The Editorial Letter Is In!

I received my editorial letter for Not Dead Yet from my editor at St. Martin’s Press yesterday. Amazingly, he had no content changes for me, which I have to admit is quite gratifying after having spent two years making sure the plot’s many moving pieces fit together properly. The letter contained only a few line edits and a request to go over the manuscript again with a fine tooth comb to make sure I’m not cramming too much information into my sentences, which is a terrible habit I picked up…well, I don’t know where, but I blame them anyway. All in all, the editorial letter could have been much worse, and I’ll admit I was worried my editor would want to cut entire subplots and characters. Worrying over little things is a terrible habit I picked up…well, from being raised by a Jewish mother.

In other news, international bestselling author Peter James also has a book coming out from St. Martin’s next fall called Not Dead Yet, so I’ve been asked to change the title of mine to avoid confusion among the sales reps and store buyers. It makes sense, and I was only grumpy about it for a few short hours — mainly because the phrase “not dead yet” is repeated thematically throughout the novel — before I started brainstorming some good alternate titles. I’ll be sure to announce the new title once it’s finalized. Until then, with a hat tip to Twenty Palaces author Harry Connolly, I’m considering referring to it as Epic Fantasy With Cars and Guns Instead Of Horses and Swords, Although There Are Horses and Swords In It Too.

Hmmm. Maybe I’ll run that title by my editor too. Okay, maybe not.

Led Zeppelin: Celebration Day

I haven’t listened to Led Zeppelin in probably two decades. I listened to them all the time in college, to the point where Led Zeppelin II was on constant rotation in my dorm room. As a result, I kind of overdosed on them, reached critical mass, and decided I needed to take a break. That break lasted pretty much until last night, when I went with a group of friends to the Sunshine Cinema on Houston Street to see Led Zeppelin: Celebration Day, a one-night-only, big-screen film of their 2007 reunion concert in honor of Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun. (The concert was such a big deal that they had to give away tickets by lottery. There were 18,000 seats in the arena. Twenty million people applied.)

Before the film began, I looked around and realized it was the first time I’d been in a movie theater in recent history, or perhaps ever, where everyone was my age or older. There were no teenagers texting, talking on their phones, shouting at each other, or throwing their garbage everywhere. I don’t mean to sound like a crotchety old man, but hell, this is a blog post about Led Zeppelin, so why should I try to pretend otherwise? It was fucking awesome not having any kids in the theater. There, I said it!

The film doesn’t waste any time with backstage interviews or shots of the band arriving or any of that. After a short credit sequence, the lights come up on stage and the band kicks right into “Good Times, Bad Times.” Boom. Led fucking Zeppelin. Sure, they’re older now. They look doughy, weathered. Jimmy Page looks like a taller version of Harlan Ellison with his long white hair and sunglasses. (He also mugs hilariously throughout his guitar solos. The man can’t control his face!) John Paul Jones looks a bit like Lance Henriksen now. Robert Plant, well, he looks exactly the same because he’s a fucking rock god and will outlive all of us. (They’re joined on the drums by Jason Bonham, son of the band’s original drummer, the late John Bonham. Jason plays just like his dad, including all the off-beats and counter-beats, and clearly has a rapport of respect and friendship with the other band members.) You would be forgiven for thinking, Can they still play at this age? All I can say is: You have no idea. They brought their A game. They play with an assuredness that comes with age and experience, and they know they have nothing to prove. As a result, they play the best they ever have. This is one of the best concerts I have ever seen, and hell, I saw Peter Gabriel at Madison Square Garden in his 1980s heyday!

The strange thing about seeing the concert in a movie theater is that you almost immediately forget you’re not actually in the arena. The theater audience was hooting and hollering and clapping after every number, as if the band members could hear them through the screen and across the five year divide. It didn’t matter. I clapped and wooooooed with the rest of them.

The setlist was a nice mix of showstoppers like “Trampled Under Foot” and “Misty Mountain Hop,” as well as less-played numbers like “In My Time of Dying” and “For Your Love,” the latter of which I’m told they had never played live before. But it’s essentially a catalogue of Led Zeppelin’s greatest hits, so they’re all showstoppers, really. Despite my twenty year moratorium, I realized I still knew every note, every word, every key change of every song. That’s how ingrained their music had become in my mind.

