Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Check in at the Joy Motel

I've added Joy Motel to my blog roll. It's an interesting little spot for online fiction, a tale unfolding in short bursts. Just check in and experience it for yourself.

You can also follow the tale in sort of a "real time" experience on Twitter, as the Tweets come forth periodically in the alloted 140 characters. Is it a game, an experiment? I could tell you more, but that would spoil the fun.

Just go to the front desk and ask for Bobby or Horatio to carry the luggage. They'll make sure you're comfortable.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

I Didn't Know These Were Back - Monster Scenes Models Kits

The new issue of Rue Morgue Magazine includes an article by James Burreli reporting the return of Monster Scenes model kits. The originals were from Aurora and were snap-together kits, some of the first monster model kits I ever had, as they were for many kids.

For me and others they were gateways that led to the more famous Aurora monster models as well as cars and submarines and more.

The re-creations are from Moebius Models--who already offer a number of the Aurora kits--having apparently taken up where Polar Lights models left off a couple of years ago.

Monster Scenes are just being re-introduced, however. The series includess a host of kits: Dr. Deadly, a Giant Insect, the Frankenstein monster, The Victim--who was ultimately renamed the first time around I think--and even more characters, props and backdrop kits.

Though in a persona different from Warren comics, Vampirella was included in the original series of kits as well as the comic strip advertisement. I'm sure licensing is a different ball game for her today because there doesn't seem to be a reissue of that kit.

The advertising and promotion of those first kits was apparently controversial, but oddly, my parents, who were usually pretty conservative, didn't take much notice. I had a Vampirella, a Frankenstein and maybe one or two others. The day I got them, I heard my mother talking to one of her friends on the phone.

"Tell her about my new models," I urged. I'm not sure why I thought her friend would care.

"Sidney got some new model kits," my mother said in to the phone with mock enthusiasm. "Frankenstein and Vamper-roo..." she said.

"'Ella," I corrected.

"A gorilla," my mother said.

Again, miraculously not very controversial. She would object to Vampirella's outfits a couple of years later in the black-and-white comics magazines, but she must never have looked very closely at the boxes of Monster Scenes.

I reassembled the kits a lot and did a kid-style job of painting them. Eventually they broke or wore out, joining the list of toys that would be valuable if I'd never touched them and saved the original packaging.

A Vampirella leg, much like Darrin McGavin's lamp in A Christmas Story, stayed around in a box of model kit pieces a long time, but today my originals are long gone.

I don't have time for rebuilding kits these days though I worked on a Mr. Hyde again a few years ago, doing a better job than the first time.

I'm sure the Monster Scenes for serious model builders will be handled with a defter touch this time around, and we'll see the results in some web galleries. What's the old song, everything old...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays

This photo is called "Santa Lives." I believe it's from the Library of Congress, though I found it some time ago for a PowerPoint project at

I've always loved it because it captures the spirit of Christmas so well. It's about hope, anticipation, optimism, all things we need this year if not more than ever, certainly as much as ever.

Hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season. In the words from one of my new favorite Christmas songs, "Better Days," by the Goo Goo Dolls, "this is the night the world begins again."

Monday, December 22, 2008

What's On the iPod? - Hell for the Holidays

Last Christmas, I listened to adman-turned-author Chris Grabenstein's Slayride, a holiday-set thriller featuring  FBI agent Christopher Miller. I've been saving Hell for the Holidays for this holiday season. 

In this book, African-American agent Miller, whose daughter was abducted by a crazed and vengeful Russian chauffeur in Slayride, becomes embroiled in a plot involving a white supremacist group that begins on Halloween with the kidnapping of his neighbor's child.

Happily the child is rescued quickly and his abductor killed by a quick-thinking off-duty police officer, but that's just the beginning for Miller who quickly suspects there's more to the situation than is immediately apparent.

The tale is read by actor Christian Rummel and it's shaping up to be an engaging holiday-season read/listen.

After this I'm going to find some time for Grabenstein's other series featuring ex-military, small town cop John Ceepak. Titles in that series include Whack-A-Mole, Madhouse and Tilt-A-Whirl

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Majel Barrett-Roddenberry is gone too

I had sort of this fanboy dream back when I was first putting pen to paper that if I ever successfully pulled off anything with fiction writing, eventually I might get to be a guest at a science fiction convention in one venue or another.

Then in suitable Martin-Short-as-Ed-Grimley fashion, I thought: "I might get to meet some of the stars of the original Star Trek, don't ya know?"

