The Flash: Doing Super Heroics Right on TV

 

Full Disclosure: The Flash is my second favorite super-hero (Superman being my favorite) as well as the one that got me into reading comics. Way back in 1990, I was in love with the John Wesley Shipp Flash television show. During its run, I found a copy of Flash #50 on news stand of my local general store.

As you can see, that is quite the cover. Inside, I was not only introduced to the wonderful world of comic books (sure, I had read a few here and there, but I was a scie-fi, fantasy and gaming geek, dammit, not one of those comic book nerds) but given my first lesson in the rules of adaptation: that is, nothing is sacred. On television, the Flash was Barry Allen; in the comic, the Flash was Wally West. There was a relationship between the two, something familial, even fatherly, but I could not parse it from the limited information provided. Some support characters were the same, or at least had the same names, and the TV Barry had some things in common with the comic book Wally (needing lots of food for energy, for example) but it would be months before I figured out which were chickens and which were eggs. In the end, though, none of those details mattered: a comic book reading, super-hero loving geek was born! It was as if I looked at my D&D books and fantasy novels and thought, “Nope, not enough, there is still a chance I might accidentally get laid.”

 

Flash forward (I am SO sorry) 25 years and The Flash is once again on television and is once again fueling my comic book super-hero nerdity. I never stopped reading comics and I have maintained a pull list at the same awesome Cave Comics for well over a decade now. That said, for the last few years I have been estranged from the majority of super hero comics, including my beloved Superman and Flash (among many, many others). Long story short: the Event Treadmill that consumed DC Comics for years starting with Identity Crisis, moving through Final Crisis and finally rebooting the Dc multiverse entirely with Flashpoint wore me out. I just wanted good stories starring the heroes I loved, not universe shaking event and universe shaking event. After all those, I dropped DC Comics entirely, never moving on to the New 52. Marvel, which I had read only intermittently anyway, was in the throws of its own Event Treadmill, from Civil War to the Secret Invasion and beyond, so I decided to take a year hiatus from both companies. When I did return, I followed creators instead of companies, picking up Mark Waid‘s Daredevil and Indestructible Hulk as they debuted with new Marvel Now #1 issues, as well as the return of the amazing Astro City by Kurt Busiek.

 

But I am nothing if not a fickle nerd and first my pull box and then my “to-read” shelf started to fill up with unread comics. It is something of a pattern with me. I will cycle between geek preferences, from video games to table-top games to comics to prose sci-fi and fantasy and back again. This time, though, my time away from comics was longer than it had been for any number of these “cycles.” Judging by the number of Astro City books on my shlef, unread, it had been at least a year since I had read any of the books I bought (and probably longer if the number of Waid’s Daredevil issues were any indication). That is a long time and a lot of comics.

 

In the last two weeks I have cleared out my to-read shelf and even started looking for new and interesting super-hero titles to start following. Why? The title of this post may be a hint: The Flash on the CW.

 

The Flash is not the first comic book super hero TV show to recently attract first my attention and then my slavish dedication. I am a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as it is called, and therefore started watching Agents of SHIELD with great expectations when it premiered last fall. Also last year  I started watching Arrow, which I had avoided in its first season because it was a CW show (I watched Smallville for 6 seasons before the pretty people soap opera was too much to bear). I started watching Arrow exactly because it promised to introduce Barry Allen early in its second season, so I figured I could give it a few episodes just to see. Very soon, I was hooked, in no small part due to the depiction of Slade Wilson, aka Deathstroke the Terminator. Rarely has a comic book adaptation nailed a character so perfectly. Also, I just liked Arrow. It was the best Batman show we could hope for. (Come on, the main villain organization is Ra’s al Ghul‘s League of Assassins and it is about a revenge driven billionaire with mommy and daddy issues.)

