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Holiday planning

(September 29 – Oct 5)

This week marks the start of the school holidays, which means a two-week reprieve from preparing lunches and dropping the Kinderbesten variously at bus stops or schools. It also means a chance to get back into a more productive writing routine in the mornings (my morning routine has been flagging a lot lately, partly on account of having to spend much time coercing kinderbesten into action, but mostly because I just need to get up earlier).

Things got off to a pretty good start with me wrapping up the first draft of a new story I’ve been working on. I’ve been pretty keen to get back into my novel again, but it requires little more plot scaffolding first, so I chose to jump right into a second draft of the aforementioned short story instead.

However, I did develop a pretty cool planning spreadsheet for the novel. I spent the best part of an evening on it and I think it’s really going to help. I’ve got rows for each chapter, and various columns to cover things like character beats, plot developments, and relationship shifts that I want to track. I even worked out a neat way of getting a bullet point plot summary for each chapter in there. I don’t think I’ll need to add a wealth of detail to this spreadsheet, but it’s already helping immensely by giving me a single view of the plot and showing me where things need to happen, or where various plot points can be moved to for best effect.

Not bad for a night’s work.

Watching

On Sunday I decided to check out the new Netflix movie, In The Shadow Of The Moon, on the basis that the trailer looked pretty interesting, I like the premise, and the word of mouth has been good. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a damp squib in the end. It was perfectly well made, and built up an interesting mystery … only for things to go exactly where I was expecting them to go to and then … stop. Maybe I’ve watched too many time-travel movies, but I expect a lot more timey-wimeyness from them these days.

Things didn’t improve much later in the week with Moon 44, which to be fair I deliberately chose because it looked terrible (and I love a good bad movie). This was Roland Emmerich’s first movie, but played like a straight to video sci-fi actioner than desperately, desperately wanted to be seen in the same echelon as Aliens and Bladerunner. I have to say that the production design was first class, and with a more artistically inclined director at the helm this might have been more fondly remembered. However, things were further let down by a fairly laughable script. Overall, it passed the time, but wasn’t good enough to particularly interesting, and wasn’t bad enough to be fun either.

Reading

I left the Nest Cottage Chronicles behind this week in favour of another Doctor Who audio tale. I love What If tales (which typically posit an alternative version of familiar stories based on the impact from one minor change, in case you didn’t know what I was talking about), and Big Finish did a series of these with their Doctor Who audios at one point. The series was called Doctor Who Unbound, and I picked up a particularly well reviewed one called Sympathy For The Devil for peanuts on the Big Finish website.

The premise is that the third Doctor, starting his exile on earth, arrives much later than planned and is therefore not around to prevent all of the catastrophes that Jon Pertwee spent his early years as the Doctor dealing with. Further piquing my interest was the casting of David Warner as the Doctor, and Mark Gatiss as a new version of the Master. It was also a treat to hear David Tennant, with full Scottish accent, playing a particularly angry UNIT sergeant some years before he scored the role of the Doctor himself.

None of that will mean anything unless you’re a Whovian of course.

Great listening (though I gather not all of the entries in the Unbound series are as satisfying as this one.)

Silent writing

(September 22 – 28)

This week’s writing efforts have solely comprised more work on the new short story. I’ve got a good feeling about this one – which more or less translates to me enjoying writing it. It combines a lot of the things that I most enjoy: oddball humour, a slightly dark and twisted view on things, and some satisfying ewww moments.

I suspect work on this one will wrap up next week.

Watching

Continuing with the Elderbeast’s goal of watching all of the films in the IMDB top ten, I was very excited to introduced him to 12 Angry Men over the weekend as I’ve not watched it myself for many years (indeed, my bluray copy was still in the wrapper). I deflected an initial comment along the lines of “but how can it be good if it’s in black and white” and we got stuck in. Obviously it remains a masterpiece, and the Elderbeast remained absorbed throughout. Excellent.

I love films that revolve around locking a group of diverse characters in a room and seeing what happens. Because the premise forces the writer to focus on character rather than plot, films like this usually end up being pretty rewarding (although 12 Angry Men is, of course, in a class of its own). 

Friday’s horror film was a Netflix oddity called Munafik 2, which I had hoped would fit into the line up of pretty cool international horror movies we’ve delved into from time to time. While it had its moments, it turned out to be more of religious tale featuring some (admittedly very effective) supernatural moments. It’s certainly unusual, as a Western viewer, to be exposed to a story that is so thoroughly steeped in Islam as this one was, but we figured no different than The Exorcist, which is obviously a heavily Christian film.

