Daniel M. Kimmel's Blog: Behind the Scenes

September 11, 2018

This weekend I'll be attending my first Albacon -- a science fiction convention in Albany, New York -- which people tell me is small but a lot of fun. It will also see the launch of "Fantasy for the Throne" which includes my story "Witch v. Hansel, Gretel, et. al." Here's my program schedule for the weekend:

5:00:00 PM
2001 + 50
Kubrick's masterpiece turns 50.

12:00:00 PM
Too Many Superheroes?
Will the genre continue to thrive, or will audiences tire of it?

2:00:00 PM

3:00:00 PM
The Essential SF Films
What movies should every SF fan have to see to understand the genre?

6:00:00 PM
Did Fahrenheit 451 predict the future?
people only got their information from a single source, and call everything else fake news?

11:30:00 AM

12:00:00 PM
Things Everyone Likes but I don't
Contrarians, let's hear from you

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Published on September 11, 2018 12:49 • 24 views • Tags: albacon, science-fiction-conventions

July 26, 2018

I received word this week that my third novel, “Father of the Bride of Frankenstein,” has been accepted by Fantastic Books. As I just received the manuscript back for revisions I don’t have a publication date yet, but it’s likely to be either late this year or early next year.

I finished my draft a year ago and then shared it with a few friends to get their comments and reactions before submitting it to my publisher. (I should note that publisher Ian Randal Strock is also my editor and my friend, and his first name is pronounced EYE-an, and not EEE-an.) So, it had been quite a while since I went over it with an eye towards making changes.

Since then I’ve written a number of short stories, with several to be published in the coming months and others where I’m awaiting word. I’ll probably be starting something new shortly. However, in spending the last couple of days reading and tweaking my novel, I couldn’t help but be surprised at the mysteries of inspiration. There are parts that I know exactly what the source was. In a courtroom scene one of the parties is surprised that Judge Chiang’s name is pronounced “Chung.” This came from work I’ve done for a political website where there is a California official with that name and pronunciation.

On the other hand, there were moments that made me laugh not out of pride in my cleverness but in surprise that I had been the source of it, as in the introduction of a character who provides a scotch tasting for a bachelor party who ended up staying with the story and providing a number of comic moments. It was not something I had planned in advance. He just didn’t want to leave.

This will be my third novel (not counting an early unpublished work) and I couldn’t tell you what the future has in store. I’m hoping a collection of my short stories will emerge down the road, but as to what will suggest to me the basis of a fourth novel remains a mystery. I recently did a short story for an anthology where I was invited to do something instead of simply offer a story for consideration, and – again, to my surprise – I wrote something set in the same universe as my first novel, “Shh! It’s a Secret.” You don’t have to have read the novel to appreciate the short story, but it was the first time I had done something like that.

As a writer I am also the first reader of what I produce. So long as I can continue to surprise myself, I hope to keep on going.

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Published on July 26, 2018 06:02 • 46 views

July 3, 2018

People who write fiction are sometimes asked where they get their ideas. With me I need a spark of inspiration, and if it catches fire I’m ready to go. Where do these sparks come from?

In the case of an upcoming anthology I was actually invited to contribute to, it came from the editor, Michael Ventrella, who – for reasons I have not yet figured out – decided to call the volume “Release the Virgins.” Once it was a go project, he asked the authors for a brief description of their stories, so we wouldn’t all be going in the same direction. In fact, we were all over the place. You’ll have to wait for the book’s release down the road to find out what other writers came up with, but with my background the title suggested the movie business.

Without giving the story away, I struggled with what to do with my idea, even as I decided to steal – um, pay homage to – the plot of a classic novel about Hollywood. It took me several days of mulling it over before I realized I needed to look at another novel as well, my own Shh! It's a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood, and the Bartender's Guide. It’s the first time I set a new story in a universe I had previously used, and it was an interesting challenge to make it a self-contained story that fit in with the earlier work but did not depend on the reader’s knowledge of it.

Another story is for an upcoming anthology that’s themed on stories related to “air.” (It’s the third of four books based on the ancient “elements” of water, fire, air, and earth. I was not yet submitting stories for the first one but have a story in On Fire.) This was a different sort of challenge in that I could write about anything I wanted – in the SF/fantasy/horror spectrum – so long as it had some connection to the theme.

What unlocked it for me was when I decided to write about post-divorce dating, something that, alas, I am all too familiar with, and have the protagonist meet a woman named “Breezy.” There are some autobiographical details in the story, but it then took me in an unexpected direction. When I shared the story with the writer’s group I’m in – and they’ve heard a lot of my prose over the years – they agreed this was a surprising change in direction for me. Yes, the humor that typifies most of my fiction is there, but I let the story go where I thought it needed to and ended up with a twist that may surprise people who’ve read some of my other stuff. I hope the editors like it.

