The Three Hundred and Fifty-eighth Post: The One Where I Talk About A Soviet Era Film…

I just finished watching Come and See. This movie was made in the mid ‘80s, is a very good example of Soviet cinema and should be touted as a must-see by any serious movie buff, or even part-time movie buffs like myself.

Holy Cow.

This movie is absolute terror. As gritty and realistic as Saving Private Ryan but with almost no gore. This is a film that portrays what really happens in war. There is no glory. There are no heroes. There is only the cold math of survival.

We watch the main character Flyora get stripped of everything in the course of the film. It’s hard to believe that the smiling, happy boy in the beginning of the film is the same one at the end of the film swallowed up by the group of partisans, more than likely going off to his death.

The atmosphere is as bleak and oppressive as any location in Providence. Soldiers creeping out of the fog are like hungry wraiths. The cinematography does a very good job of expressing the utter loss of hope. We see the character’s faces right in front of the camera when we first interact with them, we see their freshness and in Flyora’s case, simplicity and ignorance of the reality of the world around him. it is through these shots — easy elemental framed pictures — we see the real face of war. The fear. The pain and worst of all, the banality. The moments of hate are almost a relief, but the protagonist – and by extension, the audience – rarely gets that luxury.

Death comes here often, and there is no ceremony to it. No dying words. One minute he’s talking, the next minute he’s dead. Nothing is spared. Even the animals are killed senselessly. We are reduced to powerless observers. The moment of catharsis is a release of sanity, rather than a release of emotion. Even at the very end of the film, we know that the cycle is going to continue. An almost perpetual meat grinder indifferent to everything. The final scene, watching the partisans through the trees amid funeral music, only reinforces the dread. We are left with the sight of more ghosts trying to find their final rest.

The performances are — especially of Aleksey Kravchenko — are powerful. We watch him age at almost inhuman speed. Glasha undergoes a similar transformation. Like Flyora, she comes into the movie with innocence that is tragically crushed. The small blessing is that we never see it happen, but the aftermath is enough. The fear on Aleksey’s face is real. Every shot fired was a live round of ammunition. The actor described round coming so close to him, he could hear them. The next time some Hollywood fluff says he’s sacrificed for his art, ask him if anyone’s shot at him with live fire. If he says no, then light a cigarette, take a long rag and put it out on his nose and tell him to do some real work.

If you ever get the chance to see this work – go and see it. This is a film that deserves to be sitting next to Saving Private Ryan, Downfall and Letters from Iwo Jima. It is a vital piece of work that the whole world must see.

 

 

The Three Hundred and Fifty-seventh Post: The One Where I Have Good News For A Change…

I have found an editor for Valentina’s Feast! What’s even better? She’s local…well…if by local you mean thirty minutes away, then she’s very local! I’m really happy about this. If things work out well between us, then I will certainly give her much more work than she can handle. If it doesn’t, then I’m out about $300 and a month of time. While I have three people reading it for me, and one of them is a professional editor doing for me as a friendly favor–I really want someone who does it for a living to look it over. I want this book to be the best it can be. I want it to be an enchanting and very, very disturbing book.

The other piece of good news I have is that I completed the other interview I volunteered for. This one was interesting in that what the moderator of the podcast does is takes two writers, gets their books from them and swaps them with each other and then asks questions to the writers about the other’s work. I read her fantasy novel, and she read The Dreaded Day Job. It’s nice when someone who has a following says “I loved this book”. It’s a good feeling–the validation of all that hard work.

Don’t get me wrong. The money’s nice, too.

I am working on the sequel to The Dreaded Day Job called The Agonizing Alibi Day. Without giving away too much, this one deals more with what goes on behind the scenes with the company. After this one, it’s going to be on to The Resurrectionist’s  Blues: One and Done. I have to admit, as I am doing the pre-writing for this one, I am having fun building the religion here. I am learning a lot about early Christianity. Did you know at one point, the Christian Doctrine accepted reincarnation? Yeah! That is wild! You’d usually think that reincarnation wouldn’t have made it to the Middle East, but there it was. I’m trying to do a little more digging to get some more information. I have a feeling by the time this is over, I’ll have a Ph.D in Religious Studies.

Other than all that, there is not a lot really going on. This is going to be a bit of a hectic week for me. Had a counseling session, so I had to work over to get my leaving early balanced out. Got an appointment with my hopefully-soon-to-be editor Thursday, so I’ve got to work over tomorrow, which is laundry day. I’m not going to be very productive this week, but I’m hoping to make it all up Sunday with a nice big writing session. I might even take tomorrow to not do any serious writing, rather continue planning The Resurrectionist’s  Blues: One and Done since I want that one done and ready to go in October.

