The Evidence Blog

Comments and observations, puzzles and conundrums, about the process of writing a novel and creating an animated movie: contrasting an ancient, analog procedure (writing with a pen in a paper notebook) with a modern digital process (creating animated and live images on a computer notebook)...both done at the same time, the same story, same creatures, same author--but with differences that confront and confuse, growl and grimace, enlighten and obfuscate....


Tuesday, June 22, 2010


There is something primal, I suppose, about men fighting. In this case they were fighting in a cage, which has its own primal connotations. My wife and I went because her daughter's boyfriend was one of the fighters. There were eight fights in all, each composed of three rounds of two minutes duration. A couple of the fights were rather fierce, with evenly matched, strong competitors. The others were quite one-sided. The occasion sparked a few conflagrations in my mind. Evidence of a Lost City, of course, attempts to uncover something primeval: it occurs mostly in an archetypal, Jungian underworld. A primitive battle between two gladiators would not be out of place. Does masculinity, at its deepest level, always display itself as battle? Let us suppose for a moment that it does. In our modern world this urge is sublimated, as a rule, into such pesky competitions as who makes the most money or drives the toughest car or scores the most women; but we still have athletic contests, which are mostly male and overtly physical, especially sports like boxing and wrestling and this cage fighting. But why fight in a cage? It is not to protect the audience, not like the cages in a zoo which separate the beasts from the tourists. It seemed to me the cage was a kind of emblem: society takes this masculine fierceness and isolates it, encages it. This is what culture does. That primal urge to do battle is dangerous. This urge, uncontrolled, erupts occasionally, sometimes in nationally approved ways--Bush's war in Iraq, for instance--but more often in irrational angry outbursts: husbands murdering wives, dissed gang members exacting revenge with a pistol. We do our best to keep these emotions caged, quite properly, and offer some symbolic, safe ways to channel and express them.

The audience, as we can see from the photo, was sparse. It was composed fairly evenly of men and women. We can understand what the men are doing here, but what about the women? Let me suggest that women's primal battle has to do with attractiveness, and is expressed most obviously in beauty contests. In their everyday life women collect suitors in the way men collect conquests. They vie for the priciest gems, the most desireable designer outfit, the wealthiest husband. Occasionally they murder an errant lover or a too attractive competitor, but in general their rages are channeled just like those of the men. We are a safer world because of this channeling. At this event, I wondered if I would see--well, lets call them primeval women, attracted to a primeval battle. And there was an official "primeval" woman: the round announcer, in this case a young, slender black girl who paced within the cage with a placard announcing each round. She wore very short cut-off jeans and a halter top, and bounced around quite happily. Within the ring she was barefoot, but outside she wore high-heeled gladiator sandals, which I thought were quite appropriate. But she was the only woman thus dressed. Well, my wife's daughter wore high-heeled boots and tight pants, and looked quite charming, though not overtly sexual. Otherwise I saw the usual flip-flop sandals, baggy clothes, graceless unisex outfits for both the men and the women. You could hardly tell the genders apart. This, I mused, is the result of a great cultural shift that has been occuring in our world. The line between maleness and femaleness is largely erased, or at least turned into a vague gray area. We are no longer men and women, we are consumers (which reflects the triumph of the Corporation) and wage-earners and practical people, and we all dress alike. In a perverse sort of way this gives rise to some interesting channeled effects: women can covet and buy some very expensive high-heeled shoes, for instance, designer shoes, even if they never wear them. I know women whose closets are filled with designer dresses that never see the light. This primeval femaleness is closeted, encaged, just like the fierce maleness of our cage fighters, and--alas--is seldom given an opportunity to express itself.

I am old enough to remember when women generally wore dresses. They kept one eye on the men: what would a man like to see? Tight skirts, high heels, makeup were all more common years ago. Stockings, too, which I particularly like. Girdles and corsets: a whole underwear/underworld convocation of primeval desire. I acknowledge that I miss that world. I would have liked to see, at the cage fight, primeval women: bright red lips, slinky dresses. Silken legs. Which leads us to my novel-movie: Evidence of a Lost City is filled with these women. There, at least, the primal can still exist.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


I watched this Bunuel classic last night, and was struck by a few musings. Technically the movie seems rather old-fashioned: the camera work, for instance, is graceful and slow: none of the quick jumps, fast cuts of the modern directors. This gives the film an appropriately elegiac feel. To enjoy the film one's attention must be more than superficial. This, of course, would pose too great a demand on most viewers. Modern movies, like modern novels, are more flash than substance. They are designed for short attention spans and a kind of adolescent mentality.

