By rights I should be absolutely beside myself with envious hatred for author Brian Garfield. He sold his first novel at eighteen and has gone on to have a lengthy publishing career with a few movies adapted from his books. One of these movies might sound a teensy bit familiar: Death Wish. I may have written a little bit about it here on the blog. I’m not sure, though. Best that you double-check.
Interestingly enough, the transition of Death Wish the book to Death Wish the movie did not follow the usual trajectory of such things. Hollywood, in the Seventies as much as now, likes investing in sure things, or as close to a sure thing as possible. So it’s kind of a no-brainer for Hollywood execs to go after hit novels for translation to the big screen. But here’s the thing: Death Wish was a bomb. It was a total bomb from a tiny publisher. No one was interested in buying it, no one was interested in reading it and it’s a complete mystery to me how anyone in the movie business even heard about the book in the first place, let alone thought it would make a solid basis for a film. If Paul Talbot, in his excellent history of the Death Wish films, Bronson’s Loose!, knows the answer to that question, he didn’t share it in his book.
But the fact is that someone read Death Wish, someone saw dollar signs emanating from it and eventually Dino de Laurentiis made what would go on to be a watershed thriller. Even people who’ve never seen Death Wish know what it is and what it’s about. And despite the fact that Brian Garfield has had a couple of other adaptations made from his work, I would say Death Wish remains his most recognizable novel. For better or worse, as I’ll discuss presently.
My wife and I have been loyal Comcast customers for a long, long time. We’ve stuck with them through thick and thin, through richer or poorer, for better or worse. When new features became available, we generally added them onto our service because we had the extra cash and those features were cool. We even added phone service, though I can safely say we’ve never, ever used it and never, ever will.
But here’s the thing: Comcast is expensive, and it’s only gotten more so as the years have gone by. Over the past three years or so, our bill has jumped about $70. Maybe that doesn’t seem like a whole lot, but that’s a significant amount to someone like me, who needs value from everything.
Now I like having all the premium channels. It’s cool to browse the movies when they come on and I have recorded more than I like to admit. And I watch Game of Thrones like everyone else on the planet, as well as Strike Back, which is considerably less popular. Having a vast expanse of channels from which to choose has been a great experience and one I wouldn’t trade away for much. But, Comcast, you have to cut me a break. You cost too much! And I was flat-out told by a customer service rep that it would get more expensive still in 2014. I can’t abide that.
My wife and I have thought seriously about “cutting the cord,” like so many have done. We rely far more on our internet service than we do on anything else, so it’s really only one simple step to eliminate the cable part of the equation entirely and just stream everything that interests us. Certainly Netflix has more television available on its streaming service than we’d ever be able to watch in ten years, and then there are all the movies to consider. I have 500 DVDs in my Netflix queue. We are not hard up for things to watch.
You know from your devoted reading of everything I write in this blog that I’ve chosen to completely rework my Camaro Espinoza novel, Meaner Than Hell, from the ground up. Some of the original work can be rescued, but essentially this is a totally new book that happens to share characters and a basic plot with something else I wrote.
My wife reads all the stuff I produce, and though you might think she’d softball me — because we’re married, and all — she’s actually pretty brutal in her assessments. If I’ve done something she doesn’t care for, even a little thing, I’ll get dinged on it. The bigger the error, the sharper the criticism. We don’t always see eye to eye on certain issues (like internal monologue) but if I can make it past her, then I know I’m doing all right.
Anyway, she read the original Meaner Than Hell and had some incisive commentary to make, much of which I swore I’d clean up in a subsequent pass. I didn’t know then that I’d pretty much throw all my hard work away in favor of entirely new material, so I thought at the time it would be fairly easy to address. One of these issues was the badness of the central villain of the piece, one Lucas Collier, and how I’d undermined it here and there with some choices I’d made. Lucas is supposed to be the titular meaner-than-hell figure so he should be, you know, meaner than hell.
