Archive for March, 2010

I Have Returned!

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

After two weeks in Europe, visiting Leipzig, London, and the World Horror Convention in Brighton, England, I have returned home and been mauled by my children and sorted through two weeks of email. I had intended to deal with my email while on my trip, and to keep this blog updated as close to daily as possible, but my laptop screen broke (possibly because of the flight, but I can’t say for sure) and I spent the whole time virtually Internet-less.

But all that is in the past, and it’s time for a quick recap. How did I spend my time Europe? Let us take a journey through the very recent past….

Tuesday, March 16: On planes! And in airports! And that’s pretty much it!

Wednesday, March 17: We wandered around downtown Leipzig, seeing some of its most spectacular sites:

One of the churches Bach wrote music for.

The other church Bach wrote for, and where is he buried.

My book in a real live bookstore!

This wasn't an ad, this is just how people dress over there.

Thursday, March 18: On Thursday we went to the Leipzig Book Fair, which was freakishly, ginormously massive. The only thing we have of comparable size in the US is ComicCon, or DragonCon, and those are about all media–this is about books, and nothing but books, and it was jam-packed with people of all ages. It was really kind of incredible.

One section of one path of one hall. There were four. This was a seriously huge book fair, I'm not even kidding.

That handsome man reading my book is Christian Von Aster. I just smiled and waved.

This is the group at my first reading. Don't they look enthralled?

That night I did another reading at a goth nightclub.

We had well over 100 people at the nightclub reading, and sold a bunch of books. It was pretty awesome.

Friday, March 19: Another day at the book fair, though we were pretty dang tired at this point. Lots of walking, lots of late nights, and lots of still-kind-of-jet-lagged.

My lovely wife, barely maintaining consciousness.

You got a discount on admission if you dressed up. This is the friend of one of the people who interviewd me.

My publicist, Barbara, and my editor, Carsten.

Most of the toilets were square, and my wife deemed that worthy of a photo. Please enjoy it.

German architecture is awesome. Not pictured: we had dinner with German author Michael Peinkofer, who was super awesome and felt like an old friend. I don't know how we ended up without a photo of him. Sorry, Michael!

Saturday, March 20: I bid my wife a fond farewell and flew to England; she flew home, by way of a 12-hour whirlwind tour of Paris. I had a fiendish, possibly self-aware toothache at this point, so I lacked the presence of mind to take any pictures my first day in England. The good news is, I didn’t do anything worth taking a picture of, either, unless you count buying British aspirin and crashing in my hotel like a scared, unconscious puppy.

I think that’s enough photos for now. I shall post more on another day, detailing yet more of my exciting trip to Europe!

Europe, Hats, Rules, etc.

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

I am currently sitting in the Salt Lake airport, waiting for my flight to Germany (by way of Cincinnati and Paris). The wifi here is very weak, and it might not be until tomorrow that I have any more wifi at all, so updates will be a little thin on the ground for now. Once I get to Germany I’ll do my best to keep this blog filled with notes and pictures of Leipzig and, eventually, London and Brighton and the World Horror Convention.

In the meantime, I’m pleased to announce that I’ve changed my merchandise system a little bit. In the past, I was getting shirts printed by the fine folks at Fiction Addictions, and then packing and shipping them myself; this was a good way to promote the books, but it forced me to deal with inventory and overhead and other things that were not writing. I don’t like dealing with stuff that isn’t writing, so I’ve made a deal with Fiction Addictions that makes everything better for everybody. (Yes, everybody.) From now on, they will be making and packing and shipping all of my merchandise using a print-on-demand system, which not only frees up my time for writing but allows us to expand our offerings significantly: in addition to shirts, we now also have hats, mugs, earrings, a wider selection of pins, and so on. This also heralds the availability of long-sleeve shirts, which several people have asked about. So please head on over to the new webstore and check it out.

Incidentally, this new merchandise system means that we can add new designs for shirts, pins, posters, and so on very easily. If there’s something you’d like to see, let us know! Also, there’s something I’d like to see, and I need your help to put it together. We want to make a shirt/poster/notebook/etc. that lists all of John’s rules, but (embarrassing confession time) I never actually codified a single, complete list of them. If anyone who wants to go through the first two books and compile a list, that would be awesome.

