A week or so ago, I had a really frustrating conversation. This conversation was with someone who admits to not really being a "fiction person." That is, they don't read fiction very often and therefore don't want to be bothered with things like metaphors or representative qualities.
(You know who you are, nonfiction person. Please take this snark with a healthy dollop of "you know I love you.")
This came up as we discussed Twilight. I have not read Twilight, nor do I plan to. I do plan to watch the movies as a drinking game, though. I have also read enough excerpts from Twilight to realize it might not be very good. I'm also prone to hyperbole. So anybody who loves Twilight and reads this blog (though the odds do seem slim...), please don't flip out in the comments. Twilight is not the point.
What I said was that Twilight had one good idea in it and it was too bad that a hack had the idea. My NonFicFriend asked what this good idea was.
"Celibate sex monsters?" I said. "C'mon, that's gold." His response was a somewhat blank stare. "Vampires are sex monsters," I said a little too loudly. He wasn't having it. "This can't lose you, it's on the label," I insisted. "I mean, I shouldn't lose you until I start talking about how the sex monsters used to be racist monsters and were loneliness monsters before that."
At which point I took many deep breaths and realized I had a blog post.
Monsters are not just things that try and eat your face. Not the really interesting ones, at any rate. Monsters represent concepts we find legitimately terrifying but are so nebulous a concept that we have to give it fangs or weird powers or something in order to get a grip on it.
Take sex, for example. Sex is freakin' frightening, you guys. It has powers over us we barely understand or control. It sells us things. It convinces us insane actions are totally reasonable in the name of short term gain. And that's before I get into the really controversial stuff. Sex is TERRIFYING.
And that's why Vampires are usually (at least these days) sex monsters. They are super attractive despite being incredibly dangerous. They mesmerize us, make us do things against our will, and remain ever-youthful (see also: potency/virility/fecundity) even while sucking out our life force (blood and fertility have a lot going on mythologically). They're also the "bad boys" or "femme fatales" that attract otherwise "pure" or "good" women and men with their darker qualities. Which is a reflection of other weird things sex does to us (ie, making us want what we shouldn't want).
Where this gets particularly interesting to me is when the thing the monster represents drifts with culture. For instance, today vampires are sex monsters, but this is a holdover from Dracula. Except Dracula wasn't a sex monster...or at least, he wasn't only a sex monster. In fact, he wasn't even primarily a sex monster. He was a foreigner monster, and the sex just got tacked on because that made the foreigner even more terrible.
If you don't know what I'm talking about, let me explain. This may be blunt, so keep grace in mind. Dracula is a foreigner monster because he is a hairy-knuckled Slav who shows up in Victoria's England and starts assimilating himself into society while not leaving any of his barbaric, Eastern European customs behind. This is exactly what Victorian society feared the most. The sun may never set on the Empire, but that only allowed a bunch of grubby heathens on the edges of it to claim they were English.
Here's where the sex monster part comes in: Dracula "ruins" the good English women! He forces them to lust after him with his swarthy skin, fantastic mustachios, and monstrous mesmerizing powers! Then he becomes intimate with these women, thus stealing their virtue and ruining them for the Empire as women of (literally) good breeding! Surely this is theft of the flower of English womanhood is how the Empire will eventually fall!
Dracula is a monstrous, racist caricature of what Victorian England most feared: It's own slow destruction from inside at the hands of the less savory edges of the Empire. And this attack would not come from a military force, but by occupation of the nation's wombs.
These days, we like to think we're more enlightened and less overtly racist, so the feared foreigner has worn off Dracula leaving us with only the sex monster. Which a whole host of creators have happily polished to a gemlike quality in the intervening century and a half. So much so that it's often hard to think of them as anything but sex monsters.
As weird as that is, I'm still not entirely sure how Stoker took a Romani loneliness monster and turned it into a racist sex monster. I'm pretty happy he did, though.
What do you guys think? Am I reading too much into monsters? Do you want to hear about a few more before you decide if this is a good theory? Which ones do you think break the concept? Let me know in the comments!
Obviously he was tremendously talented. Obviously he was tremendously funny. Just look at the IMDB listing. It wasn't all gold, but there are some true gems in that treasure hoard.
And just as obviously, he will be greatly missed. By his family, his friends, his industry, and by everyone who likes to laugh. Harold Ramis made hilarious things and a world without him won't have as much laughter as a world with him.
