Friday, July 1, 2016

Month In Review: June 2016

2016 is half over. I thought about making this a Half Year in review, but decided against it, sticking to monthly reviews. The hope in this is that when I am a marginally famous writer, I'll keep my fans updated in a general sense. Pretty arrogant....but that's me. June was a meh month but with good reason.

WRITING: I pulled a little bit of a Hamlet this month. I couldn't make up my mind. I had a few projects in the chamber, but couldn't pull the trigger on any of them. I talked a little bit about this last month and settled on a completely different project than I intended. After talking to a handful of trusted friends, I've narrowed the idea down. I started sketching out some things, scrapping them, sketching out some more, then scrapping that...I rudimentarily built two worlds before settling on the one I'm setting this story in. I'm not in the outlining stage quite yet but I've sort of fumbled out some words on it. Not many, but enough that I have the framework for a story. So starting July 1, I'm diving back into the story and running with it. I'm teaching summer school this year and I'm creating a writing and workout schedule revolving around summer school. I'm very excited. I'm not going to set a word count goal for the month, but I've got a number in my head. By the end of July, I will have a robust word count and new YA epic fantasy to talk about.

READING: Four books this month, including one that is clearly going to be on my Best of for 2016. You can read my review of AN EMBER IN THE ASHES from earlier this month. It's spectacular and one of the best YA fantasies I've read in the last few years. Other things I read this month:

  • Oyster War: a mythically infused historical graphic novel about the Chesapeake Bay. Entertaining and well done. Liked it a lot.
  • Zodiac: Having watched the movie, I became consumed with the story of the Zodiac Killer. I listed to the audiobook in my car and walked away wondering if I was the Zodiac Killer. In all seriousness, I think I got a story idea from this. It just needs some time in the seed vault.
  • Rat Queens, Volume 2: Fun with some interesting spins on the tropes of fantasy, but a little kitschy at times. There are a lot of people that rave about this online and I can see why, but I have to admit that it feels a little overrated to me. 
For now, I've got a stack of summer reading I want to do. I got an ARC of THE FORGETTING MOON , a book I am loving for the nostalgic late 80s vibe I'm getting from it. I've also got 2 or 3 contemporaries from the library I want to read and my crisp new book that's all about everyone's favorite "bastard, orphan, son of whore and a Scotsman dropped in the middle of in the Caribbean by providence impoverished in squalor" ALEXANDER HAMILTON by Ron Chernow. There's a fantasy novel buried in there too. But we'll talk about that more later. 

WATCHING: Lots to talk about here. Maybe too much TV watching, but I watched a lot;

  • Game of Thrones: Let's get it out of the way. The last two episodes of this show were the best television of the last thirty years. I can't think of what was better than that. The Sopranos, maybe. It's actually the best epic fantasy we may have ever seen. Say what you will about the Battle of Helm's Deep or Pelennor Field. this topped it in a way that we have never seen. The deep, terrifying beauty of "The Battle of the Bastards" was everything that an massive battle like that should be and the epic ending that was "The Winds of Winter" was the perfect ending to what the previous episode had done. And guys....Lyanna Mormont.....just Lyanna Mormont.
  • Finding Dory: Cute, funny and smarter in a way you wouldn't expect. It's basically Slumdog Millionaire but with CGI fishes. 
  • The Thing: Masterful suspense and horror in the pre-CGI days. 
  • Conan The Barbarian/Conan The Destroyer: The first was actually less formative than the second. Destroyer was on HBO all the time growing up and it became the template for a fantasy adventure in my mind. And that Atlantean sword. No sword has ever been cooler.
  • The Tony Award: Because Hamilton. Just Hamilton. 
  • American Ninja Warrior: Research for the new project. This is so going to be part of that story.
  • Transformers: Age of Extinction: Guilty pleasure. I loved Revenge of the Fallen even though I knew it sucked and the same thing with this movie. 
  • Terminator: Genesys: I didn't hate it as much as I thought I would. I mean it doesn't hold a candle to the original and Judgement Day, but it was kind of enjoyable in dumb way. 
  • Empire of the Ants: Watched this late on a Saturday night and I was a little kid again. An old school, schlocky horror movie about giant, mutant ants. So formative. 
  • John Carter: Again, another movie that wasn't as horrible as people initially said it was. It slows down a little in the middle but it's still much better than people said it was. 
So, June was okay. July will be better. 


