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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Nightwing About To Hit The Big Screen!

Today, Feb. 23rd, exciting news came from Hollywood. The most famous sidekick turned superhero, Nightwing, is poised make the leap from comics to film. This has been a character I have wanted to see, on television or the movie screen, for decades.

To those unfamiliar with the character, Nightwing is none other than Dick Grayson, formally known as Robin. After years of living under the shadow of the Bat, Robin spent time leading the Teen Titans, a group of former sidekicks themselves, through many adventures.

Years later, thanks to the great comic book writer Marv Wolfman, the Titans were re-imagined into a solid team of heroes in their own right.

How Robin grew into his current role as Nightwing came about during a story arc called the Judas Contract. The team was fractured by the villain Deathstroke. Young master Grayson started to lose his way. During this time, Batman informed Dick that if he couldn't come back and work by his side then he could no longer be Robin. It was a come-to-Jesus moment that forged his new identity as Nightwing.

Now, that's all well and good but the real reason Nightwing should be considered an exciting prospect is because the character has enough emotional baggage to choke a herd of hippos.

Imagine losing your parents at a young age in a tragic accident. Imagine them dying right in front of you and an audience full of strangers. Then, you're swept up by a billionaire playboy that turns out to be none other than the Batman. He trains you and drags you around stopping criminals and risking your life. (Back in the day, no one batted an eye at the idea of hauling a tweener in tights to massive gun fights. Seriously, WTF?)

As you grow up you begin to wonder if this man was really trying to save you, or himself.

He was there once. He lacked the guidance early on. He struggled to find answers to a cruel moment that no child should ever endure. But, through you, he could fix that part of him that was broken. He took you under his wing and tried to mend his broken soul along with yours. And how did he do it? Be being a controlling, anal-retentive, sociopathic adrenalin freak that puts him in danger morning, noon, and night.

I mean, come on! To be Batman, you'd have to be pretty fucked up in the head. And to drag a young boy around, putting him in the line of fire from lunatics like the RiddlerTwo-Face or the Joker, you'd have to be clinically insane.

Now, you've grown up. You survived the madness. You can step out and be your own man. Scratch that. You're still his sidekick in other heroes' eyes. You're the kid that ran with the BATMAN. Your life lies in the shadow of his greatness. And sadly, you believe it too.

So, what do you do? How do you step out into the world and prove that you are your own hero?

That and many other questions are what makes Nightwing so damned interesting. He has so much to prove. He has to be a better detective than Batman. He has to be a better fighter. He has to be a better hero. He can't just be the kid that ran with the Bat: he hungers for his own identity. He hunts for his own place, his own way. He absolutely must prove to the world, but above all else himself, that he is not just that sidekick... he is Nightwing.

This is why I have enjoyed the character for years. He is a complex package of hunger and regret. Every day he strives to redefine himself, to step as far away from his mentor as possible. Nightwing has the potential to grab audiences with a compelling character and all the action that makes comic books a blast.

It's early on in the process. Hollywood has named Chris McKay director and Bill Dubuque as script writer. With Chris, whose Lego Batman did exceptionally well at the box office, I hope he proves to be another Brad Bird. Bird's the Iron Giant and the Incredibles were absolute delights, as was Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. He had an eye for those moments that hit you right in the heart. Now McKay can take on a live-action flick and do the same.

But Bill Dubuque is another matter. I'm not as versed on his movies but after researching two of his feature films, the Judge and the Accountant, I found that critics judged his work to be cliché. As I said, I haven't seen these films but will have to soon to get a feel for his work. I can only hope that he taps into Dick Grayson's never ending quest to be his own man/hero and how he is his own worst critic, and enemy.

It's still several years out barring any contract issues and creativity disputes but that fact that a director and screen writer are tagged to get the ball rolling has me damned excited!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

It's All About The "Why"

In journalism, there is no story unless you have all of the facts. They call it the Five W's: the who, what, where, when and why.

I discovered this decades ago. It's a simple equation. Without it you've got a half-baked notion. Your story falls flat and will never see print. No front page, hot off the presses, sweeping off the stands kind of stuff. The Five W's make or break a story. And the same is true with writing fiction.

When crafting a story we put the Five W's in place to form scenes, chapters, and full stories. Simply put we present a key character (who) performing an action (what) in a location (where) during a time period (when) to accomplish a goal (why).

