Friday, October 14, 2011

Swearing off werewolves and other lies

I had never intended to write a werewolf book. In fact, I’d sworn off writing one altogether. 

I’ve written every other kind of monster story, mostly as screenplays. I kicked around the Frankenstein theme, written a few ghost stories and explored vampires in two different scripts. There have been three different takes on the zombie idea, one of which is still in development. My personal fave is a horror-western about a cursed gunslinger hunted by the zombies of the men he’s gunned down. 

But after seeing a particular movie in 2000, I steered clear of werewolves. That movie was the last word on werewolves and I saw no way to top it so why try? 

As a monster-obsessed kid, I always had a soft spot for The Wolf Man. Of the titans of the Universal monster flicks, Dracula was my favourite but I was always intrigued by poor Larry Talbot, the doomed hero of the wolfman movies played by Lon Chaney Jr. Through a cycle of five movies, Larry Talbot is classic tragic figure hunted, bludgeoned, imprisoned and shot with silver bullets on his quest for a cure to his werewolf curse.  

Monsters are notoriously hard to kill, especially by a Hollwood looking to squeeze every last drop from a franchise but by the late 1940’s the classic monsters had become parodies of themselves. And the one surefire way to kill a monster was to have them meet up with Abbot and Costello. No monster survived that treatment. 1948’s Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein vanquished the careers of three monster titans in one fell swoop and yet the character of Larry Talbot/Wolfman was granted something of an arc as the character got to go out like a hero, sacrificing his own life to take down the villainous Count Dracula. 

Werewolf movies went a little stagnant after that. Hammer’s Curse of the Werewolf left me bored as a kid and the one film I saw from Paul Naschy’s cycle of werewolf movies left me a little confused. Mind you, I did appreciate the over-the-top cleavage in those flicks so it wasn’t a total loss. 

Werewolf movies stand or fall on the make-up effects of the monster. It’s all or nothing and any half-assed attempts at the wolfman make-up produces sneers from even its most ardent fans. And so it went until some breakthrough developments in special effects brought the werewolf movie howling back to the movie theatres.
The summer of 1981 saw the release of two movies that blew the lid off the werewolf genre. Developed and shot roughly at the same time, Joe Dante’s The Howling ate up the box office that spring and by late summer, John Landis’s An American Werewolf in London stomped onto screens. Both movies were gloriously grotesque in their transformation sequences, something not even attempted since the original Wolf Man cycle. Advances in latex make-up and animatronics turned effects artists like Rob Bottin and Rick Baker into the rock stars of the Fangoria set. 

The Howling is a great werewolf flick but an odd story. It opens with a fantastic sequence where genre fave Dee Wallace plays a reporter meeting a serial killer for an exclusive interview in a sleazy porn theatre. The killer is gunned down by the cops before he wolfs out, leaving Dee traumatized by the experience. From there, the movie takes an odd turn as Dee and her husband retreat to a creepy enclave to heal but everyone in the secluded retreat turns out to be a werewolf. The movie ends with Dee wolfing out live on the news into some goddawful were-poodle thing.  A fun footnote to the movie are the uncredited cameos by Forrest J. Ackerman, Roger Corman and indie film giant John Sayles, who also scripted the movie. 

A fun movie for sure but The Howling remains a little chaotic in its storytelling and overtly campy in style. 

On the other hand, An American Werewolf in London, is a brilliant film. Note there’s no qualifier there. It’s not a brilliant werewolf movie, it’s simply a fantastic movie. Full-stop. Tracking the same dramatic ground as the original Wolfman movie, American Werewolf follows an innocent bitten by a monster and slowly coming to realize that he’s cursed. What makes this movie stand out is its clever interplay between humour and horror. Laughs are often used to punctuate the horror and build to the next scare but here, it’s used to ground and reveal the protagonist David Kessler, played by David Naughton. The humour endears the character to the viewer and that in turn underscores the horror visited upon him. After a few hilarious/creepy visits from his undead friend Jack, David learns the true nature of the curse he’s under. Hooked on the horns of a lycanthropic dilemma, David must choose between killing himself to end the curse or continue to not only kill but condemn innocent souls to purgatory. The story directly references the original Wolf Man movie, taking a cue from that old monster movie which informs the climax to David’s werewolf dilemma. 

