Monday, January 30, 2012

What I've Learned (January 2012)

Photo by Dave DeHetre

  • I'm improving as a writer. It's getting easier and the stories are getting better. There's a lot yet to come but I'm improving my chances of getting paid with every story I finish.
  • I'm better at being patient but man, that's a hard row to hoe. It's difficult to just let things go and wait for them to work out. I want to control the outcomes and it's frustrating when I can't. 
  • Owning your home is satisfying and it's also a helluva lot of work. This takes time away from things I didn't want to give up, but then again it's all about balance, isn't it?
  • Ask 'why' three times to get to a real reason for something that happened. Keep asking why until the answer makes sense. Sometimes little kids get it right and sometimes the answer really is "Because I say so".
  • I need to work on properly balancing writing, the day job and home life. I mean, doesn't everyone?
  • Frustration is a catalyst that I tend to ignore. If I acted on all the things that frustrated me at work and in my writing, I would be much, much better at both jobs. I tend to wallow in frustration and that's the thing that I suppose I carry from year to year: feeling frustrated somehow validates my feelings. "Why can't they see that I'm right?" Because, often, I'm only partially right and in order to better communicate I need to get over the frustration and see the other side.
  • Done is still the engine of More. No question about it.
  • Last year was all about appreciating whiskey. I think I've given up cigars, but whiskey is something I've got a real taste for. This year I will try more whiskeys and save up for some higher end single malt scotch, too. (Typically I drink Jameson and Glenlivet.) Dr. Whiskey will definitely be IN.
  • I don't photograph well. (I already knew that, but hey it's constantly reaffirmed.) The new photo of me on the site here is one that my friend Dave DeHetre took at the end of 2011 and I really like it. Check out Dave's blog and photographs.
  • Waiting is the most frustrating thing I do and I don't do it well. I don't think a lot of people wait well and that's a skill I need to develop. I alluded to it last year a couple of times, but waiting is something I feel like I must get better at. Especially since I'm about to embark on a submission process with a novel and a bunch of short stories.
  • Follow through is also something I don't do well, especially as a writer. How many years have I said "this is the year I'll start collecting rejection letters"? Quite a few now. Let's see how I do this year, okay?
  • I think I've overcome some of the limitations I had coming into 2011, such as being able to sustain an idea for nearly 100,000 words and to have it be good enough to keep on with. I still need to work on quite a few people skills, though.
  • I value a lot more than I ever say. I like hearing that I'm valued and I need to say such things to people a LOT more often.
  • It takes a great support group for a writer to feel like he's not alone in the world. This past November the local NaNoWriMo crowd was more important to me than almost anything else. They kept me going and as a result I wrote the best thing I've ever written. I'm repaying that by reading their works and trying to be as supportive of them as they were of me. If there was one thing that made a difference last year, it was my friends who have now formed a real online presence as The Confabulator Cafe.
  • Finally, blogging as much as I have been since just before NaNo has been helpful, too. Forcing myself to hit a regular schedule is teaching me time management things that I need to have figured out before the end of the coming year. Expect that to continue for the foreseeable future.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Bonus Round - Food

Last night I was at the store getting stuff for a big breakfast (which I cooked this morning, more in a second on that) and I grabbed an avocado on a whim because I'd heard something in a meeting yesterday about them being a fruit. Right. I'd forgotten that.

I found the ripest, small to medium-small avocado I could and when I got home I opened it up and threw it in a bowl with two tablespoons of half and half and a tablespoon of sugar. I crushed it all up as smooth as I could with a fork in the bowl and when it was pretty smooth, I added about a teaspoon of lemon juice and mixed that in.

It tasted like ice cream, people. You can probably dial down the sugar to two teaspoons if you don't need it so sweet, but try it. If you like avocados, you'll love this.

So breakfast this morning was eggs benedict with hashbrowns. The Knorr powdered Hollandaise is perfectly acceptable as long as you add another tablespoon of butter to it and a tablespoon or so of lemon juice.

Anyway, I poached eggs again and I finally got 'em right. They were luscious and perfect for the benedict. Just wonderful. Too bad you weren't here to share it.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Anyone Can Do That

My supervisor wants to know why I'm not working on
stories that will pay and allow me to spend more money
on crunchies.
Writing is work. It's a job.

Yeah, I know. Obvious, right?

Except it isn't to some people, even those who claim to be writers. It hasn't always been obvious to me and I've been extolling the virtue of writers keeping track of their time for a long while now.

