Friday, December 17, 2010

Writing Spaces

Ray Bradbury used to open his half-hour anthology series with a quick narration answering what may well be the professional fictionalist's most commonly asked question, “Where do you get your idea's from?” His answer, via narration and a long camera pan, was his writing space. I hesitate to call it an office, because if anything it resembled a small museum of knick-knacks and sci-fi doo-dads. There were a couple of robots, probably an alien or two, and I seem to recall one of those generic t-rex-like green plastic dinosaurs. I doubt it was his actual writing space, and suspect like the little vignette of Stephen J Cannell's desk at the end of the credits for each of his shows it was staged more for cinematic effect than verisimilitude, but even if it wasn't I suspect Bradbury had a space that at least resembled it.

Writer's seem to need their space. I know of more than a few authors who have written their first novel (or two or three) at the kitchen table or tucked in next to the laundromat. There is the old cliché about the writer working in the attic or the basement, and like all cliches there is a certain amount of truth to it. The subject of writers working down in the dark or up in the rafters came up at the conference I attended, and there seemed to be a fair proportion of the writers there who did, in fact, work in such spaces. (I happen to work upstairs on the third floor, in what is, essentially, a converted attic.)

I would posit, however, that a writer's space is slightly different from a home office, in at least one regard. This has nothing to do with the level of organization, as I am sure that varies from writer to writer. (I spent two hours organizing my own space the other day when what started as an attempt to find a particular document became a whole-scale exercise in sorting and filing. But it looks a lot neater now, and I did eventually find the document.)

Rather, a writer's space has that little extra something in the way of inspiration. I am not talking about the inspirational posters with the black borders and blasé scenes of sunsets and mountains. (But if you have a few of those I'm not going to point fingers. They are pretty pictures, for the most part.) No, these are the extra items, the pictures, the posters, the figurines, the what-nots and whatevers that line the shelves or the edges of the desk or hang on the walls. They are different for every writer, and they are often the kind of thing that you wouldn't decorate your corporate office with. These may even include posters, as I have my space lined with movie posters of various genres.

They are also the books. I don't know of any writer with their own space that doesn't include books. The usual manual of style, of course, and a couple of writing tomes, of course, but then the other books as well. The ones that probably don't serve any professional purpose even if they were bought under the rationalization umbrella that afflicts all of us when we look at something neat and think, “Hey, I could use that!” knowing full well we probably never will. I have an entire shelf of those. They do get opened from time to time because I still enjoy looking up things the old-fashioned way, but by and large they are there for inspirational purposes only. And because I like books.

These are the kind of things that say, "There's more going on here than bookkeeping." They provide that extra sense of personality, that little hint that while serious work goes on here, it's also a place of imagination and fun. Where ideas are given free reign in an environment that probably wouldn't exist in a stuffy corporate office.

Come to think of it, has any writer ever written in a stuffy corporate office? I may have to go look that up. Somehow. Might even be in one of my books.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Serious Fiction

I attended a conference some time back. A small, more or less regional affair on the outskirts of Baltimore, I went because it was close enough to get to on a budget (by car, in other words) and for some of the ancillary benefits that come from a trip to the greater Baltimore/D.C. area. Also, I needed a mini-vacation. More on that some other time.

It was a good conference, and worth the drive for sure. It was the first writing conference I've been to, and I know I didn't get as much out of it as I could have since I wasn't able to do as many workshops as I wanted to. Those will have to wait for the next conference. There was only a small crowd there, which helped give it a more intimate feel. If I was going to compare it to something, it was like a first date of writing conferences: nothing too fancy, mostly low-key, and mainly a way to see if this was something I'd want to do again.

It is, though next time I will attend one more genre-specific, just to contrast. That said, like a lot of first dates, there was the inevitable misstep. That moment where your date says something, and you just know it's over. Maybe you'll give them another chance, maybe not, but you're essentially tuning out the rest of the conversation in favor of contemplating the dessert menu. (Of course, I've been on the other side of that too, though usually you don't realize that until you get home. Unless it's a really good dessert menu.)

In this instance, it was one of the speakers. Not the key-note speaker, she was a well-known author and her speech and reading were spot-on. No, this was one of the warm-up acts. I tuned him out, more or less, the moment he uttered the phrase “serious writer” and meant it as a stand-in for all those writers who do not write genre fiction. This is not a case of my being overly sensitive, a quick to take offense against the literary establishment hack genre writer – though I proudly admit to being a hack genre writer. The speaker was quite clear in laying out exactly what he meant by the term... and then proceeded to continue using it.

It would have irked me less if he'd said “serious fiction” or even “serious writing.” I take less issue with those, as I have heard any number of popular genre authors freely admit – albeit somewhat self-deprecatingly – that they do not engage in serious writing. I imagine that comes with a bit more freedom, and a bit more enjoyment on their end than when they do attempt serious writing. (Stephen King, for example, writes very well on baseball, even if he is a Red Sox fan.)

This is not to say that more literary writers don't enjoy what they do, too. I suspect they wouldn't do so otherwise. This is, however, an argument that they do not deserve the term of “serious writer” to the exclusion of non-literary writers. All of the successful authors I know or know of tend to take it pretty seriously. They have to, as this is how they earn a living after all. If they didn't take it seriously they could well be stuck having to work a regular office job, or worse, and frankly one of the reasons we all write is so we don't have to do those things.

(There are exceptions, of course.)

I would make the argument that anyone who keeps at it, makes a concerted effort, day in and day out, to get words down, stories out (or poems, or plays, or whatever) and does so even knowing the odds against success and despite the sheer volume of rejections that come as payment for every sale, no matter how small, is, by definition, a serious writer. And this is regardless of what they write. I cannot, for the life of me, take the whole sparkly vampire thing seriously, and many of the arguments against them and their creator are legitimate ones, but I would never suggest Stephanie Meyer is not a “serious writer” no matter how much she tried to suggest otherwise in the interview I heard her give some years back.

A concept which, no doubt, would have caused the speaker's skin to crawl, and why I was left metaphorically contemplating the cheese cake.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


I'm a bit of a history buff. More than a bit, actually. If wool weren't so hot and scratchy, I'd be one of those guys giving up my weekends to re-enact Revolutionary War battles. (And may still end up there one of these days.) That said, I wouldn't want to live in Colonial America. Visit? Sure. I'd be first in line to hop in a time machine - preferably a Delorean - and head back to walk around, see the sights, experience some things first hand. But live there? Not a chance. Leaving aside the entire issue of wool being hot and scratchy, there are a host of other reasons why these are not times I want to live in. I like my modern conveniences, which should not surprise anyone as I sit here writing on my laptop, listening to a radio program, intending to publish this on the internet in a few minutes.

There is an exception to this general rule. Two, possibly. However, I'm only going to talk about one of them today. I would really haved liked to have been around for the Apollo Program. And I'd be willing to put up with all the craziness of the 60's to be able to watch even just one launch.

Mind you, I wouldn't mind being an astronaut, but I know full well I lack the right stuff. Starting with my vision. I still hold out hope that before I die there will be at the very least commerical low-Earth orbit flights into space, but that's as much as I am expecting. Even if I grew up expecting more than that (Arthur C. Clarke I blame you) I'm very aware that kids in the 1950's and even earlier grew up expecting jet packs. Which they don't have yet, either.

With the shuttle program winding down here, and no successor to it in sight, my brief hope that I might personally witness a moon launch is dwindling. There were leanings towards that for a few years, but between the economy and shifting priorities, I think that's all but dead for now.

Which disappoints me. So, I would gladly go back and live in the 1960's, despite the politics, the civil unrest, and the horrid fashion sense (especially at the end of the Apollo Program in the 1970's) to be able to watch one launch in all it's ground-shaking glory.

I've seen my share of shuttle launches. I grew up during the heydey of the program, when every launch was still televised, and confess that as long as I know when they will launch and can get to a television, I still watch them. Even on television, they are awesome. But, for as spectacular as they are, they lack that certain something of the Apollo launches. Different rockets, perhaps, but there's more to it.

Most of it is, I think, that sense of collective awe and wonder that held a nation (possibly even the world) spellbound as we sent these three-man crews into space. They weren't going very far, in astronomical terms, and yet... they were going to the moon. And for those lucky few who got to land there, they could stand on the surface of another world - small and lifeless though it may be - and look back at Earth. To be a part of that, if only as a spectator, to watch it unfold as it happens, that's something I'd like to be able to do.

(Okay, I take it back, I would want to be an astronaut. As long as we're delving into pure fantasy anyway, unless someone has my Delorean, I might as go all the way.)

So while there aren't too many places in history I'd be willing to live, that is one of the exceptions.

And in fairness, good wool clothes aren't very scratchy once you've broken them in.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bus Stop to Nowhere

There is a bus stop to nowhere. It sits outside a nursing home somewhere, and from time to time someone from inside wanders out to it. But no bus ever shows up, and no one ever goes anywhere (other than back into the home). In all other respects, it looks like a regular bus stop, and no doubt the people who wander out to it expect to go somewhere. They may not have any particular destination in mind, and even if they do it doesn't seem to bother them that the bus itself never shows.

As much as this might sound like the concept for a short story (or the initial set-up for some sort of bizarre anthology series, much the way Rod Serling would intro the Twilight Zone) it is completely non-fiction. The bus stop was the rather ingenious solution one nursing home came up with to keep their residents from wandering off. Before they put up their faux bus stop at the end of their sidewalk, when those residents afflicted with wanderlust would manage to slip out the doors, they would walk down the street to the actual bus stop, where they would congregate until someone from the home showed up to collect them. One or two of them might have even wound up on the bus.