 

All that said, neither SHIELD nor Arrow, or even The Walking Dead, reinvigorated that comics love. The back issues continued to pile up. (I did, however, seek out Walt Simonson’s Thor run after seeing Thor: The Dark World. Weird, that.) No, it was not until Flash premiered a few weeks ago that I got the super-hero big again and started burning through my unread comics, but also firing up my Marvel Unlimited subscription, which had sat largely unused for the better part of a year, to dabble in various series. (As an aside, if DC Comics would create a similar service, I would be an instant lifetime subscriber. There are so many great DC Comics not collected in trades from the 70s, 80s and 90s that it would take a lifetime to read through them all.) The strength of the show is its unabashed love of the genre. Where Arrow tries to bring super heroics down to the ground and revels in its gritty (dare I say, “Batman-esque?”) tone, The Flash on the CW is openly and proudly a comic book super hero television show, bright red costumes and villains with goofy code names included. But it is not a joke or a parody or even particularly self referential. It knows what it is, knows that its audience appreciates what it is, and treats both with both a wink and respect. By contrast, the other new DC comics inspired show, Gotham, is confused in its tone, part noirish Nolan-Batman and part weirdo Burton-Batman. (I love Gotham, too, but despite its tone, not because of it.) None of which would matter if star Grant Gustin did not infuse his Barry Allen with such charm and depth.

 

If you have not given The Flash a try and you love super hero comics and television, I implore you to do so. It really is a great achievement in the genre and for me at least, the shot in the arm an old comics fan needed to remember how grerat comics can be when they are about great characters in great stories, not just big events.

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Wicked Wednesday: Real World Evil

My original plan, with it being October 1st (the unofficial start of Halloween season) was to produce a Wicked Wednesday based on the imagined evils of the season: ghosts, goblins, witches and the like. However, today a real evil reared its head and I feel the need to talk about it. There’s nothing in here for your D&D game, so I understand if you don’t bother reading this post, though I do think it will be of some value to some of you, anyway.

 

In the case you have never clicked my “About” page, I should tell you first that I live in Newtown, Connecticut and my children attended Sandy Hook elementary on December 14, 2012 when Adam Lanza attacked the school and killed 20 children and 6 educators, after murdering his mother in their home and before killing himself as the police arrived. If you are interested in greater detail about what happened that morning, please read the essay I wrote following the event. Suffice it to say, the day deeply affected our family. My children both survived, but my daughter lost many friends, eight of whom were Daisy Scouts in my wife’s troop. My wife was a first hand witness to the carnage and still deals with Post Traumatic Stress from the incident. Since that day, the Sandy Hook Elementary School has been moved to Chalk Hill School in neighboring Monroe, Connecticut. My son has since moved on the our Intermediate School but my daughter remains at Sandy Hook.

 

Today, I received a panicked phone call from my wife. She could hardly speak, barely breathe. The kids had dentist appointments this morning, and I knew she would be dropping the kids off at their respective schools afterward. (As an aside that I did not realize until this very moment, I had a dentist appointment on 12-14.) When she dropped off my daughter, there were police cars with their flashing lights on. She was assured she could leave my daughter at school, however, and did so with some trepidation. By the time she got home, the resurgent terror and helplessness of 12-14 had bubbled up in her beyond control. That’s how PTSD works. She called me in a full on panic attack, certain that she had made a terrible mistake. Excruciatingly, I talked her down and calmed her. A few minutes after I got off the phone, she called back, her panic returned. The school had sent out an alert: there was a threat and our daughter, who had only a little while before been safe with my wife, was at the school. My wife was both terrified and guilt stricken.

 

It was not long before we received emails and phone messages assuring us of the safety of our child. They had been evacuated. There would be an early dismissal. The threat was of minimal or no credibility. All of that was good news, but of no consequence to already traumatized parent who, like my wife and I, had stood in a parking lot on a cold winter day, holding one another against the horror that our children would not come out of that school alive. And that is where the evil comes in.