The weekend also delivered a viewing of Aliens with my Awesome Partner, which was naturally awesome. Nuff said.

Reading

This week I delved into a set of Doctor Who audio dramas I picked up on Audacity, collectively known as The Nest Cottage Chronicles. These particular stories, released by the BBC in 2015, marked the first time Tom Baker properly returned to the role of the Doctor since leaving the TV series in 1981. The entire saga comprises 15 tales, running more than 17 hours and was an absolute bargain given I was able to grab the whole collection with a single credit.

While the production and performances are uniformly good, there’s a curious narrative choice made to tell the stories in flashback. In short, this means they revolve around the Doctor sitting there and telling his companion about things that have happened in the past. While those past experiences are all fully recreated via the magic of full-cast audio, it stills keeps me, as a listener, one step removed from the events. It tends to emphasise that these events are happening to someone else, rather than allowing me to be some sort of omniscient observer passively participating in them. Odd choice. Not sure if I like it.

A podcast by any other name

(September 15 – 21)

Planning for the podcast took a few leaps and bounds this week. My Awesome Partner came up with the perfect name for the show: Slightly Odd Tales, and this inspired me enough to put together some basic artwork, which you can see below.

I spent the rest of the week putting this artwork to good use by setting up placeholder Medium sites (where the written versions of the stories will live) and Patreon pages (where people can throw money at me should they feel so compelled). While the podcast is still several months away, this all felt like great progress.

I also started a new short story which I’m pretty excited about.

Watching

I watched two films with the Elderbeast this week, starting with Friday The 13th Part 3 for horror friday. I don’t have a whole lot to say about this one, except it remains as much fun as the first time around. One of the tropes of the Friday The 13th films seems to be that at least half of the characters must be as annoying as they can possibly be, so that we end up really, really looking forward to their inevitable deaths.

For Saturday night, continuing with the Elderbeast’s bid to watch the top ten IMDB movies, we watched Pulp Fiction. This was borderline age-inappropriate, but I made the call that the Elderbeast could handle it—and I’m glad I did.

Pulp Fiction arrived in cinemas at the same time that I was studying film at university, and watching it again reminded me how hugely exciting it was at the time. Revisiting it now after many, many years was a real treat, and it was a joy to see how easily the Elderbeast connected with it.

It’s interesting to note that, even with his second film, Tarantino displays a certain indulgence in some scenes, when he would have been better served reaching for the editing scissors. This is most obvious in the early parts of Bruce Willis’s segment which features a lot of ‘character building’ that doesn’t really move anything forward, and suffers deeply in comparison to the overwhelmingly brilliant John Travolta / Uma Thurman segment. However, it’s one minor dip in a movie that otherwise remains excellent—and this weekend’s viewing was a welcome reminder of why Pulp Fiction is so highly, and rightfully, regarded.

Reading

This week I felt compelled to revisit the audiobook of The Dispatcher (written by John Scalzi, performed by Zachary Quinto). I listen to this a year or two ago, and enjoyed it a lot, but was thinking about it last week and realised that I couldn’t remember a great deal about it. I remembered that it had something to do with people no longer dying, and that the idea was wrapped around a pretty decent detective mystery … and that was about it.

Well, I’m obviously not going to spoil the story for you here, but it was a rewarding listen, even the second time around, and John Scalzi did a good job of exploring the themes brought up by his central concept without them overloading the story. A great example of a big idea wrapped up into a relatively neat little novella.

Notcasting

(September 8 – 14)

This week was largely taken up by further planning for the podcast. I say planning, but what I really mean by that is ‘thinking with intent’. I’m hunting around for a good name for the show, but that part is eluding me for now. I’ve also been looking at which of my stories could potentially go in the first ‘season’, and which may need a quick review/rewrite first.

In other podcast news, I also put together a first edit of the second episode of The Fifth Quadrant. Some of you may remember this as a podcast project I was dabbling with last year, but it’s taken some time to get the stars aligned for further episodes. Hopefully the ball will keep rolling from here.

