About dmcclure17

Writing stories infused with the smoky charisma of classic film noir mixed with the pulse-pounding excitement of adventure fantasy and the cagey class of suspenseful espionage, Dan McClure brought the best parts of all of our most cherished pulp together and added his own signature brand of wit. He is currently continuing to write the Adventures of Grant Scotland series, the same stories with which he began his writing career. He currently lives and writes and works in Arlington, Massachusetts.

I Heart Hawkeye

I saw Avengers: Infinity War. Of course, I loved it. It was huge. It was operatic. It did everything I wanted it to do and more.

But it had no Hawkeye.

This isn’t a review of Infinity War. At this point, I think it would be unfair to review the movie. As great as it was, it pretty clearly is part one of two, no matter what the creators say. I could evaluate the movie on its own merits, but Chuck Wendig did such a marvelous (get it?) job of dissecting it that I don’t feel I can add anything more to his analysis. Suffice it to say, go see the movie and then think about the things Wendig is talking about. For you writerly types, there’s some juicy tidbits about narrative structure and how maybe the movie is challenging us about the accepted norms of protagonist/antagonist and good/evil. And for you non-writerly types, Wendig’s blog is just a damn good read.

But still, the movie had no Hawkeye.

And this upsets me.

Let me tell you a little something about Dan when he was just a young Tone of Voice.

Nah, never mind. I can’t really remember.

I honestly don’t recall how I found Hawkeye. Maybe it was after my parents bought me a bow and arrow set and I played with it in the backyard and then sometime later I found him in a comic book store? Or maybe the reverse of that? Memories suck. They always lie, except when they don’t.

I had been reading comics for a while, I know that. GI-Joe, X-men, Conan… errrr.. other stuff? I didn’t really know the Avengers. Hawkeye was my introduction to them. And after exploring them for a bit, I realized that even though Iron Man, Cap and Thor were more powerful and popular and more dramatic characters, Hawkeye was my man. Why?

Well, okay… true talk here? At first maybe because he had one hell of a dame as a girlfriend (and later wife). Mockingbird was smart, sassy, independent, driven and gorgeous. I think I probably fell in love with her before I understood why I loved Hawkeye. To this very day she still owns my favorite line delivered by any character in any comic book I’ve ever read.

Hawkeye: Listen, uh– Thanks for your–

Mockingbird: Forget it, Hawk. We’re even here– Better put this on. Half-naked men with guns make it hard for me to concentrate.

Goddamn if one of the two Hepburns never uttered that line, they should’ve. Very femme fatale – my type of gal, what can I say? Anyway, after Clint screwed that up I understood how human he was. And that’s when I started to understand it was his human foibles that made him my favorite.

 

I mean, come on, Hawkeye. Get your damn head straight for once in your life.

 

Because he wasn’t the most powerful. Because he wasn’t the most popular. Because he wasn’t the most dramatic. He could never defeat an army. He could never summon the Power Cosmic. He couldn’t go to the moon to brood on destiny and fate. And he could never even stand a feather’s chance on a breezy day against a monster like Thanos.

Don’t get me wrong. I deeply respect the types of characters who can. There is much to be said and thought about the Superman type and the choices that sort of person must make and live with. Entire volumes have been written about it since the dawn of time.

But Hawkeye is just a man. Yes, a man who is superlative in his ability at one particular thing, but still just a man. A man who decided to use his one gift to fight to protect those who either won’t or can’t fight for themselves. He’s enormously limited in his capabilities. He is very often out-gunned, out-numbered and out-classed. He gets his ass kicked repeatedly, but he keeps getting back up, dusting himself off, reloading his quiver and getting back into the fray.

Even though he knows he can’t win.

Why?

Because winning isn’t the point. This is something that he knows better than any of his super-powered friends. They think they can change the world with their strength. Maybe they can. But to Hawkeye, this is not the reason to struggle. The reason to struggle is because no matter what you do the struggle will always go on, but can you live with not being a part of it? The end is immaterial. The fight is all.

This scene comes closest to explaining my Hawkeye:

 

 

It’s your fault. It’s everyone’s fault. Who cares?

Did you catch that? That’s the embrace of the struggle. What comes next?

Walk out that door... This is why Avengers 2 is my favorite so far, because I believe it most accurately captures who Hawkeye is to me. I confess I wanted to cry at that scene. I didn’t because it’s not a particularly heart-wrenching scene, but I wanted to because it perfectly captured my Hawkeye. None of this makes any sense… but you have to decide if you will fight or if you won’t.

The end is immaterial. The fight is all. Are you an Avenger or aren’t you? No judgements either way, but you have to decide.

And this is what bothers me about Avengers 3. Hawkeye has decided. And yet no Hawkeye?

No.

No way my Hawkeye bows out of that fight. No way. I was alright with him taking a break with his family in Captain America: Civil War and then coming late to lend a hand when needed. That’s okay. But to be completely absent during a cataclysmic battle?

That’s not my Hawkeye. My Hawkeye doesn’t spoil for a fight. He’s not like that. My Hawkeye just recognizes the fight goes on whether he wants it to or not. And he would never abide not being part of it. A series of Hawkeye comic books that came out after the first Avengers movie backs me up on this – Thank you Mr. Fraction. I understand, his stuff isn’t part of the Cinematic Universe, but it’s the same Hawkeye in spirit.

He fights even if it kicks his ass. Even if it is a fight with no hope and no end in sight. Even if it is an infinite war. Because war is infinite. The struggle to achieve and to hope and to dream and to even survive – it never ends.

 

[OKAY MINOR SPOILER ALERT. Like really small. Like, if you haven’t figured this one spoiler out yet, you probably haven’t even seen any of these movies. No judgement. That’s fine. We’re cool. Just skip this last part and imagine a world with more Hawkeye. Got it? Now hold that thought. It’s pretty great, right?)

 

Seriously, if Hawkeye doesn’t somehow emerge in Avengers 4 to confront Thanos with a futile engagement to prove to him that the struggle of life versus its limitations is the only thing that truly matters in the universe – the struggle that never ends, even the struggle that is defined as Thanos’ bugaboo of overpopulation – then I will be disappointed. To me, Hawkeye is the only hero so far who can nail that message home. And Thanos seems like he wouldn’t be far from being able to see it, given what transpired. Probably too obvious and trite, but…

But I’m a Hawkeye fan-boy. I suppose I’ll be happy just to see him sling some arrows around again and quip some chirpy dialog. I’ll take what I can get. He’ll never stop meaning what he means to me regardless.

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Welcome! Lock the door behind you.

 

What if magic is real and we just don’t know about it? This is the question we are given in many fantasy books set in modern-day Earth. Wizards and demons and other creatures of supernatural or paranormal origin do battle right in front of us, but somehow out of sight. I don’t really understand that. I mean, I get that in order for you the reader to believe you’re reading about modern day Earth, magic can’t be readily accessible or visible, but so far as I’ve seen the authors who work in this field show a startling lack of concern over why all this mystical activity needs to be constantly hushed-up.

