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I've moved Finn's Wake over to a blog. Come visit me there, won't you? It's available at:
Well, it was worth a shot.
My, my, what a busy year 2009 has been! I no sooner got my feet back under me than I was taking off in a couple of different directions. Let me ‘splain. No, there is no time. I sum up.
I started a project two years ago, a museum for Vernon-born trombonist Jack Teagarden, the undisputed King of the Blues Trombone and one of the best trombone players of all time, period. I was working with a man named Joe Showler, who has spent forty years amassing a collection of Jack Teagarden information that is singular and unique: 78 lps, press clippings, magazines, reel-to-reel tape, video interviews, discographies, you name it. Rare, scarce, private, and just plain jaw-dropping. Much of what Joe gathered went into a two-hour documentary he made. By diligently going through major newspapers and copying adverts, Joe figured out where Teagarden was for 80% of his professional career.
Yeah. It’s THAT kind of a collection.
( Sidebar #1 The Jack Teagarden Catch-up PrimerCollapse )
Well, Joe wanted to bring it to Vernon, settle down, and turn it into a museum. It was a good idea for us, because we could pay out on the collection over time, and have the benefit of Joe’s expertise as a curator of the museum. We needed a building and some start-up cash, but it wasn’t not-doable. Unfortunately, our talks broke down when we needed to focus on the theater to keep it running. That massaging effort lasted for most of last year, as well. It wasn’t until last Christmas that Cathy suggested I get back on the museum project.
I got back in touch with Joe. He was excited to hear from me. Yes, he was still interested, he said, but there was a hitch: he’d been diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and was given six months to live. The news rocked me back on my heels, as you can well imagine. It also changed the shape of the deal significantly. Medical treatments for cancer being what they are, there was no way he could leave Canada and that free health care system. Also, with him unable to look past six months, economically, the deal to buy his collection would have to change. And change it did.
I scrambled to get a building earmarked for the theater, even as I started looking for a private institution that would donate two hundred thousand dollars. That’s what the project needs, give or take fifty thousand. On the one hand, for the kind of museum that I’m talking about, that would pull curious folks in from the highway, that’s a pittance. On the other hand, it’s a QUARTER OF A MILLION DOLLARS, JACK! There’s not a way to make that number sound small.
Well, I wasn’t going to let any of it phase me. In one months’ time, I secured a building; got the owner to agree to patch it up so that it would be habitable; and got a promise from the hotel/motel committee for $50 thousand bucks (provided, for example I can get another group to donate). So far, so good. However, Joe was nervous. He wanted us to go to Canada and examine the collection, first-hand. Also, we all knew that it would be better if we got a piece of paper, some kind of letter of intent, between us, to cement the deal.
My mother-in-law found some super-cheap tickets to Toronto, and so it became a family trip; me, Cathy, Pat and Diane, and youngest brother Mike. All of us with a stake in this enterprise, be it a seat on the board of directors of the museum, or putting up something of an in-kind donation, or both.
We were all excited about seeing Joe Showler’s collection. We are all fans of Teagarden to various degrees. This was akin to being a Marvel Comics fan in the 1960s and getting to go over to Jack Kirby’s house. When we finally got there, we were greeted by Joe, out on the porch having a smoke. Now, I’ve only seen Joe on video tape before, so seeing him like this, thin and moving slow, was a shock. He was jaundiced and clearly not feeling well. But he lit up when he saw us, and we got to meet his friends, John (who operates the excellent JazzOracle website) and Bob (who helped with the making of the documentary and remembered Pat and Diane from their trips to Vernon). We all tucked in and made small talk, and when Joe felt up to it, we got to see the collection.
How can I describe it? Picture a bookcase, seven feet high, three feet wide, and then fill it with two inch black binders. In these black binders, place photographs of Jack Teagarden and the band until it’s full. Then put them in chronological order from 1905 to 1964, label each binder, and there’s five thousand photographs, right there. His book collection was an impressive thing, about 400 books, all out of print, all on Jazz and the early days of the movies. Films? Yeah, five hundred of them. Everything from a commercial print of “The Birth of the Blues” to private home movies of Jack and his family. Color slides. Lobby cards. Playbills. Scrapbooks. Ticket stubs. Ads. Trade notices. Magazines. If it was Teagarden or Teagarden-related, it was all here. Eventually, we went downstairs into the record room and they played some 78s for us. Warm, rich tones, great sound, and wow, some really rare cuts, too. As play dates go, it was one of the best. Joe was happy to talk Teagarden with us. He showed me a peek at his unpublished book, a 900+ page kitchen-sink of a thing that goes from birth to death in a straightforward style. Incredible.
