So…I feel like shit.  High fever, body aches, massive fatigue, ongoing cough…  The worst, however, is the shortness of breath.  I can’t freaking breathe, and it absolutely is killing me.

Wanna know how I’m dealing with it?

Not well.


I was sitting there on the couch, a few minutes ago, listening to music and accomplishing a whole lot of not much.  I honestly have been trying all day to put together a blog post worth writing — let alone reading! — and all day, I’ve failed.  I was sitting on the couch, then, and feeling pretty sorry for myself.

Music was blaring in my ears, a drink* was at my elbow, and the memory of just how many different ways I failed to write anything worthwhile today was echoing in my head.

*You’re not my doctor!  If I can’t drink myself silly during my own personal COVID nightmare, then I might as well skip this stupid virus!  Err…uhh…

As usually happens, it was a song that hit me, finally, and shook me out of my self-pitying torpor.

Don’t get me wrong, I still feel like shit.  I still hate the entire universe at this particular moment, but finally…

…but finally I have something to say.

The color of words.


Just how much booze is in that glass?! I hear you scream.

Not as much as you think.

Look, every writer has a different way of approaching the words.  As I’ve mentioned before, for me it is visually.  I’m a photographer outside of the words, and every time I envision a scene it is — pardon the unintended pun — in light of my experiences with a camera.  Much like the photos I take, my writing views the world in terms of contrast.

Every “good” picture I’ve ever taken has been a shot of contrast.  Contrast of color, of light and shadow, of material…

I have a picture I took once, of a flower — one single, struggling flower — in the train yard of Auschwitz.  That picture exemplifies, better than anything I’ve ever done, just how I view…well…the entire freaking universe.

A tiny, struggling bit hope — of love — surrounded by overwhelming pain and death.

Yep, that pretty much sums it up.

But what, I hear you cry, does that have to do with writing?

It means everything.

Look, every scene I write — every scene I read — has a color palette to it.  Just like a picture, or a movie, the colors and lighting of a written scene define it.  I’ve mentioned before the stories and writers I love:

The primary colors — the honest simplicity — of Eddings and Tolkien and Lewis…

The complex grays of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky and Dickens…

The dark, muted colors of Wolfe (#1) and Mann and Graves…

The almost painful brilliance of Twain and Wolfe (#2)…

Every single word is visual to me.  Certainly everything I write is run through the image processing part of my mind.  Every single scene I’ve ever so much as flirted with has a look and feel to it…and that look and feel is one of contrast.  I know I often describe my writing as dissonance, but it’s more than that…it’s contrast.

As you all know by now, I’m a movie buff.  Of the thousands of movies I’ve watched…

Of the millions of scenes I’ve watched…

Of the tens of millions of words I’ve read…

Of all that, do you know what it is that really sticks with me?

What sticks in the back of my mind as the ultimate dissonance — the ultimate contrast — for which I strive in my writing?

It’s an image, one single still, from an old(ish) movie:

No, really — if you haven’t yet watched it, screw your plans for tonight and go watch Empire of the Sun.  Every movie Spielberg has made has been great, but…this one…

Look, just watch the freaking movie, okay?

The Definition of Cool

Has it all blown up yet?


Then I’m gonna sprawl out on my deck and start in on a twelve pack…

The news tonight is gonna be a spectator sport, so I figured I would get in some warm-up reps.  The weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth will be biblical…from whichever side loses.  All of the pundits — again, from whichever side is the loser — will spend countless hours spinning and massaging their past statements to make themselves look oh-so-right, no matter the results.  The tears, the impotent rage, the temper tantrums…it’ll all be more Shakespearean than, well, Shakespeare himself.

So how will I kill time until the fireworks start in a few hours?  Sean Connery, that’s how.

