Friday, November 30, 2012

10 Highest Grossing Movies of 2012 (Scifi/Fantasy/Horror)

Will Smith in MIB 3 Photo: Box office mojo

Below are the 10 movies that took the biggest bites off the Box Office apple in 2012. The selected films all fall within the speculative fiction category that is, science fiction, fantasy and horror. All figures in American dollars.

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3. MIB 3
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9. Looper
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Box office results courtesy: Box Office Mojo
With a little help from Wikipedia.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

10 Stephen King Stories Featuring Writers as Characters

Stephen King often uses authors as characters in his stories. It's possible that no other author before him or during his time equals him in this particular enterprise. And it's impossible for you as a serious writer not to find yourself parodied in one of King's stories.

Most of the writers in King's stories (if not all) are men. Nevertheless, the sort of distress they often get themselves stuck with is not gender-oriented. King, at one time announced he was hanging his pen on stories featuring writers as characters. I believe that was in the note on Secret Window, Secret Garden published in a collection of novellas called Four Past Midnight back in 1990. But alas, in 1998, a Stephen King novel, Bag of Bones featured a writer as the main character and going through the worst dread that could ever happen to a writer-writer's block. You can never trust a storyteller, han?

Bag of Bones (1998)
This novel is by far, my favorite Stephen King book. It features the writer, Mike Noonan, who is going through the worst case of writer's block, as the main character of the novel. He has not written anything, besides his laundry list, that is, for the past four years or so.
King says he was inspired to write this novel after reading a story about Virginia Wolfe who is reported to have been so prolific she had to deposit her books in a safe. The book borrows its title from Thomas Hardy who said, "The most brilliantly drawn character in a novel is but a bag of bones"

Noonan's block is worsened by the death of his wife, Jo, who passed away with their unborn child on the pavement of a pharmacy. But Noonan doesn't realize the death of his wife and the baby is in part, fulfillment of a generational curse. If you want to learn about the art of writing and how to deal with writer's block while having fun, read Bag of Bones. It's King's best effort, so far.

Secret Window, Secret Garden (1990)
Morton Rainey is the main character in this novella. He is a writer and recently separated from his wife. As a review says, Rainey is trapped in the demonic depths of a writer's worst nightmare. He has relocated to his summer home awaiting the finalization of his divorce from his wife when one hot afternoon, a stranger wakes him from his siesta. He opens the door and sees a guy who looks like a character from a Faulkner story. The first words the guy says to him and which marks the opening line of the novella are, "You stole my story." And from that point in time, Rainey's nightmares begin.

Stephen King masterfully twists the plot line, sometimes Rainey is a split personality, possessed by this strange character, John Shooter, who appeared at his doorstep uninvited. The story revolves around a writer exhibiting rare symptoms of dissociative disorder. You can't guess where King is taking you, even after the story is told. The suspense is just too intense.

Here's a short story and part of the collection, Skeleton Crew about a writer who receives the gift of a custom built word processor from his fifteen-year old nephew, Jon. The machine has supernatural powers to execute whatever commands a user typed.

Richard Hagstrom, a struggling writer, uses the word processor to bring back his nephew who died in an accident caused by his drunken father–Richard's older brother. But not before deleting his son and wife from the face of reality. Word Processor of the Gods is a short story that attempts through allegories, to show how fiction immortalizes our dreams and hopes.

1408 (2002)
Of this story, Stephen King said, "I never intended to finish it. I wrote the first three or four pages as part of an appendix for my On Writing book, wanting to show readers how a story evolves from first draft to second."

Mike Enslin visits places haunted by ghosts or spirits or some other evil and then writes about his experience. Olin, the manager of the hotel tries to discourage Enslin from going up to Room 1408 (the number adds up to 13–the so-called evil number), where several paranormal activities had occurred but his attempts were rewarded by fierce rebuttal.
Enslin went into room 1408 but barely escaped with his life when the thing in the room set him ablaze.

Misery (1987)
Imagine meeting a fan of yours who wants you to write one last novel for an already concluded romance series you have been writing. You may not want to consider it as an option but she can be persuasive... with an axe! That's the scenario the main character in this story, Paul Sheldon, finds himself thrust into. Involved in an accident, bugged down by a broken ankle and rescued by a psycho nurse who is responsible for the deaths of over 100 people, Paul Sheldon is in a worst-case scenario. And Annie Wilkes is the perfect muse for any complacent writer, believe that!

