Archive for June, 2011

Championship Heart aka Getting Published Isn’t Easy

“At the end, it’s on me.  Everything is on me. Turnovers. Missed shots. Fouls. If anything, learn from it. That’s all I can do right now.” –Derrick Rose

I know no one comes to my blog for cogent sports analysis, because, well, they’ll get none.  But there is a lesson about writing that I’ve been thinking about.  Back in 1988, Michael Jordan was on the scene as a budding superstar, got all the way to the Eastern Conference Semifinals then ran into the buzzsaw known as the Detroit Pistons.  Again in 1989 and 1990, the Pistons’ “Bad Boys” had his number, and all Jordan could taste with his wagging tongue was defeat.

Michael Jordan learned through those losses was Derrick Rose is learning now:  what it takes to be a champion.  He suffered through the pain of loss, the heartache, the frustration.  He toughened up, gained experience, and continued to hunger until he could climb that championship mountaintop.

In many ways, failure builds the player.  We learn from our mistakes and shortcomings.  Just like Michael Jordan had to go through Detroit, Derrick Rose has to go through the Miami Heat.  His performance coming up short may require him to develop other aspects of game.  The experience of failing to show up will help teach him to never waver on the big stage.  The experience of falling short will mold him into a clutch player.  And time will allow his team to gel.

“Maybe it’s my fault that you didn’t see that failure gave me strength; that my pain was my motivation. Maybe I led you to believe that basketball was a God-given gift and not something I worked for – every single day of my life.” –Michael Jordan

It always troubles me when I see writers spin out and rail against the literary gods or against the gatekeepers of the industry (real or imagined).  How they will refer to networking as “ass kissing” or an acceptance letter as a reward for begging for approval from a publisher.  Then they throw their hands in the air, calling the entire publishing business a fool’s errand, and consider going the self-publishing route.

Ironically, they’re oblivious to the fact that they’ve managed to insult both those who’ve gone the traditional route (as lucky and/or ass kissers) and those who went the self-publishing route (as if that doesn’t require more work and a greater skill set).

The fact of the matter is that this is it.  This is what you signed up for.  A lifestyle of perpetual speed dating:  constant rejection/mis-matches hoping for the occasional connection.  Part of it may simply be being tired of facing the pain of rejection.  Running from the pain and frustration of rejection keeps you from certain opportunities.  But there is a lot of control and safety on smaller stages and doing it yourself.  You get to maintain your posture of raging against the man and whoever else holding you down.  Sometimes I wonder how much of it is a fear of success, the possibility of a big(ger) stage looming where you’d have to put up or shut up.

Don’t get me wrong:  we’ve nearly all had that sinking frustration, the dark night of the writer’s soul.  Like any dark night, you have to push through it however you can, no matter how messy it might look.  This is it.  This is the writing/publication path.  It is what it is.  It doesn’t get any easier.  It’s not supposed to be.  Nothing truly worth doing is.  You stockpile those rejections, double down and do more work, more writing, and muster more perseverance.  So I repeat:  it doesn’t get any easier.  There are only new problems to deal with.

In the meantime, we will wait and see how Derrick Rose comes back next year and what coming up short teaches his game and shapes his character.  I’m betting it will continue to shape the heart of a champion.

Our Focus Rally America Audition

Now it can be told aka, someone reminded me that I never told/finished this story

Okay, so back in October, Wrath James White calls me up saying “I got a great idea.”  Now you should know, when Wrath calls with “a great idea” we’re talking 6’ 6’’ of chuckling madmen whom I’m not always inclined to tell “you’re out of your mind.”  So anyway, he tells me they are holding auditions for this new reality show (uh oh) called “Focus Rally America.”  Think “Amazing Race” (since it’s from those producers) with teams of two traveling in a Ford Focus.

“Come on, MoBro” (he always breaks out MoBro when he KNOWS he’s about to talk me into something).  “Picture it:  what could be more entertaining than watching two horror writers go across country?”

“Wrath, you’ve actually seen me drive.”

“We can work around that.”