I am not exaggerating when I say that Ghostbusters is one of the most formative films in my personal history. I saw it in the theater when that was the only way you were going to see a movie. I was 7, so, yes, my mother may have had questionable ideas about what films I should or should not see. I don't think I've thanked her for this enough. (Mom, expect a call.) HBO and home video technology followed quickly which meant that Ghostbusters was also one of the very first movies I never had to stop watching. It is still to this day the most quoted movie in my house.
So in addition to my sadness about Ramis dying, I'm also sad because I'm getting older. I mean, I know I'm alway getting older, but this is the kind of thing that makes me feel it. Not so much the aches and pains or even my kid growing up at lightning speed. No, what really makes me feel the weight of years are the deaths of performers I've loved my entire life.
Some time ago, friend and rabble-rouser Bernard Shaffer started the idea of a fanfic anthology. I'd never really messed about with fan fiction. I tend to end up wanting to make my own things rather than play with other people's. But at the same time, there are large chunks of real estate taken up in my mind by several corporately owned characters. As you could guess from talking to me for more than five minutes, one of those is Batman.
It also just so happened that I had invented what I consider to be one of the greatest Riddler riddles of all time while playing with my son. It came up spontaneously and my wife yelled from the other room, "That's really good! You should use that!"
Guys, seriously, she loves me and thinks I'm a talented guy, but she's long since given up telling me when she thinks something is actually good. Unless it almost literally BLOWS HER MIND.
But this unexpected complement left me wondering, "Where the HELL do I use a Riddler riddle?" And then, just like Edward Nygma himself, Bernard gave me the answer...while cackling maniacally.
So I wrote the story. I'm very happy with it. It's set during the time when Bruce Wayne was lost in time and presumed dead, leaving his adopted son - Dick Grayson - to take up the mantle of Batman and his biological son - Damian Wayne - to take on the role of Robin. They match wits with the Joker in a game of money, lies, and vast property damage.
But then the anthology fell through. And I had no place to put that story. So, dear friends, I now put it right here for all to enjoy (I hope). Kindle users, here's a mobi version. Nook users, here's an epub version. If you prefer good ol' Microsoft Word or similar, try this. I really hope you all enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Please let me know what you think of it in the comments.
Let me make it clear that I claim no ownership to any of any characters who appear within this story, all of trademarks are locked up tighter than a drum by DC Comics. Please don't sue me, big scary corporate lawyers. A cease and desist will wor just fine.
It's blog o'clock on the dot, y'all! And today I'm coming at you with a guest post from my very good friend and colleague Courtney Cantrell, oh she of the demon novels and fantasy stories with complicated gender politics. She's in a new science fiction anthology for charity with a few other Kindle All-Stars and some new faces as well. Full disclosure, I haven't read the anthology yet because (as you all know) my January has been COMPLICATED. But I plan to. More than that, I'm looking forward to it. But for now, here's Courtney is to tell you more about it.
Merciful Schadenfreude, We’re Skirting the Edge Here
When Tony Healey put out a call for sci-fi short stories, even he probably couldn’t have predicted what a hodge-podge of results he’d get.
Geekery. Motherhood. Twistedness. Comedy. Gaming. Policework. Artistry. Obsession.
And that’s just the authors.
Sci-Fi Anthology EDGE OF OBLIVION
With sixteen stories clocking in at approx. 76,000 words, Edge of Oblivion takes readers on a sci-fi ride that leaves heads spinning and minds wondering.
There’s something in here for every lover of sci-fi, fantasy, or the weird: X-rated aliens, bounty hunters, time-travel, nostalgic Horsemen of the Apocalypse, genetically retrograded animals, the US Remote Viewing Project, creepy local legends, and world-conquering demons.
And that hodge-podge of authors I mentioned? They've brought the force of their collective quirkiness to bear on these tales so as to craft a collection of stories to knock the socks off a nanite-monkey*.
Me, I had help from two characters by name of Grace and Jack who’ve been dogging my writing footsteps since 2005. In Edge of Oblivion, they grace us (grace, ha ha, get it?) with their perplexing presence via “The Mercy and the Schadenfreude of the Soulless.”
Yes, that is the actual title. I don’t know why. It was probably Grace’s idea.
Trying to explain Grace and Jack is like trying to explain quantum physics to a 3rd grader.
I love quantum physics. But I do not understand quantum physics.
