Skull Island wasn’t the same without him. The indigenous inhabitants, denied their traditional object of veneration and sacrifice, disintegrated into sects and internecine squabbling, nearly eradicating themselves. Survivors fell victim to the missionaries who inevitably follow in the wake of white explorers, displacing pagan idols, substituting ones more to their liking.
Robbed of its apex predator, the jungle lost coherence and structure, descending into chaos. And then came invasive species, animals and plants foreign to the closed ecosystem, devastating the pristine wilderness.
It wasn’t long before a consortium of Far Eastern financiers and venture capitalists bought the beachfront and lagoon for the equivalent of some beads and hand mirrors, evicting the natives, erecting exclusive vacation resorts catering to jet-setting millionaires and trust fund slackers.
Gift shops featuring statuettes, t-shirts and keepsakes commemorating the Island’s most famous denizen did brisk business, affluent tourists sporting colorful gear celebrating a fearsome creature once dubbed “the Eighth Wonder of the World”.
Descendants of the original islanders toiled in service industry roles, existing precariously, pining for the days when their god still lived and breathed, uprooting trees, bellowing his defiance, exacting regular tribute for the privilege of viewing divinity in the flesh.
Starting with the fun stuff, I attended a screening of F.W. Murnau’s silent classic “Nosferatu” and wrote about it over on my film blog. Some musicians from the Saskatoon Symphony provided accompaniment and, what can I tell you, it was an absolutely brilliant evening. The following day I turned fifty and couldn’t imagine a more fitting way to celebrate.
Yeah, I said celebrate. I’ve hit the big five-oh and, okay, physically I’m not as strong or durable as I was twenty years ago, but mentally and artistically I feel close to the top of my game. Growing spiritually, as well, and that’s an ongoing process. I’m in a good space, some of the fears and obsessional thinking that once upon a time dragged me down are either gone or have eased to the point where they no longer cause the kind of damage they used to. My family played a huge part in that transformation and also the sense that my life and work are serving a tiny role in a Grand Design God-knows-how-many years in progress. My faith life is essential to my entire sense of well-being; without it, I’m a miserable cur, hardly worthy of consideration, barely rating a glance.
In terms of my work:
Researching for the novel, reading reference books and trolling on-line for more info, looking for those obscure little tid-bits that add the perfect dollop of detail to a scene, imparting an authenticity that makes the Reader shiver (love those moments).
I collaborated on a sound collage with my youngest son, Sam. He’s getting to be quite the musician so when my wife asked the two of us to put together an “environment” for a puppet and mask project she’s creating, I was curious to see what we came up with. Turned out to be a weird, ambient piece nearly four minutes long. Now we’re going to edit together a short film using that soundtrack and footage Sherron’s assembled over the last couple of years. Hope to have that done in the next week or so.
What else…well, I’d been giving some thought to writing something for the CBC/Enroute Short Story Contest but every time I checked my well of inspiration, it was dry as fossilized bone. So with the deadline looming I’d pretty much given up any notion of sending anything…until a couple of days ago, when I sat down and started tapping away, managing to complete a tale that adhered to the 1500 word limit (barely) and turned out to be a darn good story. Imagine that—posted it yesterday, just under the wire.
Have to confess, I hate entering or submitting my work anywhere—as an indie, I’d rather publish it myself. But the prize money for a six page story is unbelievable, ridiculous, and the notion of spending two weeks in residence at Banff…how could I resist?
From what I’ve heard, the contest receives between 1800-2000 entries annually, so I’m not holding my breath.
But wouldn’t it be nice…
What else? Ah, I’ve been in my basement cave, doing some more painting. A couple of canvases currently being prepped, exercising my visual muscles, expressing myself beyond the precincts of the printed word. Who cares if I’m any good at it?