 

It is impossible to argue that someone calling in a bomb threat is as evil and monstrous as one who kills innocents. That said, the desire to inflict massive psychic trauma upon innocent people is indeed a mark of an evil and monstrous mind. Someone, somewhere (and we don’t know who yet, and perhaps never will) chose to create panic and terror among traumatized children, educators and parents today. Why? To what end? Entertainment? Revenge against some imagined slight? Perhaps it was a Sandy Hook Hoaxer or a 2nd Amendment Extremist who wanted to harm those who were seen as enemies to their world view. No matter that motivation or the identity of the individual responsible, one simple truth can be ascertained: that individual is evil, in the way the real people can be evil to one another every day.

 

If you have kids, hug them. If you don’t, do something nice for a child you do know. Maybe give a little to a PTSD charity or an organization dedicated toward understanding the roots of violence. In any case, do something to make the world a better place.

 

Oh, and if you are the person called in the threat to Sandy Hook today, go fuck yourself.

Ten: All The Cool Kids Are Doing It

I was recently nominated by my good friend Jeff L. to name my ten favorite books. Since it is better than pouring a bucket of ice water over my head (that’s how this works, right?) I have decided to indulge him. Now the rest of you have to suffer. Everyone say, “Thanks, Jeff.”

 

Before I give you my list, I have a couple notes: these are not necessarily my “favorite” books in the sense that I read them a lot (some of them are, but that’s incidental). Rather, they are “favorites” in the sense that I think about them and what’s in them a lot. They made a positive impact on me, in some form or another, even if any given book on this list isn’t “good” by any metric or even if I have never read it a second time. That said, here we go:

 

1.) The Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide by E. Gary Gygax: It should come as a surprise to exactly no one that I am, above all other self identifiers, a Dungeons and Dragons nerd. I am not old enough to be a proper “old schooler” or “grognard.” I came into the hobby in 1985 at 10 years old, ushered in by Frank Mentzer and Larry Elmore. That fabled Red Box didn’t just show me a new way to play, it changed my life. I wrote stories before then, but that game showed me how to be inside them. So why the AD&D DMG instead of the Basic Set? My brothers and I played the Basic and Expert and following sets for years. We played by the rules in a style informed by what was in those sets, and it was fun, but it was very insular and specific. Some years later when I found the AD&D DMG, I was shown a whole different world of play. Moreover, it was introduced by a powerful style, a voice of authority that resonated with me. It forever changed the way I not only ran the game, but the way I viewed the game at its most fundamental level. Before, D&D had been a story construction engine; the realization from within the hallowed pages of the DMg that it could still be a game, that the story was better when it emerged organically from play, was, well, a revelation. No matter what edition of the game I run, I refer to the AD&D DMG for inspiration and as a reminder of what the game is.

 

2.) Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons: I was a comics late bloomer. My first comic book was Flash (series 3) #50, which I picked up from the newsstand at the corner store (remember those?) after having fallen in love with The Flash Television Show. I was hooked on comics — the Flash especially — from that day on. For a long time, I survived on typical super-hero books, mostly by DC Comics. At the same time, I was playing a lot of the DC Heroes Role Playing Game by Mayfair Games. Among the many supplements for that game was one for the Watchmen. At the time, at 15 with no point of reference, I did not get it at all. I tossed it in a box, forgotten. But the seed was planted. Soon after, I was skimming through the monthly Science Fiction Book Club order book that arrived at my house. I always scoured the “Alterverse” section for comic books, novels based on games and other media properties, and the like. That day, I saw a hardcover, copy of Watchmen advertised. All I knew was that it was somehow related to the universe shared by Superman and Batman, so I ordered it. Four to six weeks later, my mind was blown. I read Watchmen once a year, and every time I find something I had not fully digested before. It speaks volumes about comics, about comics fans, about wish fulfillment, about sex, about dreams, about life. If ever there was a super-hero comic that could be called capital-L-Literature, this is it. That it inspired a decade of heinous anti-heroes and spiked leather is a testament to how powerful it is, in the same way that a decade of terrible derivative fantasy flooded the bookstores after the Lord of the Rings appeared. Speaking of…