Similarly In exactly the same way, I love Grace and Jack but do not comprehend them in the least. I don’t understand a lot of what they say. I don’t understand how they think. Jack, my first-person narrator of the G&J stories, comes up with imagery and metaphors that flabber my gast. And deeply disturbed as she is (or is she?), Grace is likely to spout off with stuff that would confound even the most brilliant cryptanalysts.
Grace and Jack come from a place in my psyche I don’t like to look at too closely.
Oh, I’m sure it’s all benign enough. Grace and Jack can be gritty sometimes, but there’s nothing truly dark or insidious about them (I think). Still, writing-reading them leaves me with that feeling you carry around all day after you’ve had a particularly odd dream.
A dose of G&J, and the whole world shifts a fraction and I’m squinting to see where reality ends and imagination begins. When I resurface from one of their stories, everything around me suddenly bears a hint of “off,” a slight taste of Other.
“The Mercy and the Schadenfreude of the Soulless” delves into time-travel, marriage, dimension-hopping, the soul-drain of (undeserved?) guilt, and redemption.
In their convoluted and passionate relationship, Grace and Jack ask and answer the questions of what insanity really looks like...how far love really has to go...how far love even should go...and whether or not madness is catching.
Also, there are Mighty Galumphing Histrionic Sky Gods.
Happy reading, y’all!
*I don’t actually know that there’s such a thing as a nanite-monkey. But there SHOULD be.
This assumes there are still guys - in a general, gender-neutral sense - who are still reading this. Which is an unreasonable assumption considering how neglected the blog has become. Well, that's actually part of the reason I'm doing a post right now.
Last year was a helluva year for life-sized shake-ups. I lost a whole giant job, I got another much smaller job, we pulled my kid out of school, we decided he'd probably need to be homeschooled at least a year, I grappled with the issues that led to the stuff with my son, I sold a few short stories, I pushed a few more short stories, I started some new projects, I failed utterly to finish a lot of old projects. Honestly, I believe in getting the damn work done, but life came along and prioritized which jobs were going to get done more than the others. This understandably moved "blogging for an audience I'm not sure exists and with no remuneration" to the bottom of the list, shifted "loving support and education of my child" to the tippity-top, and "write things for money" into a muddy middle.
But after all that, I think I've got a handle on my working life. And I'd like to get back to blogging. I have so much stuff going on and I really want to tell people about it. And I really want there to be a place for these theoretical people who care about these things to visit. So I'm going to try and get better about blogging. Once again, I throw open the floodgates for questions you'd like answered or topics you'd like discussed. And I do mean discussed, I've always really enjoyed getting comments and interacting with them. So, you know, do that if you want. 🙂
Mostly I wanted to make sure that everyone knew I wasn't dead, that I planned to make this more of an informational hub, and what I've been working on that I can share. I'm not calling a renewed interest in blogging and communicating with the people who like to read what I write a resolution. The main reason is that resolving things is the fastest way for me to grow to hate them, and I don't want that here. The blog shouldn't be a job. It should be an overflow of words after I've finished the work as well as an overflow of the joi de vivre writing all those other words gives me.
I will however note that it feels like I've got a lot going on and that, for the first time in a long time, I've got a real handle on it. And this seems to be happening at a moment the calendar considers liminal. That feels significant. So I will try and ride the momentum of significance rather than find myself pushed by the guilt of failed resolutions.
So to that end, here are a few of the things I'm working on. Some of them may never actually work out. Some may be fantastic but never see the light of day because of factors beyond my control. Some, though, are going to hit the world and get enjoyed by a lot of people. WHICH WILL BE WHICH? ONLY 2014 KNOW FOR SURE AND SHE AIN'T TELLIN'...YET!
- Buzz Books USA will publish a series of Young Adult short stories just in time for Back To School. The series is part of Mythology High, a retelling of ancient myths and legends in a modern high school setting. I'll be tackling some of my favorite stories from the Tanakh, aka The Old Testament, and I can't wait for you all to see them. Incidentally, if you are or know a middle or high school teacher of literature and would like to have class visits by authors who are translating ancient myths into modern stories, you should totally email me or comment here.
- I'm working with award-winning filmmaker George Adams on a television pilot we hope to shoot this year and sell as soon as a network likes the look of it (traditional or internet, we are down with old and new media). It's called Red River County and it's a based on true events tale set in rural Oklahoma that will turn CSI on its head. George is great and I'm really excited to work more with him because, in addition to this project, it'll lead to other film projects, eventually written, directed, and maybe even shot by me.
