Do I really need to give you spoiler warnings? I mean, you're reading the books already, right? Right?! If you aren't, just skip this whole thing and get back to me when you're caught up.
For the rest of us...
This being the fifth movie of seven, I found it to be as exciting and interesting as the fourth movie, wherein we are forced to jettison all of the sub-plots, side trips, and tangents, as well as the world-building bits of business, to concentrate on the Main Plot of good versus evil. Is that bad? No, not really. But watching Four and Five so soon after reading Four and Five really drives home how much condensing and tightening the filmmakers are doing to get this book series on the screen.
One of the things that interests me is how the movies have informed my re-reading of the books--Gary Oldman, for example, filling in handily for whomever I originally saw as Sirius Black, and with the re-reading of book five, I was expecting some great scenery chewing between him and Alan Rickman in THIS film, but apparently, there just wasn't time. Seems like there was a lot of those types of scenes excised in the interests of time. And the movie is over 2 hours long, at that. Draco gets two scenes, and for god's sake, don't blink or you'll miss them. Actually, what did work well was the montage scene, wherein we get a lot of info in short order. Unfortunately, doing it that way cuts short the first MacGonagal/Umbrage fight. In fact, it doesn't really happen. Not like in the books. Sigh.
By the way, Gary Oldman pulls off one of the best winks in the history of the universe. His eye doesn't even close! Watch for it. It's breathtaking. And may I just say that I have a new wizard crush: Tonks is a RoboBabe, and I'll fight anyone who says different. Helena Bonham Carter is note-perfect as Bellatrix, and really, did anyone think she wouldn't pull it off? Please.
All that aside, there's a shoe waiting to drop that never quite does so. I can't imagine how they will make that mess of Book Six into a film. Flashbacks are SOOOO entertaining, after all. At least this movie begins with a dementor attack and ends with a big honking wizard duel. Overall, this movie (and the last one) more than anything accomplish the goal of acting as highlight reels for the books, and don't quite stand on their own two feet as films. The only thing that saves them is the fact that everyone on the planet knows they are chapters in a seven part story that WILL (hopefully) make sense when it's all said and done. If the filmmakers are smart, they will film six and seven back to back and release them nine months apart.
Maybe I'm just antsy waiting for the seventh and final book.
In preparation for the seventh Harry Potter book, I’ve taken in upon myself to re-read the other six. This is the first time that I’ve done so since each book was released (well, to be fair, I jumped onto the HP bandwagon just prior to book four). It’s been very interesting to re-read the stories, after the films have come out, and knowing in hindsight what I do of the story.
What follows are my thoughts on each of the books, followed by a ranking of 1 to 6, in the order that I liked them from best to worst. I can’t conceive that some of you out there haven’t seen the movies nor read the books, so I’m going to do the LJ-cut thingie.
I can hear them downstairs, moving around in the theater. The sound actually carries up through the bricks and the concrete. Of course, most of the building is hollow, because of the return air vents, so their shuffling and scritching are multiplied tenfold.
The metal door is holding, and I don't think they will ever think to walk into the room where the crawlspace is. As long as we're careful and keep the doors locked, we should be able to hold out for a while. It's night now, and the police station is deserted across the street. Nothing is moving on the square. Some view.
Cathy is already worried about food and water. I don't quite know what to tell her. We're going to have to get clever, and pretty quick, too. Maybe scramble up to the roof. I don't know. We're sleeping in the living room tonight, our backs to the window overlooking the square, our eyes staring at the two doors that keep us from becoming food. Or worse.
There's so much I wanted to say. So much I wanted to do. Don't know if that'll ever happen, now. We are done for. Even if we survive, we are going to have to start from scratch. And I'll have better things to do than this.
It’s been a busy month, and I’m sorry I haven’t sent something out sooner. But it’s with a pretty good reason or two. Hopefully, this will make up for it all.
I got a call from Bill Willingham in April. He had an interesting proposal for me: “I’m renting the Rudyard Kipling house in Vermont, and I’m inviting you, Matt, Chris, and Bill Williams to come up and have a writer’s retreat here.”
When I told Cathy that this would be the first-ever Clockwork Storybook reunion in several years, all she said was, “You gotta go.”
That’s why I married her, right there, folks.
The Trip to Vermont Starts right here: http://finnswake.livejournal.com/35644.html
Pictures of the Vermont excursion can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/finnswake/sets/72157600222004855/
In other news, I’ve won one and a quarter Cimmerian Awards this year: http://www.thecimmerian.com/?p=685
The whole award I won was for Blood & Thunder. I’m really pleased, since this award comes from my peers in the REH community. The other award, I’m sharing with my fellow bloggers at The Cimmerian website; we won the award for best website with our group blog. I ended up accepting for all of us, but only because Rob and Leo wouldn’t get up to do it. Still, it’s pretty cool and very flattering.
I won’t know until next weekend how the Locus Awards shook out. I doubt that I’ll be called upon to provide a mailing address for the trophy, however. And it won’t be until the end of the month that we’ll find out if Blood & Thunder was nominated for a World Fantasy award. I’m deliberately not thinking about either one; it does no good to dwell on such things. Really, I’m just happy about my third Cimmerian along with the nomination in Locus. There may be a hardcover edition yet, if the buzz keeps up.
The theater is, of course, doing very well. We’re busy, and the attendance is great, and the money is tight, and it’s all very First Year in Business, now, isn’t it? Seriously, there’s a lot of blood, sweat, and tears but it’s all for the best. Now that we’re settling into the groove, the Plaza Loft is getting worked on and some of our other projects are starting to shape up. The summer is being very good to us, so far (go knock on some wood, will you?), and we’re overall very pleased that our first year is going as well as it has so far.
Okay, that’s the big news. I’m going to let you get back to your day, now.
