… but especially these times we are living in, when free speech is under attack as seldom before. Book banning has become pandemic, and now some are even threatening arrest for teachers and librarians who give students the “wrong” books to read.
Last week the Writers Strike reached the Land of Enchantment, with picket lines in both Albuquerque and Santa Fe that shut down a couple of shoots. The biggest turnout was Friday, when we picketed the Greer Garson Studios for most of the day.
HEY HEY HO HO
CORPORATE GREED HAS TO GO
Santa Fe does not have as many WGA members as California, of course, but while we don’t have the numbers, we yield nothing to California when it comes to determination.
Some friends from distant lands joined us as well, including Neil Gaiman and Nnedi Okorafor.
Rebecca Roanhorse as also on hand, along with bestselling author Douglas Preston (from the Authors Guild), director/ producer Chris Eyre from DARK WINDS, Melinda Snodgrass of WILD CARDS and STAR TREK fame, and all sorts of other good people.
Thanks to our friends in the Teamsters and IATSE, who have been staunch allies from the start, and to all the people who HONKED to show their support as they drove by.
HEY HEY HO HO
MINI-ROOMS HAVE GOT TO GO
The strike is in its fourth week, but the Guild is more determined than ever.
A number of productions have been shut down, but so far the AMPTP won’t even come back to the table. There’s nothing to do but redouble our efforts. The issues here are too important for anything less.
I hope you’re with us. If so, HONK when you see our signs, in LA or SF or anywhere else. And never never ever cross a picket line.
We’ll be back when you least expect us.
Current Mood: determined
I want to say a few words about what I think is THE most important issue in the current writers’ strike: the so-called “mini rooms” that the Guild is hoping to abolish, and the terrible impact they are having on writers at the start of their careers.
A look at my own career may be instructive. For the first fourteen years of my career, I wrote only prose; a few novels, and lots of stories for ANALOG, ASIMOV’S, and various other SF magazines and anthologies. Much as I enjoyed television, I never dreamt of writing for it until 1985, when CBS decided to launch a new version of THE TWLIGHT ZONE, and executive producer Phil DeGuere invited me to write an episode for them. A freelance script; that was how you began back then. I decided to give it a shot… and Phil and his team liked what I did. So much so that within days of delivery, I got an offer to come on staff. Before I quite knew what had happened, I was on my way to LA with a six-week deal as a Staff Writer, at the Guild minimum salary, scripts against. (In the 80s, Staff Writer was the lowest rung on the ladder. You could tell, because it was the only job with “writer” in the title).
What I knew about television production when I got off that plane at Burbank was… well, so minimal I can’t think of a pithy analogy. But I learned. I learned in the writers’ room from Phil himself and the amazing staff he had assembled for TZ: Jim Crocker, Rockne S. O’Bannon, the incredible Alan Brennert, Michael Cassutt, and a bevy of fantastic freelancers. And not just about dialogue and structure and the language of scriptwriting. I learned about production as well. The moment I arrived, Phil threw me into the deep end. I wrote five scripts during my season and a half on TZ, and I was deeply involved in every aspect of every one of them. I did not just write my script, turn it in, and go away. I sat in on the casting sessions. I worked with the directors. I was present at the table reads. “The Last Defender of Camelot” was the first of my scripts to go into production, and I was on set every day. I watched the stuntmen rehearse the climactic sword fight (in the lobby of the ST ELSEWHERE set, as it turned out), and I was present when they shot that scene and someone zigged when he should have zagged and a stuntman’s nose was cut off… a visceral lesson as to the kind of thing that can go wrong. With Phil and Jim and Harvey Frand (our line producer, another great guy who taught me a lot), I watched dailies every day. After the episode was in the can, I sat in on some post-production, and watched the editors work their magic. I learned from them too.
There is no film school in the world that could have taught me as much about television production as I learned on TWILIGHT ZONE during that season and a half. When TZ was renewed for a second season, I was promoted from Staff Writer to Story Editor. (More money, and now scripts were plus and not against). Started sitting in on freelance pitches… and now I was allowed to talk and give notes. Sadly, the show was cancelled halfway through the second season, but by that time I had learned so much that I was able to go on to further work in television. I did a couple stories for MAX HEADROOM, but my next staff job was BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. They brought me on as Executive Story Editor, one bump up from my TZ rank. Over the next three years, I climbed the ladder, rung by rung: Co-Producer, Producer, Co-Supervising Producer, Supervising Producer, Co-Executive Producer. When B&B finished its run, I started writing features and pitching pilots, landed an overall deal at Columbia, created and scripted STARPORT and THE SURVIVORS and FADEOUT… and DOORWAYS, which we filmed for ABC. I was Showrunner (along with Jim Crocker) and Executive Producer on that one.