Someone noticed that this was where the residents were winding up, and got the idea to put up the fake bus stop out in front of the nursing home. It seemed a much more simple and humane solution (and cost-efficient) than putting ankle bracelets on all the residents likely to wander. Surprisingly enough, it seems to work. They no longer have residents wandering down the street to a functional bust stop. They all congregate out front, where the staff can easily collect them. It seems to be enough for the residents that they manage to get that far.

It's a simple, elegant solution, and the reason why it works has to do with a number of psychological things that are not within my purview. What struck me about it, though, was that it was the sort of idea that we, as writers, are supposed to have. We're supposed to be good at looking at something - doesn't have to be a problem - and positing an unusual "what if" approach. Sometimes the answers will work, sometimes they won't. But it's the process of sitting around and playing with each idea, at least for a little bit, and giving it a chance to work that is just as important.

Somone could have, and probably did, laughed at the idea of a non-functioning bus stop as a preventative measure. And perhaps if there had been more funds for alarms and other traditional security measures, it would never have been built. But someone had the ability to look at the scenario and give it just the right sort of spin in their head to come up with an unusual, and ultimately effective, solution. And then they put it into practice, to see what would come of it. The most they would have been out was the funds and time for a bench and a sign.

The most we are out, as writers, when our ideas fall flat is the words on the page and the time it took to put them down. Like most writers, I have written my fair share of things that ultimately turned out not to work. But I've also had more that did, more times when I sat down and thought "what if" and approached something in a new (or new to me) way that might have seemed a bit unconventional at first. This is how, even though we are all told there are only five basic stories - at least I think it's supposed to be five - we are also told we can put our own spin on those five plots and make them work.

Yet I don't ever regard those words that didn't work as a waste (possibly an idea for another entry) even when they don't go anywhere. That, of course, is perhaps the irony of this comparison.

Unlike the bus stop to nowhere, when our ideas work they take us places.

Monday, October 11, 2010

I Blame the Little Undead Doggie

A fellow writer foisted this upon me, for no good reason I think other than my name alliterated nicely with his two other choices. But that's as good a reason as any, I suppose. Normally I eschew these kinds of things, as they remind me a little too much of those character profiles you're supposed to fill out. I've never seen much utility in those. If my character collects stamps, well, that's all well and fine if the story involves stamps or some crucial plot point hinges on knowing when the first Elvis stamp appeared. Otherwise, it's mostly just an exercise that doesn't put words on the pages.

On the other hand, the style question was too good to pass up.

1. If you could have any superpower, what would you have? Why?

Aquaman's. That whole super-swimming breathe underwater talk to the fishies thing. Or possibly Namor's. (I don't need to talk to fish, and flying in addition to swimming might be fun.) I just love the water, though, and that would be what I'd go with.

Assuming I can't get my hands on a power ring.

2. Who is your style icon?

Paul Bunyan. I embrace my inner flannel.

Writing? Raymond Chandler. Prose ought to alternate between being so crisp it snaps, and descriptive enough to envelop you in one of those famous noir fogs.

3. What is your favorite quote?

Without resorting to quoting Yoda, that would likely be the quote at the top of my blog. I rather like the idea of drawing on my inner child.

4. What is the best compliment you’ve ever received?

I was complimented once on my humanity. It would take too much to explain, but it was by far the best thing anyone has ever said to me.

5. What playlist/CD is in your CD Player/iPod right now?

A mix of the blues: Chris Thomas King, Robert Johnson, R.L. Burnside, etc. Tomorrow it might be something completely different.

6. Are you a night owl or a morning person?

Depends. Is it a school night or not?

7. Do you prefer dogs or cats?

I like both, but my cat has never rolled in something that smelled like it died in the Truman era and just kept getting riper. Cats are also easier when you rent, so until I can afford my house in the country, felines it is.

8. What is the meaning behind your blog name?

I explained this, way back when, in one of the very first posts. It was a curse made up by a co-worker. "May the fleas of a thousand camels infest your armpits." It stuck with me.

And, in the spirit in which this came to me, I foisted it upon others:

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Rediscovering Children's Lit

Neil Gaiman once made a comment on his blog about passing stories on to his children. I don't remember exactly what he said, as though I took the time to write it down once upon a time, it got subsequently lost in an internet shuffle with another project I was working on (I blame Yahoo). The essence of it boiled down to the importance of sharing stories with your children, and how it's not only good for them but for yourself as well. It wasn't just about parental bonding, either, but the importance in and of themselves of stories and their telling.

I was reminded of that recently when I started reading The Wizard of OZ to my little girl. We have been reading books for years, but she's recently started to move from the standard picture books into more complex picture books. I've had OZ on my shelf for years, along with Alice and Pooh, since before I had or had even considered children. With regards to Alice and Pook, they were stories I enjoyed, and as for OZ, it was bought with the notion that maybe someday I'd have someone to read it to.

While Dorothy will never replace Alice, or Pooh, for that matter, I did enjoy the story. I was also surprised from the start to discover that the change from a black and white world to one of technicolor was not something done just for the movie. For those who haven't read the book, I don't think I'm giving anything away by saying Kansas is written by Baum to be literally grey. Everything he describes in Kansas is said to be dull and grey, so that the colors explode when Dorothy arrives in Oz.

(Not literally explode, mind you, at least not until Michael Bay does the remake.)

I don't plan on ever writing for children - though there is one idea clanking around in my head - but I think the sense of fun that is imbued by most children's stories is a good thing to interweave into any story, no matter the audience. Even if you're writing horror and want to scare the socks off of your readers, they should still have fun even as they're losing their footware. I also think it's probably not something that comes with trying to do it. Like humor, it will likely lose a lot if you try and actively make your story fun.

Just as importantly, there is a sense of discovery that seems to come from these books. Baum and the others have a real gift for crafting worlds where each corner turned brings something new. In an adult work it would be too much, and I noticed there were inconsistencies and things that just didn't make sense (in Through the Looking Glass it can be hard to follow the geography of Alice's travels, and there is supposed to be one, for example). But it was still nice to see an entire world where, unlike in a lot of modern works, the author made it up as they went along. Nowadays "world building" is it's own thing, and maybe Baum and Caroll could teach a thing or two about that.

Almost every writer I have ever read who commented on what it takes to be a writer has stressed that they read. A lot, and all kinds. It wouldn't hurt to put a few children's books on that list, even if they are things you read once as a child. Take it from me, they take on new life reading them as an adult.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Writing Diet

This is not about food. Just wanted to get that out of the way up front, lest anyone expects recipes or exercise tips here. (I could give those out, but once down that path forever would it dominate this blog. Here endeth the Star Wars reference.) Instead, this is about how the general smart and sensible approach to diet and exercise ought to work just as well for writing. I point out, in advance, I am an expert on none of those three. I try and eat right, I try and exercise, and I write. And while I have done the third well enough to be paid for it, that alone does not make one an expert, as any tour of the bookstore and DVD rentals will tell you. I struggle at all three (including a recent bout of homophone issues in my writing).

My particular issue is with adverbs, and how they have become the poster child for bad writing. I'm not sure where or when it started (Stephen King, who I think in general probably knows a bit more about the craft of fiction than I do simply by sheer weight of experience, mentions it in his writing memoir On Writing, so it's been around at least a decade), only that it seems to be the default position of all and sundry. Fellow writers have offered up critiques of things I thought were perfectly passable - which I didn't write - based solely on the presence of adverbs.

I'm here to say I think they're wrong. I'm not saying all adverbs are good, and like anything else they can be overused, but they are hardly the harbringer of impending writerly apocalypses. Like diet and exercise, I think it comes down to proper mediation.

Every so often, a new diet or exercise trend comes down the pipe. It never lasts (anyone remember Tae-bo? Anyone still doing it?) but while it's around it's the end-all be-all for all conerned. Until the fad fades or the supposed science behind the diet is disproved. Take that whole Atkin's thing, for example. Carbs were bad. Carbs were evil. Carbohydrates would lead to the dark side, which apparently meant cake. (Is cake a carb?) Or at least potatoes and pasta. Consumption of carbs would lead to dirigible-sized pants.

Only... it turns out, this is not so much the case. Now, at the time, there were enough people saying "Hey, wait, this is wrong and probably a little unhealthy," but they were by and large ignored by the dieting populace. Like all dieting fads before, the experts were ignored in favor of celebrity endorsements, and the themed cookbooks flew off the shelves for a while. And where are they now?

As in most things, the key turned out to be moderation. Sure, you don't want to gorge on pasta, and like most things on the American menu portion size is an important determinant, but carbs themselves were not inherently bad. Several million Italians can't all be wrong, after all.

Adverbs, I think, are like carbs. Or a glass of wine. A glass with dinner is considered a good thing. Two isn't bad. Downing a bottle on certain occasions is also okay. Emptying your wine cellar in a single outing is usually frowned upon, however. There is a line to be drawn, a balance to be struck. Some might argue otherwise, as I know there are places where even a glass of wine a night would be viewed as the moral equivalent of a bender, or a single dish of spaghetti as an all you can eat deep friend Twinkie binge.

(And on a complete aside, I think no single food more sums up everything wrong with current American dietary trends than the deep fried Twinkie. No matter how good they may be - and I have heard they are quite good.)

