Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Writing Post: In Which I Ruminate on Scheduling and Try to Come Up with Answers

I haven't been doing much writing lately. Some, here and there, but not a lot. I did finish revising 2 stories and sending them out to some magazines/anthologies. I'm honestly not expecting anything, but I'll keep my fingers crossed. And I'm currently working on another story.

Lately it feels like there's something buzzing in my brain. Whenever I sit down to write, I can't concentrate, or by the time I finally get to that place where I can focus and really start making progress, I have to stop.

This is partially because of my living arrangement. We live in a one bedroom apartment at the moment, so the computer is in the bedroom. Which means I'm partially at the mercy of when my wife wants to go to bed. It also means I'm a simple shout away, so it's easy for my wife to want to share something with me and yell to interrupt me. But if I'm being honest, there have been several times where she's called for me, and I'm not actually doing anything writing related. I turned on the computer, I opened the word document, I started at the text for a good minute or two, then I decided to open the internet browser and check Twitter, or Facebook, or window shop on Amazon, or watch a YouTube video, so it's not like she's interrupting anything important.

My "writing time" lately has been a lot of Best Intentions leading to Stupid Nothing.

Another issue that I run into is my schedule. What days I have off in the week float, and it's not always two days off in a row. Additionally, I don't work a traditional 8-5 shift. That floats somewhat, too, and my usual schedule frequently leaves me feeling like a big chunk is being taken out of the middle of my day since I go to work late and leave work late.

I do have a decent amount of time in the morning before I go to work, and I've tried utilizing it to write, but I find it taken up with a lot of stuff 1) getting ready for work, 2) making breakfast, 3) talking to my wife, 4) staring blankly at the wall because I am not immediately active when I wake up, 5) cleaning the apartment before I go to work--usually undoing whatever damage we've done the night before.

I've used my time in the mornings a little, but all of the little things that I usually have to get done before I go to work end up eating up my time and by the time I sit down to do some writing, it's time for work. Or I'll sit down and my brain is fifty other places.

I actually just had 2 days off. And my excuse for the days leading up to those 2 days was, "Bah, I'll write a whole ton when I have 2 whole days to myself." And the first day, I didn't. "I just want to relax today. It's been a hard week. I'll get some writing done tomorrow. I'll have all day." And the next day, I kept pushing it later and later in the day. And then it was, "Well, I can still get stuff done in the evening." And then it was, "Well, I needed those two days off to relax anyway."

Writing, as much as I love it, has a tendency to fill me with anxiety. I want to write frequently, to get better, to pursue publication, but I find myself choosing the worst option over and over again, and torn between making myself sick over the guilt of not doing it while claiming I'm "a writer," and telling myself not to stress because writing should be fun.

These are all excuses. None of them are unique. Everyone has to deal with them. And I'm not writing this to give excuses for why I haven't been writing, but rather to take a hard look at the things that have been stopping me and figuring out what I can do to empower myself to make better choices, and to work around my turbulent brain.

I just finished Victor LaValle's excellent The Devil in Silver, and at the end, he talked about how he and his wife had just had a baby when they were both working on their books. He set aside 2 hours a day to write, going to a local coffee shop to do so.

It sounds super old school and basic, but it's something I've considered doing. I need to stop giving myself an out if the writing isn't flowing. It hurts because the older I get the more precious and finite a resource time feels, but I think I might need to set aside, if not a word count, then a time where I write, and that is all I do. If I don't get but 5 words, I still make myself sit there--not online, not on email or Twitter or whatever--because that is my writing time and I will use it only for that. This might force my brain into actually engaging since lately the first sign of resistance, or the moment the writing stops being easy, I usually derail the whole thing by checking Twitter.

I don't think that 2 hours every day is feasible for me, so I'll need to work on how much and how often during the week.