Lisey's Story (2006)
This is the story King said was inspired by visions of his own death after his now famous accident. He returned from the hospital to find his wife had rearranged his study and the thought came to him what becomes of his wife after he dies.

Lisey Landon, wife of the deceased writer, Scott Landon is faced by scores of people demanding her late husband’s unpublished manuscripts to the point of threat. The story is paranormal romance at its best.

The Road Virus Heads North (2002)
Richard Kinnell is a horror writer who picked up a picture with supernatural powers at a yard sale. The original owner and artist had hung himself in his basement but not before pinning a note to his breast which read, "I can't stand what's happening to me."

Eventually, Kinnell, observes that the picture keeps changing and he tries to rid himself of the thing. He dumps it in among the pine trees behind a fast food joint. However, when Kinnell gets home he finds The Road Virus, that is the name of the picture on the wall at his home.

Salem's Lot (1975)
Is the story of a writer, Ben Mears who returns to a town, Jerusalem's Lot ('Salem's Lot, for short) where he grew up and had been away from for years. He finds the town almost in the same condition as he had left it but at the same time, he discovers an unspoken evil hovering over the town.

It's a vampire story with a twist. King said he did a "restructuring and updating (of) the basic elements of Bram Stoker's Dracula to create 'Salem's Lot."

The Shining (1977)
Jack Torrance was hired to take care of a large hotel all winter but the tide turns against him. He becomes psychotic and tries to harm his family. His son, Danny, and wife eventually escape owing largely to the 'gift' of The Shining the kid possesses.

The Dark Half (1989)
Thad Beaumont is a writer in distress as his pseudonym gains substance and tries to steal his reality. Beaumont was switching genres and had celebrated the fact with a mock funeral of his pseudonym with a picture on the cover page of a magazine. A few days later, the grounds keeper of the local cemetery discovers a 'hole' in the same spot Beaumont had used for his mock burial.

Something had dug its way out of the 'grave'. Then the killings began and Beaumont's fingerprint is all over the evidence. Yet, Beaumont has proof he was home on the night of the murders. This story is allegoric presentation of how fiction can influence the life of a writer.

Stephen King has more stories which, involve writers but I intend to end my ranting with Dark Half. If you want to learn the craft of writing, do read King's nonfiction book On Writing but do not stop there, read his novels, as well. You'll learn vastly by following that route.

Keep your pen bleeding.


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Friday, November 23, 2012

Why Science Fiction Continues to Stun the World

Really, predictions about man’s future adventures have been the stock-in-trade of this literary genre.

Embracing works as far back as the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh to Aristophanes’ The Clouds and The Birds and tales of the ambitious Icarus. Shakespeare’s work, The Tempest has been cited as science fiction because it deals with the subject of the prototype mad scientist.

It gives the impression that all works of literature which, takes a dystopian/utopian futuristic look at the ways of man can be classified under the genre.

Science fiction explores themes such as time travel, interplanetary warfare, futuristic inventions, intergalactic travel (which may include life on other planets), robot themes and so on. The plots often exploit the human condition in present time but from the point of view that looks back from the future or looks forward from the past. Trying for how the present affects the future or how the past set the present on its course.

One element, which seems pervasive in many science fiction stories, is its predictive disposition. The genre’s dispassionate focus on the shape of things to come; its concern with technological and scientific advancement even when sometimes, such theories may be unrealistic. But how exactly does one presume to explain what is realistic and what is impossible or absurd when several hundreds of the predictions made by sci-fi authors have come to pass?

Ray Bradbury predicted the NASA’s Curiosity rover landing on Mars. In matter of fact, the spot where Curiosity touched down on Mars was named after Bradbury. Sci-fi writer, Isaac Asimov, coined words like robotics and positronics, which have since become a feature of everyday vocabulary. Actually, robotics is now the standard name for “The branch of technology that deals with the design, construction, operation, and application of robots. – Google dictionary.

Deadline,” a Cleve Cartmill short story about a fictional atomic bomb project prompted the FBI to visit the offices of Astounding Science Fiction.
– Wikipedia.

Besides these examples, several predictions made by science fiction writers have come to pass, some of these with eerie accuracy–the iPad, cellular phones, the atomic bomb, fighter jets, space travel and more.

Gradually and with stunning precision, sci-fi has taken its rightful spot as fiction’s crystal ball. It continues to stun readers everywhere with its trademark predictions.
It’s no wonder Stephen King said, “Fiction is the truth inside the lie!”

