Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Wrong Answer To The Right Question

There was an interesting article, last week, in the Guardian all about whether writers can survive without publishers. Or, more specifically, the advances that they pay. If you want, you can read the article here, but I'll give you the short, sweet version in case you don't want to. Ewan Morrison, the author of the article, says, "Writing, as a profession, will cease to exist." There you have it. The summary of the article. Let me explain.

No one can deny that digital publishing is changing the industry. Morrison speculates that ebooks and e-publishing (Now, tell me, why is "e-publishing" hyphenated while "ebooks" is not. That seems unfair to me.) will bring about the end of paper books within the next 25 years. I'd have a hard time trying to argue that with him. Although I believe there will always be a demand for paper books, the expense required to produce them is going to become high enough that the average person will not be able to afford them, at least, new ones, and, for all practical purposes, bring about the demise of paper books as a "thing." Oh, well... it will save some trees, at least. I suppose, I will have to be happy with that. [However, there's a whole aspect of the ease with which censorship will be possible that I am completely uncomfortable with, but that is a topic for another time.]

This shift from the physical to the digital brings with it a price. The price of "free." There's a lot of controversy around this statement, but you can't really argue with it. Already, we're seeing the advent of the $0.99 ebook. Sure, for the most part, it's first timers just trying to get someone, anyone, to buy their book, but it causes a domino effect and the gradual de-valuing of the art form as a whole. People begin to expect that the value of a book is only $1, and, so, will not pay more than that. There's not a lot of room between $1 and free. Again, we're in a situation were the publisher (Amazon with the Kindle or B&N with the Nook) makes a ton of money selling millions of these $1 books but the individual authors making very little. Morrison goes into all of this in more depth, but, the end result, will be the degrading of quality in published materials and the loss of the "professional writer" from culture.

Of course, his premise is that the "professional writer" lives off the advances that the publisher pays for work that is not, yet, produced. Basically, author goes to publisher, "I want to write a book" and publisher responds, "Okay, here's some money. Go do that." While I don't disagree that this does fit the definition of a professional writer, this seems to be his only definition of a professional writer. I think that most people that make a living as a writer (writing is their profession and they make enough from it to be considered a "living wage") would not agree that this scenario holds true for them. However, Morrison seems to be saying that this is the only way that quality writing happens. It takes the publisher there to support the writer during the writing phase to enable works of quality to come into being. Therefore, if traditional publishers die, so, then, will professional writers and the quality works they produce.

Morrison is asking a valid question in all of this, "Can writers survive without publishers?" Or "Can the profession of writing survive without publishers?" His answer is "no," and he ends his article with a sort of call to arms for writers and publishers to band together and support each other and see the other through these, oh, so difficult times. Only together will writing prevail!

I'm not sure, exactly, which planet Morrison is living on, though. Or, maybe, I'm just not sure what floor he's living on. His supposition is incorrect on so many levels, I hardly know where to begin. Just to start off, though, the idea that a writer can only do his job if there is a publisher there to give him an advance is laughable. Yes, there are some writers that live that way. The elite writers. And the money is paid to them to lock them into a contract with  the publisher so that they won't go somewhere else. It works more like an incentive. At some point, Morrison says that a writer can't live off of royalties alone (the advance is a requirement), but that makes me think he doesn't understand what an "advance" is. It's an advance against royalties. Technically, when living off of an advance, the writer is, indeed, living off of royalties. They're just royalties he hasn't earned, yet.

Here's the thing: no publisher gives someone who has never written a book an advance in  the hopes that they will, in fact, write a book. The writer has to show, first, that he can, indeed, write said book. Yes, the writer has to in some way provide a living for himself during this time period, but, if the writer writes, and the book sells, the writer earns royalties and can concentrate on more writing. And here's where the advance comes in: if the publisher thinks, based on previous performance, "hey, this guy might actually make us some money," they will offer the writer an advance. This serves to allow the writer to focus more on the writing, but it, more importantly (for the publisher), keeps the writer from taking his book off to some other publisher to make the money for someone else. The writer sacrifices that amount of the royalties that come after the book is written making him dependent on the next advance. Do you see the problem here?

Just to make it clear, though, most books (and when I say most, I mean nearly all (more than 9 out of 10)) do not earn back their advance (or sell through their first print run) making it much more difficult to get a second advance. So, really, when Morrison talks about how the professional writer is dependent upon the publisher for advances in order to do his job, he is clearly only talking about the writing "elite."

Which brings us to our second problem: Morrison's supposition that only the writing "elite" can turn out quality material. I'm going to have to actually say that the exact opposite is true. At least, in most cases.

For example, William Gibson. I hate to pick on him, but I'm going to do it anyway. Neuromancer, his best and most significant work was his first novel. The novel he wrote when he was still struggling to become a professional writer. The novel that was written without the huge "elite" advance. Gibson, now being one of the writing elite, can command huge advances, because his name being on a book will cause a stir and create sales. However, Pattern Recognition, while interesting enough to keep me going, never reached a real climax and just, sort of, ended. I was left completely unsatisfied. For some reason, I picked up Spook Country anyway. I barely managed to make myself finish that one. And I haven't bothered with Zero History at all, even though I like the title. Clearly, the introduction of an advance has allowed Gibson to spend years working on individual books, but it has not increased the quality of his work. Based on the moanings I've heard, I would say the same is true for George R. R.

And there's David Eddings, whom I love. Well, used to love. The Belgariad is one of my favorite fantasy series ever. The only thing better is Tolkien. It was the series that made Eddings' career. Not his first work, but it may as well have been. Everything that came after, all the books that came with the big advances, are lesser works. To the extent that I had to quit reading him, because everything was the same, but not as good, as Belgariad.

I could go on... I mean, there's Watership Down, the first book by Richard Adams, and one of the greatest books ever written. Have you even heard of anything he wrote after that? There are more than a few. Anyway, I could go on (and on), but I'm sure you're getting the picture. The picture that it does not, in fact, take an advance from a publisher to enable a writer to create quality work or even create at all. Rowling did create Harry Potter in the midst of poverty and living on welfare.

Not to mention that Tolkien was never what one could consider a professional writer. He was a professor. Writing was just this thing he did after he went home from work.

Still... Morrison is not wrong about his assessment that people will come to expect their books for as close to free as possible. You can look at the music business and the movie industry for evidence of this. It takes low prices to have any chance of combating piracy, and even that doesn't really work. The only real solution to piracy is offering everything up for free. So how is a writer to live if people expect that the writer's work shouldn't have to be paid for?

That's the real dilemma we're facing. Not "can writers survive without publishers?" but "can writers survive in a world of valueless art?" There are answers to this, though. One of those will answers will have to include an awareness from people that artists (writers, musicians, whatever) deserve to be supported in their work. That they provide something of value and deserve not just recognition but the ability to sustain themselves by providing that value to people. Right now, we are still caught up in the super star mentality that has evolved through  the world of the corporate machine, and we see these people as undeserving of our support because they already have the big bucks, but that attitude will change. I think. I hope.