We left, thinking that what we had seen was pretty much Joe’s life over four decades. How impressive a thing for someone to collect to the point that there’s hardly anything left? Considering how many collectors I know, I felt a real kinship and affection for Joe. I got what he was doing.
The next day, we came back and talked business. John was onhand, as was his sister, Barb, and we discussed the arrangement of transferring the collection, the payment terms, and so forth. It was a painless meeting, since we all wanted the same thing. Joe was really not feeling well, and aside from his enthusiasm, wasn’t able to contribute much. The doctor had been by and was going to send him in for another treatment the next day. Despite that, Teagarden talk kept us there past a reasonable time, and another friend was onhand, Steve, and we played more 78s and talked old movies for about an hour while Joe collected himself. My father-in-law, Pat, has known Showler for quite some time, and they spent some time together just talking about stuff. Everyone else was content to entertain us, or let us tell them about our plans for the museum. We left, all of us, on a high note. This would happen. It was a lot of money to raise in a short amount of time, but it had to be this way.
We flew out on Tuesday and dropped into Texas right in front of the tornado stormfront that pushed across that evening. Instead of driving back to Vernon, we spent the night in Richardson with in-laws. The next morning, we started back. The sun was shining, and we’d done what we needed to do in Canada. All was right with the world.
We were about two hours outside of Vernon when Steve Ray, our partner in the movie theater and also on the board of directors for the museum, called. He’d been the only one not able to make it, and I assumed he wanted an update. “Hey,” he said, “where are you?”
“Two hours out. Why?”
“I’ve got some bad news.”
“Oh,” I said. Steve’s father in law had been in and out of the hospital recently. I braced myself.
“I just heard from Kurt Nauck that Joe Showler passed away Tuesday night.”
It was a punch in the nose. The kind of hit where your eyes start to water. I didn’t have anything to say. Steve knew he’d punched me, and he apologized for it. There was nothing either of us could do. I hung up and told the car the bad news. We all drove quietly for a while. Honestly, as bad as he had looked, I really thought he’d be around for a few more months. Long enough to take a trip down and see what our progress on the building was. Hell, I don’t know what I thought, but I didn’t expect that.
John called me that night. After we commiserated for a minute, I apologized for not getting something going sooner. He told me he thought that Joe specifically hung on long enough for us to get our meeting done. Then, when he felt that he had his life’s work taken care of, he could let go.
Ironically, I had been talking to Weldon Adams about the project the night before. One of the great gifts that I got from my friendship with Weldon was a stronger moral center. Weldon is a very morally and ethically strong person, and I’ve tried to be more like him for that. When I first took on this project (yeah, like I know how to run a museum), I didn’t do it because I wanted to make money. I didn’t do it because I wanted to be a museum curator. I did it because it just seemed like the right thing to do. Joe wanted the collection to have a permanent home in Vernon. Frankly, that much Jack Teagarden stuff didn’t belong anywhere else.
Now I feel as though I’ve made a deathbed promise. Joe was willing to trust us with his life’s work. Now all I’ve got to do is get it here.
Those of you who are still interested in knowing some specifics, I need to raise $160,000—half of the collection’s worth, up front, in order to take possession of it, by June 30th. The balance is due over the next six years. Packing and shipping of the archive is estimated at $15,000. So, I’m looking for $175,000 from private foundations in the area who support the arts, museums, and education and preservation of Texas history. Is it daunting? Yep. But I have to try. We’ve applied for 501c3 status, and we’ll get it with no problems, but that won’t be conferred until probably 5-6 months from now. In the meantime, I’ll keep looking. If any of you out there have suggestions, I’d love to hear them. Thanks for reading. Sorry about the length, but this just can’t be summed up in the “what are you doing now” box on FaceBook.
Mark Finn is the creative director for the Violet Crown Radio Players and an award-winning Robert E. Howard scholar. His latest book, Blood & Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard, is available at bookstores everywhere. To get the latest info, rants, and missives from Finn, visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/finnswake.
Finn’s Blog is here: http://www.livejournal.com/users/finnswa
Or check out : http://www.thecimmerian.com
( Sidebar #2 Our Trip to CanadaCollapse )
I don't even know where to begin.
Today was the big annual (for three years now) Christmas Parade in Vernon. The theme was "Christmas on the Western Trail," something that the developers in town are trying very hard to push as an identity for the town. So, we got a number of vintage cars, pick-ups, and tractors bedecked with lights and tinsel as well as some flatbed trailers and in a few cases, really great decorating jobs.