With Connery’s passing, I lost another of my favorites from the movie world.  That entire world is very much the poorer without him.  So, in honor of Sir Sean, I’ll queue up a bunch of his films in which to lose myself.  I, of course, will have to start with Dr No — anything else would be a crime — and then just build from there.  Although it wasn’t his last role, there is only one possible choice for the climax of this little film fest: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  Only Connery could have so totally upstaged Harrison freaking Ford!

I started thinking about just which of his flicks I want to watch, then I went back and scanned through his filmography…

Holy shit, just exactly how many of movies did I absolutely love?!

Beyond the Bond stuff, you the fringe flicks: Time Bandits, Highlander, Outland...

You have the war movies: The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far, The Man Who Would be King...

The brilliant stuff: The Great Train Robbery, Murder on the Orient Express, The Untouchables

The cool stuff:  Name of the Rose, The Presidio, The Hunt for Red October

And, c’mon, say what you will about the movie itself, but who didn’t squee just a little when he come on at the end of Robin Hood as King Richard?!

IMDB, in fact, lists 94 acting credits for Connery, starting Way back in 1954!


Err, I think this might just take a more than a single afternoon…

Thank you, Sir Sean, for providing so many of the scenes and moments — so many of the characters — that helped to form my imagination.

New Year’s Nostalgic Eve

Okay, so I’ve mentioned before — oh so many times before — just how much I hate the “sin” of nostalgia.  Looking back, for me, is no road I ever want to take.

That being said…

That being said, the most dangerous minefield in the world for me right now lies in the various streaming services.  Oh, the danger is not physical, no more than it is political, social or even cultural.  No, the danger is for worse than that — the danger is nostalgic.

I am, I should probably mention, far more than hip-deep in that particular minefield at this particular moment.

I gave up cable and satellite TV because I was tired of wasting time watching shit I didn’t particularly want to watch.  “No,” I said to myself, “it’d be much better to stream and watch just those shows I want to spend time on.”

That thought sounds great on the surface.  Hell, it sounds like exactly what I want…

Then I start browsing the catalogs for various services.  Then I fall into the twin minefields of nostalgia and memory.  Then I start exploring all that with which I grew up…

Don’t get me wrong, I want and like to try the new and unique, but there is always the pull of the old and familiar.

“Wait a damned second!  Just what the hell are you talking about?” I hear you cry.

Star Trek (the original series, thank you very much!), The Twilight Zone, Battlestar Galactica, Robotech, Star Wars, BladeRunner, and…well…Lost in Space.

Yeah, yeah, I admit it: I (kinda) grew up on Lost in Space.  Crap, even as a kid, watching the show a couple of decades and more after it originally aired, I knew it was cheesy schlock.  I knew that, and still I watched it every Saturday morning.  Still I wished I was Will Robinson…

Okay, so that still doesn’t answer your cry.  Fine.  Here goes the answer, here is why I’m talking about this — I sat down tonight to stream something.  I checked out my usual options and nothing struck me, so I finally dusted off my old NetFlix subscription to check out what they had going.D49D5096-1FAC-42FE-B870-323E91CFD336

Danger, Will Robinson!

Crap, as soon as I saw NetFlix had a take on that old series, I had no choice but to renew.  I certainly had no choice in what I was going to watch tonight!*

*”Wait, why aren’t are you going out to live it up on New Year’s Eve?!”  Nope.  Not anymore, not for me.  Too much memory, too much pain.  I either watch TV, or I get bitterly, painfully, intentionally not-gonna-function-tomorrow drunk.  Since there’s no middle ground for me on New Year’s Eve, I have lately tended to go with the TV option…

I don’t even know if this particular version of that old show is any good; all I know is that it scratches an itch I didn’t even know I had.  And, even if the new Will Robinson fails, there still is Stranger Things to kick me in the nostalgia gland…D3DAD449-C104-43D0-B0DD-E1120154A44C

Happy Freaking New Year, Will Robinson!!

