Posts Tagged ‘James Bond’


James Bond knows his way around computers, high-tech killing devices, and just about any state-of-the-art gadget thrown in his path.

Lara Croft may have computer and tech genius Bryce working for her.  But she too could program, hack, and out-tech her way around a villain.

craig bond

The same seems to go for any action hero.

My own Layla in The Compass Master probably knows her way around computers and programming, even though her adventures are pretty low tech.

So I’m kinda embarrassed to admit that today I paid a nice young guy to set up and program my new TV along with my DVD player.

See, until today I had a very old (22 years) TV, a heavy but reliable clunker.  Then I finally decided I could afford a cheaper version of a flat-screen TV (they’ve only been around for what, a decade?), one that, unlike my old TV, would be compatible with the on-sale DVD player I bought a few months ago.  So I ordered one and it arrived days ago.

I didn’t open the box until today.

bryce lara croft

And I didn’t pull the flat screen out and screw its stand together and assemble the few parts.  I did not even think of hooking it up to my cable box and DVD player, or figuring out where to insert the CD so that I could program the TV and see how the three remotes functioned.

Could I have done all this?  Sure.   But I…  just…  couldn’t…  bring myself to do it because…

… I am so burned out on technology.

Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve worked in an office most of my life.  I started on computers when they were DOS, learned Windows in its earliest incarnation, and can’t even count how many software programs and operating systems and their endless upgrades I’ve had to learn.  I have survived what seems like a hundred phone systems and overseen their installations at least a couple times.  I have programmed gadgets that were obsolete within a year.  I have spent a large portion of my life working with technology that has gone the way of the carrier pigeon.

See, much as computers and entertainment systems can be wonderful for me to use, there’s only so much of my life I want to spend on them.  For some people, programming the latest and greatest stuff is fun.  But for me it isn’t a game anymore.  I’d really rather just pay someone to do it for me.

How about you—is technology still fun for you?  Any burn-out cases out there?

So here’s a weird observation I just made today…

Ever notice how action heroes never seem to have any pets?

The villains they fight might have them. Heck, some villains have animals they adore.  But the heroes?  They’re pretty much all pet-less loners who are so preoccupied with saving the world they can’t be relied on to feed a feral cat.

The only exception I could think of was Lara Croft, who has a black horse she gallops around on while practicing target shooting.  But do we see her feeding the horse, affectionately grooming it, actually taking care of the animal?  Nope.  Seems a servant does that for her.

Indiana Jones doesn’t have so much as a bowl of goldfish.  But a villain in Raiders of the Lost Ark had a pet monkey that doubled as a spy.

Of course James Bond, the ultimate commitment-phobe, doesn’t have a pet.  I doubt that he has a plant.  But one of his worst adversaries was forever petting and holding a fluffy white kitty and also enjoyed looking after man-eating piranhas.  Another villain had people-killing dogs, but hey – at least he HAD dogs.

What about Kate Beckinsale or Mila Jojovich?  I don’t recall any puppies frolicking around them.  Nikita?  They’d get pet hair all over her black leather outfits.

What about Iron Man or the other Avengers?  Too busy being manly to cuddle with a pooch?

Still I myself have to admit I’m not much better because when I created Layla Daltry I didn’t even think to give her a pet.  On some subconscious level I must’ve know she couldn’t handle one because she travels so much.

Then again, while rambling on like this I just now remembered there’s ONE famous action hero who is often surrounded by animals and who has a pet of his own…

Harry Potter.

How brilliant was J.K. Rowling to create a world where animals are characters too?  Where pets are part of the story and part of the lives of the characters.  Just as in real life.  Funny how some YA books with magical themes can get this right.

Anyway, it’s late and I’ve got to get to bed.  Here’s hoping my cat doesn’t throw up on my bed tonight.  Or on the floor between my bed and the bathroom where I might walk barefoot in the middle of the night.  Oh well.  I still love my pain-in-the-butt kitty.  Even if she doesn’t make me feel like an action hero.

 

Novel Houses

on September 16, 2011 in Misc 6 Comments »

So yesterday I read Michael Offutt’s blog SLC Kismet (http://slckismet.blogspot.com/) and what he had to say about what makes men tick.  Why they do what they do.  What to bear in mind about men when creating them in your novels.

I can quibble about a couple of his points, but his main argument about how men need to be somebody and need to win really rang true for me.   Which led me to the question…

What about women? What are our most atavistic urges?

Now before you start throwing around words like nurturing, mothering, children, sex and romance and clothes and more sex and romance and whatever, I’m gonna cut you off.  Instead I want to focus on a single trait I see in most women.  And yes, this trait shows up in novels too.  To whit…

Many women have an obsession with houses.

