Bingeing and Other Indulgences

My husband and I binge-watched Game of Thrones a few months ago, at least the last several seasons we hadn’t seen. I followed this with a binge of Lord of the Rings–Peter Jackson’s great films. I have now moved on to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and will follow that with Babylon Five. I actually own all of these so I can watch deleted scenes, interviews, “making of”, and anything else my little heart desires. I especially love the “making of” bits. I like seeing how and why what was done was done. The details–set design, costumes, special effects, and all fascinate me.

I love film and well done television. I actually also love live theater, but that’s not happening right now. Books are amazing, and I read obsessively, but I really like seeing someone’s idea of how something should be brought to life on the screen, the television, or the stage. And it’s always fun to see a new or different interpretation, a re-imagining. Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes all have been remade a hundred times, and I’m always fascinated. The real reason I wrote Beloved Lives was because The Hunger was such a great re-imagining of the vampire world that I wanted to see the same take on The Mummy. I was not impressed with the new films, so I wrote my own version. I’d love to see it be a movie some day. Not holding my breath, though.

Writing can be somewhat collaborative, but mostly it’s a solitary affair. On the other hand, making a film calls on the talent of a vast number of people. Even the shoestring-budgeted indie, Pi (not to be confused with Life of Pi--see info at https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0138704/), had quite a few people to pull it together.

A film can be made or broken by the strangest things. A bad director can get a lack luster performance from a great actor, the wrong music can kill a film. Terrible special effects can turn a potentially great film into a laughable cult classic. But when it all comes together in the right way, when all the moving parts mesh, the result can be epic.

One of my favorite books by the late Dick Frances is Wild Horses about the madness that surrounds making a film. In the end, a mystery is solved, a great film gets made, and everyone hates the director and treats him badly, but he doesn’t care because he’s already thinking about his next film. That’s kind of the way I write. I don’t write great things, at least not in my opinion. But I enjoy writing and sharing what I’ve written. If no one likes it or reads it, never mind. I’m on to my next book or story or article or blog post. And if anyone ever decides to turn any of what I write into video, I’ll be fascinated to watch how it was made.

Image: Jonathan and friends settled in for a binge. By Marilyn Evans.

Side characters

Last week I attended a reading by my friend, Alan Proctor, for his book The Sweden File: Memoir of an American Expatriate. I hadn’t been to the National Archives building before, and it was an interesting visit. Alan’s reading was pretty great, and I scored a copy of the book that he graciously signed.

While we were standing around before the reading, nibbling on snacks and chatting, I spoke with a couple of people who had read my book, Beloved Lives. Both expressed an interest in knowing more about the main character’s best friend, Trish. I must concede that in many ways, Trish is more interesting than April, but I meant for her to be. April is supposed to be a bit ordinary, and therefore, more relatable. Anyway, that was what I was shooting for, and apparently, I was somewhat successful.

This seems to be recurring issue for me. In the book I’m currently writing, one of the side characters is more interesting than anyone else in the story. I kind of want to keep him that way, but I begin to wonder if maybe there are times when the most interesting character ought be the star of the show. Of course, that would make a very different story.

I once wrote a short story that was supposed to be lighthearted, a tale told from the point of view of a lawyer come to visit his old college buddy who had gotten rich through his talent with genetic engineering and proteomics. For a lark, the friend had populated his secured retreat with creatures of his own making–a griffin, a unicorn, and his own daughter who was a mermaid. It was meant to be fun, but I realized, the more I thought about it, the better story was the daughter’s. To be the only one of her kind, her human skin and fish skin each never comfortable or appropriate for the other’s environment. I imagined the rage she would have against her parents for having created her. Not the same story at all.

Many books and articles have advice regarding the creation of characters. They will tell you to write detailed descriptions, comprehensive backstories, recurring mannerisms and habits, and so forth. It’s all good advice, but some characters seem to grow on their own, to fully inhabit their story world and only let you borrow them for a while before they go off to live a life that you have only glimpsed and recorded to the best of your ability. I am very fond of those characters. Perhaps I should be writing their stories instead. I’ll get back to you on that.

Image: Left to right, me, Monique, and Chris, each a character in her own right. By Jonathan Hutchins.

Treat Night

When I was  kid, one night a week my dad would let us stay up late to watch scary movies and eat junk food. We called it Treat Night, and the treats included pop (I’m from north Missouri so it’s “pop”, not “soda”) and ice cream, a candy bar, or popcorn. The movies were the Universal Studios horror collection released as Shock Theater for television syndication. There were about 50 classic films, and most were black and white.

Our local host was Gregory Graves, the wonderful Harvey Brunswick in a fright wig and with black circles drawn around his eyes. Gregory was funny and a welcome  relief when things started to get a little too scary. I have to admit, the seven year old me had a little bit of a crush on Gregory.

One of my favorites of those old 1930’s and 1940’s movies was The Mummy, but I also loved Dracula, The Wolfman, and Frankenstein. When, many years later, I saw Catherine Deneuve, Susan Sarandon, and David Bowie in The Hunger, I thought the film brilliantly re-imagined the vampire legend. I hoped someone would do something similar for my other favorite films. I had an idea about how I’d like to see The Mummy done, but I waited to see what would happen.

When reboots of the various films started to come out, I thought they were fun, but they weren’t how I would have done it. That’s when I took matters into my own hands. The result was my version of The Mummy rebooted, my book Beloved Lives.

I’m happy to see that late night scary movies are still going on, with crazy, over-the-top hosts. I hope a new generation of kids will be inspired to write their own versions of the classics and keep them fun and fresh to scare us anew as we eat our junk food and huddle together on the sofa.