Rick Baker won an Oscar for make-up that year. High praise for a lowly genre flick but in my opinion, it should have been nominated for original screenplay or best picture. 

There was one other werewolf movie from that year, an odd one. Wolfen, adapted from the Whitley Strieber novel, starred Albert Finney as an NYC detective investigating a pack of supernatural wolves stalking the streets. Not a great movie by any stretch but the premise of that flick must have stayed in the back of my head all these years and informed my own ‘cop versus werewolf’ take. 

But the movie that changed everything was a little Canadian horror flick called Ginger Snaps. A gleefully dark and subversive mix of teen rage and horror that has yet to be equalled. Ginger and Brigitte Fitzgerald are two death-obsessed outcasts suffering suburban hell. Ginger is attacked by a werewolf shortly after she experiences her first period and the werewolf symptoms are misdiagnosed as menstrual symptoms until it’s too late. “There’s something wrong with you,” Brigitte tells her sister, “besides being female.” The ‘curse’ is in this movie takes on a whole new meaning. 

While Ginger is the one who’s undergoing changes, it’s her sister, the shy resentful Brigitte, who is the protagonist of the movie. Ginger embraces her darker side and the powers that come with it, while Brigitte tries to hide the truth from their parents and teams up with the local dope dealer to find a cure before her sister is lost. The werewolf mythology is a little different here. Rather than changing back and forth from human to wolf and back again, the change into the werewolf is a gradual change and it’s permanent. Once the cursed victim has morphed all the way, they never come back to being human. This gives the story a real urgency and ‘ticking clock’ pace. 

Ginger Snaps had a brief theatrical run but became a cult hit once it hit the DVD shelves. I saw it at the Bloor Theatre in 2000 and I was blown away. More than that, I was inspired by it. Here was a brilliant little movie that was not only horror but Canadian too! More than anything, seeing that movie inspired me to pursue screenwriting because it showed me the possibilities. 

That was the last word on the werewolf subject as far as I was concerned. Nothing could top the subversive and wickedly funny tale dreamed up by screenwriter Karen Walton and director John Fawcett. Why even try? The subject of werewolves was capped and there were plenty of other horrors to pursue. 

Cut to five years later. I’m reading Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River, a crime thriller about the past haunting three men in a blue collar Boston neighbourhood. The lives of three boys are forever changed when one of them is abducted by two men posing as cops and horribly abused over three days. Forever scarred, the boys grow up and drift apart but they’re reunited years later when the daughter of one of them is murdered and suspicion grows around Dave, the man who was abused all those years ago. 

Dave, a gaunt shell of a man, is fighting personal demons from the abuse suffered as a boy. He begins to feel the desire to abuse others himself but he fights it by numbing himself with booze and turning that inner rage against other abusers. He even kills a child molester. One night, he’s watching a horror movie on TV and makes a strange correlation between his own inner demons and the vampires on screen. Like the vampires, he’s been afflicted by this curse which he knows is slowly taking him over and he’s powerless to stop it. 

Mystic River is a powerful book that follows the trajectory of violence and how the past is never too far away. But that strange correlation poor Dave makes between childhood sexual abuse and vampires stayed with me because it was kind of brilliant. Except for one thing, Lehane had picked the wrong monster to make his analogy. While they may be innocents to begin with, vampires tend to embrace their dark nature once they’ve turned. To me, a more appropriate monster that correlated to childhood abuse was the werewolf. Once infected by the werewolf, the character fights it and searches desperately for a way out. In this sense, Mystic River’s Dave is no different from the Wolfman’s Larry Talbot, David from An American Werewolf or the Fitzgerald sisters in Ginger Snaps. There was a story in there, I thought. A new take on the werewolf idea. 

