Category Archives: Screen Enemies of the American Way

Money for nothing and my books for free? It depends

So as I think I’ve already mentioned, I made my Smashwords short-story collection, Philosophy and Fairytales free as part of a promotion running through April 20. I’m quite happy that two people have already downloaded the book.I was much less happy to discover the Internet Archive had an ebook of Screen Enemies of the American Way available on its website for free reading. Camestros Felapton’s post alerted me that IA, in addition to storing old web pages, digitizes print books and lends them out, just like any other library — except, as Slate says, regular libraries don’t just digitize books under copyright and make them available (with exceptions such as services for the blind). Libraries actually pay for ebooks; IA doesn’t. So I asked the IA to take my book down (it appears to be the only one of mine up there) and they did. First time I’ve tackled a pirate site (and in my not-a-lawyer opinion, this does seem to be piracy) and it felt good.

My work on Leaf wrapped up Monday — one of their regular breaks in the work flow — which is good as Leaf articles seem to suffer from the distractions of TYG and pups in the current quarantine more than anything else I do. That’s probably because I try to keep to sharp deadlines writing them and there’s just enough distraction these days to slow them down. So maybe it’s simply more noticeable with Leaf than other work? But hopefully by the time they start up again, I’ll have a smoother process for the new normal.

I got plenty done this week. Two chapters of Impossible Takes a Little Longer. Final draft (subject to one more beta reader weighing in) of Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates. A good deal of work done on Undead Sexist Cliches. Finishing the second draft of Laughter in the Dark. And I participated in a Zoom-meeting of my Tuesday writer’s group. Damn, but it felt really good to see everyone’s faces.

As I woke up early this morning, I am now done. Bring on the weekend.

#SFWApro. Cover image by Lisa Wildman, all rights remain with current holders.

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The most sensational news you’ll read today! Or at least in this post.

So McFarland, which publishes my four movie books and dozens of others, is having a 40th anniversary sale. Everything 25 percent off, including my four movie books. It’s a great opportunity to buy one, two or collect the entire set! It’s always cool to have the entire set, right?

My books are:

Cyborgs, Santa Claus and Satan, a book on made for TV specfic films of the 20th century.

The Wizard of Oz Catalog, an encyclopedic look at Oz books, movies, TV shows, radio shows and stage plays. A lot of oddball material such as a 1930s women’s college film and a sales-training video, The Wizard of Sales.

Screen Enemies of the American Way looks at American fears of the enemy within — subversion by Nazis, Japanese, Commies, pod people, Stepford Wives and extraterrestrials.

Now And Then We Time Travel lists and reviews time-travel television and film stories from around the world.

The sale runs through the end of the month. I’ll be buying a couple of books (maybe more) myself, though I haven’t completely settled on which ones yet. Prime contenders are one on The Saint in his many fictional forms and a book on witches in films and TV, Bell, Book and Camera.

#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holder.

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The time of Janus: Yesterday I looked back, now I look forward (#SFWApro)

janus_1So once again I’m kicking off the New Year with a list of 101 goals for the next 1,001 days. I’ve done it before and it works better for me than a New Year’s resolution. So I have 101 things to try completing before Sept. 28, 2018.

I’ve learned from previous attempts at this. I usually put multiple writing goals that I know I can’t complete all of, because I figure that will push me—and I’m not sure which story/novel/project I will manage to complete. This year I’m scaling down—fewer goals and at least in theory manageable. The only novel-length projects I’m listing (besides Time Travel on Screen of course) are Southern Discomforts (to be finished) and Brain From Outer Space (either I finally have a usable draft or I give up).

I’ve also got goals involving my social life (more events, visits to my family, visits to friends, work on a stage play), my work week (get out of the house more during Monday-Friday), reading (finish reading John LeCarre’s books), exercise (I want to bike all the way to the trail head in Raleigh again—we haven’t done it since we got the dogs) and assorted other things.

Then I translated that into goals for 2016. I find it a little funny that given I had only 20 or so goals for 2015 and did almost none of them, I have almost double the number of goals this year. But for some reason, it feels right (we’ll see). And a slightly longer list for January, because it includes things I don’t bother putting on annual lists, like getting estimated taxes in.

Like most people who make resolutions, I feel a sunny optimism about my future accomplishments and how many goals I will knock off. And after this past month’s sickness, I’m really rarin’ to be up and at ’em.

Wish me luck …

(All rights to image with current holder. Sourced from ferrebeekeeper blog).

 

 

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Filed under Brain From Outer Space, Now and Then We Time Travel, Personal, Screen Enemies of the American Way, Southern Discomfort, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Writing

Structure and Time-Travel: My Book (#SFWApro)

P1190170This month, I’m focusing almost entirely on Time Travel on Screen which is working out well. While I’d like more variety, my rewrite of the manuscript is coming along and as you know from my movie/TV-review posts, I’m getting a lot of stuff watched. And in the middle of it all, I’m thinking about the structure of the book (which is why I have Glinda of Oz reading a book—art by John R. Neill, all rights to current holder—as an illustration. Which is a flimsy reason, but hey).

My first film book, Cyborgs, Santa Claus and Satan had no structure. It was a straight A-Z list of movie synopses.

The Wizard of Oz Catalog (okay, now I think I’ve justified the illo) broke down the subject works into categories—original Oz novels, non-canonical Oz, movies, TV shows, radio dramas, stage plays—and then listed synopses in each category, though chronologically rather than alphabetically.

Screen Enemies of the American Way was different as I took a more thematic approach, looking at movies about German subversives, Japanese spies, pod people, fembots and other types of fictional fifth columnists. The synopses were worked into the text of each chapter.

(And don’t forget, there are links to where you can buy them and other stuff by me on the What I’ve Written page. Just sayin’).

Time Travel on Screen is closest to Screen Enemies, but the big difference it’s tougher to decide which chapter to include a given move in. With fifth-column films, it’s obvious whether the villain is a German, Japanese, Islamic or other bogeyman. But Terminator, for example, is both a love-across-time story (“I came here for you, Sarah.”) and a alter-Earth’s-future-history film, so which chapter? And how do I arrange the chapters so the book seems to flow logically (which is probably something nobody else on Earth will give a damn about but it matters to my aesthetics.

The current breakdown is as follows:

Connecticut Yankee adaptations.

•H.G. Wells’ Time Machine, plus Time After Time and other stories where Wells is the time traveler.

•Travel from the present to other eras. For travel to the past, I’ve grouped it by era—visits to Medieval Europe, feudal Japan, the Victorian age, etc.

•Travelers from other times coming to the present. This one I’ve subdivided more by story idea — fleeing a pursuer, seeking breeders (several travelers from the future are looking for 20th century breeding stock, for example Terror From the Year 5000), making friends.

•Time travel to change the past.

•Time travelers from the future changing the present to alter their own era.

•Changing personal history—getting the girl, opting for career over marriage, etc.

•Time police.

•Love Across Time

•Family-themed stories (getting to know your parent when they were your age, for instance).

•Parallel world stuff.

And then there’s the appendix, which has all the little movies that don’t qualify for in-depth treatment (not that anything is really in-depth, but some have more than others). Would it give more depth if I clumped movies from the appendix in as short notes in the relevant subchapter (putting The 25th Reich in with other WW II History Altered films, for instance)? What about putting parallel-world love stories in the love story chapter? Which will be more satisfying and smooth for the reader.

First-world writer problems, obviously. I’m confident I’ll get it all figured out by deadline.

 

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A smooth ride up to the pot-hole (#SFWApro)

Which is to say today was a mess. Unexpected errands popped up this morning and by the time they were done I was running behind and also completely off my game. So I wound up staring at the story I was working on without getting anything done before finally conceding the fight. As I’ve mentioned before, if it’s a choice between stopping work and pretending to when I’m just fooling around on the computer, it’s better to stop than fritter my time away doing neither what I want nor what I’m supposed to.
Still, overall a good week. I got more work done on the time-travel book; got some Demand Media articles finished; browsed magazine racks for possible query targets; and did my first-draft rewrite of The Grass Is Always Greener. My writing group gave it an excellent critique back in April and I think it’s much closer to sellable.
I also started replotting The Stage Is a World. I can see the problems—the hero doesn’t have a goal or obstacles to overcome, the ghost really doesn’t do anything—but not how to get past them (that was what I planned to work on today). Either I give up on a conventional plot arc and make it more of a character- or setting-focused piece or I give it more of a functional plot. I suspect a stronger plot is the better choice, but I’m a long way from finding it.
Regarding the time-travel book, I’m doing my best to avoid the mistakes I made with Screen Enemies of the American Way. On that one I didn’t start my analysis of the movies until alarmingly close to deadline; this time I’m on it. And I’m making sure every single thing I watch is immediately entered in the cast/credits list. Last time I didn’t do that and wound up missing a couple, which had to be added in after the initial galleys.
And that’s about it. Back tomorrow with the week’s reviews.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Now and Then We Time Travel, Personal, Screen Enemies of the American Way, Short Stories, Story Problems, Time management and goals, Writing

Time travel films again (#SFWApro)

Despite the use of found footage, LUNOPOLIS (2009) is a good mockumentary that would have worked for my Screen Enemies of the American Way book as well as the current project. Two investigators looking into rumors of a secret lunar city discover a vast conspiracy by Scientologists (or a reasonable facsimile) to manipulate human history by sending travelers back in time at the end of 2012 (right before the Mayan apocalypse of course). Good, though not without its flaws—I can’t see why the church is responsible for JFK’s death other than that it’s an obligatory responsibility for all fictional conspiracies to shoot JFK.“Nobody knows what’s best for the world—nobody.”

THE WIZARDS OF WAVERLY PLACE: The Movie (2009) was a spinoff Disney Channel film that comes off like a Back to the Future knock-off: Selena Gomez accidentally crises out her parents’ Meet Cute, with the side effect of the kids starting to disappear from reality, setting all of them hunting for a Magic McGuffin that can put everything right. Stock, but more watchable than I’d have expected. “If I’d known there’d be this many kids around I’d never have booked this place.”

61-flightdisappeared
THE FLIGHT THAT DISAPPEARED (1961) is an anti-nuclear preachment in which people of the future pull three scientists out of time to judge them for destroying all possible futures with their nuclear research. A preachy one, though it’s interesting to see how different the “let’s kill Hitler before he does anything” scenario feels when someone from the present learns they’re the future Hitler who has to be killed. “I’ve never let anyone say that to me—not even the doctors in the hospital!”

THE FUTURE (2011) is an oh-so-precious story of two thirtysomethings vaguely attempting to make something of their lives and discovering they’re totally ill-equipped to do so. I had this on my list as a possible entry but it turns out the “changing the future” theme of the story purely refers to altering the expected course of their lives so it’s closer to Mr. Nobody (the hero also does have the ability to stop time but it’s just presented as one of several weird details). “I made the sound that says ‘I am cat and I belong to you.”

TIME ENOUGH: Alien Conspiracy (2002) is depressingly familiar as an example of clunky, low-budget film-making (it makes Asylum’s “mockbusters” look like MGM) in everything from the acting to the sound editing (I kept having to adjust the volume as people a few feet away from the mike were inaudible). However it definitely qualifies for the book, the premise of the trilogy being the Greys are shark-evolved future humanoids trying to trigger the nuclear war that will create their future, countered by the shapeshifting Morphs hoping to stave off the apocalypse (this would also qualify for Screen Enemies). This particular episode has the added touch of one Morph using that race’s time-travel tech to do-over his repeated unsuccessful efforts to explain the truth to his girlfriend. Given the idea of UFOs coming from our future has been around at least 20 years, I wonder when it started? “You cannot fight a war by ignoring people on the battlefield!”

TIMECRIMES (2007) is a twisty thriller that would double-bill well with Memento for complexity: A man fleeing a masked killer winds up using a time machine to escape an hour into the past only to realize he’s the same man he was fleeing and that worse chronal paradoxes lie in wait. I’m not sure where this one will end up going in the book, but it’s certainly an entertaining one. “Looks like you bet on the wrong horse.”

