Get to the roof

I have one writing goal today, and it’s this: get to the roof.

My passion project, my baby, is this big fantasy novel that has emerged for another round of revisions.  It’s one of those projects best left to ferment in the depths for a while, like kimchi in pots, before it comes out for another fix. (Fingers crossed, it’ll be marketable after this.)  Digging up my “get to it later” notes from the last round of revisions, past-me left instructions that the first dozen or so chapters were so thoroughly broken that the opening needed to be rewritten entirely, which is what I’ve been doing lately.

The chapters are getting longer, new characters are finagling their way into bigger speaking roles, but I’m still on course, and parts of the old opening still echo here in the new one.  It can’t change too much, after all, else I’ll never make it back to the original plot.  In the current chapter, our protagonist is in a warehouse where she shouldn’t be, and is about to be chased out by some nasty folk, only to run into unexpected captors at the end of the chapter.  Originally, this chapter ended on a roof.  Now, it ends inside the warehouse.  At the end of my editing session I let out a breath and declared it done and new.

But after some thought and reading ahead to later events, it makes more sense for her to be on the roof.

It’s not that big a change; it means pushing the physical advancement a little farther, which will add a few more paragraphs and move the scene.  Elsewhere the chapter will have to slim down to make room for it, but it’s doable.  She can make it to the roof.

Without goals, nothing would ever get done here.  Goals are the one thing that can guilt me into action.  That, and the inexorable march of death, but that’s way too depressing and not as concrete as an attainable goal schedule.  After all, why have goals if you can’t make them?  You’d just be setting yourself up for failure, and you’re not a very good friend to yourself if that’s your aim.

I don’t work too well with time goals.  Some writers can aim for an hour, two hours, three hours per day and whatever productivity arises from that scheduling is what they’re left with at the end of the day.  This works for some people.  This is also a great way to see just how much time you can carve out of the day for your writing.  I.e., you claim you’re “too busy” but if you can find 20 minutes a day, 15 even, in which to pound the keys, you can still produce content.  Again, this is great for some writers, but not for me.  I’m too good at distracting myself from the task at hand with Internet, ah, “research” and I’m too good at convincing myself it counts.

Production goals, on the other hand, that’s where it’s at.  I shoot for 600 words most days, and 1000 when I’m feeling pretty good about the project.  The earlier in the day I’m able to start, the better my chances of making the goal.  I like the 1k days, because I find that I usually hit a wall around the 650-700 point, and if I can push through, I’ll go well past 1k.

But some days, there’s one specific thing I want to get done.  Something that story advancement hinges on.  It’s not a blanket production goal; it’s a plot goal.  Like making it to a game’s save point.  No matter how close or how far you are from a certain plot point, you make that plot point your finish line, no matter what.  Let’s say you are trying to get character from Point A to the castle.  You won’t rest for the day until you hit that save point in your story.  So you start typing, and instinctively realize that the road is too boring and quiet, so you have to interject a monster or some other obstacle.  Maybe the bridge gives out and your character gets stuck in the moat and discovers a brigade of toad people have taken over the castle whereas before they thought everything was fine.  You keep pushing them towards the castle until either A) they make it, or B) the story dictates a change in character goal (i.e., infiltrate the toad people).

The best thing about plot goals is the “no matter what.”  You’re committed to advancing the plot as far as that, no matter what.  You might end up writing an extra 2k more than you expected; you might discover that that plot goal wasn’t even the right plot goal, and veer accordingly.  Once you have scaled the day’s mountain, you can catch your breath at the summit and reevaluate your course.  And sometimes you might not make it.  But that’s okay! Because you tried, and wherever you get to is still further than from where you started.

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Rewind: The DC Comics Reboot

(This is an article I published on my old blog in 2011, when DC Comics switched to their New 52 format.)

It started with a delay.

Val and I were waiting for the release of Batwoman #1, a book that fans had been expecting for years. Batwoman, aka Kate Kane, is a crimefighter in Gotham City. She’s strong-willed and stubborn, great eclectic fashion sense, Jewish, formerly a cadet at the United States Military Academy who was forced to withdraw as a result of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Unable to serve her country because she is openly gay, she instead looked to the Bat symbol as a new banner under which to serve.

She’s a great character. She has depth.