I liked Star Trek re-runs when I was growing up. I watched in the first round of syndication in 1968, when it was really becoming a fan hit. The show happily stimulated my creative imagination and was one piece in the mosaic of influences that made me want to create my own stories.  

Happily my grand design worked out, and I was able to meet some of the TOS actors over the years.  Majel Barrett Roddenberry was the first. Some ambitious fans put together a convention in Alexandria, LA, and found their way to my doorstep because they'd heard I had some books out, and I got to be one of the guests.

I met Mrs. Roddenberry when she arrived in town for the event. I don't recall the confluence of events that led to the major coolness. A lot of media stars --i.e. people who were really famous --were on hand for the convention, but somehow or other they were busy. I wound up judging the convention's costume contest beside Ms. Roddenberry.

And saying to myself; "How freakin' cool is this? I'm judging a costume contest with Nurse Chapel and Lwaxana Troi in one."

I thought of the moment, of course, when I opened the Internet Movie Database to check a factoid this week and was hit with the headline that she'd passed away, just as Trek is poised for a pop-culture re-entry in a new form.

The notion that deaths of pop-culture figures come in threes seems to have been confirmed again, with Forry Ackerman, Bettie Page and now Nurse Chapel. It's always seems to happen that way, and it's always sad.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Christmas Zombie?

Christine snapped my holiday profile picture while we were putting up the tree. I thought it was kind of an interesting shot of me and might help the blog look a little more festive. I also made it my Twitter profile pic while decorating my twitter page with ornaments and lights.

Maybe it's the small sizing that profile pictures require, but Wayne observed that it makes me look a little like a zombie--of the Night of the Living Dead variety. 

I didn't really see that until he mentioned it, but you know, it kinda does. I suppose that opens the door to all kinds of possibilities for stories. 

  • They're Coming to Get You, Santa
  • The Zombie Under the Tree
  • Zombies and Mistletoe
  • Feliz Zombie Nod
  • I Saw Zombies Eating Santa
  • 28 Days Later of Christmas
  • When There's No More Room Under the Tree, Zombies Walk the Hearth
  • All I Want for Christmas Is Brains, Brains, Must Have Brains
  • Shamblin' Around The Christmas Tree.
Yeah, Wayne didn't know what he started. 

Friday, December 12, 2008

Forry Ackerman is Gone

I bought a recent issue of Rue Morgue magazine because a portrait of a frightened Forrest J. Ackerman stared from the cover beside the tease "50 Years of Famous Monsters of Film Land."

As you've probably heard if you ever read anything here, I was a Famous Monsters of Filmland kid. 

The mag was still around in the early '70s as were Aurora model kits of the Universal movie monsters, so I read about them in the pages edited by Forry Ackerman, built model kits of them and, again,  loved Forry's bad puns. 

A little later I had a crush on Vampirella who he created as well, so the Ackermonster added a little something to my early days, a little fun, a few shivers and a sexy vampira who battled a Cthulu-like cult.  

Eventually when I decided I wasn't quite suited to writing detective novels, I wrote horror. Of course.

Currently Wayne and I swap digital Famous Monsters cover art gifts on Facebook--my favorite is the Dr. Phibes--so really there's always a little bit of Forry somewhere. You can't see the work of cover artist Basil Gogos, who did the RM cover too, without thinking of FM and Forry's bad-pun captions. 

I knew when I saw there was an interview with him in RM that he must be getting older, and the articles inside mentioned he was not doing well, which made me a little sad. I remember seeing him at conventions in the '80s and '90s, usually with a copy of the FM retrospective book tucked under one arm.

Then the other day came the word that he had passed on, having sold his famous Ackermansion filled with movie props and posters to cover medical bills. I think Cliff got to visit the Ackermansion once. I always wanted to.

Didn't I note recently time marches on? Profound of me. Still, in some ways, as the narrator notes in A Separate Peace, there are some times that will always be. For him it was an era in which Roosevelt would always be president.

For a part of me, it will always be a quiet Sunday afternoon in central Louisiana. I'll always be working on airplane gluing pieces of Bella Lugosi's Dracula together, while waiting to be read is a copy of Famous Monsters with Yul Brenner on the cover as the Westworld robot or the Creature from the Black Lagoon or Vincent Price in Madhouse. 

R.I.P. Forry. We'll miss ya.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Chinatown: The Stones in Jake's Path

A look at obstacles and motivations in the Chinatown screenplay

This is one of several analysis pieces done as part of my MFA work. I thought it might be of some worth to anyone interested in writing, movies, mysteries and things in that vein.

Chinatown’s hero, Jake Gittes, notes in the Robert Towne screenplay that he is a businessman. It is that primary view of himself that draws him deeper and deeper into the complex plot and dangerous situations, and it affects the way he deals with the obstacles or stones that come his way.

