Cleared The Deck In Time To Deck The Halls

I find myself in the curious position of not actually having a pressing writing deadline.

This week I turned in Tombstone Blues to Turnstone. Completed the edits on my short story “A Taste of the Other Side” for Jennifer Brozek’s Gears and Growls anthology and wrote an article on my favourite place in Winnipeg for the Winnipeg Free Press.

The timing for this lack of deadlines couldn’t be better as I find the holiday season extremely exhausting. Exhausting being my measured term for the two month period (I work retail, my holiday season is much longer than yours, and brother, it’s no holiday) when I turn into an utter Grinch.

If, instead of stealing presents, the Grinch tried to make the sun explode and consume the entire solar system (what? I grew up reading comics and I have the heart of a super-villain. Also, go big or go home). There are friends who come in to the store not just to shop, but to see my “Christmas Face”, as they put it (It’s a very Yul Brynner sort of quiet menace, calculated to keep people from asking me questions so that I can actually, you know, get things done–or so I imagine the look to be. It doesn’t work nearly as well as I’d like).

Yul Brynner

Perhaps if I wore the hat?

Yes.

Hats make the man, and if I wore that hat to work, I think customers would avoid me.

Hmmmm.

I guess I’ll have to add it to my Christmas list.

In the mean time, my writing tasks may be done, but I’m not done writing.

Write on.

We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Norse Mythology Updates To Talk About A Comic Book

From Prairie books NOW Fall 2011 issue:

Has She No Shame?

Comic explores good, evil, and all things in between…

“What would Batman be without the Joker? How about Van Helsing without Dracula?”

These are questions Lovern Kindzierski muses on when explaining why he prefers villains to heroes. But for the Winnipeg comic creator, it is also an aesthetic decision.

“The villains always had the best designed costumes. Think of Maleficent. She was so much more attractive than the dumpy fairy godmothers.”

It was on his honeymoon that Kindzierski first conceived of the story of Shame, which has now come to fruition in the first of three graphic novels, Shame: Conception. He entertained his new bride with a tale “about the nastiest woman that ever lived.” His wife then held him hostage with a pen and notepad the next morning until he’d written this first arc of the story.

Shame, an outwardly beautiful child was born to physically hideous, but kind, Mother Virtue, when the healer allowed herself one selfish wish—a child of her own. It was from this wish and the meddling of the demonic entity Slur that Shame came into the world. Mother Virtue knew what her daughter would become and so locked the child away in a personal Eden, a place named Cradle. Only there could Shame be safe from the influence of her father.

“I very much like the idea that shame would come from virtue.” Kindzierski says, noting how exhilarating it was to tell this story for the first time. As he was making up the tale, he rolled through the associations of the word shame, and the story became clearer and clearer to him.

“The power of such loaded archetypes just swept me along like a straw being driven by a tornado,” he says.

When Shame embraces evil, Kindzierski’s words are given unsettling weight by his artist collaborator, John Bolton. Cradle’s idyllic cage becomes twisted and bizarre.

“He is a genius,” Kindzierski says of Bolton, feeling  there could not be any artist better or more appropriate to illustrate Shame: Conception. “John is able to portray all of the extremes of beauty and horror of the story and do it all masterfully. As an artist he has no weaknesses.”

Kindzierski, an artist himself, is best known in comics as a colourist.

“I had been writing my own stories for my comic art from way before I broke into the industry,” he says. Nothing came of these first efforts, but eventually Kindzierski’s art got him work in the field. A short story for a Marvel Comics fund raiser was well received and “as I wrote more I got more to write,” he says.

To Kindzierski the great strength of comics as an art form “is that they mainline directly into your understanding of the story,” working on a conscious and unconscious level with their combination of imagery and the written word.

Our understanding of this particular story will deepen in the next two books of the trilogy. Shame’s corruption “has become like a cancerous growth on the face of the world,” Kindzierski says, teasing at a swelling body count now that Shame is free from her prison.

“I like my heroes dark and my villains darker.”