Easy math. That's the fiction writing formula. No magic or mystery. John (who) went shopping for eggs (what) at the grocery story (where) this morning (when) because he was hungry (why).

Bingo! We have a story. All the pieces are in place. Bring on the awards and accolades. Winner!

This was how I first approached fiction writing. It made perfect sense. Using this formula all things were covered. Lined my ducks up in a row and sent them out to the pond for a healthy swim. That was until I noticed that my Why sucked. More specifically... it was lazy.

Nothing can kill a story more than a lazy Why. Motivation is one of the key factors in storycraft. If the reader can't believe in the character's motivation they won't stick it out for the entire story. You wouldn't follow a leader you didn't believe in, would you?

Sure, in my example, John was hungry and needed eggs. But was that enough to propel a reader into following him on his tedious and terrifying journey?

No. Not at all. Here's another example:

I was watching a show on the TV with my wife one evening. A former hacker turned government super secret agent for a super secret agency (who) gets contacted by old associates to hack some bad shit (what) from her super secret base (where) right now (when) because they kidnapped her mom and plan on killing her (why). Pretty standard plot in spy thrillers. So, she does the hack without any back up or notifying anyone she works for. Why? Because they threatened to kill her mommy.

I know, if someone kidnapped anyone in my family I'd move Heaven and Earth to save them. But this gal worked for The super secret spy agency. She had resources. She had international pull. She had mega back up. And when asked why she didn't use any of that, her response was "I had no choice."

Weak! Lazy Why!

That derailed the show for me. I lost any faith in the program right about there. This character could have pulled massive resources to get her mom back but went rogue. The writers could have put up road blocks to prevent her and the agency from foiling their plans. They could have written in many things to make this more believeable but chose to go the easy, or lazy route.

After seeing this I had to ask myself why? Why take the easy route? This worked back in the day (I won't place a time frame in there for fear of acknowledging how many moons have passed since my birth) but nowadays people ask too many questions. Readers expect -- demand -- intelligence in the stories they invest themselves in. They expect the writers to do not only their homework but think through the characters' motivations and possible outcomes for taking certain actions. If the writer wants a character to buckle under pressure and take the easy route they better make damned sure that it's logical, or at least plausible.

At the very least, writers should invest some time in thinking through actions of the people on the page or screen and find out what they should do to propel the story, make things difficult for other characters, and most of all make some sort of sense that doesn't have people shooting up from the sofa pitching their paperbacks, remotes, or Kindles. That shit can get expensive.

Invest some time into the Why. Ask yourself if your character would do this or that. Ask if what foolish plan they're about to hatch makes is smart or an irrational decision, but in the end makes sense do to the circumstances. It can be time consuming but worth it in the end.

Motivation is key. How we make (or watch) our characters react is crucial to the livelihood of our stories. In the end, it's all about the Why.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Feb. 6th: Editing

Editing. What a pain. Seriously, it sucks.

Things should be way different. Things should be like a major breeze. The story that's been bouncing around in my head should have flowed out like honey on a buttermilk biscuit. Instead, it hit the pasture like a steaming pile of poo-poo.

I'm betting many of you, that enjoy writing, have felt like that very same way. The first draft screams at you, demanding to get the hell out and hit the page. But once the coffee buzz settles and the cramping in your fingers subsides from a palm load of Tylenol, you realize that Hemingway was right:

The first draft of anything his shit.

Truer words were never spoken. And never so eloquent.

But that should never stop you from spilling out that bundle of joy eating at your psyche. Stories are a splattering of color and textures that demand life. They are starving. They require oxygen and tasty treats. They crave sunlight. And when they hit the sun, you as the expectant parent, recoil at the first sight of the child wondering what went wrong in your gene pool.

Harsh. Parents love their children no matter what. Well, good parents do. I love my kids. They're a product of me. I helped shape them into who they are today. I gave them love and support as I watched them grow. Stories are just the same.

As I sit, staring at the printed pages, at the monitor where my offspring lies cooing and playing with her toes, I see that there is such beauty in her. Once I clean her up and dress her in something warm and fluffy she's going to be a doll. This story of mine is going to take some serious parenting but like any good dad, she's worth it.

Time to quit bitching about the editing, pull up my big-boy pants and deal. Time to be a good daddy.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Super Flubs, Supergirl!

Imagine if you will that you have incredible powers, such as Super-Strength. Lifting a diesel train off its tracks and giving it a pitch is nothing to you.

