Monday, June 27, 2011

Kafka and the Metamorphosis of the Publishing Industry

Before I get started, by show of hands, how many of you have read Kafka? Any Kafka? Okay, yeah, that's what I thought. Before you feel bad, I haven't read as much Kafka as I'd like. In fact, I've only read The Metamorphosis, but it did leave me wanting to read more by him; I  just haven't gotten to it, yet. Unfortunately, Kafka is not someone I studied in school even with a degree in English focused on literature.

Also, before I get started, and this is something you'll want to remember for a later post, although I probably won't refer back to it, I got turned onto reading Kafka by my, then, 9-year-old son. Yes, my middle child has already been reading such things as Kafka, and he started that at 9. He learned about Kafka in The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones and decided he wanted to read something by him, so we bought him The Metamorphosis which he actually enjoyed even though he found it a bit odd. For those of you with kids, Young Indiana is a great show to invest in. Not only is it Indiana Jones, but it's full of historical accuracy, and the DVDs are loaded with documentaries about the history presented in the episodes.

Now the warning, there are going to be spoilers from The Metamorphosis. However, that should not spoil any reading of the work, because reading Kafka is more about the experience of reading Kafka rather than knowing what's going to happen in the story. It's  the difference between, when cold, looking at a coat and knowing that, if you put it on, you'll be warm and actually putting it on. It doesn't matter how long you look at it (how much you know in advance), looking at it will never make you warmer. Only the experience of putting it on (actually reading Kafka) will make you warmer.

In short, The Metamorphosis is about a guy that wakes up one morning to discover that he's turned into some insectoid monster. He doesn't know what to do about this, because he is the sole means of support for his family: his parents and sister. Basically, they never leave the small apartment they all share, and he's worried about how everyone will survive if he can no longer work. Although he has frequently felt overly burdened by his family, he also takes a perverse pride in his ability to keep all of them dependent on him and has done his best, over the years, to foster that dependence. However, his new condition has left all of that in chaos.

There's also the complication that he doesn't want anyone to see what he's become, and with good reason. When his family does finally see him, they are disgusted and drive him into hiding in his room. They are forced, now, to care for and support him. The family suffers a reversal, now feeling burdened by taking care of the bug creature that had once supported them. They take in lodgers in an effort to support everyone, since the sister has never worked and the parents haven't worked in years. This, of course, complicates everything as they have to take care of the bug while keeping him hidden from the people living in the house.

Eventually, the other family members must seek out employment and learn to become functioning members of society again. The bug takes their place in the dark, driving them out into the light. In the end, the sister states that the bug must not really be her brother, because, if it was, it would go away and not burden them so. Hearing this, the bug decides that she is correct. If he loves them, he will not inflict himself upon them any longer, and he chooses to allow himself to die, freeing them to pursue their own lives, although they have already decided to abandon him.

Now, I disagree with the general, surface interpretation of this work, so I'm not going to go into it. I'll just say that Kafka is a much debated subject in literary circles (not that he is much debated, but when he comes up, it is with disagreement and debate, so he's much debated). Most of his works are interpreted on a very surface level, although there are a number of scholars that have endeavored to interpret him based on a more holistic view of his life that often disagree with the more convenient views on Kafka's works. Oh, and to make it worse, Kafka very often intentionally used ambiguous wording.

At this point, I bet y'all are looking at the title of this post and wondering what any of this has to do with publishing and the publishing industry. Well, I'll tell you.

Once upon a time, way back in the infancy of publishing, writers were the driving force in the publishing world. Publishers were dependent upon writers as the son was dependent upon the parents. But the son grew up, and the roles changed. The son went to work to support the parents (and the sister (we'll call her agents, just for the sake of doing it)) and grew proud in his ability to do so to the point where he forced them all to become dependent upon him. He caused them to believe that they were incapable of surviving without him even to the point where they couldn't doing anything without him, even going outside. Everything they had came from him, and he made sure they knew it.

One day, though, the publishing industry woke up as a monstrous bug. This was horrifying and very difficult to come to grips with. It did its best to hide what had happened, and its authors and agents did their best to ignore the condition hoping everything would return to normal all on its own. Time passed, but the situation did not correct itself, and the large bug became more and more of a burden. This was especially true, because writers and agents had come to believe they were completely dependent upon the publishers.

This is where we are. The publishing industry has become this huge burden that everyone else needs to support in order to sustain it. It has become parasitic. No, it didn't start out that way, but that's what it's become.

Okay, I lied earlier. Here's the thing, most critics interpret The Metamorphosis based on the obvious assumption that the metamorphosis the title refers to is that of the son waking up as a bug. Everything is taken to be from the perspective of this poor young man who becomes shunned and abandoned by his family through no fault of his own. Although I believe this to be a perfectly valid interpretation, I think it's one that is too simplistic for Kafka. Remember how Kafka was intentionally ambiguous? I think this is one of those times. His writing often held a very obvious way of looking at things, but, if you looked a bit more, there was an alternate (or deeper) meaning. See, the story doesn't end with the bug's death. It goes on following the family and their emergence into the world much as a butterfly emerges from a cocoon. It is the metamorphosis of  the family that I believe the title is referring to. They have to learn to walk away from the bug and be their own people no longer tied to it.

The central moment of the book, the crux, is not the opening where the son wakes up as a bug but the moment when the daughter asserts that they have a choice: staying and supporting the bug which is killing them all or walking away from the bug and becoming. It's a scary step for the parents and the daughter, because they don't know what they'll become.

And, so, here we are. We writers. Digital technology has given us a choice. The choice to stand with the monstrous behemoth that is the traditional publishing industry, the thing that confines us and binds us into supporting it, the thing that lured us into dependence upon it or the choice to walk away and become. Agents have the same choice. Agents used to work for writers, after all, not publishers. They, also, don't have to be tied to the publishers. It's a scary place to be. I mean, maybe, just maybe, traditional publishing will figure out where they've made mistakes and take steps to change. To go back to supporting authors without demanding dependence. At the moment, I tend to doubt that. They still seem intent upon living off of the writers (and agents) that work for them.

Or writers can take that step. That step towards becoming. The step toward their own metamorphosis. Of becoming an independent entity. Stepping out into the light and making your own way is always difficult. There are risks. But it's living. Or, you know, we can choose to stay cooped up in the house and continue on the downward path of destruction with the large bug in the other room we're all trying to pretend isn't there.

Friday, June 24, 2011

"Danger, Will Robinson!" pt 4: Flashing Forward

Part 4: The Flash Forward

"I hate when they do that!" Those are the fateful words that started this blog series. And I do. I hate when they do that. That thing I call the "flash forward." I don't know if the device has an actual name, but this is what I've decided to call it. The other option is that television shows are increasingly told in complete flashback mode. Now that I have you completely confused, let me explain.

Over the last several years, it has become fairly common practice for shows to start with a sequence in which we immediately find the heroes in mortal danger. We're just dropped into the middle of the action with no context whatsoever. After a few minutes to either completely confuse the audience so we're saying, "what's going on?" or to bring the hero(es) to the edge of death so we're saying "oh, crap," we switch to a new scene with a message something along the lines of "24 Hours Earlier." That's where the story actually begins. That bit at the beginning is just a gimmick to generate false interest in  the viewer so that the viewer wants to watch the episode, and I call it a "flash forward." It's a substitute for actual story telling.

I hate it.

Not that I always hated it. The first few times, it was kind of novel. Neat. But it's the kind of thing that should be the exception, the rare exception, not the rule. But I see it all the time.