The idea became an ear worm that would not shake loose and despite my earlier conviction that the final word on werewolves had been written, the idea festered until I couldn’t resist. It started out as a screenplay, a middle ground between Se7en and American Werewolf. Two homicide cops track down a killer running loose with a pack of feral dogs at his command. The suspect believes he is a werewolf. Digging further, the detectives uncover a history of abuse suffered by the suspect and realize that the killer has misdiagnosed his own trauma, interpreting his rage and psychosis as the effects of a werewolf curse.

Oddly though, that initial idea for a different take on the werewolf idea became a small part of the story. Writing the script and later turning that into a novel, the focus of the story was more about the homicide cops confronting the supernatural and less about the abuse/lycanthropy analogy. But that happens, ideas change and the story will become what it wants to become. I tried to follow Stephen King’s advice on this matter: ‘The book is the boss’. 

So, after vowing not to write a werewolf story, have I written the final word on that furry subject? 

Not a chance. 

But I had a hell of a lot of fun writing it.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

author interview and other chest beatings

David Wisehart was kind enough to post an interview with yours truly over on his blog, Kindle Author. You can see it here. Along with putting out his own books, David is a tireless promoter of indie authors. Cheers, David.

Anyone else gotten hooked on The Passive Voice?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

True Grit

Let's not mention the hockey game, okay? Jesus...

I just did an interview for David Wiseheart's site, Kindle Author. One of his questions was "What one book do you wish you had written?" That took some head-scratching. There's lots of books I've loved in the last year or so but are there any I wish I had written? No, not really. I'll often be wowed by the prowess of other writers but I'm not sure if I've ever wished I had written a certain book. But there have been books that blow me away, the ones that linger in your head long after you've read them. The ones you want to go back and read a second time or third time.

Within the last year, that book has been True Grit by Charles Portis. A year ago, I didn't even know this was a book. I just thought it was an old John Wayne movie until the Cohen Brothers released their version and read about how they had gone back to the book, not the movie.

True Grit is an amazing, awe-inspiring and hilarious book. One page in and you know you're in the hands of a master who will knock your socks off. The plot is a simple revenge story, the narrative a straight line of characters pursuing a goal with stubborn tenacity. But the way the story is told, through the eyes of 14 year old Maddy Ross, is sublime. Maddy is stubborn, tenacious, wrathful and unintentionally funny dispensing good Christian advice or proper etiquette in her quest to shoot down the scum who killed her father.She's such a pill. When pitted against the flinty Rooster Cogburn, she shines.

The story is a raucous adventure, wild west shoot out and rumination on revenge and obsession.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Bad Wolf - Chapters 1 and 2

THE WOLF MOVED through the trees, nose to the ground. Down from the mountain and out of the primordial darkness towards the lights of the city. It skulked through a hole in a fence, pads heavy on the worn pavement. Past a leaning stack of pallets and into a lot that stank of gasoline and men. Jaundiced light beamed from the poles haloed in the light drizzle. The rain dampened the stink of the ground and turned it sour.
It kept to the shadows, winding through the yard to avoid the lights. It wasn’t far now, the smell it was after. Prey. It caught the scent from a mile away and tracked it from the slope of the dead volcano down into the city. 
It was close, the thing it tracked.  
The dogs came after, a clumsy pack of pokey ribs and ravaged hide following the lead animal. A Rottweiler and three pit bulls, a Doberman and a sleek Siberian Husky. Others of no discernible breed and still more of such bastard mix they were barely dogs at all. Heads low and single file, the dogs followed the lobo’s path step by step. The pack snorted and snuffed, sometimes snapping at one another but none barked, none made any unnecessary noise. When the hunt was on, they stifled the raw instinct to bark and ran silent. The lobo taught them this and they had learned it the hard way. The pack was down in numbers because two ill-mixed breeds couldn’t help themselves and barked on a hunt. The wolf killed them both, snapping their necks in its enormous maw. The troop was learning. Dogs barked, wolves did not.
They were hungry but the wolf had taught them how to hunt as a pack. First the small woodland animals darting across the forest floor and then bigger prey.  At night, always at night. But this night was different and all to an animal knew it. The wolf hunted even bigger prey bigger this night. Something slow and stupid and easy to kill.

