Monday, August 4, 2008

My Latest Book: Creature Features

This one was certainly a lot of fun to write!

Creature Features: Nature Turned Nasty in the Movies William Schoell

ISBN 978-0-7864-3556-2 photos, filmography, bibliography, index214pp. hardcover (7 x 10) 2008

$49.95 Not Yet Published, Available Fall/Winter 2008

This can be pre-ordered at amazon.com, barnes and noble, and at the publisher's web site.

From the catalog:

This work offers a critical, colorful and informative examination of different types of monster movies, spanning the silent period to today. Each chapter focuses on films that share a specific brand of primary monster. The discussion of films within chapters is chronological, though sequels or directly related films are grouped together regardless of release date. Chapter One focuses on dragons, dinosaurs, and other prehistoric or mythological scaly giants from films like 1953’s The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, an impressive stop-motion production that ushered in a new era of atomic-spawned “giant monster” films. Chapter Two examines “big bug” flicks, featuring outsized insects and arachnids, beginning with 1954’s giant ant–infested Them. Chapter Three focuses on ordinary animals that have grown to improbable proportions through inadvertent scientific tampering or sinister experimentation, such as the huge octopus in 1955’s It Came from Beneath the Sea. Chapters Four, Five, and Six look at several types of film in which nature goes berserk, and otherwise innocuous animals threaten mankind as they flock, swarm, hop or run about on a menacingly massive scale, including 1963’s The Birds and 1972’s Frogs. Finally, Chapter Seven focuses on films featuring blobs and other beasts that defy easy definition, such as 1958’s The Blob and Fiend Without a Face.

William Schoell is the author of many books about the performing arts and pop culture, including The Opera of the Twentieth Century (2006). He lives in New York.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Why Writers Lose Their Hair

Years ago I did a number of think pieces for a paper in Philadelphia (even though I was based in New York). These were well-received by readers and editors alike, and a couple were nominated for awards. Then I submitted a piece -- I don't really remember what it was about -- that kept getting bumped from each issue. Each week I was told that there was a lot of hard news and no room for Op-Eds or think pieces. Each week I would notice half a dozen articles that hardly seemed to me like hard news. This went on for several weeks, turning into months.

The editor didn't like the piece or its sentiments and didn't want to run it but didn't have the guts to say so. It would have been so much more professional of him to say "this one didn't work for me" and let me turn in something different than to just keep bumping the piece week after week after week. Meanwhile, I did not do new pieces for the publication -- I mean, there was "no room," right?

Finally I asked for the piece back and sold it to another publication for five times the money. I never wrote for that Philadelphia paper again.

Why wasn't the editor more upfront with me? Perhaps because he knew that there was nothing actually wrong with the piece, he just didn't agree with it, and he knew that was a pretty weak, subjective reason for rejecting a piece from a newspaper that was supposed to explore different points of view. He could have chosen to confront me with his problems with the piece; he could have assigned someone else to write a counter-story (or done one himself). Instead, he did nothing, hoping I would either forget all about it or just ask for it back, which I did. But he lost, if I must say so myself, a damned good writer. I'm a professional and I expect others to be the same.

Now I'm occasionally doing pieces for a New York paper and the exact same situation has developed. I could be wrong this time. The paper's publication schedule has been cut back, and while I've seen a lot of stuff I, again, would hardly call hard news, at least it's of a timely nature, nothing that could be held over for another week, which is not necessarily true of my article. Still the situation is frustrating. It was the editor's idea, he said he liked it, and a number of prominent people spoke to me and gave me good quotes for the article (it's embarrassing when you get quotes from such people but the article never appears in print. You're reluctant to go to those people in the future, afraid they'll think "why should I talk to this guy, this piece probably won't see the light of day either." ) I offered to make changes that would make the piece more palatable to the editor (which I should have done with the editor in Philadelphia, even though he never actually expressed any dissatisfaction with it), but received no suggestions for revisions. Eventually the article will date and my chances for a resale somewhere else will be zero.

Of course, you can always put pieces on one of your blogs -- but that just isn't the same.

Which is one of the reasons why writers lose their hair.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Great Old Movies


GREAT OLD MOVIES is a new blog I've put together devoted to classic and not-so-classic old movies. Continually updating my movie and performing arts web sites was time-consuming, to say the least. A blog is a lot easier to manage. I'll be slowly moving much material from the Quirk's Reviews site to the new blog, as well as posting new reviews on a regular basis. If I had known how much easier it is to put together, update and manage a blog, I never would have bothered with so many friggin' web sites.