My niece, Elezabeth, on Cathy's side of the family, is 21 today. She's been planning her soiree for some time now, and it involves tents, a bonfire, jello-shots, and who all knows what else. She's been living with us in Vernon, and she has been invaluable in helping us run the theater. Oh, she also looks like a cross between Angelina Jolie and Rose McGowan. Yeah. Seriously.
Okay, here comes some short and sweet blather:
Something of an Update
I have given up on the possibility of ever getting this thing back on schedule again—apparently, even once a month taxes my faculties to their utmost. The truth is, some months, I’ve got nothing to report that doesn’t have anything to do with fixing projectors and popping popcorn. Maybe this is of some interest to you guys, but trust me, it gets old really quick.
Nevertheless, some things have been happening. I’ve been writing, and sending stories out, and collaborating with no fewer than three people now on various projects, and I’ve even been co-editing a fiction collection with a fellow Robert E. Howard-Head named Chris Gruber. We’re putting together a benefit book, the proceeds of which will go straight to the Robert E. Howard House for upkeep and other necessary repairs and improvements.
Most recently, I’ve been podcasting over at RevolutionSF.com. You can click on the audio tab and listen to our amateur efforts. Fair warning, though: it’s Geek-Talk. Listen at your own risk. Skype is a marvelous thing, I tell you what.
Living in a Small Town
I continue to adjust to this, and it’s hard, really hard sometimes, to bite my tongue or hold back large pieces of my personality, in the interest of “fitting in.” Sometimes, though, it pays off: I’ve been elected to serve on the board of directors for the Vernon Chamber of Commerce. What does this mean? Not sure, really, but I’m GONNA use it to try and push through a couple of campaigns aimed at the consumers and the retailers here in town.
It’s been suggested by many old friends who have known me for more than a decade that this is as “grown up” as they have ever seen me, and I think I would agree with that. Instead of insisting that I be accepted, Hulk T-shirt and all, I’m channeling those pushed back parts of my personality into becoming a community advocate for downtown revitalization. Of course, I know that my real motive for doing all of this is so that me and my wife can own a number of successful businesses in town—including a book store. See, it all gets back to doing what you love.
I like living here. It’s got its drawbacks, to be sure. But nowhere else could I become so politically involved so fast and be able to make changes that can be seen and felt by all. My voice (and Cathy’s voice) can be heard. That’s very attractive to me. However, there are some quirks that come from small town lifestyles in Texas and I find them slowly overtaking me.
For example, no one says “I went to Wal-Mart today.” They say, “I went to the Wal-Mart.” Everything is singular and emphatic. After all, there’s only one Wal-Mart. Why be vague and confusing? You went to the Wal-Mart. This applies to any business, from fast food (the McDonalds) to state institutions (the T.Y.C.). It’s a tiny verbal crutch, so insignificant that I dare not try to correct it, lest I be accused of putting on airs.
Something else has happened to me; nomenclaturally speaking, I’ve gone back to the Middle Ages, when a man’s profession was part of his name, e.g. John the Baker or Roger the Shrubber. I am now known as “Mark at the Plaza.” It’s okay, I suppose, because we’ve got “Jimmy at the Paper” and “Jerry Lou at the hardware store” and even “Jeff at the Sherriff’s department.” This is apparently necessary, since there could be more than one Jeff and Jimmy in town. Why, I know two women with the exact same first and last name (who aren’t related, by the way) and I have to constantly say “Sue Ann at the bank” or “Sue Ann the realtor” to differentiate them. Personally, I’d rather be known as Mark OF the Plaza, or Mark du Plaza, but that’s just not going to happen because that would be French and just what do you have against Freedom, anyway?
I’m Starting to Hate the Internets
This is ironic that I’m complaining about the very mechanism that allows me to do it; not quite as ironic as Wired Magazines’ 15th annual “print is dead” issue, but close. I really don’t know what the purpose of the Internet is anymore. I know that, ostensibly, it allows for a fast and seamless exchange of information to large groups of people for a number of reasons. But I wonder: is any of the information any good?
Take Wikipedia, for example. It seems like such a great idea; a community-created encyclopedia that can be updated instantly by as many experts as care to do so. Furthermore, since it’s open ended, it would have entries that could conceivably be more relevant because of their immediacy. Great model. But the problem is, you can’t create or edit an entry nilly-willy, because there are people who fact-check you, and in some cases, flat-out undo what you change if they don’t agree with it. Some folks have taken to guarding certain entries against vandalism or well-meaning people, because they constantly include biased information, speculation, or things irrelevant to the topic at hand. Allegedly. Other folks just like messing with the online experiment. Even if you don’t have a watchdog on, say, an entry for a particular author. How, then, can you be sure you’re getting accurate information?