In the meantime you can listen to the first two episodes below:

Watching

Lots to write about in film viewing world this week, so let’s start with Shazam! This was one of the few DC superhero movies that managed to get itself some fairly decent reviews, so it’s been on my ‘curious to watch’ list for a little while. Turns out it is, indeed, fairly decent, even if it’s a totally by the numbers blockbuster-style film. In fact, it was so by the numbers that I felt throughout as if I was watching a lost superhero movie from the 1980s. They don’t quite make movies the same way these days, but if you watch any big budget, family-oriented movie from that era you’ll see where Shazam! has been getting its story notes from. Maybe DC Studios has been so burned by trying to make grimdark superhero movies that aren’t really superhero movies that they decided to go right back to the well for this one?

On Monday I rewatched Fargo with the Elderbeast; he enjoyed The Big Lebowski so much that I had to introduce him to this one, and I’m pleased to report that he completely got it, and laughed uproariously at all the right bits (usually whenever Steve Buscemi was around).

This week’s Horror Friday fell on a Friday the 13th, which meant we were legally obliged to watch a Friday The 13th movie. However, since we’ve been watching the series with the Elderbeast, who wasn’t with us this Friday, this presented a bit of a quandary, as we didn’t really want to plough on without him. Luckily the 2009 remake came to our rescue.

I say ‘luckily’ in jest, as the film is deeply average. It’s a functionally competent slasher movie, which has absolutely no personality and certainly doesn’t feel like a Jason movie. The company behind the remake, Platinum Dunes, remade a number of horror properties around the same time and they each possess the exact same lack of charm. Given that Michael Bay was one of the producers involved, I’m not entirely surprised. All I can say is that I’m really glad that we now have Blumhouse as one of our primary horror studios, as evidence so far suggests they seem to thoroughly understand what makes for a good horror film.

On Saturday I went to see the eagerly awaited It Chapter 2. Sadly, it’s a bit of a disappointment. It’s certainly not Matrix sequel levels of fail, but it doesn’t come anywhere close to the near-perfection of chapter one. The ‘adult half’ of the story was always going to be a challenge, given that the novel mostly frames this as the adults getting back together and recalling everything that happened when they were children. Given that we’ve already watched that earlier story, there’s not a whole lot of meat left on those bones.

One way the writers get around this in the movie is to establish a three-act structure and a series of goals:

  1. Adults reunite at Derry
  2. Adults are each charged with retrieving a memento from their childhood
  3. Adults come back together for the final battle with Pennywise

Unfortunately, they also throw in too much padding and waffle for that structure to serve the film in any useful way. Worst of all, Pennywise is reduced to Freddy Krueger-like caricature, popping up at various times to antagonise the characters, but not really providing any genuine threat.

So, not disastrous, but let’s just say that I’ll probably be leaving Chapter One on its own on my bluray shelf.

Reading

This week I was very excited to check out an audio play called Baker’s End: The King Of Cats, which was produced by my new favourite studio: Bafflegab. This production stars Tom Baker and Katy Manning, and the plot description starts off with this: “Peevish actors are descending mournfully upon the remote English village of Happenstance for the funeral of TV legend Tom Baker …”

Obviously my expectations going into this were pretty stratospheric, so it shouldn’t be a great surprise that this didn’t quite live up to those. It was absolutely as British and eccentric as you would expect, but almost too much so. Even in his advanced years, Tom Baker still possesses all of the energy that made him such a compelling Doctor Who, and the script is absolutely tailored to his wild eccentricity. However, at times the flurry of made-up words and ridiculous happenings is a bit hard to keep up with. As a consequence, the overall experience fell a bit flat for me, even if the concept and execution is mostly glorious.

RIP Terrance Dicks

(Week 36: September 1 – 7)

Terrace Dicks died this week, and considering the indirect, and yet rather huge influence he had on me, it seemed appropriate to write a few words about him.

Back in the 1970s, Dicks along with fellow Doctor Who writer Malcolm Hulke, wrote a book called The Making Of Doctor Who. I discovered this in my primary school library and read it, developing an immediate fascination with this show that had already seen the lead character change four times, that had daleks and cybermen, that could go anywhere in space and time; basically I got hooked on the mythology right away.

With no cable channels, no internet, and Doctor Who repeats being virtually non-existent, my only way of further exploring the show was through the series of novelisations, many of which were written by Terrance Dicks.

Dicks was never a writer to challenge with his prose style, but he is rightfully credited for the role he played in British literacy. As a nine-year-old I used to read constantly, and much of that was Doctor Who books. Dicks had an easy writing style that brought stories to life without ever getting in the way or drawing attention to itself. He gets criticism for the simplicity and brevity of his writing (including from me at various points in the past), but in recent years there’s been a reappraisal of his talents, his contribution to Doctor Who, and the broader role he has played in keeping the show alive and aiding development of literacy. I’m glad he stayed around long enough to hear some of that.