Well, it look like this entry will get out there on time, for a change. I promised a movie review, and I will get it done for next week. I am still committed to watching Come and See, and I will sit down this Friday and watch it. I’m looking forward to it because the Soviets were pioneers in cinema, and I do have a bit of a weakness for foreign film.

That’s all for now. Have a good day and I look forward to seeing you later.

The Three Hundred and Fifty-sixth Post: The One Where I Talk Books and Madness!

Hello, everyone. I apologize for missing an entry (or two…or ten…let’s be honest), but I have an explanation and some good news.

First, the good news.

Valentina’s Feast is finished! Well, the first draft is at least. I’ve sent it off to a couple of editors and I’m still hoping for an October release. I do have other people reading it as well, so I’m hoping with all the input I’m getting this will be the best book I’ve written thus far.

On the upside, I am a wee bit ahead of schedule as far as starting the next book The Agonizing Alibi Day. I was supposed to start it this Saturday, but I’ve actually started it Monday so I’m hoping to continue to ride the wave of productivity through my least favorite month, and start putting out books to be read by mid-September at the earliest. If everything really, really works out, I can have a romance novel (Lard of Love) done in time for February.

I’m really trying to stay committed to cranking out a novel a month to end this year, and hopefully finish a couple of larger projects (The Marvelous and Malefic Doomsday Medicine Show and A Game of Chinese Whispers) over the course of next year. As long as I can maintain a certain level of production and a certain quality of finished product, I feel confident that this is within reach.

The reason why I feel so confident is…mental health.

No, wait – come back!

As long-time readers of the blog will know, I have been up front with my struggles with mental illness. One of the purposes of this is a place to discuss and communicate what’s been happening with me. Keeping it all bottled up has been more harmful than helpful (I only say this because this is how I was raised. Our family motto could have been: Et ego dabo vobis quia clamare de!). Recently, I have been trying a anti-obsessive drug called Luvox. It’s in the same class of SSRI like the anti-depression drug I was on called Lexapro. All of this will be slightly important in a minute.

For the past month, Luvox has made me feel like a zombie. Not the cool, sprinting zombie fiends but the lumbering, moaning mounds of undead flesh. I spent most of my lunches asleep rather than writing. When I got home, bypassing the gym because I was too tired, I would fix dinner and get ready for tomorrow. I didn’t have the energy to do anything else. I am frankly surprised I got the book finished when I did. Even when I got eight hours of sleep, I still felt like I have gotten an hour’s sleep over the course of three days.

Sunday was my last day of taking the Luvox. Monday was my first day of feeling awake. Really awake. Tuesday, I took my first dose of Lexapro. I still feel very awake and aware.

I will also be completely honest and upfront – this has not been without consequences. Remember when I said Luvox was an anti-obsessive drug? Well…the thoughts are back and apparently making up for lost time. Right now, I am just bearing down and holding things off until I speak to my counselor and doctor. I know they’re going to upbraid me for just stopping one drug and picking up the other. I’ve earned it, but what I did was born from desperation. When I was switching from Lexapro to Luvox, I took both for about a week, rather than stopping one cold, then picking up the other the following day. If you feel the need to change medications: Talk to your doctor first!

I am going to be more mindful of what’s going on emotionally, which means delightful blog fodder for everyone else. I can hope that what I am going through will help someone else.

Everyone – hug your loved ones and I’ll try to review a movie and keep the novel updates rolling along.

The Three Hundred and Fifty-fifth Post: The One Where I Review the Movie “Raw”…

I recently watched the French horror movie Raw.

Jesus, the French scare me.

Their horror is visceral. Their horror is philosophical. They work on so many levels. Martyrs challenges your views on faith and the afterlife. Raw makes me think about how college rips away the sheltering embrace of family and tosses you into the hard world.

Our main character has lived in a very safe family environment, with an older sister who has gone on to veterinary school, where she follows. A die-hard vegetarian, she thinks that people are going to give her a pass on one of the hazings: eating a rabbit’s raw kidney.

What happens is not only a fall from grace, but a plummet to hell. This is a movie that chronicles the spoiling of an innocent woman at the hands of friends and family (!). Raw is an aptly named movie. It is a raw, unflinching tear-down with a reveal at the end that calls to mind the adage ‘do as I say, not as I do’.

French horror isn’t like American horror, nor is it like Japanese horror. French horror is a bloody philosophy class. If you can focus and not flinch, you’ll learn something about yourself. Their blood is up front and frank. There are no spirits to be placated as in Japanese horror. There is no mad killer with a mask as in American horror. The horror is not in the unknown, or the unfathomable. The horror is found in the unfeeling. The world doesn’t care, but it’s not the alien uncaring of cosmic horror. The world smokes a cigarette and tells you that he’s a fag, so they naturally paired him with a female roommate because what’s the difference?