A storyteller has to keep track of how much time a story takes. Not to figure out how much they're not getting paid, that's madness. No, keep track of the time so that when, later on, you are better at it you can see your progress. That's a great way to make yourself feel a helluva lot better about doing something that a lot of folks think they can do, too.

Not everyone can do what a writer does. Sure, there are a ton of books that purport to teach the Average Joe how to write a book and some of them are even helpful. I own a couple. I'm not criticizing the advice and I'm not criticizing those who seek that advice and follow it. In fact, I admire anyone who's got the stones to investigate the possibility of being a writer. Good for you and if you let me know you're out there, I'll do what I can to support you.

What I will criticize is the rube who declaims, "Huh. I can do that."

Go right ahead. However, don't diminish someone who's trying to do something by saying that 'any idiot' can do the same. That's absolutely not true and the idiot isn't the person who attempts something. No the idiot is the person so sees someone try and fail and claims they're an idiot. Look, idiocy is rampant in the world and everyone is capable of doing something to make the world a better place. I'm not a farmer but I admire anyone who can plant crops that feed more than just one family and make a living at it. I can't do that. I'm not a rocket scientist, either, nor a politician or painter or athlete. I'm not a cop or in the military and I don't work for any government agency.

I have my own day job and I'm a writer. I used to have skills at being a visual artist (drawing) and at being a musician (clarinet, bass clarinet, guitar and bass guitar) but I've let those lapse in favor of being a writer, a storyteller. I appreciate what it takes to be a rock star. It's hard work and damn if you aren't in the spotlight which is merciless. Especially if you're good at it and especially if a lot of people like your music.

Everything that makes the world a wonderful place to live requires someone to do the work that makes it so. Not everyone can do everything. Unless you put your mind to it.

Yeah, anyone can be a writer. How many stories have you written?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Things To Avoid

Following up on last Friday's post, something that irritates me beyond belief is when I hear someone who says, "I'd like to introduce you to so and so, the high muckety-muck of this and that." My immediate, knee-jerk response is always: "Oh, you'd LIKE to introduce me to so and so but you're not going to? Why not?"

If I'd LIKE to do something I'll do it.

Another thing that annoys me is when someone says "I just wanted to tell you this and that about so and so." Oh? You did? You 'just wanted'. Why didn't you?

No one ever 'just wants' to do something. If they're apologizing for it by saying they 'just want' to do something, it may not be something they want to do.

I avoid both of these phrases in my writing like the plague. Yes, the goddamned PLAGUE. If I've learned anything about writing over the last few years, it's that the thing that has to be done or said has to be said else you're wasting valuable pixels or ink on a thing that's unnecessary and probably BORING.

That's the pitfall that writers have to avoid most of all, being boring. I suggest that characters who say things like "I'd like to" and "I just wanted to" are probably real-sounding and if that's the type of story you're writing, then go for it. Write the dialogue that way. In my opinion, those are colloquialisms and should be avoided. Not that everyone in a novel should speak formally, god that'd be as boring as writing everything the other way. But if you're using those phrases in more than one place across more than one character your own natural speaking voice is creeping into your writing voice. Your writing will be better for avoiding them altogether.

I suggest that writers should be affirmative in writing their characters' dialogue. People who talk affirmatively are strong characters, especially in real life. They use phrases like the above sparingly and save them for occasions when they need them. They're aware of the language and the power that words have, especially when one is telling a story.

Finally, these two phrases are so ingrained into our daily life, they are so colloquial, that they've both crept into this post. I took the word 'just' out of the body of this post four times. It hits when you're not looking. All I'm saying is that you should look for it.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Shameless Shilling

When I was in grade school, we'd get a newsprint flyer, four pages long, filled with all kinds of books for sale. Man, those were the greatest times in about 4th, 5th and 6th grade. I would occasionally get the old Dynamite magazine along with things like Donald J. Sobol's Two Minute Mysteries or Encyclopedia Brown books and some really quirky stuff. One of the oddest things I ever got was a book called The Bunjee Venture, which was turned into an animated special you can now find on YouTube. I still have a copy of the book around here somewhere. I must've read it a dozen times.

As I was doing some research on the title I was surprised to find that the magazine itself was founded and the first three issues edited by Jenette Kahn, who later went on to be the publisher then president of DC Comics. Dynamite was actually the best-selling magzine for Scholastic ever when it launched, too. It also featured a two-page comic of The Dynamite Duo, which was always the first thing I read when I got my copy. The magazine itself was crammed full of pop culture, too, and that's what makes it mostly irrelevant to anyone under the age of 40 or so. Anyway, I digress.

