Tuesday, February 28, 2012

John Carter: Movie Review

I went to an advance screening of the new Disney movie, "John Carter of Mars" this weekend, so I thought I would post an advance review.

See the movie trailer here:

Overall, I give the movie a rating of seven on a scale of one to ten. The special effects in the movie were outstanding and the action was great, but I must say, the storyline became confusing at times.

This movie begins with the apparent death of John Carter, a wealthy explorer. His nephew, oddly enough, named Edgar Rice Burroughs, is summoned, and when he arrives at the Carter mansion, read the last will of John Carter with instructions. The boy is given a journal and told that only he can read it, and this is where the action begins.

As he begins to read the journal, the real story develops. John Carter, a fresh veteran from the Civil War, is prospecting for gold, and is chased into a cave by Indians. A series of events leads him deep into the cave where he discovers a strange medallion that, when taken, transports him to Mars.

Upon arrival, he is promptly taken captive by the local inhabitants, and becomes embroiled in a Civil war between at least three civilizations living on the planet.

I will stop here for fear of giving away spoilers.

Although this movie is called "John Carter of Mars," it is based on a novel by another title by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The novel was originally titled "A Princess of Mars" and was published in 1917, six years after it was first written in 1911 and serialized in "The All-Story" magazine in 1912.

You may have trouble finding this serialized version though because it was published with the title, "Under the Moons of Mars." An interesting little fact is that the author name was listed as "Norman Bean." Edgar Rice Burroughs originally wanted to use the name "Normal Bean" as a joking way to indicate how normal he was. He was in business at the time, and was afraid that if he used his real name, his business partners and potential clients might think he was off his rocker.

The story originally titled "John Carter of Mars" was originally written by Burroughs' youngest son and later edited by Burroughs himself. It was originally published by Little Big Books in 1964, ten years after his death.

While this movie can surely hold itself as a standalone story, I suspect Disney has plans to produce sequels to this movie. The original "Mars" series published by Edgar Rice Burroughs included ten novels with "A Princess of Mars" as the first.

A good movie overall with outstanding special effects, and a believable story. I would also add that, even though this story is rated PG-13, it seemed suitable for a younger audience to me. While there is no sexual situations, nudity, or blatantly adult themes, there is some gore and blood, although the blood comes from alien beings, and is blue or green.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Book and its Cover

Over the past few weeks, I've spent my time finding ways to avoid stuffing my hindquarters into a chair and writing. I'm approaching the end of a first draft for a novel project. This always seems to happen when I'm approaching the end of a writing project. My last few chapters seem to take me forever to finish.

From a psychological (did I spell that right?) perspective, I suppose my subconscious does not want to let go, or let the story end. But end, it must, because I must then conquer the dreaded editing process where other people tell me where I screwed up the story.

Well, for a wonderful new pasttime, I've been creating some book covers for a few authors. I do this free, of course, because I'm no professional. I do enjoy the process though, and try to treat each cover as if I were doing it for money. Here's what I've done lately:

The above cover is my latest work. I'm most proud of this one because it was a collaboration between the author, an illustrator, and myself. The author provide her vision to the illustrator (The wonderful Zak Dawson). He drew the pictures of the character, the wrecked vehicle, and the birds. I colored, textured, and shaded the pictures, then placed them over the background. I added the dwellings in the background, the smoke, the knife, and the bio-embedded device on the character's left arm. Oh, and I also added the feathers on the birds. This is a science fiction novel so I wanted it to look surreal.

 The picture above is something I put together for the first book by the same author. She felt it important to show the infant being pulled through the fire by the strange hand. Also important was the star-shaped birthmark. If you're wondering, yes, the background is the same as the first cover shown above. I simply reversed it and changed the formatting and colorization for the second novel.

Above is the cover I made for a local friend. Her book is not out yet but she assured me the cover represented what she wanted for the story.

Above is a cover I made for another friend. This book is the first in a series of erotic romance stories about a young girl going to the Sturgis Bike Rally before going off to college. I read the story. It was quite good.

Above is another cover completed for the same author. I think she ended up not using this for her final cover, but I gained valuable experience in making it just the same.

The above cover was made for a story appearing in a seasonal anthology. The story had a paranormal, even celtic religious feel to it so, I thought the cover should be fitting. Again, I gained experience making this learning to properly shade the background, cut the character from another picture, and place her in front of the title. I also had to smudge out a particular body part the was showing in the original picture so that it would not be censored.

The cover above is the original for the story in the anthology. It was pretty straightforward. I simply put words on a stock photo I formatted for the cover.

The above cover proved surprising in its simplicity. Sure, I basically stamped the picture of the woman onto a white pallette, along with the chinese character for beauty, but I had to first prepare the picture of the woman. In order to make it work for the cover, I had to take the stock photo and remove an elaborate headress, and change the color of her eyes from black to green.

Above is an alternate cover (ebook format) for a novel written by Ellison James. I spent much time cutting out each element and placing it in the photo. I think, in the end, the cover may be a bit busy but I like it. The picture of the woman over the man comes from a stock photo, and represents the main character in the story, and her need to dominate men. The skyline behind them is of Atlanta, Georgia, the city where the majority of the story takes place. The moon and clouds was cut from a larger photo, and the eyes were changed in color from brown to green.

I would like to try making a cover a mystery story next. So, anyone out there needing a cover for your next novel, or anyone knowing someone else needing one, just let me know. Maybe we can work something out. Who knows, one day, I might actually charge for this, but for now, I'm happy to create these as a distraction, and for the experience.

