Sunday, December 30, 2012

Year-End Clearance Blog

25th Anniversary
2012 marks the 25th anniversary of the publication of Live Girls.  It was my fourth book, and I’ve written a lot more since, but it’s still the most well known of all my work.  I’m often asked if, after all the work I've done in the years since, it’s irritating that my fourth book is still getting so much attention.  Absolutely not!

In fact, I’m pretty astonished and quite thrilled that a book I began writing 26 years ago on a spare typewriter in the offices of Pinnacle Books right after an inspiring visit to a Times Square peep show is still being read and enjoyed.  If you’d told me back then that the book would still be selling in 2012, I wouldn’t have believed you.  And if you’d told me that all these years later, I’d be working on another book set in the Live Girls universe and featuring some of the same characters from that book, I wouldn’t have believed you.

No matter how many books I write, knowing that people are still enjoying this one could never be irritating.  So happy anniversary, sexy New York vampires!

When I was a boy, my mother took me into a new book store in town owned by a friend of hers, a woman named Jean with whom Mom had worked as a nurse.  (I didn’t know it at the time, but she was also the cousin of the father of the woman I would later marry.)  Jean said to me, “I have something for you.”  She took a book off the shelf and handed it to me, saying, “You can have this one.”  She added with a chuckle, “But then you’ll have to come back and buy the trilogy.”  She gave me The Hobbit.  I burned through it quickly and loved every second of it.  I was not as fond of the trilogy.  While The Hobbit is a light, quick tale of adventure, a children’s book, the trilogy is a much more dense epic fantasy that takes itself far more seriously.  I read it and enjoyed it, I just didn’t enjoy it as much as The Hobbit.  While everyone else was waiting for movie adaptations of the trilogy, I was waiting for a movie adaptation of The Hobbit.

Be careful what you wish for.

Making a trilogy of movies based on the Lord of the Rings trilogy makes perfect sense, of course.  Making a trilogy of three-hour movies out of The Hobbit makes sense only if all you care about is the buttloads of money you can wring out of it.  A trilogy will give us plenty of time to get intimately familiar with every detail of the hobbits’ lives, right down to their personal possessions, each of which will be marketed as collectibles.  The Hobbit toothbrush!  Hobbit kitchen sponges!  I’m kind of surprised there isn’t a trilogy of movie novelizations, as well.  Some people have told me the first movie is good.  That’s not the point.  Saying the first of three three-hour-long movies of The Hobbit is good is like filling a stadium with hot oil to deep fry a turkey and then saying, “But the turkey is delicious!”

Peter Jackson is a wonderful director and I’ve enjoyed his work in the past, but I’ll sit this one out, thanks.


I’m rereading Peter Straub’s Shadowland right now.  I first read the book when it was published in 1980.  I was in high school at the time, a Seventh-day Adventist boarding academy, so I had to hide the book.  It was contraband.  It disrupted my life because I didn’t want to put it down.  When I picked it up again recently, I expected to be disappointed.  So often the books we read in our youth don’t hold up in our adulthood.

This one is better now than it was back then.  I’m not sure why — maybe simply because I’m older and more mature and no longer a teenager — but I’m appreciating the book a lot more this time, seeing more in it than I did before.  If you’ve never read it, I strongly recommend it.  I recommend anything by Straub, but this one really stands out and has never gotten the recognition it deserves.

For the past couple of months, we’ve been getting IFC (Independent Film Channel) for free.  We have one of those cheap, crappy packages that doesn’t include IFC, and I’ve missed it.  I tuned in after not having access to it for almost two years to find a marathon of Star Trek movies.  Wait ... Star Trek movies?  Are they independent films?  I think not.  Neither were any of the movies I've been seeing on IFC, which includes a Christmas time marathon of Jason movies.

What the hell is going on with TV?

Remember when the History Channel featured programming about history?  Those days are gone.  Now it offers Ax Men, American Pickers, Pawn Stars, and just in case you can’t get enough of that last one, Cajun Pawn Stars.  Once in a great while, it will air something about history, but only if it has Nazis in it.  The History Channel just loves its Nazis.  And aliens.

Remember the Sci-Fi Channel?  They had to change it to “SyFy” because its original sci-fi programming became so polluted with wrestling and pranks and “reality” shows in which bullshit artists run around in the dark hunting for ghosts.

The Food Network used to feature cooking shows.  Now it’s nothing but overproduced, repetitious cooking competitions to see just how whiny and nasty and unpleasant people can get over a goddamned cupcake contest.

TLC used to be The Learning Channel.  It was founded as the Appalachian Community Service Network by the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare and NASA as an educational channel that was distributed for free by NASA satellite.  It was privatized in 1980 and became The Learning Channel, or TLC.  Its programming was made up of documentary content about everything from nature and science to cooking, from current events to history, and it did a better job of it than its rival, The Discovery Channel.  By 1991, the Financial News Network (FNN) and Infotechnology Inc. owned 51% of TLC, but FNN went into bankruptcy that year (there are several jokes there, but I’ll let you come up with them yourself).  The Discovery Channel bought up the TLC shares held by FNN and Infotech, and that’s when the channel’s crapward spiral began.  Now it has come to provide what people used to have to go to the circus to see — little people, fat people, polygamists, a two-headed woman, preacher’s wives, brides from hell, virgins, hoarders, people who can’t seem to stop having babies, and, of course, Honey Boo Boo.  (Let that be a lesson to us — when something, anything, is privatized, its original goals and intent immediately take a backseat to profit at any cost.)  Now TLC stands for TLC and nothing more.  Move along, nothing to learn here.

