Week Twenty-Five: Reading Fated, Watching Vietnam War Movies, Birds of Prey

June 27, 2012 § 2 Comments

June 24th, 2012

I finished reading Mr. S: My Life with Frank Sinatra by George Jacobs. Fascinating stories and insights into the personalities and characters of famous entertainment and political icons. Frank Sinatra could be kind and generous one minute, and hysterical and vindictive the next, resulting in destroyed relationships with people who loved him.

I started reading Fated by Alyson Noël. It’s about a sixteen-year-old girl who starts having terrifying, debilitating hallucinations and gets sent to live with her grandmother in a small town next to an Indian Reservation in New Mexico. I just love it so far, and it has a very different vibe from everything I’ve read in the YA paranormal genre so far.

I accepted the fact that one of the main characters in my story would have been in the Vietnam War. I could easily have gone through my whole life not having to study this horrific event but it can’t be helped: my guy turned 18 and joined the army in 1967. So here I am Netflixing Vietnam War movies. Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Born on the Fourth of July, why must I do this to myself? I started with The Deer Hunter, which is 3 hours long! Way to dive in. Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Savage, all so young and baby-faced. I got through it on a Friday night, aided by some glasses of wine. One thing I know from watching that movie—besides how grateful I am to be alive and have the life I have—I cannot put my guy through a prisoner of war experience. Even though he’s the antagonist and you’re supposed to put your characters through hell, I cannot do that to him. It’ll have to be something else. I’m sure to get some ideas from Bloods: Black Veterans of the Vietnam War that I special-ordered on Saturday from Barnes & Noble. Mom recommended it—she read an excerpt from it in a Rolling Stone magazine many years ago and what she read stuck with her. I’d better stay stocked up on liquor for awhile.

Ashley Scott as the Huntress in the WB's B.O.P.

Ashley Scott as the Huntress in the WB’s B.O.P. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Finished watching my DVD set of Birds of Prey. Now I can see so many things that should have been done differently with it. The stories had dark content that should have been conveyed with a dark tone to match. When it was on the air, though, it meant so much to me to see a trio of women in a true sisterhood, after I had been stabbed in the back by someone whom I had thought was my best friend. I was inspired by Oracle doing pull-ups above her wheelchair when I was recovering from surgery and struggling to just do a simple yoga stretch. And Huntress was a girl with “abandoned by Daddy issues,” and I was totally feeling homegirl on that one. The DVD set also contains an unaired pilot with Sherilyn Fenn playing Dr. Harleen Quinzel instead of Mia Sara. I think Sherilyn Fenn have made a kick ass Harley Quinn.

Tidbits from the Storytellers at Albuquerque Comic Expo, 2012

June 24, 2012 § 5 Comments

What I really love about Albuquerque Comic Expo (ACE), besides the people and the energy and the comic books and the art, is the chance to talk to the superb storytellers in the business.

“No amount of money matches a reader telling you they were touched emotionally by something you’ve written.” —Len Wein,  co-creator of Wolverine, editor of The New Teen Titans

Raven - Teen Titans 08

Raven – Teen Titans 08 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I got to talk to Len Wein a little, when he was signing my New Teen Titans comic book, about what being an editor entailed. He said it equated to doing the least amount of work so that the other writers could do their best. He would make suggestions about the direction of the characters and the composition of the superhero group. He came up with the idea for the character that became Raven, one of the three females in the Teen Titans group of seven. Raven was the broody, withdrawn one, constantly battling her dark side, her demon father’s side, within her. In my opinion, she added a mature, mysterious edge to the series.

“I don’t have a favorite hero. I love them all. It’s like asking a father who is his favorite child. You can’t do it.” —Stan Lee, former president and chairman of Marvel Comics; Chairman & Chief Creative Officer of POW! Entertainment

Stan Lee’s genius was lauded by his contemporaries throughout the entire weekend of ACE. Allen Bellman, a comic book artist who started out drawing backgrounds for Captain America at Timely/Marvel in 1942, called Stan “the godfather of the comic world.” Michael Golden, creator of the X-men’s Rogue character, said Stan could cut through all the fluff to the essence, the heart of something. Herb Trimpe, artist for The Incredible Hulk and Wolverine, explained that Stan’s technique was to work from plots that were often hashed out via verbal pow-wows with the staff in his office. Len Wein marveled at how Stan could come up with the perfect name for a hero off the top of his head, after everyone else on the team had struggled for an idea. Stan Lee himself, at almost ninety years old, was one of the most spirited, engaging, and lively panel speakers at the Expo. He brought the audience to its feet when at the end of  the hour he said that being a writer is like being a god. A writer can make anything happen, can kill anybody off, can make somebody come back from the dead. “That’s why I chose to be a writer instead of the President of the United States.”

