Today is the end of my first week as a grad student. I have no fucking idea what I’m doing. Because I don’t have time to drive and attend an actual brick-and-mortar class, I’m doing my Master’s program online. I decided to do English Lit because that’s what I did for undergrad and because I think my life isn’t painful enough. Also, I couldn’t get a satisfactory answer by anyone what online school’s education programs would be accepted by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
So it goes like this: the professor (they use instructor) gives you reading and an assignment. You have to post one assignment by 11:59 PM on Thursday, and a second by 11:59 PM on Sunday, and that’s your module. So I did a fuckload of reading last weekend including Freud and Marx and others, and Shirley Jackson’s classic “The Lottery,” which really was the sugar that helped the medicine go down, and then wrote my response, commented on at least two, and then took a quiz for today. The academic writing was…well…you know how I’m writing this right now? You know how it reads? Yeah, well, it’s the opposite of this. It’s like Alice through the looking glass. I’m writing, something I know how to do (and some say I know how to do well), but I don’t feel like I’m writing. I feel like I’m…I don’t know. Farting in the wind?
Anyway, I posted my writing Tuesday night and wasn’t able to sign in again until yesterday. It seems fairly well received, except I threw out all MLA citations and stuff because fuck you, that’s why. Apparently, mostly everyone else did, too, so the instructoprofessor will be nice to all us grad students who should know better.
Then, yesterday, I signed on to take a quiz about two future major projects. The two questions were so mind-numbingly…devoid of anything I read, that I was shocked.
Still, when I look at the syllabus, I see that the remaining nine weeks are going to be very busy. I should be reading right now, but I know you missed me.
I also decided the role I would play was frightened and super-stressed new grad student with an extremely busy home life. It’s an easy role to play since it’s 99.9% true. That .1% is just an asshole part of me that refuses to tell the truth. When I look at the syllabus, I’m like, “Wait! Isn’t this online schooling supposed to be easier?”
But the school’s all like, “No way, man. We need to prove that we’re a legitimate institution and not something that has Sally Struthers in the commercials.”
I let the school know I diggit, and I’m proud of it, and then we go out for coffee at the student café, which is very comfortable and always has a good acoustic performer. It’s a good time.
All right, so now I have to read about this, that, and the other thing, and start rereading Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness, which I last read a decade ago. I can’t remember much about it so this should be fun.
Twice in the last 48 hours on my Facebook feed I’ve seen posts that start with “Kids these days…” or some equivalent. Whenever I hear that, especially coming from someone my age or within shooting distance of my age (I was born in 1977), my immediate response is, “Fuck you.” I can’t help it. I don’t actually say that, but I think it. Usually I just bite my tongue and let them have their say. There’s no use arguing with an old person.
I turned 38 just over a month ago. I could easily look at kids (which seem to be getting older and older every year–when did people in their early-20s start being “kids” to me?!) and think that they’re all self-involved, entitled, clueless little twerps who don’t remember anything because of their super-computer-phones. I could say that when I was a kid, things were better. We had only a few channels on TV (depending on which part of my childhood, either five or 57) and had to use our imagination to play. I could say all that and I’d be right about some of those things, but most of it would be bullshit painted pink by the rose colored glasses of being an adult.
I’m a teacher. I work with 14-15-year-olds, and occasionally the 16-18-year-olds, too, and I can tell you first hand: these kids rock. First off, they’re dealing with a world that’s completely different. Born at the tail-end of Generation X, we grew up with the remnants of the Cold War and the fear that Gorbachev (remember him?) and Reagan would push The Button at any minute, annihilating everything we knew and loved forever. No more Star Wars, Masters of the Universe, Strawberry Shortcake, or the Shirt Tails. Kids these days live in a world where there are school shootings at least once a month and in a world where no one cares if you’re a Communist because they’re too busy fearing you’re a terrorist. Even my oldest students, the seniors, have little-to-no memory of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks. My teenage daughter was 3 when it happened. The freshmen were born the year it happened. These kids have been raised under the PTSD that the entire nation (world?) suffered as a result of that horrific event and its aftermath.
Next, when I was a kid I was bullied. From around 5th grade to my sophomore year of high school, things were pretty rough. I was chased home, ostracized at school, jumped on at least three-to-five occasions, threatened innumerable times, belittled, and basically treated less-than-human by many. I was smart, the teachers loved me, and I was horrible at sports. Oh, and I was quirky, which was the worst. Naturally, being home was my favorite place to be. I could play with my action figures, or role-play, and let my imagination fly. Even after most kids my age had put away their toys, I continued to sneak my action figures. I had to. The stories in my head were too much. I was safe at home.
Kids these days have the internet. Shut off their computers, you say. They have their phones. Take away their phones. Sure. Go for it. Go ahead. While you’re at it, give me yours. Some of you can. Some of you can’t. When kids are bullied these days, it doesn’t stop when they go home, but continues online. Cyberbullying sounds like a bad idea in 1980s science fiction stories written by William Gibson or Bruce Sterling, yet we’ve been hearing about it for almost a decade. Teenage suicides are on a rise and it ain’t satanic-themed heavy metal albums that are contributing, or Dungeons & Dragons, no matter what Tipper Gore says. It’s the ease in which the tormentors can go after their prey.
Where are the parents? you ask. Did your parents know everything you did? I don’t think so.
Another thing I hear: Kids these days are spoiled and entitled. Oh? And you weren’t? Tell me again about how much you enjoyed your Atari 2600. Or your Nintendo. What? You had a Commodore 64? Wow! You must’ve been rich. And remind me about the joys of MTV, Nickelodeon, and HBO. I had some of these things, some I didn’t. Coming from a lower-middle-class family, we didn’t necessarily have all the toys and gadgets, but my kid sister and I were pretty spoiled just the same. Just because the toys are different now doesn’t mean that we were that different.
Yeah, well, kids these days have no respect for adults. I know a kid who was playing in his backyard and began climbing a post that was in a neighbor’s yard. When one of the people in the apartment house saw him on the post, he was told to get down. The person was a nice guy that the kid had known his entire life. For some reason that day, maybe it was because the kid’s friend was there, maybe it was because the kid was an asshole, the kid started saying the neighbor had halitosis. He even sang a song, “Haaaalitosis! Haaaaalitosis! Halitosis! Halitosis! Ha-AA-aa-lito-o-o-sissss!” (To be sung like “Halleluiah”). Yeah, you know who the kid was. This would’ve been around 1990. Kids haven’t had respect for adults since around the 1950s when teenagers began being an economic force. Please don’t tell me that things are worse now in the regard. They’re different, sure, but not that much worse.
How are they different?! Well, for one thing, parents aren’t on anyone’s side except their kids’. Do you know how difficult it is to give a student a failing grade? They have to have a progress report signed by a parent. A phone call home or a parent-teacher conference has to be set up. Everything has to be documented. Why? Because of you, you helicopter! Why don’t the kids respect adults? Because you don’t.
Look, man, I’m a fucked-up guy. I have anger issues, touches of depression, I’m a wise-ass, and I’m a bit egotistical. If my daughters skip any of these problems, I’ll be happy. If either of them grow up well-adjusted, I’m happy. Honestly, your kids see the best of me! Why can’t the same be said of you?
I could go on and on, but I’m not going to. I’m tired, and I have to teach your kids in the morning, but I want to say one more thing before I go….
Working with teenagers has been a high-point of my life. Kids these days a sharp as knives, ask tons of important questions, understand things you and I would’ve run screaming from, have somehow managed to stay children in some ways while having to grow up real fast in others. Kids these days are seeing injustice and are pissed off. They’re seeing that the same ol’ same ol’ isn’t working, and while you’re sitting on your ass bitching about why they’re inferior, they’ve already processed what’s broken and what needs to be fixed. And they’ll fix it. Because kids these days, they’re growing up, and they’ll be able to look at the little old man and woman on the lawn, shaking their fist, and continue walking by, listening to music on their phones, and understanding that they’ll be the ones to do what none of us could: fix society.
With the death of Wes Craven still carving the hearts of the horror community, many tributes have flooded social networks. They’re heartfelt, and many show great imagination. Some, however, are showing the wrong Freddy. I know what you’re thinking, What do you mean “the wrong Freddy”? How many Freddys are there? The answer is nine. There are nine Freddy Kruegers. Official Freddy Kruegers, I mean, that have been in the films (and even on TV). Two actors (primarily) played him. I know, it may not seem like a big thing, but seriously, if you’re so much a fan of something that you want to make a tribute to it, then do it right. And since I’m a teacher by day, I’ll take it upon myself to teach you.
Any questions? No? All right, let’s begin with a….
What is wrong with these DVD and Blu-ray covers?
If you answered “Nothing,” then this why we’re here. The Freddy Krueger on the cover of the Blu-ray cover of the A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 & 3 collection isn’t in either of those movies. It’s the Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street 4. Hell, the house doesn’t even appear in any of the movies. Now the cover of the Nightmare on Elm Street Collection DVD cover is even more problematic. This collection offers all the Nightmare movies from 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street to Freddy vs. Jason, all of which starred Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger. However, the cover shows Jackie Earl Haley’s Freddy Krueger from 2010’s A Nightmare on Elm Street remake—er…reboot, sorry. Oh, and poorly Photoshopped onto Mr. Haley’s Freddy’s body is the classic Freddy glove. And by classic, I mean the glove from Freddy vs. Jason, which is supposed to look like…oh, we’ll get to that in another lesson.
Anyway, let’s begin….
A Nightmare on Elm Street, written and directed by Wes Craven and released in November 1984 smacked the horror movie across the face. The slasher subgenre specifically. Instead of a masked stuntman stalking victims, audiences were given an actor whose face was the mask. The makeup, designed by David Miller, was a fantastic representation of the burn scars in Craven’s screenplay. Craven and Miller purposely decided to stray from realistic burn victims to create something that would be realistic but fantastic. Englund’s makeup is layered in spots, so the burned flesh appears to be falling away from the muscle underneath, and there’s even melted pieces dangling. Vaseline and K-Y Jelly was applied to the makeup to give it a nasty sheen. And if you want to nitpick further, Fred Krueger’s sweater only has green stripes on the torso, the arms are red.
For the 1985 sequel, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, written by David Chaskin and directed by Jack Sholder, the makeup changed. Kevin Yagher picked up the makeup effects duties and redesigned the look. He and Sholder decided that Freddy should appear older, more healed. Gone was the double layer of makeup, never to return, and instead came a single layer of prosthetics but with more of a sculpt. Yagher thought a sharper chin and cheekbones would be more intimidating. He also gave Freddy’s nose a hook, a symbolic reference to one of cinema’s scariest villains, the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. The fedora Freddy wears is also different. It’s bigger with a wider brim. Freddy also occasionally had brown eyes in this movie. Finally, the sweater isn’t as thick as it was in the first movie, and green stripes have moved onto the arms. There are other differences in costume and such, but let’s focus on the face in this lesson.
In 1987’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, written by Wes Craven & Bruce Wagner and Chuck Russell & Frank Darabont, and directed by Chuck Russell, Yagher returned but changed the makeup again. The chin was dropped and the cheekbones were lessened. The scars became more defined again, though not as much as in the first movie, and the revealed muscles are a light, light pink, almost the same as the flesh. The differentiation between the open flesh and the melted flesh can only really be seen in bright lighting, which there is little of in this film. The hook nose is also brought back a little, though it’s still present. Finally, the fedora has changed again. It’s small than both of the previous movies’ hats, though more in style with the first film’s hat. The sweater’s thickness and bulkiness is also different.