- I've been a comedy scriptwriter and blogger for Pulp Gamer Media for several months now. It's mainly for Mayfair Games's comedy webseries The Bog & Angus Show, but I've also done some work on a sitcom webseries we hope to sell soon. Think Cheers meets Community in a game store.
- I write book reviews, mainly for comics, on Bookgasm. If you want to skip immediately to my bits, they're here.
- I'm looking at starting a Patreon account so as to offer monthly, subscription/patronization based superhero prose fiction. First up, the Archangel. Second up, Catfight & Hell Kitten.
- I still have all the old novels in the works at various states of completion. I'd really, really like to see Myth Reaver 2: Electric Boogaloo and Hell Bent for Leather see the light of day this year. But, honestly, longform writing is taking a backseat lately and this trend is likely to continue. Still, I'm writing a LOT of things, and the more writing I do, the more writing I want to do, so some sort of critical mass may occur.
- I've got a couple irons in the fire for some work in roleplaying games, but that isn't really going anywhere yet. The irons are annoyingly cool at the moment, but I have high hopes for heat in the near future!
And that's about it...for NOW! But as you can see, I've got a lot on deck I hope to share with you in the future. Stay tuned to this space, hit me with any and all questions or concerns, and I'll do my best to post some interesting and entertaining stuff more regularly than, well, never.
I love the smell of new years in the morning! Smells like...victory!
We can all agree on what an airplane is, right? Wings, engines, has full flight capability. A fighter jet is a plane built specifically for speed and blowing things up. An airliner is a plane built specifically for moving people quickly and economically. They're both still basically airplanes. But is a car just an airplane with the wings removed? Obviously, the answer is no. You've taken away so many aspects of what makes an airplane an airplane that you've turned it into something else.
Genres are pretty fluid things. But while an individual genre is pretty malleable, they can be knocked all out of shape if you work hard enough at it. There's a moment when you strip the wings and jet engine from your genre, and it stops being an airplane and becomes a car.
You all followed that analogy, right? Okay, good, carry on.
Well, last week I came up on what we shall charitably call a dialogue about superheroes that resulted in me, as a writer and a fan, needing to know what actually makes a superhero story a superhero story. What are the absolute bare minimum requirements of the genre.
I've discussed before how superheroes are almost infinitely malleable. But while you can keep adding things to a superhero story and still (probably) have a superhero story, there must be a point where subtracting elements leaves you without one. Otherwise the words don't mean anything. So what are these bare minimum elements? I'm glad you asked!
First, a caveat. Although each of these elements is important, a story doesn't have to have every single one of them to be a superhero story. Neither do all the elements have to be of equal intensity. But you do require a quorum of these elements and at least a few of them turned up to 11. Otherwise your jet is just a car.
For instance, Batman has no super powers, but he's demonstrably a superhero. The Fantastic Four don't have secret identities, but they're also still squarely in the superhero genre. Sherlock Holmes and Doc Savage fight crime, but they are not superheroes.
Will there be fringe cases that could go either way? You betcha. But I think they're going to be the minority because I am aiming squarely for a baseline definition of superhero that makes sense with the history of the genre as well as pointing into the future of superhero characters.
- Possess Super Powers - Superheroes must have powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Concussive force fired from the eyes. The proportional strength and speed of a spider. Unbreakable knives popping out of knuckles. Titanic strength, flight, freeze breath, et al. Bottom line, the superhero is super.
- Possess A Colorful Costumed Identity... - Superheroes wear costumes. You can call them uniforms or action suits if that makes you feel better. Whatever you name it, the superhero has a unique and visually striking outfit she wears when fighting crime (we'll get to that one) that could not possibly be confused for street clothes.
- ...Which Hides Their Civilian Identity - Only a handful of trusted associates or dedicated allies can know the true identity of our hero or heroine. Naturally, this brings with it the attendant hiding-a-double-life shenanigans.
- Fight Crime... - Superheroes punch muggers, bank robbers, mobsters, terrorists, Nazis and whoever else is foolish enough to commit nefarious deeds in front of our hero.
- ...Which Also Cloaks Itself In Colorful Costumed Identities - Run-of-the-mill gunsels and fourth columnists are fine for a while, but eventually a superhero needs somebody who does evil as flamboyantly as the hero does good. Superheroes simply must have supervillains.