That was my first ten years in television; 1985-1995, more or less, long before HBO and GAME OF THRONES.
NONE OF IT would have been possible, if not for the things I learned on TWILIGHT ZONE as a Staff Writer and Story Editor. I was the most junior of junior writers, maybe a hot(ish) young writer in the world of SF, but in TV I was so green that I would have been invisible against a green screen. And that, in my opinion, is the most important of the things that the Guild is fighting for. The right to have that kind of career path. To enable new writers, young writers, and yes, prose writers, to climb the same ladder.
Right now, they can’t. Streamers and shortened seasons have blown the ladder to splinters. The way it works now, a show gets put in development, the showrunner assembles a “mini-room,” made up of a couple of senior writers and a couple newcomers, they meet for a month or two, beat out the season, break down the episodes, go off and write scripts, reassemble, get notes, give notes, rewrite, rinse and repeat… and finally turn into the scripts. And show is greenlit (or not, some shows never get past the room) and sent into production. The showrunner and his second, maybe his second and his third, take it from there. The writer producers. The ones who already know all the things that I learned on TWILIGHT ZONE.
The junior writers? They’re not there. Once they delivered their scripts and did a revision of two, they were paid, sent home, their salary ended. They are off looking for another gig. If the series gets another season, maybe they will be brought back. Maybe they won’t. Maybe they can’t, since they are off in another mini-room for another show. If they do get brought back, they may get a promotion… but that’s not guaranteed. I know writers who have been Staff Writer on half a dozen different series, and others who have been “Writer’s Room Assistant” (which is the new entry level gig, since no one buys freelance scripts any more) three or four times, never getting off the bottom rung of the ladder so matter how talented they are. And when a junior writer does finally get a better title, even one that will put a P-word on their IMDB credits, they still won’t have any producing experience. In many cases they won’t be asked to set even when the episodes they wrote are being filmed. (They may be ALLOWED on set, if the showrunner and execs are cool with that, but only as a visitor, with no authority, no role. And no pay, of course. They may even be told they are not allowed to speak to the actors).
One of the things the AMPTP put forward in their last offer to the WGA is that some writers might be brought onto sets as unpaid interns, to “shadow” and “observe.” Even that will not be an absolute right. Maybe they will be let in, maybe not. These are the people who wrote the stories being filmed, who created the characters, who wrote the words the actors are saying. I was WAY more than that in 1985, and so was every other staff writer in television at the time.
The juniors may have worked for as long as half a year on the show. All of it in a room, with other writers. But they won’t be part of the casting. They won’t be meeting with the director. They won’t be at the table read. No one will bring them into the editing suite so the editor can explain what he is doing. The line producer will not sit down and go over the budget with them (as Harvey Frand did with me), or patiently explain why they can’t have nine matte paintings or that huge montage. They won’t be sharing lunch with the stars. If a stuntman’s nose is cut off, they will need to read about it VARIETY, since they will be off in another room on another show.
Mini-rooms are abominations, and the refusal of the AMPTP to pay writers to stay with their shows through production — as part of the JOB, for which they need to be paid, not as a tourist — is not only wrong, it is incredibly short sighted. If the Story Editors of 2023 are not allowed to get any production experience, where do the studios think the Showrunners of 2033 are going to come from?
If nothing else, the WGA needs to win that on that issue. No matter how long it may take.
Current Mood: determined
The writers’ strike is on.
No one wanted this — no writer with an ounce of sense, anyway — but the producers and the studios and the networks and the streamers gave us no choice. The Guild negotiated right up to the final deadline on May 1, but it takes two to tango. In the waning hours of May 1, the Writers Guild of America declared a strike. The action began on May 2. There are pickets in front of every studio lot and sound stage in LA, and many in other cities as well. Get used to them. I expect they will be there for a long time.
I am not in LA, so I cannot walk a picket line as I did in 1988, but I want to go on the record with my full and complete and unequivocal support of my Guild.
How long will the strike last? No idea. Maybe the AMPTP members will come to their senses tomorrow and offer some meaningful concessions, and the whole thing can be wrapped up next week. I would not bet the ranch on that, however. I have been through several of these since I first started writing for television and film in 1986. The 1988 strike, the first I was a part of, lasted 22 weeks, the longest in Hollywood history. The 2007-2008 strike, the most recent, went for 100 days. This one may go longer. The issues are more important, imnsho, and I have never seen the Guild so united as it is now.