You can’t. The Internet is anonymous and in being so, invites everyone to wallow in their id. No reprisals means that the most common, most base behavior is routine, and in fact, many people go online for the specific intent to disrupt and cause mayhem. Anyone can post anything, and it doesn’t have to be true for it to resonate to other people. In fact, I think it does more harm when there’s a mass of inaccurate information at our fingertips that we, by default, merely skim (because no one save for Generation Y likes to read from their computer screen). I think this mass of badly organized, badly written, wrong-headed bunch of opinions is actually making us dumber.
Granted, I am still participating in social networking—right now, on FaceBook, though I still prefer the book-nerdery that is GoodReads. But these social networks are out to make a buck just like everyone else. Pop-up ads, banners that flash like an epileptic’s nightmare, and all the rest of it is just another head on the media hydra that needs me to consume like a Conehead.
So, what’s the answer? I don’t know. I still enjoy reading my friend’s blogs. I appreciate the daily effort that goes into it. I like re-connecting with old friends. By necessity, I do my geek shopping online, since I have no other close alternative. What’s my problem? I think it’s because, prior to leaving Austin, I didn’t have to rely on the Interwebs so much. I got daily stimuli from my friends and colleagues, so there was no need to hit the message boards to find out information about stuff that mattered to me. And the message boards...
Talk about a level playing field. You don’t have the luxury of only talking to people in your peer group, nosiree. You get the leet-speeking youth, the curmudgeonly older folks, the potheads, the overly-sensitive people that take great offense to, well, everything, and the hard talking, hard typing hardcore people with cynicism, sarcasm, and little smiley face emotes to let you know when you’ve been told off. There isn’t a thread online that isn’t going to spin out of control at some point or another and turn into a slap fight. It’s inevitable. And for what?
Is winning a fight online even a fight? Can you savor a virtual victory? Do you get more hit points? I don’t know, either. All I know is this: Right now, someone is typing something, badly, and wrong, about something that I care about, in a blog or on their website or on a publically-accessible message board. Whether or not I engage this chucklehead is proportionate to the bad and wrong with how much I care. Meaning, if someone mislabels an episode of Star Trek, I probably won’t notice, but if they botch a detail of Robert E. Howard’s biography, my wrath will know no bounds. I suppose in the end, we’ll have to take the good with the bad.
Merry Christmas, everyone! May all of your fruitcakes be rum-soaked!
Lots of pots on the old stove, as they say. I’m working hard at the theater and when I’m not doing that, I’m writing stuff! Yeah, as in, stuff to read. Like, I mean fiction and things. I know, it’s been a long while, and I’m overdue. I’m trying to balance that out with some non-fiction I’m working on; some essays, an introduction or two, a radio script (hello!) and a book review. But I have to tell you, I’m having a lot of fun writing the made-up stuff. It’s been grand to stretch those muscles out and give them a whirl.
( Fighting About HowardCollapse )
The Gang’s All Here
After the second Clockwork Storybook Retreat this year, it was decided that we would get the band back together. Not to go on tour, but rather to help each other out with our solo projects. So, while not jamming together, we ARE jamming. You can check out the remodeled Fabletown boards, now that the five of us are represented. Old Clockwork Storybook fans, you’ll get a kick out of the story I’ve posted in my section. It’s right up your alley. Check out www.clockworkstorybook.net (and no, the old animation isn’t up and running...yet).
I won’t be attending World Fantasy this year, because of the exorbitant cost of flying to Canada. However, next year’s WFC is in San Jose, and so I will be doing that. I’m also making plans to be at San Diego next year, and I’ve got a trip to NYC on the books. In addition, I’m trying to expand my regional convention appearances next year. We’ll see how it all goes. Now what I really need is some sales to help offset those costs. I’ve got projects and proposals out, and I’m waiting on a short story to come back from where I sent it so that I can send it back out again. You know the drill.
It’s been good to start that writing process again. It’s helping to distract me from the massive falling off of our theater business due to high school football. We’re not out of the woods yet. If we can last one more year of this, we’ll be all right. Everyone keep your fingers crossed for us, and if you want to come up to see a movie, email me ahead of time so that we can have something good to show you.
Thanks for reading, for your support, and for your love.
In the Middle of a God-Awful Summer
Heat! Tornados! Ridiculous gas prices! How’s your summer been? We’ve been coping as best as we can; after all, this year’s crop of Summer movies have been pretty faboo, and despite the lackluster turnout (nationwide, not just with us), we remain optimistic.
