Friday, May 29, 2015

Roaring into the weekend

I'm still not feeling 100% back to full strength, but maybe I can get there through sheer power of will. All I need is the proper totemic visualization ...


May all your weekends overflow with epicness.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Said it before, say it again

The only thing worse than blogging about how I haven't been blogging lately because I've been too busy is blogging about how I haven't been blogging lately because I've been sick. And yet, here we are.

My wife and I took the kids on an epic roadtrip over Memorial Day weekend, all the way to the northern wilds of New York state to visit Little Bro and his wife and daughter, see their new house and introduce the cousins. A good time was had by all. The kids are very eager for a repeat visit, and in fact have already begun openly questioning why we can't do it all again in June.

We left Friday night and drove a few hours to a hotel where we did nothing but check in and crawl into bed. The next morning we availed ourselves of the continental breakfast and then drove a few more hours to arrive at Little Bro's. We got the tour of the house, walked to the local playground, met his neighbor on the way back and got to see the airplane under construction in the neighbor's garage. We had tacos for dinner and everybody went to bed. Sunday morning we visited Little Bro's other neighbor, who has not an airplane but several vintage cars in his garage, went to the playground yet again, had a burgers-n-dogs-n-smores cookout for dinner, and let the kids run around the backyard after dark with glow sticks and flashlights. My brother and sister-in-law also set up a tent for the kids, and they were basically in heaven. One more good night's sleep at Little Bro's and then on Monday we got up, had breakfast, got packed, and hit the road to drive all day and wind up back in Virginia with just enough time to feed the kids and send them off to bed.

All well and good until some time on Tuesday when my immune system finally crashed and I broke out in nine different kinds of cold symptoms which may have been due to an actual rhinovirus or may have just been a manifestation of sheer exhaustion. Apparently I am getting a little too old for these kinds of adventures, or at least to enjoy them without repercussions.

So today is Thursday and I am barely turning the corner to feeling like my usual self. Meanwhile all my best intentions about paying more attention to the blog have been scattered to the winds. The fact that being out of town for an entire weekend throws off our entire routine of housework and food shopping and so on certainly hasn't helped.

TL;DR: been playing catch-up and under the weather. More later, whenever things get back to normal.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Young bucks

We are going away this weekend, to visit my Little Bro and his fam, and this will be the first long multi-state roadtrip we have taken since the bino turned two. It is in fact probably the first long multi-state roadtrip we've taken since the bino was just shy of one and a half, and back then we could more or less count on him being amused for long stretches of time by chunky board books with textured patches on each page, and/or him taking naps while being lulled by the rocking movement of the suspension cruising the highway.

Anyway, in our family two years old is the threshold age for being allowed to watch movies in the car, so the bino is now eligible. This is a good thing, as my wife and I are big fans of the peace and quiet afforded by letting the younguns just movie marathon their way through an arduous trek along the interstate system. The logistical challenge arises in the fact that our current setup is a dual-screen portable DVD player, and now we need a third screen. For a child who sits in the middle row of the family SUV, while the older sibs sit in the back row.

Luckily we had a fairly ready solution for this. We finally joined the modern era and began using the digital copy codes included in various DVDs to download movies onto our iPad. So now the bino can hold the iPad and watch whatever he wants, while the older two can watch what they want together independent of their baby brother. Marvelous.

Of course this required not just downloading content but installing a Disney-branded app as well, and because I was taking care of this techno-chore on a weekend afternoon, the kids got curious and started looking over my shoulder and the next thing I know we're just going through the hundreds of previews the Disney app provides access to. Man do my kids love watching previews. I mean, granted, so do I, so they come by it honestly, but they have brazenly nondiscriminating tastes, as well. They have no idea what's good and what's mediocre and what's a cynical cash grab that no one in the right mind is supposed to condone the existence of by expressing any interest in whatsoever. You know, crap like Bambi II.