Writers’ strikes tend to be longer than other labor actions. That’s the nature of the beast. My father was a longshoreman. When the ILA went out on strike, work on the docks shut down at once. The ships did not get unloaded. The trucks did not move. The cranes froze in place, the fork lifts stayed where they were when their drivers walked off, the bananas rotted in the holds. It does not work that way with writing. Everyone has seen this storm coming a long way off… and accordingly, studios and streamers and networks have been stockpiling scripts for months. As of May 2, the pens are down and the computer screens have gone dark all across Hollywood, but production will continue so long as there are scripts to shoot. The proviso being, of course, that those scripts must be shot EXACTLY as they were as of midnight on May 1. Not a word can be changed, cut, added, not a scene can be altered. All that requires writing… and from now until the strike ends, the writers will be on picket lines, not on sets.
(Many of you will be wondering, rightfully, about the impact of the strike on my own shows. The second season of DARK WINDS wrapped several months ago. Post production has been completed on five of the six episodes, and will soon be done on the last. The show will likely air sometime this summer on AMC. No decision on the third season will be made until after the strike. Peacock has passed on WILD CARDS, alas. A pity. We will try to place it elsewhere, but not until the strike is over. The writer’s room on A KNIGHT OF THE SEVEN KINGDOMS: THE HEDGE KNIGHT has closed for the duration. Ira Parker and his incredible staff of young talents are on the picket lines. Across the ocean, the second season of HOUSE OF THE DRAGON started filming April 11 and will continue in London and Wales. The scripts for the eight s2 episodes were all finished months ago, long before the strike began, Every episode has gone through four or five drafts and numerous rounds of revisions, to address HBO notes, my notes, budget concerns, etc. There will be no further revisions. The writers have done their jobs; the rest is in the hands of the directors, cast and crew… and of course the dragons).
((Some of you, I fear, may be having anxiety attacks just now, on the mistaken assumption that this strike affects WINDS OF WINTER. You can relax. The WGA is a union of film and television writers. It has nothing to do with novels, short stories, or any other form of prose fiction, nor comic books and graphic novels, nor stage plays, nor the editing of collections and anthologies I have on-going projects in all those areas, and that work continues unabated. And WINDS continues to be priority number one)).
I am not going to try to explain the issues at stake here on my Not A Blog. Others have done that far better than I could. Whistle up Google and you will find dozens of stories on the internet detailing what the Guild is asking for on behalf of the writers it represents. The details are there, for those of you who are interested in going more deeply into the disputes. Needless to say, money is a big part of it. The move from broadcast and cable to streaming has severely impacted residuals for writers (and directors and actors as well). Television seasons have been shrinking; from 22 episodes on network, to 13 on cable, to 10, and now to 8 and 6. Since writers are often paid by the episode, that’s hurt too. Writer incomes are down across the board. The details are in the news stories.
And there are other issues, one of which I think is especially important. So important that I think it deserves its own post. Look for that tomorrow. For today, let me close by saying I am very heartened by the support we’ve received from the Teamsters and the other unions, and from many individual members of SAG and the DGA as well. I hope we will have the support of all of you reading them as well: the viewers, the fans, the people we are making these shows for.
It could be a long fight, but with you on our side, we cannot lose.
Current Mood: determined
That blog post of mine about my inspiration for Casterly Rock got widely noticed, it seems. Even on the original Rock, the one at the tip of the Iberian Peninsula. They wanted to know more about my visit to Gibraltar, so I did a zoom interview with the GBC.
I really need to get back there one day. I want to return to Morocco, Granada, Seville, Toledo, Madrid, Barcelona, and Asturias as well… oh, and to Portugal too. Lisbon and Porto are amazing.
But not until I finish WINDS OF WINTER.
Current Mood: hopeful
Lots of things going on, hard to keep up, let alone blog about it all.
Let’s see… well, big news, we wrapped filming on the second season of DARK WINDS a few days ago, with several days of shooting in Monument Valley. This is the Navajo detective series we’re doing for AMC, based on the fantastic Joe Leaphorn/ Jim Chee novels of the late great Tony Hillerman. The first season was largely based on LISTENING WOMEN, with some of PEOPLE OF DARKNESS folded in. The new season completes the PEOPLE OF DARKNESS storyline. We got some great reviews for season one — and I really hope we get some Emmy attention too, though the show ran last June, and people do forget — and they tell me season two is even better. If you missed season one, you can still catch it streaming on AMC+. Post production is just starting on season two, no release date yet, but I’m thinking summer, maybe spring.
(Please note that I did not use “Winds” in the title of this blog. The last time I did that, the internet went nuts. Guys, gals, c’mon, Tony Hillerman wrote and published THE DARK WIND decades before I ever dreamed of Westeros).
