So my multiple personalities as a writer are going to be put to the ultimate test in the next few months. Here's all the stuff I have to accomplish:
1. My thesis is a collection of short stories. I'm doing the John Barth thing without being so damn self-conscious. In other words, the stories will combine to create a "kunstlerroman" about my wild years between 1988 and 1999, covering my years as an unsober asshole, my few years as a sober, blue-collar asshole, right up until I wrote Mr. Id, which became my first motion picture and somehow managed to thrust me even deeper into poverty (but that will all be covered in the next batch of "literary" fiction where I will write about all the assholes I had to deal with in Chicago and Hollywood). The thesis has to be finished by February so that two professors may read it and sign off on it (it's not science or math, you know, anything really useful, so I don't think I have to 'defend' it).
2. I am writing a screenplay for a horror film I hope to shoot as soon as the semester is over (yes, I am going to finish my Master's while prepping a feature film. If that doesn't give me an ulcer, I don't know what will). It's been a while since I've written a script, but they're so easy I sometimes wonder if screenwriting is just writing for the lazy.
3. I would still like to write a novel. I keep starting them and losing interest (speaking of laziness). I just have a difficult time believing a novel isn't anything but a short story with 50 to 60 thousand words of extraneous information that isn't crucial to the plot.
4. And, of course, the one thing I actually enjoy doing, I will continue working on crime and horror short stories that will continue to make me no money. I am in the revision process on one of the stories an old Irish gangster I knew from Chicago told me just before he died of cancer (he told me a lot of stories and I am trying, over the years, to get them on paper as I realize the only reason he told me these things was because he knew I was a writer). And I am in the midst of writing a story about a small town preacher and a couple of the women he sees outside of his marriage.
Oh yeah, I am also trying to craft a film theory paper using Cultural Darwinism to re-examine the slasher genre.
And I still can't figure out why I have headaches every day...
Anyway, Happy New Year to those who read this blog and may this next year be productive.
Well, first I missed the call for stories for the Beat to a Pulp anthology and now it looks like I missed a call for slasher stories for Plots with Guns. What a goddamn pity. I should quit working on my Master's and pay more attention to the Internet.
Anyway, I saw that two writers I dig were featured in the slasher edition of Plots with Guns. After all the research I've been doing on the whole slasher genre, I can assure you the stories by Matthew Funk and Garnett Elliot do the genre more than justice.
Funk works the red herring angle to perfection and Elliot, as usual, puts the reader right in the moment the story takes place in, which is the 80s, a decade I miss more and more as I get older. The little details thrown in, like the goofball playing a video game with a pink Izod shirt on and the collar turned up, what can I say, it's a poet's eye used in the service of fiction.
I recently dealt with a "critic" who derided my entire body of work because in one story I referred to shotgun shells as bullets. The tone of this person's "criticism" was such that one might think I had sanctioned the public torturing of fresh-born puppies. I occasionally am confronted by this type of "criticism"-- the anal pointing out of trivial elements that have nothing to do with the overriding concerns of the story. You know the type, they can't watch a movie without saying, "that couldn't happen!" every two minutes. An old friend of mine who is slowly becoming an unfriend (in real life, not on facebook) has the same problem. She claims to be a writer, though I have never once in thirty-plus years of 'friendship' seen anything she has actually written. She is always "planning something" in her mind but she doesn't have the discipline to sit down and do the work necessary to bring a piece of writing out of the ether and into reality. This poor woman is almost 41 and has never left her mother's home. She has never had a serious job and, at the moment, is entirely unemployed and living off of the labor of her hardworking mother. On Christmas, she engaged me in a raging argument over the plot-points of a porno movie from the 1970s. She has never been able to read my work without making a comment such as ,"you use the word 'the' quite a few times." When I finally called her on this habit last spring she shouted at me, suggesting that I can't take criticism.
Now, I have been "taking criticism" for as long as I have been a writer. I put together writing groups for that specific purpose. The problem with my friend and the psychotic who missed the entire purpose of my story in effort to point out the difference between bullets and shells is that they don't understand the difference between CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM and ANAL CRITICISM. Constructive criticism entails helpful comments on how to strengthen the story through structure. Anal criticism is critcism made by people who obviously aren't writers themselves and think a minor technical gaff is reason to attack the (real) writer. I realize most of the people who read No Moral Center are real writers, so I wonder what your thoughts are on this matter. How do you deal with people who just don't understand the difference between constructive and anal criticism? What can we, as writers, do to help the general public understand how infuriating it is to have someone read an entire story only to miss the point because they are paying attention to the number of times you typed 'there' instead of 'their'?
Oh what a terrible movie New Year's Evil is. This was the worst of all of them. I turned it off with about five minutes to go. There was no suspense. The killer confirms, verbatim, what feminist and gender critics fear most about these movies. A sad, sad way to end my own private movie festival for Christmas break. The verdict: The Prowler was the best of the lot. It had suspense, some nudity, some of Tom Savini's very best work, and a killer with an awesome WWII uniform and gas-mask.
So I watched Black Christmas last night. This movie is credited as being one of the main influences on the entire slasher genre, including Halloween. I can somewhat see that, though there are many crucial elements missing. Most importantly, there were no boobs! What kind of exploitation movie doesn't have nudity? It was directed by Bob Clark, who also directed the modern equivalent of It's a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story (my younger siblings are sick of A Christmas Story the same way I got sick of It's a Wonderful Life when I was a kid). Black Christmas has one of the first instances I've seen of the "the calls are coming from inside the house!" gag. It's also got some surreal shit going on with the corpse in the attic in the rocking chair. The creepiest thing in the movie is the voice of the killer on the phone. In the end, I'm not even sure it's made clear who the killer actually is.
