Media

Book Club Stress

The opinionated intricacies of deciding the next book in a book club. BTW, this book club is made up of appetizers. (my one and only collaboration with comics)

425444_867482835284_2143692665_n

Advertisements

The Red Balloon vs. The Inflatable Boy: Joe Hill’s POP ART

'that kid is fucked' - Red Balloon

‘that kid is fucked’ – Red Balloon

After reading Joe Hill’s ‘Pop Art’, included in the fine collection ‘American Fantastic Tales‘ (edited by Peter Straub), I must say there isn’t a finer modern fantasy story about the fragility of childhood; how the imagination disintegrates as those angst-filled teenage years rapidly approach, and how the hard realities shape youthful idealism into something bruised and unnecessary, yet full of despair and panic.

popartMasterfully done, Hill weaves both the absurdist and sentimental approaches to the childhood ‘coming of age’ tale. Like the boy (as we said back in the day, ‘that French kid‘) and his Red Balloon in the 1956 film, the ‘inflatable boy’ at the heart of this story symbolizes a means of escape – whether one sees it as suicide or enlightenment, that’s up for debate. Also up for debate is whether the inflatable boy is imaginary, or a freak of reality; or even a potential parable to a victim to Osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease). Either way, this story should be taught to children, read by adults, and analyzed for its imaginative power, narrative flow, and oddly tender heart.

Read the story first, and then check out this short film:

And hell, why not make a mini-film class of it…….here’s ‘The Red Balloon’ too:

Tools for Writers Staying off The Grid

book-burning

I’m not going to slap technology in the face, but sometimes being connected into the global grid of social media and search engines can frustrate and confuse a writer who is eager to forge ahead with their manuscript. Distraction needs to be fed, and it’s a beast that doesn’t understand what discipline means.

One minute you have hot coffee in hand and the conviction to burn out 2000 words, but not before you research one little item that may enhance your story. All it will take is a minute. But beware. For instance, researching the archipelago off Sweden’s coast can suddenly turn you face-to-face with an article about how the Yankees never-ending bankroll is harming America’s favorite past-time, followed by a scathing book review on Amazon, and a recipe for a Tex-Mex meatloaf that Guy Fieri thinks is the absolute bomb. Five minutes turns into twenty. Eventually you force yourself to return to your text, the cursor blinking expectantly, and suddenly, you realize you’re back in the browser. You went from finding info about the copper weapons of the Sumerians to photographic evidence of Bigfoot, deeper into the bowels of random clicking by reading an article on whether Sarah Palin got a breast job. Precious time sure does slip away without censor in times of the ‘click and swipe’ generation.

PalinCasabasSome may prefer to write facing a blank wall. Some may sit in a small room with a white noise machine buzzing in the corner. Some, like Jonathan Franzen, will be quite rational and simply write on a computer that is not hooked up to the internet. If only it could be that simple.

If the best writer’s advice ‘get your ass in a chair and tell your story’ isn’t working, here are some tools that can invigorate your narrative and prevent you from clicking endlessly into the void.

fountain-pen2Fountain pens. This tool is one that requires a patient hand, helping you control your thoughts, and therefore, choosing the right word. You can’t be spastic or short-wicked with this instrument. Each word needs to glide into the paper, each line solidifying with restraint and precision. But beware, if you’re a lefty, you’re fucked. A permanent ink smudge on the side of your hand won’t be worth it, so stick with your ballpoint when it comes to vintage longhand. Another plus is when you’re on the subway — unsavory characters won’t eye you longingly as they would somebody sporting a pristine iBook on their lap. They’ll just think you’re old fashioned, which necessarily isn’t a bad thing.

notecard_13Index cards. Nabokov used index cards. Everybody loves Nabokov.

post-it-messIf chaos suits you, Post-it notes could be the method for you. Especially when it comes to plotting images and scenes. However, a large cork board and a box of tacks will help you retain some sanity. Because waking up in the morning and finding your floor littered with notes that have lost their stick could be detrimental and damaging. You may start believing that your book is falling apart before your very own eyes. Not the wisest choice, but I do have little stacks of Post-its with fragments of dreams, half-formed ideas that have come after a night out at the pub, and clips of dialogue which blossomed in my head after the computer was shut down for the night. They’re like small bites, and if what you wrote on it sucks, you won’t feel bad crumpling it up and tossing it in the garbage.

Macintosh_Classic_2_300x318The Macintosh. This relic always reminded me of a dismembered robot-head in a graveyard of derelict automatons. Not a highly recommended ‘off the grid’ tool unless you’re a sentimentalist. I still have mine.

