Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Coming soon to a theater near you!

original 1960 film

Hollywood is remaking The Magnificent Seven, one of my favorite westerns. (Darn, I wished they had asked. I could have sold them material for a great, new western script.) The original film was made in 1960 and broke new ground for Westerns. The loner, with or without a sidekick, was nowhere to be found. Instead, an ensemble cast kicked up so much dust with twenty eight hoofs that filming became difficult at times. The Magnificent Seven introduced antihero gangs to theatrical westerns. Previously there were western antiheros, notably Shane and Hondo, but these were deeply flawed characters rather than outright bad guys called upon to do good. Nine years later, The Wild Bunch seems to have taken most of the credit for elevating antiheroes who flock together.

The Magnificent Seven is a buddy story which heavily relies on the chemistry of the characters. This played out exceptionally well in the original and hopefully will work for the remake as well. Of course, everything was not always copacetic on the sets of the original film. Throughout the entire movie, Yule Brynner never removed his hat to expose his bald head. Steve McQueen was such a notorious scene stealer that he exasperated Brynner, who took him aside and threatened to remove his hat if McQueen upstaged him again. Legend has it that McQueen behaved himself for the remainder of the shoot.

The new Magnificent Seven is due in 2016,  directed by Antoine Fuqua, and staring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D'Onofrio, Lee Byung-hun, Luke Grimes, Wagner Moura, Haley Bennett, Matt Bomer, and Peter Sarsgaard. Let’s hope it’s as good as the first one.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

What makes a hero —Character or Activity?

Hollywood westerns film
Hondo by Louis L'Amour

In 1949, Joseph Campbell published The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Campbell studied myths and stories down through the ages and came up with twelves steps in a hero’s journey, starting with normalcy or status quo and ending right back at status quo. The Matthew Winkler animated video illustrates Campbell’s definition of the journey. Campbell made a brilliant set of observations about the striking similarities of heroic sagas told throughout time and in every culture. (Steve Dancy complies with Campbell's theoretical journey.)

Campbell also breaks some new ground in describing the universal need for heroes, albeit in a language foreign to mortals.
The first work of the hero is to retreat from the world scene of secondary effects to those causal zones of the psyche where the difficulties really reside, and there to clarify the difficulties, eradicate them in his own case (i.e., give battle to the nursery demons of his local culture) and break through to the undistorted, direct experience and assimilation of what Jung called “the archetypal images.”
Say what?

The Hero With a Thousand Faces gives the impression that the journey itself makes the hero. It might be more accurate to say that anyone who prevails through all of the steps elevates himself or herself to heroic status. Most people retreat at Step One: Call to Adventure.

I believe heroism is more a question of character than events. Mark Twain agrees with me. He wrote:
“Unconsciously we all have a standard by which we measure other men, and if we examine closely we find that this standard is a very simple one, and is this: we admire them, we envy them, for great qualities we ourselves lack. Hero worship consists in just that. Our heroes are men who do things which we recognize, with regret, and sometimes with a secret shame, that we cannot do. We find not much in ourselves to admire, we are always privately wanting to be like somebody else. If everybody was satisfied with himself, there would be no heroes.”
Raymond Chandler also had a character-driven definition of a hero:
…down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor—by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.
He will take no man’s money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge. He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him.
The story is this man’s adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure. If there were enough like him, the world would be a very safe place to live in, without becoming too dull to be worth living in.
Joseph Campbell is popular in academia, but perhaps it's possible to get a better description of a hero by asking one of those storytellers who have passed these tales down from one generation to the next.

Monday, September 14, 2015

John Steinbeck Writing Tips

Six tips on writing from Pulitzer Prize winner and Nobel laureate John Steinbeck.
  1. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.
  2. Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.
  3. Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.
  4. If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn’t belong there.
  5. Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.
  6. If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A New Steve Dancy Tale—Crossing the Animas

Western Fiction in Colorado
Denver & Rio Grande Railway

I started the next book in the Steve Dancy Tales. When I say started, I mean barely begun. I have a title, Crossing the Animas, and an initial draft of the first two chapters. I also have an outline of sorts. So it will be many months before the book is available.

The print edition of Jenny’s Revenge has been a long haul, but it has finally made it through all of the format and approval hoops and is available through online and brick and mortar booksellers. 

More gratifying, the audio version of Murder at Thumb Butte is available and The Return will follow shortly. Jim Tedder is the narrator for both and he is a great storyteller.

Below is another sample chapter. I’m sure you’ll agree that this is a whole new way to experience the Steve Dancy Tales.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The More Things Change ...

Western fiction

I moved to Omaha last year, so I found this 1877 article from the Omaha Herald interesting. For those who loath TSA, tiny seats, and surly airlines, take heart, travel was far worse in the good-ol’-days.

Here are a few of the Herald’s tips for stage travelers.
  • Don't growl at food stations; stage companies generally provide the best they can get.
  • Don't keep the stage waiting; many a virtuous man has lost his character by so doing.
  • Don't smoke a strong pipe inside especially early in the morning.
  • Spit on the leeward side of the coach.
  • If you have anything to take in a bottle, pass it around; a man who drinks by himself in such a case is lost to all human feeling.
  • Don't swear, nor lop over on your neighbor when sleeping.
  • Don't ask how far it is to the next station until you get there.
  • Never attempt to fire a gun or pistol while on the road, it may frighten the team; and the careless handling and cocking of the weapon makes nervous people nervous.
  • Don't discuss politics or religion, nor point out places on the road where horrible murders have been committed.
  • Don't linger too long at the pewter wash basin at the station.
  • Don't grease you hair before starting or dust will stick there in sufficient quantities to make a respectable 'tater' patch.
  • Tie a silk handkerchief around your neck to keep out dust and prevent sunburns. A little glycerin is good in case of chapped hands.
The article ended with a good piece of advice for modern travelers.
Don't imagine for a moment you are going on a picnic; expect annoyance, discomfort and some hardships. If you are disappointed, thank heaven.
I thank heaven every time I'm not seated next to Del Griffith!