She’s the reason Val and I started following comics together, and the root of our shared fandom. Our interest cemented when she had an outstanding run in Detective Comics, DC’s flagship title, which had a co-feature for another favorite of ours, the Question, Renee Montoya, a former Gotham detective and also Kate’s ex. Both features were written by Greg Rucka, a talented writer who deserves a lot of the credit for the development of both these characters. Kate’s storyline featured Captain Maggie Sawyer, formerly of Superman comics and the cop drama Gotham Central, a stage which she shared with Renee. Maggie played a critical role in Renee’s coming out storyline as she, too, is an openly gay character.

So, the news came that Kate was getting her own ongoing series. It was due for February of 2011. Then it was delayed because of artistic reasons. If you know the art I’m talking about, you know it’s well worth the wait. So it was pushed back to April 2011.

Meanwhile, my interest was gaining traction in other titles, most notably written by Gail Simone, a creator with a reputation for good storytelling and diverse representation. I started reading Secret Six, which featured two lesbian villains in a well-written, honest relationship. And truly, the entire cast was amazing. And the plots. And the interaction–villains as friends is such a fun trope. I swear, I have yet to find a storyline where they don’t all somehow end up in their underwear or pajamas, stabbing each other.

I also fell in love with Birds of Prey, a team of female superheroes, and started devouring back-issues. Also written by Simone, Chuck Dixon, and others, this long-running title received, at times, some flak for its artwork, but the stories? The stories of friendship between these women are unparalleled, and the individual character development is amazing. Renee Montoya was also featured here, near the end of the series.

So in a medium known for straight white male characters, as far as representation (characters like us, and those we related to) went, we had it pretty good.

This is where I was reconnected with a character I knew only in childhood from cartoons. She is my favorite, the one: Barbara Gordon, aka Oracle. Babs uses a wheelchair as a result of being shot in the spine by the Joker, and through decades of stories she has emerged as one of the best heroines of any medium, ever. She is super-intelligent, ambitious, driven. She quietly, secretly, built an extended information network and an empire that spanned the techno-globe. She is one of the matriarchs of the DC universe, and by popular vote the most kick-ass woman in DC comics.

She also was best friends with Dinah Lance, aka Black Canary. They were partners, they were friends. They loved each other. It was a deep and heartfelt and meaningful relationship, as right and true as anything Sam and Frodo ever had.

So I was content to wait for Batwoman while I immersed myself in these other collections.

Then April hit, and once again, all of us fans were looking forward to Batwoman #1. Only, it was delayed again. But this time they didn’t say why.

And then it became clear. DC had delayed the book because it was rebooting its entire line-up. Using the crossover event “Flashpoint” as an excuse to warp their space-time continuum, they were revamping some elements, continuing others, and trying to chase some elusive element to make them fresh and new, to appeal to new readers and broaden their demographic, and to cement their commitment to diversity.

Commitment to diversity. Remember that phrase. We’ll get back around to it.

They made this announcement but we had to wait to understand what it meant. Over the course of weeks, we would hear news as it was released and while I’m sure many people at DC smiled and patted themselves on the back, many fans felt their hearts sink.

Some of the major changes:

1. The Wildstorm imprint closed, and characters from titles such as The Authority were incorporated into the DCU.

2. Superman got an overhaul. They took him back to his beginning, where he’s an outsider, where he isn’t married to Lois Lane. Superman became a whiny bachelor. The Flash, his marriage dissolved too. Apparently a committed relationship isn’t exciting enough for some editors.

3. Barbara Gordon lost twenty years of life, was able to walk again, and became once again Batgirl. The shooting that paralyzed her will remain in continuity, but she spent three years “recovering” until a “miracle” allowed her to walk again. Her history with Birds of Prey never happened.

3a. This also meant that the Birds of Prey, the preeminent female team, fundamentally changed, and the relationship of Barbara and Dinah was erased.

3b. This also meant that the careers of Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown, the second and third Batgirls, were erased.

3c. Which means that the Batgirl book featuring Steph, written by Bryan Q. Miller, arguably one of the best books around, was done. This title, incidentally, featured Oracle helping guide the path of Wendy Harris, aka Proxy, another paraplegic hero.

3d. With Barbara walking again and Proxy gone, DC’s disabled superhero community fell away. This matters.

If you read no other link, read this article by Jill Pantozzi on why it matters.

4. Secret Six was cancelled.

5. Renee Montoya was no longer the Question. She was regressed to a police detective, and has disappeared from continuity. Maggie Sawyer was also demoted to detective, and inserted as Kate Kane’s love interest.

6. Wonder Woman, once again, hit the reset button.

7. But don’t worry, they didn’t touch Batman. He’s fine.

I suppose the inherent problem of these immense, interwoven, shared-universe story worlds is that they’re not infinitely sustainable. It needs to be shaken up from time to time, because some marketing executives think sensationalism is a good sell, and because it provides a clear starting point for new fans and new potential customers.

And yet I was left wondering: what about my heroes?

Because for me , it felt as though DC’s executives spot-targeted everything I loved, the characters that resonated with me, the passion I had as a fan. It was a blow. It was such a blow that I delayed writing this all summer of 2011, trying to figure out how to articulate just exactly how much this hurt.  In the end, I couldn’t. So I drew it instead:

You’re still remembered, Oracle.

Heroclix figures: Birds of Prey!

I used to be a loyal DC Comics fan until they fucked it all up with their “New 52” and hand-carved out everything I loved from the DCU.  Worst of all was when they retconned my favorite character, Barbara Gordon as Oracle, making her walk again and basically depowering her and putting her back in the Batgirl role, I’m assuming because a bunch of old white guys wanted “the original” Batgirl back in action.  As Oracle, information broker, world-class hacker, dispatcher of the world’s heroes, mentor to her Batgirl successors, and founder and ops director of the preeminent Birds of Prey team, she was one of the world’s most powerful characters, with brains and ambition to rival Batman’s.  She was also one of the few disabled characters in comics, using a wheelchair after the Joker shot her in the spine.

I have an article on my old blog that I wrote at the time of DC’s reboot that fleshed out my objections a little better.  I’m going to republish that article here tomorrow. I hope you’ll read it, and the links to articles more cogent than anything I could have written.  I’m still sore about the whole mess.

Anyway, that’s a pretty long preamble to say LOOK WHAT I FOUND AT MY COMIC SHOP:

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Birds of Prey Heroclix! The core team: Oracle, Black Canary, Lady Blackhawk, and Huntress.  (And latecomers Hawk and Dove, but nevermind them.)

This kind of goes against my nature. I don’t play Heroclix, I don’t collect toys, and I generally don’t just buy stuff unless I’m going to use it for something. But it’s nice to have a tangible reminder of a pretty awesome superhero team that, for my money, is still one of the best to ever exist. Even if we won’t ever get more stories from them.

And I’m always glad to support my comic shop, Planet X Comics and Collectibles.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my tiny team of heroes are ready to save the day.

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The week in links

The other day I pan-seared some salmon for dinner, and the whole house began to smell like fish (and lasted for days), and I regretted not taking the laundry off the racks and putting it away first.  Beyond that, my neck is better and I got a nice chunk of wordage written.  How’s things with you?

First up, I made an appearance yesterday at Rebecca Roland’s Spice of Life blog for her interview series “Thumbnail Thursdays,” which is here.  (Don’t ask about the space rabbits, it took a dark turn.)

Random House’s sci fi e-book imprint Hydra (and you’d think they would not have chosen a name synonymous with comic book villains) is offering undesirable contract terms for … well, any writer, really:  no advances; a “profit sharing” split between author and publisher that takes publishing costs out of the author’s share, at Hydra’s discretion; and gobbling up all sorts of rights in perpetuity, or at least for life-of-copyright (WHAT.) John Scalzi took them to task for it on Wednesday.  Random House responded in a letter yesterday.  Anyway, that’s going on.  Moral of the story: read your contracts.

Here’s a fun example of how other authors’ actions sometimes serve best as a warning to others: 29 Ways NOT To Submit To An Agent by Carole Blake

Finally, there’s only one month left to apply for this year’s Odyssey Writing Workshop, an awesome six-week bootcamp for writers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror.  You get to immerse yourself in a supportive environment of writing, workshopping, and critiquing while you enjoy New Hampshire in the summertime.  This year’s guest lecturers are authors Jack Ketchum, Patricia Bray, Adam-Troy Castro, Holly Black, editor Sheila Williams, and writer-in-residence Nancy Holder.  So get your applications in.

I’ll be at the alumni program that follows the workshop, so come to Odyssey and we’ll get to meet face-to-face! Fair warning, I’m a hugger.

And now, I’m off to see whether packing tomato soup for lunch and wearing my favorite white shirt on the same day will go down in history as a classic bad decision or not.

Underrated movie: The Relic

A dozen years ago when I was a lowly college slacker, I only owned a handful of VHS tapes.  One of those was The Relic.

This thriller from 1997 takes place at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.  One of their research anthropologists goes missing in the Brazilian rainforest, survived only by a mysterious crate he had shipped back to the museum containing nothing but a strange idol no one has ever seen before.  They decide to showcase at an upcoming gala event, where the struggling researchers desperately need to secure donations and grants from Chicago’s elite so they can keep their jobs.  Soon after the crate arrives, though, strange murders start happening.  One of the museum scientists and a CPD lieutenant…

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…team up to solve the mystery, and they discover that the killer isn’t human.  Something is lurking in the basements and sewer system below the museum.

The museum brass knows it’s there, too.  In classic thriller movie logic, with hubris only matched by the mayor of Amity Island, they decide to go through with the gala anyway.  They take every precaution, including a state of the art (y’know, for 1997) lockdown system that proceeds to trap everyone inside with the monster.  It’ll look really bad if the Mayor gets eaten, so with no other egress, they have to make an escape attempt through the sewers … which is exactly where the monster has made its nest.

The Good:

The main character. Dr. Margo Green (Penelope Ann Miller) is a smart, ambitious evolutionary biologist who treats rules as more of a suggestion and whose curiosity very likely could kill her.

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(They told you not to go in there, Penelope.)

She and her crew are museum staff. This is one of my dream jobs.

It passes the Bechdel Test. Margo and her boss Dr. Cuthbert (Linda freaking Hunt) are preoccupied with museum research and winning the game of internal funding politics. Oh, and kicking monster ass.

The acting. Lieutenant D’Agosta, the museum director, Margo’s wheelchair-bound mentor, the city M.E., even the kids playing hooky. Pretty much everybody knows how to ham it up, just a little, if they have a speaking role. It’s great.

The Bad:

The absence of the actual main character.  The movie’s based on the novel Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. In the book, Green & D’Agosta are secondary characters to Special Agent Pendergast. He’s a neat guy: FBI agent, former Special Forces, sophisticated, versed in weird knowledge, and eccentric to the point of being alien. He’s a NOLA boy, and comes from a bizarre old southern dynasty plagued by a genetic predisposition to be murderous psychopaths.  Pendergast is like if Hannibal Lecter had a penchant for doing good and had never eaten anyone.  Yet he’s entirely left out of the movie.

Absent Pendergast, the story’s climactic scene was entirely redone.  It ain’t the best.

The special effects are pretty crappy, even by 1997 standards.  You don’t see the monster fully until the end, but the shadows are a little confusing and the monster, which looks like the Predator’s giant bulldog, never comes across as realistic.

And they even send helicopters after it. Seriously.

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“Get to ze choppah!”

The Takeaway:

The book and subsequent movie included what it wanted into a story.  Scientist heroes! Genetic mutations! A massive museum hunt! Sewer fights!  Science and adventure and monsters go together like PB & J & bread.  No holding back on the entertainment. (Except the special effects budget.)

Laziness now hurts productivity (and yourself!) later

There’s always something to do.

There’s the day job. A house to clean. Laundry to put away. The opening chapters of a novel to rewrite. A short story to revise. A dog that needs walked.  Normally I’m up to the task, but today, the thought of doing any of that makes me want to lie down and run up the white flag.

Yesterday I wrenched my neck. I’m recovering, but slowly, and it’s really painful.  Plus it’s my own damn fault.  If I were to rewind this little episode, I wrenched my neck because…

…my neck muscles have become weak and flimsy…

…because I haven’t been stretching like I should…

…because I’ve been avoiding workouts and physical activity…

…because I got lazy and stopped doing them.  Combine that with a worsening posture (also the result of no exercise) and it was only a matter of time before some pin came loose.  Writing isn’t exactly a strenuous physical activity. Sitting for hours on end, bad posture, lack of blood flow, strain on your poor tired eyes … one might call that downright dangerous to your health.  It’s bad for circulation, digestion, the immune system, and recovery time.  If you’re not moving, you’re aging.

I want to be doing all of the above tasks. Some tasks (like the day job, taking the dog out, etc.) must be performed, non-negotiable.  I want to dive back into Chapter 3 of the new opening.  I want to be taking notes on the series.  Mentally, I want to do it all, and maintain the pace I’ve managed for 2013 so far.

My neck and shoulder, on the other hand, want nothing more than to curl up under a couch blanket with some Icy-Hot, a glass of wine, and Netflix all night.  It’s a tempting siren song, but I will fight this urge to cast away productivity.

I will write tonight.

And I will pick up the weights.  I will take this as a wake-up call to get back on a consistent physical routine.  Because I want to get back into fighting trim.  Because I want to regain my balance and coordination.  And because I hate the smell of Icy-Hot.

Seriously, I reek of menthol.