Three Things Make a Post

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If you subscribe to my Patreon, you’ve already seen this, but here’s one for everyone else:

1. Long time readers of my blog and/or social media will know what this picture means. I’ve reached another major goal in my current work-in-progress. The book is ONE MAN, which is the fantasy/crime novel I’ve been working on for OVER TWO YEARS. The goal is that I’ve incorporated my agent’s notes and I think the book is much stronger and therefore ready to send to publishers.

There will be new drafts later on, whether publishers bite or not, but for now it’s off the table.

That means I can spend the week leading up to Giftmas doing family stuff, cleaning, cooking, and otherwise refilling the well.

2. I took the wife and son to see ROGUE ONE (no spoilers) on Friday afternoon. I liked it more than they did, but I’m more inclined to forgive the clunky, awkward moments so I can have space ships and shoot-outs. We all watch Star Wars as generic but enjoyable mass media entertainment, not as a fannish fetish object. But it’s more my kind of thing than theirs.

And the clunkiness was there–hoo boy–along with the plot problems that come with the way the films have used The Force. They also struggled with the constraints of being a prequel to “A New Hope:” Darth Vader is there, but he’s not the main villain. They need their own antagonist who can lose at the end (see above re: generic but enjoyable mass media entertainment) and not outshine the villains in ANH, but still seem powerful and effective. They might have had a better film if they’d managed it.
Still, it’s an enjoyable diversion from holiday stress.

3. Speaking of Giftmas, I’ve dropped the Amazon ebook price of the first novel in my Great Way trilogy to $2.99. If you know someone who likes ebook adventure fantasy, you might want to grab it for them. Also, once you own the ebook, the audio book becomes super cheap. That, too, might make a nice gift.

And that’s it. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday, however you celebrate. And if you don’t celebrate at all, I hope your days are wonderful anyway.

A Spoiler-Filled Post about Doctor Strange (The Movie)

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I saw DOCTOR STRANGE this weekend, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. The character combines two things I like–superheroes and modern-day wizards–but I’ve never really felt he was well served in the comics. Great name. Bad look. Unsatisfying stories. Part of that comes from his most popular villains: Baron Mordo and Dormammu, neither of which thrills me. I’d much rather read MGK’s imagined run of the comicsthan any of the actual comics I’ve seen so far.

So my expectation was that this would be a disappointment, and those expectations were reinforced by early reviews that went “Meh.” Or even worse “Competent Marvel Content of the Type We Have Come to Expect.”

Frankly, the film is much better than that. Not perfect, but I’d rank it in my top 5 MCU pictures, maybe top 3.

Yeah, it’s a problem that they whitewashed The Ancient One to make sure they could rake in all that sweet Chinese box office. It looks like they ran as far as they could from the possibility that some bureaucrat would decide the character was coded as Tibetan. But that casting decision is separate from Swinton’s performance, which perfect. She elevates every scene she’s in, effortlessly.

Likewise, the idea that the movie is not “about” anything or that Strange himself doesn’t change (“who shows minimal emotional growth even as he wins, convincingly, for two straight hours”) is silly on its face.

Yeah, it’s another origin story. People say they’re sick of those, but that’s not showing in the box office. It’s also a problematic origin, since it’s of the “Visiting White Guy Does Non-White Culture Best Of All” genre. The movie takes some of the sting out of that by making the wizards as diverse as possible, but it’s still in the mix.

Besides, this is an origin story that actually matters. It’s not “I grew up and took revenge” or “I am a good guy who got the power to be even better.” It’s the story of a terrible person who becomes a good one, and it’s also the story of coming to terms with a disability. Strange spends most of the movie trying to get back to where he was before the accident so he can return to (what he thinks is) his best self, but his best self was a massive shit head. He’s a doctor who won’t see patients who are very old or very sick, because he’s protecting his reputation.

The Ancient One tries to get him to understand he must surrender sometimes. He has to accept failure. He has to stop applying his brilliant mind to his own rep and start helping other people.

