Monday, April 11, 2016

Where to Find Me in May 2016

I will be in Artists' Alley at Planet Comicon this coming May 20 - 22. I'll have copies of my Actionopolis books, I'll be live-writing Velocity Stories and talking science fiction with any of you who want to stop by and say 'hi'. Hope to see you there.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Some Thoughts on Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice

This is going to be a LONG post so here's the bit you might have come over to find out: I liked it.

It's far from perfect but overall it's a large bucket of popcorn and a giant soda full of fun.

Spoilers ahead. That said, the movie's been in the theater for two weeks at this point so you've either gone and don't care about spoilers or you're not going and you don't care about spoilers. That said, last spoiler warning. I'm not holding back.

Okay, still here? Let's forge ahead.

Months ago there was an uproar on the Internet about how bad Zack Snyder's Man of Steel was and the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was going to be just as bad, if not worse.

Well, I liked Man of Steel. I've defended it and I'll continue to defend it. I get where Snyder is going. Let the Internet go hang for not getting the 'perfect' Superman because Warner Bros. decided to let Snyder go for his vision. It's a lot like when a creative team switches on a comic book: the new look of the artist and the new voice of the writer have fans and detractors.

As you know if you follow these films, Zack Snyder is NOT popular amongst the hardcore nerds. He's a capable director whose eye for sharp visuals is getting better with every film but his vision of the DCU is the polar opposite of some very vocal denizens of the 'net who feel they must offer fixes to DC.

But storytelling is not his strongest skill. Maybe he doesn't quite get Clark Kent/Superman or maybe he's angling for a more fully realized character later but there's not a lot of growth for him in this film. He frowns a lot. He still loses his temper when he shouldn't, eighteen months after the events of Man of Steel. He's introspective. This is unusual for Superman as we're all used to him being confident and sure. There have been times in his comic book history, and even cinematically, where he's unsure. In MoS and BvS it's writ unavoidably large.

Batman, on the other hand, is angry. Not just angry, but pissed off. He's been operating for twenty years and still can't see how he's ever going to rest. He's sneaky and confident that he'll eventually win any fight he's involved in. His motivation is the fact that the destruction of Metropolis by Superman's fight with Zod affected him in a personal way. He's so pissed off that he kills people without thinking. In this film he personally kills dozens of bad men, which in his mind I guess makes him better than Superman in MoS. It all comes to a head when the man Bruce saves is influenced by Alexander Luthor to do something terrible.

As for Luthor, this is the son not the father who put the Lex in LexCorp. He's obviously insane from the start, obsessed with Superman. I have an idea that he might not actually be a Luthor but could be one of the New Gods from Apokolips but I'll save that for later. He certainly acts like a couple of them.

Anyway, Luthor's plans to gain access to Zod's body and access to the Kryptonian ship that crashed in the city telegraphs the appearance of Doomsday in the climax. His acquisition of Kryptonite cements the obvious plot but ti doesn't really matter. We all knew what was going to happen. Just as we knew that the story is built on events from The Dark Knight Returns and The Death of Superman and that it was going to setup a Justice League film too. So there's a lot to accomplish but in the end the film didn't feel overlong.

I want to point out the soundtrack. Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL have written and performed perhaps the strangest-sounding superhero soundtrack ever. Well, so far. We'll see if Doctor Strange is as weird as I would want it to be. I digress.

The music is a mash of the themes from Christopher Nolan's Batman and Man of Steel. But there's a new weirdness to it, especially with the addition of Wonder Woman's theme. Powerful drums tell us the beat of her warrior's heart, the violin and guitar over the top of that emphasize her shrewdness and cunning. It's the most interesting theme of the Trinity. And its placement in the film, during her first appearance in costume (after she's beguiled Bruce Wayne when he's stealing information from Luthor) is perfect. It amped up the action way past ten.

Which brings me Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. She's as fantastic as everyone is saying. Not just in costume but also as Diana Prince though she's never named until the point where she's going to join the fight. Probably by design, but if her function in man's world is ever really pointed out I didn't catch it. There's also a death early on in the film that doesn't have any emotional impact because we don't know it's Jimmy Olsen. I could swear we were told that for Man of Steel Jimmy was gender-swapped to Jenny but checking IMDB I don't see a last name on the character. I'm too lazy to go back and look for the reference so we'll have to let that one go for now.

My friend Steve pointed out that this film, and Man of Steel along with it, may be best viewed as a meditation on the feelings of powerlessness in America after 9/11.