I’ve been busy, setting up my office in the Plaza, along with my library, and also my private work space. Moving all of my books into the new library has been an easy chore, because every time I open a box up, it’s Christmas all over again. I’m still trying to get the office set up, which will allow me to transfer ALL of the Plaza Business over to the theater, and will frankly empty my personal office. I’m de-cluttering, re-organizing, and not surprisingly, my writing has picked up.
I’ve done some Robert E. Howard-based writing (book intros, prep work on two different articles), and I’ve done some fiction writing! I’ve got a couple of short stories based on a character that I really love. They are fast and fun for me to write, and they really crack me up. They shouldn’t, I know, but there you have it. I’m the funniest person I know. I’m still waiting for news about a reprint of Blood & Thunder from Del Rey. And, because I still have time left over for sleep and food, I’m co-editing a fiction book with a buddy of mine from REHupa, a benefit book that will raise money for Project Pride, the organization that takes care of the Robert E. Howard house in Cross Plains, Texas.
If I saw you at this year’s Robert E. Howard Days, thank you for attending during the year that I was the Guest of Honor (the youngest ever, in fact). That was a fun gig, and I really enjoyed reading and performing and in general hobnobbing with everyone at length.
In the Upcoming Appearances Department, you can find me in Austin this August 15-17 at ArmadilloCon 30. Count on me for some general tomfoolery there. Unfortunately, unless some sort of fuel-related miracle happens, I will not be attending World Fantasy this year. Flying to Canada is just too darned expensive, as much as I’d like to go.
And for those of you who can’t get enough of my rambling screeds, I was recently interviewed by the gang at Major Spoilers for their regular podcast. You can find it here, and my bit starts about 30 minutes into the show.
As Wowio collapses under the weight of its new owners and me and the Clockwork Storybook gang have pulled our old material off of the site, I am considering some self-publishing of my own. A variety of projects suggest themselves, from the second, long-overdue Sam Bowen volume to a script book for the Sailor Steve Costigan Radio Plays and all points in between. I am really not a fan of Lulu.com, but I may not have much of a choice. I’d rather make ten dollars on the books than nothing, but I really liked Wowio’s business model. We’ll see what else comes up, and I’ll let you know what I’ve decided. Any requests, as long as I’m contemplating this stuff?
That’s the news, in brief. I’ve got more to say, but I think instead of writing a small piece within a larger email, I’ll blog a larger piece separately. Stay tuned, and thanks for your interest.
Mark Finn is the creative director for the Violet Crown Radio Players and an award-winning Robert E. Howard scholar. His latest book, Blood & Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard, is available at bookstores everywhere. To get the latest info, rants, and missives from Finn, visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/finnswake
Finn is Blogging now: http://www.livejournal.com/users/finnswa
Finn Also Blogs REH-related stuff at the Cimmerian: http://www.thecimmerian.com
Finally, you can go and check out the Vernon Plaza website: http://www.vernonplaza.com
First off, thank you to everyone who sent me good wishes, shared personal anecdotes, or just empathized with my situation. I really appreciated what all of you had to say, and it helped a lot. Really!
The corner I turned back in January is now behind me, and I’m doing way, way better—in fact, this is the best I’ve felt since moving to Vernon. I’m getting a handle on the town, and I’m no longer seeing it through rose-colored glasses, but rather with more realistic expectations. You’d think that the drop in enthusiasm would be detrimental to me, but unfortunately, I seem to thrive on the slightly negative. Who knew?
Nevertheless, things are looking up. I am finding my joy and my bliss where I can, and trying not to think too hard about the other stuff that I can’t fix. At least, not by myself.
Well, this is nice, isn’t it? Been a while since we’ve chatted. I’m thinking that it’s been far too long, and I really don’t know what to say. Wait, check that, I really do know what to say. Let me start at the beginning. This may well be the longest Finn’s Wake I ever wrote.
The General State of Things
First of all, a number of you have been wondering (a) what I’m working on now, and (b) why I don’t write more updates. The truth of the matter is that I have been in a state of crippling depression for much of the last year. It came about from a number of sources, but in a nutshell, it went down like this: I went from being well-connected in a major urban city with relatively minor responsibilities and a heavy creative output to being not-connected in a ridiculously small town with huge responsibilities and virtually no creative endeavors to speak of.
I feel gimpy even talking about the word “depression.” For a long time I didn’t even want to admit it to myself. I’ve never dealt with depression before (my teenage years don’t count; and anyway, I blame Pink Floyd). Not like this. Some days, I didn’t want to move. Some days, all I could do was eat. It was scary. But I still wasn’t talking about it. It felt like a weakness. And the absolute last thing I wanted to do was end up on medication.
