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.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

What's Best For The Story

Yesterday, I was faced with a decision about the project I was working on. Do I make a change that would fundamentally change the entire story in an amazingly interesting way or do I keep moving forward on the story as is? If you read yesterday's post, you know that I'd climbed up on to the high dive and was ready to plunge in. I was excited and tingly about what I was about to do.

Then about 6 o'clock last night, I started having second thoughts. Blame it on the gas fumes from the lawn mower or being alone with my thoughts when I was mowing the lawn listening to my writing mix as I mowed. I decided not to open the file last night as my brain rolled from one side to the next as I contemplated the story. I oscillated from one side to the next. I slept on it. And now, as of 10am, I'm firmly on the opposite side as I was almost 24 hours ago.

I keep asking myself one question: is this good for what I'm trying to do with the story?

My decision: No.

I'm kind of disappointed, but this isn't for a lack of courage. This is from an honest appraisal of the story and what the change I was planning. The big secret was changing the narrator from the protagonist to another character in the story. The story would begin in third person close and when the big "reveal" to the identity of the narrator happened (where I was in the story yesterday) I would switch it to first person present as the character would then take over the story. It would be a daring move, but I feel like some of the emotional punch of things happening later in the story would be lost by changing the narrator.

This idea however will not go away. I have a few projects in the "To Be Written" list that this would work perfect for. Maybe not the reveal, but where the narrator isn't really the main character. I'm thinking that this style of story might be perfect for my prank war novel. A journal about the pranks is key to that story, so it makes a degree of sense. It also has brought back my desire to write an epistolary novel.

In the end I decided that this switch wasn't good for the story and that's what is really most important to what I'm trying to do.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

That Diving Board Moment

I'm a firm believer that sometimes when you are doing something, you've got to just dive in and do it. Well, that's where I am right now. And much like the way I was when I was a kid diving off a diving board into the deep end, I'm a little scared.

I'm in the midst of a rewrite of the contemporary YA novel I languished on but managed to finish last year and I had a revelation that stopped me dead in my tracks. This happens often to me as I'm writing and it usually takes some time to shake out what caused me to stop. This action happens for an assortment of reasons. Sometimes I realize that I don't have an ending. Sometimes I realize that I need to do something drastic and I don't think I'm ready to do what I need to do. Sometimes I just get stuck and need to walk away from the book for a little while.

The thing about THE SEVEN LABORS OF NICK JABLONSKY is that I don't think it's the thing that's most indicative of what I want to write but it's a story that demanded I write it. It took a long time to write and that's okay, these things happen. As I was writing it, I started to ask questions about it, so I sent part of it off to a beta reader to take a look at it. There were some parts that came across as creepy or unclear and I felt I needed a different set of eyes on it. This has been the first time in almost a year that I'm looking at the book and to be honest, it's not in as bad a shape as I think I thought it was, so I enthusiastically dove into the rewrite. But it wasn't without some moments of doubt. The pause on the high dive before I jumped in. Okay, maybe not doubt but a feeling of what should I do here?

I was thinking about making a major change to this draft right off the bat. I thought about switching it from 1st person past to 1st person present tense, because that seems all the rage lately. I decided against that with the caveat that I could change it if I needed to. (Needed meaning an agent or editor felt the story worked better in 1st person present.) I started with a sledgehammer, combining the first few chapters and cutting some fat at the beginning, then got into a groove. Nora (my beta) had given great notes and I had already cleaned up a lot of what I needed to clean up. The work I needed to do was less sledgehammery and more refinery.  Until I got to what I was writing today. But today's hesitation goes a lot further back than what happened today.

When I first started really writing this, I actually workshopped parts of it at a teacher's writing institute, including the part that I got today, where Nick, the MC and narrator, is talking to Morgan, a girl that he met earlier in the book that he sort of hooks up with right before he meets his present girlfriend. The people reading the section wanted to know more about Morgan and she became a more significant part of the story from that point on. But today's revelation that I came to as I was writing completely changes everything I was doing with the book and it's a big change to make. And all of a sudden, I'm even more excited about this project than I was before about this project.

I conferred with a good friend at work that has read my writing. Not this piece, but he's read my other things. He loved the idea and thought it was brilliant. He was more excited than I was about it.

I've talked before about not being daring about something that could be perceived as difficult or gamechanging, but I think that I'm at that point in the book. I'm about half way through the rewrite and I think it's time to start over, jumping in with this new concept.

