Am I the only one who remembers what real special effects in movies was like? I am so SICK of CGI, which I consider to be nothing more than glorified cartoons. There was a time when real artists labored to create works of cinematic magic.
In early 2005 I was still trying to locate the Sag Branch Poplar. Initially I only had a vague idea of where it was. Later, Will Blozan of ENTS gave me specific directions. So I had them with me very early one morning as I got up before dawn and headed to Cataloochee to finally find the tree.
Imagine my surprise, on arriving at the trailhead in the early light, to discover that I'd left those instructions at home. I didn't realize as I headed away from my truck, that the lack of directions would soon be the least of my problems.
So, once again, I was left to try to locate the biggest tree in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park by trying to recall landmarks only vaguely described to me. Still, I set out with some hope that I'd find the tree at last and get some decent photos. At this time I was still almost exclusively hiking alone, and I was at just about my heaviest in many years. I weighed about 230 pounds around this time but, as always, I never had any trouble hiking steep slopes or bushwhacking off trail. Even at the worst of my weight gains I tended to have enough good lung health to tackle the toughest slopes.
The thing about this particular hike, though, was what happened after I'd hiked about three miles into the forest:
At pretty much the halfway point in the hike, I realized that I was sick. Not just feeling a tiny bit under the weather, but completely sick. A flu bug had invaded my body and picked that precise moment to let me know that it had its hooks in me. As I walked along I got sicker and sicker and knew that I was going to have a long, difficult, painful hike back to my truck. The worst part was that I was precisely in the middle of the route on the Boogerman Trail and so I decided to just push on rather than backtrack. Either way was equal in distance and I recalled from earlier visits on the loop that each way back was as good as the other.
So, for the next couple of hours I would hike for a while, stop and rest, then continue on until I had to stop and rest again. I was truly and completely sick. Fortunately, I was well dressed against the cold and I had plenty to drink and even food to eat if I hadn't been too damned sick to think about food. Trying to find the Sag Branch Poplar was out of the question. There was no way that I was going to be able to trudge off trail in the ice and snow to locate the tree, so I stayed on the trail and made my way agonizingly back to the road in Cataloochee.
After several very miserable hours I got back to the truck. I climbed in, drank some more water, and warmed up. There was now the task of having to make the two-hour drive back home. I seriously considered just finding a hotel room and holing up for the day and evening, but I decided against that and instead made the decision to tough out a drive back home. If anything, the drive home was as miserable a the hike had been, but I got home well before dark and ended up taking a hot shower and climbing into bed, where I pretty much stayed for the next few days.
Later, I did manage to find the Sag Branch Poplar. Fortunately I was in much better shape on that trip and the previous attempt was by then just a very nasty memory.
My first long-range view as I drove into the park. (Click to embiggen.)
It had just stopped snowing as I got to Cataloochee. Only the rangers had been on the road--one of them I encountered told me to close gates behind me as I drove in--he said I was okay because I had four-wheel drive.
As I hiked into the forest I was surprised to note that the only other being on the trail that morning was a coyote.
I stopped a couple of times to take photos of the coyote tracks.
I stopped on the way out to snap a few self-portraits. At this point I was extremely ill, but not too sick to want to capture some shots of me in the big forest.
I think this hike was the last one I took when there were still lots of living hemlock trees in Cataloochee. Go there now and every single hemlock you encounter will be a dead husk.
One of the historic buildings in Cataloochee that has been preserved.
And I had to pause to snap a few shots of the elk. I will never be able to get over the fact that elk have been returned to the southern Appalachians.
And a parting shot from an overlook of the incomparable ranges of my native South. After this, it was a long and excruciating drive back home to a warm bed and much needed rest.
I'm always hunting for bargains on cool, Golden Age comics. When I was a young man I had a really impressive EC comic book collection. For those of you who don't know about EC, it was the company owned by Bill Gaines who published Mad Magazine. Before he had Harvey Kurtzman create Mad for him (it started out as a comic book), he published comics. But he didn't just publish comic books. He published arguably the finest comic books ever created.