Adverbs are good things. There, I said it. They can be overused, certainly, and they aren't always appropriate (pasta doesn't go with every meal, for example), but they are a valuable part of speech. You can't really write without them. Sure, they can become a crutch in lieu of better descriptions, and they do facilitate the slide into "telling" as opposed to "showing," and I will adamantly agree they don't belong in dialogue tags, ever. But they aren't inherently bad.

If, by chance, you think I'm wrong about this, I encourage you to pick up any classic novel. Gatsby, for example. Now go through and look at all the adverbs. The text isn't drowning in them, by any means, but Fitzgerald certainly uses them. (Do not highlight or underline in your book. Just don't. Your librarian will thank you.) As does any other writer, even that master of spartan sentences, Hemingway. I am nowhere near their league, but I figure if adverbs were good enough for them, they are good enough for me.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

And then there were none....

Words are important things, especially for writers. Not exactly an earth-shattering kaboom of an idea, I know. What few readers I have (assuming any of them have stuck with me) know I listen to Radiolab, a radio science program. Back in may they did a program on a study someone did on the use of vocabulary in the works of Agatha Christie. I'm not sure if it was done intentionally to try and diagnose her, but by studying the words she used, and the frequency with which she used them, they were able to determine that Christie suffered from some form of mental degeneration, beyond what might be expected from simple old age. Alzheimers or a similar form of dementia were mentioned as likely candidates.

Now, while such a disease is scary in its own right, and I speak here as one who's seen too many close family members afflicted with it, as a writer this story carries a particular horror with it. The disease took away Christie's use of words. Her later novels, especially those towards the end, are far less complex and varied in word choice. She relies on more generic terms, less descriptive language.

Moreover, as in many cases of these kind of diseases, she seems to have been all too aware of it. In her last novel, it seems very likely one of her characters became a stand-in for herself, leading to the implication she knew what was happening to her. Knew, and was powerless to do anything about it. As a writer, I cannot imaging being forced to watch as my ability to express myself clearly and vividly was slowly taken from me, word by word.

The actual decline was somewhat less dramatic than that, of course. It's not as though one day she woke up and was able to use one word less. The study talked in frequencies of occurrences, and complexity of ideas, and how those could be charted to demonstrate Christie's failing mental faculties. But it's the idea of such a thing happening, of sitting down to write each day and finding, day by day, that your skills were a little less, and that there was nothing you could do about it, that is at once sad and terrifying.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Writer's High

You always hear them talk about the "runner's high." I have often pondered why that's limited to runners - in the lexicon, that is, as I know full well the effect isn't just experienced by runners alone. Anyone who does that kind of exercise gets the same sort of effect, which makes sense once you consider the biochemistry of the whole thing. I think runners just get all the press because they are both the most visible and the most vocal members of the exercise community. (In part because in television land, other than the gym and the exercise studio, running is the easiest to film it seems. At least judging by the number of tv characters who jog or run anyway.)

Now, while I have no idea if the biochemistry is the same, and greatly suspect it isn't, in large part, I am putting forth the idea of the "writer's high." No sneakers required. Also no shower afterward, and no heavy duty cycle on the laundry.

I discovered this - or if that seems to smack too strongly of ego-centrisim, I realized this - after a particularly good writing session the other day. I don't remember how many words I got out, and at any rate I am of the opinion it can be something of a trap to focus on the number of words, but however many of them there were, they were good words that day. The first set of good words in a while, as lately they've become something of a slog. Something to get through, get words down, even if they're all going to die later in the rewrite.

And they felt good. Really good. Not just the act of writing itself, but the afterglow when I was done, when I had walked away from the computer to go do something else. I have noticed that with a really good workout, that sense of accomplishment follows me the rest of the day, long after my heart rate has subsided. This was the same thing, where it followed me throughout the remainder of my day, making the day seem that much better.

It's not the first time this has happened, and it is that feeling which helps me get through the days when it is more of a slog, when it seems almost like a chore to sit at the computer and try and crank something else. It's the rememberance of that feeling, of knowing if I can get past the warm-up (so to speak) and into the main workout, when it's all done I'll feel better. Maybe not a whole lot better, but better. And the memory of that feeling, of knowing it's there on the other side, makes it easier to try and tackle it each day.

It doesn't always work, as just with my exercise routine there are days I fail, but it gives me something to chase, something to seek, a little reward each day for sitting down and doing what I'm supposed to be doing. Something that, unlike with exercise, I can continue to chase my whole life, regardless of failing knees or joints or whatever else in my body decides to betray me as I get older. So that, when I'm 70, while my days of earning that "runner's high" - which I never, ever actually run for - may be gone, the "writer's high" will still be waiting for me.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Have you ever noticed how it's "A penny for your thoughts" if someone else wants to know what you're thinking, but if you just opine on your own it's your "two cents?"

I'm not sure if this reflects a growing inflationary trend between when the two phrases entered into the lexicon, or if it's perhaps an indication that for most of us, whatever it is we have to say is a little less valuable than we think it is? I realize the irony of espousing such a position here, of all places, but nonetheless I stand by my contention that for the most part what we say is of somewhat less importance than we are oft inclined to give it.

Especially writers.

This is not always the case. I can think of a couple of writers who seem more than aware of the limitations of their own musings, whether in giving their opinions or in the pages of their stories. Of course, for every writer who claims to be just a humble author - who may even live up to that most of the time - there's always usually at least one story or incident where they do take themselves a little too seriously. There's that theme, or moral, or just their magnum opus that by the time they're done with it you can tell it had taken on a life and importance of it's own, particularly in the author's head.

Now, guilty as I am of this myself, I would also posit it's a necessary conceit. Somewhere along the lines we decided that, whatever it was we had to say, it was worth sharing. Beyond just conversation with friends or families or co-workers, beyond whatever social circle we may inscribe around ourselves on the internet, we have the need to share what we write. You can quibble over whether the need to entertain equates with importance (and there are certainly arguments to be made on both sides of that, though for myself I would state in strident terms the importance of entertainment), but you can't argue that we feel our stories are worth sharing.

Not always more so than anyone else. For those of us who know other writers, unless you're being harsh - which sometimes you ought to be - we're by default associating with others who have the same conceit as we do and may well be more justified in that. We establish something of an equal footing, wherein we say "Yes, you're good, and worth sharing, but look at me, too." In part this may simply come about because unlike other, non-writers, we're willing to put in the time and effort to get it out there in the first place. While there is some satisfaction that comes in admiring your own work for a job well done, we are conditioned as human beings to want that external pat on the head or hearty "good job" from someone else.

Certainly more so than say your Uncle Bob, though. Maybe you have one of these (apologies to you if you do). He's the guy always telling jokes or stories at family get togethers. Might not even be Uncle Bob. He (or she) might be co-worker Bob. Or friend of a friend Bob. Whatever. He's always got stories to tell. But not beyond the confines of that small group he inhabits with you. It's the same reason someone who tells jokes on the golf course doesn't go into stand-up comedy. That impulse to share it with a wider audience, the self-confidence to believe it's worth putting out there, that's lacking in Uncle Bob. He doesn't need it, and doesn't think what he has to say is worth that extra penny to the world at large.

(Even if he thinks it's all worth it's weight in gold amongst his relatives/friends/coworkers.)

This applies to far more than just writers, of course, as the entire industry of talk radio and cable news seems to run on this. In some cases you could make the argument that their audience values the thoughts of the hosts more so than their own, thereby reversing the analogy, but it still holds for all the pundits.

So are our own thoughts really worth the extra penny? I think perhaps that depends on whether we're asking others to assess our opinions at that higher cost, or whether it's more a case of how much we have to chip in to get them to listen in the first place. But that's another entry entirely.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Joy of Browsing

I miss the CD store.

Which is not to say that they're all gone, though to the best of my knowledge a lot of the major chains have either folded or closed up a lot of shops since the 1990's. There are still places where you can go to buy CD's, should you be so inclined. I am not including the big box stores here, or even the more specialized retailers like Borders or Barnes and Nobles. I mean the CD store that, aside from a small smattering of posters and other music paraphernalia, only sold music. I know that there are fewer of them, where once they were almost as prolific as Starbuck's.

Perhaps not quite so numerous, but close.

I don't even listen to most of my CD's anymore, honestly. Most of the time I'm on my laptop, and so that's where most of my music is. Not all of it, by any means, as storage limitations mean that the large items like operas or the complete Beethoven's symphonies have been left on CD. The vast majority of what I listen to on a frequent basis is, however, stored digitally, and I confess most of those are the music of known quantities. Musicians where I was already familiar with they're work, and wasn't taking a chance.

Not that some of it doesn't work like that. There are any number of places where I can find new music, and for a not unreasonable sum even purchase it and take it home. (Or download it, if the artist is giving it away for free. Which some of the more esoteric ones I listen to do.) Yet browsing through a blog or an online music store doesn't have quite the same feel to it. Maybe it's not having the CD in hand, or being able to - sometimes - turn to the store clerk and ask about the music in question. Maybe it's the lack of those sections where they say "if you like this, you might also like this."

A lot of it is simply not being able to find those rare gems you might otherwise overlook. One of my favorite blues CD's, for example, came from this little store in downtown Chicago, found while I was getting lunch and killing time until my train arrived. It was a small store, less than the size of the 7 Eleven across the street from it, but it had a steady stream of college students browsing the aisles. It aimed at mostly jazz and blues music, and while I know there are plenty of blogs out there devoted to that stuff, there is an inherent problem with those.