Is it like Bilderberg? Are all the wizards and witches keeping an exclusive and secret club just simply because they can? Or maybe magic is like corruption? Does magic shrivel up and die under the harsh light of journalistic investigation for some reason?

Rowling’s Harry Potter series at least had a semi-plausible explanation for it. I confess I only read the first book (liked it, but felt as a reader that I had already traversed the ground Rowling was covering) but I got the impression that Hogwarts, in cooperation with other magical schools, worked to stay secret to avoid persecution from the Muggles. It wasn’t so much that they feared the Muggles (although they were greatly out-numbered, the wizards had indisputably the greater firepower) but it was the fact that they couldn’t afford to fight Muggles while also fighting the evil-that-dare-not-be-named. Okay. I get it, but it seems to me the amount of effort they put into remaining undetected could instead be better channeled into fostering a relationship of mutual understanding and defense with the Muggles against Volde-face. But I admit I’m being a little nitpicky.

 

You’re a UN Special Envoy, Harry.

 

The Harry Potter books were followed by a rash of entries into this whole “magic exists in the real world, BUT NO ONE CAN KNOW” fantasy sub-genre, but even the more notable entries have had less than satisfactory explanations as to why this sort of condition exists. Butcher’s Dresden Files, for instance, tells us that magic and magical creatures exist openly, it’s just that most people are too closed-minded to acknowledge it. Their primitive minds just can’t handle the truth! Okay… It’s a little thin, but at least it has a foundation in the philosophical school of thought that supposes perception is reality. Maybe “normal people” perceive reality the same as wizards, they just perceive less of it, like color-blind people with colors or Trump with decency and humanity.

But then there’s Lev Grossman’s Magicians. He doesn’t even bother to give an explanation. These kids get invited to this exclusive school and go through years of magical training without ever asking why they need to be so secretive or what exactly they’re learning all this magic for anyhow. What? Is Microsoft hiring wizards now? Is the Defense Department looking to use some fireball-hurling “contractors” in Afghanistan? Seriously, what’s the future for these kids if they’re learning skills that they can’t ever tell anyone about?

 

“My greatest strength? Ummm… Magic Missile? No, sorry. That’s stupid. Everyone must say that. Ummm… Tenser’s Floating Disk? I guess?”

 

These are the smartest kids in the world and over the course of years of education not one of them thinks to ask what’s it all for? Hell, when I was in college even I had at least some vague notion that I’d try to earn a living as a writer (still trying) but these brainiacs who can memorize a near infinite amount of thaumaturgical minutiae can’t be arsed to spare a single minute to ponder their own futures? I’d blame the author for being lazy, but honestly it seems the sub-genre itself is at fault. I’m not knocking on Grossman. My problems with the basic premise aside, the book is an entertaining read (in fact, the chapter where we’re shown the terrifying risks of spellcasting is one of the most chilling I’ve read in a fantasy story), but this whole “WE HAVE AN EXCLUSIVE CLUB THAT SERVES NO USEFUL PURPOSE TO SOCIETY AND NO ONE ELSE CAN COME IN” trope is getting out of hand. It’s blatant rich-kid escapist fantasy.

I was born to this. I only associate with other people who were also born to this. We are entitled to power.

Sound familiar? It’s called an aristocracy. Maybe it’s just my American blood boiling up, but we fought a war about this stuff, so pardon me if I don’t want to root for a protaganist-who-has-everything as he goes out and attempts to get even more of everything! That’s dumb and dull and irritating. But people go for this crap, apparently. People also like hearing about what the British royalty is wearing to high tea. I swear, if I see one more goddamn picture of Meghan Fucking Markle giggling like the prettiest girl in school, I’m flipping tables.

I don’t know. I don’t get it. Fuck your club.

 

 

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“Privilege is when you think that something’s not a problem because it’s not a problem for you personally.” – David Gaider

 

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Further Confessions of a Delivery Guy

Or, what to expect when you’re expecting someone to deliver your food.

I’ve been doing pizza delivery for almost three years now and I’ve come to the conclusion that many people have no idea why it should take 45 or more minutes for the food they ordered to show up at their house. I say “house” and not “apartment” because this does seem to be one of those fault-of-privilege type of phenomenon. Most apartment-dwellers don’t seem much fazed by having to wait an additional thirty or forty minutes for their food. But not to worry, my bourgeois friends! I am here to enlighten you, if you will permit, as to why the filthy and uneducated workers at these take-out joints are so seemingly lazy and disrespectful.

 

“Proceed, sirrah.”

 

Everybody eats at the same time.

This shouldn’t be a surprise, but for many it is. The majority of people in this country eat dinner between the hours of five and eight o’clock. If you order food during this three-hour block, chances are you’re not the only one. And, if you order between 5:30 and 6:30, you can just abandon all hope that your order will get to you in anything less than 60 minutes. Your food isn’t just competing for space in my car with other deliveries, it’s also competing for priority on the pizza bench against pick-up and take-out orders. And, not to dishearten you my prospective and hopefully loyal customers, but the manager always prioritizes pick-ups and take-outs. It’s an old adage in the service sector – in a pinch, always please the customer in your face, not the one on the phone. There just aren’t enough people working in the restaurant to do both. Which brings us to…

A take-out joint is a near-run thing.

For my money, these places are (or should be) among the finest examples of capitalism working the way it’s supposed to that you can find. Everyone, from delivery driver up to manager, is involved with day-to-day operations and the pay gap is small (compared to white-collar company payrolls) and the effort-to-reward ratio is (or again, should be) evident and immediate. Some day I’ll get on my soap-box about how idiotic it is that some places prefer to use threats and intimidation to motivate employees rather than performance-based incentives, but I’ll leave it alone for today.

But where was I? Oh yes. The restaurants never seem to have as many people working to cook and clean as is wanted, and very often less than what is needed. Why? Well, the people who own the store can tell you about operational cost vs daily sales and I’m sure that all makes sense on some spreadsheet somewhere, but I’ll tell you why these stores always struggle to stay fully staffed. First, no one wants these jobs. The pay sucks and the work is thankless and messy. These jobs are a dime a dozen and if you slack your way to being fired from this one, you can walk next door and get hired same-day. Consequently, people call out “sick” on an almost daily basis, because they just don’t take the job seriously. And since no one wants to come in to cover a shift on their day off, this means on any given day the restaurant is short-staffed.

Second, the people who do take the job seriously never last. Either they work too hard, get burned out and decide to find a job that’s more rewarding or they get fast tracked to promotion (if we’re talking about a chain) and often get sent to become a manager of some store that’s in even worse shape than the one you’re ordering from. Now, that’s all fine and good for those people, but it isn’t helping you get your food any faster, is it? What would help you get your food faster? Well…

More people should work delivery.

Know how I said the pay sucks and the job is thankless and messy? Yeah, I wasn’t actually referring to the duties of a delivery driver. Sure, I help out in the store, but mostly I’m expected to be out on the road, dropping off food and collecting money and signatures. And tips. Sweet, sweet tips. On a good five or six hour night-delivery shift, I’ll often make more than the manager made all day. And when I work a full shift on a weekend day? Fuggetaboutit. And Patriots games? Baby, if you’re not working a delivery shift during a Patriots game, then you don’t like money.