Now, I will say that I may be more sensitive to this... issue... than the average television viewer due to the way I watch television, which is to say, I don't watch television. As such. First, we don't have cable. Second, we don't have satellite. Third, we don't even have an antenna. This translates into us never watching anything when it's originally aired, since all we get on our television is snow unless we're using the DVD player. We tend to watch shows in bursts due to this, either on DVD or streaming on Netflix. There have been shows where they begin 50-75% of the episodes with these flash forward bits and then drop us back in time to actually start the story up. Because I'm watching them back-to-back, it might be more bothersome to me than if I was watching the show once a week.

However, because it's caught my attention, I can say that it's a cheap trick designed to rope in viewers with the thrill of quick action. And it saves the show a bit of money since they have several minutes of footage they get to use twice (once we catch back to the beginning of the episode and get to see it again in context). Why does everything have to be a gimmick to trick us into watching things? If the show is good, has well written stories and good acting, people will watch it. Theoretically, anyway. Maybe Arrested Development should have employed this technique? No, probably not.

We've been re-watching Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, lately, just to put this whole thing in perspective. In the three seasons we've watched so far, there has not been one of these flash forward bits, and I will be surprised if we come across any in the full run of the show. I don't remember any, at any rate. I do think Firefly had one episode with a flash forward, but I don't remember more than that. Not that this has anything to do with Joss Whedon in particular, because those shows were before the gimmick became so common.

Maybe I'm being harsh. Maybe TV directors just use it because they think it's cool to start the shows that way. At first, it was. Actually, no, I doubt it. Because it's so frequent, I feel fairly confident that it's the producers and the networks advising the directors to start as many episodes as possible with the climax of that episode. Grab the people and make them want to see what's going on. Of course, when the episode turns out to be a piece of trash, you just feel cheated, so it doesn't keep a bad series from getting cancelled.

So, let me just say again, "I hate when they do that!" Yes, those are the fateful words that started this blog series, and I do. I hate when they do that. I'd like to say that those are the words that would end this series, but...

The real issue is that this flash forward thing is just a symptom of a larger problem. However, that's a problem for the next post in this series. Although I'd like to fight this particular symptom, I do think it's time to start looking at the disease.

To Be Continued...

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Swimming On Stranger Tides

My kids started swimming lessons this week. It's been bad for blogging. More bad than I would have expected. I mean, generally speaking, I don't get a lot of anything productive accomplished in the mornings, anyway, because my daughter spends that time of the day doing her best to drive everyone in  the house crazy, because none of her friends are available to play. This, in itself, is a mystery to me. I was like my daughter at her age. As soon as the sun was up, I was out the door. Unless there were cartoons, but that was only on Saturday. My daughter is the same. Her friends, however, don't seem to share that same enthusiasm for playing and must only go outside once they are forced out by their guardians like baby birds being pushed out of the nest. At any rate, I was sort of assuming that going to swimming lessons with the kids would just be using that unproductive time in  the mornings in other ways, but, no, not really... It just hasn't seemed to work out that way.

However, surprisingly, swimming lessons have been good for Brother's Keeper. That, also, is interesting. I need a pretty quiet space for writing. The TV can't be on. Music can't be playing. The kids can't be making noise. That includes noise from video games. Basically, if I'm trying to write, they need to be somewhere else. Or reading. And even though I'd like to, I can't make them read 4-6 hours a day. Not to waste the time I'm sitting around while they have lessons, though, I take a notebook with me. And a book. Maybe it's because the chaos there isn't specifically directed at me. Maybe it's because the tables are at the back away from  the pool. Whatever it is, the chaos is sort of like TV fuzz, and I've been getting a fairly good amount of work done on the new manuscript while I sit around and they flop in the water. Or, maybe, it's just that I've had this stuff buzzing around in my head since February, and it's just ready to get out.

There was also a movie. I've been getting some one-on-one time in with the kids by taking each of them to a movie they pick out. Of course, it's not really that simple, because it all started over some drama with my daughter about her not getting to go see a movie she didn't want to go see. Yes, you read that right. She did not want to see a particular movie. She was given the option of seeing the movie, anyway, and declined. She became upset that  one of her brothers got to see it with me. Yes, I deal with that kind of thing every day. The oldest child chose to see X-Men: First Class (which I reviewed here). The daughter chose Judy Moody (You may, now, notice that I did not review this one. Yes, there is absolutely nothing to say about it. Neither good enough nor bad enough to really say anything.) The middle child chose Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Not because he really wanted to see that movie in particular but because none of the movies he wants to see are out yet, and it was the one he most wanted to see of what's available.

I feel a little bad for taking him to it, at this point, because he would have liked X-Men a lot more. But I had no way of knowing.

Pirates 4 is a lot like Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer; however, because it's such a big deal (as opposed to Judy, which you're not likely to even know about unless you have a, what do you call it now, a pre-tween girl in your house), I'll give you the scoop. Even though it is coming rather late.

There are two main issues with this newest installment of the Pirates franchise. The first one, I'm just going to gloss over, because I actually have an upcoming post dealing with this issue as it's not a problem specific to this movie but a growing trend, not just in movies but in, well, everything written coming out these days.

Pirates is a long movie. Too long. And, yet, not long enough. The writers wrote this long, rambling script with lots of extra stuff in it. Stuff that, really, has nothing to do with the actual plot. I'm assuming it has an actual plot, although I'm not convinced the writers had agreed on one specific one. At some point, they realized it was too long. Cuts needed to be made. Instead of carving out the non-essential elements, they just chopped off the first third of the movie, leaving something that was still too long but without any kind of foundation. At least, that's what it felt like.

For instance, the movie opens with Mr. Gibbs on trial. He's being tried as Jack Sparrow. How did he come to be on trial and why do they think he's Jack? We don't know. And we don't get to know. Of course, Jack is there to rescue him. Gibbs is surprised to see Jack, because Jack had nothing to do with why he's on trial, Jack just happened to hear about it and decided to rescue his old friend. Because, you know, Jack is prone to thinking about other people before himself. During all of the action revolving around the rescue, we find out we're already in the midst of the story, "I hear you've been looking for the Fountain of Youth." "Why, yes. Yes, I am." Something close to that, at any rate. And there we are in the middle of the story without any of the reasons for it. Of course, in the end, the "story" isn't even the story, because, well, as I said, the writers didn't know which story they were telling. The rescue of Gibbs and Jack's escape is the best part of the movie, though, and that, actually, has nothing to do with any story. It's just a bit of fun. Think car chase with no cars.

There's also a completely non-essential sub-plot, or, maybe, it is the plot, between a missionary and a mermaid. I think they were probably trying to recapture the romance between Swan and Turner from the previous movies, but, in truth, they are who the previous movies are about, so it worked. This movie, Jack is the main character, and we have no reason to care about the missionary and the mermaid, so we don't.

I could go on about the plot issues. For instance, there's the inclusion of the Spanish, who are there as no more than a deus ex machina device except not. There's Blackbeard. Why? I don't really know. Theoretically, he's important to the plot, but, unfortunately, he's also unnecessary. Anyway...

The other central issue to the movie is that the actors, over all, don't give the parts any life. It felt like watching a dress rehearsal. Hmm... no, not a dress rehearsal, a last run through of the dialogue while in costume. Oh, there are moments, but not enough of them. Johnny Depp even falls flat for much of the movie, but it may just be that the script kept trying to force him out of character. Like rescuing Gibbs when he was getting nothing out of it. Geoffrey Rush almost pulls off Barbossa, but he, also, is frequently out of character because of the script. It's like the writers had a basket of characters that they plugged in whether they should have been there or not. Well, actually, they had characters they needed to put into the movie and stuck them into the best places possible even if they didn't quite fit.

