View from the end of our street, February 22nd, 2019

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Movie Night at the Hideout (#2)

Happy Birthday, Little Alex!

          Now, before I get into the movie, let me welcome my twelfth follower, Kristine Ong Muslim.  She was briefly the thirteenth, but The Perpetual Vacationers have departed.  A professional writer, Kristine has a list of accolades that I cannot do justice, so I will simply copy the literary bio from her own website:
     "Kristine Ong Muslim has short fiction and poetry accepted in over five hundred literary and mainstream anthologies, periodicals, and podcasts. Her work received several Honorable Mentions in Year's Best Fantasy and Horror. She also garnered multiple nominations for the Pushcart Prize, Dzanc Books' Best of the Web 2011, and the Science Fiction Poetry Association's Dwarf Stars Award and Rhysling Award. Her stories and poems appear in many publications, including Bellevue Literary Review, Boston Review, Contrary Magazine, Existere, Harpur Palate, Hobart, Mary Journal, Narrative Magazine, Pank, Potomac Review, Southword, Sou'wester, The Pedestal Magazine, Turnrow, and Verse Daily. Her work is also published widely in genre venues, from Abyss & Apex to One Buck Horror."
          She read my last post in which I waxed authoritative concerning the qualities of the literary hero and so on, and immediately clicked on the "Follow" button.  I cannot imagine what this gifted multi-genre author (with over a thousand followers of her own) finds compelling about the disjointed scribbling that I post here on occasion; I can only hope it wasn't a mistake!  Welcome, Kristine.  I'll try to live up to your expectations!

          I rarely go to a theater to see a movie anymore, unless it's something really extraordinary, like Lord of the Rings.  When my wife retired in 1996, we purchased a state of the art Sony home theater system for an amount of money that would have netted us a late model used car.  A used car would have been gone and long forgotten, but this system hasn't lost a step.  Its huge speakers dwarf the TV, which makes them pretty old-school components, but the Dolby electronics inside still rock the joint, the surround system will have you ducking behind the coffee table, and scenes with sirens and police radios can still draw the neighbors to see what's going on.  I guess, in the same way that some audiophiles swear by tube-driven amplifiers (what our British cousins call valves), I'm an unshakable believer in speakers the size of dinner plates.

          Not surprisingly, then, I have a substantial, and eclectic, movie collection, and many of the films are so not current that I'd be willing to wager that a fair proportion of my readership would consider them prehistoric, if they've even heard of them at all.  That inspires me to share, as old gits like myself often do, but in this case, I'm not going to preach about the supposed superiority of my generation's entertainment.  I do have opinions about that, but this is not about changing your mind, but simply giving members of my own generation a rush of nostalgia, while highlighting for the youngsters how things were done in the age before CGI, when, if a filmmaker wanted to show something on the screen, he had to find a way to film it with the camera exactly as it would appear.

          In pondering where to begin, I naturally settled on the thought that I should start with my own favorite movie.  Next came figuring out exactly what that movie was.  Is sci/fi action better than a spy thriller?  Mystery or comedy?  Romance or horror?  After kicking back to think about this, I have stayed with the movie that close friends and family would have attributed to me without hesitation, had they been asked:  Hatari!  This sprawling Howard Hawks vehicle starred John Wayne, Red Buttons, and an international cast as a band of expats in Tanganyika (now Tanzania), catching wild animals for zoos and circuses.  The film was made in 1962, before Intellectual Fascism Political Correctness and Animal Rights arrived on the scene; it couldn't happen today.  It offers danger (which is the meaning of the title in Swahili), excitement, romance, comedy, intrigue; it's the total package.

          It entered my universe in the summer of 1963, when I was sent to Monterey, California to live with my mom for a few weeks while school was out.  Monterey was not the never-sleeping hotbed of entertainment that it is today; far from it.  It was a dying fishing village, a tough town with a tougher economy.  Adults found their escape in the bars and card rooms; for my 14 year old self, there were two movie houses that both changed their features once a week.  Hatari arrived that summer, and I bought a ticket each day and stayed for two showings.  That means I watched and enjoyed this movie fourteen times in the first week, and probably six to eight since.  I refuse to apologize for saying it was a great film.

          The movie begins with a tight view of the whole cast waiting in a ravine for some undisclosed event to unfold as Henry Mancini's masterful action theme begins with a few quiet, suspenseful notes presaging the Jaws theme.  The view and music quickly explode into irresistible action as most of the cast attempt to chase down and capture a rhinoceros using a truck and a Jeep, as about ten miles of the magnificent Serengeti flow under the wheels.  The attempt has to be broken off when the rhino gores the Jeep's passenger, "the Indian" (Bruce Cabot), their safety gunner, who holds his fire because he doesn't want to cost them their animal.  By the end of that chase, anybody with two cells in their brain that crave adventure is aboard for the ride.