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Irrational Fears

When I was a child growing up in Astoria, Queens, New York in the shadow of the Queenboro Bridge, I was terrified of army ants and one that seemed viable to the young me despite my very urban surroundings. I was reminded of this last night as I watched the movie San Andreas on television last night with my daughter and wife.

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with reading and animals. I spent hours reading. Back in the late 70s/early 80s every supermarket had some kind of encyclopedia tie in. Each month or week a new volume would come out and I would eagerly await it's arrival. The one I was most obsessed with was The Funk And Wagnall's Wildlife Encyclopedia. I read them from cover to cover, imagining myself an intrepid explorer finding these animals. (I was also obsessed with atlases, but that's another blog entry.) When you think about the natural world, it's a terrifying place. Especially to a kid that grew up in a blue collar neighborhood of Queens, New York. And my hot button animal that terrified me? Army ants. I was genuinely terrified of being slowly and painfully consumed and stripped to the bone by millions of ants. It kept me up at night in a way that I cannot express in words. Completely and totally irrational, right? Not to the five or six or seven year old me though and I was faced with something similar last night.

My wife turned on San Andreas, the Rock-fueled disaster film about an earthquake destroying much of California. I didn't really watch and was starting to fall asleep anyway. I'm not so into disaster porn anymore and think that the 1974 movie Earthquake already did this better with really bad special effects and Charlton Heston telling the earthquake to get its filthy paws off of him. As we were watching, there was a scene where the Hoover Dam collapses and kills a man, among others. My daughter was sort of freaked out about this.

She started asking questions about disasters like earthquakes and tornadoes because she is a lot like me and has an active imagination, the kind of imagination that can put herself in the middle of an earthquake. To most of us, this is absurd, but to an eight year old with an active imagination, it's very real. So we had a very brief and quiet conversation about it so we didn't distract my wife who was watching the movie. (My wife has a practical mind that finds this line of thought absurd.)

I explained to my daughter that we don't get a lot of tornadoes because there are too many hills around us and they need mostly flat surroundings. I know this isn't scientifically accurate, but for the moment it was what I needed to say. Then I explains that occasionally we may get an earthquake, nothing like the movie would probably happen where we live (Syracuse) and the worse we would feel would be like a big truck driving by the house. I told her about the last earthquake I remember a few years back and that's exactly what it felt like. She seemed satisfied with this and went to sleep.

But as I sit here today, I wonder if that's how we're somehow we're wired as some kind of survival mechanism. Or is it some gene that I passed down to my daughter. I still have some irrational fears as a 43 year old man. When I hear a noise outside, I assume one of three things: zombies, Bigfoot or a baby kaiju. I am terrified of moths. Seriously. When my son says there's a monster behind me, I take that seriously. And I'm terrified of being eaten alive. These are irrational fears. I'm old enough to recognize that and maybe that makes them infinitely more irrational than my fear of army ants. Is it hardwired? Is it learned? Is it the product of an overactive imagination? I don't know.

And just so you know, I will will obliterate any sign of ants in my life to this day.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Book Review: An Ember In The Ashes

I haven't been doing many long form reviews lately, instead choosing to do book reviews on a smaller scale in my monthly reviews, but I thought this one deserved a longform. (They'll be a few more of these as I have about 4 ARCs that I need to work through in the coming weeks!) As always, spoilers abound. 

AN EMBER IN THE ASHES by Sabaa Tahir is one of those books that I was interested in but was a little worried about it because it looked and sounded a lot like another YA fantasy that I had high hopes for and just fizzled for me, but it came up in my library queue and I thought I'd give it a shot. And I'm glad I did. This book was phenomenal on so many levels that it's clearly going to wind up in my Best of list at the end of the year.

