Saturday, November 21, 2009

NaNoWriMo Take 3: The Path Not Chosen

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I am participating in the event known as National Novel Writing Month or, more simply, NaNoWriMo, in which one attempts to write a 50,000 word novel in the 30 days of November. I must say that it has been a challenge for me. For much of the month I have been behind on my word count. For a time, early this week, I was actually ahead on my word count. Now I am behind again! Fortunately, I am now at a bit over 30,000 words. With the Thanksgiving holiday coming up, I know I can complete my novel in time.

At any rate, National Novel Writing Month has gotten me to thinking about the writing process. Those who have never written anything other than a letter or a grocery list may not realise this, but not all writers go about writing in the same way. The writing process varies for each of us. And in some cases it may vary according to what they are writing. My process for writing nonfiction is different from my process for writing fiction (more on that later).

As to writing fiction, I have always preferred to start with at least a rough outline of my plot. I am not alone in this, as such authors as Philip K. Dick and Russell Banks worked from outlines. Of course, even writers who work from outlines might not approach writing in quite the same way. Some might write their novel in chronological order. This is the way I approached my first novel and the short stories I have written. Others might write their novels out of chronological order. I may be mistaken (and she can feel free to correct me), but I believe this is how A Cat of Impossible Colour (who is a published novel writer, unlike myself) approaches her writing. Yet others actually write the ending first and then work backwards. Even when working from an outline, there are no hard and fast rules in writing a novel.

Of course, with my NaNoWriMo novel, I have had to take a different approach. I did not even come up with an idea for my novel until nearly Halloween. This gave me no time to create even a rough plot outline. As a result I am more or less making things up as I go along. This might sound like a rather haphazard approach, but some fairly successful authors do simply start writing and continue until their story ends where it ends. Indeed, this was the process James Clavell used and Stephen King still uses. And I have to admit I have found this approach exciting. After all, I am discovering new characters and new plot twists as I write, almost as if I was reading a book. That having been said, this process has been a bit nerve racking. I have never been quite satisfied with the McGuffin of my novel and this week thought of a better one. Typically, I would simply go back and revise what I have written to incorporate the new McGuffin. With the deadline of November 30 looming over my head, however, I really cannot afford to do this. Any rewriting will have to wait, so that for now incorporating the new McGuffin will remain a path not chosen. Of course, if I had developed a plot outline beforehand, I would have come up with a better McGuffin before the writing even began....

Ironically, one would think I would be accustomed to working without an outline, as this is precisely the way I approach my non-fiction. Even in longer works, I have never used an outline in writing non-fiction--despite whatever I was taught in Composition class. I do not wholly understand why I am this way, unless it is that I find miscellaneous facts and theories easier to keep track of than characters and plot points! If I ever meet Stephen King I'll have to ask him if he approaches writing non-fiction differently from fiction, if he actually uses an outline in his non-fiction! I think it would be funny if he did.

Regardless of how I am writing my NaNoWriMo novel, I must say I have mixed feelings about its current state. As I said before, I am not happy with the plot's McGuffin. And I do worry about some of the plot holes and the rough state of the dialogue. But then, I have to confess, there are things I like a lot about it. Although my  NaNoWriMo novel is ostensibly a horror/fantasy novel set in a historical period (Cromwellian England), I realised its plot is that of an archetypal Western (think cattlemen trying to drive farmers off their land, but replace "cattlemen" with "witches' coven..."). I also like the fact that I have created some fairly cool sequences in the novel, involving such things as flying demons and a succubus (no, this is not a "bodice ripper"--it's 17th Century England, so things don't get that steamy). And it does have the sort of swashbuckling I always loved in those old Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power movies!

 Anyhow, I don't know if this novel will ever be published, and I suppose it does not matter. To simply be able to state I wrote a whole novel in one month, even a bad novel, is quite an accomplishment. I mean, exactly how many people can say that they have done that?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Actor Dennis Cole R.I.P.

Actor Dennis Cole, an actor who was a regular on the Sixties series Felony Squad and the Seventies series Bearcats, passed on November 15, 2009 at the age of 69.

Dennis Cole was born on July 19, 1940 in Detroit, Michigan. He learned to sing and act while he was still a child. After moving to Hollywood, Cole found work as a model for men's physique magazines and as a stunt man in both TV shows and movies. His first role was an uncredited one in the John Wayne movie The Comancheros . His big break came in 1965 when he was cast as a regular on the soap opera Paradise Bay. In 1966 he was cast as Detective Jim Briggs on Felony Squad. He was with the show for the entirety of its run. In 1969 he was a regular on the drama Bracken's World, which ran only one season. He was also one of the leads on the short lived 1971 show Bearcats. Afterwards Cole appeared frequently as a guest star on such television shows as The Streets of San Francisco, Barbary Coast, Medical Center, Police Story, Charlie's Angels, Three's Company, Mike Hammer, The A-Team, and Murder She Wrote. In 1972 he appeared on Broadway in the play All the Girls Came Out to Play. He had also performed his own musical revue in both Hollywood and Las Vegas and went on the national tour with the play Victor/Victoria.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Late, Great Edward Woodward

English actor Edward Woodward passed yesterday at the age of 79. The cause was pneumonia. Woodward  starred in the British spy series Callan in the late Sixties and the American action series The Equalizer in the Eighties. He also starred in the movie The Wicker Man opposite Christopher Lee and in the Australian film Breaker Morant. As a stage actor he appeared both on London's West End and New York's Broadway. As a singer he released twelve albums.

