fictoid: trophy exchange

by Buzz on 1/12/2016

heimrich-kley-gator-and-gal-2“This was my dad’s.”

“What is it, a snake?”

“No, an alligator.”

“Where are the legs?”

“The rest of it got away.”

“How did your dad get this?
I thought he only had one hand.”

“Well, the alligator got a trophy, too.”

.

.

.

art by Heinrich Kley
text © Buzz Dixon

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Writing Report November 30, 2016

by Buzz on 30/11/2016

Just a short one today. NaNoWriMo is drawing to an end, and I’m nowhere near their target of 50K words or my own of 25K words.

But…

I am happy with where I am right now on the second female barbarian fantasy story. As mentioned earlier, I got off on the wrong foot when I started and had to go back and begin afresh, but this second draft is seeming to take.

I wrote a total of 1,680 words at last night’s NaNoWriMo event at The Open Book in Santa Clarita, so progress is being made. Add this to what’s already in the digital file (I’m writing at NaNoWriMo events in a collegiate notebook, my favorite means of composition on the go) and I’m at 16K+ words and roughly slightly past the hallway mark of the story.

I’ve got until early January to complete the story and get it off to the 3rd market I mentioned earlier. Should this and / or the first story fail to sell by Spring 2017 they’ll go up as ebooks on Amazon.

6-golden-rules-of-writing-by-earnest-gaines

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THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY (1964)

by Buzz on 28/11/2016

the-americanization-of-emily-1964One film that everyone should see — especially Americans — and especially Americans in positions of life and death authority such as peace officers and service personnel — is The Americanization Of Emily (1964), directed by Arthur Hiller and written by Paddy Chayefsky (going very far afield from William Bradford Huie’s novel). Set in England before and during the invasion of Normandy, this dark comedy stars James Garner in one of his patented cynical-roué-with-a-heart-of-gold roles and Julie Andrews as a military driver about as far as imaginable from her wholesome turns as Mary Poppins and in The Sound Of Music (respectively released before and after this film).

taoe-6e8Emily also features James Coburn as Garner’s somewhat treacherous pal, Melvyn Douglas as the admiral they work for, and Keenan Wynn as a drunken sailor with the best line in the picture (“We ain’t that stoned!”).

taoe-coburn-and-garnerIt’s a very literate and philosophical film (as was everything Chayefsky wrote) with a lot to think about in it, but there’s one crucial sub-plot that we all need to focus on.

Douglas’ admiral is responsible for the naval logistics behind the invasion of Normandy, and the mental strain weighs heavily on the man. As he starts to lose his grasp on reality, he develops an obsession that “the first dead man on Omaha Beach must be a sailor”.

taoe-admiralThis sends Garner and Coburn off on a fool’s errand to film a documentary of the Navy’s combat engineers blowing up mines and other obstacles in advance of the actual invasion force. Garner drags his feet for obvious common sense reasons of not wanting to get killed, but Coburn becomes gung-ho about the project.

Douglas then suffers a full a full blown nervous breakdown, a psychotic fugue that temporarily incapacitates him but his orders, once put in motion, can now no longer be amended, changed, rescinded, or sidetracked. Suffice it to say Garner finds himself in the unenviable position of being “the first dead man on Omaha Beach”.

taoe-emily-stillAs soon as the admiral’s mind clears, he is horrified to find his underlings acted on what should have been obviously ignored as the product of a stressed mind reaching its breaking point. Garner’s documentary served no real purpose, dozens of lives were needlessly risked, and in the end Douglas is wracked with guilt that his psychotic obsession sent a valued and trusted aide to his meaningless death. (There is, of course, a nice double-twist reverse to end the movie on a high note, so don’t worry about this one being a downer; it’s tons o’fun.)

I want to focus on Coburn’s insistence of following through with Douglas’ orders despite the fact he acknowledges such orders are nonsensical! He tells Garner:   “You…nearly got yourself court-martialed, stripped of your commission, sent to the Arctic Circle to do polar research. Man, you don’t tell two-star admirals you don’t approve of their orders. Now you’re on the Admiral’s brig list.”

Coburn’s method of handling things is to cut orders that let Garner delay the inevitable by a few days instead of bringing the real problem — “The service takes a dim view of lieutenant commanders who call the Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Navy a nut” — to anyone’s attention.

Sometimes, dammit, ya just gotta run that risk.

Though Emily doesn’t hang a lantern on this point, the facts are after WWII we executed Germans and Japanese who did exactly what Coburn’s character did: Just followed orders.