There was so much I liked about this book and, as I read, realized it shared with my own writing. Great characters, well thought out but not overly complex worldbuilding (I mean that as a compliment and I'll get to that in a minute) and a snappy plot that keeps things small within the larger story. 

One of the things I've noticed about YA fantasy is the desire to kind of make everything about these giant stakes, this does that but on a vastly smaller scale, so to speak. As much as the competition between the Masks to be the next Emperor is a driving force of the narrative, the reason everything happens in this story is because Laia wants to rescue her brother. This is the engine that makes the story move and it's well done. Laia doesn't want to topple and empire, she wants to live her life and when that is thrown into chaos with the capture of her brother, she makes desperate agreements with the rebellion, a group she's never really wanted a part of. And Elias just wants to leave the empire. He wants no part of it, even though he is integral to it in every way. It's a huge way this story works. As epic as the stakes are in what is happening, that's actually secondary to what's happening. In the smaller story, Tahir makes it about the character's motivations not the world shaking events that surround them. It was actually somewhat refreshing. 

The characters make this book move. Laia and Elias are great characters. Hurt, wounded and damaged, they figure out what they need to do to survive the brutality of their existence. Elias's mother, the Commandant, is chillingly rendered and his best friend, Helene, is a young adult version of Brienne of Tarth but Tahir has the skill not to just make her a shade of that great character but breathe a whole other life into her. Elias's antagonists, the twins Marcus and Zac, are thinly made, almost caricatures, though I wished there was a little more Zac as I feel he was underused in the story. Many of the background characters in the Elias thread are stock characters, almost necessary in a cast this size, but they work well, filling the roles they need to fill when they do. 

In the Laia thread, from the moment we meet them, the members of the Rebellion are all menace. As a reader, you aren't to trust them from moment one and that is a real strength. The idea that the rebels aren't these righteous warriors of truth has been put forth before, but is often ignored. Tahir does a great job with it. Laia's interactions with the Commandant are cringe worthy and I mean that in the nicest way possible and the mystery of Cook has me wondering if that's a question that will ever get answered. 

The romantic elements were well done, though the Keenan/Laia pairing seemed forced at times. The tension between Elias and Helene is just taut and well written. It's not so much a love triangle as it is a love dodecahedron, so to speak. And it doesn't get in the way of the story.

The world building is sound and simple. I don't mean this in a bad way. Fantasy writers have a million different directions to go in when building a world, some create vast histories of their worlds and can tell you who ruled an empire three thousand years ago then will make sure you know that they know that which then distracts from the story. Others are sparse, concentrating on the action within their book then they wind up with dozens of inconsistencies and holes that can also distract from the story.  There's a balance and Tahir nails it. Others still fill their world up with complicated names and ideas that can confuse the heck out of a reader or hit us with the Our Elves Are Better trope too many times. Tahir doesn't do this, instead calling her people Martials and Scholars and Mariners. Makes sense right? The history is there, but it's not relevant to the story, so we don't need to know it.  She tells us what we needed to know about the Empire and the Blackcliff school, which were important to the story, without sounding infodumpy. It's really well done and I liked it.

The one aspect of the book that really struck me was the relationship between the commandant of the Blackcliff school and Elias. (SPOILER: She's his mother.) I love a well done, complex child-parent relationship, especially in a fantasy book. I love writing them and think that when I get back into a rewrite on my SCIONS book, I'm going to make the parental issues with the book more apparent. That being said, the thing that struck me about this the most was that is was a son and mother. It's just not one you see a lot of in YA fantasy. The Commandant is just terrific. She's chilling and cold and amazingly diabolical. The chapter when she finally explains herself to Elias is just some of the best writing I've ever read in this genre or any other.

My only complaint, and this is strickly a personal thing and it has no bearing on the quality of this book, is that I wish it were 3rd person close and not 1st person. Seriously. That's my only gripe. And it's just a me not you thing.

