September 30, 2015

The Waldo Moment





Made my way through Black Mirror on Netflix again. If you haven’t watched it, you’re missing out. It’s intense, smart, and imaginative satire. I really cannot think of a better description than “The Twilight Zone for the digital age.”

The entire thing is great but I think first season is better overall—though second season opens strong with Hayley Atwell in the gut-wrenching “Be Right Back.” Unfortunately, the second episode is more successful at producing arresting visuals than sustaining a really satisfying narrative with biting social commentary.

However, "The Waldo Moment" deserves much more love. A strong critique of media politics becomes a sharp jab at our relentless apathy and our online herd mentality.

September 24, 2015

Control

Thinking about control today. How we're controlled. Think it comes down to four weapons. Those weapons are:
  • Alienation
  • Ignorance
  • Disinformation
  • Fear
It the modern age, these seems easily counteracted. So what then? What's the issue? Is it apathy, you think?


September 23, 2015

Brief Thoughts on "Political Correctness"





  • Mocking political correctness is the sneaky way to voice your fear of change. It’s the modern rewrite of “back in my day...”
  • Often, it’s also a way for someone to cowardly acknowledge their resentment of those who are marginalized being empowered without being the person who says the racist, homophobic, or just plain hurtful thing out loud.
  • At its worst, mocking political correctness is a ‘yes’ vote for the status quo. And voting ‘yes’ for the status quo gets us nowhere but right were we already are.
  •  Point the finger at "political correctness" is a tactic to dismiss touch subjects and shut down the meaningful discussions we should be having.


September 21, 2015

Elementary


We haven’t had broadcast TV for a while, so if a show isn’t available for streaming on one of the services we do subscribe to, then I probably haven’t seen it. Hulu recently added three seasons of Elementary, so I’m finally checking it out.

I'm only a couple of episodes in but so far, I like it. Elementary offers a good take on Holmes and Watson with the whole sober companion shtick, really shows why the characters have lasted as long as they have. And the character stuff on the show is great. Dig Jonny Miller as Holmes and Lucy Liu as Watson.

However, as of right now, the mysteries are all pretty forgettable, doubly so since Holmes has provided the template for some many of televisions crime solves. All I’ve really seen is the same kill-of-the-week I’ve seen from every other network crime drama. Mostly, I found myself wishing this wasn’t a 22 episode network show choked full of filler and was instead a 6-12 episode cable or streaming service program with more character focus and more overarching plot with less of this week’s newest case.


September 17, 2015

The Blacklist Season Two



 I watched The Blacklist based solely on a friend’s recommendation and loved it. I loved the idea of the show. I loved its energy and its gangbusters pacing. I loved the sheer ridiculous pulpiness of it and how the show wasn’t afraid to just be what it was, a whole lot of fun. I loved that it teased big things to come, big reveals, and even more excitement. And so much of the awesome of that first season was carried on the shoulders of the magnetic James Spader.

 I devoured the first season as soon as the episodes were added to Hulu. Sure, there was a few stumbling blocks. The first nine episodes, bookended by two Joe Carnahan contributions, were the strongest. The supporting cast was pretty forgettable. And despite being a main character, Liz Keen spends most of that season clueless and manipulated by one man or the other. But it was so much fun and held so much promise, that it was one of the few shows I looked forward to every week.

However…
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*SPOILERS*
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Second Two is pretty underwhelming. If it’s any indication how underwhelming, after watching the first couple of episodes, I put off watching any more until 3 or 4 new episodes were available on Hulu. Not because I wanted to binge, but because I had other things I’d rather watch instead and so many of the episodes were forgettable. In fact, I didn’t even finish the season until it got added to Netflix.

 The season’s biggest misstep was their use of Spader. He seemed absent this time around. And when he was there, the writers were fond of simply giving him a soliloquy and couple of monologues to deliver with his head tilted to the side. The Blacklist is Red. And Red is The Blacklist. Without his dynamic presence looming and looming large, the show lacks most of its magic.

The lackluster tone of the season is set early. I kept expecting something big from Red’s ex-wife, Naomi, especially since she was played by Mary-Louise Parker, but that never really happened. The character was kind of just there. If they weren’t going to give Parker something meaty to do with her role, if she wasn’t going to have some big dramatic moment with Spader, then they should have cast a less recognizable actress. The entire thing came off as a ratings stunt: “Oh my god, Mary-Louise Parker is playing Red’s ex-wife! We need to tune in!”

Trimming some of the supporting character dead weight was a great idea. (Though I’m still not sure what Red gets out of the FBI Task Force other than being close to Liz). Making Liz an active and engaged character was also a great idea. If Red is that interested in her and she’s as important as she is, then she really shouldn’t be clueless and toyed with by man after man.

