Monday, July 27, 2009

Comic-Con - Day 4

Sunday is wrap-up day at Comic-Con. The hard-core professionals, after attending the various show parties Saturday night, have already left. The retailers, looking at the stacks of unsold product, start making deals, cutting prices to avoid shipping it back home. Walking through the halls, you see knots of people comparing experiences, giving each other hugs good-bye, saying things like, "Next year we're gonna stay at Kevin's..." or exchanging email and phone numbers to stay in touch.

As I start on the long drive home to Pasadena, the same distance but taking twice as long due to traffic, my thoughts start to shift from the people I've met and the things I've seen and heard, to things I want to do: By next year, I hope to have my novel done. By next year, I'd like to have a graphic novel to pitch. By next year, I'd like to write a script for a short film and see if I can find someone willing to help me make it.

There's always more things I want to do than I could possibly do in a year, even if I had all the time in the world to do it. But that's OK. Comic-Con is about putting your mind in a place of dreams, where heros always win, where you have powers no one knows about, where you converse with alien beings in a congress of sentient creatures from around the galaxy. Comic-Con is about dreams. Making those dreams manifest for others to share... That's my job.

Comic-Con International Independent Film Festival

Every year, Comic-Con hosts a festival of independent short films. The films in the Science Fiction category were presented on Sunday afternoon. I watched at least a part of all of them this year. Below is a run-down of what I saw. Where possible, I've provided a link to the movie or information about it. I encourage everyone to see them all for yourself.

Hirsute - A story of a young time traveler who confronts an arrogant, and hairless, version of himself. This was the most "science fictional" of the entrants in that the science fiction element was inherent to the story itself. It was also the most thought-provoking and ended up being my favorite. A.J. Bond wrote, directed and starred in the piece.

Turbo - A misspent youth named Hugo Park enters a tournament for the arcade game "Turbo," a futuristic version of 'Street Fighter' where players enter the game via avatars they create. The story is somewhat derivative, think "Karate Kid" meets "Tron," but it's a fun film that's well played and performed. The creators are trying to get backing to make it into a feature film. It straddles the line between original and formulaic enough for someone in Hollywood to take them up on it.

The Son of Santo - A film from Guatemala about a boy who mistakenly believes that his father is a famous masked lucha wrestler. When both his father and the masked wrestler die on the same day, the orphaned boy's dreams of taking his father's place as a hero becomes a shield against the staggering poverty and violence of the life he faces on the street. Then, his dreams seem to start becoming real... This was a very intriguing film which I unfortunately didn't see the ending of (the disk refused to play after about the middle of the movie and they didn't have a back up). The film was a bit slow at times, but I like to see it to the end to see how it turns out.

The Winged Man - Daysi, a high school student, becomes pregnant. When asked which boy it was she slept with, she insists that the father was a "Winged Man," the last of an angelic species that used to populate the Earth. A lyrical tail steeped in mystical realism, you're never quite sure whether Daysi is telling the truth, lying to protect someone, or lost in a world of her own imagination. According to the creators, the movie was based on a play by the same name.

Afterglow - Set in the aftermath of a failed alien invasion, two militiamen investigate a farmhouse after their vehicle runs out of gas. Andres Anglade, the writer/director, said he wanted to look at the aftermath of a big event and the impact it had on people. I liked the concept of the story, and the writing and photography were good. I don't think the acting hit the mark well enough to convey the director's vision.

Over the River and Through the Higher Dimensions - A guy visits his grandmother and uses the teleporter she's built for him to see the mysteries of the universe. This piece seemed to be as much a scientific prose-poem than a story. I'm not sure if the filmmaker is a genius searching for his voice, or a clever kid with too much time on his hands. It did keep my attention, though. The best parts were a fanciful, and surprisingly accurate, description of string theory given by the grandmother and an stop-action animated sequence where a robot version of the filmmaker is made on film. He brought the head to the panel to show everyone. He said, "Yeah... Keeping it in my apartment is scary sometimes 'cause, I'll like see it in the corner and think 'Shit, it's me!'" A fun piece.

Believe - An eight year old boy builds a machine to communicate with his dead father in the hopes of being saved from an abusive step-father. The musical score for this film was the best of any in the festival. Unfortunately, it was one of the few things I could commend about it. It had the feeling of someone writing about things they thought they should be writing about, rather than something that really meant something to them. As a result a lot of the moments felt like they were taken more from other films on the subject of abuse than from real life.

Goodsam and Max - A good natured young girl named Sam wanders the post-apocalyptic west with a swearing, Uzi-toting, cigar smoking alcoholic teddy bear named Max. This film felt like a parody of post-apocalyptic movies like "Mad Max" and "Tank Girl," though I don't think it was intended to be. The best part was the rather long animated opening which everyone applauded. I think they believed, like me, that it was the movie and not just an introduction.