AN EMBER IN THE ASHES is one of those rare books that can sate both the YA fan and the epic fantasy fan in me. It does what it does incredibly well and is a joy to read. It's intense and unputdownable. It's definitely going to be on my Best of 2016 list. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

An Oral History of June 17, 1994

We Muricans love fallen idols. We love when the people we love, especially celebrities of any sort, fall from grace in an epic fashion and no celebrity ever had a greater fall from grace than Orrenthal James Simpson. OJ was a cultural icon that crossed barriers that few had ever done before. And his epic fall (you all know how I love the word epic and what it implies) changed our society forever and ushered in this day and age of reality television.

Now, I'm not going to go into every detail of what happened, just the events of June 17, 1994 for me and what I remember. The day the OJ and his friend Al Cowlings fled the police in his white Bronco. An event watched by millions live on television all over the country. It was riveting and something you couldn't turn away from. I know, because I was one of the people that couldn't turn away from it. For years, if asked, I could tell you exactly where I was and what I was doing. I remembered it vividly. Most people my age could as well. It became on of the hallmarks of our generation, a single shared event that any of us could bond over in a moment.

We don't have many moments like that anymore. Information is so immediate and accessible in this day and age, it's hard to express the "I remember it..." story. Today, we live tweet events as they happen. And I recognize the irony of me talking about live tweeting something. If there was such a thing as Twitter when I got married, I'd have live tweeted it.

As I remembered that night for years, I was at Club 37 in North Syracuse, New York. Club 37, for those of you that don't know, was a dance club located along a main drag in a suburb a few miles north of the city of Syracuse. Friday nights was Ladies Night, maybe, and my friends and I would go their often. It was a typical club with a large dance floor, lots of black lights, crappy carpeting, thumping music and a balcony that overlooked the dance floor. Club 37 was also notorious because it was where professional wrestler Shawn Michaels got his ass kicked by a couple of US Marines. Seriously, look it up.

I had gone to Club 37 with my friend Brian, with our friends Andy and Bianco in tow. I have vivid memories of watching the Knicks and Rockets on the TV in the lounge area. I was still pining for Christina, a girl that had just broken up with me, so I was kind of standoffish, watching the game. Well, they kept going to the OJ chase and eventually the dance floor emptied and we were all watching OJ. For twenty plus years, this was as I remembered June 17, 1994: watching it on TV while some dance music thumped in the background.

My group of friends was amorphous at the time, as most groups of friends are. We moved in and out of different circles, depending on what was going on, where we were going and who wanted to go. But there was also a separation between my groups that was pretty clear and I have different memories of each. If I was at the center, Brett and Brian (I have a thing for friends whose names begin with Br I guess) would always be around me. Looking back on it, my relationship with the two was very different. Not in a bad way, but Brett and I were always partners, in a way, more Captain American and Iron Man. I always felt like Brain's sidekick, very Batman and (Fat) Robin. Again, not in a negative way, just from my perspective that was the way I always felt. People came in and out of our lives and we into their's, as a duo or alone, as such groups of friends frequently do. The flow chart would be astounding. But Brett and Brian were more often than not separate from one another. They brought out two different parts of me and got different versions of me. Our groups bled together more often than not. With Brett it was my oldest friends: Adam, Jamey, Anzalone...with Brian it was Bianco and Andy. For example, Bianco crossed over to the Brett side when he started dating our friend Nickerson, who is almost part of a third group that blurred the lines between both of these groups. (For those not in the know, Nickerson is a woman and as I write more of these oral histories, you'll hear more about her.) These complex relationships are things I try to duplicate in my writing. Groups of friends are often not as clear cut and simple as they are in fiction. Maybe one of these days I'll do a long form on that with a flow chart. But that's not the purpose of this piece. I remember being at Club 37 with the Brian side of my friend flow chart that night. At least that's the way I remember it.

