Archive for March, 2015
A week and a half short of one year ago, on April 10 2014, my New Orleans-based vampire tale “Casket Girls” went out to subscribers of DAILY SCIENCE FICTION. One week later on the 17th it went into the archives where it can be seen by subscribers and non-subscribers alike. Then today I received via SFSIGNAL.COM a preview copy of April’s DAILY SF story roster (probably available on DSF’s own Facebook page by tomorrow morning since then of course it’ll be April, but for the scoop, for what it’s worth) announcing that in just about three weeks, April 21, a year and eleven days after Aimeé the vampiress made her debut, my next story “Dead Lines” (see January 1; December 23 2014) is set to appear.
“Dead Lines” is a Poesque mystery of sorts, of the disappearance of one Mr. Valdemar and the gracious New Orleanian grande dame “Lo” who may know more about it, as well as the original casket girls, than she lets on. It will be my fifth story for DAILY SF.
Then a second quick note, while it’s unofficial I understand that following some last minute edits the paperback version of White Cat’s AIRSHIPS & AUTOMATONS (see March 19, et al.) has gone to the printer, to become available hopefully in two weeks or less.
Perhaps what you keyed in was the British site SCI-FI-AND-FANTASY.LAND, but what you now see says CHARLES CHRISTIAN’S URBAN FANTASIST, FEATURING THE GRIEVOUS ANGEL WEBZINE. It doesn’t matter. What does for this blog is that yesterday evening, for possibly the last March gasp for poetry acceptances, GRIEVOUS ANGEL editor Christian sent me this email: “Good to hear from you again – all good pieces but the standout for me – and on a theme I haven’t seen before – is On the Other Hand. Love it – and will definitely use it.”
GRIEVOUS ANGEL may be recalled as having published my now Rhysling-nominated “Beware of the Dog” (cf. March 16; September 11, June 30 2014), a study of werewolves in modern times. “On the Other Hand,” however, is set in the past, in 1933 to be precise, and has to do with the doomed love affair between KING KONG and Ann Darrow, as played by Fay Wray. In short, it suggests that it may have been just as well that, in the end, it didn’t work out.
One can see from the illustration at right the seeds of disaster, his having left Fay to her own devices on the building’s ledge while he plays with biplanes. And Fay Wray’s autobiography with its own opening letter to Kong is titled, itself, ON THE OTHER HAND.
But for the full story check GRIEVOUS ANGEL in perhaps a few months.
Two short items to greet the new week. The first is that, after a month missed, I was back in the local poetry circuit at March’s Bloomington Writers Guild sponsored, with the Monroe County Convention Center, Last Sunday Poetry Reading and Open Mic (cf. January 25, et al.). Featured poets this time were Cara Prill who read several meditation-based works and the more frenetic seasoned performance poet Gabriel Peoples. In style, these may have seemed at different poles — though not that much so, really — but as one of the first of the “Open Mic” poets pointed out, there were similarities in subject matter with an emphasis on feelings surrounding the human body.
When my turn came, though, I offered just one piece more concerned with souls than bodies, “Tit for Tat,” my recently published dark humored poem in GHOSTS: REVENGE (see March 17, et al.), and the moral of which I dedicated for the occasion to Governor Pence and the Indiana General Assembly.
Then the second item, speaking of GHOSTS: REVENGE, is that the vengeful spirits anthology is now available in paper as well as Kindle, and can be found here.
The story goes that director John Huston, who had met Ray Bradbury before, was in the US for only a few days and, having read the short story “The Foghorn,” was impressed by Bradbury’s poetic style. So he arranged a meeting and invited Bradbury to go to Ireland to do the screenplay for MOBY DICK. Bradbury had read MOBY DICK, hadn’t he?
Actually no, but he stopped at a bookstore on his way home, picked up a Modern Library edition, and leafing through was impressed by the poetry of Melville’s style. So he took the job.
Ultimately, with some changes by Huston (who, as was his habit, gave himself co-writing credit along with Bradbury), the movie came out in 1986 and, despite at one point nearly coming to blows with Huston, Bradbury later said it was his favorite screenplay of all that he’d done. Also that it “opened up Hollywood” for him, leading to more writing offers for movies than he could possibly handle. The problem with MOBY DICK, however, was that the novel was written with several interwoven plots, digressions, philosophical asides, and non-linear structure — in short, rather like Bradbury often tended to write himself, though perhaps in even larger scale. So what he had to do was separate out the main plot, converting seemingly random happenings into a tighter “cause and effect” to give it a structure that could be condensed into less than two hours on the screen.