And music, lots of music playing, which is always an indication I’m in an inspired state of mind. Frequently heard these days: The Eels, Bob Mould, Brain Jonestown Massacre, Jimmy Eat World, R.L. Burnside, Radio Moscow, old Dylan. Keeping it eclectic.
I guess that just about sums things up. Heading into November around here, but the yard work is pretty much done, all I have to do is order some pine wood and see about winter tires for the car.
The next six to eight months will be spent on the novel (mostly), so by Spring, 2014 I should have the lion’s share of the editing done (crosses his fingers). I’ll keep you apprised of developments and, hopefully, will be posting more frequently than I have been of late.
But no promises…
And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
from “Jerusalem” by William Blake
One of my heroes, Ray Harryhausen, died yesterday.
Here’s a link to my tribute on Cinema Arete.
God bless you, Ray…
Be sure to pop over to my film blog and check out coverage of this year’s edition of Silence is Golden.
The format is a cineaste’s dream: a classic silent film is chosen for screening, with live accompanying music from the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra. This time around, it was Douglas Fairbanks in the 1920 adventure “Mark of Zorro”.
An evening to remember…
Abject apologies for being such an inconstant correspondent. It’s the holiday season, after all, and between celebrating Christmas, visiting relatives, supping and socializing with friends, there’s been rather a lot on my plate.
My preparations for the new year took up two entire days—I have this annual ritual, y’see, cleaning my office from top to bottom, rearranging things, paring it down, etc. etc. I also take time to outline my anticipated schedule for the coming year and draw up a list of resolutions.
With regards to the former, well, schedules are made to be broken. I thought I had 2011 figured out…until a western novel called The Last Hunt announced itself in February and proceeded to hijack the entire year. To be clear: as I wrote out my preview for 2011 on or around December 31, 2010, I had no idea that in the very near future I’d be taking a crack at a western. My Muse can be quite perverse. Don’t get me wrong, I love westerns but I’ve never envisioned writing one. Never even fantasized about it. “Wouldn’t it be cool…” Nope.
As for my resolutions, I generally do try. Most of them I’ll keep to myself but one thing I’d dearly love to work on is enjoying myself more, having more fun with the entire process of writing. Does it always have to be so freakin’ stressful and fraught? Is there a way of easing up without damaging the power and integrity of my work?
Last year I made the pledge to read more, took on the “100 Book Challenge” and managed to make it (105 was my final tally, thank you very much). In 2012, I want to keep up that momentum but this year I was to concentrate on BIG books, fat, smart books crammed with great writing and daunting ideas and notions. I’ve already put a few aside: William Vollmann’s Europe Central, Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones, Blake Bailey’s biography of John Cheever, The History of Christianity by Diarmaid MacCullough and Edith Grossman’s translation of Don Quixote. Also want to re-read some of my fave Thomas Pynchon books: it’s been a long time and they’re bound to have fresh revelations for me.
Listening to a lot of music in early 2012, tunes by the likes of Brian Jonestown Massacre and A Place to Bury Strangers. Not much in terms of movies so far, though I’m thrilled to announce we’ve already bought our tickets for this year’s “Silence is Golden” event. The 1924 version of “Thief of Baghdad”, projected onto a big screen, accompanied by a live orchestra. The cinephile within is swooning…
Sherron, bless her heart, bought me another book case on December 30th so for the next two or three days I moved books around, expanding my Film and History/War shelves, organizing and pondering. It was fantastic. I know, it’s ludicrous, isn’t it? I am such a nerd. But in the Information Era, where computers and gadgets entice us with their tricks and shiny buttons, it’s nice to reconnect with my library. I’ve spent my entire adult life assembling a pretty decent collection of tomes and I love having them available, on display, rather than stored in our ancient stone basement, vulnerable to all of the environmental hazards to which paper is prone.