The ending of The Exterminating Angel made me wince a bit (the gathering in the church, the flock of sheep), but except for these couple minutes the film explains nothing. The guests at the dinner party are unable to leave the room. No one tells us why: there is no Freddy in his mask and steel fingernails standing guard at the door, no special effects aliens with gore-dripping mouths. Everything is internal, I told Jacky, my wife's 20-something daughter, who was rather lost and bored. It is like a dream. It occurs beneath the surface of our normal life. The movie requires you to look deeper into yourself and deeper into the reality around you. Why cant these dinner guests leave the room? Well, why cant you leave a bad relationship? a job you hate? a life-style you despise? The guests slowly degrade. There are suggestions of savagry. Isnt that what happens to us, when we are trapped in a life we cant leave? We become brittle, angry, sour. Our shirts are stained with sweat, our collars dirty. We smell of defeat, rot, despair.

But this message is implicit, not explicit. We are told nothing. It is like life itself: there is no teleprompter, no narrator with a portentious summation, no easy solutions.

Art requires something, I tell Jacky. Art looks beneath the surface. There is a kind of archetypal reality lurking beneath our paved streets and gypsum walls. Something rather primitive, primal. The job of art is to suggest such things, whether in film, or novels, or dance, or music....

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Into the land of Google Blogs

I've shifted my "blog" from the Evidence of a Lost City website--into the land of Google blogs. I copied/pasted all my earlier comments below this, a single long row of them. From now on I'll be adding comments here, which will allow readers to make their own responses at the end of each entry. And you want to respond, right? Throw out a few caustic sentences, an occasional bit of mouldering praise? Give it a go...I wont bite....

Our local library is a rather grandiose building, somewhat Romanesque, set at an angle to the street and large enough for a substantial collection of books. Sitting there the other day, however, I felt a vague sense of disappointment. I remembered the local library when I grew up here, in what was then an agricultural town. The library was a small building, built with Dale Carnegie funds, and presided over by Miss Violet Tapper, a toad of a woman who sat in her own little cage near the entrance. Her half-closed eyes watched everything. I always felt a little thrill, passing her scrutiny. The library then was a dangerous place: full of adventures, perils, romances, a world, therefore, entirely different from the more "normal" world around me. Tip-toeing past Miss Violet Tapper required courage. Her reptillian eyes followed me down the packed shelves. But once inside, surrounded by those stacks of volumes, I found heroes and villains, beautiful women, exotic landscapes, great mysteries. These were secret worlds, forbidden worlds—dangerous worlds. I wanted to live there.

Now, however, when I go to our library, I feel something entirely different. The library is no longer dangerous. It is safe, mild, bland, comfortable. The books somehow seem more—conventional. Less adventurous. Most of the books I read as a child seem to be gone. And of course there is no Violet Tapper, either, no reptilian presence guarding a strange world. The Hemet Public Library has become boring.

This complaint is not entirely a jaded older man recalling the thrill of discovery that a child can experience. Our books have become bland. Later perhaps I will enlarge upon this idea. Here, today, I only want to add this: Evidence of a Lost City is reminescent of my childhood exploration of the small Hemet library. I want this novel—and this movie—to recreate that sense of adventure and mystery. I want dangerous places. I want courage and heroism and exotic beauties....


Time seems to stream right past me, dislodging most of my plans.... First of all, I took time off from Evidence fo finish my earlier, incomplete novel, HAG. Then I had to format it for publication—including 161 photographs—at Amazon's Create Space. Then I re-formatted it into a Kindle e-book. All this took more time than I expected. But the HAG, in all her manifestations, is now available--

HAG, the movie
HAG, the illustrated paperback novel
HAG, the e-book

Take a look if you are interested in the old girl.

Finally, with the HAG put away, I got back to Evidence: I revised the first chapter, which is now more than 6,000 words long. You can see an excerpt on the Scenes page, and even download the pdf version of the whole chapter. This week I'm trying to begin the second chapter, which will be constructed around buildings: ruins, ancient brothels, tin shacks which extend into the jungle...endlessly....


This novel, and this movie, will consist of several explorations. It is amusing to me that I spend considerably more time on the movie than the book. It was the book that worried me: I havent been able to write in this country—the US of A, I mean—for more than twenty-five years. Instead, I've been going to Mexico, first on my motorcycle, then on buses, holing up in cheap hotel rooms with my Swedish Hermes typewriter, staying for months at a time. My last five novels were written this way. Returning to America, living again in the house my father built, presented me with a challenge that was quite intimidating. And in fact it has taken me two years of effort to finally make a genuine start on writing this novel. But now that the book is moving—well, it is moving with some ease, some fluidity. It is the movie that now requires an enormous effort.