Which I am not making up! My wife and I decided a while ago that Bambi is one of those "classic" movies our kids can safely skip, so I have no idea why they would be intrigued enough by the cover/poster art to demand to watch the trailer for a sequel I had no idea existed. Actually, it's worse than a sequel or even a prequel, it's the dreaded midquel, the kind of movie that dares to ask the question "What, exactly, took place in between a scene in the original movie and the following scene where it was obvious significant time had passed, meaning significant in quantity not in importance or else the original movie wouldn't have skipped right past it?"

Bambi II covers the time between Bambi's mother dying (whoops, spoiler) and Bambi becoming a full grown deer. Apparently, since he is the young heir to the mantle of prince of the forest, he needed to spend that time hanging out with the buck who sired him and who is the current prince of the forest. And Disney actually got Sir Patrick Stewart to do the voice of Bambi's father! Also of note to trivia buffs: Bambi II was the last Disney movie to be released on VHS, and holds the record for amount of time elapsed between an original movie and its Part II (64 years).

It all leaves me wondering who these movies are for, though, especially in light of my thoughts on completism lately. I don't consider myself a Disney superfan, although I do like the vast majority of Disney stuff. I have met people who are Disney superfans (including a delivery nurse when our daughter was born who I remember had a Tinkerbell tattoo and talked about her family's vacations to Disneyworld in a very matter of fact way, that whenever they took a family vacation it was ALWAYS to Disneyworld, which I thought was ... odd) but I can't imagine they are the target audience for these direct-to-video inessentials that, despite being produced by Disney manage to feel like cheap knock-offs. I would in fact imagine the superfans would find these brand-driven monetizations a bit tawdry, a poor reflection on their undying love for all things House of Mouse.

So, who then? People whose kids watch so much tv and so many movies that they get bored with the mainstream canon of Disney movies but refuse to watch anything other than Disney movies but are ok with things that barely feel like Disney movies because they're the dregs of the Disney output? Do those people really exist? It's a strange world after all, I suppose.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Case in point

I've written more than once before about the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the myriad ways in which it fascinates me on a purely structural level. The interconnectedness of the movies has progressed from a risky move (both as a narrative exercise and a business model) to something which has been heralded as an unqualified smash hit (again on both the levels it needed to be), so much so that other major studios have started playing catch-up trying to launch their own hyper-franchise-of-franchises. Meanwhile the MCU has gone even further and branched out into television. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has fleshed out the world the heroes live in and given some story opportunities to minor players who couldn't carry their own blockbuster films. Agent Carter fills in some of the gaps in the fictional history of the MCU, since the first Captain America movie post-dates the origin back to World War Two but everything else takes place in the 21st century, leaving whole decades to explore.

And then there's the Defenders.

Disney owns Marvel, Disney owns ABC, hence the first MCU forays into broadcast television were primetime dramas for ABC, and thus reasonably family-friendly fare. Between the PG-13 mega-budget silver screen adventures of the marquee heroes and the more PG weekly serials for the supporting players, the MCU could cover a lot of territory. Still, there's always new frontiers to conquer, and apparently someone decided that they should mix together some of the mid-level Marvel characters, the superheroes with a pre-existing and potentially passionate fanbase but not quite the same name-recognition as an Iron Man or a Thor, with the darker, more violent subject matter leeway afforded to a subscription-based audience that could be reached through Netflix. So eventually we will get Power Man, Iron Fist and Jessica Jones, and further down the road those individual series will beget the Defenders, much as the first few MCU films begat the Avengers. And kicking it all off was Daredevil.

