Now available on Amazon the first volume of The Musketeers’ New Adventures which includes my story “Noblese Oblige” – A lost letter written by the Queen must be found or else it threatens a new war with Spain. Desperately she calls upon a retired Musketeer to find the missing message. – Available in either paperback or kindle format – Need some adventure? Just click here.
Back in August I took the first pass at starting a series of posts inspired by the excellent occasional series of interviews that The Guardian newspaper conducts under the title “Books That Made Me.”
It was a fun exercise to go through, so let’s pick up the challenge again with the next set of questions.
The Book That I Wish I’d Written
I’ve given this one a lot of thought, and it may seem like a cop-out but there isn’t one.
Let me explain. Sure I’ve picked up many books and thought something along the lines of I could have written a pretty good book on that subject, or I had a story idea like that once, or even, Wow that was very cool, I wonder what inspired it; but nothing that provokes what could be called a feeling of regret because I didn’t do it. For one simple reason, they clearly weren’t my books to write.
I believe that writers write the books they are meant to write.
As an example, I recently became fascinated by the story of the lost World War 2 bomber Lady Be Good. I found a couple of books on the subject but the most recent dated back 25 years or more. I started thinking that maybe this was a subject I could write an updated book on. I had even started pulling together a pitch to send to the imprint of a publisher I’ve worked with before that specializes in aviation history. While I was working on the pitch that very same publisher announced a new book on the Lady Be Good. No problem – I guess it just wasn’t my book to write.
The Book That Had The Greatest Influence On My Writing.
I’m taking this one to mean books about the craft of writing. Over the years I’ve studied quite a few of them, and while many passed unremembered there are a definite handful that I would happily cite as having a positive impact.
Just looking at the shelf by my office desk I see well thumbed and bookmarked copies of
- Brian Michael Bendis – Words for Pictures
- Will Eisner – Comics and Sequential Art
- Syd Field – Screenplay
- James N. Frey – How to Write a Damn Good Mystery
- William Goldman – Adventures in the Screen Trade
- Stephen King – On Writing
- Robert McKee – Story
- Alan Moore – Writing for Comics
- Denny O’Neil – The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics
- J. Michael Straczynski – The Complete Book of Scriptwriting
You may notice a pattern in that list. Most revolve around the visual story telling mediums of comics and film, and both heavily influence my prose style. I see all writing as being on a continuum of storytelling, and the lessons leaned for one medium can inform another.
And there is one book I refer to more, and cite more when I’m speaking about writing at conferences. It’s the quintessential examination of graphic storytelling that informs and influences all my writing. Scott McCloud’s masterpiece Understanding Comics.
It doesn’t matter if you have no intention of ever writing a comic, or even have never read a comic – if you are in the business of communicating ideas in any medium you owe it to yourself to read, study, and absorb this work.
We had one of our granddaughters over to stay at the weekend and she picked “the cooking show movie with the rat” (aka’ Disney-Pixar’s Ratatouille) as her movie night treat. Which was a bit of a surprise as she’d never really mentioned it before. We had a great time watching it together and it reminded me that back in the days I was writing the CARS comics at BOOM! Studios we’d been asked to pitch some ideas for some of the other Pixar movies, and one of the ones I put a four issue pitch together for was for Ratatouille. The company never did produce a comics series based on the culinary adventures of Remy the rat, although I believe that Disney did eventually do one themselves.
Anyway – here’s my outline for a proposed four issue story called “Smells Like A Rat!”
“SMELLS LIKE A RAT”
When the young chef Linguini asks his pet rat (and secret chef) Remy to help him select a perfume for his girlfriend, Colette it has disastrous consequences for his reputation as the rising star of Gusteau’s Restaurant
Issue # 1-.The evening after their first kiss, Linguini decides to buy the most expensive perfume he can afford for Colette. He knows nothing about perfumes, so decides to take along someone with a sensitive and discriminating sense of smell to help him – the rat Remy. The ever suspicious sous-chef, Skinner, follows Linguni wondering what he is up to. Peering through the window of a perfumery he discovers Linguni’s secret – the rat.
Issue #2 –.When Skinner bursts into the store carrying a camera, Linguini manages to hide Remy, adding to Skinner’s building paranoia that he is imagining the rat. A cycle and scooter chase ensues across Paris as Skinner follows Linguni from store to store determined to take a photograph of the rat. Linguini and Remy mange to evade Skinner and find what they think is the perfect perfume. But Linguini is shocked and heart-broken when Colette refuses to accept the gift.
