A Long Time Ago …

In case you missed the news, 40 years ago today a little movie called Star Wars arrived in theaters. it was not expected to do well. In fact, George Lucas was so convinced it would be a disaster he fled Los Angeles for Hawaii to build sand-castles with his buddy Steven Spielberg, where they ended up hashing out what would become Raiders of the Lost Ark.

But of course Star Wars did not flop. Star Wars became STAR WARS, and we’ve been living with it for four decades now. In the last two years we’ve seen two new Star Wars movies, and this Christmas we’ll see another. It’s not inconceivable for Star Wars to outlive the generation that grew up with it. It’s a piece of modern myth-making writ large.

Scads of words have been written on its cultural significance but ever person has a different story about the role Star Wars played in their lives. For me it began in 1977 as a 4 year-old whose father took him to an evening show to see some movie a co-worker had told him I would enjoy. He bought me a bag of popcorn and cup of cola and apparently when the Star Destroyer flew overhead in the famous opening shot the popcorn hit the floor untouched and I stared, open-mouthed at the screen for the entire two hours.

I was captivated. And as a child who lived in four different cities by the time Return of the Jedi arrived six years later, Star Wars had become the constant friend in a childhood with not many of the real kind.

After JediStar Wars faded from the landscape and my life. There was a brief resurgence on the 10th anniversary when I picked up a special issue of Starlog magazine, but Star Wars was pretty much dead by 1987, through the early 90s. Then the Timothy Zahn series of Star Wars books arrived. then the Dark Empire comic book series from Dark Horse. the Power of the Force toy line made its debut in 1995 and I was on my second Star Wars kick, which lasted all the way to 1999, and the release of The Phantom Menace.

I have not come to bury the prequels or to praise them either. What I will say once Revenge of the Sith hit theaters that it was pretty much a given Star Wars was finished. there would be the Clone Wars TV series which, despite a rough start, became a genuinely wonderfully realized story. But Star Wars on the big screen; that was done, right?

So we’re living through the third Star Wars cycle and its unlikely to end anytime soon. Sure, a few consecutively crappy films could happen, but if 007  could survive nearly sixty years, Star Wars could last at least to 2037.

For me  Star Wars will not end. That’s because my child, who turns two this July, is approaching the age I was when I first saw Star Wars. I’ve gone back and forth on how to introduce him to the series. By the time he’s four, Episode IX will have come and gone, so he’ll have the entire Skywalker saga at his fingertips. Do we run the series in order – 1-9 – with Rogue One and the hitherto untitled Han Solo movie (and if it’s NOT called Han: Solo they suck)? Do I show him Episodes 4-9 and pretend the Prequels don’t exist? What about Clone Wars and its spin-off, Rebels?

No, I need a plan of attack … and think I’ve found one.

On the day he’s ready, I’m going to ask him if he wants to watch a movie. I’ll put on Star Wars and hopefully he’ll be dazzled by it. But rather than segue right into The Empire Strikes Back, I’m going to let him live with Episode IV for a little while. Let him engage with the story, the characters, let him play with the toys and imagine their own future adventures. Then, when his interest in it starts to wane, I’ll  show him The Empire Strikes Back, and we’ll repeat the process. I want him to be re-introduced to Luke, Han, Leia, Chewie, and the droids. I want him to gasp at the revelation of what happened to Luke’s father. Then when that’s run its course, Return Of The Jedi.

I want to let him live with those movies as long as he wants to. Then, when he’s losing interest, I’ll ask him if he’d like to see how Anakin Skywalker  became Darth Vader.

We’ll watch the prequels in quicker succession, not because they aren’t as good (I like parts of them I don’t like other parts, and am well outside the demographic when they were released anyway), but because they’re too interconnected.

After that we’ll dive into Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels which, buy the time that wraps up, should segue into Rogue One. By then the current trilogy will have concluded, and with the weight of the entire saga behind us, we can watch those however we want to.

As you can probably tell, I’ve given this a lot of thought.