 

3.) Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien: I read The Hobbit in sixth grade. It is still one of my all time favorite adventure stories. But (by design) that is all The Hobbit is, a fairy tale adventure for young readers that turned out so well written that it is satisfying for adults as well. The Lord of the Rings, however, is much more. It is an adventure story (a Heroic story, to be more precise) but it is also a universe, a world so convincing that it has created a world around it here in our real world. The power of LotR is in its Truth (rather than its Reality). It was carefully crafted to speak to the deepest aspects of human nature, calling back to our oldest and most universal tales. That is was inspirational on everything from Star Wars to Dungeons and Dragons (both things I love) is just gravy. As a novel, LotR is a great work; as work of Literature, LotR is hugely important. It is also difficult. There are sections that drag, especially if one is looking for a fast paced adventure story. It’s most intricate and well crafted elements are woken subtly so that often scholarship, or at least very careful re-reading, is necessary to tease them out. It is long. It is very Male and very White. But these difficulties merely serve as obstacles in the quest to conquer it and make the prize at the end all that more rewarding.

 

4.) The DragonLance Chronicles and Legends by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman: Perhaps best described as the bastard child of Tolkien fandom and Dungeons and Dragons, DragonLance (DL hereafter) is stilted in its prose, cardboard in its characters, cliched in its plot and ham-fisted in its themes. Nonetheless, it is near and dear not just to my heart but to the hearts of millions of fantasy fans and gamers who came of age in the 1980s and beyond. We laughed when Bupu fell in love with Raistlin. We cried when Sturm and Flint died. We raged when Raistlin betrayed his brother and the Companions, and we cried again when he sacrificed himself to save all of Krynn. DragonLance was, for the 14 year old D&D fan, perfectly crafted and whatever its faults it is forever a part of those of us that discovered it at that perfect age.

 

5.) Incognito by David Eagleman: It is hard to overstate the impact this book had on me when it read it shortly after its release. It reveals so much about our minds and manages, ultimately, to only inspire more questions about who and what we are from a cognitive perspective. The idea than any of us could become a monster due to something as base and material as a brain tumor is terrifying. That we all see things we don’t realize we see and make judgments that we think are just “intuition” but are actually completely analytical decisions is inspiring. That there within each of us is a sort of internal council of Selves that are all Us, while all also being someone Else is mystifying. The machines locked in our skulls from which we emerge are the real Final Frontier and this book serves as a great introduction to if not understanding it, appreciating it.

 

6.) The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle: I have loved The Last Unicorn since I was a you child, enchanted by the beauty, whimsy and depth of the animated film. It spoke to me, through the Unicorn’s loneliness, through Schmendrick’s ambition, through Molly’s hope, through Prince Lir’s love and even through King Haggard’s desire to own all the magical things in the world. It is astounding, even to myself, that it took until this year for me to actually read the novel. It was one of those situations, like with, say, Fahrenheit 451, where my familiarity with it through other media and means told me that I did not need to read it, that I would not get much out of it. Perhaps I was even a little afraid that the book would be that rare creature that was worse than the beloved film. Whatever, the case, I avoided the novel, both actively and inactively, for decades. What a terrible mistake. Beagle’s prose is exquisite, a beauty unto itself. That the film hewed so close to the novel was a blessing, for I could immerse myself in the poetry of the language without suffering under the dissonance of trying to square the film I loved with the novel (imagine, if you will, a rabid fan of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies reading that novel for the first time!). Perhaps it is better that I discovered the novel so late: I think prose is a thing one appreciates more with age, especially if one is a writer oneself. In any case, The Last Unicorn is easily one of the most well written, most powerful novels I have ever read.