Yagher’s makeup for A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988), written by Brian Helgeland, Jim Wheat and Ken Wheat, and directed by Renny Harlin, is very similar to the previous movie’s makeup. The chin is given only the tiniest bit more definition and so are the cheekbones. They’re not the overdone version seen in Freddy’s Revenge, but are just noticeable. Also, the nose is a little more hooked again. The patterns of the exposed muscles are very similar to that of the third movie’s but are more define by their paint jobs. This is, arguably, the most famous Freddy Krueger look. At least for anyone who was aware of Freddy in the 1980s.This was the face that appeared everywhere! The hat is very similar, if not the same one as, the third movie’s. Ditto the sweater.
David Miller returned to Springwood in 1989’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, written by Leslie Bohem and directed by Stephen Hopkins. Some of the wounds on Freddy’s head in the original film were quite big and Miller went back to that. He kept the hooked nose but lost the cheeks and chin. The neck is almost chicken-like. Freddy looks withered and old in this movie. The hat is seemingly similar to the previous two entries but the sweater is different, brighter in color.
When Freddy returned for the final time in 1991’s Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, it was only natural his originator should return. By that I mean David Miller did the makeup again. With a script by Michael DeLuca, director Rachel Talalay’s Freddy Krueger is a strange hybrid between the 3/4 makeup and the 5 makeup. The fedora has changed again, looking much more like Indiana Jones’s fedora than ever before. The sores on Freddy’s face are a little smaller and the cheeks, chin, and nose are amplified again, but there’s a strange fleshiness to the face now. Maybe Englund gained weight? Either way, the makeup is some of the weakest in the franchise, because in close-ups, it looks like a man wearing a rubber mask.
Do I even have to talk about Freddy’s look in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare? Craven’s true return to the franchise as writer-director had him rewrite the rules and turn a magnifying glass on his own movie. The Freddy in this film isn’t really Freddy Krueger, but rather an evil spirit/demon that had inhabited Freddy. The look is purposely different, though Craven said in an interview sometime in the last year or so that he thinks he maybe should’ve left Freddy’s look alone. I disagree. David Miller also did the makeup for this movie.
How do you follow up a masterpiece? With a cheesy money-grab monster fight. Still, in 2003 I paid my money down to see Freddy vs. Jason, written by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift and directed by Ronny Yu. In recent years, this makeup had superseded the Yagher makeup from The Dream Master as the most recognizable, though it obviously has its origins in Yagher’s design, which is a smart choice. That big spot that’s roughly the shape of South America on Freddy’s left cheek is like a feature-defining mole. I can’t seem to find any one person responsible for the look of Freddy in this film, but do you really care? Neither do I. (Not true, I do care, but it’s past my bedtime and I need to finish this thing!). Anyway, the chin and cheek enhancements are gone again. The hooked nose is far less prevalent but still there. The exposed muscles are much darker in color while the melted flesh is much brighter in color than their predecessors. This makeup really looks like a fan-made version of Freddy’s makeup. I wonder if they moved to silicon in this version. Anyway, the hat is different, still Indiana Jonesish, but by this point, what were the chances that Harrison Ford and company would return to that old franchise? The sweater is also much, much too dark.
And, finally, the Freddy Krueger makeup for the 2010 remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street, written by Wesley Strick and Heisserer and directed by Samuel Bayer, goes realistic. To break free from the fantasy look that David Miller and Wes Craven agreed upon in 1984, they wanted Jackie Earl Haley’s Freddy to look more like a true burn victim. The problem is that when the camera is anywhere but up close, Freddy’s head looks like a meatball. Digital effects meant to enhance the design only hurt it because their work doesn’t match up from scene to scene, making there no one definite look to Freddy in this film. Even the hat changed throughout production. Basically, like the movie itself, the look is a mess.
All right. Are you ready for your test? I’ll let you review the material for a few moments and we’ll begin. Ready?
What’s wrong with the DVD cover and the Blu-ray menu?
And next time, we’ll talk about the differences in Freddy’s glove between movies.
The first time I saw the name Wes Craven, it was in TV Guide, around 1986. It was in the synopsis for A Nightmare on Elm Street, which read something like, “Horror maven Wes Craven’s tale of teenagers terrorized by a killer in their dreams.” The fuckers gave it two stars if I recall. In the following years, his name popped up on TV more, usually for commercials of his follow-up movies: “From the creator of A Nightmare on Elm Street, Wes Craven, comes…” Shocker. The People Under the Stairs. The Serpent and the Rainbow. As I found and read Fangoria, and other stuff about horror, I learned more about him, but it really wasn’t until I was in high school and I saw interviews with Craven that I learned really learned about him.
When I saw the news of his death last night, I was rocked. It came on the night before I was to start a new school year as Mr. Gauthier, so maybe I wasn’t as rocked as I may have been two weeks ago, when I wasn’t as stressed. Still, it was a shock and very, very sad.
I can’t say I’ve seen every Wes Craven movie because I haven’t. I feel like I only saw the original The Last House on the Left in the last eight years. I saw The Hills Have Eyes sometime in the mid-1990s. I saw Shocker and The People Under the Stairs when they first came to cable. I know I saw The Serpent and the Rainbow but can’t remember when, though I think I was in high school. Deadly Friend was viewed not long after seeing A Nightmare on Elm Street the first time, but I didn’t know who Wes Craven was and it was on cable as I was discovering horror. I barely remember any of these movies except the first two. Have I seen Swamp Thing? I don’t know. I’ve definitely seen pieces of it, just as I’ve seen pieces of A Vampire in Brooklyn.
Truth be told, I’m really quite astonished that I haven’t seen more of his movies. I really only know his creating and contributions to the A Nightmare on Elm Street series and directing the Scream movies. This upsets me.
Craven has been someone I would’ve loved to have met. When I found out he bought a house on Martha’s Vineyard, a ferry ride away from where I live, I sometimes thought it might be cool to run into him somewhere, let him know how much he meant to me, and ask if he’d have coffee with me. I know it’s crazy talk, like a deranged stalker or something, but Craven had this feel about him that he was approachable and would sit down for a conversation.
What I think was my favorite aspect of Wes Craven, other than writing and directing my two favorite Nightmares, the original and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, is that he wasn’t just a guy who was into horror for the sake of making money, but that he was actually releasing fears, his own and others. When you look at someone like Sean S. Cunningham, creator of Friday the 13th (and mentor of Craven’s), this is a guy who made horror films for a fast buck. His producing of Craven’s first film, The Last House on the Left, came about because low-budget horror movies were starting to do well. He told Craven, who was itching to direct a movie, that if he wrote a horror movie, Cunningham would let him direct it. What probably wasn’t expected was that Craven would actually make a movie that was almost too dark, too scary, too violent, a movie that became an underground classic almost immediately.
Craven loved cinema and understood how to scare. He saw it as cathartic and necessary. The creation of Fred Krueger is an amazing story of thought, feeling, and psychology. Breaking the mold of having a stunt person play the killer and instead hiring Robert Englund, who knew no boundaries to get the desired effect, Craven revolutionized the horror film bad guy. Suddenly they all had to have personalities, make quips, and find creative, supernatural ways of killing. A range of sharp objects and tools were no longer good enough, they had to have interesting weapons or a cool new way of killing.
Then in 1994, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare just knocked the whole block castle down. It’s a shame it didn’t do better business at the box office, but the movie is, I think, a masterpiece. He asks important questions. Do horror films negatively impact their viewers? What about the people who make them? This line of questioning is woven throughout his Scream movies.
Wes Craven was 76. He was an old man who lived a great life. This doesn’t stop my sadness. A Nightmare on Elm Street is up there with Star Wars as movies that shaped me. Knowing that he will never make another movie, never impart more of his wisdom, and never scare the hell out of me deeply saddens me.
“Some people ask why people would go into a dark room to be scared. I say they are already scared and they need to have that fear manipulated and massaged. I think of horror movies as the disturbed dreams of a society.” — Wes Craven
I don’t remember when, but sometime last fall I mentioned on Facebook (and maybe Twitter) that I was becoming obsessive about wanting to try more tea. As a teenager, I began drinking tea. My gateway was the same as many others, simple ol’ Lipton tea. At some point I graduated to Bigelow or Twinings, usually English Breakfast, but sometimes Earl Grey. I drank these well into my twenties, adding Chai into the fold. And then in 2003/2004, my life sort of went haywire and I became a separated father of a precocious youngster, a full-time college student, and a full-time employee at a bookstore. A bookstore with a café. Suddenly, I was drinking coffee. The teas in my cabinet grew old and dusty as my new love became Queen.
I still love coffee, but about two years ago I started to think more and more about tea. Passing Teavana stores at malls didn’t help. Posts about tea by Neil Gaiman and Joe Hill didn’t help.
As a matter of fact, Joe Hill’s post got me to go try a new English Breakfast tea, Tazo’s Awake tea. Which I loved. And still do, it’s my favorite tea. So I began drinking that in the afternoons instead of my second (or third) cup of coffee. But I wanted more and didn’t know where to start.
That’s when Pamela came to my rescue. After seeing that post, she got me some tea for Christmas.
All right, so what you see there is Fortnum & Mason’s Royal Blend Tea, the official tea of the Royal Family since forever, available in the States exclusively through Williams-Sonoma. Also in the picture is Tea Forté’s World of Teas single steep set which had some amazing teas in it. I loved Moroccan Mint and Bombay Chai, and liked most of the others very much, too. Well, this has done it.
Tazo also makes a great Chai tea, too, but my problem has been finding a caffeine-free tea that I enjoy. On a recent trip to Western Massachusetts, I happened upon the Republic of Tea’s Cardomon Cinnamon herbal full-leaf tea and decided to try it. Let me tell you, it’s fucking great. It’s like Chai without caffeine. I mean, how good is that? I just finished drinking a cup in that cute mug my wife gave me for Christmas. I think my friend Jorj would like it since he’s a fan of Chai.
So those are some standout teas I’ve tried in my recent plunge into this whole new world. Feel free to recommend some teas you like. So far, I haven’t like Darjeeling much, but it may just have been the one I had from the World of Teas set.
This is the last time, I promise. Until the next time, anyway. I’m currently printing out the 3rd draft, the “final” draft, of my novel Echoes on the Pond. It’s not so I can just look lovingly at the brick of pages but so I can do another draft. I know, I posted that I thought I was done back in May, but I’d said I was 98% sure I was, and, well….
But that’s my method. Until the piece is published, I tinker. Maybe not in any kind of routine way, but whenever the fancy strikes. In this case, it’s because I’m gearing up to look for a home in it and I had a fateful conversation with one of my readers that corroborated a few things in my head and something my wife kind of pointed out.
My goals with the 4th draft aren’t too drastic:
- Tighten up the story a bit…look for typos and silly turns of phrases that I may have missed the last two times, or created during the last draft
- Make sure the characters are being themselves and are true to form
- Specify a few vague places (and I can only think of two that were mentioned)
- Delete a character’s onscreen presence
That last will be the closest thing to real rewriting that I’ll need to do. Pamela had mentioned the character in question as early as the 2nd draft, and when my other reader mentioned her, I knew the small feeling in the back of my mind was right, she needed to go. This means several deleted scenes and one heavily rewritten scene. Basically, this 4th draft should take long and it shouldn’t hurt the work I’ve done on the query letter or synopsis.
It’s the game we play, trying to make sure the story is what we want it to be. You have to be passionate about this if you’re going to try to make a go of having a career in the arts.
I’m rather obsessed with writers’ workspaces. Their desks, offices, writing sheds, whatever it is they use, however they use it. I know I’m not alone on this, but I think the first manifestations of this obsession occurred before I was even aware of it.
