Apr 18 14: Finger-Crossing

All kinds of shiny new stuff going on under the hood. What that means for the future of Strange Radiation, I’m not yet certain. I am curious to see how the antispam systems hold up.


Nov 6 11: Process

Let’s begin with another music video: “In Your Arms,” by Kina Grannis. The song itself is… cute. A happy if not particularly world-shaking romantic pop tune. But the video:

I know, right? That’s a hell of a lot of work. Specifically, it’s 2,460 frames, created and shot entirely by hand over 1,357 hours using 288,000 jellybeans. Damn. The numbers are tabulated in this equally fascinating (to me) video — the one that actually moved me to write an entry in my poor neglected blog — right here:

On the face of it, two solid years of labor for a single music video sounds pretty crazy. Her record “Stairwells” came out in early 2010 — isn’t the buzz cycle for a disc supposed to have ended by this point? On the other hand, the final result is getting a lot of attention. And she comes off as pretty charming in the making-of, to the point that I’ll probably give a few of her other songs a listen as a result.

I don’t know what it says about me that I so often find the “how we did it” documentation at least as interesting as the end result. I have spent many happy hours, for example, listening to the screenwriters’ commentary tracks on the Lord of the Rings extended DVDs, as Jackson-Walsh-Boyens talk about the millions of tiny decisions they had to make on what to keep, what to move, what to cut. (The screenwriter’s commentary on “Sense and Sensibility” is pretty great as well, but hey, Emma Thompson, how can you go wrong.)

And finally, if you haven’t seen the animation work done for Oren Lavie’s “Her Morning Elegance,” well. Hie thee hither.


Aug 28 11: Hey, Look!

It’s the hockey players from last night! Current best theory is that they’re in town for the 2011 World Police and Fire Games.

Thanks to Croft for the link.


Aug 27 11: Hockey in the Moustache of the Storm

Greetings from the last couple of hours before Hurricane Irene hits NYC.

I just walked back to Don’s after finishing a shift at the Gray Lady. The weather right now is mostly OMG Rain as opposed to Aieeee Hurricanocalypse. Lots of rain but very little wind; not so much the teeth of the storm as the moustache of it. Passing through Times Square I discovered a bunch of Canadian guys playing a shirts-vs-skins hockey game in the pedestrian mall. Their laughter echoed through the square; they were almost the only people around, beyond a few random folks standing around watching them play and taking pictures.

Judging by the matching outfits I’d say they’re a team visiting from Vancouver (it said “Vancouver” on their jerseys, which were black with red flames) who are staying in one of the nearby hotels. Or possibly more than one team: a few women played on the shirts side, in jerseys of their own, equally official looking but different from the men’s. I stood and watched for a few minutes — hey, shirtless guys in the rain, how could I not — and as the runoff got deeper on the blue-painted surface of 7th Avenue the athletes fell down more often and the bright orange ball started to kick up an impressive fantail as it scudded along. Everyone seemed to be having a grand time.

Were I more used to thinking like a journalist I’d have figured out a way to use my phone as a recording device without shorting it out in the rain, and then I’d have interviewed them. Who were they? What brought them to New York? Had they been stranded by the closing of the airports this afternoon? How bad did the weather have to get before they’d pack it in and go somewhere dry?

But I wasn’t, and I didn’t, and so eventually I just got tired of how my boots were filling with rainwater. I walked on, the hockey players’ shouts and laughter ringing out through Times Square over the sound of the downpour. They kept calling each other seagulls, but I never found out why. That was okay.

Yup, still love it here.

(EDITED: Video footage in the follow-up post.)


Mar 14 11: Beaten to the Punch by a Buncha Swedes

Nertz. See, this is what happens when you have to do things like go to work and write a novel instead of investing your time and energy in projects of more immediate importance, like turning recent funkstraveganzas into a cappella free-for-alls — other people do it instead. It’s kinda Nordic, but hey, hats off to them anyway.

For those who don’t know the original, the oh-so-fabulous Janelle MonĂ¡e, well, hi, Dad — here’s your reference copy, which for some reason has been declared off limits for people who want to embed it in their blogs.

And now I’m going to bed.


Mar 13 11: High Wire Act

Let’s begin with an open letter.

Dear Julie Taymor:

I get it. I totally get what you’re doing with Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. Don’t let the haters get you down.

Yours, &c. —
Andy

I was skeptical when I showed up at the theater today, I’ll admit it. It’s hard to avoid the tales of mayhem and creative rudderlessness that follow this show. But here’s the thing: there’s a lot of really smart stuff happening in the new Spider-Man musical, and this idea propagated by the Lords of Broadway Reviews that this is the worst musical evar is total hogwash.