Gaines had a canny eye for talent and he intentionally went after the best comic artists in the business to work for him. You had to be something special to lay down the lines for EC. The artists who passed through its doors as employees is simply amazing. Jack Davis. Frank Frazetta. Al Williamson. Roy Krenkel. Bill Elder. Al Feldstein. Harvey Kurtzman. John Severin. Reed Crandall. George Evan. Wally Wood. Bernie Krigstein. Joe Orlando. Jack Kamen. Graham Ingels...If you weren't among the finest, you didn't work at EC.
Years ago I sold off my EC books. The most I ever owned at any one time was 160 individual EC comics. But, like everything else that was collectible in those days, I sold. I was, after all, a retail merchant and that's what that stuff was to me. Product to be moved out, generally as quickly as possible. The ECs I managed to hold onto for some years, but they went out the door. It didn't take very long to sell them all.
These days I pick them up from time to time when the right deal comes my way. This past week I managed to grab a couple of issues of TWO-FISTED TALES. TWO-FISTED was an adventure comic, often with true stories featuring interpretations of actual events. John Severin did the lion's share of the cover art and seemed to have a story in almost every issue. It was his kind of book. That was something else about Gaines and his editors--they knew what kind of story fit a particular artist.
Alas, EC was killed off by the right wing madness that swept the USA during the 1950s. It was deemed that comic books were dangerous stuff for kids, leading them to become delinquents, drug addicts, and communists. So the kind of story that EC published--stories that pushed envelopes and crashed through barriers--couldn't be done there anymore, so Gaines sadly pulled the plug on his comic book empire, banking his publishing future entirely on one title--MAD MAGAZINE, which went to magazine format to circumvent the Comics Code Authority that had emasculated his other books.
So. Here are two old EC comics that I was able to grab for my personal collection. Nice books!
A few years ago Amazon.com came up with what I thought was a really cool project:
They would publish short stories in electronic format and customers could buy them and download them to their email and read them at leisure. So I submitted a few stories and had a couple accepted into the program. Payments were to be made quarterly whenever the royalties reached $10 or more.
Alas, the project failed utterly.
There were way too many glitches in the whole deal for it to have ever worked as promised. From what I've gathered from talking with other writers, very few authors were ever paid anything at all. And keeping track of the program apparently cost Amazon more than it brought in. So they stopped soliciting new material.
Since I had other ideas in mind for the fiction I had there, and since they seemed to be merely taking up space on Amazon, I requested that they be taken down. In quick and polite order the folk at Amazon did as I requested and killt the online yarns. Alas, it seemed like a good idea, but it just didn't work out.
A lot of writers I know are very keen on the whole e-book subject. They tell me that it's the wave of the future. They tell me that they're making money with it. I don't really believe either of those statements, and I can say with no trouble at all that I don't care for e-books and it's my general feeling that I'll never buy one. Yeah, I know--never say never. But I just can't see myself buying a Kindle or an Apple Ipod or anything of that nature and reading my books that way. Give me a paperback or a hardback with pages made of real paper. I have bookshelves. I love my books and I just don't want any freaking digital fiction. So there. Take that, computer nerds!
Well, we're finishing up the planning of our trip to Yellowstone/Grand Tetons. All of our nights in Yellowstone are now booked. The place I wanted to stay in the Grand Tetons is full, so we're still looking at options there, plus thinking of extending our stay an extra day.
Ever since I was a little kid I've wanted to see Yellowstone. I would beg my parents to take me, to no avail. As an adult I was either always too poor or too busy to go. And now, finally, I'll get a chance to see this crown jewel of our nation's National Park Service. I'm going to be stressed waiting for the day when we head out (in August).
On the writing front, my latest book THE CLAN (second of the two-book deal at Tor) is progressing much better. I pretty much lost an entire week when we went to Los Angeles for the signing event of THE BLEEDING EDGE. But with some hard work I'll catch up to where I need to be.
I'm still awaiting word on the zombie novel that's now making the rounds to editors. With the current popularity of that genre sub-set I'm hoping that it sells in short order. I'd really like to see someone pick it up as a limited edition book, too. We'll see.