Hardy Kruger, Elsa Martinelli, John Wayne, Red Buttons,
Valentin de Vargas, and Michele Girardon
          The cast has some familiar John Wayne "groupies," but also a good number of European stars whose very unfamiliarity to American audiences of the time brought a freshness that amplified the huge African scenery.  Wayne's character makes the initial move in the captures, lassoing animals from a seat welded to the fender of a beat-up old Chevrolet pickup.  His driver is a former New York cabbie nicknamed Pockets (Red Buttons).  GT Circuit race driver Kurt Muller (Hardy Kruger) drives the herd car, a Jeep used to force the fleeing animals into the range of John Wayne's lasso.  His passenger is their safety gunner, first Bruce Cabot's "Indian," and after his injury, Chips Maurey (Gerard Blain).  Mexican bullfighter Luis Francisco Garcia Lopez (Valentin de Vargas) leads the handling team, while Brandy de la Court (Michele Girardon) keeps headquarters running smoothly.  Anna Maria D'Allesandro (Elsa Martinelli) is a wildlife photographer foisted on them by the zoo that is going to buy most of their animals; they come to like her later.

          The action comes largely from interactions with the animals, which are not all captured in car chases.  Seeing Red Buttons use a rocket to throw a net over a tree full of angry, panicked monkeys, and the rest of the crew collecting them while kitted up in homemade armor is worth the price of admission.  Comedic intrigue is provided by the competition between Buttons, Kruger, and Blain for Girardon's affection, while straight comedy is the only way to describe Martinelli's ever-growing baby elephant collection (which in itself leads to a scene in which Red Buttons tries to milk a ram!).  The serious romance is between John Wayne and Elsa Martinelli, which at 14 didn't bother me, as they were both quite a bit older than I was.  But now, as an adult, it falls a little flat; seeing 27 year old Martinelli fall head over heels for 55 year old Wayne leaves me with a problem suspending disbelief.  Sure, he's the Duke, but in the movie, he's just some old guy catching animals.

          There are some colorful characters in this cast.  Elsa Martinelli was an Italian runway model whose elfin beauty and "cute" accent (not to mention her undeniable similarity to a young Sophia Loren) opened the door to movies for her.  By the time of Hatari, she had starred opposite Kirk Douglas in The Indian Fighter, and had won a prestigious European award for actors while playing the lead in Mario Monicelli's Donatella.  Hardy Kruger, who owned the ranch in Tanganyika where the movie was filmed, had been conscripted into the Hitler Youth as a young teenager, and fought briefly against American forces in the closing weeks of World War II.  It took him years to overcome that stigma, but he went on to have an illustrious career, including playing a senior German officer in A Bridge Too Far, while simultaneously serving as a technical advisor.  He was the first postwar German actor to be accepted as a protagonist by Western audiences.  Tragedy stalked Michele Girardon.  Twenty-four and full of promise when Hatari was released, her career was basically over within a decade.  She became involved with a married Spanish nobleman and notorious cad, who strung her along until he obtained a divorce, at which time he married another woman.  She committed suicide with sleeping pills at the age of 36.

          Henry Mancini's score has never received the critical acclaim it deserved.  Mention Mancini, and people respond with The Pink Panther, Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Days of Wine and Roses, and Peter Gunn.  All of these are justifiably great scores, but Hatari had a scope, range, and power that wasn't present in the other works, simply because it wouldn't have fit.  An individual song, Baby Elephant Walk, remains well-known and popular fifty years after the movie, but it deserved so much more.

          The film is readily available in bargain bins from video stores to game shops, and is well worth the peanuts that they charge for a movie this old.  The plot, the action, the old-fashioned way the characters treat each other are all charming and refreshing, reminders of how life was before we all decided to embrace snatchin' and grabbin' as a national culture.  The scenery is so majestic, clear, and just big, that you can almost smell the fresh air.  If it looks like John Wayne and company are wrestling with the animals, and if they look stressed and worried, it's because they are.  You couldn't Photoshop a star's face onto a stuntman's body in those days, and Howard Hawks' cornerstone was believability.  If the camera told you that John Wayne was standing between two trucks shoving on a rhino's ass, that's because he was.  I cannot tell you strongly enough how enjoyable this movie is on so many levels.  I cannot tell you strongly enough how glad you will be if you do get this movie, set aside the two-and-a-half hours that it runs, and immerse yourself in it.  I can beg, though, and that's what I'm doing.  Please do yourself a big, big favor, shell out the best $5.00 you'll spend in this decade, pop some corn, grab a soda, and settle back for the most enjoyable movie experience you'll have for a good long time.  You can thank me later, and I'll bet you will, with a smile on your face.  I'm going to take a break now; all this talk about Hatari has made me eager to spend some quality time with an old friend.

Hideout Happenings

          Astute observers will have noted the removal of my MixPod Music Player.  I have constantly found it to be both a distraction as I'm trying to read, and an inconvenience when I want to listen to Jazz 88, for example, as I work on the blog, what with having to change the settings each time, so I just removed it.  You know where to find music if you want it, and when I post about music, and want to put up some examples of what I'm talking about, I'll put it up temporarily and let it run as an enhancement to the current article.  I just find that having it running all the time makes the site too "busy."