Which is how I ended up off to Austin, Texas to audition for what I called “How long before I get on Wrath James Whites’s nerves before he stuffs me in the trunk of a car. Then sets it on fire.”*   I flew down on a Tuesday for a Wednesday audition (which also included dinner with Lee Thomas and Nate Southard) to come back on Thursday.

And now, let me give you a selective Tweet recap of things:

-Dear Jesus, thank you giving me this front row seat for the @WrathJW & Christie show.

-Who had “a half hour” in the pool of how long it would take me and @WrathJW to get in an argument?

-“Come home winners or don’t come home at all.” -Christie White. Wait, there’s a PS: “If you do come home, pick up BBQ for dinner.”

-I’m wearing my Kevin Matchstick/Mage t-shirt & @WrathJW‘s says “You will bow to me.”

Which was how we entered round one of the auditions.  There was quite the line and they took us in 3-4 teams at a time and sat us around a table.  There were folks dressed as clowns, a brother on roller skates, all sorts of folks dressed to be “personalities”.  We just sat down and let everyone else talk first.  When the producers got to us, all we had to do was introduce ourselves and what we did.  Then the OTHER contestants kept asking us questions to keep us talking.

Skip ahead in the story via my Tweets:

-“You two are characters!” the producers tell us … now the wait begins to see if we get a callback.

-@WrathJW is so cute when he’s nervous. Whatever the terrifying version of cute is.

-Determined to complicate @supersjbroaddus‘ life, the producers just called & want me & @WrathJW for the next round. Friday morning.

So, I extended my stay in Austin (which now included dinner with Daniel and Trista Robichaud) as we prepared for the second round of auditions.

-A snapshot of what the show would look like (we’re lost & the Garmin is yelling at us)

-“THESE ARE NOT PIMP PAJAMAS!!!” (my tweet)

-The casting agents saw Maurice in his bright red outfit and said he looked like a Skittle. (Wrath’s tweet)

Okay, here’s what you have to picture for this round:  there are two producers behind a camera and a love seat.  They ask me and Wrath to sit in the loveseat as if we were sitting in a Ford Focus.  You have to realize 1) Wrath is bigger than a Ford Focus and 2) in any given situation, Wrath likes to take up a lot of space.  So I’m all but sitting in his lap.  The producers say they have a list of questions for us, but they want to see how we’d interact in this situation.

They never got to their questions.

It was 15 minutes of me and Wrath insulting each other, arguing about God and strippers (don’t ask), and non-stop jokes.  We literally had the producers in tears.  And they said that they have a dilemma:  because the show was going to be an experiment in doing direct to the internet programming (via Hulu), they were casting people with huge internet presences.  So we were competing against YouTube “stars” with millions of views.  The problem was that those stars didn’t have much by way of personality.  We, as you might guess, had personality for days.  So it was going to be a close call.

The third round was paperwork, a background check and:

-And now the nine page application package to fill out. uh oh: what would your friends say are your best qualities? Your worst?

Well, we didn’t get the slot.  I’m pretty sure we lost out to the big-boobed jiggle twins I saw on one of the Ford Focus pages.  But it was a great time and experience.  The only thing I wished I’d had from that experience is our audition tape.  I’d love to post that on YouTube that way folks get that instead of me and my “I swear to you, in context, it makes perfect sense” watermelon dance.  NOTE:  There’s a fine line between savvy marketer and attention whore. *checks rear view mirror for the line*  The things I do to have interesting things to talk about on this blog.  I’ll leave you with one last Tweet from that weekend:

-I appreciate all the requests for a Maurice & @ChesyaBurke sitcom, but I’d have huge salary demands for that gig.

*Little known fun fact, he had three possible scenarios in mind:  he and Brian Keene, he and me, or he and Hal Bodner.  I don’t know if there’s a show big enough for a couple of those combinations.

I’m a Tough Read?

In one of my writer crit groups, I was informed that I was “a tough read.”  I was curious what they meant by that as it wasn’t the first time I had heard that charge.  Of course, their answer was “have you looked at your story?”

