The Creeper

Apropos of nothing, I’d like to talk about the best Scooby Doo monster: The Creeper. The Creeper was more than a guy in a Frankenstein’s Monster costume and a bad Beatles wig. He was a guy in a Frankenstein’s Monster costume and a bad Beatles wig who robbed the same bank, over and over again. Rather than put more guards into the bank, or post someone in the center of the vault, the bank manager accepted the most likely explanation of the robberies: the robber was a spectre.
I enjoy the Creeper for many reasons. His fashion sense (black turtleneck sweaters are always in style). His uneven eyes. But mostly, I like him for his call.
“Creeeeeeper. CREEEEEPUUUR!” *
It takes a special monster to yell his own name and be scary. You never saw Dracula jumping out at someone and yelling “DRACULA!” He’d be laughed at. And did anyone ever hear Freddy Kreuger or Jason Vorhees yell their own names while eviscerating teen victims?

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Fast forward to 7:05 for the Creeper’s appearance and yell. Also, enjoy the song “I’m in Love with an Ostrich” which accompanies the Creepers chase of The Gang.
*Note: My lifelong belief that he was yelling “Creeper” has been undone by Jaye Wells. Leave it to someone who refers to her son as “Spawn” to point out that the Creeper was actually yelling “Paper.” Paper? Yeah, maybe he was just a writer. In fact, I think I like him even more because of that.

Meant to be?

A recent e-mail from my father revealed that he had found this site and had added it (he thinks, but can’t be certain) to his ‘favorites’ list (Hi Dad!). He also revealed a bit of family history which connected with my recently announced Fulton Prize win:

The final mention of the Fulton Prize award is interesting on several levels that you might not even have thought of. There are Fultons on your mother’s side of the family and your mother taught at Fulton High School (Fulton, MO) right after we got married. She drove a 28 mile commute each and every work day between Columbia and Fulton. You may recall the story of Fulton being the country seat for “the Kingdom of Callaway.” If not, ask her to tell you that story sometime. Also, Fulton, MO, is the location of the famous Churchill speech after WWII when the prime minister made the first-ever mention of “an Iron Curtain has descended upon the West.” Remember that Truman was president and from MO, and Truman had invited Churchill to speak in Fulton at Westminster College (all male at the time).
Anyway, now you have won the Fulton prize, and that is certainly well deserved since you have all sorts of links to that name.

I don’t know that I believed in fate… but now… hmmm…

The horror… the horror

I’m not into pointless gore, but I’m not a prude either. I enjoy a good blood-letting, if it is done in the right way. I’m a huge Tarantino fan, and I think that the Japanese movie The Audition is one of the most disturbing things I have ever seen, and it was so well done that I recommend it to horror fans. I think that sometimes the blood splattered movie-sets do a bit of stress relief, let out the monsters of the id which our modern, civilized lives lock into the closet. However, gore for gore’s sake, and a celebration of it for celebration’s sake is silly and lazy.
Enter, Captivity’s producer Courtney Solomon. This guy knows how to work the media. The more people complain about his film the better it is for him, and he’s blatantly riffing on them as he prepares for the roll-out of his July 13 premiere. I won’t see this film, and haven’t seen films like Hostel or the retreaded Hills Have Eyes or Texas Chainsaw Massacre films. The reason: the director’s don’t really get what scary is.
For evidence of this, check out this quote from the article (emphasis added):

The idea behind Mr. Solomon’s planned party of course is to put “Captivity” back on the map, no small task given the scheduling hiccups and recent woes in the horror genre. Over the last few months a series of horror films have done poorly, culminating with the disappointing performance earlier this month by Lionsgate’s “Hostel: Part II.”

If horror is indeed lagging, part of the cure, Mr. Solomon said, is for the genre to get even scarier. To that end he persuaded the director of “Captivity,” Roland Joffé, the much-honored filmmaker behind “The Mission” and “The Killing Fields,” to undertake reshoots. These added explicit torture , including a so-called “milkshake” scene that involves body parts and a blender, to a picture that was largely psychological in its thrust when After Dark acquired the rights to it.