Don’t get me wrong: I wanted to do this. I thought that it would be a small matter to just step into the role of theater owner and go to town. Oh, hell, was I wrong. I was so very wrong. The number of things that I didn’t know were legion. My learning curve, especially since we hit the ground running, was steeper than the stretch of Route 66 that did James Dean in. I wasn’t necessarily thrown to the wolves, but it sure felt like it. I had a concentrated knot in my stomach from Mid-March, when we first re-opened, to the first week in December. It’s been that bad.
Again, let me stress, this town is lovely. And we’ve made many great friends here, too; genuine people, who care and offer a helping hand, and listen to our troubles and in general bend over backwards to help us out. We know some folks, too; some of the local movers and shakers. We attend the city council meetings. It’s a big deal. Folks want to know what we think. This is, of course, diametrically opposite to Austin, where the city council doesn’t give a fig what the citizens are on about. But in the end, it’s not Austin, is it? The culture shock was significant. Not having a bookstore that’s five minutes away (try an hour) is debilitating to someone like myself.
Add to that the challenges of trying to massage a business that has been down on the canvas twice already, and that pretty much ate up all of my free time. Cathy and I ate and slept the theater. We didn’t get away very often, and when we both did, we didn’t go very far. I had a couple of sabbaticals this year, but I found that within forty-eight hours of coming back, I was knotted up in my stomach again and unable to write.
That’s what shocked me the most this year. I was able to make myself sit down and write non-fiction; essays, reviews, introductions, etc. But fiction writing eluded me. I couldn’t get more than a page done at a time, and when I got up, I found that I couldn’t hold the story in my head. This “holding” skill is critical for writers; it’s why so many of us walk around with that gobsmacked look on our face all the time. It’s why our long-suffering wives choose strange times to discuss household chores and other mundane affairs with us—they are waiting until that far-off look in our eye winks out for a moment before rushing in with everything they’ve been holding back for two days.
I discovered that I was incapable of writing fiction while I was thinking about the theater. And since I lived above the theater, and since every single day brought a different responsibility to us regarding the theater, I was spending every day thinking about the theater, our financial situation, marketing, and literally nothing else. This, more than anything else, has been sheer agony for me.
The good news is this: I’m getting over it. My mother, the Jedi Knight, has done some work with me, and I’m now making some space for myself. The theater has become a rote endeavor (and I’ve learned as much as I have been able to absorb at this time), and it’s freed up my brain to work on other things. Life is again returning to the sleepy village. What this means is that fiction writing is close at hand—thank God. I’m adjusting, slowly adjusting, to the ridiculous and total life-change we undertook, and in retrospect, it’s surprising and goofy that it took me until a couple of months ago to realize that I was depressed. Doofus.
The Vernon Plaza Theater
I told you all of that to tell you this: we’ve made it one year! The theater is alive, and it’s viable, and it’s more or less well. We’re bringing in a couple of new innovations this year, and we’re still not in the black yet, but hey, it’s our first year. Now that I’m getting used to the idea of not being in the black, I’m relaxing my grip on my own spleen and concentrating on not going more in the red.
We’ve got some great things planned for this year. I’m going to try and do something that, as far as I know, no other independent movie theater has ever done. I’m getting paperwork together and doing some calculating so that we can create a little island whereupon movie-goers, upon exiting the Iron Man movie, will be confronted with three or four Iron Man trade paperbacks, a couple of action figures, Pez, and the like. This would apply to all of the big summer movies; trading cards, official souvenir magazines, etc. If it works, and I find that I can build a clientele out here for such geekery, well, I think you can figure out what comes next.
Also on our immediate horizon is a digital projector. This is mission critical in our arsenal of cool, and will allow us to do a lot more stuff in a more flexible manner; things like birthday parties (and the kids can play Halo on the big screen), college football games, stuff like that. Again, there’s nothing like it in the area, so we have a decided advantage on our competition.
In the near future, I’m going to post some pics on the website and you can all get a virtual tour of the place. In the meantime, just know that we’re doing all right, and the place is slowly but surely catching on with the folks in town again. We snag 2-5 new folks a week. It’s getting better; it really is!
So, What ARE You Working On?
Well, I’ve got a couple of irons in the fire right now: I just sent a proposal in to Del Rey for an expanded hardcover edition of Blood & Thunder. We’ll see how that flies. I’ve also been asked to adapt a movie script for comics. More on that later. Finally, I’m working on a couple of short stories with fellow Texas writer Scott Cupp. After that, I’m going to decide which novel I want to work on and pursue.