          Within hours of my last post, I wore out another XBox 360. I was killing a little time by playing Left 4 Dead 2 when everything went black, and the red ring of death came on.  This is the third time this has happened to me, and I probably don't have to tell those of you who know me that it's not going to happen again.  I wrote in my last post about how my interest in video games is waning rapidly, but should it recover, I will be buying PlayStation 3 as the replacement.  Bill Gates can put his worthless piece of crap where the sun doesn't shine.  360 has long been famous for taking a crap for no good reason, and I'm here to tell you, that isn't a rumor.  Three consoles, bought at random from different places, and all I have to show for it is yet another electronic brick that, being a resident of the People's Democratic Republic of California, I will have to pay a recycle center to take off my hands.  I once bought a car for less than the price of an XBox 360, and drove it for four years.  I have a stereo that I bought the year after the Vietnam War ended.  It still works fine.  The funny thing is, this early-70s technology is asked to do the same thing my series of 360s was:  Sit on a shelf and periodically be switched on and off.  I don't use my 360 for a hammer, or as the ball in impromptu games of parking lot rugby, so I have to ask:  WHAT THE HELL, MICROSOFT??!?

          There are two possible reasons for this track record.  The first is that Microsoft doesn't know how to make a working game console.  That isn't a crime; I don't either.  On the other hand, I don't go around bragging to everyone that I do.  The alternative explanation is that this is carefully planned to occur right after the warranty expires.  Now you have a big library of games (their reasoning must go), so you will have no choice but to replace the console.  Well, I'm not doing it.  I'm cutting my losses.  If I buy again, I'm buying the Japanese system.  See, in Japan, they have a Culture of Honor.  If Sony were to gain an international reputation for selling disposable crap like the XBox, the CEO would have to commit suicide out of shame.  Here in America, where we have the Culture of Greed, the CEO is only considered a failure if he can't make you buy multiple copies of whatever piece of sleazite he's selling.  The motto of corporate America should be, "How much money can I bilk you out of today?"  You've had a good run, Bill.  I hope you've enjoyed it, 'cause you'll do the naked backstroke across a pool full of scorpions before you get another dime from me.  It is literally true that you can't buy anything of quality in America anymore, no matter what you're willing to pay; it simply does not exist.  How could it when CEOs making $48,000.00 an hour refuse to employ anyone who recognizes his own worth, and wants to be paid for it?

          In other news, back in December, I alluded to a project that my friend, Chops, and I would be working on together.  It was to be a parallel series of short stories set in a steampunk universe revolving around a journalist of his creation.  His stories would feature this journalist as a mature crusader for truth, a serious force of nature.  My stories would concern this same individual as a young man straight out of school, and acquiring the morals and mindset that led to the man Chops was dealing with.  Excited about this new project, I completed the first draft of two sections of my first story, sent them along, and have not heard another word.  There could be many reasons for this.  Chops has a demanding job with a lot of travel, a hectic home life, and can get pretty busy.  On the other hand, Lady Bonnie has a Facebook account which she visits to chat with Axeman multiple times a day.  On this account, she constantly encounters Chops playing Facebook games, and raving about his real-world activities, so maybe time isn't the issue.  I look at this and see our project occupying a very back burner.  I suspect that he found discussing the project more interesting than actually doing it.

          But, in yet another of the unexpected twists that seem to make up the fabric of life, it seems as though that may not have been for the worst.  I have mentioned on several occasions, in my limitless hubris, that I have written five novels.  The short story seemed to be a straightforward exercise, nothing more nor less than a single chapter of a novel brought to a full conclusion rather than a "hook."  Oh, how deceptive art can be!  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The short story is, in reality, a 75,000 word novel condensed to 7,500.  It may be beyond my ability to figure out; it is certainly beyond the skills I currently possess.  Nonetheless, a series of short stories set in a steampunk universe is a project I have a wish to try, and so I shall.  I am in the process of creating my own little corner of the world with its own problems, and characters who will try to solve them (or create more of them!).  In its current form, it is placed in East Africa in the late 1800s, and should I be able to bring it to a successful inception, you will be able to find it here from time to time, under the working title, Beyond the Rails.  So, will Chops embrace our project; will I finalize my own; or will I come to recognize that the art of the short story will forever be beyond me?  I'll keep you posted, one way or another...

          Finally, the music world lost a great voice and gifted innovator last week when Etta James finally succumbed to a long illness.  She was an icon of jazz and blues, and a trailblazer to the modern sound that we mortals idolize today.  She didn't have the most wonderful of lives, but she had a wonderful career, and her impact on the music will be felt for generations to come.  Rest in peace, Etta, At Last...

         In closing, be it known that I can't do it any more.  Even acknowledging the existence of slimy-ass politicians makes me want to puke, so I'll close with the return of an old friend:

Get out there and live life like you mean it!