Okay, so you get the point. I'm old. I believe that the Scholastic Book Club is still in existence and that there are tons of books that children can get from the publisher.

Paperback edition
cover by Phil Hester
Bruce McCorkindale
Well, that's enough of an introduction, I guess. Last year my first book was published through Actionopolis/Agent of D.A.N.G.E.R. as an ebook. I've had the link over on the sidebar ever since it went live. What you may not know is that a year later, the book is available as a real, physical object. I got mine in the mail last week and it's a nice piece of bound up paper. There's no thrill quite like getting a book in the mail, and none to equal opening the box that contains your own work.

I did a little jig and showed everyone in the house. I flipped through it and - of course - the first page you open to you see a mistake. It doesn't affect how the book reads so there's no use in pointing it out, but I feel pretty good that I experienced something that Neil Gaiman and others have had happen to them.

Anyway, if you're interested in buying the book, this link will take you to the Amazon page where you can order either version. I hope you will and I'd be grateful, that if you did order either version, if you'd leave a review of the book. Sooner or later I'll be able to tell you what's on the horizon for Evolver and I hope more about my work with the Agent of Danger guys.

Until then, thanks for letting me shamelessly shill my book at you. I hope you like it.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Made to Be Broken

Rules, I'm talking about rules.

Some rules are good ideas until proven they aren't.
Specifically I'm going to talk about Elmore Leonard's rules and why they helped me and why I may be ready to move on from them.

1 Never open a book with weather. This is excellent advice stemming from the horrible, horrible line "It was a dark and stormy night". That's telling, not showing.

2 Avoid prologues: they can be ­annoying, especially a prologue ­following an introduction that comes after a foreword. I think a prologue can drop a reader into an interesting story like a bomb and grab that reader's interest. That said, if a prologue can be the first scene of your book, make it the first scene, right? I've written prologues and moved them into the story proper as a flashback.

3 Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue. Using anything but 'said' is lazy writing. I work very hard to convey emotions through dialogue or actions and using any sort of modifier such as 'stated', 'questioned', 'moped' or anything that ends in -ly takes the reader out of the story. Everyone reads the dialogue in a book.

4 Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said" ... he admonished gravely. See rule 3. Same things apply.

5 Keep your exclamation points ­under control. I grew up reading comic books and I've continued to read them into my 40s. Exclamation points are part and parcel of comics. This is fiction. People don't shout every sentence every time. Use proper punctuation to convey the meaning you would have maybe used a modifier adverb for.

6 Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose". And that's all that needs to be said about that.

7 Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Great idea. Again, going back to comic books, a writer runs the risk of a character becoming a cliche-ridden parody. If that's what you're writing, go on ahead, but at the same time be aware that it may not be read the way you intended it to read and some readers (a minority to be sure) might be turned off by the patois if you don't do it correctly. Y'all unnerstan'?

8 Avoid detailed descriptions of characters. I'm on the fence here. I think having some description is good when it's important to a story. For instance if people are pulling things out of pockets, it's probably a good idea to say the character is wearing something with pockets. In SF, especially, descriptive details are important. I would modify this rule to continue with But if you must, give only enough description for the reader to get a sense of the characters. It's enough to say that one is an alien with white skin and big black eyes like a bug. The writer needn't go on about the slimy green carapace unless it becomes essential to the story later on.

9 Don't go into great detail describing places and things. Same as rule eight, with the same caveat. In SF one must give the reader the sense of the world, but allow for the blanks to be filled in. This rule is great for writers of fiction set in modern times where shorthand notations can be used like "the canyons of Manhattan".

10 Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. A corollary to rules 8 and 9, really. Big blocks of text are what cause eyes to glaze over unless you're especially good at painting masterfully with words.

These rules are GREAT for a beginning writer. They have helped me to learn how to tell stories.Like anything else that requires practice, one must be given parameters to work within and those parameters must be honored while learning one's craft. Rules, they say, are made to be broken. They also say that one cannot break the rules until they are known.

Follow the link up above to read Leonard's original article. Any rules you'd care to add?

Additionally, you might read Keith Cronin's article about Adverbs at Writer Unboxed.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Go Check It

Interrupting the regular flow of the blog for this special edition post.

Yesterday my friend Dave DeHetre announced that he was giving up writing novels. Today he's posted something on his blog that indicates he's a far more talented writer than a lot of people realize. You should read it here and tell him what you think about it.

Follow his blog, too. I can't recommend it highly enough.I've already learned things from him.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A New Montparnasse

No subject is terrible if the story is true, if the prose is clean and honest, and if it affirms courage and grace under pressure.  