Issue #3 – Colette explains that she never wears perfume because it dulls her sense of smell when cooking. Next day in the kitchen Linguini and Remy discover to their horror that Colette was right. After smelling so many perfumes, Remy can no longer differentiate the smell of ingredients. That day’s soup is a disaster. Gloating in triumph Skinner throws Linguini out of the restaurant kitchen.
Issue #4 – Sitting on the steps outside the kitchen, the dejected Linguni and Remy contemplate their failure. Remy starts to converse with the ghost of Gasteau who tells him to have faith. Suddenly the ghost fades and in his place is his brother Emile, who offers Remy a nibble from a piece of rancid cheese. Remy recoils at the smell from the cheese. Suddenly he jumps up and dash off into the sewers. Linguini can’t believe his luck, he’s lost his girl, his job and now his rat. Deep in the sewers Remy find’s his clan’s stockpile of garbage and dives into it. He starts grabbing handfuls of rotting food and inhaling deeply. Coughing and gagging he clears his nose of the perfume smells. His sense of smell restored, he races back to Gusteau’s. Meanwhile Colette has convinced Skinner to give Linguini another chance, and with the team back together the afternoon’s batch of soup is once again perfect.
My friend and fellow geek writer, Rich Handley recently asked on Facebook if anyone had opinions on the whole “Did Shakespeare write Shakespeare?” thing.
Oh boy, do I have opinions on it. I’ve been noodling around with an idea for a novel with William Shakespeare as the main character for a decade or so, and as a consequence done a fair amounting of reading on-and-off about The Bard. There’s around 35 different volumes on him sitting in my library currently. If you’ve got a spare hour or two I can drone on about the authorship question at tedious length. But my net takeaway from years of reading around the subject is yes a guy from Statford called Shakespeare wrote most of the plays attributed to him (although not always on his own). – Let me expand on that.
My take is I don’t think Shakespeare saw himself primarily as a “writer” but that it was a means to an end. I think he was first an foremost an entrepreneur who first made his money as a theater shareholder in London, and after retiring to Stratford moved in to real estate and wool trading.
He started out as a moderately successful actor who wrote a couple of things to give himself roles then realized he had a talent for it and found some patrons who’d pay for some flattering and occasionally risqué sonnets.
As far as plays went, there was no such thing as copyright or sense of authors owning the work. Plays were written for the company who staged them. When he became a shareholder in a theater company they needed plays to perform, and the more the better, and instead of paying someone he did it himself. He drew from many sources; rewriting his own versions of plays already in circulation (Hamlet), Roman ancient history (Ceaser, Anthony & Cleopatra), British ancient history (Lear, Macbeth), recent history (The hollow crown cycle), folklore (Midsummer Nights Dream), all things that would appeal to the crowds.
He never wrote for print or permanence. Bits would be rewritten to include topical references or in response to audience reactions (Merry Wives of Windsor is a Falstaff spin-off because the character was popular). That’s the reason they are examples of different texts – there is no “definitive” correct version of a Shakespeare play, because there was never intended to be one.
There was however a growing recognition that a Shakespeare play meant more ticket sales, so I believe that as he get older, busier, and richer other people were drafted in to help out and keep the “Shakespeare” brand going (there is definite evidence of collaboration), and that he probably helped out others (adding a little cache to their efforts) but it was a fluid arrangement – because after all it was the play that was the thing, not the manuscript.
All of the above is a very simplified personal viewpoint, but Rich’s post promoted me to actual put it down in writing for the first time.
So did Willy do it? – You bet he did, but maybe not for the reasons later scholars would have us believe.
This year’s SPY-CON is combining with Monsterama and going virtual. Attendance will be free – we just ask that you make a donation on behalf of Motion Picture & Television Fund (MPTF)
The event will be on-line the weekend of October 9 -11 and I’ll be presenting three panels on Saturday, Oct 10th:
2:30 pm ET – The Many Lives of James Bond: From comics Bond to dancing Bond, a look at the many iterations of 007 beyond the screen and novels with my guests, Mark Edlitz, Clinton Rawls, and Jarrod Alberich.
4:00pm ET – Spoof! From Get Smart to Austin Powers, and everything in between with my guests, Van Allen Plexico, Jarrod Alberich, and Bill Koenig.