But as far back as I can remember, my life has been one where stories were shared in a multitude of ways. From bedtime stories read to me by my parents, to my father taking me to see one of his favorite movies 2001: A Space Odyssey when it played as part of a roadshow re-release in the 1980s.

I want to pass these movies on to my child because how stories are told matter as much as what they tell. I want him to cherish these stories, but to also cherish the way he was introduced to a galaxy far, far away.

And because I want him to know that many years before, his dad discovered them at the same age.

 

But we’re hiring a babysitter so we can go see The Last Jedi. Sorry, kid.

On The Road (With Apologies to Kerouac)

On Friday, February 26, 2017, I delivered the final edit of Magicians Impossible to St. Martins Press. It is finally, FINALLY finished, and it has been the most difficult, most lengthy, and most rewarding project I have ever undertaken. The stats on that: I first sat down with editor Brendan Deneen to talk about the book in April of 2014. Now, three years less a month later, the journey is over.

Well, not OVER over. There’s still the the matter of the release of the book on September 12, and all that comes with it. Magicians is going to keep me busy through the fall and probably into next year, especially when the paperback is released. But the writing journey is over. I’m on the next project already, and have pages to deliver to my agent this month so she can run with them, which will be a journey in itself.

Now, with “journey” on your tongue, a pop quiz. What do …

And …

Along with …

And let’s not forget …

And, finally …

All have in common?

They’re all places I’ve been to, and they all feature prominently in Magicians (which you haven’t read yet), but they do figure into the story, some in very significant ways. I bring them all up because they’re all part of what I believe is the key to good writing, or at least the authentic kind.

Joe R. Lansdale, one of my favorite writers, once said (and I paraphrase) that “you can tell when a virgin’s writing a sex scene.”  Likewise, you can tell when someone’s writing a story with no idea what they’re actually writing about. Like they never experienced the place, the feelings, the emotions of what they’re describing. To me, that is one of the most important aspects of writing; the part most writers fail to mention.

Travel. Adventure. The whole “step away from your desk and experience life” thing.

A lot of writers go on about their word counts, or their endless rewrites, or writer’s block. I don’t see many going on about an adventure (or misadventure) they had. Some object d’art that inspired them. Some unexpected journey that gave them an idea they nurtured into a story. Some wrong turn that ended up being the best mistake they ever made.

I first visited Paris in 2011, as part of a post Fresh Meat victory lap. My wife and I spent our Christmas there, renting a charming flat in Montmartre, and spending the entire week in the city. We hit Versailles, the Catacombs, stumbled upon Francois Truffaut’s grave in Montmartre Cemetery, shopped the Galleries du Lafayette, ate lots of cheese and drank an alarming amount of wine … and visited the Louvre, where we fell in love with its beautiful sculpture garden …

And this statue in particular.

Not to spoil anything, but a central portion of Magicians takes place within the walls of the Louvre, and this sculpture garden in particular. Now, it goes without saying I never would have conceived the idea if I hadn’t gone to Paris and to the Louvre. But the idea of staging something in the Louvre was born that day in late 2011 – five years ago, and two years before I began Magicians.

This is another example. All characters need to come from someplace, and when I was developing the backstory of Jason Bishop, Magicians’ protagonist, I knew I wanted him to have grown up in the village of Cold Spring, NY, which is an hour and a bit by train north of NYC. My wife and I spent a wedding anniversary weekend up there back in 2012. We saw the sights, we hiked, we ate very well, and it was on one of those walks that I first glimpsed Storm King Mountain, just across the river and a little further north. Something about the name Storm King just stuck; it made me think of the Night on Bald Mountain sequence in Disney’s Fantasia, and an image of a wizard’s battle on the road that winds along its side popped into my mind. So, when I was trying to find a place for Jason Bishop to have spent his childhood, Cold Spring was a perfect fit. Had I never visited, it would have been someplace else. But over drafts of the novel I realized just how important Cold Spring was to the story. In the end it is probably the most important locale (and I ended up getting my wizard’s battle on Storm King after all).

Ditto Jason’s place of work. The location of The Locksmith bar in the book is just below Dyckman Street on Broadway, a spot occupied currently by the Tryon Public House. But the layout of the place is actually based on a bar further north once called The Piper’s Kilt (now the Tubby Hook), and takes its name from a bar further south that used to be called the Locksmith. I picked the Inwood neighborhood of Manhattan to park Jason at his job because it’s a neighborhood I’m familiar with. Any time I needed a refresher on some detail all I needed to do was go for a walk.

There are other real-life places that figure into the book, but those are the major ones. So to me, anyway, travelling is the most important thing I don’t hear a lot of writers talk about. It’s authenticity. The idea of experiencing things off the beaten path, to use a cliché. It doesn’t even have to be an overseas trip; sometimes just walking down a different street in your city or town can give you an idea.

Even if Sci-Fi or Fantasy is your thing, you can still benefit from travelling outside your comfort zone. Go to a place where they speak a language different than your own. Try and sample the local cuisine. Get lost. You don’t even have to go far; even the next town or state over can reveal wonders. It’s amazing how many people rarely venture outside their home town or city or state or province. Only 36% of Americans even own a passport; they’ve never set foot outside of their country.

So, if you’re a writer, aspiring or otherwise, I strongly encourage you to step away from the desk, step outside your life, and see what’s out there. Your next story could be waiting for you as close as the next street over. All you need to do is find it.

 

Impossible Tracks

So, a lot has happened since I delivered the Magicians Impossible manuscript to my editor at Thomas Dunne Books on January 6th. Manuscript was received, I received the rest of my advance, and took a breath to orient myself after what was a long haul project.

Since then … a lot more has happened. Word started getting out; some book blogs picked up word on Magicians Impossible, the dedication and acknowledgements were written and submitted so the book could be sent to the printer’s for those galleys to be sent out to reviewers in April. July 4, 2017 was fast approaching.

Then… things changed.The original release date of July 4th was always fluid, with my hope they’d move it up to June 27 so people could get the book in hand before the summer officially began on the long weekend.

That was my hope, anyway.

Instead, the sales, marketing, and publicity departments, along with my editor, jointly decided that an autumn release date would be better for the book.

Which is why Magicians Impossible will now be released September 12, 2017. I’m told through the grapevine that the higher ups at St. Martin’s Press (where Thomas Dunne Books, my imprint, has its home) feel Magicians has the potential to do much better in the fall market, which is typically when the big five release their major titles. It’s a huge vote of confidence in me and Magicians that they would make such a decision.

[As an aside, a friend who worked in sales at a UK publisher for years said it means SMP wants Magicians to be an anchor of their Christmas line-up.  So, Merry Christmas to me]

What does this change? Well, nothing in the short term, except now we have a little more time to get the whole machine up and running. My agent, Jodi, and I are meeting with the SMP team in early April to plot promotional, marketing, and publicity strategies – and she and I will be strategic on our own as how to maximize the new release daye, the months leading to it, and the ones following.

Right now it’s looking likely I’ll be appearing at Book Expo America in NYC in early June (where the book gets its official “pre-launch” launch). My promotional tour (New York, Los Angeles, and possibly Toronto) will run in September-October, with appearances and signings continuing through the fall at basically any place that will have me. One advantage of living in NYC is everything from D.C. to Boston and parts between are only a drive away. I’m hoping to hit up everyplace I can on the East Coast this fall. West Coast (outside of LA) and parts in between will be on a TBD basis. I hope to hit up cities that aren’t on the usual publicity tour stops like Chicago, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Memphis, Nashville, and my old NC stomping grounds.

Anyway, to keep up with what’s happening with Magicians Impossible, I now have an author page up at the MacMillan Books website. I also have a Facebook page you can swing by and like for more updates.

And, of course, the book’s available for pre-order at fine bookstores everywhere.

I made mention in the previous update that I’d be leading up to the book’s July release with a series of entries about things I discovered about writing and process. That’s still happening, but for obvious reasons is being delayed a couple months. But I’ll have some new non-Magicians related material up sooner than later. I hope.

TTFN

The Dog-end of a Day Gone By

To call 2016 challenging is to undersell it. It was certainly the most difficult year I’ve endured, and that’s just on a personal level. Caring for a 1 year-old while managing a career as a writer is no easy task. There have been frayed nerves, sleepless nights, and the ever-present worry that this is pretty much it for me and my career; that I can’t do both those things without failing at one of them. And yet, I’m still here, you’re still here, and we need to be because 2017 will probably be worse. It’ll take away people and things we love, the bad guys will keep winning. This is the beginning of the winter George RR Martin’s Stark family keeps telling us is coming.

But it’s important not to give into that despair. You have to fight, you have to strive, you have to marshal resources and press on. Because capitulation is not victory. It will feel like it for a while, but those things you’re trying to hide from will find you eventually.

Think of it this way; we all have some sort of comfort food. Some meal that you love, less because of what it is than what it represents. For me, it’s the traditional roast beef diner my grandmother used to make. The roast was always a little dry, the gravy a little starchy, but I’ve spent the last twenty-three years trying to re-create. But that really isn’t the point; the point is when I do make it, I get a minor taste of what that meal represented; the closeness of family, the smiles, the laughter of people now long gone. There’s warmth to it, and sadness. It’s nostalgic, the comfort meal.

As Michel Houllebecq wrote;

Nostalgia has nothing to do with aesthetics — it’s not even connected to happy memories. We feel nostalgia for a place simply because we’ve lived there; whether we’ve lived well or badly scarcely matters. The past is always beautiful.

That’s comfort food; and art can be comfort food for the soul. Books, movies, TV, music … those perennial works you return to over and over again, not because they remind you of happier times, but because they remind you of a time in your life that you survived. So in the spirit of the season, here are some of my artistic comfort foods.

  1. Bond. James Bond.

bond

I grew up with James Bond; the Roger Moore ones specifically, because they were the first ones I saw. I remember how a Bond movie would often be the ABC Saturday night movie; the World Premiere of Moonraker or something Over the last month and a bit my wife and I watched (in reverse order for some reason) the Moore Bond series, and the Dalton ones. We’re now into the Brosnan era. There’s just something about them that gives me a warm feeling, and that, I think, has been their success; by offering us what we want while tweaking the formulas ever so much. From Octopussy on I saw every Bond in the theater, including Never Say Never Again, though I shamefully confess I missed Spectre, being a newly minted parent my movie watching was pretty much impossible. To this day remains difficult – last I saw in the theater was … actually, I legit can’t remember. It was summer, I know that. Maybe X-Men Apocalypse (which was terrible by the way). Did I mention the year that was has been rough? Well, yeah. No time for movies.

2. High. Degrassi Jr. High.

degrassi

Not much time for TV either, though one seminal series turns 30(!) next year. Yes, on January 18, 1987 a little Canadian TV series called Degrassi Jr. High made its debut on CBC. My friends and I all mocked it, for its cheesiness, for its obviously plotted by adults for kids aesthetic, for the Canadian-ness of it (growing up in Canada in the 1980s it was anything but cool). But we still watched it – I know I did, mostly because it was filmed in, and set in Toronto, which I loved, and I would just groove on the scenery. When the final TV movie “School’s Out” aired five years later, I think everyone in school must have watched it because the next day all people could say was “You fucked Tessa Campinelli?” Over the following years it aired in reruns, was relaunched as an enormously successful show called Degrassi that’s still going strong. But now, 30 years on, it’s become comfort TV, for me anyway, because of the cheesiness, because of the plots, because of the amateurish nature of using non-actors. It even makes a brief cameo appearance in my next novel. Those kids are all in their 40s now – and I’m sure the ones who grew up not watching it but actually watching in secret still remember the theme song.

