Avengers: Endgame, The Umbrella Academy and time travel hijinks

A while ago I wrote a blog post about how much I hate time travel. Sort of. I mean, specifically, I hate time travel plots in science fiction and fantasy books and films and TV shows because they make no sense and tend to eat the main story. Actual time travel, on the other hand, would be pretty cool. If done safely it could be like some sort of Disney ride. If you could climb on the Time Express and take a tour through your favorite moments in history without actually being able to interfere (keep your hands inside the car at all times!) that would be fun. You’d experience it like you were riding around in someone else’s brain, so it would look and feel like you were actually there… Wait. That’s just VR. Okay, dumb idea. I suppose it’s only actually time travel if you get flung off the ride at some point and have to experience being stranded in the past as yourself.

And then all the stuff I hate about time travel would happen; the alternate timelines, the impossibility of returning to your present, the infinite possibilities of the actions of other time travelers, the probable murder of your present/future self, etc. Yuck. Also, another thing that always bothered me about time travel – when you go back in time, you would look and act and speak differently than everyone around you, even if you went back in time in your own home town. You’d be immediately suspicious.

Unless you just went back to last week or something, but… come on. You’re not going back to last week just so you can distract yourself from hearing Bob give Endgame spoilers at the water cooler. What even are you doing with this time travel power?

Oh, that reminds me. There will be some Endgame spoilers here. Also, Umbrella Academy. So, if you haven’t seen either of those, then you should stop reading and go get on that. I’d say I’ll wait for you, but you already know I won’t. Your eyes have skipped down the page and you can clearly see I didn’t wait for you. But you should still go see both the Avengers movie and the excellent Netflix series The Umbrella Academy and then come back. I won’t be here, but my words will be because that’s how they work. It’s a bit like magic but also like science and… ugh… time travel.

 

You go ahead and watch some fun TV and movies. I’ll stay here and think about the cultural impact of the invention of the written word. Fun!

 

So, we good? You all caught up? Here we go.

This isn’t a review of Endgame, exactly. I’m not sure I can break it down enough to examine it in depth. One day, I’ll probably do a combined viewing of Infinity War and Endgame to take a look at what they’re doing in terms of story and character arcs, but if I do that, I’ll probably have to include the entire MCU and that’s… just nuts. It’s insane what Marvel and Disney have done. Incredible and awe-inspiring, but certifiably crazy. I’m just not sure what storytelling lessons we can draw from it all. Not yet, anyway.

Instead, what I thought we’d talk about was the rather interesting things Endgame is doing with time travel, which I still hate. When the Avengers (or what’s left of them) go back in time to get the Infinity Stones before Thanos ever laid hands on them, they directly take on the problem of alternate timelines by promising to return them once they use them to undo “The Snap.” This is explained as clearly as possible in the confrontation between Banner-Hulk and the Ancient One. She shows him how taking the Time Stone she is guarding away from her will create an alternate timeline where the Earth has no Time Stone (and thus no way to guard against Dormammu in the Doctor Strange movie). Banner says that won’t happen because after they’re done with them, they’ll return to the exact time they took them and give them back.

So, one imagines that one second after Banner-Hulk jumps away with the Time Stone clutched in his beefy fist, Captain America strolls up to the Ancient One and gives it right back to her. Ta-da! No alternate time line!

Except, of course, that’s not true at all. Alternate time lines don’t work like that. They do not require Infinity Stones to exist. Alternate time lines are created just by the simple act of travelling back in time. Just by arriving in the past you have already made it into a different past than the one that existed and thus made a new timeline. You don’t even have to do anything. Your very existence proves the timeline is different from the original. Every consciousness that happens to detect your presence, every molecule of air you breathe, every atom you push out of the way with your own atoms – creates a new timeline!

But still the whole Time Heist idea was a good attempt at heading off paradoxes and maintaining some kind of rationale as to why they can return to a “post snap” future holding Infinity Stones from the past because they will (have) return(ed) them. Even though they haven’t (hadn’t) yet. And therefore there’s a paradox anyway, unless you believe in the Bill and Ted theory of time travel, which stipulates that as long as you leave a reminder to yourself in the future to go back and do something in the past, then you’ll see an immediate result in the present.

Which is eye-rollingly ridiculous. I would have been hugely disappointed by the movie at that point, but then all those Doc Strange portals started opening up and I got all distracted and excited.

 

When you see one of these things open up, that means shit’s about to get real.

 

So, while it was a nice twist on solving time-travel plot holes, it still failed in that regard. I didn’t really care. It was fun and epic and I got to see my man Hawkeye once more before they (probably) retire him. I’m satisfied.

But the time travel plot was unnecessary, in my opinion. I guess the creators and writers felt they needed it for all the fan-servicey stuff, but that was always a low priority on my list. I wanted a battered Avengers team hounding a battered Thanos and forcing him to finally admit that no matter what, his grand plan was and always will be futile. I still more or less got that, so as I said, after Endgame I look out at the complete MCU and I’m satisfied.

 

Like this, but with less finger-snapping and such.

 

I know it seems like I’m hating on time travel a lot, because I am. But you know what time travel plot I actually like? The one they’re using in the Netflix series The Umbrella Academy. I’ve never read the comics, so I’m unfamiliar with the source material, but the show comes across as some kind of Breakfast Club for superheroes. These kids, born under very strange circumstances, are adopted and raised by an eccentric rich guy straight out of an Edward Gorey book and trained to use their powers to fight crime. We join them when they are (mostly) grown to adulthood and see that they didn’t quite turn out as the old man had hoped.

Anyway, it’s very clever and the soundtrack is unbeatable, but since I’m assuming you’ve seen it, you know all that already. But you know what really impressed me with the show? The fact that they use time travel as a central plot point and yet do it in a way that actually adds to the story instead of distracting away from it. Apparently, there is ONE most favored timeline that must be kept intact no matter the costs and there is a sort of paranormal/supernatural governing body called “The Commission” that makes sure this happens.

From what I gather, the stipulation is that time is all happening at once, instead of in a linear fashion. This idea isn’t new, but it’s the first I’ve seen it presented in such an engaging manner. All the events throughout time come together somehow to form a certain desired timeline. Since all of them are happening at once, the Commission sends agents through time to make sure they happen (keep happening) the way they are supposed to. They seem to have a particular problem making sure the Hindenberg accident keeps happening, for instance. Now, what exactly this “preferred” timeline is and what the final outcome of said timeline will be is still a mystery, but we do know that it includes the destruction of the Earth. So, yikes. Our heros have their work cut out for them.

 

Some have a little more work to do than others.

 

This is the first time I’ve seen a time travel plot include both the idea of a main timeline and a non-linear understanding of how time works and I love it. Instead of an infinite amount of alternate timelines, there’s just one that needs constant pruning. So, as we head into season two, we get the feeling that no matter what changes our heroes could make to the past, the Comission can simply correct either instantly or at another moment in time.

The conclusion we’re expecting is that the only way to truly change our fate is to destroy the Commission itself, but what that would do to the universe is unclear. Will there still be a preferred timeline or will time be allowed to fracture? Would that split the universe into a multiverse? Would that put an end to any meaningful time travel?

I don’t know, but instead of with every other time travel plot I’ve ever come across, I’ll actually be interested in finding out.

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Why We Care About Stranger Things

So, we’re getting a third season of Stranger Things and that’s pretty great because this show is pretty great. I’ll admit, I didn’t tune in until just recently. Like, really recently. I’m telling you I just finished binge-watching the first two seasons and I did it over… ummm… three days? Has it been three days? Does the sun still shine outside? Do people still go outside? Is it safe? Who drank all the coffee? Why does it smell like body odor and farts in here?