...more or less. I'm still missing my luggage, and I'm girding my loins for yet-another fight with American Eagle, the puddle jumpers for American Airlines. Wish me luck. Soon, I'll back date my journal with tagged entries so everyone can know the love that is Brattleboro, VT and the Clockwork Storybook reunion. There may be pics, luggage retrieval pending.
Instead of re-typing the whole saga, I'm just going to cut-and-paste the complaint letter I drafted to American Airlines. Those of you who know me can hear the tone with which this was written. Everyone else can just sorta fill in your own rant-voice instead.
The trouble started on May 15th, 2007. I was flying from Hartford, CT to Wichita Falls, TX. I booked this flight myself. From Hartford to Chicago-Midway, I flew Southwest with no problems. I changed planes (and airlines, as per Southwest) in Chicago, to ATA, for the trip to DFW. It was in Chicago that things started to go wrong.
First, the weather. Rain delays kept my plane from landing in Chicago. There was lightning and thunder. As a result, my plane, scheduled to depart at 4:00, didn’t leave Chicago until 6:15 PM. This wouldn’t have been a big deal, except...
1. SOUTHWEST apparently didn’t check my bag all the way through to Wichita Falls. I later learned that they don’t do this, because they aren’t playing nice with the other airlines for some reason. So, my one piece of luggage was checked only as far as Dallas-Fort Worth. I had resigned myself to getting my checked bag, and making the hike back through security to American Eagle (three concourses away) in the hour and forty minutes layover time I originally had in DFW.
Now, because of the rain delay, that didn’t happen.
I spoke to the flight attendant on my flight and told her my dilemma. She looked at my itinerary and consulted with some folks, and then when we landed, radioed the gate that I needed some help. We touched down at 8:10 exactly—the time my flight to Wichita Falls was scheduled, three concourses away.
I got of the plane, where my itinerary (and sole luggage claim check) had been passed on to another member of ATA’s staff. He said to me, as I approached him, “We’re going to move your bag. Go, Go, Go to your gate!”
So I hustled to the sky train.
On the way, I realized that while I knew the concourse (B), I didn’t know the gate. I called AA, navigated past the robot lady, and got a human on the phone.
2. The AMERICAN AIRLINES rep on the phone told me the flight had already left the gate. I pressed her, and she grudgingly told me the gate number was B32. “B32?” I repeated, for the train was loud and we were both in a hurry. “B32,” she agreed, and I hustled to at the very least meet my errant luggage there.
Well, I stepped off the train, ran downstairs, and after a frantic few minutes, grabbed a security guard and asked him where B32 was. I could see B31, B30, B33, and so forth. He scratched his head and said, “There IS no B32. Do you have the right gate?”
I checked the board, but of course, since the plane had left the gate, the gate number wasn’t up there. Discouraged, I went to the bag claim at American Eagle to wait for my bag. I told my story to the nice woman, who immediately tried to help me find the bag. She started calling people (and in the meantime, she looked up what gate I was supposed to have left from—B36. “Those people on the phone never know what’s what,” she said conspiratorily).
While she was trying to find my luggage, I called American Airlines back and tried to reschedule my flight. What happened next really stunned and shocked me.
3. The American Airlines rep (who’s name I lamentably cannot recall) didn’t want to hear my story. She just wanted to know the number of the flight I had missed. When she looked it up, she said, “Mister Finn, you were marked down as a no-show for that flight.”
“I’m not a no-show,” I said. “I tried very much to make it, but there was bad weather in Chicago, see, and that delayed my flight.”
More tapping. “Well, where are you now?” she asked.
“In DFW,” I told her.
“Well, your flight was 11 minutes late in leaving the gate, so why did you miss it?” She was now taking a tone with me, like how my 9th grade English teacher used to ask me why I didn’t have my homework.
I said, “I was running for the gate. It’s a long way from where I was to where I ended up. Different concourses.”
“Oh, I see, you weren’t flying with us the whole way,” she said.
“No, I had to change planes.”
“So, then, it wasn’t our fault.”
“No, I blame the weather,” I told her.
“Well, YOU made it sound as if we cancelled your flight, Mister Farr-Nash.”
My frustration was peaking. I said to her, “Why don’t we start over? And let me tell you what happened.”
We went to neutral corners and I again tried to explain myself. “But Mister Finn, you’re a no-show for this flight. Why didn’t you call us?”
“Lady, I was running for the gate!” I yelled, all composure now gone.
In a much quieter tone, she said, “Sir, I’m only trying to tell you what the computer says...”
“Okay, listen, what are my options?” I asked.
“Pfft. Not many,” she said. “There are no more flights to Wichita Falls tonight.”
“Yeah, I figured. What about tomorrow?”
“Well, now I have to get a supervisor because you’re a no-show and didn’t call us to say you’d be late...”
“Fine. Go get your supervisor.”
Click. And now I’m on hold.
The baggage lady, having heard my entire side of this, said, “I can reserve a seat for you on the flight tomorrow?”
“Do it,” I told her. I hung up. (MY FAULT: I really should have talked to the woman’s supervisor. She was snotty, and rude, and made the whole thing sound like I was the bad guy).
The baggage claim lady reserved me a spot, and then told me that she couldn’t locate my luggage. I got some numbers from her for people to call and then got lodging in Fort Worth for the night.
4. I showed up at the airport the next day, went to American Eagle, and of course, they couldn’t find me in the system. I told them what happened. She called her supervisor, and they charged me an additional 145 dollars to ride a flight that wasn’t even half-filled. I was royally peeved, but I wanted to get home. They sensed my frustration, and told me when I got to my final destination that I could make a lost baggage claim and talk to someone about the double fare. Before I made my gate, I checked in at American Eagle’s baggage counter, just to be sure—no bag. But, said the lady, she’d keep an eye out for it. She wrote down my name and phone number.