He did a good job, among other things magnifying the role of Starbuck, Ahab’s first mate, into a more human, more sympathetic adversary to Ahab’s destructive quest for revenge. Thus Starbuck stresses God’s will in the quest to kill whales, to bring oil for the lamps of those on the land, hence defining his captain’s monomania in terms of blasphemy — evil — made all the worse through Ahab’s bringing the crew to his side.
In more ways than one, the film is a classic, much of the credit going to Huston’s brilliant direction, much to the actors (Huston’s style was to cast his parts carefully, but then allow the actors to do their own interpretations with little or no direction on his part — an extreme example being Orson Welles as Father Mapple using his own script from a London play version), also to cinematography using a deliberate painting-like “washed out” color, but also to Bradbury’s first major screenplay.
Thus the first part of a twi-night double feature, including talks both before and after (I’d taken to smuggling in cheese-on-rye sandwiches both Friday and this afternoon, eating them on a bench outside during the twenty or so minute breaks between presentations). Then there was one small bit in MOBY DICK while Ishmael and Queequeg board the Pequod where an older man, half-mad, identifying himself as Elijah prophecies that the voyage will be cursed. He comes up again, that is the same actor, Royal Dano, as the somewhat eccentric lightning rod salesman in the second film that ended the festival, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES.
So this time the “prophecy” is that a storm’s a-coming to Greentown Illinois, deliberately modeled after Waukegan, the town Bradbury lived in until he was 14. Here it’s the arrival of a carnival, out of season for October, and here the evil is more direct in the person of carnival owner Mr. Dark, as seen through the eyes of two young boys.
So, yes, there’s a lot of Bradbury himself here who, as a boy, went to carnivals too. At one he met a “Mr. Electrico” who did a static electricity act and who told Bradbury he would “live forever.” This was, perhaps, the goad that brought him to being a writer, achieving immortality through his work. In any event, vignettes about carnivals kept showing up in his earlier work, finally coalescing in his 1962 novel SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES — one that he was already trying to pitch as a movie, although it didn’t finally get made until 1983. This was a troubled movie, however. Directed by Jack Clayton, its initial version was panned by preview audiences, causing major re-shooting 8 to 10 months later, rebuilding the sets, bringing back the actors including the boys who had grown in the meantime. There was also a falling out between Bradbury and the director, this due to bringing in John Mortimer (also writer of RUMPOLE OF THE BAILEY)
as a “script doctor” at the studio’s insistence behind Bradbury’s back.
The major thrust though is the innocence of childhood, with both terror and joy as seen through young eyes, in this case with a carnival which should bring happiness but, instead, preys on the loneliness, the vulnerabilities, the unhappiness of many of the town’s people. Offers are made — people’s dearest desires — but when accepting there’s always a catch. The losses are people’s souls, captured as grotesques to be added to Mr. Dark’s menagerie, who also has designs on the children. And hence the ending, when one of the kids’ father breaks through his regret of years in the past, of having failed his son once when he was little, and discovering as well that the antidote to evil is laughter. Laughter, love, and joy.
As was noted afterward in the discussion, perhaps not all people will buy that premise. And even “corrected,” the ending is still rough. The film, even fixed, was not a success at the box office, according to Wikipedia having grossed a little bit less than half of its cost. Nevertheless, it was still well worth seeing, as Wikipedia further quotes Roger Ebert as stating:
“It’s one of the few literary adaptations I’ve seen in which the film not only captures the mood and tone of the novel, but also the novel’s style. Bradbury’s prose is a strange hybrid of craftsmanship and lyricism. He builds his stories and novels in a straightforward way, with strong plotting, but his sentences owe more to Thomas Wolfe than to the pulp tradition, and the lyricism isn’t missed in this movie. In its descriptions of autumn days, in its heartfelt conversations between a father and a son, in the unabashed romanticism of its evil carnival and even in the perfect rhythm of its title, this is a horror movie with elegance.”
