It’s Not Binge-Watching, It’s Research!

I’ve mentioned before I don’t do cable, I stream.  The problem with streaming is that you can just head off on random tangents.  Oh, I don’t mean stuff like binge-watching every single episode of Game of Thrones in a single weekend.  No, I would never do something like that.  Not me!  Nothing to see here, just move along…

No, lately I’ve been going, err…”research”.  Doing the old “compare and contrast” shtick from my school essay days.  Things like comparing both versions of Battlestar Galactica, or the old campy 60s Batman* versus the more current movie iterations, that kind of thing…

*How the hell did Bruce Wayne escape a life sentence, anyway?  He kept a young boy in a cave!

Anyway, part of my little experiment has been rewatching the various Star Trek series.  Now, I need to set the stage by admitting my complete addiction to the original series.  An addiction, I should add, that dates back to when I was like five years old.

The original series will always, always, always have a special place in my heart.  Kirk – and Jack Aubrey, for fellow historical fiction fans – is still the ultimate prototype for what a sci-fi/adventure captain should be.  Shit, I still want to grow up to be Kirk…

But the best of the lot?  Deep Space 9.  Odd, I know.  That one is pretty much the red-headed stepchild of the Star Trek world.  It’s the part of the universe that’s not really part of the universe.  That’s one reason why I like it so much.

Leaving the different captains and characters aside, each of the series had its own personality and focus.  And those differences are why I prefer DS9 above even the original:

The original Star Trek series was a commentary on the politics, culture and social problems of its day.  While that is what sci-fi can do very, very well (hey, I chose it as a genre for a reason!), it made that series more about plot than anything else.  The situations into which Kirk and the others were placed were in total control.  Everything else (characters, tech, etc…) was there to serve that plot.

Next Generation, on the other hand, was really all about the tech.  Oh, there was still some commentary, but it was less important than the gee-whiz tech (and the consequent special effects).  This was also the most…unrealistic of all five series.  Jesus, this thing drove me nuts with its saccharine cheerfulness.  To me, it’s still the worst of the lot.

VoyagerVoyager followed closely in TNG’s footsteps.  In spite of some good performances – and some real improvement in writing and directing in the later years – it’s still a show about a ship.  With some people on it.  And aliens.  And reversing the polarity of something…on every single goddamned episode.  Find a new throwaway line, for fuck’s sake!

Enterprise tried to get into characters, but it took until like season three for you to give two shits about any of them.  Two-thirds of the characters on that show needed to be punched.  Repeatedly.  It tried to escape the mold of the other series (being the last one made), but never lived up to its premise, nor escaped the shadows.

And then there’s DS9.  In spite of the criticisms above, I actually liked all the shows, but DS9 is my favorite for one simple reason: it’s a show about the characters.  The station is just a backdrop, it means nothing.  The setting and tech are there just to support the damned characters.  That’s the way it should be.  Oh, and I suppose I should mention that it’s also the darkest of all five.  It succeeds with themes and problems the others could not do well.  It also brings a certain bit of jaded cynicism the other shows, far more optimistic and happy, could never even consider.

Dammit…my little 400-word post (wishful thinking, I know) has blown up on me, and I’ve barely scratched the surface.  Shit, I could do a twenty-thousand word paper on this and still leave crap out.

I think I’ll just cut my losses and go nerd out on some anime now…The Eccentric Family at the moment, if you’re wondering.  Absolutely gorgeous animation that is also pretty unique in terms of style, and a story that is simultaneously funny and dark as hell.

P.S.

There is a (kinda old) joke that the two best Star Trek movies ever made are “Galaxy Quest” and “Master & Commander”.  It’s funny because it’s pretty much true…

Grumpy Old Bastard

Yeehaw…it’s “Hot Burrito Challenge” day at the brewery.

I like hot food. I really do. BUT! Why the hell would you want to try to power down a ghost-chile-burrito – and a pint of chile-beer that is, if anything, even hotter – for fun?

Just how is puking everything back up five minutes later FUN?

Fine, call me a wuss. Call me weak. Call me whatever you want; I’m still gonna sit over here in my little corner and drink my…well, at the moment it’s a Vienna lager. I might switch to the Irish dry stout next, but that’s as “extreme” as I plan to get today.