5. I get off the plane in Wichita Falls—and it’s only American Eagle, from the looks of it, with seven commuter flights to DFW per day, and I proceed to tell HER my story. She gives me a printout with your website on it, since you don’t have anyone I can talk directly to. Classy. She also tells me that she can’t file a baggage claim, since it was never checked through to them. Instead, she gives me some more phone numbers to call.
6. I spend approximately four hours learning how the interior workings of airport baggage claims work, on my own, since American Airlines hasn’t yet lifted a finger to help me and furthermore charged me for a flight that they should have just let me on, since I missed my original flight due to no fault of my own.
7. Finally, I tracked my luggage down to the ATA in DFW counter. The woman told me it had been there all day (meaning, it NEVER made it to American Eagle). I appreciated that the folks on ATA tried to help me out, but they didn’t follow through with what they said they would do. If they had told me they couldn’t do anything, I would have understood, grabbed my luggage, and tried to salvage the flight with American Airlines. But they didn’t. They said one thing, and did another. In any case, the baggage claim lady told me she’d send it over to American Eagle. Awesome, I thought. The lady would see the bag, and she’d just send it to Wichita Falls.
8. The next day, I called AA to find out the status of my lost bag. No one knew anything. The woman I talked to called DFW and Wichita Falls, and no one knew anything. She was also puzzled as to why I haven’t made an official baggage claim. I told her that NO ONE would take it. It was always someone else’s problem...either mine own, or the person at the NEXT leg of my journey. She said, “Well, without your claim tag number, we can’t even do anything for you.” She apologized for my incompetence a few times—after all, I’m brand-new to the whole “Track your own bag through the inner workings of DFW” thing—and then she hung up.
Now in a full-blown panic, I called ATA at DFW back and left a message. They still have not returned my call.
Bottom line: I’ve been flying for over fifteen years. I used to do it a lot, but now it’s mostly for vacations. This is the first time I’ve ever missed a flight, and also the first time I’ve ever lost my luggage. I know, it was probably just dumb luck on my part. But your Airline made me feel like this has never happened before in the history of American Airlines, and that I deliberately did these things to screw up the inner workings of your company. I’ve not been helped satisfactorily YET by anyone in your organization. And if this is not taken care of in the next 24 hours, I will move heaven and earth to never fly with your airline again. Moreover, I will endeavor to tell everyone that I know, from best friends to local acquaintances, never to use your airline again. I’ll Ride the Bus to DFW before I get on another American Eagle plane, for any reason.
I took the train from Brat to Hartford, CT (where I’ll be flying out). It seemed weird to do it this way, but it was essential for me to be able to get home at a decent hour. Also, I’ve never ridden on a train, and this was a perfect opportunity to do so.
Well, riding a train is only marginally more comfortable than riding a bus. But that margin does include better seats and a snack car where you can buy a drink and some peanuts, so it’s a big deal. Otherwise, the vibration of the tracks very closely mimics the horrible suspension systems in your average Greyhound.
I got out at Hartford, CT, and after a little gawking, chose the hotel closest to the train station. There wasn’t a clear advantage; the airport is far enough away that all of the taxis charge a flat rate to take you. So, after dumping my stuff in the Holiday Inn, I asked the standoffish kid at the desk what I should take a look at, since I’ve only got a half-day here.
“Well,” he said, snorting, “there’s the park, there.” He waved at the front door, through which could be seen lush green lawns across the street. “That’s our capital.”
Having lived in Austin for fifteen years, I wasn’t real impressed with capitals. “What else you got?” I asked.
“Well,” he said, “there’s the Mark Twain house...”
I perked up. “Yeah? Is it close?”
“Oh, sure,” he said. Then he looked me up and down and hastily amended, “I mean, it’s a bit of a walk.”
Ignoring the once-over, I asked, “Define ‘bit of a walk.’”
The kid scrunched up one side of his face, pirate style, as he thought about it. “Oh, only a couple of blocks.”
“A couple of blocks I can do,” I assured him. He looked dubious, but he gave me quick directions for getting under the underpass and then he left me to my fate.
I’ll show him, I thought, as I walked down the busy street. Only a couple of blocks. What a maroon. What does he think? I’m too fat to make it? Little asshole. I crossed the street, muttering darkly to myself, and then walked under the underpass as instructed. Up ahead, about a half a block away, was the street in question, veering off at a diagonal from the rest of the thoroughfare. There’s no way he could have meant a literal couple of blocks from the hotel. I mean, this is still industrial stuff, here. So I crossed the street again, now on the correct avenue, and proceeded post-haste to the Twain house, which I was now certain was only two blocks away from this goofball intersection.
I counted one block, and then two blocks. No house. No problem, I thought, walking quickly (it was around 4:30, and I was sure the house would close at 5 PM). It’s probably just up in the middle of the next block. A couple and a half of blocks.
No house. I walked another block. Big, huge buildings holding what looked like an insurance company on the left side, and small, low-income businesses like washeterias and convenience stores, pawnshops and dollar stores, on the right side of the street. Weird. But no Twain house.
I spied a guy waiting for a bus. I walked up to him; he clearly worked at the insurance company he was standing in front of. “Excuse me,” I said. He regarded me with angry indifference. “I’m trying to find the Mark Twain house, and I—”
“Keep going,” he said, indicating the direction I was already traveling. “It’s just a couple of blocks.”
Sure it was.
I didn’t believe him, but I kept going, figuring that I’ll get there eventually. It’s on the street, at least, so I had that going for me, if nothing else. I started counting blocks again. One block. Two blocks.
Now I’m standing in front of a Dunkin’ Donuts/Taco Bell combo, and I’m certain of two things: this is unequivocally not the Mark Twain house, and “a couple of blocks” is Hartford-speak for “I have no concept of distance; ask someone else.”
It was another two blocks before I spotted the enormous Mark Twain house. Easily as large as the Kipling house in square footage, also meticulously restored, with a long, sloping walk to the street. I hurried up the steps, grabbed the knob, and pulled.