I also want to work on finishing and submitting a new short story a month. I've got a lot of short stories that I wrote when I was trying to finish one every two weeks, and I did a good job of getting stories done, mostly, but I never revised them. I just moved on to the next project. And if nothing is getting revised, nothing is getting submitted. So that's something I need to work on. I looked at the spreadsheet where I track what stories I've submitted, and to where, and it was embarrassing and sad how few stories I've actually finished and submitted.

So that's where I am right now writing-wise. I'm working on making some sort of concrete plan that I can implement. Hopefully I can some up with something that I'll stick to, and that will work for me, at least for a little while.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Awesome Comic Finds - Justice League: The Secret Gospel of Maxwell Lord

After reading the first volume of Justice League International, I absolutely wanted to read more. This was, in part, because I obviously liked it. As I said before, I dug its offbeat, oddball sense of humor, and while it was unique for its time, it was also a breath of fresh air in the present since DC's trades are still infected with the awful retro-90's nonsense that was the New 52.

On top of that, it featured the Blue Beetle, and Linkara's retrospective on the Blue Beetle had me eager to read more about it--both because the JLI days are covered a bit in his videos on Ted Kord, and because I'd grown to appreciate the ol' goofball and his epic bromance with Booster Gold.

Side note: my second favorite type of superheroes are super buddies. More superheroes that are best pals and less of them punching each other because of vague, poorly defined reasons, okay?

When I went hunting for the second volume of JLI, though, I felt like I'd been sucker punched. The price was astronomical. I don't know what sort of trickster gods control the prices of comic trades for the online market place, but their decisions seem arbitrary and cruel.

Case in point:

You may be wondering, "Why in the good goddamn is the SECOND volume in this series starting at $35 for the hardcover, and $50 for the SOFTCOVER??"

To which I would reply: yeah...weird, right?

If I'm collecting something, I want it in my hands. As I stated in an earlier post, I will buy the digital forms of a comic if I have to in order to fill in the gaps of something, but I really, really don't like it.

Luckily for me, I stumbled across another listing--Justice League International: The Secret Gospel of Maxwell Lord. I looked it up, and while they don't contain exactly the same comics, it's very, very close.

From what I can tell, JLI vol 2 is basically a reprint of Secret Gospel but with 2 extra issues--a crossover with the Suicide Squad. Since I honestly don't really care about Suicide Squad, and don't care about a random crossover to drop $30 extra, I went with the older, cheaper option.

As for the contents? It's not bad. The biggest problem is that it crosses over with an event from the time--Millenium. The reviews online for the event don't make it seem particularly good, but I figure I'll get around to it at some point just to see what the hell was actually going on during this volume.

On the one hand, there are text-heavy recap pages between most of the issues that you have to read so that you actually understand what's going on. And that's kind of annoying. If that sounds terrible, just skip this.

On the other hand, this volume features the gang moving into a new headquarters and fucking everything up, and the most bizarre Green Lantern I've ever seen. Plus some stuff with Maxwell Lord that would be sweet if not for the spectre of Countdown to Infinite Crisis looming over it.

All in all, it's a decent volume, but if you want it, I recommend picking up Secret Gospel instead of the "proper" vol 2 unless you HAVE to have those two issues featuring the Suicide Squad.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Gene Wilder: June 11, 1933 - August 29, 2016

Public Domain Publicity Photo of Gene Wilder in 1970. - Photo from Wikipedia
Gene Wilder passed away on August 29th, and like the passing of all great comedians, he left a dark hole in his absence. They don't make many comedians like him anymore, and he was very, very funny. Anyone who has seen Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, or Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory knows that there was an irresistible charm to him that made him instantly likeable on screen.

One thing that I sometimes feel maybe got lost was that, yes, he was funny. But more than that, he was brilliant. Willie Wonka was one of those childhood movies that you watched over and over and over again, and he was always brilliant--mischievous, charming, silly, and at times, even sinister. The scene where he yells at Charlie, the final test to make sure that Charlie is, in fact, as pure of heart as he thinks, is goddamned magic.