For most of his journey, obstacles occur in the form of deception, bureaucracy and a few violent physical confrontations, yet almost every obstacle is eventually transformed into an impetus that propels the protagonist further toward truth if not victory, for in the end the last obstacle is insurmountable.

The Opening Scene
When the screenplay reader meets him, Jake is in the midst of an adultery case that his spiritual predecessors such as Philip Marlowe or even the more pragmatic Sam Spade might not have touched, and, as it plays out, a hint of Jake’s cynicism is revealed. Only the rich, he tells his blue-collar client who is contemplating a crime of passion, can get away with murder. It is a line not included in the film, yet it reverberates thematically through the entire story.

Since adultery cases are Jake’s specialty, he is chosen to unwittingly manipulate water department engineer Hollis Mulwray into cooperation with a plan to re-route water to the San Fernando Valley for financial gain. Embarking on what he thinks is just another adultery case, Jake begins trailing what he believes to be a straying spouse. In the process of this surveillance, Jake observes the first elements of the plot’s core conspiracy.

Professional embarassment
When Jake discovers his client to be an impostor, he is professionally embarrassed and is introduced to the real wife, Evelyn Mulwray. Initially incensed that he has pursued her husband, she soon becomes Jake’s new client and pushes him further into his examination of the conspiracy once her husband is murdered. The death robs Jake of information Mulwray might have provided, but serves up a reason for him to continue.

The Nose Scene
Inevitable physical confrontation comes soon after. Jake endures a water diversion that’s part of the conspiracy, then is confronted by a pair of thugs operating on behalf of the corrupt water department. They attempt to warn him off with the cutting of his nostril, but the moment is another that fails to push him away. Instead the confrontation confirms the water department’s impropriety and continues to embolden and drive Jake forward as he seeks not just professional exoneration but also a businessman’s payday, bragging he will identify the key players and sue them.

As Jake unravels the public works conspiracy, traversing a variety of obstacles using guile or tricks of his trade, he is pushed even deeper into the story’s real and tragic domestic situation and the encounter with the true villain, Julian Cross. (The character is named Noah on screen.)
Just as his false client deceived him, Jake learns Evelyn has concealed the truth about her daughter born of incest, whom she is attempting to guard from her Cross, her father. When he finally learns the truth, Jake is driven to help her.

At odds with the police
He is put at odds with the police and his former friend as he attempts to assist Evelyn and her daughter escape, creating a ticking clock situation as the story moves toward its conclusion, even as Jake identifies Cross as Mulwray’s killer and the man behind the water department conspiracy, the spot a mystery normally might end and where a degree of concluding satisfaction in the story is found. At least answers are available.

Inadvertently and ironically, Jake—when his motivation ceases to be about only business and returns to a lost idealism—sends Evelyn to her doom. He is repeating a similar incident that occurred when he tried helping someone while working as an investigator in Chinatown. Cross, who is wealthy enough to get away with murder, gets the daughter/granddaughter while the police who are owned by Cross push Jake away.

Jake’s operatives remind him they’re in Chinatown, symbolically the place where the authorities look the other way, where he failed before, and like Chinatown the universe is a place where corruption is so interwoven it cannot be conquered. It’s a truth established in the opening pages. Since the final obstacle in his path cannot be changed or conquered, in the end Jake can only walk way.

Friday, December 05, 2008

What Was I Doing Then?

I was glancing at CNN the other night, and they had a clip from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. The parenthetical date after the title made my head swim--1989.

Holy Moses. That was that long ago?

Not only does that put the original Vacation's release in ancient times, but that means it's nearly 20 years since I went with my buddy and his dad to see the holiday sequel.

Holiday movies are, of course, part of the season, and wedged in after shopping or holiday activities, when it's time to see a movie to avoid fist fights with the relatives.

Movies in general are often reference points, auld lang sine's in their own right, and holiday movies or holiday releases often make me think of absent friends.

Kiss Me Goodbye, I know from, was a 1982 release. From memory, I know it was December. My college buddy Lee and I dropped in to see it at the mall cinema. Lee picked that one. Don't know why he was gung ho to see it, but it was pretty good.

It was my buddy David that I went to see the Christmas Vacation film with. He and I went to see Star Trek IV the Thanksgiving it opened also and Starman around Christmas of '84.

Rain Man was a date movie on New Year's Eve the year it opened, part of a holiday romance that lasted a while but not forever. Saw Scrooged with the same girl around Christmas the same year. Seem to remember Steve Martin's Pennies from Heaven as another holiday date movie earlier in the '80s.