I don't know that I've ever brought these threads together explicitly before, but I know I've at least referred to the component ideas in passing; either way please forgive me for the extent to which I repeat myself. One of the things I've always loved about the Big Two superhero comic book universes is the way that they reward both deep and broad familiarity. If you have read every issue of Spider-Man for the past few years (depth), then chances are you will get a little more out of the current storylines, which inevitably build on the foundations of the past. If you have read a lot of Spider-Man and also a lot of other Marvel comics (breadth), then you will get a little more out of the storylines where Spider-Man teams up with, say, Silver Sable, because you know something about her past independent of Spider-Man. But at the time that I was most heavily into comics, in the sweet spot between understanding that it was one enormous macro-story tapestry and not yet having any real responsibilities that would prevent me from those deep and broad surveys, the industry itself was churning out so much content that it was unthinkable to consume it all. It would have been prohibitively expensive and exhaustingly time-consuming to read every issue one publisher put out (let along keeping tabs on both of them). It struck me as something that would have been fun and awesome to attempt, but it was an impossible dream. And that was fine, because it's not as though every single comic book ever published is a vital piece of a tightly unified single story. Much of it was always superfluous and forgettable.

But that was part of the appeal, too, I think, and the thrill of the hunt. You never knew when some random bit from last year's Doctor Strange annual might turn out to provide a critical piece of context for this year's X-Men stories (because really it all came down to the whim of the individual writers and how they chose to exploit and incorporate the existing history of the fictional universe they were adding to the collective development of). Even for a natural-born completist like me, it was absurd to contemplate being so unwaveringly dedicated to the point of reading every Marvel comic every week (and that doesn't even take into account the idea of going back to 1961 and trying to tackle every Marvel comic ever). But there was a numbers game I was playing; I couldn't read it all, but I could read a lot, and the more I managed to read, the better my odds of encountering those moments of deeper understanding and broader perspective on the big picture moments.

Which brings us right back to my fascination with the MCU, where I can, in theory, be a fully invested completist. There have been 11 movies so far and I have seen 9 of them. (The other two are on my list to check off as soon as I can, maybe this summer.) There have been two full seasons of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and I've seen one and a half of them, with the remainder of season two sitting on my DVR at home. I DVR'ed Agent Carter as well. So I'm close, is my point, and there's no reason why I shouldn't be able to catch up now as more and more tv shows are going on summer hiatus. By the time Ant-Man hits theaters this fall, if anyone asks me "Why are you going to see that?" I'll be able to truthfully say "Because that's what I do."

Well, except for Daredevil, which managed to pass me by. Largely for technological reasons, since it was available through Netflix streaming and I remain devoted to physical DVD's I can watch on my non-WiFi commuter train. It's not that I had a bias steering me away from checking out Daredevil. It's not that I was oblivious to the many, many people posting online about binge-watching the whole series. I even got cc'ed on an email thread between my Little Bro and Very Little Bro in which they both extolled the virtues of the show. It's totally on my radar! (Rimshot)

But I can't solely blame the fact that I'm waiting for Netflix to burn it to discs and make it available to dinosaurs like me. I said yesterday that there haven't been major upheavals in life lately (knock wood) and that's true enough, but I do feel like I have a bit less to write about on the blog at least in part because I have less throughput in my brain from the popcult spheres. I feel busier and busier, and whether or not that's objectively true, the subjective can certainly have an outsize influence on my written reflections (or lack thereof). Again, it's not that anything is wrong or I'm complaining. It's simply life going on, always evolving and giving new shapes to what becomes the present-day version of normal. In the past few months we've dealt with the kids getting bigger and their needs changing, the bino in particular, and one way that manifests is that it seems to take longer and longer to get the kids to bed each evening. That in turn leaves less and less time for my wife and I to decompress together before we're desperate to get some shuteye. And we keep up with Community and Game of Thrones as best we can in between dealing with other demands on our attention. I used to read and watch DVDs, including tv shows like Smallville, on the train, and then surf the web during my downtime at work. Now I write as much as I can during that work downtime, and so I surf the web on the train (while the LTE signal lasts), and movies and cult tv shows fall off the bottom of the to-do list, and the days turn into weeks, and so it goes and goes.