8:00pm ET: Is 25 Enough? – Is there a future for the traditional James Bond movie franchise in the age of streaming? With my guests Van Allen Plexico, Jarrod Alberich, and Derek Austin Johnson.
I’ll also be joining Rocko Jerome at 5:30pm ET to talk about our favorite U.N.C.L.E.
A recent post on Twitter from a good friend reminded me of the excellent occasional series of interviews that The Guardian newspaper conducts with various writers using a set outline of questions under the title “Books That Made Me.” Reading over a few of the more recent interviews made me think that it might be fun to take that outline and use it for my own series of blog posts. – Just how would I answer those same questions?
So with apologies to the Guardian, let’s take a look shall we:
What book am I currently reading?
It’s very rare that I am reading just a single book at a time, often it’s three or more. At the moment I have a pretty eclectic list of reads underway.
“The Life of Ian Fleming” by John Pearson. I recently received a copy of “Ian Fleming: The Notes” published by Queen Anne Press which collects many of Pearson’s research notes from when he was writing his acclaimed 1966 biography of James Bond’s creator. Before diving into that much-anticipated volume I thought it would be a good idea to revisit the actual biography first.
“The History of Rock & Roll: Volume 1” by Ed Ward: My current bedside table read is this excellent, entertaining, and informative first volume on the history of rock from 1920 to 1963. As an aside, over the last few months, I’ve been listening to a podcast on The History of Rock Music in 500 Songs, which, other than common subject matter, has no connection with the book, yet as I’m reading I hear the text in the voice of the podcast’s presenter, Andrew Hickey.
On the coffee table in my library sits “Batman: 100 Greatest Moments” by Robert Greenberger. Covering the last 80 years of the Dark Knight’s career it’s providing some trips down memory lane from my years as a serious Batman collector while opening me up to some of the more recent tales I may have missed.
While the Kindle app on my phone is loaded with a copy of “Star Trek Discovery: The Enterprise War” by John Jackson Miller featuring the tale of what happened to the iconic spaceship while under the command of Captain Christopher Pike during the Federation/Klingon conflict shown in the first season of the new Discovery series. It’s a fun read that sheds some interesting light on characters we feel we know but have never really been that deeply explored before. A good “stood in line at Starbucks and want to catch up” read; which is what I want from the books I read in digital format. Something I can read anywhere whether I have a spare 5 minutes, or a spare 50 minutes.
What book changed my life?
This is a tricky one that took a lot of thinking about. Was it “Tom Swift and the Cosmic Astronauts” that I got out of the library as a youngster that introduced me to the concept of cosmic adventure, or discovering DUNE at college and realizing how mind-expanding SF could be? The Readers Digest abridged books version of The Man With The Golden Gun that introduced me to the works of Ian Fleming, or the James Bond Annual that sparked my fascination with the 007 movies? The various comics that proved to be turning points in my life (that is probably fodder for another blog post)?
In the end, I think the vote goes to “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert M. Pirsig. I read the book while serving on-board container ships as a junior engineer, and it helped me come to the realization that as much as I love, and am fascinated by, machines I didn’t really gain much personal satisfaction from working on them. I wanted to share knowledge about them, I wanted to share about what they could do; and that despite the fact that I couldn’t spell (and still can’t) I really could do that one thing I’d wanted to do since the age of seven despite being repeatedly told I couldn’t do it – be a writer.
Next time I’ll be thinking about:
- The book I wish I’d written.
- The book that had the greatest influence on my writing.
Till then, keep reading.
What do Batman, James Bond, racing cars, my favorite motorcycle speedway club, and the occasional book review have in common? Well, they are all subjects of the several blogs I run on Tumblr.
If you enjoy browsing through comics covers, photos, and the occasional video you can find the more visual representations of some of my favorite topics as follows:
- Alan J. Porter – Writer: Where I post reviews of books I’ve read along with the occasional pop-culture image, cover, or photo that captures my interest or could be fodder for a future project.
- Racing Comics: A celebration of motorsports in comics, with over 700 different covers posted to date.
- Batman on the Cover: A chronological journey through Batman’s publishing history around the world starting in 1939. With over 1,100 covers posted so far, we are currently revisiting the Bat-books of 1961
- James Bond Lexicon: The companion site to the James Bond Lexicon project. Currently posting a chronological journey through James Bond’s timeline.