TWO BOYS AND A GUN. How many terrible nights have started this way? The gun was an old bolt action rifle. A 303 Enfield with a walnut stock and a battered scope. Lifted quietly from its dusty rack in Owen’s grandfather’s house. Owen held the gun now, sliding the bolt forward to reveal the loading gate, showing it to the other boy.
“Just lemme shoot the fucking thing.” Justin was fifteen and impatient about all things. He drained his beer, also stolen from Owen’s grandfather, and crushed the can.  
Owen looked at him with contempt. “You gotta learn how to load it first, dumbass. Maybe you ain’t big enough to wear the big boy pants.”
“Come on. Before those things run off.”
They were hunkered down under the steel bridge that spanned the Willamette, the dark riverwater moving slowly below them. Empty cans of Pabst scattered around, two fresh ones sweating cold in the plastic bag. The air was warm, pushing the stink of the river up the banks.
Owen had seen that old Enfield in his granddad’s cellar since he was seven years old. Once, when he was ten, he pushed a chair up to the wall and climbed up just to touch it. The black metal was cold to his fingers but the wood felt warm. His grandfather had caught him just as he was trying to lift it from its cradle and Owen had gotten a sharp crack over the ear for it. After that the old man kept the basement locked but Owen never forgot about the gun. Now that his grandfather rarely left his bedroom, Owen took it whenever he wanted. Justin wanted to shoot it so they got the beer and the gun and headed down to the river. There were raccoons and cats down there among the broken bikes and appliances dumped from the roadside and the boys had taken to shooting at them late at night. But tonight was different, tonight they got lucky. There were dogs.
God knows where they came from. Six, maybe seven. Hard to tell at this distance. Big and mangy looking. Strays for sure. They swarmed over something down in the weeds, scrapping over it. Teeth snapping and jaws popping. Feeding time.
Justin tossed his can away. “Lemme shoot already.”
Owen handed him the rifle. “Here”.
Justin rolled onto his belly in the dirt, aimed and fired. It was that quick. He jumped back at the recoil and whined. Owen watched the dogs bolt away then circle back. They sniffed the air then tore back into the thing in the weeds.
 “Fuck are they eating down there?” Justin looked through the scope, watching them feed.
“You missed.”
“You’re fat.”
Owen took the rifle back and lay on his gut in the dirt. He put his cheek to the stock and squinted down the scope. He recalled everything he knew about firing a rifle, all of it schooled from a Punisher comic book. Draw your aim, hold your breath and squeeze the trigger slowly. Bang.
He jolted from the kick but quickly re-aligned the gun and looked down the scope. One of the dogs was flopping in the weeds, twitching in a spastic fit. “Shit,” he said. “Did I hit it?”
The dog was still by the time they walked down there. It wasn’t dead, just lying on its side, tongue flat on the ground and peppered with dirt. It panted, the ribcage undulating up and down. The boys stood over it, watching it die, neither horrified nor repulsed. Justin spat on it.
“Lucky shot, is all.”
Owen smirked, watching the dog’s legs kick. Justin moved on, trampling down the weeds. Looking to see what the dogs were scrapping over.
“Fuck me.”
Justin lurched away and puked. Owen stepped up and saw what was there. Limbs. Legs and feet. An arm. The core of the body had been chewed up and eaten. There wasn’t even a face. All of it pulled apart like jerky by the hungry dogs. Owen backed away from it and looked around. The dogs were long gone.