I am also not going to be physically damaged and miserable for the next 36 hours…

Hangovers I can handle – shit, I’ve had some doozies in my time – but physical damage because you ate stupid shit? No thank you.

Why am I writing about this? Because I got kicked out of my regular seat at the bar!

Goddamit!

I am very much a creature of habit. Err, a creature of kinda scary, borderline OCD, habits actually. When I want to work – shit, when I need to work – I hate like hell to have anything screwed up.

But here I sit, pushed off to the side in another room because…well…if I stayed in my “usual” seat I’d be stuck eating one of the damned death-tubes these lunatics are calling “burritos”.

Harrumph!

And, yes, I am currently channeling my inner bitter-old man…now get off my lawn!

IMG_0043Oh, for the love of Christ and all that’s holy!

I gave in to the pressure. I had a chip – one single goddamned CHIP – with a few drops of the ghost-pepper hot sauce on it. I’m crying like a 4-year-old who lost his teddy bear, my nose is running like I started doing entire freaking shots of cottonwood
“fluff”, and I’m not sure I’m ever going to taste again…

I’m fairly certain THIS is why Anakin Skywalker turned into Darth Vader! It had nothing to do with being a neurotic, co-dependent, needy piece of shit – he just did a “Hot Burrito Challenge” at the wrong time. I’m ready to turn to the darskide as well…

Now, of course, the writer in me has to wonder: just how the hell do I turn this into a scene in the next story?

Sorry about that, Connor. It really is gonna suck for you…

 

P.S.

My mouth is STILL fucking numb!!

What Are You FOR?

I’ve mentioned before my love of Russian writers.  Folks like Dostoevsky and Tolstoy just knew what was up.  Not only with Russians, but with humanity in general.  If you want to research and study the “human condition” there is going to be a pretty significant Russian presence in there somewhere.

A conversation (argument…fight…call it what you will) with someone a couple of days ago got me to thinking about this topic.  About one Russian writer in particular, really:

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Now, I’ve mentioned before my admiration and respect for both the writer and his works.  He is one of those guys I think everyone should read.  What he has to teach transcends, well, just about any and all divisions I can think of.

The first thing to know about Solzhenitsyn is that he loved his country.  In spite of everything that happened to him, Russia was everything to him.  You get the same sense reading Tolstoy, but (much as I love Tolstoy) Solzhenitsyn just pulls it off better.

Keep in mind, this was a man sent by Stalin to the Siberian gulags.  A man who, even after he was “released”, was forced to live in internal exile thousands of miles from home.  A man who spent his entire life, until he finally fled to the US, under the eye of the KGB.

But he still wrote.  Not just wrote, but wrote honestly.  Most of his works came out first via the uniquely Russian samizdat*.

*Underground press for a lack of a better term (there’s a lot more to it than that, but I’ll save the history/sociology lesson).

When Khrushchev began to relax things – a bit – Solzhenitsyn was finally able to openly publish A Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovitch.  And it was still honest, still powerful.  He didn’t pull back, in spite of the very real danger…because he loved his homeland.

The Cancer Ward is perhaps the most memorable, gently presented and effective indictment of totalitarianism and evil that I’ve ever read.  The Gulag Archipelago?  Yes, it’s huge.  Yes, it’s powerful.  And, yes, you will be rewarded if you read it.

Every single thing the man wrote was for Russia.  Yes, he was an ardent anti-communist.  Yes, he was against the tyranny and insanity of Stalin and the leaders who followed him.  But Solzhenitsyn was never really defined by being against, he was forFor, most of all, his homeland, the nation he loved.

Why do I bring this up now?

Because we, as a society…we, as writers and artists…we, as a people…are very, very much falling into the trap of being defined solely as being against.  There is danger in that.

To be against is inherently negative and destructive.  To be against is also meaningless as it does not, and can not, lead to anything better.  What it leads to is, instead, the bullshit tit-for-tat idiocy we see so much of in politics and society today.

I don’t care what you are against, tell me what you are for.  And, no, semantic word-play does not count.  To be for is to build, and to strive for more.