Stephen King’s novel The Shining made me want to be a writer, which I’ve written about. I’ve also written about the television segment that led me to buy the book. It was an episode of ABC’s Primetime Live that aired on August 23rd, 1990, the day before my 13th birthday, that got me interested in buying King. As I was reading The Shining the following day, I turned to the About the Author page and saw that King lived in Bangor, Maine, which had to be nearly as uncool as New Bedford, Massachusetts, the small coastal city where I lived, if not even more uncool. Beyond that, though, there was an image in the Primetime Live profile that kicked open the doors of my mind. The image was of King sitting at a manual typewriter, clacking away. He was in a dark room, alone, with no other apparatus around him. Even at 13, I understood this was a set-up shot, done strictly for the television piece.
The power of that image rocked me, though. It made me think of Billy Crystal at the end of Throw Momma From the Train, where he’s sitting at his desk, finishing the last paragraph of the novel he never thought he’d be able to write. It made me think of Chevy Chase in Funny Farm where he’s trying to write a novel that never really seems to come out for him (though his wife writes a children’s book). I’m sure it made me think of Richard Dreyfuss in Stand By Me, working on his tale. Who knows? Maybe somewhere in the flotsam of my mind was Kathleen Turner at the beginning of Romancing the Stone, finishing her novel in a most unglamorous way. The thing with the image of Stephen King sitting at the typewriter, though, was that he was a real writer. He wasn’t an actor playing a part, he was a guy who was paid (a lot of) money to write books. And from what I’d seen that morning at Waldenbooks, he wrote a whole bunch of them, too! There was even a book club devoted to his work that ran commercials on TV! Remembering that image and reading a novel by him walloped me like a trailer truck come to life to mow me down. Later that day, I set up two or three milk crates, put my Royal Quiet De Lux manual typewriter on top, and began writing.
Something very similar, yet very different happened, happened several years later, again involving King. For a time in the 1990s, former King chronicler George Beahm, who’d written three books on Stephen King, began publishing a fanzine called Phantasmagoria. I don’t know how I came across it. Maybe from the Stephen King column in Cemetery Dance? Probably. Anyway, I subscribed to it. In one issue there was news that King was one of many writers who were featured in a photograph book about writers at their workspaces. It was called The Writer’s Desk and it was by a woman named Jill Krementz. I’d find out soon enough that Ms. Krementz was married to the writer Kurt Vonnegut (who appeared in the book, of course). I was working at a big chain bookstore at this point and decided to order it. It must’ve been summer or fall of 1997 because my girlfriend (who would become my wife, and then my ex-wife) was pregnant with my teenager. I remember that because the book was $35, which was too much money to spend considering how my life was really about to change. But I ordered the book because I knew that I wouldn’t have to buy it (it was the company’s policy) and I figured I’d look at it on break and then shelve the book for someone else to discover and buy.
Before I even opened the book, the cover mesmerized me. I had no idea who the woman on the front cover was (it’s Eudora Welty) but on the back cover was Toni Morrison, whom I knew though I hadn’t read yet; Tennessee Williams, whom I also knew but hadn’t (and still haven’t…and I don’t think I’ve seen any of his plays, either, which saddens and shames me); and Stephen King. I began looking through the book and found the huge quantity of writers and pictures that went back into the early 1970s. The photos were accompanied by quotes, or small musings on writing, or their desks from the writers. There were many writers whose names I recognized even though I hadn’t read their work. There were many more who were introduced to me by this book. I knew before I got halfway through flipping through the book during my break that I needed to have it.
It gave me a charge. To see where these people produced their work made me want to work. To see how simple it really was, this so very difficult task of wordslinging. Some of the writers have work spaces that are stately and well put together, organized. Some are a mess. Many used typewriters (remember, the book was published in 1996 and many of the pictures were taken in the ’70s and ’80s) though quite a few used computers. There was even a few who had notebook computers. Quite a few of the writers were working longhand.
I found myself cutting out pictures of writers at their desk should they appear in magazines or in the newspaper. Once I got a computer I began finding writers at their desk online and, for a while, kept a folder of images. I still have the folder though I hardly save to it anymore. There’s no need. A quick Google search (or a few, depending on your word-use) will come up with thousands of pictures. I’ve also discovered I’m not the only one obsessed with this. There are at least two blogs I know of, Write Place, Write Time and Writers at Work, that share photos of writer’s work spaces. Write Place, Write Time was cool because it had photos taken by the writers they featured, as well as a small piece about their work environment. Unfortunately, after a strong 2011, the posts began to be few and far between until they seemed to stop in June 2013. Still, it’s fascinating to take a look at. Writers at Work collected photos from around the ‘net and posts them. Some of the pictures are sent in by blog readers.
As I said, a quick internet search will show that writers and their workspaces are quite popular. Why is that? I think it’s partly because writing is so solitary, and so personal, that one wonders if they’re weird. So to see the famous French mystery writer George Simenon has an arsenal of pipes ready to go while he works, or that Tennessee Williams has another typewriter leaning back behind the one he’s using in case there’s an issue, he can just swap out (anything from a bad key to a change of ribbon; there’d be no slowing him down when he was hot!), makes me think maybe my rituals and quirks aren’t so weird.
I think the other thing it does is inspire. And I don’t mean that in some mystical, mythical sense of the word, either. I mean seeing writers, past and present, at their desks and knowing that from that person came a body of work, sometimes huge, sometimes not, all important, really makes me want to sit at my modest space and work. It makes me feel like if they can do it, and they basically have the same tools I do, then maybe–just maybe–I can do it.
Writers have been called professional liars. I know I’ve heard Stephen King and Peter Straub say it. I think I’ve heard Harlan Ellison say it. And there’ve been others along the long, long road I’ve taken from the age of 13 to now, a month and two weeks away from my 38th birthday. Hence, the lie in the title. I just wanted you to read my blog. But while I have you here talking about the lies writers tell, I want to remind you that while fiction is (usually) wholly made up, the real reason fiction is important is for the truth it tells. It doesn’t matter what genre you write in, what kind of story you’re telling, the truth of the characters, the situation, the emotions are what keeps the readers coming back.
Anyway, I haven’t posted since May because I lose track of time easily, it happens, but I’m here now and I’m working on an essay for the blog that’ll go live either tomorrow or Sunday (Monday at the latest, I promise). It’s not one of my movie series essays, though I plan on writing about two different series this year (I’m sure you can figure them out considering my nerd pedigree), but I think you’ll like it. For now, a small update.
As I mentioned back on May 12th, Echoes on the Pond is (I think) done. I’m sure I’ll be called back to tinker here and there, but I’ve begun the process of writing a query letter for possible agents or publishers. If you don’t know what a query letter is, it basically pitches your book to an agent for representation in helping sell it, or to an editor, in the hopes of buying and publishing it. Think of it like this, Echoes on the Pond weighs in at 126,500 words. In it’s current manuscript state (Times New Roman, 12 pt font, double-spaced) it is about 490 pages. The query tries to boil that down to 150 words. I have a few other things I want to work on regarding submission, like a synopsis and outline, in case they’re asked for. I already have a few agents I’m interested in querying so we’ll see how that goes.
I also wrote a short story. The first draft weighs in at a hefty 8,400 words, which will definitely be whittled down later, after it’s been given time to settle. The story came to me one morning while driving to work. The teenager was sitting in the passenger seat, quietly hating Monday (or Tuesday) morning, and for some reason, the idea came and I instantly knew I had to write it. I didn’t start until the end of June and finished it two nights ago. It’s an unpleasant little ditty with unpleasant characters and chocolate, and that’s all I’ll say right now.
So right now, I’m trying to decide which big project to work on next, since there are several that I’m pretty passionate about.
Anyway, that’s the check-in. We’ll talk soon.
Hey, Kids. Do You Like the Rock N Roll? Or How David Letterman Made Life Bearable & Helped Me Through Adolescence
I’m sure that I tried to watch David Letterman on TV before August 30th, 1993. By that date, I was six days into being 16 and I’d been suffering from insomnia (or poor sleep habits, either/or) since I was 9. This means that I would’ve tried watching Late Night with David Letterman at some point, and I faintly remember doing so. Trying, that is. Just as I tried to watch The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. I mean, all you heard about back in those quaint days of the 1980s was about how Johnny Carson did this, or said that, and then there’d be reminiscing by the adults in the room. Mom would mention the Potato Chip Lady. Grandma would chime in that Ed McMahon was “a bullshit artist,” but then reminisce about something Carson did. Carson was too damn old for me, though, between 9 and 14, and Letterman…I don’t know. There was something off-putting about him at that time in my life. And he stood too close to the camera. I’m sad to say that my first introduction to the late night talk show was The Arsenio Hall Show.
When Hall’s show premiered in January 1989, I was 11. I didn’t discover it until later that year, I think. I’m sure if I did research of who appeared on his show, and when, I could come up with a more accurate time, but who really has that kind of time? He’s not the topic of this story. The topic or not, Arsenio Hall’s show was cool. It had music that I liked, humor I liked, and was on at 10 PM on channel 64. That was the Fox Channel affiliate out of Providence, Rhode Island. (The show also aired at 11 PM on channel 25, the Boston Fox affiliate). Arsenio was speaking to me, it felt. Far more so than Johnny Carson. And as far as that Letterman guy with the gap between his teeth, weird hair and eyes…why’s he standing so close to the TV?!
Though I had many good times with Arsenio, by the time 1993 had come, I wasn’t watching nearly as much. I was still watching, but not as often. I was interested in the Late Night Wars from afar, though, and had been since 1991. In June of 1991, NBC announced that Johnny Carson would be retiring and that Jay Leno would be his replacement. To me, Jay Leno was the Doritos guy with the chin, who appeared on TV a lot and was supposed to be funny. He even made a buddy cop movie with Mr. Myagi himself, Pat Morita. You don’t remember the movie? That’s because it was a buddy cop movie starring Jay Leno and Pat Morita! The movie had aired on Cinemax and it always seemed to be on when I was looking for something to watch. Of course, I’ve never actually seen the movie. But I digress…. The entertainment magazines my mother subscribed to that I lovingly read cover-to-cover were very much about the “feud” between Leno and Letterman. When The Tonight Show with Jay Leno debuted in 1992, I feel like I tried watching it but found it…well…unfunny. Leno was no Arsenio Hall, I’ll tell ya! When rumors began that David Letterman was about to jump ship from NBC, the news had a field day. Again, I was mildly interested. I remember seeing video of the press conference where the news broke that Letterman had accepted an offer from CBS and would be taking his show and leaving. I remember reading about NBC not allowing their “intellectual property” to go with him and how he was going to have to change certain things.
I was interested. I don’t know if it was my budding maturity, being a wise, old 15, or if it was just interest in the entertainment business, but I was interested. So on August 30th, 1993, most likely a week before I would start my junior year of high school, I tuned in to one of the CBS affiliates at 11:35 PM, and watched the very much-hyped and ballyhooed first episode of The Late Show with David Letterman. There’d been so much talk, so much analyzing, so much…mythology building, how could I not?
I was hooked.