JOHN GALLAGHER SMILED as he pushed the shitbag up against the chain link. The guy looked antsy and sweaty in his green parka, and that made Gallagher happy. Few things were as satisfying as watching the eyes of some screwhead when he realizes his world has turned instantly to shit.
Gallagher had been with the Portland Police Bureau for sixteen years, the last eight as a detective with Homicide Detail. And nothing topped working homicide. Ninety percent of the job was braindead boring but the other tiny percentage of piecing together murders and tracking down shitbags was unlike anything else. The methods one chose to pursue the job were key and John Gallagher led more with his guts than his head and that had consequences. His internal file was stuffed fat with reprimands, warnings and final warnings about his aggressive methods but all of that was balanced against a clean closure rate. The complaints and threatened lawsuits from banged-up suspects were silenced by a clean evidence trail that pinned the son of a bitch to the wall. Just like this shitbag in the parka.
 “Hey man, we just wanna talk”, Detective Roberts said, holding up his palms. Roberts was older than Gallagher, clocking down this side of fifty. Cautious and methodical. He hated working with Gallagher and the feeling was mutual. Fourteen hours earlier, they had been at the hospital, looking down at a woman who had died shortly after arrival. She had been beaten and tossed down a flight of stairs in some godawful tenement in No Po. They went to work looking for the woman’s boyfriend and voila. Now the part Roberts hated, playing peacemaker off Gallagher’s wolverine schtick.
“Wasn’t me.” The man in the parka clucked his teeth with impatience. “Go piss on somebody else’s life.”
“We will, chief”. Gallagher pushed him one more time. “Soon as we’re done pissing all over yours”.
“Fuck you.”
Parka Man walked away. He bumped Gallagher’s shoulder on the way and that was all it took. Gallagher smiled.
Oh Christ, thought Roberts.
Gallagher kicked the man’s knee out and he collapsed inward. Parka Man hit the sidewalk bald, found Gallagher’s knee on his throat.
“Fucking kill you, bitch”, was all Parka got out before he choked.
“See, a bitch is why we’re here, chief.” Gallagher jammed his knee into the man’s windpipe. Still smiling. “You put your woman in the hospital yesterday.”
“Fucking told you. Wasn’t me.”
 “How original.”
“Easy, Gallagher.” Roberts scanned the alley for onlookers. “There’s people around.”
Gallagher ignored him. “Your woman died in hospital yesterday after you stomped her face to hamburger. You know what that means, chief? Your ass is mine”
The man seethed through clenched teeth. Gallagher hauled him up. “On your feet, asswipe.”
Parka Man sprang, cracking his skull into Gallagher’s nose. Blinding pain.
Roberts flinched, then reached for his service issue. Too slow, too old. The man barreled into him like a tackling sled. Roberts hit the ground hard and Parka Man stomped on his guts then ran. But he didn’t get far, hit full freight by Gallagher. Face to the pavement. Gallagher pummeled the guy mercilessly until he curled into a ball to protect himself.
Gallagher let up, caught his breath. “Roberts”, he hollered, “you want a turn?”
No response. Detective Roberts was still on the ground and he wasn’t moving.