If you like old movies, check out GREAT OLD MOVIES! It's a blast, if I say so myself! It's very easy to subscribe to new posts by using the form on the right side of the blog.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Opera -- and Amazon.com


I've always had a problem with amazon.com and the way they let people review any book whether they've actually read it or not. Okay, amazon has cleaned up its act a bit. You have to actually buy something from amazon before you can post a review (but NOT necessarily the item in question) and they give reviewers the option of using their real name [which is denoted in bold letters]. The former has especially cut down on the number of reviews cluttering up the site. Still, the problem has never been with the reviews so much as with the reviewers.
Now let me make it clear that there are intelligent people posting insightful and helpful reviews on the site. But sometimes they seem to be outnumbered by -- well, let's just say people who are so grammatically and intellectually challenged that you wonder if they're even capable of reading a book let alone reviewing one. "Ordinary" people certainly have a right to their opinion, but not everyone can express themselves well, and not everyone is a responsible critic. Some people post reviews on amazon simply because they have an uneducated opinion on a certain subject or on a book that they haven't even read, let alone bought from amazon. They just want to blather incoherently, and in general amazon lets them get away with it.
The trouble is these reviews are generally not done by responsible journalists for well-known or respected periodicals; they have not been vetted by an editorial or legal department. Sometimes the authors of the reviews have agendas that have nothing to do with the book's quality or lack of same. Just as an author can have friends or relatives post glowing notices, the author's enemies -- or competitors -- can also have a field day. But not to be paranoid, sometimes you just have the bad luck of getting some jerk who's out to take an ax to your work whether you like it or not. This can happen on occasion in responsible journals, true, but it happens more often on amazon.com.
Take the case of my book Opera of the Twentieth Century which came out last summer. A reviewer named Tom Franks decided to put in his two cents worth and do a hatchet job on the book on amazom. com, calling it "truly dreadful." Why does he feel this way? Because I offer many [educated] opinions of different operas and composers and how DARE I do that -- according to Franks -- when I am not somebody famous like, say, James Levine or --get this -- John Simon! He assumes I have no right to write about the opera because the publisher's blurb only says that I live in New York "which I accept," says Franks (who lives in New Mexico; is he some sort of anti-New York City bigot?) I have written on opera for many publications, attended the opera for decades, taken music courses, and listened to all of the operas I discusss many, many times. The book, in fact, took me many years to write, but does Mr. Franks ever even consider that? No, he probably just disagreed with me on some operas -- I certainly hope we have different taste -- and of course that meant that both I and my book had to be "dreadful." [Make no mistake -- a hatchet job is as much an attack on the author as it is on the book.] Franks infers that in my book I "judge operas by their immediate effect on the listener, rather than by any intrinsically musical qualities which they might have." Nothing could be further from the truth, but Franks isn't interested in the truth. Nor in being a responsible critic. (This was only his second review; I hope he doesn't do any more.) And I have to wonder, how much of the book did he actually read, and with how much comprehension? Besides, what the hell does Franks know about opera anyway -- he's a teacher of philosophy, for Pete's sake! (Why am I not surprised?)
If we were to follow Franks' logic only famous people could write books about -- well, anything! There have been hundreds of excellent books published on the subject of opera and most of them were not written by famous conductors or sopranos. Ditto for film books, biographies, and so on.
I swear I wish authors could just sue people like this who deliberately misrepresent our books for who knows what personal and stupid reasons with not a care about the work we put in or how it may affect sales [hopefully not a bit as most people are smart enough to see hatchet jobs for the mean-spirited barrels of bile from sad, bitter people that they are].
I won't even bother to speculate about poor philosopher Franks. He lives way down south. May we never meet at the opera.
On a much more positive note, I am always delighted to see some of the highly flattering comments left on amazon.com in regards to my old horror novels like SAURIAN and THE DRAGON. I'm so glad that many people have enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them. Their comments are much appreciated, as are the positive reviews that some of my other books have received. Now these people, of course, know what they're talking about!