It was closed.
I looked at the time: 4:45. I checked their sign. “Open from 9 AM to Sundown, Mon-Fri.” Maybe they just can’t hear me. I pounded on the door. Made a wide circle around the porch, peering into the windows. Nope. They were closed, all right. Sonofabitch.
By now, I needed to use the bathroom, and there was no way I was going to cross the street and attempt to get into any of the charming local businesses with that request. Thankfully, the bus line was right outside the Twain house and took me straight back to the hotel. On the way back, I counted the blocks—9, total, not including the funkiness at the underpass. As I trundled back into the lobby, the kid who gave me the directions was noticeably missing. It was probably for the best.
With the excitement of everyone being together again worn off, we settled down for another work session. I banged out two chapters, including the police interrogation that I’d been dreading. Matt and Willingham talked about Jack of Fables stuff and worked on their own projects. Chris did some proofreading and spot-checking. Williams dove back into an in-progress screenplay. An industrious day.
After lunch, everyone hiked down to the old barn, wherein lay a kind of self-guided tour of some of the house artifacts, along with large placards that either explained their significance or gave some of the history of Kipling and Brat. The placards gave no less than four different possible reasons why Kipling only stayed four years and never returned after he departed. We left the barn with more questions than answers. On the way back, I tried a different trail to get to the main house and stumbled across what looked like a small shrine, except that the shrine was crowned with an old, worn, plastic sculpture of Top Cat. Maybe there's a Joseph Barbara fan out somewhere. I don't know. But I took a picture of it, since it was easily the second-oddest thing I'd seen on this trip, after Crabhands.
It was Chris’ turn to cook, and I volunteered to be his wingman for the outing. We set up something that he could bang into the oven and walk away from: roast beef and veggies. Simple, but efficient. There wasn’t much of our food this week that we didn’t convert to sandwich form by the end of each meal. Men. Go figure.
At dusk, we trudged out through the pergola to the spooky altar-looking site and we toasted the reunion, and inducted Bill Williams into our little cabal. We are now officially a pentacle (old CWSB reference), so I’ll leave it to you folks to decide who gets to be Rosemary.
The evening concluded with a large reading session. Everyone got some valid critiques in, as well as a nice concentrated dose of shop-talk. Williams remarked, “It’s been pretty fun. Kinda like visiting someone else’s family reunion.”
So, what came out of this whole thing?
Well, getting back into contact with everyone was paramount. We did have a good time when we were together, and by setting up our rules about writing and critiquing well in advance and also separately from our friendships, it has created a kind of killing floor that we can throw anything onto and see if it survives. Having that kind of honesty available to your creative work is essential as a writer. Being able to get that kind of honesty from real friends is exceedingly rare.
The singular experience of spending a week in the hull of Kipling’s personal ship was one of the coolest for me, ever—it ranks right up there with eating lunch in the Robert E. Howard house, at the dining room table, on his birthday. Uniquely special in its significance.
On a more slight and personal note, I needed the break from the theater. Or rather, I needed the space to re-establish my writing routine. I missed Cathy and the like, but getting to be nothing but writerly for a week was nothing short of divine.
Also, it was my first trip to Vermont. Check one more state off of my official score card.
Tomorrow, I start back home.
In the light of day, we took Chris back around the house and grounds, a tour we never seemed to tire of. He was duly as impressed as the rest of us. After all, we’re sharing the same physical space as Rudyard by-god Kipling. I mean, wow.
Since Chris and Matt are smokers, we ended up on the porch for a few hours total during the day, discussing stories, philosophies of writing, styles, schools, and rules to live by and also to break. We also talked about Buffy and Firefly, comic books, fantasy and science fiction, weird things that authors do, Kipling, Burroughs, told artist and writer anecdotes, and tried our hardest to out-story, out-laugh, and outdo one another. Stories were read and critiqued, some with a gentle savagery that I know I dearly missed.
Part of my day was spent getting a massage. I picked up a knot in my back prior to traveling, and it did nothing but get worse as the week progressed. I woke up Friday with real problems (sleeping in Not-my-own-Bed) in my mid- to lower back. So, I found a Wellness Center and spent an hour getting beaten up by Summer. She obligingly walked her elbows over my various lumps and knots and more or less got me back into fighting shape. I still have that niggling knot under my shoulder blade; the original knot, at that. Maybe it’s part of stress. Maybe more. I don’t quite know.
In any case, I got back to the house in time to polish a chapter and then we settled in to eat, discuss, drink, read, and critique. It’s been heavenly. Matt made pork tenderloin with vegetables and it was awesome. We’re eating like kings and debating like warrior poets.
All week, we’ve been taking turns cooking. Breakfast has been communal; he who is in the kitchen, conscious and moving, gets whatever the cook is making. Lunch has been catch-as-catch can, either leftovers or sandwiches, or whatever else is in the house. But dinner has been a great trade off. Tonight was Willingham’s turn to cook, and he made a chicken and rice dish that was expansive and comforting. Prior to that, I made an Italian stroganoff dish and Williams made chili. We are fairly swimming in man-food over here.
Today was a light work day. With Matt back in the mix, we all did a lot of fiddling around, gravitating to one another and getting very little done. I revised and rewrote everything to date, which was productive, and finished outlining the main plot, which was gratifying. Williams and Sturges worked on their respective comic projects, and Willingham polished and re-wrote some, but he was just as distracted as I was. It was too much fun with Matt in the house.
We all stayed up late, waiting on Chris to arrive. He did so at roughly 11:30, and we sat out on the porch, Clockwork complete, and proceeded to immediately re-connect the old neural network of our communal brain. The old jokes, the old jibes, and even the old roles were effortlessly resumed as if we hadn’t ever been apart. It was a pleasant feeling, like when you find a lucky T-shirt in your closet, slip it on and it just “feels” right.