Now, I've got to get back to writing.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Forcing the Issue

Some time ago, I participated in a little exercise while attending a local writers group meeting. In this exercises, one must write about something for five minutes, and then read their works to the group.

In this particular exercise, our unofficial group leader dug a toothpick out of her purse and threw it on the table. She said, "Write about that for five minutes." So, our subject was a toothpick?

Well, what I'm about to show you will, unfortunately, reveal how my mind really works. I'm not talking about the things I write about on occasion, or the light, fluffy, flowery prose I spend hours manipulating and forming into something that doesn't look like the crap it truly is. No, I'm getting ready to expose you to the dark forbidding underbelly of my mind.

So here's what I came up with in five minutes:


No one could've imagined the results that led to the creation of Tommy, the toothless wonder, but it's all true. Tommy was remiss in his commitment to oral hygiene, and his meth habit was no help either. So, when he finished his chicken, and fished a toothpick out of the little container sitting on the tabletop, everyone stopped what they were doing to see just which of his two remaining teeth he would choose to pick. He jammed the toothpick between his lonely pair of bicuspids in the middle of his mouth, and gave it a good yank. Low and behold, both of his teeth flew out of his mouth, landing in the pitcher of iced tea...

That's all I got in five minutes, but you can surely see where this was going. I'm sorry you had to see this. No I'm not. No, really I am.

I'm telling you, some of my best works comes from pressured situations!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

State of the Union

Well, not so much ‘Union.’ More like, ‘Me.’ I haven't posted in awhile so now I'm feeling the need. To give you an idea of my state, I’ll broadcast a play-by-play of what’s happening right now.

I’m at work, sitting at my desk, pretending to work on something important, while a rude workmate stands beside my desk, clipping his fingernails. I look up at him with that expectant look in my eyes that clearly says, “Move the hell away from me before I come up out of this chair and start beating you about the head and shoulders.” I give this look while placing my hand over the top of my coffee cup, and inching it away from the shower of fingernail clippings raining down all over the place.

In my head, I imagine ripping those clippers out of his hand and shoving them down his throat (or maybe some other orifice) and then throwing my cup of nail-laden coffee in his face. But, in real life, I won’t really do that. Instead, I’ll wait patiently and quietly while he finishes his personal grooming over my morning beverage. Then, when he walks out of the office, I’ll simply use that little file on my Swiss Army Knife, and file away enough of his clippers so the next time he uses them, they’ll rip at his fingers, and cut the nails unevenly.

I don’t know, while busting him in the face would give me immediate satisfaction, it would be fleeting and quite possibly cost me my job. Instead, I’ll chose the passive-aggressive route, and know deep down within my kool-aide pumping, asphalt jumping, mustard seed, air-assault heart, that the next time he tries to use his little tool of digital grooming, my revenge will be exacted.

I learned a long time ago that revenge is often much sweeter than retaliation. In fact, I can tell you exactly when I learned this.

It was Christmas season, 1983, and I was a young soldier in the military. I was stationed overseas (Germany) and had nothing to do for the holidays. So what does a young soldier do for fun when bored, you ask? Why, they go to the local club, drink themselves into a stupor, and look for a good fight, what else is there? So, That’s what I did. Of course, I wasn’t completely stupid; I didn’t do this alone, no, I brought my roommate with me to join in the festivities.

I awoke the next morning at about 4 am to the sound of loud knocking at the door. I attempted to lift my head from the pillow, and found the pillow adhered to the side of my face. Apparently, blood turns into a decent glue when dried between a face and fabric. It was then that vague memories of the night before started seeping into the, still inebriated but semi-conscious, part of my brain.

I remembered leaving the club, ending my drinking binge only because I was out of money, arm in arm with my roommate, again, out of necessity. Two, or maybe it was four (although it was more than likely only two, and I was seeing double) young men followed us out, and met us in the dark stretch of pathway between the club and our barracks. I’ll just go ahead and say right now, that their intentions were not honorable.

They asked for our money, and really, it would have been wise for me to oblige them with the thirty-five cents I pulled from my pocket, but I was not very wise that night. I know, I know. I’ve written in the past, how I used to be ten foot tall, and bullet proof, and I was, but, unfortunately for me, so were the other guys that night.

Well, I showed them my thirty-five cents, and told them they could have my money when they pried it from my (one minute forty-eight seconds of expletives removed) cold dead fingers.

I’m certain I threw the first punch. I’m also certain I didn’t actually connect to anything. From that point, it was on like Donkey Kong. To make a long story short (I know, too late) the blood on the pillow the next morning was mine. My face hurt badly when I pulled it from the stained fabric and answered the person yelling on the other side of my door. Answering the door turned out to be my second bad decision that week. Because I was there, I found myself on guard duty, taking the place of someone who was smart enough not to show up for the duty.

Needles to say, I likely didn’t look very good to the person standing in front of me as I stood for inspection. I drew the first shift. After my shift, which went by relatively fast because of my moaning and groaning and puking, I visited the local medical clinic.

I learned that taking immediate vengeance cost me a broken nose and a cracked skull, along with numerous other small contusions and bruises. So, take my word for it, when you want to get back at someone, just take your time, be passive aggressive if you need to, and a path to vengeance will present itself. Otherwise, just be prepared to someday come up against somebody badder than you and get your ass kicked. Either way, the job will get done.