And I’ll admit, I didn’t want to believe it could live up to the hype when I started watching it. As I watched episode one and two… I mean, I liked it. I thought it was good. I was entertained, but not swept away, you know? Maybe it was because at first I really only latched on to Hopper. We’re both around middle age. We’re both a little more thick around the middle than we should be. We’ve both been knocked around a bit by life, but we’re still in there swinging. And we firmly believe mornings are for coffee and contemplation. Yeah, Hopper’s my guy.

 

Pictured: Captain America.

 

But then something about those kids just went to work on me. Something happened after episode two or around there, something I can’t quite put my finger on, and suddenly I was as close to those kids as I was to Hopper.

And I just couldn’t…

stop…

watching.

And before I go any further, I’ll just put a PSA out there that binging is NOT a healthy way to experience anything. Seriously, don’t do it. Not good for the brain or the body. I can attest to this on more than a few subjects and watching Stranger Things is no exception. I spent a full day fighting off depression when I was done, because I found after about seventeen hours of exposure in a seventy-two hour period I was way too close to the characters. It’s like hanging out with great friends for an extended weekend and at the end of it you don’t want to go back to the other parts of your life. But in real life it’s okay because at the end of that weekend you’ve also realized you’ve just about had enough of those people for a while, right?

But not in Hawkins. I wanted those people to stay. I didn’t want to leave. I love each and every one of them and they’re all fascinating as fuck. And together we saved the world from interdimensional monsters! How am I supposed to beat that out here alone on this side of the screen?

::sob::

Ummm… So, binge watching. Not good. Don’t do it.

 

In case you’re wondering, I was the dwarven fighter. It fits my barrel chested (and waisted) physique. I’m not pictured here because when this was painted I was hanging out with Hopper in the bar doing what dwarves do. Image credit: Mashable and Bob Al-Greene.

 

A lot has been written about all the things this show does right, because there’s not much that it doesn’t do right. It captures the times of the early eighties without obsessing over them. It evokes Lovecraftian horror without directly referencing it. It directly references Stephen King’s mega impact during that time period without becoming a campy parody. It makes you care about every loving last character. I mean every single one – yes, even Billy. Okay, maybe not Ted. Ted’s a bit of a punchline.

 

It’s okay, Ted. You make everybody else cooler. Just think of it that way.

 

And it paces itself painfully well. The tension is almost perfectly built and then thunderously resolved. At the beginning of both seasons, everyone is more or less together. But as the season progresses and they all get pulled in different directions, you find yourself hungrily wanting them to get back together at last and do the big heroic thing. But those Duffer brothers have you practically begging for it before it finally comes. Bastards. Hate you. Never change.

And, of course, more than any of that is the ability of the creators to weave everything together meaningfully and then wrap every loose end up satisfactorily. But not too satisfactorily. Even though the good guys win, there’s still something very wrong in the world of Stranger Things. And even though some characters get to resolve their individual conflicts, some don’t. Maybe, on some level, none of them do.

And all that is great. It’s better than that. It’s astounding. So many shows strive to get just one or two things right, but this show just goes ahead and checks all the boxes. How?

Because you care.

Why do you care? Let me try to explain it. I think I might come close to hitting the nail on the head for why I care, but it might be something different for you. I can’t tell you how to feel, that’s your job. My job is to tell you how I feel and see if that knocks you around and gets your attention and makes you think about how you feel.

 

Pictured: The master class. I’m not quite there yet.

 

Let’s see… where to start? Well, the kids in the show are somewhere in middle school/junior high. Remember when you were that age and everything was a big deal? It was after elementary school, where you didn’t understand what was a big deal and what wasn’t and friends fell into two groups; people you played with and people you didn’t. And it was before high school, where everything was still a big deal, but you learned to pretend like it wasn’t, and friends fell into so many groups it was difficult to keep track of what everyone was doing and what they cared about.

But middle school was that time when you were becoming aware of the world around you. Your friends were more than playmates. You could talk to them about other stuff besides fun and games, but even the games and sports that you played very often became ways of figuring out real life. Adults became figures that you began to sense didn’t really have all the answers you once thought they did.

And you could leave the house on your own and start to explore the world. Time was starting to seem just a little more precious and the spaces around you a little smaller, but you were still at the center of all of it. Consequently, when good or bad things – and, dare I say strange things – happened to you and around you, it was a big deal. A very big deal.

That’s what this show gets right.

Don’t get me wrong. I hated middle school. God, it was awful. Everything was painfully awkward and embarrassing. Failures were fatal and successes… Well, the successes were actually heroic. Fleeting, but heroic.

But most importantly, it was a time when you began to care. You cared about figuring out how you should react to things. You started to care more about the people you spent time with rather than just caring how you spent the time.

And that’s where the kids of Stranger Things take me. The Duffers nail it. I rarely care about kids in shows or movies. I usually see them as set dressing. Obviously, in Stranger Things they have to be central, but they’re not just central, they’re intimately familiar. The Harry Potter movies did the same and I don’t want to take anything away from that, but Stranger Things just does it so much better. We’re shown that the kids care about each other and about their world to an extent far exceeding their capabilities to do anything about either and you believe their feelings are genuine, because you felt the same way when you were that age.

Eleven is us. Same with Mike and Dustin and Lucas and Will (poor Will – really hoping they’ll take it easy on him next season, but I’m not holding my breath). It’s the time we’re just awakening to being the protagonists of our own stories. But we’re young and innocent. We don’t know the story. We don’t know what to do. We don’t even know how to communicate how we feel about things yet. But we believe that if we just had the chance, we could do something memorable. Heroic, even.

Or, like Eleven… if we concentrated hard enough we could move around the pieces of our world and somehow make something right and good.

And I’m still trying to do that. This show reminded me. It’s why I write.

 

Pictured: Writing… but, like, WAAAY cooler.

A Story Is Born

Ever wonder how a story gets written? No? Well… I do. I’ve been writing seriously for about five years now and I’m still not sure how ideas in my head make it onto the page and form any sort of sense. That’s what I’m posting about today. So, if you weren’t curious about it before, prepare to get curious!

Kind of psych yourself up for it, you know?

Because that’s how it starts, honestly. I often have to force myself to get curious in order to get the ball rolling. You see, same as it is for most people my mind wanders, but when I get a little snippet of something drifting across my frontal lobe – a strange thing someone might say to someone else, a still frame of a bizarre scene, a what-if scenario from something I’ve read or watched where I rearrange the motivations or the actions of the characters – instead of letting that little brain fart dissipate into the air, I capture that thing and dutch oven the hell out of it. I jot it down on the nearest jottable surface and then stick my head in it and breath in the strange fumes of my own gassy imagination.

 

To protect the neighborhood, a good friend springs into action during my creative process.

 

I have two notepad files on my desktop (not to mention the odd piece of scrap paper) filled with this sort of stuff. Want to see some? Of course you do.

-A story called the Superlatives where everyone has a title like “Ethan the Nimblest, Zack the Worst, George the Toughest, Jack the Roughest…

-The Resonants – a story about people who can experience memories attached to objects

-A druid acts like a medieval geologist in a fantasy world, but for money and status she searches for precious metals and rare resources even though it might destroy the magical and natural world she loves.

Stuff like that. Just a random little thought that pops into my head, usually while I’m doing something else, and I have to stop everything and write it down somewhere. Because – and if you’re a struggling writer like me you should write this down – if you don’t write it down immediately… baby, it’s just gone.

 

Pictured: An idea lights out for the territories.

 

But that’s not even the thinnest, skinniest sliver of the tip of the iceberg! No. At this point, the real work starts, because now you have to force yourself to get curious about your little idea. Start asking yourself questions about it. If Ethan is the nimblest, does that mean he sucks at everything else? Is that why he has to travel with the other Superlatives? Does he hate them or love them? Or is his problem like the hammer and the nail? Because he’s so good at being nimble, is he only interested in solving problems acrobatically?

And then! And then! Then you have to actually start answering those questions. And that’s where things start to get a little difficult, because you’ll have to sift through a lot of answers before you find the ones you like. Be patient! This takes time.