Tonight, the holiday spirit continues with a notorious groaner, New Year's Evil. I can't wait!
So I made a mistake. The movie I had lined up on the old dvr was Don't Answer the Phone, not He Knows You're Alone. It's easy to see how the titles could be confused in my mind. What a treat Don't Answer the Phone was. Not quite the type of slasher movie I'm watching to research the paper I want to write. However, as far as b-pictures from the 70s and 80s go (this one was released in 1980), this movie is a fucking masterpiece. It's sleazy, it's filled with nudity and it's got an ace synthesizer soundtrack. Even the normally tolerant John Kenneth Muir has nothing but bad things to say about it. Muir sometimes reveals his lack of knowledge regarding the production of b-movies. He calls Don't Answer the Phone boring. I'm not sure how many movies fit in psychopaths, a half-dozen naked women, the sleazy sex trade in Los Angeles (right along Hollywood Boulevard, baby!), drugs and wise-cracking incompetent police all in the same story. That's a talent only b-picture filmmakers can accomplish. This one was released by Crown International Pictures, so you know right at the beginning you're watching a film that was made for the drive-in. That means you're supposed to be fucked up when you watch it (I've been sober for fourteen years now, so I no longer have this privilege) and all the movie's economic flaws magically disappear. The beginning and the end are clearly ripped off from Halloween, but that's about where any comparisons should end. Don't Answer the Phone should be watched simply for the enjoyment of pure, independent sleazy filmmaking. The kind I used to participate in!
Hohoho, merry Christmas. Tonight, a cornerstone of the genre, Black Christmas
Well, Terror Train was a bit of a disappointment. In some ways it is a textbook example of the contention by feminist and gender critics that there is massive gender confusion going on between the killers and "final girls" in slasher movies. In most slasher movies, there isn't a <ahem> shred of evidence to support this. The disturbing final meeting between Jamie Lee Curtis and the killer in Terror Train, however, contains enough gender confusion to make those critics pee their pants with delight (either standing up, or sitting down...) In that last confrontation, it is literally impossible to tell who is male and who is female. The killer looks completely effeminate and Jamie Lee Curtis, well, you know 'her' story. The movie itself is not very good and that's a shame because it puts a nice twist on the slasher formula by allowing the killer to wear different costumes throughout the movie which should have made it more difficult to recognize him (or should it be hir?) The filmmakers fail to capitalize on this enough and instead throw out a red herring that is so obviously a red herring it renders the final thirty minutes of the movie boring. Of note, however, is the fact that John Alcott was the director of photography on Terror Train. Alcott was Stanley Kubrick's dp from A Clockwork Orange to The Shining (which really means he was a glorified gaffer as Kubrick was notorious for running his own camera). What a difference a director makes, however, as Alcott apparently had no say in how to film Terror Train which was tailor made, being set on a train with narrow hallways, for a Kubrickian glide through a symmetric landscape. Of course, in 1980, Kubrick was putting the finishing touches on a little movie called The Shining. I'm sure that's why the producers of Terror Train only got Alcott and not his usual director...
Tonight, another movie that tends to provide ammunition for feminists-- He Knows You're Alone
So I watched My Bloody Valentine (1981) last night. Very interesting slasher film. Rather than unleashing a killer on suburban kids, this film goes after a blue-collar town whose inhabitants can't figure out if they're Irish or Canadian. There aren't nearly enough women in the film and there is not one shot of bare breasts, which I think is essential to any slasher movie. The reveal at the end of the movie is rather lame, copying F13's last-minute reveal, which sucked in that movie as well. However, the film was enjoyable regardless for a few reasons. First of all, it had the necessary early 1980s synthesizer soundtrack. Contrary to a lot of the early slasher films, it was not shot with soft-key lighting (the same lighting one finds, much to the delight of psychoanalytic critics, in 1970s and early 80s porno movies), which I believe contributes to the film's reputation as being, like The Prowler, "meaner" than most of the slashers of its time (I'm not sure when a movie about young people being butchered by a madman becomes any meaner than its basic premise already suggests...) The battle at the end is exciting enough and the filmmakers switched up the formula just a bit and allowed for a Final Girl and her boyfriend to survive. The Final Girl in My Bloody Valentine shoots the feminist critics all to hell, having a decidedly feminine name, being decidedly feminine, and demonstrating a strength that only a lunatic (!) would not consider a positive depiction of a woman understanding how to think and act in a crisis situation. Last but not least, the killer in My Bloody Valentine has a most badass costume, which I think is another large part of the film's continued appeal. I think, as far as wardrobe goes, I like the killer in this film and The Prowler the best. These look like guys you want to stay far the hell away from at any cost. It looks like I've found my costume for next Halloween...
I wasn't tired after watching My Bloody Valentine, so I decided to catch a slasher from the era that has generally received bad reviews from enthusiasts of the genre-- Graduation Day. This one does have the soft-key lighting and a bizarre prophesy of things to come with respect to its pre-MTV MTV editing. It was a pretty awful movie. When righteous morality-thumpers and Polite Police want to come down on the genre, this is a perfect exhibit of how terrible a slasher could be. Even the special effects stank.