Hell, we rewatched Young Frankenstein again in honor of his passing, and it struck me that Wilder didn't play Frankenstein (Fronkensteen!) like some goof nitwit. He played him with exactly the same passion, madness, and menace that Colin Clive played Henry in the 1930's movie.

Seriously, compare these two scenes, one of Wilder as he brings his monster to life in Young Frankenstein, and one of Colin Clive as he reacts to his own monster's reanimation in Frankenstein.

Wilder beat Nicolas Cage in the screaming freakout performances by decades, but Wilder's range stretched much farther than that. His ability to shift on a dime from soft to loud, from manic to gentle, was not easily matched. And his subtlety of delivery on point. Where many comedians would deliver something hammy with a big wink and a nod, Wilder delivered lines almost off-handedly, letting the joke hit you on a delay when you finally process just what he said.

One thing that I wish I could have seen but never got to was Gene Wilder in a legit western. My favorite movie of his is Blazing Saddles. It's not my favorite Brooks movie, but Wilder's performance as "The Waco Kid" convinced me that if he'd ever been given the opportunity, he could have put in an amazing performance as a Pecos Bill-type western hero--like a softer, gentler John Wayne.

Don't believe me?

Again, watch:

Wilder has some serious shades of Val Kilmer's Doc Holliday in this performance. When Bart says, "Well that's no contest. You a mile away," Jim is, like, two seconds away from, "I'm your Huckleberry. You're a daisy if you do."

Wilder was an incredible talent. Not just as a comedian, but as an actor. Full stop. The world is a sadder place without him. But, thankfully, he left us behind some amazing mementos to remember him buy. Go watch one of his movies if you haven't in awhile and revel in just how great this man was.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

My Comics Project Update: August 2016

Part of my on-going comics project will involve monthly updates of what comics I bought and anything weird or interesting I stumbled across. Each post will have a running list, and I'll update with the new titles where they fall chronologically.

You might be wondering why, in the photo above, Batman: Noel, Kingdom Come, Superman: Earth One, and Superman: Red Son aren't shelved with the rest of the DC titles. That's because I'm eccentric (read: extremely weird), and I want my Elseworlds trades kept separate from the main DC continuity.

Although, one could argue that Batman: Noel isn't an Elseworld comic since there's nothing that specifically places it in or out of canon. However, since it's a holiday book and only really likely to be read around the holidays, and since it doesn't reference anything immediately identifiable as in-canon, I prefer to keep it with the rest of the Elseworlds books.

(Newbies may be wondering: what the hell are Elseworlds books? Technically they're a line of alternate universe reimaginings of DC heros--but mostly Batman--specifically published under the "Elseworlds" banner. But it's easier to refer to all the non-canon DC graphic novels as Elseworlds because...well...they are, just not published under that banner anymore.)

Ignore the non-DC titles. They're pretty self explanatory, but there's a few that I want to write about in greater depth some other time.

I came up with the order of the books from a few sources. Since Batman and Superman have the most books BY FAR, I used 3 different lists as the backbone for mine: this comment someone posted on Comic Vine of all the Batman trades in chronological order (up to Flashpoint), and two trade reading order lists from Comic Book Herald - one for Superman, and another for Batman. From there, I either read the book description and tried to judge for myself roughly where it fell, or I looked up which issues were contained in the book and figured it out based on their release date.

One of my goals of this project is readability. One should be able to start at the first book, read straight through, and make sense of things as they progress from era to era and event to event. Readability means I can't focus on perfect chronological order. Some titles were published concurrently, and I think jumping from Batman to Blue Beetle to Superman would be exhausting from the tonal shifts. Because of that, I tried to keep decent chunks of individual runs together where possible, then backtracking chronologically for a chunk of a different title.

If there was a book that introduced something important, however, I made sure to shelve that accordingly, even if it interrupted the flow of a title. That'll be a little more apparent in some places, especially around Infinite Crisis since all of the books published after that event jumped forward a year to serve as a jumping on point for new readers.

