Thursday, August 29, 2013

Following the Story

What kind of stories do you follow?

It used to be that housewives would watch soap operas daily while the kids were in school and their husbands at work. I know a couple of people who're news junkies and trace stories from beginning to end so that they can be informed. Once upon a time I had comic book subscriptions so that I wouldn't miss an installment of my favorite mutants' adventures.

I'm curious about Stephen King's forthcoming book Doctor Sleep as it continues the story begun in The Shining way back in the '70s. I kind of always wondered what happened to Danny after the traumatic events of that book and now I'm going to get to find out.

Now that we have the goodness of the Internet, we can follow our video stories much more easily.

Maybe that's what's driven me as a writer, wanting to know what happens next.

When one of our stories is suddenly stopped through cancellation or the discontinued interest of the creator(s) it can be distressing. That would explain fan outcries over things like Firefly and any number of other stories, wouldn't it? We want to know what happens next.

But what about when a story ends? Harry Potter's exploits wound up. 100 Bullets ended. David Chase's ending for The Sopranos upset quite a few people. Still does, as far as I can tell. Investors in stories can be fierce when things don't go the way they're expected to.

Investors - fans - can definitely influence creators and they will feel free to tear down those same creators if they don't get what they want. Thanks, the Internet.

We say we want stories that engage us, that take us away from the grind of our daily lives. You know, clicking through on the latest doings of celebrities who have no effect on us whatsoever. Jobs. Family. That stuff.

What I'm getting at here is that the stories that are worth following are the ones that are interesting and take us away from our lives. The stories that aren't worth following are the equivalent of empty calories, Twinkies or candy bars. They offer us a distraction but in the end there's nothing there but something to deride or ridicule. They're not good stories.

So why stay interested in them? Why follow them?

Friday, August 23, 2013

From The Glad To Be Alive Dept.

Some of you know I've been having trouble catching my breath recently and that I've been going to doctors over the last three weeks to figure out why.

We figured out why when I went to the emergency room on Wednesday morning. I was having SERIOUS trouble catching my breath, I was sweating, delirious... It was bad. Really bad. My first visit to a doctor I was only pulling in 93% oxygen where healthy people are pulling 98 - 100%. When we got to the ER on Wednesday, my level was 84%. That's seriously awful.

Cheers to the nurses who really run things. 
Two hours, some chest x-rays, an echocardiogram, EKGs, a CT scan of my chest and dozens of people later, I was told I had 'massive, bilateral pulmonary embolism' in both lungs. That is, both lungs were a haven for dozens of blood clots. On a scale of 1 to 10, this was as serious as a stroke or a heart attack. The catch was, this had been creeping up on me for a month prior, maybe a little longer. That's why I was seeing my primary doctor, a recommended cardiologist, and radiology doctors who put me on a treadmill and gave me a stress test for my heart.

The next day I landed in the Emergency Room, otherwise plans were being put in place to send me to a pulmonologist. Instead, she came to see me in the ER and I was admitted to the hospital's Intensive Care Unit. They gave me some super-clot-buster medicine (usually for those who've just suffered strokes or heart attacks) and with the help of external oxygen being pumped in through my nose I started to get better.

The ER team and the ICU crew were AMAZING. The first thing I noticed was that each of them seemed to want to be there, doing the job they were doing. There was lots of joking. When I asked them why they quizzed me on my name and birthdate Every Single Time They Did Something ("Is it to ensure that I'm lucid?") I was told "No. We just want to annoy you."  And as I was being discharged today the nurse came back needing to take one last read of my vital signs. As she checked my temperature and blood pressure she said. "You're not really going home. We like to keep the good patients. That way we never get a bad one."

Trust me that these were funny things I needed to hear.

Anyway, I'm home now and I'm on the mend. "Alive and kicking" I told someone. The lesson that I'm taking away from this is that I should have gone to a doctor sooner than I did, but it still might not have made a difference. Every doctor who'd looked at me was thinking asthma. I was thinking asthma and so was my wife. No one considered blood clots. I didn't fit the profile for it: no history and none of the other markers. It shows how little we really know, despite everything we think we know.