D&D and Heroscape and doggone Howard Tayler

Monday, March 15th, 2010

I am, as I have mentioned before, a great big raging nerd. In particular, I’m a gamer: I love playing games of every kind, including board games and roleplaying games and miniatures games. “What’s a miniatures game?” ask all of the non-geeks in the audience; well, I’ll tell you: a miniatures game is when you get a bunch of toy soldiers and spread them out on a table covered with little toy houses and trees and hills and such, and you fight a fake war. Yes, I play with dolls–but they’re manly dolls, with swords, and occasionally there are dragon dolls as well. There is nothing wrong with this.

One of my favorite games is a game called Heroscape, which combines all the coolness of a minis game with all the ease and simplicity of a board game. I got into Heroscape a couple of years ago when they made a superhero set, and it looked like a good way to introduce one of my more complex hobbies to my son, and it turned out that even at five years old he could grasp all the rules and play it and love it. This is awesome, because most minis games are so complex it takes a PhD in math to get your head around them. So: mission accomplished. But what surprised me about the game was that I kept wanting to play it with my regular game group, all grown men, and we loved it just as much as my son. It’s a great game with a surprising amount of depth, and I was really impressed.

Since then I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on the game, collecting vast armies and tons of plastic terrain pieces and having a grand old time. It really is a blast. And then the game was acquired by Wizards of the Coast, the company that makes Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons and Axis & Allies, among several others, and they announced a new set of Heroscape based in the D&D world. As a fan of D&D, I was very excited, for a lot of reasons:

1) Heroscape as a game system is FAR superior to the D&D wargame (a minis game based on the roleplaying game), so this was a better use of their characters and monsters.

2) The pre-existing D&D minis game, while it didn’t have great rules, had hundreds and hundreds of awesome miniatures, so with some good designers to convert the stats they could produce legions of new Heroscape sets at a pretty rapid rate.

3) Heroscape scales very well between small skirmishes and large-scale battles, but it has never really dipped its toes into more story-based, scenario-based gaming, and a combination set with D&D was an ideal opportunity to do that. I was imagining something along the lines of Mage Knight Dungeons, an offshoot of a classic minis game, that took your wargame characters and let them explore dungeons and hunt for treasure and gain new levels and powers and all that good stuff, just like a mini-RPG.

So the set came out, and I had mixed feelings: the figures were great, and the character design was some of the best I’ve ever seen in Heroscape, but the story aspect was really missing. Instead of creating a new system for story-based adventures, they just created a handful of skirmish scenarios and overlaid them with a thin story, which still doesn’t work very well because they’re balanced for skirmish play, not for story play. The glorious game I had imagined, with tons of treasure and a levelling system and, if I could be so lucky, a campaign system that lets you keep your characters for multiple scenarios, was nowhere to be seen. I was very sad.

But! The character design was, as I said, awesome, and the backlog of existing miniatures was, as I’d hoped, allowing them to shoot out new sets at a very impressive rate. The first wave of expansions just came out, and I was discussing them with Howard Tayler, and he solved my problem with just a handful of very simple words:

“You want a story-based, character-based campaign system set in the world of D&D?” he said. “How about…D&D?”

“But the systems aren’t compatible,” I cried. “The rules are different, even the maps are different–one uses a square grid, and the other a hex grid. I don’t have time to convert them all.”

“They don’t need any conversion,” said Howard. “You can play an entire game with the Heroscape terrain and the D&D rules, and it works perfectly.”

And you know what? He’s right. Fourth Edition D&D is so close to a minis game already that you can essentially just drop them onto the Heroscape board and play it as normal, one-for-one, with no conversion necessary. This is AWESOME. I can’t stress how excited I am by this idea.

And I’m leaving town tomorrow, and I’ll be gone for a month, and I won’t get a chance to try it until I get back.

So thank you to Wizards, for combining two of my favorite games into an exciting hybrid of coolness that I can play together. And thanks a lot, Howard, for pointing this out to me right when I can’t do anything about it. I look forward to a month of anxious frustration; a month of dreaming and waiting; a month of obsession and desperation until finally I can come back and geek out and play with my new ideas.