I'm also certain that advertising will play some part in a writer's ability to provide himself a livelihood. Advertising is increasingly the way everything online supports itself. And everything points to a future where we are even more inundated by advertising than we are now. But there are other options, too, like the way some established authors are, basically, drawing their advance from the people. "Pay me to write my book." Once they have achieved whatever payment they're looking for, they release the book for free. And, I'm sure, other options will evolve as time goes on.

The one thing I am sure of is that story telling won't pass from existence, although I do wonder if it will change form, but that's a topic for another time...

Friday, August 26, 2011

The House on the Corner

So... The big news of the day, at least for me, is that The House on the Corner: First Person Edition is now available! Yes, I am excited. The proof looks SO good. Of course, Rusty Webb had a lot to do with that, since he did the cover art. The very spectacular cover art, I might add. Actually, not might add, because I did add it. I hope at least some of you will decide to pick it up and try it out. Currently, it's available through CreateSpace for $14.99 and for the Kindle for $2.99. You know, $2.99 isn't much. I'll have it set up for the Nook, soon, and I'm going to look at Smashwords, although I haven't used them before, so I haven't made any decisions about it, yet. Oh, and Goodreads. Which I'm on, but I only just learned I can sell through there, too, so I have to work that out. Autographed copies can also be available directly through me if you are PayPal capable. The book's supposed to be available through Amazon itself, also, but, for some reason, it's not showing up, yet. >shrug< It's better if you buy the physical copy through CreateSpace, anyway.

[Edit: The House on the Corner is, now, also available on the Nook for $2.99!]

Here's what I need from you guys... yeah, yeah, I know, but, really, there is something I need from you. I mean, other than just buying the book. It would be great to get some reviews. Preferably good reviews. :) Good reviews would be awesome. Especially on Amazon. So, yeah, this is what I'm asking: if you buy the book, read the book, like the book, please review the book. On your blogs would be great, but posting on Amazon and Goodreads would be awesome. Really awesome. Now, if you don't like the book, well... I'm not going to say don't review it. Because, you know, if you hate it and think it's the worst piece of crap ever written, it would be kind of wrong to just keep that to yourself. But I'm pretty sure it's not that bad. Of course, I'm biased. I mean, it's not Tolkien, but it's better than... well, I won't name names, but it's better than a lot of the traditionally published stuff out there right now. By "a lot", I might mean most.

Okay, I'll (mostly) be finished talking about The House on the Corner (for the moment).

As some of you might know, there's this blogfest thing going on. You know, this one:

Some of you are new followers from the blogfest, and I've picked up a few new blogs to follow, too, although I haven't had time, yet, to get around to as many as I would have liked. So far. It had something to do with trying to get the formatting finished for the Kindle edition of House. At any rate, I plan to spend more time making the rounds next week, now that I have the bulk of the work for House finished. Although, I didn't plan the timing, it seems to me that this is a good time for all of this (House becoming available for public consumption), since this is, theoretically, the purpose of the blogfest. Cool, huh? Interestingly enough, part of my participation in the Platform-building blogfest has included a re-evaluation of some of the blogs I already follow. What does that mean, you ask? It means I actually quit following some of them. I know! Horror of horrors! I exercised that "quit following" button. It's kind of a weird feeling. But! I just want you to know that I didn't do this indiscriminately. There were criteria. Things like it having been months and months since a post. I mean, if your not gonna post, there's nothing to follow anyway, right? Never responding to comments. And I don't just mean my comments. I mean if people leave comments but the author of the blog never responds to anything... well, let me just say you have to have a very, VERY interesting blog for me to follow you if you're not going to be involved with your followers. There were other things, but those were the main ones.

At any rate, the reason for dropping some is so that I have room to add more. heh Unfortunately, time is sort of finite, and I can only fit some many blogs into the time I have. Once I get that technology perfected for freezing time, I promise to follow everyone's blog. No, really, I do  promise! We're working on it. However, with the news that the Higgs boson particle probably doesn't really exist after all,  there may be some delays in the completion of the project.

Oh, and last (but not least), I received a blog award from Jennifer over at Serendipity's Library. The

I love Jennifer's blog. It always full of wacky fun, especially when she whips out Charlotte, the creepiest doll in the world. Check it out. I dare you.

And, now, I'm supposed to pass this one on to 5 other blogs with fewer than 200 followers and encourage them to do the same. So...

1. Has to be Rusty Webb. Even if he hadn't just done the cover art for my book, he'd be my pick for top slot. He always (well, pretty much always) has something interesting to say, even when he does things like title his posts "Most Boring Post Ever." And, really, he's just an all around nice guy who actually encourages dialogue in his comments.

2. Because she has a blog that is always full of useful information shared with excellent writing on the side, Alyssia Kirkhart over at Small World, Big Dreams. Really, her following does not reflect the quality of her blog.

3. Because she shares her Magic Eyes, Amanda Leigh Cowley. You'll have to stop by her place on the web to see what I mean.

And, well, actually, that's gonna be it. Everyone else I would award this to either already received it or has more than 200 followers. However, if I find 2 more blogs I think are deserving during the blogfest, I'll pass it on in a belated fashion.

That's it for me... for now, at least.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Accordion Days and Blogfests

I'm not sure if I mentioned it before, but my daughter plays the accordion. Yes, really. Out here where I live, they have an actual accordion festival every year. Yes. Really. We spent Sunday at the festival. It was kind of nerve-wracking. See, we got there kind of early, but there was already no parking. To complicate matter, we had to go in two cars, because my oldest wanted to bring his girlfriend, which caused an overflow situation. So, not only do we have to find parking, we have to find parking for two cars that is relatively close together. And here's where it gets complicated. I didn't bring my keys to the car I wasn't driving. However, I'm usually the one with the keys and the one that makes sure the car is locked.

About the time we get to gate to get into the festival, I say to my wife, "You locked the car, right?" This is important, because my daughter's accordion is in the car. She has to play it a bit later, but we didn't want to have to carry it around with us for hours ahead of time. My wife turns to me and says, "I thought you locked it." I'm like, "I don't have my keys with me..." So there is the mad dash back to the car to make sure it's locked. It wasn't. In a panic, I pull the door open, and, sure enough, there's another accordion in the back seat with my daughter's.

My daughter really does play the accordion, and there really is an accordion festival. We even really had to take two cars and had a hard time finding parking because of it.

Let me explain about my daughter. She chose the accordion. She was 7. She started playing in January of this year and is her teacher's star pupil. Her teacher has been teaching accordion for decades and says she has never seen a more driven student than my daughter. We're very proud of her. My daughter, that is, not her teacher. She played in front of a local grocery store last Friday after school for an hour as a promotion for the accordion festival and made over $30 in tips doing it. Needless to say, she was very excited by that.

Anyway... the main thing I like about the fact that she chose the accordion is that she chose the accordion. How many kids do that? Choose to play the accordion? I mean, most kids don't choose to play any musical instrument, but, when they do, it's almost always something typical. Mainstream. The violin. Piano. The guitar (it's always the guitar (my oldest plays the guitar)). Oh, or the drums. The bane of the parent. In fact, I've known kids that chose to play the drums specifically to torment their parents. But my daughter chose something unique, and I like that. It's a show of her personality and her individuality.

