True Indie

It’s strange when your idols become your colleagues, and become your friends. Such is the case of legendary filmmaker Don Coscarelli, whose notable work includes Bubba Ho-Tep, the Beastmaster, and a film series of note called Phantasm.

I first met Don in 1998 at a screening of Phantasm Oblivion. We hit it off and the next year when out in LA he graciously invited me and some friends out for lunch. He even brought The Tall Man himself, the legendary and much beloved Angus Scrimm.

But it was in 2002 that Don had an immeasurable impact on my life when he made Bubba Ho-Tep as it was because of Bubba that I met my future wife. We’ve been together 16 years now, and have a now 3 year-old child.

Last time I saw Don was a year ago while on the west coast leg of the Magicians Impossible book tour. He met us for breakfast in Manhattan Beach and seemed absolutely delighted that a weird little movie about a geriatric Elvis fighting an Egyptian mummy could lead to a marriage, and a new life brought into this world.

But that’s not why I write this. I write this, because at that breakfast Don mentioned he’d been approached by St. Martins Press – my publisher, incidentally – about penning a memoir. A year and a bit later that memoir has now been published.

I just finished reading True Indie, and have to say it is easily one of the BEST books I’ve ever read about the trials and tribulations of being an indie filmmaker. As well as being an amazing filmmaker Don is one of the greatest raconteurs I’ve ever known, and this book is loaded with stories I’ve never heard before. It’s also one of the most inspiring books I’ve ever read – a story about hard work, and dedication to your craft, and the strength you draw from your friends, colleagues, and family. Don is a true original, and I urge everyone with an interest in horror and film-making to grab yourself a copy … or face the wrath of The Tall Man!

You can purchase TRUE INDIE here:

Strange Magic

 

Magicians Impossible was published one year ago today, on September 12, 2017. It was quite a year, and quite a learning experience. These are just some of the things I discovered in the year since my first novel was published:

Not everybody will love your book …

This is a fact. Going by Goodreads’ own metrics, about 85% of the 800 or so people who read and rated Magicians Impossible liked it. Overall it’s at about 3 and a half stars out of five. Not bad numbers – and frankly, ones any movie producer would kill for, review-wise. But of course not everyone liked it. Some hated it. That’s fine though. It comes with the territory. If everyone loved it and it was getting nothing but 4/5 and 5/5 you could bet something was up because no book ever gets 100% universal acclaim.

… but some will.

I’ve had several people write to me to say they hadn’t enjoyed a book as much as they have Magicians Impossible. Some said it broke them out of a book-reading rut. Some found it the perfect escape for a period in their lives when they were struggling. One reader even enjoyed it so much she bought 4 signed hardcovers to give out as Christmas gifts. All of them want a sequel (that’s St. Martins’ decision, not mine, sorry). And the positive reviews have far outnumbered the negatives. So for every negative there’s bound to be more than a few positives, which are great odds.

Social media is a horrible time-suck but you need to do it.

I complain about social media a lot, but for an author you really need to be on it. I know from fact that many people who bought Magicians did so because they heard about it on social media and if I hadn’t made repeated mentions of the book, where to buy it, and where I would be appearing, those copies wouldn’t have been sold. But it helps to use your social media judiciously and not just be a “buy my book please” type of writer. Save that for your personal website. Also, please buy my book:

Your publisher will get your book into stores. The rest is on you.

St. Martins did as good a job as any to get the word out about Magicians. They sent out galleys, they hosted giveaways, they beat the drum. They did everything they could for it, but mine was only one of dozens of books they needed to get the word out on that month, and after a certain point, it’s on the author, and the book to sell themselves.

Just when you’re feeling your worst someone will write to you and tell you they liked your book.

The life of a writer is an up and down one and I’m not just talking about earnings. It’s a rough ride, a tough job. You feel every negative review or comment or critique and you can’t help but take criticism personally. But then you’ll receive an email, or read a review where someone absolutely LOVED your book. And it makes a difference, believe me; not just the review itself, but one that’s posted on Amazon or Goodreads that others can read when considering whether or not they want to buy your book. So if you HAVE read and enjoyed Magicians Impossible, please consider leaving a review. They do make a difference.

Just when you’re feeling pretty good about yourself, someone will tell you how much they hated your book.

Self-explanatory.

The things one reader hates about your book/your writing will be the same things another loves.

It’s true. I could do a diagram of positive to negative critiques and they’d probably even out. Someone loves your main character; someone else hates him. Some think the story is too fast-paced; other think it too slow. It has a great ending, it has a lousy ending, packed with brilliant writing, or just absolutely terrible writing. Without fail, for every praise-worthy review your book gets there will be one that says the total opposite. You aren’t going to make everyone happy with your book or your writing … so don’t try to. Art is at its worst when it tries to please everyone; inevitably it ends up pleasing no-one.

Take your work seriously.

Want to be considered a professional? Act like one. Set a schedule and stick to it. Doesn’t matter if it’s only 30 minutes a day, or only on weekends. Just do it. And while some writers delight in being confrontational online (because those are the posts that attract the precious clicks) remember that you are representing your publisher as well as yourself. Don’t get carried away with online drama and never, EVER reply to a bad review of your book.

Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Writing is make-believe – it’s supposed to be fun. If it’s not, why are you bothering? Because – and this may be surprising – there are much better, more reliable ways to warn a living than by being a writer.

The only person you’re in competition with is you.

It’s easy to look at other authors – some you know personally, some only by reputation – and compare their successes with yours. Some make the bestseller lists, some don’t. Some win all the awards, the rest won’t. Some attract a massive fan base; others will struggle to get anyone to pay attention. But really there’s only one person you’re in competition with and it’s the face staring back at you from your bathroom mirror. Because every best-selling and award winning writer began where you did – unknown, just starting out, hoping someone somewhere likes what it is you’re doing.

Being a successful/published/award-winning writer will not make you happy … if you aren’t happy already.

The things that make me happy – truly happy – boil down to two people who I share my life with. First is my wife, who’s supported me and encouraged me and believed in my when I wouldn’t believe in myself. The other is my son, who looks at me like I’m some magician every time I fix one of his toys, or take him to a museum, or just surprise him with a new book. They’re why I do what I do. They’re what gets me up in the morning, sits me at my desk, and makes me type out words. If you’re not happy in your life without writing, you never will be happy writing and that will show in your writing.

So write, but be happy.

Otherwise what’s the point of any of it?

2019 update: Since writing this post, Magicians Impossible has entered THE BLACK, meaning it earned back its advance. I’m told this is impressive as: 1.) Most debut novels DON’T “earn out” as they say in the biz, and 2.) Most debuts don’t earn out within roughly a year of publication. What this means to me is I now start seeing royalties from each sale the book makes. So, if you’ve been on the fence about buying Magicians Impossible, now’s as good a time as any to check it out. For me, more so.

Pictures of Plastic Men

It’s December 1993. I’ve just returned a car-load of film equipment to the Film Building at my university, where I’m a student. I’m in a contemplative mood this day and with nothing else on tap for the afternoon, decide to take a little drive.

The car is mine. I was home for my mother’s birthday at the end of November and decided to drive back to school seeing as I’d be coming back after exams a few weeks hence. I’m renting a house in the city’s west end with five other film and theater students so I have free parking for the month.

I drive without any real destination, but when hunger pangs hit I decide to drive up to my old neighborhood – the one I lived in ten years before, which would become, in my memory anyway, the happiest time of my life. There’s a burger joint near there I used to frequent, one of those old-school 1960s establishments that hasn’t changed in the fifty years since it was started. I go and grab my favorite meal – steak on a Kaiser with pepper and a little bit of BBQ sauce, onion rings, and a chocolate shake.

I park, I eat, then I keep driving, the car smelling of my lunch. I drive north. I cruise past my old house; I swing through crescents and side-streets where I used to play with the other neighborhood kids. I swing past the house of my best friend, who’s still living there, but is at work that day. The memory tank has been refilled, but I’m not quite ready to go home yet.

I pull over and park at the edge of the local park, get out, and climb a slow sloping grade of landfill that’s been turned into a hill. We used to just call it the “toboggan hill” because that’s what we did on it in the winter. There’s a bench and a couple lonely pine trees at the summit, and when you sit there you have a view of the playgrounds and baseball diamonds, and elementary school below.

This was my old school. The one I attended for only a few short years – April 1982- to June 1985 – but it still looms large and casts a long shadow over my life then. 1993 has been a rough year for me, and December of that year marks the one year anniversary of my parents announcing they were separating. I’m so devastated I nearly flunk my first year of university, but I manage to pull my grades out of a nose-dive and pass. Barely.

So that’s my frame of mind as I sit on that bench and stare out over my old school. It’s just before 2:00pm. I know this because the recess bell rings a minute or so later, and the kids come streaming out. To play four-square. To throw the ball around. To jump rope and play on the playground equipment – the same I played on ten years before.

What does all of this have to do with GI Joe? Everything.

It’s April, 1982. We’ve just moved to this new city. Moves have been a fact of life for me. By 1982 I’ve lived in six different cities. I just turned 9 years old. By this point I know the drill; my dad comes home to say “we’re moving again” because he got another job transfer and promotion to go a long with it. A move means excitement and sadness in equal measure. Excitement because it’s a new city, a new house (our new one will have a swimming pool), and new friends. But a move also means saying goodbye to old friends. In this pre-internet era, goodbyes really do mean goodbye. It means never seeing those familiar friendly faced again. You move away, they move on, and pretty soon you forget what they looked like.

We move just before Easter, which means I and my sister are starting at our new schools nearly through the end of the year. I have two months of Grade 3 and then summer. Will that be time enough to make friends? So the spring as I remember it is cold, dark, and lonely.

I can’t remember the actual date, but the specifics of it, I’ll never forget. It must be some afternoon after school I first see the commercial. It’s slick, animated, and trumpeting what looks like a new cartoon series. But it’s not a cartoon series, yet. It’s not a movie either. It’s this:

Now let me paint a picture for all of you here in the year 2018. In the 1980s, things were slower. The pace was different. Your average hour long TV show ran 52 minutes. There were only a handful of TV channels. Music was on the radio. There was no MTV outside of a few small outlets in the US. If you wanted to go shopping, you went to a mall. Movies? The theater.

And Star Wars movies were released 3 years apart. Three years to a 9 year-old may as well be a lifetime. But fortunately you have the toys – the action figures, the vehicles, the play sets. You have the comics and newspaper strips – al of which is designed to keep you interested in the property until the next installment.

But there was something else these little pieces of molded plastic were important for – something the designers didn’t anticipate. They were how you made new friends in new cities. Just the act of bringing a Star Wars toy to your new school was enough to get other kids to come over and talk to you. Several friendships (short lived ones, but friendships nonetheless) began that way. I’d bring a Bespin Han Solo or Hoth Luke to school; some kid would ask what other Star Wars toys I had. I’d tell them, they’d tell me theirs. They’d invite me over to play, and vice versa. Toys were how you got to know others. They were how you found your new tribe.

By the time I moved  it had been two years since The Empire Strikes Back. Five since Star Wars. Time moves slow as a child but it moves really slow when you’re a Star Wars fan. You need toys to fill the gaps between films. Between Star Wars and Empire alone there was Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, and The Black Hole. Between Empire and the third installment due next year – Revenge of the Jedi – there’s been Smurfs, and Indiana Jones, and a lot more I’ve forgotten. But they’ve all been peg-warmers and gap fillers. By 1982 nobody is playing Battlestar Galactica. They may still be playing Star Wars, but the wait between films is so long to a 9 or 10 year-old. You need something else.

Something different.

And so it was, one evening in April, when my mother was taking my sister to the local mall to do some clothes shopping one evening after school sometime in April. I begged off to browse the toy aisle, and when I get there the first thing I noticed were the colors of red, white, and blue on the floor display.

GI Joe: A Real American Hero.

The packaging was the first thing that lept off the shelf at me. Whereas the Star Wars figures featured the toy in a plastic bubble and a photo of that character (no matter how minor) from the movie, these featured a beautiful painted image of the character in action. The back of the card featured smaller paintings of the other figures in the line, and below those, a file-card with the character name, code-name, rank, specialty, and place of birth. With nothing else to go on but the packaging you had a psyche profile of what that character’s personality was like.

I begged my mom to buy me some. She ended up relenting and getting me three: Breaker, Grunt, and Snake-Eyes. I took them home, took them out of their packages, and plated with them until bed-time. But the real fun came the next day when I snuck Snake-Eyes into my book-bag and took him to school. Come morning recess, I brought him out and it was like moths to the flame. None of the other kids had seen a GI Joe up close before, though they had seen the commercials. So here was the new kid with the hottest new toy. And from that moment, friendships were born.

That was just the beginning though. See, I didn’t really get “in” to GI Joe beyond those first three figures. They were just three tots if many, and my heart still belonged to Star Wars.

In 1983, we were on vacation in Vermont, and on the first day I broke my leg skiing. That vacation became a three-month odyssey of traction and body casts and being stuck at home. And while some school friends did visit me (and I did have a tutor so I could keep up with school) it was a very lonely time.

Then my dad came home from work one night with a gift for me. Well, two gifts anyway. One was a new GI Joe called Snow-Job, the other was a snowmobile called the Polar Battle Bear.

Which I still have, by the way.