Along with that you have Super-Speed, to the level that you can almost be in two places at once, or at least fly off to change your clothes and arrive back within feet of the spot you left within the beat of a heart.

Now, what if you had Heat-Vision. What if you could fire beams of intense light from your eyes in focused rays that could melt concrete and steel within seconds?

If this were you then you'd have much in common with any Kryptonian living on the planet. You'd be in league with Superman and Supergirl! Your power would cause most to quake in fear and persuade any from challenging you. Except that would make for boring comics and television. Someone would have to match wits with you to make for powerful drama.

So when it comes to writing superhero fiction there is a need to put the hero in jeopardy long enough for the bad guys to feel that they have the upper hand and for the viewers to question how will their favorite hero get out of this dilemma. What nefarious traps will the bad guys use to twist the heroes and force them to reveal their true identities or side step an evil plan in order to save a trapped innocent.

These things are common devices used in superhero stories but there are times when the writers don't think things through and leave us with a situation that causes us viewers to slam our heads into reinforced steel girders to numb the pain.

And with episode 207: The Darkest Places of Supergirl, I left a hole in my forehead big enough to sink a grape fruit in.

I try not to expect too much from the show as it consistently comes across as "herolight". We get the situations where one of the characters runs off by themselves and walks face first into danger without any backup or notifying anyone of what the hell they were doing. A couple of times you can forgive but repeatedly is just lazy storytelling. It irritates me to watch at times but that's nothing new.

So what was my mega beef? Here it comes so strap on your feedbag and get ready.

During this episode, Mon-El the Daxamite is captured by Cadmus and momma Luthor. At one point he eggs on one of his guards that sticks his hand (holding a gun) in through the six to eight inch gap between the bars to threaten Mon-El. Now, Mon-El who often claims to not be the hero takes the opportunity and grabs the guards arm, steals his badge, and makes a hasty escape. Bravo! Seriously, what idiot sticks his hand in the lion's cage and doesn't expect to get bit? Unfortunately he's captured shortly after and tossed back in his cell.

Jump ahead a little ways in the show after Supergirl has her showdown with the Cyborg-Superman (which made me wince to see him profess his name in such melodramatic flair). Cadmus has Supergirl trapped next to Mon-El behind Nth metal bars from Thanagar. It's unbreakable. Can't be bent or busted by anything, not even Supergirl. And yet, the knuckle-dragging humans managed to form it into bars and craft a cage. Seriously? Can't be broken by a Kryptonian but we Earthers have the means to melt it down and craft a cage? Not really buying that one.

As Supergirl has a face to face with momma Luthor, the brilliant scientist that gave birth to Lex himself and witnessed Mon-El escape steps up to the cage and puts both hands firmly on the bars. WTF?! I don't know about you but if I had Super-Speed and Super-Strength I'd have me a handful of that bitch and start dragging her through those unbreakable bars until one of her cronies ran over and opened the gate. If my moral code prevented me from really harming her I could do some minor damage and not break my own rules. But that's not what happened. Supes stood there and ran off at the mouth.

But wait... it gets better.

Momma Luthor has a plan. She needs SG to be human long enough to get a sample of her blood. She strong arms our hero to use a special helmet that she can fire her Heat Vision into at full strength until she depletes her cells of all solar radiation, thus rendering her human. So, what does out brave hero do? She agrees. And then they let her out. Out of the cage. The one she can't break out of. The one she couldn't fire her laser eyes out of to melt weapons and burn Cadmus to the ground. She steps out, walks over to lady Luthor and takes the helmet. From her hands. Her human hands.

No fight.

No Super-Speed.

No blasting the bad guys in a second and punching holes through their precious project.

Where the hell is Jack Bower when you need him?

I apologize to the writers for being so hypercritical but when it comes to writing superhero fiction, they have a duty to not dumb down the flipping shows. They need to step them up. They need to surpass the level of some of the wildly innovative dramas that have graced television because, if they don't, then all superhero shows have now taken a back slide into the sixties camp of Batman. I loved the show but no one ever took it serious. And now, thanks to lazy writing like that, no one will ever take Supergirl serious... ever.

All the wicked cool CGI effects in the world can't fix a plot hole or a moment in a show that leaves you slamming your head into a wall. Many of these shows have attained a level above the campy days of Adam West dancing with a bunch of hippies. They had to. No one would take them serious if they were written poorly and relied on bold, slap-stick sitcom hijinks. But there are times when I find myself screaming at the TV when the writers decide to take a break from thinking things through and not spend any time asking some of the bigger questions.

