Friday, June 19, 2009

I made a video!


video


WOW! This is really exciting! I made a video and it has Michael Jackson moonwalking, Madonna being slutty, Peter Gabriel as Sledgehammer, and Natalie Cole singing with her dead Father!


Well, not really. The reality is that it's just another book trailer, like hundreds of others out there, and the only exciting thing about it is that I did it myself. When you're as computer-illiterate as I am, just getting the damned thing to start up on any given day is an accomplishment. When you don't know a 'gigabyte' from a cheeseburger, the idea of creating an official U-Tube style video is more than a couple feet off of the radar screen. I found a program called "Windows Movie Maker" on my machine; apparently it's a standard part of Windows XP. I had never noticed it before, but then there are a dozen other programs just like it that I never noticed either. When I opened it, I found that, if you actually follow the instructions, it's a really nifty little program that is NOT all that hard to use, and you don't have to be a seventeen year-old C++code writer from New Dehli to actually get some results. It took the biggest part of a day to manipulate pictures and text into a timeline, and then to adjust them so that there is enough time for a reader to actually read the text before the picture changes.


I spent hours looking for sound effects to match screen actions and finally selected and downloaded just the right ones. What I didn't know was that, without more sophisticated softwear (and a more sophisticated user), I couldn't blend music with sound effects to get that 'REALLY COMPLETE' feeling. In the end, I had to lose the sound effects and go only with the music, which is not bad. The only annoying feature of the resulting 'movie' is that the ending screen remains blue instead of going to black as the program was CLEARLY instructed to do. Oh well, it still came out kinda' cool.


Magnificent Man is a story that takes place in the American southwest against a backdrop of extraordinary scenery and Native American and Mexican peoples. I wanted to share as much of that feeling as I could with anyone who cares to watch my 'Cecil B. De-Mini' epic. Comments are appreciated, even the ones that say, "It really sucks." For now, I'll just sit back quietly and wait for the reviews in Variety, and start drafting my acceptance speech. "I want to thank the members of the Academy, and my parents, and all the little people who made all of this possible." Ciao Baby!

Monday, June 15, 2009

A PLACE THAT FEW HAVE SEEN




For a large part of my working life, I was in places where, if God decided to kill me, my death would be considered a routine hazard of the job. Where I grew up there were many trains, and all I ever saw them carry was coal. If it were not for books and Lionel trains brochures, I would never have known that trains moved anything but coal. The Fathers of most of the children I went to school with worked in the coal mines and a few of those Fathers went to work one day and did not come home. Anyone in my part of the world who has been near a river has almost certainly seen powerful towboats churning the water as they pushed numerous barges piled high with coal. Where I grew up, the roads were slowly pounded into dust by the seemingly never-ending parade of large coal trucks. Coal is America’s real energy source and I was in the heart of coal country.

Comparatively few people have ever actually seen where that coal comes from, and I suppose that even fewer care. Geologically speaking, the coal was created when prehistoric swamps, filled with all manner of organic matter, were covered over by layers of sediments, and pushed down further and further as the land around them rose up. The final result of the tremendous pressure and ions of time was the conversion of black slimy swamp ooze into thousands of square miles of a hard, black, and shiny mineral that releases tremendous heat when burned. It is so valuable that men kill each other over its ownership and its recovery.

Most coal beds or ‘seams’ as they are more accurately called, lay very flat and are of relatively uniform thickness. The most famous seam of all, the Pittsburgh coal seam, is nine feet thick and, in general, ideal for mining. Imagine walking up to a remote and relatively steep hillside, and scraping away the earth and soft, weathered rock to expose a layer of shiny black coal higher than your arm extended over your head. So high that, after removal, you can walk upright and comfortably into the void. Now create eight openings into the coal seam, each sixteen feet wide by nine feet high, and space those openings about one hundred feet apart. Support each opening with a reinforced concrete arch. Then, continue to mine each opening back to a depth of about one hundred feet, being careful to support the roof of each tunnel using wooden posts and timber beams, or a system of six-foot to twelve-foot long steel bolts connected to expansion anchors set into drilled holes in the solid rock above the coal. Now, turn and start a tunnel at a right angle to the original tunnel, and do not stop mining until you have connected all eight of the tunnels together resulting in square blocks of coal roughly one hundred feet square. Now you have a coal mine.

Continue the process just described for thirty five years and, lo and behold, you have a network of tunnels that stretches for eight or ten miles and has honeycombed hundreds of thousands of acres while producing millions upon millions of tons of coal. For an operation this large, there will be multiple concrete-lined air shafts, eight to ten feet in diameter, and dug from the surface to the coal seam, a distance typically of six hundred to eight hundred feet. Huge mechanical fans, six to eight feet in diameter, are installed on some of the air shafts. These fans, by law, must run continuously to remove dust and toxic and explosive gases from the mine. There will also be an elaborate system of narrow gauge railroad tracks with an electrical trolley wire, similar to the old street cars. This is used to transport men and supplies into the mine and sometimes to bring the coal out. More commonly a system of conveyor belts runs continuously from the outside to the active mining area in order to transport out the mined coal. Finally, there is a network of high to medium voltage electrical cables and transformers to power everything; miles of telephone and signal wires; and, large pumps and discharge pipes to remove accumulated water. Welcome to my world; a place seen by a relative few, but whose existence contributes to the lives and economic benefit of innumerable people in some way or other.

From the first time I rode down the shaking and rattling elevator in my brand new coveralls and sporting my new miner’s cap, I knew that this was a special place. There were sights, sounds, and smells that were not duplicated anywhere on the surface. I was entranced by the steady swoosh of the conveyor belts and the click-clack of the large locomotives pulling their trains of supply cars. The smells of ‘sulfur air’, wintergreen snuff, and hot grease permeated the air. However, it was the darkness, the complete darkness broken only by the glow of a cap-mounted electric light that kept me attuned to the potentially hostile environment in which I found myself. The loss of that meager beam would render me helpless and completely blind.

In later years my accumulated certifications qualified me to make the mandated safety checks of old unused areas located miles from the active work areas and far distant from another human being. Most times I was closer to people who lived on the surface, six hundred feet above me and unknowing of my existence, than I was to another worker inside the tunnels. I don’t believe that many people have ever experience true solitude. Not just quiet house solitude or even, marooned on a deserted island solitude, but actual and complete sensory deprivation. While underground and alone, I could sit and shut off my light to experience the absolutely most complete silence and darkness that anyone can ever experience. Imagine being buried alive but knowing that you can get out. That unusual environment results in an extraordinary psychological situation in which your brain has no visual or auditory input, and it does not know how to react. Your mind screams, “Relax, this is only temporary”, but the brain does not listen. It goes into a kind of panic mode with fascinating results. Soon, in the complete darkness, clear but dim soft gray images begin to appear of what your mind thinks that you should see. Very faint, meaningless sounds soon start at a level where your mind is confused as to whether you actually hear the sounds or not. It is impossible to tell. The images are as clear but ghostly, as if they were projected in black and white onto a gray screen. I have on occasion stood up and walked, reaching out to touch the image of a post or a wooden cribbing. I could not see my hand, even though it was extended, but it was startling when my mind was expecting me to touch a solid object and yet none was there.

Imagine, as a writer, having regular access to a place such as this. Imagine the degree of freedom unleashed within your creative processes when your mind is unencumbered by the distractions of sight, sound, and movement. For me, it was a resurrection of the largely suppressed creative centers of my mind resulting in a flood of ideas and thoughts and the beginning of a writing career. Looking back, I probably should have bought a piece of that giant old mine before it closed and rented it out, by the hour, to writers and artists seeking to refresh their minds. Old Amish saying…”Too soon old, too late smart.”

Friday, June 5, 2009

"Magnificent Man" is here



I believe that most people who read or write blogs are readers and writers themselves. For those who are not writers, the process of writing a book is not as simple as it may appear. Everything must start with an idea for a story. The idea must be solid and believable. Then are required characters who are capable of carrying out the idea while putting forth personalities with whom readers can identify. The reward for the characters is that they get to live exciting, bigger than life roles, although some authors will require the demise of a villian, crime victim, or innocent by-stander to generate passion in a story line. I'll bet those characters weren't happy about that. Even after the story is written and "the end" is typed, the work is but half done. Then comes the proofreading where those misspelled words and grammatical errors are extracted or corrected. Where the overused words and passive voice are replaced. Where countless hours of work are poked and probed, ripped and redone, realigned and reorganized. Then it all goes to an editor who will open up the story like a wild surgeon with a scalpel, changing, removing, rewording, deleting, and savagely tearing the story to bits while the author grits his/her teeth and hangs on the edge of insanity. After significant amounts of alcohol, medication, or some combination of the two, the author again sits to read his creation and is surprised to find a leaner, clearer, and generally much improved story than the one he/she submitted. Oh the magic of editing.

I have a LOT of words out there. The numerous erotic books I have written have made for delightfully oversexed characters in a variety of enviable situations. They were fun to write and I hope that readers enjoyed reading them. I had originally started out just to write some pseduo-pornographic meaningless stories about large breasted women and well-hung men, but somehow those quickly faded into stories with believeable and likeable characters who have extraordinary encounters during their otherwise ordinary lives. We, the more ordinary but still zestful, can envy them their pleasures.


As much as I enjoyed experimenting with the lives of trailer park people, I developed a longing to write something more acceptable...more 'mainstream'. I have always had soft spot for nobility. Not 'nobility' as in snobby royalty, but rather real nobility of a sort that is lacking today. I looked back to Cervantes and his Don Quixote de La Mancha for a model. A tired old knight, well past his prime and his time, yet still carrying within him an unfaltering spirit of faith, nobility, chivalry, and honesty. There was my hero! There was my man to stand above the crowd clinging to the values that he held unquestionable while surrounded by laughing and taunting jackals. But how do I get such a hero into today's world and where can I put him so that he won't be torn to pieces or worn down by the mass of lessers. It was solving those questions that was the keystone of my "Magnificent Man". Once those were established, the story fell into place like the last pieces of a puzzle. Then I had only to introduce a suitable heroine; a woman who had faced hardship and who had the strength to continue fighting even when the odds were against her. But she had also to be a woman capable of recognizing and respecting the special nature and anachronistic ways of a truly noble man. The meeting of these two personalities was predestined to develop into a deep and inescapable love for each other. But yet another snag! Once the loving bond is made, where do these two bonded lovers live? Do they live in her modern world, where he's considered a 'defective', a laughing stock? Or do they live in his harsh, unforgiving world where one misstep could mean death? THAT became the toughest knot of all to unravel. But in the end, it was unravelled.

But now it is done! "Magnificent Man" hit the stands today and the world has access to the defining effort of my pathetic writing career. Now it will be judged by readers and writer/readers to the tough established standards of erotic romance. Most romance and erotica is written and read by women. There is a shared point of view among women that I will simply never, by virtue of gender, be able to share. I yawn at castles and ballrooms, find no attraction to men in kilts, and pirates and vampires escape me. But I do adore women. I enjoy the sight, the smell, the sound, and yes the feel of a woman. There is a magic in the attraction between men and women and THAT is the true basis for romance. Whether male or female, that is the commonality. I long for the days of elegance in courtship. When a suitor had to prove himself worthy of the attentions of a lady or be left behind. Today the focus seems to be upon the capture or surrender when the real excitement and the genuine pleasure is in the pursuit. A taste of that, Dear Reader, you will find in "Magnificent Man". I am a believer in the Quixotic, in nobility, chivalry, honesty, and faith. And those characteristics I hope will always stand out in my romantic works.

"Magnificent Man" is now available through Melange Books at http://www.melange-books.com/authors/randalllang/randalllang.html/
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