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Impact of Variable Variables

          Sounds like a physics article, doesn't it?  Relax.  Unless you're a German Shepard below the age of three, I'm pretty sure I know less about physics than you do.  No, this is about variables in your worldview, or more pointedly, mine.  Several times during my life, there have been sudden changes in my interests.  I used to build plastic models, I used to play wargames, I used to put jigsaw puzzles together, and one day I woke up, and found that what I thought was a life-long interest had evaporated overnight.  That has happened to me recently.  I have found that my 30+ year interest in video games ain't what it used to be, and it has become a chore assembling material for these blog posts, hence my last post suggesting that I might be quitting here.

          Blogging, you see, is a variable in my life; I don't have to do it.  I'm not sharing vital data with the scientific community, and I don't make money from it.  It is an option I can pursue or not, depending on my outlook; it's a variable variable.  I was considering dropping it.  What I'm doing right now, this minute, is using time that I could be putting to use learning to make my harmonica sing, or scouting out a replacement for the Drizzt Do'Urden novels, or interviewing hobbies to fill the position left by the demise of video games.  That's my selfish view:  I don't need this.  However...

          There's always a however, isn't there?  While I'm talking about how I'm bored and don't want to do this anymore (me-me-me-me-me-me), three new followers join me, and I get some nice notes from my regulars about hang in there, don't give up, it'll get better, etc.  All I can take away from this is that people are entertained in some way by what I'm putting up here, and it's true that I do very much enjoy the friendly banter and intelligent discourse, be it about physics or the film treatment of a DC comic character.

          And then there's my son, Axeman.  As I may have mentioned, Axe was in from Colorado last week.  He came without his family, and stayed with us for a week; another variable variable.  I took the week off to hang out with him, and it was fabulous!  We had considered going out to places, and doing "touristy" things, but once he was unloaded from the van, and in the house, he just wanted to soak up being here with us, so it was basically a week in the Hideout.  Axe and I were gaming buddies when he was a child, playing board games and the rudimentary video games that existed back in the day.  We took up right where we left off, playing Gears of War, Left 4 Dead, and Sonar Sub Hunt, he did some runnin' and gunnin' with his sister, Nine, in the Halo universe, and the three of us found time for D&D Heroes and Conflict: Global Terror.  All of this, and we were still able to reminisce by the fire til three in the morning a couple of times.  Bottom line, whatever disease of the funk had its hooks into me ten days ago has been fully dissipated; I'm looking for fun again.  So, while finding a subject that I can cover in enough depth to engage an audience may still be difficult, I intend to continue to put in that work, find those subjects, and enjoy the camaraderie afterward. After all, nothing worth doing is easy, right?

          So first, welcome to new follower Jennifer, of  Jenny is a mother of four who draws a comic strip (Jenny's Day) about a working mom making it day to day in a tanking economy.  To my regular readers, this may not seem to be on my radar, but there's more to me than people think, and this is really a well-done endeavor.  Be sure to stop by and say hi.  Encourage the girl, and she may do more...

          Now, as to subject matter, what is something I know that might be interesting to a general audience?  Hopefully, there are any number of things, but today I'm going to look at the underpinnings of literature.  Over the course of a decade, I tried to find commercial success as an author.  Ultimately, I was unable to do so, but I learned a good many things from reading one how-to book after another, and it occurs to me that some of the axioms of writing any dramatic work, from novel to screenplay, might be interesting to anyone who wonders about the scaffolding that underpins the beautiful facade you see on the screen or on the page.  So, here's what's behind those breathtaking works you find on the shelves at Barnes & Noble.

          SPOILER ALERT:  If you think that understanding the formula that a writer uses to create an engrossing story will ruin your enjoyment of books and movies, move on now; I'll see you next week.
If you're okay with that, step into my parlor...

          The first thing required is a premise.  The premise is simply a story about something, be it a girl who works in a flower shop, or a knight setting out to regain a kingdom.  What then makes the story entertaining is its focus on a believable crisis.  Many stories fall flat right here, at the inception.  Some stories are not appropriate for their audiences.  An adventure tale for preteens is not likely to be successful if it contains graphic depictions of brutal murders, nor is a romance likely to be sweet and cuddly if the woman is stalked by a vengeful demon.  The crisis must be a crisis for the lead character in a personal way, and it must be serious enough, bad enough, to force him to concentrate on it for the length of a full novel (or movie). Once you have that riveting event that is going to be the definitive event of their lives, you need to postulate the personalities that are going to drive this epic.

          Flower girl, paladin-knight, or recovering drunk seeking redemption in work at the shelter, the protagonist, or hero, is the driving force of the story.  I have on occasion heard people remark that the villain is often the more interesting character in print and film, and seeing how a hero is constructed will go a long way toward explaining that phenomenon.  Every hero must exist in a "box," and the four walls of that box are morality, courage, competence, and likability.