Oh, and you might find that someone else has already written a story based on your idea. Like, I think I just realized Stephen King already did a paranormal take on something like resonance in The Dead Zone. But that’s all right. There are no new ideas anyway. Just keep asking yourself questions and making up new answers. Go ahead and read stories about what you want to write about. What did they do that you like? What would you have changed? And most importantly, why? I think in the why you come up with your own unique theme for your story.

Somewhere during this process you’ll have to decide if this is a short story or a novella or a novel. So far, I’ve just been using the number of questions and answers I can generate about an idea before I get a rough idea about the shape of the plot to decide on its length, but I certainly don’t have a formula.

And yes, now you’re at the point where you need to start plotting this sucker out and suddenly the challenge rating on the process has jumped from “engaging” to “difficult.” Well, it does for me anyway. Plotting a story is like pushing heavy stone blocks into place so they form a rough staircase, one that ideally descends on the back end.

 

Here I am measuring my plot blocks because I haven’t yet had quite enough caffeine and/or alcohol to start moving them.

 

Hard. Sweaty. Don’t care for it. My natural inclination is to write a story using just dialog and thoughts, but things need to actually happen in a story or the witty dialog and beautifully polished narrative full of understatement and metaphor just tends to sit there like a moody teenager who eats nothing but pizza and Bottle Caps and sneers at you because you’re old and fat and gassy. Bratty kid. Just wait until you get old.

Errrm… Ahem.

Anyway.

So, push-push. Grunt-grunt. Make those words get some exercise.

And if you’re looking for tips on how to make an interesting plot, then… well, that’s a blog post for another time perhaps. I mean, it’s like this whole big thing. There are entire web sites devoted to the topic, so I’d encourage you to check them out. But suffice it to say, the general building blocks of a plot never change: you’ve got a protagonist, a problem, a complication, a confrontation, an interlude, another complication, a final confrontation and then a denouement and an ending where hopefully your protagonist has changed or grown in some way.

Add more stuff to it or subtract some stuff, but those are basically the heavy stone blocks you have to push around. And once you’ve got them in place, it’s time to actually write the damn thing. And that’s where the difficulty gets cranked up to eleven. This is where the people who are actually writers get separated from the people who want to be writers. Because let me tell you something. Most days? Most days you don’t want to write this. You want to play a game, drink with friends, watch a movie, eat a whole chicken, read a whole book, learn to tango, go for a walk, etc. And you should do all those things!

But you should also write. So, do both. But when in doubt or forced to choose? Choose the writing. It’s hard. It’s eleven hard. But there’s no way that story’s getting written unless you write it. The story elves aren’t going to do it for you. They’re just going to sit on the window sill, pointing at you and laughing and taunting you. They can write whole books just by snapping their fingers. What’s your problem? Why is this so difficult for you? Maybe you should just give up.

 

Hi Dan! Watcha doing? I guess it’s writing because it looks like nothing from where I’m sitting. Anyway, I just dropped by to remind you that everyone is smarter, prettier and more successful than you! Kthxbye!

 

Yeah, elves suck. I hate them and I hate their stupid elf magic.

Push-push. Grunt-grunt. That’s how scrubby humans like you and me get a story written. Slowly. Painfully. And it’s true that some days you’ll sit in front of your computer and just stare at nothing and nothing will happen. That’s okay! This is normal. Your brain sometimes needs to just rest or recharge or plot terrible vengeance on the entire elven race. Just let it happen. Maybe just write some more notes. Maybe just write yourself some more questions. And then tomorrow you’ll sit down again and you’ll write some more.

And you’ll go on like that until one day… a story is born. You’ll write “The End” and you’ll be in possession of an entire first draft of your story. And you’ll feel good. You’ll drink deeply and laugh heartily that day, my friend.

Of course there’s revision after revision after revision to be done, but that’s how a story goes from being born to being raised to maturity. Essentially, that process never ends, you just choose a time to stop and then send it out to publishers or self-publish it or just share it with your friends or whatever.

But this blog post was about the birthing process of a story and when you get to that “The End” then the birthin’ is done. And so is this post.

The End.

Notes from the Self-Pubbed (Issue #9)

Hello and welcome to another issue of Notes from the Self-Pubbed! It’s been a while since I’ve put one of these little newsletters out, but that’s because there really was very little new to report on the self-publishing front. Sales have been slow, borrowed page reads in the Kindle Unlimited Library (KUL) are negligible and the release of the next Grant Scotland book is still a ways off.

But shortly before Christmas, I put the omnibus on sale for $0.99 and scored a BookBub (International markets) promotion for Christmas Eve. This was a bit of a gamble. Although BookBub ads always generate a return on investment, I was flying in the face of common sense by appearing twice in the same market (although admittedly it had been more than a year since the first appearance). Also, making the sale price so low put me in danger of simply not generating enough actual dollars, regardless of units sold. But, self-publishing on the internet is a bit of a wild west experience and sometimes you just have to be willing to take some risks to get any kind of reward.

Actually, I guess that’s mostly true everywhere. Anyway, let’s take a look at my results!

 

How bad is it, Doc?

 

The numbers, raw and unprocessed:

Title on sale: The Adventures of Grant Scotland, Volume One: The Unlikely Spy

Sale period: December 21st to December 28th

BookBub ad (Dec 24th) promotion cost: $188

 

Units sold on Smashwords:

Kobo: 83 (plus 2x book 4)

Apple: 58 (plus 2x book 4)

Smashwords: 1

 

Amazon:

237 units (plus 5x omni at full price, 1x book 1, 3 x book 4)

1281 borrowed page reads

 

 

The numbers, refined into delicious dollars:

Smashwords royalties (60% across all distributors)

omni (at sale price): $85.20

book 4: $9.60

 

Amazon royalties (30% @ sale price, 70% @ regular price)

omni (at sale price): $71.10

omni (regular price): $35.00

book 1: $2.80

book 4: $8.40

 

Total in sales from sale period and post-sale period (as of today):

$212.10

…less $188 in expenses equals about $24 bucks in profit. About the same as the first BookBub ad, in fact.

I also get some money from the borrowed page reads in KUL, but I honestly have no idea anymore how they calculate it. So, we’ll just call it a mystery bonus, probably somewhere between two and six bucks.

So, the cost was $188 and my sale period sales didn’t quite cover that, but my post sale period sales rescued me. Still, that was a little too close for comfort. I think Grant Scotland is finished doing promotions on BookBub’s International Market. From here on out, I’ll only try for landing a US Market ad – for the omnibus, anyway. I still haven’t tried to get a promo for book 4. That’ll probably be my next bid.

Well, that’s it. BookBub remains as reliable as ever, although I don’t think I’ll risk another omnibus promotion with them unless I can get on that coveted US Market distribution list. But hundreds more people have purchased my books! My seed continues to be sown ever further afield! And like dragon’s teeth they will yield an unstoppable crop of indestructible fans!

 

Arise, mighty readers! Live! Conquer! Review!

Big Deal! Big Savings! Big Holiday Fun!

Hey there! Did you know that starting today and lasting for one week and ONE WEEK ONLY (plus maybe a couple extra days) the first three e-books of the Adventures of Grant Scotland series will be on sale for just 99 cents! And I’m not talking about each one, I AM TALKING THREE BOOKS FOR 99 CENTS!

Get it here: Amazon

Or here: Kobo

Or here: Apple

Or here: Nook

“WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT is even going on in your head, Dan?” you may ask. “You’re mad! Clearly mad, I tell you!”

AM I?!?!?!??!!?

 

99 cents. A brilliant and daring sale orchestrated by a genius? Or insanity made manifest?

 

Perhaps. But it is entirely beside the point.

Many of you know that the only promotions I do for Grant Scotland these days are with BookBub. After a lengthy and unprofitable period of trial and error, I found the only advertising service that gave me a return on investment and great visibility was BookBub. But it’s tough (and only getting tougher) to get them to agree to feature a book. I got them to do it once before and it was a good experience.