It was a little trunk piece that I had taken out to noodle with.  It was basically the narrative of a woman who’d grown up as a slave, worked in the Underground Railroad, and lived through Emancipation.  There were all sorts of vivid accounts of the horrors that occurred around her.  A horror story where the horror was in the reality of her world.

And it was a tough read.*

There is a dual nature to reader expectation when it comes to escaping into a novel.  For some, they want to be transported to a world to get away from their own, where a book is strictly a vehicle for entertainment.   For others, they want to embed themselves in another world as a way of examining the world around them, which isn’t to say that they don’t want to be entertained along the way.

For example, Devil’s Marionette was tough for me to write.  I wrote it from a painful, angry place as I had been thinking about the struggle of black artists against the pressures and expectations of the community, the failure to live up to that unspoken obligation, and the yoke of a history of racism.  So I whole-heartedly agreed with reviewer, Michele Lee, when she wrote of it:

Yet despite this immersive, and painfully open experience of being each character as hundreds of years of hatred and racism crushes down on them, the reader is left with the same feeling as someone who witnesses something beautiful or terribly in a quiet woods. It’s almost as if this pain is clear and known, but we are not supposed to speak of it, or even admit that we know it’s there.

The aura or spirit of this book far out shadows the actual story within the pages. It’s left me feeling not thrilled, or entertained, but uneasy, a perfect tone for a horror novella to strike, but one not that makes experiencing it an entirely pleasant experience.

I like to write from real and painful places.  I like to make people uncomfortable.  I love to challenge them and defy expectations.  That’s pretty much my philosophy/m.o.  Admittedly, part of that is a function of who I am as a person.  I hate to be put into a box or be easily labeled (or as Chesya Burk puts it, I’m “not happy until every side is pissed off at [you] in a debate”).  So when people hear that I’m a Christian writer (not a label I would use for myself), they come to my work with a certain amount of expectations.  An anthology edited by me, Dark Faith, brought to mind for many a collection of Christian tracts.  Until they picked it up and realized my philosophy was present there, too.  Defying and challenging.  It means when they pick up Orgy of Souls expecting a certain kind of story about faith, they get a wholly other.  (Ironic on two fronts:  1) they forget that I’m writing with Wrath James White, known as Mr. Light & Fluffy Writer to his peers and fans; and 2) I continue to get emails from folks telling me how much they loved Orgy of Souls because it was a tricky topic and a journey they didn’t expect).

The same process is at work in my Knights of Breton Court trilogy.  I know it’s not an easy read.  Besides being partly based on my former neighborhood, a lot of the stories represent the day-to-day reality of some of the homeless teenagers I was working with.  A scary and dark enough place before I added trolls and zombies and magic.  But I also wanted to carve out a strange new world for the reader to immerse themselves in.  An uncomfortable world, an unfamiliar world, yet a very real feeling world, which prompted one reviewer to say of it

It would be wrong of me to say “I liked this book” in the same way it would be wrong to say “I like drugs / gang warfare” due to the very nature of the subject matter but in my mind a book like this isn’t there to be “liked”, it’s there to be consumed, appreciated, inwardly digested and above all to make you think, to open your perceptions. For this reason this book is a triumph, I can honestly say that this novel has made me think about the world and people around me more than any other book has for a long time.

I love to hear stories I’m not used to or explore worlds completely new to me.  I love the new experience of reading.  I know that difficult reads aren’t everyone’s idea of pop entertainment.  And authors who relish being difficult reads have to walk that fine line of entertainment and “substance” (and sometimes art and pretension).  I write what I write because of who I am, part of that wonderful alchemy that is creation.  After that, the story belongs to the reader.

*Of course, “tough read” could simply refer to it being a trunk story.  But I’m choosing to ignore that possibility.

Smallville Finale – A Review

“Flights and Tights Too Long Delayed”

The finale of Smallville has been bugging me for a while.  Ten years is a remarkable run for any show, especially these days when many don’t make it past their first season.  However, like many shows (X-Files says what?), Smallville stayed around a few seasons too long.