LIEUTENANT MIKE VOGEL was trying to get off the phone but the damn thing kept ringing. He had big, meaty hands with thick fingers and his cell phone looked like a kid’s toy in his big mitt. How he pushed those little keys correctly was anyone’s guess. Vogel was a monster with Popeye forearms and a huge trunk. With his shaved head and permanent scowl, he still looked like the wrestler he was twenty years ago. He was spry and agile for such a big guy and back then, the old-timers in the amateur leagues all agreed he was the best thing to come out of Multnomah county in a long time. His professional tag was Bone Slab Vogel, which he prided himself on. It had a nice horror movie ring to it.
The Lieutenant kept a picture from his glory days, framed and hung on his office wall. Twenty-two years old with a full head of hair, spandex pants and lace-up boots, the whole deal. His press kit photo, Bone Slab posing for the camera with muscles flexed and fury in his eyes.
There was another picture of Bone Slab Vogel floating around the offices of Central Precinct. This one showed Bone Slab shaking hands with Hulk Hogan himself. Big smile, oiled biceps and locks flowing. The problem was the shiny pants Bone Slab was wearing at the time. No word of lie, they were bright red with sequins. His manager’s idea. Someone in the Homicide Detail had found this photo, framed it and now it moved mysteriously through the office. Sometimes it hung in the main hallway, other times in the kitchen, always askew like it had been hung quickly. A couple times it hung in the men’s room on the main floor and once in the women’s bathroom, where it remained undisturbed for a month. Vogel would gripe about it, threatening to smash it but then it would disappear for a while again, waiting like some phantom to reappear in some other location.
Four months after that photo was taken, Bone Slab Vogel was wrestling an unschooled amateur in Tacoma when everything went bellyup. Bone Slab took a boot to the kidneys and landed wrong. The amateur launched himself from the turnbuckle and dropped on him full tilt. Two broken cracked vertebrae and Vogel never stood straight after that. Four months convalescing and three months smoking bongweed and killing time. An uncle stopped by to talk him out of his funk. He suggested becoming a cop. Do something good.
 “Come on. You’re gonna miss it.” Detective Latimer hovered in the doorway, waving at his Lieutenant to shake a leg. Latimer was a Homicide veteran and a stickler for punctuality. He personally had hung the picture of the red-sequined Bone Slab a dozen times.
Lieutenant Vogel flattened the phone to his collar bone. “Can’t you do it without me?”
“You gotta bring the cake out,” Latimer said. “Not me.”  
Vogel snuffed, then finished his call. He hated these things; birthdays, promotions and retirements. The retirements most of all now. Two detectives, one Homicide, the other Fraud, had both clicked over into retirement and needed to be replaced. And here he was unpacking a cake to celebrate the last day for yet another cop. Detective Alex Papadopoulos was a solid workhorse that Vogel didn’t want to lose but Papadop’s wife was ill and he’d crossed the early retirement line three years back. So Papadopoulos needed to take care of his family and now the Lieutenant was down three bodies in one unit. Not good.
The Ouzo melted the bottoms of the Styrofoam cups. Toasts were made, the Lieutenant said a few words and Detective Papadopoulos got choked up. The retiring detective said a few words himself, admitting that he was dreading what the day after would bring. How does one not go to work after grumbling about it for thirty years?
After the cake was gone, the Lieutenant took him aside and asked about his wife. Papadopoulos said they were taking it one day at a time. The man was scared, that was plain enough. Who wouldn’t be? Vogel knew that Papadops had a huge family but he reminded him that he had family here too and if there was anything they could do, just call. Papadops thanked him
Both men’s eyes became dewy and both became ashamed but, thank God, someone was already tugging at the Lieutenant’s sleeve with a problem. It was Bingham.
Detective Bingham pulled him away to speak privately. Whatever it was, he didn’t want to spill it in front of everyone else and ruin the party. Bingham was young for a detective and good looking to boot. His nickname around the office was the Panty-Atomizer. Poof.
 “What is it?”
“Roberts is in the hospital,” Bingham said, keeping his voice low. “Not sure how serious it is.”
“What happened?”
Bingham shrugged. “He was with Gallagher.”
Gallagher. Vogel gritted the name between his molars. He was going to murder that son of a bitch.

DETECTIVE ROBERTS LAY in a hospital bed in with his left leg elevated, the kneecap shattered. He’d injured that same knee when he was seventeen playing for the Lincoln High Cardinals. That was 1975, when Ford was President and American helicopters were being pushed into the Gulf of Tonkin. Shattering the same knee thirty five years later, Roberts was screwed. What the hell was he going to tell his wife? Work would be the worst. He’d be chained to a desk and the only thing Roberts hated worse than paperwork was computers. And all of it because of one fucking prick.
“Pardon me?” The nurse leaned over him to check the ECG, her boobs at eye level. He smiled at her. “Nothing”.
Roberts forced his eyes away and cast about for something else to look at. He caught sight of a face looking in through the window. Roberts raised his fist, middle finger straight up.