Friday, May 11, 2007

The One and Only


I've done a lot of television, radio, and Internet appearances in conjunction with my books, especially when it came to my books on The Rat Pack and Dean Martin. These included stints on Biography (to talk about Al Pacino), True Hollywood Story on E!, Hard Copy, American Journal, Inside Edition, and many others.
Three or four years ago I was contacted by a producer named Marino Amoruso, who had read my book on Dean Martin and wanted to interview me for a documentary he was writing and directing entitled DEAN MARTIN THE ONE AND ONLY. A car took me out to some godforsaken place on Long Island and I felt the interview went very well. (Unfortunately, this was in the days before I lost thirty pounds, but what can you do?) I felt Amoruso and his cameraman were both very friendly and professional.
I was told by Amoruso that the documentary would be shown on television, and that when the DVD came out there would be an add or clip or something about my biography in the packaging. He gave me quite the hard sell on this, in fact. I don't think this ever happened, because I never received a copy of the finished DVD, only a video cassette of what seemed like the documentary in its less than final form. I am listed as a "consultant" or something along those lines and was told that I would be paid X amount of dollars for my participation in the project.
What have I received so far?
Nothing. Nada. Bupkiss.
Not even the DVD.
Typical.
Nonetheless the darn thing is out there, with me in it (I imagine) thirty pounds heavier and without my rather sexy (if I say so myself) goatee.
Still I wish everyone well. (A check would be nice, too.)
As I say, typical.
Anyway, you can still find the trade paperback edition of my book MARTINI MAN: The Life of DEAN MARTIN in book stores and at amazon.com and barnesand noble.com. Chock full of information. The real deal.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Problem with Blogs and Message Boards

The problem with blogs and message boards is not just that there's too many of them but the quality of the people who are posting on them. I'm not saying there are no intelligent people posting or responding to messages, or that you never come across anything that's worth the time it takes to read it, but rather that the intelligent posts are far outnumbered by the ones that are often mind-boggling in their stupidity and vapidity.

Obviously I don't have much time to post on this blog, and it doesn't get much traffic, but that's okay. I think of my main site as my performing arts site High and Low NY [New York]
and it gets a lot of hits due to the varied content. I do feel bad that so far I have been unable to do what I originally set out to do with this blog, post articles that would be of some service to professional and aspiring writers. Maybe in the near-future ...

The sad truth about blogs is that if you actually have the time to post every day, or several times a day, you're probably not leading a very interesting or especially busy life [surfing the net all day responding to various message boards does not mean that you're “busy”.] That's why you'll occasionally come across these blogs where the owner posts the minutiae of his or her life in all of its tedious, unexceptional detail (...“called Austin today, then took a nap in the afternoon. Austin called back at 2. Listened to so and so on the radio. Aunt Betty's coming on Tuesday. Etc.)”

Not everyone with a blog has to be a professional writer, but you wish they could at least string a sentence together in some kind of literate fashion, but that seems too much to ask. Then there will be a string of pidgin English replies posted by cyber-friends of the blogger that are equally illiterate. And of virtually no interest to anyone but the blogger. And possibly not even him.
Then we've got blogs which consist almost entirely of items that the blogger finds on the Internet -- such as jokes that make the rounds and aren't that funny to begin with -- and posts on his or her blog. And nothing else. But if you've got nothing original to say, why bother having a blog in the first place?

A couple of times I have made the mistake of looking for information or opinions for articles I was working on by posting a question on one message board or another. Now and then I have received some excellent answers from informed individuals who have a certain knowledge of the subject and something serious to say. More often, the replies are simply uneducated opinions or worse. Everyone – but everyone – wants to post their opinion of every subject under the sun on the Internet, but most people really don't know what they're talking about. Then you get the nitwits that just post any old dumb thing because they have way too much time on their hands or they think they're being cute. Frequently the replies on message boards quickly degenerate into pun-contests, or competitions where each person tries to be wittier than the last, but when you're dealing with too many half-wits what good does it do? Some comments are admittedly funny, but others are like rejected lines from one of the lesser scripts of an already mediocre sitcom.

I must say that I have come across some fine blogs and message boards that deal with political or other issues, compiled and moderated by intelligent people, that are run like well-oiled machines, and which get dozens of comments on each and every post. I have come across blogs that post several different stories a day, complete with links, backtracks, comments about comments, and I wonder how on earth the blogger – unless there's more than one person involved – has the time to do it. Someone like that must either be retired or independently wealthy or both.

Having a successful blog is also a matter of linking and being linked to other successful blogs, but even this is a time-consuming chore.

For this blog, at least, I will post the occasional essay, and when time permits, see what I can do about getting back to my original mission.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Don't Get Old!

Can't believe how long it's been since I've posted to my blog. This has been a difficult year with a lot of strain on my time, nerves and energy. Around September my sister and I made the hard but necessary decision to place our mother in a nursing home – she simply couldn't live on her own anymore. I contacted a place called “A Place for Mom” which listed nursing homes, and they were eager to help. The only problem with them is that they only list nursing homes that pay a fee to be listed on their web site. This means that they don't provide information about other, possibly better nursing homes that don't pay – or need to pay – to be on their site. What good is that? We quickly forgot about aplaceformom.com and decided to investigate different homes on our own.

