All Superheroes Must Die, or How I Learned a Lesson About Twitter

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They clearly must.

So the other day I sent out a quick tweet insinuating that I did not like the indie flick “All Superheroes Must Die.”  More specifically I said:

I’d like to say I’ve seen a worse movie than “All Superheroes Must Die.” I’d like to, but I can’t.

Ouch.  Ok, that was harsh.  But I sent it out into the internet, not thinking much more about it, until the writer, director and star, Jason Trost (@theJTRO) retweeted my criticism.

I felt pretty bad about that.  Not because it made me like the movie more, because it didn’t.  But because I felt like I had spat in the movie’s face with a pithy little snark about the film, when that short insult didn’t really highlight why I disliked the movie.  As someone who does indie work in books and games, in spite of my usually thick skin, it always makes me appreciate a reviewer more when they temper their dislike with appropriate criticism.  I have learned things about my work from bad, yet insightful reviews.  The starkly negative, terse ones give me nothing.

So I regret condemning the movie in such an un-enlightening way.  I forgot that when I post things to the internet it’s not just to my small cadre of followers, it’s to the entire world, if they care to look for it.  So I have decided if I have something bad to say, I’ll write it up in a blog post and link to it, if it’s so important to me that my opinion be known.

That said, I disliked ASMD because the story was full of continuity errors (all four were given their powers in a meteor crash, but the Wall doesn’t know what pain feels like?) heroes looking like they’d never seen a fight before (Shadow dropping her weapon as she ran towards the enemy) and a whole host of deus ex machina that I felt kind of insulting as a viewer.  There actually were some interesting ideas in it, but they were lost in a poor execution.

I will grant that it’s an extremely low budget movie.  But when it sits alongside other films I will hold it to the same quality.  Just as in my writing – people could either buy Cages or they could buy Neil Gaiman.  Low budget doesn’t excuse bad writing – you get good writing for free, if you’re the one writing it.  Still, it’s impressive that Jason Trost has found success with his work, and should in fact be lauded for that if nothing else.  I just can’t say that I’m a fan yet.  Here’s to seeing if he changes my mind later on.

 

Cleaning Up and Found My Entire Comics Collection

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In all its Glory

Cleaning up today in anticipation of my wife and daughter’s return from Georgia and stumbled on my comics/graphic novel collection. Yes.  This is it.  Marvel in its splendor.  Ok, so I’m not much of a comic book guy, as should be evident by the addition of what ended up being a disappointing Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 and the near-complete lack of traditional superheroes.

Most of this originates from probably three years back, when I started to think I had missed the boat on this whole comic book thing and started buying what everyone said were the best things, Watchmen and Sandman, etc.  And they were indeed very good.  I just couldn’t get over the pricing — I wanted to read the complete Sandman, but the MSRP on one volume is $20.  I do appreciate the art and effort that went into creating it, and shortchanging Neil Gaiman wasn’t really what I want to do, but it was just far too expensive to continue for a book that I literally finished inside of two hours.

I have to admit that there are books I’ve read that I acquired via more… swashbuckling means.  Y the Last Man.  DC’s Blackest Night Event.  Marvel’s Civil War.  While I appreciated them for a lot of reasons I still don’t think I can legitimately call myself a comic book guy.  I tend to find the superhero stuff kind of grating… I’m good with one hero, or small groups, but the cast of characters the big events seem to unearth are just kind of ridiculous.  I mean, in Civil War there was a character called Typeface.  Who threw letters.  Right.

I guess I’m just not a fan of the never ending series that characterizes both most superhero comics and soap operas.  I like character arcs.  If the story never ends, to where does the arc ultimately curve?  You just get ridiculous twists, deaths and resurrections that seem to do little to improve the quality of the story other than to pad the issue and produce a shocking cover.  That’s just not my bag.

But I do hope to find more comics like Watchmen, JTHM, Sandman… if anyone’s got recommendations, let me know!

Laundry is Not My Friend

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My Nemesis

The biggest drawback to our current apartment building is that, for all six units in our building, there is only one domestic grade washer and one domestic grade dryer.  That makes doing laundry, something I hate in the best of times, even more a chore, as you deal with lines, passive aggressive notes when you leave your laundry down there a minute or two too long, and the sheer logistical impossibility of making a dent in the dirty clothes in anything less than a day-long wash-fest.

So, I started taking our clothes to a laundromat in town.  The first few times were great; I could set all the clothes going at once and in between moving items from the washer to the dryer, have about an hour and a half to be out of the house with a stable internet connection, which meant I could write or work on game designs in relative solitude.  True, I may be the slowest folder in the history of the world, bulking up my time there to a bloated three hours, but the benefits outweigh the negatives.