Loki’s Guide to Norse Mythology: The Norns

The norns were women who would attend children’s births to determine their futures. These women must have wielded great power, as everyone wants the best for their child. I imagine there was a lot of attempts at bribery, or resorting to threats, hoping to ensure a good viewing by the attending norn. I’m certain there were also some (by some, I mean many) grudges settled by bestowing a poor fate on an enemy’s child.

But there are norns, and then there are Norns.

The three that Loki is concerned with; Urd, Verdandi, and Skuld, were responsible for spinning the fates of the gods. Their arrival ended the golden age for Odin and his pantheon. There must have been even stronger attempts from the gods to turn their future away from what the three Norns had seen; the gods had more to lose than any mortal. But Ragnarök happened anyway.

Now that’s power.

Given their role as guardians of fate or destiny, I also had to believe that the Norns would not be feeling kindly deposed to Loki for escaping his fate at Ragnarök–or to me for writing him out of that fate.

And boy did they get their revenge. As it turns out, writing about a bunch of seers is a pain in the ass. They need to be (or at least should be) one step ahead of everyone else. They also raise uncomfortable questions about free will versus predestination. I really should have known better. If my thirty-odd year history with roleplaying games and comic books has taught me anything, it is that seers, while a great plot device, have always been tricky to work with. And I know for a fact there was no surer way to encourage the baleful eye of your Gamemaster than to give your character a precognitive power.

So naturally, I wrote three of them.

Superstition usually holds that bad things come in threes, but then, it says the same of good things. The question for the characters of Thunder Road is: which will the Norns prove to be?

When Words Collide Roundup

Calgary’s literary festival “When Words Collide” is fast becoming one of my favourite conferences. Outside of maybe the World Fantasy Convention, this is most fun I’ve had as a writer. A lot of the credit goes to organizer, Randy McCharles (who also chaired World Fantasy when it was in Calgary–my first real con, FYI) and won an Aurora Award this year for founding and organizing last year’s festival.

Thursday I was supposed to attend the Bundoran Press launch of Hayden Trenholm’s Blood and Water, but by the time I’d finished supper with an old friend, the event was just getting underway, so it was a low key but very late evening of talking comics for me instead. Probably a good thing as loaded as the rest of the weekend was.

One of the things about being a Winnipegger, is that inevitably when you travel across the country (or the world) you end up hanging out with other Winnipeggers. So I did spent a bit of time with fellow ‘Peg specfic writers Sherry Peters and Gerald Brandt. It was also nice to see that Aurora nominated Greg Chomichuk attended the con (and brought his dad, Walter–lovely man). I also had lunch with Jean and Joedi, two publisher reps out in Calgary. It was nice to see them on their home turf. Normally we only get to talk over book catalogues in Winnipeg.

I didn’t take in much programming Friday, instead hanging around the Dealer’s Room catching up with old friends. I met the Tyche Books team–they’re doing some nice looking work, keep an eye on this rising Edmonton Press. They sent me home with some recipes from Krista Ball’s new book What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank (Brains and Butter! Together at last! Yum!). I also managed to reconnect with Seattle author Rhiannon Held. We met in Columbus, Ohio for the 2010 World Fantasy Convention and I interviewed her for the release of her debut novel, Silver. It was very cool that she made the trip to Calgary. I also caught the tail end of the Keynote speeches (Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta).

I took in the SF Canada and On Spec party which honoured the Aurora nominees as well as the joint launch party for Bundoran Press, Breathless Press and The Tenth Circle Project. Eventually I ended up at an impromptu scotch tasting (you’ll sense a theme here) that proved to be very, very dangerous.

Saturday morning I dusted myself off in time for my panel on Telling a Book by Its Cover (with former Saskatoon colleague Kent Pollard, Stephanie Johanson of Neo-Opsis, artist Dan O’Driscoll and publisher Justyn Perry). It went well–I think. Sometimes it can be hard to judge. I was moderating, I think I kept everyone in the conversation, and that we stayed mostly on topic. Page proofs showed up on my door the week before the con, so I didn’t prepare as well as I’d hoped–I also didn’t want to lug an entire suitcase of books with covers that worked and covers that didn’t on the plane with me.