Unfortunately, the writers mucked it up by bringing Tom back. The whole thing with Liz keeping Tom prisoner was ridiculous considering how closely she’s watched, especially by Red. I always hate when a show, any show, goes out of their way to establish what badass things a character can do, then suddenly when it's inconvenient to the plot, the character becomes incapable of it. Red should have known where Tom was and what was going on. Actually, the entirety of the Liz / Tom thing was tiring and undercut their attempt to give her agency. Whenever that part of the plot got air time, I’d get up to do something else.

 And, look, before you say it, I like romance plots. I do. I like stories that deal with complicated feelings. The thing is I hate stupid romance plots and I hate stupid complicated feelings. “Oh my god, Liz and Tom totally slept together again! It’s so complicated?” Really? Then maybe you need to binge first season again because that fight scene when Liz figured out that her entire life was a lie was pretty uncomplicated. Even more than that, I hate using stupid romance plots so you can use stupid complicated feelings to justify deus ex machina plot resolutions (“How do we get Liz out of the murder charge?”) and dumb character actions that happen only to set up a later plot point the writers don’t know how to get to it any other way. (Liz sleeping with Tom again, so we can have suspense in finale as to who she’s going to run off with.)

 Honestly, though, two of my biggest disappointments were the big reveals with The Fulcrum and the completely generically-named The Cabal. First, let me say, I get it. Doing a show with big overarching plot questions, especially a network show, is hard. 22 episodes necessitates filler. You have to be careful how you dole out your answers. Take too long and people either stop caring or you risk the payoff fizzling after all that wait (*cough* the fate of Fox Mulder’s sister *cough*); answer them too soon and you’ve tossed most of your tension and mystery out the window before getting started. However, all that being said, I was really expecting something big and instead ended up with generic thriller stuff: blackmail and a group of powerful men who want to profit off a war...?!?!

 Really? That’s it.

 It’s blackmail? With a name like The Fulcrum, it’s not some super sci-fi weapon? Or maybe a futuristic biological agent? It’s just blackmail? A group of the most powerful men in the world fear and cower before Red for run-of-the-mill blackmail? And it’s not even earth-shattering blackmail like…I don’t know, proof the CIA killed Kennedy or 9/11 was a false-flag operation, or even something crazy and fun like the grey aliens have been running the New World Order government since Roswell. It’s just generic blackmail? And the Cabal is just a group of shady politicians and rich guys? It’s not an elite coalition of warmongers in the US Government with a ninja kill squad or a secret group of former intelligence officers from both sides of the Cold War or even one super rich family who have secretly manipulated the world for centuries? And it’s not something fun like the Illuminati or a mystical conspiracy of Freemasons or the 7 Secret Masters or our benevolent Lizard Overlords?

 No? Just blackmail and some bad guys. Well...meh.

 Honestly, Liz shooting Tom Connolly and going on the run with Red was the single saving grace of this season. I really hope the bulk, if not all, of next season is Liz and Red on the run and it’s not one of those BIG endings designed so you tune in next season only to watch it get resolved by the end of episode one, then we go back to the same thing with Red and Liz and the task force.



September 15, 2015

Quis Est Iste Qui Venit




Today is the release day for Protectors 2: Heroes. This massive anthology edited by ThomasPluck features work from big names like Joyce Carol Oates and Harlan Ellison, established writers, Indie favorites, and first timers. All proceeds from the book benefit Protect, the political lobby of the National Association to Protect Children whose victories include the Circle of Trust Act, which closed NY state’s incest loophole, and funding The HERO Corps, which hires wounded veterans to assist law enforcement in hunting online predators.

I’ve written several times about “The Whistler in the Graveyard” already. You know, I started work on this story not long after my father died. Sorting through those feelings really shaped the two main characters: Coffin Boy and Lydia Poe. They’re both dealing with the deaths of their two very different fathers in two very different ways. For me, along with the freedom to engage in a sense of wonder, the chance to acknowledge freely those big life events is probably the most appealing thing when it comes to writing fiction with characters who haven’t reached the arbitrary age we’ve picked for adulthood.

M.R. James
However, I don’t want you to think of “Whistler” as primarily something philosophical and preachy or grim and gritty, because it’s not. It’s exciting and fast paced and, hopefully, a little creepy. Besides years spent watching a whole lot of anime (you’ll understand once you read it), the most direct source of inspiration for my story comes from M.R. James. Thinking about his story “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come To You, My Lad” provided the spark that lead to Coffin Boy and his particular affliction.

I hope you find all that intriguing enough to check my story out in Protectors 2: Heroes. If you dig it, good news: “Whistler” is an abridgment of a longer work and the first appearance of many for the boy trying to become the man he wanted his father to be, and the girl who refuses to be seen and not heard.

