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Thursday, September 21, 2017

"The Dwarves of Katie Elder" Has Begun

Yep, I started work on my next publishable (hopefully) novel. Just making a blog entry to mark the date that production officially started.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Do I Want It Enough?

Pardon me while I show my straight white male privilege.

One thing holding me back from being a true writer (with a capital "A"... I mean "W") is that I am well-off. By day, I am a computer programmer. That's an in-demand position. I get a near $100K salary and comfy benefits. And the reason I'm a computer programmer is because I went to college. And the reason I went to college is because my parents paid for it (so add "no student loan debt" to that list of reasons to hate me). And the reason they paid for it is because they could, by saving and being smart with money and having no external thing to pay for. All this translates to the fact I have no base need for money.

But someone who writes for a living, they get the chops becasue they have no choice but to be good. Or they die. Neil Gaiman says that his motivation/inspiration came from needing to feed his children. Seanan McGuire came from a trailer. You don't live like that and think "When I grow up, I want the comfortable financial stability of a writer." I imagine she spent her life reading books one after the other (because they were cheap), then became a writer because it was the only thing she saw herself doing. Like Chinese gymnasts that start at two years old and do nothing but, then are thrown away at sixteen.

The short version of this can be explained in this parable: A Zen master was out for a walk with one of his students when they noticed a fox chasing a rabbit. "According to an ancient saying the rabbit will escape," said the master. "Not so," replied the student, "the fox is faster." "Never-the-less, the rabbit will elude the fox," the master stated. "How can you be so certain?" asked the student. "The fox is running for its dinner. The rabbit is running for its life."

In computer programming, you start off with a well-paying job out of college. Because you took that time gaining those skills. You are the computer whisperer. You can make it sing and dance the way companies want you to. You know how to make the lightning brain think.

In writing, you don't start off in any sort of job. First, you get a little work. Then a little more. Seanan McGuire had to keep writing and writing and writing because she had to. Otherwise she would earn no money.

You create art and hope someone purchases it. And the big hurdle is people purchase art because they want it, not because they need it. Companies don't need art, they need results. They need profit margins and cost-benefit analyses. And they pay the people who can provide that, because it takes special skills.

John Scalzi says you can quit your day job when you're making 30% more than your annual salary (to cover healthcare costs and retirement and such). I am going to have to be a superstar writer to match the salary of a software engineer working for one of the biggest companies in the midwest. I suppose it's a good problem to have, but it means resisting the urge to lay back and be a fat lazy dog.

Monday, September 18, 2017

My Kindertrauma: Faces of Death (Beetlejuice/Poltergeist/Indiana Jones)

No, not actually "Faces of Death". I wouldn't learn about that franchise until I was in high school. And then it was more fun figuring out which vignettes were fake and which were real (this was before YouTube). No these are the terrifying moments about kindertrauma to someone's face, usually in the form of it coming off.

The first was in Beetlejuice. I can't believe my mom took me to see this in the theater. I was seven years old. Did I express some kind of interest in seeing this? I must have. It was the same director as Pee Wee's Big Adventure. Maybe she just wanted to get me out of the house for a while. Anyway, I distinctly remember it not being terribly scary EXCEPT for when Geena Davis is hanging in a closet and rips off her own face.

Her eyes fall out of their lidless sockets. Her musculature glistens around her lipless mouth. And then there's that blood-curdling scream. I think this was the first jumpscare I ever had. And it's a direct contrast to the... well, not lighter, but at least not grosser tone that preceded it. Nothing promised in the movie so far indicated that we'd be getting gore like this. It didn't turn me off from the movie - it's one of my defining works. Nothing afterward made me jump -- not the faces stretching or the sandworm business. I never see it on lists of kindertrauma so I wonder if it was just me. Or maybe others had moms with better sense.

But I do see the face-picking scene from Poltergeist on lists. This takes any face trauma you might have had and turns it up to eleven. After seeing a steak wriggling on the counter, one of the ghost hunters goes to wash his face and sees a skin tag. He pulls it off. And then more and more. He can't stop. It's like a compulsive's worst nightmare. As the water runs, the sink fills up with bloody chunks of flesh until his face is just ragged meat. Eyes bulging, teeth grinning.

The funny part is, when you see it as an adult, you can see how fake it is, especially the ending with the torso and head jiggling like a mannequin. I don't remember where I first saw this scene. I think my Dad must have been watching it on TV and I might have been younger than seven. But it turned me the fuck off so I couldn't even look at the word "Poltergeist" until I was in high school. The scary clown toy and the kid getting eaten by the tree didn't help. (I thought he was covered in blood, but my dad told me it was sap. I'm still not sure I buy that.)