          He or she must have the morality to know right from wrong, and to always seek to do what is right.  He is human.  He is imperfect.  He will fail, but as long as he continues to risk his own health/wealth/comfort/happiness/life to do what is morally right, he remains sympathetic to the reader.  It can be argued that a too-perfect hero will alienate the reader, as once it is shown that he is never going to mis-step, waver, or be placed in a position of physical or moral jeopardy, he becomes a one-dimension superman (small "s") whose book consists of defeating a series of straw men erected for the purpose of being knocked down by said hero.  This point also addresses courage.

          The hero must have sufficient courage to act against the wrong that is being informed by her morality.  If she doesn't, then she basically fades into the background, becoming the narrator of the true hero's story.  Think of Watson in the Sherlock Holmes stories.  Watson, an invalid veteran of the Sepoy Wars, is certainly courageous enough, but it is Holmes who is the doer, and Holmes who the stories are about.  Now, the hero can be frightened out of her mind, but she finds it within herself to do what is necessary anyway.  This makes her more attractive in the eyes of the reader, who is usually an ordinary person who finds a story about an ordinary person rising above her own limitations far more interesting than a faultless super-being dominating a series of clueless villains.  It also raises the question of whether a first-person narrative of heroism can ever overcome the handicap of making the hero come off like one of those pompous asses that we'd all like to punch in the snout from time to time.  Imagine the arrogance had Sherlock Holmes been his own narrator.  Would we hold such statements as, "Of course, no common criminal could hope to cope with my superior intellect, so it was unnecessary to make my trap in any way complex," in as high regard as we do when Watson utters them?

          The hero must be competent enough to act effectively once she does begin to act.  She needn't be a trained SEAL Team operator in order for her to be believable, but to have a girl who has been introduced to us as a cutesy klutz through the first five chapters suddenly scaling a skyscraper is going to throw us out of the story faster than most anything.  She'd better have something in her background that gives her some facility in that area.  Perhaps she was a gymnast early in life, had a bad accident as a teenager, and never returned to the bars, and now she must overcome that fear in order to save her little brother.  An incompetent hero does not necessarily mean a poor story, but it does mean that at best, it's going to be slapstick.  Watch Beverly Hills Ninja to see a classic example.

          Finally, the hero must be likable enough for the reader to identify with him.  A lead character who isn't likable ruins the story completely, at least he does for me.  He becomes an antihero, and while there is a niche market for this genre, I find myself rooting for the villain to put this fool out of his misery.  Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever is an example of this in the world of print.  This "hero" is a leper who is bitter at life because society shuns him for having the disease.  He is struck by a car while crossing a street, and he regains consciousness in a fairly typical fantasy world where the people see him as the return of an ancient hero come to save them from an impending doom.  The trouble is, he remembers the car, thinks he is in a comatose dream, and refuses to willingly take part in any of the activity that will save the world around him.  He does see his way clear to rape his benefactor's daughter fairly early on, and I can't tell you whether it gets any better, because at that point, I put the book to its best possible use by throwing it at a stray cat that was howling outside my window.  For a film example, see Paul Newman in Hombre.

          The villain, by contrast, operates under none of those goody-two-shoes constraints.  He poisons the little elf children on Halloween.  He farts in the air lock.  He tells you what he really thinks, and laughs at your quivering chin while he's doing it.  Every actor, author, and director will tell you what a joy it is to bring a great villain to life, and this is why.  The villain doesn't wear a turtleneck to hide his wine cork-sized wart; he gets a tattoo around it to highlight it.  The only danger is in going too far over the top, and making him a caricature, as is nearly every villain in Dick Tracy and Batman, among other examples.  Actually, the best villains are the most subtle, the ones who don't see themselves as villains at all.  Bankers and securities managers are good examples.  They don't think they're evil, they just want all the money in the world, and are willing to bring down Western civilization to get it.  Some villains aren't really villains at all.  They're just in the way.  The rival for the girl in a romance is one of these.  He's not necessarily a bad guy; you, the reader, just think the other guy would be better for her.

          The confidant is sort of a hero's assistant, though not a "sidekick" in the comic book sense.  The confidant is a combination cheerleader, research assistant, field medic, and lead blocker for the hero.  The pitfall that can ruin the confidant is that he or she is a ready-made crutch for an author of lesser skill, and every time the hero gets into trouble, here comes the confidant strolling down the jungle path with perfect coincidental timing to save the day.  The hero should have to solve the majority of his own problems, and when the confidant is constantly bailing him out, he comes across as weak.  The confidant can narrate the story, which is what Watson does for Holmes, but you don't see it much.  One reason is that it is technically difficult to pull off, but the other is that it tends to remove the reader by a step from the immediacy of the action.  A superbly handled confidant can be that mystical ingredient that lifts an otherwise ordinary story to greatness; a confidant used as a crutch can do just the opposite.