Watching

This week, the Elderbeast and I finished watching The Godfather. It remains a classic, but a long and rambling one, with a narrative that often assumes the audience has preternatural knowledge of the proceedings. I’ve seen it many times over the years (albeit not for some decades) and this is the first viewing where I can confidently say I followed everything. I can’t, however, say with great confidence that I learned anything about storytelling from this viewing; I guess this movie is a classic example of how your audience will forgive you taking them on a long journey, so long as you have vision, and strong characters, and there’s a worthwhile story to be told along that journey.

Friday’s horror movie continued our exploration of the Friday The 13th films with Friday The 13th Part 2. This is a pretty worthy sequel, though the extended recap of the first movie combined with the otherwise unconnected opening scene to despatch the remaining survivor makes for an odd start. The Elderbeast found Jason, with his sack-head, dungarees and deep fear of chainsaws, particularly amusing in this film which also added to our enjoyment.

Reading

This week I listened to an awesome Audible show called It Burns. I’m not sure if it’s a podcast or a series, but it was basically a five-part documentary exploring the world of super hot chilies. I grabbed it because I’m mildly intrigued by super-hot chilies, but the show ended up being as much about the psychology of eating disorders as it was about the surprisingly competitive and vicious world of child-growing. In short, it was a story that started by focusing on one tiny (literally) thing, but ended up revealing a whole world of fascination.

Unfortunately, I think Audible is the only place that this show is available, but I highly recommended it if you’re able to give it a listen.

Podcast! … eventually …

(August 25 – 31)

It’s been another busy week of writing activity for me (although the writing itself slows down somewhat in these winter months). I finished my rewrite of When The Darkness Comes, submitted it to a magazine and, once again, had it promptly rejected. I also had another idea for a new short story and start writing that (the novel, and various other projects, are slipping further and further away at this point).

Meanwhile, the fact that I need to do something with my stories, other than use them as tools for attracting rejection letters, has promoted a little creative planning. For many years I’ve considered putting together a collection of my short stories, but I’ve held off since I know it’ll most likely sit there in the Amazon catalogue never being found by anyone. The other idea that’s popped up from time to time is doing audio versions of my stories, and this time the idea has really stuck—I could do a podcast series of my stories, approximately one per week/episode.

Obviously I wanted to get an idea of how many episode I could potentially sustain (I have this idea of doing ‘seasons’ of 13 episodes, but have no idea how many seasons I could deliver) so I did an audit of all my stories. Over the week I’d unearthed a handful of stories sitting on my Google Drive that I’d forgotten I even wrote, which made me realise it was time to be a it more organised. In the end, counting them all up revealed that I have written 45 (completed) stories over the years (with about 10 more in various ages of uncompletion). This means I’m well on the way to having four seasons, or a year’s worth of stories.

Now I just need to make it happen.

Watching

This week I asked the Elderbeast what he wanted to watch for our Sunday movie, and was pretty surprised and impressed when he said “The Godfather”. I asked why, and he said it was in the IMDB top 10 and he wanted to make sure he’d watched every movie in the top ten. Pretty awesome. I did a quick check and found that the movies weren’t available on my various streaming services, so we went off to JB Hifi and found the blurays for Godfather parts 1 and 2 in a ‘3 for 2’ deal … bit of a dilemma since they never made a third Godfather film. We ended up adding Pacific Rim: Uprising to the pile, since the Kinderbesten both wanted to see it.

Anyway, after all that I’m not going to talk about The Godfather because it’s so damn long we only got halfway through. More when we finish it.

(Ironically I later found out that all of The Godfather films are on Prime Video. Oh well, you can do much, much worse that have Godfather 1 and 2 in your collection).

I started watching season two of The Terror, which has been pretty well received. Only one episode in it I like the emphasis on historical verisimilitude and supernatural terrors, which gives it a strong link to the otherwise unconnected first season.

Friday’s horror was an HP Lovecraft adaptation called Dagon, which was a bit of a curiosity. It was made in 2001, but it felt overwhelmingly like one of those straight-to-video horror movies that kept the video industry going in the late eighties and nineties. It had some truly gorgeous cinematography, but was let down in parts by some distinctly hokey CGI. It was also tonally disjointed; aiming for brooding terror for the most part, but featuring a lead actor who had literally used Harold Lloyd as an influence. A mildly interesting oddity.