Some of this is simply technical: it takes a long time to maneuver these digital characters, to set the lights, position the cameras. It still amazes me to see this happen on the flat screen of my computer. But it consumes great chunks of time. Each movement requires careful editing: arms can flail through bodies, positions slip into awkward convolutions, walks can be stilted and unnatural. And then, of course, when the sequence is actually done, it has to be rendered. Each segment has thirty frames for each second of animation. Each frame can take several minutes to render. I often leave the computer running all night, just to acquire ten seconds of animation by the morning. As I write this, my computer is rendering away: a 450 frame scene, fifteen seconds of action, with a woman I call Enoja simply standing there, her face and upper body moving a bit from one side to the other, speaking just a few words—"Youre late, everyone's gone, there's only me." This simple sequence was begun yesterday: first recording my voice, modifying it in Cool Edit Pro, then running it through Mimic to create the lip movements, then adding the lip movements to the V4 figure in Poser, changing her posture, tilting her head back just a bit, etc., etc. By morning I will be able to take the series of PNG files, turn them into an AVI, and add them to the timeline of my editing program, Adobe's Premiere Pro. And of course then I may not like what I see. Perhaps the lighting will seem wrong, or a movement too unnatural. In that case I'll need to return to the original Poser document, and revise it, re-render, and so on.

Which leads to the next issue: How should a movie look, with all these digital possibilities? This is not film I am using. There are no live actors. With HAG, I used my camera, floating it around the actors. The lights were real. I was witnessing everything, as it happened. But this movie is buried in the bowels of a machine, and nothing is real. How does this affect the telling of this tale? I can do amazing things, things impossible in the real world. And I work against limits that did not exist with my real camera, my real actors. What effect should this have on the look, the style, the movement of this movie? This question both baffles and excites me. I awaken some times in the middle of the night with images spinning in my head. The next day I render out a sequence, and then suddenly understand it is irrelevant: the story cannot be told in the normal fashion of a movie: this movie is not normal in any way: it requires a new way of telling a story: I am no longer bound by the constraints of gravity, of convention, of plotting and characterization. But this freedom is—intolerable, impossible. Oh, where are the old verities, the tensions of contending forces, the slow mounting of suspense and epiphany? Ah, the possibilities...oh, the is fascinating...and confusing....

Well, a section is almost finished. I hope, in a few days, to post it here. We shall see....


One of the technical things I've needed to learn is voice synchronization. Until now I've tried to do this by tediously opening and shutting mouths, lips, setting phonemes for each sound. But I've now acquired Mimic, a DAZ program, which will do this automatically. So I created a new scene, with Old John and Mina talking about his adventures in the dreamworld. I see that it works rather well, a lot better, at least, than my hand manipulation, though I'm going to see if I can fine-tune the process. You can see the result on the Scenes page. My intention was to use this scene as the second chapter, shall we say, which follows the opening; but I think I will try something different. I've started a new animated sequence, using Young John, which I rather like. We shall see how that goes....


Oddly enough—oddly to me, at least—I am finding it easier to write the novel than to put together the movie. I've added another couple chapters: I found a kind of entrance, a secret doorway, and waltzed right through it. I can easily see another chapter, just waiting for me. But the movie—well, it remains a struggle. I have been putting together a scene: a place, two characters—Mina and Old John—and the lights, the cameras. I am getting better at this, I can see that. But now I wish to add voice, and use the Talk Designer of Poser, and another program, Mimic Light, from DAZ, to synchronize the words with lip movements. Well, I can do this, I can see how it works. But there is something odd here: the words dont seem quite—organic—coming from the mouths of these characters. Something is wrong. I have tried using my voice—for Old John, of course, but also for the female wraiths (altering it in Cool Edit Pro, trying to "feminize" it) and also the voice of Jackie, my wife's daughter. In the next few days I'm going to try Jacqueline herself, and her younger daughter, Thalia, hoping that something in their voice will resonate with the character of Mina. But I may have to look for an actress, perhaps a student from the local college's theatre department. I remember reading long ago about some famous director—was it Fellini?—who would choose one actor for his looks, but use the voice of someone else: dub it in. I can understand that. The right timbre, the right lilt and eccentricity of tone....


It's been slow, getting any writing done. Some day I'll have to write about not-writing. But meanwhile, I have finished another chapter of this odd little novel, and have posted a couple excerpts on the Scenes page: Something about how Young John meets his wife. Take a look....