Below you'll see the list of canon DC titles that I own at this point. The ones in bold are the ones that I got this month.
  1. Crisis On Infinite Earths
  2. Justice League International, Vol. 1
  3. Justice League International: The Secret Gospel of Maxwell Lord
  4. Justice League International, Vol. 3
  5. The Death of Superman
  6. Impulse: Reckless Youth
  7. JLA Titans: Technis Imperative
  8. Birds of Prey, Vol. 1: Of Like Minds
  9. Teen Titans Vol. 1: A Kid's Game
  10. Teen Titans Vol. 2: Family Lost
  11. Teen Titans Vol. 3: Beast Boys and Girls
  12. Teen Titans Vol. 4: The Future is Now
  13. The OMAC Project (Countdown to Infinite Crisis)
  14. Infinite Crisis
  15. Batman: Face the Face
  16. Superman: Up, Up, and Away!
  17. Superman: Back in Action
  18. Superman: Last Son of Krypton
  19. Superman: Camelot Falls, Vol. 1
  20. Superman: Camelot Falls (Vol. 2)
  21. Blue Beetle Vol. 1: ShellShocked**
  22. Blue Beetle Vol. 2: Road Trip**
  23. Superman: The Third Kryptonian
  24. Superman: Redemption
  25. Superman: Escape from Bizarro World
  26. Superman: Shadows Linger
  27. Time Masters: Vanishing Point
  28. Superman: Action Comics, Vol. 1: Superman and the Men of Steel
  29. Justice League, Vol. 1: Origin (The New 52)
  30. Batman Vol. 1: The Court of Owls
  31. Batman Vol. 2: The City of Owls
  32. Batgirl Vol. 1: The Darkest Reflection (The New 52)
  33. Batgirl Vol. 2: Knightfall Descends
  34. Batwing Vol. 1: The Lost Kingdom
  35. Justice League Vol. 2: The Villain's Journey
  36. Aquaman Vol. 1: The Trench (The New 52)
  37. Aquaman Vol. 2: The Others (The New 52)
  38. Aquaman Vol. 3: Throne of Atlantis (The New 52)
  39. Batman Vol. 3: Death of the Family
  40. Batgirl Vol. 3: Death of the Family
  41. The Movement Vol. 1: Class Warfare (The New 52)
There's a few titles mentioned above, both bolded and unbolded, that I want to go more into about in the future, but for now I want to talk about the two starred books: Blue Beetle Vol. 1 & 2. Vol 2 is starred because it hasn't come in yet, but I'm sure you noticed that Vol. 1 isn't bolded. Instead, it's italicized as well as starred. There's a good reason for that...I don't own it.

Then why did I include it on the list? Because I kinda sorta own it.

I've been holding off on purchasing the Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle trades because the first volume in the series is extremely expensive. For the longest time, it hung around $40, and it only recently had a volume go up for $25. That's still pretty expensive for a used trade, especially since it's listed as "Acceptable."

I keep hoping I'll come across the trade at my LCS like I did with Impulse and JLI Vol. 1, or that some kind soul will list it on Amazon for a reasonable price. But no such luck yet. Thankfully, the whole run is available on Comixology, and they had a big Blue Beetle sale recently, so I snatched up the first six issues (which is what would've been in the trade) for less than $6, and then bought the second volume off of the Book Depository.

If I weren't afraid that the FBI would show up at my door and spirit me away to some remote desert cell somewhere, I'd use Lulu or a similar service to get the digital files bound in a book. I personally don't see how it would be different than buying print back issues of a series and getting them bound--apparently there's a small but solid community online devoted to that kind of thing. But I get the feeling the digital rights would be different than the physical.

And maybe that's the answer--maybe I should track down the first six floppies online and get them bound. Then again, I don't think that'd be any cheaper than just dropping the absurd cash for the trade. At this point, I'm content with having the digital file and purchasing trades from there. But I check back often, just in case.

I'll be posting more Awesome Comic Finds along with things not comics related in the coming weeks. Thank you for indulging me in my weird little project. If you have any tips, pointers, thoughts, or whatever, feel free to throw them down below.