They could have used so many different approaches to make that scene work. Anything from flooding the room with the radiation of a red sun that weakens Kryptonians, to having a little chunk of Kryptonite out making SG sweat in her skirt. Anything else than the weak plodding that happened during that scene.

Again, I'm sorry for being hypercritical but if they want Supergirl to stay successful then they need to stop dumbing down the damned show and inject it with some clever writing. And stop making the heroes mindless simpletons.

Please. Step up the writing.

Please make them think outside of the box. Please amp the show up to reach more people and still retain the charm that is geared for an audience typically ignored by action dramas.

Please don't toss in a half-baked 80's bad guy scheme that might have been used on the A-Team a dozen of more times. We're way past that now. TV audiences expect... demand shows that don't treat them like idiots. Before Supergirl gets the ax and never sees season three, pick up the writing and start making the heroes, and villains, think.

Please. I'm begging you. From an old comic book geek to the writers, take the time to think these scenes through and ask yourself, "Would I be that stupid?" It's harsh criticism but if you think I'm asking too much watch the show. Watch the scenes and think how several characters in the matter of minutes shut their brains off and walked through the plot just to advance the story.

Take a moment. And let me know what you think.

Thank you for listening to me vent. It was starting to hurt.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Write Big!

When it comes to writing there's lots of advice on "how-to". There's advice on how to plot your stories. Graph out the major details. Storyboards. Branches from trees. Circles with lines lancing each other in a perpetual stabfest. Whether you're searching the library, book stores, or the internet, you're going to find some great advice.

The only problem is that not every suggestion works for every person. Well, it's not a problem but more of a reality. You can't expect a little advice to be the missing piece of a lengthy puzzle. But we toss out our ideas in hopes of helping another writer get past the obstacles that slow us down. So now here's mine:

Write Big.

Yep. That's it. That's my helpful thought for the day.

And no, I don't expect anyone to read this and V-8 slap the shit out of themselves. Hell, I did that enough on my own for the rest of you. Rather than say, "Eureka!" and hope I've turned the world on its side I just want to share something that I learned and is helping me out of many jams.

So what is Write Big?

Here's my take:

When I was writing Frenzy I spent a lot of time trying to produce some solid prose. I wanted each and every word to stand out. I was going all Edgar Allen on that bitch. But in the process I missed opportunities to broaden the scenes, the characters, and overall plot. In my quest for the perfect words/sentences I narrowed in my focus rather than pulling it back to gather in the big picture. I went back multiple times to clean up the pile of crap that resulted. Tried to squeeze in some gems along the way to freshen up the slag pile. It took forever. Seriously stupid on my part. It was almost like I spent twice or three times as long writing the same story. All that time was wasted searching for a better word or phrase to liven up what was laying stagnant on the page.

Then I had an epiphany. Well, I read some advice from an old copy of Writer's Digest (and sadly, can't recall who brought it to my attention). Simply put, someone said that it's much easier to remove the clutter and crap from an over-blown chunk of prose instead of trying to cram in something to clean it up. Thus, Write Big.

That's it? Nothing else to it?

Yep, that's my secret. Two simple words. So what the hell does it mean?

I found that when I'm writing anything from a simple passage of dialogue or a narrating a scene my initial words may or may not hit home. That goes without saying with most writers but I felt I had to point it out. Sure the words are coming but are they the right words? Are they the perfect words? Don't know and at the time I don't really care. And I shouldn't. My focus needs to be on getting the story out and later I can fiddle with it to make it prettier. To make this easier for a lunkhead like me, I started spitting out more than was necessary.

I'd write dialogue that doubled up on itself. I'd write out sentences that repeated each other but used different words to say the same thing. If I was describing a scene I'd come in at many angles and write about the sun or the activity or the smells in the air. Anything and everything that came to mind I'd put it down. It bulked up the manuscript big time but when I came back to edit the piece it became less a chore and more fun. I approached it like a sculptor chiseling away bits of marble to reveal the art trapped within.

Going over the massive amounts of run-on sentences often revealed some spicy fragments that I could clip and stitch together. I wasn't sitting with a thesaurus in one hand and a stiff drink in the other praying that the cosmic equivalent to the Big Bang would leap out at me... I had something already on the page that felt damned good.