Not so today.  Today I loaded three washers, only to realize that this bank of machines don’t take debit card, and I typically carry no cash.  Ok, no big deal.  I unloaded the machines and moved my clothes to a set of machines that did take cards.  No problem.  Then a gruff-looking guy suddenly takes the third washer, meaning I will have to split up my machines.  Ok, no biggie, but then I spill liquid detergent on the floor and all over my hands. Then, the card reader on one of these machines suddenly isn’t working.  Great.  So I abandon my one working machine to head to the back of the building where the only other empty card-taking machines are and load in the rest of my clothes for the third time.  Success!  Great!

Now I feel like things are looking up.  I unpack my laptop and start writing a rather intimidating conversation between Sam Crafty and Virgil Haft (who?  You’ll see later).  Everything’s going well until I look back at the time left on the back machines and the rightmost one is just pouring water from somewhere.  The floor now has a rather pleasant lagoon and trickle waterfall that in less crucial times I might have taken a moment to appreciate.   Instead, I freak out and ask the guy next to me what I should do, a guy who looks suspiciously like Mo from Storage Wars Texas.  He thinks the owner is in the small room accessible by a door made to look like part of the wall on the left.  So I knock on the door for three minutes or so, until I realize no one’s coming.

Ok, so this is a crisis I must solve.  I see a mop hung on the wall and drag it over to the lagoon and start sopping up the water, then carrying back across the floor to squeeze it out into the nearest trash can.  I made three such trips, dripping water in little liquid highways all over the laundromat, before I realized that, well duh, I could just bring the trash can over to the lagoon.

Fortunately, once I leaned on the washer door and mopped up the water, no more leaks seemed to be forthcoming.  The rest of the chore went off without a hitch, even though I dared to put all my clothes in the seriously intimidating SUPER SIZED DRYER with no small amount of forbidding.   Folding took forty five minutes. Clearly I am not a domestic animal.

I know, I know, First-World Problems.  Oh, boo hoo, the magic machines that make my entire wardrobe clean in hours were slightly less convenient than they normally are!  Poor Chris!  But hey, for a domestic incompetent like myself, these are the battles we remember.  *Cues speech from Independence Day*… ok, no.  It’s just sad.

The Last of Us

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Game of the Year

If you’re attuned to games at all these days, you’ve heard of  The Last Of Us.  I wasn’t that interested in it to begin with, but the closer release day came, the more hype about how amazing it was started to trickle up.  My wife and daughter have been visiting relatives in Georgia for the past two weeks, so when it came out the Friday before it seemed the perfect game to play in what I lovingly refer to as my “mancation.”

There are two things that will grab you from the beginning sequence of the game.  One, my God is this a lovely game.  The graphical quality of the assets, the lighting, the facial expressions… if you had shown me this with no prior knowledge I might have thought it was a PS4 title for next year.  Two, this will be an extremely heart-wrenching experience unlike anything else you’ve played.

I’m not going to do a full review of the title; that’s not generally what I do.  But I can say that it is full of moments more truly human than in any other game I’ve ever played.  They’re probably even more striking if you’re a parent.  The game elements are fantastic as well- it truly encapsulates survival and forced me to play in a way no other game really has.  I’m traditionally more of a run-out-into-the-middle-of-the-street-and-shoot-everyone-wildly kind of player, but in TLOU, that’s a one way ticket to death… and I died a LOT.   I had to find ways to try to trick the AI into vulnerable positions for me to take my enemies out, or sneak by them entirely.  I ended up for the first time really having fun with the stealth aspects of a game.  The ending is beautiful and bittersweet and it was the perfect way to cap off an amazing experience.

If you have a PS3, you need this game.  If you don’t, and can’t get one, check out some walkthroughs online.  It’s definitely worth it.

 

 

PURGATORIO!

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I triumph over writing challenges!

So I’ve been a little… well, stuck isn’t the right word, but proceeding very slowly on Cages 2.   What ended up being a challenging environment for Sam Crafty ended up being challenging for me as well.  I purposefully placed Sam in a new place where his notions of how the world works would take a beating, where he didn’t have a handle on things the way he at least felt like he had in Dekalb Quarantine #4.

Sam is a creature that thrives on conflict and his experiences in Quarantine have only served to heighten that characteristic.  Without giving much away, I decided to put him in a place that, when he pushed, would not push back.  While thematically and character-building-wise a good move, it was actually very difficult to write.  Conflict is easy.  If the conflict lies in conflict being avoided, it’s difficult to really make that interesting. Conflict becomes smaller, centered around everyday things and interactions.  Stuff that’s more challenging to engage with, especially if you want to keep up a nice pace to the book.

I decided to separate the book into three parts (in one volume).  The fact that I got to type the title of the second today, seen in the image up there (PURGATORIO) represents a nice victory for me.  I get the feeling that the rest of the book will be downhill from here.  I can finally let Sam a bit more off his leash, even if it’s not in the way he’s used to.