- Battle Internal Conflicts Literalized Externally - This is admittedly a little more esoteric than I wanted to get for this list. Still, I've been convinced this entry is deserved. But what does this gobbledygook mean? I'll explain with two examples. Peter Parker's internal conflict is deciding what is the greatest good. On one side of town, his loving, ailing aunt needs the pills Peter holds. On the other side of town, the Scorpion is blowing things up and robbing banks. Peter is literally faced with the dilemma of having great power, yet not knowing where the greater responsibility lies. Or take a dying Superman who has always been empowered by solar energy literally facing his own mortality by fighting an evil computer in the shape of a sun.
- Be Better People Than Us So As To Inspire Us - For some reason, I feel like this statement is going to be the most controversial. But it's also the one that most defines superheroes. Superheroes are selfless. They sacrifice to protect their fellow men and women. And while they are people (albeit fictional ones) and far from perfect, they are still heroes. I'm going to quote Chris Sims of Comics Alliance at length here for a minute.
...superheroes are a fundamentally optimistic proposition. They all descend from Superman, a character who’s built around the idea that this person with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men would use them exclusively for the benefit of others.
They have to be better people, because they serve to inspire us to be better people.
Optimism. Inspiration. Selflessness. An example of how to be better . I'm down with that stuff. Somewhere along the line it became cool to be cynical. Like, hoping for the future or having compassion for your fellow man became less important than how hip you are.
To hell with that noise! I want to be inspired! I want to be inspiring! And if optimism is the new counter-culture, then Superman is the most punk rock thing in the universe! It also means all those guys who think they're too cool for superheroes the way they ought to be are really just sad sacks who want to drag down an ideal. Good luck keeping a guy like this down. And me too, super powers or not.
PS: So that got a little crazy there at the end. But I still think this is a useful metric! Argue with me in the comments if you like. Especially on the seventh point. I mean, you're sad and you're wrong if you want to argue against that, but I still appreciate interesting conversation. 😉
Believe it or not, I don’t get into a lot of conversations about my pop cultural loves via the internet. Oh, I IM or chat or Hangout or whatever often enough, but I don’t typically discuss these topics with semi-strangers via social media statuses and comments.
Well, I screwed up last week and actually did have a conversation about superheroes and how a currently “hot” creator doesn’t really get them. This was not all that interesting because I recognize that I’m almost always talking to people who haven’t thought about this as hard as I have. I also recognize this is incredibly pretentious to say, but facts is facts.
No, what was interesting was that I could have predicted the three stages of this conversation before I even started having it. And this leads me to believe that I can now do so for every pop culture conversation that has happened or will happen on the internet.
Just know that if you are the perpetrator of any of these things, you are at least kind of clueless and at worst an idiot. Act like ya know.
The Stages of Debate Denial
- Stage 1 – Single Word or Phrase Rebuttals: If you have ever seen someone explain why they like, don’t like, or would have done something different with some piece of pop culture using several measurable and demonstrable points and responded with “Poppycock” or “Ridiculous” or “That’s where you’re wrong” while not responding to or even acknowledging their points, then you’ve initiated stage one. And nobody will thank you for it.Brevity may be the soul of wit, but brevity without wit is the soul of asshattery.
- Stage 2 – Personal Taste Is A Poor Excuse For Making <Expletive Deleted>: Yes, we’re talking about arts and entertainment. Yes, there is absolutely an element of subjectivity to every piece of art and entertainment. Yes, personal taste factors heavily into both a creator’s choices and your enjoyment of those choices. Unfortunately, while the subjectivity of personal taste will cover a multitude of sins, it won’t cover an infinite number. Sometimes ideas are just bad or executions are just poor. These are rarely the work of an auteur who is just plain smarter than us plebeians. And if you’re only rebuttal to somebody’s well thought out points on subjective things is “well, that’s just your taste,” then I have bad news: You’re never going to make captain of the internet debate team.
