Monday, January 26, 2009

Back From The Borderlands

I spent last weekend in Baltimore, attending the Borderlands Press Writing Boot Camp, an excellent program for anyone interested in writing prose, especially if your work falls in that strange territory we call 'Genre Fiction' (whatever that really is).

As I posted a while back, this was was my fourth -- and probably final -- time through the program. I had a fair amount of experience with comic book scripts and screenplays, but I'd never tried my hand at prose before, so I spent the first two trips through the program trying to get a grip on the basic mechanics of prose. As my confidence grew, I started to focus less on how to write than on how to write the kinds of things I was interested in writing. It's a subtle difference, but an important one for me, and it influenced the material that I brought to be critiqued.

Last year, I brought a Fade short story, which was the first piece I'd written that felt like 'me' as opposed to something I'd written to just follow the rules of telling a story that would make sense and be nominally entertaining. And it went over well with half the people, while the other half thought it was well-written, but not particularly entertaining. Better than I'd expected, really.

This year, I brought what I think of as my ultimate goal as a writer, and the reason I wanted to learn how to write prose in the first place -- the Fade novel. It's a story I've been developing for years, but never found the right outlet to tell it properly. It doesn't quite work as a month-to-month comic book, works slightly better as a graphic novel, but really comes alive for me as a prose piece. Which pretty much meant that I was going to have to learn how to write prose, all of which lead me to these repeated visits to the Borderlands Press Writing Boot Camp.

With the feedback on the Fade short story in mind, I began work on the novel in earnest, working out the plot, breaking it down into chapters that flowed well, and writing the first few chapters to be critiqued. My friend Dan Waters served as an occasional makeshift editor, telling me what was working and what wasn't, often encouraging me not to settle for the easy solution to a story-telling problem.

Yeah, he's going in the acknowledgments if this thing ever gets published.

Even with Dan's encouragement, I was pretty nervous to see how the material went over with the Boot Camp instructors and my fellow attendees. Considering some of the difficult choices I'd made in my approach to the material, I was expecting a failure of epic proportions. Can't help it. I've got self confidence issues.

But the material went over very well. I can't say that everyone loved it, but the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and I got some good suggestions for tightening up a few things in the sample chapters I brought. Plenty of food for thought as I work on finishing the novel over the next few months.

So, yeah... feeling pretty good about everything I've learned over the last few years. I still have a long way to go, but more than ever, I feel like the best thing to do is write a lot more, have fun, and keep trying to tell the kinds of stories I want to tell.

And on a personal note, I got to hang out with a couple old friends last weekend, including my roommate Kyle Steele, our friend Martel Sardina, the always entertaining Brian Hatcher, the disgustingly talented James Chambers, and a host of new and interesting people like John Hornor Jacobs. A successful weekend all around, as far as I'm concerned.

Oh, and Kyle taught me a new and thoroughly disturbing joke that I can't really tell anyone without getting things thrown at my head.

What more can you ask for?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

John Mortimer, 1923-2009

I dropped by my parents' house today to help them re-arrange my Dad's office furniture, only to be greeted with the news that another of my childhood heroes had passed away, on the same day as Patrick McGoohan, no less.

I've been reading John Mortimer since I was in Junior High School, starting with his Rumpole of the Bailey series, which were made into a long-running and wonderful television series with Leo McKern as Mortimer's complicated but lovable barrister, Horace Rumpole.

They stopped making the show after McKern's passing in the late 90s, but Mortimer had recently begun turning out new Rumpole books at a steady pace over the last few years. I have them all in hardcover.

I read a lot of different kinds of books when I was growing up, but I never lost that feeling of excitement when I discovered a new John Mortimer on sale at the bookstore.

I still remember a time when I was living in L.A., with no job, no money, and no hope of getting any money any time soon, and finding a new Rumpole hardcover in a little shop down the street. RUMPOLE AND THE ANGEL OF DEATH. Hardcover. $22.95, plus tax. I spent the last penny I had for it. Still have that copy to this day. And I remember how happy it made me to sit on the couch in the apartment I couldn't afford, reading that book cover to cover.

Things have gotten better for me since then. Good enough that I could buy the complete Rumpole of the Bailey series on DVD last year, and every new hardcover he's put out without worrying about my phone getting turned off. The thing is, I would still spend my last dime on a Mortimer, phone or no phone.