This makes sense, especially from Batman's point of view in BvS. Bruce is fearful and pissed off and that has shaped him in ways that the murders of his parents couldn't have. He's still a good man but he's reactionary and his reactions are WAY over the top. To the point where he'd likely be unrecognizable to a lot of the movie-going population.

But it's plausible given the way Pa Kent was doubtful and afraid in MoS. In BvS we get a timeframe for these films as Bruce is about seven years old when his parents are murdered in 1981. (The Excalibur reference is heavy-handed one, too.) With Batman being visibly older than Superman here, with eighteen years more experience, that places Clark about 30 or so in 2013. Bruce has got to be well into his forties, I'd think.

That picture of a license plate above is the last year these were used in Kansas and started about 1989. We saw one on the back of the school bus in MoS. It's important for the placement in time, and the politics of that time, which shaped Bruce and made Pa Kent fearful. Pa had witnessed the Iranian hostage crisis though Bruce probably didn't know anything about it. That event likely shaped Pa's thoughts in MoS which continued to influence Clark well into BvS. Another point to consider is that Diana tells Bruce that the country can only honor him  [Superman] as a soldier.

Given how politics has shaped America in the last fifteen years, that sense of powerlessness really resonates here in BvS. Batman represents the American people who want to do something extreme, who misunderstand what's really happened. Batman misunderstands Superman's humanity until the revelation that their mothers share the same first name. (Which is just silly.)

The message, then, is that misunderstandings can be overcome. Yes the world is a grim place and there are events that terrify, but there's hope. DC is playing a long game here, going from dark to light, placing Batman squarely in the darkness, as a product of the darkness, and by the end of BvS there's hope again. And as we all know by now Superman won't be dead for very long.

I told you this was going to be a long post.

G. Gordon Godfrey from Legends.
Art by John Byrne.
A while back, up above, I promised you some thoughts on Luthor. Jesse Eisenberg's performance may have been influenced by Heath Ledger's Joker but not executed nearly as well. Some of the asides, the digressions, the non sequiturs Luthor uses are bound to be clues to things to come. This Luthor is quite mad and that led me to some further questions:

  • Is it possible that Alexander Luthor, the son of the original Lex,  is not necessarily human? What if he's one of the New Gods? What if he's one of the New Gods from Apokolips?
  • He could possibly be DeSaad, couldn't he? Sent to torture the heroes? He has impersonated people before and his hair, while not greasy, certainly recalled some images of DeSaad. Perhaps Darkseid put him on Earth without any memory of his godhood. It's not like Darkseid hasn't done things like that before.
  • Or could he perhaps be Glorious Godfrey? Luthor is making an attempt to influence public opinion in more than a few ways: by framing Superman for murders in the Middle East, by using Keefe  as a weapon in the most literal fashion, by sending Superman to kill Batman.
  • Or maybe he's another New God that I haven't considered. These were the two obvious ones given the comic book stories that have played parts in the development of the DC films. What do you think?
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a big movie full of ideas and promise. It's not perfect but it's entertaining and that's all I wanted out of it. There's going to be more to unpack, I'm sure, because of everything it's trying to achieve. 

In the end, I'm happy with it and I like where I think it's going for the Justice League film. First, though, I'm seriously excited to see Wonder Woman. Gal Gadot stole every scene she was in and that's against Ben Affleck as a really great Batman. The biggest knock against this movie is that the filmmakers seem to not know what to do with Superman. He seems tentative, too tentative, to be the big blue boy scout from the comics. But that may be the larger story. I hope it is. I hope we get the Superman we all recognize from the comics in a couple of years. 

As much as it's fun to kick on Zack Snyder for some people, he's doing right by the characters and the stories. There's a rich, deep history to pull from and he's doing pretty well with it. Even though I don't care for Doomsday having heat vision it sort of makes sense for the world that's being built here.

Sort of.

But it doesn't diminish my enjoyment of the films. I found things to like about them. I more people did. The best superhero comics are also full of social commentary. These films are packed with it. At the start I said this was a large bucket of popcorn and a giant soda full of fun. That's true. But it's got layers to it that make it a better film than is obvious on the surface. Maybe it'll grow on viewers as it ages. I hope so.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

A Moment of Truth

It's snowing on Easter here on the eastern edge of the west. This isn't unusual though the forecast is for 3" - 5" which IS unusual. I mention the weather every update here because it affects us more than maybe we ever want to acknowledge. And maybe we affect the weather more than we realize. That's something that I believe needs to be on all our minds.

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Last Sunday I got some unexpected and devastating news. The next day I got some great advice on how to deal with it. Yesterday I made the decision about how to proceed.