Schrödinger's Girl - A scientist conducting experiments regarding alternate universes discovers a way to travel to different dimensions where she meets alternate versions of herself with ulterior motives. This British made film was the longest of the offerings at the film festival and felt it. The film starts off on a scientific error, when the scientist claims that they are conducting an experiment to see if there are alternate dimensions by using a quantum computer (the very existence of a working quantum computer is proof the of the 'many worlds' theory that alternate dimensions exist). The filmmaker then tries to show us the story lines of each of the different versions of the scientist, jumping from one dimension to the next, in an effort to tell their stories in parallel. I would have preferred that he focus on the one from 'our' time and showing us what happens from her point of view. He starts adding a number of subplots to the film (an assistant that can already communicate with alternate versions of himself; an effort to find the missing husband of one of the alternate scientists). The jumping around and the many different story threads make this a very difficult and confusing piece to watch. I ultimately decided to skip the ending to fight the traffic home.

If you're on Facebook, you can see the photos I took at Comic-Con by clicking here.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Comic-Con - Day 3

Saturday is the day I become a fan. Editors are too busy to pitch to, dealing with the thousands of fans that swamp the convention center on Saturday. The big media companies stage their biggest surprises, hoping to create a "buzz" that will be carried by the attendees from the convention like some virus out into the world so that millions of other people will buy or come see what they've done. Rather than try to fight through all that, I walk the dealers floor looking to see if there is something new and interesting I haven't read or I'll go to the panels for the shows and books I want to hear about most. By Saturday night, the serious work of the convention is over and, if I'm lucky, I've restored a fresh glaze of geekiness to my skin to provide protection against the burning rays of "reality" that await me once I leave this particular space-time nexus.

Went to two noteworthy panels on Saturday:

Spotlight on Ray Bradbury - Ray Bradbury was one of the writers that doomed me to a life of imagining people and places that never were, but were still real to me. He turns 89 on August 22nd, and though I've meet him a couple of times, and seen him several more at conventions and lectures, I wanted make sure I saw him again. I was surprised to discover that his theatre company, The Pandemonium Theatre, is located a few minutes away in South Pasadena. He'll be having a birthday celebration at a bookstore called "Mystery & Imagination" in Glendale on the 22nd. They showed a clip of an interview he gave to Mike Wallace on the night men landed on the moon, forty years ago. Though it was somewhat said to see him struggle to hear what was being said and respond, it was clear that his heart still burned with several passions. The most stirring moment came from a question about where the sense of hope in his stories comes from. Ray laughed and said, "Forget hope... I LOVE life. I've always want to see more of it."

Spotlight on J. M. Straczynski - If Joe Straczynski is speaking, I make a point of listening. I enjoy hearing him talk about writing. It inspires me. And I enjoy hearing him talk about what he's working on, the focus of this particularly panel, because it is always cool and something I'll want to see. Right now he's working on a remake of the classic science fiction movie from the 50's, Forbidden Planet. "If you remember the original movie," Joe said, "and the things they didn't reveal to you, that's what we're focusing on." Hmm... There were also some hints about creator controlled comics he'll be working on, and the possibility of a Babylon 5 movie being made ("We're talking... At this point I can guarantee you it either won't be made, or it'll be made right."). Joe is also good for some excellent quotes I like to share with people:

"We're here to be magical. Do what you're afraid of."

"Listen to the quiet turning of your own conscience."

And, from Michaelangelo, "Trifles make perfection and perfection is no trifle."

This is the type of stuff going to Comic-Con is about.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Comic-Con - Day 2

Everyone wants to be around people that are sacrificing to the same gods that they are.

Friday at Comic-Con emphasized that for me. Sometimes it's people you see once a year at the convention. Friends that I've met ten times in the past decade. Robyn is like that. She helps run the Professional Lounge. I first met her when she was 12 years old, helping her mom. Now she's in her mid-twenties, working for the city as a lifeguard, but still coming to the convention every year to help out. We see each other. She calls me, 'Sweetie.' She gives me a hug. We tell each other what we've been doing for the past year. It's good.

And then you meet people for the first time. Like Robert, a writer I met in the Professional lounge. He got his first professional writing job working on Star Trek: Deep Space 9. Lucky! He got out of writing but is trying to get back in. He gave me his card and told me to look him up on Facebook. "We're in this together, right? Gotta help each other out."

Conventions are what people did before Facebook, to create networks, to find people that share interests, etc. It's like I tell 'normal' people who ask me about what goes on at "things like this." I reconnect with my tribe.

I attended just one panel of note on Friday:

Building Tomorrow's Technology - A panel of science fiction writers, including Greg Bear, discuss how the dwindling availability of natural resources affect the technology one images for the future. The discuss when beyond the original parameters, the way any really good discussion will do. My favorite portions were when each of the writers talked about how they come up with their future tech and put it in their stories. Maybe it's just me, but I think talking about (or listening to people talk about) things like quantum computing, nanotechnology and designed bodies is fun.

Tried to get into the Joss Whedon panel, but it filled up before I could get in. Darn.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Comic-Con 2009 - Day One

Back once more in San Diego. I did the math yesterday. This is my 12th Comic-Con in a row, and my 10th in a row as a registered professional. Happy Anniversary to me! When I first came to the convention back in 1997, about 40,000 people came with me to enjoy a long weekend of geeky fun. Last year they estimate that 126,000 people came over the same time period, visiting a convention center that is literally twice as big as it was before.