Tonight, another slasher film produced in Canada, Terror Train--
This one was released in 1980, the same year as Prom Night and Carpenter's follow-up to Halloween, The Fog; all of these films featured everyone's favorite suspected hermaphrodite, Jamie Lee Curtis (absolutely not one shred of truth to the rumor, by the way) which is how she quickly became known as the "Scream Queen" (I don't have the research to back it up, but I believe the phrase was coined specifically for her). One thing the presence of all these other slasher films in 1980 proves is that the producers of Friday the 13th were not necessarily the first producers attempting to cash in on the success of Halloween.
I had to get the bad vibes of The Burning out of my system, so I watched a pair of slasher/stalker pictures today (I'm on vacation, in case anybody wonders how the hell I suddenly have so much free time). I sort of cheated as I made a deal with myself that I would watch one picture a night after getting my writing done. Oh well. I'm on vacation, I'm gonna take some liberties.
First, I checked out The House on Sorority Row, which is from 1982 but already looks much slicker than the core group of slashers from 1980 and 81. It has some decent qualities to it, most importantly a good sense of humor. The clown gag at the end of the movie was great, even if I could see it coming from a mile away. And what of that music box theme played throughout the film, was that a tribute to For a Few Dollars More? John Carpenter always said Halloween is just a western in disguise. Does that make all slashers, by extension, westerns in disguise?
After reading a review over at Let's Kill Everybody I decided to finally take a look at The Toolbox Murders, a movie that pre-dates the slasher craze. Very, very strange movie. I once had lunch with one of the writers of the movie and she was a nice old lady. I don't know where the hell she got the idea to write this picture. It's not quite a slasher film as it doesn't have the required ingredients or the plot structure inherent to the genre. It's weird though. Very, very weird.
So my Seven Nights of Slashers took a dip last night with the overrated Harvey Weinstein slasher The Burning. It was basically Meatballs meets Friday the 13th. It actually got the Meatballs part correct-- The character development at the camp was exceptional compared to most slashers (aided greatly by a fantastic performance by a young Jason Alexander). The slasher part, however, was rather boring and this film made a gross error in its overall construction by having the "Final Girl" be two guys! Clearly, the Weinstein's were intent on "deconstructing" the slasher genre before it could reach its peak. Given that, I must contradict previous contentions that the genre began to die with Silent Night, Deadly Night and April Fool's Day. I think the moment someone tries to get clever and "deconstruct" a genre, the genre is on its way out. That's scary. It basically means that the true, pure slasher film only gets two years, 1980 and 1981, to flap its bloody, subversive wings (and yes, by deconstructing a subversive genre, what the Weinstein Bros. did was RESTORE the dominant culture, essentially ripping the transgressive guts right out of the genre!)
Hopefully my choice for tonight will be more bloody and less apologetic to the status quo. It's the original My Bloody Valentine and in the reading I am doing, it brings class politics into the equation with respect to its blue-collar killer.
So I'm trying to put together an article detailing how subversive the slasher pictures of the early 1980s were and I'm spending my Christmas break watching a slasher film each night before I go to sleep.
Last night I watched The Prowler, which is part of a group of films that are known, primarily, for Tom Savini's hardcore special effects. And hardcore it was... Long, meandering shots of people getting slashed and diced. The pitch-fork in the beginning was particularly interesting as the killer announced himself as a very thorough craftsman... A lot of suspense and a great soundtrack mixing violins and that unmistakable early 1980s synthesizer.
Tonight I will watch another classic of the genre, The Burning, notable for its violence as well as appearances by a young Jason Alexander and Holly Hunter.
"The Killer Inside Me," Michael Winterbottom's movie based on Jim Thompson's book, pretty much got railroaded by the Polite Police because of its depiction of violence against women. Most of the violence isn't all that violent, just some nice spanking on some nice, bare female asses. The main character beats two women, one almost to death, and since it is depicted realistically, the Polite Police did everything they could to sink this picture before it had a fair chance in the theaters. As a result, I had to wait six months to see it on video. Unfortunately, I'm not convinced it was worth the wait.
As far as the issue of the depiction of violence against women in motion pictures is concerned, I'll just say this: It's ok to depict violence against men as nobody complains when Arnold stomps his way through a movie killing twenty men at once with a machine gun. Nobody makes so much as a whimper of protest. If a woman is slapped on film, the writer, director, and any other male associated with the movie is called a "misogynist" and the movie is banned. If violence is bad, shouldn't we be shocked any time it is depicted, regardless of whether the victim of the violence is male or female? It's a case of social and moral hypocrisy, something the Polite Police are dangerously talented at; Regardless, the director of "The Killer Inside Me" is merely adapting events depicted in the book and, frankly, I'd rather he did it in a manner that demonstrated how disgusting violence actually is than gloss over it in some cutesy Hollywood manner.
All that aside, I am beginning to wonder if Jim Thompson is the HP Lovecraft of crime fiction-- i.e., He can't be adapted to film without losing the substance of what makes his fiction so wonderful. Thompson's fiction deals quite a bit with the way people think. It's hard to put that on screen and I don't believe "The Killer Inside Me" succeeded in that regard. There is a French production of "Pop. 1280" that takes place in Africa. By completely displacing the story from its American roots, I think those filmmakers managed to do what Kubrick often did with novels, which is take the skeleton of the story and apply new flesh to it to make it an entirely new experience. The only thing "The Killer Inside Me" successfully translates is the feeling of dread the main character experiences as he realizes everyone around him knows he's guilty and is simply waiting for the right moment to move in and arrest him.