And yet, stores struggle to keep enough delivery drivers on staff. It is the one “Help Wanted” sign I see most often placed in the window. Why? I honestly have no idea. Sure, it’s true that driving delivery is hell on a car, but even factoring in increased maintenance costs (and be sure not to scrimp on this!) you’re still coming out well ahead. And most delivery drivers are part-timers, which means the wear and tear for them is much less. If every take-out joint had an additional two or three part-time drivers each doing one or two four-hour shifts a week, everyone would get their food faster. And why is this? Because…

Teleportation is not a thing.

Many stores deliver food to not just the town they operate in, but to at least parts of the neighboring towns as well. This is okay if you have more than one driver working at a time, but it’s terrible if you only have one. Why? It’s not just a question of volume of deliveries, but more a question of the location of those deliveries. One person cannot be in several places at the same time. But two people very nearly can. For example, if a store receives four delivery orders in a ten-minute span (a common occurrence during lunch or dinner) the people taking the orders very often will quote the same delivery time to each order. There’s simply no way for them to adequately keep track of orders in real-time, so they don’t know other orders are/were taken. I’m hoping that one day there will be, but let’s continue.

So, each of these orders was given a quote of forty minutes. Even if all four orders are made within ten minutes, that leaves only a half-hour to drop off four deliveries. This is actually doable, but you have to be lucky. All four orders need to be on the same side of town – not necessarily close to each other, just in generally the same compass direction away from the store. As you can imagine, this hardly ever happens. If a driver has to criss-cross the town, then forget it. At least one of those orders will be late. And if we’re talking rush-hour? At least two will be late and one of those is likely to be very late.

But with two drivers, there is a world of difference. Two drivers can split the load and divide them based on geography. If you have two good drivers working you’ve got an excellent shot at getting your delivery in under an hour even during peak volume. But if the place you ordered from has just one driver working and that guy’s trying his best to concentrate on his driving and not letting his mind wander to whatever Grant Scotland might be up to… well, just try to cut him some slack.

 

Yeah, I know. One day I’ll be replaced by a drone that can fly over traffic, but I’d like to see how that drone gets you to your front door when you won’t answer your phone and your doorbell doesn’t work.

 

AND WHAT IS GRANT SCOTLAND UP TO?

Oh, boy…

The amount of revising I need to do in order to make AOGS5 a publishable book are truly staggering. I knew I had a lot of work ahead of me when I finished the first draft, but now that I’ve made one revision pass on it I realize just how monumentally screwed I am. Every chapter needs extensive revision and almost half the chapters need complete rewrites. As it stands right now, this book makes no sense whatsoever and is, quite frankly, an affront to God and Man. The Geneva Convention has banned the use of this book in times of peace or war. The CDC has warned that exposure to this book is likely to cause insomnia, vomiting and anal leakage. The CIA has announced that the use of this piece of literature as an instrument of “enhanced interrogation” is both unethical and illegal  That’s right, waterboarding someone is more humane than forcing them to look at this nonsensical accumulation of word-sores.

So, you see I have some work to do.

 

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“Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it’s just the opposite” – John Kenneth Galbraith

 

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Me and Tom Brady

I’ve been watching the Tom Vs Time Facebook Watch series. I hadn’t planned on doing it. I passed it off as Tom finally allowing himself to enjoy his celebrity status a bit and also to lay a groundwork for the marketing of his TB12 business, which I’m sure he wishes to make a nationwide phenomenon at some point. Maybe it already is, but with the number of Patriot haters out there, (oh, by the way – your team cheats, too) I’m sure he feels his branding could use some improvement. Simply winning more Super Bowls obviously isn’t going to do it.

I don’t know what made me finally click the play button and start watching. Maybe it was just the need to watch some Patriots Porn and revel in the shared glory of my favorite team. Maybe it was the Alex Reimer controversy. I don’t know. For what it’s worth, I’m sad Reimer said what he said. I actually quite liked him as an up-and-coming sports talk radio host. He was fresh and funny and his sports takes were insightful and never seemed to dally too long on “hot takes.” But then he made a stupid comment about Tom’s daughter that I’m sure he thought was glibly funny. But as with so many things that emerge from all of our mouths, I bet he wishes he could take it back. Or maybe not. I don’t know the guy. Maybe he lacks empathy and remorse. If they ever let him back on the air I guess we’ll see.

But I was curious about this Tom vs.Time thing for one main reason above all else. I want to know what makes Tom Brady as driven as he is. I remember the first game I saw him play. It was, of course, that now famous game where Drew Bledsoe was injured and Tom, the undervalued and unknown backup, donned helmet and took the field. I loved Drew. I collected nearly all of his rookie cards and will forever be thankful for the work he and Bill Parcells did to lift the Patriots out of the depths of “cute little team that sometimes resembles an NFL franchise” and into the refreshing air of “respected competitors.”

But Drew was getting older and it was increasingly obvious he was not the championship quarterback the team needed. He was close, but he had developed happy feet in the pocket and held onto the ball too long, probably as a result of being the single biggest weapon on our offense (if not the whole team) and therefore being expected to take brutal hits and still deliver devastating downfield strikes. This he could do to the very end of his career, but as all Patriots fans have found out in the Brady-Belichick era, it takes something more than that to win Super Bowls.

When Tom came into that game, I saw right away that he had… something more. Or at least something different. I’m not going to say I saw the future. No, not at all. Truth be told, I was a bigger Bruschi fan than a Brady fan for the first three Super Bowls. But I did see something. When he went under center for the first time, I didn’t see a wide-eyed kid hoping he wasn’t going to screw up. I saw a man look dispassionately out over the opposing defense and calculate their every strength and weakness. Seriously, go back and look at that first game if you can find it. Yeah, I know they lost, but look at what his eyes are doing and look at the way he looks at the defense. Actually, never mind that game, he still has that look even today. If that’s not the look of a man who’s about to dissect and destroy the obstacle in front of him, I don’t know what is.

I called it “the eyes of the assassin” because I was young and loved to engage in cliche and hyperbole. But I doubt my description was too far astray from the truth. He saw obstacles to eliminate the same way I imagine an assassin sees human targets as simply objects. This look wasn’t in his eyes on the sideline or in interviews, mind you. This was his game face and it looked to me as terrifying as Ray Lewis’s game face – and that dude was fucking frightening. I didn’t know how many games he was going to win or how many touchdowns he was going to throw or any of it. But I knew I was going to see something different from him than I’d seen from any other quarterback. What that thing was? That’s what I want to find out. That’s what made me want to watch his series.