It breaks my heart to think there won't be a new Mortimer on the shelves for me. Not in this life, at least.

Friday, January 16, 2009

On The Nightstand

by Jeffrey Ford

When I was growing up, there was a rule about giving me books at Christmas. You could give me all the books you wanted, but I wasn't allowed to unwrap them until all my other presents were opened. Mainly because the minute I had a new book in front of me, I'd sit in the corner and read it, much to the annoyance of my family, who wanted me to get on with opening the rest of my presents so they could get on with their lives.

I got several wonderful books for Christmas this year, but with a stack of reading to do for the Borderlands Writing Boot Camp and an issue of MIRROR'S EDGE to knock out in record time, I had to exercise a frightening amount of self control.

To my credit (I'd like to think) I managed to finish my work with only a few minor stumbles, which included reading the first stories in both Stephen King's new collection JUST AFTER SUNSET and Jeffrey Ford's EMPIRE OF ICE CREAM. What can I say, I needed to read something that I didn't have to write critique notes on, just for a little while.

Now that I've marked up a stack of Boot Camp stories and started in on the next issue of ME, I can finally devour some of these books that have been patiently waiting for me on my nightstand. First up, the aforementioned EMPIRE OF ICE CREAM, a gift from my friend Dan Waters, author of GENERATION DEAD and the upcoming KISS OF LIFE (Just go an buy GD, already! And while you're at it, preorder KISS OF LIFE. I've read the Advanced Readers Copy, and it's good. Very, very good. But more on that in a later post).

I'm pretty sure Dan and I are the product of an accident with faulty birth control and a time machine. We think too much alike not to be related in some sort of strange cosmic way. Case in point, our taste in reading material. I can't count the number of times I've called to tell him about some new writer I'd discovered and been knocked over with, only to find that Dan already knows about them and loves them as much as I do.

All which leads me to Jeffrey Ford and EMPIRE OF ICE CREAM. Dan sent it to me out of the blue for Christmas, after I'd told him that Ford sounded like our kind of author -- literary but magical in a unique way that very few authors can pull off.

Yeah, Dan's already read him and loved him.

And it's good. Unbelievably good. A collection of magical, amazing stories that I wish I'd written and am glad to have gotten a chance to read. And if the stories weren't enough, there's also a cover by the always brilliant John Picacio, who is one of the few artists I'll buy a book for, just for the cover. John's actually the guy who first told me about this book. He swore up and down that Ford was the greatest writer out there and that I'd love him.

Yeah, he was right. I really loved this book. Thanks, John. Thanks, Dan. Now I have to go and find a new writer to recommend to Dan. One of these days, I'll find somebody good he hasn't read, yet.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Be Seeing You

Actor Patrick McGoohan died today. And while he appeared in a staggering number of films and television shows, I will always remember him as Number 6 in the cult show THE PRISONER, a show he also created and produced.

THE PRISONER had a profound effect on me when I was growing up. As a teenager, I instantly responded to its slightly surreal exploration of an individual struggling against the forces of conformity. Part adventure story, part allegory, THE PRISONER shaped my thinking about the world, and influenced my creative aspirations.

I am deeply saddened by McGoohan's passing. Without THE PRISONER, I would be a very different person today. And I seriously doubt I would ever have found the courage to pursue my own artistic dreams.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Now Playing

Big Finish Productions

Still on my Big Finish Doctor Who audio story kick. Can't seem to get enough of them. I've listened to the first 25 stories, and now I've moved on to a series of audio plays featuring the 8th Doctor - Paul McGann -- that they produced for BBC 7 Radio.

I wasn't a huge fan of McGann's one television story -- the Fox TV movie produced in the 90s (yeah, yeah, I'm a huge nerd, move on) -- but I've really been enjoying the radio adventures.

They've done two full series of 8th Doctor adventures, with a third coming soon (not to mention the next hundred or so Doctor Who stories that I haven't downloaded yet). So it looks like I'll have a lot of entertainment options as I wrap up my work on MIRROR'S EDGE.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Next Doctor is...