How do I know this?  Because I don’t own a house, which absolutely flabbergasts a lot of females of my acquaintance.  In the eyes of some of them, it’s as if I’m an abject failure, an alien creature who has never known the joys of true domestic contentment.  I am unfulfilled.  They give me unasked for advice on mortgages or why I should buy a house NOW because the market will never be better (a lie I’ve heard for years).  If I had listened to any of them I would now be upside down in a mortgage.  Yet not once, except for a lone male relative, has any man ever questioned my domestic lifestyle or lectured me about home ownership.  Men just shrug.

And this difference between the sexes is right there in books and movies.

Think I’m exaggerating?  Then tell me about James Bond’s house.

Doesn’t have one, does he?  What he does have is an Aston Martin and he’s always driving really cool cars for which he must have a swank garage.

Lara Croft has a big old mansion, but the rough and tumble jock stuff she does in it shows you that she and her place were created by guys.  The houses in Stephen King’s novels?  You don’t want to go into them without an ax and an exorcist.  Batman’s mansion is generic and unmemorable; it’s the bat cave underneath that matters.  Indiana Jones’ house is just a stopover between adventures.  In Star Wars and Star Trek, people bunk in space ships and swamps and forests and anything but a suburban subdivision.  In noir novels and movies the male heroes have apartments; only the crooked rich live in big houses.  Charles Dickens’ most famous houses are dumps inhabited by Scrooge and Miss Havisham.  Jay Gatsby’s mansion is a lonely, loveless expanse of American excess.  Hemingway?  He was as domestic as a nomad.  Huck Finn has only a raft and no desire to get civilized and house-bound.  In Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy may be trying to get back home, but once she does the story ends.

Then again, I have to admit that Sherlock Holmes famously lived in a comfortable townhouse on Baker Street.

In many novels, a man might fight for his ranch, his land, his farm, his cabin.  But I don’t know of any books that describes, in loving detail how a man moves into and cleans up a house and puts flowers in the windowsill in the kitchen.  But that’s what happens in women-written novels, like anything by Alice Hoffman or stories like The Physick Book of DeliveranceDane.  Charlaine Harris’s series with Sookie Stackhouse (note the name) describes the house Sookie lives in, how she inherited it from her grandmother, how in one novel part of it burns down and it gets rebuilt and redecorated.  It mentions the new curtains Sookie buys for the living room.

Men do not write about curtains unless there’s a killer or a naked woman behind them.

On the other hand, it’s women writers who’ve created some of the most famous real estate in literary history.

Wuthering Heights, that shelter for overheated romance, comes to mind.  At the heart of Gone with the Wind is Tara, the home Scarlett has in her blood.  And what about Hogwarts?  No, it’s not a house, but it’s a home away from home for someone like Harry Potter, whose relatives’ suburban abode is a miserable prison.  To Kill a Mockingbird has Scout’s and Boo’s houses, memorable because of the vibrant life that goes on in and around them.

Anyway, this is my take on women and houses and literature.  It’s not a hard and fast rule, more like a tendency or instinct.  But what’s real about so many women’s novels is the real estate.

Technically No Action Hero

on June 14, 2011 in Misc Comments Off on Technically No Action Hero

There’s a scene in Casino Royale that brings out all my techie insecurities.

It’s the one where James Bond (Daniel Craig) gets into the security room of an exclusive resort, instantly figures out all the monitors, singles out the onsite security camera he wants, sees (apparently with X-ray vision) where the discs of those cameras are kept, finds and inserts just the right one, fast forwards/rewinds that disc with its record from a couple days earlier that shows the bad guy arriving at the resort.  Gets all the info he needs from that shot.

I would need a half hour orientation to do what Bond does in one minute.

It’s funny what can intimidate us, action hero-wise.  Martial arts?  Done ‘em — kinda.  Parkour?  Done it – badly.  Learn how to handle guns?  Yup.  Learning languages, how to climb anything, how to tail targets, etc. etc.?  Ongoing process.

You get the idea.  These challenges I can handle.  But make me face a battery of snazzy new computers and the latest in technical security devices and hotshot gizmos, and my nerves give out.  I have to put on my reading glasses (so unglamorous) and tell myself, “Don’t panic, kid – you can do it!”

I am so not like Nikita.

There she is in every episode, not only looking sleek and confident and in deadly perfect physical shape, but hacking her way into any sophisticated high security computer system that dares to stand in her way.  On the good side, she and Bond and their breed make tech savvy geekiness ultra cool and desirable.  On the bad side, they make me feel like a dim kindergartner.  Yes, there are books out there like Hacking for Dummies, which maybe I’ll look into.  Except that for people like me reading Arabic would be easier.