DNB0595-120130815-16882-1hzhy0aThe reel-to-reel voice recorder. Perhaps not a good tool for those who hate the sound of their own voice. Plus, if consuming too much whiskey, translating the drunken night’s spoken prose may be more time-consuming than you think. And prepare for saying ‘what the fuck did I say?’ on more than a dozen occasions. However there’s something quite charming about this instrument. As though you’re one of the survivors of the Apocalypse, reciting the demise of modern civilization in hopes that one day somebody will find the reels.

woman-typing-007And lastly, the typewriter. The incessant beating of the bars against paper sometimes tricks you into believing that what you’re writing is pertinent, brilliant. But beware if you’re a smoker, because you will find yourself burning down one cigarette after the other, thinking that you’re possessed by a pulp writer back in the 1930s, paid a penny a word (when cigarettes cost a nickel a pack) – or a journalist rushing to meet a deadline. It’s important to remember that a typewriter without an ashtray next to it is a lonely piece of machinery, even if you don’t smoke. If you don’t, get a nice vintage ashtray and fill it up mints, pecans or erasers. Also, I think writing short stories on a typewriter is a good lesson in patience and form. Every writer should have one.

Now go work on that story, off the grid, just you and your imagination. But first you’ll have to research a typewriter on Ebay, or a fountain pen on amazon. Just be wary, you may not buy the pen in the end, but find yourself clicking through a list of ‘how many bad 80’s movies have you seen’, checking real estate in Brooklyn and Boston, or browsing reviews for books on how to break free from the grips of a writer’s funk.

The void beckons your attention.

Forgotten Novels of the 80’s Horror Boom (2) FATAL BEAUTY

41H4AjZd2lL._SL500_

She had killed Dennis, murdered Dennis, even if she hadn’t meant to. It was her breasts that did it — they had a life of their own, they did things she didn’t want them to do, she had no control….

— Fatal Beauty — William Schoell

At first I wanted to break this horror novel down with analysis from several schools of literary theory, and take the pulp horror novel and squeeze and strangle the text for meaning beyond the page. But looking through the deconstructive, post-structuralist, and Darwinian lenses yielded the same result – that this novel, Fatal Beauty, is a steaming pile of shit, shockingly full of inanities and jaw-dropping ridiculousness; the kind of book that is like a festering, ripe zit, an abnormality that beckons the reader to squeeze it until it bursts. And with that, I don’t mean to say this book is a waste of time. No, not at all. It is a memorable travesty and not to be taken seriously at any point. Because any book where a woman’s fake breasts swell to ridiculous proportions before mutating and sprouting tentacles is a glorious turd, a memorable purging of literary form, a steaming pile of head-shaking wonder.

title_deadlyweapons

the only other time i’ve encountered death by breasts – chesty morgan in ‘deadly weapons’

I found this rotten little gem amidst stacks of paperbacks in the corner of the Harvard Bookstore warehouse in Somerville, Massachusetts. It would be blasphemy if this book was in the highbrow racks at the Harvard Square institution on Mass Ave, but amidst a graveyard of mildewed paperbacks in a warehouse full of discount literature, I pulled this one out and saw the shimmering mannequin face that graced the cover, the name William Schoell (a cult horror author known for churning out drive-in prose below the proper depths of pulp decency,) and with a fifty cent price tag, I quickly realized that in my hand I held a treasure.

Once I started reading, I could see an editor proposing the idea to the writer, William Schoell in 1989, “Make it horror that women can read. Something big, you know. Something stripped from today’s headlines that’ll grab readers by the throat, something controversial maybe. Something like plastic surgery. Yeah, I think that’s what you should do. You know, t’s 1989, everybody is getting tit jobs, fake lips, nips and tucks. Fuck with it and make it gruesome for those teenage boys, but add some female drama, lesbianism, jealousy, you know, so we get the ladies to read it too. C’mon, you got two weeks to write this puppy, so get on it.”

What Schoell turned in was a book whose plot is a weird hybrid of ‘Peyton Place’, Michael Crichton’s film ‘Looker‘ and biomorphic horrror translated with the comical grue of EC Comics and other pre-code horror comics. Perhaps, eschewing the ‘thriller’ label on the book’s spine, it should have read, ‘Biomorphic Melodrama – Grade D but edible.’