None of Thompson's nihilism makes it into the movie intact. Most horrendous, the filmmakers have tacked on the standard Hollywood-issue 'blame the father' motif that I am certain was not in the novel (I haven't read it in a few years, so I could possibly be mistaken, though I doubt it). The book, as I recall, did not delve into a lot of Freudian bullshit about the killer's childhood. That's a modern Hollywood invention and it sucks and it makes any movie its in suck.
I really can't recommend this movie. I was bored for a lot of it and never felt that thrill one feels when reading a Jim Thompson novel, knowing you are in the mind of one of the most honest American writers ever.
Just looking at an alphabetical list of the movies of 1981. Difficult to believe ALL these awesome movies were released in the same year:
An American Werewolf in London
Clash of the Titans
Dead & Buried
Decline of the Western Civilization
Escape from New York
The Final Conflict (Omen III)
Friday the 13th part II (my favorite of the series)
Halloween II (the only decent sequel of the lot)
Happy Birthday to Me
He Knows You're Alone
History of the World pt. 1
Mad Max 2 (The Road Warrior)
Nice Dreams (Cheech and Chong)
The Postman Always Rings Twice
Prince of the City
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Superman II (by far the best of the series)
Tarzan, the Ape Man (ok, shitty movie, but Bo Derek, naked, frequently)
Tattoo (ok, shitty movie also, but Maude Adams, naked, frequently)
1982 was pretty good as well. Heaven's Gate also came out in 1981 and I think that movie slammed the door on a lot of autonomy for directors which is why, by 1984, the amount of cool b-movies with bigger budgets stopped getting made. 1981 seems to also have been the high-water mark for the original group of slasher pictures. I remember the summer of 81 and 82 being epic in terms of the movies. The last ingredient, I think, was the combination of studios trying to profit off of the formulas created by Lucas, Spielberg and, in horror, John Carpenter, and allowing the directors enough freedom to make movies that, by today's standards, are pretty damn subversive.
Or maybe I was nine, ten, eleven, and twelves years old during this time and just a whole lot easier to impress...
Nine years ago someone, I won't say here because the goofy sonofabitch will deny it and sue me on top of it, wrote a bogus biography of me at the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com). I tried for years and years and years to have the damn thing removed. IMDB, for those who don't know, is a very secretive company that, unfortunately for their secretive mission, came under the rule of Amazon a few years ago. As a result, I took my complaints to Amazon. Their customer service representatives had no clue as to how to get in touch with the people at IMDB. Very strange, considering Amazon owned the damn company. It was like trying to negotiate with the National Security Alliance by going through the CIA. I threatened legal action and actually got my lawyer prepared to take said action. The main problem, I argued, was that there was personal information listed that could contribute to identity theft (anybody who wants to steal my identity, oh by the way, don't forget to take the debt with you!)
Finally, I reached that point where I was ready to throw large objects through larger windows. I told the operator at Amazon to put me in touch with the CEO of Amazon. She gave me his email address and the problem was solved within two weeks. I have had issues with Amazon.com before, but their customer service department has ALWAYS resolved the problem swiftly and to my satisfaction. I cannot stress how pleased I am with the people at Amazon. When a business is run properly, meaning, the customer is treated with respect, I believe they should be praised for it. Mostly because most businesses today take our money for granted. We should always reward good companies and punish bad companies with our power, which is our money (however little we may have!)
The biography at IMDB now is not entirely true. I think the made up parts are obvious. I'm not interested in people knowing too much personal information about me and the bio serves that purpose just fine. My business with IMDB is finished and so is my war. Hard to believe it took nine years to get something that belonged to me taken off of the Internet.
Matthew C. Funk's story Times Past is featured in this month's All Due Respect. Anybody who reads crime fiction online should be familiar with Mr. Funk's work. He recently got a great write up at Chris Rhatigan's site. "Times Past" will entertain you. Trust me.
The first six months of All Due Respect's existence have been pretty darn amazing. Here are a few authors you can look forward to reading in the coming year: Nigel Bird, Scotch Rutherford, and Tony Deans.
(Still waiting for some more women to step up and demand respect!)
To paraphrase fellow Hoosier Johnny Cougar, I'll be holding on to 39 as long as I can... And then, MIDLIFE CRISIS HERE I COME! Luckily, I should be teaching at a university for the midlife crisis which will facilitate at least one of the ventures such a crisis tends to bring on (and, to be honest, I have no interest in the sports car half of the equation, so I think I'm set for a good one)...
Although I can't bring it up in their search engine yet, there is nevertheless a listing for All Due Respect at Duotrope. If any of the five authors (myself included..,) who have thus far been featured in All Due Respect read this and report their submissions at Duotrope, please report your appearance in All Due Respect so that Duotrope can have statistics.
(I got a kick out of the fact that they quoted my remark about Dr. Phil)
Garnett Elliot shows us all how it's done once again at this week's Beat to a Pulp. The story is called "First Man Falling" and it's about a boxer. As is usual with an Elliot story, the reader is placed firmly in the setting. If there really was such a thing as cinematic writing, I think Elliot's work qualifies. I'd tell him to go to Hollywood, but they'd just waste his talent on cheesy "coming of age" stories or worse...
And lest ye forget, Mr. Elliot is also featured at this month's All Due Respect.
So I've had a few chances to read some more of the new Beat to a Pulp anthology. I read the super short piece called "Boots on the Ground" by Matthew Quinn Martin. I suppose this would be called flash fiction. It's an effective story that sets its historical scene very well.