In the meantime, I’ve gotta figure out simply how to access the zipped artwork someone has sent me for my book cover.  And here I will pause to CHEER MIGHTILY THAT I’VE GOT SOME GREAT ART FOR THE COVER OF THE COMPASS MASTER!

Now back to feeling technically incompetent as I try to open the file folder (can’t at home ‘cause my computer software is too old/incompatible/whatever), then at work (turns out my company’s security system has blackballed this procedure), and next at Kinko’s, my last hope.

Here’s something you never hear Bond or Nikita say…

Help!

Breakthrough

on October 7, 2010 in Misc 6 Comments »

Last night, hell almost froze over.

For the first time ever, I turned into an attacking animal.

Not out in public, since that would be slightly illegal.  Instead, for one brief fencing bout, I turned into a foaming-at-the-mouth crazy attacking bloodthirsty beast. 

How crazy was I?

I almost beat Jim in a bout.  I got eight points to his ten.

Jim is one of those fencers I dread going up against .  He’s scary good.  Been fencing for at least 15 years.  Goes to national tournaments.  Is like the Borg in Star Trek because, when someone gets a touch against him, he assimilates what his opponent has just done and instantly devises defense strategies to prevent it from happening again.  You can even see through his mask how his face is moving as calculations rush through his head.  His free left hand twitches as if counting off counterattacks.

About a year ago I got way up to six touches against him, but it’s been downhill ever since as he (with robotic efficiency) kept improving while I pretty much hit a plateau.  For a long time now I’ve been lucky to get two or three touches against his ten.

Then last night I finally, really, truly ATTACKED and never stopped ATTACKING.

I didn’t use sophisticated tactics.  I didn’t have second and third attacks planned should my first fail.  I just LUNGED and HIT, JUMPED and HIT, RETREATED and PUSHED BACK and HIT.

I realized afterwards that I’d stopped thinking.  Instead what I FELT pushed me the whole time.  It was like being controlled by an unleashed, wild desperation.  A screaming instinct kept telling me to ATTACK ATTACK ATTACK.

Which, by the way, you’re supposed to do in fencing.  Or pretty much in any martial art.

Afterwards, I was exhilarated (EIGHT POINTS!), but I also felt weird.  I’ve been fencing for about four years with months off here and there, yet for the first time I had experienced absolute unbridled aggression.  For the first time I successfully put myself in an attack mode and stayed there.  What I felt was a kind of unthinking dark place that was very un-nice, unfeminine, unpolite.  The conscious me vanished and a fierce subconscious took over.

Wow.

Afterwards I was a bubbling sweetheart.  I was also kinda in awe.  At long last I personally understood that this is what James Bond is like when he fights.  Or Indiana Jones or Alias or Nikita.  Or Layla, for that matter.

Break on through to the other side, Jim Morrison sings.

I finally got to the other side.

Action Fashion

on March 4, 2010 in Misc 2 Comments »

Indiana Jones machete

Putting together an action fashion wardrobe ain’t so easy. But for those of us writing about a lead character in a thriller (and for me, living like that character), it’s a necessary ingredient we’ve got to work with.

The good news is, I’m using Layla as my role model and she dresses more like Indiana Jones than James Bond. No expensive, high-maintenance outfits for her. She also has what I wish I could get: a 1930’s elegance mixed with modern-day touches.

futuristic costume

This means perfectly cut dresses and trousers, skinny pants tucked into boots, a brown leather jacket, and tops or sweaters with clean lines that cling without restricting her movements, ‘cause she’s gotta be able to move freely. Oh – and she doesn’t own a whole lotta clothes because shopping bores her.

I put Layla in a brown leather jacket because black leather can look too hard. When I was in Belgrade I saw Serb tough guys ad nauseum wearing black leather jackets like some kind of uniform, usually unzipped just enough to show off their holstered guns. They looked like rabid rottweilers. Ever since then I’ve gravitated toward the softer, earthier look of brown leather. But yeah, Layla still has black pants and sweaters and some black ankle boots (flat-soled and comfortable so that she can run and climb in them). And now I do too – except for the perfect lace-up ankle boots, which aren’t easy to find.

Because The Compass Master takes place in November I haven’t thought out her summer duds other than what she wears while roughing it on the Panamanian island. Basically hers is a sleek, simple look she can toss into a duffel bag at a moment’s notice.

