Welcome To My Blog

Ever wonder what it's like to be in that moment between struggling artist and published author? Read on and find out.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Extra! Extra! Read All About Me.

            The title of today’s column might sound ego-centric, but really it’s about the experience I had today. As fun and as awesome as it was I walked away feeling that a couple of important principles had been powerfully reinforced.
            Less than a week ago, a friend of mine posted on facebook that she needed some extras to film an office scene. I thought she was just goofing, or that this might be part of a class project she needed for college and agreed to do any old, fat guy parts that were open.
            She wasn’t goofing and it wasn’t a class project. It turns out that she is involved with a group here in Phoenix that are filming a science-fiction series for the internet. The quality was good enough that they won an award for at last years Comic-Con in Phoenix.
            A casting sheet was sent to me asking for people to show up in business casual – no stripes – and to be there early. No problem. I arrived ahead of all the rest of the extras.
            The actual cubicle farm for a local business served as the set for the scene they filmed today. Once everyone arrived the assistant director went over all the important details of the assignment with us; what areas the camera covered, what areas the camera didn’t cover, and where they kept all the snacks. When we weren’t participating in a scene we were welcome to stay in the “cast lounge” and munch away on granola bars and chips or watch the filming from one of the safe zones outside the camera’s view.
            For each take, we were given marks where we started our extra activity; for me that amounted to a lot of walking around in the background. When they yelled “Background Action” I started walking. When they yelled “Cut” I stopped and returned to my mark.
            I’d like to think that I’m a real good walker; because that’s all they had me do. I walked up one aisle and down another with a few nods to my fellow extras as I passed them by. Maybe next time they’ll let me pretend to be talking on a phone, or getting a drink at the water cooler.
            That went on for five or six takes before they changed camera angles and shot it again. We were given new marks and new assignments and did it all over again.
            And again.
            And again.
            The experience gave me a new respect for actors. Imagine having to run through the same lines a hundred times during a day. I guess it would sort of be like talking to my kids: “Don’t do that.” “Don’t do that.” “Don’t do that.” But more gratifying.
            Extras went home as the need for background activity dwindled. By the time they were doing close-up shots of the actors doing the same scene all of us were cut loose. I chose to stay and watch until they were finished for the day.        

            On the drive home I thought about my morning as an extra.

            I’m amazed at how quickly this developed (for me). It came out of nowhere and in less than a week’s time I have a whole new opportunity open to me. I don’t know where it will take me. Maybe no place. But it illustrated how our careers can be so quickly turned around. And I wanted to post about it because this principle applies to all of us.  We can be plodding along in pursuit of our goals, or our dreams, and we turn a corner and run smack into Mr. Opportunity. Read some of the interviews with well-known authors and see if this doesn’t play into the story of their personal success.
            Another principle that came to light was the importance of networking. I met my friend, Amber, when I took creative writing classes at the local community college. The writing group we formed with our fellow-students is still my primary source of story critique. And while Amber has not participated in the group for the last couple of years we have stayed in contact with one another and because of that I have the chance to be involved with a production team in the entertainment industry.
            Networking is responsible for my being published in the City of the Gods anthology. A friend that I worked with in the hobby-game industry introduced me to Steve Crompton and after doing some design work for him I was asked to contribute to the book as an author. It may be just a short story in a book from a small publisher, but I look at it as a good start. I expect that several good and valuable contacts will result from this humble first step.
            I’m currently in the process of joining my first online critique group. These are authors who have some success in the publishing community already. What a great group of people to be able to help me take my writing to the next level. I feel that I am the weak link in this particular group. Which is good for me, bad for them. The point being that this is another opportunity that has opened up because of my networking efforts.
            Then there are all of you. People who read my blog. People who share my twitter experience. People who participate in the same online writing challenges that I do. There is no doubt in my mind that several of you will become important contacts for me in the days, and months, and years ahead. Hopefully, the reverse will also be true.

            Today was a good day for me. I want it to be a good day for you as well. Keep plugging away at your writing. Keep an eye open for opportunities within your network. Then make sure to let me hear about it when you have a day like mine.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Movie Review - Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

95 Minutes
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Ciaran Hinds, Idris Elba
Director: Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor

            Originally, I had planned to take this week off from the blog because I am moving. But when I saw this movie I felt compelled to post a review as a public service message and hope that I have a huge influx of readers who will benefit from it.