History, in fact, seems to be the theme of the stories I've chosen to read thus far. "Studio Dick" takes place in the past as does the Paul S. Powers story, "The Strange Death of Ambrose Bierce." I was curious about this one for a number of reasons. It was touted as a 'lost' story from the glory days of the pulps, so I was eager to see how it read compared to all the modern pulp fiction surrounding it. I'm also currently fascinated by Mexican history and Ambrose Bierce is one of my favorite writers. A lot of ingredients for a good story. Again, the placement in time and location is excellent. Powers tips his hat to Bierce with an Owl Creek-type of construction. What I noticed most about the story was the feel it had of having been written by someone who relied on his fiction to pay his bills. I can't explain it, just felt it.
I also read the history of the pulps by Cullen Gallagher at the end of the book. Very informative and well-researched. I was glad to see Jim Thompson mentioned. I was unaware that the pulps were considered dead by the 1940s. I guess that explains why Thompson novels are easier to find than Thompson stories.
In December I will make a collection of my speculative fiction (somewhere between horror and science fiction) available as a kindle edition on Amazon. It will include ten stories for a nice, low price.
So as I get the opportunity to read stories from the new Beat to a Pulp anthology, I will post my opinions here of the stories I like. I had some time this morning so I flipped right away to the Garnett Elliot story, "Studio Dick." Elliot is a writer I believe has description down better than just about anybody I've read in recent years. The choices he makes as a writer, what to include, what not to include, are amazing. Some writers bog their work down with too much description, others provide next to nothing, hoping the reader will do more work than necessary. I admit that I struggle with this in my own writing. Elliot doesn't seem to have this problem. "Studio Dick" is really a textbook example of how to tell a story. Garnett Elliot works in genre fiction, but I believe his sensibilities are literary in nature (and, of course, there are many who argue that 'literary' is a genre itself and I am inclined to agree). Elliot also writes in a manner fitting for traditional pulps. His stories have weight. That's not always a good thing, but, as I stated, because Elliot isn't wasting space, the reader can be assured that he or she is not wasting time. As for Round One, so far, so very good.
The new issue of All Due Respect is up and ready for reading. This month features a traditional pulp fiction story that I'm sure fans of the genre are going to love. It's called "Disability, Inc." and was written my Garnett Elliot. Mr. Elliot's work has appeared in a number of different on-line journals as well as the new Beat to a Pulp anthology. Stop by and give it a read and let Mr. Elliot know what you thought of it!
Since I'm in grad school the majority of my writing goes to professors who then grade it. It's almost like getting paid, except I don't get paid and at the end of the trail I'll have a nice government loan waiting to be repaid. This semester is particularly troublesome because I fucked up and took a history course as an elective. My English professors "get me." They give me the grades my writing deserves. My history professor is rigid and has new expectations every week. As a result, I've actually gotten 2 Bs in that class and if it continues, I'm going to have to drop it and flush the thousand bucks it cost to take it down the toilet AND take a class next summer after I march. I've learned my lesson, trust me. Never stray from your appointed field. Folks in other disciplines got diff'rent ways of looking at the world...
In addition to all the strain the classes put on my writing, I am working on a thesis that is a collection of short stories. Since it's for the university, I have to write "serious" or "literary" stories, stories that don't have fun stuff like guns and dames and screams and murders. That leaves very, very little time to work on the fiction I truly love, the kind that used to be printed on paper that turned yellow and smelled like apples.
Regardless, I have managed to crank out some rough drafts. The first is a nasty story about an ex-convict who plays poker regularly with a group of his brother's friends. One of them can't keep his mouth shut every time he beats the ex-con with shitty cards. The ex-con has to teach the idiot a lesson. Since it's my story, you know the lesson is gonna' be brutal.
The second story I am putting the finishing touches on is my first western. It's short, about 1500 words. Most of the lingo in it I picked up from listening to Johnny Cash's "True Songs of the West" (I think that's the title, it has "Boot Hill" and "25 Minutes to Go" on it). The story has card players (seems to be a current theme of mine), a dandy from the east trying to be a gunslinger, some nice billiard girls, and a protagonist who fought for the south despite having been sprung from the union of a slave from Africa and an indentured servant from Ireland. An All-American, in my book!
Where these stories will find a home remains to be known. I'll pass word as soon as I get it.
The next issue of All Due Respect will be up Monday. November will feature a fantastic short story by Garnett Elliott. I'm looking forward to reading reactions to it.
Speaking of All Due Respect, I've contacted a couple of women writers about contributing as I don't want it to be a male-dominated situation. One has promised to contribute in the future, the other appears to be too damn famous as she didn't get back to me at all. Anyway, I'd like to put the word out that All Due Respect respects all due writers, regardless of gender, religious affiliation, etc., etc., So if you are a woman writer, or if you know a writer who is a woman and writes good, tough, hardboiled fiction, please let them know they are welcome at All Due Respect.
Just ask the sons of bitches who took my money last night at the poker table-- Luck don't sit in my lap too often. Even when I offer her a dollar! I entered my name in the drawing over at The Rap Sheet for a copy of the new Beat to a Pulp anthology and wouldn't you know it, I actually won.
Now, just as soon as I carve my way through this amazingly boring David Foster Wallace book I have to read for school, I'll read the BTAP anthology and publish my thoughts here.