Each time I would go back and re-read a passage I felt less like the rank amateur I still am and more like a budding author. Less and less head banging. More and more clipping and stitching. And in the process the manuscript tightened up. Thousands of unnecessary words were tossed out and I didn't fall over backwards and start frothing at the mouth from it. The process was satisfying.

So I say to all whom read this; if you want to try something a little different... Write Big. Fill your pages with so much fluff it would gag a Sand Worm. Over load the manuscript then go back and pick up the clutter. Align the words already there. Put down the reference books and focus on the diamond in the rough. Hopefully, you'll come out of it with less an indentation on your forehead. Mine is getting better.

Monday, June 27, 2016


Ever wonder what it would be like to live forever?

I know, it's a scary thought. Watching the world pass by as you remained unchanged could be amazing. It could really fuck with your head. There are so many aspects of life to think about when you consider the ramifications of eternal life. And to make this clear I'm talking about a body never growing old. That's right. Trapped in the same old bod forever and ever. If that were to happen right now would you be comfortable in your current skin?

There are plenty of books out there that cover differing aspects of immortality. Anne Rice's Vampires spend generations falling in and out of love. Some go completely bat-shit crazy. You can imagine how watching the people you come to know and grow comfortable with wither away like flowers season after season would have a serious effects. You'd have to be detached at some level or the pain would gnaw at you until your little brain fried and your heart blackened into a chunk of coal.

The Elves of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth are immortal yet can be slain through grievous wounds or weariness. For the most part they spend their time on the fringe, distancing themselves from the other races. Love the isolationism. As time passes it is said that they reach a point where their spirits yearn to move on to the Grey Havens, a fictional device used by Tolkien as a spiritual transition point.
Well, who could blame them?

But, aside from some examples, imagine how you might view the world if you lived for thousands of years. Would the petty squabblings of governments be worth your time to follow? Would you care enough about who was in power or controlled the world?

Would you treat humanity like a garden, tending to it, nurturing it to keep it thriving? How much time and energy would you need to spend to protect it? How would you manage the weeds? Pluck them out one by one or spray down the entire flower bed with some industrial-strength weed killer?

Do you hide your true nature? If some enterprising minds caught wind that you were a walking fountain of youth they might be inclined to tap your nectar and try it for themselves.

Immortality in fiction offers many thrilling tales but creates many complications. How do you craft the mind set of someone who has watched empires rise and fall like the waves of the ocean lapping the shore? In our short (if you will) life spans, turning to the inward struggles that may - or may not - affect someone with an infinite life span severely rattles my brain. It opens up avenues for all kinds of thought. It creates possibilities in new characters and new plots. It could make or break a story.

I wonder where I could take this...

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Full Moon Blitz

I wrote Frenzy almost ten years ago. I had all kinds of ideas of where to take the story after the dust settled and the blood cooled. Some were intriguing. Others just a fun notion. None of them stuck.

After publishing Frenzy I looked through reams of notebooks searching for that next stage and came up short. Really? Shouldn't they still pop and sparkle like they did so long ago?

Like many ideas they had their time. They captured my thoughts and imagination early on but I've grown since then. What once was important to me has changed. I spiraled out of a toxic marriage and landed in the loving embrace of someone special. Kids that used to sit and watch cartoons all day have grown up and left the nest. Times changed and so have I.

So, as I looked over the notes and where I ended the first book the next stage in Kyle's journey started to take hold. The world has changed for him as well. Smoking is now illegal in public places. Everyone has some sort of camera on their person so no place is safe. There is a government body creating wolf soldiers. He's now linked to them. This makes him a loose end. A liability. There is a mess to clean up. Life is about to get way more constricted.

But what about a title for the new book in progress? What would invoke some of the urgency pressing against him? What might tell the perspective reader that this book is going to pack a punch.. along with some vicious fang and claw action? It took several attempts to come up with the title. Much like the core of the plot. So, as the blog title states, the next chapter in Kyle's struggle to recapture his humanity and make amends for the damage he has done will be called:

Full Moon Blitz
For all of you classic rockers, there is a song in the title. Play it in your head and feel the beat. It drives the song. It pounds through the plot. It motivates the fingers and brain from word to sentence to chapter. It will still take some time to kick this one out but it's growing on me. Stay tuned for an occasional peek and tidbit!