-Ernest Hemingway in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris

Yes, we even wear berets, sometimes. Deal with it.
I'm not foolish enough to compare myself to any great writer. I'm not foolish enough to compare myself to any hack writer, either. I'm well aware that I'm a wannabe professional who thinks he's a decent enough storyteller.It's up to history and publishers then the general public to decide whether or not I'm ANY kind of storyteller. What follows is a sort of meditation on the group that's on the web as The Confabulator Cafe, where I'm one of two editors and several bloggers on the site.

My writer's group has been meeting once a month (off and on) for nearly three years now. In the middle of last year we decided that what the group needed to do, at last, was grow up a little and become what other writing groups like The Dead Horse Society are: valuable critique and support groups for writers who are serious about writing. We didn't want to emphasize turning pro, only being serious about writing. Whether fiction, non-fiction or technical we felt like we could help each other grow at the craft we had chosen.

Several folks have come and gone including one of the founders of the feast. I'm glad to say that this current incarnation counts among it several very good and trusted friends whose work I've been reading since the end of NaNoWriMo in November. One of us is about to be published (not me, not yet) by a subsidiary of a well-known house. Others of us have had smaller works published in various places, too. Several of us have participated in NaNo multiple times and are just getting comfortable with our voices and the genres we want to write in. This group is very much in the toddler stage of becoming a Thing That Matters.

It's rare that a group of individuals with so much raw (and often unfocused) talent get together in one physical place like that any more. It happens, though. And despite me just asserting otherwise in this very paragraph that it's rare, you can find quite a few of them with a reasonably simple internet search.

But that's what makes it easy to find them though no less rare. It's much, much harder to actually assemble a group like that. I've been in bands back in the old days before CDs were readily available to burn for oneself and this group feels to me like a really good band with a lot of potential. We're all contributing material to the record (the Cafe blog) and writing our own material that we're trying out in rehearsals. This isn't just masturbatory self-congratulation, either. We're reading raw, Zero Draft works where there's no hiding emotions and feelings about the things that inspire us. We call each other out on stuff, we laugh and we drink. Even though we're not anywhere near the talent level of the Parisian expats of the 20s (the so-called Lost Generation) in the Montparnasse Quarter, there are enough similarities that it doesn't hurt to say it out loud.

Is it arrogant of me to compare us to Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and James Joyce? Sure it is. But Hemingway would respect me standing up to him as long as I'd acknowledge that he was the better writer and maybe the better man. (Which I know isn't true, but I'd be willing to let him delude himself if I ever got the chance to meet him.) Pound and Joyce would be drunk in a corner while the Fitzgeralds argued and Gertrude Stein might ask to read what we've got.

Yes, I've seen Midnight in Paris. I think it's a brilliant movie and the portrayals of some of those expats is a scream. But that's not why I'm comparing us to the Montparnasse group of the 20s. No, the comparison is simply that a group of dedicated, supportive friends can make one's creative endeavors better. That's what happened in Paris and that's what's happening in Lawrence. The Confabulators are among my best friends and you're going to hear about us. It's early in the life of the group so it may change as we go along, but it may not. Check out the blog, leave a comment and when we start telling you where to find all our books, remember this.

I leave you with a Hemingway quote from the film:
Yes. It was a good book because it was an honest book, and that's what war does to men. And there's nothing fine and noble about dying in the mud unless you die gracefully. And then it's not only noble but brave.

Monday, January 16, 2012

My Real Inspiration

Ever seen the movie Big Fish with Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney and just about everybody in the universe? If not, it's a movie about the fantastically unbelievable stories one man tells his family and everyone he comes in contact with.

Five years ago my grandfather had fallen ill and the family was preparing for him to get better or not. He'd been hospitalized with pneumonia and then the doctors found lung cancer. I think most of us believed he wasn't going to get better but with someone like my Gran'pa you always held out hope. He was such a presence in our lives, in my life, that none of us could imagine him being gone.

Five years ago, my grandfather succumbed to the cancer. I was devastated. Beyond devastated, actually. The day before he died I wrote this on my (now defunct) LiveJournal:

My grandfather is a true raconteur. He tells stories that rivet the listeners, and he does it in such a way that you’ll believe every single one of them, no matter how fantastic. He’s probably the biggest reason I ever wanted to be a writer. I grew up absolutely convinced that my uncles had been recruited by Santa Claus to take The Ride one Christmas. He told us a hundred stories about growing up in Bain City, the --- well, there’s no nice word for it --- the ghetto just outside Leavenworth, the city not the prison. He had so many of those stories, and so many of them are just unbelievable but apparently true, that he was finally convinced by my mother, aunts and uncles to write them down and get them into a book.