I recently watched a documentary on the slasher pictures of the late 70s and early 80s. It gave me a warm, nostalgic feeling. My introduction to the genre was John Carpenter's original Halloween. I saw it at a screening at Butler University on October 30, 1981. I was nine, going on ten-years-old. I had just started working, throwing newspapers in the afternoon and spending my money collecting comic books. It was a glorious time. Ronald Reagan had yet to turn the clock backwards and there was a general feeling of freedom and goodwill. How the hell the slasher genre made its mark at that time is beyond me. As many have noted, it was basically a conservative genre. Kids smoking dope and screwing around were cut to pieces and virginal girls were allowed to live. As most of the genre's pioneers will attest, however, that was merely by chance. In a famous Siskel and Ebert special, the normally rational Siskel went so far as to claim the genre was a reaction to feminism. His left-wing reactionary, ah, reaction, failed to account for the "last girl" motif present in virtually every film. How a genre that celebrates women fending for themselves against phallus-wielding, patriarchal maniacs is anti-feminist makes absolutely no sense. Then again, Siskel and Ebert had a tough time making sense. Let's never forget that Ebert penned the late 60s sleaze-fest Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. I recently read a collection of his movie reviews (Your Movie Sucks) and every other review referred to semen, whether it had anything to do with the movie or not. I'm guessing that a movie critic obsessed with semen doesn't care for any genre that celebrates the strength of women.
But I digress.
We all have vivid memories from our childhoods. Most of them involve real activities with real people. In the United States, some of those memories involve movies. The two most vivid for me are: The day in 1977 that my dad picked me up from my day care and took me to a matinee of Star Wars. I remember looking behind the movie screen to figure out the secret to the great magic trick that motion pictures represent. It was that moment that I knew, one way or another, I was going to become a story teller. The other vivid memory is the night I saw Halloween.
Nine is probably too young for a movie like that. At least, it was in 1981. I was in the fourth grade and I had discovered what I called the "free movies" at Butler University just before the semester started. They showed the films at 4, 7 and 9 (or 10, depending on the length of the movie.) They were 35mm prints projected in Jordan Hall, room 131 (which is now, for some reason, 141), on a wide screen. It was normally a lecure room with stadium seating. The first few movies they showed that fall included Take the Money and Run (my introduction to Woody Allen), the hysterical Seems Like Old Times (my introduction to Neil Simon) and the amazingly boring Ordinary People (my introduction to the unreliability of the Academy Awards). Usually, the theater was half full at best. Absolutely nothing prepared me for what I experienced the night before Halloween (the holiday, not the movie).
The first thing I noticed when I entered the theater/lecture hall was that it was packed. The only seating was on the floor, right in front of the screen. I sat down with Billy Boyd, the neighborhood bully who insisted I had to see this film (Billy died mysteriously a few years ago in Kentucky, the state John Carpenter spent his childhood in. Nobody knows how he met his personalized boogey man...) We were surrounded by gorgeous sorority girls who screamed at every calculated scream-moment. As soon as the music started and the ominous yellow credits, next to the suddenly terrifying image of a jack-o-lantern, washed up over the darkness, I knew I was in for a nightmarish ride. I put my hands over my face, opening my fingers enough to see but having them ready should I need to cover my eyes. Watching the POV shot of young Michael Myers moving in to kill his sister was a revelation. I had never seen a movie where someone just killed somebody for, seemingly, no reason at all. It was like a crowbar bashed right into all the ethical sensibilities society had tried to instill in me up to that point. How can stories like this exist? I thought.
The entire movie was like a nightmare that wouldn't end. When it was over, I walked back to my house with Billy Boyd, looking in every direction to make sure some masked freak didn't jump out of the darkness with a knife. My parents were at a party. There was a babysitter at my house watching my younger brothers who were five and two-years-old. We turned on a small black and white television set in my dad's study and, wouldn't you know it, the network television premiere of Halloween was just starting on NBC (Channel 13 in Indianapolis). So we watched it again (with added footage, which confused the hell out of me). When PJ Soles and her boyfriend got out of the van and entered the (hohoho!) 'empty' house, Billy said, "This is where the movie starts to get really scary."
When the movie was over on television, my youngest brother, only two-years-old, refused to go to sleep. I thought it was amazing that even he could sense we had watched something terrifying. Billy Boyd went back to his house across the street and my other brother and I stayed up to watch the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers on the Sammy Terry show. My parents finally came home and insisted we go to sleep.
I couldn't. I went into my brother's room and tried to sleep and couldn't. Finally I went into my parents' room and slept there. Halloween played over and over again in my nightmares. I kept hearing Billy say, "This is where the movie gets scary," and then the second half of the movie would play out and I'd wake up and go back to sleep and see it all over again.
I didn't sleep well for two weeks following the movie and wouldn't you know it, two weeks after Halloween, it was Friday, November 13th. Can you guess what film they showed at the free movies that night?
I didn't sleep well for the remainder of 1981.
I saw most of the famous slasher movies of the early 1980s. Most of them I saw on Cinemax when my dad finally got cable television. I was "lucky" enough to see the two movies that brought the golden age to a screeching halt-- Silent Night, Deadly Night and April Fool's Day-- in the theater (in those days you could get into an R-rated movie if you looked old enough to walk without diapers; on the off chance that you had some self-righteous jerk in the ticket booth, you just bought a ticket to a PG movie and snuck into the R-rated movie). The best of the genre were hardcore, politically "incorrect" gore-fests. In time I learned not to be afraid and enjoy the amazing special effects (most of which were done by Tom Savini). I find it odd that now, almost thirty years later, these are the movies that spawn affectionate feelings for my childhood.
The hard-working editors of Beat to a Pulp have put together an anthology with an outstanding line-up of writers. It's called Round One and anyone who gives a damn about independent publishing should get a copy ASAP!
