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B+E – A Frank Armstrong Story

October 26th, 2010 No comments

The fine folks at Mulholland books are serializing the short story prequel I wrote about Frank, with some original illos by Noel. You can read that here: http://www.mulhollandbooks.com/2010/10/26/b-e-a-frank-armstrong-story/

While you’re there, make sure to check out all of the amazing content from a slew of my favorite writers, including Tumor’s foreword writer Duane Swierczynski.

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Tumor as Horror

October 31st, 2009 No comments

As it’s Halloween, and I’m waiting for some eggs to cool off for deviled egg making, I thought I should probably update, as it’s been so long.  Well, much to my surprise, I opened my laptop, cruised through Bloglines and found an article over on MTV’s Splash Page about their scariest comic books ever. Halfway down, nestled between the works of some guys named Gaiman and Moore, was this:

“ELK’S RUN” by Joshua Hale Fialkov (W) and Noel Tuazon (A) — Villard Books

This graphic novel mines its goosebumps almost entirely by keeping the story’s momentum in a constant tailspin after focusing early on on the endangered children in Fialkov’s script who become mice in a frighteningly imaginable small-town horror story.

While I was busy fanning myself from my ecstatic yelping at the flattery, I realized something about Tumor that I haven’t actually expressed.  The original concept for the book, at it’s heart, was a horror story.  I tend to spend a lot of time in the early stages of the creative process coming up with ideas that have some sort of personal resonance, for obvious reasons.  It’s a helluva lot easier to write about white you know and fear than it is to pick something random out of a hat (ooh! he’s scared of elevators! let’s do something with that!).

There’s very little that I can think of than being worse than my mind leaving me.  While my hands are the conduit, and my eyes and ears encouragers who with the loss of any would certainly make what I do, and love, much harder to do, at the end of the day, without the ability to think and dream and imagine, I’m nothing.

I’ve suffered from severe headaches off and on for the past several years.  Tumor was conceived before they really took over a good chunk of my life.  I began writing it not too long after.  As many of you probably have never had a true migraine, I figured I’d give a little bit of a sense of what it’s like.

Your brain has purchased a jackhammer which it’s using to drill a hole through your face and it accidentally got a bit of itself in the way.  Literally the only thought capable of passing through your mind is, “Please God, make it stop.”  They’re so terrible that I find myself taking my medication at even the tiniest inkling of one, because while the medicine makes me feel lousy the next day, a migraine makes me feel lousy for a week.

Now, you take that and you throw me in the middle of a murder mystery wherein I may or may not be the murderer… Yowsers.  Probably the earliest version of the script was something along the lines of an even more oblique Barton Fink.  But, as happens with writing, as I worked on the story, I realized that no external force is as strong as the internal struggle that a character has to go through.  So, by having Frank’s ailment parallel to some degree his predicament, being tossed into a world of gray, where everyone is a bad guy including the good guys, really just clicked.

That being said, I think the book still has a bit of the horror style in terms of pacing and structure, but, that’s sort of just the way I write.  I love telling stories where you reveal information in the tiniest dabs you can to continuously build suspense and mystery, and that, more than blood, werewolves, and vampires is what makes great horror for me.

This was a bit more rambling than I intended so feel free to ask any questions below.

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The Origins of Tumor

October 7th, 2009 No comments

Got an hour and a half?  Check out the above embedded flick, D.O.A.  Aside from having the greatest opening of any movie ever, it also served as a big inspiration point for Tumor both in concept and in execution.  Enjoy!

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Chapter Three – Script

September 15th, 2009 No comments
Tumor3-Script

Chapter Three

Issue Three is where the story really departed from what I initially intended the book to be. While I was in the outlining stage, I was spending most of my creative energy on coming up with what the ‘mystery’ of the book was going to be. I had the characters all down pat, but, desperately needed a maguffin to drive the story.

As it stood, he found Evelyn in Chapter Two, had the seizure and woke up in the hospital as written. But, the difference is that Evelyn doesn’t come back. He’s seen her, he’s seen how scared she is, and he knows that she’s in trouble. The problem was that there had to be some bit of happenstance that led Frank to get back on her trail, and out of the hospital. Everything that would make him run came off as too forced. I spent weeks wrestling with the story trying desperately to find that missing maguffin.

I was in a meeting with a Hollywood Producer type and was talking about the book. As I was pitching the story, I got to the loosey-goosey second act. The producer stopped me and asked where all my story confidence went. I told him that I was missing the maguffin still, and couldn’t get the story to flow properly. He asked a simple question. “Why?” I went on about the necessity of it for the genre, and how it’s the way these things are done, and so on. He stared at me and said, “He needs to find the girl and do the thing he couldn’t do to his wife. Protect her. That’s the maguffin.”