“Gordon (Sterling Hayden), a bookman, is getting burned out, so to speak, on his job. He’s losing the plot on why books are so bad. He meets a pretty blonde who sorts confiscated books on a conveyor belt to oblivion. The blonde, Susan (Diana Lynn, PLAYHOUSE 90’s go-to ingenue), snatches a book off the belt once in a while. Gordon and Susan mark each other as kindred spirits. She introduces him to an underground of kindly bibliophiles. They fall in love. They’re in constant danger of getting toasted by Gordon’s colleagues. They look for a way out, a permanent one.
“The story takes some twists and turns, but let’s just say things don’t end well. For Gordon or for the rest of the bookless world. I won’t exactly spoil the big reveal (not that you’ll ever get to see this thing anyway), but it turns out that the oppressors and the resistance are the same thing. ‘A Sound of Different Drummers’ was prescient, which is only one reason why it’s so good.”
Sound familiar, yet somehow different? The above is a quote from Stephen Bowie’s THE CLASSIC TV HISTORY BLOG reviewing, not Francois Trauffaut’s 1966 film version of FAHRENHEIT 451, but a John Frankenheimer directed drama on October 3 1957 on CBS’s PLAYHOUSE 90, with author credit to Robert Alan Aurthur. Bradbury was tipped off while the live broadcast was still on the air, and with that, the sparks flew.
To quote Bowie again, “Gene Beley’s RAY BRADBURY UNCENSORED: THE UNAUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY! (iUniverse, 2006) covers the details of the ensuing litigation, which dragged on for years. The upshot: Bradbury lost in court but won on appeal. CBS coughed up the proverbial ‘undisclosed sum.’ Bradbury’s attorney, Gerson Marks, found a paper trail proving that CBS had almost bought the TV rights to the book in 1952, and that Robert Alan Aurthur had considered buying it when he was story-editing PHILCO at NBC during its final (1954-1955) season. Aurthur testified. He fessed up to having seen an old summary prepared by Bernard Wolfe, the CBS story editor who optioned FAHRENHEIT 451 in 1952. But he denied having read the book itself.”
Recalling that Bradbury wasn’t nearly as well known in 1957 — at least outside of science fiction circles — as he is today, Aurthur’s denial is not implausible. But as for Bowie’s “not that you’ll ever get to see this thing anyway,” well, some of us did this Friday as the opening of an IU Cinema Bradbury Film Festival double feature, Frankenheimer’s “A Sound of Different Drummers” at 6:30 p.m., followed by Truffaut’s Bradbury-authorized FAHRENHEIT 451 at 9:30. Both are excellent, each in its own way.
For FAHRENHEIT 451 I recall, from my own review of it in 1966 for an “underground” student newspaper, a pervading preoccupation with beauty. Colors, motion, swirls of flame, repeated images, reflections of light in actress Julie Christie’s hair — and that there’s a perverse sort of reason for this. There are differences, of course, in either version from Bradbury’s original novel, one in Truffaut’s that now the printed word is entirely banned, while the book’s Fire Captain Beatty allowed that “the public, knowing what it wanted, spinning happily, let the comic books survive. And the three-dimensional sex magazines, of course,” later adding “you are allowed to read comics, the good old confessions, or trade journals” (FAHRENHEIT 451, 60th ANNIVERSARY EDITION, New York, 2013, p. 55). Or (p. 94) “’What’ve you got there; isn’t that a book? I thought that all special training these days was done by film.’ Mrs. Phelps blinked. ‘You reading up on fireman theory?’” But still most entertainment comes from a kind of surrounding TV, on three walls in protagonist Montag’s home, though his wife is nagging him to add a fourth — something a movie can’t reproduce for us, at least not yet. So we have to make do with a single wall-screen.
But then this is the joke that Truffaut plays on us, with devastating effect. There are no shown titles, instead they are read aloud; only until the very finish with its sign of hope, in the final image, can we actually read the words “The End.” Otherwise the only words we see in the movie are snippets of titles on burning books — for in this world reading is dead already and here is the joke Truffaut has played: that watching this movie we ourselves, however unwittingly, have become part of Bradbury’s future.
But harking back, there are different ways one can present a future, and here both may be good. Black and white TV, of course, on a rather smaller “wall-screen” than today adds more limitations.* Nevertheless, once again quoting Stephen Bowie: “The director of ‘A Sound of Different Drummers’ was John Frankenheimer. It was a perfect match. The future-world setting and the constant atmosphere of dread and paranoia meant that Frankenheimer could go full-bore with his camera and editing tricks without ever overwhelming the material. Constant camera movement advances the story at a freight-train pace. None of the sets have back walls; the people of the future live in murky blackness. The futuristic props (super-fast cars, robotic psychoanalysts) are cleverly designed and there are special effects I still can’t figure out. The most impressive of those is a videophone screen that appears to project the giant, disembodied head of the speaker against a dark wall.”