Keep your pen bleeding.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

10 Writers Whose Fiction Reflect Their Life Stories II

It’s amazing what we can learn when we study the lives of those who have excelled and made their mark in their chosen field. There are lots of facts about the life stories of the authors presented here I wasn’t even aware of before I did research for this article. But these experiences came to be the striking peculiarities that preserves their work in the hearts of readers of every generation.
See for yourselves.

5. Stephenie Meyer (1973- )

Four years after her birth, Meyer’s family relocated to Phoenix, Arizona and she thinks herself a native since she moved there at such a young age.
Meyer felt out of place among the otherwise wealthy population of Chaparral High School in Scottsdale, where she received her secondary education. She also married her childhood sweetheart. (Well, not really. They barely if ever, exchanged words as kids though, they attended the same church and social activities.)

Most of the students at school rode Porsches but Meyer never had a ride until she was in her twenties. Bella Swan of the Twilight series readily comes to mind when we think of a fictional character who’s had a similar experience. Almost everything about Meyer’s childhood fits perfectly into Bella’s profile.

6. Ian Fleming (1908-1964)

Ian Fleming worked in the British naval intelligence during World War II and was involved in the planning of high profile intelligence operations.
Fleming proved himself resourceful during the war. He plotted and carried out dangerous missions often involving rescue operations.

Fleming’s traits including golf handicap, his taste for scrambled eggs, his love of gambling, and brand of toiletries became Bond’s as soon as the character was created.

Fleming admitted that Bond “was a compound of all the secret agents and commando types I met during the war.” – Wikipedia.

7. Maya Angelou (1928- )
Some will argue that her life story which Angelou has published in six volumes should be termed autobiographical fiction and not autobiography. Whichever side of the wall you pick, we can still appreciate the fact she has taken pains to gather her life story into books which are no doubt, works of great literary worth.
Before becoming a writer, Maya Angelou had tried her hands on several other items including dancing in nightclubs. She eventually, produced a Calypso album, which she titled Miss Calypso.

Maya sometimes slept in the same bed as her mother and her mother's lover, Mr. Freeman, who eventually, raped her. They found him kicked to death three days later after the court failed to sentence him. For five years, Maya was a mute because she believed her telling on Mr. Freeman had killed him. Her muteness was cured when recited one of her poems to a family friend and since then, she’d discovered the power of poetry.

8. Bram Stoker (1847-1912)

Stoker was bed-ridden until he was seven. His mother was a writer and told him tales of the macabre while he lay sick and worn in bed and this probably influenced his choice of genre in later years.
He was dedicated to Henry Irving who he worked for as personal assistant while also managing the Lyceum Theater.
Henry Irving was a real-life inspiration for the character of Dracula, tailor-made to his dramatic presence, gentlemanly mannerisms and affinity for playing villain roles. – Wikipedia

Stoker may also have used the battle for his wife, former Florence Balcombe, whom he fought over with Oscar Wilde, in a scene where some men battle for the hand of the female character, Lucy Westenra who receives three marriage proposals in one day. And also, his son Irving Noel Thornley Stoker, who is named after three different personalities, in the naming of the son of the character Jonathan Harker, whose son is named after the men (about four in all) who helped him to destroy Dracula and rescue his wife from the villain’s spell.

9. Tananarive Due (1966- )
Tananarive Due is one of a handful of black science fiction and fantasy writers. Due at one time worked as a journalist and columnist for the Miami Herald. She had at some point in time been in a relationship with a guy who she said, “turned out to be different.” She believed this man was out to deceive her.

A few years after the relationship between Due and this strange fellow ended, she reworked her personal experience and created a character she called her ‘perfect guy’ by re-inventing her former boyfriend.
The novel conceived by this idea is called My Soul to Keep. And the plot revolves around the life of a young newspaper reporter who is still in her twenties. The woman later discovers her husband is a 500-year old immortal from a culture of immortals.

10. J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973)

Tolkien grew up around the Sarehole Mill and Moseley Bog in England and loved exploring these places. As a child, Tolkien was bitten by a large baboon spider in the garden, an event which later had echoes in his stories. His adventurous mind led him to his Aunt Jane’s farm of Bag End. The name occurs in his fiction. Frodo Baggins, Samwise "Sam" Gamgee, Meriadoc "Merry" Brandybuck and Peregrin “Pippin”–the characters from his books may have been the fictionalized Tolkien and three of his childhood friends, Rob Gilson, Geoffrey Smith and Christopher Wiseman, with whom he formed a semi-secret society which they called the “T.C.B.S.” (Tea Club and Barrovian Society).