I'm 45 years old and now I have a primary doc, a cardiologist and a pulmonologist. I'm too young for this. I'm on a blood thinner I could be on for the rest of my life and that entails a whole other ball of wax in regards to regular life, too. I can't help but wonder if my body is out of warranty and breaking down bit by bit or if it's merely the luck of the draw. I don't know and neither does the team that saved me.

But I'm damn glad I'm alive to have these people when I need them.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Conventions

This is more about attending comic conventions (or any convention, really) than it is about writing though it may have application to writing. We'll see when I'm done.

As you may or may not know, Comic-Con International (CCI hereafter) was near the end of July. There was a lot of news that came out of the event that has grown exponentially ever since its inception. Not much of that news, however, was about actual comics. There was plenty of coverage about movies (Superman vs. Batman) and about TV (Doctor Who) and about cosplayers. There were panels that were ostensibly to to honor the contributions of comic book creators and reunions and whathaveyou. Tons of stuff. TONS.

And there was a lot of griping about how CCI isn't really about comics any more.

So I scratch my head and wonder: Really? Are there no comic creators there? Is there no artists alley where one can wander through and pick up a title you've never heard of (despite the Internet) or have a conversation with an artist whose work you admire?

I understand it's difficult to get to chat with the special guests. I've been there. THOSE lines are crushing and facing them after you've been in the soul-crushing line to get in is daunting. Still, there were a number of special guests in attendance this year. A lot of them even made comics in the last year or so. Just sayin'.

Oh, look! There WAS an artists alley this year. A quick perusal shows that there was a large contingent of comics-related people in this area of the show.

So if you were going to CCI for comics it looks like you had opportunity to meet the artists that were there. I would bet there were retailers selling comics, too. Just like at any other show.

Realistically, I understand the place is crowded. I get it. I know you can't just walk around in a vacuum to see what you want to see. But let me posit that if you are there to celebrate comics, then you can do that. You don't have to be involved in any of the other stuff. (Well, sometimes the cosplayers can be thick as clotted cream that's so clotted it's clotty. You know what I mean.)

If you attend CCI and you want it to be about comics, you can make it about comics. Don't be down on the others who are there for the other media, be there to enjoy yourself. If you attend any comics convention with the idea that it's only for you and those who think like you, you probably shouldn't go any more.

Stop being so possessive. Be glad that others are finding their way in to the same kind of things you like. Take the opportunity to convert a Doctor Who fan to comics. There are DW comics out there, after all. Admire a cosplayer's devotion to his or her fandom and find out what they read or watch and then give it a chance, too. It's not hard.

But if you're one of those people who denigrates others for being a latecomer to the party you're at, you're no longer welcome at the party. It's not just your place to tell others they can't be there because you were there before them. Trust me, there were others at the party before you got there. Did they embrace you or did they denigrate you? Do you remember?

Look, I want you to have a good time at the convention. I want everyone in attendance to have a good time at the convention. All it takes is for you (and you know if I'm talking to you or not) to roll back, calm down and be nice.

That's not too much to ask, is it?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Pseudonyms

You've all heard about J.K. Rowling's outing as Robert Galbraith, the author of the well-reviewed book The Cuckoo's Calling. As Galbraith, the book sold a meager 500 copies or so. Or 1500. I can't recall the exact amount and it doesn't matter. It was only a few copies, relatively. Once the cat was out of the bag (thanks to a leak in her choice of law firm) it's now sold well over half a million copies.

You may have heard that there was an outcry of 'foul!' that Rowling had deceived her readers.

Well, that's crap.

Who cares if a writer (especially one as popular as Rowling) wants to work under a pen name. There are dozens and dozens of semi-anonymous works out there. Does it matter to the reader?