Stupid Howard.

On the other hand, maybe I can get him to play with me….

What makes a good ending?

Friday, March 12th, 2010

I love a good ending, though the more I study them and watch for them the more I realize how rare they really are. Plenty of stories have passable ending, and some have outright terrible endings, but an ending that really works really well is a scarce and wonderful thing.

Why do I study endings so much? Because I’m not very good at them. I think my Serial Killer books have pretty good endings, but only because I workshopped them and revised them and really went crazy trying to make the endings as good as they could be. My middles go through two, maybe three drafts; my beginnings go through three or four. My endings go through eight or nine drafts before they’re good enough to see the light of day, and even then I worry about them.

So what makes an ending good? I’m going to shake things up today and not the answer the question; instead I’ll just turn it around and ask you guys what you like in and ending. And I don’t just want descriptions, I want examples. I want to know what books/movies/plays etc. have your favorite endings, even if you don’t know why.

I’ll start you off: the best book series finale/wrap-up I’ve read in a very long time is the third Mistborn book, Hero of Ages. Everything came together, in a way that managed to be, yes, both surprising and inevitable. On the movie front, no ending in recent memory has hit me as powerfully as the recent remake of 3:10 to Yuma–it was just so…perfect. I don’t even know how to explain, because I’m not sure why it worked as well as it did. That’s why I’m studying these, to figure out what works and why.

So please, post your comments: What are your favorite endings? What knocked your socks off? What do you think is awesome, and why?

A starred review from Kirkus

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

Kirkus is one of the major book reviewers, along with places like Publisher’s Weekly. They are notoriously harsh and often quite snarky, but when they really like something they not only give it a good review, they add a little star to the side as a way of saying “Pay attention: this book is awesome.” And I’m just giddy with glee, because I Am Not a Serial Killer just got a starred review:

Fifteen-year-old John Wayne Cleaver knows he’s different, but not because he has but one friend (and doesn’t much like him) and not because he regularly helps out in his mother’s mortuary. He’s different because he recognizes the classic signs of an incipient serial killer in his own personality, and he’s created a rigid set of rules to follow to keep his darker nature in check. When a string of grisly murders begins in Clayton, John’s small hometown, he uses his specialized knowledge of serial killers to investigate. Will the darkness on the outside intensify the darkness within? Especially when he finds there is much more to this killer than anyone expects…even John. Wells’s debut, the first in a projected trilogy starring a character who seems the love child of Showtime’s Dexter and F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack, is an unabashedly gory gem. While certainly not for all audiences, this deft mix of several genres features a completely believable teenage sociopath (with a heart of gold), dark humor, a riveting mystery and enough description of embalming to make any teen squeamish even if they won’t admit it. Buy multiples where it won’t be banned. (Thriller/horror. YA)

Mr. Monster: Time for More Demons

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Last week I talked about my overall philosophy of sequels—that they must have more of what the readers liked in the first work, while adding something new and exciting and unique, while extending the main character in a fresh and logical new direction, all while being better written and more awesome than anything you’ve done before. In other words, they’re really hard.

With all of that in mind, I sat down to plan out some sequels to I Am Not a Serial Killer. Lurking in my notes from that book was a single line about series potential: “A serial killer who hunts serial killers, except they’re actually supernatural monsters whose methods mirror standard serial killer behaviors.” In the first book, of course, I’d used souvenirs: many serial killers take pieces of the bodies they kill, as souvenirs or trophies or even for food. I built the first book demon around that idea, coming up with a spooky supernatural reason to explain why he would need so many body parts. It worked pretty well, so I figured it was a good place to start in planning the sequels, and I sat down to list some other standard serial killer behaviors.

Cannibalism? That’s a cool one, but probably too similar to the “steals body parts” idea. Rape? Definitely typical to the majority of serial killers, but not really something I wanted to deal with. I could technically have gotten away with it, even in YA, because the YA horror market is far, far darker than most people realize, but I really just didn’t feel comfortable with it, personally, so I discarded it.