The concert is so high energy you’ll be going nuts from minute one, but by the time Jimmy Page breaks out the violin bow during “Dazed and Confused” and is suddenly surrounded by a spinning green laser pyramid, you’ll go apeshit. Which brings me to the only drawback of seeing a show like this in a movie theater. You have no outlet for all the energy you’re taking in. At a concert venue you can dance and jump around and scream like a madman to release that energy again, but in a movie theater you’re stuck in your chair, and the energy just keeps building and building inside you. By the halfway point I was already feeling overstimulated. You know those videos on YouTube of people fainting on rollercoasters? I felt like I was moments away from the same fate. But then, just as I thought my head was going to explode and I would die, the band, as if sensing this, mellows things out with “Stairway to Heaven.” After that, it was like they’d pressed the reset button, and I was okay again. “Stairway” was great, of course, but they close the show (pre-encores) with my second-favorite Led Zeppelin song, “Kashmir,” a version Zeppelin aficionados are apparently already calling the best live version of that song they’ve ever done. I won’t argue.

For the curious, here is the complete setlist:

1. Good Times, Bad Times

2. Ramble On

3. Black Dog

4. In My Time Of Dying

5. For Your Life

6. Trampled Under Foot

7. Nobody’s Fault But Mine

8. No Quarter

9. Since I’ve Been Loving You

10. Dazed And Confused

11. Stairway To Heaven

12. The Song Remains The Same

13. Misty Mountain Hop

14. Kashmir

15. Encore: Whole Lotta Love

16. Encore 2: Rock And Roll

At two hours long, it’s one of the greatest rock and roll experiences you’ll have. It’s also a reminder, in case we’ve forgotten, of just how influential and important a band they were. Led Zeppelin was one of the first bands, if not the first, to take the psychedelic rock and roll of the 1960s and add a harder edge and heavier beats to it, essentially inventing hard rock as we know it today. Maybe even metal and prog rock, too.

My only complaints about the concert are about songs they didn’t play. They didn’t play my favorite Led Zeppelin song of all time, “When the Levee Breaks,” and I would have lost my shit completely if they’d played “The Immigrant Song.” Maybe next time. (If there is a next time.) Until then, Led Zeppelin: Celebration Day is coming out on video and CD in November. If you’re a fan, catch it, and remember why you loved Zeppelin in the first place.

 

P.S. Oh, did I mention that during “Whole Lotta Love” Jimmy Page plays the fucking theremin? A theremin, people!

Arrow

Have you heard the one about the orphaned millionaire playboy who dons a costume at night and goes out to fight crime in a city full of corruption? Of course you have. It’s Batman the Green Arrow. Or just the Arrow, as he’s known on The CW’s Arrow, a Smallville replacement they’re hoping will be just as successful. But rather than spinning it off from Smallville, where the Green Arrow played an important supporting role in the last five seasons, this is a complete reboot of the concept, with a new actor donning the green hood.

The completely charisma-free Stephen Amell plays Oliver Queen, who returns to Starling City (inexplicably changed from Star City in the comics) after being shipwrecked on a mysterious island for five years. His dad and the girl he happened to be cheating on his girlfriend with died in the shipwreck. Through flashbacks and innuendo, we’re led to believe that certain terrible things occurred on the island that led to him becoming a superior archer who happens to be in top physical form, as opposed to the weak, starving survivor he would actually be in real life. What happened on the island isn’t revealed in the pilot episode, though I expect we’ll be treated to flashbacks throughout the series that will explain certain things, such as the scar tissue, burn marks, and tattoos all over his body. Hmmm, a mysterious island and a flashback-heavy narrative. Where have I seen that before?

Anyway, Amell can barely act, and seems to have only two expressions, bemused and angry. A random, shirtless exercise scene in the Arrow’s improbably wired hideout reveals the real reason Amell was hired for the role. His pectorals and abs probably have their own agents. As the Arrow, he has returned home with a hit list of corrupt individuals he intends to take out, a list ostensibly supplied by his father, which makes him more of a mercenary than a superhero. Add a completely unnecessary and way too Dexter-like voice over, and the program flirts — inadvertently, I presume — with Oliver Queen as a serial killer, hunting down bad men who have escaped justice, and killing them. Yeah, killing them. This ain’t Smallville, with its antiviolence message. This is the equivalent of a 1980s action movie, where henchmen machine-gun people to death before the hero breaks their necks. (What’s especially weird is that Oliver returns from the island with the idea to be a green-hooded archer vigilante already fully formed in his mind. I hope the genesis of this idea will be further explored, and not swept under the rug the way it appeared to be in the pilot.)

