Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Weight of Wrong

I may have mentioned a while back that one of my kids, as a birthday present, got season passes for the family for Six Flags. This is somewhat analogous to giving the gift of the "noisy toy" to someone else's kid. Especially when my kids can't even agree upon which rides to ride. Practically speaking, this means I have to take my kids to Six Flags often enough to make the season passes worthwhile. Don't look at me like that; most of this process is not pleasant or fun. I mean, it's not like I get to ride anything, because I'm always on the ground with whatever kid refuses to go one whatever ride we're at. The only ride they all like is the water ride, which I don't like, so I'm still on the ground... except, when they're on that, which always has a long line, is when I write. heh heh

But anyway, that's all beside the point.

Recently, while on the way back from Six Flags, I got flipped off for being in the way of someone's desire to break the law. Let me explain.

We were driving back from Vallejo; it was rush hour, so traffic was slow; but we were in the carpool lane, because, well, we were a carpool. Traffic in the carpool lane was not slow. Where everyone else was going, maybe, 50 mph, we were going 65. I have to say, I love the carpool lane. More people should use it. Legally, that is. Environmental issues aside: if more people carpooled, regular traffic would be less congested. Anyway, we were going 65, which I know, because I had the cruise control set, and we were fairly flying along. At least, we were flying along in comparison to everyone else.

But, in the midst of that, a young guy (early 20s at most) in a red, almost-sports car came speeding up behind me. There are two things wrong with this picture:
1. The obvious. He was speeding. And I don't mean a little.
2. He was in the carpool lane. I don't know about the rest of the country, but CA takes it carpool lanes seriously, and the fine for getting caught driving in one during carpool hours while not being a carpool is pretty steep.
I could see that the guy was getting angry at being stuck behind me, but 1. I was where I was supposed to be; he was not. 2. I wasn't going to try to slow down 15-20 mph to get into the regular traffic flow just so that he could break the law.

Yes, it's breaking the law to speed. Traffic-related deaths are still, as far as I know, the #1 cause of non-natural deaths in the United States. Most of these are caused by substance abuse or speeding or both. When you are speeding and a cop pulls you over, he is not the bad guy; you are. He should not be off somewhere stopping a "real crime," because that is what he is doing. Pulling you over for speeding is much more likely to be saving your life and the life of some victim of your stupidity and selfishness than anything else that cop could be doing. I get that you don't like getting caught doing something wrong, but, when you get pissed off about it and blame the cop, you're acting just like a teenager yelling at his/her parents for breaking some household rule. Grow up. When you do, you will understand.

Just by the way, when I'm going the speed limit--and I am never intentionally going over the speed limit (and only very rarely am I doing it by accident)--and you pull up behind me getting all pissy because I won't break the law by speeding up or  won't slow down and thus facilitate you in breaking the law, it makes me want to slow down and match the speed of the traffic in the other lane anyway, just to piss you off even more. [I don't do that, but, my gosh!, it makes me want to!]

Aside: The fast lane is not for speeding. Don't you even think that it is. The fast lane is for people who want to go the speed limit. The slow lane is for people that don't want to go the speed limit. When I am in the fast lane and I am going the speed limit, I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing. I don't care if you want to go faster. I don't care if there are 20 of you behind me that want to go faster. It is not my job to facilitate the wrong you want to do. When I am going the speed limit, I am not the "slow driver;" you are the "too fast driver."

Anyway, finally, for whatever reason, there was a break in the (much) slower traffic to my right, and the guy behind me dodged into the hole, causing the person he cut off to have to slow down even more, and sped around me, narrowly avoiding me and the car just in front of him. The whole time he was doing this, he had his left arm fully extended from his window, flipping me off. He was going at least 80 as he accelerated away from me. He was not the only one to exhibit this kind of behavior, but he was certainly the worst.

Now, I am not really talking about traffic issues here. They are just the illustration of the problem. We here in the United States have come to think that we are entitled to do whatever we want. All the time. Not only should we be allowed to do whatever we want, other people should enable us in our desires to do whatever we want. All the time. Even when those things we want to do are wrong. Even if those things we want to do have the potential to hurt other people. Or even if they will hurt other people. Or the world. Or whatever.

You want to talk about trickle down effect; well, this is where it really works. The rich, who got even richer during the recent recession while everyone else got poorer, exercise their "entitlement" all the time, and everyone else sees them doing it, getting whatever they want whenever they want it, and we decide we want that, too. And we really don't tend to care whom we may hurt to get the things that we want. So we end up with dead teenage boys on a city street. Or we end up with a four car collision during rush hour. Or any number of other things, all because we want what we want and we want it now.

Tell me, how many of you actually like the character of Veruca Salt? And, yet, that's exactly how Americans tend to act. All the time.

And it's wrong. All the time.

So, when I'm driving down the freeway in the fast lane and going the speed limit, no, I will not move over for you. And, no, I don't care if there are 20 of you backed up behind me. The weight of your numbers and desire to get what you want doesn't make it right. It doesn't. And, no, it doesn't matter how many of you start eating rocks, I'm not going to do that, either. [If you understand that reference, you will earn major points. I may have to develop a system whereby people can actually earn points and trade them in for stuff. Virtual points don't do anyone any good. (No, Briane, you can't have my idea.)] And, no, just because 90% of you (or more) want to think that comma usage is "subjective" and you should get to put them wherever you want, it doesn't make it correct. Nor does calling stuff poetry that doesn't meet the definition of poetry make it poetry. Also, starting in the middle of the action and skipping all the exposition in your story just because it's popular to do it that way, right now, that's not right, either. If you leave out the exposition and most of the rising action, you don't actually have a full story; you have part of one; I don't care how long it is.

What I'm saying here is this:
Lots of people being wrong about something doesn't by sheer numbers make it right. I didn't bow to that kind of peer pressure when I was in high school, and I'm not about to start now, so, go ahead, exercise that finger all you want.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Wolverine and a Bowl of Pop Culture

Does everyone have a bowl? Yes, you have to bring your own; I just don't have enough. And a spoon, too. No chopsticks, because we don't want to leave them standing upright in our pop culture, right? It's bad luck. Evidently. Anyway, get your bowls and your spoons, and pour yourself a heaping bowl of pop culture. But no milk; Wolvie doesn't like it.

I wanted very badly to not want to go see The Wolverine in the theater. Why pay for another movie I was just going to be disappointed in, right? I mean, this year has been particularly good for disappointing movies. And that doesn't even take into account the other Wolverine movie, one of the worst super hero movies made so far (and all because of the ending). [It's amazing how a botched ending can ruin an otherwise decent movie.] But Wolverine has been in my top three favorite heroes since... oh, well, a long time, and Hugh Jackman just nails that role, so I couldn't convince myself to wait. I'm actually glad that I didn't; some times, it's good to go into something with, basically, no expectations.

As it turned out, The Wolverine was much better than I expected it to be, and I actually enjoyed most of it. It has its issues, but, at least, they weren't really bad story-telling issues. The story, amazingly enough, was pretty solid and managed to not go off the cliff that the origin movie did. Of course, the story is only "pretty solid" if you look at it within the context of the X-Men movies. This movie has nothing to do with the comics other than that they pull some familiar characters from the Wolverine mythos to use in the movie. If you were hoping for anything resembling an adaptation of the Frank Miller/Chris Claremont Wolverine mini-series from the early '80s, you're not going to find that here. Okay, you'll get something vaguely resembling it. Very vaguely. He does fight some Hand ninjas. Except their not called that. So we're back to that "vaguely" again.

The thing to know about The Wolverine is that it's not about what it's about it. Within the context of the X-Men movies, the story is here to bridge the gap between X-Men: The Last Stand and the forthcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past and deal with the ramifications of how Last Stand ended. Basically, it's to get Logan to let go of the death of Jean and his part in it. With that goal in mind, The Wolverine actually accomplished its purpose and in a way that made sense. The micro-plot of just this one movie wasn't too bad either, even if it did have more than its share of "what the heck?" moments.