Software comes and goes but my books remain—faithful, accessible, relics of other, less hectic, times. I have all the novels and short stories Philip K. Dick published during his lifetime. I possess every golden word the great James Crumley committed to paper. The covers a bit tattered, the spines showing wear and tear. A substantial proportion of my books are used, remaindered; cast-offs and rejects. But they occupy places of honor on my shelves. Most of the authors dead, many of them all but forgotten. Preserved in my odd collection, my assorted odds and ends and incunabula. All of it reflecting the weird, far-ranging tastes and interests in its curator. Eclectic, if you’re being kind, though a true adept might discern much, much more…
But here’s the thing: The Last Hunt is a western.
You heard me. I’m talking about hard-bitten gunslingers, tall, wide vistas, ornery horses, evil black hats, the whole bit.
Oh, sure, you say, but it’ll be like some kinda weird Cormac McCarthy hybrid, right? A whacked out, modernistic take on the Wild West, standing the entire genre on its head.
Nope, nope and…nope.
Y’see, I happen to love westerns. I don’t look down on the genre, relegate it to second-class status. I grew up watching Clint Eastwood and John Wayne movies. I enjoy reading the novels of Elmer Kelton and Richard S. Wheeler. They’re superb writers, regardless of categories and classifications.
I’m saddened by the cinematic decline of the western—the last truly great cowboy flick I saw was “The Long Riders”, made back in 1980. “The Unforgiven” (1992) was a decent movie but far too earnest and over-long. “The Long Riders” was the shit.
And since then there’ve been remakes and abominations like “Young Guns”—westerns by people who’ve never been near a horse in their lives and whose knowledge of the Old West is, put kindly, superficial. Hollywood has tried to update westerns, reinvent them with big name stars and budgets that would make even Michael Cimino swoon…but they’ve lost the spirit. Sam Peckinpah and John Ford had a real grasp of those who pioneered the land west of the Mississippi, their contrary natures, the sort of valor and resolution Alan LeMay refers to in a quote that precedes his classic novel, The Searchers:
“These people had the kind of courage that may be the finest gift of man: the courage of those who simply keep on, and on, doing the next thing, far beyond all reasonable endurance, seldom thinking of themselves as martyred, and never thinking of themselves as brave.”
In the course of writing The Last Hunt, by pure chance I happened across a reproduction of a William R. Leigh painting called “The Warning Shadow”. It was another one of those too-amazing-to-be-a-coincidence moments (and I should know, I’d had a few of them). The image was perfect for my book—but I had a dickens of a time tracking down who owned the rights. Finally, I was put in touch with the Rockwell Museum of Western Art (in Corning, New York) and Bobby Rockwell helped me secure permission to use the painting. Mr. Leigh’s artworks are highly prized, very collectible and I’m honored to have “The Warning Shadow” on my cover.
The cover accompanying this post is, I hasten to say, a mere mockup…but it gives you a fair idea of what to expect. Once our designer, Chris Kent, has a crack at it, the cover will look even better.
As for plot details, er, I think I’ll keep that to myself for now. When it gets closer to publication date I’ll be more forthcoming. Hoping the novel will be popular with fans of the western genre as well as people who just love a fast, entertaining read. Like my last two novels, I think The Last Hunt has a lot of cross-over appeal, the potential to draw a wide variety of readers.
I’ve spent the past three weeks going through the second draft and I like what I’m seeing. It’s a short novel, around 50,000 words, and it moves along at an exciting clip. Good, solid protagonist and memorable supporting players. By the time this book is released in the late fall, it’s gonna hum.
So stay tuned, check in every once in awhile for updates and further developments. Maybe even an excerpt or two, just to whet your appetite.
Yeah, I know, a western. But, trust me, it’s a helluva tale…
This afternoon I posted reviews of 7 more movies on my film blog, “Cinema Arete”.
Any cineastes out there are welcome to give them the once over and either agree or…well, go and start their own damn film blog!
You’ll find all my film reviews here.
Check out the short essay I wrote on “Forbidden Planet” and other classic oldies—you’ll find it over at my film blog, Cinema Arete.