As I put together the outline for the new Meaner Than Hell, I made a conscious effort to make Lucas the baddest person I could come up with. I gave him a series of unpleasant scenes and focused on centralizing him as an antagonist, whereas he had sort of shared that status with his brother, Jake. All seemed well and I felt I’d done what I needed to do in order to have a stronger narrative through-line for the whole thing.
Then the writing started. Now here’s the issue with that: you have to actually write what you outlined. That meant that when I got into the actual writing part of writing, I had to narrate all the terrible stuff Lucas did and said in the outline. I discovered fairly quickly, however, that I didn’t enjoy this process at all.
Last week I talked to you about how I was having, let’s say, a little bit of difficulty with an outline I’d been working on. The piece is called Gavel, and I made the critical error of setting the outline aside unfinished some six months ago. Coming back to it now, I discovered that I’d forgotten pretty much all the subplots I’d been planning to put into the story, so reading over what I had was confusing because I had no idea how anything connected to anything else. Double plus ungood.
Some people might have just given up at that point. Clearly I had some issues with the story at the outline level, and I’ve said in the past that if a book can’t come together in an outline it’ll never fly as a completed manuscript. Best to chalk it up as a noble failure and move on. Right? Well….
I had some investment in Gavel and I didn’t want to walk away. I like the Gavel character and think he has potential for series breakout along the lines of Camaro Espinoza, so the idea of just giving up did not appeal. I’d forgotten all the ideas I had before, but I’m supposed to be a creative professional. That means I should be able to think up all new ideas. Maybe not immediately and maybe not easily, but it’s kind of my job.
So I sat down with the half-outline I had to work with and I reread it a couple of times. I got a greater handle on what was happening in the story — names, events, timeline — and started to extrapolate from there. Like I said, I had an inkling of how Gavel was supposed to go, so all I had to do was grind out some new plot points to fit both my recollection and the existing material.
Over the course of about five hours I, laboriously and with great pain, pulled a fresh story out of my ass. Not a pleasant experience, as I say, but one that I managed to pull off. I had myself an outline and it was… good?
Given that I talked about Chicago Fire a couple of days ago, I thought it would be worthwhile to take a closer look at its sister show, Chicago PD. I said then that I do not like Chicago PD as much as Chicago Fire, but that doesn’t mean I dislike the show, only that I have differing feelings toward it.
For those who didn’t read my other post, or who refuse to read it now, I’ll give a little history. You see, I started watching Chicago PD first, being attracted to a couple of things about it that I like in a show. First and foremost was the character of Hank Voight, played by Jason Beghe. Voight is a bad cop in the vein of bad cops I really enjoy, and the prospect of seeing another show with that sort of character in the lead was appealing. I wasn’t totally thrilled by its connection to Chicago Fire, but I figured it would be possible to watch one without watching the other. As it’s turned out, that’s not exactly the case, but this is all to the good, as Chicago Fire is very satisfying to watch.
I won’t say I’m a cop show aficionado, though I have watched my fair share. The cop show to end all cop shows is, to my mind, Miami Vice, as I’ve said many a time. Before I go any further, I want to say that Chicago PD is not the equal of Miami Vice in any way, shape or form. Miami Vice revolutionized television on a variety of levels and made an indelible mark on the way I appreciate and write stories. Chicago PD, for all its good aspects, is nothing like that.
Watching Chicago PD and Chicago Fire in tandem really shows up how the programs are markedly different, but also akin. Chicago Fire is unapologetically a soap opera. It’s structured like a soap opera, plays like a soap opera and toys with your emotions like a soap opera. Chicago PD has something of a harder time replicating this formula. On the one hand it does have little ongoing subplots here and there (the show is still new), but on the other hand it’s largely a case-of-the-week sort of thing like countless other cop shows that have come before it. This has the positive effect of making Chicago PD an easier show for new viewers to step into, but also denies the show the great strength of Chicago Fire.