            A more appropriate name for the film would have been: Ghost Rider Goes To Europe. The opening scene of the film tells us that the fiery, cyclist of purgatory travels to Europe. That particular fact has no bearing on the story other than to explain why the scenery looks so different from the first film. The credits indicate that it was filmed, at least partially, in Turkey. I’m resisting the urge to create alternate titles for the movie based on that, but that shouldn’t stop any of you from doing so.

            The movie starts off with Nadya (Violante Placido) and her son Danny (Fergus Riordan) hiding within a fortified castle/monestary. Moreau (Idris Elba) shows up and offers to take the pair to a place where they will be safe until after the time of the prophecy has passed. Almost immediately afterwards, armed men storm the castle and Nadya and Danny are forced to flee. With some help from Moreau they are able to escape.

            Moreau then seeks out the Ghost Rider and convinces him to track down the boy and save him from The Devil and prevent the apocalypse which will follow. Johnny Blaze has been keeping the Ghost Rider submerged, but finally releases the demon within in order to save the boy.

            He arrives just as Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth) is about to kill Nadya. The Ghost Rider faces off against a handful of heavily armed humans and is . . .

            I don’t want to give away too much of the story, suffice to say that Johnny Blaze teams up with Nadya to rescue the boy from the devil’s minions and keep the world safe from the infernal domination.

            I did not enjoy this movie. At one point a kernel of a plot existed that had promise. It is revealed during the only scene in the film that I found interesting. In that scene, Moreau explains that the devil inside Johnny Storm is a fallen angel that at one time dealt in justice, but was perverted by the devil to fiendishly pursue vengeance. A superb story could have been crafted from that small bit. The writers could have played off Danny’s situation as a child that is half mortal and half the son of The Devil. Instead, they briefly mention both situations and move on to the fiery special effects which seems to be the films main concern.

            The film does serve to show the differences in movie making between Europe and the United States.  (Go USA!!!) You can see a definite European tough to the camera work. Too often, the creative and stylistic shots left me wondering what was going on in the movie; they confused me more than they helped the story along.

            However, that wasn’t the biggest problem I had with the film. Most of the performances were lackluster. For me, the two bright spots in the cast were Johnny Whitworth as the villain and Idris Elba in a supporting role. They seemed to be the only two who showed up to the set prepared to perform.

            It bears repeating that there was a marked deficiency in the development of plot. People cruised around Europe and fought in abandoned locations. The special effects were pretty cool, but after awhile I sat through the action scenes wishing the movie would end soon.

            For those of you wondering if this knocked Skyline off my list of worst movie I’ve seen in the last ten years. No. I’m not sure that any movie I’d be willing to go see could do that. Whereas I actively disliked Skyline this produced more of a sense of complete boredom.

            My first instinct was to give this movie a big fat zero for a rating, but as a couple of days passed I changed my mind. I didn’t actually HATE this movie. (That would require having more of an emotional reaction to the movie than it actually produced.) It deserves half a Dollar for the special effects. If you are a fan of foreign films then you should bump that score by another Dollar. I’ll be interested to see if ticket sales support my review. I think they will.

            I understand that not everyone will agree with me. And that is all good and well. What I can say, with no prejudice toward the movie, is that this in a much different film from the first. Do not make the mistake of thinking that since you liked the first movie that you will like this one. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is a dark, European styled film that is miles different from the Hollywood fare that you might normally be used to. Then again, if you like that sort of thing you should go check out this movie.

            Randy’s Rating System

$$$$   = Full Price    See this movie right away and pay full price, it’s worth it.
$$$     = Matinee      Catch this as a matinee or other discounted showing.
$$        = Discount     Wait until this movie reaches a discount theater near you.
$          = Rental         Wait until this movie reaches your local video rental outlet.
0          = No Sale       Don’t see this movie at any price.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Interview with M. Scott Verne - Part II

Along with the second part of the M. Scott Verne interview I have a picture from the author dinner we had Thursday night. Many of the participating authors were on hand.

From left to right on the top: Wendall Brown, M. Scott Verne, me, and Ken St. Andre. Bottom row is Anita Martinez and Steve Crompton.

And now for the rest of the interview.

Randy: Do you have a favorite deity, or mythology, for these stories?

M: Well, I’m personally partial to the Egyptian gods and deities. I think Wynn really likes the Greeco-Roman Gods, but we try not to let that stop us from using and focusing on the other cultures like Mayan, Hindu, Babylonian, Asian, etc.

Randy: Are there any deities that haven’t been written about that you would like to see included in future projects?