Until, for some odd reason, he takes the virginity of his roommate. That was the one scene that kinda took me out of the movie, but it set up the climax (yes, I know what I said) in the movie’s final act. We see her fall, and know that we’ve experienced the same thing, but perhaps in a much smaller scale. Free from the structure of home, how many of us have bitten the apple, or in the case of our main character the forbidden kidney?

This is one of the few horror movies that merits more than one view. Watch it once for the gore, but come back to it for the philosophy. Definitely worth your while.

 

The Three Hundred and Fifty-Fourth Post: The One Where I Complain, but Don’t Get Political…

As some of you might now, I am a fervent gamer. So, when latest suppliment for D&D was avaiable for preorder, I of course plunked down my hard earned cash to get it. I couldn’t wait. The Mythic Odysseys of Theros sounded wonderful. A new world to plunge into and learn based off of the Greek myths. I couldn’t wait.

Well, silly me.

As I read about the creation of this world, I was treated to a fact that makes me a little leery about Hasbro’s acquirement of Wizards of the Coast.

Theros is apparently a world that was started in Magic: The Gathering card game.

*sigh*

One of the things I had been happy about as far as the purchase of WotC by Hasbro was that with more money and resources, it would mean an influx of brand-new worlds. New platforms to stage epic adventures. Yes–we had Eberron, The Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance , Planescape, and (please, dear God) Dark Sun–but I wanted to see some new places. New takes on classic themes. I even entertained the idea of one of my fantasy ideas being submitted just to see if they would take it.

However, what I am seeing happening instead is Hasbro is mining one product to support the other. The most recent original world? Exandria from “Critical Role”. While this is not a complaint (I, too, am a Critter), this is concerning to me. This is going to make it hard for the company to take a chance on new things if the goal is Hasbro’s bottom line. I’m even hesitant to see some of the worlds from TSR getting the approved 5th edition treatment. The Powers The Be have pretty much nixed Dark Sun (slavery, hardship and insect-people eating elves! Oh, no!) in favor of Dragonlance…trying to stoke Gen X nostalgia for some quick cash.

Does it sound like I’m an old man complaining about what these new kids are doing? Certainly. While I like 5th edition, and it’s certainly pushing this hobby forward, but what’s the cost? Even when reading some parts of the sourcebook, I’ve run into one thing I am not happy with: the Anvilborn.

I think I am going to save that for next week. Right now, I’m shaking my walker in the general direction of Hasbro.

I just like it when games take chances with the storytelling. I liked Dark Sun because it was such a bleak place. Up to this point, it was Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms–fairly standard, Lord of the Rings-sort of fantasy. Dark Sun wasn’t. It was the best parts of Mad Max, Thundaar the Barbarian and Dungeons and Dragons. It was an unforgiving place. Water was hoarded, metal was almost non existent and the Golden Age was a memory.

I was hooked.

Now, I’m worried that there is going to be no follow up. No expansion. Why? Sadly, Dark Sun wasn’t a very popular world. If there is going to be any help for the blasted world of Athas, then it must come from the people.

Or maybe I’m just an old man worrying about nothing.

We’ll see.

 

P.S. — sorry for missing last week. I thought I was still one week ahead. I’ll double up this week. Sorry.

The Three Hundred and Fifty-Third Post: The One Where I Channel My Inner Arnold!

I was going to talk about my time in the facility, but I think I’m going to gently bypass that for now. Instead, I’m going to talk about a session I had with my counselor.

I know – thrilling stuff. Stick with me.

In talking with the counselor, I have been confronted with psychopharmacology. Yes, I am on an anti-depressant right now, but it’s a hit-and-miss sort of thing. The issue I’m having is not so much the depression, but what leads up to it. The thoughts, the trap, the pattern—going from funny fat guy to depressed fat guy several times in the course of a day. Like I said, the anti-depressants work every now and then, but sometimes they don’t. I’m also a diabetic, so I’m learning that the crying jags and suicide ideation might also be my blood sugar crashing. I’m not happy that a lot people make that their go-to reason.

Back to the counselor.

I had mentioned that I was having intrusive thoughts. I picked my words carefully (I’m a writer, it’s what I do) because I wanted to make sure she understood what I was going through. This is not a matter ‘I’m not over you, or the hurt’, it is a matter of ‘no matter what I do—you’re still in my head. Make it stop!’ So, she mentioned drugs, which I told her I wanted them as an assistant, not the end-all-be-all (yes, I still see people drooling and stumbling around blitzed out of their minds on lithium. Yes, I know they’ve come a long way).