I’ve watched the first four episodes and I still don’t know, but what I’ve seen so far has reinforced what I’ve long suspected about the reasons for the Patriot’s incredible success over the past 18 years. It’s simply this: Hard work and dedication to one goal are essential to achieving it. Don’t roll your eyes just yet. I’m not a Tony Robbins disciple. They’re not the only things. There’s only so much the awakened giant within you can accomplish on its own. There are so many crucial factors that go into it (and here let’s not forget about Robert Kraft’s prodigious capabilities as owner and visionary for the team). But without a willingness to work hard and dedicate most if not all of yourself to your goal, Tom (and every other Patriot) may as well just be playing a game. And as I’m fond of saying – Tom Brady doesn’t play games, Tom Brady wins games.

So the episodes I watched proved to me that this man was someone so dedicated to his purpose that he basically subsumed his identity to that of the purpose itself. That’s a scary thing to contemplate when evaluating the worth and breadth of a human’s existence. Must we be so single-minded to grasp our dreams? I suppose it depends on the dream. Tom’s seems to be unfathomable to me. He is already widely if not universally regarded as the greatest quarterback of all time. What more does he want?

That’s for him to say and although I am curious about it, the thing that most interests me is not a thing of the present, but of the past. I want to know what made Brady decide after the first Super Bowl that he wanted more. Certainly he was young and ambitious and wanted to match or exceed his personal hero Joe Montana. But there was a year between the first Super Bowl and the the next two – a year where he seemed to not diminish, but stagnate. A sophomore slump, if you will. What made him break out of that? What made him dedicate himself not just to being an effective QB, but to being a team leader, a devourer of everything related to his trade, a pursuer of infinite success?

Because that’s where I am. Or at least I feel like that. No, I’m not Tom Brady. I’ll pause here for a bit to let that shocking revelation pass over you. Don’t worry. Most people aren’t Tom Brady. Like, a lot of people. It’s actually way more likely you aren’t Tom Brady than you are. And if you are Tom Brady then … ummmm… Hi. Big fan. Good luck on Sunday.

 

“Luck is for rabbits.”

 

No, I haven’t won a Super Bowl, but in one regard I feel a slight kinship to him. A few years ago I decided to stop pretending to be anything other than myself and began to write. I wrote books and I published them and I’ve put myself out there for the world to see. I imagine Tom did a similar mental transformation at some point. Probably some of it was when he was a kid but I bet most of it came at some point after that first Super Bowl. I wish I had done the same sort of thing in 2002 as well. I probably would be much more successful in my endeavor at this point.

But I am not a success. I haven’t reached my goal and I struggle to see how I will. Brady must have struggled with the same. He must have recognized “well, here I am a starting QB – good enough?” And then said no. There’s more and it has to be achieved. At some point (and again, I’m betting it was somewhere in 02 or 03) he decided the dedication he had to his craft that was good enough to get him to where he was, was not good enough for him, because after that he just kept getting better. There have certainly been years where he and the team were not as good as they could be, but it always seemed to me he was painfully aware of that. He never made excuses. He just tried harder.

I make excuses for myself. I tell myself that I’ve done well when I write a thousand or so words, outline some plots, make notes for revisions, etc. And then I put the writing down and rest and read and play games or whatever. But I know I could do more. I feel it when I’m writing. I sense that I’m at the door of true success, but something in me always makes me hesitate and delay and dither. It’s easy to call it “fear of success” but it’s not so easy to overcome.

Tom Brady overcame it. Perhaps it’s a thing he overcomes every day. But there must have been a point when he recognized it as the thing that blocked the threshold of the doorway and then found a way past it.

For myself, my only current solution to the blockade is “just keep writing” and I know this is perhaps the most important part. But there has to be more to it and i doubt that it’s complicated, but I still don’t know what it is. Like Brady, I feel age creeping up on me. Not nearly as important for writers as for quarterbacks, but as the days and weeks and months and years pass and I am no closer to my goals than when I started, I wonder and lament at time wasted. I’ll keep writing for the rest of my life, but I am somewhat tortured by the thought that there is something I could be doing RIGHT NOW that could make my goals achievable.

I think he knows what it is, but I doubt he could tell me. It’s probably specific to every individual. And besides that, I’d hate it if he told me to drink 26 glasses of water a day and stay away from mushrooms. Probably good advice for quarterbacks, but it’s of dubious merit to writers.

Anyway, good luck to Tom and the Patriots on Sunday. And good luck to all of you, my dear readers, who struggle every day with success and failure. And if you haven’t watched the Tom vs. Time series, I recommend it. It’s motivational and moving, even if you’re not a fan of football or Tom or the Patriots. If Tom Brady is pursuing some Platonic idea of QB perfection, then he can be considered the modern day equivalent of the demi-god heroes of ancient Greece. Figuratively speaking, of course. I mean that I believe we can safely regard him as someone who is extraordinary and can (and should) examine him in that light. If you’re curious about what a man who rises to his level is like, the episodes come across as very honest and compelling glimpses of his character and dedication.

And if you figure out what makes his motivation click into overdrive, let me know.

 

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“I think that at the start of a game, you’re always playing to win, and then maybe if you’re ahead late in the game, you start playing not to lose. The true competitors, though, are the ones who always play to win.” – Tom Brady

 

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The New Year and All That

Just a quick update to let you know I’ve finally (finally!) finished the first draft of AoGS 5. Zoinks but that took way too long. I’m not at all pleased by the diminished productivity in my writing, but I’m sort of happy to note that while I’m disappointed with myself that hasn’t stopped me from continuing to write or submit stories to magazines. I’m clearly at a point in my life where I need to figure out how to throw my writing career into a higher gear, but there is never a single thought about just shelving the whole thing.

In 2017, I wrote three short stories and one draft of a novel. Not too good, but not terrible either. In 2018, I’d like to revise and self-publish Book 5, write at least the first draft of Book 6 and one more short story. That should be doable, especially if I can get myself committed to writing during what I call my “spare change” hours and not just on my off days. Like right now, I’m writing this blog post in the couple of hours I have before going in to work a six or seven hour shift doing delivery. That’s more the exception than the rule for me. It’s hard to get my thoughts to line up and march onto the page when I keep glancing at the clock and measuring how much time I have before I need to start getting ready. Or should I eat something before work? Or maybe get in a quick jog?

 

“Is that clock atomic or digital? Is it calibrated correctly? Do clocks get calibrated? Where did the word calibrate come from…”

 

You know, it’s like that. It’s much easier for me to sit down and pump out one to two thousand words on a day where I have no obligations. I know every other writer deals with this stuff (most of us have “day jobs” after all) but I think I deal with it worse than most. That’s part of the reason why I switched from having a career to working a delivery job. It’s much less demanding on my time and higher faculties. I figured I needed more of the former since I’ve never had a lot of the latter.

Smiley-winky-facey-thingy.

Actually, my biggest problem has always been discipline. I’ve got just enough of it to get by in life but not enough of it to be as successful as I’d wish. I’ve got some further thoughts on that I’ll share with you in a later post, but for now I’ll just say that although I see a lot of work ahead of me, I’m still enjoying every minute of it.

And congratulations to you all on surviving the first year of Trump’s presidency without completely losing your minds or your faith in our democratic institutions. Keep doing what you’re doing. You look great!