It's important to creative types to hear honest feedback. I have always asked for it. It matters to me because I want to be better at telling stories. I've tried songwriting, playing in bands, making comics by writing and drawing them and also by submitting to the big companies. I have been working at the writing of stories in comics and prose for over seventeen years. I thought that I was getting pretty good at this.

My feelings didn't matter though. An honest editor gave me some seriously disappointing notes that I will be forever grateful for. It was a hard reality check that felt an awful lot like a knife to the heart. Her intention wasn't that at all, she encouraged me to keep at it because the story wasn't bad at all just the execution. And not all of it but some big, big parts of it.

I've been working on The Cold Distance since November 2011, I'm deeply invested in the story. Deeply. I had plans for at least five novels to tell the story of Jugee & the Duchess, I've been talking here for the last few months about it and off and on over the last four and a half years.

So hearing that it wasn't anywhere near where it should be could have broken me. It did for a couple of days. I was so far down that first couple of days that I sent an email to two of my biggest cheerleaders and I got a response that resonated. There were options, one of which I'm still considering because I've put so much work into it. But the big thing was that it would be okay to move on, try something new.

That was the knife being pulled out of my chest. It took a couple more days to stitch myself up and bandage the wound but there are so many stories in my head (and notes on my hard drives) that it made sense to consider them. One story, one that has been percolating for fifteen years, popped up and did a Horshack until I paid attention to it.

Which brings me to my next steps. It's time to move on, work with new characters in new settings. So I'm putting The Cold Distance aside in favor of working hard on something new. Distance is not my masterpiece, that book is still marinating in my head. I had built it up in my head into something it's clearly not. I want to put out the best book I can, follow all the steps that need to be followed and live up to my own advice. The Cold Distance is not that book and it may never be.

So it might be worthwhile to share what there is here as an object lesson for others and as a reminder to me that all that work has taught me something that needs to be applied elsewhere.

We'll see.

All my gratitude to Rhonda and to Kevin for their honesty and integrity and their expressions of support. Moving forward on a new project is exciting. I hope you'll follow the journey.

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I'll have a short story coming out later this spring and hopefully the final Evolver book will drop sooner than later. I'm working on the second Agent of DANGER installment too. Stay tuned for details as I get them.

Also I will be at Planet Comicon in May where I'll have the aforementioned Evolver and Agent of DANGER books. You'll also be able to commission a Velocity Story from me, which is a quick micro fiction on a con-exclusive card. I hope to see you all there. Ask me how the new book is going too.

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We're watching the first season of BOSCH on Amazon this week. My wife and I are fans of Titus Welliver from his days on Deadwood and every so often we chuckle and have to say "Fuckin' ADAMS" which seems to add to our enjoyment.

The first season has one hell of a good villain, though, and the characters are great. There's a lot of good dialogue that moves things forward. Subplots abound and it's all engrossing. I've never read the books so I can't speak to how accurate it is, but we're really digging this show. Good thing season 2 is  already available.

I wandered into Elite Comics this week looking for interesting science fiction comics. William, the owner, turned me on to a great title by Jeff LeMire and Dustin Ngyuen called Descender. It's a tale of robots and humanity and invasions. The art reminds me strongly of the best of Jon J. Muth and Enki Bilal and I heartily recommend you check it out if you like science fiction. I'll be buying the next volume and the collected editions as they come out.

Keeping it short this week. I hope you all have a wonderful coming week and that whatever your passion you find people who will help you enjoy it the most.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Process Bits

Welcome to the eastern edge of the west. It's been unseasonably warm here, to the point that we have really had no winter whatsoever. It bodes much ill for a hot summer and large, swarmy bugs. You're worried about the Zika virus? Maybe you should worry more that you can wear shorts and flip-flops for weeks in Kansas in February.

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Sometimes you're not ready. You think you are, your friends tell you are, but the reality is something else that's not been built up in your fevered imagination.

It happens to everyone.

There are gatekeepers in every venue, creative or not. These gatekeepers are meant to keep a certain standard. Sometimes one agrees with the standard and when the gatekeeper tells you you're not ready it can hurt. A deep wound that cuts to the bone, maybe even into the bone, but it's a wound that can heal if one allows it to. Those gatekeepers are not always the true arbiters of 'taste' such as it is but some can certainly put on airs.

When I've run into gatekeepers I always treat them with respect. They may not be willing to let me in right then but some day there may be a time when I could. And it's always nicer when you're remembered for good things than something not so nice. So I shake the gatekeeper's hand, acknowledge their authority and try to learn from the experience. While I may not agree with the gatekeeper's assessment it's best to not fight it. There are other ways, after all, to circumvent them and gain entry into a less exclusive club.