“End it. Wrap everything up in a nice little bow.” — Michael Golden, at his Storytelling Workshop

Michael Golden

Michael Golden (Photo credit: ElDave)

After the panel I walked around Artist Alley and came upon Michael Golden’s art table (where I bought one of his prints, a Golden Age depiction of Wonder Woman in her original outfit with the skirt, out in the battlefield, fighting Nazi soldiers). Golden asked if I’d learned anything in his talk that I didn’t already know. I told him I really appreciated what he said about the importance of a story having a satisfying ending. I then launched into a rant about how the movie 28 Days Later being shown with two different endings was bullshit (my words) and that turned into a great conversation about how the ending to Angel Heart was obscure, yet perfect (his words). The movie talk with Golden was a major highlight of my ACE weekend.

Week Twenty-Three: Reading Mr. S, Revisiting Characters’ Childhoods, and Regaining Youth at ACE!

June 12, 2012 § 5 Comments

June 10th, 2012

I started reading Mr. S: My Life with Frank Sinatra by George Jacobs. Jacobs worked as Sinatra’s right hand from 1953 to 1968. I picked this book up at the library for some background research on one of my main characters, who is Italian and grew up in the fifties and sixties. It’s fascinating to read about this era’s entertainment scene and the socio-political goings-on and the drama and intrigue of the stars, particularly the bittersweet love affair between Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner. “It seemed to me that the entire fifteen years that I had been with Frank were a kind of crazy odyssey on his part to do everything in the world, and I mean the entire world, to get over losing her,” Jacobs writes.

I thought I knew my characters. I really thought I knew my characters, until I started going through the Character Profile exercise outlined by Kirt Hickman in his book Revising Fiction. Not only am I finding out that I do not know my characters like I should know them, but I am discovering new layers to my characters whom I thought were already pretty multi-dimensional. Last week I worked out their astrological signs. This week I’m visiting their earliest memories and childhood traumas. I had been so focused on the characters’ current and recent traumas, it never occurred to me I need to understand their childhood, even though I am always saying everything stems from childhood. I ran into Kirt Hickman at the ABQ Comic Expo (ACE) this weekend and told him that he’s causing me more work. “You thought you were done,” he said. Exactly. Speaking of ACE . . .


Starfire vs. Blackfire. I used to play-act this familial betrayal saga in my room as a teenager.

A few months ago I wrote a blog post about how I had lost a whole chunk of comic books from my adolescence, and it felt like I had lost a chunk of my adolescence as well. This weekend, at ACE, I got it back. I was wandering around the huge exhibition room with all the comic book vendors and saw a box with a divider sticking out if that read “The New Teen Titans.” I ran over and flipped through the plastic-wrapped comics and there they were. Copies of almost every issue I had lost, plus a few more that I had never even known about. I bought them all. To make this whole thing even sweeter, the man who was the editor of the Teen Titans series back then, Len Wein, was at the Expo. I now have a “New Teen Titans” comic book signed by Len Wein. That which was lost, plus a whole lot more, has been found. ACE rocks!

I’ll be posting more about my weekend at ABQ Comic Expo in my next blog post.

Alyson Noël Talks about Fated

June 8, 2012 § 3 Comments

“The sky is bigger here than in California.”—Alyson Noël at her Fated book launch at Alamosa Books in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Ever since Alyson Noël visited New Mexico over a decade ago, she has wanted to write a story set here. While she was doing research for her best-selling The Immortals series, she repeatedly came across the topic of Shamanism. That’s when she knew she had her New Mexico story, and the Soul Seekers series was born. The first in the series, Fated, was released May 22, 2012, and three more books— Echo, Mystic, and Horizon—are scheduled to be published in subsequent six months intervals. At the Fated book launch at Alamosa Books, Alyson talked about her new series and writing in general.

Fated: When sixteen-year-old Daire Santos starts having hallucinations, Daire’s mother sends her away to stay with her grandmother in Enchantment, New Mexico. It is her grandmother who recognizes that Daire is beginning her journey as a Soul Seeker, one who can travel between the world of the living and the dead.

Alyson conducted extensive research for Fated, traveling to New Mexico, interviewing Native Americans and teenagers who live in New Mexico, and even taking a 3-day course in Shamanism. Check out the book trailer on the Soul Seekers website. Alyson said it perfectly matches what she pictured in her mind: landscape, characters, mood, everything. I got chills the first time I watched it, so I am excited to start reading this book.

Alyson Noel and Me at Alamosa Books

Creating Story: Alyson begins with a premise that appeals to her, then develops a character that is totally not ready for what’s about to happen to her. To create a compelling story, Alyson said you must “put your character through absolute hell.”

Recommended Reading for Writers: Two books that are always on Alyson’s desk when is writing:
Story by Robert McKee. “This book changed my writing.”
Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. “I always make sure I hit the fifteen beats that are outlined in this book.” (I had recently bought this book at the Southwest Writers Script and Screen conference, and started reading it after Noël’s talk. Based on the first few chapters, I have already made a change for the better in the first chapter of my novel.)

Advice to Aspiring Writers: For those who are looking for a critique that is actually helpful and constructive, she said it is important to get your feedback from someone who understands and appreciates your genre.


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