So—she whipped out the DSM-V and read to me the diagnostic criteria (cut and pasted):

  • Clinical criteria (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition [DSM-5])

For a diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, patients must have

  • A persistent pattern of preoccupation with order, perfectionism, and control of self, others, and situations

Yes. I am despairing about not being able to control my thoughts about the situation I have described earlier.

This pattern is shown by the presence of ≥ 4 of the following:

  • Preoccupation with details, rules, schedules, organization, and lists

Yes. Early is on time. On time is late. Late is unforgivable. I hate being even four minutes for anything.

  • A striving to do something perfectly that interferes with completion of the task

I have re-written chapter five of my current work 3 times because I can’t stand how it’s coming out. I’m still contemplating throwing it out and restarting right now, and my new deadline is end of June.

  • Excessive devotion to work and productivity (not due to financial necessity), resulting in neglect of leisure activities and friends

I wake up, try to write 600 words in the morning, go to work, write another 600 for lunch, go to the gym, write another 600 after dinner. If I fall short, I’m in a funk that negatively affects me for the rest of the day. In short, my days are thus: get up, write, work, write, work again, gym, dinner, write. No evening movies. No reading for pleasure. No TV shows. All work and no play makes Jack take an axe to his family.

  • Excessive conscientiousness, fastidiousness, and inflexibility regarding ethical and moral issues and values

You follow the rules for a reason.

  • Unwillingness to throw out worn-out or worthless objects, even those with no sentimental value

I have shirts from old jobs that I’m not going to throw out. They’re not sentimental. I just don’t throw out clothes. I keep them until they dissolve from my body heat.

  • Reluctance to delegate or work with other people unless those people agree to do things exactly as the patients want

“If you want a job done right, you do it yourself.” – I can’t trust others to do the job right. Let me do it and go away.

  • A miserly approach to spending for themselves and others because they see money as something to be saved for future disasters

HAHAHAHAHAAA – no. This is the only one I don’t meet.

  • Rigidity and stubbornness

If my wife, or my friends read this—they’re going to nod so hard that their head is going to fall off.

What does this mean?

For me, it means it has a name. Names mean power.
I know what it is.
I know what it looks like.
I know it bleeds.

I promise, more writerly stuff next time. Blogging about this might not bring in the fans, but it helps me to process what’s happening.
Next time: My adventures in writing smut.

The Three Hundred and Fifty-Second Post: The One Where I Listen for that Whooshing Sound…

I’m experimenting with a different work style this time…mostly to see if I can somehow get more efficient with the spare time I have, and mostly because I’m hearing the whooshing sound of another deadline fast approaching.

So far, I’ve written two times a day – 850 words at lunch (about an hour) and another 850 words when I get home. 1,700 words isn’t shabby. At that pace, I could finish a small novel in about a month. Valentina’s Feast, however, is suffering by being written by me. While, yes—I can string together 1,700 words a day…but getting me to write more than three or four days in a row is the challenge. I’ll get a good head of steam going, and then peter out. Most of the times, this petering out just means I’ve come to a scene that I haven’t completed in my head. Happens a lot, and it just means I need to step away from the keyboard and let it play out in my head before committing it to paper.

Sometimes, I just think that the 850 pace is a little hard for me to maintain because I tell myself ‘OK—you gotta sit down and put 850 words on the screen and you gotta do it now!’ and the pressure gets to me. When I’m not focusing on the fact that this whole book was to be done by this Friday (hint: nope), the words come easy. When I look at the calendar and see where I am in the story as opposed to what day of the month it is, then it becomes hard. I’m supposed to be writing the stirring climax, but I haven’t even gotten to the first sex scene…and I really want to write that scene!

I’m pushing back the deadline to end of June. Gives me thirty-one more days to get it done and get back on track. Since I don’t really have the time for a deep line-by-line editing that I know this book needs (and I know who could do it, but they couldn’t do it in my time frame), I’m going to have to try to be as diligent as I can with the writing now. I know you’re not supposed to edit as you write. I have to get this book done and out there before August 28th for reasons.

Once, someone asked me what sort of advice I wish I had before I started writing at the semi-pro level. This is the advice I wish I had: if you’re not having fun, you’re not really writing. This book was meant to be my foray into horror. So far, the only horror I’m having is not meeting my first deadline. I’m going to get this book done, but it’s going to be by the skin of my teeth. Whether or not I have any pride in this remains to be seen.

Want to help? I need coffee. Click on the coffee picture on the right-hand side of the screen and donate a buck or two so that I can stave off sleep for one more day. If coffee is not your thing, then check out the books written by dear friends and help support them.

I wish you all good luck, and now I must poison a twenty-year-old woman to get the two lovers together.

For the book, of course.