Sure enough, he was right. This was a story about a man being faced to look at his past mistakes and face them down one on one. As he flashes between reality and fantasy there’s one thing that grounds him in the now. Evelyn and the threat that she faces. Once I had that piece of the puzzle, I had the story.

I think that really comes through in the writing of this chapter, and each of the following chapters. I felt a confidence in the story that I didn’t quite have in the first two, because my story had found it’s driving force, and, Frank had found his purpose.

Script – Chapter Two – Cracking the Code

August 18th, 2009 No comments
Tumor1-Script

Chapter Two

So the thing I wanted to discuss about issue two is something so silly and obvious that I think a lot of writers forget to do it. Your script is meant to be a road map for your artist. It’s extremely important that you convey what you’re trying to do in a way that’s clear, concise, and unmistakable for your artist. Your artist spends ten times more time drawing than you do writing. It’s important to make things easy for them to help them work faster, and need fewer redos.

The example in this script, which took me till this script to include, is indicators of the art style for Noel. Obviously the book is drawn in two different styles. For ‘current time’ or ‘reality’ we have a hard line, clean style. For flashbacks/hallucinations we have an inkwash. In the first script, a couple of things happened. First, Noel figured out the stylistic choice that allows us to have these two feels. Secondly, I made sure to point out in detail when I wanted the style to switch.

What become obvious in writing script two was that there was going to be a lot more back and forth, and a short hand was needed. The short hand changed a bit from script to script, but, by clearly marking each panel or page as either IW (ink wash) or HL (hard line), Noel can easily pick the correct paper and tools to quickly move through the art.

Another example of this is my script for Alibi over at Top Cow, with artist Jeremy Haun. While the art was in a single style, the coloring was used to delineate three distinct locales, all running concurrently. So, on the very first page there was a color code, saying that everything marked with an A should be colored with cool blues, everything with a B should be colored in reds and golds, and everything with a C should be colored neutrally.

It has a very techinical feel to it, but, at the end of the day, a comic script is a blueprint. It’s the same as a shooting script for a film. You want to layout in a comfortable amount of detail what you want, while still allowing your collaborators the freedom to contribute to the greater creative good.

Foolishly Forgotten

August 3rd, 2009 No comments

So, I write a whole article about the influences you’ll find in Tumor, and forgot probably the biggest one. Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. I’ve had a strange journey with this book. By the age of fourteen I was about as die hard a Vonnegut fan as ever there was. Except for S5. Slaughterhouse always felt like it lacked the humanity of his other books, as well as the humor. Even though it provides some of the key connective tissue for the masterwork that is Vonnegut’s complete works, it feels disconnected from the rest of the man’s oeuvre. I’ve revisited it a few times through the years, and was always taken with the technique but not the substance.

Until this last read, just a few months ago. It finally came together for me. For being such an early work of Vonnegut’s, it’s filled from top to bottom with the maturity that fills even his last works. The man was telling a story that was intensely personal, filled with the worst moments of his life, dressed in the clothes of science fiction and fantasy.

I was working my way through the back half of Tumor when I reread Slaughterhouse Five. I think as you see how the book plays out, you’ll see more of the influence through out.

And so it goes.

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Where Did It Come From

August 1st, 2009 No comments

A good ol’ nasty review on Amazon reminded me of the post I’ve been intending to make about the four major influences on me that lead to Tumor, each really helping to form the backbone of the story, shape the tone, and give me a direction to follow.

First, and probably foremost, is the 1950 classic D.O.A. directed by Rudolph Mate’ and starring Edmund O’Brien. D.O.A. is quite possibly my favorite of the film noirs for both its simplicity and aching suspense. It’s the story of a man, who is accidentally poisoned, who must spend his last remaining hours trying to solve his own murder. It’s got it’s share of goofy, awkward moments, as any good B picture would, but, what raises it above the others, is a degree of style and grace and just sheer damn inventiveness that drives the story to it’s inevitable conclusion. It also paints a portrait of San Francisco that feels both real, alive, and accurate (even though it’s not quite.)

Secondly, we have Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries. It’s easily my favorite Bergman film, both for it’s straight forwardness (for Bergman, anyways) and for it’s complete portraiture of a man’s life. Over the course of just 91 minutes, you see every mistake, formative event, and final destination of a man, who’s life, he realizes, has been lived in vain. The movie is a man’s journey to death, as his life flashes before our eyes. You’ll find the stylistic blendings between reality and dream that we strive to use in Tumor taken straight from the beautiful cinematography and editing of Bergman’s masterwork. Plus, the stunning performance of Victor Sjöström has that balance between bastard and charming victim that really makes Frank tick.