Only because we live more than ever in an age where the general populace feels like they 'know' someone classed as a celebrity. Well, actually even more than that they feel they are 'owed' something by that celebrity because they have supported that author or they were reading her before something got popular. It works this way in all aspects of anything that's creative: music, art, cooking, even politics. (And if you don't believe politics aren't creative like the arts, you haven't been paying attention.) Anyway.

A celebrity owes me anything? No. That's crap.

Maybe their best work but even that's expecting too much.

Yes, it is. You see, art is a process. When art speaks to me it may not speak to you and the reverse is also true. When art fails to speak to a wide audience we don't applaud the effort, which is also bullshit.

Think about that. When someone cooks for you and it's not what you expected or even hoped for are you polite enough to find something nice to say? You should.

And the same holds true for the celebrity. We should find something nice to say instead calling a film a 'failure' or 'flop'. I guarantee you that for every flop there is someone who poured her heart into the work and when no one says anything nice about the work it hurts. Just like when your significant other cooks for you and it wasn't any good.

What happens instead is a piling-on of rotten comments. Out of pure jealousy that the commenters did not or were incapable of creating anything similar, they tear down the creator. It won't usually happen in person as the Internet offers anonymity and distance.

Which is why Rowling chose to write something out of her perceived genre under a nom de plume. Her previous book had been savaged by critics of a lot of different stripes largely because it wasn't another Harry Potter tale. I don't blame her for wanting to stretch out, to exercise different creative muscles and she knew what the reaction would be but she did it anyway. Choosing to write under a pen name is merely a way to insulate herself against the meanness of the way things are now.

The critics who chose to review The Cuckoo's Calling liked it and it didn't sell well. That's the reality of publishing these days.

So I don't blame a celebrity author like Rowling for writing under a pseudonym. In fact I applaud her for daring to do it and I applaud the positive reviews she garnered as Robert Galbraith. As a creator she did what she had to do.

All she owes us it to create something she can be proud of. I suspect she's done that regardless which name she uses.

Monday, August 05, 2013

The Twelfth

See that mischievous look in his
eyes?
Or maybe Thirteenth. We're not sure yet.

I'm talking about Doctor Who, of course.

With the announcement of Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor (or maybe Thirteenth) the Nerd World has a new Pope. Capaldi's one of those actors who has always performed brilliantly in everything you've seen him in and if you watch TV or films, you've seen him in things. If you went to see World War Z (which I didn't) he was the W.H.O. Doctor.

When I first heard his name had been thrown in the hat early last week, I had a great feeling that he was the sure bet. His Scottish roots, his previous collaboration with two-time episode writer Neil Gaiman (Neverwhere), the fact that he'd been on the show before (in fact in the same episode as Karen Gillan) all made him - in my mind at least - a near lock. Of course that didn't preclude showrunner Steven Moffatt and the producers of Doctor Who throwing us a complete curve and announcing someone else.

After all, Moffatt's claimed that he's "lied his arse off" about what's coming up in the 50th anniversary special that's due in November. And once that's over there'll be intense speculation about the Christmas special (ostensibly when the Eleventh (or Twelfth) regenerates into the Twelfth (or Thirteenth).

You've seen the last episode of the latest series, right? I mean you know that John Hurt's been introduced as The Doctor, don't you? You understand the confusion?

What I like about the choice of Capaldi as The Doctor is that he's bringing a little more age to the role than has been there since Christopher Eccleston helped relaunch the series. I'm curious to see if there's going to be a bit more anger than Matt Smith brought and certainly we'll see the weariness more visibly that both David Tennant and Smith could only hint at. Capaldi is also capable of dropping a lot of weight behind the anger and weariness.

At the same time, if it's called for, Capaldi is an extremely sensitive actor. He's got all the tools to make the Doctor the embodiment of every other Doctor there has ever been. It's an exciting time. Unfortunately we won't know how Capaldi will be as the Doctor until the series resumes in 2014.

In the meantime, we can watch any number of roles that Peter Capaldi has given us. I'll likely watch Torchwood: Children of Earth three or four times before he comes on board.