So to make things “scarier” he adds more gore? The problem is that scare does not equal gore. Scare comes from an interruption of normalcy. I am scared when solitude is broken by a roar. I cringe when I see a hand in a blender, not because I’m scared, but because I’m grossed out. Filmmakers like Mr. Solomon have confused the two, and are unwilling to do the hard work necessary to truly earn an audience: come up with a premise and technique which will hold the audience’s attention while NOT showing gore, so that gore isn’t even needed.
Someone once pointed out that one of the first slasher films (it was either “Friday the 13th” or “Halloween”) didn’t have any blood in it. A good lesson in what “horror” can be.

Critics vs. Bloggers

Finally, a little sanity in the whole “Bloggers are the devil” debate: UK Guardian defends bloggers.

“But why should we believe the blogger?” comes the cry. “Who are they and how are they qualified to tell us what to read?” The answer is: you should believe them and trust them in exactly the same way you would a critic in a newspaper or literary journal. There will be some you admire and some you think are stupid. Some bloggers write well and some badly and so do some literary critics.
The bloggers you bookmark and visit every day will put you in the path of things you’ve never heard of: the unhyped, the out of print, the forgotten masterpieces, the unclassifiable. They will do so in a variety of voices. Give the book bloggers a try.

Click page for more information

I came across a fascinating article on Tim O’Reilly’s blog by way of GalleyCat. It’s about a vision of book reading that would include hypertext. Special ink in the books would allow you to press on a word and be linked to additional information, sort of like reading something online.
I can’t help but think that this is just the another “flavor of the month” idea. What form of reading would this be useful for? Textbooks I imagine. I can’t see a novel including stuff like this for the simple reason that when I’m reading a novel I want to be immersed in the narrative, not hopping round looking for this bit and that bit. It would be a bit like a “choose your own adventure” book, which might be fine, if you’re twelve.
Non-fiction books might use such technology and succeed. An encyclopedia or dictionary, even an atlas or road-map. But part of me keeps going back to this fact: we have computers which already do this. Would you really shell out for a book which does this when you might have an easier time doing it online? And won’t the places where this would be used (students in a library or a roadmap in a car) already immersed in computers or computer-like technology which would make this irrelevant? Libraries have computers, cars have GPS.
I really don’t know. For more information click here, here, here, here or here.

Breaking bad habits… Miami style.

Every writer has habits. Bits of dialog reappear again and again, character motions or gestures which we don’t remember pop up and up and up. Just this morning I wrote about a character accidentally hurting himself with a hammer, realizing as the words left my pen that I have had at least three other characters hurt themselves with hammers in exactly the same way. (In case you are wondering, yes, I was chased by a group of hammers as a child, and it left deep, emotional wounds). These gestures, dialog snippets, themes, character types are not bad in and of themselves. What can be bad is what they become through overuse. They can be crutches that we use to get us from A to B in a story, a sentence, a longer work or larger collection, without putting in more effort.
I’m sure you have a favorite author who has habits you’ve noticed. Someone who has a good number of books, and some of their best are from the middle of their publishing career. Their early works are a little immature, but show promise. Their middle works are astounding. And then, the later works… well, they sort of follow familiar patterns. Characters seem very similar to characters from other books, bits of dialog have a familiar echo, plot elements and perhaps plot structures seem to be lifted from the earlier novels (or stories). The author has, in a sense, gotten a little too comfortable and isn’t catching (or doesn’t care to catch) their own habits before they become a self-mockery (think of Lucille Ball at the end of her career, hair still red–redder than red, in fact–when the schtick had gotten sticky).
In your own work it’s harder to see. You probably stick with similar settings or themes from book to book. I do. There’s nothing wrong with that, and reusing plots is unavoidable at a certain level as there are only so many out there. What is avoidable are the ticks, gestures, ways of framing a reaction or action that make the reader say “There they go again.” I had to make my character put down the hammer without getting hurt. In fact, for a change he used the hammer in the appropriate way and didn’t get hurt at all. I’m fighting the urge to make him almost hurt himself. Take a look at a current work in progress. How often do you have a character “raise his eyebrows in surprise”, “cross her arms”, “stare into space”, etc. etc…
By way of example, I will point you to this video, a compilation of repeated quirks and deliveries that starts off in melodrama and heads downhill fast. Here is a TV show where the push for originality has been pushed off the cliff.
Here is a collection of bad habits (writers habits, actors habits, directors habits…):