I’ll speak at you again soon!

 

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” ‘Feeling successful’ – well, that’s something you have to work out for yourself, what it means to you, how important it is. You’re quite right that very good and highly celebrated writers may not feel ‘successful.’ Maybe they have unhappy natures, and the Nobel Prize would just depress them. Or maybe they aren’t fully satisfied with what they’ve done so far, don’t feel they’ve yet written the best book they could write. But they have the commitment that keeps them trying to do it.

Hang in there. And don’t push it. No hurry! Writing is a lifetime job.” – Ursula K. Le Guin

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Review: Star Wars Episode VIII – The Last Jedi

WARNING: As was true of my review of Force Awakens, the first part of this review will be spoiler-free and the second part – the part overflowing with juicy spoiler fruit – will be clearly labelled with some obvious alert. Maybe I’ll use a big warning sticker or a string of garbled text or some sort of pornographic picture. But where will I find pornography on the internet?

THE VANILLA REVIEW (NO SPOILERS):

When Force Awakens came out, I had waited a month or so before before going to see it, but I have been looking forward to The Last Jedi so much that I couldn’t wait that long. It’s rare that I’m motivated to actually see a movie in a movie theater, let alone within days of it’s premier, where it’s certain that I will be forced to rub elbows with random strangers who likewise can’t wait until the madding crowds dissipate. But the trailers did their job, especially the ones featuring a very moody and tormented Luke Skywalker, and so I attended the first matinee I could.

And the trailers didn’t lie. There’s A LOT of moodiness in this film. Be prepared for many scenes of characters audibly grappling with their emotions. This is a departure from previous Star Wars movies, where emotion-grappling dialog was mostly reserved for force-users. In Last Jedi, everybody (with a few exceptions) gets a chance to emote. Honestly, I thought it was a bit much, but there were certainly scenes where it was necessary and handled well.

 

“There but for the grace of God, go I…”

 

Consequently, the movie is noticeably more cerebral than Force Awakens, but that doesn’t mean it lacks action. Indeed, there are plenty of scenes of breathless chases and teeth-rattling explosions. However, the movie inexpertly combines the slow scenes and the fast scenes simply by making the movie looooong. Two and a half hours long. Too long, in my opinion.

It sounds like I didn’t enjoy the movie, but I did. Everything that a Star Wars fan wants is here. Our heroes are scrappy and undisciplined, like Star Wars heroes should be. Our villains are over-the-top and pointlessly cruel, like Star Wars villains should be. Space ships duel and blasters blast and lightsabers… well they do the impractical things they do, often in delightfully inventive ways.

But I will admit the movie did not meet expectations for me, but mostly because of the many hopes I had pinned on it from writing my Force Awakens review. More on that in the spoiler section. But aside from that there was needless repetition and some distracting plot holes. Nothing big enough to sink the movie, but I just think the script needed some significant tightening up.

I can’t guarantee you’ll love it, but I can guarantee you’ll have a good time. The plot is mostly a departure from the Star Wars mold, which I feel is a good thing and necessary in order for the franchise to stay healthy, but in its execution it stumbled a bit. There is one entire subplot I thought the movie could have done without, but by the end the film emerges as an authentic Star Wars experience, which means it’s worth the watch.

 

 

THE DARK CHOCOLATE REVIEW (WITH CREAMY SPOILER FILLING):

It’s true that I enjoyed the movie. I didn’t lie about that. Even at two and a half hours, I wanted it to go on, regardless of its faults. There’s some compelling stuff that kept me going throughout. I’ll come back to this by the end, but for now I have some grievances, which I shall air now.

I so much wanted this movie to be Luke and Leia’s swan song. I wanted to see Luke grapple with his failures, give the lightsaber back to Rey and tell her where to shove it and then reluctantly, but awesomely, resolve to take one last adventure to keep hope alive. These things he did, so I can’t complain on that front. Unfortunately, Leia did little more than sleepwalk (almost literally in one scene) through this movie. And now that Carrie Fischer is dead, I’m disappointed that we’ll never see the full tragic arc of her character’s life. As I had observed in the prior review, Leia had given every full measure but the last to her cause.

And yet, with all these personal sacrifices before her, she seemed only shaken by the loss of a few bomber pilots. This is my biggest grief with this movie. This woman should have at least one scene where she grapples with the cost or doubts her convictions. She’s lost everyone close to her in this struggle, not to mention her entire home planet, and the war only seems to go on. Can we get at least some sort of “suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” soliloquy for this poor woman? When Luke finally showed up and he and Leia are on screen together, I was hoping for some sort of brief exchange where they finally admit to each other their darkest fears that maybe the whole struggle hasn’t been worth it at all. And then they look at each other and decide to give a Beckett-like “I can’t go on, I’ll go on” shrug and decide to keep fighting.

But instead we were given “Sorry your kid is a dick. Imma go kill him/No problem” bullshit. But then later on my hopes were raised again that Leia could do or say something a little more meaningful than what she was given. It was when Luke was confronting Kylo and the resistance people went to look for an exit. I was expecting Leia to say “You guys go ahead, imma stay and watch my brother do his thing”, having a moment to understand his sacrifice – understanding all the sacrifices – and then either escape or bring the damn mountain down on Kylo’s head, like a super-powered mother giving her misguided savant of a son a time-out of mythological proportions.

But most importantly, I never got to see her acknowledge just how much this war has costed the galaxy and everyone in it – whether it’s worth it and whether the rebellion, like the Jedi Order, should just get flushed or WHAT.

And I’m pissed.

Because I know that shit was coming. Fischer wanted it. That’s documented. Maybe not the soliloquy thing, but at least the swan song. They did it for Han and they did it for Luke and knowing J.J. Abrams, a proven stalwart advocate of powerful female characters, the next movie was going to give it to her. She wanted a big send off and now we’ll never get it. I’m sure they’ll kill her character in some decently meaningful and not too CGI’d way, but we’ll never really get Fischer/Leia’s voice howling at the void of space about the cruelty of fate, the heavy mountain of duty and the fear that all has been futile, but regardless she resolves to fight on into death because it is all she has ever known and she cannot escape how it has defined her very existence.

 

“I loved you, so I drew these tides of men into my hands and wrote my will across the sky in stars.” – T.E. Lawrence

 

No, we’ll never get that. I’m pissed. And I miss Carrie Fischer.

But that’s not entirely the movie’s fault. Life is very often far shorter than any of us would like. I’m sure no one in production wanted anything but to make Leia the very embodiment of the themes of liberty and resistance to oppression. But the script is partly to blame, because as much as I like how the plot structure tries to depart from typical “rebels have to destroy an even bigger gun” Star Wars, this movie could have been so much more.

First of all, this movie suffered from not having a Poe/Finn/Rey adventure. If these three are our new trio of heroes, they need to have at least one movie where they’re together. And at the end of this movie, we still haven’t had that. And now we have this Rose character. Why? Did we need her? I understand she introduces and reinforces the reasons of why the rebellion is still fighting this losing war, but did we really need that? Couldn’t that have been Leia’s cross to bear? Shouldn’t it have been?