“Wolf’s Bain City Stories” was published two years ago. I was lucky enough to transcribe and copy-edit the tales in preparation for him to send the files to a vanity press that allowed him to self-publish the book. He did very well, sold over a thousand copies just locally, and did a dozen or more lectures. Book signings were well-attended by folks who lived in Bain City or who had relatives that did. His slices of that life told a ton about the human condition. If I can find the file (made on the old Mac and hopefully saved on a disc that’s around here SOMEwhere) I’ll post a couple of those stories on the journal here eventually.

My grandfather lived a full, interesting life. He was recruited by the Yankees, and ended up signing with the Cardinals. He told us stories of Mickey Mantle and Stan Musial, even was an extra in a Jimmy Stewart baseball movie. He married twice, had two families (ten children all told, plus the inevitable neighbor kids and their friends) and spent a great deal of time with my brother and I in our formative years. He gave me my first baseball glove on the same day I caught my first fish during a family trip to Roaring River. I have a lot of great memories of fishing trips, riddles and overnight stays at his home in Leavenworth. He made the BEST greasy tacos.

He did tell us a story about Stan Musial, but I always got it confused with another story. It didn't matter. He told the tale of working on that movie and being directed to play second base. (He was a left-handed pitcher.) You can see his shadow, he told me, if you ever catch that movie on TV somewhere. His baseball career was cut short by a rotator cuff injury. Phog Allen consulted on the possibility of rehabbing it, which was not going to happen and Gran'pa never had a real big league career.

Which was why when I saw Field of Dreams the character of Dr. Archibald "Moonlight" Graham, as played by Burt Lancaster, reminded me so much of Gran'pa. If you haven't seen the movie you won't know, but there's a line that Doc says that sums up what I believe my grandfather believed:

Son, if I'd only gotten to be a doctor for five minutes... now that would have been a tragedy.

He wasn't a doctor, he was a salesman but the comparison holds. Through his job he was able to help as many people as any doctor, though in different ways. So these two films, these two characters, are inextricably intertwined in my mind with my memories of him. When I see them, I can't turn away and I always, always cry and I miss him. I have his stories, a thousand people bought them, but I grew up with them. I was lucky enough to see them written down before almost anyone else.

All of this to say that the reason I want to tell stories is because I always felt like Gran'pa was showing me how it was done. He always encouraged me to pursue the creative endeavors I told him about and he had a story for every occasion.

He enjoyed his life. I said five years ago that he lived a full, interesting life. That's the truth. The effect he had on his community was significant and the line of cars that stretched for miles and miles and miles from the church to the cemetery was testament to that. The people whose lives he touched are all richer for having known him and when they think about him they smile like I do.

I don't remember this, but I'm told that my grandfather was there the day I was born. He's still with me, pushing me to be a storyteller. He's the reason I do this. I don't know that I'll ever be as good a storyteller as him, but I'm sure going to keep at it.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Thoughts on Digital

In this very excellent interview at Robot 6 (via Comic Book Resources), Chris Claremont (writer of Uncanny X-Men when it was still a newsstand title) puts forth some really interesting ideas about digital publishing:

When wandering through a bookstore, you look for a good cover or an interesting genre to see what catches your eye. It’s tangible. There’s much, much less of that to me onscreen with digital books. For digital, you go to a specific place and search for a specific book and can’t see what’s proverbially standing right beside it. 

I'm not into buying digital books for exactly this reason. Don't get me wrong, I know digital is the way of the Future and I'm comfortable with that. I still like bookstores because I can see things all at once. I can 'scroll through' a shelf visually, looking for a font or an image or a title that grabs me. I haven't gone into a digital bookstore (like iTunes or Amazon) looking for books but I would think it would look something like this:

It's terribly easy to scroll through and find an album I want to listen to this way.

It seems to me this would make a great deal of sense to put books in order by author according to genre. Or at least to be able to do it while shopping. Making it an option to emulate the feel of a bookshelf in the store.

Here's how it appears on iTunes:
Not at all like a bookstore, no.

It's a storefront, not a bookshelf. Enough people are coming to the digital way of reading that I would think that there ought to be a little more organization that resembles traditional shopping. It would certainly help capture those folks who are not digital natives.  Let's see what it looks like over on Amazon, shall we?

Even more plain, in my opinion. 

So, here's the thing: for a medium that's so visually aware, why aren't these digital bookstores more dynamic-looking? You'd think they didn't really care about actually selling anything, wouldn't you?