I finished my allotted chapters early and spent some time in downtown Brattleboro. Man, I miss Austin. Brattleboro is a town of about 12,000 people, most of them dirty hippies, artists, or loggers. It’s a strange mix, and it put me off until I realized that there are rednecks everywhere. Oh, they aren’t called rednecks in Vermont. In fact, I don’t know what you call a redneck in Vermont. Syrup head? Bark face? Leaf eater? Well, it doesn’t really matter, I suppose. Be they redneck or be they hippies, they are all stand-offish and peculiar. Compared to Texans, that is. No one wants to chat. No one wants to make a connection with another person. It’s kinda like a really scaled-down version of the Bay Area, only with more flannel and taller trees.
I wandered the hilly and curving streets of downtown Brat and marveled at the lengths to which these stand-offish people preserved their old buildings. There were at least three churches (and looking very much like churches) that had been converted into actual businesses, like a pharmacy. I wouldn’t say that I thought it sacrilegious or anything like that, but I would feel profoundly uncomfortable doing business—retail business—in a church.
My mission was twofold while in town: I was looking for books, and I was looking for anything having to do with Kipling. Granted, he only spent four years in Vermont, but considering that after Kipling, the next most famous author there is Archer Mayor, I figured it was worth looking.
Nada. Zip. Diddly. Bupkiss.
Every little tourist store I poked my head into had T-shirts with maple leaves, moose, or dullards (with a witty saying about the lack of intelligence in Vermont). There were even Brat-themed shirts, but not a single mention of Kipling anywhere. Everyone, after immediately barking out “NO,” asked me, “Don’t they have anything up’ th’ house?”
No, they bloody well don’t. The one postcard they have is a sucky picture of Kipling in the snow, so bundled up that it could be, well, anyone else. Not a picture of the house, nor a picture of Kipling, nor a painting of Kipling, or anything even sorta cool. It was disappointed, but also re-affirming in a backwards-ass kind of way. After all, almost no one in Vernon knows they are living in the home town of Jack Teagarden. There are still people in Cross Plains who couldn’t tell you a thing about Robert E. Howard. I guess it’s that way all over.
Good bookstores, though. The kind that book lovers get lost in. The kind that are inexplicably hot, despite numerous fans blowing. The kind where the guy working may or may not talk to you as his shelving is more important than you figuring out the labyrinthine layout of the cramped and crowded store. I bought a couple of Archer Mayer books (he writes mysteries set in Brat), as well as Kim, a Kipling book that I have not read.
The rain started, and everyone came outside like sunflowers opening up to the sky. It was weird. These Vermonters have an inherent creepiness about them. Partially due to the age of their settlements, and partially due to their geography. It’s hard to get your head around. But I suddenly appreciate Lovecraft just a little bit more.
Oh, and speaking of Lovecraft, the Dagon Cult is alive and well. I know, because I have seen one of his forgotten children. Brat has a slight homeless population, apparently. I ran into one of them on the street, not once, but twice, and it left me visibly disturbed. The guy looked like a down-on-his-luck version of the Gorden’s fisherman. You know, that angular face, the maritime beard. He even wore a black slicker, with layers of filthy clothes under it to give him an kind of top-heavy appearance. And it was while he was smoking that I noticed his hands.
Across the back of his hand was a thick, calloused layer of hardened flesh, from the end of the wrists to the tips of his fingers. And seemingly regular intervals were knotty warts or moles or—something—that he’d been picking for a while. They were black at the base and became deep crimson at the tips. Honestly, they looked like the serrated extrusions found on crab claws. Hence, I dubbed him in my mental filing cabinet as “Crabhands McGee.” I didn’t mean to look at his hands, but he was lifting a smoke to his lips just as I glanced at him. The hand I saw made me recoil in horror, but Crabhands didn’t notice. Thankfully, I was able to truck on by as if nothing was amiss. But it was the most Deep One moment I’d ever had.
Later, in the rain, I rounded a corner to get under an awning and drew up short in front of him again. I glanced down, and sure enough, he had that same problem on both hands. Just thinking about it makes me shudder. Insensitive? Maybe. But also genuinely horrific, particularly if you weren’t planning on looking at crabhands on that given day.
I’d had my fill of downtown when the call came through that Matt had arrived. We all met at one of the two steakhouses in town and had a glorious meal. I ate scallops again, and made no apologies for it. It was great seeing Matt again, and with Willingham and Williams around, the old CWSB vibe was returning. I deduced that we were re-establishing our old rapport when they told one of our waitresses that I was a special needs person and that I might need help in the rest room.
Ah, the things guys do to one another.
Back at the Kipling House, after a brief tour of the place, we plunked Matt down in the study and dropped him right into the critiquing process. It was great. I always appreciated Matt’s feedback, and he was right on target with his comments.
Another full day of writing, punctuated by one or more of us cooking pots of Man-Food; Willingham whipped up breakfast, including a raft of bacon, Williams made chili and I concocted a stroganoff-pan-baked-meat casserole thingie. We all ate until we were miserable, and had large, boisterous conversations wherein we each tried hard to wittier than one another.
Writing about what I wrote is pretty boring. But I wrote a lot of stuff, which is the point of all of this, so there’s that.
In the morning, the first thing I did was hop out of bed and jerk back the curtains to gaze out at the rolling hills, tall trees, and arboreal splendor that is Rural Vermont. This place is gorgeous. I slept in, as it turns out, the servant’s quarters, which comes with my own porch on the second floor, and a sitting room to the side. It’s wonderful. Old farmhouse, slick wooden floors, charming in every single way. Kipling designed the house to be like a ship, and I see where that comes from, but it’s also pretty damn roomy, so it’s not much like a ship at all, either.
Willingham made breakfast, and me and Williams did the grocery shopping for a couple of days. I also replaced all of the creams, gels, and unguents that the diligent security of the Wichita Falls airport confiscated, so I will at least smell good while I’m here.