The biggest disappointment was Ian McShane. If I had never seen Deadwood, I probably wouldn't have given him a second thought; however, I have seen Deadwood, so I know what he's capable of. His rendition of Blackbeard was not it. Flat as a cardboard cut out. If they hadn't told us in the movie that Blackbeard was supposed to be scary and evil, I never would have known. And don't get me started on the cheesy scenes of him and his sword that they put in just for the 3d effects even though they didn't do anything for the actual story (no, I didn't see it in 3d, so they were doubly wasted on me).

The biggest surprise was Penelope Cruz. That may be because I was expecting absolutely nothing more than a piece of eye candy from her, but she was actually decent. As decent as the script allowed, at any rate.

Oh, and they stuck Keith Richards in just so he could be in the movie. Sort of like the random old guy that wanders through and says "Beware...!" the whatever and then is gone. Yeah, that was his bit.

What it comes down to is that I wouldn't recommend this movie to anyone. At least, not for seeing it in the theater. It's probably worth a rental, but it has nothing to make it worth seeing at the theater. Not unless you just want to pay the 3d price in order to see a few swords and ropes flying out of the screen at you.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Adventure is 30 years old!

There was an anniversary this week that I almost missed. It's one of those things that makes you stop and think, "Wow! Has it really been that long?" Well, it has. On June 12, 1981, Raiders of the Lost Ark was released in theaters, and Indiana Jones was born.

I missed the first 20 minutes or so of it the first time I went to see it. I was extraordinarily upset with my parents for that. Especially because I'd spent at least half an hour telling them it was time to go or we'd be late. We were late. Because we were always late. The second time, we caught, maybe, two minutes more than we had the first time. Yes, it wasn't until my third trip to see Raiders that I got to see the opening sequence with the tarantulas and the boulder. But I didn't go with my parents on that third trip, so that explains it.

When we think of George Lucas, we tend to just think of Star Wars. After all, no other single movie ever has had the impact on movie-making and culture that Star Wars has had. And it was the sole creation of Mr. Lucas. We forget that Indiana Jones was also the sole creation of George Lucas. Okay, yes, Spielberg disapproved of Indiana Smith, and helped tweak some things here and there but the concept was all Lucas. And Indiana Jones has had his own impact on culture and entertainment. And in the midst of all of this... Harrison Ford.

Just to say it, every major studio in Hollywood turned down Raiders at least once. Including 20th Century Fox. They all said it would never work. How insane is that? But it just shows how difficult it is for anyone to get anything new past the powers that be, even the creator of Star Wars.

All of that to say that I got to see Raiders on the big screen again, last night, for the first time in 20 years. 20 years ago, I saw it at an IMAX in Chicago. I don't think I realized, then, that they were showing it because it had been 10 years. Last night, I got to see the 30th Anniversary presentation of Raiders of the Lost Ark at Stag Theater at Skywalker Ranch. I know. How cool is that? Yes, I know someone.

The really weird thing? There were people there, people that work at Lucasfilm and Skywalker Sound and ILM, that had never seen Raiders before. I don't just mean they'd never seen it on the big screen, like my friend that I went with, but people who had never, ever seen the movie before. Ever. At all. And they work for George Lucas! I mean, I could understand Howard the Duck, but how do you work for George Lucas and manage to miss ever seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark? It's inconceivable!

There wasn't any fanfare along with the event, although there was a special message from John Rhys-Davies. Before the movie, they showed the original movie trailer. Oh my gosh! It was SO horrible. I can't even begin to explain the amount of cheese. Trailer making has come a lot farther than I would have thought. Or maybe not. From seeing the trailer, it's hard to see how anyone would have wanted to see Raiders, but I'm sure it wasn't worse than other trailers of the day, so I guess it still makes sense.

Raiders is still a great movie. I say that in the sense that if it was being released now for the first time, I believe it would still have  the same kind of impact. It's a great story. Seeing it on the big screen, again, I noticed things I've never noticed before. Like the pilot, Jacques, at the beginning, isn't wearing any shoes as he sits on  the airplane fishing. When Indy shoots the swordsman in black, some guy from the crowd grabs up the dropped sword and runs off cheering. And, when Indiana is in the map room, one of the miniature buildings has something written on it in. It's bright red, so I'm amazed that I've never noticed that before. No, I  have no idea what it said. I'm pretty sure it was written in German, although I'm not positive about that. It's still a fun romp, even 30 years later.

And the theater... well, it's a nice theater. First time I've ever been. Not to the ranch, but to the tech building and Stag Theater. If only I could have figured out what the two statues were supposed to be of (but there were no placards, and my friend didn't know either) my night would have been complete. At the end, they gave us some of the old Marvel Indiana Jones comics. Just like new.

Even if you're not a fan of Indiana Jones, you can't deny the impact, the influence, the character has had. It's hard to imagine a world without Indiana Jones. I'm glad we don't have to.

Remember, adventure does have a name!
>cue the music<

Friday, June 17, 2011

Sundries on a Friday

This is just a quick little post to serve as an update for the week. Well, and to be a teaser for a post for tomorrow. See, in not very long, now, I will be heading out to a super secret event at a super secret place. Well, it's not really super secret; it's just not well advertised and by invite only. Assuming all goes as planned, I'll post about that tomorrow.

Hmm... other news:

-I'm at 4151 words on Brother's Keeper, so I'm on track on that. Swimming lessons start next week, though, so we'll see how that affects things.

-I have not finished my manuscript changes in The House on the Corner: The First Person Edition, but I'm very close. I lost a full work day this past week during which I probably (okay, might) could have finished them. It's not like they aren't, sort of, already made; they're just not in the computer, yet. That means all the corrections are marked in my hard copy, but I'm not finished transferring them into the computer.

-No progress on a cover, yet. >sigh< Hopefully, I can pull that together by the end of next week.

-Has anyone out there seen The Middleman? I can understand why the show didn't make it, but I love it. Often, I hate that I love quirky non-mainstream things, because the things that I love so rarely make it. I'm not even sure if I should recommend The Middleman, because, in all likelihood, you won't like it, and, then, you'll get all mad at me for telling you to watch it and for making you waste your time. At some point, I'll talk more about this show.

-Neil Gaiman is releasing a new edition of American Gods. An author's preferred edition. It's going to have an additional 20,000 words. This just shows that even high profile authors have their works edited in ways they don't want, and it takes a lot of literary power to be able to go back and do this kind of thing. I want to read it. The hardback's supposed to be full of all kinds of extra goodies.

-I've been paying too much attention to my stats page lately. It gives me thoughts and makes me wonder things.
-Oh, and I'm doing okay on the 2-3 posts a week!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Dream vs The World

I didn't grow up wanting to be a writer. I grew up wanting to be a paleontologist. I saw my very first dinosaur sometime around the age of three, and I was instantly captivated. It was on a gas station of all places. I'm not sure if it was meant to be ironic or not. It's hard to know those kinds of things at three. My mother has told me, though, that I was hooked from that moment on. Everything was dinosaurs. In many ways, I learned to read by reading about dinosaurs.

In first grade, our teacher asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up and, then, went around the room letting everyone answer that question. All of the usual answers came up. Fireman. Policeman. Doctor. Someone may have even said scientist. I know all of the other answers were normal because the teacher would nod and go on to the next person. Until she got to me. I said paleontologist. She told me I was making that up. We had an argument. She said if it was a real thing, then, I should I write it on the chalkboard. I'm sure she thought that there was no way I could spell a word that long even if it was a made up word. But I put the word on  the chalkboard spelled correctly. I won the argument.

All of my science fair projects while I was in elementary school dealt with dinosaurs in some capacity or another. Well, except for that one year where they actually told me I couldn't do dinosaurs again, so I did my project on the solar system. Generally speaking, I knew more about dinosaurs than anyone else at any school I was ever in, including the teachers.