Now that Oliver’s back in Starling City, he’s reunited with his old friend Tommy, who is super annoying in that “yeah, bra, let’s freaking PARTY!” way and needs to be either toned down significantly or killed the fuck off; his ex-girlfriend Dinah Laurel Lance, who’s angry at him because the girl he cheated with and who died in the shipwreck was actually her sister, but who you know is totally going to get back together with him before the end of season one; his mother, who is super rich in that TV way where she’s always having dinner parties; his teenager sister, Thea, who has a drug addiction to speed; a new step-father who might as well be named Uncle Claudius for all the subtlety involved in his mustache-twirling; a police detective who thinks Oliver is up to his usual shenanigans, and who also happens to be the dead girl and ex-girlfriend’s father; and a new ex-Marine bodyguard who provides comic relief when Oliver isn’t choking him into unconsciousness in order to sneak off to murder someone. To say this show sometimes has a problem with tone would be an understatement.

A lot of the writing is kind of terrible, and the acting consists more of posing while reciting lines than being convincingly emotive. Except for one scene. Late in the pilot, Thea confronts her brother about not judging her for her speed habit, and lays out exactly what it was like to lose her father and her brother at the same time, and to have to bury two empty coffins. It’s the only emotionally authentic moment in the entire episode, and it’s ruined a second later when Thea, disgusted and ready to leave, turns to her friends and says, “Let’s bounce.” Jesus. Authentic moment effectively destroyed, writers. Well done.

There’s very little to recommend Arrow, and yet I have to admit the action scenes had me riveted, especially at the climax of the pilot where Oliver stages a one-man assault on a bad guy’s heavily guarded office building. A lot of henchmen die or are seriously injured, but for some reason I did not think, “Jeez, maybe they should chill with all the killing.” Instead, I was completely caught up in the action and excitement of it all. Despite its many flaws, I find myself willing to tune in to Arrow again next week to see if it can continue to keep me riveted with its action, or if the price of having to watch these ineffective, overly pretty actors play these two-dimensional characters will be just too steep.

Does Arrow deserve a second chance? Not necessarily. But it’s possible the first episode suffered from the usual case of pilotitis, where everything is magnified and intensified more than it needs to be, and things may settle down into a good groove. Even Smallville took some time to find itself after half a season of meteor-freak-of-the-week episodes. The only difference is, I have far less patience for bad TV now than I did eleven years ago. Arrow, you’re on notice not to let me down a second time.

My World Fantasy Schedule

I will be attending the World Fantasy Convention 2012 in Toronto, November 1-4. While I’m on programming, I was only given one panel and no readings. Oh well, more time to hang out with friends, or at the ChiZine Publications dealers room table, or take in other panels and readings! Still, I’m very pleased to be part of it. So here’s where you’ll find me on the official schedule:

Friday, November 2nd, 1:00 PM, Vaughn

GOTHIC FANTASY NOIR

In the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) Mike Ashley writes: “The cityscape has replaced the old castle, and Urban Fantasy is the new Gothic.” As counter-intuitive as that may read, it can be argued that this is true. And there’s a type of Urban Fantasy that could be termed Urban Fantasy Noir, with the popular “huntress” theme a variant of this: down these mean streets a woman must go, armed only with edged weapons and a wit as dry as the pavement is damp. Phillippa Marlowe, Boogen Hunter, still the knight errant. The panel will examine the evidence of a reversion, in Urban Fantasy, to older forms of literature, whether it be the despair of the Gothic or the bleakness of noir. And is the growth and popularity of Urban Fantasy — with its mean streets, grim reality, modern attitudes, and contemporary settings — a response to High Fantasy, with its emphasis on Arthurian-style legend and faux-Medieval settings? With more people living in, or on the fringes of, cities than ever before, what’s the attraction of going to a darkly fantastic world under their streets or above their rooftops, as opposed to a distant past or an unknown kingdom?

Elwyn Cotman (M), Dana Cameron, Gemma Files, Elizabeth Hand, Rhiannon Held, Nicholas Kaufmann.

Despite the tortured prose of the panel description and the questionable assertion about more people living in or around cities than ever before, I think this is going to be a very enjoyable and enlightening discussion — even if seeing Elizabeth Hand among the panelists already makes me feel out of my league! My forthcoming novel from St. Martin’s Press, Not Dead Yet, could very much be called an Urban Fantasy Noir, but it’s also very different from the “huntress” themes the panel description focuses on, so that should make for some interesting comparisons. If you’re attending the convention, why not swing by and watch me try to hold my own with other panelists whom I suspect know a lot more about this subject than I do?

 

 

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