Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Yes, It Is Rocket Science

Oh, and while we're at it, I did do a little interview with the fella in the picture there, one of only 12 men to walk on the moon.

Buzz Aldrin was a great interview subject: funny, smart, and truthful. If you wander over to Airport Journals, you can read my very long and ambitious profile of the Gemini 12 and Apollo 11 astronaut, "Buzz Aldrin: Venturing Forward."

My favorite moment in the interview came when I mentioned reading in the NASA transcripts that when Mission Control cleared the Eagle for takeoff, Buzz replied, "Roger. Understood. We're number one on the runway."

"You know, the definition of humor is to take a normal situation, throw in an absurdity and then act as if it's normal," Aldrin told me. "When you're able to do that twice in the same sentence, you've really accomplished something. To say that we were number one on the runway ... Well, there wasn't anybody else up there and there sure as hell was no runway."

You can find out more about the mission and life after NASA in Buzz Aldrin's memoir, Magnificent Desolation or by visiting his official website.

People Who Write For Money

I'm a bit late in putting this out there in the wider world, but the new column is up at Bookslut. The latest examination of books far and wide, "American Psychos," gets down on the latest titles from Sara Paretsky, Andrew Vachss, and the always entertaining James Ellroy, who finishes up the Underworld USA trilogy with Blood's A Rover.

I haven't decided yet whether to go take another hit of Ellroy's performance art when he comes to town to sign books next week, but I've been following the latest news. The most interesting interview so far comes on video from the eagle eyes of Mediabistro's Galleycat, who interviewed Ellroy last week. In it, he offers some questions for working writers to ponder.

"It's survival of the fittest," Ellroy said. "Who wants to write? How bad do you want it? Will you write, even if you're poorly paid? I will. That gives you a leg up on people who write for money. I got 3500 bucks for my first novel, 3500 bucks for my second novel. Five K for my third, five K for my fourth. Six K for my fifth, ten K for my sixth. Then big jumps to twenty. All of which was realistic renumeration at the time."

Just to give you some perspective, Ellroy's first novel, Brown's Requiem, was published in 1981. In relative terms, the author's renumeration would be somewhere between 8,000 and 10,000 dollars in present-day value depending on the economic indicator you use. $20,000 for his seventh novel, 1987's The Black Dahlia, would equate to nearly $40,000 today.

Things to think about.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Max Brooks Talks Zombies

Well, it's finally out. I was out of town for the big release myself, but I'm told that while I was away, The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks has landed with a splat on bookstore shelves, comfortably on the heels of Zombieland's surprising opening (it's a killer flick, by the way).

What seems like a million years ago, I got the very cool opportunity to ask its author, Max Brooks (the author of the deeply creepy World War Z, producer of the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour, and son of Mel Brooks, to boot) about his new graphic adaptation of a slim chapter from his now-famous Zombie Survival Guide. The project is illustrated by Brazilian artist Imbraim Roberson, and depicts, as advertised, various zombie encounters throughout history. Like World War Z, it's a unique perspective on zombie lore and one that makes for a much better Halloween read than all those terrible vampire books out there.

"I've always written my fiction as a fan, not an artist," Brooks said, when the project was still in production. "I always start from a place of answering the questions I wanted answered in other movies, or writing the stories that I wanted to read. The only reason I wrote The Zombie Survival Guide was because I couldn't find one already out there."

Most fanboys already know that World War Z is slated for a film production after Brad Pitt's Plan B Entertainment snapped up the rights. J. Michael Straczynski has taken a first pass at the script and it's now in the hands of screenwriter Matt Carnahan (State of Play, etc). But Recorded Attacks seems to lend itself even better to a graphic adapation rather than film.

"I'd wanted to do The Zombie Survival Guide as a graphic novel for a long time, actually before I even wrote World War Z, " Brooks said. "There were a lot of rejections along the way, and one potential deal ended up with the comic book company folding before we could start. I'd always wanted to 'flesh out' the recorded attacks, not just for their 'zombieness,' but because I'm a huge lover of history and I'm always trying to find ways to inject it into my work."

It turns out that more than a little of Brooks' dramatically visual writing style is rooted not in literature, but in comic books.

"I've always loved the concept of visual storytelling," Brooks said. "I am very, very dislexic, and as a kid, sometimes comics were the only way I could process information. The graphic novel that first inspired me was Sam Glanzman's A Sailor's Story. I'd grown up hearing my uncle's stories about Navy life during World War II, but actually seeing it in Glanzman's artwork suddenly gave it life. Graphic novels still continue to inspire me, works like Andrew Helfer and Randy DuBurke's biography of Malcolm X or Larry Gonick's Cartoon History of the Universe."

While the "zombieness" of Recorded Attacks is inherently terrifying, there's also a lot of hardcore research at play in the book.

"I wanted these stories to be as realistic as possible, right down to the fashion, architecture, technology, even the facial hair of the period," Brooks said. "I gave myself a mountain of extra work trying to find accurate historical representations of each period to pass on to the artist. Every hour I spent writing the actual script, I must have spent three trying to find some picture of correct Roman armor, or the hold of a slave ship, or a North African fort of the French Foreign Legion."

The process must have made an impression on him. These days, Max says he's working on a "top secret" writing project in addition to a gig writing G.I. Joe comics over at IDW Publishing.

"To be honest, it's the hardest work I've ever done," Brooks said. "I never realized how much description I had to put into each story, each page, each panel. And I'm not just talking about the artist's subjects. I had to be very specific what angle we were looking at, how close the shot was, where the light was coming from, etc. I've heard this from friends who write for cartoons or animated movies and now I have a whole new respect for both them and the comic book industry as a whole. I guess I'm making up for all that homework I never did in college."

The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks is in bookstores now. You can also download a free chapter at the book's official website and dig the book's animated trailer below.

The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks by Max Brooks from Crown Books on Vimeo.