Third, as our esteemed Amazon reviewer pointed out, is the Singing Detective. Dennis Potter’s amazing mini-series starring Michael Gambon combines elementes of both movies I mentioned above into a dense, beautiful story of a man trapped in his body by an illness with only his imagination and his haunted memories to alleviate the tension. His mind draws him into a fantasy story that’s a sort of dance hall version of a pulp detective story. The Singing Detective is truly one of the great masterpieces of television, and it’s where that core idea of a man dependent on his mind slowly losing it came from for the book.

So here’s the thing. These three very different pieces of film have always felt somehow linked to me. Perhaps because all three are about men on the verge of death, or, fates worse than. All three tell the stories of what it means to have nothing left to lose, and to face the mistakes and disasters that have made us who we are. All three movies have a strong auto-biographical feel (especially the Singing Detective, which sees the lead character afflicted with a more extreme version of what Potter himself suffered from.)

I came up with the idea for Tumor quite a few years ago. What really lit a fire under my ass to get it done was a mysterious condition I developed about three years ago now. I started to lose vision at an alarming rate. It became almost impossible for me to read books, street signs, anything that wasn’t brightly illuminated right in front of my face. And then the headaches started. Crippling, debilitating, real humdingers of torturous pain. I spent the better part of the first year with them curled up in a ball on the couch trying to make it through the day. For a time, I was convinced (as were some of my doctors) that it was neurological in nature. Whatever was causing my problems wasn’t my eyes, but my brain, they told me. And I started to go insane.

Thank god for my wife and friends who stood by me, and gave love and sympathy when I needed it. I spent every minute of that pain terrified that I was going to lose the only thing that makes me special, my ability to think. I was put on various medications for the pain, the headaches, the depression, each making me feel slightly better in one way, while worse in some unknown extra way. I spent every day on that couch wanting to die, just to stop the pain. And, just like Frank, my mind was torn to every mistake, every lost friend, every foolish day wasted, seemingly laughing at me for the mistakes I made.

Once I was finally diagnosed, (it turned out to be a degenrative eye disease combined with a massive allergy to the local plantlife that swarmed around our neighborhood), I went back to work on Tumor. And now, not a year later, I’m proud as hell to share it with y’all.

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The Soundtrack: Innocent When You Dream

July 21st, 2009 No comments

You may have noticed over on the right hand side of the site that there’s an Imeem playlist featuring ‘the music of Tumor.’ These songs range from the ones that inspired the tone and feel, to just damn good writin’ music. I thought I’d take some time to talk about the songs over the next few weeks.

I’m gonna start with Innocent When You Dream by Tom Waits. The album this is from, Frank’s Wild Years was a huge influence over the general tone of the book. Hell, I even named the main character Frank. This album stands as sort of a bridge. While released after Swordfishtrombones and Rain Dogs, which both marked the drastic change in style from the drunken piano bar Bukowski character to the progressive madman, Frank’s Wild Years has always felt like more of a bridge between the two. It contains a heaping helping of deconstructionist, absurdist, sound poetry, but, it also has a haunting theme, and some truly beautiful songs.

Primarily, the eerie, creepy, and, frankly, lovely, Innocent When You Dream.

Had Jerry and I not recorded theme music for the trailer, this would almost definitely be the theme song.  Tumor, to me, is a book about the mistakes of our past, and how we let them guide us.  Frank Armstrong, as a character has let his every mistake guide him down the twists and turns of life, leading him deeper and deeper into the gutter.  He’s living just off of Skid Row in a building somewhere near the old Van Nuys Building.  He’s associating with the dregs of society, and has no choice but to be a part of them, but, somewhere in his mind there’s a happier life.  The life with Rosa, that one may imply, did not end so well for anyone involved.

Frank O’Brien, of Frank’s Wild Years, is a skid row bum of his own, trapped in hopeless dreams of friends, family, success, and all the trappings thereof.  Innocent When You Dream serves as both a comfort and a terrible realization. There’s the comforting, old-timey feeling of the music, juxtaposed with the heart breakingly sad lyrics about love and loss and losing yourself. These are all of the things that Tumor is about, for me. I just hope I can do Mr. Waits’ inspiration justice.

If you’re not familiar with Mr. Waits, any of the links in the above section are worthy places to start, and I couldn’t recommend trying him out more. You’re in for a treat.

Rereading the lyrics to the song, while writing the above, I realized just how much this album, and this song inspired me, so I figured I’d share ’em, just in case the great bard’s warbling leaves you scratching your head.

Innocent When You Dream
by Tom Waits

It’s such a sad old feeling
the fields are soft and green
it’s memories that I’m stelaing
but you’re innocent when you dream
when you dream
you’re innocent when you dream

running through the graveyard
we laughed my friends and I
we swore we’d be together
until the day we died
until the day we died

I made a golden promise
that we would never part
I gave my love a locket
and then I broke her heart
and then I broke her heart

Categories: Creative Process, Soundtrack, Writing Tags: