Archive for the 'Christmas' Category

24
Dec
15

Everything You Need to Know to Survive English Class Lecture 10: Charles Dickens & A Christmas Carol

With the holidays upon us, Professor Petit turns his attention to one of the most cherished, beloved tales of the season. That’s right. It’s the 1,932nd version of “A Christmas Carol” you’ve seen so far this year.

And don’t forget, the book is available from Amazon.com!

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25
Dec
13

Now Available: MAKING SANTA-ADVENT

RevolvingDoorFor lots of years now, I’ve spent every Christmas putting together an original short story to share with anybody who cared to read it. It’s a little tradition of mine that I love doing, and I’d feel pretty crummy if I ever stopped it. This year, I’ve done it again. But this year’s story is going to be different in several ways.

Making Santa: Advent is — to begin with — not a short story. It’s just a hair too long to give that title, tipping into the “novella” range. So there’s that, first of all.

Second, it’s not quite a self-contained story. Oh, it can be read in and of itself. It doesn’t end with a big cliffhanger or anything, and if these characters never appeared again, I don’t think anybody would feel particularly cheated. However, that’s not the intention. Advent is the first book in what I’m planning as a quartet. Next Christmas (God willing) should bring you the second volume, Christmas Eve. That will be followed by Twelve Days and, finally Epiphany. Now those three novellas have not been written yet, but I’ve actually got them mapped out (and not just in my head) in far greater detail than I usually do my stories, so I’m feeling pretty confidant that they’re going to happen.

The third thing that’s different is that, for now at least, the book is going to be exclusive to the Amazon Kindle device. I mentioned a few months ago that I was considering doing some Kindle-exclusive volumes to take advantage of their promotional machine, and I’ve decided this is the time to do it. For those of you who don’t have a Kindle or a device with a Kindle App, I’m genuinely sorry. If it helps, I fully intend to release the quartet as a combined print volume once all four of them are written.

Then there’s one last thing — the price. I’ve always given my Christmas stories away, initially at least, for free. And I intended to do that with this one too. But on Christmas Eve, once I finally had it up and in the Kindle Store, I went to the section of website where I could set the book as being free for a promotional period and — lo and behold — it didn’t work. I kept getting an error, “this service unavailable at this time, we are trying to fix this problem, please try again later,” blah blah blah. And like someone who didn’t have health insurance, I spent the next three hours meticulously punching in the information on the website in a desperate attempt to set the two-day “free” window I intended for Christmas Day and the day after. And finally, it came through! Finally, it worked!

At 12:10 a.m. Christmas Day had already begun, and it was too late to start a promotion on that day.

If you’ll allow me a brief moment bereft of Christmas cheer, I definitely wanted to find someone at Amazon and make them use that universal health coverage at that instant.

So instead, guys, today the book is carrying its usual price. It’s still just a measly $1.99, nothing to fine folks such as yourselves. But — but if you want to wait a little bit and pick it up after Christmas, the book will be available totally for free on Dec. 26 and 27. I also intend to run another free promotion on this one next Christmas, just before Christmas Eve is released.

Oh geez, I guess I should tell you a little about the book, shouldn’t I? Well, obviously, it’s a Christmas story, and it’s a weird one even for me. Nicholas Grace and 199 other men abducted by a group of allegedly-benevolent aliens. These advanced lifeforms, having achieved perfect harmony on their own planet, now travel the universe hoping to help younger worlds evolve by supplying them with something they lack, something that’s missing. An icon, for example, a symbol of hope, a character for the world to latch on to.

Nick Grace is one of 200 candidates to become Santa Claus.

Making Santa: Advent is now available for the Amazon Kindle and on any device with a Kindle App.

Hope you enjoy it, guys. Merry Christmas!

(And thanks, as always, to the awesome Jacob Bascle for the cover art!)

26
Dec
12

The Christmas Special Postscript and the future of Reel to Reel

Well, my friends, we’ve come to the end of another Reel to Reel special, and this one has been a lot of fun. I’m a bit of a Christmas nerd, as you no doubt have figured out by now, and this was a great chance to go back and watch all of my favorite specials in one go. And the great thing is, there’s no shortage of Christmas themes I can do for future projects. Christmas movies in general, “very special episodes” of TV shows… I could easily do an entire project focusing only on the many variations of A Christmas Carol.

But that’s looking way ahead. What about now? What’s the future of Reel to Reel? Well… I’ll eventually get around to watching the rest of the comedy/horror flicks I’ve mapped out for Lunatics and Laughter and releasing that eBook. After that, though… well, I’m afraid I’ve got to tell you that this will be the last Reel to Reel project at EvertimeRealms.com.

That’s right. I’ve decided Reel to Reel deserves its own site.

ReeltoReelMovies.com is now online, friends.

Reel

You see, friends, as I continue on with the Reel to Reel projects, I find that there are people who read this stuff who aren’t necessarily interested in my assorted other works. Now while you and I know how foolish that is — after all, they’re missing out on some brilliant stuff and may not even be around for the first shots fired in The Pyrite War in 2013 — I also don’t want to alienate people who aren’t necessarily into the sort of stories I write, but just want to talk about movies. Hence the new site. I’ve spent what little free time I’ve had over the last few days copying all of the previous Reel to Reel posts on that new site for easy access for new readers.

I’ll still let you guys know when I’ve got a new Reel to Reel project in the works here at the Realms, don’t worry, but from now on those projects will have their home there. And since I can’t really do this full-time, I expect some dead time in-between projects. (Hell, I haven’t even decided what the next project is going to be yet.) So to fill in the gaps, I’ll try to come by at least once a week with some sort of movie commentary — either a review of a movie I just saw or an old movie I just watched again, some geek punditry about a new piece of movie news or information that’s broken… really whatever comes to mind. ReeltoReelMovies.com will now be my primary home when I have stuff to say about film.

So thanks for playing along, guys! I hope you’ve enjoyed the Christmas season as much as I have, and I hope you’ll stick with me at the new ReeltoReelMovies.com!

25
Dec
12

Merry Christmas!

So by now you’ve read the end of the Reel to Reel Christmas Special, and you’ve downloaded and loved The Ghost of Simon Tower, and you’ve opened your presents and roasted your chestnuts and decked your halls and mistled your toes. So what’s left to do on this Christmas?

Well, just to keep you entertained, here’s a gallery of some of the Christmas comics that have come across my laptop this year, including a whopping 30 that I reviewed over at CXPulp.com. Merry Christmas, everyone!

25
Dec
12

The Christmas Special Day 25: Prep and Landing (2009)

Prep and LandingDirectors: Stevie Wermers & Kevin Deters

Writers: Kevin Deters, Stevie Wermers & Chris Williams

Cast: Dave Foley, Sarah Chalke, Mason Vale Cotton, David DeLuise, Derek Richardson, William Morgan Sheppard, Nathan Greno

Plot: Before “The Big Guy” (William Morgan Sheppard) can make his rounds, it’s up to the Prep and Landing Elves to scout ahead and make sure your house is ready: children nestled in their beds, no creatures stirring, and so forth. For over 200 years Wayne (Dave Foley) has been a Prep and Landing elf, but this year he’s certain he’ll get promoted to Head of the Naughty List. He’s shattered when North Pole Christmas Eve Command Center Coordinator Magee (Sarah Chalke) tells him he’s been passed over in favor of his partner, an elf he helped to train. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he’s being given a new rookie, Lanny (Derek Richardson), an idealistic young elf who thinks he’s landed the “most tinsel” job in the world. Broken, on Christmas Eve Wayne starts to sleepwalk through his job, bumbling and eventually getting caught by a little boy named Timmy (Mason Vale Cotton). Lanny manages to put Timmy back to sleep, but a massive snowstorm is raging, and as Wayne has slacked off his work, Magee is left with no choice but to declare a “Figgy Pudding” situation — they’re going to have to skip Timmy’s house. Realizing the depths of his mistake, Wayne snaps Lanny into action, calling the boss back and transforming an inflatable snowglobe into a beacon to guide him in for a landing. Christmas is saved, but Wayne’s career may be over. The next day, the Big Guy calls him into his office. Wayne is ready to accept his punishment, asking only that the boss assign Lanny a good partner to replace him. But to his surprise, the Big Guy tells him he understands… everyone winds up on the naughty list once in a while, but he gave him Lanny precisely because he’s so god at his job. When Wayne leaves the office, he tells the waiting Lanny he was offered a promotion, to head of the Nice List, but he turned it down. He’s decided he’s more of a Prep and Landing guy.

Thoughts: One special is not enough to declare it a new Golden Age of Christmas Specials, but if Disney keeps turning out things like this – and starts inspiring other studios to do the same, we’ll have plenty to choose from very soon.

Disney really pulled out all the stops for this, with animation as crisp and energetic as anything they would put on the big screen, characters just as well-developed and entertaining, and even a musical score by Michael Giacchino. If they had showed this before The Princess and the Frog, not a single moviegoer would have been disappointed.

Prep and Landing is one of those cartoons that genuinely does everything right, starting with the characters and cast. Wayne and Lanny make for a fine odd couple, with Dave Foley bringing in the sort of exasperated worker attitude that worked for him on Newsradio and Derek Richardson matching it with an enthusiasm that would be obnoxious if it weren’t so sincere. Sarah Chalke’s Magee has a sort of frantic, manic energy that perfectly suits the character of the woman who’s doing the real legwork of running the north pole operation, and her interaction with her voiceless assistant, Tiny, make for a constant string of sight gags that still make me laugh after watching this a half-dozen times. I didn’t mention Santa’s reindeer Dasher and Dancer (Nathan Greno and David DeLuise) during the synopsis because they really don’t add anything to the plot. However, they bring out some fantastic comedic moments, adding to the conceit that Santa’s operation is treated like a cross between NASA and a military enterprise. The two of them put on the persona of hardcore, Top Gun-style pilots, while Magee runs things like she’s in charge of Mission Control and we’re about launch for outer space.

The characters, of course, play these things all perfectly straight. There’s no winking at the camera, no tongue-in-cheek moments where you get the impression the characters know they’re in a Christmas special. Instead, every beat of the story comes across like we’re watching a vital, life-and-death situation, even as Wayne’s depression sends him into mocking the Big Guy and his partner and Christmas in general (even shutting off a TV presentation of Mickey’s Christmas Carol – a nice touch).

It’s also nice to see the Elves elevated into stars for once. Most Christmas specials focus on Santa or one of his ancillary associates – Rudolph, Frosty, even Mrs. Claus. Until now, any special or movie that has shown the Elves in any large part has kept them in supporting roles. The only exception I can think of is the 2003 film Elf, and even that is less about the Elves themselves ad instead focuses on a goober who happens to think he’s an elf… not exactly the same thing. This is the first series I can think of that takes real Elves and shows us what they can really do, making them our heroes. It’s telling that “the Big Guy” is rarely mentioned by name, that his face never actually appears on-screen. Sure, we all know it’s Santa, but by keeping our distance from him it’s easier to look at Wayne and Lanny as our stars instead of worrying about what the boss is up to on this particular Christmas Eve.

This special has become the start of a lucrative franchise for the Disney folks. After winning a boatload of awards, they came back in 2010 with a seven-minute short (Operation Secret Santa) and, in 2011, another half-hour (Naughty Vs. Nice). Both of these have expanded the world of Prep and Landing, introducing more characters, more parts of the overall operation, and more worlds to explore with our favorite Elves. The characters even appeared in an eight-page Marvel Comic (Disney being Marvel’s parent company), in which Wayne and Lanny prep the Avengers’s headquarters for Santa’s arrival. Point is, these guys are becoming legitimate stars in their own right.

Unfortunately, last I heard a third full-length special was put on hold after Naughty Vs. Nice didn’t quite grab the ratings bonanza the first film did. But with both specials being shown all over ABC and ABC Family, and the DVD and Blu-Ray now available, there’s always hope. I love Wayne and Lanny, I love Magee and Tiny, I love the whole world of these gutsy little Elves, and I want to go back there again.

Don’t forget, The Christmas Special is the third Reel to Reel movie study. The first, Mutants, Monsters and Madmen, is now available as a $2.99 eBook in the Amazon Kindle store and Smashwords.com bookstore. And you can find links to all of my novels, collections, and short stories, in their assorted print, eBook and audio forms, at the Now Available page!

24
Dec
12

Christmas 2012: The Ghost of Simon Tower

GhostofSimonTower2It’s time again, my friends, for my annual Christmas gift to you, a new short story. And this year, we’re going back to Siegel City and Josh Corwood. Every Christmas Eve the heroes of Siegel City come together to raise a glass to their fallen friends. On Josh Corwood’s first Christmas among them, he learns of an apparition that has haunted Simon Tower for years… a mysterious, nameless phantom, who may hold some of the Tower’s biggest secrets yet. This short story continues the tale of Other People’s Heroes with a gateway into the past of Siegel City, and a glimpse into its future.

So how do you read this story, do you ask? It’s simple, guys. If you’ve got your Amazon Kindle, it’s available in the store right now for a mere 99 cents. But just between you and me, the reason I charge even the 99 cents is because you can’t make a book free on Amazon unless it’s enrolled in their special program, which I’ve decided not to do for reasons.

The Ghost of Simon Tower in the Amazon Kindle Store ($0.99)

But let’s say you don’t have a Kindle… or you don’t have 99 cents, because your kid needed that Tickle-Me Emilio Estavez doll I hear all the kids are crazy for this year. I feel you, my friend. Now before long, the book should be in the Sony Reader store, the Kobo Store, the Nook store, the iPad store, but all of those things take a bit longer than Amazon. So for the rest of you, friends, the book is now available at Smashwords.com, and at Smashwords, for a limited time, it’s absolutely free. Yep, for the whopping price of nothing, you can download the book in any format you want, ready to load on your Nook, your Kobo, your iPad… and yes, even your Kindle. And if you don’t have any of those, there’s also an option to read it in PDF format or HTML, right there in your web browser. So if you’re a fan of Siegel City and Josh Corwood, there is literally no reason not to check the book out right now.

The Ghost of Simon Tower in the Smashwords bookstore (FREE!)

As always, my friends, I ask just one favor of you. If you like my work, please post a review of it online — at Amazon, Smashwords, wherever you happen to get it. Reviews help the book get attention, attention gets more sales, more sales means Blake can keep writing stuff like this. And after some of the hints I drop in The Ghost of Simon Tower, I think you’re really going to be excited to see what I’ve got planned for 2013.

Special thanks to the great Jacob Bascle, who once again has come through with a great cover for the book! Merry Christmas, everybody!

24
Dec
12

The Christmas Special Day 24: Shrek the Halls (2007)

Shrek the HallsDirector: Gary Trousdale

Writers: Gary Trousdale, Sean Bishop, Theresa Cullen, Bill Riling

Cast: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, Cody Cameron, Susan Fitzer, Christopher Knights,  Gary Trousdale, Conrad Vernon, Aron Warner, Marissa Jaret Winokur

Plot: With only 159 days left until Christmas, Donkey (Eddie Murphy) begins pestering his friend Shrek (Mike Myers) to begin the preparations. Over the next few months, Donkey gets more and more insistent and Shrek more and more resistant, until it’s finally December 23 and he realizes for the first time his wife, Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz), and their triplets are looking forward to their first Christmas as a family. Not wanting to let her down, Shrek sets out for town to figure out how to “make a Christmas.” He winds up with a copy of a self-help book, Christmas For Village Idiots, that promises to help him one step at a time make the holiday Fiona deserves.

The next day, Christmas Eve, Fiona wakes up to find Shrek decorating their house for Christmas. Although she’s happily surprised, Donkey shows up to drop off a Christmas card and criticizes the decorating job. Fiona and the babies pitch in, and by dark Shrek is ready to sit down and tell his kids the Christmas story, but he’s interrupted when Donkey bursts in along with all of their friends. Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) entertains the kids while the others race around putting up more and more decorations, ruin supper and – in the case of the Gingerbread Man (Conrad Vernon) – make a pass at the angel-shaped Christmas Cookies. Although Shrek tries to hide from the chaos, Fiona lures him back, but things just get worse. He tries to get himself back into the spirit by telling his kids his Christmas story, but Donkey again steals the spotlight with an insane poem about a Christmas parade. Puss in Boots gets into the act with his tale of “Santa Claws,” and the Gingerbread Man jumps in with a story that’s really more appropriate for Halloween. A fight ensues and Shrek, while trying to hide his book, accidentally starts a chaotic chain reaction that ruins the party and sets both himself and the Christmas tree on fire. Boiling with rage, he throws Donkey and the rest out of his house. Fiona is upset that he threw out their friends, and sets out to find them while Shrek complains about how they ruined “his” Christmas. He catches up to them and tries a halfhearted apology, finally admitting that ogres don’t celebrate Christmas, and he has no idea what he’s doing. Everyone apologizes to each other and the odd little family returns to Shrek’s home to settle in for the night. Before lights out, Shrek tries once more to tell his Christmas story: a tale of a Santa Claus making his visit to an ogre home. As he finishes, they hear laughter in the air and rush outside to see Santa Claus flying across the moon.

Thoughts: My thoughts about Dreamworks Pictures Shrek franchise are fairly simple: I thought the first one was entertaining. As for the rest, my grandma always said if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. But even the worst franchise can sometimes turn out a charming Christmas story, so when Shrek the Halls made its network TV debut, I gave it a chance, and I rather liked it.

In truth, it suffers from many of the problems that plague Dreamworks Animation in general – too many topical jokes and current songs that hurt the special’s ability to become a real timeless classic. There’s a reason Rankin and Bass didn’t throw the Beatles into their specials… well, they also probably couldn’t afford them, but you see my point. In truth, this and oversaturation is one of the reasons Dreamworks will never quite reach the heights of a Pixar or Disney Animation Studio – they’re so focused on making a franchise that’s current and modern and now that the next generation of children will find themselves tuning out to the constant reminders of the world their parents grew up in. To put it another way, my two-year-old niece loves every Toy Story movie (and, in fact, everything Pixar has produced). I find it really hard to believe that she’ll latch on to Shrek or Kung-Fu Panda in the same way, even once she gets a little older and enters into the sphere of the intended demographic. They also rush out sequels, cranking out cookie-cutter cartoons that rarely, if ever, match the original, rather than allowing the story to dictate the future of the characters. Finally, there’s an emphasis on gross-out humor (such as the Gingerbread Man throwing up a chocolate kiss and the Donkey eating it) that shuts out older viewers… something else Pixar doesn’t feel the need to succumb to.

But don’t get the impression that I didn’t like this cartoon – I did. The animation itself is top-notch, and a lot of the characters and design are very imaginative… the giant Waffle Santa Claus, for instance. Puss in Boots is a great character, especially if you’re a cat owner and recognize how easily he slips from the persona of the suave Latin lover into a typical feline, which leaves him embarrassed.

Like any good Christmas special, the true test comes in when the hero learns his lesson at the end. Shrek has an interesting character arc here – he goes from being a complete Scrooge to suddenly wanting desperately to create a good Christmas for his family. From there he bumbles, he misunderstands the meaning of Christmas, he learns it, and then gets it all right. This time around, rather than giving a religious message or a message about the virtue in giving and sacrifice (all of which are well and good, by the way), the message is one of family. You may fight and struggle and drive each other crazy, but there’s a reason you stick around people besides blood. It’s a nice message about love and the truth about what a real family is, and it’s one even the children will no doubt be able to grasp.

Throughout most of the 90s and early 2000s, there was a dearth of new televised Christmas specials, which is why this particular Reel to Reel project has been so heavily weighted with films from the 60s through the 80s. (In a way, it’s the exact opposite of the problem I had with Lunatics and Laughter.) But in recent years, Dreamworks and Disney both have stepped up and started to change that. Have a wonderful Christmas Eve, my friends, and come back tomorrow for the finale of The Christmas Special with my favorite TV Christmas Special to premiere since I was a child.

Don’t forget, The Christmas Special is the third Reel to Reel movie study. The first, Mutants, Monsters and Madmen, is now available as a $2.99 eBook in the Amazon Kindle store and Smashwords.com bookstore. And you can find links to all of my novels, collections, and short stories, in their assorted print, eBook and audio forms, at the Now Available page!




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