To be clear, editors fall into that gatekeeper role and authors are on the outside. Again to be clear, an editor is not trying to keep you out but rather making an effort to maintain the standard. If that standard is honesty and integrity, then I'm all for it. If it's something else, then that's another story.

Don't be hard on the gatekeepers unless you're absolutely sure they're the only way in. If there's a way around and your aesthetic doesn't match theirs but it matches those already inside, then find another way.

Clear as mud, I'll bet. But all life is interpretation.

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Marvel's THE CHAMPIONS was one of my favorite comics when I was a kid. It's the unlikeliest, even for Marvel, super-team ever: Hercules, Black Widow, Angel, Iceman and Ghost Rider? In L.A.? Ultimately that's why it didn't work, because it wasn't set in the rest of the Marvel Universe in 1975. Even we here on the plains thought it was weird.

But I liked it a lot. I liked the dynamic of the team and these heroes didn't have a regular mag. It was a LOT of fun and lived too short a life. The modern title that reminded me so much of The Champions was Warren Ellis' and Stuart Immonen's NEXTWAVE Agents of H.A.T.E. I was reminded of that this week so you get to go scuttling off in search of both. You'll be rewarded with excellent reads and terrific art.

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The perfect martini is dirty and made with vodka. Here's a recipe:

One part olive juice. (We like Merzetta's martini olives in vermouth. If I'm having a martini out I'll get blue cheese stuffed olives.)
Two parts dry vermouth (we use Noilly Prat)
Four parts Ketel One vodka

Combine the above in a shaker with two standard ice cubes. Put the lid on and shake until the sound of the ice cubes is greatly lessened or gone.

Put three olives on a skewer in your martini glass(es)

Pour your martini over the olives and enjoy.

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I'm reading Philip Jose Farmer's A FEAST UNKNOWN because I never could find a copy of it when I was a kid. Also I reread John Byrne's run on Fantastic Four, and Matt Wagner's MAGE The Hero Discovered. Are these three titles related? Maybe. Alan Moore certainly seems to have take Farmer's ideas to heart and maybe Byrne and Wagner have both integrated certain elements at different times. I don't know, I'm no scholar.

But I've enjoyed the hell out of all of them.

(And yes, I'm more than aware that Warren Ellis borrowed liberally from Farmer for a lot of Planetary, which is one of my top five all time favorite comics.)

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Finally I watched/binged on Marvel's Daredevil season 2 this weekend. Without spoiling it for anyone who wants to take their time with it, it's very good. Here's what I said on Twiter:

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Keeping it a bit short this week. I hope you've had a good weekend and the coming week has interesting things in store for you. For me, I'm ready for the new beginning that's Monday. Lots on the horizon folks.

Lots more to come.

Sunday, February 28, 2016


It's the end of February here on the eastern edge of the West and it was 70F yesterday and nearly as warm today. The tulips are pushing up and there's certainly a vibe of Spring in the air. But damn, it's WRONG. It's supposed to be winter here. What the hell is summer going to be? Get ready, there's a lot of swearing here. Fair warning.

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Not the cover.
In November 2011 I started writing a book for NaNoWriMo. It was a space opera/heist tale with quantum computers and aliens and a young orphan who chooses a life of adventure and crime. For those who don't know, NaNo is a directive to write 50,000 words in 30 days. There are local support groups and a national forum to help the writer out. I attended local write ins, ran word sprints with my friends. At the end of November I won NaNo by having written a bit over 60,000 words. By the middle of December I'd written over 90,000 and the story was complete.

Fast forward through 2012 and 2013 into 2014. I'd been revising and editing and revising and editing and I sent the book to a couple of publishers and agents. Of course the agents didn't want to read it because I'd poisoned the well by sending it to science fiction publishers. One house requested the full manuscript and took six months to write back that they liked it but they didn't know what to do with it.

A nice rejection, to be sure, and motivating. I decided to self-publish. That meant another round of beta readers.

By this time I've lost count of how many revisions I've gone through at this point but readers will tell me what has to happen to make the book better. And I need to know if I'm really going to do this.

Last spring, one of my volunteers is an independent editor and she gave me potentially devastating feedback. I didn't have a novel, after all. A little over three years of working the story to make it better and make it better and getting a requested full manuscript from a major SF publisher what I had was an outline for THREE novels. 108,000 words of outline!