You never know who’ll you bump into at these things, so imagine my surprise when Sarah Kades and I recognized each other in the hotel hallway. We used to work together at the book store before she moved to Calgary, where she now works as an archaeologist and writes adventure romance. I’ve made a mental note to check out her book.

I rarely go to the Kaffee Klatches, but I hadn’t seen mystery author Anthony Bidulka in a few years. Anthony is an amazing raconteur and had some great tales to tell. A fun, genuine guy and one hell of a writer. I’m really looking forward to his new series of books.

Next was the first set of readings I attended. Nicole Luiken read from her YA novel Dreamline, Jennifer Kennedy read from her Norse influenced story “Fingernails” which appeared in Danse Macabre, and Cat McDonald read from a work in progress.

Eventually, I shined myself up for the Aurora Awards Banquet; grey dinner jacket, salmon coloured shirt and matching tie and my Autobots belt buckle. The food would have been adequate if I had paid twenty dollars rather than forty for my banquet ticket, but at least there was cheesecake at the end (and whiskey throughout). My good friend Rob Sawyer won for best novel–which makes three in a row, his WWW trilogy has made a clean sweep of the award. When asked who will win, I always tend to vote with my heart rather than my head but this year I was wrong more than I was right on either count. One result I’m very happy to report I was right on in both regards was Helen Marshall taking the Aurora for Best Poem/Song. “Skeleton Leaves” is simply an amazing work.

I was also very excited for On Spec to take home an Aurora. It’s always great to see Barb Galler-Smith, Diane Walton and the On Spec team at conventions. They also published the first story I sold, and even cooler, the artist of the cover for that issue, Dan O’Driscoll, won an Aurora too.

Here’s the full list of winners:

Best Novel
Wonder, Robert J. Sawyer (Penguin Canada)

Best Short Fiction
“The Needle’s Eye,” Suzanne Church, from Chilling Tales: Evil Did I Dwell; Lewd I Did Live (EDGE)

Best Poem/Song
“Skeleton Leaves,” Helen Marshall (Kelp Queen Press)

Best Graphic Novel
Goblins, Tarol Hunt (Webcomic)

Best Related Work
On Spec: The Canadian Magazine of the Fantastic, Copper Pig Writers’ Society

Best Artist
Dan O’Driscoll

Best Fan Publication
Bourbon and Eggnog, Eileen Bell, Ryan McFadden, Billie Milholland, and Randy McCharles (10th Circle Project)

Best Fan Filk Musician (for music based on sci-fi)
Phil Mills

Best Fan Organization
When Words Collide, presented to founder and chair Randy McCharles

Best Fan (Other)
Peter Watts, “Reality: The Ultimate Mythology,” Toronto SpecFic Colloquium lecture

Saturday night was party night (More parties! Woo!). There were several going on around the hotel. IFWA (Calgary’s Imaginative Fiction Writers Association) honoured the Aurora Award winners. EDGE publications had a party to celebrate the launch of their fall line. Eventually I ended up at the ChiZine Publications room party. Brett Savory and Sandra Kasturi were there of course, as was Napier’s Bones author Derryl Murphy. I also met author and publisher at Faery Ink Press Clare Marshall and hung out a bit with Colleen Anderson. I may have also accidentally pitched a book I haven’t written yet while complaining about how hard I find it to do elevator pitches for my own work (I do a pretty good job of selling other people’s stuff–eleven years of bookselling helps there, but I find it almost impossible to think of a good tagline for any of my own stories). I left the party with an advance reading copy of Robert Shearman’s forthcoming collection of short stories Remember Why You Fear Me.

Sunday came all to soon after three straight late nights and early mornings.