From Paul Newman’s surprise appearance in the audience; to Tom Brokaw storming onto the stage, grabbing a cue card, and announcing, “This joke is the intellectual property of NBC,” and then storming off (Dave’s comment: “That’s the first time intellectual and NBC has ever been used in a sentence”); to his comment about how the Top Ten List will cost the show $10 million; to Bill Murray spray painting Dave’s desk and taking him outside to introduce him to the people; I loved it. But, while I loved all that stuff, the thing that really spoke to me, the thing that really hooked me was David Letterman himself. At 16, I felt like a mutant. I mean, who doesn’t? But I’d been bullied for a 5-year stretch. I liked to read and write, and I loved movies way more than other kids my age seemed to. I still secretly played with my action figures because the words couldn’t be written down as quickly as the ideas would come. I had an unhealthy fascination with stand-up comedy. And I had a sense of humor that those around me called “witty,” “warped,” “weird,” and “unfunny.” I was also super sarcastic and was always in trouble for that at home. And here was David Letterman making jokes that only one person in the whole room was actually, truly laughing at: himself. Through the magic of TV, I was laughing, too. I got it.
Between 1993 and sometime in 1996/1997, I watched Dave every night. During my senior year in 1995, the National Honor Society took a field trip to New York City and I went to the Ed Sullivan Theater and had my picture taken in front of the marquee. When I got home, I sent for tickets and in August 1995, I went to New York to see The Late Show. I talked to Rupert Gee. I saw Van Halen (with Sammy Hagar) perform. Most importantly, I saw David Letterman. He was standing as close to me as the oven is to my right. Ten feet? I sat right behind then-executive producer Bob “Morty” Morton. In one shot of Morty, you can see a Star Wars baseball cap. That’s me. Unfortunately, except for the performances by Van Halen, the show kind of sucked. I was thrilled to be there, and still remember it fondly, but it wasn’t Dave’s best. Hugh Grant had been arrested with a prostitute earlier that summer and his first public appearance to promote his first big Hollywood movie Nine Months had already been booked…on The Tonight Show. Jay Leno scored his first #1 night since Letterman began his run on CBS and he never let it go. Well, except for when he let it go.
Anyway, The Late Show with David Letterman was just what I needed, just when I needed it. I became obsessed with the show and with David Letterman. And with late night TV. I loved Bill Carter’s phenomenal The Late Shift, which documented the whole Carson-Leno-Letterman fiasco. I studied how Letterman did his show. The set-ups, the remotes, the sarcasm. He interviewed people and he helped them along, but he was also fun to watch. Unlike Leno, who seemed to wait for his opportunity to throw in a joke, Letterman actually conversed with them in the time permitted by the format. He was also able to make those around him stars. From the owner of the Hello Deli next door, Rupert Gee, to the stage manager Biff Henderson, to his mother, Letterman took whoever happened by and made them a character you followed. Sure, it was partly inspired by what he saw another former NBC employee, Howard Stern, do but he found a way to make it his own, and unlike another late night host I won’t mention, Letterman often praised Stern for giving him the idea to do those kinds of things.
More than all that though, I saw another mutant who was full of self-loathing doing his best. He came out each night in a nice suit, he told jokes, he had a good time, and he made people happy. I wanted to be him. Or, at least, I wanted to be like him.
I’d already begun writing by this time, and was honing my craft writing (bad) books and (bad) short stories, but I secretly wanted to either be a filmmaker or, because of Letterman, a late night talk show host. Had I been a little more courageous, I may have tried my hand at stand-up comedy with the intention of someday having my own show. And now that I see Jimmy Fallon, who is only three years older than me, doing what he’s doing, I think maybe I should’ve attempted it. Ah, well, it is what it is. My time has come and gone and I have novels to write, oh so many novels, but Letterman is still an influence.
Unfortunately, I haven’t really watched Dave in a long time. I’ve seen the odd show here and there. Thanks to the Internet, I will often catch interviews a day or so after they air (especially when Howard Stern, Steve Martin, or Robin Williams was on). I watched it the night G was born in 2012, after watching the election results.
David Letterman isn’t perfect. His show wasn’t perfect. But I loved it. It’s going to be weird in September once Stephen Colbert sits behind the desk and becomes host of The Late Show. It’s going to be weird that Letterman won’t be there to hear about the next morning. I think about that. The pillars of our youth begin to crumble at some point. I understand why so many people were sad about Carson’s departure now. Even Leno’s. Late Night TV is going to be very different. The new guard is in place. But I think it’ll be good. Because when they talk about the late night host who inspired them, they don’t mention Carson, and they sure as shit don’t mention Leno. They all mention Letterman. Fallon, Kimmel, O’Brien…all of them. They all name David Letterman as the guy who turned them onto their paths.
Looks like there are a lot of mutants out there.
See that? That’s what’s at the very end of my manuscript for Echoes on the Pond. The reason I’m showing you is because—and I say this knowing it’s not 100% true, but roughly 98% true—I’m done with it. I have a few people giving this third draft a read, and if they all hit on things that have popped up in my head recently, or hit on things the other readers hit on, then I’ll do another sweep of the novel, but it’ll be a short one. The kind that takes a week or two instead of months. Of course, if an agent or editor at some point asks for changes that’ll make the novel better, I’ll be more than happy to oblige.
As you can see, I’ve been on this bastard for a long time now. When I began the novel in April 2008, I thought that I’d finish the first draft in three/four months, the second draft within six months, and then have the third draft to shop around in 2009. All long-form writing I’d done prior to this book indicated that should have been the case. Of course, things were different.
It’d been four years since I’d started—and finished—anything of significant length. Between 1998 and 2004, I wrote many novels. Most were pretty bad, few were terrible, and a couple were…good. For the time. They were written by a younger guy, of course. I turned 21 in 1998, so being in my early-twenties, I didn’t have much perspective on life, but I had an itch to tell stories and the insanity to think I could do it.
By 2008, I was in my early-thirties, had been through a divorce, severe depression, some of the hardest times in my life, and hadn’t written anything worthwhile except for several abandoned novels, garbage short stories, and little else of value. Well…that’s not entirely true. I wrote my late, great column American Gauthic for Dark Discoveries, a gig I really enjoyed doing and would love to do again, given the opportunity. I’m proud of those essays, though I admit that some of them are a little…well…wince-inducing. I also wrote papers for college, lesson plans, and blog posts.
But here I sit, twelve days after finishing what I consider to be my final edit, and I’m looking forward to what’s next. I have about six book ideas. Two horror(ish) novels, two “mainstream” novels (that I think may be darkly comic), and two YA novels. Way back in my mind are the science fiction novel takes on two Shakespeare plays that I’ve wanted to do for a long time now.
I think I’m going to do one of the YA novels. I want to do it something that’s fun, plot-driven, and fast. In other words, the kind of book I would’ve wanted to read when I was a kid.
Other than writing, I’ve got the real work ahead of me on Echoes…: Figuring out what the fuck to do with it now.
It’s a good place to be, though. Actually, it’s a great place to be.
We all say that when our child is born s/he won’t watch TV. Nope. Our lil one is going to learn the treasures of play and literature early, and while the TV won’t be off-limits, it will definitely be regulated more than when we were kids. I said that back in 1997 and early-1998 when my first daughter, Courtney, was in gestation and shortly after her birth in April 1998. By the following April, she loved Teletubbies, Elmo, and Blue’s Clues. By two, she was an avid fan of Bear in the Big Blue House, the Muppets, Rolie Polie Olie, and Little Bear. Throw in Franklin as well. I hated Sesame Street back then, and Barney, too. She got those when she was with her cousin or when I wasn’t home, which was rare.
Fast forward nearly 15 years. In March 2012, Pamela found out she was pregnant. She declared not long afterward that our child wouldn’t be raised on the glass teat. I agreed, but without the force that I had 15 years prior. I knew better. After you’d gone from reading to playing puppets to playing dolls to playing blocks to reading to more blocks to running around to…you need a break. And that giant rectangle in the corner will help with that.
G is 2-and-a-half. She loves to read. She loves to draw. She loves blocks, playing, jumping, exploring, dancing, puppets, make-believe, and so much more. She also loves TV. I’m not passing judgment on myself or my wife, we do our best to limit her TV-watching, but there’s shows she likes and, damnit, we kinda like them, too. So if you’re feeling guilty about your toddler watching TV, here are some shows that we watch and I think they’re good entertainment, as well as a little (sometimes a lot) educational.
All right, I know this goes without saying, but you have to understand something: I grew up hating Sesame Street. I loved The Muppet Show, which would air on Saturday nights at 7 PM, but Sesame Street was never my thing. Even when Courtney was a little one, I didn’t like it. And by then they’d gotten Elmo. Ugh. The sound of his voice sent shivers down my spine and goosebumps over my flesh. I was in my early-to-mid-twenties. Now I’m in my mid-to-late-thirties and I’ve finally discovered Sesame Street. And that high-pitched, bright red monster? Yeah…he’s kinda cute. He’s still not a favorite of mine, and I’m no fan of Abby Cadabby, but I’ve finally discovered why Sesame Street has been around for 46 years. From parodies on Game of Thrones, Star Wars, the failed Spider-Man Broadway musical, to the simple stories and whimsical moments, I’ve become a fan.
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood
I’ve written about how Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and Fred Rogers have been there at important moments in my life. Thanks to Amazon Prime (or the PBS Kids website), the classic show is easily available for binge-watching. It’s by no means complete, but it’s still great. However, if you don’t have time for fussing with that, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is a great modern take. Produced by the Fred Rogers Company and Out of the Blue, the show is created by Angela Santomero, who co-created Blue’s Clues and Super Why! The titular Daniel Tiger is not the Daniel Striped Tiger that you and I grew up with, but rather his son. DT, as my wife and I call it in code, is a kinda-sorta sequel. It takes place in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, which has the giant clock, the castle, the treehouse and tree, and the Museum-Go-Round, and familiar characters like Daniel Striped Tiger, X the Owl, Henrietta Pussycat, Lady Elaine Fairchilde, and King Friday XIII and Queen Sarah Saturday with their son Prince Tuesday are all there. However, the new characters are the real stars of the show. Daniel Tiger, O the Owl (X’s nephew), Katarina Kittycat (Henrietta’s daughter), Miss Elaina (Lady Elaine’s daughter), and Prince Wednesday are the focus of the show. There are other new characters like Mom Tiger (the original Daniel, who is now an adult, is known as Dad Tiger) Music Man Stan (Lady Elaine’s husband and Miss Elaina’s father), Dr. Anna, and Baker Aker are all new additions. And of course, the neighborhood wouldn’t be complete without Mr. McFeely.
The show is broken into two segments with neighbors from our world (usually from Pittsburgh) in between and its focus is emotional development, just like Mister Rogers. Santomero’s work on Blue’s Clues and Super Why! comes into play as Daniel will greet us each day with, “Hi, neighbor!” and include us in the story, asking us to participate throughout. Small jingles help teach the lesson of the show. Pamela and I have found these jingles useful as we try to navigate G through the world. “Use your wor-or-ords. Use your words!” has come in handy when she’s been frustrated. “When you have to go potty, stop! and go right away! Flush and wash and be on your way” is another good one. And this past winter, with all the sickness we all seemed to get, singing “When you’re sick, rest is best, rest is best,” has come in quite handy. She’ll sing these lessons to us as well. When I made a mistake recently, G chimed in with, “Keep trying, you’ll get beh-etter!”
My one complaint is some of the creative choices that were made. Harriet Cow is no longer a resident or teacher in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, instead it’s a human woman named Teacher Harriet. And poor Anna Platypus is nothing more than…a puppet at the pre-school. Her entire family is wiped out. There doesn’t seem to be a Westwood, no mention of Lady Aberlin, and nearly no outside conflict. Lady Elaine, the biggest grump in Fred Rogers’s day, has had work done, married, and never plots, schemes, or even complains. Other than those few small things, it’s an excellent show.