OSullivan

Wrinkle resistant fabrics are a must. And given that she works mostly in Europe and the Middle East, she’s also picked up the French flair for style, hence everything she wears fits perfectly, and when she has to impress she might throw a Hermès scarf ($275) about her shoulders. Beyond the scarf, she can’t be bothered with silly over-priced designer stuff.

Obviously Layla dresses the way I’d like to if I were more sophisticated. She also looks a lot better and she’s years younger. Damn it. But I gotta thank her because simplifying my wardrobe to match hers has not only saved me money (of which I have an ever-dwindling amount), it’s made me throw away all floral prints (what was I thinking?) along with semi-hippy items left over from my long-ago Boulder days.

Currently the only things in my closet I don’t especially like are some of my work clothes – bland things I can wear to the office and not care if they get worn out. Still, I’ve resolved that once they do get threadbare I’ll replace them with fewer, cooler pieces I feel good in.

I can do this and get away with it because I’ll be modeling myself after a realistic woman like Layla. If, however, you’re personally going for an action hero along the lines of Van Helsing or Ripley in Alien or Bruce Willis at his most kick-ass, then human resources might take you aside for a little chat.

The Action Hero Look

on February 21, 2010 in Misc 1 Comment »

action_hero_look

When my friend Ann read the first draft of The Compass Master and my description of Layla’s physical appearance, she said something that threw me.

“Thank you for not describing Layla’s breasts.”

Huh? “Her breasts have nothing to do with the action,” said I, flummoxed.

I mean, it had never occurred to me that I should elaborate on the fact that Layla has a pair, although some writers of the male persuasion may disagree (to the weary frustration of their female readers). In the streamlined writing style of thrillers, any excess description slows the pacing. Hence I use only a couple sentences to describe Layla’s face and body, and whenever it’s necessary to paint what she’s wearing I stick to the basics.

But in the subtext of any action tale is the fact that heroes always look damn fine. Why? Because they are the projections of our fantasies. They are what we wish to be. Do we ever want them to show up looking like the average Joe or frumpy housewife? Hell, no. We want stunning. When gorgeous Jennifer Garner in Alias crosses a room in her skin tight cocktail dress, men’s jaws drop. When handsome James Bond walks into a casino in his exquisitely tailored Tom Ford suit, women sigh with desire.

jennifer_garner_aliastom-ford_suit-james-bond

I’m no different when it comes to living vicariously through Layla. Here’s how I describe her through the eyes of Zach, her future lover and fellow protagonist:

Setting: Frank’s place on a Panamanian island (see my October blog entry, Layla and Robinson Crusoe)

He looked up to see Layla Daltry walk out of the jungle and into the café. She was just this side of beautiful, but there was something about her face that riveted him. Her body was certainly damn fine – lean and athletic. Her shorts and sandals showed off her legs, while her sleeveless white shirt was tied up high enough to expose a small waist damp with sweat.

Stop laughing, reader. You know perfectly well that every woman wants to make an entrance like that. Switch genders in the above passage (Indiana Jones emerges from the jungle, yonder sits woman mesmerized by his manliness), and that’s what men want, too. We all want to be desired. We want to stand out from the crowd.

In everyday life I sometimes see just such a man or woman. They don’t necessarily have the best-looking faces or bodies; instead they possess a kind of flair that makes you do a double take.

There used to be a visitor to the building where I work whom I dubbed Mr. GQ. The longish cut of his hair and the cotton scarf tossed carelessly over his shoulder was enough to make me follow him down the hallway. Then there’s the very young woman who sometimes rides the same bus I take to work. She can put together a few simple items of clothing with so much style she’s always cute as a bug and as fashionable as a French model.

Am I sounding mightily superficial? Absolutely. Is appearance so important? Not in the greater scheme of things. But remember this blog is about my becoming like Layla. It’s about the world found in thrillers and action movies with – my own preference – archeological and historical mysteries. And to fit into this character and this world, I need to get more of an edge to my wardrobe and overall appearance. I also just plain want to keep breaking out of the blandness the business world keeps sticking me in.

This is why I’ve had a personal body and wardrobe makeover underway for several months now. And it’s why action fashion will be the subject of my next (and shorter) blog entry.

Learning to Attack

on February 15, 2010 in Misc 5 Comments »

You know that scene in Die Another Day when James Bond fences with the billionaire bad guy? It’s completely over the top, of course. There’s more swashbuckling than true fencing going on, especially when they switch from epees to real-life sabers and then broadswords and brawl their way through a super-swank fencing club that couldn’t exist outside of movies.

Still, the scene is fun and I like watching it. But there are two points (pun intended) that bug the hell out of me.

First point: Why can’t James Bond be really lousy at something?