If I can browse my album covers on my computer like I was flipping through vinyl (or even CDs) in a rack, why can't I shop for books that way? How hard could it be to set up a view like the coverflow from iTunes? Simply drop books into genre categories, alphabetize and WHAM! I've got an experience that's exactly like shopping in a brick and mortar bookstore.

Yes, there needs to be storefront display like the ones here. Absolutely. There should also be an option, once I search for a genre of book or title, that would give me the alphabetical coverflow. This isn't rocket science. All I want is a bookshelf that shows me what's on either side of a book by author. I want to be able to scroll through covers. You want me to buy digital books? Give me that.

To close, I will buy digital books. Eventually. I don't have a reader yet as I'm holding out for an iPad, but I do have Kindle on the laptop and my phone. They're just not as comfortable as a real book. I'll get there, online digital book retailers, so you have some time to get ready for me.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Novels are like Newborns

It's been a while since I mentioned NaNoWriMo. I mention it now only to tell you that I've been reading several manuscripts from friends in the writing group for the first time in the years I've been associated with them. (2011 was my fourth NaNo so it's taken me awhile to get where everyone else was on reading and commenting.)

Just a placeholder cover to remind
you guys I've written a book. 
The feedback on The Cold Distance (formerly Juggy & the Duchess, you may recall) has been INVALUABLE. The title had to change because the original smacked too much of humor and the book isn't about humor, never was. It's not lighthearted even though I had intended that when I was thinking about it. When I got into it, it just took on a life of its own and became what it wanted to be. The premise is still there and it's a science fiction tale, to be sure, spanning alien worlds and galaxies and a thousand years. (Originally ten thousand years but that was too far into the future.)

Anyway, the feedback I've gotten has pointed out quite a few things that I was aware of as I was writing and knew that I would have to go back and fix. However, the group who've read it are have noticed a couple of things that I didn't know about: I didn't realize I was avoiding a couple of scenes that need to be there (no spoilers yet) that are important to both plot and character development. There are issues with switching points of view, lots of bad science and issues with how some of the characters age. (Not a spoiler.)

It's all good stuff. It's all given to me with concern for the story and not so much for my feelings. The story matters more than what I think about it. Don't get me wrong, I love this book more than anything else I've written and I want to see my baby get out into the world for others to enjoy. I've been through the birthing process and now I have to nurture it, raise it and let it go to be its own thing. What I'm hearing from my compatriots is that it's a worthwhile project at this point. I am, indeed, a proud Papa.

Sure it's akin to everyone looking at your newborn and saying, "He's got your eyes and your grandfather's chin." I get that. I understand. What's important is that the opinions that are coming back are from people I trust, who will tell me the hard things that no parent wants to hear. "Too much head-hopping", "I don't believe this part" and "Really, what were you THINKING?"

The Cold Distance (and it may be retitled again, so don't get married to it) is the best thing I've written. My focus now is on getting this up to a readable first draft and finding a new group of readers for some more feedback. That should happen in February. My aim for a submittable draft is by May. I need you loyal readers here to hold me to this so I don't get distracted (Oooooh, SHINY!) by holding my feet to the fire.

2012 is off to a great start.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Remaking Things

It's not a night at the Oscars, but the penguins
sure are dressed for it.
While I was on vacation between Christmas and New Year's we watched all three of the films based on Stieg Larsson's Millennium series. The Swedish ones.

I know there's a remade version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and that's what I'm talking about today: remaking things.

If you haven't seen the Swedish version of the film, you might well spend the time and expend a little effort to track it down at your local video store or grab it on Netflix. Both Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace are excellent, especially Rapace. I haven't seen the version with Daniel Craig and I probably won't see it before it comes to video. I don't see any reason to spend the money to go to the theater to see a remake of a film that was done well the first time and only a couple of years ago.

It's understandable that studios are  remaking films for a new generation. That doesn't mean they're especially good, though. Dracula and Frankenstein in the 90s and The Wolfman just last year all suffered remakes that didn't need to be done. The Ring was a remake of a terrifying Japanese film, too, and bears being talked about in the same way that The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo does.

There was no need to do either Dragon Tattoo or The Ring. None. (Point of clarification - last year's True Grit falls into the realm of a remake for a new generation, even though the Coen brothers claimed it wasn't really a remake but a new adaptation. What I'm talking about here is a remake for a new audience that can't be bothered with a film that was made last year.)