And finally, the piece de resistance is Old Man Toht's face melting like wax after seeing the Ark of the Covenant (don't forget your eclipse glasses, kids!) For some reason, it's Toht, not Dietrich (the other guy) that I remember most. Maybe it's because of the hat and glasses, makes it more human, more real. Maybe the way it was shot, or the colors in the shot -- black background, red blood, white skull, orange fire lighting. But, like Poltergeist, I refused to watch this movie until puberty set in. Late stage puberty.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The New Pennywise is Scary, and Thus, Not Scary

I haven't seen it, but reviews on It are mostly positive. However, some movie buffs I follow had mixed responses. They said it's a hodge-podge, a "curious mess" (which is much like the book). The characters are given scary scenes with real horrors like child abuse, nightmares, alcoholism, animal abuse, gun threats, pedophilia, psychological drama, etc. And then a clown shows up. So we got some tonal dissonance here.

I had a feeling this might happen as soon as I saw the new design for Pennywise. It's just too scary. And thus, it's not scary.

In 1986, clowns were not scary. They were funny, jovial, friend to all children (like Gamera). They were Clarabell and Ronald McDonald and Marcel Marceau and Red Skelton. If you were lost, you could go up to a clown and they'd help you find your family. They were like comedy superheroes. That's why the Pennywise in the It novel was scary. Because he was a demon dressed up as something childlike and innocent.

To further illustrate, we can even examine their visual designs.

The clown on the left? Not scary. It looks very inspired by Bozo, the most popular clown of this era (bald, puffy red hair, high eyebrows, red nose, white makeup, circus outfit including puffy red buttons). Just looking at it, you can't tell if this clown is scary or not. It just looks like a clown. Not until the sharp teeth come out do you think something might be wrong here. The fear comes comes from its actions, not the look. It's meant to lure you in with a false sense of safety and joy, like an angler fish. (And it didn't hurt that he was played by Tim Curry who can turn it off and on like a faucet).

But the clown on the right, you know immediately to run away. It doesn't even need to inside a sewer grate to know something's wrong here. I know that's not a clown, that's a murder-thing.

And even if they didn't screw up the visual design, the "scary clown" is cliche now, partially due to It itself. The phenomenon originated with John Wayne Gacy. He was arrested in 1978 and sentenced in 1980, giving two years for all the sordid details to ingratiate into the public consciousness. Add some time for creators to add scary clowns into their books and movies. Look at any list of scary clowns, they are ALL 1982 and later. There is nothing before that. The one exception might be Bradbury's "Something Wicked This Way Comes" which was more about a carnival than clowns (but note the movie came out in 1983, at peak clown).

My point is, Pennywise was scary because of what he did, not how he looked. If you change his look to be scary, you miss the point.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The One Thousandth Post

So according to Blogger, this will be my one thousandth (1,000) post on this blog. Better not waste it.
















Gee, guess I better say something.

I wanted to make this post all about the benchmarks this blog has had, the most popular post (still Morgan Smith Goodwin. I wonder what she's doing lately -- I don't think she's doing Wendy's commercials anymore.), first breakout post (Shadow of the Colossus: Quit Crying or Top Five Movies That Need to Be Remade, depending on what you consider "breakout"), first post with more than 10,000 views (Supergirl More Interesting Than Superman), post with most comments (Morgan Smith Goodwin again), post with longest title (Left 4 Dead, 2 Rabbits, 9 Badminton Nets, 2 Plungers, 4 Dinosaur Scales, 12 Claw-Gripper Things, and a Chia Pet longest post (I don't know, Blogger doesn't display word counts).

Over its lifetime, the blog still hasn't broken a million pageviews (it's at 750,000, with 587,000 unique). That's total, not per day. This post coincides with the 10 year anniversary (Feb 12, 2007), so at least it means I haven't given up. People mostly come here from searches, not referring sites. And that's probably image searching mostly.

But honestly, I don't care. I never write this blog for other people. I write it for myself. To keep myself honest, and keep myself writing. On days I feel like I can't write because I'm too concerned about audience, if they get it, if they like it, I can come here and word vomit about whatever I damn well please. Whether it's Disney villains, video games, hot 'n smart girls, video games, or Link x Malon porno.

One thousand posts and the tale continues...