 

7.) The Road by Cormac McCarthy: If there is a novel more beautifully crafted than The Last Unicorn, it is The Road. While the film is good, the novel is a near perfect piece of fiction. It was the book I read that made me realize that, whatever I think of my own abilities as a storyteller or a wordsmith, I would never win a Pulitzer Prize because no haphazard combination of nouns and verbs I could throw together could ever hope to equal McCarthy’s prose in that book. Moreover, aside from the craft of the prose, the power and truth in the tale was overwhelming, arresting and at once uplifting and crushing. I do not know that I will ever read The Road again — as a man and a father it strikes so deeply into me I do not know if I could bear the terrible beauty of it again — but I will never forget it.

 

8.) The Writer’s Guide to Creating a Science Fiction Universe byGeorge Ochoa and Jeffrey Osier: I own and have read a lot of writing guides, especially those that focus on speculative fiction. This one is by far the best — not for its writing advice (it barely gives any at all), but for its comprehensive survey of science as it relates directly to science fiction. A lot of SF writing books talk about incorporating science and about making speculative science or magic consistent, but this book laid out actual science and then extrapolated. It suggested and also warned. In short, it was exactly what it said on the tin, and was superbly indexed to boot. Twenty years after having acquired it, even though some of the science has since been overturned, when I have an idea for a hard science fiction story, the first book I grab and peruse for inspiration and guidance is The Writer’s Guide to Creating a Science Fiction Universe.

 

9.) Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke: Any number of Clarke’s novels could have gone on this list. Clarke is, by far, my favorite science fiction author, especially among the hard science fiction authors, most because in his work he never forgets that he is talking about Us. There are strange worlds and aliens and objects in his stories, but there are also always people — recognizably human characters that act as we might even if they live a thousand years hence and a thousand light years away. The reason I chose Childhood’s End above, say, Rendezvous with Rama or The Light of Other Days (both of which I adore) is because Childhood’s End left me hurt and uncertain and flabbergasted. Some read the end of the book as an optimistic promise, and perhaps Clark himself meant it that way. But to me, the novel promised an unsatisfying end for our species, an extinction devoid even of the dramatic exit of a hurtling comet. Even the brainless dinosaurs deserved so much. In Childhood’s End, we simply faded away, relinquishing the definition of “human” to our progenitors, but suddenly and irrevocably. It is an existential novel, and one I recall whenever I see great injustice or stupidity commited by mankind.

 

10.) There are so many books vying for this last place, from the beautiful agony of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying to the the dense tension of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, from the wit and wisdom of Twain (pick any of them, though my favorite is Puddin Head Wilson) to the visceral, guttural magnetism of Beowulf. As one who possesses a degree in English Literature, I have been exposed to many, many great novels (and some not so great ones that continue to get read anyway). And as a fan of genre fiction, I have consumed a great many rotten apples (and some beautifully crafted works otherwise ignored because they had a dragon or rocket ship on the cover). In the end, what I realize is that all narrative prose, fiction or nonfiction, classical or fresh, literary or genre, has value. We are a species of stories, and while stories in the short form are often satisfying and powerful, only longer tales can delve the complexities of our nature. Our authors create worlds for us to experience, and by that experience we get a clearer sight into our own world and ourselves. So, my final “favorite” book is every book every written, for each one, no matter how terrible or how banal or how shallow, is a window into something of ourselves.

 

I want to thank Jeff L. for nominating me to do this. It was a pleasure, and a bit of a challenge, to really think about my favorite books, and why they are my favorites.

Little Stories

For some months, I have been having trouble with Writer’s Block, especially when trying to write fiction. But here’s the thing: as soon as I decided to refocus this blog on 5th Edition D&D, I have written over 8,000 words — I know, that is not a lot compared to many of you, but compared to the 0,000 I was writing before, it sure is. A small portion of that has been my Guardians of the Galaxy review, but the majority has been writing game related articles. At first I was surprised,a nd then I was concerned: am I incapable of writing fiction? Have I exhausted my ability to create stories? Don’t get me wrong: I love game writing. I cut my professional writing teeth on game writing, for White Wolf Publishing’s Exalted and for Sword & Sorcery Studios’ Gamma World d20. But real life intervened and it has been a very long time since I have done any professional game writing. And, if I am being honest, I do not foresee a career in writing game material at $.04 per word.