So maybe even being an MCU completist is trending towards grail quest territory. If anybody had the motivation and desire to be one, it would be me, and I'm struggling and steadily losing ground purely based on time management. Maybe it's a young (unmarried, unemployed) man's pursuit. It's good to have goals, though, and I'll keep taking a shot at it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


I told the story in passing about a year ago about how I once put my foot in mouth by describing the entire process of labor by means of which my amazing wife brought our beautiful youngest child into the world as "fine". Not that a monosyllable counts as much of a description, and in fact it's much closer to a dismissal, something akin to "this isn't important enough to get into in any detail". I was implicitly chastened at the time, and it comes up as a running joke between my wife and me now, just another example of my capacity for the occasional poor choice of words.

In context, of course, when I made that particular choice there were numerous contributing factors. I was telling the story about picking the bino's name, which was something my wife and I talked about before she went into labor and after the delivery room was cleared, but not during labor, ergo, labor had nothing to do with the story. It was not as though in the 32nd hour of labor my wife had a pain-and-hormone induced vision of Saint Gotthard of Hildesheim, or she ended up needing an emergency C-section and I found myself beseeching my dear departed grandmother to rally the guardian angels, and we ultimately namesaked the baby accordingly. The name selection conversation more or less picked up right where it had left off before they hooked my wife up to the IV's and monitors. And on another level, maybe I was even secondhand humblebragging a little bit. My wife had an attempted epidural when the little guy was born, something she hadn't wanted but freaked out and agreed to when offered in the throes of transition, all for naught because the anesthesiologist somehow botched it and only numbed the outside of her leg. After that she never really deviated from her natural delivery birthplans for the little girl and the bino, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't exceedingly proud of her for that. If I shrug off labor as no biggie it is only because that's how my wife makes it look, because she is a rock star.

I bring all this up because it parallels the ways in which I've been thinking about re-approaching this blog lately. I know, you probably thought I hadn't spared a thought to my lack of regular posting in weeks, but the truth is I think about it every day. Sometimes only fleetingly, but it's there. The problem for me is finding an entrypoint, which is difficult to do when lately the vast majority of everything strikes me as ... fine.

Which is not the same as bad! Or unimportant, or boring, or any other pejorative qualifier. Perhaps a simple lack of urgency is the best elaboration of the idea, and even then it's only in the very specific context of urgently demanding I find the time to type out 500 words or more as part of my overall mental response. More and more lately that has become a high bar to clear, and that in turn becomes a vicious cycle ratcheting the bar up higher and higher; if I haven't posted in a week, what's a big enough deal for me to break the silence? What if I haven't posted in two weeks, three, more, &c. &c.?

I've already acknowledged that with the status quo perpetuating resolution of our contract drama at work, things have settled back into their customary holding patterns, which I would sum up as ... fine. (95 days 'til I blow out of the office for a week's vacation at the beach!) I've already made my sorry-not-sorry explanations about how once upon a time the blog was my way of making myself write every day, and I've shifted a ton of that zero-sum energy into actually writing fiction every day, some of which flames out after scratching a mental itch, some of which gets finished and shopped around from rejection to rejection, and some of which I'll have more announcements about the potential publication of soon (I hope), all of which make sme feel like the writing as a whole is going ... fine. My wife and I are fine, the kids are fine, the house is fine and the yard is fine. I went and saw Avengers 2 last week and it was ... fine? I liked it a lot and may very well go see it again, but it didn't inspire a 2K word geeked-out treatise, obviously.

So the point, if I have one (which is by no means guaranteed in the EULA), is I'm realizing that if I sit around waiting for earth-shattering developments before I update the blog, those updates will be few and far between and the blog will fall into serious disuse. So consider this a bit of preamble throat-clearing to maybe trying to get two or three posts a week going, even if they wind up being short and random as a reflection of how much brainspace the blog has been relegated to. We shall see how it goes.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Lessons I Have Learned

So did I tell you guys that I joined an online writing workshop this year? I did. I'm still giving a lot of attention to my fiction writing and then some additional attention to trying to get that writing out there into the world and published in paying markets, but the latter part remains a challenge. Of course it's a challenge for everyone pursuing the same goal, the whole point is that markets that pay for fiction are competitive (and also cruelly fickle), but particularly challenging for me is trying to parse the inevitable rejections, particularly when they are of a boilerplate nature. Was the story I submitted seriously flawed, inherently unmarketable? Or was it a good story that just, as it happened, didn't tickle the fancy of the editor whose desk it came across? If it's the first scenario I might as well either dump it in the failed experiment file or tear it apart for scrap. If it's the second, then I just need to shrug off the rejection and submit it somewhere else, again and again until it catches someone's eye.