Since then I’ve been trying to get them to feature the omnibus on sale to the US market and/or sell it at the $2.99 price point instead of $1.99. Unfortunately, they didn’t want to bite on either of these options. So, I went the other way and dropped the price all the way to $0.99 and agreed to feature the book internationally, which they jumped all over the first time I offered it like it was a Reese’s Peanut Butter Tree in a stocking full of candy canes.

It’s not a great idea to feature the book again on the same distribution list as last time, but it’s been almost two years and instead of $1.99 sale price it’s $0.99. So, I’m hoping those things make enough of a difference. I still don’t know why they won’t give me access to their US mailing list, but I’ll take what I can get, I guess.

But the price WILL be worldwide, which still includes the United States despite Trump’s strident efforts to the contrary, so if you have not yet experienced the joy of reading the exploits of that many-foibled hero, Grant Scotland, now’s your chance! Or tell a friend! Or a relative! Or that complete stranger riding next to you on the train RIGHT NOW!

The actual BookBub ad will run on Christmas Eve, so if you’re in Canada, Britain, India, Australia or Japan you might just see it. If not, the sale price is good until next Friday (likely plus an extra day or two) so don’t worry if you get distracted by all the spiked egg nog and sexy elves and miss it.

Good. Now you know and you can say you’re informed. You’re all caught up. I’ll give you a run down on the results sometime in January, but for now… GO!

Be merry! Have fun! Relax! Enjoy! See you next year.

Top Ten Things I Love About The Holidays

You know what I don’t do a lot? This. This kind of thing here. I don’t go all out and post holiday-related stuff to spread cheer and merriment. But I should. I totally should. So, I decided this season I’d open the warped and booze-soaked doors of my heart to you and share what makes this time of year so special for me. Here is a list of “things” –  accoutrements, if you will – that generally exist in some prominent form during the period from Thanksgiving to New Years that warm my cockles.

 

10. The Gifts – I include gifts on this list because let’s face it, it would be disingenuous to exclude it. Now, if you’re a kid, gifts are where it’s at. But as you grow into adulthood, gifts become more symbolically important and matter less in any quantitative or qualitative measure. In short, they’re nice and the holiday season would be lacking without them, but ultimately it’s all the other stuff that brings joy. But a thoughtful present or bit of cash is always good. Or a Grant Scotland novel (now available in attractive and giftable print editions!), perhaps?

9. Midvinterblot – The yearly sacrifice of a Swedish king to appease mighty Odin and possibly avert a future famine is a festival of WONDER! The mead! The roasted boar! The rivers of blood pouring from the noble monarch’s throat as he bleeds his last for the betterment of his people! No Yuletide is complete without it. (NOTE: In the absence of a Swedish king the nearest civic leader will do in a pinch.)

 

Nothing says “Merry Christmas” like a little royal bloodletting, eh?

 

8. The Lights – The trouble with the holidays is that they come during the darkest time of the year. On the other hand, if they came at any other time of the year, they wouldn’t be as special. Why? The lights. I swear if every town’s main street, not to mention every house in every neighborhood, wasn’t festooned with lights and garlands I’m not sure I’d find the energy to get out of bed. It’s so damn dark (and usually cold and wet) that unless my little burb is lit up like Vegas on a Friday night, I’m not leaving my cozy little writing space for love or money.

7. Yalda – It’s so good to pass the time enjoyably with friends and family close by! But it is even better to do so during the longest and darkest night of the year, when Ahriman’s legions of demons stalk through town and countryside alike, looking to prey upon the unwary. Do not go to sleep! Regale each other with tales of humor and horror to stay awake, else slumber will claim you and your future will be filled with a lifetime of misfortune and disaster! Who can stay awake the longest? A fun-filled game for the whole family!

6. New England Patriots (and football in general) – Yes, I know football goes on all throughout the fall and into the winter, but for my money, the REAL football is played between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Even Tom Brady (Hallowed Be Thy Name) agrees with me on that. This is where every team bares its knuckles and makes a hard run for the playoffs. And it’s (usually) where the Patriots assert their dominance over the rest of the league, whether they ultimately win the Super Bowl or not. I mean, eight Super Bowl appearances and five Super Bowl victories over an eighteen year span? That’s insane! It’s an era of success unmatched in NFL history and I plan to enjoy every minute of it while it lasts.

 

Here’s a picture of Tom spreading Christmas cheer to all the good little football fans around the AFC before crushing their hopes that their pathetic team will ever make it past the Patriots to the Super Bowl.

 

5. Panquetzaliztli – Who doesn’t love a good road race? It’s especially exciting when you and your friends have prepared for it by fasting and no one is allowed to eat until the first person carrying a loaf of bread shaped like Huitzilopochtli crosses the finish line. Thrilling! Add to that all the drums and the dancing and the ritual sacrifice of massive numbers of slaves at every mile marker and you’ve got yourself a Panquetzaliztli to remember! (NOTE: A good thick-soled long-distance running shoe is best when sloshing through the rivers of blood coursing through the streets.)

4. Jennifer Garner on InstagramJennifer Garner is a national treasure and has my undivided attention all year long, but during the holidays she transcends from simply being the sweetest and most adorable person on Earth and becomes the avatar of holiday cheer itself. If perhaps you’re feeling a bit blue or simply worn down by life, the world and everything, then go watch her Pretend Cooking Show on Instagram. I guarantee you will be so fucking charmed and feel so goddamned cozy and warm you’ll want to skip through town in your nightshirt, buying turkeys for disabled children.

3. Krampusnacht – What is Santa without Krampus? What is good without evil? When the naked, hairy, horned one grabs a naughty toddler, drags him out to the town square  and stuffs coal in his mouth and publicly shames and mocks him, the parents may feel compelled to intercede, but they should not. Do not invite the wrath of Krampus! Besides, it’s all in good fun. Instead, they should point and laugh along with the rest of us, for the boy will not be harmed aside from a sudden case of explosive diarrhea and a lifelong scar of humiliation. Oh, to be young and foolish again!

 

I love that the kid is getting dunked into a basket of coal and his sister is all like “Imma eat apples and watch you cry, fucker.”

 

2. Mom’s Baking – My mother’s chocolate chip cookies and apple pie reign supreme over every form of baked good ever prepared. Do not attempt to argue. I know you must show loyalty to your own favorite purveyor of delectable goodies, but know that you live a lie. Look! Look upon her works and despair! You shall never know such delights in your life. Lament! Oh, lament!

1. Cthulumas – What holiday season would be complete without a dark visitation from the Great Dreamer? Whether it be sprucing up your house with a Wreath of Many Tentacles or slowly going mad listening to baleful carols like “Do You Fear What I Fear” or “Away in a Madhouse” you’ll be sure to be ready for the coming of the High Priest of the Great Old Ones. Your mortal life is insignificant. Make it merry!

 

Well, that’s it. I hope you had as much fun reading about my most cherished holiday traditions as I did writing about them. Maybe we can do something fun like this next season, assuming we haven’t been devoured by Yog-Sothoth, the Eater of Souls, by then.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Give Them Something to Vote For

Here it is, my once-a-year unabashedly political blog post. It should have something for everyone, but not enough of any one thing to satisfy anyone. I’m nothing if not an equal opportunity disappointer. I’m going to be generalizing a bit in this post, so I beg your forgiveness. Generalizing is a good way to talk about ideas abstractly, but a terrible way to talk about people. So, I’ll try to stick mostly to ideas, but I’m sure I’ll end up offending someone if not everyone.

 

Hang on. Let me gear up first.

 

Midterms are upon us! Are you ready to vote? Are you ready to get ten others to vote? No? Well, what the hell is wrong with you? Why do you hate freedom?