Two versions, one future. And now we’ve been warned, despite the visual flair of the one or the keyed-up drama of the other, to resist its happening.
*Not to mention that “Different Drummers” being aired live adds its own kind of problems The one we saw was a kinescope, filmed from the TV screen as it was broadcast, complete with commercials and even a preview of the next week’s program.
“Individual and odd. A man who thinks for himself.”
This, said of the amateur astronomer-hero of IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, was not meant as a compliment. But then it was the “conformist” 1950s (the film was released by in 1953), a time of Cold War and McCarthyism, when alien “invasions” were not likely to be welcome. And so, when a meteor strike in the Arizona desert is seen by our first-on-the-scene astronomer to actually involve what looks like a space ship, he is first ridiculed, then when it turns out he may be right — and moreover may have made some kind of contact — at the least distrusted.
Meanwhile others in town have disappeared, only to turn up again somehow “different,” something our hero has noticed too. But by now he’s discovered the aliens mean no harm, simply needing to repair their ship, buried but reachable through an abandoned mine, after which they will be on their way. That is, if the hero can hold off the Sheriff. . . .
But this is not simply cold war paranoia, not 1956’s INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS from Jack Finney’s novel, but rather a deeper investigation of the problem of “otherness.” The aliens in this case are as good as their word (they’ve only disguised themselves, for instance, as the townspeople they’ve captured and who they let go when they’re ready to leave), but to our eyes still so outré that there’s no way we could come to understand them — at least not at our present level of unsophistication. In fact Bradbury, new to working in film, prepared four different treatments, two with the aliens turning out hostile and two benign, and let Universal-International take their pick from them, they fortunately choosing the one he preferred — and also, it turns out, had written a short story the year before called “A Matter of Taste” where it’s Earthmen who land an alien planet of nine-foot spiders with similar difficulties caused by mutual “strangeness.”*
While Bradbury does receive story credit, the actual screenplay was given over to veteran writer Harry Essex who said himself he had to do very little work, but who did smooth some rough edges, including toning down a carnival atmosphere with scoffing reporters at the beginning, making the hero more likeable, and using fewer images of spiders (although the analogy is still there). Also we get a few glimpses of the aliens, one-eyed blob-creatures, which the producers insisted on against Bradbury’s wishes (although, more to Bradbury’s liking, there were several sequences shot “as seen by” the aliens themselves).
And one more detail, possibly helping assure that the theater for this evening’s screening was practically full: this was Universal-International’s first film shot in 3-D (the old-fashioned kind, with the red and blue — well, technically, cyan — glasses!).
* This story, originally turned down by FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION (I believe — this is from the discussion that followed the screening), was finally published in 2004 as part of a book from Gauntlet Press, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, with all four screen treatments plus essays by Center for Ray Bradbury Studies Director Jon Eller, et al., and much, much more.
Two items today, the first being the receipt of the contract from L. Andrew Cooper and Blackwyrm Publishing for “Marcie and Her Sisters” to be in REEL DARK (see March 13). “We’ll be arranging the TOC and copy editing over the next few weeks . . . and we should be in print for a small-run bunch at the World Horror Convention and Bram Stoker Awards® in Atlanta, May 7-10.” So things happen fast sometimes when they happen: first sending back last evening’s contract for “The Good Work” to BLURRING THE LINE, now filling the blanks and readying REEL DARK’s to be returned tomorrow morning. And, as for “Marcie,” to quote once more from this (early) morning’s email, “[you] will be in diverse company, but you all have in common two things: a dark sensibility, of course, but also an incisive perspective that will challenge the way people think and feel. I couldn’t have wished for more.”