But I don't feel like I'm particularly good at differentiating between the two possibilities when it comes to my own output. I'm too close to have any proper perspective. So the workshop is helpful in that regard because I get strangers to read my stuff and tell me very specifically what (if anything) they like about it and what they don't. Once I've addressed those concerns, I can feel a little more confident that subsequent market rejections are due to intangible editorial moods and keep reloading. I'm not saying having a story workshopped guarantees that it is objectively good, but I'm optimistic that it increases the odds.

So I've been doing the workshop basically since the beginning of the year and it entails selecting one story each week to read and critique, out of about two dozen, with that slate turning over every Wednesday. In return for doing that on my end, I get about a dozen critiques on the stories I submit - three, so far. It's been interesting and occasionally intense and so far overall worthwhile, I'd say.

One of the unexpected bright spots I discovered was that almost everyone in the workshop is exceedingly gracious. I was anticipating that a hefty percentage of people would do the bare minimum in terms of critiquing other people's stories while waiting for everyone to hurry up and get to their story. But that really hasn't been the case, and people seem pretty generous with their time in terms of providing thorough feedback. And after I sent in my first few critiques, I started getting notes back from the authors thanking me for my thoughts, which I soon realized was more or less the norm. So I started writing back "you're welcome!" to these thank you notes, and in a couple of cases the correspondence went another round or two batting around some general thoughts about the workshop as a whole and whatnot. Good stuff.

So as my stories have gone through the process, I've tried to individually thank everyone who took the time to do a critique, including when my most recent story was up. One critic in particular, in the course of leaning towards the positive side of the feedback (which, to be fair, the entire workshop is set up to promote and encourage people to do) mentioned that she'd be interested in seeing the main character of my story appear again in other stories. When I wrote to thank her, I indicated that she was in luck because I did in fact plan to return the character in the future. Even better, there was already another story featuring the character out there, because what I was workshopping was a sequel of sorts to my tale from the PulpWork Christmas Special 2014.

One of the recurring motifs I've picked up on since intensifying my focus on writing and selling stories is this idea that the upstart independent author should basically be in self-promotion mode all the time, so I was certainly happy to take the opening my fellow workshopper had given me and lob a softball through it. She asked where she could get a hold of the story, although she did also add that if I could just send it straight to her, that would be great. As much as flattery usually works pretty well on me, especially along the lines of "I love what you wrote, show me more!", I had to content myself with sending her the Amazon link and explaining that it really wasn't my call to give away contents of a published anthology for free, because it simply wouldn't be fair to the other authors in the collection, since we all benefit equally from sales of the book.

I did, however, point out to my fellow workshopper that the Kindle version was cheaper than the paperback version, and for that matter, if she happened to have a Kindle Unlimited subscription then the e-book would be accessible through that service for free. At which point I was no longer really sure if I was shilling for my own writing or shilling for Amazon (which, full disclosure, I do own a tiny bit of stock in) but so it goes in this crazy modern world of ours I suppose.

As it turns out you can get a free introductory trial of Kindle Unlimited, which the workshopper had been thinking about, and she decided to go ahead and start the trial so she could get the e-book I had been talking up. I guess all in all I'd call that a win-win, because the more eyeballs I get my work in front of the better for my writing rep, and the more subscribers Amazon has, the better for my portfolio. I'm still undecided as to how distressed I should feel by the fact that I apparently consider my efforts as an amateur author and my efforts as an amateur investor about on par with one another, but I'm sure I'll sort that out later.