Strange just wants to be a fancy neurosurgeon again.

But then he needs his ex to save his life, and by that point he’s gotten kicked around enough to realize what a shit he’s been. He needs Mordo’s help. He needs Dr. West’s help. And to win the final battle he puts himself in a situation where he will lose over and over.

And the last shot, where he’s looking down at his trembling hands and straps on that broken watch, shows that he’s accepting that he has changed, and that he must now contribute to the world in a different way.

Yes, there are problems with the movie. Rachel McAdams’s role was thankless. The gorgeous visuals at the end of the movie weren’t as delightful as Strange’s first wild ride through the multiverse: cgi spectacle peaked early. The humor was welcome but sometimes fell flat. I’m not so enraptured that I thing it’s perfect. Far from it.

But that didn’t really matter, because I loved the character, loved the ending, loved the scars, loved the milieu, loved the performances, and loved the movie. After the stress of this election season and the revisions on my huge, unwieldy book, this movie made me joyful.

Randomness for 10/17

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1) Portugal’s Example: What Happened After It Decriminalized All Drugs, From Weed to Heroin.

2) The Man Who Invented Bookselling As We Know It.

3) Self-Destructive Beverages: a Guide.

4) Creating unconscious emotional responses with shapes. Video.

5) This house could be yours (if you’re looking for a shrine to terrible awful horrifying bad taste).

6) Carrie Fisher’s Legacy as a Script Doctor.

7) How to be Persuasive: Seven Secrets of a Hostage Negotiator

Strolling a Familiar Garden Path: Kubo, King Doug, and the Power of Predictable Plotting

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A few years ago, I picked up a copy of The Return of King Doug from my library, read it, loved it, returned it, and promptly forgot the title. No amount of Googling could call up the book again. “Satirical portal fantasy child…”

Here’s the basic plot: the centaurs, sentient trees and elfin creatures of pseudo-Narnia are gathered for the final battle against the Dark Queen. And they have a hero with them, one the prophecy says will lead them to victory! It’s a human person, named Doug. They put a crown on him, hang their most potent magical bauble around his neck, and declare him king.

Doug is eight years old. He’s happy to be made king, but once talk turns to the bloody battle at 100-to-1 odds to take place in the morning, Doug does what any sensible kid does. He runs all the way away, returning through his magical well to his grandmother’s place in the Poconos. And he brought the bauble with him.

Cut to mumble-mumble years later, Doug is all grown up, divorced with a kid. Years of therapy have convinced him that his adventure was fantasy, but he can’t get his own life together. Then his parents talk him into returning to the old cabin, and his son finds the bauble and falls back into pseudo-Narnia, and…

And you know what will happen. The prophecy he was unable to fulfill as a child will be fulfilled now that he’s an adult, and we’re going to get a satirical tour of fantasy land while we’re at it.

It’s a fun book, and I enjoyed it, but not because the plot was unpredictable. The basic outline of the story was right there, and the only surprises came from the details.

That same weekend, my wife said she wanted to see KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS, largely based on the beautiful animation in the commercials. My wife has no interest in fantasy (the only fantasy novels she reads are mine, and the only fantasy movies she sees are the big popular ones or the artsy ones) but she has a long history with animation so, of course, we went.

You should go, too. See it in the theater, and stay for the mid-credits stop-motion clips. It’s gorgeous and affecting, and while Laika’s previous films have been interesting but significantly flawed, this one is a real achievement.

It’s also utterly predictable. Once the first act ends (and this is a spoiler that isn’t really a spoiler) the plot turns into a Quest for the Plot Coupons, with the caveat that the Plot Coupons can’t solve the Plot, only the protagonist’s pre-existing self can do that.

And telling you that doesn’t spoil a thing, because the real joy comes from the details. It’s in the way the characters are portrayed, and in the specifics of the tasks they take on. Finally, when the expected ending arrives, all those little details have fleshed out the story so completely that the denouement carries weight. It satisfies.