Chris Rhatigan reviews EVEN SVEN at Death by Killing. I'm glad to see Toomey's story getting some attention. When America wakes up from its post-9/11 slumber, we're gonna realize that this kind of fiction was way, way ahead of its time (and yet, I'm sure old Jim Thompson would have gotten a kick out of the story as well...)
Please be sure to read the latest story in All Due Respect and let the writer know what you think. This month's story is a pure example of creativity unhinged to the foul odor of false politeness that has taken over American society. Some people call it "political correctness," but I would like to move beyond that disgusting term and ideaology and recognize the plastic shine of arbitrary niceness for what it is: PURITANICAL FASCISM.
One of my missions, as well as the mission of All Due Respect, is to ram sledgehammers through this phony attempt to make everyone feel "secure" by making sure nobody talks or writes about anything "unpleasant." It is the writer's job to bring the attention of the masses to reality, even if it means dragging them, kicking and screaming the whole way.
And if you missed any of the previous stories, please make sure you give them a day in court as well:
For a hallucinatin' good time, read my update of the old Chester Himes tale, Marihuana and a Pistol. It's called Methamphetamine and a Shotgun. It comes dangerously close to what my contemporary literature professor calls "postmodern" fiction. But don't let that scare you. It's really just about drugs, jealousy and murder.
Then, don't miss the most popular story All Due Respect has published, The Great Whydini by David Cranmer. It's the kind of crime fiction you'd find in the old pulps; no morals, just crime.
Finally, if you grew up digging On the Road, chances are you'll dig J.J. Kinni's Open Roads and Freebirds. It's a story about getting involved in all the fun, illegal activity America has to offer and eventually finding a place you can call home with people who like to raise hell just the same.
This week's story at Beat to a Pulp is worth a read. It's called The Sweetest Kind of Chaos and it was written by Copper Smith. You might listen to This Mortal Coil's version of "Song to the Siren" while you're reading it. I think underneath the brutality in the story there is a real sadness about nobody ever getting what they want in this world.
First of all, if you like westerns, head on over to The Western Online to check out Edward A. Grainger's Kid Eddie. Grainger is also known as David Cranmer, so you know it's gonna be worth your time.
Also, I checked my sales at Amazon on Manifesto Destination. It seems that one person asked for a refund. Now, my ego tells me to feel bad, as though maybe he or she didn't like the book, but I have a sneaking suspicion it's something worse. I think some cheap mutherfucker read the book and then asked for a refund. Four dollars? If you're that fucking poor, what the fuck are you doing with a kindle??? AND, if it was simply a case of your not liking the book, keep the goddamn thing and write a review telling people what you thought was wrong with it. Don't put money in my pocket with your right hand and then take it back out with your left. If I catch you, I'll cut both your fucking hands off!
Ruthless: An Extreme Shock Horror Collection is now available from Pill Hill Press in a hardcover edition. It contains my short story "Strength," which apparently shocked a woman who reviewed it. I know I plan on getting one. You should buy many and give them to all the sqeamish people you know to help them loosen up!
So a lot of people who are older than me go around talking about what a great movie The Godfather is. I don't buy it. Never did, never will. That's because my generation was given a gangster movie that knocks The Godfather's brains out sideways. Goodfellas is the greatest gangster movie ever made and it is damn near impossible to argue otherwise.
The Godfather is long and tedious. It's dressed up like the fanciest turkey at Sunday brunch with your rich cousins and speaks a language that resembles nothing you hear on the streets. The bigger sham is The Godfather part II, which people clammer on and on about being "the greatest sequel ever" and insist it's a better movie than even the almighyt first Godfather movie. Whatever...
Goodfellas is the real deal. It comes from a first-hand account of an Irish-Italian-American who, while never "made," was close enough to see the inner-workings of the mob. The film has a documentary style that successfully puts the audience right in the middle of the action, showing what the lives of these "wise guys" were like when they weren't doing "business." The language is real. The settings are real. Scorsese drives home the point that, despite these men having a lot of money, they were still blue collar. The use of music to put the movie in its time and place is the best since American Graffiti.
When I was a kid and I first started making movies with a big, clumsy VHS camera and editing by hooking up two VCR's, the film I studied most to learn camera techniques and tricks was Goodfellas. It's textbook. Every camera gag (with the exception of the Spike Lee gag, which he stole from Scorsese's earlier movie, Mean Streets) is in the book. And who can deny the audacity of the Copacabana entrance-- four minutes through the back entrance, down the stairs, through the hallway, through the kitchen, into the dining area, to the table with Henry Hill and his date, from the table to the stage... Scorsese demonstrated at that point that King Kong and Steven Spielberg didn't have shit on him!
Hard to believe this movie is twenty years old now. It makes me feel old until I catch it on cable tv (and please, folks, watch the uncut version-- What the fuck is a "mother-scratcher"?.,) and feel twenty all over again, seeing just how amazing the craft of motion picture storytelling can be.
How do you follow a story like David Cranmer's THE GREAT WHYDINI? You don't. You go in a completely different direction.
For issue number three of ALL DUE RESPECT, JJ Kinni puts together a road story that fuses the wandering prose of Jack Kerouac with some nice elements of all-American debauchery we would expect to find in a Jim Thompson or James Ellroy novel. The result is "Open Roads and Freebirds," a story that moves from post-World War II alienation to the dawn of the free love movement in San Francisco. This is an usual piece. If your idea of crime fiction is the rocking chair prose found in Ellery Queen, get a crowbar and pry your mind open. This is what All Due Respect, at its heart, is all about:
I'm always hesitant to delcare something the "best" of its breed, but I've been under the impression for over fifteen years now that the greatest rock and roll album ever is The Stooges' Funhouse.