The Discovery Channel is no better.  Gone are the nature documentaries and shows about science and medicine.  Now we’ve got Amish Mafia, Texas Car Wars, American Guns, Outlaw Empires, booze, bikers, fishermen, ghosthunters, competing gold miners, ancient aliens, conspiracy theories, and a guy who drinks his own urine while pretending to be stranded in the wilderness with a full crew and provisions.

Now IFC no longer focuses on independent movies.  IFC could accurately be called the Portlandia Channel.  Along with that show, it features something called Whisker Wars (I don't want to know, really, so please don't fill me in), reruns of Malcolm in the Middle and endless airings of Trapped in the Closet, along with lots of movies that couldn’t be further away from “independent.”

I don’t know what bothers me more — what I just described above or the fact that nobody really seems to notice or mind.  This has made channel-surfing a kind of self-inflicted punishment, and it’s why I watch very little broadcast television these days.

Back in the 1980s, American television audiences loved watching the rich wallow in their wealth and flaunt their immorality.  Millions faithfully followed the exploits of the Ewings and the Carringtons and lapped up all those big, beautiful homes, fully stocked limos and globe-hopping lifestyles.  Shows like Dallas, Dynasty, Falcon Crest, and Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous took up a lot of network airtime.  Now we watch shows about people who have jobs.  Any jobs, it doesn’t matter.  Truckers, bakers, fishermen, chefs, as long as they’re employed.  Employment is the new porn.


Stop Apologizing!
Jon Stewart is still publicly apologizing for his performance in The Faculty, the 1998 movie directed by Robert Rodriguez.  Am I the only person in the world who liked that movie?  Most people seem to laugh or roll their eyes when it comes up in conversation.  I thought it had a nice ‘50s monster movie vibe.  You know what I mean — the kind of movie that has a silly premise, but makes it work and manages to suck you in no matter how silly you thought it sounded at first.  For example, the idea of giant ants invading Los Angeles might make you chuckle, but Them! is a pretty damned good movie that makes you believe those ants.  That’s what The Faculty was for me.  It has some laughs and some solid chills, and a great cast of character actors like Piper Laurie, Christopher McDonald, Daniel von Bargen, Bebe Neuwirth — and yes, Jon Stewart, who plays Professor Edward Furlong.  The Faculty is a rarity these days, in any genre, in that it entertains without making the assumption that its audience has sustained some kind of brain damage.

And yet, Jon Stewart is still apologizing for it!  I don’t know why, because I thought he was pretty good.  And no one should apologize for the movie, which is a fine piece of work.  If Stewart wants to apologize for something, he can start with that Adam Sandler movie Big Daddy.  Where’s my apology for that piece of shit, huh?  I’ll never get that hour and a half back.

American Horror Story
I battle with insomnia, and Netflix streaming is the insomniac’s best friend.  American Horror Story, on the other hand, is not.  I’ve been watching the first season of this series, which airs on FX (yet another channel our crappy satellite package doesn’t include), and I can’t remember the last time I was this impressed with made-for-TV horror.  The horror genre hasn’t always worked well on broadcast TV in the past because broadcast TV has tended to be family friendly, which has resulted in a lot of watered-down horror.  That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.  This is a disturbing series that tells a different story each season.  I’m almost finished with the first season and I love the way it has managed to tell a haunted house story that feels fresh and unpredictable.

The writing is outstanding and does a good job of messing with our heads.  It’s not the show to watch if your goal is getting to sleep, though.  It’s frightening and upsetting, and so far, there has been one moment when I slapped a hand over my eyes because I didn’t want to see something.  The glimpse I got has stayed with me.

I'm not prepared to commit to this, but Jessica Lange may be scarier than Glenn Close.  I haven't decided yet.

American Horror Story reminds me of the made-for-TV movies that aired on the networks from 1969 to 1975.  Most were in the horror genre, but even those that weren’t told dark and unsettling stories in dark and unsettling ways, and they usually had downer endings.  They had low budgets and added to the atmosphere and tension with unique, creepy music and bizarre camera work.  I’m seeing some of those same techniques in American Horror Story, and I like it.  I’m also enjoying the use of familiar music from horror movies.  If I’d heard about that before seeing the show — that it used music from other genre sources — I probably would have said, “That’s just lazy.”  But I have to admit, it’s done selectively and with excellent judgment, and it works.

Among the names in the opening credits is Jennifer Salt.  I first noticed her in one of those creepy TV movies I referred to earlier, Gargoyles from 1972.  She popped up in a lot of TV shows and movies and was always a welcome presence.  I especially enjoyed her work in the sitcom Soap and the creepy-as-hell Brian de Palma movie Sisters.  Her father, Hugo Salt, blacklisted in 1950, wrote movies like Day of the Locusts and Serpico, and won Oscars for Midnight Cowboy and Coming Home.  After walking away from acting, Jennifer took her father’s path and started writing for television in 1998.  She began to produce as well during her years on Nip/Tuck, and now she’s doing both on what is maybe the best horror TV series I’ve ever seen.  It’s been an interesting career to watch.

So Long, 2012!
For most of the people I know, 2012 has been a lousy year.  It sure has sucked cosmic ass for Dawn and me.  But things seem to be turning around.  Dawn finally got a good job after two years of being unemployed, and I have a new publisher, so things are looking up.

I want to thank my readers, who’ve kept buying my books while patiently waiting for a new one (it’s coming!).  Also, thanks to the people on Facebook and Twitter who put up with my bizarre sense of humor between bouts of self-promotion.  I hope 2013 is a better year for all of us.