How about kidnapping? That really piqued my interest, as I’d just read a couple of really fascinating articles on the subject. Kidnappers are not all serial killers, of course, but those who are have a really interesting subset of quirks: they often have self-constructed dungeons to keep their victims, they choose their victims based on very specific concepts, and they tend to have strange, almost ritualized ways of communicating with their victims. Another great benefit to this idea was that it would shake up the formula from the first book, by focusing so much of John’s investigation on one location instead of following a killer through the streets; it might even be fun to have John himself get kidnapped. What I really liked about the idea was the tiny hint of pathos buried behind it; one of the more famous serial kidnappers was a man named Gary Heidnik, who kidnapped women because he wanted a family. I loved how the demon in the first book had an element of sadness, a sort of yearning for humanity buried inside of a horrifying evil, and the kidnapper idea seemed open to similar possibilities.

So I liked the idea, but I needed a supernatural backstory to explain it. Maybe he kidnaps people because he…? I couldn’t think of anything. I hopped on the Internet and hunted around for ideas, looking at famous serial kidnappers to see what they did, and why, and after some reading I hit on the idea of torture: many kidnappers, especially those who eventually kill their victims, will often torture them first. I had a very cool supernatural basis for the torture, too, though obviously I can’t tell you what it is.

I folded the torture together with the kidnapping and I had a pretty cool bad guy, but there was still one piece missing: why were there two demons in such a small town? Isn’t that kind of a stupid coincidence? My first thought was a variation on the Hellmouth idea, but not only did Buffy already do that, I really didn’t want these things to come from Hell. They’re only demons because John calls them that—their actual origins should be far different. I switched gears at this point and started coming up with ideas for their background, and while I jotted them down a solution presented itself: if these things were an ancient group, and if the demon from the first book had spent so much time trying to be human, it made sense that the others would lose track of him—and it made even more sense, given that, that this ancient group would be looking for him. So, why are there two demons in Clayton? Because the first one got some national attention when his disguise started to slip, and the other has coming looking for him.

The ideas were coming together. I had a cool idea for a bad guy, and a good reason or him to be there, and a neat (and terrifying) supernatural background to pull it all together. That same night I sketched out plans for the third book, as well, but you’ll have to wait a while to learn about it. For now I’ll give you just a few hints: first, the serial killer traits I use in book three are stalking and ritualization. Second, the basic outline for book three really, really creeped me out. I didn’t realize I had it in me.

Tune in next week for the second half of the sequel planning: where should John go next?

From the Mailbag: When outlines and characters disagree

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

Time for another common question:

Mr Wells,

I have planned out my story from beginning to end and I had assumed that by creating this plot line, it would be easy to follow. However, I have found that the case is almost exactly the opposite. As I write, I know where the plot is telling me to go but, for some reason, my characters are heading in a completely different direction. I’ve had to pull myself back and delete chunks of my writing because it contradicts with how the plot should unfold. I know how I want my story to start, and I know how I want it to end, but at the moment the middle is all over the place. I was wondering if you have any advice on this matter as I have no idea how to resolve this issue. I have been thinking of writing the beginning and the end and just letting the middle unfold. Is this a good approach or is there something else I could do that would be a better way to go about solving this?

Thank you for your time.


Emily Hawkins

This is a VERY common problem, even for established authors, and it’s one that a lot of people don’t really understand until they start writing. “How can your characters do something they’re not supposed to do? You’re the one writing them, aren’t you?” Well, yes, but the things we write, and the things our characters do and say, are informed by a lifetime of experience, and it is often very hard to write something completely unnatural–i.e., if your character is in a certain situation, doing or saying a certain thing, the natural flow of human behavior will send them in a very specific direction when it’s time to move on and do something else. The flow of speech and conversation will tend in a certain direction, because that’s just how people talk, and this will often come out in our writing whether we want it to or not because it’s hard-coded into our subconscience. This is good, because it helps us write more believable characters and stories, but it can also be bad if you don’t plan ahead.