Typically, kids' ideas about what they want to be when they grow up change quite a bit. I don't remember the exact numbers, but I think most kids change their minds a couple of times a year before adolescence, meaning that the typical kid has had anywhere from 6 to 12 things s/he has firmly wanted to be as a grown up by the time s/he hits middle school. I only ever wanted to be one thing: a paleontologist.

Ironically, it was middle school that changed that for me. Two things happened: Earth science and Careers class. In Earth science there was a unit about rocks. I  hated it. Absolutely hated it. And the test on rocks at the end of the unit? The test where we had a bucket of rocks on the table, and we had to name them. No, not things like Bob and George. We had to identify them. That was my only non-A grade all year. I'm not talking about just in that class, I'm talking about all year. All of my classes. Everything except the rock unit. I hated rocks. And, thus, my Dream came face-to-face with the reality of the World and the World won. Between that and a project I had to do in Careers class about the profession I wanted to go into, I realized that no matter how much I loved dinosaurs, I would never enjoy being a paleontologist.

I first dreamed of being a writer sometime in high school. It had to do with Shakespeare, whom I didn't like, at the time, but that's another story. You can blame it on Romeo and Juliet. At any rate, I remember thinking about how cool it would be to write something that people were still reading, even studying, hundreds of years after I was dead. I mean, really, how cool is that? That was the dream... to write something that people would be still be reading and enjoying, maybe even learning about in school, after I was dead.

At some point, there was a new dream. Wouldn't it be cool to walk into a book store and see a book that I wrote sitting there on the shelf. I mean, how cool is that? Right? I'm sure we all have that dream. Just like I'm sure that, at some point, all guys dream/wish they were great poets. Usually, right around the time they fall in love for the first time. For most guys, though, that's just a brief phase. heh

So, here I am, 20 some odd years later, staring that dream in the face. Just like I had to stare that dream of paleontology in the face. Because dreams are great, essential, but, often, not realistic. Or, even worse, not what we really want.

When I was a kid, paleontology was not really my dream. Dinosaurs were my dream. I was like the kid  in Ray Bradbury's excellent short story, "Besides a Dinosaur, Whatta Ya Wanna Be When You Grow Up?" Not that I actually wanted to be a dinosaur, like the boy in the story, but I thought I wanted something that I didn't really want.

After I finished my novel, I had this same sort of experience. I was grappling with the replacement dream, the dream of "wouldn't it be cool to walk into a book store, or, even, a Target or Wal-Mart, and see my book sitting there on  the shelf?" I think as writers, most of us start out with that dream somewhere in our heads. Possibly, that's the only dream we're having. The cool factor of being a name on a bookshelf. But I started delving into the data about the publishing industry to work out all of this how to get published stuff, and I didn't like what I was finding.

Now, I already knew about the huge amount of waste that publishing industry produces every year in conjunction with book stores, because I worked in a used book store when I was in college, and the owner used to rant about people bringing coverless books to him. But that was just the tip of ice berg. And all of this is a topic for another post, so I'm not going to go into it, now. As I found things out, I would comment on them to my wife. In a, um, negative way. That way she takes as me complaining when, really, I'm just commenting. She knows in my mind there's difference, but it affects her the same either way. Anyway...

Don't tell her I said this, but my wife is a smart woman. At some point in there, she said to me, "Well, what is it you want? Do you want to be published [i.e. have my book in bookstores] or do you want people to read and enjoy your books?" That's really what it comes down to, in the end: does your dream, the dream that drives you, match up to what you really want? For me, the dream of "being published" was at odds with what I really and truly actually want, that other people will read and enjoy my books.

Yes, yes, I hear you. "But being published is the way that other people will get to read and enjoy my books!" Except that's not true. I'll concede the point that it used to be true, but, now, today, there are so many other options. And most books that go through traditional publishing (and when I say most, I mean almost all), never sell 5000 copies. At this point, we could get into the huge debate over traditional publishing vs, well, whatever else, but that's also not the point. I will say, though, that, I think, we often defend traditional publishing not because it deserves defending but because we're defending our dream of being on a bookshelf in a book store.

I had to look at that dream and evaluate it. Is that what I really wanted? To be published and be able to walk into a store and point and say, "that's my book!" That would be so cool! I get it. It would be. But is it what I really wanted. No, it's not. What I really want is for people to have the chance to read and enjoy my book. On top of that, I don't want to support an industry I feel is wrong in so many ways. My Dream came up against the reality of the World, and the World won. Again. But it's okay, because that dream... it's not what I really wanted, anyway.

It's great to have dreams. We should have dreams. We need them. They fuel us. They give us goals. They keep us striving to achieve. However, we shouldn't just cling to dreams because they're our dreams. We need to evaluate those dreams on a fairly consistent basis so that we know if they are worthy of still being our dreams. Do they match up with what we really want? Do they align with reality? Which is not to say that, even, having impossible dreams is not okay. Some great things have been accomplished due to the "impossible" dreams of some people. But it's a pretty horrible thing to achieve a dream, to get there, and find out that, although you reached your dream, it wasn't what you wanted.

Here's what it boils down to: I see so many blogs from people striving, reaching, investing everything in the dream of being published, but I have to wonder if that's really what all these people really want. If it is, that's great. But when confronted with the question, and looking at it honestly and objectively, I couldn't say that that is what really wanted. And, if it's  not what I really want, why pursue it so single-mindedly? I'll admit, that dream of being published still worms its way around in my head causing conflict, so I have to, pretty constantly, remind myself about what I really want. Make my work available for people to read and enjoy and do my best to let them know it's out there. After all, it's the same work I'd have to do even with traditional publishing. Maybe I'm the only one that this is true for.

This whole thing about evaluating our dreams isn't just for writers; everyone should remember to do this. I need to remember to do this more often. Is the dream we're pursuing, whether it's growing up to be a T-Rex or having a book published, actually the dream that we want? With all the changes in the publishing industry, right now, though, I think this is an even more important question for writers to be asking themselves. What is it you want from your writing? Does your dream of being published actually fulfill what you want?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Harrison Ford and the Raw Deal

For over a decade, Harrison Ford held the distinction of being the biggest grossing star in Hollywood. That position is now held by Samuel Jackson, but it took more than twice as many movies for him to get there. Ford still has the highest average film gross of any actor (although Tom Hanks isn't far behind). Ford has done something that actors are very rarely able to do; he has become, not one, but two, iconic characters. Almost three, but the Jack Ryan movies never quite became the franchise it was expected they would become (and possibly would have if Alec Baldwin hadn't dropped out after Red October).

He's Han Solo and Indiana Jones; how could he possibly be getting any kind of raw deal? The problem is that he has done that specific job too well. He is so much the rough and tumble action hero that audiences have become incapable of seeing him as anything else. They just won't accept him in any other type of role.

There was excessive grumbling when Regarding Henry came out in 1991. It underperformed, and people blamed it on Ford. The truth is is that he did a fine job in that movie, but people didn't want to see him in that role, so he was attributed with a bad performance. He tried Sabrina. It was felt that Ford was the Bogart of his time, so he would be perfect for the role, but audiences didn't accept him in that role, either. Audiences began screaming with the release of Six Days Seven Nights. There was no lovable scoundrel  in Quinn Harris; in fact, audiences generally felt the character of Quinn was unlikeable, and the film barely broke even. And despite doing well at the box office, I remember the horrified wails that accompanied What Lies Beneath as people everywhere refused to see Ford as a villain. More than any other, it was, perhaps, that movie that drove the final spike into Ford's career as anything more than an action hero. Or, even, anything more than one of his iconic roles (but maybe that will change with the release of Cowboys & Aliens later this summer). Of the seven movies Ford made between Clear and Present Danger and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, only two were hits at the box office: Air Force One and What Lies Beneath. None of the three he's done since Crystal Skull have been hits.

This is unfortunate, because he does have a broader range than that of the lovable scoundrel. It's really not his fault that the American movie going audience can't separate him from his most famous roles. And, in  the end, it's their loss.

We just watched Morning Glory. This movie has a stellar cast. Not only does it have Harrison Ford, but it also has Diane Keaton, Rachel McAdams, and Jeff (does anyone even remember him?) Goldblum. They are all wonderful, and it is an excellent movie. Ford plays a washed up reporter, a former legend, the "3rd worst person in the world." Although I'm sure it wasn't intentional, the role is somewhat a parody of Ford himself. He's become a crotchety old man who can't escape what he used to be to accept what he's become. It would not have surprised me he'd slipped in "I was Han Solo!" as he gave  one of his many diatribes about his former accomplishments.

The sad part is that no one saw this movie. As a Hollywood movie, it was fairly low budget. Only $40,000,000. Yes, that's low in Hollywood terms. Scary, I know. It didn't make a profit. By a lot. Didn't come close. But it was so good, and Ford was... actually, he was spectacular. He played the role to perfection. They all did. Possibly, if Rachel McAdams had slightly more drawing power, people would have gone to see it for her, but that didn't happen. In fact, Ford's non-iconic star has fallen so far, that McAdams got top billing for the movie.

We talk frequently about entertainers only being capable of doing particular types of things, and, sometimes, that's true. More often than not, though, I think it's not true. We've just decided that they are only capable of particular types of roles, certain kinds of movies, specific genres of novels, and we, the audience, won't allow these people out of the boxes we've put them in. I mean, Kevin Smith tried to break away from his formula, partially due to criticism that he was a one-trick pony, and he produced Jersey Girl, a great movie that no one saw, because it wasn't want his fans wanted.

We trap these people into "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situations. Granted, some of them are quite satisfied with the boxes they get put in. Michael Bay comes to mind. He's good at what he does, and he seems satisfied with that. For now. But what if he decides that he wants to make a "serious" movie. To prove that he can do more than blow things up. No, I'm not saying I believe he's capable of more than that, but I'm also not saying that I believes he's not.

If you haven't seen Morning Glory, I suggest you give it a shot. Forget, as you should, that it's Harrison Ford. Don't think about Han Solo or Indiana Jones or, even, Jack Ryan. Think about Mike Pomeroy. Allow him to be that character. I think you'll be surprised and find that he's more than capable of filling those shoes, too.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Zombies: A Cultural Metaphor

Society has changed in the last four decades. This is not to say that society isn't always changing, but the change that has occurred recently (recent being a relative term) is one that we've never seen before. Technological progress, throughout the ages, has always been seen as a good thing. I don't mean scientific discovery, which has not always been viewed positively, but the actual trinkets of technology that scientific progress has made possible. Mankind has always had an innate sense that he could do no wrong. That belief has dissipated like morning mist.

Four decades ago, a zombie was still just a zombie. A re-animated corpse. Slow. Stupid. No will of its own. It was something created by man that man controlled. The only exception to this rule was Frankenstein's monster, but the Frankenstein monster became a special case and has never really been viewed as a zombie. Even though zombies could be controlled, they were still dead things. Just animated. They had no more need of sustenance than does a marionette. They did not hunger. They did not want. They only obeyed.

That all began to change in 1968 with the release of Night of the Living Dead. For the first time, the dead, en masse, rose up against the living to devour them. It was the first use of zombies to symbolize that man might, just possibly, be playing around with forces he didn't understand.

The 80s arrived and, with it, a culture of teenagers that didn't believe they would live to be adults. Post-apocalyptic literature/entertainment hit its stride. Not that it hadn't existed, but, prior to the 80s, (and I am now going to lump all of this together into the dystopian category) dystopians had really been isolated events.
And I mean it when I say we didn't believe that we would make it through high school without nuclear holocaust being thrust upon us. In middle school, for a Christmas door decorating contest, my homeroom did a whole Nuclear Winter theme. We even re-wrote several popular Christmas songs with lyrics like, "I'm dreaming of a nuclear winter."

However, the cold war ended, and we don't really believe an actual nuclear holocaust will happen anymore. No, now, we believe man will destroy the Earth in much more subtle ways. Like a zombie apocalypse. Zombies have become the representation of our fear that mankind will, ultimately, be unable to control the technology that he plays with. Zombies have evolved. They are no longer re-animated corpses. They're fast. They're smart. They're hungry. They want to destroy us. Destroy life. They're smart, but they are unthinking. Their intelligence is applied only to achieving their goal. Devouring us Destroying life. Hmm... somewhat like the single-minded way in which corporations pursue financial success.

In short, zombies have become a cultural metaphor for all the ways in which technology will destroy us.

However, that's only  the metaphor in its simplest form. The obvious one. The one that has to do with our nightmares over what secret things governments and corporations are doing in the dark. It lives off of our fears that we'll wake up, shivering and drenched in sweat, and find out that society has collapsed. No rules. Only chaos.

The deeper part of that fear extends down to where we believe that technology is actually turning each of us into zombies. Especially the generation that's growing up around us. The generation of technological zombies. You know it's true. People refuse to be detached from their technology. People that grew up without it and know it's possible to leave home without a phone and still survive refuse to go without, so how do we show the (little) people who have never known life without cells that it's possible to go without? It's with us everywhere. And it's scary. But, still, we embrace it. We can't help it.

Despite the data that the use of cellular devices, in whatever capacity, while driving is more dangerous than driving while intoxicated, we choose to believe that we can handle it, and we don't have the excuse of impaired judgement that intoxication brings. Despite the new warnings by WHO (the World Health Organization, not the Doctor. Or the band.) that cellular devices bring a greater risk of brain cancer, especially in children and adolescents, we will go on using our bits and pieces of technology and deal with any consequences later. Despite the continued statements of desire to connect with people in actual face-to-face contact, we will, more and more often, forsake physicalness in favor of a virtual reality that we can "control."

We are becoming the zombies that we fear. Soulless creatures walking through life but only seeing things through the tiny input devices we hold in our hands. And just wait till they can actually put that stuff right inside our skulls. Is it any wonder that we have become so incredibly fascinated with zombies? After all, vampires could be defeated. How do we defeat ourselves?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Another Day, Another...


Bess Weatherby is hosting a blogfest that starts today.

 I  think I may have acted rashly in signing up for it. See, this 'fest is all about setting goals, and I'm just not much of one for any kind of long-range goal setting. Ask my wife. She hates it. She likes making plans and lists, and I'm not that kinda guy. Okay, well, I do, sometimes, make lists. Because, I'm finding, that I'm forgetting more and more things that, once upon a time, I would never have forgotten. I blame it on my kids, and I know that I'm right to do so.

I do have a list of writing goals sitting next to my computer. It's a list. Things I need to work on. In fact, I had to get up in the MIDDLE of the NIGHT, last night, and add something to it. I HATE that. But, as I was falling asleep, I had this thought. A really good thought. And my brain kept telling me that I was going to forget about it if I didn't get up and write it down. I kept telling my brain that I wouldn't forget, because it would remember, but it kept saying, "No, I won't remember. Get up and write it down." I argued with my brain for a long time. Maybe an hour. I lost. I got up and wrote it down. My first thought this morning when I got up was that idea. Without looking at the list. So I was right, but I still lost the argument. Here's a one word teaser about the idea: zombies!

Okay, so... the blogfest has two parts:

1. What your current WIP looks like:

Darn, I don't what that means. I don't even know what my current WIP is. I mean, does The House on the Corner count because I'm not quite finished with my revision? I'm almost finished. I'm actually slightly behind schedule on that. I wanted to be finished with it by the end of May. All of the major re-writing is finished. I just have to finish going through it making word corrections and such.