Mainly, they rely on someone's opinions. If a person is posting about music on their blog, it's a reflection of their tastes. And while, for a professional reviewer, that might mean a broader sampling, it still imposes certain limitations. Limitations you were less likely to find in a music store. Even simple things like crossing genre lines, and browsing jazz and blues over here, then new age over there, are made a bit more cumbersome online. Maybe not more difficult, as there is built-in convenience from shopping from home and all that, but you have to hunt in more locations rather than just going to the one spot.

Mostly, I miss being able to walk in and hear something over the speakers which you might never have listened to. Sometimes it was crap, sometimes not, and just sometimes it was something which, after asking the clerk what it was, you'd walk out of the store with. You don't get that online.

Monday, August 23, 2010

An 18-Minute Gap in My Memory

This is one of those times where, quite some time back, I jotted down a brief bit of notes, consisting of less than a sentence. At the time, I had a clear idea of where the idea was going to go, what I was going to say, and how it was all going to make sense. I freely admit that sometimes I only manage two out of three... and sometimes only one. But I always have at least one.

In this case it had something to do with the coincidence between the length of Arlo Guthrie's most famous song and a corresponding amount of blank tape from the Nixon White House. That's a subject that has been tackled elsewhere, and at length probably exceeding the eighteen minutes of the song. I heard it while listening to a version of the song - and it would count as "a" version because it seems to change upon each telling - that included a commentary about that coincidence. The song itself remains a remarkable bit of largely extemporaneous storytelling, I must admit, enough so that the last time I heard it on the radio I was content to listen to the whole thing instead of searching elsewhere.

But whatever I had originally intended to say about that has long since vanished into the ether. Which is the problem with taking only sparese notes, or jotting down random one or two line ideas. Most of my idea book is filled with stuff like that, and for the most part I elaborate more than just one line. I may include a short little description, or a list of things, or something else to help jar my memory and get my mind back into whatever groove it was in when I wrote the idea down in the first place.

For example, I have the phrase "Dr Doolittle with insects" which came from a dream I had about a boy who could talk to scorpions, among other things. (Yes, I am well aware that scorpions are not insects. Regardless, the dream was of the boy and bugs and things in terrariums, including scorpions. .... Yes, I have odd dreams.) That story idea may not be written out completely, but I haven't forgotten it, and it's still there.

It's different when I lose an idea completely. That has happened, and I can remember one such instance clearly. My memory of that incident is helped by the fact that I wrote about it shortly after, but I also distinctly remember it. Precisely because I can't remember whatever it was I thinking at that moment, just what I was doing. While frustrating, it's less frustrating than staring at a line in my notebook, knowing I took the time to write it down, and being completely at a loss for why I wrote it down.

(Which is not the same thing as being at a loss for words, obviously.)

It may eventually come back to me, what it was I meant to say with this post on that topic. Or it may not. Odds are, having written this about it, whatever else I meant to say will get shunted to the side, replaced by this set of thoughts. That's just the way my mind works, and I know it.

If it does come back, I promise to make sure I write it down more completely in my notebook, so that I don't end up back here again.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Real Life Fiction

I read a little bit of everything. And I do mean everything. I've been known to read a romance novel or two, even. (Admittedly, one of those two was accidental, as I had no idea it was romance when I ordered it off of Amazon.) I run through phases where I read poetry or non-fiction or philosophy, and while those often coincide with there being nothing new from my favorite authors in my local library, sometimes I'm just in the mood.

The one thing I tend not to read much of is "literary" works. Those quotes around it are mandatory, as that category has taken on a life of it's own, often to the exclusion of other works that would be "literary" were they not written by the wrong sort of author.

Now, unlike some other genres, there's no real reason for this omission. I don't read much romance because it all tends to be rather formulaic. Which I understand is the appeal of the genre, to a certain extent, but boy meets girl gets a little old when it follows the same formula. (Case in point was the accidental romance novel I read, which was some sci-fi thing. It was well written, and I had no complaints about that, but the next installment in the series was a carbon copy of the one I had just read, only with new characters.) I don't read much chick lit because, well, because I'm not a chick and I found Sex in the City to be, by and large, shallow and uninteresting.

On the other hand, most of the literary works I have read I do enjoy. I find them to be the thought provoking exercises they are meant to be, and that, I've decided, is half the problem. Generally I read the genre books I read because I'm not really looking to do a whole lot of thinking. I want a smart read, don't get me wrong, but I read novels as an escape. If I'm looking for mental gymnastics, I'll pull down one of those aforementioned philosophy texts, or some of the poets I read. (Poetry, for me, seems to straddle the escapist and intellectual reads, but that's another post entirely.)

My other issue with them is that they aren't very escapist. One of the things that separates the genre is that, by definition, they are supposed to deal with real life things. Updike does not write about Martians, and by the same token one would not expect Bradbury to talk about middle-class, middle-age life without resorting to Martians. I like the escapism. I like reading about things that only nominally resemble my own life, in terms of the themes they deal with. I may not be middle-aged yet, but I know enough about the humdrums of modern American life to want to get away from it when I read.

Of course, that is also part of the appeal of the more literary authors. That examining of the life we all lead. More or less, of course. I recently read - well, more appropriately would be to say I was turned on to Philip Roth, and while one of his characters was in a profession and a life that is actually plausible as a path my own life might have taken - sans Martians - there were definite aspects that would just not happen to me. Or anyone else I know. Which is a good thing, considering.

But, it's that deconstruction of modern life, the examination of the mundane, the requirement that you think a little (or so I would hope) about what you're reading and what it all means and the themes involved, that makes the genre of "literary" fiction a pleasure to read. I can get something out of it that, for the most part, I am not going to get from King or Kellerman. Not to say the two, and the rest of the genre fiction crowd, don't make me think, but for the most part if they're dealing with themese I'm ignorning them, not poring over the text to examine them.

Does that mean I am going to be checking out more "serious" books from the library? Probably not. As I said, I read to escape, and for fun, mainly, much the way I watch movies. I like my fiction smart, but not necessarily requiring a mental warm-up before I engage with it. Yet when the mood strikes, as it does for poetry and philosophy and non-fiction, I won't be adverse to wandering through different sections of the library than I normally find myself in.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Mascot

There was a commercial some time ago that, as part of the montage of scenes, featured a cat jumping on to the keyboard. In a classic case of Hollywood realism, the person at the key board made no attempt to shoo the cat off, or gave any sign that the cat had just typed gibberish into whatever the person had been typing just seconds before. No, instead the human just reached down and scratched the cat's ears, all lovey-dovey. It might have been a cat food commercial, now that I think on it.

Of course, that sort of help would still be far more welcome than that "Clippy" character from whatever incarnation of MS Office that was.

My own feline assistant doesn't put paw to keyboard all that often. In what's either a reflection on the state of my desk, or the training of my cat, she stays off the top of my desk. Despite being a lap cat, my office chair is not one she's inclined to share with me, either. Mind you, I'm not complaining about that, but the commercial did get me thinking about the unofficial role my cat plays as my writing mascot.

She has a bed in my office, and during the day that's where she'll curl up while I sit pounding away at the keys. She may not offer much in the way of constructive criticism - unless I so interpret her attempts to trip me coming down the steps - but she does keep me company. Which is nice, because writing is for the most part a somewhat solitary occupation. There is an online community to which I belong and participate it, but that's not the same as having an actual physical presence here in the house. (Especially once summer vacation is over.)

I'm not the only author with a cat, and certainly not the most famous author with a fondness for felines (mine has the normal amount of toes). But I think I'd rather be a writer with a cat, than without. Or a dog, or just something to keep me company and for me to bounce the occasional idea off of, even if that bouncing doesn't get me much more than a twitched ear. It's nice knowing no matter how frustrated I get at times, there's a fuzzy ball of stress relief over in the corner.

Just so long as she stays there, and not on my keyboard.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Loss of Ideas

I have misplaced my notebook. My writer's notebook, to be precise. Something I've carried around now for literally over a decade (I know, because I know where I was when I jotted down the first item on the first page). In this notebook go all my odds and ends, those ideas that are either about things I am working on now, or possibly might be, or just have no home beyond having popped into my head and my having determined they were worth writing down. I have even gone so far as to color code it, using different color inks depending on whether it's a short story idea, or a poetry one, or for which novel it might be intended.

(Yes, I am aware that I am more than a little odd, and possibly somewhat compulsive. But the colors are pretty, and provide me with a quick visual organizational tool.)

It also contains a list I keep of possible blog topics. And I seem to have put it someplace other than where it belongs. (This is not an excuse for why there's been almost nothing here for the past few months. I have no excuse for that, it simply didn't get done.) I have my ideas about where it might be, but for the moment those are unconfirmed. All I know is, it's not where it should be.

I could use this to reflect on both the perils and pluses of being organized. On the one hand, when you are, you know where to find things and, to my mind, your workspace looks better. On the other hand, when you put something where it doesn't belong - and it will happen, sooner or later - it can result in a fair amount of disorientation. I know my notebook is in the house, somewhere, and I have a couple of guesses as to where those somewheres might be. Regardless, it's going to take some searching for, most likely done while wearing a very perplexed expression on my face.

Story elements can get misplaced, too. I am not someone who outlines, as for the most part I don't find them useful. Before I get much beyond a chapter or two in a novel, whatever I had outlined will be long since detoured away from. Certain things do have their place, though, and if you put them down somewhere else, it can take you off on tangents that you didn't want to go on, far away from the crux of your story. I have had this happen in a couple of stories. A line of dialog, no matter how well crafted, just doesn't fit. Or a scene. Or a confrontation. Or, heck, an entire sub-plot. Though it's been a while since I've mislaid a sub-plot.

Which, yes, I recognize may be an argument for outlining, and one may wonder why someone who color codes his idea notebook - nay, buys different color pens specifically for the purpose of color coding his idea notebook - does not find outlining useful. To which I answer: life is full of things that don't make sense.

Like my notebook, eventually these misplaced elements turn up, often during revision. And like my notebook, once found, they will then be returned to their proper place - which, unlike my notebook, includes the option of the great big idea folder in the sky. Not all misplaced elements get a home. Some, sadly, are deleted. Eventually. Most of them find homes, though. They will end up where they fit, where they belong, so that I can sit back, with satisfaction, and revel in how neat and organized it all is.

Until the next time it happens, of course.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Exotic Familiar

We're told, as writers, to "write what we know." There are, I am sure, entire chapters in writing books devoted to this or some variation of it. Like all advice, it only goes so far, and often times it might be felt it doesn't go far enough. For example, what if you've never gone anywhere? What if all you know is middle of nowhere small town America? That hardly seems like enough of "what you know" to be able to hang a story on.

"I don't know enough to write anything interesting," some might cry. "It's all so boring and familiar."

Well, of course it is if you've lived there all your life. But to an outsider, someone who hasn't been there, it may seem as much an exotic locale as Paris seems to the small-towner. Case in point: Las Vegas is not someplace I would ever consider "exotic." It is so not exotic, so familiar, that in fact I feel comfortable referring to it by the short version of it's name: Vegas. (No one does this with Los Angeles, though, at least not to my knowledge. That may well be another topic for discussion some other time.)

Some of this comes from it being an American city. While it's not one I have ever visited, it's certainly shown up in a fair amount of movies and television shows, some even eponymously titled after their locale, so in some way I feel I know it. It's not even like New York City, which I recognize as being so large and complex that despite being a loyal Law & Order fan, other than a generic sense of where things are I don't know anything about it. I couldn't begin to tell you where Brooklyn or the Bronx is.

Vegas, though, tends to reduce itself down to one main feature: the Strip. And the Strip I have seen, from it's early incarnations - courtesy of The Godfather - to it's more recent trend towards themed, family-friendly casinos - courtesy of both CSI and Ocean's Eleven. The remake, that is. I wouldn't exactly file this under "what I know" if we're equating that with having walked it's streets. But I am inclined to suspect that, armed with a map, I could, to paraphrase Neil Gaiman's comment about being a Brit writing about the US, do as good a job as any other person who doesn't live there.

All of which simply points to the fact that, to me, Vegas does not seem exotic. Mind you, it's got show girls, which my home town doesn't have (nor, come to think of it, have any of the places I've ever lived) but it's still not enough of an "other" for me to qualify as exotic. Not the way that even someplace that shares a similar culture and language, like London, for example, would fall under that category. London, to me, is exotic. Part of this is that I half expect it to still retain some intangible connection to the late Victorian-era London of Sherlock Holmes and Charles Dickens. I know full well modern London no more resembles that than Boston still retains any of its Colonial American feel - with the exception of historic markers and the occasionally still-standing structure. But, to me, it's someplace that I could feel safe in calling exotic.

Then again, I'm not Helen Mirren. (Which really shouldn't be a surprise to anyone.) In an interview I was listening to about a month ago, she raised this exact point in discussing why she'd taken on a role as a Vegas madam. To her, Vegas was someplace exotic. London, and by extension England, was the familiar, the thing she knew, whereas Vegas was the unknown other. Listening to her explain this, and actually referring to Vegas as being "exotic," got me thinking about all those times - including for a current project - where I have critiqued my own work as being too dull, too boring, too familiar to be of interest to the reader. Those times where I feel compelled to take a place and make it more interesting, when the truth is, it could stand just as well on it's own, provided I do a good enough job capturing the place.

The truth is, writing what I know may not seem very exotic or interesting to me some of the times, but for someone else, if I do it well, I can transport them someplace that, to them, will be a completely new experience. And that, I think, is at the heart of the exotic. After all, it's all familiar to someone out there.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Power of Words

By coincidence, and the beauty of podcasting, I listened to two similar stories about words and what they stand for in the space of less than 24 hrs. One of them was also a video, so I suppose I did more than just listen, I watched, but it was still largely about the expressive ability of words. Plus there isn't a verb I know of that would allow me to convey the fact that I listened to one and watched another without resorting to complex compound sentences.

Which would probably have been more succinct than the above paragraph. However...

In a piece on NPR, Alix Spiegel (who until just a moment ago I had always assumed spelled her first name with an "e") looks at our use of symbols, in an effort to understand what makes us modern. The whole piece is a bit long, coming in the second half of All Things Considered's first hour, where lately they seem to be doing 20 minute stories as part of the regular format. It's not entirely about words, and language, either, instead focusing more broadly on symbols in general, of which language plays just one part. It is an important part, though, and it makes you think about the nature of language as well as how we understand it.

And then, in a video, one of my other favorite NPR programs, Radiolab (which is one word despite the insistence of my spellchecker), produced an entire hour-long episode also devoted to words. However, I've not listened to that yet. That won't stop me from recommending it, as I would any of their shows, but in particular I wanted to call attention to what I did listen to/see: the short - only about three minutes or so - film that went along with the episode. This short film is also about words, and it seemed to me to be as much about the symbolic meanings we associate with many of our words ("fall" being an excellent one, with a three-second shot it took me a moment to make the connection for), as was the piece from ATC yesterday.

So I thought I would share.

When Did We First Become Modern?


Monday, August 9, 2010

Back to the Beginning

Sometimes you just have to start over. Not saying that's always an easy thing to do. In fact, sometimes it can be downright painful. It can hurt. A lot. Even when you know it's the right thing to do, the knowing, in advance, of just how much it's going to take out of you can be enough for you to want to put it off. That is part of the appeal of procrastination, as we tend not to put off those things we enjoy, but instead delay those things we do not want to do, the things we dread.

I'm convinced there is also the tendency to not want to erase all the work that has gone into a project right up to that point where it becomes necessary to start over. No matter how deep the quagmire, there is the belief that some of what went before could be salvaged. A complete overhaul isn't really required, no, instead it will only take a little tweaking here and there, a couple of edits, and then it'll be easy to pull free of the muck and mire.

That Hollywood seems to defer to a re-boot every time a franchise stalls out may be part of the problem. For every Star Trek - which I still haven't seen - or Batman Begins - which of course I have - there are countless other attempts to rejuvenate a storyline or character just be starting over with new faces. Comics are guilty of this, too, often in the interest of sidestepping a particularly thorny plot issue that the writers backed themselves into. It very rarely goes well.

So the temptation to not hit the universal delete, and start afresh, is a strong one. It can trap even the most well intentioned author. You plug along, you edit, you move things around, but you do not start over because you have already done all this work, and it would be a shame to waste it. Not to mention disheartening, because why, oh why, did you invest all those days/weeks/months (years?) into something only to throw it all away?

All of which belies the fact that we all know it's not only necessary, it is at times the only way out. There was a Micheal Douglas film some years back, Wonder Boys, in which he plays a writer. A famous writer, who has been laboring for years on his latest opus. Laboring and not going anywhere, which as you might expect has not left him in the happiest of moods about writing in general. Ignoring the merits of the film - though I liked it - it stands out for me because of a scene, near the end, where this manuscript he's been working on for years is suddenly, literally, thrown to the wind, with hundreds of pages flying everywhere.

(This was the year 2000, when it was perhaps more conceivable that a manuscript would be in paper only format. I suppose there are still some writers out there who work that way, but I also suspect most of us would view such a scene and ask "why didn't he just save a back-up copy?")

The manuscript, as overblown, tiresome, and voluminous as it had become, was lost, leaving him with no choice but to start over. One jump cut later, we see him typing away on the final pages of his new, much shorter - and presumably much better - manuscript. More importantly, he seems happy again with the writing process, thus ending that part of the movie on a high note. (There's a great deal of other material to the plot, so this is hardly a spoiler if you haven't seen the film.)

Most of us will not have such a divine intervention. Any windstorm strong enough to blow away my laptop is going to leave me with far larger problems. Yet it needs to be noted there is nothing stopping me - or any other writer in a similarly stuck vein - from being our own winds of renewal. I rarely completely delete something, because you never know when you might want to mine that dusty idea for new inspiration, or those few gems buried in the dull dirt of the rest of your prose. However, this is not to say I cannot start over, that I cannot, instead of staring at the same text that has vexed me for days/weeks/months (years?) call up a new document, a blank slate, and take those initial ideas that I found so exciting back in the beginning for a brand new spin on a brand new surface.

Because sometimes, that's what it takes.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Twitter Verse and the Rise of Poetry

Poetry seems to be enjoying a bit of a resurgence, at least in the headlines. Aside from the appointment of the new poet laureate, there was the Wimbeldon Poet (as heard on Only a Game), and then, about a month ago, NPR ran a story about Twitter verse. Not as in the "Twitter Universe" but as in verse - poetry - on Twitter. Given the format of Twitter, this isn't sonnets or odes, but haiku.

I happen to be a fan of haiku, always have been. One of the poetry volumes on my shelves is dedicated to Japanese poetry, so there are a fair amount of haiku on the pages. (At least I think it's still on my shelf. I'll have to check to make sure it didn't get donated somewhere along the way.) Now, in translation, they don't exactly adhere to the rules we all learned back in middle school, but they are all short, succinct, and evocative.

That they have started cropping up on Twitter should probably not be surprising. The 140 character limit necessitates a certain brevity of expression, and while I suspect the vast majority of Twitter users are not waxing poetic, it heartens me a little to think that some of them either rose to the challenge or saw the opportunity for more creative expression. I myself have trouble writing flash fiction, which is less than 100 words (or so), let alone getting things down to haiku level, so I am a little bit in awe of those that can not only do so, but do so with regularity.

I suspect not all the poetic entries on Twitter are intended. The confines of the media lend themselves to accidental poetry, if you will, where in the effort to convey as much as possible in as little as possible, some people are going to craft gems. Some of them may not even realize the poetic possibilities in their Twits - or is that Tweets? It's Tweets, isn't it? - unless it's pointed out to them.

Which I think is just fine. Truth be told, I think a lot of the more traditional haiku were the traditional equivalent of these Tweets in the first place. You have a poet, sitting at a pond, or beneath the leaves of trees (yes, most haiku have some sort of nature theme, but this is in keeping with various aspects of the country they come from, including the heavy presence of both Shinto and animism), who then tried to convey, as briefly as possible, not only what he was seeing but also the emotions and thoughts that were going on at the same time. It's not quite the mundanity of "Walked the dog, did the laundry" but it is in the same spirit.

It is also this trend for poetry on Twitter that has me easing off a little bit of my criticism of Twitter and other social update media (like Facebook) which, on reflection, I think are somewhat overextended, overused, and over-hyped. That's another entry, however. Or two. Yet if it can foster a resurgence in creative expression, I can't really decry it as all bad.

It's not enough to get me using Twitter again - that experiment is firmly in the "tried and died" category - but, then again, I'm not much of a short verse poet, either.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Power of Felt and Ping Pong Balls

[This was inspired by someone else's article, which, along with a film clip, can be found here: Saying Goodbye 20 Years Later You don't have to read that article first, but it provides far more historical context than I'm going to, and I think it's worth your time.]

Jim Hensen was my introduction to the idea that you didn't have to shackle your imagination. The idea that if you could dream it, and believe in it enough, you could make it real. You could turn it into something you could share with other people, even entertain them with. The idea that the stories clamoring to get out of your head had a place to go where they would be welcomed and where you could revisit them.

I don't remember how old I was when I first saw The Muppet Show. I doubt I watched it during it's initial run, given the time frame and my age, so almost certainly I saw it rerun in syndication. There were, of course, Muppets on Sesame Street, but to this day they feel slightly different than the rest of Hensen's creations. They cater to an audience that is primarily children, and in short spans at that. The average Bert and Ernie segment probably doesn't last more than five minutes at most, and even if there was a running storyline - such as the time the Count stayed over at Bert and Ernie's - it was broken up across the hour. (Such is my age that I remember when this was the format of Sesame Street, in the days before Elmo.)

Fraggle Rock was different. So was the Dark Crystal. The latter is one of the first movies I distinctly remember being in a theater for. (My mother insisted I sat rapt through Star Wars, but being about five or six at the time of the first re-release just prior to Empire, I don't really remember it.) The Dark Crystal I remember. It blew me away then, and aside from being one of my earliest movie memories, it was also my first real introduction to the fantasy realms. The Fraggles were one of the first shows I made it a point to watch, each and every week. I can still sing the theme song.

Just as importantly, these were worlds. Complete, whole, and though in the case of the Fraggles occupying a space alongside ours, they were entirely different places. (We can't eat our architecture, for example, and my trash has never spoken to me. For which I am both grateful and yet disappointed.) Here was a lesson for a young creative mind like myself. You could give free reign to your imagination, and more importantly, if you worked at it, you could see it brought to life. Labyrinth just reinforced this a little later. (While also giving me a lifelong appreciation for David Bowie, and a lifelong crush on Jennifer Connelly. But, again, another entry.)

The non-Muppet movies didn't do very well, of course, and the Fraggles eventually went into reruns themselves. By that time, I had sort of out grown them, having hit an age where the bright colors and generally upbeat messages (though at times serious) were something I was disdaining a bit. I wasn't done with all things Hensen, though, because then came the Storyteller. Like the Fraggles, this was must-see tv with me before such a phrase had been coined. And I remember the Storyteller being the first series cancellation that bothered me. This was the first series to have the plug pulled where not only did I miss it, but I wondered what idiot had made the foolish decision to yank such an incredible show off the air.

(Wasn't the last time I had that thought, just the first.)

And he was the first celebrity whose death I mourned.

Hensen's legacy lives on, of course, and the Muppets continued. Yet, to me at least, these post-Jim projects have lacked some of creative vision of the mind behind the Fraggles and the Storyteller. They have been "Muppet Treatments" of other things, and even the original storylines have not had the force of imagination, nor the completeness of story that came with Hensen's works. There have been no more worlds. (There is another Dark Crystal movie in the works, though, so we'll see.)

More so than anyone else, and as much as I can claim to have been inspired by anyone, Jim Hensen is it. (Yeah, sure, George Lucas is in there somewhere, but he's a one trick pony.) Hensen had multiple worlds in his head, and expressed them in a media that few else would have dared to. I'm sure someone, somewhere, early in his career told him there was no future in puppets, and I think on that every time I hear someone say there's no future in print, either. You can't separate them, either, as Hensen's vision and his legacy would not have been the same if he'd been a cartoonist, or just used actors. He worked in the format that called to him, making the stories that called to him, regardless of the critics, and while I have read that he took a lot of the criticism to heart, he kept at it anyway. There are lessons in that for anyone.

I said at the beginning that this entry was inspired by another article. I said you didn't have to read it. You still don't. But, if you do, I would call your attention to the video clip at the end. If there is a better way for someone of such imagination to be remembered than by being mourned and missed by his own creations, I don't know what it is.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Smells of Spring

They say April showers bring May flowers. Around here, the seasons and the months aren't quite so clear cut, and this year it seems to be going backwards. We had April flowers first, and now we have May showers. Still, Spring has sprung, and aside from the usual harbringers of the season, I can tell it's here because of the way it smells.

All seasons have certain smells associated with them, of course, but I have found that Fall and Spring tend to be the two where the aroma of the season is most easily detected out of doors. The kinds of things you can have waft into your nostrils just walking around town. Winter is more indoor smells, such as fireplaces and the smells of the holidays. Summer is more localized, as for me at least nothing says Summer like the smell of the beach or the pool. In small town where I make my home, those smells aren't likely to be just wafting my way unless I hop in the car and do some driving.

Spring smells are sidewalk smells, and not really those of most flowers. There are exceptions, as some blooms are either close enough to the sidewalk or in a big enough bush that you catch them when the breeze is right, but for the most part you have to get your nose down into the flowers if you're going to smell them. (I was taken off guard by one such flower the other day, but that's another entry.)

Grass is different. Even when it isn't being mowed for the first time, the smell of it changes when it starts to grow, especially after it rains. That may sound crazy, but having lived most of my life in a place where we cycle through all four seasons, the Spring grass smells differently, even from that of a Summer lawn. It's slightly more earthy, in part I think because you also get the smell of the ground coming out from the Winter freeze. There's also the added smell from people putting down mulch and other fertilizer around their plants, which adds to it rather pleasantly, I think.

There's also something in the way the air itself smells just after a Spring shower. Rain has a scent. Yes, it's more accurate to say that the weather patterns that come before and after a rain storm alter our ability to detect certain smells... but this is one of those times where even though I'm a science geek, I'm going to take poetry over science and just say it has a scent all it's own. A thunderstorm in summer smells different, starting with the heavier ozone, and one in Fall carries different odors, too. Spring showers have a unique smell.

(Probably why shampoo manufacturers turn to that season when they market things. I have seen shampoo and body soap scents labeled "Spring Shower" but never one that said "Autumn Shower." Might also be the visual of showering in the cold as opposed to the warmer temperatures that supposedly go with Spring.)

It may also be that I am more apt to notice the smells of the outdoors in the Spring, especially when all Winter I've been most indoors. Even when I venture outdoors in the Winter, my nose is usually covered, and snow doesn't have a smell to it that I've ever noticed. Not clean snow, anyway. So Spring represents the first time the windows have been opened in months, the first time breathing outside air on a regular basis, even when inside the house. I think that circulation has as much to do with the association as anything tangible in the air. (All smells are based on particulates. It's really best if you don't think too hard about that.)

Whatever the reasons, Spring is firmly here, and aside from the dandelions and the little daisies, I intend to enjoy all the olfactory options the season has to offer.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Coming In Last

I realize the Winter Olympics are long since over, but I had occasion the other day to think back to them. Specifically to the Nordic cross-country event. I think it was on the last day of the Olympics, and for a change NBC was sticking with the coverage of the event all the way through the very last competitor. (Due, in no small part, to it being the last event and therefore there was nothing else left to cover.) The leaders had long since come in, and for that matter so had most of the pack, when the last competitor came into the stadium. Dead last, way behind everyone else, and yet the moment the crowd caught sight of him they erupted, just as much as they had for the medalists.

To his credit, whoever he was, he crossed that finish line as hard as he could. He could have slacked off, knowing full well he wasn't going to catch the person in front of him. At 48th, he was so far out of contention that the leaders had their skis off. Even 47th place was waiting for him across the finish line by the time he could see it. But he went at it anyway, competing as hard as he could until the end. And while he didn't come close to medaling, I feel confident in wagering that the sound of that Olympic crowd (granted, a small one, as it was the Nordic cross country event and the last event of the last day) made his struggle worth it, and perhaps inspired him to just a little bit more speed as he crossed the line.