When the story you’re writing is trending very strongly away from teh story you outlined, the problem is easy to identify but very hard to fix: put simply, either your characters are wrong, or your outline is wrong. They do not work together, and one of them needs to be changed. Figuring out which one is wrong can be very hard, though it helps to think of it in terms of goals: what do you, as the author, want this story to do?

In the question above, she knows how she wants the story to end–that ending is the goal. Her characters, in their present state, do not trend naturally toward that ending, because their personalities are wrong or their skills lie in other areas or their personal goals are simply too different. I don’t know anything about her story, but let’s say, for example, that it’s a story about people trapped in a spooky house, being pestered by a ghost, and it ends when the characters solve the ghost’s problem and put her to rest. Maybe the characters just don’t care about helping ghosts, or maybe their not inquisitive enough to figure out why the ghost is so upset, or maybe they’re too rambunctious and keep trying to solve the problem in physical ways instead of mental ways. Whatever it is, the core problem is the same: the characters she has created are not the kind of people who will resolve her conflict in the way she wants. When she sits down to write them, they naturally tend to do things that lead the story in other directions.

There are two solutions to this problem: first, consider changing the characters. Maybe your swashbuckling hero needs an academic background to help pull her more towards research and away from violence. Maybe you could give the character a personal connection to the ghost so there’s more emotional incentive to help. Second, add an outside force to help guide the characters in the right direction: if they’re supposed to investigate the basement but they’re too smart/scared/whatever to actually go down there, throw in a trap door or a broken floor board and MAKE them go down there. Sometimes a story about characters acting against type is the most interesting choice.

Now, in this case Emily’s goal is her ending, but lets say for the sake of argument that it isn’t–let’s say the characters and the story are the part that excites her, and the pesky outline is the spoiling all her fun. In that situation she would do the opposite: change the outline to better match her characters. If the people trapped in this haunted house want to destroy the ghost, and if you as the author think that would be cool, then go ahead and change the ending, and let them destroy the ghost. You’re not tied down to the first ending you think of–you’re the one who thought of it, and you can change it all you want.

So, to recap: when your characters refuse to follow your outline, decide which one you’re going to keep (character or outline) and then alter the other to match. This can be sad, but it doesn’t have to be–just save the element you’re discarding and use it in a future story.

I hope this has been helpful. If any of you have any more advice on this topic, please feel free to post it here and expand the discussion. And if you have any other questions for me, shoot me an email and I’ll do my best to answer it.

A Short Conversation with My Children

Monday, March 8th, 2010

Me: What happened to your forehead?

Crazy 6-year-old son: It got cut.

Me: Obviously it got cut, there’s a huge gash in it. What happened?

Crazy 6-year-old son: I was playing on the slide.

Me: And that’s it?

Crazy 6-year-old son: Yeah.

Me: No one gets a huge gash in their forehead just playing on the slide. Did you do anything weird on the slide?

Crazy 6-year-old son: No.

Eagerly accusative sister: He was sitting on his backpack!

Me: Were you sitting on your backpack?

Crazy 6-year-old son: No. I was standing on my backpack.

Me: You were standing on your backpack.

Crazy 6-year-old son: I was snowboarding down the slide.

Eagerly accusative sister: It looked like he was sitting.

Crazy 6-year-old son: That’s because I was in Mini Mode.

Me: What’s Mini Mode?

Crazy 6-year-old son: That’s when you squat down and tuck your knees inside your shirt.

Me: So you went down the slide, on your feet, on your backpack, with your knees tucked inside your shirt.

Crazy 6-year-old son: Yeah.

Me: I guess you’re right, there’s nothing weird about that at all.

Crazy 6-year-old son: I know. It’s just that it was the really fast, bumpy slide, so it’s kind of dangerous.

Me: Aha.