On other fronts, we’re still working on a Wild Cards television series. It’s… sigh… “in development,” which means… hell, nobody knows what it means. But if we can get it up and running, it will be a fun show. The world of the Wild Cards as a big as the Marvel or DC multiverses, with thirty-one volumes published to date and more on the way, forty odd authors, hundreds of stories, a vast lineup of characters. This particular take on the world is based largely on FORT FREAK, and centered on Jokertown.
For a glimpse into what it means to adapt a book or story for television, check out David Anthony Durham’s latest blog post on the Wild Cards website, “A Tale of A Tail.” You can find it at https://www.wildcardsworld.com/a-tale-of-a-tail/
And check out the rest of the website while you’re there. We’ve got a ton of blog posts and other content for Wild Cards fans to explore.
Oh… shifting gears again… anyone here from Wisconsin? If so, watch out: the Cooters are coming to Eau Claire.
Yes, NIGHT OF THE COOTERS has been officially accepted into the Midwest Weirdfest.
Based on the classic short story by Howard Waldrop, NIGHT OF THE COOTERS tells the tale of the day the Martians invaded Pachuco, Texas. Vincent d’Onofrio directed the short film, and stars as Sheriff Lindley. Trioscope did the effects for us.
Here’s our trailer:
Weirdfest will be screening our short on March 4, we’re told. They have a lot of other… ah, weird… movies to showcase too, so if you’re anywhere near Eau Claire, get your tickets now.
And for all you other Waldropians out there, well, this is just the start. MARY-MARGARET ROAD-GRADER finished shooting here in Santa Fe in November, with Steven Paul Judd directing. That one looks to be a lot of fun as well. We’re deep in post now. Watch this space for further news.
There’s more, there’s always more, but I don’t have the time right now. Back to work.
Current Mood: busy
We all have to start somewhere, even National Treasures like Howard Waldrop.
Howard — or H’ard, as our mutual friend Gardner Dozois used to call him — came into this world on September 15, 1946, which makes him even older than me. (Yes, that is also the day Jetboy died and the wild card virus was loosed upon an unsuspecting world, which is not as coincidental as you might think). He started making up stories almost immediately, before he could even talk. I think his first word was “Shemp,” but that may be an urban legend. It was a couple of years before he started writing, but once his little hands were strong enough to start pounding the keys on a manual typewriter, there was no stopping him. He wrote and wrote and wrote. And no one wrote like H’ard.
Eventually people began publishing his stories. Fanzine editors at first. Howard was there at the birth of comics fanzines in the 1960s, the same as I was. That was how we met, back in 1962, when I bought a copy of BRAVE & BOLD #28 (Starro the Conquerer, yay!) for a quarter. Howard had only paid a dime for it, so he made a big profit. He was always a canny businessman. We started corresponding after that, when stamps were only three cents, although we did not meet in person until a convention in Kansas City in 1972.
Those were heady days in comics fandom, and for me and Howard too. We both began to publish stories around the same time (Publish, not sell, no one was paying us a penny) in fanzines like CORTANA, HERO, and STAR-STUDDED COMICS, the big photo offset zine from the Texas Trio. (Howard lived in Texas. I did not). I was writing amateur superhero stories starring characters created by the Trio, like Powerman and Dr. Weird, and some of my own creation, like Manta Ray, the White Raider, and Garizan the Mechanical Warrior. Howard, though publishing in comics fanzines, stayed clear of superfolks (well, until Jetboy). His stories featured Roman legionaries, the Three Musketeers, hardboiled PIs in small Texas towns, a swordsman called Wanderer, the Flying Wing, and… well, pretty much anything and everything.
None of us knew quite what to make of Howard, or his stories. But we loved them.
In the due course of time, the prozines started to take note as well. Howard’s first professional sale was a story called “Lunchbox,” which the legendary John W. Campbell Jr. bought for ANALOG a few weeks before he died. I made my first sale right around the same time, a story called “The Hero,” to GALAXY. Other sales followed, for both of us. Eventually both of us had published enough stories to publish collections. Howard called his HOWARD WHO?
But we knew.
He did not include everything in HOWARD WHO? though. He left out some of his early professional sales, and of course all those fanzine stories. Some of those had been published on ditto’ed fanzines that were fading more with every passing day, and were in danger of being lost to the ages.
We couldn’t have that. So I got together with my friend Bradley Denton (an amazing writer himself, author of BUDDY HOLLY IS ALIVE AND WELL ON GANYMEDE, which really needs to be a movie), and we put together a collection of Howard’s early work, most of it long out of print. We call it H’ARD STARTS: The Early Waldrop.