BEFORE YOU SAY “I DO” (2009) is a do-over of sorts in which a man who just lost his dream girl due to her traumatic memories of a disastrous first marriage gets flung back 10 years in time, giving him a chance to win her before Husband Number One ruins her life. This is another example of time-travel morality, as the protagonist engages in the kind of lying and manipulating that’s only justified by knowing what he’s saving the girl from (though admittedly rom-coms go a lot softer on duplicitous behavior from the leads than real life would); innocuous overall. “Here’s a prediction—Arnold Schwarzennegger becomes governor of California.”

ALWAYS WILL (2006) has a high-schooler discover that touching his fifth-grade class’s time capsule (which he and his buddies dug up and stole) allows him to flashback and rewrite history, a gift he exploits to get success and the Pretty Girl before sacrificing everything to ensure his mother’s happiness. The time-travel morality here doesn’t quite work—while I can understand Will not repeating his self-serving ways in the final timeline, I can’t see why he also gives up his occasional good deeds (helping out a bullied kid, helping a friend get a date) in order to preserve the original history. I did like, however, that he doesn’t get the girl at the end, though he winds up with a consolation prize classmate. “And to think they actually reward crooks like you.”

LEAVE (2011) is another near miss, the kind of murky something-strange-is-going-on thriller that turns out tis all part of a Surreal Pretentious Hallucinatory Sequence as the protagonist confronts his own fear of death. Decidedly sub-par (though I suppose if you’ve never seen an It’s All In Your Mind movie before, it might seem pretty cool).

(Poster art rights remain with current holder)

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Hamstrung by Hump Day! (#SFWApro)

A better week than last, as we no longer have the thermostat up high. Much easier to sleep now.
Unfortunately Wednesday was a mess. I went out with my writing group the night before, so I’d budgeted the time to get up late. As frequently happens, my brain took this as a sign I was having a day off and I got started later than necessary (note to self: when getting up late either watch a short video during breakfast hours or nothing at all, so that I don’t tell myself “I have time, I’ll sit to the end.”). Then I had to scrabble frantically around to get my estimated taxes in (the equivalent of withholding for the self-employed, for anyone who doesn’t know). I never leave it to the last day, but we’d had some trouble getting all the data we needed. Ultimately I didn’t get the data so I just wrote a big enough check to be equal to what we paid last year (that should do the trick). All that took up extra time and left me rather frazzled so in the afternoon—making up last week’s sleep deficit, I guess—I wound up napping for a couple of hours instead of my usual fifteen minutes.
That aside, the week went well.
•I got in all my Demand Media articles for the other days of the week.
•I finished the 20,000 words of Brain From Outer Space I wanted done this month.
•I replotted Southern Discomforts.
•I reworked The Day the Rabbits Started Eating People (now Rabbit Indigneotem) and I quite like it. I’ll have it beta-read soon, I hope.
•I contacted two more markets about their lack of response to my submissions. We’re talking a couple of months past the response time, which I wouldn’t mind if they’d tell me the stories are in consideration. Not replying is never anything but a bad sign, so I’ll withdraw them if I don’t hear soon.
•After reading the paranormal romance Assassin’s Gambit, I took a look at my own attempt, Good Morning, Starshine, from a few years back. I haven’t touched it in four years (the rest of 2009 I was working on the Applied Science series, Screen Enemies of the American Way and planning to move up to Durham to be with TYG) and rereading revealed I didn’t even finish the last draft: About a third of the book is still first-draft elements.
Reading it now makes me wince. Like a lot of my early drafts (particularly when I’m not working on them consistently)I use the same phrases, conflicts, issues over and over because I forget I used them earlier in the story. A more fundamental problem is that my hero, Brian Dancer, doesn’t really work. I was playing him as emotionally detached and thawing in the presence of the protagonist (yeah, I know, startlingly original) but I’m not sure that comes across. I’m not sure I even like it. But as yet, I don’t have any alternative ideas, just things I don’t want (I don’t like alpha-male characters much, and I don’t want to explain his detachment with some tragic backstory).
So I don’t think I’m ready to start Draft Three yet. I’ll kick it around in my head and see what I come up with for Brian.
Even with the nap Wednesday, I only missed a couple of hours of writing time. And I made up some of the fiction I didn’t get done last week (using a time-tracker app really does help). So yay.