A lesson in perseverance, and in sportsmanship, and a little bit in the spirit of the Games which, romantic that I am, I choose to still believe exists even in these modern times of pro-athletes and big name sponsors.

As for what this has to do with writing, and why I'm bringing it up several months after the fact, the event that triggered it came with one of those little community support rallies that occurred in the online writing community I hang out in. (Link is to the left) I don't remember the exact event, only that it wasn't anything big like landing an agent, more of a small victory, and the way everyone rallied around this person and offered congratulations - like they had, in fact, landed an agent or book contract - brought the Olympics example back to the forefront of my mind.

(In complete honesty, I had jotted the skier's victory down as a potential blog entry all the way back in January. It just never materialized.)

Now, the analogy with the Olympian only goes so far. I have in other entries here decried the existence of those "cheerleaders" who cheer on everyone and everything, regardless of actual merit. As I have also mentioned before, not everyone can write, and the numbers are far less than those who persist in thinking they *can.* We'd all have been spared some really bad poetry if enough English teachers had the guts to take an aspiring poet aside and politely suggest they ought to write just for themselves. Certainly that creative writing class in college would have been a lot less painful for me. The equation may only be 10% talent, but it's an important 10%.

The Olympic skier was no Eddie the Eagle. Because of Eddie, there are certain standards you have to hit in order to compete at the Olympics. So you have to have a basic level of talent and ability in order to compete in that venue. No backyard skier is going to be getting there, let alone coming in 48th (out of 52, by the way, so not everyone finished). However, armed with those caveats, I think it's an apt analogy.

As long as you have what it takes to get there, and are willing to push for it and keep at it, you can find some measure of recognition and adulation. Not everyone gets a medal, and not everyone gets the multi-million bestseller book deal, but that doesn't mean you can't celebrate the small victories you do achieve.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Case for a Reread

When I moved a little over a year ago, one of the challenges I didn't face was what to do with all my books. This had been an issue in moves past, but this time around it was much less so, because a few months prior I had finally given away a lot of the books on my shelves. I donated them to a library, and this was done to get the boxes out of my closet. At one point they had all been on shelves, but I had simply run out of room.

I also realized I was probably not going to get around to rereading most of them. Not because they weren't good books, because they were, but simply because they weren't really books I was going to re-read anytime soon. Eventually, yes, but in the meantime they were taking up space, and with a few exceptions when the time comes I'm sure I can find them in a library or used book store all over again.

I did hold on to my collection of Stephen King books, but I confess that at one point I belonged to that "King book of the month" thing. Not quite as bad as some other things I could confess to, sure, but I still feel a little foolish about it. Most of those I won't reread any time soon either, but there are two exceptions.

That there are only two is not a reflection on my fondness for the author. Truth is, most of the things I read get read once and then shelved. Part of that is just that I remember the plot for them, and so I won't get more than thirty pages in before everything clicks into place. With the mysteries I like to read, that takes away some of the joy. (I say this as someone who skips ahead to the end of the book, but that's different.) Part of it is just sheer voraciousness on my part, reading lots of different genres and authors and subjects.

Which means that I have no shortage of new books to read. So why go back at all, then, to something I've already read?

The short answer is that some books are just so complex, they require a reread. This is why 'The Stand" is on my list of books to go through again this summer. It's been far too many years since I read it last, and I think this is the summer to amend that. It's also why every few years or so I drag Tolkien, or Herbert, back off my shelves (or the library shelves) and read through stories I am quite familiar with already.

That familiarity is also a part of it. While reading new books by favorite authors reunites me with their voice and mannerisms, it's not quite the same as stepping back into a favorite story by a favorite author. The first is like reconnecting with an old friend, the second is like reconnecting with an old friend in the places you used to hang out, sort of recapturing the past. Of course, it's never quite the same because you're in a different place than you were then (which is why nostalgia only goes so far), but it's close enough to provide a certain kind of pleasure you just can't get anywhere else.

Which is why some books will always be on my reading list, no matter how many times I've been through them. Sure, I'll continue to read new things, yet it's comforting to know that, should I ever come up empty at the local library - only because my local branch is quite small - there's something waiting for me at home.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Wait, That's Not My Voice

Every once in a while I will go an author spree, usually with an author I have either just discovered or perhaps rediscovered. This is when a trip to the library finds me coming home with several titles, all by the same writer. (Used to be the bookstore before the economy tanked.) It doesn't have to be that the writer uses the same characters, as I've been known to do this with author's who invent new characters and stories every time out.

When I get deep into an author like that, I find I have to watch myself when I write, otherwise something I think of as "authorial voice creep" comes over my work. This is when, even though by now I have well-established my own voice in my work, the words I'm putting down on the page start to sound more like someone else. Specifically, whichever writer I'm currently reading.

It's not always a question of just voice, either. It may also be style. I may find myself writing more lyrical descriptions than is normal for me. Or writing more descriptions, period. Or I may suddenly find all my characters have taken on a philosophical tone to their conversations, where beforehand they spoke in sentences that were short and to the point. Sometimes this is even a conscious effort on my part. I learned much of what I know about dialog from reading Robert Parker, and I can see that influence in more than a few - though not all - of my characters.

There have been times, however, when I look down at the page I've just written and realize to my chagrin that instead of it sounding like me, it sounds like someone else. I did this once with Mark Twain. Now, Twain's not a bad voice to emulate, but his voice isn't my voice, and attempting to copy him is not something I'd recommend for anyone. I've also done it when I've been reading poetry. For a while, some of what I wrote had a very James Dickey quality to it. Until I went back and edited it so it sounded like me again.

It's not a conscious effort on my part. I'm not trying to emulate these people, I just am. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery (a dictum television and film clearly take to heart and beyond... but that's another entry entirely) and in a way I suppose it's a reflection of my enjoying the voice of the author. On the other hand, some of it's just what happens with any immersion, which is why if you live some place long enough you eventually pick up the local accent.

Unless you're my freshman calculus teacher who had an incurably bad French accent. Not that her French was bad, just that her accent was tougher than day old French bread.

So I wonder, does anyone else do this, and does it ever stop?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Writing Longhand

I am a byproduct of modern technology. Without it, while I'm pretty sure I'd still be a writer, I have my doubts about whether it would ever go anywhere. I know there are plenty of people out there who could and do get by without a laptop or word processing software when they are writing, but I could never be one of them. They have my utmost admiration, as I think it takes real dedication, but writing a story or a novel long hand is something I don't think I could ever do.

Mainly because I can't read my own handwriting.

This little foible of mine was brought to mind because of something I jotted down in my notebook. An idea, for a blog post, that, well.... I have no idea why I wrote it. I can read this particular note, I just don't know what it means and whatever idea it was meant to jar loose has faded so far into the background as to be irretrievable at the moment. There have been instances where I have been unable to read my writing, however, so it's a very real and tangible problem.

On the one hand, I think I'm missing out on something. I have written a short story or two longhand, or at least written long extensive notes for them, and so I understand the appeal of sitting down with nothing more than pen and paper and seeing what comes out. As I recall, Stephen King wrote one of his more recent works that way, purely as an experiment. I don't think he's stuck with it over the course of successive novels, but the impulse was there, and he went with it. As near as I could tell, it didn't make any difference in the final story. Perhaps it mattered more in the creation of it, though if so then King didn't expound on that.

I am in awe of him and the other, less famous (for now) writers I know who do this. Some of them write consistently in longhand first for their rough drafts, only committing it to type in the rewrite and edit phase. Aside from my issues with legibility, I don't think I'd have the patience to write an entire book twice to get it down in a more permanent and marketable medium. It's an extra step I just don't think I'd be willing to take.

Mind you, without the computer I'd rely on a typewriter, so it's not as if my writing aspirations couldn't materialize before the late 80's (though my spelling would suffer tremendously without those little red squiggly lines to help guide me). Yet Dickens, Shakespeare, Poe, any of those went about their craft without aid of anything more then pen and paper. They didn't even have ball points. It doesn't necessarily add anything to their work in terms of its literary value – Shakespeare would still be Shakespeare had he written on a Mac – yet for me it does add to the respect I have for their accomplishments.

Perhaps the final reason for me to eschew writing it all out by hand is that there's no need. Unlike a typewriter or a desktop computer, I work from a machine that is designed to be portable. If I want to go write outside on my deck, or at the park, or anyplace else, I am limited only by my battery life. Which in my case is sufficient to get me through a few thousand words before I have to quit. Moreover, I don't need a table, I can put it... well, in my lap. Hence the name. With pen and paper I would at least need a notebook with a solid back, and I can carry my laptop just as easily (though admittedly not as lightly).

So I raise my coffee cup to those of you who can do this, knowing full well I shall never join your ranks.

And if anyone wants to take a look at my notes and see if they can help me decipher them, I'm accepting volunteers.

Monday, April 12, 2010


I am officially getting old. Technology has finally come up with something that, like my grandparents and the VCR, I just don't get. Now, mind you, I am not as digitally attuned as I could be in the first place. I don't have a cell phone. I don't have an iPod or any other mp3 player. I don't have a flatscreen television. The only reason I have a DVR is because it came with my satellite dish. However, those are all things I would have if I had the wherewithal to purchase them. It's not lack of will, it's lack of funds.

Twitter, on the other hand...

Well, I tried. I really did. On the advice of someone I trust, I thought I'd give it a go. I confess as social marketing I wasn't on it long enough for it to go anywhere, but I was on it long enough to see that, while it had its uses for me, it was going to be frustrating and confusing. Those two characteristics are the death knell for any technology in my life.