I’ve never edited an anthology that was more fun. We’ve got the Wanderer stories here, we’ve got Howard’s con reports (including his account of our first meeting), we’ve got “Lunchbox” and “Billy Big-Eyes” and “My Sweet Lady Jo,” and the never-before published “Davy Crockett Shoots the Moon,” a couple of plays he wrote in college, his essays for Crawdaddy (the one about the Flying Wing still moves me), even a sketch he wrote for Red Skelton, who did not buy it. (Imagine if he had, and Howard had gone on to a career writing comedy for television. That’s a truly Waldropian alternate world).
But there’s more than just fiction here. Brad sat down with Howard for days, and compiled an amazing set of interviews about the history of every one of these pieces. Howard’s recollections are not always accurate (I was there for some of them), but they are funny, and moving, and give us a peek into his own life, and the lost world we lived in during the 60s and 70s.
And now Subterranean Press is bringing it out, in one of their gorgeous limited edition hardcovers.
Here’s the pre-order page: https://subterraneanpress.com/hstew/
All the money from the sale of H’ARD STARTS will be going to Howard himself.
Oh, and I almost forgot. All of the books are SIGNED. By Brad Denton. By yours truly. And by the one and only Howard Waldrop, his own self, sage of Austin, father of Jetboy, National Treasure.
Get yours now.
Current Mood: pleased
“You can buy anything you might desire from Gray Alys. But it is better not to.”
Those were the opening words of my short story “In the Lost Lands,” first published in the DAW anthology AMAZONS II in 1982. In the first decade or so of my career most of what I wrote was science fiction, set amidst the Thousand Worlds, the shared background of dozens of my stories and my first novel, DYING OF THE LIGHT. “In the Lost Lands” was a bit of a departure; a pure fantasy. (I loved fantasy just as much as SF, but back in the 70s and 80s there was not much of a market for fantasy shorts). It was meant to be the first in a series of stories about Gray Alys, a mysterious sorceress in a distant, magical realm, who provides her patrons with whatever they might wish… if they are foolish enough, to buy from her. You deal with Gray Alys at your peril.
I wanted to write six or eight or ten Gray Alys stories, then put them all together in a collection… or perhaps a “fix up” novel. That was a common approach back in those days. And one I used myself with another character, Haviland Tuf. I wrote a series of Tuf stories, then an interstitial to bridge them all together, and published them as TUF VOYAGING.
Alas, for whatever reason, I never wrote that second Gray Alys story. (I did begin one, long ago. Got two pages, I think, then set it aside, and never returned to it). Why? Damned if I know. It was a long time ago. I always liked the character, though.
That’s why it thrills me to announce that she will soon be appearing on the big screen. IN THE LOST LANDS, the movie, wrapped filming in Poland a few weeks ago! Paul W.S. Anderson, director of MONSTER HUNTER, EVENT HORIZON, and the RESIDENT EVIL series, helmed the picture. Milla Jovovich stars as Gray Alys, and Dave Bautista as Boyce. Constantin Werner (PAGAN QUEEN) served as writer and producer.
IMDB has information on the rest of the cast.
We’ve just started the post production process, and there’s a lot of special effects and other work yet to do, so IN THE LOST LANDS likely won’t be appearing at your local cinema until some time in 2024. We are also hoping to do a tie-in graphic novel, which will include both my original story (quite short, at 6,000 words or so) and the larger, darker, more expansive world of the film. That’s still in early days, though.
And who knows? If the gods are good, and IN THE LOST LANDS turns out to be a hit, maybe we’ll get to tell the further adventures of Gray Alys after all. I have a sheet of ideas around here somewhere…
Current Mood: bouncy
An apology to all the aces and jokers out there, my Wild Cards fans and readers. There’s been lots going on with Wild Cards, but I have been so busy with Westeros and the railroad and many many other things that I haven’t found time to blog about it.
Better late than never, though, so…
We have had some fun new original Wild Card short stories up on Tor.com.
Here’s “Grow,” by Carrie Vaughn.
And here’s “Hearts of Stone,” from Emma Newman.
Jason Powell had a couple of thought provoking Wild Cards essays up at well.
That’s not all, though.
On the literary front, the Wild Cards gang is hard at work on three new originals: PAIRING UP, SLEEPER STRADDLES, and HOUSE RULES.
Meanwhile, work continues apace on the Wild Cards Tv series we are developing for Peacock. The pilot will be based mostly on FORT FREAK. Haven’t read that one? No problem, signed copies are available from Beastly Books in Santa Fe, and unsigned copies from your favorite on-line bookseller.
Current Mood: bouncy
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