Monday, November 23, 2009

Epiphany in slow motion, with blood

A few months ago I found myself seized with the urge to see anything and everything by filmmaker Sam Peckinpah. Up until then I'd seen only the highlights of his career--The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs, The Getaway. So I started watching, in no particular order. I wasn't sure why I was driven to do this, but I get these periodic obsessions, and time has taught me that it's the muse's way of telling me there's something I need to learn.

I discovered one film that's rapidly rising on my personal Top Ten list (Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid) and at least one other masterpiece that stands alongside The Wild Bunch (his second feature, Ride the High Country). I also watched incoherent and half-assed efforts like The Killer Elite and The Osterman Weekend, as well as the brilliant, unclassifiable Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. Along the way I was kept company by the insightful, warm-hearted camraderie of the Dog Brothers, four film critics (Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, David Weddle and Nick Redman) who have all written books and/or made documentaries on Peckinpah and whose audio commentaries brought Peckinpah and his creative process to life.

As I watched, I read as well. Peckinpah: The Western Films, A Reconsideration by Paul Seydor, analyzing the director's five westerns, was a big revelation. And I considered what this compulsion to immerse myself in Peckinpah might be trying to tell me, either about myself or my own writing.

At last, I figured it out.

It's a subtext in Ride the High Country, and virtually the subject of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. It's a strong element in The Wild Bunch as well.

Simply put, it's this: the common wisdom about age vs. youth is fundamentally wrong.

Old men (and women) are often presented as rigid, set in their ways and utterly unmoveable. They represent the standards of the past doomed to fall before the new world's often more permissive society. But that's not true. Old people have the experience to understand the need for compromise, rethinking and changing direction. My own point of view has changed in just this way, so that things I said "Never!" about when I was twenty have become "Eh, possibly," in my forties.

In Ride the High Country, gray-haired former lawmen Randolph Scott and Joel MacRae have both changed with the times, and although they don't like it, they recognize the need for it. Conversely, their young compatriot Ron Starr has to learn through experience that sometimes things aren't as black and white as he thinks.

In Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, middle-aged Garrett understands that the west is changing, and is willing to change with it; he abandons his life as a bandit to become a sheriff. Billy, though, deliberately turns a blind eye to this. When Garrett tells him, "It feels like times have changed," Billy says, "Times, maybe. Not me." It's not lost on the audience, or Garrett, that Billy represents Garrett's own youthful certainty and idealism, and that by killing him Garrett is killing part of himself.

So thank you, Mr. Peckinpah, for helping me see past the cliche of the upright, unbendable old man. My older characters will be much richer for it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Brother Blue (1921-2009)

Brother Blue passed away earlier this month at age 88.

If you know of him at all, it’s probably from the George A. Romero film Knightriders.

In this Arthurian story of jousting motorcyclists, Brother Blue played Merlin, advisor to King William (Ed Harris). He was the troubled king’s lone confidante, and the one person who understood William’s desire to maintain a chivalric code against the world’s materialistic temptations. If this blog post does nothing else, I hope it encourages you to seek out Knightriders for yourself.

I met Brother Blue in 2001, as part of his main gig as a professional storyteller. The National Storytelling Festival, held every year in Jonesborough, Tennessee, attracts yarnspinners from all over the world and gives them a large, respectful forum for their talents. Brother Blue was not listed as an official participant, so when I saw his distinctive form--a bald African-American with butterflies painted on his face, in a blue robe and carrying a walking stick--I thought I was mistaken. But no, it was him, Brother Blue, Merlin from Knightriders.

Eventually I worked up the nerve to say hello. He was tremendously gracious, and when I told him how much I loved the film, he said I reminded him of Romero. I thought he meant that, like Romero, I was a big guy with a beard. But he told me differently, and while I don’t feel comfortable sharing exactly what he did say, the memory of it is a treasure.

But that wasn’t all. A week later, when I got ready to do the laundry from my trip, I found his card in a pocket. I know he didn’t give it to me; he must’ve slipped it there when I wasn’t looking. Or was it magic?

To me it was. And is. And although I never saw Brother Blue again, I still feel as if I met Merlin.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I'm a "Guest Squeeze" at the Poetry Juice Bar

I'm a "guest squeeze" at LK Thayer's Poetry Juice Bar.

Guest-blogging at RomCon

Over at RomCon, I'm guest blogging about Eddie and Liz's relationship in Burn Me Deadly.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

RELEASE DAY! (whew...)

Today is the official release day for BURN ME DEADLY.

If you've pre-ordered it, you're awesome. If you buy it today, you're only slightly less awesome. If you buy it eventually, you're still on the awesome scale.

And the winner of the "Name a drink at Angelina's Tavern" contest is...PARANOYD, for suggesting The Rogue's Stiletto, also known as the Back-Stabber (your profile doesn't have an e-mail address, so contact me with your mailing address).

And now, back to work on Dark Jenny. See you soon!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Release day TOMORROW

Tomorrow, November 10, BURN ME DEADLY is released in hardcover from Tor Books.

Thanks to my awesome fan Dori, I now have a Facebook fan page. Join up, invite your friends.

There will be gradual updates on my oft-neglected website, since I now have new HTML software for the iMac.

And I'm deep into work on the third Eddie LaCrosse novel, Dark Jenny. I can't say much at this point, but I will tease you with one of the story's big influences:

See you tomorrow, when I'll also announce the winner of the Angelina's Tavern Name-a-Drink contest! (It's not too late to enter, BTW.)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Coffee, tea or a signed copy?

If you've read The Sword-Edged Blonde, you know about Angelina's Tavern. Eddie LaCrosse has his office above the kitchen, and spends a lot of his off-time sitting at the bar. It plays an even bigger role in BURN ME DEADLY.

Now we all know about mead, and ale, and rum, and all the standard tavern drinks. But what would be on their specialty drinks menu? Suggest a drink for Angelina's Tavern in the comments and be entered to win the first signed copy (well, first after the one I sent my mom) of BURN ME DEADLY.

(And maybe your drink will show up in Eddie's next adventure, Dark Jenny.)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

One more week until BURN ME DEADLY!

One more week until the November 10 release of the second Eddie LaCrosse novel, BURN ME DEADLY!

Learn what happens to Eddie and Liz after the end of The Sword-Edged Blonde!

Who are Lumina and Solarian?

Find out more about the mysterious moon priestesses!

What secrets are found in Angelina's attic?

Discover what the deadly dragon people are after!

And see why reviewers as different as Publishers Weekly, Locus and Romantic Times all give it high marks!

(Okay, I agree, that's enough exclamation points. I'll stop now. But do check out the book, I think you'll like it.)

Monday, November 2, 2009

By request: from Halloween to Thanksgiving

Yesterday on Facebook and Twitter I requested topic suggestions for today’s blog, and obstinately chose the one from a Buddhist lama that required real effort. So as Domo Geshe Rinpoche so intriguingly puts it, “The weeks between thanksgiving and halloween transform us from ghouls and silly folk to virtuous and grateful people. How magical!”


There is an interesting progression among all three late-year holidays (and if you don’t count Halloween as a holiday, you’ve never been a kid). The common denominator: acquisition. That seems to be a pretty Western idea, which makes sense since Christianity forms the core of all three holiday observances.

Consider Halloween, originally a Celtic harvest/new year’s festival. The spirits of the dead could visit on that night, along with less savory denizens of the otherworld: hence the lighted pumpkins to scare those away. Christianity made everything pagan, satanic; now it’s not about honoring the dead and the harvest, but about controlled mischief which can then be blamed on the devil. The children say, "Give us candy or suffer our wrath." We pay the treat to avoid the trick.

A month later we have Thanksgiving. Hardcore Christians left Europe for a chance to freely repress themselves and ended up in New England with few survival skills. The first winter should have killed them (and what would the world be like if it had?) but instead the neighboring Native Americans helped them out, for which the Puritans were “thankful.” And we all know how that thankfulness worked out. Yet we still observe the concept, if not the history, as a chance to show our appreciation for what we have, usually by belching and falling asleep watching football.

I can’t help my sarcasm. I was raised among the best of hypocrites, who paid lip service to these holidays while using them as excuses to fatten themselves literally and metaphorically. But what if we did view it as Domo Geshe Rinpoche says? What if that change from the immaturity of “trick or treat” to the maturity of “I am thankful” really happened? What if we as a society publicly cycled from adolescence to maturity within the space of the month? That truly would be magical.

Saturday night I watched my sons go trick-or-treating and saw their delight with the candy they received. In a month I’ll see them around a table loaded with an obscene amount of unhealthy food, which will not demonstrate thankfulness to them in any meaningful way. It never did to me as a child, either; I’m not sure what would.

Maybe as a child, you shouldn’t be allowed to eat your candy on Halloween night. Maybe you should have to keep it, out of sight and out of mind, until Thanksgiving. You'd be thankful then, boy. Or maybe we need to somehow give “I am thankful” the same sense of fun as “trick or treat.”