In the meantime, for those of you who are curious about such things, I’ve got my out-of-print collection Gods New & Used available for download on www.wowio.com, as do the other members of Clockwork Storybook. I’ll be adding more stuff from the old CWSB site in the coming weeks, but for now, you can get Gods New & Used for free—and I get paid for it! Truth!
Also, this year, I really want to get back to doing radio drama, both writing and performing. I’ve got some scripts that are all mapped out and need to be written, and I’ve got a couple of outstanding obligations to uphold. If I get through with those, maybe I can start on my one-man show idea. We’ll see.
Currently, I’m still doing articles for Dark Horse Comics for their Conan trade paperbacks, which is a lot of fun. I was recently name-checked in the Best of Robert E. Howard, volume 1 introduction regarding the boxing fiction of REH. Also big fun. I still contribute as time permits to www.revolutionsf.com, and you really should swing by every so often to check it out. That I make no money from this writing, yet still try to do things for them, should be telling.
World Fantasy Awards
Some of you knew that I was nominated for a World Fantasy award for the REH biography. Well, I didn’t win it. There was, in retrospect, no way in hell that I was going to win it. Here’s why. I was nominated in the Special Award: Professional category. Now, those two awards at the end of the nominations list: Special Award, Professional, and Special Award, Non-Professional, are intended to recognize folks who don’t fit into any of the other categories. In particular, Special Award, Professional was designed to honor publishers, editors, copyeditors, booksellers—heck, ANYONE not a writer of fantasy who contributed in some meaningful way that year. It was never supposed to be for non-fiction books. It’s just that, when non-fiction books are written onto the ballot, they end up there, having nowhere else to go.
So, in a year when Ellen Asher lost her job at the SF Book Club, after years of printing and reprinting everyone good in the field, and moreover her whole staff was let go without so much as a by-your-leave, you can see how there was NO WAY in hell that I was going to take home a statue, when the award was a far more perfect way to honor her thankless contribution to the field.
Is it fair? To Ellen, sure. It’s very fair, and she deserved to get the award. But what about to me and the other guy whose book garnered enough votes to make the top five? It doesn’t seem that fair, not really. But had I won instead, the industry would be calling it a travesty, because Ellen should have won it. Am I upset about it? Sort of, but not because I didn’t win. Rather, because there have been a number of good non-fiction books in the past few years that received no recognition, simply because of a lack of categorization. The judges for each year’s World Fantasy awards keep their own council on these matters, but basically, if the five of them decide to award a statue to someone, then their name is automatically added to the list, and no matter what the popular vote says, it’s going to go to who the judges want. That’s the attraction of a juried award. And Special Award: Professional is the very place to give such recognition.
The thing is this, though: if the judges have the chance to right a wrong, or acknowledge an oversight, as in the case of Ellen Asher, then they are going to do it. Again, that’s what the category is for. Anyway, I had a pretty good idea that I was on the outs. Having spoken to my fellow nominees, they all agreed that Ellen was going to get it. And every time I saw a judge, I watched a slight shadow pass across their eyes. No guilt, per se, but rather a shield of neutrality that they consciously put on so as not to give anything away.
The only part of this that doesn’t work is when you take something like a biography written (and let’s use the excellent James Tiptree, Jr. biography instead, since it was a book that also needed to be written and was nominated in similar categories last year), and compare it to what an editor does with a book line. That’s apples and oranges, and it creates a disparity within the category, since there is no way to really reconcile the two. In the end, of course, it’s the judges’ call, anyway. But wouldn’t it be great if they didn’t have to make such a call? Then a critical studies book AND a deserving editor could be recognized in the span of a year, and no one would kick about it.
In the end, I wrote an open letter to the WFC administration board asking that they add a non-fiction category, and was politely rebuffed. This is not over. Again, I’m not angry about it, but I really think that there’s an oversight here that could be easily and quickly addressed.
You Know What Tomorrow Is...
That’s right, it’s Elvis’ Birthday! And may I pass along my most sincere wishes for a happy and prosperous new year. Go forth and find your favorite Elvis movie, or just cue up one of his many fine albums. Shake a hip, eat a peanut butter and banana sammich, or shoot out a television set. It’s YOUR day tomorrow, so make the most of it. Me, I’ll be making my usual promises to the King and watching Viva Las Vegas.
Boy, that Anne-Margaret, she sure was something, wasn’t she?
Y’all be good, now.
Having participated in several World Fantasy conventions as a professional, up to and including having been nominated for the award itself, I would like to offer a few formal suggestions that I feel would be of great benefit to the award itself. It is my understanding that these suggestions have all been brought to the attention of the administrators before, but I still feel compelled to mention them again, as these are topics that seem to come up every year.