In a copycat society, and we are a copycat society, I tend to be for things that stand out. People that have the courage to choose their own path and walk it. What comes to mind is that bit in Holy Grail where Arthur says, "We're all individuals," and the guy from the crowd yells back "Not me! I'm not!" We all want to believe that we are, oh, so unique, and, I believe, we could be, but we spend so much of our time just following the crowd. Doing what we're supposed to do. It's disturbing. It's disturbing that people voluntarily give up the things that make them unique in favor of fitting in. Especially when they continue to go on about how unique they are. At this point, the guy saying "not me" is the one that's most individual!

So, yes... I like, no, love, that my daughter chose to play the accordion. And I also love that she is good at it. I mean, she's really good at it. Amazingly so, actually.

To apply all of this to writing, I think more of us should choose to write accordions. There are so many guitar books out there already. And piano books. They're all the same. You don't even have to be good at it because the belief is that people will by piano books and guitar books, so they just keep getting published. The problem with that is that you have to be, like, the Eric Clapton of guitar books to stand out. And, you know, if that's what you want to be, then you should go for it, but it would be nice to have some options. What I'm saying is don't do it just because everyone else is doing it. Find that thing that you like, that thing that you choose, and go for that. Don't just do the thing that everyone else is doing because everyone else is doing and because you think someone will publish you because of it.

In other news, there's this blogfest going on... maybe, you've heard of it? It's Rachael Harrie's third writers' platform building campaign. The link. If you're writer, go check it out. Unless you came from there, in which case you know all about it. In any case, there's a lot of opportunity to meet new people there, so you should drop by and read what it's about and how to get involved. If you're a writer. Because, you know, if you're not, you have no reason to care. Unless you're looking for something good to read, in which case, you might find something interesting by one of the participants.

Speaking of reading, check out my The House on the Corner tab (or click the link). I have the cover posted, now. Thanks to Rusty Webb for that excellent bit of art work! Hopefully, the new edition of House will be ready to go by the end of the week, or, at least, by Monday. We'll see...
Oh, and speaking of Rusty, make sure you check out his short story "A Dead God's Wrath." I'm about halfway through it, and it's quite good. It's only $0.99, so you can't really go wrong! I'll post a review once I've finished it and had time to write something up. So far, though, it was well worth the buck.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

DC vs Marvel and How It Relates To Writing (pt 3): Vision

Comic books are one of the few purely American inventions. Along with jazz. And rabid consumerism. But comic books are my favorite. Really, I love comic books. Just the idea of them. Unfortunately, they are far too expensive to collect anymore. At least in a way that allows you to follow the stories the way the big 2 (Marvel and DC) want you to follow them. Or, maybe, it's just that I love all of them and can't stop myself. Well... except that I did. As I said, they are way too expensive to collect, anymore; although, there was a time... But I digress...

DC Comics started out as National Allied Publications in 1934. Detective Comics, the series that would eventually give DC Comics its name, debuted in 1937. Without Batman. It was what it sounded like: an anthology series of detective stories. But the world of comic books changed forever in 1938 with the introduction of Superman in Action Comics #1. The age of the super hero had begun.

And they couldn't stop there. Superman was such a smash hit that they wanted another super hero, so National hired Bob Kane to create one. The result, with the help of Bill Finger, was the Bat-Man who debuted as the world's greatest detective in Detective Comics #27 in 1939. A whole slew of characters spewed forth in the next couple of years: the Flash, Wonder Woman, and the Green Lantern to name a few.

Although these characters did sometimes interact with each other, as Batman and Superman did in World's Finest and many of the other characters did in Justice Society of America, really, each character was completely independent of each other and, often, the cross-over stories ended up contradicting each other or the character's individual titles. Continuity wasn't important. Each issue was a self-contained entity not to be bothered by the existence of other issues.

Marvel Comics started in 1939 as Timely Comics. Their first series was actually called Marvel Comics and introduced the first Human Torch, an android, and Namor the Sub-Mariner. Captain America Comics came along in 1941, but there were many other heroes and titles sandwiched in there. Timely became Atlas in 1951 as super heroes fell out of fashion in the midst of the McCarthy hearings.

As McCarthyism ended, DC powered a resurgence in super hero comic books centered around the Flash, Green Lantern and the Justice League of America. However, things were still status quo in the super hero world. No continuity. No concern for what was happening in other titles. Often conflicting origin stories for the same character. But all of that was about to change...

Stan Lee had been working at Timely almost since the beginning. He had a new vision for super heroes, a vision of a cohesive world in which the heroes interacted and faced real problems. Like adolescence. And bills. Marvel Comics was launched in June, 1961, and, although the Fantastic Four was not the first issue to sport the Marvel Comics logo, it followed not long after in November. The Fantastic Four introduced what would become known as the Marvel Universe and change the way comic books were written forever.

The important thing to notice, here, is that Stan Lee had a vision for Marvel Comics. He had a particular story that he wanted to tell. Not the individual stories in the issues of the various series that sprang from his imagination, but an overall story of a world in which super heroes existed. DC had never had a vision. DC, if you will, was nothing more than an anthology of stories, some of them great, but each story was isolated and could be taken out of the whole without affecting it. Marvel, on  the other hand, became one vast epic in multiple volumes all hinged on each other. You couldn't just decide to yank something out, because everything else built on what had gone before. Stan Lee had introduced continuity into comic books.

DC has been playing catch up ever since. They still don't have it right. Just this month, they have begun a re-launch of all of their titles with issue #1 trying to establish the DC Universe as a cohesive whole. This is something like the 3rd or 4th time they've tried this (I've lost count). The issue, here, is a lack of vision. The only vision is to compete with Marvel who has dominated the comics world since their inception as Marvel Comics. There is no vision to the over arching story, only to competing. Or, to put it more simply, to make money.

Let's jump to the movies. When Marvel began their production company, Marvel Studios, with Iron Man, they did it with a vision. Sure, they wanted to make money, to be successful, but the vision wasn't about the money. The vision was to make movies that existed within a cohesive universe. A movie universe where the characters would interact and depend on each other much like Marvel Comics started out in 1961. In establishing this vision, they have been able to construct excellent movies with excellent stories that are building on each other and telling a much broader-scoped story. Warner Brothers, as with DC, has attempted to just make blockbuster movies. They have no vision. Because they have no vision, what we get are movies like Green Lantern and Superman Returns. With Marvel, with vision, we get Iron Man and Captain America.

I'm not saying that DC doesn't have some good characters and hasn't had some good stories. And Warner Brothers has managed to produce the Nolan Batman films; however, overall, DC remains less interesting than Marvel because of their lack of vision to the story and to the world. Granted, DC never had a Stan Lee. Never had someone with a vision that introduced the characters and tied them all together, but it doesn't seem to me to be a far leap of logic to understand what Stan did and to replicate it. After five decades of trying, though, they  have failed to do this.

All of this comes down to one point: vision is important. In fact, I would say that vision is close to all important. Your vision. The vision of the writer. The vision of the writer to know what it is s/he is trying to do and the story s/he is trying to tell. Without vision, you end up with a collection of stories that just don't work together. In a novel, that just doesn't work.

Not to step on any one's fingers or toes, okay, well, maybe some toes, but one of the most common things I see on other writer's blogs is how they've become stuck. S/he was writing along, listening to the voices in said writer's head, and, eventually, got to a place where s/he didn't know what was supposed to happen next. Inevitably, s/he resorts to going back and starting over, gutting, major re-writes, or just plain abandoning that project and switching to something else entirely. This seems a lot like what DC has been doing for several decades, now.

I might sound like I'm advocating for plotting, at this point, over pantsing, but I'm really not. I'm certainly not a plotter. I hate outlines. In school, I only ever did them after the fact because they had to be turned in. Except for those times when the outlines had to be turned in weeks in advance of the actual paper, and, then, I would just hate the entire process of making the outline first. Don't constrain me with those things, man!

However, I always write with a vision, a plan, of what I want to accomplish. Always. I do know where it is I want to go, even if I don't know the route I'm going to take. I'm not saying that my way is right or better or anything like that. However, as often as I read other people talking about getting "lost" in their stories, I have to wonder if it's because the writer didn't have some kind of vision when s/he was starting out.

Of course, the other issue I see is people that are writing with their only goal being to get published. The story is not the goal, just being published. That results in ripping and re-ripping any given manuscript apart at every stray word of any agent or publisher that comes along. This strikes me as being what Warner Brothers has done in trying to get a blockbuster super hero movie out (other than Batman). They're not focused on telling the story; they're focused on what they can do to make money.

As writers, I think the only thing we can do is tell our stories. That should be our vision. Once we have a story, it's great to work on getting it published, but if we're focused on just getting published... well, we may get published, but we'll end up washed away in the tide of all the other writers who just wanted to be published. No one will care. No one will remember. And, unfortunately, it might even be that no one will read. Just another book with its cover ripped off and sent back to be destroyed.

As much as I don't like Twilight, I have to say that Meyer did have vision. Her story came first. Ideas of publication only came after she had her stories. Maybe that's what all the people that have flocked to her books can see... her vision for her story. Because, really, that's what people want to see, the vision of the artist. Not the artist's attempt to duplicate someone else's vision.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Quilter or Weaver?

"I think, writing-wise, I am probably more of a quilter than a weaver because I just get a little scrap here and a little scrap there and sew them together." -- Rich Mullins

Rich Mullins was a man that I admired very much. He was one of the greatest song writers most of you have probably never heard of. His song "Awesome God," was voted the greatest Christian song of the 20th century, and some consider it the greatest Christian song ever written. The thing that really set him apart, though, as a person, was that he really lived what he believed. I mean really lived it.

-At an awards ceremony where he was to receive a prestigious award, he took up a position in the serving line for the dinner that was being served and helped to serve the food. He did not call attention to himself while doing this, and most people failed to recognize him, thinking he was just part of the staff.

-Instead of living the life of a big time singer and song writer, he set up a trust that all of his money went into. He received only the average amount that a single man would make in a year as his salary. He lived in a trailer house on a reservation in New Mexico where he taught music to children (for free). The rest of his money went to charity.

-He said this at a concert not long before his death in 1997, "Jesus said whatever you do to the least of these my brothers you’ve done it to me. And this is what I’ve come to think. That if I want to identify fully with Jesus Christ, who I claim to be my Savior and Lord, the best way that I can do that is to identify with the poor. This I know will go against the teachings of all the popular evangelical preachers. But they’re just wrong. They’re not bad, they’re just wrong. Christianity is not about building an absolutely secure little niche in the world where you can live with your perfect little wife and your perfect little children in a beautiful little house where you have no gays or minority groups anywhere near you. Christianity is about learning to love like Jesus loved and Jesus loved the poor and Jesus loved the broken..."

I could go on, but I'm not really here to talk about Mullins. I just wanted to give you some background on the person I'm quoting so that, maybe, you can understand why it's important to me.

I have often thought about his quote about writing. He was one of those people that would be inspired to write a few lines about something and that would be all he would have. Often, these were written on some scrap of paper he had handy. He saved all of these. I imagine that many, probably most, of these little fragments of verse that he wrote went completely unused. However, there would be times when he would become inspired to combine these fragments he collected into a song. As he puts it, he quilted.

In thinking of my poetry, I can completely relate to this. I have fragments of verse scattered... well, I'm not even sure where all I have them scattered. Somewhere, in storage, I have all of my notebooks from high school and college with snippets of things I've written. Someday, I'll find these and go through them, and, maybe, some of them will inspire new things or new combinations, and I will quilt something from them. Possibly joined with some of the things I have in the notebook by my computer or in the file on my computer. Fragments of verse.

My prose, on  the other hand, possibly tends more toward the weaving. But I'm not sure. I think I have so many ideas and themes from other places in The House on the Corner that it may be just an elaborate quilt. In fact, I sort of intended it that way, since I modeled it on the imaginations of children. So there are bits of things I took from other places stuck here and there throughout the book all sewn together with my own thread. My big project, though, the one that is still just mostly in my head, is definitely a weaving.

Tolkien, he was a weaver. A grand and glorious weaver. I don't think many people can do what he did. If they could, there would be more of it. Lewis was also a bit of a weaver. Not to the extent of Tolkien, though. Except that he said he was largely inspired by George MacDonald and games he played with his brother when he was a kid. There's Gaiman, but he says that Dream (from The Sandman) is based on his image of Moorcock's Elric. Maybe it's like Tolkien said and all of these things spring like mushrooms from the detritus of childhood and life. After all, Beowulf was a huge influence on Tolkien, and it's sprinkled throughout Middle Earth. Maybe, in the end, it's all just quilting.

Culturally, we tend to have a dim view of quilters. People who take scraps from other works and sew them together into something different. But, really, is that a bad thing? Sure, sometimes, the quilts aren't very good. We can see where the pieces came from and see that the original was better. But then there are the times where we can see what the scrap came from and see how the quilter took something from a work that was not very good and made it better. And, sometimes, the quilter is so good that you can no longer pick out from where the original pieces came.

Really, there are just too many books to sort who's weaving what and who's quilting from whose work. Maybe it's not even important. Not many people can come up with something completely new. Weave something original. As Bono says, "Every artist is a thief." Maybe we would be better at we do if we would just embrace ourselves as quilters and do the very best job of that that we can do. Take the pieces and make new pictures with them. Like a kaleidoscope but with words and themes and ideas.

Not that we should give up on the weaving, but Tolkien spent his whole life in Middle Earth. Those stories began in the trenches during World War I, and he was still working on them when he died in 1973. That's a long time to spend in the same place, and, in the end, many people believe Middle Earth was more real to him than the real world. But why shouldn't it have been? He made it. Most of us, though, aren't going to aspire to something like what he made. Which is not to say  that we can't do a bit of our own weaving. It just probably won't end up being a tapestry as elaborate as Tolkien's.

I'm not sure, exactly, what I'm getting at here. I think it's actually more about the question than the answer. I mean, I've been thinking about this question on and off for over a decade and still don't have an answer for it. I do know it's important to know what you're borrowing. No, let's be honest, stealing. But it's okay to steal. That's what art's all about. Making new things from the old. Or, if you're one of those lucky few that does have a completely original idea, like Gibson with Neuromancer (Although, if you take the time to look, you'll see that it wasn't so original, after all... at least, the pieces weren't. It's what he did with them.), count yourself fortunate and weave away.

I suppose what it comes down to is being skillful at whatever you're doing. Quilting. Weaving. Whatever you want to call it. Do it well, and make it yours.

Let me just leave you some of my favorite quilted lines from some songs by Rich Mullins:

from "If I Stand":

And there's a loyalty that's deeper than mere sentiments
And a music higher than the songs that I can sing

from "Home":

And now the night is fading and the storm is past
And everything that could be shaken was shaken
And all that remains is all I ever really had

from "Calling Out Your Name":

Well the moon moved past Nebraska
And spilled laughter on them cold Dakota Hills

And there's fury in a pheasant's wings

From the place where morning gathers
You can look sometimes forever 'til you see
What time may never know

from "Peace":

...may peace rain down from Heaven
Like little pieces of the sky

from "We Are Not As Strong As We Think We Are"

We are frail, we are fearfully and wonderfully made
Forged in the fires of human passion
Choking on the fumes of selfish rage
And with  these our hells and our heavens
So few inches apart
We must be awfully small
And not as strong as we think we are

When you love you walk on the water
Just don't stumble on the waves

Saturday, August 13, 2011

DC vs Marvel and How It Relates To Writing (pt 2): Captain America

Super hero movies have really come into their own in the last decade. It was long believed, along with fantasy, that it was a genre that would never be tapped. Marvel struggled for more than two decades to get Spider-Man off the ground. Even the super hero movies that had been made (the Reeve Superman and Burton's Batman, neither of which I liked) were only brief flashes that quickly descended into all sorts of foolishness. None of which can be forgiven. I think the nipples on the Batman and Robin costumes in Batman & Robin scarred me. However, all of that changed with X-Men, the movie that proved a real super hero movie could be made. And it opened the door to everything that has come since in terms of super hero movies.

Marvel has shown again and again that they know how to capture the essence of their characters even while changing some of the details to be more contemporary. Spider-Man and Iron Man are as near to perfect adaptations as you can get. I would like to say that DC got it right with Batman Begins, but, even though it's a great movie, it failed to really give us a distilled Batman. Rather it just gave us Nolan's version of Batman, a man really motivated by revenge, rather than the protector, the knight, that he's supposed to be. With the fiasco that was Green Lantern (along with Superman Returns), I'm beginning to think that Warner Brothers doesn't understand comic books or super heroes. Marvel, though, has given us another movie to add into the near perfect adaptation category: Captain America: The First Avenger.

Of all the new movies I saw this summer, Captain America was the one I enjoyed the most. I think it also has to rate as the best. I could break that down movie by movie, but I don't really want to spend the time to do it.  Set against the other super hero offerings, though, I think it's the winner, although Thor may make it a close call. At any rate, I've added it to my top three of near perfect super hero adaptations (alongside the aforementioned Spider-Man and Iron Man).

Before the release of the movie, I was worried about how they would deal with the whole being frozen in an ice cube thing that allows Cap to be revived in our time. After all, Captain America wasn't actually a part of the original Avengers team; he wasn't re-introduced until Avengers #4. I was pleased with how they chose to handle that, though, and telling the story as a flashback worked really well. I'm also not troubled by Cap starting out in the Avengers from the beginning in the movies. Captain America has become the symbol of the Avengers, inextricably entwined with them, and it's part of delivering the essence of Cap and the Avengers that has him there from the beginning.

The casting was spot on. Chris Evans was excellent. Beyond excellent. I think he was perfect in all actuality, and I can't imagine a better choice for the part. Like Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Or Patrick Stewart as Professor X. Tommy Lee Jones was completely enjoyable and perfect for that role even if it wasn't a stretch for him as an actor. Hugo Weaving was impressive as the Red Skull; likewise, I can't think of a better choice in actors for that part, although I'm not as committed to my position on that as I am on Evans. Stanley Tucci is one of my favorites, so I was glad to see him included. Joining the Howling Commandos to Cap made perfect sense, and the casting there also worked.

The weaving of the plot into what is going on in the rest of the Marvel Universe was superb. The cosmic cube ties in the Asgardian elements. Tony Stark's father is there. And we've already seen pieces of the Captain America legacy in some of the other films, so they've done a great job setting up for The Avengers. And the story as a self-contained entity was also excellent. We see the kind of person Steve Rogers is. Someone who believes in doing what's right no matter the personal cost. Someone who won't back down even against impossible odds. And, most importantly, we get a glimpse of him as a man out of time and dealing with having to adjust to a brand-new world.

The only negative thing I can say about the movie has to do with something my son pointed out. My younger son. He didn't like that they had "lasers" during World War II. He thought that was too sci-fi. Otherwise he loved the movie. Of course, they didn't have lasers in World War II or in the movie. After he said that, though, I realized that they didn't make it entirely explicit in the movie that the Hydra weapons were being powered by the cube. They do show what they're doing, but they never actually explain what's going on, so, to him, it was blue lasers. Of course, he does live in a Star Wars house, so, perhaps, that mistake is to be expected. After I explained to him what was going on with the cube, he was okay with the "lasers," but I probably shouldn't have needed to explain it to him. I mean, he's a smart kid (in fact, we just found out that he's going to be skipping 5th grade (school starts next Wednesday, and they're just letting us know this) and going right into middle school a year early), and, if I had to explain it to him, I'm sure there are other people out there that missed what was going on there, too. Other than that one snag, though, it's a pretty near perfect adaptation.

For this year, at any rate, if you line up the Marvel offerings of movies against the DC offering, Marvel is clearly dominant. Marvel delivered two excellent movies while Warner Brothers dropped a turd. Warner Brothers' desire to challenge The Avengers with their own Justice League is beginning to look absurd. They failed to pull together a Wonder Woman movie and decided to make a television series instead. The reviews for the Wonder Woman pilot were so abysmal that they're not even getting that. The re-boot of Superman is being re-booted. And, to top it off, they're losing Nolan (and, probably, Bale) after The Dark Knight Rises. Things for DC don't look good. However, Marvel's prospects keep looking better and better.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Blackberry Writing

My daughter and I picked blackberries yesterday. The blackberries were for a peach and blackberry cobbler, which was truly excellent, but that's beside the point. Oh, with french vanilla ice cream. Oh, my! the cobblery goodness! Nope... nope... not what we're here to talk about. No matter how good it was. I saved a tiny bit, though, so, if you can get here within  the next few hours, I'll let you have a tiny bit. A bite. Maybe two. But that's all. Anyway...

My daughter and I picked blackberries yesterday. Blackberries are a curious thing. Although they deliver us wonderful fruit, the vines are considered a weed. They're invasive, covered with thorns (even the leaves), and COVERED with thorns. Oh, wait, excuse me, not thorns. Prickles. Covered in prickles. They get in amongst other plants and, if left unchecked, will choke them out. Kill them. And they can thrive in poor soil making them great for ditches, vacant lots, wastelands. Of course, in many places, especially Oregon (Oregon produces the greatest volume of blackberries in the world), they're a cultivated weed.

I always want a ladder when we pick blackberries, because they climb all through the shrubs and up the fences and stick up way over the tops of them. There are always big clumps of ripe berries just out of reach. That's true for the kids, also. The kids that live in the complex here spend lots of time out at the blackberry vines. I can reach higher than them, so there's usually a good selection of berries at around the level of my head that the kids can't quite reach. The problem with these is that many of them have become overripe. These, of course, are the sweetest berries, and, really, only good for eating right off the vine. Which, of course, we do. And happily. The ones that are just barely within reach like that are not good at all, though. They're too high for the gentleness required to pick them, so they squish in your fingers when you try to pull them off and only yield juicy fingers rather than anything you can actually devour. But, if I had a ladder...

Also, I always want gloves. I'm not sure why I haven't invested in good blackberry picking gloves other than that I don't ever remember to do it. When I was a kid, a younger kid than my daughter is now, my cousins and I used to go picking blackberries with my grandmother. Or, rather, dewberries. Of course, dewberries are just a cultivar of blackberries, so, really, it was blackberry picking. My grandmother had these great leather gloves she wore when we picked berries. She also wore rubber boots and a thick, long-sleeved work shirt. She'd just shove the vines aside and get in there amongst the berries and pick away. My cousins and I are were always left on the outskirts gobbling up all the berries we could get our hands on, which was never as many as we would have liked. Enough, though, for us to go back home looking like we'd been fighting with a pack of wild cats. My daughter almost looks like that, but, being a city girl, she's not as willing to get scratched up as we were when we were kids on the farm in Texas. She counted seven scratches on her arms, yesterday. I'm much more cautious when I pick than I was when I was a kid, and I'm better at not getting clawed up. That comes with a price, though. Often, the plump interior berries get left behind, because I'm just not willing to stick my arm down in amongst the brambles to pull those berries out. Ah, for the heedlessness of youth.

As I mentioned, there are the overripe berries that are only good for eating right there at the vines. There are also the perfectly ripe berries. They're firm so that they don't squish in your fingers, but they also pull easily from their stem. These are also great at the vine, but, really, these are the ones you should be putting into your vessel to bring home, but they're so so tempting. Sweet with just a hint of tartness. Then, there are the nearly ripe berries. They can be difficult to pull from the stem, because they're just not quite ready to let go, but still good. A bit more tart, possibly too tart to eat at the vine depending upon how into that you are. These are also good to bring back if you're making something like a cobbler, because the tart can be a great addition for something like that. Of course, there are also plenty, right now, more than plenty, of red berries that haven't turned, yet, and have to be left for later.

Coming home with a container of berries is something to be proud of. It's not like picking blueberries or strawberries. Those are safe. Easy to get to. The biggest issue to deal with there is not eating them all while you're picking them. Not only do you have that to do deal with when gathering blackberries, you also have the thorns. Um, prickles. Coming home with a few cups worth of berries becomes a huge achievement. An oh so delicious achievement at that. Especially when they get turned into cobbler.

Writing is somewhat like picking blackberries. Wild and unkempt. It can grow anywhere. It's prickly. Choosing the ripe words can be difficult. Some of them are too soft, some of them too tart. Some not ripe at all. They're too high to reach or buried too deep inside the vines. They scratch and tear at you as you try to get at them. And you have to know what you want them for. Are you just eating them right there at the vine? The words you choose for that are going to be quite different from the types of words you're going to bring back to make into pie or jam.

Of course, the more we work at it, the more cultivated we can make our vines. Trimming them back so they don't get too tall. Or too deep. Keeping other plants out of them. Knowing which cultivar we want at any given time. Marionberry seems to be the preferred cultivar, at the moment, somewhat the way YA fiction is the preferred genre. At the moment. These things always change. Having the right tools to get the most out of our words.

Maybe, for some, writing is more like blueberries, but, for me, it's blackberries. It's painful, and it takes a lot of work. Selecting just the right berries for what I'm doing at that moment. Of course, when you get them home, you have to wash them off and pick back through them. Eat some more. Make sure they're good. Of course, if you're making jam, you don't have to be as careful. Just dump them all in. If you haven't been careful when you were picking, you may have too many that aren't ripe enough and have to be discarded for other purposes. Edit the berries more if you're doing something like putting them on ice cream. Those berries have to be perfect.

I tend to expend more work in the picking stage. I only want berries I'm going to use. Some people pick everything, which is faster and easier, but have to go back through their berries with much more care than I do. Some of those not quite ripe berries can still ripen if set aside, after all. Yes, I edit at the vine. So to speak. Editing in the kitchen is not something I enjoy as much, although that seems to me the way most people do it.

Hopefully, when you're all finished with your picking and sorting and sifting and cooking, you have a yummy cobbler like we did last night. Of course, it still may not be to every one's taste, and that's okay. My younger son chose not partake of the cobbler that everyone else was so ravenous over. Yes, we all think he's crazy, but it did have peaches in it, and he doesn't like peaches. Still, it's okay for him not to like it. However, blackberry jam (seedless) is his favorite kind of jam. The important thing is that you like it. I mean, you are the first person that will experience whatever it is you're picking those words for, right, so it's most important that you like it. And, if you don't, if you've cooked something up that not even you like the taste of, don't try to force it on someone else. Just get back to picking and try again.

Oh, and just by  the way, British folklore says you shouldn't eat blackberries picked after October 11. Apparently, the devil claims any blackberries that are still around at that point of the year and urinates all over them to stake his claim. I'm not sure what that says about writing, but I'm sure it's something significant.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

"I guess that concludes negotiations," and the Lucky Hat

We finished The Lord of the Rings at Skywalker Ranch this past week. We did not, however, run into George Lucas again. My friend said it was because I didn't wear my lucky hat. I didn't know I had a lucky hat, but, evidently, I do. Because I was wearing it the week before when we did see George but not wearing it any other time, my friend has declared it "lucky" and decreed that I must wear it any time I'm on any of George's property with him. heh

I feel uneasy about The Return of the King. Part of the problem with that is that it's been longer since I read that one than the rest, so the movie just gives me a feeling of being "off" that I can't really pinpoint. I love Gondor. I love the oliphants, even though they are just, really, too much. They're still spectacular. Maybe it's that the little changes that started in Fellowship take things too far off target at the end for me to deal with. But the movie really ends on target so that can't be it. I don't know. My summation of Return is that it's a great addition. Fellowship still should have been the one to get the Best Picture Oscar, but I can live with Return getting it if the alternative was that none would get it.

When I was younger, much younger, I used to do this thing. It's that thing that, sort of, everyone does. Any time a book is being made into a movie, readers always rush out to read the book before they see the movie. I used to do that, too. Inevitably, it lead to the movie being ruined for me. Always (always) my response was "the book was better." Of course, the book was better. Being almost the only reader out of my friends, it gave me a sense of superiority, I think, that I could always say "the book was better" in the midst of all of them saying that they liked the movie. Bottom line was that it caused a disenjoyment of the movies for me.

That all changed with The Hunt for Red October. I had never had any interest in reading Tom Clancy before the movie was coming out. I didn't read his genre. I toyed with the idea of reading the book before the movie, but, in the end, I figured, why bother. I didn't want to go out of my way to read something I wasn't actually inclined to read. The only reason I wanted to see the movie, anyway, was because of Sean Connery, so why bother with  the book. Connery wasn't in  the book.

As it turned out, I loved the movie. I loved the movie enough that I wanted to read the book. And I did, and the book was better. But not by much. It was better just because there was more stuff in it. But I discovered something... see, my cousin read the book first, and he had nothing good to say about the movie, because he had just read the book, and I found that to be very interesting. Especially after Patriot Games. Because I just kept reading Clancy for a while after Red October, so, by the time they got around to making Patriot Games, I'd already read it. And I didn't like the movie because of it.

That experience changed the way I did the whole book to movie thing. If there was a movie coming out based on a book, I wouldn't read it first. Reading the book first can ruin a movie, but it's very rare that seeing a movie can ruin a book (the one exception I've found to this is Percy Jackson--the movie is just so much better). This has made me able to enjoy many movies that I may have been overly critical of if I had read the books first, including The Lord of the Rings.

But, yes, I did read The Lord of the Rings first, many times, in fact. Here's what happened. I was actually in the process of reading LotR to my oldest son when the whole movie thing came up (I think that was my 4th time through the trilogy). We were in the middle of The Two Towers. I quit reading it. He was young enough, at the time, to not really care that I quit, because I just picked up something different to read to him. As long as I was reading something to him... he wasn't really particular. I wanted to have time for the details to fade a little bit so that I wouldn't be holding the books up to the movies the whole time. This is why I always have this uneasy feeling about Return. It's been quite a long time since I read that one, at this point, and a lot of the details are hazy. I just have a feeling that things aren't right. But I can still enjoy the movie, of which I am glad.

A good friend of mine, the one that looks so much like Ryan Reynolds, took the other route. As soon as they announced the movies, he determined to read the books first. He finished Fellowship just weeks before its release. He had a difficult time with the movie, especially with Arwen's role in it. It reminded me, again, of the dangers of inoculating myself with the book before seeing a movie. It is, however, time, again, to read The Lord of the Rings. If I can ever manage to finish these other two books that I'm reading! oy!

In other news, I finally saw Deathly Hallows Pt 2, and I'm glad it's been so long since I read the book. I'm sure I would have been more upset at the amount of stuff left out if I'd read it more recently. Now that the movies are finished, it's probably time for another re-reading of Harry Potter, too. I do feel, though, that they did a better job with this movie than they've done with most of them. It was quite enjoyable. Except for the histrionic girl sitting in the row in front of us that just would NOT SHUT UP. Seriously. She was one of those people that doesn't understand the internal part of "internal monologue." I have never been in a theater with a more obnoxious person, and that's, sort of, saying something.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

DC vs Marvel and How It Relates to Writing (pt. 1): Green Lantern

What's the first really bad movie you ever saw? Did it scar you? I was pretty young, 14, when I saw my very first horrible, rotten, stupid movie. Stupidest movie ever. Seriously. I'll tell you the name, but there's a good chance you won't be able to even look it up anywhere. It was so bad, it has 3 or 4 other names besides the name I saw it as: The Dungeonmaster. To my knowledge, it has never been made available on DVD. That's the closest I ever came to getting up and walking out of a theater. At 14. If that tells you anything.

Um, wait a second, the closest I ever came to walking out of a theater was Highlander II: The Quickening. All it took was that first few minutes where they start in with background narration or scroll or whatever it was and reveal that they were really aliens from the planet Zeist rather than the immortals that they were in the first movie. To this day, I'm not sure why I didn't get up and leave other than the fact that I was with my cousin. We got to see that movie for free, and I still felt ripped off. However, it's not quite as bad as The Dungeonmaster. Close, though, but it doesn't quite fall that far.

Green Lantern gave me flashbacks of Highlander II. From the very beginning. The opening sent me right back to that same place as watching the opening to Highlander II. Maybe it's because I already know the history of Green Lantern and  the Green Lantern Corps, or, maybe, it's because it was just bad. Based on the performance of the movie, I'm going to guess it was because it was bad.

I was hoping for good things from Green Lantern. He's one of DC's more significant heroes. Part of the Justice League. Has a cool gadget. And I love Ryan Reynolds. Admittedly, that's because he looks a lot like a good friend of mine. The two could almost be twins. I did think Bradley Cooper would have been better for the role, but, in retrospect, it's probably better for Cooper that he got passed over. Despite the good I was hoping for the movie, from the release of the first trailer, I was scared of what they were doing with it. As it turns out, I was right.

I hate to talk about rules, but the writers broke seemingly every rule there is for telling a good story. Let's see, do they have a prologue? Check. To make it worse, it's a non-essential prologue since they repeat every piece of information later in the movie as Hal Jordan discovers the story. So they have a prologue and they have needless repetition. I bet the script was full adverbs, too. Maybe it was one of those too many cooks in the kitchen scenarios, since there are, like, half a dozen people credited for the script.

They introduce at least half a dozen characters that serve no purpose within the actual plot. Yes, these are characters from the comic book, but they don't do anything. In fact, the whole point of introducing the rest of the Green Lantern Corp and the little blue guys that founded the organization is so that they can do nothing.


I could go on about all the things wrong with the movie, but it would be rather pointless, I suppose. Yes, I know what I would have done differently, but I'm sure there are plenty of people out there saying what should have been different, so that would be rather pointless, too.

What we have, when we boil it down, is a company, Warner Brothers, trying to make a blockbuster. Oh, and just by the way, Warner Brothers owns DC. They're not trying to tell a good story, they're only interested in tapping into the blockbuster formula, and, with the exception of Batman, they are failing miserably. And, I have to say, Batman has been an exception because they have Christopher Nolan doing those, and he is interested in telling a good story. For crying out loud, Warner Brothers, basically, fired Joss Whedon from the Wonder Woman project because his story didn't fit their blockbuster model. Seriously, what are these guys thinking? I can tell you... they're thinking about money not about telling stories.

This behavior is just like the big publishers work. They give you a list of things they want from novels that fit the formula of the blockbuster. They don't care whether there is an actual story there. They don't care that Harry Potter doesn't actually fit the criteria of what a blockbuster should be, they just want to duplicate the experience. But not the experience of Harry Potter, the experience of the money pouring in from Harry Potter. In our efforts to be published, we writers often spend our time scrambling after these rules and lists and trying to make everything we do fit into them. And we get are things like Green Lantern. Yes, it got made, but, really, would you want to be remembered for that?

Is there anything good to say about Green Lantern? Not much, but I'll give it a go.

Blake Lively was adequate. The role didn't require much, but she did deliver it. She came across to me as too pretty, really, to be believable. Hmm... maybe not too pretty but too dainty. She played the part well enough, though.

Tim Robbins was almost good, even great. His part was just too small to not like him to the degree that we are supposed to not like him. He puts as much into it in the time we have with him, but it's just not enough.

Peter Sarsgaard had glimmers of being really great. Unfortunately, as his condition worsens in the movie, so does his ability to play that part. He starts out as being sympathetic, but he's supposed to turn evil. We're supposed to not like him in the end. Instead, he just becomes pathetic. I think it wasn't his fault. I think he did what he could with a bad script.