They surrendered their integrity and their humanity by never questioning or challenging the orders handed down from above. They followed through on them, even when they thought they were stupid and evil and self-destructive, because they thought they could escape moral and ethical responsibility by handing such decisions over to others.

No.

It doesn’t work that way.

The person on the other end of your club or your pepper spray or your gun or your drone targeting system will be hurt by your actions.

There is no escaping that.

It may well be that your actions can be justified — you stop a deranged spouse from killing their family by shooting the attacker — but it will nonetheless be your responsibility.

And you may find yourself in situations where you will agree wholeheartedly with those above you that a specific group needs to be attacked, and if so then you must own your moral and ethical choice: You share credit or blame, honor or guilt for something you did willfully.

There will come other times, however, when you will have your doubts, and perhaps even times beyond that when you will know what is being asked of you is wrong.

You must resist at those times.

You will not be held blameless for any harm that befalls someone unjustly on your watch.

You may escape legal responsibility for a time, but your actions will follow you, and whether the debt is paid directly or indirectly, it will be paid.

The Americanization Of Emily is a funny comedy, using dark humor to get its points across.

It can afford its cynicism:
At the end of the day its actors removed their make-up, returned their costumes to wardrobe, and went home.

People in the real world aren’t
afforded such luxuries.

 

 

 

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THUNDARR THE MOVIE or How I Almost Created Kickstarter

by Buzz on 27/11/2016

Well, this is a blast from the past!

thundarr-the-movie-presentation

Patrick Sullivan, over on Facebook’s Charlton Arrow page, found in the archives of Charlton Comics a copy of the old and long since forgotten Thundarr The Barbarian movie treatment I wrote for Ruby-Spears, one of the last things I did for them as a salaried employee (though I came back for a couple of freelance gigs).

How it wound up at Charlton I have no clue, but I suspect somebody was trying to make a comic book deal as Charlton was well known at the time for publishing TV tie-ins.

Thundarr The Movie is an interesting bracket to the Thundarr TV series because it was intended to be a prequel, telling the origin of the Sunsword, how Thundarr came to possess it, and how he teamed up with Ookla and Arial to fight wizardry and super science and evil mutants on the ruined Earth of the far, far future (i.e., post 1990).

On the other side of the actual Thundarr TV series, a proposed follow-up series.

Let me back up a bit and set the stage and context…

Joe Ruby and Ken Spears are the guys who created Scooby-doo. This set a lot of dominos in motion until they ended up in charge of their own animation studio.[1]

They had some success with weekend and afternoon specials, but their first — and arguably biggest — post-Scooby hit was Thundarr The Barbarian.

I’ve posted elsewhere on my involvement with Steve Gerber and Jack Kirby and Mark Evanier and Marty Pasko and a host of other well known and not so well known creative geniuses[2] who shaped Thundarr.

Thundarr lasted a paltry two seasons, and when the series was taken out behind the barn and shot put to pasture, Joe Ruby had us explore options to keep the basic idea going.

IIRC John Dorman created a canine version called Thundogg The Barkbarian while Jack Kirby conjured up Eric The Rude, an intelligent barbarian kangaroo in Thundarr’s world.

None of these saw light of day beyond some preliminary art.

One possibility Joe wanted to explore was turning Thundarr into a feature film.

If memory serves correctly, Steve Gerber was already strapping on his parachute to bail on Ruby-Spears so Joe handed the development task over to me.

Let be back up a bit further and talk about Ruby-Spears’ feature film ambitions:  They always had a desire to do an animated feature but could never get any traction. Steve Gerber and Jack Kirby (along with numerous other R-S staff artists) developed an idea called Ripoff which was to have been the ultimate mash-up funny animal parody of all 1980s movie genres featuring a Burt Reynolds-like dog and a Sally Field and / or Dolly Parton-esque canine counterpart (another idea called Animal Hospital, art by Jack, started as a TV series pitch but ended up being incorporated into the Ripoff presentation).

Joe asked me to develop a sci-fi detective series derived from inspired by Blade Runner and I came up with an idea called Numan, the last private eye in the world of the future (2020, IIRC). The idea quickly proved itself too edgy for TV at the time and so it was ported over as a feature development.[3]

Another couple of stray ideas may have been briefly considered for theatrical film development but for the most part that was it before Thundarr The Movie.

