In just a few hours I’ll be heading into Austin to join fellow writers, artists, and fans of SF/F media for one of my favorite events – ArmadilloCon. During our regular walk around the neighborhood this morning I was trying to think back to how long I’ve been attending this particular convention. (A quick dive into the box where I keep past convention brochures confirmed that my first ‘DilloCon was in 2007, so that’s 14 years on and off).
My schedule for this weekend for this weekend is looking something like this:
4:00pm- Welcome to Armadillocon panel
8:00pm – 25 Things You Didn’t Know About James Bond
3:00pm – Reading (from an as yet unpublished story)
4:00pm – Streaming SF/F panel
5:00pm – Monsterverse panel
12:00pm – Signing session
1:00pm – Getting Creative in Comics panel
If you are in the Austin area I hope that you can come along and join us for what promises to be a fun and entertaining weekend.
Norman combines backgrounds in engineering and psychology and applies them to the world of human-centered design where usability is just as important as aesthetics. The book gives many great examples of when designers get things right, and equally valuable where they get it wrong. I highly recommend this for anyone who is interested in how we interact with the physical world we inhabit, and how good design can make that experience more enjoyable.
The Last Book To Make Me Cry
As a young man Adrian Gill’s dyslexia was so bad he was classified as functionally illiterate, his early adult years were lost to alcoholism. Then he discovered a talent for expressing himself through words and a love for food. We first came across him in his early days as the food critic for The Sunday Times. His reviews of places we’d never eat in and food we’d never try were the first thing we read. A.A.Gill grew to be one of British journalism’s best. A man who told it like he saw it, wasn’t afraid to pull his punches, and was unapologetic about his own life and views. The Best of A.A. Gill collects his best writing in food, television, travel, life, and most movingly his cause-celebre – the global refugee crisis. It ranges from cynical truths, to outrage, as well as the humorous, and heart-warming. It concludes with a heart wrenching piece where he talks honestly and brutally about is own imminent death from cancer. Overall this volume is an excellent celebration of an honest man.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.