- Stage 3 – I Don't Buy "Then Just Don’t Buy It": Yes, obviously if I don’t like some piece of pop culture the natural response is to “vote with my dollars” by denying it my patronage. And that strategy would totally work, too, if only I could influence all my friends to do the same. And if all my friends were, in fact, the totality of North America. And even then, that’s not really anything like a guarantee that we’re going to avoid another Twilight, 50 Shades of Grey, or Transformers movie. Guys, this “argument” is just stupid. I’m sure nobody has ever walked into a restaurant just to give it a shot or on the suggestion of a friend, then found it a horrible experience. Oh no, nobody could ever accidentally spend money on things they wouldn’t like. And not only is the effectiveness of this suggestion incredibly dubious on any given piece of work let alone a specific take on a character or concept, it also doesn’t address the core problems of the work in question. Whether or not it made a bajillion dollars – or whether I’m responsible for a handful of those dollars – does not address the core issues of “is it creative?” or “is it well executed?” or “is it a faithful adaptation of the source material?”
Here’s the worst part of this whole thing: I’m yelling down the exact same well making this post as I did commenting on social media. I must enjoy this kind of thing, right? No, actually, I really don’t. I just have a slim sliver of the thinnest hope that somebody who does these things will happen upon this post and realize they aren’t making an argument or participating in a debate.
What they’re doing is trying to short circuit one. And that isn’t really enjoyable or useful to anybody.
So I choose to think of this post as throwing a penny into the wishing well rather than yelling down one. Anybody else got some coppers to pitch in?
My friend and fellow YA author Heather Sutherlin has a crazy big problem. Rory, one of the characters from Seen, jumped into a portal. Now we don't know where Rory is. She could be anywhere in the world. She could be anywhere in all possible worlds! It's a big mystery and Heather kind of needs to get it sorted out because there are some other books in this series.
So, in order to help answer where Rory is, I'm chipping in to make sure you know where she is not.
First, I know that Rory is not in the secret headquarters of the Teenage Extranormal Emergency Network, better known as TEEN. We know this with absolute certainty because you have to be an active TEEN Agent to have access to the super secret headquarters. And TEEN isn't a real security and counter-terrorist agency anyway. It's totally made up to sell books like The Plundered Parent Protocol. So no matter how much TEEN Agents Elly Mourning, Hea Jung Noone, and Saturday Knight might want to hang out with her, Rory can't be there.
I also assure you that Rory is not wandering ancient and mythic Scandinavia fighting monsters with Finn Styrrsson. That is because Rory is a young girl and not a man with the strength of thirty in each grip. Rory is, I'm sure, quite resourceful and capable, but she does not battle sea dragons or wolves the size of houses. She certainly doesn't murder elves by the score. Finn also probably uses much harsher language than Rory is used to. No, I'm afraid Rory is definitely not hanging out with the Myth Reaver.
But where's Rory? I can only point you to this handy spot to help narrow down where she isn't with a few other fine authors.
PS: You might start by reading Seen.
Through a portal, into another world, on an impossible quest...This wasn't how they planned to spend the summer.
Rory has no idea what's going on in the woods behind her house, but it's driving her crazy. On the last day of her senior year she finds herself caught up once again in the curious happenings of the forest and walks away without any of the answers she was hoping to find. To make matters worse, she is sent to visit a sick neighbor and instead finds the hottest guy she's ever seen. When she discovers his brother's incredible secret she falls further into her own chaos and into a fate she never could have imagined.
Jaron is just counting the days until the summer is over and he can get back to his real life. Stuck with his little brother on a tiny farm in rural Oklahoma is not exactly his idea of fun. But when Rory shows up on his doorstep with an armload of pie, he knows his summer has just taken a sharp turn into new territory. He never expected the adventure they would discover next or the quest that would change their lives forever.
I live in Oklahoma City. Way down in the southeast corner of it. I can stand on my roof and see Moore. Which means, if I had stood on my roof all night, I would have watched the constant flicker of spotlights and heard the thrum of helicopters as relief workers, police, and firefighters slowly transitioned from search and rescue to recovery.
Yesterday was Miracle Monday.
Miracle Monday is a little joke among Superman fans. It's a holiday of the future celebrated on the third Monday of May by people who commemorate the time Superman defeated Satan.
I love it when I get to write sentences like that.
I also love the idea of Miracle Monday. Especially the part where, for generations, nobody remembered exactly why they were celebrating. They just knew they had an overall feeling of good will and well being on that day. It took a time travelling journalism student to even figure out what event could be so good, so noble, so life affirming that all of humanity celebrates it on an instinctive level.
Naturally, I told people "Happy Miracle Monday!" both in person and via social media. Some of them even wished it back to me, although you could see them trying to figure out if they should know what I was talking about.
But that was all before three in the afternoon. It was around then that I piled myself, my six year old son, and two dogs into the storm shelter in my garage to wait and see if we'd still have a house a couple hours later.