Whenever I have been asked to list ten records I consider the "best," I have a basic criteria for any record to make the list. Basically, a great rock and roll album cannot be more than 45 minutes long. It has to be loaded with songs that you can listen to a hundred times without getting sick of. The order has to make sense, meaning, you never get the urge to skip a track when you're listening to it. Most importantly, as soon as the record is over, you should want to play it again, right away. Some records that always make my list include Funkadelic's Maggot Brain, David Bowie's Low (and sometimes Diamond Dogs,) Velvet Underground's Loaded (purists cry foul here, but other VU albums have songs I skip when I listen to them,) and of course there is always a Beatles record (the older I get, the more I prefer Abby Road to all the others,) and, among others, Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon (even though I personally prefer just about everything Floyd did right up to that point; The brilliance of Dark Side, however, can't be ignored.) Again, someone might cry foul-- What about The Clash's London Calling? What about The Wall? Those albums are indeed great, but they exceed my 45 minute rule. That rule exists because rock and roll should be quick, like a knife to the kidneys. Fittingly, the record that always makes the top of the list is Funhouse.
Funhouseis rock and roll. It is a record that demands to be turned up as loud as possible. As soon as the guitar drops it's vicious first notes of "Down on the Street," the listener instantly feels alive. When I was in my late twenties I was basically a glorified delivery driver for Markey's Audio/Video in Indianapolis. It was a shitty job. It wore me out, physically, but it didn't tax my mind at all. When I got home at night, I'd blast Funhouse (the uptight woman who lived in the apartment below mine always complained when I played that record) and it got me in the mood to sit down and write for three hours before going to sleep. After the debacle that was my film "career," I realized those days of flying across Naptown highways and backroads with a scratchy cassette copy of Funhouse growling out of the speakers of the company vans and box trucks I drove and writing at night were, in fact, the best days of my life. Better than when I was partying in my late teens and early twenties and better than when I was sowing my wild oates with the wild women of Los Angeles in my early and mid-thirties. The entire record expressed my mood at the time. I was living out the stupid dream of blue collar glory and putting it down on paper. One jackass editor sent me a rejection letter in 1998 that read, 'Great writing. Let me know when Holden Caulfield grows up and I'll publish it.' What a piece of shit! I wanted to grab the fucker by his throat and throttle him until his neck broke. So many people like that turd assume there's a point where an angry man "grows up." Well, if that happens, he wasn't ever really angry to begin with, which means he's been and always will be a fucking fake!
There's nothing fake about Funhouse. I still listen to it when I need to remind myself that my time on Earth is to be dedicated to scorching the universe with my pissed off allergy to all things bullshit and fake. And if I ever "grow out of it," someone put a fucking bullet in my head, because it means I'm already dead.
May Iggy Pop and the Stooges forever be blessed by the powers of chaos that make this universe explode with possibility.
This week at Beat to a Pulp, guns go a-blazing in a historical piece of fiction by Fred Blosser. It's called Gunpoint and it's worth the read for the attention paid to historical detail alone. I like it 'cause it's about them good old days in America when folks settled things without lawyers and bureaucrats and weepy-weepy bullshit on the Oprah show and corrupt politicans wagging their hypocritical fingers at television cameras telling us, their goddamn bosses, how to behave! Whatever. It's late. Go read the story and tell Mr. Blosser what you thought of it when you're finished.
I've received some amazing story submisions for All Due Respect. The next two months are booked. While I've had to reject a number of stories, it's generally because the plots are simply too common. The writing is usually excellent. I'm beyond impressed by the skills of the writers I don't see on any "Best-seller" list. But isn't that always the case?
I remember working for an agency in Hollywood as a reader. Great, and I mean GREAT screenplays would come in from Kansas and Vermont and Montana and everywhere else between New York and L.A. Anytime I'd pass one up to the Big Boss, he'd ask where the writer was from. "Kansas?" he'd say. "There are no writers in Kansas!" And into the circular file it would go. Meanwhile, one hack after another, hooked into the system by family or by getting down on the old knees, would make millions off of the idiots in charge.
Speaking of idiots and Los Angeles, I have to relay my anger at the "writers" who frequent the 'writing gigs' section of the Los Angeles craigslist. Craigslist is the easiest way I know to promote a project like this in its infant stages. I posted ads for All Due Respect in about fifteen different American cities. The submissions came in from all over the country. The ad on L.A.'s craigslist, however, got flagged. I reposted it and it got flagged again. This went on for twenty-four hours before I finally decided to say 'fuck you' to L.A. I've actually had this problem before. When crewing up for my shitty second feature movie, Beverly Hills Massacre, I told the producer to put ads on craigslist. Again, the morons in L.A. kept flagging the ads. I worked on a stupid short film as an assistant director a few months after shooting BHM where I met some of the idiots repsonsible for all the flagging in L.A. They explained that any gig that didn't offer a sufficient amount of pay got flagged. I tried to explain to them that anyone looking for work on craigslist shouldn't be expecting a million dollar paycheck, but they wouldn't hear it. You see, in Los Angeles, EVERYBODY knows EVERYTHING and if you try to present them with something resembling logic, their ears automatically close up.
When I first moved to L.A., people heard my Hoosier accent and asked me if I was from Alabama. I said, "No, I'm from Indiana." To which they would respond, "What's the difference?" Tells you all you need to know about Los Angeles...