M:  There are thousands of Gods… No way to get them all in the mix in one book.  We have some interesting things to reveal about Odin, so I’m looking forward to his future appearance, along with many others, both well known and obscure…  I’ll leave it at that for now…

Randy: The field of – all mythologies – gives you a lot of material to work with. How do you plan to go about developing future projects from such an expansive source?

M: It’s a big universe, so there’s lots to work with.  Part of the process is finding interesting gods from differing cultures and seeing what they might react once they exist within a place with many different cultures.  How might they be helpful or try gain advantage?    We also look for deities whose powers are unique and might be able to change the balance of power.

Randy: What is your next project for City of the Gods?

M:  Getting the second novel finished – Hopefully later this year.  We are planning some kind of City of the Gods role-playing game sometime in the future as well…

Randy: City of the Gods is an illustrated novel. Do you think that combination of pictures and written word is the pinnacle of story telling?

M: Well I don’t know that I’d go that far, but we created our book as a tribute to the sort of books that were published 150 years ago, and since we were using classic settings and mythical figures from our past, we were able to use that art for our own stories.  That was the way books were made back then, so we used that as our starting point.  Steve altered the art to fit the story.  

Randy: I’ve heard it mentioned that leaving the details of any given scene to the reader’s imagination has a more powerful impact. How do you respond to that?

M: It’s a balancing act.  I think that sometimes the details of a room or events in a given situation in a story are what make it worth reading.  Too much detail gets boring of course.

Randy: How long does it take to put a book like this together?

M: The fist novel took a little over 2 years.  The new Anthology we started last spring and we’ve been putting it together story by story for about 8 months.

Randy: Where do you eventually want to go with City of the Gods?

M: Oh you know, HBO series, Major Motion pictures – Either is fine - LOL 

Seriously though, the plan is to create a world that can become a sort of lynch pin for many different books, art and games.  It’s a major undertaking that I’ve committed the next 10 years to developing. 

Randy: What sources of inspiration do you use for your projects?

M:  I like to take classic myths which are often incomplete or missing the motivations of many of the characters.  The Circe story I wrote for the Anthology is a perfect example.  In the classic myth, Glaucus goes to Circe for a love potion for another woman.  Jealous, Circe proclaims her love to Glaucus, begs him to forget that girl and stay with her.  For me, that brings up a lot of questions; when did Glaucus and Circe first meet?  Why is she so attracted to a merman and how does that fit into her personality and former actions from other myths?  My story attempts to fill in those gaps and connect it into the period in City of the Gods when the gods leave Earth.

Randy: Since this project has been a collaboration between you, Wynn Mercere, and Steve Crompton let me ask you this. Team effort – one man show – Which is better and how would you compare the two?

M:  A team can always accomplish more than one person.  Hooking up with Wynn (who them brought in Steve was the smartest thing I ever did.  The book wouldn’t exist in its current form without them.  Of course with a one man show you have total control, so that’s the trade off.  Personally, having a sounding board for ideas is a what has made out stuff as good as it is in terms of plot twists.

Randy: Do you have CoG t-shirts and coffee mugs yet? And what about a movie? When can we expect to see one of those?

M: No t-shirts or mugs yet, but we’ll probably make them at some point.  Don’t hold your breath about a movie anytime soon.  There are many frustrating stories about successful books that almost get made into movie, but it never quite happens.  'Don Quixote' is a perfect example, boith Orson Welles and Terry Gilliam tried and were never able to finish.  Ender’s Game was a another one that almost keeps getting made (though it is in production yet again)  An how often is a book made into a bad movie… most times unfortunately…  For every Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, there are 50 that didn’t hit the mark.

Randy:  Put the shoe on the other foot for a moment. If you were interviewing me, as one of the contributing authors, what question would you ask?

M:  Easy… What was it like writing in someone else’s’ universe and what do you think of the City of the Gods concept?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Interview with M. Scott Verne - Part I

            As I mentioned in my interview with Steve Crompton, I contributed a story to the City of the Gods anthology that is being released this month. In addition to all of the obvious benefits and bits of coolness that you would normally perceive to be attached to such an event it also gave me a chance to work with M. Scott Verne. And of course a chance to interview him about the creative process.
            M. Scott Verne is the co-creator of the City of the Gods world. He has co-written the CotG novels, the CotG Map Pack, and this anthology. He spends a lot of his time researching the Knights Templar and regularly posting at Deadline Hollywood, with opinions on the latest Fantasy and Science-Fiction movies and TV shows.