The show, particularly in its first act, tackles some a big idea of perpetual interest to Taymor — the nature of myth, and the role it plays in human culture — through a spandex-tinted lens. She quite rightly pegs the iconic, archetypal figures that parade through the comics world as descendants of the figures who have triumphed and suffered and struggled and been punished since we first started telling one another stories of heroes around the fire. Her framing device — a “geek chorus” quartet of kids working on their own homegrown Spider-Man comic — is brilliant, linking the old oral tradition to a fundamental act of modern comics fandom in which participants mix canonical themes with new characters as it pleases them.

There are some amazing moments of Taymor stagecraft in this show, mask work and puppetry and transformative costumery that have to be seen to be appreciated. I loved seeing the horrible Lizard make the Hyde-out-of-Jekyll leap from the body of Dr. Kurt Connors, and the golden weaving constructed as the story of Arachne is retold at the top of the show marries a crazy technical achievement to a moment of beauty and simplicity that I won’t spoil here. From beginning to end, the sets tilt and flip and generally repurpose themselves over and over to create moments of outsize, stylized invention that serve the graphic roots of the story well. And, of course, there’s the extensive wire work, which is dazzling. The catch there, though, is that by now we all know about the times the system has failed, injuring actors or stopping the show cold while some poor soul is left dangling forty feet above the eighteenth row. I wish I could have blotted out that foreknowledge, the little voice saying please don’t fall, please don’t fall, please don’t fall every time a man in the red-and-blue uniform swung through the house, and just enjoyed what I was seeing for what it was. I couldn’t, though.

Regardless, I suggest that you give it a go, if you’ve got the scratch. It’s true, the music and the pacing are uneven. It’s not a perfect show. But it’s for sure not a bad show, and there’s some juicy stuff to savor in there. (Comics fans will enjoy any number of little shout-outs through dialogue and allusive imagery. The names of the scientists who worked for Norman Osborn, for example. Good stuff.) And it’s being closed down for a month soon for “improvements.” I can’t imagine that they could remove Taymor’s analytical understructure from it even if they wanted to, but I’m very glad I’ve seen it before the revamp.


Mar 12 11: Nest the Corners, Smooth the Edges, and Fold in Thirds

While I was at Boskone last month I had the opportunity to sit down with my alpha readers for Mojo City. To my delight, they approved of the shape of the first draft, and their concerns about what would need to be fixed in the 2.0 release matched my own. They even, dare I say it, enjoyed reading it. And having spent a month away from the thing, I’ll be starting up that revision process sometime this week by sitting down and reading the 1.0 version for the first time since I closed it down. I’m looking forward to finding out what’s actually in it, as opposed to what I thought I put in it. And, of course, there will be lots of $PLACEHOLDERS to finally make specific — a series of walks through Chinatown and the Lower East Side are in my future — and characters who need to be made deeper and more believable. I think it’s going to be fun once I get into the groove, but I can feel an echo of the same resistance that kept me from starting the first draft: I don’t know all the answers yet, so how can I be sure it’ll be perfect? What if I screw it all up?

To which I say: Crikey, man. Pull on your big-boy writer pants and just start. You can fix anything you break in the 3.0 draft. Plus, hey! Here’s a video that will teach you how to do something you always kind of fake your way through, never the same way twice. It is, as the nice lady says, “one of the biggest challenges you’re going to face in your life.” And now that you can surmount that, how hard can finishing the damned book be?


Feb 18 11: Sometimes You Have to Stay Up Late and Write Stuff Down

I got off the subway this evening at my usual stop, from my usual position at the door directly ahead of the conductor, which lets me off right in front of the exit. But as my neighbors and I squeezed off the train I got edged just far enough back from the front of the pack that it was impossible to break free. I was caught in the mob, trapped in second gear, forced to wait my turn at the turnstile and on the stairs. And as we shuffled up to the surface I noticed how the melting snow had left behind this horrible black goop slopped into the creases of every tread in the staircase, and I started composing a footnote.

The horrible black goop on the stairs is the same crust of soot that covers the snowdrifts on the sidewalks up on the street. It gets mixed in with the snow as it falls, but at first it’s hard to see: it’s too thinly distributed. But when the snow melts, most of the soot is left behind, so you get smaller and smaller snowdrifts that turn blacker and blacker and blacker. The rest is carried as silt by the melting snow as it drains into the stairwells, and is left behind on the steps.

All true, but I wondered why the sudden urge to analyze a random corner of urban living. But then I thought, Oh. It’s because I’ve been reading the new Finder collection.

Finder is a black and white science-fiction comic that Carla Speed McNeil started self-publishing in 1996. It has gotten a lot of critical notice over the years but has achieved nowhere near the wide readership it deserves. It’s been picked up by Dark Horse: they published the first new story volume in years this week, called Voice, and will be collecting the previous seven volumes in two omnibus editions this year.