Or is my current WIP Brother's Keeper? I mean, that is my next major project. I'm also behind on that. Because, originally, I had intended to start it in February, but that was a goal I set back before I started blogging and revising, and, see, that's why I hate long-range plans. They never work out the way I want them to. At any rate, the first chapter of Brother's Keeper is posted up in the tabbies at the top, but I'm not much further than that.

2. What your writing goals are for the summer:

Okay, writing goals for the summer... that's... difficult. See, I have these parasites that hang around all summer interrupting me constantly. I'm not one of those people that can write in bits and pieces. I have to have solid chunks of quiet without interruptions. It's annoying. However, I'll give it a shot.

a. Have the manuscript for The House on the Corner: The First Person Edition ready by the end of the day June 17 (I actually wanted that to be June 10, but, I think, since I have all these end of the school year parent/teacher conferences, that I'm not quite going to finish that, this week).

b. Have some sort of cover worked out for The House on the Corner: The First Person Edition by June 24. That's going to be a hard one. I have no artist, and I don't really know how to turn any art I may decide to do into a cover.

c. Starting next week, do (at least) 2000 words a week on Brother's Keeper. I'm not sure how that will work since I'll have afore mentioned parasites running loose.

d. Post 2-3 times a week on the blog.

Those are the have to's. There are some other things I'd like to do, but, looking at that list, it might actually be too much considering there will be swimming lessons in there, music lessons, and, um, I'm not even sure what else.

So there you have it. I wish everyone else doing this the best of luck with both the setting of the goals and the achieving of them!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Jumble of Nonsense

I was thinking. Yes, that's usually a sign that you need to duck and cover, but, sometimes, I just can't help myself. Usually, it happens on accident, and most of you are pretty far away, so you're probably safe. This time. These blog award things, theoretically, should spread geometrically and infect the whole blogging world. They don't seem to be doing that, so someone must have developed some sort  of anti-viral thing or something. I was also thinking that, for the first time in a really long time, I feel like one of those kids from The Cat in the Hat stuck inside staring out at the rain. I want to do something, but it's raining, still raining, raining to the point where they're beginning to wonder if it's going to have a negative impact on the grape harvest, this year. The house is all closed up (because of previously mentioned rain), 2/3 of the kids are gone, the one that's left is piddling around with Pokemon cards, I have no games on my computer, and I feel cooped up. Let me just say, that the feeling of being cooped up is not conducive to writing. Not even to writing blog posts. Unless, you know, you write about being cooped, which I'm  not going to do. Just thought I'd throw that out there.


In other news, I have some loose ends from this last week I need to tie up. Three loose ends to be precise. I suppose, with three of them, I should make a braid, but I never learned how to do that, much to my daughter's dismay. Not to mine, though. My daughter knows how to braid, but she's part of the 2/3 of the children that are presently missing, so I'm left to muddle through that on my own.

Thing Number 1:
I got tagged by Bess Weatherby to answer a bunch of questions. Part of this is to tag a bunch of other people, see what I was talking about? How is it that anyone escapes? Well, other than people getting re-tagged and stuff, but still! So here goes:

What do you think of when you the hear the word tag?
I think of TAG: The Assassination Game. I always wanted to play that. I mean really play that. I plotted about it with some of my friends when I was in high school, but we all went to different schools, so it just didn't work out very well.

Do you think you're hot?
Actually, no. I spend the vast majority of my time these days being cold. To the point of wearing a jacket in the house on a regular basis. Yes, I could turn the heat up and discomfort my kids, but it's just easier to wear the jacket and not deal with the whining. This is related to why I'm so tired of the rain.

Upload a picture or wallpaper that you're using at the moment.
Um, I can't really do that. I used to have a Star Wars wallpaper on my computer, but a little over a year again, my computer got sick, and I had re-format it, and I've never put most of the stuff back on my computer. This is also the reason I have no games.

When was the last time you ate chicken?
Two nights ago.

The song(s) you listened to recently.
I am, at this very moment, listening to Phil Collins. I wanted to listen to Genesis, but, for reasons that remain unfathomable, wouldn't load the Genesis stuff.
I just want to add that I highly disapprove of all the anti-Phil sentiment that continues to run rampant these days. I realize that the market got over saturated with him back in the early 90s, but there was a reason for that. Because he was good.

What were you thinking as you were doing this?
Hmm... that I'd rather be playing Magic: The Gathering, at the moment. The fact that my younger son is sorting Pokemon cards isn't helping. Maybe even Risk, but he's right; it's just not fun with only two people.

Do you have nicknames? What are they?
Currently? No. Dad. I grew up Andy, not Andrew, which is me, now.

Tag 8 blogger friends:
Well, I'll do my best not to tag anyone else that's recently been tagged. And, I'm assuming, no tag backs.
1. Shannon Lawrence
2. Rusty Webb
3. Jennifer
4. Barbara Kloss
5. Alyssia Kirkhart
6. Marie Rearden
7. J R Pearse Nelson
and last but certainly not least, not by any means,
8. Michelle Davidson Argyle

Who's listed as No. 1?
Well, that's rather obvious to anyone that can read, which I'm assuming you can, since you're here. If not, well... Seriously, Shannon was the first person I thought of. I love her blog. I'm still waiting for her to let me read her book. I mean, she's read mine.

Say something about No. 5.
She lives down in my old stomping grounds. I empathize with the heat and humidity she's experiencing, at the moment, but I don't miss it. Well, maybe some of the heat, but certainly not the humidity.

How did you get to know No. 3?
Jennifer's blog is great. I love her sense of humor. And she always comments on my posts, so, really, how can I not like her? I strive to be included in her BBFs.

How about No. 4?
I stumbled across Barbara's blog post about Wizard's First Rule by Terry Goodkin and had to warn her away from the rest of that series before she got inescapably sucked into it.

Leave a message for No. 6.
Hey, how's it going? Thanks for letting me do that guest movie review. It was a lot of fun!

Leave a lovey dovey message for No. 2. [Hmm... maybe I should have planned out who would be where on the list a bit better than this.]
Rusty, I love the title of your blog. I've wanted to ask you this for a long time, but I've just been too shy, but how did you think of it? It's just sooo awesome!
[Seriously, I love your blog title.]

Do 7 and 8 have any similarities?
Now, see, I think 7 and 8 are getting the short end of the stick down here. They're both great ladies, and they both write, but this question doesn't leave any real room to talk about them. Individually. Everyone else gets a question all to themselves! Where's the fair in that?

At any rate, these are all great blogs. A few, well, 8, to be exact, of the handful of blogs I try to make sure I catch every post posted. Posting. Pasted? You should rush right over and check them out. And since I'm plugging their blogs, I'm also going to plug Michelle's book. Her book, Monarch, is due out in September. I'm looking forward to reading it. No, she didn't ask me to do that.

Thing Number 2:
Recently, I entered the Made of Awesome contest over at Shelley Watters blog. This was an interesting experience in that I got almost no comments on my entry. I don't know what this means. In perusing the other entries and posting comments on the ones I had comments for, I noticed that the typical entry had 30+ comments attached to  it, even for people who had fewer than 10 followers on their blog. I didn't see a single entry with less than 15-20 comments. Except mine. I got 3. Anyway...

The comments I did get centered on my first paragraph. Now, I like  this paragraph. I read the comments, I read my paragraph, read the comments, read my paragraph, waited for more comments, none came, and left my paragraph unchanged. Like I said, I like this paragraph. I'll even tell you why I like it, but not right now. Before I tell you why I like it and why I wrote it the way I did, I'd like some more feedback on it. Before, you know, I go to press with it. So to speak. Just because I like it doesn't mean it's in a state that's understandable for the general reader, so I'd like to know what you guys think about it. Pick it apart if you need to, but let me know what you think. I'm attaching the second paragraph with it, just so you can see where it's going, although, if you click on the tabby thing up top entitled The House on the Corner, you can read the whole first chapter. In advance, thanks!