Randy:  First off, are you related to M of MI6? And if so, can you get me James Bond’s autograph?

M:  Ha ha… No Afraid I can’t – State secret as to where they are at any given time…  I can’t even tell you what “M” stands for…

Randy: Where did you come up with the idea for City of the Gods?

M:  I’ve always been into speculating about history (both real and imagined) and I’ve always be fascinated about the fall of empires like Egypt, Rome or the Aztecs (for example) One thing that’s always sort of hovered in the back of my mind was the idea that what if these civilizations fell because their gods left them?  Then the question becomes “Ok if the gods left Earth, where did they go?  And why did they leave?”  So that’s the beginnings of the whole concept that eventually led to the novels.   As we wrote it though, we tried to NOT write a standard fantasy novel where there’s a magic item to find on a quest; the hero always does the right thing and they fall in love at the end.  Its not like that.  There are times when you are reading it and you think “oh, I know what happens next”… and then it doesn’t.   It keeps you reading to see what DOES happen.  Then there’s the whole mystery of the girl; Who is she?  Where did she come from?  What to all these clues mean?    Its almost like a Fantasy/Mystery novel in some respects.

Randy: What kind of reaction to the City of the Gods novel are you getting so far?

M:  Everyone who had read the book has loved it and wants us to write the sequel.  We’ve gotten some great reviews so far!  See some of them at our Amazon page…


Randy: How was it to work with a group of writers to do the upcoming anthology?

M:  I love working with other creators, and they came up with some great ideas for stories using characters and the “City of the Gods Universe.”  The whole idea of doing an Anthology emerged when some writers asked if they could participate in some way, so we opened up our short story project to anyone that could do a good job writing a CoG (City of the Gods) story.   Sometimes we assigned characters to specific people; other times, they would suggest an idea they had for a story and we worked out a way to make it fit into CoG. We did have a few story ideas that were suggested that didn’t fit.  For example, someone had a story idea about playing cards applying for membership to live in the City of the Gods – It was too whimsical for our universe, (though it might make a very funny story)  

Randy: Tell me about some of the authors in the anthology.

M:  It’s a great cross-section of the new and experienced authors including Tunnels & Trolls creator, Ken St. Andre. Published novelist Jefferson Swycaffer; Jay Allen Sanford who has written for Twilight Zone Magazine and works as a biographer; Wendall Brown who’s written screenplays and game designs and of course YOU, who has also designed many games and written many stories!  You all did great stories for us in a variety of styles and tones. We also have a mythic story by Bram Stoker and one by Edgar Allan Poe!  It’s uncanny how well their stories fit right into the CoG Universe! 

Randy: What else can you tell me about the upcoming anthology?

M:  Its a collection of new illustrated stories featuring many of the gods of myth and legend.  Each story has a least one character from the first novel. Some of the stories me and Wynn did, are scenes that could have appeared in the novel, but we didn’t put it in., Travel to Olympus, the Celtic Realm, the Grand Pyramid of Horus and walk the streets of the City of the Gods. With tales of dark fantasy, touching pathos, swashbuckling adventure and humorous hijinx, you'll experience the many moods of the gods. Perfect or for anyone who just wants to read new tales about the classic deities of our past or as an introduction to the City of the Gods universe. 152 pages with 60 illustrations.

Randy:  Will you be doing another anthology for City of the Gods?

M:  Yes and we’ll be looking to see who else wants to write for it.  Its open to anyone who is familiar with City of the Gods, so other than reading the novel, (or at least skimming it) anyone can enter.  Details will be posted at www.CityoftheGods.com

(Part 2 of the interview will be posted next Saturday, and then I'm afraid I'm taking a week off to move. However, I have an especially delightful interview after that. Delightful to me anyway.)

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Interview with Steve Crompton - Part II

Before I continue with the second part of the Steve Crompton interview, I am going to mention the City Of The Gods anthology, because I am one of the contributing authors. Steve was kind enough to work up this blurb about it so that I could post it here.

Mythic Tales: City of the Gods Vol1

Authored by M.Scott Verne, Wynn Mercere, Ken St. Andre, Jay Allen Sanford, Randy Lindsay, Wendall Brown, Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker
Illustrated by Gustave Doré, Liz Danforth, Steve Crompton

A collection of new illustrated stories featuring many of the gods of myth and legend. Travel to Olympus, the Celtic Realm, the Grand Pyramid of Horus and walk the streets of the City of the Gods. With tales of dark fantasy, touching pathos, swashbuckling adventure and humorous hijinx, you'll experience the many moods of the gods. Also includes 'forgotten' stories by Edgar Allan Poe, and Bram Stoker with numerous illustrations by legendary Gustav Dore. Also Perfect or for anyone who wants to read new tales about the classic deities of our past or as an introduction to the City of the Gods universe. 152 pages with 60 illustrations.