That, as much as the search for faith and meaning, has come into focus as I write the current story.  My protagonist is bitter and angry.  He resents…everyone.  And, even more, he is against: against the corruption, against the pain, against pretty much everything for which his society stands.

It’s not enough.  Not for Connor, and not for me.

That is what I’m exploring: this kid, who has lived such misery in just eighteen years, has to find…something…he can be for.

Crowe T. Robot For President!

In a world that’s given us the Pyramids, and the Great Wall, and the Colosseum…

In a world with sonnets and haiku, painting and sculpture…

In a world with the Kardashians and shows about house flipping…

Err, scratch those last two. Please, God, just take them away…now!!

IMG_0039But in the world I hint at above, just what is the apex of human creativity and endeavor?

That’s right: Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Sadly, MST3K ended almost two decades ago. There is, however, a successor* that makes me very nearly as happy: RiffTrax.

*There is a second, different successor in the works from NetFlix…great, now I have to subscribe to NetFlix!

Now, if you are so culturally-deficient as to know nothing about these shows, let me proselytize for a moment. Take a bad movie* and have three very funny people make fun of it while it runs. It doesn’t sound like much, but you haven’t lived until you’ve watched “Manos: Hands of Fate” from MST3K. If you want to go for your pop-culture PhD, you need to step up to “Birdemic” from RiffTrax.

*Not always bad, actually – RiffTrax has commentary tracks available even for legitimately good works!

I have been, for the last couple of weeks, binge-watching the shit out of RiffTrax now that they have a bunch of stuff available on Amazon Prime. You have to understand the depth of my love for these guys: their stuff is FUNNY. I have almost pissed myself laughing more times than I can count just in the last three or four evenings.

Now, what does this have to do with writing?

Believe it or not, there IS a point to this post!

One of the things the guys do is mock – mercilessly – all the shitty scenes that (inevitably) make up bad movies: “So, we’re just driving I guess…” “No, don’t stop the scene! I need to see at least five MORE minutes of some nameless guy making coffee!” “I don’t know, an hour of tensionless exposition seems appropriate for a ninety minute action movie…”

You get the point. And, yes, I’m just throwing together context-less memories of their comments…watch their damned show(s)!

When I was sitting there planning the scene list for Silence – and even as I began writing and revising the actual story – those voices were bouncing around inside my head.

“Err…what would Bill, Kevin and Mike say about THIS scene? Dammit, now I have to change the whole stinking thing…”

I wonder if anyone else hears several snarky, cynical comedians inside their heads when they consider their own stuff? Or is it just me?

Never mind, even I know the answer to that one…

The bottom line is this: if you want to figure out what’s wrong with your story, watch MST3K/RiffTrax. Enjoy the shows, laugh your ass off, but pay attention to those things they are mocking. The same sins that ruin so many movies can very easily ruin just as many (if not more) novels.

 

Dear BioWare: It’s Not Me, It’s You

What do you do when the things you’ve loved all your life start to fall flat?

Not the older material, but rather when new stuff comes out in long-loved franchises that, err, sucks.

Yes, Force Awakens, I’m looking at you…

Even worse, for the moment, are video games.

*sigh*

Remember, I am a serious game nerd*. I, in point of fact, still have an original copy of Baldur’s Gate II (one of the top three games ever made!) that sees use from time to time. The graphics suck, but my God is that game fun.

*Which is not as automatic for a sci-fi writer as one would think…I’ve actually met folks who don’t game! That’s just not right…

Why am I talking about this? Mass Effect: Andromeda officially released today. And sadly…depressingly…painfully…BioWare has pretty much destroyed one of my all-time favorite game series.IMG_0149

That gives me the sads.

How could you do this to me, BioWare?! We’ve been together for so long! When you were down and out, when the creditors were at the door screaming for blood, I was there for you! I bought your games!

Now, when I need a new game to play in the worst way, you give me this shit?

I just can’t take it anymore! Square-Enix has been dropping hints, and I think it’s time I saw other developers…

Err, until DA4 comes out.

Until then, I get custody of Baldur’s Gate.

Wait…Do I Fear The Past?