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Filed under Brain From Outer Space, Nonfiction, Personal, Screen Enemies of the American Way, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Time management and goals, Writing

The greatest generation and its myth

Christopher Hayes thinks we can blame the myth of the “greatest generation”—the monicker stuck on the pre-Baby Boom generation—for the way we’ve handled 9/11.
As he points out at the link, 9/11 followed several years of paeans to the WW II era and the people who fought it. And he argues persuasively that the vision of them as the Greatest Generation largely whitewashes the reality.
True, they fought in World War II and won. But as Hayes points out, some of them also opposed fighting the war because it would sacrifice Real American lives for the benefit of European Jews.
Some of them traded with the enemy. Contrary to the image of America chomping at the bit to free the world from the Axis threat, we maintained relations with Germany up until Pearl Harbor. If Japan hadn’t bombed us, we might never have gotten involved. If Germany hadn’t declared war on us, we might never have gotten involved in Europe. Some people, of course, were passionate about fighting, from Edward R. Murrow reporting from London to the Flying Tigers in China. Many others weren’t.
I don’t mean by this that they were all horrible human beings—just that being part of a particular generation doesn’t, in itself, give them any nobility. Some of them fought for civil rights and treated minorities well (or so I’d like to think). Some of them lynched blacks who got out of line. Some of them were heroes on the battlefield, monsters off it; the blogger Jeanne d’arc some years back told how her father, a much-decorated WWII veteran, also liked to beat her and her mother bloody.
I’ve always been inclined to agree with D’Arc’s assessment of the Greatest Generation legend: Baby Boomers spent years demonizing their parents as racists, sexists and supporters of the establishment; now that we’ve noticed they’re dying, we’re swinging in the other direction (“No, you’re not bad people, you’re wonderful! Why you’re—you’re the greatest generation!”). Some of them are genuinely great, but it’s because of who they were, not because of some magical generational element.
Pretty much like every other generation, in short.
Hayes’ argument is that on a wave of nostalgia for WW II as the Good War Against Evil—ignoring any of the complexities or moral ambiguities (check out Studs Terkel’s The Good War or David Brinkley’s Washington Goes to War for some of those) made it easy to see the War on Terror as WW II redux: We were rejecting Boomer rage against the system and Gen X selfishness for the self-sacrifice of an older, purer time.
This, I’m not so convinced about. Hayes argues that the WW II themes rushed in to fill the heroic void left by the end of the Cold War and give us a War-on-Terror template, but I think the Cold War actually fits better. What happened (IMHO) was that when 9/11 hit, we had an administration staffed by Cold War leftovers such as Rumsfeld and Cheney and we almost immediately fell into the Cold War pattern. We’re good. They’re evil. If we fight dirty it’s okay, because we’re good. If they fight dirty, it’s proof they’re evil. The enemy is so horrible that we can’t stop fighting, can’t hold back because they’ll overwhelm us. Everyone who isn’t with us is against us. The enemy’s agents lurk among us. People who oppose the war are traitors.
There was a lot of this in WW II, but it was brought to fruition during the paranoia of the Cold War (as I covered in Screen Enemies of the American Way). With or without the WW II themes, I suspect things would have turned out the same.
Read the article for yourself (and if you want to buy my book too, I won’t object) and see what you think.