Outside The Box, Star Wars Style

The last couple of posts I wrote started somewhere different from where they ended.  Each time, I sat down with an idea in mind, an idea I wanted to explore and develop.
When I finally pushed the “Post” button, however, what went up onto the bar was nothing like what I was originally thinking.

2B5622B9-F15C-48DF-A149-B94B8C1AEA59There’s nothing new in that, by the way.  I’ve talked before about the fact that this blog is mostly just random impulse and stream-of-consciousness.  A lot of these posts are, in fact, conversations that you and I could very well have sitting side-by-side at a local bar…

I sat down today to once again try to explore that idea I’ve had lurking in the back of my mind for the last few weeks.  Unfortunately, I’m a bad person.  In addition to my many other bad qualities, I also happen have the focus of an adolescent squirrel.  A drunk adolescent squirrel.729318B1-DF21-420C-898E-4CF312DBE7E5

So, instead of that post I’ve been meaning to write, you get…

The box.

You know, THE box — that damned box everyone always talks about getting out of.

Now, look…I’m the guy who gave up a successful, rewarding career to (a) write full-time and (b) live in Yellowstone.  I’m pretty much the last person in the world you should listen to when I talk about “getting outside of the box”, but…well…you’re already here, and that’s what I feel like writing about, so…

Let’s start where this whole train of thought derailed, shall we?

Star Wars.

Yep, you read that right, Star-freaking-Wars.  That ultimate in-the-box, unoriginal, derivative arc of stories with which pretty much every single person in the United States grew up.  It doesn’t matter to which “generation” you belong, there’s a Star Wars for you.  Gen-Xer?  You have the original trilogy.  Gen-Y and (kinda) Millenials?  You have the (**censored**) prequel trilogy.  Kids today?  You have…ahem…Kylo Ren.  Sorry about that, kids.

I grew up on Star Wars.  I remember arguing with my friends, after we’d all seen The Empire Strikes Back, about whether or not Vader was lying about being Luke’s father.

I remember thinking Han Solo was the coolest person in the Universe.*

*Erm…I still do.

I remember arguing about who was stronger in the Force, Luke or Vader.

When I put aside my fan-boy hat, however…

When I (try to) think about the entire run of stories/films from a non-fan perspective…

When I approach the whole thing as a writer…

Yeah, that’s when shit changes.

Based on myth and legend as those stories are, there are just far too many irritating elements that “have” to be in there.  Worst of all, from a writing perspective, is the “requirement” for a happy ending.  For the heroes to save the world, for the dreaded “happily ever after.”

Yeah, yeah…I know that all of that is fundamental to much, if not most, of mythology.  I know also that it was an established and accepted way for the singers and storytellers of the past to teach about the “right thing to do,” and about the rewards that would come with “doing right.”  I know all of that, but my understanding of those dynamics still can’t remove the stench of the inherently saccharine nature of such “rules”.

Star Wars ended with the destruction of the Death Star, and medals for Luke and Han…

Empire — the darkest of the originals — ended with Luke healing, and Leia flying off to rescue Han…

Jedi ended with — ahem — the destruction of the (other) Death Star, and an Ewok party…

Don’t even get me started on how the prequel movies ended — they were even more sugar-coated!  No one suffered, no one (important) died.  There was no sacrifice, no cost.  There was, in the words of my current protagonist, no price to pay.

And that’s perfectly acceptable…for kids.  But what about adults?  What about folks who understand that there is more to life than black and white?  What about people who know that good and evil are a spectrum, not a binary choice?

For us, you have to go to the one Star Wars film that actually manages to get outside the box: Rogue One.

Rogue One is the redheaded stepchild of the Star Wars universe precisely because it gets outside the box.  It is also, to my mind, the best of the stories…for the same reason.

D6BED24B-FF25-40D5-B21F-273007DA34B1Watch that film and think first about the simplest method of communicating mood, tone and theme in the directorial tooldbox: color scheme.  Rogue One is all about shades of gray, all about colors that shift and blend with each other.  There are few scenes with primary colors in the film, few patches of bright contrast, other than in the nostalgic look back at the heroine’s childhood, and in the final battle.