Still pissed.

Basically, I think the whole casino planet side-plot was a useless waste of time. Benicio Del Toro’s character (loved him) could have easily been found in the doomed Mon Calamari cruiser’s brig. Maybe he was there because he was caught double-selling weapons to both sides and Leia took exception to it. Or maybe he was selling rebel secrets to the empire. The entire excursion to the casino planet was a waste of time – time that extended the movie beyond a reasonable point. This is not a Tolkien epic adventure! This is Star Wars! Keep it simple and quick and episodic, please.

And why couldn’t the reason the First Order had the ability to track the rebels have been the beacon on Leia’s wrist? I was honestly surprised that it wasn’t. It seemed to make perfect sense to me. She gave one to Rey. She probably had given one to Kylo at some point when he was with Luke at the doomed Jedi Academy. After killing his father, he could have reverse engineered the thing to track down his mom. There was no need for this stupid casino planet excursion!

Do I need to write these scripts myself? God damn it, Hollywood! Don’t make me come out there!

And why did Laura Dern’s character (loved her) withhold the plan to flee to the abandoned base from Poe? There was no need at all. Everyone else on the bridge, and obviously all the transport pilots, seemed to be aware of it so it clearly wasn’t a secret. The whole thing came across as being clearly set up by the writers to make the casino planet side plot necessary, but why?!!?!? We as an audience gained nothing from that whole series of scenes!

 

I… I stand corrected.

 

And then when we see the escape plan start to unfold, it gets spoiled anyway by Del Toro. I actually like the feints the movie throws at us like this. We get set up to expect a Star Wars-like desperate escape or brave raid and then get an equally Star Wars-like “Nah, but no.” I give the movie full marks for those kinds of twists.

But still, we didn’t need the casino planet as a venue for any of those. And we didn’t need the Ben-Hur races to let us know that the First Order is corrupt.

Speaking of the First Order, why is it named that? Who is Snoke? How did he get to be a force user? Oh, wait. He’s dead? Never mind, I guess. I mean, I love the scene with Snoke and Rey and Kylo. The resolution is basically what I wanted to see from my review of Force Awakens, but with the crazy lightsaber tricks it was even better than I was expecting. However, I was hoping for more on Snoke before he bought it. Guess we’ll never get that now.

And how did Snoke connect Rey and Kylo? He had never met Rey, so bridging their minds didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Also, if he could touch her mind like that, couldn’t he sense where she was? Why was Skywalker’s location a mystery to him at that point? Maybe that’s nit-picky, but if I had more on Snoke I could’ve made all sorts of excuses for it in my mind.

Adam Driver was great again and I’m thankful he got rid of the mask. His face is capable of carrying the meaning of an entire scene. He was a little over-the-top at times, but he committed to his character’s motivation of “burn the past” in a very convincing way. Of all the characters, his was the most believable, even when he was doing his best “fire everything!” impersonation.

Daisy Ridley delivered a good performance, but I often felt confused about Rey’s motivation. It seemed unclear for most of the movie, almost like the writers couldn’t decide what Rey really wants to get out of Skywalker, so they just let Snoke manipulate her. I felt she was a little shackled in this film. The scenes with her and Luke should have been much more powerful. When Luke asked her why she was there, she answered with a disappointing “I’ve always felt something inside of me…” Why no mention of the visions she had when she found his lightsaber? To the audience those were compelling visions. The movie seemed to gloss over the whole thing with her saying “sometimes I see things.”

Don’t get me wrong, though. I loved the reveal that Rey’s parents were nobodies. It’s tempting to want another Skywalker, but if you want the franchise to move forward it needs to step away from the established lineages at some point, so this was a welcome revelation. If that’s what it was. Kylo could have been lying after all. The push and pull between those two is something I thoroughly enjoyed and am looking forward to more. There’s all sorts of tension there and the scenes Driver and Ridley share are riveting. Sparks will fly!

 

Get it? But seriously, these kids are cute together. They should buy a moisture farm somewhere and settle down.

 

But Luke… Growing up, I was always a bigger Luke fan than a Han fan. Maybe because I usually like to buck the trend, but also because I have a soft-spot for characters who have a difficult time with expectations. Han could always be Han and everyone loved him for it. Luke, however, had to be the Guy Who Does The Thing. He never wanted it. Never asked for it. And finally when he did ask for it, by trying to restart a new Jedi Order, it blew up in his face. I loved every minute of Mark Hamill’s performance and although Luke died almost exactly as I thought he would (although the astral projection trick was delightfully unexpected) I’m sad he won’t be there in body anymore. I wanted the last Skywalker’s death to mean a little more than buying time for a rebel escape. Of course, Leia is still alive, but Carrie Fischer is not, so I’m worried the Skywalkers go out with a whisper instead of a bang. After all, Luke Did The Thing by redeeming Anakin, but that doesn’t seem like anything now. Leia should have been the one that toppled/redeemed Kylo or at least lured him to a place where Rey could do it. Maybe there’s still room in a draft of Episode IX to make that happen without too much CGI work. We’ll see.

Not as pissed now.

As for the rest of the crew… Finn was boring. It’s not his fault. The writers threw him into a stupid side adventure that had an impact on his character’s development that seems of dubious worth to the story. I mean, he already learned how to be personally brave in Force Awakens and now in Last Jedi he learns how to be cautiously courageous? Was this something anyone was asking for? And the fight he had with Phasma seemed tacked on and uninspired. I hope Phasma survived. I want her to come back and kill Hux (because he’s become too ridiculous) and take his place. Then Finn can fight/confront her one last time while Rey is fighting/confronting Kylo.

Okay, I’m setting up expectations again. Sorry. But still…

Poe was entertaining. He had plenty of action and Isaac brought great energy to the screen. His character was involved in a head-scratching series of events revolving around the stupid casino-planet plot, but that’s not his fault.

The droids were furniture. Okay, BB-8 was a little more interesting than that, but I don’t know… I might be getting tired of the whole “super-droid saves the day” thing.

And for the love of Jumanji, is there a single Disney movie that DOESN’T have a scene with a small herd of animals breaking tables?!?!?!?

I know the balance of what I’ve written makes it seem like I hated the movie, but I’ll repeat what I said earlier to be clear: My main problems with the movie had to do with it not being the movie I wanted it to be. Although I’m disappointed by that, I can honestly say I had a good time enjoying an authentic Star Wars adventure and I’m looking forward to the next one – just this time with less detailed expectations. I’ve learned my lesson.

 

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Happy Holidays, everyone!

“I don’t want my life to imitate art. I want my life to be art.” – Carrie Fischer
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What to do when your outline melts into goo

So, you’ve got an idea for a book and instead of jumping right in you dutifully make an outline. You’ve got all your plot points laid out like ducks in a row. You’re proud of it. Everything makes sense and you can easily visualize how almost every point can become a chapter. Fantastic! All that remains is to write the book! And that won’t be easy. You don’t kid yourself. After all, this isn’t your first rodeo even if it might be your first book. You’ve taken on tough projects before and writing a book is a project like most any other. A very tough, lonely and challenging project, but at its heart merely a task like any other.