GALLAGHER WATCHED THE nurse fuss over Roberts. She was pretty. When Roberts flipped him off, Gallagher waved back, all friendly like. “Fuck you too, hoss,” he said.
“I should snap your neck in two.” Lieutenant Vogel came up the hallway and looked down at Gallagher. He probably could too, one handed. Gallagher was solid and built to punish but the Lieutenant stood five inches over him and outweighed him by a hundred pounds. To Gallagher, Vogel always resembled that bad guy in the Spiderman cartoons. Not as dapper as the Kingpin of crime, but Vogel was a tank who could drop anyone. With or without the red sequined tights.
 “Once, just once, I want to find you in the hospital with your head stomped in. Not your partner.” Vogel’s nostrils flared wide, something he did when he was mad. “What happened?”
“Asshole tried to rabbit. Put Roberts down pretty hard.”
“And you had nothing to do with it, izzat it?”
“I was trying to collar the shitbag.” Gallagher looked back in on his partner. Former partner, whatever. Roberts looked old, hooked up to all those machines. “How was the party?”
“Good. Too bad you missed it.”  
“We were on our my way when we spotted douchebag in the parka.” Gallagher looked back at his boss. “Did Papadops have a good time?”
“He wondered why you were AWOL.”
“I’ll catch up with him later, say goodbye properly.” Gallagher chucked at Roberts. “What are you gonna do with him?”
“What can I do? Bench him for the duration. Which he’ll hate.”
“Yeah, well. Life sucks.”
Vogel felt his stomach turn to ice, that same feeling he used to get before he laid the boots to someone in the ring. “What the hell am I gonna do with you?”
“Quit saddling me with partners. Let me work alone.”
“What you need is a goddamn leash.” Vogel unwrapped a piece of gum, tossed it in his mouth. “And a psychiatrist to boot. When’s the last time you talked to the staff therapist?”
“Don’t. I will eat her alive.”
“How about early retirement? Think of it as a favor to me.”
Gallagher chinned the nurse in Roberts’s room. “What are the chances she’s single?”

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Crawling past one finish line, onto the next one

Hello internet, my name is Tim McGregor. 

The last half decade or so has been spent working in the film biz. The Canadian film biz specifically, not the big Hollywood game. God knows I tried to bust into that racket. The Canuck film biz is a much smaller racket all round. Smaller movies, smaller budgets, smaller paydays. I’ve juggled a dozen different projects in the hamster wheel of development and had three features produced so far. All three films were small scale, the kind of stuff you catch on the Sci Fi channel or Space or, God forbid, Showcase. 

After the financial meltdown of 08/09, film work dried up for me. Producers always cry poor when you’re pitching them but this time they actually meant it. Cut to 2010 and I polish up another spec script and start the grindwheel of sending it out. Somewhere in there I got cut from my agent and I’m flying solo. The response from that last round of pitching/contacting/pleading was a deafening radio silence. 

Thoughts wandered into the area of “why don’t I just turn this into a novel?” This wasn’t the first time I had thought this and neither would it be my first attempt at writing a novel. The idea of it, turning my last script into a novel sounded awfully tempting, but I kept some perspective. Contacting literary agents about a manuscript and getting it published would be at least as hard as getting a movie made, if not harder. Was I ready to jump ship from one soul-crushing hamster wheel to another slightly-different-yet-altogether-the-same hamster wheel? No. It would be like clawing back to square one and starting over. Fine for John Lennon but not me. 

Stupidly, I ignored my own advice and just dove in. I needed a break from screenwriting and the change felt good. I figured, if the book turns out well, maybe I can try smaller publishing houses. Maybe someplace known for genre, like Dorchester.
And then Dorchester started to flounder, crashing into the breakers. Other small publishers started sinking too.

But then I started hearing about ebooks. Specifically Joe Konrath, and the success he was having by turning his back on traditional publishing and flying solo. Selling his books on his own via Amazon. Self-publishing-- that dirty little word in literary circles. Heretofore the domain of cranks and talentless, deluded bastards turned away by publishing houses. Yet here was Joe, selling tons of books and watching the traffic spike on his blog. No one seemed more surprised than he was at his success and he backed it up with honest hard data, sharing his sales figures and earnings. 

It was inspiring but I remained skeptical. It seemed too good to be true. And then I learned about others doing the same and the unprecedented rise of ereaders and ebooks even as traditional publishing was crumbling further apart.

Writing a book didn't seem like such a bad idea after all. The options available, the creative control, was heady stuff to someone schooled in film. Long story short, the book is done along with all the detail work of hammering it into an ebook. The cover is over there to the right, ready for clicking. 

Fingers crossed, here we go.