This has been a slow process, a kind of struggle to discover the visual tone of this movie. After several attempts I have finally put together what I believe are the first five minutes of the film. It opens on the contents page, here. The video of the wraiths, which has been the opening page video for several months, can now be found on the Scenes page.

As a novelist, I am accustomed to thinking long term. I have written a couple of my short novels in as little as three months—the first draft, at least—but most take considerably longer. You have to live with a novel, to accompany it on its journey, and it is really the novel's decision how long this journey will take and indeed where it will go. I follow along, talking to it, listening to it, complaining and praising, whatever it needs. This movie, however, is making even greater demands on my time. Now, I did the HAG movie in a couple of years, but it was basically live action. It is a lot easier to shoot ten minutes of live video than to create ten minutes of animated action. For HAG I mostly hired actresses in Aguascalientes, Mexico. I was lucky: they were all easy to work with, daring, professional. They also had a knack for improvisation: I could put them in some dark, decrepit rooms, give them an idea of a scenario, and let them work it out while I slipped around them with my camera, throwing out an occasional command. It was pure delight, watching the movie come alive. I would stay up late into the night, in my tiny hotel room, hunched over my computer, playing with the images, utterly enthralled.

Evidence is a different dog entirely. I have characters—Mina, Old John, Jacaranda—and I can place them on these dark, decrepit streets. Where they stand, motionless, until I activate them. Improvise! I command. What are you thinking? What do you want to say? They stand there, dumbly. They will not move.

So the improvisation is entirely in my mind. I take them with me to the café—I ride my bicycle, my laptop in the basket behind me—and lay them out, in my imagination, before me. They begin to stir. They look at me, sometimes, as if I am crazy. A few gestures, some new expressions, interactions, emerge. But then I have to go to the computer, open Poser, import the figures, the lights, the streets, the buildings—and laboriously, tediously, desperately slowly, create the movements. Which often surprise me. Oh, that doesnt work, I discover. That doesnt look right. So I improvise again. I change an image, alter a movement, shift a light. Each alteration requires more alterations. These programs, like Poser, amazing though they are, and these digital people, even Old John, who should know his way around, are idiotic. I could shoot five minutes of this movie in an actual five minutes, with the help of Jacqueline, or Cristiana, or Laura. Stand up and walk across the room, I could say. Smile—yes, evilly. Five minutes of video, easily. Instead I spend hours, posing, shifting, dropping this or adding that, and then more hours as the computer renders, renders, often overnight, sometimes several overnights, then import the image sequences into Premiere Pro, where they may—or may not—come to life as I had imagined.

Yes, tedious. And yet quite fascinating. The strange world of Evidence, and its strange people, are coming alive. I am creating a world. There is something awe-some, and intimidating, about this....


And now there's Judith—a new eight second video, the first off what will be several little movies of this character. I'm thinking now of creating a whole section in both the novel and the movie built around these characters. Vignettes, picaresque episodes, small adventures. Chamelea has a longer video now too, and even says a couple things ("Why?" and "Good-bye"). I need to start experimenting with the Poser Talk Designer, which promises to synchronize words with lip and tongue movement. I want these characters, these creatures of the night, to talk, and talk well....


I've been enjoying myself with Chamelea, a new character. She struts around on her ten-inch ballet heels, naked except for a tracery of images on her body. Today I uploaded a video, a minute long. I'll be adding another ten or fifteen seconds of animation, than sound effects and dialog, probably in about a week. She's a chameleon, of course, so I will attempt to give her skin some interesting effects—see if I can make her blend, swirling, into the background, at the end of the video. I can see doing this with several characters: short videos, some odd bits of action for each one, and make them all part of one section of the movie.


This novel and movie present me with some peculiar problems. The characters who represent the "real" world are easy enough for me to imagine. As usual, they are based on actual people I have known, even though I alter them for the purposes of the book, and I can understand quite well how they behave. But the "underworld" characters are a different breed. I can say they are Jungian, and need to be drawn from myth and from characters who appear in my dreams. But they need to have some sense of individuality, too. I need to understand them, or at least to have some idea of their purpose. Their behavior needs to make some kind of sense, even if it is a dream-sense. So I have begun another page in this website, the characters page. I believe I can use this page to play with the strange individuals from the underworld, the mysterious women, the odd and sometimes semi-human males who wander in the city. I will use photos and short videos, perhaps text also, and experiment for a while, to see what happens.

You can check out the page here.


I've now approved the DVD for sale...finally. You can order it at Create Space, the publishing subsidiary of Amazon. So please browse through the HAG site——and check it out, and if youre interested, grab a copy...and let me know what you think:


The test DVD of HAG arrived today:

As soon as I get a chance, I'll run it through our DVD player and make sure it all works. Then...activate...and see how the marketplace reacts....