So, you start writing. And you keep at it. You’re hammering out chapters and ticking off plot points like a champ. Good job! This writing thing isn’t so tough after all!

And then something happens. It begins as a nagging feeling along about the 30% mark. You’ve set up the tension and your protagonist is starting to get deeper into the thick of the plot twists. Some things don’t make sense and you’ve marked down some questions for yourself to address in revision. After all – don’t revise while writing the first draft. Just keep writing!

But then you get to about the halfway point and you suddenly realize something has gone terribly wrong. That nagging feeling has grown into a near certainty that what has happened so far in the story as well as what will happen are things that are… well… utterly uninteresting. Somehow, your hero has become disengaged from the plot. He seems to float through the events transpiring around him, doing little more than taking notes and making observations on events that, now that you think abut it, just aren’t that exciting. That’s certainly fixable, but then you realize that in order to have your main character more involved and your plot punched up you need to rewrite the whole damn outline.

 

Pictured: Interior of frustrated author’s mind. Do not look directly at the flames.

 

That’s it. Your outline is blown. You might as well start over, right? This needs to be a completely new book. What a waste of time! Shove it in a folder marked THINGS I HATE on your desktop and forget it. Get started on that new outline at once!

BUT WAIT! Stop, I tell you! What you have written so far may be a dull and nonsensical pile of word garbage, but it will only stink up your entire computer like weeks old cole slaw on a bed of wilted lettuce if you toss it away. Maybe the entire plot needs to be revisited, but surely there were some scenes you wrote that were good. Throwing them away because you can’t face maturing your plot threads is a waste.

But what to do? You know the old adage of “just write through it – it’s only the first draft” but how does it apply to a book you know in your heart of hearts is unreadable? Well, here’s what you do. Just write through it – it’s only the first draft.

 

“That don’t make no kind of sense.”

 

This is your book and it can be anything you want it to be. So, if it ISN’T what you want it to be, then just start making it that way. No, don’t go back and rewrite. You’ll be doing plenty of that in revision. No, what I’m talking about is taking your characters and making them do something interesting. Even if it doesn’t apply at all to your plot, just start writing about what you want them to be doing.

For instance, let’s take Grant Scotland. It may be that I’m experiencing this very problem with book five of The Adventures of Grant Scotland and it might just be that Grant has been surprisingly lethargic and passive. So, maybe I write a scene where he gets drunk, picks a fight with a barkeep over the price of his whiskey, gets beaten and thrown out and then arrested for public indecency and thrown in jail, where he is later interrogated about the murder of said barkeep and then finds he needs to escape before his trial to investigate this obvious frame-job (at least, he thinks it is – his recollection is a little fuzzy).

Now, I’m not giving anything away here – no such scene exists (yet) – but it was the kind of thing I started doing when I found my initial (and adjusted) outline was a series of arrows pointing nowhere near some place that was fun or interesting. So, I broke out of the outline and wrote Grant in and out of some fun situations. And what happened when I did that was I found I could resurrect many story lines and tangle them in so they made more sense and were more interesting as they were read on the page. After about three chapters of writing scenes that weren’t quite connected but which were definitely fun, I found that I had almost completely re-imagined the book. Most of the main plot lines survived, but they were hammered into a story that was much more about the push and pull between Grant and his world.

My story was finally BREATHING. Actions were taken and reactions were made, with Grant at the heart of it all. Book five is still a hot mess, of course, but I’m excited to finish it now and then get busy revising it into the book that I now know it should be.

So, my advice to all you writers out there is, never abandon a work in progress. If you get stuck and think it’s garbage, just starting writing what you think would be fun to read, regardless of whether it makes sense or not. None other than the great Raymond Chandler once said (I’m perhaps paraphrasing here) “When in doubt, have someone show up with a gun.”

You’ll figure out why the woman with the gun is there and it is MUCH simpler to figure it out when you already have some sort of plot going, rather than starting over.

 

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As for when book five will be released, I still can’t offer guarantees. I am committed to getting the first draft done by the end of the year, but obviously it won’t be published until several months after that.

“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” – Louis L’Amour
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Respect, Protest and Patriotism

I don’t much like Colin Kaepernik. He reminds me of that whiny-voiced type of jock in high school who likes pranking people via pantsing or wedgies and then skipping away and giggling and tittering and cackling like a witch on Halloween. You know the one. He was never exactly mean, just… well, boorish would be the right word. I have no idea if he was ever actually like that, it’s just his voice evokes that image for me. But his on-the-field play was also something that I didn’t like. He was (and probably still is) frustratingly good. Frustrating, because he always seemed much more interested in looking good than in winning. He never looked like he wanted to lead a team, just wanted to look like he was trying to win the game single-handedly.

But when he started his Black Lives Matter protest by sitting during the national anthem, I thought, well… maybe he is ready to lead. Because nothing about that looked good, that was for sure, but he was sacrificing his public image to try to support a cause which meant more to him than football. And when he switched to kneeling instead of sitting just to make sure he was not disrespecting our service men and women, I was again impressed. Here was a guy who had gone from being snide and chirpy in every interview and commercial I had seen him in to being not just compassionate, but also considerate.

 

 

But even though I’ve revised my view of him a bit, I don’t agree with his form of protest. I don’t think it’s appropriate to protest the treatment of black people by police officers by kneeling during the national anthem at a football game. Not because it seems disrespectful to the flag (which it isn’t – stretching it horizontally across a football field, however, is) or to service men and women (I’m not one and I can’t really see the disrespect, but I certainly understand being offended – but those are different things!) No, it’s because in performing his protest, he has not started a national dialog about race and equality. He has started a national screaming match about flags and patriotism.

His point has been buried. No one is talking about Black Lives Matter right now. And why? To me it’s because of the fallacy of this argument:

 

Except… Rosa Parks was protesting public transportation. She was protesting how black people were forced to give up their seats to white people. The same as the men and women who staged the sit-ins at the lunch counters were protesting restaurants and how they treated minorities. The protest was focused, it was simple and it was local. But it was powerful, so it attracted national attention. How anyone is protesting police brutality and racial inequality in the eyes of the law by kneeling during the national anthem at a sporting event is beyond me. And it seems evident now that it’s beyond most people. Is there police brutality at the football game, Colin? No? Then don’t you think you should go and stage a peaceful protest in front of or within the halls of the police stations and courthouses in places like Ferguson, Missouri?

Confront the injustice where it is actually occurring. Talk to the people who are committing it. Direct the nation’s gaze to them, not to yourself. I have a friend who once shouted “Black Lives Matter!” at a police officer who was buying some lunch at the place where we work. I told her that doesn’t do anything but piss off a guy you don’t even know. I think she sort of understood me, but I wish I had explained it better. My point was, if that cop or the unit he belonged to, had killed or beaten up an innocent black person, then that is an act that should be protested. But to antagonize an officer buying some lunch in Medford, Massachusetts because of what cops in Ferguson, Missouri are doing is to simply create an enemy out of someone who could have been a powerful potential ally.