September 11, 2015

The Work The Shaped The Whistler in the Graveyard


The print version of Protectors 2: Heroes is now available for pre-order. Heroes is a massive book featuring work from legends, established writers, new comers, and even first-timers with all proceeds going to benefit Protect (view the current donation record here).


I'm very proud of my story in this anthology. And I've talked a bit about how "The Whistler In The Graveyard" is a product of my younger years reading, watching, and writing horror and weird tales. The thing I really wanted to talk about today, however, were some of writers and stories I had in mind when I sat down to write Coffin Boy's first adventure. While these aren't necessarily reflective of anything specific you'll find in my YA Occult Detective story, this work absolutely shaped the creative brain responsible for "Whistler". So I acknowledged those diverse hands when I named characters and places.


Cover art by Edward Gorey
John Bellairs—I loved Bellair’s gothic mysteries for children and young adults with their wonderfully evocative titles like The Spell Of The Sorcerer’s Skull or The Lamp From The Warlock’s Tomb. Not to mention the artwork from Edward Gorey. I still have a shelf full of Lewis Barnavelt, Anthony Monday, and Johnny Dixon’s adventures.

Algernon Blackwood—I can’t remember how I first discovered Blackwood. It could have been from reading Lovecraft’s “Supernatural Horror In Literature” or when I went through a research obsession with The Hermetic Order of The Golden Dawn (Someday I will write that nonfiction article on the role 19th century mysticism played in spreading Buddhism to the West). Regardless, Blackwood’s stories have always stuck with me; particularly, “The Willows,” “The Wendigo,” and “Ancient Sorceries.”

Charles Brockden Brown—I discovered Brown in college when he was still being discussed as the first American novelist (a position I think he no longer holds). I think he’s mostly forgotten today outside of academic circles. Despite being a bit awkward and the ventriloquism gimmick being a little silly, not only was Wieland the first American Gothic novel but it’s a fairly harsh criticism of religious fundamentalist and an exploration of unfulfilled desire.

Sidney Sime illustration from Dunsany's
A Dreamer's Tales
Lord Dunsany—I have a confession to make. I’ve never been particularly fond of Tolkien’s fantasy novels or his legion of imitators. I find stories about European Feudalism off-putting regardless of whether or not you change the name from England to Albion. I suspect a lot of that has to do with the route I took into fantastic literature. First among my road less traveled was Lord Dunsany. I absolutely love The King of Elfland’s Daughter, the sheer imagination of The Gods of Pegāna, and have never forgotten the title, “The Fortress Unvanquishable, Save for Sacnoth.”

Stephen King—I don’t think there’s anyone under a certain age who’s written at least one horror story who wasn’t influenced in some way by Stephen King. Most of his later and recent work has left me stunningly cold and indifferent but his early work still packs an enormous punch for me.

Nigel Kneale—I vividly remember watching The Quartermass Xperiment on the Sci-Fi channel. The next time my parents took me to the library, the first thing I did was see if I could find the other films on VHS.

Christopher Pike—The entire shelf full of Christopher Pike books speaks volumes to the effect he had on me.

Edgar Allan Poe—True story: I was stalked in high school by a girl who told me she believed I was the reincarnation of Edgar Allan Poe.

Ann Radcliffe—My obsession with Gothic novels ruled a good deal of my high school years. I suspect this was due to two things. A unit on the Romantic poets and an AP English teacher who insisted on referring to me as Heathcliff while we were reading Wuthering Heights. I sought out Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho after she came up in our discussion of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.

Clark Ashton Smith—When it comes to the big three from the pages of Weird Tales, my preference has always been Clark Ashton Smith. He wasn’t always the best plotter and sometimes amidst all the poesy he lost sight of what he was actually trying to say, but I will take him over both Lovecraft and Howard any day of the week.

Horace Walpole—My high school Gothic novel obsession would not have been complete without a read through of The Castle of Otranto. However, I should probably apologize to my high school AD&D GM for inflicting Otranto the hunchback thief on his campaign.

September 8, 2015

A Little About The Whistler




Looks like the print version of Thomas Pluck's anthology Protectors 2: Heroes will be available for pre-order very soon. Included in the stories to benefit Protect is a stunning illustration by Dyer Wilk for my tale, “The Whistler In The Graveyard.”

Long before I ever read or wrote a crime story, horror and weird fiction were my first loves. "Whistler" is my YA occult detective story and the product of a childhood spent watching Kolchak while reading Christopher Pike, John Bellairs, Clark Ashton Smith, and Lord Dunsany, then filtered through a good bit of anime. There’s a private school, a terrible thunderstorm, a doppelgänger, monsters, and a graveyard showdown. But there’s also a boy trying to become the man he wanted his father to be, and a girl who refuses to be seen and not heard.

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