The last recent story I want to mention was recently acquired by a major science fiction magazine, which is a first for me. (I’ve been asked not to mention the name until I get my contract back in the mail. I’ll be promoting it heavily when it appears in print later this year.) Here I have my daughter to thank. She prides herself on getting unusual but appropriate gifts for people and last year for my birthday she got me a book called The Writer's Block: 786 Ideas To Jump-start Your Imagination. It’s a three-inch cube of a book that one can open at random for photos, words, sentences, and mini-essays, all of which are intended to spark an idea.

I decided to try it. I opened it up and the suggestion was to write a ransom note. That made me think of the classic O. Henry story “The Ransom of Red Chief,” and from there I took it in a different direction involving robots. This was a story I might not have come up with on my own. The book did its job. It provided the spark I needed. (As my daughter said, “I give great gifts.” She does. For Father’s Day this year she got me a print of R2D2 as the droid might have been sketched by Leonardo DaVinci.)

So my advice to writers wondering what to write about next is to look around. You never know what might inspire you and where it might lead.

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Published on July 03, 2018 07:33 • 79 views • Tags: science-fiction, short-stories, writer-s-block

June 2, 2018

I’ve been plugging away, submitting short stories here and there. In some cases, the rejections come quickly, and it’s easy to get dispirited. In other cases, I can wait months or more than a year to get a response, which is equally distressing. I have one story sitting in one place for months with no answer and since it was written specifically for that anthology I don’t know if I can find another home for it.

No one likes to be rejected, but sometimes it’s actually easier. If I believe the story is good, I turn around and find some other place to submit it. I have had more than one story turned down in one place – or several places – that I then sent to an editor who found it a good fit for his or her project. It’s important to remember that stories are rejected for all sorts of reasons, including that they already have something along those lines or it simply doesn’t work for the editor.

The story that I just received an acceptance for was rejected for the volume for which it was originally written. I could tell from the comments I got from the editor that he just didn’t get it. Since he had accepted a previous story of mine I didn’t take it personally. We just weren’t on the same wavelength this time. When another anthology came along where I thought the story might fit – for entirely different reasons – I submitted it again, and this time it clicked. So, I keep writing and submitting. Sometimes it all comes together quickly and sometimes it’s a long, drawn out process.

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Published on June 02, 2018 09:56 • 141 views

April 22, 2018

As of the moment I have a number of short stories and a novel out for consideration. While I have a story coming out shortly in a new anthology and have placed another in one coming out this fall, lately I've either been fielding rejections or find myself simply waiting for a response. In some cases, it's a long wait.

That's why I'm especially pleased with the publication of Beyond Steampunk, which contains my story "Father Russia." I wrote this three years ago and have had several rejections. Yet I knew it was a good story. (Some rejections are deserved, and I file those stories away to be worked on sometime in the future, if ever.) I didn’t give up. It wasn’t that the story was flawed. It was a matter of finding the right editor and the right fit.

Along came the call for submissions to Beyond Steampunk. What they were looking for was “alternate history” stories that avoided the obvious settings for such stories, such as Victorian England. When I saw this, I knew I had something that ought to work. And I submitted “Father Russia.”

The story is about Trofim Lysenko. If you don’t know who he was, you might want to Google him. He was a charlatan who became a leading scientist under Stalin, and who argued that he could create new species of plants by grafting one to another. The next generation, he claimed, would have the attributes of both. It was bogus science but, for a period of time, Lysenkoism held sway in the Soviet Union.

In my story Lysenko is summoned when Stalin falls ill and is asked to apply his theories to human subjects. To wit, to oversee the transfer of Stalin’s head to a new and healthier body. I guessed correctly. There is little, if any, alternate history set in Stalinist Russia, and the story was accepted for publication.

So, my advice is to be honest with yourself. If a story doesn’t sell, take a good look at it. Sometimes it shouldn’t have sold as – for one reason or another – it doesn’t really work. On the other hand, if you believe the story succeeds and it was a matter of editor who either couldn’t appreciate it or simply wasn’t on the same wavelength as you, then don’t give up. Keep submitting it. With luck, it will eventually find a home.

This one did.