Media Dan has Consumed: More Movies

Monday, March 8th, 2010

As I mentioned a week or so ago, Turner Classic Movies spent the entire month of February (and a couple of days of March) running nonstop Oscar nominees, 24 hours a day. I cleared out my DVR and grabbed everything that looked interesting, and I’ve been watching them as fast as I can (which works out to about one every three days. I don’t have a lot of time). I won’t bore you with gigantic reviews of each one, but here are some general thoughts:

The French Connection: Everyone knows this for the chase scene, though in my experience very few people have actually seen the chase scene, and even fewer have seen it in context. My advice: go out and watch this movie right now. One of the reasons that chase scene works as well as it does (and it works astonishingly well) is that it’s the only burst of action in a very tense movie about watching–the good guys watch the bad guys, sitting in parked cars or listening on wire taps or standing in the cold and trying to look suspicious. One of the best scenes (possibly rivaling the chase) is an extended sequence where Gene Hackman tails a French drug dealer through the streets and down to the subway, trying to stay on his tail while the Frenchman suspiciously tries to figure out who is tailing him, and how to escape. There’s so little dialogue in this movie you could watch it with the sound off, and yet you’d always know what’s going on because it’s just so GOOD. If you’ve watched the chase on youtube and wondered what the big deal was, do yourself a favor and watch the whole thing. It’s awesome.

Alfie: I tried to like this, and just couldn’t get into it. The movie that made Michael Caine a star, for crying out loud. I don’t know, it just didn’t work for me.

Stage Door: A comedy from 1937 starring Ginger Rogers, Katherine Hepburn, and a very young Lucille Ball, along with a slug of other women (and one man) you’ll probably recognize if you watch a lot of old movies (Gail Patrick, Eve Arden, Ann Miller; I could go on and on). I loved this movie, absolutely loved it, though the overarching story was a little wonky and the ending faltered for a bit (just a bit) into awkward melodrama. The dialogue, on the other hand, absolutely crackled, with joke on top of joke on top of insult on top of sly innuendo, in such a rapid-fire onslaught that I couldn’t help but smile. The premise is simple: a bunch of aspiring actresses/dancers/etc. live in a boarding house in New York, and they all try to get jobs and have lives and stay afloat; it’s mostly comedy, with an odd turn toward drama that ultimately works pretty well (though the turn itself is a little jarring). I kept waiting for the writers to run out of steam with the dialogue, but they just kept going and going, and half of the scenes play like verbal fencing matches. Some of the conversations between Rogers and Patrick (and, of course, between Rogers and Hepburn) were absolute marvels of character and wordplay. If we had more than a handful of really gifted comediennes in modern Hollywood, you could remake this today with very few linguistic updates–though I really want to go through and clean up the narrative a little, because the ending is too good to be almost spoiled by a couple of bad missteps.

Treasure of the Sierra Madre: Humphrey Bogart in one of his rare non-heroic roles, as a homeless bum in Mexico who scrounges up enough cash to go prospecting for gold. He and his two companions find some, far more than they’d expected, and the generally honorable slowly degrades under the force of such powerful greed that he almost starts to hallucinate, seeing robbers and treachery behind every shadow. It’s kind of slow, and has an ending almost certainly dictated by a clueless Hollywood producer, but the greed for gold and the madness it creates are fascinating to watch. Also of note: this movie is the origin of a very famous quote, but I didn’t know that going in, and it was an awesome surprise to see it come flying out of nowhere. I won’t spoil it–watch and see for yourself.

Mrs. Brown: A movie by and for historians, not because it had any special academic merit, but because it lacked any semblance of a story that might have made it appeal to non-historians. It turns out that when Queen Victoria was widowed, she went into mourning for years, threatening not only the peace in her family but the viability of the monarchy itself. During this time she was befriended, sort of, by a Scottish highlander named John Brown, who sort of helped her come out of her shell and get back to real life. Sounds like a pretty cool story, huh? Well, this is not that story, though it does contain a lot of scenes that make you think it might be. It’s basically just a bunch of stuff that happens, and in the beginning the queen is sad and at the end she’s still sad but in a different way, and John Brown kind of helps but also kind of doesn’t, and I honestly don’t know what to tell you. After 90 minutes or so I told my wife I had no idea what the movie was actually about–what it was trying to say, or where the narrative arc was going–and then about twenty minutes later it was over, and I still had no idea. We had about fifteen solid minutes at the beginning, where it looked like we’d get to watch Brown (Billy Connolly) pull Victoria (Judi Dench) out of her funk, but then that part ended, and then it just kind of meandered around until it stopped. It’s worth watch for some very good performances (including a young Gerard Butler showing off the full power of his native Scottish burr), but if you’re the kind of person who gets frustrated with movies that don’t go anywhere, steer clear of this one.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: A classic John Ford Western, starring John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Lee Marvin, Vera Miles, and the guy who did the voice of Friar Tuck in Disney’s Robin Hood (turns out that wasn’t a voice–that’s just how he talked). The title comes right out and tells you what happens at the end–someone shoots evil gunman Liberty Valance–but the point is that you don’t know which of the two heroes does it until the end, and what it means, and how it changes everything. What you’re really watching is a parable about the rule of might versus the rule of law, which could become heavy-handed with the wrong artists at the helm, but that uncertainty makes it work. Includes some rousing speeches and some classic Wild West moralism (Westerns have always been one of the film genres most urgently concerned with morality), and just thought-provoking enough to be satisfying.