Plot. Those evil scientists are up to no good again. Splicing, dicing and reconfiguring a whole manner of animal DNA. After several failed attempts, they successfully create a slug-like creature that oozes a goop, which soon becomes the main ingredient to a drug called ‘Porodyne’, a cream applied to the skin that can restructure people’s faces to a Hollywood perfection. But what the patients don’t know is that this sentient goo is part of a greater organism, a genetic catastrophe that can control the patient/client/host using its psychic powers. No shit, psychic slugs. The cosmetic company, Barrows Industries, has fine-tuned this psychic, magical slug-sweat goo and is on the precipice of releasing it onto the global market. But one thing the scientists ignored is the effect of it on the world – will everybody look alike in the future? Will vanity consume the globe? Will the monster goo heal the scars left behind by botched plastic surgeries, or will it become its own enemy, igniting its own wick and starting an apocalypse.

bad-plastic-surgery-12Essentially, this book is 2/3 melodrama, and 1/3 goopy, soupy, slutty horror.

More plot:

Peggy is a naturally-busty journalist struggling to make it in New York City. She supports her douchebag actor boyfriend. Once good-looking, he’s now going bald and showing his true age, 40 years old. Disillusioned with love & life, Peggy meets up with her old college friend, Ronica Barrows, heir to the Barrows cosmetic empire. The dashing blonde asks Peggy to write a piece detailing the magical powers of their new cream, Porodyne, and how it affects their first five patients. It could change her life and make her the woman, the writer, she always wanted to be.

One patient is Yolanda Vasquez, a burn victim. Another, a wealthy ex-publisher, Emily Stuart, who is sleeping with her 17 year old nephew. And then there’s Ralph Tarramonte, an aging nymphomaniac who wants to keep his face as young as his unflagging libido. Our heroine, Peggy, takes on the job, but soon the reader is victimized with pages upon pages of how in college, Peggy, the ugly loner became obsessed the Barrows siblings, Ronica and Romeo (yes, Romeo is his name, and of course, he’s gorgeous, dashing, and shallow). Now a decade later, Peggy still desires the full attention of these two beautiful people. Can she appease the siblings and win their attention before the proverbial shit hits the fan and the sentient goo creates havoc? Can Peggy finally make it as a journalist? Can she hold back the secret of her past, the lesbian urges that are going to reveal her horrible secret?

Schoell bangs out this novel in the last third – questionable prose, gruesome deaths, and half-ass revelations on gender identity. The slug creatures finally break free from the laboratory, and once they do, their sentient goo that was applied to the patients quickly revolts from their hosts, turning them into melting, pestilent pus-sacks — creatures from a dermatologist’s worst nightmare. For instance, Emily Stuart, the ex-publisher, turns into something half Elephant-Man and half crustacean, and in one of the book’s most memorable killings, gets revenge on her nephew for screwing around behind her back: ‘one pincer went up his rectum as the other snapped shut on his penis‘. And then poor Yolando. After becoming a medical sensation — once a burn victim, now a beautiful woman — she is the honored guest at the NYC Mayor’s ballroom event, and amidst the Manhattan royalty, she can’t bear the horrible, sudden itching any longer, and in a Clive-Barkeresque moment, sheathes her second skin in a high point of Grand Guignol slapstick.

society-1989-movie-4So in a nutshell, can a novel of questionable merit transition itself into sublime material? In the end, I must say no. But I enjoyed this for what it is — another forgotten novel from the 80’s horror boom.

Cheese quotient: through the roof. Poor writing: well, you’re not getting the literary stylings of a Peter Straub, or a well-plotted thriller of a Michael Crichton. Worth reading: well, if like me, you can eschew the literary standard and whore the horror boom’s most questionable entries, then please join in and hunt down a copy of Fatal Beauty. You’ve been warned.

Question is will I ever read a William Schoell novel again? You bet I will.

Experimental Cash Cow Project

#2 french bulldog in vintage astronaut helmet

#2 – french bulldog in vintage astronaut helmet

Sometimes, like two rams holding their ground, artistic collaborations can turn into a stubborn showdown, nostrils flared and horns eagerly poised for collision. Sometimes, collaborations can be quick and playful, void of the arduous task of constantly editing and reworking an idea until exhaustion and boredom sink the whole project. With that said, I’m happy to join up with Brooklyn artist, M.H. Wei, for the ‘Experimental Cash Cow Project’, where the whole process is defined by not taking ourselves too seriously, and not allowing ourselves too much time to ponder each idea. Each day for the next 30 days, I’ll scour my imagination for an image, send her a brief description, and within a day she’ll visualize my idea and put it to the page. Some may be ridiculous, some may not make much sense, some may shine, and some may sink. We’ll just have to wait and see. 2 days down, 28 more to go.

562862_10100337711834574_1534145502_n

#1 – cowboy riding manatee

Find out more about M.H. Wei @ :

http://weiartist.com/

http://society6.com/MHWei