Edward Woodward was born in Croydon, Surrey, England on June 1, 1930. He was only 16 years old when he won a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, becoming one of the youngest students ever accepted into the academy. Despite this, he very nearly became a footballer rather than an acto. He actually appeared the books of both Brentford FC and Leyton Orient before a knee injury sidetracked his career.

Having made his stage debut when he in 1946 when he was 16, Woodward made his debut on London's West End in 1954, in R.F. Delderfield's comedy Where There's a Will. This would lead to Woodward's motion picture debut, when he repeated his role for the 1955 adaptation of the play. In 1955 he appeared on the West End in the play A Girl Named Jo. Woodward acted with the Royal Shakespeare Company and, in 1962, appeared in one of his most successful roles on the West End, as a meek football fan in Rattle of a Simple Man. A hit in London, the play fared less well when it debuted on Broadway in 1963. While the play was not a hit, Woodward received good notices in the part. Woodward returned to Broadway in High Spirits in 1965 and in The Best Laid Plans in 1966. In 1970 he appeared as Sidney Carton on the West End in Two Cities, a musical based on A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

Edward Woodward made his television debut in a guest appearance on the show Inside Story in 1960. That same year he appeared in the film Inn for Trouble. The next several years Woodward guest starred on such shows as Adventure Story, Sir Francis Drake, ITV Play of the Week, The Defenders, The Saint, Armchair Theatre, The Baron,Sword of Honour, and Sherlock Holmes. It was an appearance on an episode of Armchair Theatre in 1967 that cast Woodward in the role that would bring him fame. In the teleplay "A Magnum for Schneider," Woodward played David Callan, a retired assassin with a conscience for a secret British government agency. This episode of Armchair Theatre proved successful enough to give birth to the TV show Callan, which ran from 1967 to 1972 for a total of 43 episodes. So successful was the series that its cancellation brought howls of protests from outraged viewers.

The Seventies saw Woodward appear in such films as Sitting Target, Young Winston, Three for All, and Stand Up Virgin Soldiers. He reprised his role as David Callan in the feature film adaptation of "A Magnum for Schneider," entitled Callan, in 1974. He also appeared as the lead in the sci-fi drama series 1990, which ran for 16 episodes from 1977 to 1978. It would be in 1973 that he would star in what may be his best known role, as Sergeant Howie in The Wicker Man. Sergeant Howie was a very different character from Callan. He was a Calvinist police officer whose investigation of the disappearance of a young girl leads him to a modern day revival of paganism. While the film would initially only meet with moderate success in the United Kingdom, it would eventually become of the most popular cult films of all time and one of the most popular horror movies of the Seventies.

It was in 1980 that Edward Woodward played what be his best known movie role besides Sgt. Howie in The Wicker Man. He appeared in Breaker Morant as the character of the same name, the historical Australian drover, poet, and soldier who was court martialled for the murder of Boer prisoners. The same year he played the lead in the TV series Nice Work. In the Eighties Woodward appeared in such films as The Appointment, Who Dares Wins, Champions, and King David. He reprised the role of David Callan in the telefilm Wet Job.  It was in 1985 that Woodward was cast as former secret agent turned vigilante Robert McCall in The Equalizer.Robert McCall could have almost have been Callan in his retirement. He was a former spy who tried to atone for his past sins by offering his services free of charge as a detective and troubleshooter to the downtrodden.

In the Nineties Edward Woodward appeared as the lead in the TV series Over My Dead Body, which ran for 11 episodes from 1990 to 1991. He was one of the cast in the dramedy Common as Musk, which ran from 1994 to 1997. He was a regular on the British spy series CI5: The New Professionals, which ran for thirteen episodes in 1998. He also appeared in the telefilm Gulliver's Travels and the films Mister Johnson, Deadly Advice, The House of Angelo, and Marcie's Dowry. The Naughts saw Woodward appear in guest appearances on La Femme Nikita, Dark Realm, and The Bill. He appeared in the films The Abduction Club and Hot Fuzz. His last work was in the movie A Congregation of Ghosts, now in post-production.