In terms of use, it became a good way to keep track of my writing, in terms of what I was getting done each day. This, in turn, helped me stay on track and keep with my goals. It also made adding up my word count much easier. I suspect, eventually, it might have become a good way to make various announcements to my adoring public. (Hey, it could happen.) Then Twitter went and ate some of my posts. It didn't eat them completely, but they vanished off the page with just my updates on it.

Which became a problem when I started trying to follow other people. Because then on my home page, I had to scrawl and scrawl to find my own posts. So instead of helping me keep track of my word counts, it was eating my posts (or should that be twits?) and actually increasing the amount of work I had to do in the one area I thought I had found a use for it.

My only solution to this would seem to be not to follow anyone. Which there were two problems with. One, there are some people I wouldn't mind genuinely following, and knowing what was going on. However, I discovered choosing wisely could be difficult. Get someone who updates only a little, and it doesn't clutter things up. Get someone who tweets everything... and suddenly your home page is drowning. Not to mention it starts to feel a little voyeuristic, and not in a good way. I really don't need to know everything some people seem to feel compelled to tweet about.

(One of these was one of my favorite authors, who, if you ask me, could spend less time writing twits and more time writing his next book. Which I'm still waiting for.)

The second problem with this became apparent once other people started following me. I was raised with a certain ethical/moral code that say, if they extend this courtesy to me, I ought to do it to them. Only, this got me back to the first problem. I don't really want to follow all these people, and besides, it started to feel more like a numbers game than anything else. I abhor popularity contests of any kind, always have. (Yes, yes, childhood issues.)

So when those two things combined with the sudden decline in usefulness that occurred when my posts disappeared... I decided I'd had enough. Maybe, given enough time, I could manage it better and learn how to do so. For right now, I'll stick with the resources I have. I can keep track of my word counts the old fashioned way, and anything I really have to say will go here.

Besides, I tend to get wordy, and 140 characters isn't a lot.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Joys of Research

It's been a while since I had to do anything resembling serious research for a book or story. Much of what I write leans heavily enough towards science fiction and fantasy that I can, in the main, get away with maintaining an idea file as opposed to having to do any actual research. Years ago - by which I mean decades - when I first started my idea file it was little more than clippings from the pages of Popular Mechanics. They had a section in the front that was all about upcoming future tech, and I found it inspiring enough to clip them and save them. I have no idea where that folder disappeared to over the years, but that was my first effort at keeping ideas from outside sources together in one spot.

In the intervening years, the internet has made it a little easier. I have a folder of bookmarked stories and reference web sites that contain items I might one day use, or have an ongoing need for (such as a story done by the Boston Globe on the future skyline of Boston). Most of those, however, are reference materials. The kind of thing I consult when I need to verify something, or have to put a little dose of realism into something.

For the current project, however, I'm back to actual research. This is a warm-up for the next project, I think, which will require much more hard research and possibly note-taking. That's the next one. For this one, I'm essentially browsing through a number of resources, tracking down ideas and concepts while I play around with various plot elements and characters. I'm looking for things off the beaten track, too, which makes it a bit more interesting (and also challenging).

In some ways, the internet makes this a lot easier. I am in need of monsters, and a quick Google search for "monster encyclopedia" netted me a number of places to start. All neatly categorized and organized alphabetically, too. This makes it nice when I have a rough idea of what I'm looking for, but there are drawbacks. I have books on my shelves that are the print equivalent of a lot of these internet sources (if not quite so complete and thorough) and what I find useful about them is being able to grab one and sit down with it over lunch, browsing through the pages to see what catches my fancy.

It's also easier to set a book aside on the desk, and write something with it open. For some reason switching back and forth between program windows just doesn't flow as smoothly for me, and something always suffers in the process.

Then, of course, there is the siren call of all those linked items in an article. It's far too easy for me to go wandering down the digital rabbit hole chasing link after link. In a book this is much less of a danger, in part because it means flipping back and forth, and in part because I have noticed that in books they are more likely to offer a brief explanation. On the web, the tendency is just to provide a link, and assume people will click it if they want to know more. Which, of course, I do, and hence the passage of hours before I realize just how much time I've spent.

However, while that doesn't help my productivity, it does satisfy my curiosity and desire to learn. Sure, it adds to the already massive library of useless and random items stored in my head (picture that warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, only bigger. Much bigger.) but I operate on the philosophy that, as a writer, I never know when one of those little nuggets might come in handy. Details count, after all, and even if something doesn't become a major plot point, being able to flesh out the small stuff makes the big stuff better.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have more research to do.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Deja Vu All Over Again

During my trip to the library this week I was perusing the limited selection they have (it's a small town library, and I wasn't up to making the trip to the nearest large library this week) and found myself reaching for a book by one of the authors I read. Only, I was pretty sure I'd already read this one, which is why I hadn't picked it up the last time I saw it. I read the inside cover... and it seemed familiar, but the first few pages did not.

I am now convinced I haven't read it, mainly because a quick perusal of pages in the back revealed a scene with a bulldozer, which I know for a fact I have not read before. It did leave me wondering why it was I was so convinced that I had read it, though, and I think I've come up with the answer.

Or at least what I hope is the answer, because the alternative is that I'm reading books and forgetting that I've read them. (Some of you may be thinking to yourselves, "That'd be great!" because you could go back and rediscover old favorites. I am inclined to think this would not be great. After all, how else would I know to skip all those chapters on cetology in Moby Dick?)

One of the drawbacks to getting books from the library is that, unlike a trip to the bookstore, I can't stock up. I know about how many books and by what authors I can read through in the alloted time, so I generally don't have to renew them. But this means that in any given trip, I have to make choices. Which means I may pick up a book, read the inside cover - which I do even when I know the author and have a good idea what the book will be about - and then opt not to get it that trip because another book/author does a better job of capturing my fancy for that trip.

Which leaves me in the position of sometimes having picked up the same book, and read the same jacket copy, multiple times. Creating the impression that I've read the book, when in fact I haven't read anything more than the inside covers. I'm not sure if this says something about my mental acuity, or the art of writing good jacket copy, or just that the passing of time is catching up with my brain. But it was good to solve this little mystery.

Even if it still leaves me with that nagging feeling that I've done it all before.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Somethings Just Don't Work in Translation

If you've been reading steadily here - which would be difficult to do as I've not been posting steadily by any means - but if you have you'll probably have noticed I have a slight affinity for comic books. (Or "graphic novels" if we want to sound more adult about them. But there's a distinction between the two, and I'm not going to indulge my inner geek in that debate. Not in this post, anyway.) I am also a fan of Stephen King and a few other authors, who have recently found themselves translated into the more visual medium of comic panels.

Not always successfully.

Sometimes this is simply a question of the visuals presented on the page not working as well as the ones in my head. Movies are subject to this as well, and I could list a few that failed to live up. (So too television shows - I like Joe Mantegna as an actor, but he was just not Robert Parker's Spenser in those A&E movies. Robert Urich is a different story.) I recently picked up a comic version of one of my favorite King short stories, N., which is a somewhat Lovecraftian homage that was for me genuinely creepy. Some of that was simply having come upon empty country fields - none with odd stone circles, thankfully - when I've been out and about, and appreciating the sometimes inherently spooky quality those places have.

The comic didn't convey that same atmosphere, and it was simply a clash between what I had in my head for the story, and what the artist put on the page. Sometimes the imagination works better when it has less to go on, even a normally visually-oriented imagination like mine. The stone circle on the page, and the field, and everything else, just didn't match up what was in my head, and the result lost all of the creepiness I'd felt reading the short story.

Other times they can be a disappointment because they simply rehash old material. Another series given the comic treatment was King's Dark Tower books. I was at first ecstatic, because here was a world where I thought there should be lots of potential. King wouldn't be writing them, but he had signed off on them, and here was a chance to learn more about that world. Alas, they lost me after the first two issues, in part because rather than do something brand new, they started by retelling a story already told in the books (specifically the events of Wizard and Glass) and so they lost the advantage of starting fresh.

The logistics behind that decision have become apparent now that they've moved on to their next installment in the DT comic series, which is a brand new story, the events of which were set in motion by the events in W&G. So if you were a new reader, you need to read W&G first, but... I wasn't. As I suspect a lot of fans out there were not. And I also suspect I was not the only one disappointed by the retread.

(I have not, as yet, picked up the new DT comic series, though it's on the list of things to get around to reading.)

There might also be retreads that I might actually want to read, were it not for the sloppy artwork. Marvel is retelling the early Anita Blake stories in comic form, and I was looking forward to rereading those in that form, until I realized all the characters in the comic looked almost exactly alike. It was nigh impossible to tell who was who, aside from the lead heroine. Which is a drawback to any medium that relies on the visuals - if they're not of the same caliber as the story, it's going to detract from the end result. (Vice versa, too, of course.)

There are also those comics that were really good, and innovative, even though they were based on source material from movies or films.... that then got trashed and made irrelevant by the continuation of the movies or television series. The Star Wars comics come to mind, and that's a whole other series of rantings from me, especially in the wake of the last set of movies. This particular gripe is also why I generally don't read any of the fiction set in any of the sci-fi universes (Star Wars/Trek in particular). The movies or television shows are regarded as canon, and it's too easy to follow a certain set of events only to find out they "didn't happen." This takes some of the joy out of it for me.

None of which means I'm going to stop reading comics, as even those based on original stories can be just as disappointing. (Yes, yet another rant there. Especially regarding my beloved Spider-Man.) It just means I have to learn to temper my hopes sometimes, and realize that for some stories, I'm going to be better off with the original.