This is a lesson that I just can’t seem to learn. No matter how many detective novels I read or action films I watch, I’m constantly trying to reinvent the wheel. I keep making things from scratch.

There’s joy in making stories from scratch, but so many missteps, too. Sometimes I think that what I really need to do is start with a Farmboy of Uncertain Parentage and spiff it up.

Not that I really will. It’s just interesting to think about.

Randomness for 8/12

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1) Now that the Olympics are airing, it’s fun to look at some of the demands the IOC makes on countries bidding to host the games.

2) The best way to perform a “USB drop” hack. Technical, but interesting.

3) Saturday Evening Post covers from the DC Universe.

4) Brainstorming is a terrible way to create new ideas.

5) I don’t normally care about this sort of thing, but this mashup trailer combining The Dark Knight with Scott Pilgrim vs The World is a Batman movie I’d like to see. Video.

6) Gamer problems then and now.

7) The “Glarofon” is not a Pokemon; it’s a percussion instrument made from hand-blown glass tubes.

Noping Out on Ultra-Man’s Zipper: Forgiving the Entertainment You Love

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Some time ago, on Twitter, another author was asking for Netflix movie recommendations, and I suggested THE HOST, a South Korean monster movie/family drama. I said the movie “didn’t need to be forgiven.”

That phrase surprised me, even though it was the one who typed it out. It sounded right when I said it, but I wasn’t sure what it meant or where it came from. Then it reminded me of something that happened when I was a kid:

In grade school, my second-favorite afternoon show was the Wee Willie Webber Colorful Cartoon Club. Basically, Wee Willie Webber got up in front of a camera, did a dumb joke, and said: “An now… Marine Boy!” and then an episode of that show would play. Some of the shows were racist as hell (every kid in my class loved Chongo on Danger Island but yikes) but it was running and fighting and slapstick and magic spells or whatever, so I loved it.

In the second grade, Wee Willie planned to hold a live event where he would play an episode of Ultra-Man, and I talked my parents into taking me. I was seven, and I sat in a huge crowd of kids in a shopping mall somewhere (not a theater) while they projected an episode of the show onto a little screen.

Now, this was 1973, and there was no pause button. I had never stopped a show in the middle in my life. But Webber shouted for the projectionist to pause the episode right in the middle of the fight, when Ultra-Man had his back to the camera.

“There it is, kids. Can you see it? That’s the zipper on the Ultra-Man costume.”

Which was a dick move. The costume was designed to mostly hide the zipper, so I’d never noticed it before, but of course I already knew they were just dudes in suits. The four-legged monsters went around on their hands and knees! Of course they were guys in suits!

But I loved the show anyway, because if Wee Willie was my second-favorite, Ultra-Man was my first. I was nuts for giant monster movies of any kind, even shit like Johnny Sokko. And it was a dick move for Webber to give seven-year-old me yet another thing I would have to forgive.

So, forgiving movies and TV shows is about all the things that you have to let slide if you want to keep enjoying what you’re watching. Monsters who are really just guys in suits wrecking a model city? Let’s pretend not. Did Wesley really spend five years murdering innocent people as the Dread Pirate Roberts? La la not listening! Is Neo really going to gun down all those cops and security guards just because they work for the wrong people?

In fact, why are those people dead at all? The gunfight happened in a simulation; couldn’t the evil computers just blah blah blah.

Movies and TV shows are full of plot holes, unconvincing performances, boring sequences, cringe-worthy special effects, and other errors that have to be overlooked in order to enjoy them. We have a good time despite those problems because we choose to minimize them while we watch.

Some shows have to be forgiven for more serious issues. As much as I’ve enjoyed the recent run of Marvel movies, it’s ridiculous that they haven’t come out with one with a female superhero as the lead before now.

I’ve also been hoping we could get another Remo Williams movie, but that doesn’t mean I think it’s a good idea to cast Joel Gray in yellowface as the Korean teacher, Chun. That’s a terrible idea. An amazingly terrible idea. Having said that, I also recognize that it’s Gray’s performance that makes that movie so much fun. RW:tab was a bore until he was introduced. He shouldn’t have been there, but he’s the one who made that movie work.