Thundarr was a frustrating situation for us. It was by all rights a popular show and character and we should have secured any number of marketing deals, but nobody could ever make a go of it.

This was before the big syndication boom of the mid-1980s[4] and so the last chance for Thundarr before disappearing into the mists of TV history was to get a feature film off the ground.

I suggested a prequel to the series, one that would be grittier and grimmer[5] than the TV version, with a little more oomf! to the violence and a whole lot more boomba-boomba-boomba if you know what I mean and I think you do.

The problem was finding financing and distribution for a film.

You’d think that in Hollywood that would be easy:
Somebody would cough up a few million bucks to make the movie and others the millions needed to distribute it.

Well…no.

Numer-o uno:
Nobody was making independent animated features at the time — especially straight forward action-adventure science-fantasy — so there was no marketing model any distributor could follow to success.

Numer-o two-o:
The rights situation at Ruby-Spears was already starting to grow messy. One reason there has been virtually no authorized merchandising off the show is that Ruby-Spears eventually was subsumed by Hanna-Barbera, their chief rival, and H-B in turn was absorbed into Turner Broadcasting (or Media or Pictures or Studios or whatever the hell they were calling themselves that minute) and soon after that Turner hizzownsef was bought out by the Brothers Warner and today there’s virtually no one at Warner Bros animation who knows about, much less gives a rip, for Thundarr The Barbarian. The feature film threatened to become even messier rights-wise.

Still, we were determined to give it the old college try.

My premise altered the backstory a bit:
Instead of a comet nearly destroying the Earth, it would be the Sunsword itself that wreaked the havoc.

An indestructible alien weapon of immense power, it was lost millennia ago in an epic space battle between two alien species. The inert hilt fell towards Earth, shattering our moon when it hit but slowing down enough as it passed through so as not to utterly destroy the Earth when it landed here.

As best I recall (we went through several drafts and kicked a lot of ideas around) the story proper would pick up with Thundarr and Ookla enslaved by Arial’s wizard father. Arial is not a wholly virtuous character though she is demonstrably better than her father. When they learn of the existence of the Sunsword from advanced alien scouts, she sets off to find it first. Thundarr and Ookla either escape and kidnap her in order to find the Sunsword first so as to keep it from falling into evil hands, or (depending on which draft it was) she drags them along to do the grunt work.

In any case, the story reaches a climax in which our three protagonists plus her evil father plus both still-warring alien species plus the local mutants actually in possession of the Sunsword all go for the weapon at the same time.

All hell breaks loose but Thundarr eventually prevails and Arial comes to realize there may be something to this goodness thing after all, and we end at a point sometime before the very first regular episode.

As hard as it may be for some of you die hard Thundarr fans to fathom, nobody wanted to give us a few tens of millions of dollars to do this.

Two things I do recall vividly:
First, Joe was really opposed to my idea about the mutants who possessed the Sunsword until our protagonists show up. My idea was that the hilt would have crashed into the middle of a championship football game so that thousands of years later a religious cult was grown up around the Sunsword, one in which the priests wear religious garments patterned after football uniforms, the high priests would be dressed as referees, the temple choir would sing football cheers in the manner of Gregorian chants (“Rah, rah, sis, boom, bah…”), etc., etc., and of course, etc.

‘Cuz my approach to the material has always been “embrace the absurdity”.

There are plot holes and logic gaps in Thundarr big enough to fly a fleet of Airbuses through wingtip-to-wingtip so if you’re going to have a future where indestructible handheld weapons shatter moons and wipe out civilizations as the result of an unintended impact, you might as well go all the way and pile the wild ideas on top of each other.

I seem to recall Joe allowed me to keep the basic idea but insisted we water it down considerably.

The second thing I recall was that I came up with the idea of funding the film by pre-selling tickets.

Now, that’s not a big thing in these Kickstarter / Patreon days, but at the time it was a pretty radical idea.

I know Ken Spears chuckled at the idea when I suggested it, asking how we were going to sell tickets before the movie had even been filmed.

I had an answer for him, an idea stolen from Kenner’s Star Wars Christmas gift coupons:  We’d sell certificates that could be redeemed at theaters for admission when the film was released; theaters would be encouraged to participate because since those members of the audience had already long paid for their ticket, they’d have money to buy popcorn and candy and soft drinks[6].

Ken eventually came around to my way of thinking insofar as he agreed it was possible, but wasn’t convinced enough to want to make the effort to find out if we could actually pull it off.

So that idea — and Thundarr The Movie — died aborning.