The whole premise of Smallville was to tell the tale of of young Clark Kent (Tom Welling) growing up as a Midwestern boy, dealing with life and problems in high school while struggling with coming to terms with the fact that he was more than human.  The guiding philosophy of the show was “no flights, no tights” meaning that during the show, he would neither don his trademark costume nor take to the skies.  Which meant it was a multi-season long tease for him becoming Superman, which the viewers were on board.  But we run into problems after a while.  High school is a four year show.  Even giving himself a year or two after that we could see.  But ten years is a long time to “come to terms” and more importantly, tease your audience.  Ten years means that you have to do a lot of writing gymnastics in order for him to NOT put on tights and fly.  Ten years means you strain a lot of credulity and audience loyalty to keep the show moving forward without going anywhere.

The show was uneven, inconsistent, sometimes illogical, if not insultingly stupid at times.  Thing is, as a fan of Smallville you got used to it.  Their “monster of the week” formula from the early seasons, the ups and down of the Clark and Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk) relationship (which as a viewer you could never get invested in because you know Clark is destined to be with Lois Lane (Erica Durance), so it seems pointless to drag it out), the weird mythology the show kept building (The Traveler?).

“I am the villain of this story.” –Lex

Probably the best part about the series was the idea that Lex Luther (Michael Rosenbaum) and Clark started as friends.  And that a lot of the show was a vying for the soul of Lex.  Theirs was a great dynamic, everything that Clark and Lana wasn’t.  Because, again, while we know they can’t possibly end up as friends, watching their gradual animosity unfold each week was a great tension.  So the show probably should have just wrapped up the season when Lex left the cast, but it opted to muddle forward, leading to the much anticipated return of Lex in the finale.

“Every villain is only as great as their hero.” –Lex

Smallville’s greatest villain apparently was their budget, it’s the only think I can think of to explain their consistently anti-climactic season ending fight sequences.  The bulk of the barely two minute fight scene between Clark and Doomsday happened off screen the season before.  You’d think “once bitten”, yet here we are having to deal with:

-Oliver taking out Granny Goodness, Godfrey, and Desaad in one shot (not even with the Bow of Orion and despite the three having super powers).

-Clark taking out Darkseid by flying through him.  Seriously.  He flew through “cloud of smoke Darkseid” and that was it.

-Superman pushing Apokolips away which not only avoided a collision but also solved the darkness problem.

“We have a destiny together, Clark.  Only on different sides.” –Lex

But budgetary issues don’t explain how the Luthors were handled.  They just kept killing each other in an almost Shakespearean fashion, which is rather fitting.  So that part was fine.  What wasn’t fine was the machinations which brought Lex back and then the all-too-convenient “re-setting” of Lex which defies logic and leaves the viewer wondering “what did that even mean?”

Lex: What did you want?

Tess: Something I’ll never have.

Lex: Clark?

Tess: Redemption.

All in all, the last season of Smallville was more concerned with getting Clark into his tights and rushing to pay tribute to the iconic movies Superman I & II.  So we can be disappointed in the lack of slugfest style endings because Smallville was never that type of show.  We want to give it a pass because, well, it’s Superman.  So we say that it was more about the journey (Lost apologists say what?), the messianic expectation of the long prophesied, long destined Superman.  But every journey has to have a payoff.  And the finale failed to live up to that destiny.

True Blood (Season 3) – A Review

Even arriving late to the True Blood party in full swing at season three, it doesn’t take too long to get caught up in Alan Ball’s (American Beauty, Six Feet Under) Southern gothic melodrama.  Set mostly in the fictional Louisiana town, Bon Temps, the show revolves around one Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin).  Sookie, a telepath, works as a waitress at Merlotte’s roadhouse owned by Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell), a shapeshifter. Thanks to a synthetic blood, vampires have revealed themselves.  Thus Civil War veteran and immortal Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) had returned home and he and Sookie fall in love.