I took a tour of the house last night, but walked it again in the daylight, and decided to write in Mrs. Kipling’s study—the Dragon’s Chamber, as it was called. Mainly because I liked the desk, but also because I have a good window to gaze out of and contemplate things.
After breakfast, we walked the grounds a little bit and spent some time out on the porch, taking it all in. Being in the same physical space as another author, and particularly one like Rudyard Kipling, is both exciting and humbling. I feel energized in a completely non-supernatural way.
We mostly got settled into our own spaces today, and Willingham got used to the two of us being around. I did some prep work, and started rewriting what I already have on Replacement Gorilla. So far, so good.
We absconded to the village to eat and drink, based on a website that I found that gave a list of stuff to eat and drink. One of the local hotels has a movie theater in it (so the website said) and also a grille where they make their own beer. Case closed.
We showed up, and not seeing a restaurant entrance, walked right into the hotel. The woman behind the counter looked as if she was grown there. She stared at me with a kind of dim, reptile intelligence.
“Ma’am, where is the entrance to the restaurant?” I asked, all southern and gentlemanly-like.
Her mouth formed a frown so severe, it would have made a croquet hoop jealous. “The grille was downstairs, but it moved out about three years ago, and we don’t have it now. But you can go out the door and try down the street, two doors, where there is another grille that serves local beer.” This was delivered in that sing-song “ayuh” New Englander accent that Stephen King always writes about. It’s never scary until you hear it live and in person.
Needless to say, we beat a hasty retreat and found the pub that served locally brewed beer, which was ver good. While at the bar, our not-unattractive waitress caught Willingham’s eye. The problem was, I spoke to her first, and in the Book of Guy, that designates the right of First Flirt. In truth, I was merely trying to be my usual charming self, but Willingham also prides himself on his charmingness, and so we are constantly jockeying for position with waitresses, check-out girls, and whomever else we mutually run across.
So it was while settling a bet that me and Willingham made as to the number of bookstores in Brattleboro that I told our waitress that we were staying at the Kipling house for a writer’s retreat. Then, while discussing the entrance to the movie theater in the bar, she found out that me and my wife owned a movie theater in Vernon. As she walked away, Willingham asked, “I wonder what else you could tell her that she would believe.”
Me and Williams tried to think of things, each more outlandish than the next. One of the careers was test pilot, I think. Willingham threw out “Deer Tick Surveyor,” which we both pooh-poohed. “That’s the point,” said Willingham. “It’s supposed to be something outlandish.”
I begged off, citing the fact that there’s no way I could pull off the lie, and Willingham rolled his eyes at me.
But the idea stuck with me. Could I pull this off? I’ve not seriously used that set of flirt muscles in years. I felt like the lion that has been de-clawed for the zoo. I was still on the fence about it when she came back and asked us if we needed anything else. I wanted more beer. I nervously made my selections from light to dark, trying to think of an opening. In the midst of ordering a sampler tray of beer, I closed my menu with a snap. “That’s only four,” she said. “You get five.”
Williams, seizing the opportunity, immediately dropped into the Wingman formation. “For a guy who counts things for a living, that’s pretty sad,” he deadpanned.
In an instant, and seeing that it was suddenly On, I said, “Well, that’s deer ticks. It’s a much smaller thing to count.”
The waitress cocked an eye at me. “Deer ticks?”
“Oh yeah,” I said. “Deer ticks. I’m a deer tick surveyor. That’s how I got the money for the writer’s retreat. I’m counting the ticks in your deer population.”
She smiled and cocked her head. “Are you just telling me that, because it sounds like something that someone would make up.”
I then assured her that no, it was real, and in fact was funded by a grant by the EPA, and that the job wasn’t to count every single tick; that’d be stupid. Instead, one counted the ticks from a select sample of the population and extrapolated the results, which told us if the deer population was shrinking or growing. We got into a conversation about whether or not Vermont had a problem or not. I was totally in the zone. Then, as if I just remembered, I hopped out of the moment with, “Oh, and I still need a fifth beer.”
Now both Williams and Willingham were assisting, trying to get me to stop telling her about my day job. She assured them that it was a fascinating topic, even as she went to turn in my beer order.
Flush with victory, I drank my little cups of beer with relish while Williams and Willingham offered commentary my deception. We had us a merry old time before coming back to the house to do our first round of reading and critiquing.
I cannot explain how much I miss doing this stuff.
The writing was fun, and I fell back into it with a grace that kinda surprised me. While writing fiction is a muscle that has to be flexed, there’s some memory in the muscle, as well. This will be a good week to shake off the cobwebs and get back into fighting trim.
I hate flying. Oh, I’m not scared of flying. I really like that; feeling the earth drop away beneath you, the wind tearing over and under the wings, watching the cities become abstract and indistinct. I love that part. I really just hate modern airline travel.
Sure, I’m not the smallest guy you know, but I’m damn sure not the biggest, either. How is it then that I get stuck in the center seat, every frickin’ time? Makes no sense. I was cramped and miserable all day, and it started out badly when half of my toiletries got jettisoned in Wichita Falls because we were suddenly at threat level orange. Lousy terrorists.
The puddle-jumper to DFW wasn’t so bad, but DFW certainly sucked some of the life out of me. It’s the size of Manhattan; I know this because they were bragging about it on their signs. They have their own shopping system, because you can apparently spend your vacation at the airport. That’s just wrong.
Flying into Chicago, I hit Midway, because I hate effing O’Hare. Terrible airport, O’Hare. Always a problem there, every single time I ever flew into it. Midway is great, though (well, as great as an airport can possibly be, that is). The highlight of my day was getting to buy a couple of char-grilled red hots. Man, you just can’t beat that taste. It’s not a hotdog as most Texans understand it. It transcends and becomes like a sandwich, really.