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Published on April 22, 2018 15:02 • 127 views • Tags: alternate-history, lynsenko, stalin

March 31, 2018

On March 20, 2018 I lectured on Billy Wilder and comedy in conjunction with a showing of "Some Like It Hot." This occurred as part of a four day symposium on Wilder held at Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan.  You can see the lecture here (it includes a link to the second part of the talk):

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Published on March 31, 2018 09:36 • 24 views

February 22, 2018

It’s several days later and I still can’t quite believe it. I look at the list of past recipients of the Skylark Award (formally the Edward E. Smith Memorial Award) which is bestowed annually by the New England Science Fiction Association, and I’m in awe. From Frederik Pohl and Isaac Asimov and John W. Campbell to more recent awardees like George R. R. Martin, Rob Sawyer, and Jo Walton, I ask myself, “What am I doing amongst these giants?”

I never would have guessed I would even be considered for the Skylark Award, and I was stunned when my friend Nat Segaloff (the NESFA Press Guest at Boskone for his recent book on Harlan Ellison, “A Lit Fuse”) announced that this year’s award would be going to me. I have it on my bookcase – away from sunlight as Jane Yolen, another past winner, recommended – when I need to be reminded that it actually happened.

All I know is what the official qualifications for the award are: “some person, who, in the opinion of the membership, has contributed significantly to science fiction, both through work in the field and by exemplifying the personal qualities which made the late ‘Doc’ Smith well-loved by those who knew him.” It's not for me to judge my “work in the field,” although I’d like to think my book “Jar Jar Binks Must Die… and other observations about science fiction movies” was a useful addition to the discussion of what I call in my introductory essay “the forbidden genre.”

As for being “well-loved,” I’m not really the best judge there either. Like Humphrey Bogart and Sally Field when they won their Oscars, it was a revelation to me that I was so regarded. I did not know E. E. “Doc” Smith, who died in 1965, but I did meet Pohl and had a phone interview with Asimov and am proud to know Sawyer as both a fan of his books and someone who kindly blurbed one of mine. I’ve met several other recipients as well, knowing some (hi, Bob Eggleton) better than others. Like the giants I suddenly find myself among, I try to remain approachable to my fellow fans (I’m still one) at the cons I attend.

And perhaps that’s the key to all this. In the world of science fiction there are pros and there are fans, but a Venn diagram would show most, if not all, of the pros falling within fandom. When I’ve crossed paths with Robert Silverberg or David Gerrold or Mike Resnick at a con, it doesn’t matter that they don’t know me. They are approachable and friendly and happy to engage with other members of the community. It’s a longstanding norm in the science fiction world.

So I take it not so much as a pat on the back for past actions as much as a beacon going forward. If you see me at a con, come over and say hello. I won’t bite. Promise.

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Published on February 22, 2018 09:41 • 115 views • Tags: nesfa, skylark

January 28, 2018

I’m in the process of moving. I hate it. I’m looking forward to having moved into my new place, but the process makes me tired and irritable.
People tell me this is a good time to go through stuff and throw away things that have piled up over the last eight years here, and I have. Lots. But then there are the books.
Of course, I don’t throw books away. I donate them. My discards could be someone else’s treasure. The issue is what to keep.
Obviously, my own books, or books I have stories or articles in. Books by friends. Books that are autographed. Books that I might want to reread or to have on hand for research.
On the hand if I disliked it, or I’m never going to look at it again, why keep it? I’ve already filled up two bags with books to discard and am well on my way to a third.
I’ll have some bookshelves and will undoubtedly need more for the stuff I’m keeping. And I’m the sort of person who likes looking at friend’s bookshelves to see what they’ve read and encourage them to look at mine. Once I’m settled, the books I keep will help define my new home.
And then I can start reclaiming all those books of mine that have been locked away in storage and start going through them.
Have I mentioned how much I hate moving?
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Published on January 28, 2018 10:09 • 31 views

January 3, 2018

Next weekend (Jan. 12-15) is Arisia, the annual Boston area science fiction convention. I'll be there doing panels, a reading, autographing, and just hanging out. If you're there, please say hello. And if you're interested, here's my schedule:

Movie Year in Review Marina 1 Sat 11:30 AM
Our annual look back at the year in SF, horror, and fantasy film. Our panel of experts will cover every theatrical release of 2017. Find out which ones are worth catching up with. Note: Time for audience participation is reserved for the end of our panel's high speed review.

Judaism's Influence on SF/F Marina 2 Sat 4:00 PM
Jewish theology and culture permeates SFF & fandom from popular comics to well-known science fiction stories, which filters down in unrealized ways to fandom. What effect has Judaism had on the development of SF/F and fandom in general? Join our panel of knowledgeable fen to learn about Jewish influences.

Riverdale: A Great Place to Get Away With It All Marina 3 Sun 10:00 AM
Most people could be forgiven for not thinking that an *Archie* comics teen version of *Twin Peaks* would be an obvious, unqualified success. Nevertheless, *Riverdale* premiered in 2017 to strong ratings, positive reviews, and picked up a Saturn Award along the way. What is it that makes Archie and his gang work for a modern audience?