Guy Gavriel Kay said in his excellent Toastmaster speech that one of the things the World Fantasy Award does best is that it focuses on widening the reach of the genre. It’s in that spirit that I would like to recommend a new category, for Best Young Adult novel. There is an obvious and tangible overlapping of talent, interest, and subject matter regarding the Young Adult and Adult fantasy markets, and that line was forever blurred during the Harry Potter years. By creating a Young Adult novel category, the World Fantasy Award can take ownership of that acknowledgement; consider that no other major sf/f award currently honors YA authors.
Another area that adds to the credibility and legitimacy of the industry is that of non-fiction studies. Whether they are biographies, essay collections, or scholarly works from academic presses, there are more than enough books ABOUT the crafting of fantasy and its authors that merit their own World Fantasy award category, as well. Adding a Best Non-Fiction category not only abets the study of fantasy as its own serious endeavor, but it completely de-clutters the Special Award: Professional category, leaving it free to honor and acknowledge the professionals in the field who don’t normally receive recognition: Editors, retailers, copyeditors, publishers, and so on. Every year, non-fiction books are nominated in that category, for no other reason than they don’t have a category of their own. A Best Non-Fiction award solves that problem handily.
And speaking of the Special Award, I would like to recommend that both special awards be re-named to honor someone in the industry. The Special Award: Professional could honor a writer or editor who is no longer with us, and the Special Award: Non-Professional could likewise reflect a particularly influential fan or similar. Re-naming these two awards would make them more sound more professional and less “generic.”
I am sure there are other factors to consider when adding categories to the awards ballot beyond “it’s a really nifty idea,” but I sincerely hope the committee will consider these suggestions as both positive and constructive feedback and at least discuss them the next time they are able to do so. It may be too late for the 2008 awards, but surely one or more of these suggestions could be implemented for 2009? In any case, thank you for your time and attention.
Despite formidable odds and some overwhelming pressures of the fiscal/filial variety, I have paid for my membership to WFC this year, confirmed my hotel, bought airline tickets, and even managed to squeeze on a panel. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I am NOT to be trifled with.
It's been tough, this past month. Lots of Theater-Related things happened that put us on the defensive, and really shook the foundations of our lives here in Vernon. Suffice to say, we're okay. For now. But it wasn't easy. It wasn't pretty. And we're still not out of the woods, yet.
But just on the off-chance that someone ever decides to do a Robert Heinlein bio-pic...
At the behest of several folks, I decided to do a trip recap of my recent sojourn to ArmadilloCon, by way of the Greyhound Bus system. This was, of course, a major mistake, and one that I won’t repeat again, may God strike me dead if I’m lying.
It’s been a while since the last update, and while there’s some neat stuff going on with regards to the Vernon Plaza Theater, it’s just business as usual on the other side of that. I’m struggling with a writing schedule, after spending almost 10 months without one. But I am working on things as my time allows. In fact, I’ll be reading one of those things at ArmadilloCon this weekend. Here’s my schedule, for those of you in attendance:
Sa1000De Expect Unexpected Evil
Sat 10:00 AM-11:00 AM DeWitt
Carl*, Gould, Kimbriel, Klages, Utley, Sturges, Finn
Sometimes our antagonists aren't always who they
appear to be. What are some of the most unusual
antagonists in literature and what tools did the
author use to make them that way?
Sa1200De Revolution SF
Sat Noon-1:00 PM DeWitt
Klaw*, Finn, Bey, Wilson, Blaschke, Porter
Being an editor for a small SF site can be
Sa1500R Charity Auction
Sat 3:00 PM-5:00 PM Robertson
Last year we made a record amount of money for our
charity. Come by this year and help us spread the geek
love to the world!
Sa2200Dz What is the island?
Sat 10:00 PM-11:00 PM de Zavala
Babcock*, Davis, Levine, Nevins, Finn, Orive
For fans of Lost, this gives you a chance to discuss
the show with other fans and professionals and hear
their thoughts on what happened, will happen and
Su1000De Liar's Panel: Hard Science
Sun 10:00 AM-11:00 AM DeWitt
Lake*, Finn, Archer, McHugh, Nevins
Panelists attempt to come up with the most outrageous
claims about hard science in writing, films and
Sun 1:30 PM-2:00 PM Robertson
Note that the reading is on Sunday, which is great for you, as there will be not much else going on, and shitty for me, in that I will most likely be hung over and hoarse. But if you haven’t attended a Finn reading, you need to do so, because I’m really really good at it.
Hope to see you there!
For those of you who have read the book already, I've got an article up about it right here on RevolutionSF.com, and YES, for the Love of God, it contains Spoilers out the wazoo.