Now, on with the interview.

Randy: Have you ever tried to do a comic without any dialogue?

Steve:  I haven't – but many have successfully, but as a reader I always feel cheated when I get a story with no text.  It’s only half a comic!  LOL

Randy: How has your art style developed during your career?

Steve: I’ve gone through many “phases” in the last 30 years, so I just have to hope that my art is getting better at least.

Randy: If you’re working on a story and get stuck, can you switch to art mode? Or do both of those skills draw from the same creative source?

Steve:  I’m usually working on about 10 projects at once, so if I get stuck, I switch to a different project until the muse strikes again.  Eventually the solution to the other problem will bubble up from my subconscious.

Randy: Is it easier to do art for your own stories than it is for stories written by other authors?

Steve:  Probably – I’m surprised by how many artists I met that want to do comics but don’t have any ideas for stories!  That's the least of my problems.  I have stacks of ideas for stories I’ve never gotten round to.

Randy: Because of your work in comics, are you used to working in short sound bites? And does that make it harder for you to write longer pieces of fiction?

Steve: Really all my writing is comics, so I don’t know how to answer that question, but that’s probably true.

Randy: Do you ever think of comics being a format similar to a screenplay?

Steve: Very!  I think that’s why so many comics ARE made into movies.  The transition is much easier to pull off. Good verses evil; colorful characters, action, concise storylines  - these things translate well.  Many novels often have complicated subplots, long scenes, moods and themes that often don’t translate well to film. (Without making major changes) 

Randy: Specifically relating to your work on the City of the Gods books – is there one mythology that is harder to illustrate than others?

Steve:  When I did the art for City of the Gods, the idea was to be able to pull from classic imagery to create new places and situations.  We wanted to be true to the original look of the gods, but at the same time make all the art feel like it was all in the same place and style.  So finding Mayan or African imagery that would work in the book with the rest of the art was some of the trickiest stuff to do.  

Randy: Do you write stories to fit pictures or do you create art to fit the story? Or is it a combination of both?   

Steve: Both – combining art and story is often a collaborative process to try and get the two to merge as perfectly as possible.  Things get tweaked all the time to make the comic art match the script.  We did some of that in the City of the Gods book as well. Mostly in regards to how some of the characters looked, or what they were wearing.

Randy: Do you think the story lines in comics are taken less seriously than those encountered in novels and screenplays?

Steve:  Yes - Especially in the US.

Randy: How long does it take to write and illustrate a comic?

Steve:  Anywhere from months to years!  I can write a script in a few days.  Getting all the art and lettering done is the hard part!

Randy: I’ve seen you draw and you can knock out a simple illustration pretty quickly. Is that something that comes in handy when you’re doing book/comic signings and other sorts of promotions?

Steve:  Sure!  I do sketches for fans at cons all the time.  I often sign the Grimtooth Traps books or the Nuclear War Card games and include a sketch on the box lid or the inside front cover!  At comic cons, people often have sketchbooks they want artist to draw in,

Randy: Which is harder to promote; comics or illustrated books?

Steve:  Well I have more experience selling comics, so I would have to say illustrated books are harder, but someone else might give you a totally different answer.

Randy: What advice to you have for anyone breaking into the comic industry?

Steve:  Make sure you have another skill you can fall back on!  It’s a very hard industry to make a living in right now.  Put together some really good sample and go to a comic-con where you can leave sample with publishers.  If you are new – prepare to work for very little money just so you can prove you can do the work.  Same holds true for illustrating books or games.

Randy: How was it to work with M. Scott on the City of the Gods project?

Steve: Wynn and Scott were great and they gave me the freedom to enhance their story with the best art I could put together for their novel.  The idea was to make the book look like the kind of books they published 150 years ago, with classic engravings and illustrations every few pages.  They don’t really make books like that any more, so it was really fun doing something different like that.  If you want to see book some actual pages from the book, go the Amazon page and you can see the first 20 pages for free. Just click on the look inside feature once you get to the Amazon page. You can really see how the art and the story work together.  Here’s the link: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1456547100/ref=cm_cd_asin_lnk

There’s a free sample chapter of the book at www.cityofthegods.com