Maybe he picked those because he knew our ski vacation had been cut short and I blamed myself, maybe it was just because he wanted me to have some fun while I was bedridden, but it did the trick. By the time the cast came off I had acquired more GI Joe toys. I. Was. Hooked. By the time September rolled around Return of the Jedi had come and gone, but I was fully on the GI Joe train. Joe became the linkage to my friends, and their interests (including the aforementioned best friend who I met that September because he was talking about James Bond, another of my childhood touchstones).

And for a GI Joe fan the hits kept on coming. That September saw the release of the 5-part miniseries A Real American Hero, which aired on a local station after school Monday-Friday. That Christmas I added a whole slew of new GI Joe toys to my collection – the MOBAT Tank, VAMP Jeep, Dragonfly Copter, the Headquarters Command Center, and more figures. Joe became my life, but in no bigger way than the following summer when visiting some old friends out west who introduced me to the Marvel comic.

The first issue I ever bought. Still have it too.

That span of years, from 1983-1985 were some of the finest of my life, and it was largely due to those little plastic men and women.

Then, everything changed.

[To Be Continued in Part II]

October Nights

They say as an author you should never read the reviews of your own work. As an author I can say with authority you can and inevitably will read reviews of your work, especially when it’s your first novel. The good news is Magicians Impossible has been relatively well-received especially for a debut. It received multiple starred reviews, it made some top ten lists, it made some Best of 2017 lists.

I got some great fan mail too. People telling me Magicians broke them out of a reading rut.Some even saying it was one of the best books they ever read.

But of course not everybody liked it. And I’m not going to address any of that because why would I? Not everything is going to be someone’s cup of tea. A book, like any work of art, is what it is; it never changes. And how a person responds to it is 100% on them.

That said there is one recurring criticism of Magicians Impossible that I would like to address.

For some readers it all has to do with how quickly Jason seems to master his levels of magic. Some seem to feel it all happens in a couple of days. Some say a week. Those who paid attention would guess correctly that it more or less takes a month.

Here’s the correct answer. Spoilers lurk within so if you haven’t read Magicians Impossible why on earth are you visiting my website?

Anyway …

I mapped out the events of the book before I put words to paper, just to get it straight in my mind. Using October 2018 (the year after the book’s 2017 release) as a guideline I made a calendar of events so I’d know what happened and when.

Damon’s opening mission takes place on Friday September 28th. His funeral is Monday October 1st. The events that transpire up to the climactic events of Murder Hill happen between October 1st and October 29th – so four weeks total.

The bulk of Part One – everything from Damon’s Funeral through Jason’s visit to the Oracle takes place between October 1st and 5th. After the Oracle, Jason is on lock-down with no further training, and spends the next two weeks honing his Adept and Archmage skills. He doesn’t next advance in levels until the Louvre mission, which takes place on October 23rd when he “blinks” on his own for the first time, showing him he has the abilities of a War Seer (Level 4). He later wields an Enchantment spell (Level 3) on the Paris metro. Since it’s established that levels of magic are cumulative, it’s not out of the ordinary for you to leap ahead a level then backtrack to master the previous one. All told that’s a span of 19 days.

The rest of the story – the Temple of Bones, Jason’s visit with Damon, his throwing in his lot with the Golden Dawn, the Battle of the Citadel and Murder Hill takes place between October 24th and the 30th. There’s a three day (October 25-28) span between Jason deciding to join the Golden Dawn and his theft of the Sphere of Destiny. In that time he hones his newly acquired skills as an Enchanter and War Seer. He crosses over to the Diabolist Level on Murder Hill.

Now some would argue a month is too quickly to learn these skills let alone master them. But those people ignore the events at Murder Hill on July 4, 1999 when Jason was 12 years old and first exhibited the abilities of a Mage. But as he never got his Hogwarts letter or was recruited into the Invisible Hand those skills lay dormant until he crossed the threshold into the Citadel, where those powers began to be unlocked, by passing through the many doors and chambers of the Invisible Hand’s fortress.

So if you yourself was questioning how someone with no training could and advance so quickly, I hope the above clarifies it. And if not, maybe the below will. This is the calendar I put together three years ago when I was just drafting Magicians Impossible. Some details may have changed but I pretty much adhered to this breakdown.

There are other criticisms I’m sure and I take no issue with any of them, not even the ones that accused me of ripping off books or video games or TV shows I’ve never read, played, or watched. I wasn’t even completely sure I should even address the timeline, but for people who surfed on in looking for answers, maybe this will do that.

B

[As a follow-up that’s not to say Magicians Impossible definitively takes place in 2018 or 2017, just that in my mind it takes place later this year]