If you need my, I'll be at the edge of the diving board, staring down at the pool, ready to jump in.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Month In Review: April 2016

April, the month where my writing and reading, as Eddie Izzard might say, slowly fell apart like a flan in a cupboard. After the relatively torrid pace set in March, I hit a wall in April. Part of that was some upheaval in my writing world that I'll talk about at some point, but not now and that took away significant writing time. In addition, my students' research project was over and handed in, so I had grading to do and was back in front of the class with some direct instruction. So, here's what's happening.

WRITING: Said upheaval completely took me off the tracks. I managed to scrape together 12k on FALCON, so it wasn't the terrible month that February was, but it wasn't the 32k that was March. The sad part is that I am still in love with the story I'm writing. It's doing so many things that I want it to do that I'm happy with it. I've done some story editing as I write and I managed to cull some fat from the outline and I'm looking at it being closer to 75k and not 82k, which is kind of where I wanted it to be anyway. I figured out some plot issues that I'll fix with the next draft, but if I can get back on track, I should be able to finish by the end of this week.

After that, I'm not sure. I'm piecing together this new YA fantasy idea bit by bit but I'm beginning to realize I'm not ready to write it yet. It's not a hard YA like SEASONS or SCION is, meaning my target audience is clearly YA. I'm looking closer to a tween audience on this project and feel like I need to do some more research on it, but I'll talk more about that in the READING section. What I'm thinking about doing is writing a little dystopian piece with my students. We're doing a unit on dystopia and for the final project, I'm having them write a creative piece of some length (I'll share next week when I assign it) about a dystopia of their creation. So I'm going to write one along with them over the three weeks of may. A novella maybe. Then I'll work on the fantasy piece. Then maybe come back to contemporary and do my prank war story.

One of my goals for May is to increase productivity. Try to hit about 40-45k for the month and then average that for the Summer, depending on employment situation.

READING: Read 3 books and they were meh, seen it before and amazing. No reviews this month. Read a diet and fitness book that I'd read before and learned nothing new from. I read "A World Without Heroes" by Brandon Mull and walked away feeling meh. I think the 13 year old in me might have enjoyed it, but the me now was just meh. I'm trying to find things that will thrill the 13 year old in me, so I'm starting my reread of the second "Dragonlance" book to try and figure out what thrilled the thirteen year old in me about it. I'm also reading a few other tween books to see if I can figure out how they tick.

The best book I read last month was "The Day The Crayons Came Home" by Drew Daywalt. This is a work of genius. I had a chance to read this book to my daughter's class and did it cold. There were jokes in it that made me laugh out loud while completely disrupting myself as I read. (There was an allusion to the expression, "Does a bear shit in woods?" that completely unhinged me in the middle of reading that the entire class of 2nd graders were baffled by my giggles.) It's another early leader for best reads of 2016.

WATCHING: Did a lot of watching this month. Here's some highlights:

Dune: The Lynch version. What a freaking mess of a movie this is and it is glorious for it. It's still not the best Dune movie. That honor belongs to the documentary JODOROWSKY'S DUNE.

The Walking Dead: I don't watch this show often, but I understand the appeal of it. My problem is the lazy writing. People make bad decisions, but having characters make the same bad decisions over and over again for the sake of the narrative is lazy writing.

WALL-E: Just amazing story telling and writing with almost no dialogue. Smart, funny and sweet. When Pixar is on, they are so good and this was damn near as good as it gets.

Jurassic World: What a silly but fun movie. I mean when Star Lord leads out the pack of raptors to fight the mutant dinosaur, it was pretty bad ass. The thing the movie was missing was the sense of wonder and awe that Jurassic Park had.

All Things Must Pass: A documentary about Tower Records. I love a good documentary and this was well done. The heavy 70s vibe was again speaking to me as it has been a lot lately. Plus, I love walking around book stores and seeing what's on the shelf. I miss those days when it comes to the record store.

Varsity Blues: My friend Mike Winchell and I have very differing views about this movie. I really like it and I'm pretty sure he thinks it's a abhorent piece of garbage. Sure the ending is hackneyed and rediculously silly, but it's a fun, over the top movie about high school sports. Tweeder kills me every time.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: I had to talk about this. I love Indy and I'm not one of those people that thinks this mars his legacy. The most frustrating part of the entire movie is that the potential for this to be a very good entry in the series. The chemistry between Indy and Marion is still there. Cate Blanchette just chews scenery. The action scenes are pretty good. But the freaking ant scene. The monkey scene. Shia LeBouf. The ending. Shia LeBouf. It becomes a mess.

I'll be honest, I think this was a movie that they should've just recast the character. Not a reboot, just recast the character and continue stories that take place in the original era. I'd be very happy with that.

So, that was April. For May? Writing. Maybe some actual constructive blogging where I actually have something to say. And finishing up the school year.