We considered ourselves lucky to ultimately place our mother in what was considered one of the best nursing homes in New York City, the Jewish Home and Hospital on Kingsbridge Road in the Bronx [which takes people of any faith, although our mother was Jewish]. Mom seemed to be slowly adjusting to the place when my sister got a call in the middle of the night that our mother had had to be rushed to the emergency room after an “accident.” When we got to the hospital we were shocked to see that Mom looked as if she'd been in a head-on collision. I won't go into the details, but it was horrendous. She required surgery, which she survived, but died a few days later. I can't go into specifics as there is still an ongoing investigation into what actually happened to our mother that night.

And this is one of the better nursing homes!

More on this later.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Robert Redford Bio


July 2006 is the publication date for my new Robert Redford bio, co-written with stellar film historian Lawrence J. Quirk. It's because of my work on this and other projects that I find I have little time to post new entries on my blog. I mean, it's been months since I've posted. Luckily this means that I "have a life" and not that I haven't one. I've been online for a relatively short period compared to many people -- about a couple of years -- but I confess I've really gotten into computers and web sites and such, although I haven't yet become a computer geek [no laughing -- one luddite friend has told me that "the computer's taken over your life!" Not so! I've just discovered all of its virtues.] I've built many a web site only to realize I had no time to keep it up to date, or even had to virtually abandon it. [Two exceptions are High and Low NY http://highandlowny.tripod.com/ and Quirks Reviews Online http://quirksreviews.tripod.com/ Oh, have I mentioned them? But enough... what about Redford?
Well, ol' Bob is 68 but he still appeals to a great many women. Whatever you think of his acting ability [I think he's more talented as a director myself] he has had an admirably durable career in a very, very tough business. It's ironic how he developed the Sundance Festival to bolster independent film only to watch independent film become Big Business with major movie stars and over-bidding distributors anxious to snare the next Pulp Fiction. [Tarantino's film was not exactly what Redford had in mind when he put together his festival.]
I think THE SUNDANCE KID treats Redford very fairly, looking at both the strengths and weaknesses of his acting, films, and various political and other projects with as much objectivity as possible. This is not a Bob-bashing book [not to say that he will like it much, given his penchant for privacy and the book's undeniable bluntness] but neither is it a fan-boy valentine, either. Perhaps he'll appreciate that we note that most movie stars often try hard to be all things to all people, and Redford has gotten unfairly bashed because he only wants to be himself. Everyone who works with him wants him to be their best buddy -- but how can he be? -- so they wind up hating his guts due to what they deem his indifference.
Gee, I've got the same problem.
Seriously. This is one good book, if I say so myself. In bookstores and on sale online NOW!

Friday, January 13, 2006


This is the cover of issue # 53 of Cemetery Dance, which features an interview with me by Rick Kleffel, who's written some flattering [if tongue-in-cheek] things about my work on the Internet. Although it discusses some recent ventures, most of the interview is about my horror novels of the eighties and nineties. The article is first in a series of "Where Are They Now?", which will look at authors who were busy in the horror field in previous decades but who have moved on to other things. And there are a lot of us. Often we had no choice, as the Big Horror Boom ended and, as one agent put it, a lot of writers in the field found themselves with "mini-careers." Luckily, I was interested in many other things and types of writing besides horror and fiction, although I still do things in the field now and then, such as young adult bios of Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft.
There are also a lot of stories and more articles in Cemetery Dance, an interesting journal devoted to the horror field.
I did not get a complimentary copy. Oh well, it probably doesn't have a huge circulation. Nice of them to run this interview, however. You can order a copy -- cheap -- here.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Parties