Take that color scheme, then — the film equivalent of word-choice and connotation for us print writers — and use it to give perspective to the film as a whole.  Although the struggle between Rebel Alliance and Empire is the backdrop for the whole thing — as are our memories and knowledge of the black & white universe of the other films — there are no clear cut “good guys” in Rogue One.  The protagonists are all flawed and broken…just like the rest of us.

Even the “bad guys” have elements of gray to them, when you get right down to it.  Okay, yeah, the Oppenheimer-inspired character is pretty blatant and heavyhanded, but his boss (the main antagonist) has his own reality and morality, if you’re capable of looking beneath the shallowest layer.  And don’t get me started on Vader…*

C58EAAAF-BE58-456F-8E6E-BB9BC9EA5947*Okay, do get me started on Vader.  Mostly because, when James Earl Jones spoke his few lines, I got the freaking chills.  I’m pretty sure there is nothing more iconic than that dark suit and incredible voice to anyone from — or even near — my generation.  I love Jones as an actor, but more than anything else, he will always be “that voice” to me.

What really gets Rogue One outside the box, however, is the vision and conception of the story.  I would say “the end,” but that is far too trite and easy.  No, the writers and director did a much better job of getting outside the box than merely making a statement with the movie’s climax; they ran threads of meaning throughout the entire story.

Which is what we’re supposed to do as writers, you know.

Oh, those thematic elements?  What are they?  That’s easy: there is always a cost, there’s always a price to pay.

1DAEB7B6-3419-4176-A2B0-F504E5D7050EThey took a minor, relatively undeveloped character from the adult-ish Star Wars cartoons (Clone Wars and Rebels) and turned him into a fucking statement.  Saw Gerrera is one hell of a vision of the tired, battered warrior who is neither good nor evil, but rather a blend of both.  I could write an entire post just on that one character, and everything they packed into him…but that’s for another time.

Hell, Cassian Andor — the second protagonist, played absolutely brilliantly by Diego Luna — has a great bit of that to him as well…which is why he is the only Star Wars character who comes anywhere near Han Solo in my personal pantheon of hero-ness.

Oh yeah…about that cost, about that price that always has to be paid…

In the rest of the Star Wars universe, everyone important lives.  If someone actually dies, you don’t know their name, and you certainly don’t care about them.  Even Annakin, Obi Wan, Qui Gon Jin and Yoda didn’t actually die, they just did their holy-ghost-thing and hung around for residuals on future movies…


So, that’s the box — everyone lives, and the happily ever after fades away with a triumphal march…

But what happens when you finally get outside that box?

0CF1D634-F6B4-4D45-956D-3062D1309980Then you can take the characters you spent two hours making the audience fall in love with…and you kill them.

Outside the box there is a cost to struggle and war.  Outside the box, sacrifice is not discomfort and difficulty, it is death.  Outside the box is not mythology, it is life.

I had other examples, by the way, that I was going to use for this post.  Other bits and stories I was going to dive into.  I was going to talk about Amazon’s brilliant The Boys, and its subversive take on superheroes.   I was also going to get into Disney/Marvel’s own redheaded stepchild of Deadpool.  I was going to get into them, but I’m not sure a 10,000-word post is a particularly good idea at this point…

The takeaway from all this?  That’s easy.  The takeaway is a question that all writers have to ask themselves: do you want to write mythology, or life?

Mythology is a comic book.  It is primary colors and simple answers.  It is medals and honors and happily-every-after.

88569948-8124-4019-9691-B1A94B8C4431Life is…dirtier.  Life is suffering and pain.  Life is neither good nor evil, but a blend of the two.  Life is sacrifice and, yes, death.  But if life is all of that, it is that in context.  It is all of that as the price that must be paid for heroism, and for victory, and for doing right…

Gee, can you guess where I come down on that question of what you write?