In addition to albums from the musicals in which he appeared, Edward Woodward also released twelve solo albums. In 1971 in the United Kingdom he charted with the single "The Way You Look Tonight." His albums The Man Alone (1970) and The Edward Woodward Album (1972) also charted.

Edward Woodward is one of my favourite actors of all time. It is not simply that he starred in some of my favourites TV shows and movies, but that he was an actor of no little talent. It is true that in his best known roles he played strong men of great conviction--David Callan, Sgt. Howie in The Wicker Man, Breaker Morant in the movie of the same name, Breaker Morant in the movie of the same name, and Robert McCall--but he was capable of playing other sorts of roles. He played the deeply flawed King Saul in the film King David, and the milquetoast protagonist of the play Rattle of a Simple Man. Over the years he played characters ranging from Sherlock Holmes to the Ghost of Christmas Present in a television adaptation of A Christmas Carol to Simon Legree. What is more, Woodward was convincing in every role he played. He was an actor of no small talent.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Television Writer David Lloyd and Comic-Con Founder Shel Dorf Pass On

David Lloyd

 David Lloyd, who wrote episodes for many classic sitcoms, passed on November 10 at the age of 75. The cause was prostate cancer. Among the many episodes he wrote was the classic "Chuckles Bites the Dust" episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, in which WJM-TV's children host Chuckles the Clown dies under somewhat humorous circumstances.

David Lloyd was born on July 7, 1934 in Bronxville, New York. His father was H. Wilson Lloyd, who worked in advertising but also dabbled in song writing and humour. Lloyd graduated from Yale and afterwards served in the United States Navy. He taught school for a time before breaking into television, writing monologues for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. In 1967 he was one of the writers on a television adaptation of  A Funny Thing Happened to Me on the Way to the Forum. In 1970 he joined the writing staff of The Dick Cavett Show. It was in 1973 that he began writing for sitcoms, writing episodes for Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. In 1974 he served as executive story editor on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, for which he wrote thirty one episodes.

David Lloyd would go onto write for some of the best sitcoms of the next few decades, including The Bob Newhart Show, Taxi, Cheers, Amen, and Frasier. He served as a producer on the shows Best of the West, At Your Service, Amen, and Frasier. He was a creative consultant or script consultant on Taxi, Cheers, Dear John, and Frasier. He was the creator of the sitcom Brothers, which aired on the pay cable channel Showtime in the Eighties.

It is a testament to the talent of David Lloyd that he not only won an Emmy award for "Chuckles Bites the Dust," but it was named by TV Guide as the third best episode of any show in the history of television. While I am not sure I would rank "Chuckles Bites the Dust" that high, it was certainly a great episode of many written by David Lloyd. He had a gift for the sitcom format that only a few other writers possessed.

Shel Dorf

Shel Dorf, a well known comic book collector who became the founder of Comic-Con, passed on November 3 at the age of 76. The cause was complications related to diabetes.

Shel Dorf was born Sheldon Dorf in Detroit, Michigan on July 5, 1933. As a child he was a huge fan of both comic strips and comic books. He even made friends with cartoonists by sending them Christmas Cards. In 1949 when his family made a trip to Illinois, Dorf made a surprise visit to Dick Tracy creator Chester Gould. He was surprised when the famous cartoonist recognised his name. Dorf studied at the Art Institute in Chicago, then served as a staff artist on The Detroit Free Press. It was in 1965 that Shel Dorf and the legendary Jerry Bails took over the organising of a Detroit comic book convention from Robert Brusch (who had organised it in 1964) and renamed it Detroit Fan Fair.  It was when he drove his parents to San Diego, California where they wished to retire that he decided to move there himself. It was that same year he organised his first convention, a small one day affair at which Forrest J. Ackerman was the guest of honour.

It was later in 1970 that he organised his first three day convention in San Diego, the Golden State Comic-Con, held from August 1 to August 3. Attended by 300 people that year, the annual convention would evolve into the San Diego Comic-Con International, more simply known as Comic-Con. It has since become the biggest comic book convention in the world. Over 125,000 people attended this year's convention. Dorf helped organise the convention for its first fifteen years of existence.

Shel Dorf also served as a letter on the comic strip Steve Canyon beginning in the Seventies, for the last fourteen years of its existence. He served as a consultant on Warren Beatty's 1990 adaptation of Dick Tracy. He also published interviews with both Milton Caniff and Mort Waker, as well as publishing collections of the Dick Tracy comic strips in comic book form.

Sheld Dorf was a dedicated comic book fan who dedicated much of his life to the promotion of comic strips and comic books. He truly loved the form and wanted its creators to get the recognition they deserved. Indeed, when he left Comic-Con it was because he felt that it had been taken over by Hollywood--too much emphasis was being placed on film and video games and not enough on comic books and comic strips. He was definitely devoted to the medium of comic strips and comic books, and one of its most loyal fans.