Well, except that Americans like to see 'famous' people in their films. There's a disdain here for 'reading' films with subtitles. Which is just stupid. Why spend an estimated $100,000,000 to make a different version? Have you seen the Swedish films? They're lush, gorgeous, shot in Sweden and the acting is very good, the script tight with the original story. Adapted, to be sure, because there was too much information to be packed into a film that runs two and a half hours, even, but these films are very well done.

There hasn't been a new generation since they came out, either.

I don't begrudge director David Fincher or screenwriter Steven Zaillian or Daniel Craig or Christopher Plummer or anyone else involved for taking the work. The trailer is cool-looking and if I hadn't seen the Swedish films, I might be tempted to go. I love Fincher's work as a director and everyone in the film is certainly capable of doing great work, but I see no reason to remake this film now, nor to support it.

None. Except greed and lack of vision on the part of studios who are looking for guaranteed hits. They spent money on something they were sure would be a money maker. And that reveals something that makes me cringe even more: that Americans are not interested in investing in new, original stories. Of all the filmed 'events' of the past twenty years, which one was the most original? The (ugh) Twilight Saga? Harry Potter? Christopher Nolan's Batman films? Nope, all of them are adapted from printed source material. How about the Star Wars prequels? Those are original stories, like 'em or not. And a lot of fans of the originals didn't like the prequels. Are they based on concepts created for previous films? Yep. Did they make a metric tonne of money? They sure did.

He's watching you but he's not going to the movies.
The original trilogy captured the imagination of the viewing public around the world. That bears repeating: around the world. If I remember correctly, the last foreign film to do well in America (on par with other films of its year) was Life Is Beautiful back in the late 90s. (I'm not discounting Pan's Labyrinth, by the way. Beautiful was more widely released.) There hasn't been a remake of that film. It was done well and had such heart there was no need.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a similar case: no need. I wish Hollywood would create more original stories or seek source material that hasn't been filmed elsewhere. Bring me the films from other countries. Bring me NEW stories. Show me something I haven't seen before. Better yet, America, encourage Hollywood to produce original material by supporting it at your local theater. Adaptations are fine, they're good, but they can't be the only kind of film being made. Don't continue to support adaptations of adaptations. Re-adaptations. Yeesh.

Here's a final thought for you: Inception was a very good film. Would you have read it as a novel if the film didn't exist?

Friday, January 06, 2012

Questions For the Masses

I wonder how many of you read this blog right now and how you get here. If you'd be so kind as to pick an answer on the poll below, I'd very much appreciate it. If you want to tell me something else about how you get here or read the blog, I'd love to know that, too. Make sure to leave a message in the comments on this post.

As a reward, here are a couple of pictures of flowers from around the house on or around the 25th:

The violas went in shortly after Thanksgiving and are
hale and hearty. They certainly enjoyed the weather the last
week of December when it was in the 50s and 60s.

Detail of a Christmas bouquet on New Year's Eve.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Ranking The Marvel Movies

When I was a teenager there was no such thing as the Internet and we got our rumors and possibilities from magazines and comic books. In the middle of Marvel comics in the 70s and into the 80s there was a letters page and shortly after that there was the Bullpen Page. On the Bullpen Page I remember there being some announcements of a Fantastic Four movie and then some time later, intimations of a possible Silver Surfer movie. The FF film eventually became the version that Roger Corman shot and I never heard about a Surfer picture.

There were two notable TV series in the late 70s, one about Spider-Man and the infinitely superior The Incredible Hulk with Bill Bixby. If I remember correctly, there was a pilot for PowerMan, too, but it wasn't the Luke Cage PowerMan and so I didn't pay attention to that. Various cartoons including a Fantastic Four series and Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends came and went but no movies.

Then in 2002 there was Sam Raimi's Spider-Man. Wow. As Spidey swung through the canyons Manhattan in that movie I was ten years old. Despite the obvious problems of plot and casting, the execution of Spider-Man was a high point. I really liked it. It didn't compare at all to the best superhero film of all time (Superman II [The Dark Knight hadn't been released yet and stands on par with Superman II for me]), but it looked like we were heading for a new era of superhero movies.

Marvel has put out quite a few more live action films than DC has and that means that the law of averages has taken over. There's quite of bit of dreck from Marvel out there (Daredevil, Elektra, Ghost Rider, Spider-Man 3, the Punisher movies) but some real gems, too. I haven't seen them all, but I've seen the good ones. Here then is my completely subjective and very personal list of how I think of the Marvel films.