These are the messages that are currently flooding the intertubes by well-meaning “get out the vote (and vote Democrat)” types. That’s right. Apparently the only way to defeat Trumpism is to VOTE (Democrat). The assumption here, like it was during the presidential election, is that the vast majority of uncast ballots are clearly anti-Trump.

I don’t know why this myth persists. The “Not-Trump” strategy failed the first time, why would it succeed now? Democrats and their staunch supporters see themselves as the answer to authoritarianism, but they still refuse to see that Trump rose to power because many (if not most) of Americans do not care about democracy, the republic or the institutions that safeguard liberty. I don’t know that they ever did. Here’s a generalization for you, but have you ever seen a Trump supporter circulating a picture with the tag line “Look what they’ve sacrificed so YOU can be free” depicting a suffragette or an ACLU lawyer or Martin Luther King? No, right? It’s always a veteran. The message is still just as laudable, but the emphases is quite a bit different, yes? If the only sacrifice being respected here is the military kind, then it seems questionable whether liberty is at all valued.

 

Mary Ann Vecchio screams as she kneels over the body of fellow student Jeffrey Miller during an anti-war demonstration at Kent State University, Ohio, May 4, 1970. Four students were killed when Ohio National Guard troops fired at some 600 anti-war demonstrators. A cropped version of this image won the Pulitzer Prize.

This person also sacrificed so you can be free.

 

Look, I’ll be voting Republicans out wherever I can this year, because I’m horrified at how they can support a president calling the media (and Democrats) “Enemies of the People.” I mean, I can also name a half-dozen policies and public platforms of theirs I disagree with, but forget that. We’re way past that. You can’t name your political critics and opponents Public Enemies. Not here. Not in this country. That’s some third world junta shit right there. We’ve already seen violence and death as a result and it’s only likely to get worse. But most people who voted for Trump don’t seem to share my concerns. Those things just aren’t a big deal to them. What they do care about is vision. A plan. A way forward.

The people who voted for Trump (and the people who didn’t vote at all) may be mistaken in believing Trump’s plan for America is anything but reactionary and based on a mistaken belief in a mythological time of perfection in America that never existed (e.g. “Make America Great Again”) but it is undeniably a VISION.

And what have the Democrats offered in response? “Well, clearly the facts point to Trump’s ideas as wrong and so therefore people will vote for anything but that. Surely, if we present our data correctly, everyone will see how Trump and the Republican leadership are fools and morons.”

 

Pictured: Democratic leadership is hopeful about the test scores of this year’s body politic.

 

It didn’t work before. It still won’t work. Many if not most Americans believe the system needs to keep breaking and burning until the country returns to some fictional past of perfection. They don’t care about Trump being a wanna-be Mussolini or about how tearing everything down will only make things worse for everyone, because they have VISION.

Where is the Democratic Party’s VISION? Who is the one standing up and saying “Make America Greater” or “Make America a World Leader Again” or some such thing? All I’m hearing is “Make America Trump-less.”

And the media isn’t helping either. Instead of reporting on the continuing impact of Trump’s policies, we hear about how he praised Robert E. Lee as “a great general” and this is somehow indicative of our president putting his foot in his mouth again. This isn’t news! The guy has no tact! Can we move on from this please and talk about how tariffs are promoting certain industries at the expense of others and what that means for America’s economic future? Can we do some stories on immigrant families getting torn apart? How about buisnesses that are suffering because the immigrants who were doing the jobs white people don’t want to do are shrinking because of lack of labor? Can we for the first time in perhaps ever have an honest discussion about why we need immigration laws and quotas at all? If people want to come here and work and pay taxes, then why not let them?!?!?! I work with plenty of immigrants. Some are great, some are not-so-great and most are just fine. Just like everybody else. And none of them can understand where this supposed free hand-out is located, because they sure as hell haven’t found it.

And for what it’s worth, Lee was a great general. He was one of the best generals of his time. Acknowledging this doesn’t necessarily mean I’m a white supremacist. If I said Lee was a great man, then I’m saying something highly questionable since he was guilty of supporting the institution of slavery and taking up arms against his government. So, I’d likely only call him a great man if he had sided with the Union. But even still, I might not, because I don’t know maybe he liked to kick cats or something. And in my book, intentional and repeated cat-kicking is a big disqualifier. I mean sure, we’ve all aggressively repositioned a feline using naught but the bridge of our foot, but you don’t go making a habit out of it. Now, I’m not saying Lee did like to kick cats, but I wasn’t there. I don’t know for a fact that he didn’t. So, in the absence of information, I can’t feel comfortable calling him a “great man” even if he had sided with the Union. But though he didn’t, I don’t think there’s any shame in admitting he knew his way around a battlefield.

 

 

Perhaps I’m being a little cavalier about that topic, but I firmly believe the emphasis needs to start shifting away from reacting to Trump’s verbal flatulence and toward the forming of a new progressive agenda. We need a new vision for the United States. Obama tried to give us one, but he failed. I was really rooting for him, but he just couldn’t get enough lawmakers on board and so not enough policy got passed to achieve his vision. But you know what he did do? Even when he was in the middle of underwhelming everyone, he still got a lot of people to vote for him, because he could sell his vision to the voters.

That’s what we need. Because Anti-Trump will not work. Mark my words. It WILL NOT WORK. If your main argument for it is that most people must see how destructive and terrible Trump is, my answer to you is that yes, they see… but it happens to be exactly what they wanted. I don’t think most of them want racism or hardship, but if they don’t see it in front of them then it doesn’t matter to them. Or it’s considered an acceptable loss. They have a vision for America. And the only way to get them to vote away from the GOP and Trump is to give them a better vision. Preferably, one with less Nazis.

Five Year Progress Report

Yes! Today marks my (unofficial) Official Five Year Writing Anniversary. It’s also my birthday. There’s no coincidence there.

 

Like this, but not so much with the stabby-stabby.

 

But why is it the unofficial Official anniversary, you may ask?

The actual official start of my I’m-Going-To-Seriously-Like-For-Realsies-Be-A-Writer journey actually started in 2013, in the late morning of March… errrmmm… uhhhh… Well. Isn’t that funny? I honestly cannot remember the date on which I got fired from my last real “career.” I had it as a Monday and also the 13th, but according to Google the 13th of March in 2013 was a Wednesday. And only partly cloudy. I definitely remember it was snowing, but none of the Mondays in March show any record of precipitation, except the first one, but then only in the evening.

Oh well. Lost to history. It was some day in the first half of March. Many moons before my birthday. It was on that day I decided to stop wasting any more time and get busy writing. Screw having a career. Screw having any sort of plan. Just put it all behind me and go write a book.

And I did. By the time my birthday rolled around that October, I had about half of Spy for a Dead Empire written, but I wasn’t being at all disciplined about forcing myself to write consistently. I knew I’d finish the book, but I perhaps had fooled myself into thinking I’d do it “someday.” And someday, when it was finished, it would be awesome and perfect and entirely made of gold, somehow. Yeah… someday.

 

Pictured: Someday.

 

On my 40th birthday my brother told me I should do something special. After all, it’s the last of the meaningful birthdays before 50 and who knows if you’ll even get another one after that. He didn’t really say that last part, but it sounds good, doesn’t it? Or terrible? Terrible is what it actually sounds like, right? Well, too bad. It’s my blog and I’m keeping it.

Anyway, I thought about his suggestion and I agreed. I told him I would finish the book. I think he had something like travelling to some exotic locale in mind, but with no job and dwindling resources, I opted for actually trying to take myself seriously instead of giving myself a break, which I’m given to understand is what most people do at 40.

I’m not propping myself up here. I’m just saying my entire life up to that point involved me taking my foot off the pedal when I should have been pressing it down harder.

So, October 25th, 2013 is what I call the “Official” start of my writing career, because it was when I set my first deadline. I was determined that I would finish writing and revising it before my next birthday. I did that. And then I went and did it again with Spy for a Troubled King. I wrote and self-published not just one, but two books by the time I turned 41.