Hartford’s airport was just dull. Thank god Bill Willingham was there to pick me up. We hopped into his rental and hoofed it up to Brattleboro, chattering the whole way. Good friends are the ones you can just resume your last conversation with, no matter how long it’s been since you’ve seen each other.
On the way up, we caught up and planned a late supper with Bill Williams, then stuck in Albany traffic in his own rental. I watched the countryside, all hills and valleys, ramshackle farmhouses and stately gingerbread mansions, and couldn’t help thinking of Lovecraft and Hawthorne. Just outside of Brattleboro, a raven flew across the road in front of us. I knew then I was not in Texas anymore.
Brattleboro has that characteristic trait of being built on a series of hills and hollows, so the streets wind and curve and dip and rise. Picturesque, in a non-postcard kind of way.
The Kipling house is breathtaking. I don’t know if I can describe it yet. Maybe I’ll try later. The three of us ate a Mamma and Papa Z’s café, and I had a scallop calzone (yeah, you heard me) with bacon and cheese. It was heavenly. Pappa Z is an orthodox minister and he looks it. Very nice, personable chap. Our first “interesting local” who was really nothing like I thought I’d meet here.
Hey folks, it’s been a while, and I’m sorry I’ve been to busy to keep everyone up to date on the big stuff, much less the little things. I’ll do that now, since the next two weeks are going to be certifiably crazy.
My hand continues to heal, and without surgery. I’m able to do most things with it splinted up, although I’m not looking forward to taping my fingers together for stability. Tendon injuries really stink. Thanks to everyone who rooted in their own way for it to get better.
Other than that, Cathy and I are slowly settling into the Plaza loft. Finally, we’ve got a bed and a dining room table to eat on—now we feel like adults again. The space is less of a disaster area, but still cluttered and unfinished. But we’re slowly getting it done.
I also recently did something that I’ve always wanted to do: I am now an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church. This is, of course, merely a footstep or two away from establishing a Universal Church of Elvis. Think of the tax breaks! I actually did it because two good friends of mine are getting hitched and they asked me to perform the ceremony. Talk about an honor! Talk about a great excuse to go buy ministerial credentials.
I’m looking forward to the wedding.
The Vernon Plaza Theater is now a going concern. We’re generating great, unilateral word-of-mouth and everyone is very excited about what we’re doing. Our first big coup for the town of Vernon just went through: we’re premiering Spider-Man 3, a feat which will insure that we start our summer season (which is akin to Christmas time for retailers) with a bang. The website is about half-completed, but you can get a good look at the structure and form at www.vernonplaza.com. And yes, if you refresh, the poster change. You film geek, you.
Running the theater is very different from running a bookstore. If there’s a power outage, or some kind of technical difficulties, you can still take money at a bookstore. Whereas in the theater world, your technical difficulties grind everything to a halt. Interesting juxtaposition. I’ve got employees, though, and that’s a universal deal. The kids here are funny; they are all sharp, clever, and great workers. But I find I have to dial my pop culture output waaaay back for them, for a couple of reasons: I’m officially too old (or they are too young) for me to drop any kind of dialogue or movie quote from the 1980s or back. They just assume that I’m speaking nonsense. Also, the pop culture underground railroad has no stop in Vernon. They know ABOUT YouTube, but they’re not “into” YouTube, for example. It’s tough sometimes trying to relate to them.
In an amazing turn of events, Blood & Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard, has been named a finalist in the Locus Awards Best nonfiction category. I am stunned and pleased, and I also think I have no chance of winning. But it’s very cool to be nominated, it really is. I just feel that the Tiptree, Jr. biography is going to stomp a mudhole in my ass. But wow, it’s a real honor to get nominated, alongside of Win and Sam Delaney, too. Will this mean that I might get a nod for a World Fantasy nomination? Jeez, who knows.
The other very cool thing that is about to happen: I’m going to take a week off in early May to spend a week at a Writer’s Retreat. We’re going to Rudyard Kipling’s old house in Vermont—no pressure to create something there, eh? I’ll be joined by several very talented writers: Award-winning author and publisher Chris Roberson, Eisner award winner Bill Willingham, and this year’s Eisner award nominee, Matt Sturges. Together, 8 or 9 years ago, we were known as Clockwork Storybook, and this will be the first time we’ve been together in at least five years. We’ll be joined by mutual friend and up-and-coming writer Bill Williams, and I’m certain that all of our latent one-upmanship will kick into overdrive.
Me? I’m going to finish the Gorilla Man mystery, long-dallied over, and rescheduled twice. This will be the first extended batch of fiction writing I’ve done in over a year. I’m hungry for it. I miss it, like I miss a brother. It’s going to be great.
I’ll post some of what I get done after I return, along with offline blog notes of the week. Wish me luck, or call me names, whichever leaps most to mind when I tell you I’ll be occupying the same physical space as one of the great classics authors of all time.
...everyone remember my huge, crippling hand thing from last year? Well, guess what? I just pulled the same injury on my LEFT hand--not as bad, and currently not scheduled for surgery, either. My emergency room doctor suggested something that scared the bejeezus out of me. Don't feel like talking about it right now. My left hand is all wrapped and splinted, thanks to the emergency room guys, and I'm typing at half-speed. I need an advil or six.
This is frustrating on a level that I cannot adequately express. Every single thing in the movie theater requires two working hands to operate. I've got one and a half. I have NO idea how this is going to work for the next few weeks.
Your thoughts and prayers are most welcome at this time.
This industry is one of the most jargon-riddled I've ever been involved in. And what's worse, there's just enough overlap from publishing to movies (in terms of promotional materials) that I look like an idiot trying to order a dump from a marketing rep, when what I REALLY meant to order was a standee. You know, those all cardboard diplay items that litter bookstores and movie theaters? Yeah, it's a dump for books, and a standee for movies. Sheesh.
I need a universal jargon translator.
And a map for navigating this backward-ass, stupifying industry.