Spoiler alert:
The biggest issue with the movie is the sleight-of-hand they play with Logan's healing power. The dying old guy wants Logan's ability, and the best the writers could come up with is that the old dude is going to "steal" it. Not duplicate it, steal it. Which sounds like they're going to do some kind of thing like when Rogue absorbs other mutants' powers, but, no, the old guy is just going to drill into Logan's bone marrow and transfer the power to himself, which doesn't make any sense, but I'll give it a pass on the handwavium principle. Except that they also "suppress" his healing power using a little "Matrix" bug that gets on Wolvie's heart, and they don't explain that, either, especially after making it seem as if this is some other mutant thing before we find out it's a device. Really, you can only get a pass on one of these things in the movie. The deal with the tiny robot is that they want Wolverine to rip his own heart out to get rid of the thing, so I can see that they're going for the "cool factor" with that, but, then, they don't show it, so they lose out on that, anyway. And it leaves all kinds of questions: does the little robot bug suppress all mutant abilities or just Logan's? Or just Logan's healing factor? It's hard to tell, because he really doesn't use any of his heightened senses in the movie at all, so we don't know if he still has those or not. Of course, there's also the argument that Logan's healing power should have just expelled the little robot bug to begin with, but the movie Wolverine isn't quite as powerful as the comic book Wolverine.

And neither is adamantium, evidently, because we again have a "bullet piercing adamantium" situation in that the old guy cuts off Wolverine's claws to get at his bone marrow. It's slightly more believable than the bullet being fired into Logan's head but not by much.

At any rate, those things are just issues with story points not the story itself, and we have to deal with those all the time. Like people surviving explosions by jumping into water or standing behind a wall or whatever. So, whereas there are some... stupid? silly? okay, stupid... things within the story, the plot of The Wolverine holds up both on the level of there being a villain intent upon stealing Logan's healing powers and as a vehicle for Logan to get over have killed Jean.

Having said all of that, The Wolverine is not a movie you have to see in the theater. It's not like Pacific Rim or Man of Steel (although I think it's a better movie than both of those) that really need to be seen on the big screen to get the full effect of the scope of the action. You can just as easily wait for the DVD for this one, and, honestly, I doubt there's anything necessary in this movie for the overall X-Men story line. If you like Wolverine, it's probably worth seeing it, but you're not going to feel like you missed anything if you give this one a pass on the way to Days of Future Past.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Religion of Writing: Part Five -- Gastromancy and Other Voices

I first talked about gastromancy back in April and how it was the beginning of ventriloquism. It was also the beginning of people using "the voice of god" as a way of manipulating people. "God has told me that you should all give me all of your sheep and do whatever I say!" Okay, well, that part probably went back before gastromancy, but gastromancy made it that much more believable since other people could hear the voice of god rumbling in the prophet's tummy.

The truth is that people throughout history have claimed to have heard "god" and used that as a means of making other people do what they say. "If you don't obey me, god will smite you! I know because god told me so!" And how do you deal with that? I mean, how do you know whether that person is hearing god or not, especially if you're not. And what do you do when different people are saying that god is saying things that conflict with each other? That's simple: more than one god.

That's one of the things I like about the Bible. Very often (more often than not), the people in the Bible demand proof that it is, actually, the voice of God they're hearing. Moses needed a burning bush, then the pharaoh, along with all of the Israelites, needed a bunch of plagues before they were convinced. And, even then, they didn't do such a great job of doing what they were told. Gideon had to play "wet my fleece" with the Lord before he'd do what he was told. And Jonah... well, he just disobeyed. But being puked up on the shore by a giant "fish" was pretty good evidence for the people of Nineveh that God was talking.

Things aren't so dramatic these days, though, and I have to doubt any time anyone ever tells me "well, God told me to do it." Why? Because 99% of the time, "God" just happens to be telling them to do the thing that they already want to do. Even if that thing is wrong. What amuses me most, though, is when, later, they quit doing that thing, or do the other thing that is opposed to the first thing, also because "God" told them so.

Personally, I don't ever want God to show up and actually talk to me. Seriously. Look in the Bible and give me one example where God shows up to tell anyone something good. You know, like the lottery numbers. No. God shows up and says things like, "Build a giant boat," or, "Surprise! You're gonna have a baby!" or, even worse, "Saul [before he was Paul], you've been bad. Stop it! Oh, and I'm gonna make you blind for a while just to prove my point." So, yeah, I've know people my whole life that have said things like, "I wish God would just tell me what to do" [because He's been busy telling other people what to do], but I think I'll pass on that. Usually, whatever it is they're looking for guidance about is already covered in the Bible, anyway, and they're just hoping God will show up and tell them something different.

All of that to say that all those people I have known in churches that are always going on about "hearing the voice of god" and what god is saying to them, or what he's telling them to do, or telling them to tell other people to do, remind me a lot of writers that go around talking about hearing the voices of their characters in their head. I just never know quite what to make of it.

I mean, I get it. I get the whole thinking about your story all of the time, but, me, I never hear my characters talking in my head. And it weirds me out more than a little to hear so many writers talk about that all the time. Am I supposed to be hearing voices in my head? I don't think so. That sounds like crazy talk to me. I mean, like, you need to get help, real help, crazy talk. Or do they just mean they're thinking about their stories all the time?

See, the thing is, not only do those people in church go around talking about how they "hear God," many of them actually believe it. And, yeah, you could say, "Maybe, they are just so much more spiritual than you, and they really are hearing God," and that may be true for some of them, but, with a lot of them, it's just like the whole speaking in tongues thing: they've made themselves believe that it's a really happening when it's not. What? How can I tell? Well, they spend their lives going from one mess to another doing what they "heard" God tell them to do. They wreck other people's lives, destroy friendships, and hurt people, and that just doesn't fit in with the whole "be excellent to each other" thing that Jesus said to do. But, then, maybe these people have some other god that they're not telling anyone about. Or, maybe, they just want to use the responsibility escape clause, "God told me to."

A lot of these writers that talk about hearing the voices of their characters are kind of the same way. I mean that in that they are always talking about the messes their books are in because they've been listening to their characters and they don't know how to fix the steaming pile their manuscripts have become. Well, short of trashing them and starting over. Which always makes me think, "Why are you listening to these voices? It's your story; make them do what you want." Which is not to say that I don't believe in character integrity, because I totally do, but, still, take some control! And, if you can't, if the voices in your head really are that powerful, maybe you really do need some help. Or, maybe, it's just another way of getting around not being able to produce a complete manuscript, "No, really, I am a good and competent writer; it's just that these characters in my head keep telling me to write stupid stuff." It's their fault, not mine.

So, yeah, I know this particular thing may be a sacred cow I don't really want to take a bite of. Everyone has (and should have) their own process, and if yours involves hearing voices in your head, well, I don't want to get in the way of that. But, then, I have known a few people who really did hear voices in their heads, and none of those situations turned out well, so it always leaves me wondering when writers talk about this phenomenon. I guess, if you do hear your characters talking, make sure they stay just characters for your stories. And, well, be the boss of them, too.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Jon Clinch's Ink

Jon Clinch would have you believe that he is the best writer that you've never read. And, well, maybe, he is, but I don't know, because I've never read any of his fiction. I'm not sure if I will, either. Here, let me start at the end:

Unmediated Ink: Notes from the self-publishing revolution ends with samples of all of Clinch's novels,

and, having read through them, I can't say that any of the books appealed to me in the slightest. And, see, I really want to want to read Finn, his debut novel. It got all kinds of praise (from literary critics) when it came out, has strong reviews, everything that says it ought to be a good read, but I started reading the sample and, not only was I not hooked, I was turned off by almost everything there, from the present tense of it to the skimpiness of it. And I don't mean the descriptions necessarily but the phrasing. All of the book samples struck me about the same. So, as much as I want to be a Clinch supporter (and I do, because I like what he stands for), I don't know if I ever will be.

Back to the beginning:
Clinch's first novel, Finn, was picked up with a six-figure advance. Yes, six figures, and Clinch reminds us of this several times in Ink. It was put on several best book lists of 2007 and up several awards. Maybe this is why Random House opted out of doing any real marketing of the book. After all, being on all of the those lists (all newspaper book critic lists) used to mean that people would read it, but newspapers don't carry the same weight today as they used to, and Finn under-performed.

Still, that didn't keep Clinch's second novel, Kings of the Earth, from getting picked up on another six-figure deal. Kings also received critical praise and was named the #1 book on the 2010 summer reading list in O, The Oprah Magazine. [There was a time when that slot would have meant an instant bestseller, but, maybe, that mess with Frey hurt more than I knew about.] And, again, maybe that's why Random House let the book flop around like a fish that has flipped out of its fish tank; the book didn't sell.

And Jon Clinch wasn't happy about it.

And I get that. His publisher failed him. I mean, they didn't even make the attempt to market the books. [Let me be clear, here, this is why he believes you've never read any of his books. Because his publisher failed to market them.] So he struck out on his own, self-publishing three more books including this one. He figured he could do better. Except I don't really know what that means. Is doing better selling more books (I don't know if he's done that.) or is doing better making more money (because I'm pretty sure he hassn't done that (it's hard to beat two six-figure book deals))? He fails to clarify or, even, offer the results. Unless he's still waiting for the results. At any rate, he seems to be much more satisfied with the amount of control he has now.

Ink is roughly divided into three sections: the problems with the big publishers, how he went about self-publishing his own books, and the samples of his novels.

Section one is the most interesting; the only problem is that Clinch just sort of skims from topic to topic like a stone across a pond. He mentions various things, but he offers no actual data or information about those topics beyond his own experience. Which is valid, but, then, with the two six-figure books deals he had, it comes off as kind of whiny. At least to me. Like the kid holding a double-scoop ice cream cone stomping his feet and saying, "But, Daddy, I wanted three scoops!" The only exception he makes to this is when he talks about Mary Doria Russell and what Random House did to her over Doc (yes, you should go read that post). That's his one concrete piece of evidence about what he's talking about other than saying things like, "this stuff is happening to all kinds of authors." And it's not that I don't believe him, but it would have been nice to have seen something more concrete. To put it in scientific terms, he offered up a hypothesis without any experimental data.

The second section follows his process of self-publishing. I would like to say it's worth grabbing up just for this stuff, but, unfortunately, it's not. There are three things that keep the section from being useful: 1. the aforementioned six-figure book deals and the plenty of money to do whatever he wanted to do (as opposed to most self-published authors who have budgets that amount in the hundreds of dollars if they have a budget at all) 2. the fact that he already had a relationship with many bookstores due to the aforementioned books 3. his background in marketing and advertising. He was just able to do a lot of things that, probably, 99% of authors who are self-publishing will not be able to replicate. So, whereas it's interesting to see the path he chose, I can't say that it's useful.

He ends that section with some reflections about self-publishing and where it might be going, but, again, he doesn't go deep enough, just skims the topics. And, having experienced both traditional and self publishing, he offers no evaluation. The closest we can get to how he thinks the two compare is that he seems to imply that he will continue down the self-publishing path, although he never states that explicitly.

The final portion of the book, as I stated, is a sampling of his four novels. These being here strike me as a marketing move, and it's probably a good one. Traditional publishers have long been putting samples in the backs of books. These samples do take up about 40% of the actual content of Ink, though, which already isn't long. And, well, if it was a marketing move, it's one that failed with me. Whereas, before I read the sample, I was planning to get Finn, I'm leaning away from that now.

All in all, I'd say Unmediated Ink is only worth the read if you want a superficial glance at one author's experiences in traditional publishing. It's not that I don't agree with him; I do. I agree with almost everything he says, especially the part about traditional publishers only being interested in the "next big thing," but, without the data to support his claims, the book is nothing more than anecdotal. And that's unfortunate, because a more in depth look at the issues plaguing the publishing industry, especially from someone who has seen both sides, is way past due.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Pacific Rim (part 2)

As I said last time, Pacific Rim was an amazing movie to watch. Seriously impressive visual display. And it leads off with it, too, as we start out right at the first Kaiju attack. The problem is that it's a prologue, and a prologue with voice over, at that. I really don't enjoy that kind of thing in movies. To compound the problem, it was the prologue to the prologue. Yes, the movie had to have two prologues. Just about the time I was allowing myself to get into the movie and be unannoyed by the prologue, we find out that what should have been the beginning of the movie was just another prologue. So, now, we're something like 20 minutes into the film, and the actual movie hasn't even started.

That issue with the storytelling ends up being the movie's greatest flaw. Basically, they started what was an epic tale spanning years and skipped to the last battle. There's no emotional connection to any of the characters, no foundation for the arbitrary scientific-sounding crap they fling at you in the same way that chimpanzees fling poo (and, yes, I have a story about that... for another day), and no logic to the things that happen. IF they had started at the beginning of the story or, at least, closer to it, they could have built something more believable. It's kind of too bad, because, like I said, visually amazing.

I'm not even going to get into the specific story issues. They are just too numerous to list. In fact, I'm sure I've forgotten most of them. Let's just say this movie is more hole than cheese (Swiss cheese, you know).  I'll sum it up this way: After the movie was over and my friends and I were comparing notes, so to speak, they were all about how great they thought it was. But I wasn't saying much. Not much more than it was amazing to look at, at any rate. And they're used to this from me, to me being the one most likely to not like a movie, but I was really trying not to say anything, but I guess I had this look on my face, because they were all like, "What? What was it that you didn't like? Because it was amazing." So I said I would share the one thing I thought was the most stupid (the arbitrary choice to have two pilots because the "neural load" was too much for one pilot (like I said, there's a lot of scientific-sounding crap flung at the audience to achieve what they wanted in the story, but that "neural load" crap is just that: crap)), and one of the guys started to respond with "but the right hemisphere and the left...," and I just kind of looked at him, and he stopped, and, then, all three of them started spewing various stupidities from the movie. And that lasted for something like half an hour, and I never brought up another thing. So, see, all three of these guys that walked out of the theater loving the movie couldn't hold the stupid back once the gate was open, much like the Kaiju gate in the movie.

I wish I could say something positive about the acting, but there's nothing there to talk about. No one was horrible, but no one was great, either. Or, even, all that good. It was a 'fest of mediocre. Okay, Charlie Day was good, but he was as good as it got. I mean, Idris Elba was so flat, they had to give him a nose bleed to pass for emotion.

The whole movie was like getting a giant present wrapped in the most awesome wrapping ever: glittery paper, bows, a great card, but, when you open it, you find an open package of chewing gum or something. To put it another way: big hat, no cattle.

But I'd still say to go see it at the theater, because it's just that kind of movie.

So... The movie ended, and we were heading out, trying to follow this other guy that had been with us, but he was on call there at LucasFilm, so he was heading back to his desk, so we started out going that way, too, so we ended up going off through the building into areas I had never been...

And there was just so much cool stuff! Around one corner was a display case with a tyrannosaurus Rex model in it from Jurassic Park and, down the hall, a case with a model of the foot structure of the T. Rex. And, of course, more movie posters. And, in a little lounge area, a suit of silver robot armor from some commercial ILM did at some point, and, on the other side of that, a set of Tatooine Stormtrooper (sandtrooper) armor! I so wanted to touch it; I mean, it was right there, but I restrained myself. There were display cases of models all down the halls; I don't even remember them all. And, in a room that I could see into (but the door was locked), a full-sized model of some Sith Lord. It was dark in there, so I'm not sure who it was, but the red lightsaber was very visible. It might have been Darth Maul, but it could have been one of the characters from Clone Wars, too.

The walk through the hallways of the LucasFilm building was more than worth any number of bad movies. Next time, I have to make sure I have my camera with me.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Pacific Rim (part 1) and "The Bitter Fruit"

As I've mentioned before, I have a friend that works for LucasFilm. Actually, I have two friends that work there, but one of them is being let go because of the Disney acquisition. His department was gutted, so it wasn't like he was singled out.

Anyway, every so often, these guys and I get together to see a movie and catch up, so we made tentative plans back in May to do that. At the time, I listed out all of the summer movies I was interested in. Pacific Rim was on that list, but I also stated that it was probably the movie I was least interested in seeing. I expected it to be eye candy, and, although I enjoy the occasional eye candy, I will almost always choose story over it. Or, at least, something I think will have story. However, my buddies, all three of them, chose Pacific Rim, so I sighed and came to terms with the fact that giant brawling things have more appeal for the age group of my buddies (a bit more than a decade younger than me) than they do for me.

So we made plans for the opening weekend of PacRim. They would all converge to where I live for a Saturday showing, which is good with me, because, as the only married one of the group, it's a lot harder for me to get down to San Francisco than for them to get to where I live. BUT, the day before the release, my buddy at Lucas let me know that they were doing a showing down there since ILM had done the effects. We had a change of plans.

Here's the thing:
Special screenings of movies used to happen at Skywalker Ranch, which is somewhat north of San Francisco and easier to get to (and you don't have to deal with parking, which is always an issue in the city); however, the Ranch was not part of the sale to Disney, so screenings don't happen there anymore, because that's where Lucas lives. Well, it was always where Lucas lived, but... well, it's complicated, because Skywalker Sound is still at the Ranch, but... Anyway, the screening was going to be held in the screening room at the Presidio, where LucasFilm is housed. Let me just say that the screening room there is one of the finest theaters in the world, as you might imagine. And the screening was in 3D, which we hadn't known about ahead of time. When we go to movies, we don't do 3D; it's just inordinately expensive. So the 3D was like a special bonus.

But let's back up a moment:
The building with the theater in it at the Ranch is pretty cool. There are a lot of vintage movie posters and the theater is underground and it's the place where I saw George Lucas that one time. But, aside from the movie posters, that building isn't full of cool stuff. At least, not that I ever saw, and my buddy and I did get lost in it one time trying to leave a screening of something through one of the back exits. There were some shopping carts and a Darth Maul bicycle, but that was about it for "interesting items." Aside from the fact that building has a movie theater in it, it's pretty much like any office-type building.

Now, I've been to the offices at the Presidio before (for an event for the release of The Clone Wars movie and the following television series), but I'd never been inside any of the buildings except to see the special Clone Wars exhibit they had set up for that release, which, of course, is long gone. The only other thing I'd ever seen was the Yoda statue (so cool) in the courtyard. Yes, I need to get a picture of it. This screening of PacRim was my first time to really inside. And, initially, it seemed like it was the same kind of thing as at the Ranch. Just a lot of vintage movie posters. That's what I saw before the movie.

Oh, yeah, the movie! Visually, the movie was AMAZING! And, I'm sure, seeing it in one of the finest theaters (and 3D theaters) in the world didn't hurt it any. I mean, this movie is seriously impressive to look at, especially in 3D. There's a lot of holographic imaging involved in piloting the Jaegers (the giant robots), and it looks super cool in 3D since you're seeing it the way the characters are supposedly seeing it. It's certainly a movie that I'm glad I saw in the theater, because a television set just would not do justice to the Jaegers and the Kaijus (giant monsters) fighting amongst skyscrapers and, frequently, knocking them over.

So, in short, if you want to see a film with lots of action and fight scenes, especially involving giant combatants, this movie is for you. Seriously, I think it's safe to say that there will not be a better looking film this year.

But... you'll have to wait for part two for the rest.

In other news!
Today is the FREE! release of "Part Twenty-six: The Bitter Fruit"! Remember, if you want to read the whole Shadow Spinner right now and get the exclusive short story "Like An Axe Through Bone" by Bryan Pedas,
you can do that by clicking on the link.
However, if you're  invested in the serialization, here is a list of today's (Monday, July 22) FREE! parts:
"Part Twenty-six: The Bitter Fruit" (This one is also FREE! Tuesday, July 23)
"Part Twenty-five: The Light of Knowledge"
"Part Twenty-four: The Serpent"
"Part Twenty-three: The Harlot"
"Part Nineteen: Lost in the Garden"
"Part Eighteen: The Angel"
"Part Seventeen: The Tree of Light"
"Part Sixteen: The Dark Tree"
"Part Fifteen: Food of the Garden"
"Part Thirteen: The Clearing"
"Part Twelve: The Gash in the Floor"
"Part Eleven: The Kiss"
"Part Ten: The Broken Window"
"Part Nine: The Shadow of the Tree"
"Part Seven: The Moth and the Shadow"
"Part Six: The Man with No Eyes"
"Part Five: The Police Car"
"Part Four: The Cop"
"Part Three: The Bedroom"
So there you go: 19 of 26 parts available for FREE! Go! Tell your friends! Tell them to tell their friends!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Religion of Writing: Part Four -- "My Pastor Said"

I'm going to tell you a secret. It's one of those things that people will say with their mouths but they don't really believe. That's why it's such a secret, because it's... it's like a secret of the heart. Your brain somewhere knows the truth, but the rest of you doesn't want to believe it. Are you ready for it? No, I mean, are you really ready for it? Okay, if you say so.

Your pastor... Your pastor is a human. He is human. Just a dude. [And, yes, I know there are female church leaders out there, but the vast majority are dudes, so just go with it, okay. I also know that not all of you, probably most of you, don't actually have pastors, but maybe you once did? Either way, just go along. It will make sense soon.] Typically, he's not even that smart of a dude; he's just someone that went to more church school than you. [Knowing more about something does not make one "smarter," just more knowledgeable, but that's a topic for another time.] There is nothing about his position that gives him any kind of supreme knowledge or authority. All you have to do is look around at all of the different denominations, even among the same branch of churches (like, for example, the Baptists (last time I checked there were something like 30 different Baptist denominations)), to know that none of these guys have the corner on "right." Not even the Pope (just look at the changes one Pope will make in the Catholic Church, in reaction to the changes the previous Pope made, to know that).

So, then, one of the things that has always bothered me (and when I saw always, I mean since I was a teenager involved in youth group) is when someone will say as a justification for a belief or an action, "My pastor said..." Guess what. I don't care what your pastor said, because there is every likelihood that your pastor has never actually even read the Bible. I mean, read the Bible as in sitting down with it and starting at one end and finishing at the other end. [Trust me; I've known plenty of those kinds of pastors. In fact, most of the pastors I've known fall into that category.]

Let me tell you a story (I'll keep it short). It may not seem to relate, but it totally does. Because, as you might suspect, this isn't all about pastors.

My AP Biology II teacher was a big believer in never taking anything at face value, especially because someone told it to you. His position was that, even if the person was sincere, he might just be wrong. So you never should take on faith what anyone told to you even if it was someone that you trusted. Even if it was him. Always verify. Always. This was the one thing he told us over and over again in class. Everyone seemed to be just nodding politely while they scribbled down the notes he gave.

I suppose he'd had enough, because, one day, his notes were nonsense. I'm not even kidding. I wish, now, that I'd actually written down the stuff he said. I don't remember what we were studying at the time (although I'm leaning toward kidney function), but the stuff he was going on about was crazy. It had nothing to do with the topic. I stared at him for a few minutes before putting my pen down. I didn't know what was going on. Only one other student also knew that something was up, and we stared at each other for a few minutes while Mr. A went on giving his bizarro notes.

The next day, we had a quiz covering the topic of those notes. The other student, the one who had shared the look with me, and I were the only two to pass the quiz, because we were the only ones who weren't completely relying on Mr. A's notes for our information. Everyone else in the class answered the questions based on the incorrect notes he'd given the previous day, and everyone else failed the quiz.

That was an important lesson for me. Not that I hadn't already figured it out, but it really made the point in a manner that I haven't been able to forget 25 years later. Because someone said so is never good enough. Not even if it's your pastor. Or your teacher, even your most trusted teacher. Or, even, a best-selling author telling you the way to go about writing. [Because, honestly, the only reason an author is writing a book like that is to make money.]

As you cruise through blogs, you can find the way to do all sorts of things: write, lose weight, get rid of clutter. Really, anything you want to find out how to do, there is someone willing to tell you the way to do it. But, unless it's something technical, like changing a flat tire or hooking up a VCR (as if anyone even has those anymore) or knitting a scarf, there is no the way to do it. There is only your way to do it, like loading the dishwasher. And you can't figure out what your way is if you're busy listening to someone else's way.

So, just like you should verify information when people tell you things, you should verify how to do things that people tell you to do, especially if it's something only you can know. Which means that I don't care how much money Mr. King has made or how many #1 books he's had, the way he writes is not the way I write, so him trying to tell me how to be a writer is like him walking into my house and rearranging the dishwasher as I'm trying to do the dishes. And not just him but all of those posts out there that will tell you the way to do "it," whatever "it" is.

Which is not to say that you should just discard everything. There are always good bits to pick out, but it's like when "people" start talking about how dinosaurs were killed by a giant asteroid. There is no proof, and most paleontologists don't actually believe it's true. It was never put forth as an actual hypothesis that had any scientific backing. It was just something someone said, almost in jest--"Well, maybe a giant meteor killed them all"--that the press picked up on, and we've never let it go. Actual theories of extinction have more to do with... climate change. Imagine that. But I digress...

The point is that you should always do the work. Especially if it's something that directly affects you. Don't buy into anything just because someone "said so." I'll give you one more quick example:

Many years ago, during a sermon, the pastor of the church I was attending preached about an email he'd received. An email that said that NASA had "proved" that there was a day missing from the universe thus providing proof for the story in the Bible that God had mad the sun stand still so that the Israelites could defeat their enemies before the sun set. That NASA had "proved" this is a complete hoax. But the pastor preached about it... because he believed it. He wasn't trying to mislead anyone or lie to them; he was just wrong.

And people who try to tell you how to write are also just wrong. Not because they are wrong, but they are wrong for you. And there's no other way to verify that information than to work out for yourself what is the best way for you. And, yes, that requires work. Sometimes a lot of it. And the only real rule about writing is doing it. Beyond that, it's all up to you.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Not So Despicable

2010 was a great year for animated movies: Toy Story 3 (which made me cry), Despicable Me (which made my wife cry (which is not to say that TS3 didn't make her cry, but it's much more impressive to make me cry at a movie than her)), and Megamind. So, although we really loved Despicable Me when we saw, it still got overshadowed by the other two. Meaning we own the other two, but I never bought Despicable Me despite the incredible voice work by Steve Carell. I feel bad about that, now.

Which may seem kind of silly, to feel bad about not buying a DVD, but, really, we all, the whole family, loved Despicable Me. When it came out. But, see, the news of Despicable Me 2 didn't really do that much for me. It was kind of a shrug and "oh, yeah, that's cool," but I wasn't dying to go see it or anything. I'm sure that's because we haven't watched it again since 2010, and I'd forgotten how good it was. My daughter, however, was dying to go see it. I'm pretty sure she wants minions of her own.

So we went to see Despicable Me 2, and I'm pretty sure it's the best movie I've seen all summer. Okay, second best. Star Trek beats it but not by much. At any rate, it was so much better than Monsters University, which is its actual competition. Not only was Despicable more funny than Monsters, but it had all of the heart and soul that Monsters was lacking. And it made my wife cry.

I don't actually have anything negative to say about the movie. The closest thing to a negative is that the plot is almost conventional, but, see, it's only almost conventional. The fact that there is an attempt to recruit Gru to the AVL (Anti-Villain League) at the beginning of the movie, because of his expertise as a former villain, puts things just off-kilter enough that you don't really know which direction the movie is going. And I won't tell you which, because that would just spoil it.

And, I have to say, that scene where Gru is on the phone with the people who failed to send the Fairy Godmother to his adopted daughter's birthday party... well, that was classic. As a father, I've made those calls, and they had that bit down perfectly. All the way to the hanging up and... well, that, also, would be telling. But there are so many of  those moments incorporated into the movie that it made it great for kids and adults.

The animation was terrific. The voice work from the actors was excellent. The minions were funnier than ever.

Wait, now that I think about it, there is one issue with the movie. The title. Because Gru isn't so despicable anymore. I can't wait for a third one, and I'm gonna have to make sure I pick up both of these movies, now. It's great stuff.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Hand of Neil

Let me just start out by saying, Neil Gaiman owns his very own copy of Shadow Spinner.
"What?!" you may be asking, "How is that possible? And, if it was, how would you even know?"
Well, give me a moment, and I'll get there.

Gaiman has, perhaps, been more influential on me as a writer than anyone else, but it's not his writing that did it. Which is not to say that it wasn't something he wrote; it just wasn't any of his stories. As I mentioned waaay back in my post 400 Words, it was something Gaiman said about Terry Pratchett that finally convinced me to put my pen to paper and stick with it. If not for that one thing, that thing that gave me my "ah-ha!" moment, I'm not sure The House on the Corner would ever have been written. For that reason alone, Gaiman is important to me.

More specifically, though, and I talk about this more extensively in the author's note for "Part Five: The Police Car," Gaiman's character, Corinthian, was one of the primary sources of inspiration for The Man with No Eyes. When I got to the point that I needed a villain for Tib, I sat down (figuratively speaking, since I'm sure I was already sitting) and went mentally through the images that have most freaked me out in my life. The Corinthian is one of those images. So Shadow Spinner was directly influenced by Gaiman and his work.

All of that to say, when I found out that Neil was actually coming to my little town on his Ocean tour (the last signing tour he says he's ever going to do), I was very excited. In my normally subdued way. Meaning, you'd never be able to tell. Sometimes, that particular attribute of mine frustrates my wife. I'm sure it's related to why caffeine doesn't affect me. Or alcohol, apparently. The fact that I don't ever even get tipsy also frustrates my wife. Anyway...

I went to see Neil Gaiman. He read a bit from The Ocean at The End of the Lane, he answered questions, he read a bit from Fortunately, the Milk (which is not yet out), and, then, he spent the next four hours or so signing autographs. I know, because I was in the last batch of people.

By the way, Shirley MacLaine once pulled his hair. That was a funny story. And Gaiman thinks that everyone should have a hobby that could kill them. His is keeping bees. I'm not sure I quite agree with that, the killing potential of your hobby, but I think it's cool that he keeps bees. I like having bees around, especially when there are enough of them that you can hear their buzz in the trees. Or rosebushes. Or whatever. But I'm not thinking I'm going to take up skydiving or bungee jumping or, even, bee keeping, at the moment.

Yes, Mr. Gaiman was as entertaining as you might imagine. His stories were funny as were his answers, including the one to the question of whether he wears a hair piece, to which he responded with something along the lines of, "If I wore a hair piece, it wouldn't look like this." He was also polite and gracious, even at 12:30am, after he'd been signing for all of those many hours.

Other than The Ocean at The End of the Lane, I got my (1st Edition) copy of The Graveyard Book signed for my son. Neil drew a cute, little picture for him:
And I got the first two issues of The Sandman signed.
No, I did not go out and buy them special for this event, as I was asked by more than one person; I've owned those copies since they were the price on the cover. [I wanted to get my platinum edition of Death: The High Cost of Living #1 signed, but I'm not really sure what box it's in, and, once I had my Sandman issues, I figured that was good enough.]

The other thing I did was hand a copy, signed to Neil, of Shadow Spinner to him, which may be presumptuous, but I did lead off with, "...this is not a request for you to read this." Which it wasn't. Not that I would be upset if he reads it, but who knows if he will ever pick the book up again. What I did want to do is give him something back that would not exist if not for him. The House on the Corner might also not exist, but, maybe, it would; I don't know. Spinner, at least as it is, would not. So I thanked him for his stories and the stories they inspire and gave him the book.

He looked a bit surprised and, then, genuinely thankful. He began to look at it, but someone came and took it away from him and put it in a box with all of the other things he'd been given during the evening, none of which were books. Then, he shook my hand very firmly while looking me in the eyes and told me "Thank you." It was... nice. But, yes, I have washed my hands since then.

So there you go. Neil Gaiman owns his very own copy of Shadow Spinner with his name in it and everything. Not that he couldn't just write his name in it if he wanted to, but... well, I'm sure you get it. At any rate, it's nice to get the chance to say "thank you" and show your appreciation to someone that has meant a lot to you, so, even if it was presumptuous, I took my opportunity to show my appreciation.

And, well, at the least, I hope he loves Rusty's cover, because it's awesome.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Religion of Writing: Part Three -- Speaking in Tongues

The debate over speaking in tongues, or glossolalia, is not a new thing. Sure, we look at some of the "Charismatic" and Pentecostal churches and the spouting of gibberish from their mouths while they writhe around on the floor and think, "Man, if that's what I need to do to get into Heaven, then leave me out." [And don't ask me why they're called "charismatic" or why it's the "Charismatic Movement," because I don't see any good reason for the usage of the term (and didn't feel like spending more than the 10 minutes I wasted not finding an adequate answer).] Trust me, I'm with you. Well, I'm with those of you that feel the way I do about it. [Because what I can say is that we don't have examples of that kind of behavior in the Bible. Paul never "sizzled like bacon" while letting nonsense drip out of his mouth.] I am not flopping around like a fish out of water or roaring like a lion or any of that other nonsense that goes on when those people are all being "slain in the Spirit."

Which is the heart of the controversy, actually, because "those people" say  they're not doing it by choice. They're being possessed by the Holy Spirit, and they just can't help it. However, it is what gets you into Heaven (according to them), so, well, it's in your best interest to get in there with them and lose control of your bodily functions.

Now, here's the interesting part (isn't there always an interesting part?):
There has been a lot of research done into glossolalia. Which makes sense, because, if it's real, if people are spontaneously speaking some kind of language they didn't previously know, it would be a mighty strong proof of God or, at the very least, some kind of supernatural phenomenon. Before I go on, there are two types of glossolalia:
1. The kind everyone thinks of when they think of speaking in tongues: speaking an unknown language which no one understands. This is usually thought of as speaking in the tongues (languages) of Angels.
2. Xenoglossy: speaking an actual language that the speaker didn't previously know. Like breaking out into fluent Mandarin without ever even having had chow mein or orange chicken.
Here's the first interesting part: Nearly all of the actual instances of glossolalia in the Bible are xenoglossy. During Pentecost, it was xenoglossy that was happening. Or, perhaps, reverse xenoglossy since it was the listeners that actually heard the speakers in their own language.
If you look in the Bible for an example of what we think of when we talk about "speaking in tongues," we get exactly what goes on these days: a bunch of people (in Corinth) speaking in tongues and boasting about it, "Ha ha, we're better than all of you." Paul had to send a letter telling them to cut it out.

Modern xenoglossy is completely unverified. There are sporadic claims that it has happened, but there are never ever any witnesses or proof or anything of the nature. Usually, it's something along the lines of someone coming back from China and proclaiming to have broken out in Chinese while he was there, but there's no way to know if it happened, since there's never anyone available to say, "Oh, yeah, that guy totally spoke Chinese to me." The few case studies have pretty much shown that xenoglossy was not taking place.

Which leaves us with the gibberish form of speaking in tongues. Study after study after study (after study after study) by both linguists and psychologists have shown that no actual languages are being spoken during these episodes. [I'm not going to get into the technical aspect of how they know that.] There is also considerable psychological evidence that these bursts of "tongue speaking" are psychologically triggered in order to conform to expectations. Like peer pressure. What this means is that neither God nor "the Universe" is talking to any of these people. It's all coming out of their own minds.

Not that you can convince them of that.

And, also, that is not to say that there are not or have not been actual cases of speaking in tongues. I believe that some form of xenoglossy happened at Pentecost. There were potentially thousands of witnesses, and the event is recorded in some extra-Biblical texts. And, sure, there is the potential of the other form of speaking in tongues being real, too, just not in big groups of people the way it is commonly claimed today. So I'll admit the possibility of these things but not the current actuality of them.

Which brings me to the writing part of all of this.

So many, many writers claim to get their stories from "the Universe," or some muse, or some source of inspiration that is outside of themselves. "It was as if the story was just given to me, channeled through me, whispered into my ear," or whatever other nonsense. I'm sure there's no more validity to this than there is in the whole speaking in tongues thing. The human mind is a wondrous thing. Infinitely creative. The idea that we are incapable of coming up with remarkable stories is... well, it's just ludicrous.

It's why it bothers me so much that there are people out there trying to disprove that Shakespeare wrote the plays he's credited with. The idea being that no one can be that creative. What? Did the plays just materialize? Spring forth from the aether fully written? Beamed down by aliens? As with a rose, why does it matter what we call the guy who wrote those plays? Someone wrote them, but, instead of just saying, "Wow, what a creative mind," we have people out there trying to prove that, what amounts to, no one having written them. It's kind of insane.

What I say is this:
If you wrote something, own it. I mean, really own it. Don't try to blame it on some outside force or influence. Take responsibility for it, good or bad. And, if it's bad, keep working on it and make it better. If it's good, say, "I did this! Me!" I don't see why it is that we have to always discredit ourselves and our achievements, like we're not good enough. And that's what you're doing when you try to blame your art on the "the Universe": discrediting yourself.

So, yeah, I will admit to the possibility that "the Universe" or the Force or God or, even, aliens may have influenced someone at some time to write something. Or paint something. Or make music. But, just like with speaking in tongues, I'm pretty sure it's not happening on any kind of regular basis. People are just scared to own their creations, because, like in mass "tongue events," society says pretty consistently, "You can't say that you yourself did a good job." But, not only that, society says that when someone comes along and tells us we did, we have to brush it off and say "it was nothing" or "I was inspired." It wasn't me.
What hogwash.

Don't be scared. Take credit for your work. If aliens want to send us books, let them send us the books. They don't need to whisper them in anyone's ear.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Importance of Liking Your Own Work -- Part Two (an Indie Life post)

A couple or few weeks ago, someone said to me that one of the reasons that she likes my blog is that I know how to take criticism. That, of course, started me to thinking, and the first thing I thought of was the incident that I talked about in part one of this. The point of that is this: when you approach a topic (whatever that topic is, from an idea to a creation) from a stance of confidence, it allows you to take any incoming information (critique) and say one of two things:
1. Well, that's obviously not valid, so I can discard that.
2. Oh, that might be valid; let me look at it and see.
When you lack confidence, when you don't believe in yourself (whether it's an idea or a creation), you only have access to one of those options.

You can either discard everything (because you have to) and cling to whatever belief you have, even when you have nothing to back it up with other than dogma (as I was talking about here (which is not to say that that behavior is only about religion; it's not. It's just as common in politics or science or, even, dieting)). Or you accept everything that challenges you as valid and try to accommodate all of it, which can be rather tumultuous, like being battered by waves at sea.

For an artist, a creator, either of those can be crippling.

You get people, on one end, exploding all over the Internet about anything negative that's said about their work (of which I have firsthand experience) and people on the other end trying to incorporate every critique given to them, even when they conflict with each other. Neither person has any actual confidence in what they've created.

So what is it that allows someone to take criticism well?

When it's an idea or belief, confidence comes from knowledge. From having researched your position, looking at the different perspectives, and coming to the best conclusion you can from the facts at hand. When someone throws something at you that you've already researched, you can disregard it. If it's new data, you can go look at it and see if it changes your perspective. Either way, you're approaching the situation from an area of confidence (that you just wouldn't have if you've accepted your stance on someone else's say so).

When it's about something that you've created, at it's essence, it's the same issue. The key, though, is having created something that you like. If it's the way you want it, it's rather the same kind of thing as having done the research on an issue or a belief. So, if someone comes to you and says, "I don't like the way you had that fart joke in there," if it's something you like (and think is funny), then you can shrug and say, "That's too bad." Or, maybe, someone says, "Hey, what if this thing happened here instead of that other thing?" and, maybe, it's something you never considered, but, then, you can look at it and see if it changes what you've done with your story and see if it really is a good suggestion or not.

If you don't like all of your story or don't know what works or are too busy trying to write a story that other people will like instead of one that you like, you have no way of evaluating what people say to you about what you've written, because you have nothing to judge it against. If you can't say, "I like it," then, well, you have nothing.

Here are two examples:
In one book I was reviewing, I mentioned that it felt like there were two stories going on that didn't fit together well. One of the main characters had absolutely nothing to do in the entire book except that, at one point, he shows up some place and does one thing that has significance to the story. And it's completely accidental on his part as he doesn't go there purposefully to do that thing, he just appears there and his appearance causes the thing to happen. I mentioned that, if that was his only role in the whole book, then, maybe, those two stories should be separate.

The author let me know that originally, it had been two different stories but someone else told him he should combine them, and he'd listened. He'd listened because he had not been satisfied with either story, felt they were both missing something. So, instead of working to make them both into stories that he liked, he started taking suggestions on how to make them better. He wasn't satisfied with the end product, either, but, once he'd put it out there that way, he felt he had to defend it even though he acknowledged the issues, issues he himself had with the novel but couldn't reveal in public. So he had meltdown online over my review and proceeded to call me all sorts of names and, well, it was messy.

But it was because he didn't have a story he actually liked.

For myself, one of the things people mention about The House on the Corner is that it starts slow. I spend too much time on character development. But, as I was just talking about in my review of Doc, it's the character development that's important to me. The action of the story is only there to reveal the characters to us, so I want to know the characters. So, when someone tells me I "take too long" to get to the story, that I don't start with a lot of action, well, I'm okay with  that, because my story is doing what I want it to do. [I want it to be clear that the choices of Tom and Sam and Ruth happen because of whom they are as characters and not because of the arbitrary whims of meeting the needs of the plot.] I'm in a place of confidence, because I like my story. The negative criticism doesn't matter so much.

All of this brings me back to a point that I've made frequently over the course of my blog: as a writer, write the story you like. Don't worry about anything else. If you like it, there's very little chance that there won't be other people out there that like it, too. If, however, you try to write the story that other people like, you won't be able to do it. You'll write a story that some people like, maybe, but will have to deal with the other people that don't like it and, probably, won't like it yourself. And you may end up with something that no one likes. If you write the story that you like, well, at least, you like it. And that's what let's you look at a 1-star review and say, "You know what, that's okay, because I'm happy with what I've written." And, in the end, that's all that's really important.

This post has been brought to you by Indie Life.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Ocean at The End of the Lane (and The Light of Knowledge)

There are things when you are a kid that you cannot understand. Things beyond your control. Things you are powerless to prevent or to change. Sometimes these are singular, sudden things, and sometimes they are... life. The ongoing patterns of how things are. The problem is that growing up and coming to understand those things doesn't change the experience of  them. It doesn't change what you felt, then, when you were a child and small and powerless.

The Ocean at The End of the Lane is a different kind of book from Neil Gaiman. He has called it his most personal work ever, and I think that shows in that it's written in first person, the first of his novels to be written that way. There are probably some of his short stories written in first person (the one about the cat in Smoke and Mirrors is poking at the back of my mind), but it's been long enough since I've read any of those to actually remember. It gives the story a very personal feel in a way that most first person projects do not. Also, and this could be because I have listened to him reading (I especially like February's) more than a few of his stories, I could just hear it in his actual voice in my head.

There are many things about the way he presents the story that I really like. There are few descriptions. The things that are are just the things that are. The sister is just the sister. We know that she's younger. The mom and dad are the mom and the dad. His father's face gets red when he's angry. It's the kind of thing a child would notice while the other things, the rest of everything, just is. There is no teenage girl staring into a mirror admiring her hair and thinking about her chocolate-brown eyes, and, for that, I was especially thankful. The things that are described are the kinds of things a child would notice, that would stick in his head. The car stuck in the mud. The face of  the opal miner. His bent comic book. It really allows the reader to just travel along with the boy, experiencing as he experiences. Feeling the events that happen much more than seeing them.

The novel centers around one of these events. A moment when a child finds out that he is, indeed, a small thing and powerless to withstand the force of an adult. This event is not the inciting incident nor is it the climax; it lies somewhere in-between, but it is the event upon which the story revolves. The thing that changed the life and perspective of the child. A moment where, after it has happened, you just want to go back to before it happened. But you can't go back.

It's also about the negligence of adults. How they can dismiss as unimportant something that is the world for a child. Or how they can think things are replaceable when they're not. A cat is not just a cat, not any cat, and a dog is not just a dog. No more than a child is just a child. Or, even, a toy--or a washbasin, just his size--is just a toy. Things can't always be solved with, "I'll buy you a new one" or "I'll get you something better."

And, then, there's the whole question of memory and what's real. Something we, I suppose, can never be quite sure of.
"Is it true?"
"What you remembered? Probably. More or less."

This is a pretty great book. I didn't enjoy it quite as much as I did The Graveyard Book or Neverwhere, but I think this one is going to linger much longer. Ask more questions. Give fewer answers. But that's okay. I like books that hang around in my head and make me think about them.

In other news:

Today is the FREE! release of Part Twenty-five: The Light of Knowledge in the ongoing Shadow Spinner serialization. Remember, if you want the whole story RIGHT NOW!, you can get it at that link I just left.
Also, be on the lookout for very special Shadow Spinner news coming up next week (I think). Here is the list of today's FREE! offerings (and, no, I have not managed to get the first few chapters collected, yet, so, hopefully, that will be next time):
"Part Twenty-five: The Light of Knowledge" (also available for FREE! tomorrow, Tuesday, July 9)
"Part Twenty-four: The Serpent"
"Part Twenty-three: The Harlot"
"Part Twenty-two: The Undying"
"Part Eighteen: The Angel"
"Part Seventeen: The Tree of Light"
"Part Sixteen: The Dark Tree"
"Part Fifteen: Food of the Garden"
"Part Fourteen: Anger and Laughter"
"Part Twelve: The Gash in the Floor"
"Part Eleven: The Kiss"
"Part Ten: The Broken Window"
"Part Nine: The Shadow of the Tree"
"Part Eight: The Cold and The Dark"
"Part Six: The Man with No Eyes"
"Part Five: The Police Car"
"Part Four: The Cop"
"Part Three: The Bedroom"
"Part Two: The Kitchen Table"
So... there you go. 19 of the 25 chapters. I should point out that "Part One: The Tunnel" is not free this week and won't be offered as a free promo ever again. In fact, it won't be available in this current format for much longer.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Religion of Writing: Part Two -- The Hierarchy

Disclaimer: The following example is a paraphrase of the events, so to speak. It's just a general idea of how things happened and how they work and not meant to be exact fact.

Way back in the way back, God had relationships with men on an individual basis. There was God and Adam, God and Methuselah, God and Noah. Then there was God and Abraham, and God and Jacob, and God and Moses. By the time we get to God and Moses, the Hebrews were getting a bit tired of the whole "indie God" scene and wanted a more traditional, I mean, god, so, to deal with the issue, God gave them some basic guidelines to live by. There weren't too many, because God didn't want to bog everyone down with a bunch of rules, and, really, those rules boiled down to two things: 1. Love God and 2. Be excellent to each other.

But you know people, and they couldn't deal with things being so straightforward, so the agents, I mean priests, got together and made lots of rules. Lots and lots of rules. LOTS and LOTS of rules. So many rules, we've lost track of them all. And you couldn't just join the "Hebrew club" anymore, either. There were lots and lots of rules and tests and all sorts of things you had to do to get on the inside with God. According to the Pharisees, at any rate.

After a while, God got tired of all of that, so He sent his Son down to deal with the people. His son, Jesus, said, "Dudes, no more rules. Just love God and be excellent to each other." Of course, we all know how that turned out. But the apostles understood the message and started spreading the love. Except, almost right away, people started making new rules or re-imposing the old ones and, eventually, along came the Romans and made it all Catholic and stuff, and, pretty soon, there were even more rules than before and, again, no one could just decide to follow God; they all had to jump through special hoops and get rid of all their adverbs and stuff before they were let into the "Catholic club."

After another while, this other dude, Martin Luther, came along and said, "Dudes! Jesus came to get rid of all of these rules. And, oh yeah, the agents, too. We don't need those guys!" Things didn't go well for Martin, either, but a bunch of new small publishers sprang up that, initially, did away with agents (I mean priests), but it wasn't long before they put new agents in place and made all sorts of new rules (like you can't go to Heaven unless you speak in tongues, and dancing will send you straight to Hell).

I'm sure you get the idea.

So let's look at something else.

Way back in the not quite as way back there was a dude that wrote a book. He paid to have some copies printed, then he tried to sell them. Other guys did the same thing. That worked out for some of those guys and not for some of the others. Some guys had more money than others, so they could print more books, and things tended to work out better for them than for the guys that couldn't afford to print very many. There was no such thing as "best seller" back in those days, but some of those books are still around.

Eventually, some poor author (because almost all of them were poor (are poor)) had the bright idea to hire a printer to be his publisher. Since he couldn't pay the guy that owned the printing press in advance, he offered to pay the printer, now his publisher, from the profits from the book. The printer saw the opportunity to make more money than if the writer just paid for the number of copies he could afford and, thus, was born the modern traditional publishing model.

However, I want to point out that when all of this started, the author was in charge. The author communicated directly with his readers, often selling his books to them by hand or taking them to small stores to sell (because there were not, yet, bookstores). The printer/publisher worked for the author, not the other way around. As the idea of being paid from the book profits took hold, the whole process became an invest for the printer/publishers, but, at first, the author was still in control. But the balance of power shifted to the money guys as more and more authors sought out the same publishers. And then came rules. And agents. And more rules. Until the author was at the bottom. No longer communicating directly with... anyone. Except the agentpriest.

And all the people began to worship the traditional publishing house and abide by its rules and jump through its hoops to get inside. Agents really are the priests of the traditional publishers, testing people to see if they're worthy, but, just like it was with the Pharisees (charging for sacrifices and requiring that people only use special "temple money") and the Catholics (selling Indulgences to have your sins forgiven) and the televangelists, it's all about the money.

And, now, we have self-publishing, which is kind of like the Protestant Reformation. And, just like the Catholic church condemned Luther, we have the big traditional publishing houses condemning Amazon and other self publishing outlets and calling people that do self-publish all kinds of bad things.

And we have people clinging to the old model. To the church of Traditional Publishing.

And I have to wonder about what sorts of rules we're going to develop for self-publishing and what kinds of hoops we'll eventually have to jump through for that. Because, well, we humans seem to love our rules and our hierarchies. I guess, that way, we know who's "winning." Charlie Sheen, right? Or is he still winning? I don't know.

I'm not much of one for outdated traditions. Or any traditions that aren't relevant. All of this post has been to say that we ought to really look at what the people "in charge" are telling us and figure what part of it is useful. Because, as far as I can tell, unless you are just in desperate need for the validation that comes from being traditionally published, those guys aren't doing anyone any good. Not anymore. And, hey, really, if you are looking for that pat on the back, I'm sure there are better places to get it.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Importance of Liking Your Own Work -- Part One (an IWSG post)

Back when I first moved out to California, I worked at Toys R Us. At the time, TRU was one of the worst possible places to work at. They had incredible turnover amongst their employees, and, the funny thing is, they couldn't figure out why. After all, they paid minimum wage, right? Anyone should be happy with that. A job where they hire no full-time employees so that they don't have to provide benefits. A job with no employee discounts. A job with absolutely no flexibility to your schedule and, even worse, no routine to it. Really, they did their best to own you by making you be available to them whenever they wanted you to be.

But you should be thankful for the job.

I've heard that it's better there, now. Well, at least, now, they have an employee discount program. I'm not sure about the rest.

And, yes, I'm sure I just described quite a bit of corporate minimum wage retail jobs, but I only have experience with the one. [And when I say that it was one of the worst places to work, I'm not saying that from my experience. During the time I worked there, it was ranked in the top 10 worst retail places to work and, I'm pretty sure, had the highest turnover rate of any retail chain store.]

But all of that is beside the point. Background, if you will. I suppose it's important to note that no one worked there because s/he wanted to work there. No one aspired to working at the local Toys R Us. [On the other hand, I did actually know people when I was growing up (and, remember, this was the South) who did aspire to work at Wal-Mart. Their goal was to one day get to be a manager!]
[I'm totally serious about that.]
[Completely, totally serious.]

To cut through what could be a long story, it wasn't long before I was put in charge of other people. Actually, for someone that started at the complete bottom of the TRU food chain (maintenance (a fancy word for janitor)), it was incredibly quick (as quick as they could make it without violating any of their weird policies). It was unhappy-making for some people that had been working there for years, but, see, I was self-motivated (meaning I didn't wait to be told what to do (because most people, upon finishing a task, would just float around the store until someone found them and gave them a new task (which meant a lot of people spent a lot of time just avoiding being found))), decisive, and more than competent (meaning I didn't need to be told more than once how to do any particular thing).

Which brings us to the interesting part of all of this: I was put in charge of other people because of those traits. I was good at figuring out what needed to be done and making sure it got accomplished. [Actually, my biggest issue was with delegating, because I feel much more comfortable just doing tasks myself rather than depending upon someone else to do them.] These were things the managers liked seeing in their employees. They were not traits, however, that the other employees liked so much. Specifically, they were not traits that employees working under me particularly liked.

Every morning, all of the department heads had meetings with the people that worked under them to hand out tasks. Mostly, this was a pretty uncomplicated interaction that went kind of like this:
"Okay, Employee 1, you need to do Task A, today. It's not a rush job; you just need to be finished with it before you leave for the day." [That's eight hours to do a job that shouldn't take more than two or so to do, but you had to leave in time to help customers. Still, those kinds of tasks shouldn't have taken all day, although they usually did.]
"Employee 2, you need to do Task B. This is a rush job, and you need to focus on getting it finished as quickly as possible. If a customer has a question that you can't answer on the spot, call someone else to help her."
"Employee 3..." [I'm sure you get the idea.]
Seems straightforward, right? Except this one morning, a young lady interrupted me by saying, "Why do you always act like you know everything?"

I think I stared at her for a moment, because, really, I had no idea what she was talking about, then said, "Excuse me?"

"Why do you always act like you know everything?"

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"You never say 'I think' or 'I believe,' you just tell us what to do like you know everything."

Point #1: If you think something or believe something, it's redundant to say "I think" or "I believe," because, obviously, if you're saying it, you must think or believe it.

But that's not what we've been taught in our current society. In a world where everything is subjective, we're supposed to always preface anything we say with a phrase that casts doubt upon what we're saying. Personally, I think that's bullshit. [Yes, I prefaced that with "I think" on purpose.] I don't go around saying "I think 2+2=4." Why? Because I know 2+2=4. Sure, I could be wrong (I'm not), but I believe that I'm correct, so I just say it: "2+2=4." People, though, get all bent out of shape with when you act confident about anything more complicated than that, because, you know, we're all entitled to our own beliefs.

And, see, I believe that. We are all entitled to our own beliefs. But that doesn't mean I have to be wishy-washy about what I believe. And you shouldn't either. If you believe it, if it's really what you think, drop the preface. Just own it and say it. Don't make it sound like you don't know, yourself, if you're sure about what you say you believe.

My response was something along those lines, "If I'm saying it, I must think it, so why should I bother to tell you that's what I think."

"Well, other people say it that way. They tell us what they think we should do. They also ask us if that's what we want to do. Why don't you ask us?"

"Do you mean I should say, 'Hey, would you like to re-do the endcap on aisle 7, today?'"

"Yeah, why don't you ask?"

"Because it's not an option. If I'm giving you the endcap to do, you don't have the option of saying 'no,' so why should I ask you if you want to do it? That would be misleading."

By this point, the other 5 or 6 people under my charge were all staring open-mouthed at us.

"Well, why don't you see which things we want to do and let us pick or something? I don't want to do [the task I was giving her for the day]."

"That's why I didn't ask. It's my job to assign the tasks to the people I feel best equipped to handle them, and you get to do [whatever the task was she didn't want to do]."

Point #2: If you're in charge of something, if it's your thing, it doesn't matter what other people think or feel about it. You have to make the decisions. Trying to figure out how everyone else feels about a particular thing and making it work for everyone will result in some things never happening. Like, you know, when someone smeared poop on the bathroom walls (and, yes, that would happen in the boys' restroom every couple of months), someone had to go clean that up. It wasn't something that was really up for debate, because that's one of those things that no one ever wanted to do, so saying, "Hey, who wants to go clean the bathroom?" wasn't going to get you any responses. You had to pick someone and tell them to do it and ignore any "Why do I have to do that?" and "I don't want to"s.

You may be wondering, at this point, what any of this has to do with, as a writer, liking your own work, but both points are very relevant. And I'm not saying that feedback can't be useful, but too much feedback, or trying to accommodate too much feedback, is debilitating. It's yours, your work. Believe in it. And I'll talk more about all of this in part 2.

Just to wrap up the story, as it turned out, that particular employee had been passed to me through about three other people who couldn't get her to do her assigned tasks. They had not been firm enough and had given assignments out as if they were options: "How would you like to do..." or "Why don't you take..." or "It would be great if..." She had taken all of those assignments as if they were optional and opted out of doing them. So they gave her to me, and she did what I assigned her even though she didn't like it.

However, about two weeks later, on a day when I was not at work, she had tried on a manager what she had tried on me, and she was fired on the spot. Actually, she was told she could "go home for the day," because they (TRU) never actually used the term "fired" (except that one time the one guy was caught stealing a buttload of video games, but that's another story). Then, she was never re-scheduled and when she came in for her paycheck, she was told "things aren't working out" and let go. Don't you just love all the euphemisms? I think they're great.

This post has been brought to you by Alex Cavanaugh and the IWSG.