The Road to Morocco: Bob Hope and Bing Crosby made a series of goofy, slapstick, self-referential comedies that were, at the time, the biggest movies ever; this was arguably the very best of them, and I was shocked at how well it held up over time. There are a couple of jokes that have deflated over the years (a jab or two at the previous films, which modern audiences probably haven’t seen, and a scene making fun of speech impediments), but for the most part this movie is just as funny today as it was in 1942. The reason it works is the interplay between Hope and Crosby, who are always on the run, always ready to sell each other out to save their own skin, and yet always determined to march into hell to rescue their best friend. I laughed out loud at this one many times, proving that over-the-top screwball humor never goes out of style.

I still have plenty of movies left in the queue, so watch for more mini-reviews in the future. For now, go out and watch a few of these and let me know what you think.

Also: if I were forced to pick a favorite from this list, just one that I recommend more than any other…ouch. The French Connection might win, because it really is as good as people say, but on the other hand Stage Door has Ginger Rogers, on whom I have a humongous crush. See The French Connection for ingenious plotting, and Stage Door for ingenious writing (and for Ginger Rogers doing the best drunk scene I’ve ever had the pleasure to see).

Coming soon to a store near you: Me

Friday, March 5th, 2010

It’s almost time for my book tour to begin, spanning two continents (one per book) and starring many of your favorite lines from Knight Rider, because my car’s GPS set talks with the voice of KITT. Happy Birthday to me!

Here we go:

March 16: Fly to Leipzig, Germany, for the Leipzig Book Fair. My wife is coming with me. It will be awesome.

March 17 through 20: Awesomeness.

March 21: Fly to London. My wife will be flying home, to see if our children are still there.

March 22: A library event in London; more info coming.

March 23: Amersham School at 10am, Princes Risborough Teen Library at 1:30pm

March 24: Headline Blogger Party

March 25: Hamble School 10am, train to Brighton for World Horror Convention. Panel at 9pm (reviews and blogs).

March 26: A school event in Brighton; more info coming.

March 27: Panel at 10am (keeping kids reading), Reading at noon.

March 28: Panel at 2pm (future of YA horror).

March 29: Fly home to Utah.

March 30: US book launch at Sam Wellers bookstore in Salt Lake City, 6pm.

March 31: Signing/reading at Orem Barnes & Noble, 6pm.

April 1 though April 4: Blissful days of rest (i.e., playing with hyper kids who haven’t seen me for two weeks).

April 6: Signing/reading at University Bookstore in Seattle, 7pm.

April 7:Signing/reading at Powell’s Books in Beaverton, Oregon, 7pm.

April 8: Signing/reading at Sacramento Barnes & Noble, 7pm.

April 9: Signing/reading at Borderlands Books in San Francisco, 7pm.

April 10: Signing/reading at Dark Delicacies in Burbank, 7pm.

April 11 through April 13: Raiding other bookstores around LA. One or more of these may become official; more info coming.

April 14: Signing/reading at Mysterious Galaxies in San Diego, 7pm.

April 15: Signing/reading at Las Vegas Barnes & Noble, 7pm.

April 16: Complete mental and physical collapse. End of tour.