Then, this past year FX played their The People vs. OJ Simpson, which was a riveting show. My friend Sharon sent me a message on Facebook saying that she remembered being at Hungry Chuck's with me and my best friend Brett celebrating his 21st birthday. She was Brett's girlfriend at the time and the two of them were inseparable. Hungry Chucks was a dive in the basement of the building that wasn't air conditioned. (A few years ago they moved Chuck's upstairs and now it's a nice bar. It's not the same.) And I loved it. This sent me into a tizzy, sending messages on Facebook and my phone. I followed some leads and shook some trees to find out if I misremembered it.

I came to a conclusion: I didn't misremember it. Sharon was correct that she was at Chuck's with Brett, but my location was still in flux. I've confirmed it, with Brett even remembering the detail of yelling "Run OJ, run" as they watched on the big screen TV at Chuck's, which is the most Brett thing ever. It makes complete sense that Brett and I would've been together for his 21st birthday. But I know I was at Club 37. Now, why was I at Club 37 and not out celebrating my best friend's 21st birthday? It makes no sense.  This became a vastly more interesting question and I tried to figure it out. I narrowed down my varying theories to one of three;

  1. Brian and crew went to Club 37 then met up with Brett and crew. Plausible, though I don't remember it that way. This was pre-cell phone 1994. That level of coordination would be unprecedented, especially knowing us as a group. 
  2. I had gone to Club 37 in pursuit of a girl, probably Christina. This would fit my personality and the emotions I would've been feeling at the time. Having asked her, she doesn't remember if we'd hung out or seen each other that night. It's plausible, though she doesn't remember being there that night. 
  3. Brett and I were in a snit. Yes, guys can get into snits and we all know what most of those were about. With apologies to Sharon, who will likely read this, our group of friends weren't crazy about her at this time. This was no reflection on her. It wouldn't of mattered who Brett was with, we would've had a problem with them. We were still young enough then that we still lived by the code of "bros before hoes." (I was 21 and such misogynistic code has been mostly written out of my program by now.) The reality is that we were all subconsciously jealous that Brett had found someone to love him and we hadn't. 
With apologies (on many levels) to Sharon, I was at Club 37 that night. The reasons being? I'm still not sure. Of the scenarios listed above, I'm thinking it's a combination of 2 and 3. Twenty-two years is a long time and I can't say with any certainty which story is completely correct.

1994 was the start of a pretty dark time for me. 21-23 weren't good years. I was broke, directionless and maybe even borderline depressed. I had made every mistake that someone with boundless opportunities could make and instead of rising, I dug deeper with an almost deliberate intent. Thinking about it now, I wonder if my suddenly hazy memory of that time is directly linked to the way I feel about that time in my life. There are things I vividly remember about that time in my life and things that I've effectively blocked out. (Nothing too terrible in the grand scheme of the world, mostly white person problems, but you get my drift.) The spring/summer of 1994 was particularly difficult, coming off the end of my first real relationship. I was immature and reeling from it. It was not a good time, though there were good times in there and the vast majority of them were because of friends like Brett, Brian, Nickerson and Sharon.

Time moves on. I always try to live by a credo of never looking back, but sometimes it's hard to ignore the real pull of nostalgia. As much as I lament my life back then, there was a lot that happened that formed me into who I am today. There are a load of stories, good and bad, to tell and this Oral History series is part of that.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Month In Review: May 2016

Come what May, thank goodness April was over. May was definitely a better month than April and I gained back some productivity and a slight nudge in a newish direction for me and my writing. So, here's what I did:

WRITING: After the disaster that was April, I found a pretty good groove in May. I finished the first draft of THE FALCON AND THE CROW and I'm very happy with it. But more on that in a minute. I finished that up and then dove into a rewrite of THE SEVEN LABORS OF NICK JABLONSKY. And I discovered that LABORS was better than I thought.

The story made a lot more sense than I remember and only needed a few tweaks and cuts along the way. I blogged a little bit about some major changes I contemplated making to the story but decided against because of the fundamental changes it would make to the story. In the end, I told the story I wanted to tell and wound up coming up with a great narrative concept for another project. I was so happy with the rewrite that I decided to just send two "Aw, what the hell" queries out into the world. I don't know if LABORS is completely indicative of me as a writer, but who knows what'll happen.