It’s a pity, since if we had done the movie and the follow up TV series we proposed — Thundarr The King — then we could have had a really nice animated epic that would have spanned our hero’s life from young adulthood to a (physically) mature man and father of twins.

What? You never heard of Thundarr The King before?

Well, let me tell you that story…

…some other time.

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.

.

[1] How they met, teamed up, came to create Scooby-doo, and the aftermath leading up to the creation of Ruby-Spears Productions is a fascinating story in and unto itself but one for another time.

[2] Plus some insane maniacs; R.I.P. John Dorman.

[3] Joe disliked the name (a nod to New Wave musician Gary Numan) so we changed it to Skanner (a nod to David Cronenberg’s Scanners). I know I spent a lot of time world building for the show, but aside from a few stray details I have nothing substantial to share. I did create a futuristic patois and cadence for the characters to speak, but can’t recall much more of it than his introductory tagline: “Dub me Numan; I peep.”

[4] Not that the syndication boom would have done us much good as it was almost entirely focused on other people’s toys and almost never on new and / or original characters.

[5] Hey, those words weren’t hackneyed back then!

[6] And theaters don’t have to share any concession sales with the distributors or producers.

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The Words Of The Prophets…

by Buzz on 27/11/2016

…are written on the subway walls
and tenement halls


WotP 14 Andre Gide

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the sweet science

by Buzz on 25/11/2016

boxing
has this odd
moment of tenderness
when a fighter
is pummeled to
the canvas
and the ref counts over him
but his eyes
have no fight left
and his legs
won’t work
properly
and before
finishing his 10-count
the ref waves his arms
and the fight ends
and then
after all that
brutality
the ref
cradles
the defeated boxer
and hugs him
as if to say
“it’s okay
you did your best
you did your best”

ref-comforts-boxer

© Buzz Dixon

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The American Monomyth: A Mug’s Game

by Buzz on 24/11/2016

Brave pioneers, yearning for the freedom to create a new nation for themselves, set forth across the Atlantic to colonize a howling wilderness inhabited only by primitive savages. With a musket in one hand, an axe in another, a Bible in yet a third, they ventured forth on a pristine continent in search of religious and political freedom. The noble red man, with the exception of a few bloodthirsty hostiles, graciously faded from view to let the new settlers claim the land and build an empire. And while a few slaves were imported from Africa, by and large they were the lucky ones, saved from lives of danger and deprivation, to be educated in the white man’s ways and to be civilized and Christianized so as to be model servants. Onward the settlers surged, claiming new territories, building new communities, creating a great nation dedicated to life, liberty, and the pursuit of wealth — but for white males only. As it should be. And we’d be enjoying this golden age to this very day if it wasn’t for those Goddamned radicals, the progressives, the unionists who want to steal the livelihoods of hard working real Americans and give it to a bunch of crybaby welfare queens so they can buy Cadillacs and drugs while birthing legions of illegitimate bastards and opening the floodgates to illegal immigrants and terrorists.

put-thy-stuff-by-the-dead-indians Read the rest of this article »

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Writing Report November 23, 2016

by Buzz on 23/11/2016

“When I was a young man about to go out into the world, my father says to me a very valuable thing. He says to me like this… ‘Son,’ the old guy says, ‘I am sorry that I am not able to bank roll you to a very large start, but not having any potatoes which to give you, I am now going to stake you to some very valuable advice. One of these days in your travels, a guy is going to come to you and show you a nice, brand new deck of cards on which the seal has not yet been broken. This man is going to offer to bet you that he can make the jack of spades jump out of that deck and squirt cider in your ear. Now son, you do not take this bet, for as sure as you stand there, you are going to wind up with an earful of cider.’” — Sky Masterson (Marlon Brando), Guys And Dolls

guys-and-dolls-marlon-brando-1955The female barbarian fantasy sequel is proceeding nicely (good thing I restarted it rather than slug ahead), but it did make me realize my original ending was not a very good one[1].

I posted the following on Facebook and asked for suggestions:

Working on the second female barbarian story I mentioned earlier. Will post a full writing report in a day or two, however…

Could use some suggestions re story’s climax. Without giving too much away:

Story is set in fantasy equivalent of Middle East in ancient / Biblical / classical eras. Climax involves a small city besieged by vampire / zombie-like monsters that only come out at night and are vulnerable to sunlight, requiring coffins or caves to hide in during day. (These are monsters of my creation so I can give ’em pretty much any vulnerabilities I wish.)