One of the things I've enjoyed most about the convention is going to the panels. On the first official day I went to three:

Science Fiction That Will Change Your Life -A panel run by the staff of talked about science fiction that they've encountered in the last year (from books, comics, movies or television) that 'blew their minds.' Got some titles I hadn't read or seen yet. I'll be checking some of them out.

J. Michael Straczynski: Professional Writing -The creator of Babylon 5 and one time writer for The Amazing Spiderman. It's always a pleasure to hear him talk about writing. Listening to him recharges my desire to keep working on my stuff and getting it out there. Even a touch of laryngitis couldn't slow him down.

Mad Science: The Science behind Science Fiction -Sponsored by the National Academy of Science's Science and Entertainment Exchange. A panel consisting of the writers/creators of the TV shows Eureka, Fringe and Caprica, as well as the scientists that work as the science advisors for those shows. Very interesting and informative. I enjoyed listening to a group of writers talk about the ideas that form the basis of their stories, especially when they are concerned about getting the science right. I'm going to make a point of watching these shows to see what they are like.

There was a rumor that Johnny Depp made a surprise appearance, but I didn't see him nor the crowd that would have formed. I was probably too busy fighting my way through another crowd.

Friday, July 03, 2009

A Story a Week

Last year at WorldCon 2008 in Denver, or ‘Denvention’ as it was called, I attended a writing panel hosted by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith. They said that they had a “guaranteed” way of getting published which amounted to this:

1) Write a new short story or the chapter of a novel each week.

2) Without rewriting, send out that new short story to a publisher once it is done.

3) Keep sending it out until someone decides to publish it.

The last two steps are somewhat reminiscent of Robert Heinlein’s advice to writers, which was to “Write. Finish what you write. Submit what is finished. Keep submitting until its published.” Heinlein also added that you shouldn’t rewrite any story you said was finished unless a publisher specifically said they would publish it if you rewrote it. Both Kristine and Dean said that they took up this challenge after hearing about it from other writers and by the end of the first year following it they had started to publish their work consistently. Since I want to see my work published consistently as well, I decided last year to try this process myself.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out for me as of yet. I’ve not yet been able to sustain a complete new short story each week. To be completely honest, I didn’t actually start trying “for reals” until March of this year. Even so, the times I’ve finished a new short story and sent it out within a week have been rare. I’ve recently started thinking about why it is I’m having difficulty in meeting this challenge.

One reason is my schedule. I work a full time job that’s about a forty-five minute to an hour drive away through L.A. traffic. I get up every morning around 5:00 AM and write for an hour and a half before I have to start getting ready for work. In that time I can usually scratch out a couple of pages of handwritten notes in my journal, do a bit of research online for whatever story ideas I have, and punch out two pages on whatever story I’m working on. The two pages a day is something I heard from another favorite writer of mine, J. Michael Straczynski, creator of the TV show Babylon 5 and one time writer for the Amazing Spiderman, amongst other things. Now, I don’t know the type of schedule Kristine or Dean were working under while they were facing this challenge, maybe they had even less time than I did, but it sometimes takes me a little longer than a week just to finish some stories. And I’m so bad at typos and grammatical errors and conceptual misstatements while I write that it’s too scary for me to contemplate sending those drafts out without going over it more than a few times. In fairness, both Dean and Kristine said that they reviewed their work for such things before sending it out, but I still have to imagine they had more time than I regularly do.

More importantly, my process of writing a story is that is best described as ‘writing the story in order to discover the story.’ When I get an idea for a story it usually starts out very small and specific. A bit of dialogue. An idea for a character. A combination of some things that happened that day with something I feel strongly about (see my previous entry on Three Things and A Belief). I’ll then turn on my computer, or take out a piece of paper, and start writing about that fragment until I run into something I don’t know. It could be something as fundamental as why the character wants what they want to a question as trivial as “What do Japanese bus driver uniforms look like?” (They look a lot like MTA bus driver uniforms, by the way, except they wear white gloves and official looking caps as well). I’ll then save what I’ve written, find out or figure out what I don’t know, then come back to the story and carry on. This process will eventually lead me to figuring out what the story REALLY is about, quite often taking me in a completely different direction than I started. It’s at this moment, when I KNOW the story, that I start over and write again to completion. For me, this early writing is like doing improv for an actor, or working in a sketch book for an artist. Or even better, it’s like chopping down trees and mixing cement before I start building the house. It’s not the building the house per se, but I can’t build the house until I have the materials to do so.

I still want to get to the point where, every week, I start and complete a new story and send it off. Since trying to work under these provisions, I’ve noticed that I’m getting more stuff done in any given time period. Also, I’m slowly becoming inured to rejection (‘slowly’ is the operative word here, I still hate to see a story come back, but these days I don’t stew over it and simply send it off to someone else). I’m also working hard to have more of the story nuggets or seeds I’ve described handy. Adding to them for part of the writing session, figuring out what I need to know, so when it becomes their turn, when their week comes up, all I need to do is write them out.

Maybe if I keep doing that, I’ll get to the point where a story a week won’t be so hard.