Finally, I’ve been recommending that people should watch The Man From Nowhere on Netflix because it’s amazing. Unfortunately, it has only four parts for women, three of which are vanishingly small. The last is for the little girl who needs to be rescued.

Another problem with the film: Manpain.

Despite all that, I found the movie incredibly affecting, and I’m hoping to create a similar feeling in the book I just sent to my agent. I love that movie. That movie has problems.

Now, I am absolutely not saying that a plot hole about the Dread Pirate Roberts is equivalent to casting a white actor to play an Korean character. They aren’t equivalent at all.

It’s in our responses where the similarities lie. You’re watching something on screen, and then [thing] is there. Suddenly, you have to choose whether you want to Nope all the way out of the show or shrug it off and continue watching. Maybe the flaw is something incredibly minor, like costuming choices, but you nope out because the show has literally nothing enjoyable in it. Maybe the flaw is a massive dose of racism or sexism, but you keep watching because other aspects are so good, or because the show is old enough that you were expecting it, or because noping out of a show for this sort of flaw means you’d never get to enjoy anything in the genre.

Of course we can’t expect everyone to have the same tolerance for a particular flaw. Lots of folks reading this, after what I’ve said about The Man From Nowhere, will think ‘Meh. Not for me.’ And that’s cool.

That goes for Remo Williams, too, or for any film. It’s easy for me, a middle-aged Irish-American, to say I “forgave” the shitty choice of casting Joel Gray as a Korean. I grew up with that stuff. Tony Danza playing a Japanese guy on Love Boat? I watched that as a kid without understanding why it was a bad idea. It doesn’t have the same meaning for me that it would have for others.

And forgiving a show for its flaws is something that happens in the moment, while the show is still playing. It doesn’t require the audience to defend those choices later, or be silent about them. If we want to change the world for the better, we must speak out. The fact that I didn’t turn off The Man From Nowhere when I realized how few female roles it had doesn’t disqualify me from saying “Women deserve fair representation.”

Speak out. Be heard. How to be a fan of problematic things is recommended reading on the subject.

So then: Forgiving our entertainments so we can enjoy something. We’ve all done it. It’s a rare treat when we don’t have to.

And, obviously, my goal is to write books that never need to be forgiven, even though I’m sure I fall short.

On a personal note: on Sunday I finished revisions on One Man, and spent the rest of the day watching crime thrillers and drinking fancy beer. Monday, was the first day for work on The Twisted Path. (That’s the new Twenty Palaces novella I promised to work on.)

To start things off, I cracked open Circle of Enemies again. I haven’t looked at it since 2010, and I wanted to reacquaint myself with Ray Lilly’s voice. What I really did was remind myself of how many little details I’ve forgotten over the past 5+ years. I’ll keep at it, while continuing to take copious notes.

Randomness for 7/24

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1) The late great Jim Henson gives a puppeteering masterclass. Video.

2) Inside Portland’s Mystery Hole. #NotPorn

3) Exploding glass filmedin 343,000 fps slo-mo. Toward the end, this gets to be like the drug effects in DREDD.

4) A split screen comparing Los Angeles of the 1940’s with Los Angeles now. Video.

5) What type of low-budget films break out?

6) LA earthquake creates a seiche, a (potentially destructive) wave frequency that amplifies waves and ripples. Video.

7) Police 3D print a murder victim’s finger to unlock his phone.

Randomness for 7/10

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1) ‘You are a coward’: Hate and misperceptions about substance abuse are broader than I thought

2) Gorgeous cars of the art deco era.

3) This pedal-powered roller coaster gets a massive NOPE.

4) Terrible manager stories.

5) How God Created Animals. <-- Funny 6) Investigative reporter goes undercover in N Korea to find out the truth about life there, writes book, sees book listed as a “memoir” because the reporter is a woman.