 

Then, something occurred to me: the little articles I have been writing here for D&D 5E are stories. More specifically, they are made up of many little stories. I am not a game designer — they do math and play test things and generally make games work correctly. I am a game writer — I come up with some wacky stuff that makes for a fun experience around a table with a bunch of your friends. When I write about Fantastic Fountains, Vicious Monster Variants, or Pommel Stones of Power, what I am really doing to creating a handful of small stories in each of those articles and asking you, the reader and game player, to jump into that story. I could limit my Vicious Variants to a couple of sentences adjusting the monsters’ game statistics — after all, the stated goal is simply to provide more utility from those creatures while awaiting the arrival of the official D&D 5E Monster Manual — but instead each one gets a couple hundred words. Why? Because tabletop role playing games like D&D are themselves stories, series of linked tales that comprise one grand epic (which may or may not end with the “heroes” in the stomach of a hungry troll).

 

Realizing this has been helpful. I know that I am not stuck in the ghetto of game writing instead of writing actual stories. I am writing stories, and it is a short step from here back into the world of prose fiction. And, just as importantly, there’s nothing wrong with being here in the first place: game writing isn’t a lesser form, and even if the pay isn’t as good, well, no one is paying for my fiction at this point either. ;)

 

Thanks for reading, and if you are enjoying what I do, don’t forget to Share and Like.

40 Years of Fantasists

Today is, according to Jon Peterson, the 40th anniversary of the release of the first iteration of the Dungeons and Dragons game. Much has been said of the impact of D&D on both individuals and on whole industries. One could go on forever trying to gauge the total impact of D&D on American popular culture, and some have tried, or recounting the roller-coaster ride of its rise from obscure past time to 1980s sensation/scapegoat and back again, with a few stops at both nerd obsession and geek chic. All of that history is interesting and important and many writers have recounted the power of D&D on popular culture before and will do so again.

 

What I am interested in is something a little different. As ide from inspiring a generation or two of authors, game designers, filmmakers and others, the arrival of D&D also created a whole generation of fantasists. A fantasist differs from those aforementioned types in that  a fantasist, by definition, does not necessarily make a living creating fantasies. Of the approximately 20 million people who have played D&D, every one was or is a fantasist. Every one has created a fantasy world or just a piece of it. Every one has helped craft a unique universe, populated by unique characters undertaking unique adventures. While there are of course many published worlds and even more commercial modules for the game that provide players a shared experience, each iteration of such a module, each group’s version of such a world, is still a unique creation. Even though they are clones, they are not the same.

 

What does it mean to have empowered 20 million daydreamers with the tools to create whole worlds? In some cases it has meant commercial success, but for most the rewards have been more subtle. The act of creation is one that has many benefits for the creator. Because D&D players are fantasists, and fantasists are creators, that population of gamers has enjoyed those benefits even if they don’t translate to a career as a best selling novelist or a high octane action star. And anecdotally, we know that being around creative people is fun and makes us happy, so the rest of the non-gaming world has benefited, too.

 

On a personal note, the existence of D&D gave me system by which to organize my creativity. before I discovered D&D at age 10 in 1985, my brothers and I played fantasy games we made up ourselves (usually involving hitting one another with sticks). I played by myself, having riotous adventures in the barn when I thought no one was looking (and my mother was watching via the horse foaling cameras we had installed). I wrote stores about heroes  with shining “sords” and dragons whose eyes “glew” before I had ever read a book myself (what I would not give to have a copy of that notebook today). It was D&D, though, that allowed me to take all of those fantasies and wrangle them into a way that not only were they ordered for myself, but they could be shared with others. D&D gave me a venue. It also gave me the greatest friendships I have ever had and still have, but that is another post entirely.