Reading

I’ve picked up Wool again, which I’m continuing to enjoy and can’t fathom why I’m being so intermittent with it. Anyway, let’s see how many more weeks it finally takes me to finish this.

Deja vu yet?

(Week 34: August 18 – 24)

Another week, another couple of rewrites. The first one is a story I wrote a couple of years ago, and which changed a fair bit during the writing process. Perhaps because of this, the final story never seemed quite right to me: a case of the journey working, but several of the steps feeling like they needed work. Once I’d finished the story, I parked it; and this week I finally came back to it.

Once again, the first half of the story was already pretty tight, but it was the ending that needed the most work. I’d already attempted two versions of the ending and was never quite satisfied with either. This reread, however, put a few images in my head which helped reshape the story’s conclusion. I also managed to trim down a few scenes (just a hundred words here or there, but every word counts) and generally tighten up a few scenes.

The other story was one that I already think is probably one of the best I’ve ever written (and may ever write). Reassuringly there were hardly any edits needed to this one; in fact, I can only think of a single noteworthy change that I made (to make the gender of the narrator a little more ambiguous). Hopefully this means that the story I as good as I hope it is, and not just that my judgement is blinded in this case.

Watching

It’s been another week of rewatches, some of which are worth a quick note.

On Friday we introduced the Elderbeast to the original Friday The 13th, and he seemed to enjoy the experience. I still find this a fascinating movie. It very much takes what Black Christmas and Halloween have already done and doesn’t particularly add anything original, but it does earn its place in movie history for the role it plays in cementing the slasher movie as a standard horror genre.

It’s also a deceptively well made film. It pushes the tropes of the slasher movie about as far as you can, while still remaining a slasher movie, and has some stunning cinematography at times. It’s only really let down (at times) by the low budget.

Over the weekend, the Kinderbeast was finally able to check out Avengers: Endgame. Having now watched it a third time, I think my opinion has flipped back a little. It is still a little on the long side, and it does still have a couple of missteps, but the plot does its best to get to where it needs to go without too much wastage. I can’t think of much that I would cut out, and the film genuinely makes you feel like you’ve been on a journey: I was somewhat exhausted and overwhelmed (in the emotional sense) following this third viewing. Either way, regardless of any criticisms I might have of Endgame, it’s still all worth it for that last hour.

A casual remark by the Elderbeast during the week prompted me to introduce him to The Big Lebowski. I’m very proud to say that he loved it, and completely connected with the Coens’ oddball sense of humour. One thing I realised during this rewatch (and I feel very late to this party) is that The Big Lebowski is essentially a classic pulp noir thriller—it’s only a few heartbeats away from being a Mickey Spillane tale—but put it through the Coens’ filter and it becomes something unique. Adding to that is the casting, which I think is absolutely perfect. It’s one of those films that I’m already looking for an excuse to watch again.

Reading

This week I finished listening to the very excellent Conception Of Fear, and commenced the very long wait for an announcement of Volume Two. I was also very excited to discover that there’s a bonus episode of the Chernobyl podcast, for which they brought on Jared Harris to discuss his role and reflect on the success of the series. Sadly, there will not a be a second season of Chernobyl (at least, you kinda hope there wouldn’t be) but it was nice to have this little epilogue to enjoy.

Rewrite-a-gogo

(Week 33: August 11- 17)

Following my rejection the other week, I decided to submit a second story to the same magazine while their submission window was still open. It’s a story called “When The Stars Go Out” which I wrote a couple of years ago; I’m very invested in it, but never quite thought I’d gotten the story right. Consequently, a rewrite/re-edit was required before I could confidently send it out.

The good news is that the first half or so of the original edit remained pretty tight, but then things started to unravel a little in the second half. Among the problems I could see were unnecessary padding, scenes that repeated previous scenes, and characters’ actions not quite lining up with their motivations. As you can see, having some distance from the story helped give me a more objective viewpoint; I knew there were problems with the story before, but the specific issues were buried by the freshness of the writing.

Short conclusion is that I spent about a week going through the text (mostly in the evenings) and came away feeling I had a much tighter, much stronger version of the story. Ideally I’d be able to spot these issues right away, and a lot of the time I can, but at least one of the benefits of being largely unpublished is that I get to have as many shots at getting a story right as I need. Silver linings, right?