You have to be smart. And your message has to be focused, simple and local. Symbolic gestures are useless, temporary and easily misunderstood. Kaepernick’s protest has launched not a national dialog about racial equality in the eyes of the law, but has inflamed the fast spreading infection of national divisiveness at work in the country. Patriots clash over who is the better patriot. Instead of meaningful dialog about the proper policing of our communities, we have yet another installment in a seemingly endless stream of rhetoric and name calling. This is what happens when a protest loses its focus, or in this case never really had it.

 

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Okay, I’m off my soap box. Work continues on the new Grant Scotland book, but it’s looking like I may have to scrap this one entirely and start over. We’ll see. I’m pushing through.

“The essence of patriotism is the sacrifice of personal interest to public welfare.” – William H. Burnham

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Progress Report

Nothing exciting going on right now, but I haven’t updated the blog in a while so I thought I’d at least say some things about what I’ve been up to lately. Besides, it’s good to have at least one blog post a month, otherwise it looks like no one lives here. And then I’ll get squatters, who I’ll have to remove using finger sandwiches of dubious potability.

So, where am I at with Book Five of the Grant Scotland series? Well, I’m about half finished with the rough draft, which is not quite as far along as I would have liked for the end of August. In fact, I was hoping I’d be done with the first draft by this point, but alas, no. I make steady progress every week, but my weekly word count just isn’t what it used to be. Not sure why, but the fact that I’ve written (and revised) three short stories this year probably explains some of it. So, will Grant Scotland emerge by year’s end? Unlikely, but I’ll try to make a sprint for it. I’ll keep you posted.

 

Not the Grant I was thinking of, but that’s the right feeling anyway.

 

And as far as the short stories go, I did manage to finish a third one after shopping the first two around for a while. I was worried there for a little bit that I was second guessing myself too much, but when I grabbed an idea and forced myself to write it out, I found I created something with which I was at least mostly satisfied. So, after revising it about ten times and getting it to 2,000 words (the first two were about 7,000 words so I wanted a smaller story in my stable) I started shopping it around. No luck yet, but it’s still early. The other two are still pending responses from Analog and Asimov’s, but that’ll take a awhile. Those two magazines have a loooong list of submissions to work through and I hadn’t planned on submitting to them at all, but the magazines (at least the ones that pay) with quicker response rates have mostly already rejected both stories.

As for how I’m managing my submissions, I’m using The Grinder. The Submission Grinder, that is. Not to be confused with *just* Grinder.

Ever. I mean, I’m not saying it’s bad. I’m just saying Grinder takes submissions of a very different sort. They also misspell the name, I think, but I’m not in the mood to look it up. Google wisely.

Anyway, Submission Grinder is a very useful tool for tracking my own submissions and also giving some interesting data on the various publications. Like, ALL the various publications. There are a lot more than I thought!

So, that’s it. Back to the word mill, where I grind coarse word grains into fine prose flour.

 

Like this guy. Except the effort for me is more with the mind and less with the legs and arms and such.

 

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Hopefully, I’ll check in sooner next time. If not, enjoy September. Most beautiful month of the year.

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

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Too cliche or not too cliche?

That is the question. But sometimes I wonder if it isn’t “To cliche or not to cliche?” Should an author avoid cliches at all costs or just use them sparingly? Or should caution be thrown to the (cliched) wind and as many of the colorful little devils be used as possible? It seems to me that some of the most popular authors I’ve read use them without any regard for whether they are apropos or not. In fact, it can sometimes seem like they actively set up scenes and dialog to use a good (or bad) cliche.

And by cliches I actually mean cliched expressions, not circumstances. I don’t judge authors harshly for using cliched plots, characters or settings. Some of those are almost unavoidable. An author generally has to use one or two here and there just to make a cohesive and attractive plot. Full disclosure, I’m a sucker for a good villain-revealing-his-master-plan scene. I cringe every time I read one of these, but my attention is also absolutely rapt. If the author did her job and kept me guessing about what the bad guys are up to, then I don’t care how stupid it is that the hero is on the receiving end of a monologue instead of a shotgun. Well, okay – maybe I care a little bit. But still, I’m willing to forgive a lot in situations of cliched circumstance.

 

“No, Mr. Bond. Instead of torturing you for information, I’ll serve you mint juleps and give you information.”

 

But cliched expressions? I can’t stand them. If I find even one in a whole book, I’m tempted to swipe it off my kindle while exclaiming “TRASH! FILTH! THE DIARY OF A FOURTEEN YEAR OLD BOY!” And yet it seems many people either don’t mind these or perhaps even like them.

I wonder if it’s the comfort level they provide. That’s about the only thing I can acknowledge is a positive aspect of using a cliche. It provides the reader with a solid frame of reference for what’s going in the book. If I tell you that a character is “in the pink of health” and “full of piss and vinegar” you instantly know exactly what I mean – assuming you’re fluent in colloquial English.

But, if I tell you that Han Solo told Luke “You look strong enough to pull the ears off a gundark” you’d have no idea what the hell I was talking about. Which is a shame. That’s an expression that never really took off. Okay, that’s a bad example. Han and Luke and the Star Wars universe are fairly well known, so you likely know that means the same as the “pink of health/piss and vinegar” thing.

But, here’s the thing. Didn’t you know what Han was saying the first time you watched Empire Strikes Back? Did you need anyone to explain it to you? Didn’t it even immerse you further into the Star Wars universe because it was an expression that had it’s own flavor while at the same time sounding familiar?

That’s basically where I’m at with cliches. If you’re writing a story and you feel like you need to use one, then I feel like the best thing to do is take a familiar one and add your own spin to it. Unless, of course, you’re narrator is a lazy and unimaginative speaker and is supposed to rely heavily on cliches to express himself. Or, if not the narrator, then the speaking character is one who has a nervous habit of using cliches. That’s fine. I get that. Although I would recommend not using a narrator who is likely to bore the hell out of your audience. You can only get away with that if your name is William Faulkner.

 

That quote right there tells you all you need to know about how irritating his narrators could be.

 

But in the course of normal narrative, I feel cliches are just too distracting. I’m instantly taken out of the story if I feel they don’t quite fit and if they are used without regard to character or narrative voice, then they definitely don’t fit.

But I don’t know. I’d like to be a popular author someday. I’d like to make a lot of money writing. So if using more cliches is the answer, maybe I should do it. Obviously, only in stories set in modern/near future. Fantasy stories that use modern cliches are never successful. I try to avoid them in the Grant Scotland novels, but I concede to little ones that might include curses or expletives like “damn” and “hell” because fantasy novels that replace those words always seem to me like they’re trying a little too hard.

But how about you? As a reader, do cliches bother you? Do the expressions bother you more than the situations? Is it the amount or the appropriateness?

 

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Hope everyone is having a good summer! Hot enough to boil eggs, amiright?

“Under certain circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.” – Mark Twain

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