After finishing LABORS, I reengaged FALCON and I'll be honest, it's good. Really good. I'm cruising through a revision because it doesn't need a major rewrite. It needed some fixes here, mostly continuity for the "McGuffin" and a few other tweaks here and there, then I'm going to work on a synopsis and the query letter to see what it can do in the world.

As for what's next, I'm kind of grasping right now. I had a great conversation with someone I trust a great deal about my writing and it has me thinking about what I do. I need to think about what is going to make my writing stand apart from everything else, make it distinctive. It was a great point that should've been made to me years ago, but that's a gripe for another time. For my next project I have to think distinct, which has me questioning my YA fantasy I was contemplating and has me thinking of how to make it distinct. Or do I try another project to see what makes sense.

READING: Another slowish month of reading. I finished four books and I'm in the process of reading two more. It was a pretty good month. I'm moving through DRAGONS OF WINTER'S NIGHT slower than I want and I can see the flaws in it as much as I can the things I loved. But I'll get to that in a separate entry. (Plus, we did a massive housecleaning and I have no idea where my wife put the book.) I'm about half way done with AN EMBER IN THE ASHES and adoring it. It's really good. I have a stack of library books out that I'm going to tackle for June. I'm aiming for at least six books this month. So, here's what I've read:

  • The Iron Trial: I'm all for putting your own spin on an idea, especially when it comes to genre. I mean I put my eggs in the "YA Game of Thrones" basket from day one. But there are two things that drive me crazy: someone trying to hitch to a trend where you can tell the author didn't really read the inspiration and one where they are so in love with the inspiration they make minimal changes. The Iron Trial is the latter and it ruined the book for me. It had some nice moments but the twist was obvious,but I wonder if that was more of a middle reader thing than bad writing. It uses the tropes all wrong and felt rote and formulaic. 
  • Better Days and Other Stories: A Firefly comic collection. Very good. Nice to be among friends. 
  • Birthright Volumes 1 & 2: A fantastic graphic novel that taps into some great and timely things right now in a lot of ways. It seems like returned missing children is a hot topic in pop culture right now and this plays right into it as a little boy goes missing in the park while playing ball with his father. His family falls apart and just as they reach the tipping point a grizzled man in armor and carrying a kingdom's arsenal with him is detained by police, claiming to be the missing boy having returned after growing up the Chosen One in a fantasy kingdom. The PTSD portal story is another story that's gaining traction and this one starts off this way before veering in a different, satisfying direction that I enjoyed a lot more than I thought I was, giving some great insight into some of my own writing. (Related to directly to my rant about "distinct.")
WATCHING: All over the place this month, but here's a sampling of things I watched:
  • Game of Thrones: Wow, seem to be gaining back some of their first few seasons form this season. I mean the Tower of Joy, Coldhands, Hodor....poor, sweet Hodor. 
  • NBA Playoffs: Steph Curry....just remember, a clown sports commentator that once tried to get people on Twitter to get me fired compare him to Carrot Top. And Fox Sports 1 pays him 6 millions dollars a year to do this. I can do the same for 2% of that. Call me.
  • Castle Series Finale: I adored this show, but the final season was lazy, rehashing old plots and turning the best comedy flavored crime procedural since Moonlighting into a conspiracy thoery mess. The finale was a disaster with a trick ending that tried to do one thing but did something else and failed miserably at it. 
  • The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened?: Wanted to be Jodoroesky's Dune but it wasn't. Still enjoyable. I'm all for more Kevin Smith talking movies. 
  • A League of their Own: The second best baseball movie ever made. Fight me about it, Field of Dreams people, I'm ready. 
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet Of Fire: The last of the Potter movies I actually watched and pretty much the EMPIRE of the series. I forget how well done these movies are. They are the best book to movie adaptations I can think of. I'm going to do a blog post on this at some point...I may even reread the books. There are a lot of parallels between Rowling and Martin that deserve some conversation.
  • Rick and Morty: I have a blog post in my about things that I love mostly because I feel like I could've written them. This is one of those things. 
What's in store for June? End of the school year and I've adopted a motto from HAMILTON, I'm going to write like I'm running out of time. I'm also going to read. Lift some weights in earnest. Ride my bike with my daughter and try not to kill myself doing it. Blog a little bit more. Read some books.