In a 1968 letter, Tolkien details his trip to Switzerland on a summer holiday. A trip, which called to mind Bilbo's journey across the Misty Mountains in his The Lord of The Rings book. A scene from the book, which includes “the glissade down the slithering stones into the pine woods”, is directly based on his adventures as their party of 12 hiked from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen. – Wikipedia.

After his mother’s demise at age 34, Tolkien lived in the Edgbaston area of Birmingham in the shadow of the Victorian tower of Edgbaston Waterworks which is believed to have influenced the images of the Dark Towers within his works.

These are writers who have endeared themselves to our hearts by creating masterpieces from their personal experiences in life. Writers who we, no doubt perceive as geniuses. No wonder they say it’s the ordinary things of life that are the real miracles.

Keep your pen bleeding!


Monday, November 19, 2012

10 Writers Whose Fiction Reflect Their Life Stories I

Many writers have had dreadful and I mean dreadful experiences. As a result, their books have become fictionalized versions of their life stories. Some of them have built their life around these terrible ordeals and triumphed in channeling their passion into their works. Others have not been very lucky and eventually, they choked on the dirt of their indecision.

Ten great writers are cited here followed by a brief bio of their travail and/or triumphs. You get to decide which ones pulled through and which ones blew it.

1. H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937)

Lovecraft’s nearly five decades of suffering spawned his weird but genius writing. As a matter of fact, his life story is stranger than fiction! His dad was acutely psychotic and passed away in an asylum. Later on, his mom hit by hysteria was also confined to the same mental home.

Lovecraft suffered from night terrors–a rare parasomnia disorder. His poem, Night Gaunt was spawned off his fear of what H.P called night gaunt. Prior to his high school graduation, Lovecraft experienced a nervous breakdown. He married and moved to Red Hook in New York only to be separated from his wife when he couldn’t land a job. These are some of the unusual experiences, which fed one of the weirdest minds of the 2oth century. Lovecraft was one of the first writers to combine horror and science fiction.

2. Stephen King (1947- )

King considered the Master of Modern Horror, had a disturbed childhood. When King was just two, his father abandoned his family leaving his mother to take care of two kids without any stable source of income.
As a child, King witnessed his friend struck and killed by a train. The ordeal left him speechless with shock, for days. It is believed this event, among others, triggered his interest in horror. King once recalled being drawn to the horror genre after reading books by H.P. Lovecraft his dad left behind. A onetime drug addict, King’s life story recurs again and again throughout his fiction.

You undoubtedly have your own thoughts, interests, and concerns, and they have arisen, as mine have, from your experiences and adventures as a human being… and you should use them in your work.
Stephen King, On Writing.

3. Danielle Steel (1947- )

Steel has her romance stories cut out for her often involving rich families facing a crisis, threatened by dark elements such as jail, fraud, blackmail and suicide.

Steel married a banker divorced him and married a man jailed on robbery and rape charges, in the prison canteen. She divorced him in 1978 but the relationship spawned Passion's Promise and Now and Forever, the two novels that launched her successful career (which incidentally has garnered about 800 million copies in sales making her the bestselling author alive). Next, she married a former drug addict… Do you see a connection between the general storyline in Steel’s books written above and her life story?

Steel’s mother was the daughter of a diplomat and this gave her access to study the life of the wealthy and famous (stuff which make up the main ingredients of her prose).
Her parents divorced when she was eight and this could have stimulated her hunger for affection, which she tried to satiate by writing romance novels.

4. Terry McMillan (1951- )

McMillan, the author of the book-to-movie, Waiting to Exhale, which featured Whitney Houston in a leading role, has quite the profile for a writer with books based on her life story.
In 1998, Terry McMillan hooked up with a Jamaican named Jonathan Plummer who was soon to set McMillan’s heart plummeting to the pits.

McMillan was in her late 40s and Plummer in his early 20s (see where this is headed, yet?). In December, 2004 Plummer told McMillan he was gay and the relationship ended. McMillan’s book How Stella Got Her Groove Back which, has a similar storyline and was adapted into a movie featuring Whoopi Goldberg, was inspired by this episode from her life story.

Four down, six to go. Catcha next time around.

Bleed your pen.