I do enjoy writing a little mayhem.

Where to Get Cages

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I’ve recently sent Cages out into the world, no longer confined to the shores of Amazon.  Where can I find all those places?  Why, right here!

Amazon Kindle: http://bit.ly/cagesbook

Amazon Paperback: http://amzn.to/UwOlXK

Barnes and Noble Nook: http://bit.ly/16ReWa3

Kobo: http://bit.ly/198fdFe

Sony: http://bit.ly/13jYHfd

iTunes: http://bit.ly/1007jnO

 

Thick Skin

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How Not to Do It

I learned a lot from my first job.  It was a hell of  first job – I was a writer for Cartoon Network, focusing on Adult Swim.  Before you get too excited, I wrote for the online part, not the shows, but it was still very exciting for someone who was an enormous fan of both.

So what did I learn?  Many things, but chief of them was probably this – have a thick skin.

The head of Adult Swim is a man named Mike Lazzo.  Before I actually started working with him, stories I’d heard made him sound like this rampaging tyrant.  Get in his way at your own risk, or have your ego ground up into quivering bits of weeping jelly.  I had actually started at Cartoon as an intern before getting my job, and when my internship was over I didn’t know if my time at Williams Street would eventually continue, so I resolved: screw it.  I’m going to pitch Mike Lazzo a television show.  I prepared some materials and sent him a short email, saying that I’d like to pitch him a show.

“Sure,” he said.  ”Come on down now.”

Holy crap!  I was extremely nervous, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me.  Who knew if I’d ever get this chance again?  Lazzo was seated at the end of a long hallway, along which were the offices and edit bays that made up Adult Swim’s in-house show production facilities.  He used to sit at the open window there in this big chair and basically hold court, all the while smoking cigarette after cigarette, blowing it out into the open air outside.  I sat down and presented my idea: an original Adult Swim action show!  Look, I drew some sketches, and I have the plot all planned out.  It was going to be awesome.

He let me talk for a bit, then looked me straight in the eye.  ”This isn’t going to happen,” he said.  ”But let me tell you why.”

Lazzo proceeded to give me an hour lecture on the business of show business.  How to pay back Mom and Pop, as he called it – meaning how to make a show turn a profit.  Action shows were expensive and they didn’t give much return.  It was during that conversation, given to an outgoing intern who had no idea what he was doing, that I started to understand how things actually worked.  Not a tyrant.  Not a lunatic.  A rational guy making good business decisions with innovative work.

Fast forward two years.  The business had been restructured, and I now reported to Lazzo directly, for a while anyway.  I was still full of ideas, but my ego had taken some punishment along the way – I was kind of arrogant and outwardly very self-assured, but inside if it wasn’t a realm I was comfortable in (games and action shows) I was very uncertain of myself. I had no confidence in my ability to, say, write comedy.  (A circumstance that years later, I regret allowing to get to me.  I can write comedy, I was just too afraid to really try.  Speaks to the thick skin thing again.)   But I remembered Lazzo giving me a chance, so I resolved to try again.

He, and many of the people who worked there, were very blunt about their opinions on things.  This is the key to the whole point I’m trying to make.  If they thought something sucked, they told you straight out.  But it wasn’t until I worked directly for Lazzo that I understood – they’re trying to help you.  They’re not trying to tear you and your work apart, they’re trying to make it better.  Absorb the punishment, internalize it, strain the good bits out, then act on it.  You won’t agree with everything critics say, but with every word it’s important to ask yourself if there’s not something to it.  That’s the only way we grow as professional and creative people alike.

The image above is from an episode of Kitchen Nightmares that’s blowing up the internet right now.  The couple that owned the restaurant had the thinnest skin of probably anyone ever.  They fought, screamed, pushed… and in the end what they were left with was a lost opportunity to learn from a master chef and a ton of bad PR.

That made me think of this… whether I’m making a game or writing a book, I try to take in all opinions as offered.  I can’t take it personally.  However I’ve had bosses tell me they think what I’m doing is just awful, then once it’s complete they turn around and say “oh, I see what you were doing now.  That’s great!”  So you do have to pick and choose which feedback to respond to, but you have to let the criticism in, or you’ll never get the chance.

Gordon Ramsay FTW.  ;)

Bookish Brunette Zombie Craze 2013!

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I’m proud to be a guest blogger at Bookish Brunette’s Zombie Craze 2013!  Should be pretty fun!

The Bookish Brunette

#1 Free SF Series!

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Thanks to all your help, for the first time, Cages is #1 in its category, Science Fiction Series!

Cages is free this weekend!

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That’s right!  For the last time on KDP Select, Cages is free for Kindle!  http://bit.ly/cagesbook   Get it while it’s hot!