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Filed under Politics, Screen Enemies of the American Way

The annoying thing about insomnia–

Well, about my insomnia is that it’s so variable.
A couple of weeks back, I was waking up after just a couple of hours sleep. I sat up, read for about 30 minutes, and I went back to sleep. This week I woke up after longer sleeps, read … and nothing. So I wound up working and taking a nap later in the morning. It would be much easier to manage my time if I knew for sure which way my brain was going to run.
Despite which, this was a productive week. A little under-performing on the eHows (I’m going to blame the insomnia but it’s my first full week of writing in a month (no travel this week! Anywhere!) which really felt good.
•I got through several chapters of Impossible Takes a Little Longer that I thought would be difficult to rewrite. Not so—everything’s going smoothly. I plan to finish this rewrite by the end of May, check the really important sections in August and then print out the book for a final edit at the end of September. And then, off at last!
•I think I’ve finally worked the kinks out of The Savage Year. It needs tidying and tightening, but the material is solid (we’ll see if my beta-readers agree).
•I reworked Not Bound By Honor, a short story set in 1798 America (if I mentioned it before, it was under another title, but I can’t find any reference). The rewrite was a big jump up, and I can see how to improve it on the next go round. Though it’s going to be much tougher for my protagonist (Revolutionary War veteran George Knorr) to get out of it now …
•I rewrote my flash fiction story, Heads Up! and I think the new direction I gave it looks very promising (which makes me realize my previous “finished” draft was crap).
•I started a rewrite of Fiddler’s Black (the former Dum-Dum Diddle) but while the opening looks great, I’m not sure where it goes next. Given the nature of the menace and its agenda, I don’t know what sort of opposition my protagonists will run into—as written, I’m not even sure opposition makes sense.
•For the first time in a while, I did some work on what I hope will be my next movie-reference book. No actual writing, just considering the alternative structures. I think (if I get the go-ahead) it’ll be something between the in-depth analysis of Screen Enemies of the American Way and the movie-by-movie approach of my previous books.
•As you can tell, I changed my blog theme, as I’ve been planning to do. So is it an improvement? If not, what would be an improvement? I’m open to suggestions.
•Ehows for the week:
•Video Conferencing Vs. Web Conferencing
•Tax Consequences of Borrowing From Life Insurance
•What Is Reported to IRS for Mortgage Refinance?
•Stock Dividends & Financial Reporting Standards
•Financial Aspects of Contract Management
•House Flipping as an Investment Vs. Income
•Tips for Blacksmiths
•Problems in Being a Pediatrician
•How to Invest in Startups
•Teachers & Workplace Injuries
•What Can I Expense on My Taxes?
•Graduate Job Interview Tips
•Manufacturing Code of Ethics
And on that note, bring on the weekend!

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The Story Behind the Story: Original Synergy

My short story Original Synergy is now out in the latest issue of Chaos Theory.
I’ve long been fascinated by conspiracy theories that explain how the world is secretly governed by the Illuminati, the Elders of Zion, the Secular Humanists and so on (of course, since I wrote a book tying into that subject, it’s hardly surprising I’m interested). While the supposed puppet-masters may shift may shift, the belief in the man behind the curtain never goes completely out of style, in politics (Birthers and Truthers——though Birthers have found much more mainstream acceptance) or in fiction (Plain Man, which I reviewed yesterday, explains everything happening in Washington as the work of its bad-guy cabal).
I occasionally played around with conspiracy theories in some of my early, unpublished stories, but I’ve no idea how I got from them to the concept of Original Synergy.
Quite simply, all the conspiracies——pardon me, that’s “covert, unelected authority figures”——are real, from the Knights Templar to the Men in Black. And since they all have their own agenda, they keep getting into each other’s way. So what could be more natural than having one big conference to see if they can reach a compromise between their various goals?
Unfortunately for meeting planner and Knight Templar Serena Dean, she only has two weeks to put all the arrangements for the conference together (for reasons covered in the story). The hotel’s not even booked. And if she fails? Well, heads will roll … literally.
Once the concept formed, it was mostly a matter of tinkering (lots of tinkering, admittedly) with the dialogue and the scenes until it was all ready. And then retinkering again after some feedback from helpful editors (always appreciated).
And then trying to sell it. This is one of my two oldest unsold stories, and I think I know why: I has no real SF/fantasy content but it never felt like something for the mainstream either, so it fell between two stools (one editor specifically told me the no-fantasy aspect was a problem).
But happily,Chaos Theory accepted it. I look forward to reading the rest of the issue (regrettably their last).
So click on the link, find my story and read! What are you waiting for? 🙂

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