City has several caravans and store houses with standard trade items of era: Spices, silk, salt, oil, etc.

I’m trying to figure out:

How to prevent monsters from returning to coffins (the location of which are known to protagonists) by leaving something in them / doing something to them

Effective way of fighting them / holding them at bay until sunrise

No religious / magic solutions such as charms, spells, etc. Real items (such as wooden stakes, salt, silver weapons, etc) preferred.

Suggestions?

About two dozen FB friends posted a variety of suggestions, some workable from a story POV, others not[2].

And their ideas certainly helped:
They kicked loose the log jam and got me to thinking and doing some research and I realized my main protagonist and one of her allies would have a perfect reason to know what to do and how to do it to counter the monsters.

Now I have to go back and indicate they know this information long before we get to the point of the story where it’s necessary for them to know it.

It’s known among literary writers as “prefiguring” and among Hollywood scribes as “laying track,” “laying pipe,” or “hanging a lantern on it.”

It can be done well or
it can be done badly.

When a no-name character actor is introduced as Steven Seagal’s bestest friend ever in the whole wide world in reel one and his first line of dialog is, “Hey, thanks for lending me all your guns last week; as soon as I clean ‘em all I’ll bring ‘em back” well, we know he’s not going to see the beginning of reel two and at the end of the movie, when Steven Seagal is alone and unarmed and outnumbered a gazillion to one, he’ll remember all his guns are over at his bestest deadest friend ever in the whole wide world’s house and that the production armorer is buying blank rounds by the bushel.

I’m trying to do it better than that.

There are two places where I can prefigure / lay track for my climax:
One in which my protagonist sees something in the fortifications as she first enters the city, a second when she and her ally discuss a previous campaign they served in.

Now, that scene is interesting because it’s really not about them serving together; that point has already been brought up in dialog.

Rather, it’s about a secret the ally is hiding, one that doesn’t go back to the campaign in discussion but involves another character crucial to the story. Originally my intent was just to introduce the fact that this third character exists and that the ally is no longer in contact with them.

And the scene will still serve that purpose.

But changing it slightly will also give me a chance to explain how my protagonist and her ally know all about the technique they will use to fight the monsters and so in the end when our guys are surrounded and threatened with the proverbial fate worse than death…

My protagonist will say, “Wait, remember that time in the earlier campaign…?”

And her ally will say, “Yes! Of course! Quick, men, do what she tells you!”[3]

And then it becomes a fierce battle of men vs. monsters, with the men desperately holding on until the first rays of sunlight will decimate the monsters.

So what’s that got to do with Sky Masterson’s advice and his underworld of gamblers and gangsters?

Simple:
It is a perfect example of prefiguring as one could hope for.[4]

It is establishing the rules of Guys And Dolls to the audience:
You will be tricked. You will be tricked in a way that seems random and unbelievable, but when it happens because you have been told this is a story where the random and unbelievable are to be expected you will laugh and cheer and feel happy for the characters.

Everything I logically need to make my new ending work is already established as being in the city. And this scene will make my protagonist seem smart and tough and capable…

…and not like the author is pulling it straight outta his ass.

.

.

.

[1]  It involved A Much Too Convenient Volcano, which is always bad news for a story. If the whole point of the story is centered on the volcano — say The Last Days Of Pompeii or You Only Live Twice — you can use a volcano. But if it’s just an arbitrary device to force the plot to work, well, then you can’t. Or at least shouldn’t.

[2]  Because I did not include all story details, and so without knowing it they suggested something that wouldn’t fit.

[3]  Hopefully not that baldly. Or badly.

[4]  As opposed to the all too real Steve Seagal example.

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Tumblring Along…

by Buzz on 20/11/2016

6-minds-1-thot-capSpent the bulk of the day loading up my Tumblr account, Things I Do When I Should Be Working, for well into the next year.  The Instagram photos I upload eventually find their way there where they’re easier for others to share.

andrew-loomis-beg-for-it-cap

art by Andrew Loomis

A few of the fictoids I post also end up there, and of course everything gets Tweeted as well, so between this blog and Facebook you have no way of avoiding me.

bernie-fuchs-how-many-pieces-and-how-many-precincts-cap

art by Bernie Fuchs

Here are some of the goodies you’ll be seeing in 2017.

girl-of-steel-cap

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The Words Of The Prophets…

by Buzz on 19/11/2016

…are written on the subwayWotP Edward Abbey walls
and tenement halls

 

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