I'd like to say Ryan Reynolds, but I can't. There is never any connection with Hal Jordan, because the script is just all over the place. We never care what happens to him. During the big fight climax at the end of the movie, there was no tension because, honestly, I didn't care if he died. I'm sure the writers thought that it being Ryan Reynolds would be enough, but, for me, it wasn't. Sure, he's his typical charming, roguish self, but it serves to distance us from the character, not tie us to him.

The Oath:
In brightest day, in blackest night,
No evil shall escape my sight.
Let those who worship evil's might,
Beware my power... Green Lantern's light!

However, saying the oath during the moment of crisis should not make you able to defeat the bad guy. Yes, it was dramatic, but it was also totally ridiculous.

So, yeah... I couldn't really think of anything that's completely positive about the movie. I can't believe Warner Brothers is going forward with the sequel.

We got to see the movie for free. It's a good thing, too; if I'd paid money for it, I would have felt ripped off. Like with Highlander II some 20 odd years ago, that was 2 hours of my life I'd rather have back. Even my 10-year-old didn't like it. he told my daughter that she should be glad she didn't go with us. At 10, he already has 2 movies that he's seen that are so bad, he would have walked out if he could have. The other one was Shyamalan's The Last Airbender. It's easy to like things when you're 10. Looking back, I can't believe some of the things I liked at 10. It seems wrong to me that stuff this bad is coming out. Stuff that not even a 10-year-old can get behind.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Nostalgia vs the Transformers (pt 2): Dark of the Moon

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is a spectacular movie. I mean that literally. It is full of spectacle. And it's more than worth the price of the 3D admission because of it. Say what you want about Michael Bay and his talent (or lack thereof), but he knows how to make a visually stunning movie. And, you know, I think there might not be anything wrong with that. Let me give you an example:

1998 saw the release of two movies in which Earth would face destruction: Deep Impact and Armageddon. Deep Impact focuses on relationships in the face of tragedy. Armageddon is directed by Bay. My preference, by far, is Deep Impact. It has more story (and scientific accuracy). Wait, let me rephrase that. The story of Impact is about the people, the relationships, and what they do when faced with a catastrophic event. The impending catastrophe could have been anything, really; it's just that it happens to be a comet. Armageddon is about the catastrophe itself, dealing with the thing that is the catastrophic event. It's full of spectacle. One is a drama, one is an action movie. I've known more than a few people who cited Armageddon as their favorite movie ever at one time or another, and the film grossed more than half a billion dollars, 200 million more than Impact. People, for good or ill, like spectacle.

These two movies took the same story (literally, since Disney copied the story of Impact and initiated Armageddon as a counter film), but Bay was able to realize the story's potential for dazzlement, drama (not in  the sense of being a drama but of capitalizing on the drama of the event), and sheer Wowness and make the higher grossing film. I'm not saying he made a better film, certainly not a better story, but he made the more appealing one. There is talent in that. Probably a lot of talent.

At any rate, Dark of the Moon, like Revenge of the Fallen, has taken a critical bashing. However, it has grossed more internationally than Transformers 2 (it already has the highest gross of the the three Transformers movies and isn't finished, yet) and may pass it domestically, also. All of that to say, despite what is probably a weak story, people like it. And the critics hate, and I do mean hate, Bay for it.

Here's the thing, my wife and I are extremely hard on sci-fi shows. We routinely scoff at them and make fun of them. Even shows we like. Like Stargate. We watched a whole season of Warehouse 13, groaning and making fun of it the whole time. I watch Eureka with my kids while rolling my eyes at the ridiculous plots and bad science. And don't even get me started on Star Trek (I have just two words: red matter). And yet... and yet... I give Transformers a pass on all of this. Why? Because I loved it as a kid. There it is: nostalgia at work. I don't care if it has bad science.

The story for Dark of the Moon, when looked at objectively, is... I don't even have words for it. The idea of transporting a planet across the galaxy through a man made, well, robot made wormhole... Let's just say it more than stretches the fabric of science. Or even science fiction. But you know what? That was the plot for one of the early story arcs in  the cartoon back before I bothered to question that sort of thing, so my reaction is more "wow! I remember that!" rather than "wow! That's so stupid!" And I can't help it. Oh, and the thing with the Autobots going up in  the rocket and faking their deaths... that's from the cartoon, too.

All of that to say that the critics can bash the movie all they want, it's not going to change anything. They should have spent more time watching Transformers when they were kids. Or something. Maybe they need lessons in the suspension of disbelief. I guess what I'm saying is this:
I'm not a bandwagon kind of guy. Not by any stretch of the imagination. I'm cynical (just ask my wife). I'm critical (my wife would say overly critical). I'm suspicious, especially of things that are popular. However, I'm also not going to bash something or forsake it merely for being popular. [I have a cousin who did that with U2 back when The Joshua Tree came out. Although he had loved them prior to that, because they were suddenly the popular band, he decided he couldn't like them anymore. Because other people did.] Mostly, I just make my own decisions about what I like, and I'm not going to allow what other people think about it influence me one way or the other.

So, yeah, I had a lot of fun with Transformers: Dark of the Moon.


Say what you will about Megan Fox, Bay shouldn't have dumped her. Or, at least, if he really  had to dump her, he should have found a better replacement. It's not like Megan set the bar very high. Yeah, she's attractive, but attractive actresses in Hollywood are a dime a dozen. Shake a tree, and they'll fall out on your head. What I'm saying is if all he wanted was attractive or hot or whatever, he could have done a better job, because the new girl is not Megan Fox. And! And! Here's the real issue: the new girl makes Megan look like Meryl Streep in the acting department. That's saying something... I'm not sure what, exactly, it's saying, but it is. Not Megan Fox was easily the worst part of the movie.

Megatron looked cool in a tattered cloak. Yeah, a giant robot wearing a tattered cloak is kind of dumb, but it looked cool!

I liked Patrick Dempsey. I thought he did a great job in that role.

And, of course, Shia. I think he's a good actor; I just wish he didn't think so highly of himself. But this is about the movie, not about him as a person.

I love John Turturro and how he brings off the crazy, conspiracy theory persona.

Oh, and John Malkovich, whom I always want to like but often can't, was great.

I suppose, in the end, what I can say is this: If you like the Transformers, there's a good chance you'll like this movie. Especially, if they are something out of your childhood. If you like lots of action and don't really care about whether the story makes any sense, you should like this movie. However, if Transformers mean nothing to you and story is the most important element of your movie-going experience, you'll probably want to stay away.

And just to add as a disclaimer:
I'm not a Bay fan, no matter how this sounds. I didn't care for Armageddon. The Island sucked. I've never been a fan of Bad Boys even though I really like Will Smith (he just wasn't enough to make those movies work for me). However, I do think he has a certain amount of talent. Or a certain kind of talent. Certainly a talent for making big, blockbuster movies. And I could tell you stories, weird stories, about him from being at Skywalker Ranch, but I'm not going to go there, right now. I do like what he's done with the Transformers, though. I'm already looking forward to the next one.