Once we were underground, it wasn't very exciting. I spent most of the time listening to hail the size of tennis balls hitting the garage door, fielding texts and phone calls from concerned family and friends, and wondering about my wife's safety. Elijah and I split the rest of the time between keeping our minds off the storm with Candy Crush and watching the angry blob of red and purple drift across radar in spits and sputters caused by a thin bar of WiFi signal.
When we finally got the all clear, I wrestled the boy and the dogs back out of the shelter and turned on the news. I began to see the aftermath of a tornado that spanned an entire mile and rode nearly the exact same path of destruction that one of its brethren had on May 3, 1999.
I discovered that it hit an elementary school less than ten miles from my house. The source of my drinking water is a lake less than five miles away, and the same tornado knocked out the water purification plant there. Some large pieces of the playground equipment from a park my son and I often played at had landed on a friend's porch. A farm we visited on a school field trip simply isn't there anymore.
The most destructive storm in recorded history. Ruined homes. Debris thrown into other states. Collapsed schools. Students trapped under collapsed schools. Dead children.
All that tumbled into my mind alongside Miracle Monday and I had the most honest, most ridiculous, most childish thought of my adult life.
I wished for Superman to save us. I longed for a streak of bright blue and red with lungs powerful enough to blow this monster storm the other direction. In my mind's eye, I vividly saw children trapped in darkness, afraid and alone, suddenly bathed in light, blinking against it to see a mighty S stretched across a broad chest.
But my wish didn't come true. Not in the way I wanted it to in that moment. Instead, I had constant television coverage of neighborhoods and businesses I knew reduced to rubble. Lists of children waiting for their parents to drive down highways choked with traffic and detritus and rescue them. The tally of the dead climbing.
I turned it off eventually, overwhelmed and overloaded with the sheer awfulness of it. I hugged my son and tried to explain why his mother and I were so upset, how there were far too many parents that weren't going to be able to hug their kids tonight or ever again.
Since then, the relief efforts have been stunning. Children reunited with parents. Okies donating massive amounts of food, water, blankets, clothes, and other necessities to relief efforts. People working all night to do what they could before any other weather struck. I'm sure eventually some amazing and triumphant stories will come out of all this.
But right now...right now, it's just a Miracle Monday without any miracles. I'm left in a dark place where it's hard to see the light. My heart aches for all my neighbors with no place to lay their heads and the grieving parents with holes in their lives.
Though we dodged tragedy yesterday, my family has honestly been living through the most tumultuous year and a half of our lives. With no exaggeration, the last eighteen months have been physically dangerous, emotionally harrowing, mentally exhausting, and bank account draining.
Today, I do what I must. I'll count my blessings. I'll hug my family and remember how much emptier my life would be without them. Soon, I'll head out to buy water for relief workers. I'll give blood for the wounded. Most powerful of all, I'll pray...for me, for those afflicted, and for those delivered.
I'll remember that, while my childish wish didn't come true, I already have a Superman with a special day commemorating the moment he overcame Ultimate Evil. I'll celebrate that, while he didn't defeat the tornado for us yesterday, he did defeat death itself. I will forget about my less-than-miraculous Monday and his long, dark Friday.
I will affirm with word, deed, thought, and prayer that Sunday is coming. No, better than that. Miracle Sunday is here.
Previously, I'd spent two posts walking the gamemaster (or self-aware career player) through the bare minimum steps of pre-writing and comparing to the prep work one usually does for a game. I'd left two items untouched, the Climax and Resolution. I'll elaborate on them now, then hopefully tie a bow of optimism on the whole thing.
So if there's a Big Event at the beginning of your story or game that kicks everything off and lays out the Story Question, and the middle is all about refining that Question and denying the protagonist(s) any closure on it, then the Climax is where you finally answer the question.
Luke throws away his lightsaber and insists he'll never join the Emperor. The Ghostbusters commit to crossing the streams to save the world at the (theoretical) expense of their own lives. Jake and Elwood play a set and get the cash advance to bail out the orphanage. Marlowe figures out what happened to Regan, but he refuses to tell the General.
When planning game sessions, most GMs have a Climax in mind. Again, part of this is just prepping for the night's session of gaming. But additionally, if you've gone to all the effort of setting up this long chain of interconnected events, there needs to be a satisfying win, loss, or draw that says to the players, "that's it, you solved it or survived it, that part of the story is over."