Then I ran out of money. But I didn’t let that stop me! Over the winter of 2014-2015 I took out some small loans to keep myself warm and fed while I wrote and by the spring finished and published Spy for a Wayward Daughter.

And then I was REALLY out of money. So, I got my first pizza delivery gig and began to balance working and writing. It was also around about that time (I think) that I determined that I was going to see the Grant Scotland series grow to at least six books in five years (five years from October 25, 2013). Writing became a little harder with a full-time job, but I still made steady progress on Spy for a Greedy Villain and released it in the fall of 2016.

And then…

Well…

See…

What had happened was…

Writing a series is tough. Forget that. WRITING is tough. But writing a series has its own peculiar challenges. The biggest of these (for me anyway) is burn out. For the past five years, I have been writing Grant Scotland. I’ve put about half a million words into him (including outlines, notes, scrapped scenes and chapters) and I’m honestly spent. I need a break. I should have taken a break when I finished the first draft of book five last winter.

But I didn’t, because I am dumb. But also because although I am a middle-aged man, I am a painfully young author. And so I make painful young author mistakes.

I feared that if I took a break from Grant Scotland, I would never return to finish the series. But when I look around at the writers I respect and admire, I see they are not writing one series at a time, but rather they write one book at a time. They finish one project and then they go and start another. And sometimes they write more than one thing at a time!

I’ve written some short stories while writing Grant Scotland, but I’ve never tried to write an entirely different book. But after almost completely rewriting book five, I now realize that’s what I have to do. I just finished the final rewrites and I’m glad I shaped book five into something I’m happy with, but I need to put it in a drawer and not look at or think about Grant Scotland for a little while. It still needs a few revisions before I publish it, but I can’t even contemplate those without feeling a palpable sense of ennui descend, so out of sight and mind it goes.

For the nonce.

But let’s take a look at what I’ve done over the past five years. I wrote and published four out of the six Grant Scotland novels I intended and wrote and submitted for publication three short stories. Not bad. Not great for five years of work, but not bad. And if you count the current draft of book five and all the chapters of the original book five I ripped out and will probably use for book six, the actual content is closer to five and a half out of six. I’ll take it.

And now to come up with a new five-year plan. I should never have set a goal to write six books in the same series in five years. That was stupid. But, as I said, I was young. Series burn-out is a thing and it’s no joke. So, for my next five-year goal I’ll set the goal posts wider instead of taller, if that makes any sense.

 

There’s nothing so sweet as adding an applicable meme.

 

Resolution time. Are you ready? I’m not. But what the hell. Here goes:

 

By April 25th, 2019: one non-Grant Scotland book written

By October 25th, 2019: Book five of Grant Scotland revised and published

By October 25th, 2020: one non-Grant Scotland book written

By October 25th, 2021: one of EITHER Grant Scotland or non-Grant Scotland written

By October 25th, 2022: one of EITHER Grant Scotland or non-Grant Scotland written

By October 25th, 2023: one of EITHER Grant Scotland or non-Grant Scotland written

 

Another six-books-in-five-years goal, but this time with more wiggle room and more definite milestones. The non-Grant Scotland books currently exist only as rough ideas and very, very sketchy outlines. In the next couple of weeks I’ll be kicking some of these ideas around and picking one to develop into a full-length novel. If I think it’s good enough when it’s finished, I’ll try to find an agent and get it published. Self-publishing has been a fun and educational experience, but it became clear a couple years ago that blending self and traditional publishing is probably the smartest way to go. So, finding an agent is also on the to-do list, but it’s silly to put that down as a deliverable item. I can’t control it. Same with actually getting a publisher to publish a book of mine. The decision simply isn’t mine to make. I’ll be putting in the effort with letters of inquiry, but the result is in the hands of other people.

Grant Scotland will stay self-published and I’ll absolutely make sure book five is out next year (like for real for real this time) but the break to write something new comes first.

And I’ll also be writing short stories, but adding them to the five year plan seems arbitrary. Short stories get written and revised pretty quickly and are fairly easy to do alongside novel writing, so they seem to get done as a matter of course. I’m still trying to get one published, but I’ve been getting some encouraging feedback, so hopefully not much longer until my wordstuffs grace the pages of a magazine soon!

Well, that’s all for now. I’m actually excited to start a fresh project, which is something I haven’t honestly been able to say for a while now.

Here’s to another birthday and another anniversary and a brand new set of deadlines!

Start the clock!

To the Wasteland and Back: The Adventures of Gardner Barnes

I love fan theories. I could waste an entire evening just hearing about how all Schwarzenegger movies take place in the terminator universe or reading about how the Harry Potter books are about a delusional child being sent to an institution for the mentally ill. Fascinating and sometimes disturbing, fan theories are great examples of how art is a shared experience. An author sits down and writes a book and intends for it to be one thing, but the reader will almost always see it as slightly different. And when two or more people discuss the book? Very often it transforms into something more different still.

But fan theories take this shared experience to another level. A good fan theory can sometimes seem like an entirely new art form. Lately, I stumbled on a fan theory of my own. It was while I was reading David Brin’s post-apocalyptic book The Postman. I remembered Kevin Costner had made a film based on the book. I hadn’t seen it, but I started to think about his other films. And just like that three unrelated movies from his career suddenly fit into a trilogy.

This is how a writer’s mind works, by the way. You’re reading something or watching something or eating something and the next thing you know you’ve created an entire imaginary world in your head and it’s dark outside and everyone has gone to sleep and you don’t recall the last three pages you read even though you’ve read them fourteen times and there are crumbs everywhere. Just everywhere. The only decision you have to make is – do I write or do I vacuum? There is no correct answer. That’s life. That’s a writer’s life right there.

Ahem.

Where was I?

Oh, yes. I was going to tell you about my Grand Unifying Theory of Kevin Costner… or something like that.

Now, this theory doesn’t exactly fit the movies like a glove and I absolutely do not think any trilogy was ever intended by the creators of the movies, but the character arc of the protagonist of all three films seems to fit together so seamlessly that I think it’s fun to imagine they’re all the same guy. The movies, in order, are Fandango (a 1985 film taking place in 1971), Revenge (1990 film taking place in … well, they don’t say, so we’ll assume 1990) and The Postman (a 1997 film taking place in 2013.) Gardner Barnes is played by Kevin Costner in Fandango and although his name changes in Revenge and The Postman (I told you it didn’t fit like a glove) his heroic journey seems to extend over the course of the three films. In both Fandango and Revenge, although he experiences personal growth he is frustrated and distracted from completing his quest. But in The Postman, he finally gets what his character has been looking for over the course of all three movies.

 

You should see this movie and if you don’t love it, you should watch it again until you do.

 

Fandango is my favorite film of all time. I could write an entire blog post about it alone (and I might rabbit, I might) but for our purposes here I’ll just give you the brief run down. The movie is about four (technically five) friends celebrating their college graduation and taking their last road trip before splitting up to pursue grown-up stuff like military service, marriage, the priesthood and business. Every character is ready to get all grown up, except one: our Mr. Gardner Barnes, played by Kevin Costner. Gardner is the charismatic leader of these “Groovers” but he isn’t ready to admit his days of irresponsible youth are behind him. Instead, he fully intends to dodge the draft, run from his ex-girlfriend and flee the country.

But our Gardner is a more complicated soul than he would let us believe. By the end of the movie we come to understand that he isn’t running from his ex-girlfriend Debbie because she’s pursuing him, he’s running because he knows he’s fallen in love with her and is terrified by it. But more than that, his friend Wagner is engaged to be married to her. His irresponsible run for the border is dragging Wagner with him and ruining the man’s chances for marrying her. Finally, Gardner puts away his selfish hope that he can lead his Groovers into a life of extended youth and helps reunite Wagner and Debbie. The last scene where they are all together shows Gardner sharing a last dance, a fandango, with Debbie at their wedding. You can skip to about the 3:00 minute mark, but note the bandana. It’s significant.