Mixed Genre Reading Hale Reading Mon 10:00 AM Fantasy, fanfic and Frankenstein; our authors will be reading their own works of fiction.
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Published on January 03, 2018 10:34 • 205 views

December 29, 2017

Thank goodness 2017 is coming to an end – for many reasons, not least of which are its movies. You can see my ten favorites of the year here: https://northshoremovies.wordpress.co... Now it's time for the ten worst.

As I've said in previous years, I really can't rate these as the absolute “worst,” because there were undoubtedly films I didn't have to review that were even more horrible. But these were films that either were disasters, misfires, or films that left other critics inexplicably swooning over charms that eluded me. If you watch them, and some you may feel obliged to, don't say you weren't warned.

A GHOST STORY – Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara are a really dull married couple. Then he dies. Then hc comes back under a white sheet. (Really.) Other things happen. She eats a pie. Other people move into the house. Life is either meaningless or meaningful but this movie was one of the most vapid pieces of nonsense I've sat through, and I even gave it a second viewing. This is the sort of movie that gets reviews that make people not trust critics.

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN – The lyricists of the overrated “La La Land” come back to destroy what's left of the musical genre with this bogus life of P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman). The music is not only unmemorable and repetitive, but one comes to dread every song cue. Jackman is a talented song and dance man, but after this and “Les Mis” he may never get another chance on screen.

BLADE RUNNER 2049 – One of the most anticipated science fiction films of the year was an overlong tribute to art direction. An inert Ryan Gosling attempts to solve the mystery of a missing child, but in spite of interesting visuals and occasional invention, it was as empty as the seemingly underpopulated cities. In turns out “Arrival” was the exception to the rule and director Denis Villeneuve (“Sicario,” “Prisoners”) really doesn't know how to tell a story.

MONSTER TRUCK – This may have been the dumbest family film of the year in which a strange creature bonds with a truck and the good guys have to battle bad business types to protect it. Those measuring their age in single digits may be engaged but viewers much older will wonder why they're wasting their time with this.

SPLIT – Hack director M. Night Shyamalan got inexplicably positive reviews in some quarters with this story of a fellow with a split personality (James McAvoy) who kidnaps some teenage girls. The movie made no sense and an attempt to tie it in with an earlier Shyamalan film was laughable. Perhaps McAvoy being game enough to go all out as the different aspects of the character made it worthwhile for some.

PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES – Let this stand for all the unnecessary sequels, reboots, and remakes that came out in 2017. Johnny Depp, a fine actor who could use a reboot to his career, showed up for the paycheck for this pointless sequel that pretended to tie everything up only to end on a note indicating another chapter could be in the works. This was a movie based on an amusement park ride. Do we really need a SIXTH installment?

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES – Dumb, dumb, dumb. The '70s series was a mixture of satire and camp, but the new films were leaden enterprises regardless of the improvement in special effects. Woody Harrelson was utterly wasted as the commandant of a human enclave with enslaved ape labor, and the plot was little more than a bad simian version of “The Great Escape.”

ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ. - If we can't rely on Denzel Washington, what hope is there for a a guaranteed good time at the movies? Playing a lawyer seemingly on the autism spectrum, he plays the title character facing a change from working for a civil rights legend who dies to joining a big city law firm. The plot is absurd, the moral quandaries of the characters are cartoonish, and the result was a complete waste of time. Washington, we can hope, will be back, and this will just be a forgotten footnote to an otherwise stellar career.

DOWNSIZING – Matt Damon may not be so lucky after a year that saw this, “A Great Wall,” and “Suburbicon.” This may be the biggest misfire with Alexander Payne's satire/science fiction comedy about miniaturizing people going all over the place and never really having a focus. Damon plays an everyman who is shrunk to live in an ideal miniature city, only to find that everything isn't so ideal. One of many films this year that left audiences going, “WTF?”

WONDER WHEEL – I used to revere Woody Allen and “Annie Hall” remains my favorite movie, but he should have retired twenty years ago. Turning out a film a year, he's made maybe two good films in that period (“Midnight in Paris,” “Blue Jasmine”). What he doesn't do well at all is drama, with Martin Landau making “Crimes and Mismeanors” and Cate Blanchett saving “Blue Jasmine.” Here he's doing Tennessee Williams set in 1950s Coney Island, and it lands with a thud. Woody, if you need to create, write a book. Your movies are long past their expiration date.
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Published on December 29, 2017 10:29 • 129 views • Tags: 2017, movies, worst

Behind the Scenes

Daniel M. Kimmel
Occasional postings about what I'm writing... or reading.
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