At the EDGE Fall launch, I read from “Back in Black” and was told by the Sheriff of When Words Collide, one Cat McDonald, that I rocked the mic like a bulldog. Everyone at the launch delivered great readings (Dave Duncan, Tim Reynolds, Jennifer Kennedy, Randy McCharles and Adria Laycraft). Immediately afterwards, I read with fellow Turnstone Press author and writing group chum, Karen Dudley. I read from Thunder Road, Karen read from Food for the Gods. It wasn’t my best reading, I’m afraid. My EDGE reading was near the end of the slot, so there was only ten minutes or so between it and my Thunder Road piece. Didn’t quite have the batteries recharged, or didn’t switch gears fast enough. Not the end of the world, but disappointing. I will say big thanks to Eileen Bell, Erika Holt, and Ryan McFadden for being among the audience, especially since Eileen and Erika were at the readings Karen and I did at Keycon.

I stayed in the room for the next group of readers: Bob Stallworthy, Susan Forest, and Colleen Anderson. A little bit of poetry, a little bit of prose. Very good stuff. After a late lunch, I took in the Tenth Circle Project readings with Eileen Bell, Randy McCharles, Ryan McFadden and Billie Milholland. This is a great neo-noir shared world series with some fun science fictional elements.

The Dead Dog party is a convention staple, where the con survivors take in one more night of socializing and fun. So glad I stayed in town for it this year. There was a crazy lightning storm (which despite arriving several beers in, had me scribbling notes in my notebook) that a bunch of us writer types watched from the hotel’s exterior balcony. I didn’t quite close the joint down, at 3:30 am I decided that turning into a pumpkin was in my best interest.

Best part of the con is how many friends I have out in Alberta now. I’ve already bought my membership for next year.

Guests at When Words Collide 2013 include: Patricia Briggs, David B. Coe, and my publisher, Jamis Paulson of Turnstone. When Words Collide is changing venues for next year, and while I loved the open central area of the hotel that allowed you to see who was currently in the bar or having a meal (and those exterior balconies), the place was also hot as Surtur’s ball sack. I definitely won’t miss that. Hopefully new venue, the Carriage House Inn will be a good fit.

Holy Blog Post, Batman!

Of late, friends have acted gobsmacked when I tell them I’m not the least bit excited about going to see The Dark Knight Rises.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely going to see it. (I mean, c’mon. And I went to see Elektra, and while I expect DKR might be a downer, it should be a competent downer) I just wish I could excited about it.

Which is odd, because I loved Batman Begins. Still do. I was stupid excited to see The Dark Knight. Heath Ledger’s Joker was amazing, and I left the theatre thinking it was an fantastic film. And then I watched it again on DVD, and I turned it off before it was finished.

It was so relentlessly depressing (and I’m not saying all  movies have to be shiny and happy) but also it wasn’t a Batman movie. Not really. Comic book fans are still waiting for a real Batman movie. You could say it’s nerd rage, or any other buzz word for a disappointed fan. But bear with me.

Batman has so many facets, and we’ve never come close to capturing them all on film. (Or in the comics either, sadly. Batman has being growing aggressively more dickish and one dimensional since Frank Miller’s The Dark Night Returns. And as Adam West once asked: “Why doesn’t Batman dance anymore?”)

Batman is a perfect physical specimen. He’s among the greatest martial artists in the world. He’s a skilled actor and impersonator. He’s an escape artist. He has cool gadgets. He’s part of a larger superheroic world as a member of the Justice League. Most importantly, he’s the Dark Knight Fucking Detective. (I would watch the hell out of a Batman movie that used more mystery/thriller tropes than action tropes, but maybe that’s just me. It certainly feels that way judging from the sound of crickets every time I bring it up.) None of the films, Nolan’s or otherwise, have come even close to showing us all sides of Batman. (The cartoons have. Batman The Animated Series and Justice League, both produced by Bruce Timm, remain in my mind the definitive take on the character–even more so than the comics that spawned him.)