I remember Jackie Brown as an outing with my then boss, Wes. Christine and I, he and his wife plus Pam Grier and Robert Forester, now wowing as an uber-villain in Heroes. Time flies.

Yep, time flies.

To absent friends.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

What's on the iPod? - A Colbert Christmas

As of a few minutes ago, the album was No. 3 on iTunes' charts, one notch above Kanye West's album. - 9:30 p.m. CST 12/3

Stephen Colbert is calling on everyone to help drive his Christmas album to the top of the iTunes charts today at 5 p.m. Eastern in "Operation Humble Kanye."

 I'd play along, but I already bought it.

I'd planned to simply watch the special, but I found myself wanting to hum along and put the Fahrenheit 451-burning Yule log on my desktop to make things feel cozy. 

The collection features some authentic tunes such as Toby Keith's right-leaning- but- easy-to-hum-to "Have I Got A Present for You" and Elvis Costello's "What's So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding?" but much of it's composed of surprisingly good song parodies. 

They sound so authentic and familiar they could almost be modern standards or at least secondary tracks on any of a host of celebrity seasonal albums, if they, you know, weren't mildly blasphemous or seemingly suggestive as in John Legend's ode to "Nutmeg."


It's not for all tastes of course, but it is a bit of a holiday blast. The culminating performance of "Peace, Love and Understanding" works well,  Feist's voice is lovely and Jon Stewart's ode to Hanukkah backed up by brush stick drumming  is, well, maybe not pitch-perfect but perfect nonethless. When Colbert decides to stick to his Catholic roots rather than convert, Stewart urges him to wish "the pontiff a Gut Yontif."

The only more ingenious lyric is Willie Nelson's Drummer Boy-esque ode to ganja that admonishes "let mankind not Bogart love."

Like I said, not for all tastes, but if you can take holiday flavor with a little tongue in cheek, it's parody as inspired as Colbert's take on pompous pundits.

As Willie's extra Wise Man might put it: "Yah, the bud was kind."

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Who I Follow

I've become a bit enamored with Twitter in recent weeks. It's a mild addiction but certainly an interesting way to keep up with a variety of people and get occasional bits of news and blogerabilia. (Should I submit that word to the Urban Dictionary?.)

Since I work mostly at web connected computers, I haven't configured a cell to send tweets, though I could, I suppose. It certainly was a way to keep some kind of blogging going while I was at my busiest on schoolwork.

Travellin' Tweets
I relied on wireless coonectivity for tweets when I was in Denver recently, extolling the virtues with my co-workers while we watched election results roll in and I shared our evening with the twitterverse.

It was exciting to be tapped into some of the instant Twitter feeds, seeing comments from around the world roll in as events transpired. As I write this, it's happening again, in a much sadder way, with Mumbai.

Even as the web separates it connects. It's become probably the most frequent way Wayne and I communicate now, and I'm getting to know David Niall Wilson--longtime friend of Wayne and the Chicago Mafia--better via his frequent tweets. Sadly, I can't sell my co-worker who perennially has both thumbs pressed to her cell phone on Twitter's virtues.

Speaking of David, that's actually the point of this post. He's proposed a tweet up, my words, for today, encouraging Twitter users to post blog entries about three of they people they follow and why.

Lee Aase
Lee is the first person I followed on Twitter. I "met" him when he conducted a webinar segment on social media's use in enterprise, and he's become something of a mentor for me in blazing ground into the Web 2.0 arena for my company. If you put all of our social media strands together you get a modest string of folks interested in our spot, a step toward customer loyalty via the web. Lee's Social Media University is a great way to stay abreast of what's happening in social media, especially from a business perspective.

Don Lemmon from CNN
Don is one of several anchors taking Twitter to the airwaves, making viewers more involved in news discussion, expanding the possibilities. He periodically sends out lifestyle tweets as well.

Abe Vigoda
Wayne's had a fascination with all things Abe for a while, a milder version of his obsession with Elvis, I guess. Of course he'd discover and turn me on to the Abe Twitter feed. I'm not sure if the feed is really operated by Abe himself or even a connected publicist, but it's still a cool and fun feed. It trades on the idea that Abe Vigoda of "Barney Miller" was wrongly declared dead by a news report about a "Miller" reunion he wasn't able to attend for reasons other than death. His tweets periodically comment on life, the universe and everything, always tied in one way or another to a declaration that he's still alive. Hopefully it helps with casting directors.

Hope that gives a little perspective of the diversity of the Twitterverse. It's a fun place to play.

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