          If the hero has a confidant, what does the villain have?  It's not a trick question.  He has a henchman.  What's the difference?  First of all, a hero has to save the world on his own, while a henchman can do a lot of the villain's dirty work.  The confidant performs out of love, respect, or a recognition of the absolute necessity of the hero's success.  The henchman can be enthusiastic or reluctant, competent or a boob, motivated by admiration, greed, or fear.  The villain may hold his henchman's heart or his family to make him do his bidding.  And of course, the henchman has one piece of motivation that the confidant never has:  He knows if he screws up, the villain will cheerfully make an example of him to keep the minions in line.  I often wonder why anyone would be a henchman out of choice, given the prevalence of lines like, "I'll never fail you again, master!"  "No, you won't."  [Slice!].  It has to be the hope of the villain's demise, which will then leave him in charge of the Evil Empire.

          These four characters are the main group of people whose stories are being told in the book or movie.  There can be up to two more who are part of the story, and who it is important for you to get to know, requiring a longer book/movie, but the rule of thumb is that if you have more than six, then you have more than one book, requiring a sequel or a trilogy.  These characters might be the seer who gives the hero information about the prophecies and powers of the villain who then discovers that they misread the data and now have to somehow notify the hero, who has long since departed on the quest; or it might be the hero's ex, who shows up periodically to help or hinder the flow of the story.  As a rule, they will be complications who show up to interrupt the smooth flow of the hero's plans.  Any number of additional characters may be added, such as informants, witnesses, grocery clerks, and distant relatives, but their backgrounds will not be explored, and they will not lend their voices to any part of the story.

          There are many other aspects of writing a novel or screenplay, be they setting, dialog, action, relationships, but these are how the characters are drawn, and the characters are the bedrock on which the rest of the story stands.  Botch the characters, and there is no writer with enough skill to salvage the narrative, because botched characters equate to reader/viewer disengagement.  Watch with one eye next time you read a book or watch a movie to see how the writer handled his characters.  Observe the quirks and foibles they were given to make them engaging; watch how they interact with each other.  I suspect that you'll find that, even if the story is weak, strong characters will hold your interest, and if the characters are weak, you won't care about the story.  You may have subconsciously known this all along, but now you'll have a pretty good handle on why.

          Or, maybe I've ruined your enjoyment, because now you'll be looking at the scaffolding that holds up the facade of the story.  Some people can't rest until they know how the magician does the trick; others lose their appreciation when they gain the knowledge.  This is why my spoiler alert was worded like it was.  Having read this, you will never again be able to avoid grading the writer's performance.  I hope I adequately conveyed the danger of reading this; if I could have thought of anything more plain, I would have said it.

          So, I'm back, and with something in depth, educational, and hopefully entertaining.  With any luck at all, it might even generate a comment or two.  It seems that rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.  That's happened before.  I'm still here, so rejoice if you enjoy my hijinx; it looks like I'm going to be around for a while.
          I'll see you next week with God-knows-what, but the point is, I'll be back.  Meanwhile, elections are coming.  Vote early, vote often, and whatever you do, THROW THE BASTARDS OUT!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Horizons, Old and New

          Hard to believe we've put another one in the wake, isn't it? It was a year, like all years, of ups and downs, and hopefully fortune smiled on you, which is another way of saying, hope you had more ups than downs! We did, and this year starts on another huge up, as we picked up our detached son, Axeman, at the airport last night, and have him for a whole week to catch up on old times.

          I must first apologize to my readership, who have learned to not expect sports editorials here.  It wasn't something I expected to be doing, but when an old friend has been sick for a long time, and then a black-hearted assassin masquerading as his physician gives him another dose of the poison that is killing him, it is the duty of anyone and everyone who cares about the victim to expose the vile deed by any means at his disposal.  This is mine.  Your assassination may succeed, Mr. Spanos, but it will not be accomplished in the comfort of the shadows.

           Now, back to being the Hideout that you all come here for.  First, let me take a moment to welcome Peter S. to the Hideout. Peter runs KyusiReader out of Manila, in the Philippine Islands. He reviews books, and is a voracious reader, having read 111 books during 2011 that run the range from two Chick Lit entries to 38 Young Adult. He has covered twelve Childrens' Books, nineteen Classics, and 26 Contemporary works. Eight Graphic Novels have borne his scrutiny along with five Memoirs, two works of Gay literature, and two Nobel Prize winners, so if you're in the market for a book, and would like a little help wading through the sea of offerings at your local bibliotech, check in with Peter. You're sure to find a suggestion there, and he's friendly to boot, replying to every comment offered. Heck, I posted a comment, and he joined my blog! He's a great resource, and every dedicated reader should have him "favorited."

           Welcome also to Joe, who runs the 70s Child blog out of upstate New York. This is a pure nostalgia site dedicated, as you might expect, to the 70s, and Joe is a fun guy who talks to everybody who stops by; that may explain why he has a lot of followers. Youngsters who are curious about this era should pay him a visit, and if you actually lived it, it will speak to you in some very special ways. Good guy, good site. Get over there and pay him a visit... After you're through here, of course!