- Belle Vue Aces: Just a place for me to celebrate my favorite sports team, the iconic Belle Vue Aces speedway team.
Shrek and Donkey © 2001 DreamWorks LLC
Several years ago following on from my stint as the writer on the CARS comics I was asked by a new publisher to pitch some story ideas for a planned series of SHREK comics.
After rewatching all four films I decided to play up the pop-culture parody aspect and pitched several story ideas. The publishers and license holders liked three of them enough to commission full scripts and they were scheduled for issues 4, 5, and 6 of the new series.
I won’t go into details but working on those scripts very quickly went from being a fun experience to being a chore that sucked any enjoyment of working on some of the most enjoyable of movie characters. After over six months of constant, and contradictory, notes and revisions, the publisher decided to “go in a different direction” with the tone and style of the book and basically threw out the work of several writers (myself included) who had been expecting to chart Shrek and friend’s adventures through the first year of the series. The publisher and license holder had every right to do that, it’s their property after all, and we were just the hired guns, but it could have been handled better – a lot better.
I will say that it may have been the hardest I ever worked on a set of licensed property comics scripts, but I learned a lot.
Anyway here’s the brief solicitation copy for the three issues that never saw the light of day – the Shrek that might have been.
#4 – Donkey’s Tale
Trying to calm his kids down Donkey decides to tell them the story of his adventures just before he met Shrek. Of course, the way that Donkey tells the tale may be a little different from what actually happened.
#5 – Elementary My Dear Shrek
When the Gingerbread Man goes missing from his cottage Shrek and Donkey set out to solve the mystery of their friend’s disappearance. Following a trail of clues across town they soon start to realize that they shouldn’t jump to conclusions.
#6 – A Locket Full of Secrets
When Pinocchio discovers that the Fairy Godmother has a locket that contains a secret that could threaten the Kingdom of Far Far Away, he decides to put together a team to recover it. With the help of the Three Blind Mice, and the Gingerbread Man he sets out on a seemingly impossible mission to retrieve the locket and save the kingdom.
Cover A for Cars: Radiator Springs #1 – by Allen Gladfelter. (This image was also used for the cover of the Radiator Springs trade paperback collection).
After spending time at the track with CARS: The Rookie, it was time to head to Radiator Springs for the second World of CARS mini-series. The pitch this time around was to tell the stories of how the diverse cast of characters arrived in the sleepy desert town and why they made it home.
Deciding which characters to kick off the series with was relatively easy as the first releases of the CARS movie on DVD included a short on how Flo, owner of the V8 Cafe arrived in town. So for the first script, I adapted and expanded on the groundwork that had already been set.
The story kicks off with the various characters celebrating Ramone and Flo’s anniversary, and Flo being persuaded to tell the story of how they met. I established that Ramone had always been based in Radiator Springs and that Flo had arrived in style as part of a fleet of Detroit Motorama show cars who got stuck in town for a few days. It was a great excuse to do some research on the extravagant fin ladened show cars of the 1950s. As s troop of 1950s showgirls on a road trip, Flo and her friends sure knew how to have some fun, and the young Ramone was quick to offer new paint jobs, pin-striping, and all the things to make a girl look good. – But there was one car that Ramone refused to paint – that was Flo as in his eyes she was perfect as she was. (We actually got a couple of complaints that this love story between two cars was “too sensuous” !)
Covers B and C for CARS: Radiator Springs #1 by Allen Gladfelter
One of the fun parts of developing this script was put in a one-panel cameo of a small car called Susie, who isn’t featured in the movie. She was the star of an animated short called “Susie the Little Blue Coupe” produced Disney in 1952, and her design style is a direct precursor to the one used in CARS.
It’s that time of year again, as the next round of convention appearances kicks off with my local event, ArmadilloCon. Summer in Austin wouldn’t be the same without the DilloCon weekend.
This year you can find me on the following panels etc.
- Friday, August 2nd
- 8:00pm – Best Comics You’ve Never Read – Ballroom D
- Saturday, August 3rd
- 12:00pm – Signing – Dealers Room
- 6:00pm – Writing Work For Hire – Ballroom E
- Sunday, August 3rd
- 12:00pm – Good Omens – Ballroom F
Or just wandering the halls, hanging out in the bar, and generally enjoying the convention.