Neither Pamela nor I were impressed when we first watched the PBS/Imagine Television adaptation of the classic book series by Margaret and H.A. Rey, but Curious George has grown on us and G loves it. Yeah, the plots are far-fetched and silly. I enjoy making fun of the fact that all these humans can’t seem to figure out what a monkey can, but it’s fun and, more or less, educational. Fluff, but good fluff.
A show starring an African American girl as a play doctor, whose mother is a real doctor, Dad seems to be a stay-at-home dad, and a fun little brother may seem foreign, even to Gen Xers like me, and it’s wonderfully so. I can happily turn this show on and know that, if nothing else, my daughter will see a positive female role model as well as an intelligent, beautiful, and fun person of color as the lead. Creator Chris Nee and her staff also write some great stories for this wonderful little girl with a huge imagination. The lessons aren’t just medical-based, though they often are, but they also cover the landscape of the human heart. A wonderful show if you haven’t checked it out. And if you have a boy and are afraid it’s a “girl’s show” (which I’ll get to in a little while) it’s a great show for him, too. He should also be inspired.
It’s British. It’s funny. We love it.
Sofia the First
When I first heard of this show I though, Nope. No need for Disney Princesses in this household. Now I’m a fan. So is my wife. And, more importantly, so is my daughter. The show has a feminist ideology that is proud to be “girly,” but isn’t hampered by it. What I mean is…well…let me tell you about the show and I think my commentary will make sense.
Sofia and her mother, Miranda, are commoners. Miranda is a cobbler who is hired to make shoes for King Roland II. The King and Miranda fall in love at first sight (this is Disney, after all) and they marry. Now Sofia is a princess with two step-siblings, twins James and Amber. There’s no mention of their mother that I know of. Anyway, Sofia is the average girl who’s been thrust into this new world of magic, royalty, and etiquette. She handles it well. James is a typical boy who is sometimes real nice, and other times a fool. But it’s Princess Amber, Sofia’s new sister, that I really want to focus on. Amber is the typical “princess.” I put the word in quotes because she behaves in the way a woman (or girl) who fancies herself a princess and makes demands of those around her in a fashion that is unbecoming, rude, and can never be fulfilled would behave. For instance…
I know of a couple a few years younger than my wife and I who married around the same time we did, and had their first child around the same time G was born (Pamela’s first child). The guy is a public servant. Let’s say a firefighter. Good guy. Stand-up guy. Nice guy. His wife is a “princess.” Her engagement ring not only had to have this, but this and that, as well, and it better not be under…ooohhh…$XX,000. She must have this, and have that, and she simply cannot work with two children (they’ve had another) though she’s constantly dropping them off with grandma and grandpa so she can go to yoga, or for coffee, or…. She is a “princess” and has called herself one. You know these kinds of “princesses.” Unfortunately, I’ve known a few myself. Get it?
Amber is that kind of princess. She is the kind of princess that girls growing up on a steady diet of Disney Princesses believe they should be. Of course, none of the Disney Princesses are actually like that. These Real World Princesses base their princessism on “And they lived happily ever after…” assuming that these women would become those kinds of princesses. She is full of herself, wishes to do as little work as possible, is rude, is narrow-minded, and is obsessed with appearance both in terms of clothes and what others think. This is not the complete picture of Amber. The show’s writers are very good at adding dimensions to the characters and Amber can be quite kind, giving, and selfless. She’s also quite intelligent. But the overwhelming portrayal is of the typical mythical “princess.”
Sofia, on the other hand, is Disney’s reinvention of the Disney Princess. She is kind, intelligent, imaginative, quick-to-laugh, inclusive, open-minded, strong, resilient, and human. She has faults. Sometimes she gets a little full of herself. Sometimes she’s jealous. Sometimes she does wrong. She is given an amulet that, unknown to anyone, gives her the ability to speak to all the princesses that ever were. This means that she sometimes gets to speak to Cinderella, or Belle (from Beauty and the Beast), or Ariel (The Little Mermaid), or any of the other Disney Princesses. The classic princesses aren’t in every episode, not even close, but are in enough to help move product–I meant…er…to rewrite some of the less feministic aspects of their original stories.
Sofia makes Amber a better person. Amber isn’t one- or two-dimensional. She is well-written and changes a over time.
This is a show that teaches about emotions, tolerance, how to treat people, and kindness. Like the aforementioned Doc McStuffins, it tells girls that they can do anything. I am a fan and highly recommend it.
I have to mention Arthur. The PBS series based on the Marc Brown books is great. I used to watch it with Courtney, and now G loves it. Yeah, it’s a little old for her, but she still digs it, and so do I. Their stories have skewered standardized testing, the loss of original intent with the American Girl doll line, and other topics that one wouldn’t expect in a children’s show. It’s really not a pre-school show but it’s on when I get home from work and G watches it and enjoys it.
I could go on and on, I’m sure. Sid the Science Kid (G loves it, Pamela and I don’t, though it preaches science and we’re for that, so we stomach it), Peg + Cat (also from the Fred Rogers Company; Pamela and I love it, G isn’t as fond), Dinosaur Train (fun show), Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, and Caillou (which I used to hate, have now grown more fond of, but Pamela hates; G loves it) are a few of the others. If it sounds like G consumes too much TV, it’s because that is a lengthy list, but it’s not watched all in one day, and she rarely goes above the 2 hr limit that researchers have found is bad for kids. On the rare days she does go over the 2 hr, she’s sick, I’m sick, or Pamela is sick, and it’s a good way to keep her calm while someone rests.
And if you’re thinking that a lot of these shows are girl shows, I suggest you chill out. I think Sofia the First, the “girliest” of these shows, can be great for boys to watch if they sat down and actually watched them. The stories are often filled with adventure and Prince James is a great role model for them. Basically, if they’re not interested, fine, but I think we should be beyond worrying about such things.
Now I’ll climb off my soapbox and go watch some TV. Maybe Doc McStuffins has an interesting new case, or Sofia has a new adventure.
On Monday, March 30th, I figured that I’d be done doing pen-edits on Echoes on the Pond by the end of the week and work would move to the computer to begin editing the manuscript. I had about 50 or so pages left and had been editing about 10 pages/night. This took me about 20 minutes or so, which was great. I felt accomplished and it allowed me to rest for the marathon that would be the computer edits. I knew, however, that the last 50 pages of the second draft of Echoes on the Pond were going to be the toughest to edit. This contained the most new material, an ending that I wasn’t completely satisfied with, and a bunch of things that needed fine-tuning. Meaning, unlike the rest of the 450 pages that preceded it, the last 50 pages were almost like a first draft.
By Thursday, April 2nd, with only 35 pages left, I realized I needed to add some stuff. There was a leap in the story that was all right but felt, to me, slap-dash. My thinking was that if I felt like it was slap-dash, and I wrote the fucking thing, then any reader would feel similarly. So I decided to write this new stuff while I was in the midst of the chapter. I also chose to write it out by hand in a notebook, for the helluvit. I’ve been reading up on writers who’ve given up the word processing program for the pen and paper. Writers I admire like Joe Hill and Neil Gaiman are but two who are big on handwritten first drafts. So I figured I’d dip my toe in for this new stuff. I worked on the 3rd and 4th, and meant to on the 5th but was too tired from driving for four hours, to and from Western Mass, where my in-laws live.
And then came the bug.
I got a bad stomach bug that knocked me on my ass Monday and Tuesday. Then came grading that needed to be done by Friday on Wednesday and Thursday. By Friday night, I was wiped out, so I just read.
Last night I finally returned to the novel, and wrote some more by hand. I’ve done 9 pages by hand so far and will probably be done with this new section tonight. Then I’ll have about 25 pages left to edit. Still, I’m sure there’ll be some funky stuff in there which means that it might take me more than three days to finish my edits.
A part of me feels like I’m stalling. I’m a little freaked out about beginning the research into publishers/editors, which I intend to do (as well as get my grad school stuff in order) once I’m on the computer every night again. But mostly I’m not worried. This novel hasn’t come easily for me but I’m fairly happy with it, and that means a lot. And that’s the thing I keep rediscovering as I work on it: I’m happy telling the story. Sure, it’s taken me from 2008 to work on this novel, but who cares?
When you’re writing, it’s the act that counts. It’s telling the story to the best of your ability. The fun and challenge of it.
Either way, the end is near. And I’m going to enjoy every minute of it.
And then start it all over again with a new project. That’s what we do.
When I was a kid, my father would say, “When I was a kid…” and I’d roll my eyes, sigh, and be the snot that I was. I often reminded him that it was The Eighties, which is just about how I thought of them, capital- and italicized. I blame bad sitcoms and teen movies of the day that were all over HBO. When I was a teenager, I was only slightly less obnoxious. After all, it was the nineties. Most of the time, when Dad spoke of his childhood, it was to complain. He’d be complaining about the costs of things (he’ll still go into that spiel if you bring up costs of anything). He’d be complaining about how I behaved. He’d generally be complaining. My father was born in 1941 and basically grew up in the country, in a lower-to-mid-middle class family. Life wasn’t perfect, but when he talks about when he was a kid, you’d think it was.
This has been on my mind a lot lately because of the snow. Since January, eastern Massachusetts has received a lot of snow. Boston says it’s about 8 feet, or maybe 10. Down my way, not much better. We haven’t had a full week of school since the week before Martin Luther King, Jr Day. The last week of January, we had two days of school, Monday and Friday. The following Monday and Tuesday were no good. The Monday that followed was no good. Now it’s February vacation and, depending on how the weather goes this weekend, we may not have school again at the start of next week. I’ve had a lot of time to think, to stew.
And you’re annoying me.
Not you, you’re fine. But you, back there. The one standing on his/her own memories and ego. Yeah…you. You posted this on Facebook and/or Twitter:
When I was a kid, they didn’t cancel school until snow actually started.
When I was a kid, it took more than cold weather to stop me from ______.
Those aren’t the only things you’re posting either. From religion to politics to pop culture, everything was better when you were a kid. My response:
This especially annoys me from people who are around my age (I was born in 1977). Look, I do think we played outside more, with less rules, than the kids of today have. We didn’t have play dates, we played. By ourselves. Meaning, no parental involvement. But I’m not here to talk about that today. I want to talk about the weather.
You’re right, you old fart. When you were a kid–when we were kids–school wasn’t canceled until the snow fell. There was a certain alarm to listen for at 5:30/6:00 AM, and a specific radio station to listen to. I spent many sleepless nights in elementary school gambling and losing on the chance that we would get walloped by snow and I’d have a snow day.
That’s gone because science.
Have you noticed that in the past…oh…ten years that weather reporting has been pretty goddamn accurate. Maybe not 7 or 10 days in advance, completely, but it’s gotten pretty good. Chances are, if the 7-Day says that snow is coming at the end of the week, by the fourth day in, they know for sure and it’s only the matter of how many inches we’re getting, which they’ve gotten pretty good at predicting, too. It simply makes more sense now to close school the night before than to chance it at 5:30 AM. It allows parents to make accommodations in advance.
Science isn’t the answer for everything, of course. Your insistence that kids were better when you were that age is just plain bullshit, because I was a kid at the same time, or know human nature better than you, and it’s simply not true.
Look, there are always things we long for and changes to culture and the world around us that take us away from the good. I’m not denying that. Republicans have systematically shot down regulations that gave us better things and replaced them with cheaper, crappier stuff. Democrats have been too nice to do what’s necessary to get those regulations back. And all sides have been bought off a little too much in the places that count.
For the most part, though, things aren’t any worse now than they were. They’re just bad in different ways. And there’s still a lot of good, if not great, out in the world.
So stop it.