 

So to all the gamers out there, from the most famous to the most common, I say: happy anniversary and Game On.

Emerging from the Crysalis

It has been some time since I decided to take a break from this blog in order to figure out exactly what I wanted it to be. Over those weeks, I have thought about everything from what I write to why I write and even how and when I write. When distilled down to its essence, I discover that there are two kinds of writing that I do, and I think this blog is really only fit for one of them.

 

I write fiction. In fact, today I finished a 6000 word fantasy story (that I thought was only going to be about 3000 words, but that is a different post altogether). Sometimes I write fiction very quickly — I crowd source a few story elements and cobble together a flash fiction in an hour or so — and sometimes I write very deliberately and it takes weeks to finish something (if at all). The thing is, I don’t think a blog is a good choice for me for fiction because once I hit “Publish” it feels, well, published. The problem with that is that while the story exists Out There, I know that it might be seen by two or three people. I have “published” it and gained nothing. One day I hope to make a living telling stories, which means that simply finishing and posting stories is counterproductive to that goal.

 

The other kind of writing I do, which I feel is much more appropriate for the blog format, is essentially this: I am thinking on paper (or “in bytes” I suppose) and expressing my thoughts and opinions about one thing or another. I know, the internet is a sea of thoughts and opinions and mine are no more special than anyone else’s — which is precisely why I think this sort of writing lives better on a blog. I believe that I have the ability to tell stories that people will not only want to read but will be willing to pay to read. As fond as I am of my own opinions, I am not sure they qualify as salable.

 

That said, I may occasionally throw fiction on here, or a link to fiction if I need eyes on it before a revision. And I plan to rant less and think through my opinion pieces more — articles, rather than screeds, if you will — in order to make those pieces informative and attractive.

 

this, then, is my goal for this blog in 2014: entertain, elucidate and maybe even educate, all the while working toward professional status as a fiction author.

National Novel READING Month

Up until last night, a feeling of dread had been growing within me, a darkness gathering in my mind as the end of October approached. I was not fearing the ghouls and monsters of Halloween, but of the imminent arrival of National Novel Writing Month.

 

Last year, I successfully completed the challenge, writing my first completed novel “Daytripper” in those 30 days, based on a shred of an idea and going in a completely different direction than the original concept. It was a good experience, forcing myself to write like that, but the fact is, “Daytripper” still sits in a drawer, unrevised save for a single run through. At 50K words, it is too short for a novel and too long for a novella. There are things in it — plot elements, characters, scenes and ideas — that I love, but it is mostly terrible. I don’t know what to do with it, so I had decided that I would use NaNoWriMo this year to create a fresh draft of “Daytripper” and maybe, just maybe, between the two I could create a novel I felt good about publishing.

 

The thing about NaNoWriMo is that it is (intentionally) intense and consuming. It eats the month of November. Last year, my wife was wonderfully accommodating as I sequestered myself night after night in my basement office (if one could call a room filled with comics, RPG manuals and video games an “office”). This year, my Novemeber is already half consumed by other activities, from a game convention to a scouting overnight to a wedding anniversary retreat.  As November approached, I tried to calculate how many words I would have to write a day to accommodate all the days I could not be writing, and I despaired.

 

But the real reason I dreaded the arrival of NaNoWriMo is that I do not know if I want to revise “Daytripper.” I do not know if there is a good enough story in there to make a novel worth my time to write it and your time to read it. That kind of uncertainty is telling, I think. there are other novels I want to write (eventually) that I am certain are worth the time, but I am less certain about my ability to write those novels just yet. Part of the reason for that is I read far fewer novels than I should, and I need to remedy that before I can successfully write one.