 

 

So, Gardner loses his love, but perhaps gains a measure of maturity. We don’t see him again until the closing credits, toasting his friends from afar before presumably taking off for Mexico.

Which brings us to our next movie, Revenge. Revenge is the toughest part of this fan theory. It doesn’t quite fit, so it requires a bit of squinting and looking sideways. Barnes, we presume after leaving his friends at the end of Fandango, goes to Mexico. The backstory of the character Costner plays in this movie (Michael J Cochran) is only barely sketched in and we are invited to interpret it. So, some of this is directly referenced in the film and some of it is filled in by me.

In Mexico, Barnes/Cochran meets a man named Tiburon Mendez, an adventuresome and mysterious man of nefarious ambitions. The two stir up some trouble together and they form a friendship after Cochran (I’m just going to refer to him as Gardner Barnes from now on to avoid confusion) saves his life during a hunting trip. Mendez tries to get Barnes to stay and be his partner-in-crime, but Gardner realizes after his flight to Mexico and the experience of saving another man’s life, he has finally put away the irresponsible child and is ready to grow up. Even as he enjoys the company of his new friend, he remembers the friends he left behind and regrets it. He goes back to the U.S. and volunteers for the air force under an assumed identity – Michael J. Cochran. Who knows, perhaps the name of Gardner Barnes had become odious and legally cumbersome or maybe Barnes just needed a clean break from his past?

Squint. Tilt head sideways.

Anyway, he finishes flight school just in time to fly missions in the waning days of the Vietnam War. He never finds his friends again, but he realizes that what he truly wanted was to find a home anyway. The Groovers had been that for him and so he had returned to find them, but while at the Air Force, the military became his new home. He served for many years after the war, achieving many distinctions as a great pilot and natural leader. But the dream of Mexico and the companionship of the one remaining friend of his youth, Tiburon, never left him. When the movie begins, he retires from the service after sixteen years and returns to Mexico and visits with his friend, only to find that instead of reuniting with an old companion, he must fight the oldest of his demons – falling in love.

He meets and quickly falls for Tiburon’s wife, Miryea. They have a brief, passionate affair. The Gardner Barnes character would have loved her and left her, but the Cochran man he had become decides to stay, even though it is exactly the “wife of my best friend” scenario he had dreaded before. But he’s determined to not spurn love this time around, so he stays when he knows he should leave. But instead of taking responsibility and confronting his friend and trying to figure out some kind of realistic future with Miryea, he tries to keep the affair secret. Of course, they are inevitably discovered and Tiburon’s reaction to the betrayal of wife and friend is brutal and deeply disturbing. Gardner is beaten to a bloody pulp and left for dead in the desert and poor Miryea is slashed across the face and sent to serve in a common whorehouse. Barnes gets found and nursed back to health by a man who finds him – a man who apparaently is not unused to finding the bodies of victims of Mendez’s wrath near his place. Miryea, meanwhile, kind of gets the fuzzy end of the lollypop as she is used and abused and ultimately gets “sick” (read AIDS) by sharing a needle (she gets addicted to drugs as the only way to deal with her new life of constant rape and brutalization) with a heroin user.

Yeah, we can stop for a minute here and reflect how common this sort of thing was in cinema even just thirty years ago. If a guy cheated on his wife, he suffered some consequences, but otherwise survived and even came out a better character by the end of a film. If a woman cheated? She gets a fate worse than death. I sometimes look back on the films I grew up with and wonder if my relationships with women over time would have been easier or at least healthier if I had seen them portrayed by Hollywood as human beings instead of object lessons. Probably? Let’s go with probably.

 

Not that I am one to turn my nose up at a good rabbit stew, mind you!

 

But getting back to our story, Barnes heals up and then, with the help of Miguel Ferrar (who wears his sunglasses at night) and John Leguizamo (who does not) goes to rescue Miryea. Along the way, he kills some of Tiburon’s henchmen and eventually confronts the man himself. What happens to Tiburon we never find out, but out of respect for the friendship he and Tiburon once had Gardner asks forgiveness for sleeping with his wife and then leaves and finds Miryea just in time to tell her that he loves her before she dies. Throughout her ordeal she never let go of one of Gardner’s dog tags, a touching memento reminiscent of the meaningfulness of the bandana for Debbie.

Yeah, it was kind of a downer movie. I guess I wanted Revenge to fit into this fan theory because of the compelling parallels between Cochran and Barnes when it comes to relationships – specifically, intimate ones. Barnes fled to Mexico in part because he didn’t want to admit he had fallen in love with Debbie. Such a thing would have required that he grow up and try to figure out how adult relationships work. He found the thought terrifying, so he fled. On the flip side, Cochran also flees from relationships (he reveals at one point he had been married and divorced once before, but he admits he was “more in love with jets”) and finally decides to stick around for this one. And what happens? Some pretty bad stuff.

So, the character arc of our hero seems aborted in both movies doesn’t it? In each one, he is forced to sacrifice what he truly desires because he is not quite ready to assume responsibility for it. But the hero in Revenge is much closer to doing it than the hero of Fandango. And now we come to The Postman, a movie (and book) that is dominated by the central question of “Who will take responsibility?”

The Postman’s protagonist has no actual name (it’s Gordon Krantz in the book, which almost seems like a mishmash of Gardner Barnes and Michael J Cochran if you shout both quickly over the sounds of heavy construction) and is delivered to us in the movie with no backstory at all. He has one in the book, but we’ll confine our discussion to the movie. So, we get to fill the blanks ourselves. Fun!

Gardner/Cochran/Postman leaves behind the wreckage of his life and his love affair in Mexico. He wanders the land, crossing from that country back into the United States, just in time for World War III to break out. His training in the Air Force and his experiences in Mexico allow him to survive the devastation as he goes from place to place, scavenging and avoiding gangs of gun-toting survivalists. His knack for making “stone soup” like he did for his friend’s wedding many years ago gets him into the walled-off settlements that arise as civilians and ex-military people slowly rebuild their shattered towns. His natural charisma and his college education also come in handy as he provides people with something they cannot scavenge or grow – entertainment.

 

… sort of.

 

He is a nobody – a drifter. The life he had fantasized about when he was younger is finally his, but it’s a brutal and nightmarish imitation of what he had dreamt it could be. He is conscripted by Holnists (read White Supremacists) and made to serve briefly in their army of post-apocalyptical survivalists, but escapes as soon as he can. He finds an old postal carrier’s jeep and exchanges uniforms with the long-dead postman. Thus, dressed as a U.S. postal carrier, he cons his way into the next town – looking for food and a warm place to rest for a while.

The town is so excited to see a representative of a government they thought long gone that they throw a party for him. When he meets Abby, a woman who brazenly propostions him for sex so she can use him as a sperm donor (a “body father”) so she and her beloved but sterile husband can have a baby, he is so spooked by the invitation to intimacy that he tries to flee. Of course, now that the town expects him to deliver mail for them, he can’t leave right away. Abby tries a more direct approach later in the night and of course gets her way because the poor man is not made of stone after all.

And I’ll do a quick aside here to note how the character of Abby is handled in this movie. Whereas Miryea was given a fate worse than death, Abby fares quite a bit better. Not only does she survive the movie, she thrives. True, she loses her husband (but not due to jealousy – the guy is a saint – but rather because he develops a fatal case of sword-through-the-stomach) but almost all of her on-screen time is taken up with displays of strength, practicality and independence. We see she is a woman who can take care of herself, whether it be by finding food and shelter or killing bad guys, but who also would really rather someone else do it. Coincidentally, this makes her exactly like Gardner. Double coincidentally, it’s exactly like everyone everywhere. I believe the scenes in the winter cabin are the best in the movie and serve to elevate what is otherwise a disappointing film.