Watching

The Elderbeast has developed a mild obsession with Jason Vorhees (after all, all children need role models in their young life) and has been asking to watch the Friday The 13th films. Being me, I decided to start him off with the most fun entry in the series, Jason X. I have a lot of love for this movie: it knows exactly what it is and doesn’t try to pretend otherwise. It has some properly gory sequences, tension when the scene requires it, and gags that have a pretty high landing rate.

We also had a couple of noteworthy rewatches this week. The Elderbeast asked to watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off again, which makes me very happy as it’s an awesome film and I love the idea of my son growing up with the same sort of films that I grew up with. The horror movie this week was a repeat viewing of It, which remains absolutely excellent (and a good lesson that you can remain faithful to a novel without having to recreate every scene in precise detail).

On the weekend I did something I haven’t done for ages: I binged a whole show. My Awesome Partner was sick, so there was nothing for it but to curl up on the sofa for most of the weekend. This gave us the chance to plough through all six episodes of Good Omens, which was pretty damn splendid. If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of that particularly british ‘Douglas Adams’ type of humour and Good Omens is chock full of that. I have read the book, but so long ago that I’ve forgotten almost everything about it (other than Dog) but I would hope that if Terry Pritchett is watching from wherever he is now, he’d be very happy.

Reading

I had a real listening treat this week. Each month Audible (the US flavour) gives away two of its ‘Originals’. This month one of them was a title called The Conception of Terror, which I initially thought was just a set of fresh readings of MR James stories. When I began listening, however, it turned out that these were not only dramatisations, but contemporary retellings of the stories. Awesome!

I can’t say that each story was 100% successful: some of the actors were … underwhelming, and the contemporary settings didn’t entirely mesh with the gothic, classic nature of MR James’s stories. However, overall this was a glorious listening experience. The only story that I was fully familiar with was Casting The Runes, and the writer did an excellent job of finding a fresh angle on the story, even introducing some surprising twists, while managing not to lose anything that makes the story such a classic.

The other three stories were Lost Hearts, The Treasure of Abbott Thomas, and View From A Hill. This collection was produced by Bafflegab, who also produced the adaptation of Blood On Satan’s Claw that I listened to recently, and I’ve already got a bunch of their other productions lined up on my wishlist.

My philosophy on rejection

(August 4 – 10)

This week I submitted a story to a magazine—my first submission in ages—and received a rejection two days later. I thought this provided a reasonable excuse to share my philosophy on rejection.

First of all [side note] getting a rejection within two days is actually a really awesome thing. Most of these markets have limited staff available and will, unavoidably, take much longer than that to provide a response. All this time you’ll be clinging by your fingernails to the edge of the cliff, wondering if this is finally the story that gets picked up. Getting that repose quickly means you can pick yourself and move on that much sooner.

More broadly, I see rejection is a good thing. It means you’ve written something. It means you’ve finished something. And it means you feel good enough about that something to send it out into the world. Rejection doesn’t happen without any of those things happening first: rejection is a sign that you’ve achieved something, and you can wear that proudly.

Furthermore, rejection doesn’t mean that your story is bad, or a failure. It can mean one particular person (the one reading your submission) didn’t connect with your story. It can mean the magazine already has (or recently published) a story with a similar idea. It can mean the publisher already has enough stories for that month. It can mean your story wasn’t quite the right fit for that market. It can mean one of a dozen relatively minor things, none of which reflect on the quality of your work. The chances of you having the right story at the right time are considerably smaller than the chances of your story genuinely not being any good.

Finally, and this is the most important thing: rejection is not something to get frustrated about. I’ve had a small number of very nice rejections, ones which offered me some insight into what the reader thought, but most of my rejections are along the lines of “it just didn’t work for us”. As a writer I do find that a little frustrating: not only did you not want my story, but you’ve barely even told me why. However, a minute later I remind myself that this isn’t actually about me—this is about someone else’s publication. At the other end of that email is someone who has probably spend hours, maybe even days, trawling through stories knowing they can only pick a few. They need to clear their head so they can read the next story objectively, and the one after that. If they stop to analyse my story then it’s going to require a whole lot more time than writing “it just didn’t work for us”.

At the end of the day someone else is giving up their time, possibly devoting their livelihood, to give you the opportunity to send them a story. Whether or not your story makes the cut, that opportunity alone is pretty awesome.