BEST OF THE BUNCH: X-Men, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, Blade, Thor

MIDDLE OF THE PACK: The Incredible Hulk, Blade 2, Fantastic Four, X2

BOTTOM OF THE BARREL: Daredevil, Elektra, Ghost Rider, Spider-Man 3, Punisher (both 1989 and 2003 versions), Hulk, Punisher: War Zone, Howard the Duck, Blade: Trinity, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, X-Men: the Last Stand

STILL TO BE DETERMINED: X-Men: First Class, Man-Thing, X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

Though they're grouped, they are not in any particular order. You'll notice that with the exception of The Incredible Hulk (a film I particularly liked but is realistically not as good as the others), the Marvel Studios films are the cream of the crop.

However, none of these films approaches The Dark Knight for making believable superheroes come to life. Superman II is still a cut above even thirty-plus years later. This isn't a list of the best comic book adaptations, just my feelings about the Marvel films I've seen. I hope that The Avengers continues the winning record of the Marvel Studios stuff. If they continue to hire excellent directors and spend the money and time to write a GREAT story, they will.

That hasn't been the track record to date, though. Time will tell, I suppose. In the meantime, I'm looking forward to The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises (a title I dislike) this summer. Sooner or later, I'll rank the DC movies, too, and the best comic book adaptations.

In closing today, I'd really like to see a DC film of Sandman Mystery Theater. If DC were after a potentially viable franchise, I would think that would be a great place to look. I'd like to see a Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD movie based on the Steranko stuff, too. That's a franchise waiting to happen. All speculation and wishful thinking on my part, though. What do I know about movies?

Monday, January 02, 2012

The Shape of the Future

2012 will be full to bursting with awesome. I promise.
Happy New Year, friends. It's 2012 and the world isn't ending. Not even close.

2011 was pretty great when it's all said and done. I don't need to run down all the good stuff that happened, it's here on the blog.

It's 2012 that's got me excited and it starts today. The Confabulator Cafe is open now and it's packed full of all the things that I was looking for when I was starting out as a writer. The Confabulators are my friends and members of the writing group I've been in since the beginning of 2009. Or longer. I can't keep track.

What you'll find at the Cafe, Monday through Thursday, is a bunch of us answering, in some depth,some typical interview-type questions, several a day. On Fridays, you get a 'man on the street' question and many more answers, some from the bloggers and from other members of the group. Some of us are funny, some are insightful and some of us are just ordinary people who put our butts in chairs and fingers on keys. Full disclosure, I'm blogging there on Thursdays on whatever the week's subject is, so I hope you'll all come by. I'll keep you in the loop here as to the subject of the week and hope you'll drop in and find a writer or two or seven that you like. I already have my favorites.

My work with the Confabulators has influenced how I'm approaching this blog going forward, too. I'm going to be a little more structured and write about more things than just my own writing. I have interests in Pop Culture (TV, film, music, books, art, etc...), Science and Politics and how often they interconnect and intersect. I won't stop writing about writing, but it won't be the only focus from now on.

I'm hoping we'll see some new work published this year, too. I'm excited to see it all beginning to come together.

So the Shape of the Future is going to be something to see in 2012. Glad you're here to discover what it's going to look like with me.

Sunday, January 01, 2012


It's January 1, 2012. It seems like a good time to tell you what this blog is all about.

Vacation is the best.
This is the blog of Jason Arnett, a storyteller who is not yet a full-time professional writer but is working toward that goal. I've had one story published and am doing more work for the publisher on a work for hire basis. This is the third or fourth blog I've run from a personal perspective and you can search the internet for the others if you like but I don't recommend it. They're boring and tedious in a lot of respects. JasonArnett dot com is much more coherent.

Typically I update here Monday, Wednesday and Friday but a day gets missed here and there and on occasion (like today) you get a bonus post or two. It happens. Your best bet is to follow this blog in your chosen feedreader. Or stop by during the week. You'll also find me on Facebook, Twitter and at the brand-spanking new blog for a coalition of writers I love: The Confabulator Cafe. I'm an editor there and will blog on Thursdays.

This blog is about my writing and whatever might be on my mind. I may say something that will wind you up or torque you off. I cuss sometimes. There will be pictures of cats, flowers or other things that I may find interesting. If any of that offends you, consider this fair warning. Be advised that not every poison dart is meant for you.

I will also write about books, music, food and movies. And science. I love science and think everyone should love science. It tells us things. Things we need to know. But I digress.

Every subject here will influence my writing in some way, large or small. Deal with it. There hasn't been a need to moderate comments so far, but if things need to change, they'll change.

Never rule anything out, I say.

So it's a new year. Welcome to the blog. I'm glad you're here. Hope you find something that you like. See you tomorrow.