The ancient sages say, “Do not despise the snake for having no horns, for who is to say it will not become a dragon.” So may one just man become an army.
So began the opening narration of one of my favorite TV shows growing up. The BBC’s English-dubbed version of a Japanese TV show that adapted a classic Chinese martial arts tale. The Water Margin.
I was honored to be asked by editor Jim Beard to contribute to his volume of essays looking back on those childhood Japanese TV shows and immediately thought of penning a few words about The Water Margin.
My essay “Nine Dozen Heroes,” can be found in the recently released RISING SUN RERUNS anthology, along with the reflections and memories of several other pop-culture writers about their favorite Japanese shows.
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.
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.
Back in 2006, Tokyopop, a US based publisher of Japanese style manga comics produced a volume of new manga style stories featuring the cast and concepts of the original Star Trek series. A couple of more volumes appeared in the following year, and as we were working with Tokyopop on GOD SHOP our planned manga series at the time, I was asked to pitch several story ideas for the Trek series. This was pretty much a dream come true to be asked to pitch for Star Trek. Although none of my ideas were picked, it was an honor to even be asked.
While hunting through some old files the other day I came across a document outlining those long forgotten attempts to help guide the adventures of the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, and thought it might be fun to share a few of them here.
Two years after its original visit to Sigma Iota II (in 2268 in TOS episode “A Piece of the Action”) the Enterprise returns to see how its “gangster culture” has progressed. The planet is now run like late 20th Century Las Vegas with the “mobsters” controlling strings of casinos. The landing party is captured by the current boss and Kirk must play a high stakes card game for the lives of everyone being held hostage. The game is “Fizzbin” an imaginary game invented on the fly by Kirk as a ruse during their previous visit. However the Iotians – known to be highly impressionable – have developed the idea into a real game. Can Kirk bluff his way out of this one, or will he be forced to play a game where he doesn’t know the rules? As the game progresses it turns out that the game’s underlying complex logic means that it is Spock who is the best player and wins the crew’s freedom.
THE GREAT HUNT
A young Klingon warrior is chosen by the empire for training on a special mission. A mission to totally eradicate one of the empire’s greatest foes. As the training goes one, the young warrior begins to wonder the exact nature of the foe he must face. Eventually he boards the ships of the armada being assembled to obliterate the foe’s homeworld, and once on board he learns that he has been assigned to take part in The Great Tribble Hunt.
THE THREE RUSSIAN PIGS
During a visit to a starbase Ensign Chekhov is nearly bowled over by a group of unruly kids. Deciding to try and calm the youngsters down he decides to tell them one of his classic “Russian” folktales. The tale he decides to tell is his version of the Three Little Pigs, in which the characters he describes pay more than a passing resemblance to Kirk, Spock and McCoy, while the Big Bad Wolf is portrayed by Khan. Unknown to Chekhov the three officers are stood behind him listening to his tale.
WAGON TRAIN TO THE STARS
The Enterprise encounters a convoy of old Earth ships deep in space being attacked by a hostile force. The Earth ships are clustered together for protection. The Enterprise arrives and scatters the attackers. The Earth ships belong to a collection of unauthorized colonists who had decided to set off on their own to find a new home on the frontier and had based their journey on the early American pioneers. Despite the unauthorized nature of the venture, Kirk decides to give them needed supplies and point them in the direction of the nearest uninhabited Class-M planet. The Enterprise crew is impressed by the spirit and determination of this “wagon train to that stars.”
Regular A and B covers for Cars: The Rookie #4 – art by Allen Gladfelter
My fourth issue of The World of CARS: The Rookie was designed to complete the story of why the newly nicknamed “Lightning” McQueen was considered to be the “rookie sensation of the year.” I once again kept the interview framing device at the start and end of the story, and returned to McQueen narrating what happened from his somewhat exaggerated perspective, which meant I could again use visuals to contrast between his narrative and what actually happened. As the story opens McQueen is seen is his now familiar Rust-Eze paint scheme for the first time, and having established his speed on ovals is about to tackle a road course for the first time.
If I recall correctly I wrote this issue after watching a pretty thrilling NASCAR race on TV that had been held at the classic Watkins Glen circuit in upstate New York, one of the few road races on the NASCAR schedule; so I decided to model my story on that.
Watkins Glen was renamed “Bowling Lake” and we were off to the races. But not before McQueen has a nap on the grid, a character trait I added that was borrowed from several top line drivers who have been known to nod off while waiting in their cars for a race to start.
In the race itself I focused on a particular tight corner for all the action to happen with the ever eager McQueen learning an early lesson about the differences between ovals and road circuits that don’t have banking. He was quick on the straights but just couldn’t figure out how to get around the corners quickly. As the race progresses the young hot shot learned about the apex of a corner, and thanks to, Strip “The King” Weathers, that the key to speed on road courses is not how quickly you enter a corner, but how quickly you exit it.
I had some fun along the way having the Hummer crew chief throw in a few quotes from racing movies like Grand Prix, and Days of Thunder.
The story ends with Lightning being true to character and ignoring his crew chief’s advice (again) and staying out too long on worn tires. But thanks to some defensive driving by The King to keep the charging Chick Hicks behind, the struggling McQueen just crosses the line as his tire blows, but it’s enough for the rookie to score his first win.
I’d had a blast writing this “prequel” series for the CARS movie building the backstory of Lightning McQueen, and was pretty proud of the miniseries – which would eventually be collected in both paperback, and a special limited edition hardback editions.
Now we just had to wait and hope that we had also scored a win and that the sales numbers would be good enough for the planned return to Radiator Springs.
Unused connecting covers for Cars: The Rookie #4 – art by Allen Gladfelter