What’s it about? It’s about life a very very very long time from now, when most humans (and humanish people) are living in vast domed cities but some people (human or otherwise) live outside the walls. It’s about culture and the ways we fight the rules we live under. It’s about the things that we decide make our lives worth living, and the ways we protect them. It’s about a drifter named Jaeger who comes and goes, who’s an outsider everywhere, and how he gets in and out of trouble. (Women are often involved.)

McNeil’s characters are vivid, sensitive, thoroughly realized. Her art is gorgeous. (I mean, check out the kid leaping along the top of her blog. So expressive. When she draws people dancing, you can feel the air they displace as they move.) And her worldbuilding is top-notch. It’s so dense, in fact, that the various volumes all have extensive footnotes in the back, just to point out all the cool stuff that would otherwise be missed as the story sweeps along. That young woman? Studying for full adult acceptance into the clan of her birth, which in her case means hours of mental mathematics. That girl? Actually a guy, but her clan all looks female. That vine covered with television screens? Grows like kudzu. Runs pirate broadcasts. Every square inch of what you can see has a story.

I’ve got a real sweet tooth for dense worldbuilding myself, and McNeil’s knack for invented anthropology just floors me. Between the comics and the footnotes, I can read and reread Finder for hours. I met McNeil at the NY Comic Con in the fall and had a total fanboy meltdown, burbling excitedly at her for much too long and then only realizing after I walked away that I’d left out the part where I actually introduce myself. ([Facepalm].)

I really should be in bed right now. I just finished packing for Boskone — too many shirts, for sure, but I couldn’t decide — and I’m crazy tired, and the bus to Boston waits for no man. But I wanted to put this out there. You should be reading Finder.


Feb 15 11: We Live In The Future, vol. 732

Time to close a browser tab. Hey, look! Finnish a cappella singers gone wild! A nice tech demo combined with a good arrangement. I approve. (But I’m still not convinced I need an iPad. Fun as it looks.)


Feb 13 11: Learning Experience

Six years ago I started thinking about a novel. Six months ago, I started writing it. And yesterday, to my surprise and delight and relief, I finished the first draft. I am pleased to announce the birth of MOJO CITY, Version 1.0, weight 98,000 words, length 450 double-spaced pages.

To do it, I had to learn a bunch of different lessons: How not to let fear of the blank page keep me from starting at all; how to maintain forward momentum on a project that, when I started, seemed impossible; how to navigate the straits between leaving room in the writing process for spontaneous moments of invention and knowing exactly how my story was going to get me from A to B to C and on to Z. But most of all, I had to learn how to write an imperfect draft without leaping off the balcony.

I mean, you hear this over and over: Your first draft will stink. Everyone’s first draft stinks. That’s what they do. But it’s one thing to hear that delivered as fact, even from teachers you respect at writer camp, and quite another to believe it. My own impulse toward perfectionism has always been my own worst enemy. It kept me from starting the book for years: what if I turn a good idea into a bad book? With a short story, you really can put off starting the first paragraph until you have the whole thing mapped out in your head. It’s a strategy that will produce completed pieces. But when you’re about to embark on a voyage of 98,000 words? Safer for now just to keep adding notes to the pile. Start later, when you’re more sure of what you’re doing.

But no. Did you know that if your character is standing outside a blown-up pizza joint talking to some cops but you really need him to be in Washington Square, eating falafel with a bodhisattva, but you don’t know quite how to get him out of his current conversation, you can just write

[AND NOW HE LEAVES AND ENDS UP TALKING TO C IN THE PARK]

and come back later? Like, in the second draft? And that’s a totally acceptable thing to do? So you can go on and write the scene that you actually have in your head, instead of agonizing over a transition that will make more sense later? It’s true! I did it. So can you. You can also direct your main character to the scene of an incident at $INTERSECTION, and then have him later meet a friend to hear a band called $CLEVER NAME.

This was a revelation. And, more important, it was the crack in the dam that let me get out of my own way and just write the damn book. Characters flat? Fix it in the next draft. Language undescriptive? Fix it in the next draft. Causality questionable? Chronology dodgy? Geography unreliable? It doesn’t matter. In the words of James Thurber, “Don’t get it right. Just get it written.”

You probably knew all this already, dear reader. But I spent a few long years fighting to absorb this truth into the marrow of my bones. And I don’t want to forget it. So I’m putting it here.

So that’s what I’ve been up to instead of writing the blog. How about you?

Don't fret: there's more in the archives.

WHAT? WHO?

Strange Radiation is the website of Andrew Willett. If you've never heard of me, well, you're hardly alone in that.

I am a writer and editor and athlete and musician and uncle and knitter and homo and geek in New York City.

SEARCH