I have to lead with one key thing: I am the LEAST social-media-centric person in the world.  I have no FaceBook (in spite of advice to the contrary)…I check Twitter only to consume feeds from people important in my line of work (and regret it every single time)…

Shit, the closest I come to an active social media presence is this blog!

I do, however, have a LinkedIn profile.  Err…not a fake one for the pseudonym under which I write (wait…that surprises you?  Really?!  I write a quasi-anonymous blog, for fuck’s sake!) but a profile under my own actual, real, honest-to-God name.

I don’t use it.

No, like ever…

I left working for other people on anything other than the most cheap, slutty, pay-by-the-minute-whore basis better than five years ago.  Why on Earth, Mars, or fucking Betelgeuse for that matter, would I give two shits about maintaining my LinkedIn profile?

I still get the emails, however.

Any physics grad student out there who wants a Nobel Prize just needs to spend a day with me: I hit “delete” on those emails far, far faster than the speed of light.  Shit, most of the time I delete ’em before they arrive. Take that, Einstein!

But…

But some sneak through.

Now, generally if something happens in my life that I want to write publicly about, I give it some time to percolate before I put the words down.  That is NOT the case right now.

I got an email – via my much-maligned and much-ignored LinkedIn profile – from one of my oldest high school friends.

I really don’t know what to say…

Even less do I know how to react.

Before this email, I have been in contact with all of 1 (one) (uno) (eins) (ichi) (jeden) (iksi) friend from high school.  I believe I’ve mentioned before that I don’t do nostalgia well?

Yeah, welcome to my life.

But I just got an email.

Why is that a big deal? I hear you ask.

Wait, really…what, are you 12?

Are YOU the same person you were at 17?!

After we graduated, I went to college an hour-ish away and this friend fell off my radar.

That hurt, but not for the reasons you might think…

I’ve mentioned before the very real suicides that helped to inspire and create Wrath & Tears.

This particular friend was deeply, closely and personally involved with the first of those.

We were brothers, back then.  As was our friend who killed himself.

Where the hell do you think some of the relationship between Oz and Connor came from?

I haven’t hit the “reply” button on the email yet.  I am, to be honest, afraid to.

Let’s see: one of us has letters after his name…one of us is working for Fortune 500-type companies.

The other writes.  The other knows every brewery between Los Angeles and Helsinki. The other uses an anonymous blog to share far-too-personal shit.

Yeah, screw “send”, I just hit the “confirm” button on the Drizly order…

The Love-Child Of Narcissism And Dogmatism

I just made the ultimate mistake: I ventured into the badlands (as a thankfully account-less voyeur) to read a handful of Twitter feeds that were, unfortunately, completely dominated by politics. My God, is there a “universe” more incestuous, vacuous, echo-chamberish, and/or self-obsessed than Twitter?

Does ANYONE, on any “side”, on that ****** platform have even a passing acquaintance with someone who believes or thinks in the slightest way differently? It literally is like visiting two entirely different realities, depending on which side you’re reading.

*You know when I censor a word, it’s REALLY bad!

Gah! Twitter is quite possibly the worst place in the world…and I’ve visited WW2 death camps.

The best part about being (publicly) apolitical? I get to mock equally everyone involved. Or get irritated equally with all of them. It’s a coin flip, really.

To both sides I just want to sit there and scream, “Grow the fuck up!”

It really ain’t all that hard folks: we’re all (well, mostly all) big boys and big girls. We should be able to have a little playground give-and-take.

Think of modern US politics as a cheap one-night-stand for the DC set. You can posture and lie and preen all you want, but in the end – if you do it right – everyone should go home sweaty and tired and at least somewhat content.

Now, the one insight I will offer as to my leanings is that I am a pretty hard-core individualist. Live and let live. Leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone. You know: what for centuries has been considered common freaking courtesy!

And both sides fail that test. Both sides – especially the more extreme elements of both sides – have this seeming fixation on what other people say, think and do. You know what? Pay attention to your own damn house and stop worrying about your neighbor’s.

Grr…okay, now I’m just irritating myself.

See, this is why I try to be pretty damned agnostic as far as politics are concerned. Those extremes I mentioned above? Each will read into the relatively harmless words I just wrote and find something to offend them.