Really, it’s just not a very good movie. Just how many scenes of Kevin Costner begrudgingly accepting envelopes from people do I need to see, exactly? According to the movie the answer is all of them.

But for my money, Abby comes across as a much more effective and inspiring feminist icon than any Wonder Woman type, because her character is treated with an equal amount of respect as the protagonist and is revealed on-screen as having as much dignity, strength and depth while being portrayed as an equal member of society and not some kind of super hero. I can’t imagine that’s an easy thing to do when you have a movie that is not an ensemble and I have to applaud Costner and Williams for making it happen. I just wish the rest of the movie had been nearly as interesting and full of their incredibly watchable push-pull dynamic.

But by the end of the film Abby is reduced to being more-or-less just Gardner’s love interest. Although I wanted more from her, it’s the love interest of the main character and the choices he is forced to make regarding her where the connection between all three of these movies comes through. Early in The Postman, when Abby departs in the morning after her conceiving a child with Gardner, she leaves a red ribbon from her hair. Gardner takes it with him and almost fetishizes it. Symbolically, this is interesting, because the bandana and the dog tag occupy the same roles in the other two movies. It’s like no matter where Gardner goes he can’t help finding a memento to lead him back towards love and family. The ties that he once shunned as a kid and dangerously played with as an adult now serve to draw him toward his own salvation as a man of middle-years. It’s like in this movie Barnes/Cochran/Postman finally understands that to earn both love and a place to call home, you have to stop running, accept your place in the community and your responsibility as a member – or even a leader.

And there is one scene in the Postman which seems to mirror directly the dance scene in Fandango. You can skip to about 1:35. It’s not a fandango, but I don’t know. I see a bookend there.

 

 

Again, there’s a lot of squinting and staring sideways at these movies to see the connections, but I think it’s there if only in the grand character arc of the protagonist. I admit it’s a bit of a stretch to imagine Gardner Barnes joining the Air Force. And the birth year given to the hero in the Postman makes him far younger than either Barnes or Cochran. But it’s also not hard to see how a young man like Gardner could easily and rapidly change his mind and his priorities and it’s certainly not beyond reason that after a nuclear war people’s recollection of accurate dates and times get confused.

But even these are just set-dressing details. The strongest through-line that connects all three movies is how the protagonist of each movie handles a love affair. Gardner Barnes refuses the love that is offered to him and runs from it, only to realize too late that it was the wrong decision. Cochran refuses the responsibility of the love that is offered to him but also doesn’t run from it and realizes too late that it also was the wrong decision. The Postman does not refuse the love that is offered and also decides to stop running and even (although not at first) decides to change himself into the kind of man worthy of love and ready for the responsibility.

The journey of all three characters describe the perfect arc of emotional maturity for one protagonist. At the end of The Postman our hero gets not only a chance to enjoy a healthy and lasting love but also a family and a place to call home, the kind of thing one imagines he had wanted in Fandango and sought in Revenge, but had been too afraid to let himself have until the world blew up and it was nearly too late.

 

 

3 Things Everyone Is Wrong About

Hello and welcome to my rant! It’s been a while since I’ve posted, mostly because I haven’t really had much to say. Summer continues to be hot, pizza delivery continues to be profitable and I continue to struggle to put words together in coherent sentences. But I think it’s important to keep the blog going, even if I don’t have much to say, so I decided to reach into my “Ideas for Blog” goody bag and pull out some random half-chewed scraps of posts I’ve started and discarded and mash them into one delicious meatloaf-like meal for you to enjoy or stare at suspiciously.

 

It’s got raisins in it. You like raisins.

 

So, without further ado, here’s a list of things you’re wrong about. You’re welcome.

 

Dogs are not, in fact, infallible judges of character.

I don’t know where this myth got started, but I imagine it must have been around some campfire by the side of a road used by caravan merchants in the ancient or classical eras. Dogs were great companions on the road, helping to keep at bay dangerous wildlife and serve to warn against creeping invaders in the night. So, if a dog barked its head off at you when you approached an encamped caravan in the middle of the night, the caravaners assumed you were up to no good – and in those days they would have been right way more often than wrong.

Thus, dog goes “bork, bork, bork” at you became synonymous with “you must be a scumbag.” No one ever bothered to realize that dogs always go bork, bork, bork. That’s their job. They aren’t paid to make value judgements. They can’t sniff out the quality of your moral compass at 100 paces or some shit like that. They just know you aren’t with the pack, and until proven otherwise, that makes you suspect.

I’m not saying dogs are dumb. They’re not. They just aren’t exactly wise and we should stop believing they have better access to psychological and behavioral evaluation tools than we do. On more than one occasion I have walked down the sidewalk only to have a dog come charging out of a backyard somewhere and try to take a bite out of me. When the owner eventually comes out to coral the crazed canine, guess who she thinks is the bad guy?

 

“Good little Fifi. Did the bad man scare you?”

 

Cats are better judges of character. If you’re a stranger, they make no assumptions about you, they just go hide under the bed. It may not be the perfect way to treat people they just met, but there’s respect there at least.

 

Getting a great bargain does not mean you spent your money wisely

Frugality is a thing. Quality is another thing. Both are considered good things, but are rarely if ever found together. That is, you can’t get quality without spending a lot of money and you can’t spend a lot of money and be frugal. However, we always seem to think we can outsmart this truism if we find just the right bargain by doing a little digging and possibly legwork. You see this a lot with groceries. People seem to think if they drive to seven different grocery stores to find just the right sale price on yams, they’ve somehow hit some tuber jackpot. But in reality, the money they saved they wound up spending on gas, not to mention the lost productivity or recreation from the time investment.

And then, there’s the people who “got a guy” who can fix their car and save them a few hundred bucks by avoiding going to an actual auto repair shop. In my nearly thirty years of driving, I don’t believe I’ve ever known someone who had “a buddy” fix their car for them who didn’t then need it fixed again a month or so later.

 

“The YouTube how-to doesn’t say anything about a flux capacitor. Who’d you say you got this Delorean from?”

 

Well, some people I’m sure have better luck with this than others. But my point is that it sort of fits the theme. You want to just get your car running again – then do it yourself and go cheap. If you want to add years of life to your car, don’t be afraid to spend some money and let the professionals do their jobs.

 

“Motorcycles are everywhere! Look twice! Save a life!” is a bunch of entitled nonsense.

Don’t get me wrong. You should always look twice! Everywhere! At everything! Driving is not a joke. It is not a leisure time activity. This goes for everyone in every kind of motorized transport, not just passenger cars. You should be looking at road traffic, pedestrian traffic, curb traffic and bicycle traffic. I see no reason why motorcycles should deserve special attention.

Except I do see it. Daily. Motorcyclists flit between cars and weave through traffic as if the concept of lanes doesn’t apply to them. Maybe according to the laws of any given state it doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe driving. Add on top of that, a motorcyclist sits about a foot and half higher than your average sedan driver. A motorcyclist has a better vantage point to see the road and has unobstructed vision. When I’m in my little pizza wagon, no matter which way I turn my head or how many times I turn it, I have to deal with a handful of blind spots, not to mention having my view obstructed by other vehicles, yet somehow I’m supposed to be the one looking out for them?

Sitting higher above the road and having a less obstructed view tends to lead to a sense of entitlement. It’s understandable and motorcyclists aren’t alone in it. You can also see it in people who drive those ridiculously oversized pick-ups that you need a step ladder to get into. They can’t understand why this piece of shit Camry just cut into their lane without yielding. They could see the Toyota from 50 yards away. The Toyota couldn’t see them? Are you BLIND!?!?!

 

Seriously, I can’t imagine trying to get into this thing without setting up a base camp first.

 

Happens all the time. And it’s wrong. And you’re wrong and you should feel bad about being wrong.

 

I’m just kidding, dear readers. You certainly don’t hold these erroneous beliefs. You’re far too worldly, wise and attractive to have much truck with that type of nonsense.