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

What We Mean When We Say You Can't Break the Rules Until You Can Follow the Rules

One of the pieces of advice I often hear about writing is that you need to learn to follow the rules before you can break them. All writers do it. Choppy sentences, passive voice, fragmented sentences, consistent point of view, infodumping, starting with a character waking up, use of adverbs. Bestsellers and classics like Jane Austen, James Joyce, John Green, Suzanne Collins, Stephenie Meyer, John Scalzi, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King. There's no work where at least one of the basics isn't twisted.

Now one could say that it's because, in any art form, there are no rules, only guidelines. Suggestions. Good advice. They're smart plays, but not written in stone.

I think part of it is that, if the rest of the work is good, you'll be able to ignore or forgive the occasional bad. Like they say on the YouTubes, there is no movie without sin. Same for any story. There is no work that doesn't have some flaw, either in mechanics or execution. A plot hole, an inconsistency, an error in geography, or anachronism.

But I was thinking of a way to explain this to younger, newer writers (like myself). How do you know when to break the rules? How do you know when it's all right to use passive voice of if you're using it too much? How do you know when it's okay to make a bad sentence when the good sentence sounds awful?

Remember when you were learning how to drive? You probably followed all the rules to a T. Any law you broke was due to mistake, not purpose. You drove under the limit, stopped two feet behind every stop sign before crawling forward, stressed about how far was 100 feet, 200 feet, 500, etc. When you follow all the rules, everyone passes you. They ignore you. And knowing which way turn the wheels up or down a hill is made a lot more important than it really is.

I remember when my sister was learning how to drive, and we all went up to my grandparents' cabin, 114 miles. It's usually a 2 to 2 1/2 hour drive. She drove the whole way with her learner's permit and it was SO SLOW. I thought I was going to go insane, start banging my head against the window like a padded wall.

Then you get comfortable. You get used to driving. You're no longer using your hands to turn a wheel to turn a car--you just turn the car. You become the car. Like how you don't think about pressing a button on a controller to make your character move left.

You learn how to use cruise control, you forget where your four-way flashers are. You follow other cars closely. You speed through a yellow and only mildly worry about cops. And most importantly, you never go the speed limit.

But you also don't go very much faster than the speed limit. About ten miles over or so, probably (depending on where you are). Because you go faster than the rules, but you never go faster than you can control the car. Cause that's the key--are you in control. The moment you're not in control, that you don't know what you're doing, you return to the rules.

It's experience that gives you that control. Knowing what you're doing, knowing what your car is capable of (like how fast it can accelerate down the ramp, whether you're going to be able to merge behind this car or that car). So yes, when they say the first rule is that writers write, remember that metaphor. Drivers drive. They learn how to drive by driving. They learn the rules by driving, and they learn which rules aren't so crucial by driving.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Stronger as an Introvert

So I often consider my strengths and weaknesses in the context of being an introvert. And I am severely introverted. I got 99/100 for the Introvert/Extrovert section on a Meyers-Briggs test. (As a comedic aside, my wife got 0% on the loneliness test. She keeps saying she doesn't like being around people as she gets older, but I see her battery charge when she's around people so much she can't sleep.)

But here's my point. When I do things with my introvert hat on, I'm stronger. My case in point might make it clearer: Last weekend I put in five bushes into our outdoor garden to replace some rose bushes that don't like our clay soil.

This is an arduous process. My wife and I put in all twenty-three plants around our house when we first moved in. But we've gotten older. Her allergies are more severe (and this is a bad year) so I volunteered to put them in.

I got up early so I wouldn't have to put on sunscreen, put on my headphones, and went to work. And it was easy. I don't mean it wasn't grueling, but I wasn't suffering. I wasn't in pain (I did take some Advil beforehand). I wasn't praying for it all to end, half-assing it so I could get inside faster, like I usually do with yard work.

It was because I was alone. I didn't have to worry about the kids or my wife, what they were saying, where they were, what they were doing, if they were trying to get my attention. I just listened to my podcast and dug my five holes with laser focus. And it didn't take that long either. At least it didn't seem that way.

And I know it was being alone that fueled me because as soon as someone came out, my mood immediately dropped. It didn't matter why (to give me a drink of water)--just as soon as I saw them I lost my groove. It's a wrong thought, but it's true. I lost my strength, my mojo, my joy at working hard, as soon as someone came out. Before that it was just me and the dogs. Happily working without having to worry about anyone but myself.

So yeah, working alone not only helps remove distractions, it improves the work process.