What about you?

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Captain Amerika? Huh? (SPOILERS)

Captain America has become one of my favorite superheroes, mostly due to the way the Marvel Cinematic Universe has handled his character. They've done an amazing job in making this character into a very compelling character that has managed to become the moral compass of the MCU. It's not the only reason I am drawn to the character. I have a thing for "super soldiers." The trope is one I use in almost all of my fantasy and science fiction work. With that in mind, I've delved deeper into the character, reading several collections about him over the last few years. While most of my opinions are based on what was done in the movies, I'm aware of other aspects of the character as well. (Brubaker did probably the best Cap work, IMHO.) But Marvel did something pretty controversial that kind of set me off into a tizzy, so much so that I felt a blog post was necessary.

I'm going to avoid some of the political wrangling of CIVIL WAR (the movie and comic arc) for a moment. There's some interesting paradoxes that happen as I think about it, especially the #teamcap/#teamironman hashtag wars, because while I am firmly on #teamcap, my actual politics are closer to #teamironman. Anyway, I digress. Back to the original argument.

I should also mention that I am not a regular comic reader. It's not that I don't enjoy them, it's just a space/time/cost issue. I catch up on most comic book via collections at the public library. That being said, I am aware of what's going on in the world of comics. I was among the excited that Steve Rogers passed the mantle of Captain America to his good friend Sam Wilson (Falcon) and thought it was a great move. It changed character dynamics without changing the characters themselves. But I can't help but feel like Marvel really dropped the ball on their latest arc.

For those of you that don't know, and how could you not, here's a link:

Now, I railed pretty hard about this yesterday on Twitter and said something on Facebook as well. One of my friends made a comment about "letting the story play out," and normally I'd be with him, especially as a writer. I mean most of us honestly had all kinds of questions about Snape, didn't we? This is an effective trope, especially in comic books. But it doesn't feel this way, it feels all wrong. And Marvel has made it clear that this isn't some use of popular comic book tropes. This is a retcon that shakes the entire Marvel Universe. It's misuse of tropes on an almost grand scale, all for the sake of mentions on social networks. In that way, it worked. But as a story, it doesn't.

Making Captain America a Hydra agent is just lazy writing. You've retconned a story that didn't need retconning and did it for one reason: shock value, a pointless reason to change a story. Part of the character is who is he and where he came from. The sacrifices that he made to get where he is. In a few panels, Marvel has undone that for no reason other than that they wanted to make a change that was going to get people talking about it. There were a million different directions you could have taken the character. This isn't the direction you take it. Ever. This isn't some simple mind control or clone of Steve Rogers gimmick either (and the writer and editor have confirmed this), this is taking a character and changing his fundamental nature....for no other reason than being shocking.

Captain America was created by two Jewish men as a symbol against the Nazis and the geniuses at Marvel decide to MAKE Cap a Nazi. (Don't make the argument that Hydra isn't Nazis either.) I mean at least wait until Trump wins the election to make Cap a Nazi for crying out loud. He didn't need fixing. His conflict was always going to be him being a man out of time and someone with a rigid set of beliefs that were unwavering despite the things that surrounded him. Some of the best Cap stories were the ones that tackled this head on.