3. God Save the Queen
queen_band_members

If you know me this will come as a shock, but I grew up listening to Queen. First instance was when we moved to Scarborough Ontario in 1982, and at my new school, had to participate daily in a thing called the Health Hustle. Let me back up; by Age nine I was used to starting over in a new school. I’d lived in Mississauga, in Vancouver, in Edmonton, and now Scarborough. First days in a new school were always weird. Being the new kid, for one, being the kid who had no idea in hell what he was in for was another. So on my first day at North Bridlewood public School, around 11am an announcement came over the PA telling the children it was time for today’s Health Hustle. This was an initiative from the Ontario Public School board dating back to the early 70s, to include mandatory physical activity for school children (recess twice a day was not enough apparently). So when the announcement came we were marched to the gym, where a teacher led us through the health hustle routine of jumping jacks and running in place. I had no idea what or why it was, but there was music on the PA, and that year the music was Queen. We Are the Champions, and We Will Rock you in particular (along with some other songs and bands I’ve forgotten, though I think bad Leroy Brown was one of them). That was my intro to Queen, though they would pop up periodically through my life in the next decade, especially as Much Music arrived on the airwaves. I even remember the day Freddie Mercury passed away. They were always bigger in Canada than they were in the US, which is why when Mike Meyers paid tribute to them in Wayne’s World the next year, Bohemian Rhapsody climbed the charts once again. Incidentally Meyers grew up in that same Scarborough neighborhood, and was a friend of one of my friends’ sisters. To this day a Queen song takes me back to those years and memories.

Just don’t ask me to do the Health Hustle.

4. Stand By Me
sk

People ask me who my favorite author is, I typically say Joe R. Lansdale because he’s awesome and everyone should read his books. But for various reasons Stephen King holds a special place in my heart and it was seeing Stand by Me in the theater that summer that prompted me to seek out Stephen King’s books – specifically the novella The Body, which the film was based on. I remember the surprised gasp that tremored through the theater when “Based on a novella by Stephen king” appeared on screen as the end credits rolled. That Stephen King? It bore some investigating, and I did, scoring a used paperback of Different Seasons the novella collection containing The Body (and Apt Pupil, and Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption and the lesser-known The Breathing Method). I read The Body first, and was shocked by how dark it was. I won’t spoil it for you, but it was mournful in a way the movie wasn’t. The sadness at lost friends, and lost years, suffuses every page of The Body, and in the years since I think I may have read it every year or two. I get older with each read, but Gordie LaChance, Chris Chambers, Teddy Duchamp, and Vern Tessio remain the same age I was when I saw Stand by Me. As a father to a young boy, it resonates even deeper now. Revisiting The Body is like revisiting old friends; ones you’ll never forget.

5. The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of …

sandman-covers

Of course I can’t leave 2016 without mentioning comic books. My career as a comic book creator has been on hold ever since our child was born, and I descended into the world of Magicians Impossible, but I hope to get back into making comics in 2017. To prepare for that I’ve been rereading several seminal titles, the greatest of which, to me, remains Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. Everything’s been written about Sandman, its influence, its importance, over the last twenty-five, almost thirty years so what can I say that hasn’t already been said? Nothing. But for me it’s as unique as it was when it first appeared; both cosmic in its scope and intimate in its reach. I’d read periodic issues of it when they first came out, but it wasn’t until 1999, when I became a screenwriter by trade, that I had the money and the time to collect the trade paperbacks, and read them from start to finish. Maybe it’s the fact that it told a complete story. Maybe because every turn of the page felt strangely familiar. Reading it now it’s like an artifact from an earlier age, where my career as a writer was just beginning. But mostly because this story, like all stories, mattered to me, and had the power to change myworld, starting from the smallest speck of dust.

So, as we close up shop on 2016, I encourage each and every one of you to indulge in a little comfort food over the holidays. Listen to that album. Watch that movie. Re-read that book. Get some rest, see some family and friends. And when 2017 arrives, be prepared to fight your hardest for those people and things that mean the most to you.

