Thursday, December 22, 2016

Winter and Writers, Writers and Winter

Winter is the anagram of writer...if you swap an 'r' for an 'n', and...there you go.

As we climb out of the deep pit of darkness from the shortest day of the year, gradually getting longer days, I thought about what other writers have said about Christmas, and Saint Nick, and winter. I know that during these dark days and nights it takes more effort to get myself to the keyboard, or crack open the notebook. I've read that some writers take the entire month of December off. I can't quite do that. I've learned from the school of hard knocks that if I go too long without putting a word or two down, I get writer logjam. But don't just listen to me. Let's see what some other writerly folks have to say about the holiday season.

“Melancholy were the sounds on a winter's night.”
Virginia Woolf, Jacob's Room

Okay, well Virginia wouldn't have been the jolliest elf, anyway.

 “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?”
Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ode to the West Wind

 Not bad, Percy. A little more hopeful that Virginia. Who's up next?

"There are three stages of a man's life: He believes in Santa Claus, he doesn't believe in Santa Claus, he is Santa Claus." - Author Unknown

Someone needs to fess up, whoever wrote that one. A nice sentiment. And we get eggnog and cookies.

Let's look at one last quote, then get back to our writing, shall we?

"Christmas isn't a season. It's a feeling."
- Edna Ferber

Ah, a good one. That's the way I've always felt. Well, time to slip on my Santa hat and have a little eggnog.

Keep writing, friends.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

You Mean They Went Ahead and Did it Anyway?

Yep, they sure did. Continue with making the Star Wars Holiday Special, that is.

I'm picking up where I left off a couple of days ago with posts about our Star Wars Holiday Special Solstice Party. This little-known train wreck is an example of bad writing at its best (worst?), but they soldiered on, because they wanted to make sure the public didn't forget Star Wars, especially as so many knockoffs were spinning out.

"But why?" I wanted to ask of Mr. Grinch. "Why in the name of the Force did you have to make it that bad?"

Everything was awful about it--writing, directing, story (was there a story?)--just everything.
So, the story is that Han and Chewie are beating a path back to Chewie's home planet of Gesundheit, or something like that (Kashyyyk, actually, but I think Gesundheit fits it better), for the Life Day celebration, which was sort of a Wookie Christmas celebration, best as I could figure. Most of the beginning of the Holiday Special takes place in the Chewie household where we meet his wife Mala, father Itchy (what?), and son Lumpy (ya gotta be kiddin' me). And, sadly, the dialogue is all Wookie-ese, and we don't have any human characters to intervene. Nope. So, for a good half hour to forty-five minutes (seemed longer), we were graced with nothing but Wookie grunts, groans, roars, and grumbles.
And it just goes downhill from there. Harvey Korman is a television personality on Wookie TV, Art Carney is a door-to-door trader of household items, Bea Arthur runs the cantina, and then it gets really weird. There's a 15-minute Star Wars cartoon as part of this mess, Chewie's old man watches a virtual reality Diahann Carroll sing and cavort in what appears to be an early version of the one nine-hundred phone sex deals which is right on the edge, and there's a holographic performance by Jefferson Starship.

Well, we made it through watching the whole thing. And if Nietzche was right when he said, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger", then our group is damn near indestructible now, though we probably sacrificed a batch of brain cells in the process.

If you're so inclined to watch it, you can catch it on YouTube.

Tomorrow I'll wrap up with a Kolchak Christmas.

Here's a link to my previous post on the Star Wars Holiday Special Solstice Party:

Keep writing, friends.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Surely it Won't Get Any Worse

...and picking up where I left off yesterday, with the Star Wars Holiday Special Solstice Party. First off, here's a link to yesterday's post:

Next up on our holiday horror viewing on Saturday eve was an episode of the HBO-created horror anthology, Tales from the Crypt. This particular half-hour slice of holiday warmth was titled And All Through the House, a perfect title for a little Santa Claus home invasion. Tales from the Crypt, the TV series, was based on the comic of the same name from the 1950s. The TV series ran from 1989 to 1996, and this jolly little episode we watched on Saturday originally aired on June 10th or 1989. Christmas arrived a bit early that year.

All Through the House featured Mary Ellen Trainor faced with the double dilemma of figuring out what to do with the body of her now-deceased husband, plus trying to evade a Santa Claus-attired mental institution escapee. And, yes, she had a direct hand in making her husband a corpse for Christmas. This episode is a true cup of Christmas cheer, and you'll just die laughing.

Almost forgot to mention. Santa Looney was marvelously played by Larry Drake of L. A. Law fame.

Ah, and then the grand finale, the coup de grace of the evening, the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special. Airing only once on November 17th, 1978, it disappeared, never to be seen on television again. However, a few enterprising souls way back when decided that dog should not lie still, and with their antiquarian 5,000-pound videocassette recorders, made copies. So, we thank them. I think.

There was truly no way I could adequately prepare our party's attendees for what was to follow. I still remember how excited I was when I heard that a Star Wars special would be on prime time, network television. 'Course, I had no way to record it. I couldn't afford the thousand dollars or so it cost for one of those fancy new VCRs. Nope. I had to watch it the way we did it back then. Live. And I knew that if I missed it, I wouldn't be able to see anything Star Wars-y until whenever the next film came out. That wasn't going to be for another year-and-a-half. So, yes, I was excited.

