Category archive: Films

Committed, or Should I Be Committed?

I'm the guy kneeling on the left

The second craziest thing I’ve done in my life is to sign up for the Ottawa Marathon, which will be my second marathon race in less than a month. But when I get an idea in my head, it’s like a worm that burrows deep into my brain, chewing up all common sense along the way.

Like when it comes to writing. I got in on the early days of the film industry in Toronto, working my way from office production assistant to unionized camera assistant in less than six months. The smart thing to do would have been to upgrade asap to focus puller, camera operator or director of photography. I know that because I have friends who went that route.

But I had it in my head that I wanted to be a writer. So I shunned opportunities to upgrade and took B-Camera on shows like Due South so that I would only have to work two or three days per week. I spent the other days researching, writing and editing. Most of my friends in film think I should be committed to an insane asylum, and certainly they’re right in that my bank account would be much fatter if I’d gone full throttle in film the way I do for writing.

But that little worm ate away all common sense when it comes to my career, and so here I am, still writing and now publishing. Today I met with a new cover artist, and I’m charged about a concept that can carry across all five books in the 1000 Souls series. The artist is one talented guy and I can’t wait to see what he produces. I’m still excited about my writing, and I can’t wait for my fans to read the next installment because I’ve had so much fun writing it.

So my car may be old, my house only partially renovated, and I don’t have all the latest toys, but I still love writing. When I have doubts about my career choices, I remind myself that most people don’t enjoy their work.

Oh, as for the craziest thing I’ve ever done. I was writing a novel about Afghanistan (before 9/11 changed everything), and I got it into my head that it would be easier if I visited the country to get a feel for it. It was like a worm that got into my head and ate out all common sense.

That’s me kneeling on the left of the photo. Shameless bragging? You bet. How many people can say they traveled with the mujahideen? That’s just crazy.

 

Rango – The Post-Apocalyptic Western

Johnny Depp has a knack for picking unusual and interesting films that don’t fit with the Pirates of the Caribbean box office smash, so when my kids wanted to watch Rango, I sat down with them, surprised that an animated Western even existed.

The Western, both as a film and novel genre, fell on hard times during the 1970s and 80s.  The movie-going and reading public had begun to realize the Indians weren’t nameless and faceless “savages,” but rather that they were actually human beings who had, and still have, a legitimate grievance.  The public lost interest in seeing John Wayne indiscriminately kill people who dared to oppose the US Cavalry or tried to stop the flood of settlers into the west.  The audience began to feel guilty.

Westerns didn’t die, of course, but they centered more on outlaws, sort of the Mad Max movies set in the 1860s.  Rango is definitely in the latter category.  Thugs dominate a town while controlling its most limited resource–water.  People are leaving, and everyone who stays behind owns a gun and knows how to use it.  During a gun battle, creatures on both sides kill indiscriminately–yup, just like John Wayne in a 1940s Western.

That’s when it hit me.  We’ve come full circle back to the Western.  Now the stick-figure enemies are zombies/vampires, but this time our heroes can kill without remorse.  The zombies are already dead and there are no land claims.  The humans who need killing are vicious Mad Max-type bikers with no morals. They would be locked up if only there were any jails.

But it goes beyond just guiltless killing.  It’s also the freedom that comes with being in a post-apocalyptic world, one where your credit card and mortgage are unimportant, but your next meal is always on your mind.  I read a great blog by author Steven Montano on the appeal of the post-apocalyptic world.  People actually enjoy the fantasy of waking up one morning to find out that they don’t have to go into work, that the boss is a zombie and their car payments can be skipped.  Indeed, if you can drive, you can grab any car you want, preferably a big SUV.  You don’t even have to worry about sustainable development anymore.  Better yet, in every post-apocalyptic scenario, you are the one who survives and gets to wield the shotgun.

There was a time when I wondered if this genre would peak at the end of 2012 and dip after the Mayan Calendar reset and the world didn’t end.  But now I believe that as long as the population density in major cities is on the rise, as long as consumer debt is high, as long as unemployment rates force people to stay in low-paying dead end jobs, there will be demand for post-apocalyptic fiction.  That’s what Rango is: post-apocalyptic fiction set in the lawless West.

I Just Found My 1999 Website

It even has a pre-YouTube book trailer starring a friend who thought the idea was fun.  Here it is in all it’s 1999 glory: The Book of Bertrand

It’s so antique it’s quaint.  I built the site as a marketing tool aimed at publishers and agents, thinking they’d like a quick and easy way of finding out more about my novel.  I didn’t know back then that the publishing industry is extremely conservative, and I’m referring here to the Webster’s definition of conservative: “tending to oppose change.”

I kept track of the page views of the site, expecting that some agents or publishers might visit it a few times, perhaps impressed that I was ready with such a great marketing tool.  Guess how many even looked at the page?  You guessed it.  A big fat zero.  In hindsight this should have allowed me to predict how the publishing industry would react to eBooks.  The internet is something that even back in 1999 a lot of people wished would just go away.

I even wonder now if having a website hurt my chances of publication.  The internet is a big and scary place if you’re resistant to change.  I love the internet because it’s changing all the time.  Imagine if I’d had Youtube back in 1999.  I wouldn’t have had to put up a tiny low res video trailer under the assumption that some people might still be on dial-up with a 56k modem.  Yeah, remember that?