Went to two recent events almost back to back and enjoyed them both tremendously. First I went with my friend Barbara McCullough to the annual Lindeman Young Artists Development Concert at the Metropolitan Opera. We heard a very talented bunch of people perform. I was especially impressed with my fellow New Yorker, tenor Dimitri Pittas, who performed pieces by Mozart and Donizetti. I was very impressed with soprano Alyson Cambridge [photo above], who appeared in the act three quartet from Puccini's La boheme. This is a very gifted lady, and she seemed to have a lovely and humble personality when I briefly spoke with her afterwards. Tamara Mumford is another talented Mezzo, and like Cambridge, a real beauty as well. Russell Thomas is a fine tenor and a pleasant fellow who sang the pants off a piece from Rigoletto. I didn't have a chance to speak with the other artists, but they were all very talented and impressive and will hopefully go on to major careers. There was a buffet on the Grand Tier after the concert, but it was a might skimpy, and Barbara and I agreed that the appetizers were from hunger. Oh, well. Nobody goes to the Met for the food. Besides, they have to come up with millions and millions of dollars to mount each production. I suppose we're lucky we got anything to eat at all.
Then the Charles Street Association had its annual Christmas party at the Donna Karan gallery near Greenwich street. The place was beautifully appointed for the party, there was plenty of wine, and the food, catered by local restaurants, was excellent. [Much better than at the Met!] George Capsis and associates pulled off a great party in a very short time. Charles Street is home to a lot of interesting people in a variety of professions. But no, Sarah Jessica and Matthew Broderick did not attend. [They moved into a townhouse up the block a couple of years ago. The street was full of tabloid photographers the night they came home with the baby.] Nice party, nice people, lots of fun. And lots of wine!

Friday, December 9, 2005

Instant Messaging

Instant messaging [IM] is certainly an interesting feature of the internet. Like the phone -- only you can't hear or see anybody. But it's fun anyway. They can also be convenient if you need an immediate reply. Since I received my first IM from a nice fellow in NC a few weeks ago I've told a few friends and acquaintances who've never IM'ed about it and I've been getting a lot of IMs lately.

Sometimes, however, I can't answer an instant message when it comes in because I'm right in the middle of work, or uploading photos onto one of my web sites, or getting ready to sign off and go out. [With my clunky computer I'm always afraid to do more than one thing at once. The number of disconnects and fatal exceptions -- don't ask! -- I get already are legion!] So if anybody IMs me and I don't respond -- assuming I'm online to begin with -- don't be offended; it just means I'm genuinely busy and can't stop to chat. Feel free to send me an email and I'll answer it as soon as I can.

Some day I'll write of my experiences with AOL!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Dean Martin


A few years ago I co-authored a book on THE RAT PACK which did very well. Originally we were to do another book for the same publisher on Rita Hayworth, but since sales for The Rat Pack book were so good, they implored us to switch to a book on Dean Martin. My co-author had had enough of the Rat Pack so I decided to do the book as a solo effort. It was called MARTINI MAN: The Life of Dean Martin and also sold quite well. It was not the first book on Martin and it certainly hasn't been the last.

After Martini Man came out, there was a sudden flood of books about Dino. First his producer did a tome on the Dean Martin show, then little Ricci, the youngest of his children, came out with a slender volume that added little to the lore of Dean Martin. Ricci objected to his father being called "Martini Man" and claims he didn't drink martinis, and he probably didn't -- most of the time. But he did drink martinis when he was in the mood for one. But the main reason for using Martini Man for a title was because a martini goes with Martin's show biz uniform, which was always a tuxedo. You think of tuxedos and you think of martinis, the classy drink, it's as simple as that. [The cover of the book shows Martin drinking -- what else -- a martini!]

After Ricci's book, his half-sister Deana did her own tome about Dino, which was a bit thicker, frankly padded with stuff that she or her co-author probably got from other biographies, including mine. [No problem. There's nothing wrong with using a previous tome for research.] Then a few months later, Jerry Lewis himself came out with his own book on Dino. None of these books could in any way be considered biographies of Dino, but they had their own points of view and points of interest.

The families, friends, co-workers of celebrities always scream about what has been written about them, but I'm pleased to report that nothing written by any of these people in any way conflicts with what I wrote about Dean Martin -- in fact all these books written by "insiders" only confirm my take on ol' Dino.

Martini Man -- the full honest story of Dean Martini's life and career -- still sells briskly, so I'm not afraid of a little competition

But enough already with the Dean Martin books! [Be prepared. He has several other children and two still-living ex-wives yet to be heard from.]

Let me say that I am sympathetic to the offspring of famous people who see strangers [to them] writing and talking about their parents and want a piece of the action, to feel more a part of the excitement, to be recognized for their own achievements [while, ironically, battening off their fathers or mothers]. Children of the famous often have privileges, advantages and "ins" that most of us don't have, but they also have to deal with very large shadows. No matter what sort of person he might have been, I always felt sorry for the late Eric Douglas, who was not only in the shadow of his father, Kirk Douglas, but of his older brother, Michael Douglas. I wouldn't wish that fate on anyone and I think it actually killed him.