7) If you thought the movie WARCRAFT tanked, you missed the part where it changed the way blockbuster movies are made.

Randomness for 6/14

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1) This is strangely affecting.

2) Should you fuck this rock? Science says no.

3) Cinema audiences reproducibly vary the chemical composition of air during films, by broadcasting scene specific emissions on breath. Another reason for social animals to see movies in a crowded theater.

4) The Trailers for Ghostbusters (2016) and the Art of Editing Comedy by the creator of Every Frame a Painting.

5) The 35-Year-Long Hunt to Find a Fantasy Author’s Hidden Treasure.

6) Traffic-weary homeowners and Waze are at war, again. Guess who’s winning? Filed under: The Future Is Stranger Than We Expected

7) An amazing infographic.

All the binge-watching suggestions I received:

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In my last post, I asked people to suggest movie series or TV shows that would be appropriate for a birthday binge-watch. I asked for TV shows, genres, creators, sequels, anything. I knew I’d get a lot of responses, but damn.

Here’s a list, in no particular order, of all the marathon suggestions from Twitter, Facebook, G+, LiveJournal, Goodreads, my blog, and the whispers from the crows that nest outside my bedroom window.

Harry Potter
John Carpenter
Coen Bros
Season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The Fast and the Furious
Season 1 of Poldark
Every movie titled CRASH
Movies with Roscoe Karns in a supporting role
Movies starring Warren Oates
Planet of the Apes
Movies scored by Michael Small
JW Tarzan
70’s disaster films
Ray Harryhausen movies
Hitchock movies
Tati movies
Val Lewton movies
Top box office movies from the year I was born
Clint Eastwood: bit player
Jurassic Park
BBC’s The Musketeers
John Hughes Comedies
1940s noir
1990s neo-noir
Jason Statham movies
Older Sci-fi/Fantasy: Dune, Barbarella, Blade Runner, Highlander, Ladyhawke, Beastmaster, Dr.Strangelove, Red Sonja, Secrets of NIMH, & Willow.
MST3K
Philip K. Dick-a-thon
Quatermass movies
Rocky movies
She-Ra
Whose Line is it Anyway
Monty Python’s Flying Circus/Fawlty Towers
Occupied (a Finnish TV series)
Person of Interest
Foyle’s War
Orphan Black
Burn Notice
Covert Affairs
White Collar
Tremors movies and TV series
Alias
Step Up movies
Avengers movies
Tinkerbell movies
Avatar: The Last Airbender
Slings & Arrows
MCU movies
Chow Yun Fat movies
John Woo movies
The Lost Room + BBC’s Ultraviolet
Kenneth Hite’s 10 Westerns to Watch
Jackie Chan films
Jet Li films
Donnie Yen films
Shane Black films
Twin Peaks
Miyazaki films
Cronenberg films
Firefly & Serenity
The Wachowski films
The Middleman
Enlisted
Red Dwarf
FlashForward
John Hughes movies
Broadchurch
Resident Evil
BBC’s Sherlock
Toy Story
How to Train Your Dragon
Marx Brothers
Game of Thrones
Peaky Blinders
Dexter
Banshee
Creature Features
Lonesome Dove
Fargo (TV series)
Back to the Future/Jason Bourne movies
Star Wars (Machete Order)
Luthor
Best of Schwarzeneger
John Cusack movies
Best of [insert decade here]
Alien(s)
Karate Kid
[New suggestions since this post went live]
Freaks and Geeks
The Prisoner looks like 14-15 hours.
Series 1+2 of Being Human
Con films: Ocean’s 11-13, Lucky Number Slevin, Now You See Me, Catch Me If You Can

There were fewer repeat suggestions than you might think. One thing I didn’t expect was that my wife got involved; she wrinkled her nose at some stuff that I would like, but even though it’s my day, if I can spend some of it with my wife, that’s a plus.

Still not sure what I’ll pick, but thank you all for your suggestions.