A little history first. When Star Wars first came out, no one expected it to be as big as it eventually turned out to be. Those were the Dark Ages of fantasy and science fiction. So, even though it was doing well, the studio execs and other big hoop-de-doos in charge of things decided that the public needed to be reminded of Star Wars. And the best way to do it back then? Well, you have a cast reunion special. And that meant a variety show. Now, you also have to remember that Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher weren't household names yet (hard as that is to believe now), so they needed real, current stars of the day. They needed Art Carney, Harvey Korman, Bea Arthur, and Diahann Carroll. Oh, and Jefferson Starship. Variety show, remember.

And, as I see Ghost of Christmas Present telling me it's time for bed, so there will be more to this saga tomorrow.

Keep writing, friends.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

A Little Ho Ho Horror for the Holidays

Last night we hosted the first ever Star Wars Holiday Special Solstice Party. I just now gave it the full name, as the theme was a bit broad in nature, taking in several of the holidays this time of year of long nights and short days.

The prize, the pinnacle (or the abyss, depending on how you look at it) of the evening would be the "Star Wars Holiday Special" itself, a little-known, little-seen variety show that aired once and only once, on a cold November night back in 1978.

To start things off right, though, we decided to kick things off with a little Star Wars/holiday trivia game where we delved into the early "Ho ho ho" season history. You know, it wasn't always so full of eggnog and toys. Nope. Back when churches were trying to meld the early solstice rituals with the new ideas of Christmas, things got a bit, well, interesting. It was an eclectic mix of questions, ranging from the relatively benign questions, such as: Which hand did Luke Skywalker lose in his big light saber duel with Daddy Dearest? (right), to more obscure ones, like: From 1659 to 1681, what American city outlawed Christmas? (Boston).

Then it was time for the opening act. We traipsed downstairs to the Bat Cave, where we kicked off our holiday horror with a 1932 eight-minute long black-and-white cartoon titled, unmenacingly enough, "The Snow Man". As one comment read, "This ain't Frosty!" There was another cartoon in 1982, a British production, also called "The Snowman", where a boy builds a snowman who comes to life and can fly (Ha! Like a snowman could fly. Sure, I can deal with a snowman coming to life, but...). Said snowman and friend fly off see Father Christmas and a party of dancing snowfolks.

The '32 version isn't so friendly. It starts off all Disney-like with frolicking walruses and seals, and an Eskimo lad who builds a snowman, but once his cold creation comes to life, it goes all demonic and terrorizes the polar population.

The Disney reference is appropriate, as the cartoon was created by Ted Eshbaugh, a competitor of Walt's. Several of the creatures even have some resemblances to a certain famous mouse. Ted, however, couldn't keep up with the Waltmeister. He did crank out a total of 14 animated films, including a 1933 version of "The Wizard of Oz".

At any rate, if you're in for some holiday horror, you should check out "The Snow Man". You can find it on YouTube.

I have more films to write about, including the hideously infamous "Star Wars Holiday Special", but my electronic inkwell runs dry tonight, and I'll continue tomorrow.

Keep writing, friends.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Look Out! Rock!

There's all this talk about plot. And it's true, without plot, there's nothing to move the story along. Or to move your characters along.

Here's the deal. Think of your characters sailing along (or floating, speedboating, or whatever) in a river. It can be a fast-running, blue-water river, or a slow-pokey one with murky waters. Now, toss in some rocks in the water, a fork in the river, an unexplored branch. That's your plot. Your characters, if we care about them at all, are forced to make decisions about how to avoid the rocks, whether or not to explore other sections of the river. Perhaps there are river pirates (hey, it happens...remember, it's your story), or a Nessie, or a river-quake (just made that one up). Now your playboy millionaire yachter turns coward (cliche), or your 14-year-old gender-fluid Mensa member goes all Ripley from the Alien films. Remember. Your story.

What got me on this plane of thought, besides not enough sleep last night, and the need to write something fresh before returning to editing, was I just finished reading "The Once and Future King". And I realized, as I've realized with other well-written stories, that it doesn't matter who slew who or what, or who slept with who or what. Sure, there was betrayal, justice, injustice, illegitimacy out the wazoo, heroism also out the wazoo, magic, and swordplay. But all that would've been for nought without being vested in the characters. My characters. My family. Gotta hand it to Mr. White. In 600 pages (and I typically don't have the stamina to make it through a 600-page book), I would have fought for Arthur. King Arthur. The Wart. My Arthur. When I reached the end, I marveled at my feelings of loss, after seeing him start off all those pages prior as 14-year-old Wart, eventually becoming old, blue-veined Arthur, a king who did his best, soon to die.

And Lancelot. And Guenever (Mr. White's spelling). And Mordred. And Merlyn. And Gawaine.

Yes, all of them. I close my eyes (hard to type that way) and I see them before me, because good ol' T. H. White breathed life into them and made them real. Hell, he made them family.

So, there you have it. My soapbox stance of the day. Go, now, and create characters for us to love, or hate, or love/hate, and put them in really sticky situations. It's up to them how to solve their problems. Okay, well, it's really up to you, but you know what I mean.

Keep writing, friends.