Also not the cover.
This, my dear friends, was a revelation. It could have destroyed me, sent me spinning into a black hole of 'what the fuck have I been doing all this time?' It could have broken my will to get this book into your hands.

Instead I read through her notes and saw exactly what she saw. I knew exactly where to start the book, I knew now where the serious flaws in my (lack of) worldbuilding. I knew what had to be done.

So I started revising again. It was both easier and more difficult than I imagined. I knew where to start so I had to figure out the ending. Since I knew the one book was going to be a series (there are solid outlines/treatments for at least four more books) I could spend some time foreshadowing. And worldbuilding. And character expansion. I had a couple more folks read it in December when I engaged the time of another independent editor.

Today I sent my final revision of The Cold Distance to my editor. I've never worked with her but a friend who has says I will definitely benefit from the experience. Which is exactly what I'm hoping for/paying for. We're working in two stages: first will be developmental edits and then line edits after I revise the developmental stuff.

Still not the cover.
This is the process that authors working for publishers go through. I'm excited and trepidatious at the same time. Will it be good enough? Will it come back marked with so much red I'll wonder if all the blood, sweat and tears I put into are leaking off the page?

It doesn't matter. The book will be better after I read the edit notes. Right now I'm really happy with it. If there's a lot of red there I'll learn from it. I'll do more and do better on the next one. But I want to give you readers (and potential readers) the best damn book I can make. That's one reason why it's taking so long. Another is The Fear.

You know what I mean.

But I'm ready. The book is ready. I can't wait to get it in your hands this summer.

So once I've accomplished the fixes of the developmental stage, I send it back for line edits. Then I get those back, make the fixes, read through it again and then I enlist the help of several friends who've graciously volunteered to help with a Proof Party. This is going to be the most professional product I can put in your hands.

The cover will be revealed in May. I'll put up a preview here (the first three or four chapters) about the same time. I'll be at Planet Comicon at the end of May with those to show off and a new Evolver book. The final one, at least for now. But this summer is about The Cold Distance. The launch party will be at Kansas City Comic Con where actual, physical copies of the book will be for you to purchase. I'm looking forward to it.

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If you've ever told someone to 'die' on social media, you're a bully. And a bastard. Stop it. No matter how much you dislike someone or disagree with them, you're a dick for wishing them dead. Death should be reserved for one's most dangerous enemies. There are few people in the world who might actually wish you harm so it won't cost you anything to be nicer. If you can't do that, maybe foregoing comments in the first place is better.

Spend your energy on what you believe in rather than tearing someone you've never met down.

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Stay tuned for an announcement about a story of mine in an upcoming anthology. There'll be a Kickstarter where you can get your own copy of the book.

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The poor treatment of convention guests is something that has to be addressed in all circles. No matter the convention, no matter what is being celebrated, there has to be a policy against harassment. It has to be enforced. If you're running a convention, you're running a business. An anti-harassment policy is good human resources planning and you have to follow through with it.

Too many shows are coming under scrutiny for bad behavior that doesn't get addressed. There are many, many more issues that the public never hears about. (Trust me on this one. I'm barely a blip on any con's radar and I've heard things that will break your soul.) I can only imagine the stuff I don't hear about.

For you, the average attendee at any convention here are some rules to help you:

  1. Don't be a dick.
  2. Report bad behavior.
  3. Help others do the same.
Have fun at your shows, behave accordingly and recognize when someone calls you out on your bullshit. that you're probably having fun at someone else's expense. See the above item about being a bully.

For the owners of the cons, do your best. Hire enough staff to deal with everything that could come up. The bigger the show, the more staff you need. Actual, paid staff who are trained and can manage volunteers. There's going to be less and less tolerance of shows that don't do their homework and take care of business. 

This is not an indictment of any one show, by the way. Merely an observation.

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Let's end on a positive note, shall we? Last weekend I attended the inaugural Empower Comic Con in Topeka, Kansas. I had a great time, enjoyed the panel I was on and the other I saw. I will definitely be returning next year, maybe as a vendor, hopefully as a guest. 

I got to see several friends and talk with John Holloway of the Worst Comic Podcast Ever and then listened this week to his panel from Empower with Lindsay Wagner who some of you might recognize as having been in The Bionic Woman. He's obviously a fan of hers (as most straight men of a certain age likely are) and the questions are great. 

John's a terrific, professional interviewer. You should spend the hour and listen to the whole thing here. And check out the WCPE. 

That's all for this week. Be good to one another.  Because baseball's spring training is on and hey, the Royals are set to make another run toward the postseason. As long as they're competitive and leave it all on the field like they have the last two years, this fan will be more than satisfied.