“I know what you’re going through.  That first kill, it’s got a way of making you feel like that’s all you are.  But you’ve got to know that you are still a man that is capable of goodness, of heartbreaking, and a generosity of spirit.  And if you can cling to that with everything you got, you’re gonna be all right.” –Terry (Todd Lowe)

As season three picks up, Sookie runs around in a hysterical state of shock as Bill, who had just proposed is kidnapped by villains unknown.  (He spends most of the premier episode being drained by V junkies).  Sookie’s best friend Tara (Rutina Wesley) is grieving the death of her lover, Eggs (Mehcad Brooks), a serial killer ordered around by a maenad.  Andy (Chris Bauer) takes the blame for killing Eggs, covering for Sookie’s serial lothario brother, Jason (Ryan Kwanten).

Those seem to be the main storylines, though there are many other subplots going on, which is typical not only for an episode, but for the season.  True Blood thrives on cliffhanger endings, sharply drawn characters, strong dialogue, and convoluted, concurrent storylines. So the impact of any one story is dulled by the sheer crowd of stories going on.  Not only that, but season three also introduces werewolves, inflating an already swollen cast even more.

“You wanna really fuck somebody’s life up?  Tell the truth about them.  They ain’t never going to be the same.” –Jason

There seem to be no end of metaphors that vampires can stand in for, though in True Blood, they pretty much cover the less than subtle territory of race, immigration, and any other marginalized people.  Yet one of the continuing sub-themes is how there is no possibility for liberation for anyone.  As Alan Ball does so well, people are trapped in their (dysfunction seems too weak a word) disturbed families.  People are stuck being what they are, telepath, shapeshifter, werewolf.  People cannot escape their blood ties and the obligations that come with them.  So everyone lives in a spiral of captivity and self-loathing, acting out in any of a number of ways, if nothing else, as slaves to their appetites.

“The blood is sacred. Wasting it on anything other than procreation is blasphemy.” –Magister (Zeljko Ivanek, Homicide:  Life on the Streets)

We sometimes feel like we don’t have the strength for the pain of this life. We just want the hurting to stop, if only for a minute.  So we retreat to our old comforts, habits, self-medication in order to deal with the hurts.  We develop addictions, things we become slaves to.  And once we realize we have an addiction, we can get caught up in our struggle with it, allowing that one area to define us and our focus of growth to the exclusion of everything else.   But we don’t have to live in a state of perpetual bondage.

Christ is the freedom-bringer and we were created for freedom.  There is a tradition or story or understanding of how God shares in our suffering (because this is the story of Jesus’ suffering on the cross) as opposed to reaching down with power and rescuing us from our suffering. Jesus’ story is the story of poverty: God humbling himself, becoming poor and weak. Human. In order to free the oppressed from poverty and powerlessness. Becomes a victim in our place (at the hands of a corrupt justice system no less) and transforms the condition of bondage. Providing not only a new vision, but a new paradigm in which to live.

God’s reconciling act is centered on the cross, a gift of freedom. The resurrection is a sign that the powers have been defeated, though still active. The cross transforms our condition while also providing an example of hope.

Look, True Blood makes no pretense at being subtle.  It’s an over-the-top soap opera with a supernatural core.  At turns violent, scary, hysterical, and full of sex, like with the Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the show has a moral center no matter how obscured by blood it may be.  We can forgive its uneven tone and its sometimes meandering plotlines, as the show seems built for short attention spans:  don’t like what’s going on, wait a minute and the show cuts to something new.  Eventually that frenetic pace and the need to continually top its storylines wears on the viewer (or rather, on the writers).  In fact, Alfre Woodard’s appearance drove this reminder home for me.  The last time I saw her was on another over-the-top series, Desperate Housewives, where even her capable skills couldn’t ground the show enough to save it from storylines that no one cared about.  The advantage the show has is that it has Charlaine Harris’ books to mine from and the show remains fairly faithful to the material (and strives to keep the best parts).  Which means it’s not too late to jump on this undead roller coaster and ride it into the land of the not-so-guilty pleasure.