It doesn’t take much work to know that I love Harlan Ellison’s work, and that I think the man himself is pretty keen, too. Even a new reader of my blog/website will know fairly quickly. So this Christmas was a pretty good one considering I got two of his books as gifts. One was the Subterranean Press edition of his classic 1958 collection The Deadly Streets, which I’d read this past summer in one of my paperback editions. Subterranean makes handsome volumes and this one is no exception. Now I need me the matching Gentleman Junkie so I can have the set. Anyway, Pamela did great. The other Ellison volume I received was Harlan Ellison’s The Sound of the Scythe, which features the full-length novel The Sound of the Scythe, published in its entirety for the first time, as well as four novellas. I feel the urge to talk about this book.
The Sound of the Scythe opens the book. Like most of Ellison’s novels, it’s a short one. It’s about a man named Emory who is moved to revenge against a former friend of his, a powerful man who is intent on destroying Emory’s life for the simple reason that he can. The book is a science fiction story that has the main character moving across the stars, trading faces (and, in some cases, bodies) to exact his revenge. It’s pure Ellison. Equal parts angry, loving, fantastic, and scary, one can’t help but feel Emory’s pain and even disgust in himself until the final pages. Still, while the novel is entertaining, it’s the lesser piece of the four that comprise this book. The fact that it was published for the first time in over 50 years, and was rewritten and unabridged, and the fact that it’s Ellison’s second novel, are the main selling points. I enjoyed it a lot, but it isn’t my favorite piece in the book.
The book’s second piece is Ellison’s novella “Mefisto in Onyx.” This story is about Rudy Pairis, a man who is able to read minds, and how he’s duped by a serial killer to switch bodies. The story is really good, though I found that the introductory meeting between Rudy and his closest friend, deputy district attorney Allison Roche, to be longish, since it comprises most of the story. Still, I enjoyed it the first time I read it back in my early-twenties when I read the 1997 collection Slippage, and I enjoyed it even more this time around.
The third piece is the novella “All the Lies That Are My Life,” which appears to be a semi-autobiographical tale about two writers. While I have this novella in the 1980 collection Shatterday, I still haven’t read the collection. This novella floored me. When I reached the end of it, I wanted to go back to the beginning and start over, and I wanted to curl into a ball on the couch and cry, heart-broken. It’s that kind of story.
The final novella of the book is one of my favorites, “The Resurgence of Miss Ankle-Strap Wedgie.” I first read this story back around 2000/2001, in the fourth volume of the doomed Edgeworks series, which collected two of Ellison’s collections: Love Ain’t Nothing But Sex Misspelled (1968) and The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World (1969). “The Resurgence of Miss Ankle-Strap Wedgie” is in the former collection. I read it again as part of 2001’s The Essential Ellison: A 50-Year Retrospective. This novella is a Hollywood story about a former movie star by the name of Valerie Lone who is found waitressing at a roadside diner by a movie studio’s publicity guy–Handy, who is the main character–and a producer. They lure Lone back to Hollywood, seeing it as a way to make their current movie, a spy picture starring Robert Mitchum, more interesting to the public.
The novella is heartbreaking. It got me back when I was 23/24, and it got me again, harder, at 37. I stayed up late one night this week finishing it, even though I knew how it ended. And when I finished, I wanted to cry.
And that’s why I’m writing about this book. The four longer pieces by Ellison are at times quite funny, and beautiful, but they’re all heartbreaking. They move one to look at the world, and at themselves, and ask the difficult questions. What constitutes bravery? Why do we allow ourselves to become entrapped by outside forces? Why do we ignore the songs within ourselves for false senses of security? What is love?
These are things that run throughout Ellison’s work, and they are why I love his writing so much. When I’m done, I’m usually wrecked, but I feel better for it. So click the link. Get yourself this book, or the others that I mentioned, and ask yourself those questions.
I may be exaggerating a bit. I don’t know that’s it’s a regular flu, never mind a superflu, but I know that we’ve all been sick since roughly 1971. The two-year-old began with a runny nose last Saturday (January 10th, for those keeping records)(and if you’re keeping records, just stop. That’s creepy). Then she had a fever. A low-grade fever, but a fever nonetheless. Then Pamela began feeling gross. I’ve been fighting some sort of cold/sick off since before the holidays so it didn’t surprise me that I began getting it. Hell, even the teenager, who technically resides with her mother but whom I see every day, has been sick since the New Year.
Now I write this between coughs, nose drips, and with a voice that’s barely existent. Pamela stayed home with G all week until Friday, when I was finally too sick to go to work (not to mention that I had little-to-no voice).
Why am I telling you this? Because the work, the writing, stalled. I was doing so great. January 1st through the 7th are all X’d out on the chain calendar. I must’ve felt too tired or drained on the 8th, but I was there for the 9th. After that, blank boxes until this Friday, the 16th, when I had a little perk that night. A perk that left in the wee hours of the morning, when the mucous in my head came alive and tried to take over.
Anyway, I’ve edited for the last three nights.
Why am I telling you this?
Because I feel like I need to answer to somebody. Because no matter what the pro’s sometimes say, the Day Job, the one that pays the bills, sometimes has to come first. Luckily, I enjoy my day job and feel like I’m doing Good Work with it, just as I do with my writing, so it doesn’t feel like a trade-off. But I wanted you to know that as soon as I felt a leeeetle better, I grabbed the ol’ lap desk, grabbed the novel, and did some low-intensity work.
And you should, too.
Lastly, happy birthday to my awesome, wonderful, amazing wife. I often don’t feel like I deserve her. I can be such a fuck-up and asshole at times, but she puts me in my place and everything gets better.
I love you, babe.
So I didn’t do an end-of-the-year review for 2014, or one of those lame-ass Facebook “This was my pretend year” thingamijigs, but I’m here to post my First! Post! Of! 2015! post. Sure, it’s a day later than most bloggers, but if you follow my blog (and thank you if you do. Thank you even more if you actually read it!) you’ll know that I’m not as constant as I’d like to be. I could say that one of my goals for 2015 is to post more, and that would be the truth, but you and I both know that probably won’t happen. We’ll see. In terms of 2014, it began with my one-year-old daughter (who is two now, if you’re new to this site) having an issue and us taking her to the emergency room, and that pretty much dictated the kind of year it was. The best part of 2014 is that G is healthy, happy, and oh-so-wonderful. There were other good things, too, but I’m not looking back, I’m looking forward.
The one thing I do want to look back on is the writing chain I first wrote about back in July, and then again in August. With 2014 packed away, I thought I’d share the chain for last year to see how it shaped up.
As you can see, my worst month was December. I’d finished the second draft of the novel in October, worked on stories and other stuff throughout the latter part of October and through November and was burned out from work and life by December. My wife has a stupid hectic schedule for her job and that means I’m handling the toddler by myself more. As well as shopping, getting work stuff done, and generally just being exhausted. I don’t feel guilty. Well…I feel mildly guilty.
When I added the numbers, I wrote 234 days out 365. That’s more than half the year. And while I’m not thrilled with the 131 days of not writing, I got back on the bike in a big way in 2014 and hope to do even better in 2015.
The other thing I do, besides the chain, is I keep a writing log. I began this back in 2000. February 23rd-24th, 2000 to be exact. It started because I friend of mine (whom I haven’t seen or heard from in over a decade, probably because I said something wrong–which I believe I did) wondered how much money I’m making an hour with my writing.
At that time, it was easy to tell him: $0/hr. But I was working on a novel and I thought maybe, once the big payday came from that novel, I could figure it out and show him, Mister Scientist that he was!
There’ve been breaks in the log, but I started it back up again last year.
So that’s another way I’ve been keeping track. The log stopped being about the money almost immediately. As I’ve pointed out, my writing isn’t–and never has been–about the money. I just like to see what I’ve done, and when. It’s also an amazing way to remember things that were going on in my life.
Anyway, G woke up from her nap right after I uploaded the log’s picture and she’s been sitting on my lap for the last paragraph, and this one, waiting for me to rock her and sing to her. While she’s a bit big and heavy at this point, it’s giving me muscles, so I’m not complaining.
Happy New Year, a day late. I hope it’s a great one.
Like a mother about to give birth, writers–and probably all creative types–tend to find a billion things to do before sitting down to work. I know this because of interviews with writers I’ve seen and read, books and articles about writing by writers both little- and well-known, and other blog posts I’ve read from other writers, most of whom are better than me. For mothers, it’s called nesting syndrome, or nesting instinct. Animals will prepare a nest or a spot for the birth of their babies. For humans, mothers will often clean the house, do things that they’ve been putting off for one reason or another. I don’t know if it has a name for creative people, but I’m in the midst of it right now, which is why I’m posting here.
It’s 9:29 PM on December 28th, 2014 as I write this sentence. So far, I’ve organized some of G’s Christmas gifts, which included straightening my desk. I’ve gone through some of the gift bags that we hadn’t really gone through yet. I balanced my checkbook. I posted my musing on the nesting syndrome on Twitter and Facebook. I remembered that I haven’t posted a blog since I last posted a blog (a few weeks back…? [Eight days ago]) and decided that I must post at least once more before 2014 ends and 2015 begins.
This week I printed out the 2nd draft of Echoes on the Pond and it’s sitting in a box behind me, and I know that I have to get to it. The blue Pilot Precise V5 rolling ball pens that I use are ready. The manuscript is ready. I’m ready! Even the toddler is ready!
Yet, here I sit, writing a blog post that will…do what? Add to the white noise that social media has become? But I’m compelled. I have no choice. Nesting syndrome.
It’s not that writers dislike writing. Well, most writers. There’s that famous quote from Dorothy Parker that goes, “I hate writing, I love having written.” Maybe she did. I’ve heard other writers say that sort of thing, too. I don’t feel that way. Most of the writers I read seem not to feel that way. For most of us, it’s too much work for too little gain. I mean, right now I have a contract sitting here that I need to read, possibly haggle about, and then sign and return to an editor. The pay day for said contract is small. It’s a reprint, and it’s for a friend, but still. I’ll do the professional Haggle Dance (that I should’ve done on another contract from a different editor/publisher that I think I got screwed over on–oh, boy! Live and learn!) and that will be that. Then I await payment. It could cover the cost of half a take-out order.
I’m not writing for the money (I’m publishing for the money, but that’s another post for another time; when I really have something to say about it), I’m writing because I fucking love it. So are most writers. People who think Stephen King hasn’t written a book with his name on it since the 1970s don’t get it. People who question the “prolificacy” of writers don’t get it. Sure, you have your James Pattersons and Tom Clancys who hire people to write from outlines they provide while turning out a book a year or every two-to-five years, but most writers who have large quantities of books under their belt do it because they love it. As I’ve often said, writing is like playing with the action figures I grew up with.
So why the procrastination?
Anyway, I really should get to it.
Although, there is that contract that needs to get looked at….
As I stated a few posts back (or my last non-Batman post), I finished the second draft of my novel back in October (the 18th, if you’re keeping track). Since then I’ve worked on a short story, the final Batman essays, and other assorted small things. Mostly, I’ve been doing grades, relaxing, and trying figure out a next step in several areas of my life. Teaching has been kicking my ass.
But now…Holiday Vacation! And not just that, but the two people I’ve asked to read the second draft of the novel have read it, given me their notes/feedback, and it’s probably time to begin the third draft.
This is what I try to tell my students, most of whom wish to work in a media-related field. There is very little downtime when you’re trying to make a name for yourself. And that’s okay, because a friggin’ love to tell stories.