I rewatched Tim Burton’s Batman recently (the less said about the following installments in the franchise the better) and was surprised how well it holds up today. For instance, within six minutes, viewers have achieved Batman, and two of those minutes were the opening credit sequence! Compare this with pretty much every other superhero movie and Burton’s Batman looks even better. (Yes, yes, I’m aware of how horribly the Prince soundtrack has aged, so no need to bring it up. Or Basinger’s performance as Vicki Vale for that matter.)

Nolan’s Batman does has a lot going for it. Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne, Michael Caine’s Alfred Pennyworth, Gary Oldman’s Jim Gordon (somebody please make a GCPD HBO series!) chief among them. Come to think about it, everything I love about Nolan’s films turns on who he has cast to bring his take on Batman to life, rather than his actual take on Batman.

I’m sure Dark Night Rises will do huge bank. I’m reasonably sure it’ll be a good film. I’m sure I’ll go see it. I just wish I could be even the tiniest bit sure that I’ll enjoy it.

 

Comic Fanboys

I was going to write a long and involved post dissecting everything I felt was wrong with DC Comics’ new Justice League title, to date, and most specifically, with its most recent issue. But ultimately, who cares?

Geoff Johns is a good writer. Jim Lee is a good artist. Both men are creators whose work has ultimately (and especially lately) been not to my taste. That doesn’t mean it’s bad (at least not always), just not for me.

And that’s okay.

It seems the role of the comic fanboy is to be vitriolic in the extreme to what they don’t like, perhaps, in hoping their reaction will guarantee them more of what they do like. I don’t think this has done the industry any good, and I don’t need to waste any of my writing energy on it here. Instead, I’ve decided to write about comics that I love, rather than ones that I hate. Because ultimately, I do love comics, and I don’t want that love to be defined by the books I’ve liked the least.

So here’s to my monthly pull list: Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E., Wonder Woman, Swamp Thing, Batwoman, Birds of Prey, All Star Western, Demon Knights, I, Vampire, Justice League Dark, Conan the Barbarian, Fatale and Wolverine and the X-men.

Comics!

Maybe because today is Wednesday, and for a certain subset of the populace (and yes I’m one of them) that means only one thing: New Comic Book Day, I’ve decided to write about comics.

I credit (or blame depending on the day; those days usually coincide with reorganizing my books) comic books for my love of reading. I’ve been buying them ever since I could string sentences together. Until I stopped. It was after University sometime, it’s hard to pinpoint when exactly (the brain she goes when one hits the sunset–post-twenty–years) or why (though the 90s boom and bust and multiple (and shiny) covers are likely suspects). I kept READING comics, either borrowed from friends or at work where they came bundled up in nice and tidy story arcs as “graphic novels”. I even got interviewed on radio station CJOB by Larry Updike about the topic of comics and graphic novels. I just didn’t collect them anymore.

Then DC Comics decided to relaunch their entire universe. 52 titles (why 52, there’s an arcane reason that probably won’t make any sense unless you already know the answer–like the rules of cricket). This New 52 got me back into comics in a big way. I never really went away, but I hovered around the edges of the party (hopping from one limited series to another, mostly), dipping in deeper every now and again to sample the spread.

And then showing up all in the span of one month were Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E., I, Vampire, a new Swamp Thing.  This new DCU was balls out full of weird (the really weird thing is I was ALWAYS a Marvel guy, maybe more on that in another blog) and I like weird. And just like that I was back in. I carefully chose my titles so that I have a reason to visit my local comic store every week. The last time I was this excited to hit the LCS was when Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon launched Preacher.

And yes, there were some atrocious books, (Hawk & Dove, Red Hood and the Outlaws, I’m looking at you…) but from the initial titles I picked, I wasn’t disappointed in any of them. It seems I’ve been adding, not dropping titles almost every week I roll in to pick up my pull list.

Freshly back from my neighbourhood shop with Swamp Thing issue #6, (among others) I can’t believe how long I have to wait until NEXT Wednesday…

(I think my next blog should be about parentheses (and their overuse).)