Then this evening (speaking of movies and darkness) marked the start of the Indiana University Cinema’s Ray Bradbury Film Festival — officially titled “Ray Bradbury: From Science to the Supernatural” and with a number of co-sponsors including the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies and the IUPUI Arts & Humanities Institute (see also November 20 2014) — with further screenings set for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Tonight what we saw was a program of five short films and TV dramas, “Icarus Montgolfier Wright” by Bradbury in collaboration with illustrator Joe Mugnaini; “And the Moon Still as Bright” from the 1980 TV mini-series adaptation of THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, teleplay by Richard Matheson; “The Burning Man” from the 1980s revival of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (beginning the move toward “the supernatural” but also one of the most “Bradburyesque” in feeling); “Marionattes Inc.,” 1985, RAY BRADBURY THEATER; and 1964’s “The Life Work of Juan Diaz” from THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR, story and teleplay by Bradbury and reportedly Hitchcock’s own favorite from the final season after moving to the one-hour format in 1963.
Bradbury, we were told, doted on movies, often going to eight or nine films a week as a teenager in Los Angeles as part of his preparation for becoming a writer. These would have included probably far more bad films than good ones, but he is also understood to have said “you learn more from trash than excellence,” noting that “excellence is mysterious while trash is obvious.” Then I might add that this program is of especial interest to me in that not only do I watch a lot of films myself, but in various interviews I’ve done I’ve almost always listed Ray Bradbury as one of my own major influences.
See you again at the movies Thursday night?
Latish this evening the contract came from Cohesion Press for my story “The Good Work” for publication in BLURRING THE LINE (see February 7). This is the Australian anthology that asks the question “Do you know what’s real and what isn’t?” So concerning my story, one might consider whether there were witches in 1850s London. And if there were witches, then what of witch hunters?
Going back to the original blurb, “BLURRING THE LINE will take you into the far reaches of your darkness, without letting go of reality. It will make you believe.” So following some initial delays, the book is now one more step closer to publication, originally set, according to Editor Marty Young, for the “third quarter 2015.” Then, to quote tonight’s email, once contract details are settled all around he (and, hence, I) “will let you know the TOC, and we can begin the promotional train.”
Just hours ago the word came from Editor Chuck Zaglanis, the long awaited AIRSHIPS & AUTOMATONS (see February 5, et al.) is out on Kindle. Hopefully the print edition will be quick to follow. Published by White Cat, the book is blurbed as “Tales from a world that should have been. . . Fifteen stories spanning the ages from ancient Greece to a far-flung dying future,” and now can be obtained in the here and present by pressing here.
For a broader description from the original guidelines, “[w]e seek steampunk stories featuring strong characters, exciting plotlines, and automatons and/or airships. We don’t want the latter to be mentioned in passing; they should be central to the plot. We aren’t shooting for any particular mood with this book. Dystopian, humorous, pulp, Lovecraftian, upbeat or dark — all have a place here.”
My own piece in this is of the airship persuasion and, set in my far-future dying-Earth universe of the “Tombs” (more than a dozen tales of which have been published in various magazines and books including my current collection, THE TEARS OF ISIS), marks the “far-flung future” that ends the anthology. Titled “Raising the Dead,” along with airships (and tombs) it touches on souls and love, mourning and ghouls, corpse-gas and ballonnets, and Necromancers.
And, we are promised, the paperback version should be out soon. It’s GHOSTS: REVENGE (cf. February 16) from James Ward Kirk Publishing for which my humble addition is a poem of the misadventures of a young man named “Little Willie.” The poem itself is called “Tit for Tat” and, unlike some earlier James Ward Kirk books, poetry seems not to be confined to a separate section up front, but stories, poems, and flash share space throughout the book together — to my taste a better arrangement, having seen a preview copy myself of the book as a whole. Nevertheless, to quote from the Amazon blurb: “Everyone likes a good ghost story. You’ll find this collection both entertaining and haunting. Some of the biggest names in horror have come together to offer their take on what it might be like to be a ghost, and an angry ghost, the kind of ghost not soon forgotten. Ever seen a ghost? If you’ve seen a ghost like one these, well, then likely you are reading this as a ghost — and angry, with a story of your own to tell. . . . You may, in fact, already [be] haunting these pages. Beware the Ghost in the Machine!”
Be that as it may, this is a list of those in GHOSTS: REVENGE, themselves haunts or not, from the book’s back cover.
Mary Genevieve Fortier
James S. Dorr
Ken L. Jones
Rie Sheridan Rose
Neal F. Litherland
Alex S. Johnson
J. C. Michael
David Schütz II
Lori R. Lopez
Tracy L. Carbone
John D. Stanton
Gidion Van de Swaluw
More information, including sample pages, appears on Amazon for which one may press here.