The last bell of the school year is like waking up on Christmas morning. The last day of school waiting breathlessly in the dark straining for some sign of life out in the world so that you know it's time to get up. The bell finally rings and dawn breaks through the window springing you out of bed and three months of days lay glittering before you, presents waiting to be opened.

Thinking about those days of summer is all consuming at the end of the school year just like obsessing over Christmas presents all through the month of December. Planning. Anticipating. Day dreaming.

Thing Number the Last:
Because no one asked for it, but because I feel like posting it, I'm giving you the expanded scene from the Power of Tension blogfest. No, I'm not one of the finalists, but, then, I didn't expect to be. I glanced over many of the entries for that one before I chose which scene I was going to use, and all of the ones I looked at were... well, they all had either a vampire, werewolf, or hellhound stalking someone. Needless to say, I wanted something different. Not just not a vampire, but not a fight with a monster. So I chose a low level tension scene. One that was just creepy. I was very glad to see that not all of the finalists had to do with fighting some kind of monster. And, since I'm on the subject, here's my pick from the 6 finalists: The Bird Hater.
I didn't get as many comments on my piece for this blogfest as everyone else did, either, but I did, at least, break 10. heh Anyway... the expanded scene:

From the middle of the ceiling, hanging down on chains, was a large bowl. It was sort of cream colored and covered with little vines that started at the center of the bottom of the bowl and crawled up to the top. They had little leaves and flowers that curved off of them periodically. I guessed that must be the light, but I had never seen anything like it before. It made me want to try the lights or wake someone up to ask questions, but I knew if I did that, I wouldn’t get to explore on my own.

I decided, instead of opening any new doors, I would just use the one that was open. The one that led to the stairs. I stepped into the hallway and around the open door, pushing it almost closed. I didn’t want it to make any noise, so I didn’t close it all the way.

As I turned toward the staircase, a chill washed over me, and goosebumps broke out all over my arms. To the right of the staircase going up was another going down. The stairs started out wooden, just like the stairs going up, but, then, they turned to stone. The stairs just kept going and going down into the earth. Why was there a tunnel going underground in our house? I could feel the cold, damp coming up out of the tunnel and what felt like a long sigh. Without wanting to, I stepped down the first step. And, then, the next.

There was a low moan from the dark, and my heart started beating faster. My skin chilled as I broke out in a sweat. I didn't want to go down there, but I took another step anyway. I could almost feel the darkness on my skin as I took another step down. And another. And...

And I stumbled forward into a door, because there were no more steps. I was standing on a little tiled floor at the bottom of a short staircase in front of a door leading out of the side of the house. I felt weird. Kind of dizzy. Like I wasn't all the way in my own head.

Well, there you have it. I suppose I've rambled enough, too much, for one post. I hope a few of you held on all the way to the bottom.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Pop Culture Class featuring the X-Men!

Yes, it's that time again. Time for another lesson in pop culture, so put on your pop culture hats and let's get started. Oh, and remember; it always stays crunchy in milk!
Before we get into the movie itself, let's talk about some trailers. I'm a big fan of trailers. My wife frequently gets upset with me for wanting to watch them on DVDs. She wants to just go straight to the movie, but I like to watch the trailers. Today, two trailers I hadn't seen before.

First up is the trailer for Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Now, I've been seeing blurbs for this  one for a while, but I've been ignoring them. I still remember the disaster that was Tim Burton's attempt to revive the Apes franchise, and I couldn't keep the bad taste out of my mouth whenever I saw anything about this new one. I haven't been interested in checking out the trailer for it, so it took having it shoved in front of a movie that I was watching for me to pay attention to it. The first hook was James Franco. I can't help it; I like the guy. I'm not saying he's the best actor ever, but, my gosh, he's impressive. He took over 60 hours of class in one semester (and I thought I was impressive when I did 24 hours one semester). The next hook is that this isn't simply another ape movie. It's a morality tale about what we're doing to our world and the irresponsibility with which we use technology. I went from having less than zero interest in this film to really wanting to see it.

I have only thing to say about the other trailer: Hugh Jackman. Okay, well, Real Steel, surprisingly, looks like it may prove to be a decent film even without Mr. Jackman. However, Hugh being in it almost makes it a must see for me. Which, actually, is surprising, since, when I first heard they were making a movie based on Rock'em Sock'em Robots, I was aghast with disbelief. I mean, what's next Operation: The Movie? Or, maybe, Monopoly? Wait, I know! Battleship! The producers have, wisely, done away with any ties to the toy, at this point, and, what's left, is what looks like a genuinely good movie.

At this point, have you forgotten what movie we're here to see?

X-Men: First Class gets the opening exactly right. It returns to the same scene that opened the first X-Men movie, so we see, again, young Erik Lehnsherr being dragged away from his parents in a Nazi concentration camp. We get slightly more of what happens to Erik, this time, though, and we also get to meet Sebastian Shaw, played expertly by Kevin Bacon.

However, from there, the movie bounces around and forward through time and feels a little rushed. Like there was more they should have been showing but had to cut it all out. That's always difficult when they're trying to provide enough back story and introduce several characters all at the same time, and they almost pulled it off smoothly, but not quite. Things (mostly) smooth out when we get to the present day of 1962. Oliver Platt gets a role, and, I have to say, I love Oliver Platt, so it was a joy to see him in  the movie. Rose Byrne, of Bridesmaids, is in as Moira MacTaggert, and she is also quite good.

The main failing of the movie may just be a failing in me, although I'm not convinced. It might be one caused by the studio, in  this case Fox, not Marvel, not really knowing what audience they want to target. Marvel seems to have worked this out, for the most part, in  their own movies, but the X-Men franchise seems to be struggling with it. The conflict lies in how to deal with fans of the actual comic books. If you stray too far from the comics, the fans get into an uproar, but, sometimes, if you stay too close to the comic, the broader audience won't go see the movie at all (I could be wrong, but I think Warner Brothers is about to have this problem with Green Lantern (which is not to say that the movie's not going to have a big opening, but I think that may be where it ends)). When movies adapted from comics first started getting popular, that's how the studios approached it, balancing fans against people that never read comics, people who only knew of the characters peripherally. I'm finding my issue lies in a third area, that group of people that at one time followed comics but has been away from them for an extended length of time. This is the audience, the nostalgia audience, that Fox keeps messing up with. And it's a much larger audience than the audience of current fans. These are the people with the kids who, if the movie is good, will take their kids back to the same movie over and over again.
All of that to say that one particular character in the movie really bothered me. Bothered me to the extent that it was distracting to me. For someone currently following the X-Men comics, this character shouldn't be an issue, but, as I watched the movie, not having even looked inside an X-Men comic published in the last decade, I couldn't see Azazel as more than a cheap Nightcrawler rip off. That character, in particular, decreased my enjoyment of the movie, because Nightcrawler has always been one of my favorite X-Men.

Of course, I came home and did my background research before I started this post and discovered Azazel is a character that's been introduced since my sojourn in the comic book world ended. And he's such a Nightcrawler rip off because he's, yes, Nightcrawler's father. I won't go into my issues with that, since they have nothing to do with the movie. Most people, though, aren't going to go home after the movie and look up the character and find out there's a (unspoken) reason he's in the film. Again, maybe my reaction is just mine, but I would be surprised.