Then again, if I piss off everyone, does that mean I did hide my own beliefs successfully? Something to think about there…

I Reject Your Reality…

Meaning and subtext. Well, hell, why not take a shot at it today? I’m behind on posts, so I have to get one or two prepped and scheduled if I want to actually stay ahead of the game. And, yes, that means the once huge backlog I had (about two weeks’ worth of posts that were stacked up and scheduled) is officially gone.

I got sidetracked by…well…the real world.

Damned real world.

IMG_0145LEAVE ME ALONE, REALITY!!

You know that old MythBusters saying? Yeah, that’s me…

Err, sorry…lost the thread for a minute there. Back to the point.

Wrath & Tears was a story about corruption and revenge and, most of all, love. But – yep, always a but – that wasn’t what it was about. It was about suicide. More specifically, it was about the despair and pain that lead to the act.

It was about a friendship and a love that, in the end, weren’t enough to save a life.

I’ve lived that. I’ve been in Connor’s shoes. What Wrath was about was both easy for me, and was the hardest thing in the world.

Silence is different. Where Wrath was external – about something outside of Connor (and me) – Silence is very much internal. It is about Connor’s own despair and survivor’s guilt. More than that: it is about the search for some form of faith and meaning in life, both for Connor and for me.

It comes down to a “quest” to justify and fulfill the sense that life is meant to be…more.

How do I do that?

Good question.

The simple answer is: I lose the inhibitions. I pour myself, emotionally as much as mentally, into the writing.

But that answer is trite and facile.

The reality is that I have to think and plan. Any good story has meaning and subtext. It may or may not be obvious, but I guarantee you: if you remember a book (or play or movie…) it said something to you.

But when said story gets preachy, or – worse, by far – self-indulgent? The journey from memorable to shitty happens at Warp 9. I try to very much keep that in mind. When I plan out the scenes, I (try to) ration out the emotion and subtext as much as I do backstory and exposition.

It ain’t always easy. Err, it ain’t ever easy, to be honest. But then again, that’s why writers get paid the…err, let’s just stop that line of thought right now. The damned real world is still lurking, in spite of my best efforts to ignore it…

When you get right down to it, hitting the right tone and level of subtext with Silence is a real challenge for me. In some ways I’m not quite as openly invested as I was with Wrath: the memories of those suicides that touched me personally are very real, and are in their own way concrete and “quantifiable.”

In other ways, however, I am far more invested in Silence: the emotions and thoughts are mine, which makes them rather more powerful, if somewhat nebulous and hard to “use” on an intellectual level.

Not to mention the fact that I have to take a plot about greed and corruption* and factional/corporate politics and weave it on top of a story about guilt and pain and the quest for meaning…

*Err, yes, that is indeed a focus for all of Connor’s stories…

Maybe I should switch to decaf for this one.

Living With The Ghosts

Now that the writing is in full swing, I’m thinking about characters.  Every day – hell, every hour – I’m thinking about characters.  The ghosts are, to me, very real at this point…and will be until I finally exorcise them by putting words on the page.

In more detail, I’m currently thinking about how to communicate all the little details and realities of my characters without resorting to the dreaded “info dump” of exposition and backstory.

One of the things I love about writing – and reading! – is when a well-crafted and well-used phrase, laden with emotion and meaning, communicates far more than 500 words of info-dump.

Now, there is a lot I’m proud of in my writing…and an even greater amount that I know needs work.  It’s not better editing, it’s not better vision, it’s simply becoming a better writer.  But…that does not mean there aren’t things I write that I don’t look at and think, “Fuck, yeah.  That worked…”*

*Goddamned triple-negative sentences!  Maybe it IS better editing I need…and, yes, I’m way too lazy to just go and fix the sentence.  Besides, it’s more fun to write this little aside and mock myself.

Heading that list of things that worked?  Oz.

