was at this point I found out/remembered that Airtran may possibly have the least about of leg room of ALL TIME.

A little about me: I’m 6′ 5″ tall which means that I have long legs.  Now I have come to grips on the fact that the world is built for much smaller people (on the way up I somehow lucked into an exit row seat – glorious leg room!). However, I’m ready to say right now that sitting on the runway for that long amounts to a form of torture and by the Geneva Convention I think I have a case against the airline.

Really. Kissing your knees is not a fun way to spend the evening.

Phones have not been invented yet

We get to the hotel to check in.  Go up to the front desk and give the concierge our names, but alas the room is not under Tony or my name. Mark (head of Terminus) had reserved the rooms for us. No problem.  We get Mark on the phone in an effort to get all of this resolved.

Tony – I’ve got him on the phone. He can give you all the correct information.

Concierge – No! I can’t take that phone. I can’t do anything over the phone.

Tony – But he’s right here. He can tell you.

Concierge – No, I can’t do it over the phone. What he will have to do is FAX me his information.

At this point Tony and I turn to each other, dumbfounded.

What year is this? FAX? 1993?

Do they still have dial-up modems?

Do dinosaurs still walk the Earth?

dino-phone

Tony – Can he email it to you?

Concierge – Yes.

So wait… he knows what email is, but he can’t take the EXACT same information over the PHONE? In case you were wondering that would be where a person SPEAKS to another person. It’s like texting, but Ma’ Bell thought it up about 100+ years ago!

But he can take it through a FAX which uses the PHONE LINE.  Good lord!

Our Booth Location

Terminus was situated just across from the Intel gaming area which actually was a blessing in disguise as we weren’t cramped up in regular aisles. Instead there was plenty of room in front of us.

It also meant that we had a front row (figuratively speaking) to the Starcraft Tournament they were running. Now the last time I played Starcraft was over a decade ago. I liked the game, but my Xbox 360 pushed it out, and I haven’t really thought about it until the con.  Where they played.

Every day.

On the big screens.

For hours on end.

Never-ending battles of Terrans vs. Zerg vs. Protoss.

Feature matches on the big screens.

At night I would dream of those units moving back and forth across the screen. My brain slowly trying to figure out which board might give an advantage to a certain army.

It may have been too much.

Since I’ve gotten home though I do feel like something is missing in my life. And that old game has begun calling my name.

334px-Starcraft2-logo

Excuse me while I download the latest version for my machine…

J Edward Neill

*

Welcome.

I’m J Edward Neill, fiction author, Coffee Table Philosophy creator, giant canvas painter, and mood-swingy blogger.

You’ve walked over the edge of the world. Thanks for taking the plunge.

A little bit about me: I’m an author, and I write deep, dark fiction, imaginative sci-fi, and thoughtful philosophy. Any day that dies without me putting in a few hours of writing is a day I didn’t really live.  I write the kind of stories I like to read, and I’m inspired by any book centered on the characters rather than the plot. My books are available here.

I also love to paint. The bigger the canvas, the better. My favorite subjects are clouds, trees, dark portraits, and cold, dark places. I twirl a ton of canvasses as companion pieces for my books. A fun video is here. My favorite personal works are right here.

So stop by once in a while. Subscribe to the site and receive email alerts. Click the links below and follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Read this funny interview here. Head over to http://tesseraguild.com/ and follow my weekly blog. It’s my intention to keep this thing frosty until the end of time or the lump in my chest stops beating, whichever comes first.

J Edward Neill

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