I mean, come on already! Yes, Bond is the ultimate fantasy action hero for men, but fantasy without limits becomes delusion. And except for being a flop at long-term relationships, Bond can always do everything in the universe. He can even whip an Olympic-level fencer despite the fact that he himself seldom has time to practice the sport because he’s so busy saving Western Civilization. Which leads me to the…

Second point: Only days before out-fencing said Olympic-bound athlete, Bond had been released from a North Korean prison. For fourteen months he was beaten, tortured, kept in a cold cell where he could do nary a push-up, and when he unsteadily walks away from his captors, he’s clearly a physical wreck. But give him one night in Hong Kong and a day or two in Cuba, and he’s in tip-top shape once again. Even his fencing reflexes are back up to par.

Let me tell you about those fencing reflexes. If you don’t fence for just a couple months, you can tell your game is off.

Mine certainly is. As you know, fond readers, I had to give up fencing because my car died and the weather was frigid and I was really busy at work and I didn’t get a new car until mid-January. Finally after two months of being away from the sport, I was back at it the first week of February.

I sucked all week.

I lost every bout I fenced. I swear to God I had the reflexes of an old cow. By the second week I improved, but my reflexes were still uneven, my bad habits had resurfaced like nasty warts, and without realizing it I was falling back on purely defensive tactics.

“ATTACK!” one fencer advised me after he had creamed me 10-2. “You have to attack more!”

His words hit me like a brick. All that night and the next day, I kept thinking about his simple command: ATTACK. Because I really don’t attack enough, do I? Not in fencing, not in my professional life, not in my love life, not in my writing career, not on so many levels. And I don’t mean being obnoxiously aggressive, but rather taking on the barriers that stand in the way of where I want to go and what I want to do. Maybe this is because I’ve gotten tired. Maybe it’s because settling into a kind of comfortable passivity is so easy. I know my chronic lack of rock-solid confidence doesn’t help. And there’s the whispering fear of failure.

Whatever the reason, I can now see that I really haven’t been attacking my own life as much as I should – attacking it with joy, with excitement, with exuberance, with a devil-may-care abandon. Yes, I’m taking on all kinds of physical challenges in this Becoming Layla plan of mine. But emotionally, I really don’t think I’ve been aggressive enough in my day-to-day life. I have not been brave enough. I’m not really going full-barrel after all the things that I want.

And that, of course, is where James Bond gets it right. What he wants he gets because he always goes for it in a full attack mode. Yes, he’s a fantasy figure. He’s got the Power of Myth behind him. But sometimes acting like the heroes in our favorite myths can give us a personal power, including the power to change our lives.

Star Trek and Action Movies, Part Deux

on July 14, 2009 in Misc Comments Off on Star Trek and Action Movies, Part Deux

Funny, isn’t it, how the shows we watched as kids permanently mold some small part of us.  How a few of the fantasies they concocted like witching spells in our kid brains never completely disappear.  I assumed when I was a kid that the exciting story lines in TV shows and movies and books would vanish from my imagination with my arrival into adulthood.  And sure enough, the years passed and when silly phenomena like Star Trek or Star Wars conventions appeared on the horizon I dismissed them as absurd.  Men dressing up as Civil War re-enactors?  Ridiculous.  People buying James Bond cars and gadgets so they can pretend to live in his world?  Oh please.

Then lo and behold here comes a Star Trek movie that harkens back to the original series, and I come away from it feeling like a kid all over again.  The same thing when I saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. No apologies, either.  It’s a damn fine feeling.

So this is the truth I must admit to:  that shadowy threads of my childhood stories have wrapped themselves around my skin and through my emotions and have ever since been a part of me.  It doesn’t matter that for most of my life I’ve forgotten about them or dismissed the longing they occasionally evoke as mere nostalgia.  They’re a small part of me and what I wanted to be.

Some more facts:  I’m now old enough to be on the downward slope of life.   My 401k is in the tank.  The economy stinks.  Jobs are vanishing.  Life is a risk and nothing is guaranteed.  I wrote a novel with a great lead action woman named Layla Daltry.  If I now want to live more like her or in truth let that part of me that is her become real, then why the hell not?  It’s not like I have much to lose.

But no dressing up.  I’m not into that at all, and even Layla wears normal (though really cool) clothes.  Then again, when my own brother tells me that I need to get more of an edge to my wardrobe, it might be time for a makeover.

An embarrassing confession…

When I was a kid watching Star Trek I had unreasonably assumed — me with my braces and thick glasses and a jaw that wasn’t developing right — that when I grew up I’d be as lovely as the women Kirk was always chasing, which was his tough luck because my heart belonged to Spock.