Of course it was Oz…  He is still my favorite character, and is far and away the character most personal to me.  Shit, he’s still the only character that can bring me to tears…

There is a lot to Oz: a lot of meaning and a lot of emotion.  More than I ever describe, honestly, even in the text.  He is, after all, my stand-in for those friends of mine who committed suicide…and for my own issues with that same impulse.  One of the keys to Oz as a character, and who he is as a person, is his history…

Connor describes a bit of that history to Nat in one particular scene, but that description is matter of fact and simple.  He explains Oz’s life of rape and degradation in the bluntest, coldest way.  That’s all he really can say: he has no way to express to her the truth and honesty of Oz’s past, nor to soften his life of horror and pain…the life that Connor himself barely avoided.

His statement to Nat tugs at you, yes.  It communicates something about Oz, yes.  But it isn’t real.

No, for me the real success came with what I mentioned above: that one key phrase/sentence that captures everything in just a handful of words.

“…Oz was a lump in his bed, a tight ball pressed deeply into the corner—his normal sleeping position, a hunt for the safety he’d never known.”

I know I wrote the fucking thing, so I’m pretty damned biased, but to me that phrase still captures Oz’s history, and his reality, far better than all the exposition in the world.

As I get better at writing, I’m realizing more and more that you really have to be careful with your words.  You have to minimize.  A good writer can communicate in ten-fifteen words what a bad writer needs a hundred to do.

Now, I’m nowhere near that “good writer” point…and I know – being as competitive and self-critical as I am – that I will never consider myself to be there.  But that just drives me to work and practice and strive for constant (if slow) improvement.

The best personal sign of that development?  When I go back and re-read older stuff, I cringe at my wordiness…and at the lack of focus in my vision and in my words.  That I see and understand those problems is an official Good Thing, by the way.  Well, good nowadays…not so good back then.

There was, to tie everything together, no key phrase to identify the emotion and honesty of those older characters in just a handful of words.

Shit, maybe Steven King was right: the first million words really are just practice.

Just Once, A Star Trek Character Needs To Say, “We’re Screwed, Captain”*

*This title puts me in mind of a Bob The Builder satire I saw years ago: “Can we do it?” the chorus sings. “No, we’re fucked,” Bob answers.

My trainer-friend has me trying something new as I’m going into a month-long cardio phase: fasting 2 days a week.

Now, I know old-school monks and hermits and prophets all liked to fast for days, even weeks, at a time. No matter the religion, country or culture, they always said it cleared their minds and brought them closer to revelation.

Yeah, it brought them closer because they were delirious with hunger!

This is not fun…I hate my friend right now. Thankfully, however, I just wrapped up the last of the 48 hours of fasting. Common sense says I should go have a light lunch with a nice 2:1 protein to carb ratio. Grilled chicken and some quinoa, or maybe an open-face turkey sandwich on whole grain bread…

Fuck that.

I want a beer and I want a cheeseburger. And if someone gets in my way…well…cannibalism doesn’t sound all that bad right about now.

I like and respect my friend – and he knows me pretty damn well – but something tells me this whole plan of his isn’t gonna be too successful…

On another note, I’m living a Star Trek episode at the moment. I’ve been trying to work and write, but my shields are down to 18% and the warp drive is broken… I spent weeks “training” the regulars at my favored writing spot that having my ear-buds in meant my shields were up. It meant “leave me alone to write!”

That worked for quite a while. Crap, it worked for all of Wrath – or at least for the 90% I wrote in that taproom. People would come in, see me sitting with my iPad and my music, and just smile and wave, then proceed to ignore me until I was done.

ResistanceisFutileHaveaNiceDayNowadays, on the other hand? Yeah, some goddamned useless ensign reversed the polarity on the shields and those ear-buds aren’t doing shit. I’ll be sitting there, just getting into a flow for a particular scene, when a couple of folks will sit down and start talking directly to me.

The asshole in me wants to just ignore them and keep going, but the “civilized” human says I should pause the music and at least say hello.

Being civilized means I don’t get shit done, however. But if I ignore them and focus on the writing? That gets me branded as a “dick” by people I like. And, no, I don’t have an easy, pat answer for this. So far, all I can do is migrate to another taproom where I don’t know as many folks.

Great, so now I’m like a swarm of locusts – I go in, milk a place for everything it’s worth, then move on to greener pastures…?

*sigh*

Reason # 345677543 why writers drink too much.