Take a Chance on Me
Thanks to the whims of chance (that is, rolling dice), there are two main lessons that gaming can teach a GM about the Climax. One is, in my opinion, more positive and the other is more negative. We'll start with the happier but more difficult of the two.
Sometimes, players don't roll well enough, or the GM rolls very well, or some linchpin of the plan just goes south, and the heroes don't succeed. They might die, they might get captured, the person they're meant to save could flip to the dark side or get sacrificed or whatever.
I prefer stories where the answer to the Question is No. Or, even better, a "Yes, but..." that makes you wish it had just been a No. Years of experience at the gaming table combined with reams of Noir reading material left me with a firm grasp on how to answer No or Yes, but... in a way that others would find satisfying.
They may not be happy about it, but my players will be satisfied. That might mean the loss leads into the next adventure, or they might just recognize that their heroes went out in a blaze of glory. Whatever it is, when the dice force you to tell your players No or Yes, but... and you manage to do it in a particularly compelling way, then dissect it to see exactly what you did right. When you figure it out, take it to heart and do it again.
Game of (un)Chance
The more negative lesson -- although much easier to fix as a writer -- is when chance screws your table out of the chance at a Climax. In what the GM considers the middle of the story, the heroes have a mishap, or a random encounter table generates a bit too robust of a monster, or somebody fails a skill check in a way that leaves death or imprisonment as the only reasonable outcomes and you score the dreaded Total Party Kill (TPK).
There are ways to make this work at the table, but they take a lot of tapdancing for me if I want to leave the game's teeth in. I can hand wave it, I can fudge the damage, but if I do that and the players catch me, then they feel the game will just gum them but never bite.
The reason this is easy to fix as a writer is that you aren't rolling dice to see what happens in your story. Oh, you should make it difficult, painful, and all around terrible on your protagonists, but they don't die, aren't maimed, and don't piss in the king's favorite wine cup unless you want them to. And if you want them to, then it's easier to figure out how they're going to get out of it to progress towards that Climax.
As exciting and important as the Climax is, it doesn't really work without a Resolution. Blowing the Death Star up is great, but rolling the credits right away without the celebratory hugs and medals would just be weird and unsatisfying. Same thing in a different way when the Story Question's answer is in the negative. Double Indemnity doesn't work nearly as well without Keyes finding Neff recording his confession.
This can be tough at the game table. I can't tell you how many nights I am scrambling against the end of the night to get an action scene finished before everyone has to leave for the night. The last foe is vanquished and everyone starts to stand up and gather their books and dice. They had fun, but they're ready to go even though the storyteller in me wants have a moment to appreciate the victory.
This can be doubly difficult at the end of an arc. Everybody wants to know how much XP they get or what loot the Big Bad had upon her person or in her stronghold. For an RPG, these mechanical concerns are very, very important. But if part of what we're doing is telling a story together, so is the Resolution.
There aren't a lot of dice to roll, but it's still important for the city to throw a parade for the heroes, or for the kidnapped princess to kiss the hero that saved her, or for M to tell the 00s they kept the world from slipping over the brink. Sometimes I'll even write this section out in advance. I try not to read it verbatim, but a few choice phrases down on paper can give the moment just as much gravitas as when they rolled the final to-hit on the evil mastermind.
Same thing goes for your story or novel. You have to work very, very hard to write yourself to a spot where you don't need some kind of denouement. I did it once with my Saga of the Myth Reaver: Downfall, but even after all that work for the big punch ending, I felt the need for a very brief epilogue to bring it home. In fact, a good rule of thumb is allow one chapter as Resolution. Even if you use part of it to lead into a sequel, your readers will thank you with a warm feeling of a satisfyingly finished story.
Bringing It Home
So you've plotted your course and gone on the long, scenic drive of writing a story. It probably felt a lot like prepping for six months of games at a one go, but you've done it. Do you think it's time to sit down at the keyboard and start typing words?
Almost. We need to talk a bit about one more core concept (and a few bits of friendly advice after that. That core concept is Story Structure. Honestly, this can be a bit problematic to map to your gaming experience. Or rather, you do it in microcosm over and over, but now you're going to have to do it in macrocosm (sorta like your prep versus your pre-writing). Sound complicated? It is...a little. But it's nothing gamers don't already do, they just do it differently.
Come back next time and we'll talk about Story Structure. See you then!