UPDATE:

January 12, 2017 (Addendum)

There’s one more bit of comfort food I have to add, and it’s this …

Netflix has every Star Trek series available to stream, and I’ve begun what looks to be an epic re-watch of the Original Series. It’s been years since I watched any of these episodes, and i’m reasonably certain that, despite it being my favorite of the Trek series, I actually haven’t run the entire series. There’s episodes I’ve seen, ones I remember vividly (working a summer at a Star Trek exhibit in the mid 90s will do that to you), but many I have never seen or have no recollection of – mostly season 3 episodes, natch. So It’s going to be a fun little ride the next while. Lord knows I’m going to need the distraction.

Impossible Winner

So we’re back from Summer, right? Back to work, back to the normal routine, yes?

Then feast your eyes on this:

1

And this …

2

These are the first two cover treatments for my debut novel Magicians Impossible coming from St. Martins Press and Thomas Dunne Books.

When they arrived I immediately gravitated to the first cover – “Smoke-head” as he’s affectionately known. But #2 is quite beautiful if I do say so myself. The decision making process was a tough one, so I put it out to some closer friends and confidants, some industry pros and the like. And in the end we settled on …

3

Which was a little bit closer to the spirit of the book – Harry Potter meets James Bond.

But it was still not … quite … there …

Until …

4

There it is.

Damn. It’s like this book is actually happening or something isn’t it?

Well, it is, which is why Magicians Impossible is being published on JULY 4, 2017, from Thomas Dunne Books;

Jason Bishop’s world is shattered when his estranged father commits suicide, but the greater shock comes when he learns his father was a secret agent in the employ of the Invisible Hand; a brotherhood of spies wielding magic in a covert war. Now the Golden Dawn; the ones responsible for Daniel Bishop’s death and the death of Jason’s mother years before have him in their sights, and his survival depends on mastering his own dormant magic abilities.

Yet  enduring the Invisible Hand’s rigorous training may not be enough to turn the tide. Jason’s first mission ends in disaster and he’s captured by the enemy. Taken to its leader – the enigmatic Red Queen – he’s ready for anything; except the bold claim that the Invisible Hand are the real threat; committed to using mastery of magic to subjugate the world with only the Golden Dawn in opposition. They claim Jason has been fighting for the bad guys all along, and he’s the only one who can tip the balance of a war that has raged since creation.

But in a world cloaked in mystery and magic, whom can Jason trust? The Golden Dawn, who claim to hold the secrets behind Jason’s mysterious lineage? The Invisible Hand, who’ve been more of a family than his own family ever was? One thing’s for certain; the magic Jason Bishop has been struggling to master is telling him not to trust anyone.

Now, I’m going to cop to something here: I was a MAJOR pain in the ass to the publisher, to my editor, to the design team, to my agent. I kept asking for tweaks and changes. This is largely owing to something I discovered about myself years ago; that while I have perfectly realized visions for how I want something to look I’m terrible at articulating what that is. Someone once mentioned Stanley Kubrick was the same way; those legendary hundreds of single takes of Shelly Duvall screaming being case in point.

That said, I apologize for nothing. It’s my book – my first book – and if I don’t fight for my vision who on earth will, right? Right!

You can pre-order Magicians Impossible on Amazon and in Canada at Indigo. You can also pre-order from your local independent bookseller and I strongly recommend you do so if you can. Indie bookstores are the lifeblood of the community. Any bookstore, really, is that and they’re sadly a dying breed. But if you can pre-order please do so. The more pre-orders there are tells the publisher people are interested in this book. That affects, well, everything, from advertising to promotion to publicity.

Anyway, there’ll be a lot more Magicians Impossible stuff on this website soon, including what’s shaping up to be a major design overhaul of the entire place. I hope to be updating a lot more too as the book approaches publication. Then there’ s going to be signings, book tours, and a few other surprises along the way.