For 75 years, Batman has thrilled audiences. His story appeals to many children, teens, and adults because he is the outsider who relishes his role as the outsider and has worked himself to be the best at everything so he can help people. He began as the dark vigilante of the night in the 1930s and became a moral but harsh crimefighter and adventurer in the 1940s, a friendly father figure during the 1950s, a pop culture icon in the 1960s, went back to his dark roots in the 1970s, grew up in the 1980s, sold out in the 1990s, and came back stronger than ever in the 2000s. Throughout, the creation of Bob Kane and Bill Finger has changed as we have, his story has been our story, just as any good mythological character is.
Before The Dark Knight Rises was released, word had already come out that Batman would be rebooted in the coming years. This came as no surprise since Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy could only really exist in its own world. With Man of Steel, Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment wanted to begin their cinematic universe. In July 2013, at the San Diego Comic Con, Zack Snyder and Warner Bros. announced that the sequel to Man of Steel would be what was then tentatively titled Batman vs. Superman.
By the fall, news was released that the world’s next cinematic Batman and Bruce Wayne would be played by Ben Affleck.
The movie, officially titled Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, will officially launch the DC Cinematic Universe in March 2016 and will begin flooding movie theaters, along with Marvel’s movies, until 2020. For the most part, this seems intriguing, but I’ll really be looking to see how Batman and Superman fare.
For me, Batman is a very versatile character that has had a strange cinematic history. I long for the day someone attempts a great adventure, in the realm of Mike W. Barr’s phenomenal Batman: Birth of the Demon, or an alternative history version, like Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola’s Batman: Gotham By Gaslight.
In the meantime, I look forward to seeing Snyder’s and Affleck’s take on Bruce Wayne and Batman.
And I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you about it.
With The Dark Knight becoming one of the highest-grossing films of all time, with its critical and fan reaction so positive, it was no surprise that Warner Bros. wanted a sequel. That wasn’t the only thing at play behind the continuation of this Batman’s story, though. See, DC Comics characters had pretty much owned television and film for nearly sixty years. Their characters had been on the Silver Screen since the Fleischer Brothers first brought Superman to theaters in 1941 and included the Superman animated shorts, the Batman serials, the Superman serials, Superman and the Mole Men, Batman: The Movie, the Christopher Reeve Superman series, Burton’s Batman movies, and Schumacher’s Batman movies. On television, Superman and Batman reigned supreme, but was also joined by Lynda Carter in Wonder Woman, as well as all the various animated shows from the 1960s straight through to 2000. Marvel did all right with the cartoons, but their live-action franchises pretty much began and ended with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno in The Incredible Hulk. There’d been an attempt to bring Spider-Man to the small screen that was mostly a failure. The same with Captain America. The movies that ended up being made after 1989’s Batman was a huge success either were relegated to small screenings and went direct to video (Captain America and The Punisher) or were never released (Roger Corman’s legendary Fantastic Four).
In 2000, with the success of Bryan Singer’s X-Men, Marvel began to have some cinematic street cred. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002) re-enforced it. And while the much under-appreciated Hulk was largely seen as a failure, the sequels to X-Men and Spider-Man most assuredly were not. Even the Fantastic Four movies did all right. But the thing that really shook things up, the thing that I think really made DC Comics–and Warner Bros.–begin to worry didn’t happen until 2008, a mere two months before The Dark Knight would change everything.
By all means, Iron Man, starring Robert Downey, Jr., shouldn’t have been a good movie, never mind a huge hit. But it was. And not only that, but the “secret” scene after the end credits where Samuel L. Jackson appears as Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. and talks to Tony Stark about joining the Avengers Initiative sets up what couldn’t possibly come to pass. While The Dark Knight clearly won the box office that summer, there was definitely room enough in geeks’ hearts for both billionaires with a predisposition to gadgets and cool suits who fought bad guys, Iron Man hinted at the possibility of a lively Marvel cinematic event, which only became more real with the following month’s The Incredible Hulk. Regardless of where one stands on this version of the Hulk’s story, Tony Stark’s cameo regarding the Avengers began to cement comic book fans’ hopes. By 2010’s Iron Man 2, it was a done deal. Marvel would be making The Avengers. While the first Iron Man set up the idea, and The Incredible Hulk kept it afloat, Iron Man 2 really started the story. Nick Fury and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and S.H.I.E.L.D. play a huge role, as well as cameos from the other future Avengers in some way or another.
DC needed to respond. Could Christopher Nolan’s Batman films be a part of a new DC Cinematic Universe, or were they too stand-alone? Did Nolan even want to return to make a third Batman? What about the other heroes?
2011’s Green Lantern was met with a lot of excitement but became a let-down. The hopes that DC and Warner Bros. would replicate the success of the growing Marvel Cinematic Universe were destroyed faster than Green Lantern‘s running time. Rumors swirled about a Justice League movie in the works, which would ignore Nolan’s films. DC/Warner Bros. needed something.
Cinematic Universe or no, Christopher Nolan decided to return for a third film in his Dark Knight Trilogy. Again, he met with David S. Goyer for the initial story, which would then be written as a screenplay by him and his brother Jonathan. Nolan decided to stick to his guns and make this film the final act of his story. Warner Bros. and DC were smart to leave him alone.
On July 20th, 2012, The Dark Knight Rises premiered.
By then, things were pretty good for me. I’d been re-married three years and Pamela and I were expecting a baby, a girl. My older daughter was fourteen and just over a month away from starting high school. The year had had some bumpy moments but things were good. And in a summer that had already brought us Marvel’s The Avengers, we truly looked forward to The Dark Knight Rises. I was excited that something similar to the real version of Bane would appear in a movie, and also just to see where we’d be brought this time.
By now, we’d expect that I’d place Christian Bale here, and I will, though nearly by default and also by a hair. Where he lit the screen in Batman Begins and truly became Batman in The Dark Knight, he feels too familiar by now. Still, there are moments that truly show his craft. The scene between him and Michael Caine as Alfred resigns out of fear for Bruce in one. The raw emotion displayed by both actors gave the movie much-needed emotional depth and was a surprise, as well. Also, his fight scene with Bane (Tom Hardy) is also spectacularly acted. This is the Batman we’ve grown to love meeting his match and unable to change course, which leads to his undoing. Bale’s real performance isn’t under the mask, though, but rather as Bruce Wayne comes out of his self-exile and re-emerges to a different world and slowly figures out how to deal with Bane and the crisis in Gotham.
Also, props are given to Gary Oldman, who once again brings Commissioner James Gordon to life with intensity, intelligence, and pathos. That said, like Bale’s entry, he’s here by a hair.
Tom Hardy as Bane is the backbone (not sure if the pun is intended) of this movie. Like Heath Ledger’s turn as The Joker, Hardy’s Bane steals the show. The guy is 5’9″, which while it isn’t short (ahem…thinking of my own height, only I always throw in “and three-quarters” because…well…you know) and he looms over everyone. And I don’t mean the obvious camera tricks, either, though they’re definitely put to good use here, but by his performance. Hardy gives Bane a confidence that borders on arrogance. He doesn’t just walk, he saunters. His soulful eyes also do a phenomenal job in letting the audience grasp his emotion, without ever once seeming to over-play it. And while there’ve been critics about his voice, I liked it. It was silly sometimes, but effective.
And while we’re on Bane, kudos to Nolan, Goyer, and Nolan for bringing to the Silver Screen a Bane who is worthy of an adaptation. He would’ve been the last villain I’d’ve thought they’d go with (well…maybe not the last…) but they utilized the gist of the comic book character who was one of the break-out stars of 1990s comic books.
Also, Anne Hathaway is quite good as Selina Kyle/Catwoman, though she’s never called Catwoman, even once. Hathaway is an actress I enjoy immensely and whom, like Gwyneth Paltrow, I feel gets given a hard time too often. Hathaway is tough and broken, yet she has the ability to change as the world around her changes.
I also rather enjoyed Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake. His role as a police officer-turned-detective-turned-Batman/Robin brings an infusion of new blood to the screen, and helps move the story along. He’s spunky and likable.
Marion Cotillard is, well, beautiful, haunting, and I can watch her all day.
Of course, the rest of the cast is good, too, which we expect by now for not only a Christopher Nolan film, but also for this series of Batman movies.
I loved The Bat. I know that some people thought it was lame, but I’m not one of them. I’d hoped for a return of a Batmobile, but The Bat does the job nicely for me. This machine flying through Gotham makes me happy.
The story is bold, and I like that a lot. After the mega-success and instant-classic status of The Dark Knight, to go back to Batman Begins, yet forward with a story that truly closes the series with little hope for a follow-up in this universe is bold. To tell a story that surpasses The Dark Knight‘s 2hr 30mins by 15 minutes, bringing it close to 3 hrs, is also bold. It would’ve been easy to play it safe at this point and give us a similarly-themed third installment, replacing The Joker with another character. But Nolan decided to go back to the League of Shadows and Ra’s al Ghul and bring the story full circle. Here is a Bruce Wayne who is finally able to hang up the cowl and walk away. Here is a Batman who will sacrifice himself for Gotham…in a sense. Very, very bold.
Also bold is having Gotham be completely hijacked by Bane. This was the tell-tale moment where this movie went from, “Wow!” to “What the fuck are they doing?!” in the best way possible. I admire it.
I also love Batman’s comeback after the Gotham Stock Exchange is held-up. It’s an appropriate re-introduction to the character and means a lot. The fact that the filmmakers decided to keep the same suit is also wonderful. No sudden outfit changes for this Batman!
And Nolan’s direction is, once again, really good. He makes Gotham feel huge and real, while definitely making it known that it doesn’t exist. The action is well done and the overall tone of the movie is right.
I mentioned above that both Christian Bale’s and Gary Oldman’s performances are there by a hair each (maybe even the same hair!). I feel that their performances in this movie are a little uneven compared to the previous movies. Bale underplays Bruce Wayne sometimes while Oldman overplays Gordon at times. Mostly, though, they’re keeping up the status quo, and it’s neither good nor bad.
The “realistic” villains in John Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn) and his assistant (Burn Gorman) are a little too cartoony for Christopher Nolan’s world. Mendelsohn seems to sneer a little too much and comes off more like a Bond villain (says the guy who’s never seen a James Bond movie) than a Dark Knight Trilogy villain. Also, Matthew Modine’s role as…whoever he was, I’m not checking…is a little weak. Even his death is weak.
Marion Cotillard is under-utilized. Her role as Miranda Tate brings some new energy to the movie, but the big reveal that she’s Talia al Ghul, Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter, is a let-down. I was hoping she would be this character as I watched the movie, but by the time she reveals who she really is and takes charge, the movie is almost over and she’s given nothing to do but die, which is a waste of this actress and a waste of this character. I know that Cotillard was pregnant during this time and I’m sure that had something to do with the lack of a Talia al Ghul fighting Batman, but isn’t that what stuntwomen are for?
While each of these movies have some plot holes, The Dark Knight Rises seems to suffer the most from them, and while I’m not so concerned about the plot holes (if I’m entertained, I rarely am) I feel like the pacing of the movie is off. The first part of the movie, where Batman is no more, Bruce is slowly peeking his head out of his exile, and Gordon is having a crisis is great. We meet John Blake, Modine’s character, Selina Kyle, and Bane. We see where things are headed. When Gordon is nearly killed and Bruce decides to return as Batman, the movie hits a strangely bumpy road. Too much is going on in the amount of time it’s happening, making some of the scenes flow into each other so quickly that it’s almost dizzying. Batman returns, Catwoman is watching it as she robs Daggett, she beats him up and escapes, finds Bane’s men, Batman shows up, they fight and escape, and she disappears so he can have a joke. No breathing. Even how quickly he asks her for help and she gives it, only to betray him by giving him to Bane feels too easy, too convenient.