The only real failing of the movie is that it succumbs to that long held movie tradition of the crash course training event whereby a completely untrained individual or group becomes expert at what they're doing in a matter of moments. In this case, the training of the X-Men lasts an entire week, and they actually comment on it during the movie, "Look at what we've accomplished in just a week..." For a movie that spans 18 years, you'd think they'd have worked out a better way than to cram all the training into that last week of the storyline, but no... It's unfortunate.

Other than that, it's a good movie. Fox seems to have learned from its mistakes with X-Men Origins: Wolverine, although they may have also created some continuity issues between the two movies. Maybe they'll work those out at some point, but I doubt it. Now that I know Azazel is a real character, I'd actually go see it again. There's a lot to absorb in a movie like this, and it would just be nice to watch it without getting prickly every time Azazel pops onto the screen.

As for the cast and characters, as I already implied, Kevin Bacon made an excellent villain. He's undervalued as an actor, so it's good to see him in a high profile role, again.

January Jones is perfectly cast as Emma Frost, the white queen of the Hellfire Club. She goes from the role of the ice queen Betty Draper (Mad Men) to embodying that image literally. She doesn't show a lot of range, but, then, she doesn't need to.

James McAvoy is a pleasure as Professor X, or, really, just Charles. There are glimmers of the character as performed by Patrick Stewart in McAvoy's performance, and, really, what more can you ask for than that? The only issues with the character come from the writing and not the acting. The issue stems from the desire to create a more basic conflict between Charles and Eric than one just of method. They play Xavier not just as wanting peaceful co-existence between mutant and human but as wanting the humanizing of mutants. Not that he wants them to not be mutants, but he wants them to be indistinguishable from humans. He sort of comes off as a bigot in this respect.

The purist is, of course, Magneto. He believes in embracing mutantness, and, well, if you've seen the other X-Men movies, you know where this goes. Michael Fassbender does an admirable job in the role. Once he dons the helmet, he even rather looks like Ian McKellen.

It was nice to see Banshee included. He's another of those X-Men that I really like that's often overlooked. He's an interesting character that they're really never delved into enough, so it was cool to see him in the mix. Caleb Jones did an adequate job in the role, but, honestly, I just kept seeing Rupert Grint superimposed in the role.

Which brings us to Jennifer Lawrence. I'm sure all of you fans of The Hunger Games have been wondering when I'd get to her. Unfortunately, I don't have anything really positive to say about her. No raving about her performance. There's also nothing bad to say about her performance; it just wasn't anything that stood out. Possibly, the role didn't require anything of her other than to stand around and be herself, look pretty, but Mystique never really came into focus. There was a lack of emotional intensity that should have been present.

Oh, and there's an awesome Wolverine cameo. That alone is almost worth the movie even if it had been horrible. Since it wasn't horrible, the Wolverine cameo really is icing on the cake. Not awesome cake, but good cake. With awesome icing.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Sorry, Charlie!

I didn't read correctly as a child. Wait, wait! I knew perfectly well how to read. I just didn't follow conventional developmental patterns in my reading. I've probably mentioned this. The main reason for this was that I had no one to suggest books to me. Neither of my parents were readers. In fact, I don't think my father has ever read a book, and I know my brother has never completed a book, not even for school. My mom reads occasionally, but she's not a "reader" nor did she grow up spending a lot of time reading. I'm somewhat of an aberration, since how much a child reads is almost always determined by how much the parents read and how much encouragement they give the child in reading. But I started reading early. Before kindergarten. I just didn't know what I was supposed to be reading.

I started out reading science books. Non-fiction. Yes, I'm serious. I was into dinosaurs, so that's where I started. In fact, in 1st grade I got accused (by my teacher!) of making up the word paleontologist when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. She made me go to the board and spell it for her. Because, you know, if I could spell it, somehow, that meant I hadn't made it up. No, I don't really follow the logic, either, but there you have it. I spent the first few years of my schooling reading texts about dinosaurs and astronomy, mostly. I branched into history next. I was in 4th grade before I really discovered fiction. The Hardy Boys. By that time, some school counselor or something had told my mom that I had some kind developmental delay in reading, because I wasn't reading what other kids my age read.

And I still haven't read a lot of those books. I just didn't know about them. Make a list of books you read and loved as a child, and I would bet I haven't read most of them. Some of them, I may not have even heard of. My wife, after more than a dozen years of marriage, still reacts with shock and dismay when she mentions books she read and loved as a kid that I've never read. Like The Wizard of Oz. The Edward Eager books. The Phantom Tollbooth. Of course, I've been trying to correct some of these oversights, and I have to say, if you haven't read it, go, right now, and get Tollbooth. It's awesome!

To make this even more clear, I loved, loved, loved Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (this being the movie, not the book) when I was a kid. I still adore that movie. Gene Wilder is amazing. As much as I love Johnny Depp, he will never come close to Gene Wilder as Wonka for me. In fact, I really don't much like Burton's movie version of the book. Here's the thing, I grew up thinking that that was just a movie. I had no idea that there was a book, and I was, probably, in my 20s before I even heard of Roald Dahl. After all, he's not exactly high school reading.

Last year, my younger son had to read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for school. That was 3rd grade. I just want to point out, that I didn't have to any read any books for school until I was in, oh, 5th or 6th grade, when we started having to do book reports, and we got to choose the books. My kids started getting books assigned in 2nd grade. I don't know if this a difference caused by evolution in the wider school system or if it's because I live in California, now, and not Louisiana (not exactly known for its stellar educational system). At any rate, I remembered, at that point, that I'd never read a Dahl book and decided that I should fix that. I ordered both of the Charlie books.

I finally got around to reading them, recently. I was disappointed. And I was disappointed that I was disappointed. I went into it fully expecting the like the heck out of the books. I mean, I loved the movie! I'm not sure there's been any other movie from a book where I've liked the movie and not the book. It's unprecedented. The cliche response is always, "The book was better." But not this time. I should have whizzed through the 150 pages of chocolate factory, but I disenjoyed it so much that it actually took me two weeks to read it. I felt bad about it, too. And my son... well, my son is still in disbelief that I didn't like the book. Maybe, I shouldn't have told him? However, I did know enough to know that my daughter, our not-reader, would like it and passed it on to her, and she did like it, so that was good.

I've tried to reconcile this whole issue of not liking the book. Maybe, it's just because I'm an adult, now, that it didn't click for me. That's totally possible, although I haven't had that issue with other books. I still love Narnia, after all. So, I thought, maybe the movie just got in the way for me. Because I love the movie. Have I mentioned that? I still do. But, really, the movie is not exactly the book, and, maybe, I just wasn't liking it because it didn't mesh for me. I thought, I'll read Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, and that will be better, because I won't have any false expectations for that one.

I didn't like it either. I felt really bad. Part of that one, though, is that it takes place, mostly, in space. What? That's not where Charlie belongs. I couldn't come to grips with that. We've gone from a book about a magical chocolate factory to an adventure in space? I'll say it again: What!?!? But it goes beyond that. I really just don't enjoy Dahl's style. It's too... sporadic, for lack of a better term, for me. He seems to have the attention span of a teenager in the way he writes. I couldn't deal. Glass Elevator also dragged for me and took much longer to read than it should have.

My wife, also, can't believe that I don't like the books. But I can't help it. I'm fairly certain I won't try any more Dahl.

Now, I'm not saying that there weren't clever bits of writing in there or even that I may not have chuckled once or twice, but the books just didn't take hold in me. I'm glad my kids like them, though. Maybe, if I'd followed a more conventional reading path as a child, things would be different, but I can't say I'm sorry for the path I took. Although, I do wish I'd had someone along with me that could have said to me, "Hey, why don't you try this? I think you'll like it." I could have augmented the path I took if I'd had someone there to do that. More than anything else, I try to be that person for my kids.