I'm still learning huge amounts of things about the movie industry, like all of the technical specs of the projectors, and how the film distribution system works. So I don't expect to be able to change it, nor would I want to.
However, if the only time that someone is going to be able to deliver supplies to me is on the Monday right after I've just used them up, thus ensuing that I have to chain my orders out over two weeks' time, then I don't have a very effecient supplier. That's maddening.
Now I've got to blow two hours driving to Wichita Falls and back tomorrow, just to make sure that I have enough stuff to open the theater with. And then my restock will show up after my "work week." There's got to be a better way to do this--no, scratch that, there's got to be another person to do business with.
In other news, I've got two interviews and a very flattering review of Blood & Thunder up at the Internet Review of Science Fiction AND RevolutionSF right now. Feels like Mark Finn week all of a sudden.
Well, it finally happened. The Vernon Plaza Theater officially re-opened this weekend. And it was everything I could have hoped for: a week full of 12-15 hour days, very little food or downtime, learning a completely new set of technical skills, dealing with unruly children, building a concession stand system completely on the fly, dealing with money, training volunteers...
I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It’s my movie theater.
Now, with that comes lots of stuff that I am learning for the first time. The motion picture industry, as we have all known for years, is a blind idiot god, flailing mindlessly about in California with little regard to rhyme or reason. Well, that actually extends all the way down to the movie theater level. This whole last week was a series of heart attacks as my booking agent called to tell me that we couldn’t get one of the movies we’ve been telling people that we would have; no, wait, there’s a print available after all; oh, and would you drive to Oklahoma to pick up the other print from another theater; and hey, this other carrier has a print for you: Snakes on a Plane—you wanted Bridge to Terabithia? Well, I’ve got snakes on a plane for you...
And then, just like that, we were open.
About four or five weeks ago, as the air conditioner repair man was walking me through the manual process of reversing the airflow in my two gigantic units and we were both marveling at the computerized thermometer that had been somehow connected to this fifty-plus year old giant, I realized that this building, with its creases and crevices, Byzantine wiring and patchwork infrastructure, was my Millennium Falcon. It made me grin, and I immediately set to trying to get Cathy to learn the Chewbacca roar. She refused, of course, mainly because I think she thought of herself as Han Solo, and me as the Wookie.
Flash forward to opening day. I’ve got 155 schoolchildren in my building, buzzed on Dr. Pepper and popcorn, and the ice machine has just stopped working, after two weeks of a steady avalanche of cubes every fifteen minutes, whether we need it or not. Cathy was running wild, my volunteer staff was gamely scooping out of open bins, and we discovered that somehow, the water had been turned off. Hence, no ice. As we started the flow of water into the ice machine, I could almost hear Carrie Fisher asking me, “Would it help if I got out and pushed?”
“It might!” I said aloud.
This weekend was a real trial for me. I’m learning, on the fly, four or five new skill sets. The projector maintenance and film handling involve a multitude of steps. Daunting. And I’m also in charge of the concession stand—and I have NO IDEA how to best set that up. Talk about humbling. I’m asking the sixteen year olds with fast food experience how to best make it work. They are teaching me, even as I’m showing them how “Mickey Finn” acts in full-on managerial mode. They think I’m strange for an adult. I have to keep reminding them that I’m from Austin.
Stay tuned for more on the saga of the Vernon Plaza theater. I’ve got some plans, including a big, cool surprise for the Grand Opening at the end of March. We’re showing a (limited) FREE classic movie-and one of my all-time favorite films in the whole entire world. If you know me at all, you will know that I’m speaking about a very short list from which to choose. As part of the promotion, we’re doing a bit with the local radio station whereby Cathy and I will act out a scene from the film, and callers can guess it and win passes to the free show.
Here’s the scene:
Her: How come you haven’t settled down, gotten married and raised ten or twelve kids like your friend Sallah?
Me: Who says I haven’t?
Her: Ha! I say. Dad had you figured out a long time ago; he said you were a bum.
Me: Aw, he was being generous.
Her: The most gifted bum he ever trained. You know, he loved you like a son. Took a hell of a lot for you to alienate him like that.
Me: Not much, just you.
If you don’t know this scene, then I will weep for our friendship.
Finally, at long last, I can start to set up a working schedule of what I need to do and when. This will finally, at long last, free me up to start writing in earnest. Finally, at long last, Cathy and I can start putting the Loft together, get a bed, stop sleeping on our futon, and begin to assemble our Fortress of Solitude over the theater.
It’s been a long couple of months. We’re really tired, but we’re also really happy. It was a great opening weekend. We made money. Everyone was excited for us. It’s just the beginning.
In other news, Blood & Thunder is still doing well. I’m getting a trickle of fan-mail, emails, congratulatory messages, and other epistolary missives, all of it really positive. I’m in the middle of another essay right now about REH, and I’m still enjoying exploring various aspects of his life, but I’m REALLY ready to start writing fiction again. I’m WAY overdue for a short story or three.
More later, folks. I’m tired. I’ve got a concession stand order to make out. We popped about 90 lbs of popcorn this weekend. And I’m out of Skittles. The horror of it all! So, if I’ve been quiet, unresponsive in emails, haven’t called, or apparently dropped off the face of the earth, now you know why. The blogging will continue on LiveJournal, and it’ll be little things every day—mostly about the movie business at the ground-level.
I've been too damn tired to blog of late, but this one is worth the effort: tonight, I built up and ran a movie through our projectors for the first time. This comes almost thirteen months after we first set foot in the plaza and thought to ourselves, we can do this. Thus, in many ways, Bridge to Terabithia will be one of the most important films I ever sat through. It was my first outing as a projectionist.
There's a huge Finn's Wake coming. Along with that will come a real attempt at a regular blog schedule, even if it's just a couple of sentences. But see, we are open to the public on Friday, and with that comes about five hundred heart-attack-inducing things.