Novel-writing is an odd experience, for me at least. I feel a little nervous when people say I am so creative. The reality is that I create nothing. A novel presents itself to me as an organic thing, a small tree for instance, a rose bush. I struggle to keep it alive—I may water it, say, or add fertilizer—while I struggle to describe its growth: the spread of its limbs, the gnarling of the bark, fruit oozing from flowers like alien creatures. Sometimes I use this metaphor of trees, which sounds pleasant; and sometimes I use the metaphor of cancer: a growth that is disturbing, vicious, dangerous. One may thus survive a novel, doused with chemotherapies and radiation: a primitive survival at best, prone to relapses: the cancer reappears, a crabby, hungry mass that feeds off of me. I am hag-ridden, I sometimes say, another metaphor, one which I used for my movie, HAG. The witch wont let go until the work is finished. Or—which is worse—she lets go prematurely, stunning me with her sudden absence. A novel dies, then: the hag gone, the tree withered, the cancer miraculously cured. Such loses are devastating.

Between novels—I listen. And watch. A novel will approach, in bits, from several angles at various times. These bits may be composed of people—a face, a way of walking—or a notice in a newspaper or magazine, an image glimpsed on tv, a sound, a strange memory that suddenly surfaces. These bits accumulate over time. The trick is to recognize them, and store them, in some fashion, in some nook in my brain, where they congregate, mill about, mate, slide from one form into another, until finally a critical mass is reached, a certain density: a place, a few characters, some underlying themes, an emotional resonance, and a voice. Plus something else, which I call the simulacrum, and which I'll discuss later.

But first, voice. Each of my novels—and my stories, too—has its own voice. This voice is a complex thing, and sometimes, even with the other elements assembled, it can take me a while to discover it. This voice, roughly speaking, is a style—a syntax, a certain grammar, a way of forming words into sentences and then paragraphs, chapters, episodes. It is not a sound, exactly, although I often read aloud what I have written, in an effort to get this voice just right. It is a certain tidal flow, or way of moving—the conjugation of verbs and adjectives, harmonies and dissonances. I experiment, often, with voice, writing one page, then another, long sentences, staccato sentences, until eventually something feels right, the collection of bits I've assembled echoes correctly. The voice is there....


I'm still finishing up duties with HAG, my previous movie. Right now I am designing the illustrations that go on the disk and the container. Here is the disk:

...and the front and back cover:

In another day or two, it all goes off to Amazon for publication...and I'll be free, at last, to devote all my time to Evidence. Meanwhile, if you are interested, check out the HAG website.


Evidence of a Lost City will be my twelth novel, and second movie. Presuming, of course, I actually manage to finish it. One should never be presumptuous when dealing with art. These creatures, I long ago discovered, have tortuous lives of their own, and I can never be certain if they will embrace me and carry me with them, or not. My past is littered with fragments of novels, some quite lengthy. I revisit them sometimes. Holding their pages in my hands is a strange sensation. I see remnants of my life there—like the bones left by some animal. Well, I must avoid becoming too fanciful. In any case I wish to write here about the new work. Its themes have become increasingly significant to me, for reasons which will doubtless be explicated later. I wrote the first couple thousand words over the winter, an agonizing few at a time, and then spent months re-working them. This is not my typical procedure. Eight months to write 2,000 words? That is crazy. Normally I leap into a novel and write a couple thousand words a week. I immerse myself in it. I carry it with me wherever I go. For the last twenty years I've been doing this in Mexico. I wandered all over that country. I found bits and pieces of my novels in the streets, the buildings, the faces of the people. It was a strange experience. Yet I produced only five novels during this period. And one movie, of course—HAG. For a man who prides himself on his discipline, on his ability to focus completely on his work, this is a paltry output. My argument is that a novel has to be discovered. I dont simply sit down and decide to write one. I search until I find it, and its entrance. My life has been a search in a very concrete sense, that is, I have wandered through the world, one continent to the next, across one ocean and then another, a kind of exploration. I lived with Moro pirates in the Sulu Sea, hitch-hiked down Africa, took a canoe along jungle rivers in Guatemala—well, and much more. Buses, trains, motorcycles, ships. Nuku-Hiva and Tai-o-hai, Alice Springs and Carnarvan, Pulcallpa and Manaus. This physical search has been the metaphorical equivalent of my search for novels.

So. Evidence of a Lost City. I find it lying just in front of me. I believe I have stumbled upon its entrance. What will I find here? We shall see, indeed, if I discover anything....