          Looking back at 2011, we see a fun first year for the Hideout. I brought this blog to the public on April Fools' Day (and hold the wisecracks!) to have a place to post things that didn't "fit" into the The Tyler Gang's format. It became my go-to site for almost everything, and as Nine and Bonnie had headed out in their own directions as well, we unanimously decided to stop posting on The Tyler Gang altogether, and go our own ways. That doesn't mean we don't support each other. We simply look at life from such different perspectives that putting them all on one site was confusing, even to us. Now, whether you like Bonnie's gentle nurturing, my sarcastic wit, or Nine's tales of the pre-teen hooligans, you can find it all in one place. We left The Tyler Gang active because it pulls in a lot of visitors; something with the name, I suspect, but hopefully, some of them will follow the links to our current sites. This being the new year, anyone still following The Tyler Gang (Carlin; Cesar; Robert A.) should take a moment to update to the new site of whoever he or she found interesting over there, as no new material is being added there, and won't be any more. Also, Carlin, as honored as we are to have been listed among Nerd Lunch's recommended links, you may want to drop The Tyler Gang, as that blog is essentially dead.

           My big discovery of 2011 is a delightful young French woman named Rachelle Plas. I can find out very little about her, unfortunately. I read during my search that she is 17 years old; probably 18 by now. In 2010, she won the silver medal in the World Judo Tournament. That's pretty impressive, but of much more interest to me is the fact that she plays the harmonica like she invented it! If she has an album out, I can't locate it. She plays clubs and blues festivals around western Europe, and has appeared on stage with some great performers. You may be listening to her right now, because I feature one of her songs on my player, Mellow Down Easy, which is about as inaccurate a name as I have ever heard. She has quite a presence on YouTube. Enter "Rachelle Plas Judo" in the search engine to see her fight, or "Rachelle Plas Harmonica" to hear her play. Both are fabulous treats, especially her harmonica work. She performs in a wide range of styles, one of which is blues, and when she sings, her voice evokes Janis Joplin. She fronts a four-member combo, drums, bass, and guitar, and I will say this without the slightest hesitancy: I grew up attending live performances by Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Kiss, Rush, Ten Years After in their prime, and I have not heard a band bring down the house like this since those days. Rachelle, if by chance you "Google" yourself, and somehow find this humble site, please, please drop me a comment and tell me how to get more of your fabulous music; I'm in love!

          There is, of course, always a bit of sadness involved in looking back, and this venue claims no exception. Two sites that I have recommended since I first encountered them have lost that distinction. I have been a follower of McKay Art for almost a year. The person I first encountered was a high-school girl with an absolute God-given gift to take breathtaking photos and present them in a quality showcase of her own making. Alas, she has made some life choices that perhaps have not turned out the way she would have hoped, and I haven't seen any photography work on her site (with a single exception) in over six months. I wanted to share her skill with everyone I know, but she is no longer choosing to display it, and therefore, sadly, I have removed my recommendation. I will continue to follow her, in hopes that that delightful young lady returns to the fore, and the first time I see one of her spectacular photo spreads up on the blog, I will cheerfully alert everyone! The Muse of Doom is another engaging lady of indeterminate age. I encountered her when we both made comments on a Nerd Lunch posting. We exchanged a series of delightfully witty, bitingly sarcastic e-mails, I joined her site, she joined mine, and I had hopes that this relationship would blossom into a long-distance sarcasm-fest that would put the Hitler-Chamberlain negotiations to shame. Unfortunately, there has been no further contact after that initial flurry, and her website hasn't been updated since November of 2010. This isn't the first woman I've had this effect on, but her wit is infectious, and very much worth engaging, and while I have removed the recommendation that leads only to a dormant site, I will remain her follower, like the spurned suitor waiting by the balcony, and should she start posting again, I will shout it from the rooftop... of the Hideout, of course!

          Of course, no first-post-of-the-year is complete without the inevitable, and dreaded "Look Back." No, I'm not going to look back at 2011. I figure if you're old enough to read this, you were probably present for the events of last year. No, I'm going to look back at a year from the past. You can treat this like a contest if you wish, though there aren't any prizes; the less clues you need before you guess the year, the better your memory of bygone days. Or, you can just read and enjoy. The answer is given in the comment section. So, here are the clues:
1. Saddam Hussein orders the Iraqi invasion of neighboring Kuwait.
2. Space shuttle Discovery places Hubble telescope in orbit.
3. The Sci/Fi Channel begins broadcasting.
4. Home Alone comes to theaters.
5. Janet Jackson has a hit with "Black Cat."
6. Lech Walesa becomes president of Poland.
7. The first modern web page is written.
8. Twin Peaks premiers on ABC.
9. Ghost comes to theaters.
10. Jon Bon Jovi has a hit with "Blaze of Glory."

If you know by now, you must have been there!

11. The Saturn is launched by General Motors.
12. Microsoft releases Windows 3.0.
13. Pop duo Milli Vanilli outed for lip-syncing Grammy-winning song.
14. Dances With Wolves comes to theaters.
15. Electronic music band Depeche Mode forms.
16. "Sue," the most complete T-Rex skeleton ever found is discovered in South Dakota.
17. Earthquake in Iran kills 50,000 people.
18. A 16 megabit chip is shown for the first time.
19. Pretty Woman comes to theaters.
20. The Blues Brothers make music charts.