Why isn’t The Joker mentioned? Even once? Harvey Dent is mentioned, his photo is shown, and Gordon has flashbacks. The Joker? The dude who had Gotham on its knees and basically caused the whole Dent thing to go down isn’t mentioned. Where is he? Why isn’t he released when Bane lets the psychopaths out? It’s just strange to me. Was this out of respect to Heath Ledger? It’s damn weird, is all.
The pacing is perfect for a short period of time here, where Batman gets beaten and brought to the hole prison place. As Bane methodically traps Gotham PD and takes over the city, the movie feels right. Until Bruce suddenly starts training in the hole. Then it’s choppy again. And slow. Very slow. And then Batman returns again and things feel more on track.
Did I explain it well? I’m not sure. But I think that The Dark Knight Rises is, more than any other thing I’ve seen, a strong argument as to why television is actually better suited for these stories than film. Excuse me while I digress a little….
Throughout the 1990s and 2000s (okay, and 2010s) as superhero movie after superhero movie has come out, I have felt stronger and stronger that the best place for these characters would be television. While movie theaters can offer a big spectacle, the television offers breadth. These characters, by their very nature, are meant to evolve and change over a long period of time. They have secondary and side characters that are colorful and varied and best-suited for the way television works. The Dark Knight Rises would’ve made an excellent season of TV. The build-up of Bruce Wayne’s return as Batman. The way Bane breaks him (mid-season finale) and then takes over Gotham. Batman’s return. The intro of John Blake’s true first name being Robin, thereby setting up the next season! Even Batman Begins and The Dark Knight follow this. That said, I’m not currently watching any of the superhero TV shows (well, I just started watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on Netflix) but I really think this is the way they’d be best. I propose a new cable channel called HERO, where comic books and their other-media-offspring have a place to live. Sign both DC and Marvel and get adaptations of both places’ biggest names. Imagine the possibilities! After 10PM is reserved for The Sandman or whathaveyou. Egads!
Anyway, the movie is uneven at times, and even a little boring at times. A little.
My final real beef with this movie is the ending. No, not Batman “sacrificing” himself, the Robin reveal, or even Alfred finding Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle at some café. My beef is pretty much from the point where Miranda Tate reveals that she’s Talia al Ghul until the moment Batman flies off with the bomb. In other words, the climax. I’ve already mentioned how the Big Reveal is a little lame above, so I’ll skip that and go to Bane and Batman left alone. Talia has given Bane orders to keep Batman alive so he can feel the burn of the nuclear explosion and know that he failed. She leaves and Bane waits a few moments with a gasping, spirit-crushed Batman.
(An aside: The world’s greatest detective has been fooled by Talia al Ghul. All right, I’ll buy that, League of Shadows and all that. But he is so heartbroken. Between the less than subtle stab in the back she gave him and the point after she leaves and–well, I’m about to go there–he is in shambles. Heavy mouth-breathing, eyes wide, unable to figure out what to do or get his footing back against Bane. Yes, he’s in pain. Yes, his feelings are hurt and he feels betrayed, and probably the fool, too. But he’s Batman, fer chrissakes! His last fuckin’ girlfriend was blown up by a clown! He hardly knew this girlfriend and only really had a one night stand with her! All right, diatribe done.)
Bane takes a shotgun, points it at Batman’s face, and basically says that Talia will just have to believe Batman blew up and didn’t have his face shot off, when suddenly–BLAM!–the Catwoman shoots him with the guns on the Batpod. In other words…Batman fails. He got his ass handed to him by Bane halfway through the movie. He gets his spirit back. He gets his body back. He escapes the prison hole that is able to symbolize the well he fell down in the first frames of Batman Begins and how Bruce Wayne has finally grown up and is able to move beyond his childhood trauma. He somehow gets back to Gotham through means we’ll never know (here’s where a TV series would’ve helped). He rounds up everyone he needs to. He beats up Bane, proving that he’s the motherfuckin’ Batman. Yes, Talia threw him off. Yes, he’s upset. But isn’t that how it’s supposed to go? Shouldn’t Batman be the one to take down Bane? Isn’t it the job as the hero of the movie to, I don’t know, take down the villain?
Instead, the Catwoman does it, and adds a one-liner that, while in character, throws away Batman’s beliefs. It’s not like he’s the title character or anything.
Oh, wait, there’s more.
So they leave to stop the bomb. Batman gets Talia to drive off a bridge. I’ll buy Gordon miraculously living through a drop off an overpass as he’s in the back of a truck with a bomb that ways a ton even though the driver of the truck dies. But…the driver dies. Talia, the “true” villain of the movie, is killed in an automobile accident. And her last words are given to Gordon.
Finally, the last thing that annoyed me about this ending is something I’m okay with in theory, but after these two letdowns, it bothered me. Batman lets Gordon know who he is, through his typical cryptic means. And Gordon, who one would think has helped many children in the crime-infested city that is Gotham, knows exactly which child he gave a coat to. It’s a little thing, but this proves that this Batman is hardly a secret to anyone. Not only does Alfred know, but Lucius Fox knows, Rachel Dawes knew, the guy who works at Wayne Enterprises and was going to blackmail him knows, Ra’s al Ghul knows, Selina Kyle knows, Bane knows, Talia al Ghul knows, John Blake–who never met the man–figured it out because he also lost his parents, and, finally, James Gordon knows.
(Another aside. Unless the point of these “faults” was that Batman’s true job wasn’t to take down Bane or Talia, but to only take care of the bomb. But that’s a little weak to me.)
I also think they had a lost opportunity. I kept expecting that Harvey Dent was alive. That he’d never died but was hurt, and that he was holed-up in the prison or in the new Arkham facility, and that he’d pop up at the end to wreak more havoc. It would’ve been great. Who better to be a judge instead of Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow? But, alas, he was dead.
Overall, I think The Dark Knight Rises, much like 2013’s Man of Steel, which was shooting at the same time as Nolan’s movie even though it was released a year later, is a very flawed masterpiece. The size of the movie and the fact that it boldly goes where most of these kinds of movies are afraid to go, to ask questions and not answer them, and to actually give an ending to the story, is an achievement that is rare in this type of movie. If the filmmakers use coincidence a little too much, or allow for the fantasy to seep a little too much into their ultra-realistic storytelling, or sort of botched up the ending, so be it. I’m fascinated by this movie in much the same way I’m fascinated with Man of Steel. Both films have things that strongly bother me (Gordon calling for every police officer to go into the sewers looking for Bane, for instance) but both tell fully-realized stories that I feel I have to watch again and again, like reading a good novel.
I left The Dark Knight Rises the Sunday after it opened unsure of how I felt about it. I loved it and didn’t like it at the same time. I needed to see it again, to experience it again. I’ve seen it, I think, four times now. I really like the movie and am drawn to watch it again. I feel like I’m still missing something. Maybe it’s because there’s not as much there as I’d hoped, or maybe it’s because the movie works on a higher level than most superhero movies. Again, I feel the same way about Man of Steel.
Conclusion to The Dark Knight Trilogy
It looks as though Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy is a look at the modern superhero in modern terms, with terrorism, mass murders, and cynical outlooks all over. This Batman wants to be a symbol, and he is. He gets others to do good just by being. The biggest problem with these movies is that they’re too serious. Sure, they have some humor, here and there, but everything is serious and a little too well-thought-out. Nolan is trying to elevate the superhero movie with these movies, but in so doing, lost one of the things that make Batman and his villains so interesting: they’re pulp fiction history. This Gotham City couldn’t host Man-Bat, or Killer Croc, or many of Batman’s other Rogues Gallery unless they were so adapted that they’d eventually lose their character. And it certainly doesn’t open up the hope that there could be other superheroes.
One of its other major flaws is in allowing Bruce Wayne so much help. The fact that Lucius Fox is either the designer, or part of a team, that has made most of the gadgets and vehicles Batman has, the fact that there are so many people who know who he is and help him in some way may make for a more realistic portrayal of Batman, but it also takes away some of the magic that the character has. One of the fantastic things about the character of Batman is that he’s a genius. He could easily have helped stop crime by following the rules and using his research and technology to help the police do their jobs, but instead uses it himself as a vigilante. By taking away his ability to come up with the tools he uses, Batman and Bruce Wayne become nothing more than a rich dude who wants to kick people’s asses. Sure, he has detective skills, but some of what makes Batman Batman is lost.
While in many ways, The Dark Knight Trilogy is a masterpiece in storytelling, it does fall shy of what Marvel’s movies have been able to achieve: Big screen adaptations of not only the characters, but the universe that was created in the comic books. Nolan isn’t interested in being at the helm of a shared world, he’s interested in being a serious filmmaker. As such, for everything Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises gets right–which is considerable–they miss one major thing that the Marvel movies–whether from 20th Century Fox, Sony, or Paramount/Disney–has: fun.
I went to bed on July 19th bummed that I couldn’t get out to see the midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises. My wife had to work the next day and was pregnant, so sleep was very necessary, and my best friends either lived too far away, were busy with their own lives, or also had to work the next day. Being a teacher, I had the 20th, the film’s opening date, off. But Pamela really wanted to see the movie, too, since she loved the predecessor as much as I did (well…maybe not as much), and would’ve been bummed if I’d gone without her, so I went to bed vowing to stay away from the internet for any possible spoilers between Friday and Sunday.
I awoke the next morning hearing the news from the living room. In my sleepy consciousness, I heard something about a mass shooting. In a movie theater. The Dark Knight Rises was named. Horrified, I slid out of bed and went into the living room.
Colorado. Okay, I thought, no one I know lives out there. That’s the first concern, right? Do I know anyone in one of these places?
The news that a man armed to the teeth began shooting in a crowded movie theater during a midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises, killing 12 people and injuring 70 others struck hard. I remembered the joy and buzz seeing Star Wars: Episode II–Attack of the Clones and Star Wars: Episode III–Revenge of the Sith at midnight screenings, being some of the first people to see a movie you’ve been waiting for. Those are great memories for me. Then, using my keen writer’s imagination, I thought about the impossible happening, the kind of thing that my writer’s imagination sometimes frightened me about. Twelve people–12–dead. A six-year-old was killed.
I wept. As I did for Columbine High School back in 1999. As I would for Sandy Hook Elementary School the following December, holding my one-month-old daughter in my hands as I watched that particular nightmare unfold.
The horrifying incident haunted me then. Pamela and I had planned on rewatching The Dark Knight that Saturday night to prepare for the following day’s trip to the movies. The spectre of the news colored that viewing.
The following day, sitting in a movie theater in Southeastern Massachusetts nearly 2,000 miles away from the tragedy, it was difficult not to keep an eye on the entrance and exits of the theater. My mind is set up to imagine the worst, which is probably why most of my fiction tends to lean toward dark subjects–horror, crime, dark fantasy–so this was a difficult viewing.
Twelve people died due to negligence in taking care of mental health issues as well as availability and access to guns. There are morons who said that if anyone in that theater had had a gun, they could’ve stopped it. Yeah, that would’ve worked out. Either way, this isn’t about a political statement, because I have no answers, but it is about the incident that I truly believed marred this movie’s reception and raises lots of questions.
Was the shooter fantasizing about being a Batman-type villain? Could Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight have acted as an accelerant to someone who was already keyed up to do something horrifying? Could the Dark Knight movies, themselves, have acted as accelerant?
All those people wanted to do was see the new Batman movie. That was it. Twelve of them never went home. Seventy others will never forget that nightmare of that evening.
For me, the incident and the film will always be connected.