I’ll work on a new book trailer with apologies to my friends Mark (who helped shoot it) and Gord (the star).  But the times, they are a changing, and they’re going to change again.  Who knows what the internet will bring in another decade?  My bet is that it’ll be fun and very cool.

Oh, and that very unprofessional voice over: that’s me.

Priest: Not Like My Vampire Novel

The biggest similarity between my vampire novel and the vampire movie Priest is the concept of a religious order that has trained specifically to fight vampires.

The use of monks to fight enemies of a religion is not new, of course, as anyone who has read The Monks of War could tell you.  In fact, my sister gave me that book after I had first described my novel to her, and its one of the reasons my protagonist is referred to as a crusader.

Other than the religious order, Priest is very different from my novel.  The vampires are another species and would fit into the movie Alien easily, but not so much into Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

The whole setting is also very different from our Earth.  It’s meant to be either an alternate history or another planet–take your pick, and the Catholic Church is Big Brother.

In fact, the whole society is an Orwellian dystopia set after environmental degradation and nuclear war, very different from the leafy green of my post-industrial, post-apocalyptic world.

I’d still like to capitalize on the movie’s marketing campaign, but I’m reluctant now to tell people that my novel is just like Priest. Firstly because it’s not accurate, and secondly because now that I’ve seen the movie, I’m not sure that will send people flocking out to buy similar stories.

The movie is more like an expensive TV pilot, with a lot of Matrix-like big freeze shots and the anti-gravity stunts that have become the norm of Hollywood sci-fi action.

I’ve finished going through Fogel’s edit of my novel (it was brutal) and my proof-reader and I are making a last pass.  With luck I’ll launch Monday, over a week late, but Priest isn’t going to make or break this novel.

Busted a Deadline

People are watching the movie Priest as I write this, but they aren’t reading my vampire novel because it’s still in my hard drive.  I’ve been slogging all week through the editor’s notes, and all I can say is that I don’t pay her enough.

But I’m close.  I’m four-fifths of the way through, and my cover artist has delivered a great cover.  I’ll finish with this round of editing over the weekend and then it’ll need another copy edit to catch any typos from the changes.

It’s a lot of work, but I don’t want to be a Howett, the writer who self-published an e-book with so many typos that the reviewer, Big Al, had trouble reading to the end.

So while I wanted to launch the same day as the vampire movie, Priest, I’ll just have to accept that I’ll be a couple of days behind.  Better to publish a great book three days late than an unreadable one on time.

Kindles Everywhere

Look out Sony e-reader, Nook and Kobo, because Amazon announced this week that Kindles are now on display and available for purchase at 3,200 Walmart stores.  Since they’re already in Best Buy, Staples and Target, that means they’re everywhere, and they’re getting cheaper with the new ad version.

This can only be good news for authors, because once people get their hands on an e-reader, any e-reader, they’re going to want content–inexpensive content.

I know I keep repeating  this, but so many good writers I know out there refuse to publish because they’re waiting for the brass ring and the pat on the head from a literary agent, a publisher and the adoring public in that order.  A two year process at best.

So I’m going to try a little experiment.  By this Friday, I hope to have crunched through all of the editor’s notes on my vampire novel.  I want to publish it to coincide with the launch of the movie Priest, which as I posted before, has some very similar themes–walled cities, vampire armies and warrior priests.

I’ll keep track of how many copies of my e-book novel (and its sequels) that I sell in the next two years.  There’s only one prediction I can make that I’m certain will come true: I’ll make more money and have more sales than my friends who have yet to get a literary agent to start their ball rolling.

Priest Forces My Hand

The first hint of trouble came from a friend who had read and liked my vampire novels.  He sent an e-mail with a link to the website of the movie, Priest, and asked me if it sounded familiar.   The tone of the e-mail indicated he already knew the answer.

Three of the main components of that movie trailer are in my novel: walled cities, vampire armies and warrior priests.  Aside from that my novel is very different, but I know people will draw parallels between the two.

I admit vampire armies is not that original an idea.  I mean, if you make two vampires and they make two vampires and so on it’s pretty obvious that eventually humans will have to wall off their cities and fight swarms of vampires.

As for my protagonist belonging to a quasi-religious order–well priests have been fighting demons for centuries, and Hollywood has exploited that idea many times.

So I had to decide: slink away with my Priest-like vampire novel or go for it.  Then it occurred to me that this is a marketing dream.  When people ask what my novel is about, I can say that it’s Priest meets the Battle for Helms Deep from Lord of the Rings.

Okay, some of you won’t have a clue what I’m talking about, but the fans who would buy this type of novel will know exactly what I mean.

I can’t wait to see Priest, because I’m pretty sure that the movie’s high-tech take on vampire fighting is very different from my post-apocalyptic novel, where gunpowder is so scarce that people carry swords and cross bows as supplementary weapons, and gasoline engines are a thing of the distant past.

I’m also betting that I have the better story, but I’m judging the trailer so that may not be fair.

So here’s the plan: run my novel to my editor (God help me) and hire a cover artist.  This novel has already been through several readers, so hopefully Fogel won’t totally gut me.  By the release date of Priest, May 13th, I intend to launch my novel on Amazon.

It’s going to be a tight deadline, especially since the Toronto Marathon is on May 15th and I’m training five evenings a week, but it’s exciting.