You could be a little older, if you need this many clues!

21. The Simpsons airs on Fox for the first time.
22. The U. S. enters a major recession.
23. The first known case of AIDS is traced back to 1959.
24. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comes to theaters.
25. Garth Brooks is major star in country music.
26. Nelson Mandella released from prison after 28 years.
27. Space probe Voyager photographs the Solar System at a distance of 3.7 billion miles.
28. The Hunt For Red October comes to theaters.
29. The Red Hot Chili Peppers are major music stars.
30. Fire at the Happy Land social club in New York City kills 87 people.

If you don't have it by now, I'm guessing you weren't born yet!

31. Ozone depletion is discovered above the north pole.
32. Total Recall comes to theaters.
33. Billy Joel is major music star.
34. USA and USSR sign historic agreement to end production of chemical weapons.
35. Edward Scissorhands comes to theaters.
36. Phil Collins has musical hits.
37. Demonstrations throughout UK protest new poll tax.
38. Vanilla Ice has hit with "Ice Ice Baby."
39. The B-52s are major pop music artists.
40. The yearly inflation rate was 5.39%; the cost of a new house was $123,000; the average yearly income was $28,960; average monthly rent was $465; a gallon of gas cost $1.34; the price of a new Isuzu Rodeo was $12,490; and a brand new IBM PS1 computer would set you back $1,000 - 2,000.

Just read the answer, already!

          Finally, a closing note:  I am considering hanging up my keyboard and closing up shop.  I decided early that I wasn't going to cover politics, current events, or religion, mostly because I find no enjoyment in being called filthy names and receiving death threats from a bunch of total strangers who feel empowered by the fact that they aren't standing right in front of me.  You have graciously allowed me to get away with a couple of political statements, but that has never been my theme.  Well, I am finding (have found, really) that once you take those subjects off the table, all you have left to talk about is your personal life, and frankly, my personal life just isn't that interesting, even to me, most of the time.  I find myself eyeing the calendar, dreading "post day" more than I do going to work, and the reason for that is that everything I can think of to write about sounds lame-a$$...  to ME!  I can just imagine what a world full of strangers makes of this drivel.  But I will continue to explore new avenues, so keep an eye on things here.  If a week or ten days go by, and you find a new post, then this was just a speed bump on the Post-Holiday Depression Highway, but if not, well, I have enjoyed our time together.  Thanks for following, those who did, and don't be surprised if I pop up on your sites from time to time, just to see what you're up to.  And if I don't see anyone again, thanks for everything; I had a blast!

          Until we meet again, remember, elections are coming:  Register early, vote often, and don't forget to throw the bastards out!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year, Everybody!

January Birthdays:

 1.  James McAvoy; actor; Scotland 1979.
 2.  Cuba Gooding Jr; actor; the Bronx, NY 1968.
 3.  Eli Manning; NFL quarterback; New Orleans, LA 1981.
 4.  Don Shula; NFL coach; Painesville, OH 1930.
 5.  Diane Keaton; actress; Los Angeles, CA 1946.
 6.  Nancy Lopez; pro golfer; Torrance, CA 1957.
 7.  Nicolas Cage; actor; Long Beach, CA 1964.
 8.  Shirley Bassey; singer; Wales 1937.
 9.  Sergio Garcia; pro golfer; Spain 1980.
10.  George Foreman; boxer, entrepreneur; Marshall, TX 1949.
11.  Stanley Tucci; actor; Peekskill, NY 1960.
12.  Kirstie Alley; actress; Wichita, KS 1951.
13.  Patrick Dempsey; actor; Lewiston, ME 1966.
14.  Julian Bond; legislator, activist; Nashville, TN 1940.
15.  Drew Brees; NFL quarterback; Austin, TX 1979.
16.  Debbie Allen; dancer, actress; Houston, TX 1950.
17.  Jim Carrey; actor, comedian; Canada 1962.
18.  Kevin Costner; actor, director; Lynwood, CA 1955.
19.  Dolly Parton; singer, actress; Sevierville, TN 1946.
20.  Bill Maher; comedian, TV host; New York, NY 1956.
21.  Jack Nicklaus; pro golfer; Columbus, OH 1940.
22.  Greg Oden, NBA player; Buffalo, NY 1988.
23.  Mariska Hargitay; actress; Los Angeles, CA 1964.
Mary Lou Retton
24.  Mary Lou Retton; Olympic gymnast; Fairmont, WV 1968.
25.  Dinah Manoff; actress; New York, NY 1958.
26.  Ellen DeGeneres; actress, TV hostess; Metairie, LA 1958.
27.  Allen Cumming; actor; Scotland 1965.
28.  Elijah Wood; actor; Cedar Rapids, IA 1981.
29.  Tom Selleck; actor; Detroit, MI 1945.
30.  Gene Hackman; actor; San Bernardino, CA 1930.
31.  Justin Timberlake; singer, actor; Memphis, TN 1981.