Change is a good thing. I get it, moving a character into a new direction is important, but this wasn't the change that Cap needed. I can think of at least a dozen different directions you could have taken the character and the arc you could have given him. I think the "Give Cap A Boyfriend" angle is far more interesting and compelling. Let me just sidebar this by saying that I was firmly against the Cap/Bucky shipping for a long time. The exploration of platonic male relationships is a motif in my own writing and there was a lot to study in Cap/Buck, so I always felt that they needed to be bros, but I have a better understanding of the reason people ship them now. It gives the character a new angle while not changing who they are, fundamentally. I also feel this way about a lot of other comic characters. Making Peter Parker African-American doesn't change his character in the least but making The Black Panther or Luke Cage white would. (I'm not discussing the Miles Morales Spider Man for this piece for a few reasons, my lack of knowledge about him as a character being one of them.) As a matter of fact it adds layers to the character, which would be a welcome change.

Lazy writing drives me nuts. It's everywhere these days as writers look for the most shocking ways to get our attention. One of the reasons I hatewatch the movie Prometheus so much is that I hope that this time the SCIENTISTS make decisions like SCIENTISTS not surfer dudes that found the Tiki Cave. The reason I can't engage in The Walking Dead is that having characters make stupid decisions for the sake of the story is lazy. It does nothing for the actual story except put characters into the situations you want them to be in for the consumers (viewer/readers) to be "shocked" when what happens to them happens.

The writers of Game of Thrones, a book series and TV show I adore, have been lazy at times, but they nailed it this last weekend with the Hodor revelation. In a powerful moment of what good writing can do, they unraveled one of the great mysteries of the series in one of the most emotionally fraught sequences in recent television. This wasn't fundamentally changing a character for the sake of change. This was unraveling a mystery in a completely satisfying but emotionally draining scenes that I can remember.

If you want to "fix" Captain America (not that he needs it), hire Myke Cole to write him. Myke Cole, with only a little hyperbole, is Captain America and can get inside Steve Rogers's head like few writers would be able to while staying completely true to the character. I've said that I don't read comics on a regular basis. Marvel, you get Cole to write him, I'm going to my comic store once a month to buy his iteration of Cap. Seriously.

Why am I so passionate about this? I'm a writer. I see things a certain way and this bothers me. These are our myths and legends. A long time ago, people sat around a fire and told stories as away to explain what was going on around them. We still do it today: in books, on the television, movie theaters, comic books, video games and the performing arts. These things matter to me.

Monday, May 23, 2016

A Fine Line

One of the greatest pieces of advice I've seen concerning being a writer is "never insult the work." I had a bad habit of referring to my works as "turds" and I was admonished not to do that. It made me think of something about being a writer.

I'm in a bit of a rough patch as far as my writing is concerned. I've teased it quite a bit lately but I'm still not ready to talk about it. But I'm reentered that self doubt stage of being a writer, questioning everything. I started to think what happened that's making me think that.

As writers, we ride a fine line between arrogance, humility and hopelessness that I still haven't been able to balance.

Hopelessness is common. Writing is mostly rejection and it can be soul crushing. Even if you get an agent, it doesn't mean that it's all milk and honey. It just usually means more rejection, there's just someone there that believes in you as a writer so much that they are staking their economic well-being on it. I'm in that stage of staring at my work and wondering if I'm good enough. Or is it just that the publishing industry is highly subjective, and as I was also told once, on that given moment, I wasn't what the person reading my work was looking for.

Arrogance is almost as common. Read some of the comments on QueryTracker. People are angry when they are told they aren't good enough. They feel entitled to unconditional love for their ability and are angry when a busy industry professional can't tell them they are a special little snowflake. You can see the paradox, can't you? I wonder if paragraphs like my previous one come across as me being arrogant or bitter. You have to believe in your work and your ability, but is there a threshold for being too arrogant? Am I being arrogant by believing that my books WINTER'S DISCORD or THE LOST SCIONS are at least as good as some of the YA fantasy that's being lauded over right now? Am I arrogant that I believe it's better than some of the stuff? I don't feel that way. But maybe I am.

I like to think that I'm humble while still being confident in my work. But sometimes, and I've talked about before, I get wrapped up in feeling negative, like I do right now.

So, I'm going to continue walking that fine line and not sound like I'm griping.