Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Damn. I hate coming to the end of a really good book.

I just finished re-reading The Making of Star Wars, by J.W. Rinzler--incredible. For a major Star Wars geek like me, this book is the holy grail: a deep account of everything that went into the original Star Wars. Not Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope, but just plain Star Wars--the astonishing movie that blew my young mind in the spring of 1977. I saw the movie about forty times that summer, sitting through multiple showings at a time (I couldn't afford to pay for every viewing--it cost $3.50!), and read everything about the film I could get my hands on (I still cherish my Star Wars issue of American Cinematographer), so I thought I knew just about everything there was to know about how it all came together.

But no--this book tells the whole story; the story I've been waiting to read for over thirty years.

From George Lucas's original inspiration (coming off his "failures" with THX-1138, Apocalypse Now, and the as-yet-unreleased American Graffiti) to the endless contract negotiations and studio interference, to the technical challenges, compromises, and breakthroughs that made the movie what it is. Many of these stories I've heard before, but reading them all as part of a chronology, in context, is like taking a time-machine back to '77 and actually witnessing the events unfold. It's a drama as interesting as the movie itself, with idealistic heroes (Lucas and Fox producer Alan Ladd, Jr.; the ILM crew, battling impossible deadlines in their sweltering, flea-ridden warehouse) and powerful villains (clueless executives snoozing through previews; dismissive English film editors botching the work print). But in the end it's a testament to cooperation--making Star Wars required an extraordinary communal effort by many, many talented people. And one thing that comes across very clearly (at least to me) is that the movie they made is far better than the one George Lucas originally set out to make. It was only because of the enormous difficulties and budget limitations that Star Wars was boiled down to its pure essence. Had Lucas had his way, the film might now be just another soft-focus relic of the Seventies, an expensive, cluttered mess like Lucky Lady, Heaven's Gate, or 1941. George was never satisfied with Star Wars...but that is exactly why the movie is so good.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Well, I've about recovered from attending the NY ThrillerFest. Interesting experience, to be at a convention where almost everyone you meet is a published author. I'm not sure I liked it. Okay, I didn't like it. I felt like a fish out of water...or a hobo at a small-business expo. This was clearly not my crowd. Oh, everyone was nice enough (although I did get snubbed by Alafair Burke, but that was probably my fault for saying I thought she was a fictional character. Is that rude? Come on, she's in her dad's books!), but having a zombie book did not earn me many brownie points--most folks either made a face or just politely ignored it. And I admit the feeling's mutual: I don't read much genre fiction either. In fact, I wouldn't have known who anyone was if not for the help of author Nate Kenyon, who generously interpreted for me. It was mostly thanks to him that anybody talked to me at all. When Nate wasn't around, I tended to find myself in halting conversations with scary-looking dudes who were trying to publish books about either religion or dismemberment.

There were some highlights, though:

On Nate's suggestion, he and I volunteered at the registration desk, which was a much better way of meeting people than just mingling. It gave us a purpose, allowed us to raid the freebies, and enabled me to plant my home-made Xombies promo in every welcome kit I handed out. Nate also persuaded me to set up a last-minute meeting with my editor, something I had been reluctant to do on such short notice. But she agreed to see me! Maybe it's because of all the years of rejection, but that blows my mind, that a schmuck like me can get the editor of a New York publishing house on the phone, much less be invited to have coffee with them. Of course I got lost on the subway.

My panel discussion went well, considering it was about the use of exotic settings in thriller writing. I don't think too many people read Xombies for the exotic settings, but I think I made a pretty good case for it, considering that a lot of the book takes place aboard a nuclear submarine (in itself pretty exotic) searching the world for a safe refuge. I'm a ham, so any chance to blabber self-importantly is fun for me. And next week I get to do it again, at Comic-Con!

The food at the various mixers was pretty good, there were free drinks, and the Thriller Awards Banquet was unbelievable, like eating dinner in a cathedral. That's no exaggeration--the ceiling at this place (Cipriani's) had to be seventy feet high, with huge marble columns, an open bar that glowed like a candle-lit altar, and extremely diligent waiters who hovered as silently as monks. The best thing was that the seat to my right was empty but the waiters treated it like a person, setting out a whole extra meal that I couldn't let go to waste. That's not gluttony, people, that's called saving the planet.