 

So, for me, NaNoWriMo will become NaNoReMo — National Novel READING Month. There are a number of novels, from light YA fare to classics of English Literature, I have always meant to read. So instead of burning all that time writing a terrible novel, I choose to read a few good ones.

Transtemporal Psychoportation

A NOTE: I do not intend for this blog to be overly personal, but it is a place where I express myself through writing. That said, these kinds of posts will be few and far between (hopefully).

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Yesterday, I discovered the secret of both time travel and teleportation. These problems, long fodder for science fiction writers and more recently very real conundrums for physicists, would seem insurmountable for a guy with a bachelor’s degree in English literature (regardless of how many Arthur C. Clarke stories I have read) but I nonetheless learned how to traverse both time and space in the blink of an eye. What’s more, you need neither a Large Hadron Collider nor a vessel moving at Warp speed while skirting the event horizon of a Sun sized star. All you really need is helplessness and terror.

 

It happened suddenly yet nearly imperceptibly. One moment, I was on a construction site at the harbor, waiting for the contractors to call on us for survey. The next moment, I was miles away and nine months in the past, in the parking lot of Sandy Hook Elementary School waiting for my children to come out alive.

 

When the Boston Marathon bombing occurred, I suffered something of an existential crisis. Somehow between December 14 and Boston, I had managed to “forgive” the universe for being so cruel, for allowing such evil to flourish, so the bombing hit me very hard, especially the news of the death of a child. I was thrown for a loop, enraged and wounded and in shock. What I was not, though, was transported back to Sandy Hook.

 

The Washington Navy Yard was different. That event did send me hurtling through time and space. It was not just that it was a deranged gunman on a murderous rampage in what should have otherwise been a safe and secure institutional facility — though now that I think of it, i realize how alike the incidents are in that way. No, the Einstein-Rosen bridge was my brother. Just like in Sandy Hook, I was waiting to find out if my family would survive a madman’s killing spree. Technically, I knew he was safe but I could not yet believe it.

 

At about 10 that morning I received a text message from my sister in law telling myself and a number of others in a group message that my brother was okay. I know my brother travels a lot for his work as a Navy contractor (he was an officer for 20 years and recently retired) so I responded with, “Where is he?” Almost at that moment, before she could respond, it hit the top of the hour and the radio station went to the news. It said there was a mass shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington.

 

It is a fairly common cliche in prose to describe thoughts “falling into place.” It is an ugly and generally ill-fitting metaphor that says far more about the author’s craft than it does about the experience of the character in the narrative. yet, here I am, trying to express how the realization came upon me and all I can imagine is pieces falling into place like a slow motion, horrific game of Tetris. My brother, Navy yard. Shooter. Okay. The blocks turned and fell and when they came together they disappeared and in the void was this reality: for the second time in less than a year, a gun was pointed at my family and I was helpless to do anything but wait.

 

I called my sister in law immediately. She had been able to speak with my brother. He was in lockdown. No one knew where the shooter was, or even how many there were. He was as “safe” as long as someone did not shoot their way into his location. I offered her what comfort I could. I told her I loved her.

 

Hanging up the phone was, I think, the Big Red Button on the quad-dimensional-trans-locationator. In a blink I was in the purgatory of an uncertainty that it indescribable to anyone who has not felt it, a dread so pure it redefines you, not just then, but forever. I was acutely aware that I was surrounded by construction workers and engineers and municipal bureaucrats and that I alone was feeling this. Worse still, at least in the Sandy Hook parking lot, I was able to focus on helping my wife through her own fear and holding her up. There was no one else to hold up then, and no one to hold me up. All I had was a determination to keep my shit together, if for no other reason that the last people you want to see you cry are construction workers.

 

Relief came slowly as news trickled in and my wife held me up through my phone. I was drawn in tiny steps back to the time and place from which I had been transported as it became increasingly clear that my brother was, in fact, safe. It was a long 12 hours before he was finally home with my sister in law and I was able to speak with him, at which point the wormhole closed and I was free to live in the here and now again.