A few years ago, when I set out to do more writing, I discovered several 'Matt Smith's had already published books before me, so I began to go by my full name, Matthew Dow Smith. A move I'd like to think made my Mom happy. The only time she ever uses my full name is when I'm in trouble for something. I can still hear her shouting "Matthew Dow Smith, get down here right now" up the stairs when I've done something wrong.

And now there's another reason to use my full name. The BBC just announced the next actor to take over the role of the Doctor on the long-running (and my long-time favorite) show, Doctor Who -- Matt Smith.

Sadly, it's yet another Matt Smith, and not me.

Too bad. I've already got a sonic screwdriver. In fact, I've got two of them. One that's a flashlight, and one that's a pen. Guess my English accent still needed some work.

I wonder how my other namesake -- the Matt Smith who spent a long time as the editor of 2000 A.D. (and actual Englishman) -- feels about this turn of events. Personally, I'm feeling a little vertigo today. As such a huge fan of the show, it feels strange to hear my name associated with it, and part of me wishes it was actually THIS Matt Smith taking over the role.

A guy can dream, can't he?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Studio Tour

Buried under work, but I got a digital camera for Christmas (thanks Mom & Dad), so I thought it might be time for a little tour of my studio.

I bought myself a new writing desk this year that was large enough to hold all of my scanning and computer equipment. Took me a long time to find just the right one, but I really like the way this one looks. It also serves as a makeshift headboard for the guest bed, which is where you'll usually find one of the cats sprawled out, hiding from the dog.

Here it is from another angle...

And here's my drawing table. I've had this table since 5th grade, and I've drawn nearly every comic I've ever done on it. My parents gave it to me for Christmas, and while I've had plenty of opportunity to get a new one, I can't bear the thought of working on anything else.

I'm sentimental that way.

I keep my old eMac next to the desk for easy access to any reference I need for the page I'm working on. It also serves as a DVD and CD player.

And last but not least, my writing and scanning setup.

I clean up all of my artwork on the computer these days, and despite its size, my beloved MacBook is a quick little machine. Far better at handling the massive Photoshop files than the old desktop.

So that's my home office setup. And before you say anything... yes, I have an awful lot of books. Just be glad I didn't take any pictures from the other angle. My entire office is wall to wall bookshelves, with even more books sitting on the floor. I have 10 bookshelves in my office and even that's not enough to display all of them.


In the comments, my friend Ellen mentioned that you can't see any of my Doctor Who toys in these shots.

I've never really considered myself much of a collector, but there are two things I find myself buying with nerdy glee -- SeaQuest toys and Doctor Who toys (and books too, now that I think about it). I can't help myself.

My collection of Dr. Who toys has grown to the size where I needed to install wall shelves to display them all. Probably the closest thing to actual home improvement I can handle.

Goals & Resolutions

I've never been into New Year's resolutions. I used to make them every once and a while, only to end up disappointed in myself for not being able to carry through with the changes I felt needed to be made in my life.

And to be honest, my life is pretty good. There's not a lot to complain about and very few things that I'd actually want to outright change.

So this year, I thought I'd lay out some goals for myself instead of the usual 'quit smoking' or 'get more exercise' kind of thing.

In no particular order:

1) Finish the Fade novel.

2) Keep working in comics.

3) Finally start working with Dan Waters on one of the many graphic novel ideas we've been kicking around for the last 3 years.

4) Spoil my loved ones rotten.

5) Spend more time with my friends and loved ones.

6) And generally build on all the good things I've got going on in my life right now.

Not the most challenging of lists. More of a 'keep going and don't drop the ball' promise to myself. I'd definitely like to make in-roads with my writing this year, but more specifically, just working on creative projects that I find fulfilling and interesting. I've gotten some requests for more Fade short stories in the last few months, and that's something I hope to do when the novel is done. I've got an awful lot of stories I want to tell, but never enough time to focus on them. We'll see how that goes this year.

I'd like to think these are all easy goals, but you never know. Life has a way of throwing curve balls at you, and I'd hate to be one of those people who turns down a good opportunity just because it wasn't in the plans I made for myself.

Of course, having said all that... I probably should try and get more exercise this year. The creative lifestyle doesn't offer many opportunities for good eating habits or exercise. Maybe I'll just promise to cut back on the coffee. I seem to be drinking an awful lot of it these days.