Watching

On Sunday I watched Zombieland for the first time (at the Elderbeast’s suggestion)—only about ten years after people first started raving about it. Luckily it lived up to the hype, largely due to the strong characterisation (and matching performances). The overarching storyline was arguably a bit formulaic, but having unconventional characters (in a slightly unconventional scenario) delivering that plot went a long towards making it feel fresh. And, sure, I remember all the funny bits, but more importantly, I came away from the film feeling that I’d been on a journey with these characters. I can now go off and watch the sequel and spend the whole time wondering how none of the cast has aged over the last ten years.

I also, finally, checked out The Disaster Artist. Like many fans of bad films, I count The Room among my favourite movies of all time, so the news that someone of James Franco’s caliber was making a movie all about the making of The Room was hugely exciting news. Naturally, I then proceeded to completely fail at watching the movie for several years.

What I really liked about The Disaster Artist is that it isn’t just about The Room. It’s about the relationship between Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero (who wrote the book that the film is based on). It also make an attempt to life a tiny part of the veil from the enigma that is Tommy Wiseau. In short you get a great drama about two friends, but then you also get the lovingly recreated moment from The Room too—and, if you ever watched The Room, you can be assured that for every single scene you had questions, the cast and crew had the same questions.

Now I just need to get on and watch The Room again.

Reading

No big reading news this week, but I have enjoyed continuing to listen to the Scriptnotes podcast. So, if you like listening to people chatting generally about the movie business and script-writing (and knowing that those people are speaking from experience) then give it a listen.

The long-awaited, much anticipated, eagerly celebrated end of Chapter Three!!

(July 28 – August 3)

Well, I finally finished Chapter 3 which felt good, even if it took longer than expected. I have the feeling that it’ll need some serious hacking in due course, in order to get it into readable shape, but at least I’m fairly confident now that I’ve got some pieces worth hacking into shape.

Watching

This week we finished off Stranger Things 3, and it was definitely worth the ride. The early episodes, as I mentioned, were a little on the slow side but this series was a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Or something like that. I wrote about the emotional core of this particular season being a little lacking, and the writers falling a little too hard on using conflict (i.e. characters arguing with each other constantly) as the basis of drama, but I’d mostly say that these issues were symptoms of the much stronger structure that was applied to this season. 

The Duffer brothers aim to craft each season as a ‘novel’, with each episode being a chapter, but this was far more prevalent in this season. In previous seasons you could easily pick out a handful of episodes that could stand on their own, but with season three it was very much about the parts leading up to a satisfying whole. That said, there were definite elements that stood out: the character that myself and the Elderbeast were fond of calling Russian Terminator, for one; Robin Buckley (who, like Steve Harrington, spent the whole season in a ridiculous sailor outfit, but was still awesome); and the arc they took Billy on was pretty damn good too, Also: The Neverending Story.

Friday’s horror movie was Annabelle: Creation, which was pretty good, if fairly routine. I was pretty impressed by Antony Lapaglia’s very understated performance; playing a character with a whole bunch of stuff going on under the surface. 

I also had the chance to sit down at watch Alien with my Awesome Partner. If you don’t already know, Alien is pretty much my favourite film and the one that;’s most likely had the greatest influence on my over the years, so this was a pretty awesome time. I’d recently bought the 4K release and it looked amazing. I’ve probably watched this film a hundred times, but I noticed all sorts of details I’d never spotted before—in particular how damp and grimy everything looks on the Nostromo (in fact, I was reflecting that my first copy of the film was a VHS off-air recording, complete with ad breaks and bad words cut out—a world away from a 4K edition—but it was still good enough for me back then).

It was quite remarkable watching this film, which I know down to the frame but hadn’t seen for a few years, and being able to get a fresh perspective on it. What really struck me this time around is how enormously different the movie feels to modern blockbusters. It’s precisely crafted, but almost primal (helped by the actor’s various improvisations). It’s no revelation to say it’s almost like an art film, but something I really felt was how much it conveys the mood of what’s going on. You really share the terror and discomfort of the characters, and that’s probably why it’s had such a last impression on people.

Reading

Watching Stranger Things this week reminded me that I had yet to finish the Stranger Things: Worlds Turned Upside Down book that my friend got me for Christmas. Firstly though, this book is absolutely gorgeous. It’s been very deliberately designed to look like a book that’s been doing the rounds in your local library for a few years, complete with torn paper cover and plastic wrap. The inside is just as gorgeous and even includes an upside down section. I highly recommend it if you need a little Stranger Things fix.

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