Yesterday I joined Brian Abernethy of Journey Frog Audio to do a Skype chat with Red Sofa Literary Agency. We discussed networking for authors and creatives. I cannot stress enough how important networking is to a writer's career. I thought I would post the outline of that chat here. This outline covers more than we were able to get to during the actual half-hour chat.
So last week I finally got to seeStar Trek: Into Darkness. Now it should be known that I look at the 2009 reboot as inspiration. I think that film was beautifully crafted in every way and it is a goal of mine to make something like that. So, I went into the sequel with high expectations. If you don't want spoilers or your own perception of the movie rocked by my strong opinions on the matter, please, click away now. Otherwise, join me below and we can hash out the pros and Khans of the latest in this iconic franchise. This movie is Shroedinger's Cat on celluloid. It is amazeballs. It is shit. At the same time. This movie simultaneously inhabits both spheres of a Venn Diagram describing epic movies and derivative drivel. It blurs the line between Sci-Fi/Fantasy and Unbelievable Bullshit.
I loved it. I screamed and cursed J.J. Abrams' name for being such a predictable bastard who couldn't write to his own potential.
So Star Trek has never exactly been a stickler for science fact, especially the original series. (If you want a show that prides itself on scientific accuracy, watch Babylon 5.) The reboot decided to follow in the original series' well-loved footsteps and ignore a few of the more obvious scientifically based holes in the story. Really, just go read this review. It's entertaining and pretty much sums up my problems as far as factual inconsistency.
Aside from my inability to understand why Dr. Carol Marcus is forced to strip on screen FOR NO REASON, most of my problems with the film are in the third act. J.J. Abrams is usually a very cunning storyteller that smacks me from behind when I least expect it. Into Darkness may as well be subtitled "Chekov's Arsenal" for all the smoking guns he left for us in the first act. So much of the climax was telegraphed! Seriously, cats wiggling their asses before pouncing on a catnip mouse are stealthier than J.J.'s climax!
For starters... now, I'd rather walk on my own lips than say a word against the musical genius that is Michael Giacchino. His scores are phenomenal and I adore his whole body of work. That being said...was it necessary to have the sinister BUMBUMBUMMMMM the first time we see Benedict Cumberbatch on screen? Yes, I know the trailers have set it up that he is the villain and all that shit, but come on. We see him and we have no idea in the context of the story why we should hate this man. He's saving the life of a dying girl. Is he a doctor? Is he The Doctor in some strange fanfic? Why should I hate someone who is saving a child? Allow the moral ambiguity to be there and fuck with the audience, dammit. (Soon, though, we see that Cumberbund Bandersnatch's still nameless character is a domestic terrorist. If we didn't hate him before, we do now because he's just killed Captain Badass Pike. We're sent off to avenge him in such a way that Heath Ledger's Joker would giggle at our adorability.)
Then we have a problem with the Warp Core. Oh, I've seen this one before. It ends with the sacrifice play because the "needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few" WHICH MAY AS WELL BE SPOCK'S FIRST LINE! Come on!
As I said before, the real issues, though, come when we get to the third act. The Enterprise is on the ropes, "John Harrison" is Kahn, and Admiral Robocop is psychotic and flying the most badass looking dreadnaught of all fucking time. Through impossible physics and convenient timing, Kirk and Khan end up on the "Killerprise". Khan kills Peter Weller with his bare hands, turns on Kirk and sends the end of the movie careening inexorably toward Zachary Quinto screaming, "KHAAAAAAAN!"
So many people I spoke with said the end was unfulfilling and I think I have an answer as to why. To explain, you'll need to understand a bit about the Hollywood Formula of writing. (Listen to that podcast, authors, it is golden.)
So crash course. In any story you have 3 main characters:
- The Protagonist - this is the good guy. S/he wants something very specific and we are, generally, rooting for him/her to get it.
- The Antagonist - the bad guy. S/he is at odds with the Protagonist and is the one who keeps throwing roadblocks in the way of our Protagonist.
- The Relationship Character - This character takes many forms and is often played by Morgan Freeman. The RC typically has wisdom the Protagonist needs and serves to make the Protagonist's journey both more difficult and easier. Hell, if we just listen to the RC at the beginning, most of the time we don't need the rest of the movie!
A fulfilling resolution comes when the Protagonist and the Relationship Character have a deep/meaningful scene that adjusts the perspective of the journey, the Protagonist and the Antagonist have it out and the emotional wrap-up quickly follows.
Based on this, Into Darkness does not have a fulfilling ending.
Let's first identify our characters.
The Protagonist, I think we can all agree, is Kirk. He wants to be Captain of the Enterprise and he wants revenge on the man who killed his father figure, Captain Christopher Pike.
Now, who is our Antagonist? It is not who the trailer would have you booing. Admiral Marcus is the one who keeps Kirk from his chair. Admiral Marcus is the one who sabotages the Enterprise's warp core. Admiral Marcus is the one who keeps throwing problems at Kirk and his crew. The Admiral is our true antagonist.
That leaves the Relationship Character. This is Khan. Is he manipulative? Is he despicable? YES. But at no time does Khan lie to or attempt to hinder Kirk. In fact, he gives him the exact coordinates of the super secret bunker where the Dreadnaught of Badassery +1 is being kept. Khan is the one who delivers the antidotes.
As it is, this works. The characters are sound and fulfilling all of their roles, doing what they need to do to make the story work. The problem comes when Kirk and Khan board the dreadnaught. From there on, the movie is on a collision course for story disaster.
Like I said up there, satisfaction comes when our Hero defeats the Bad Guy. In this movie? He doesn't. KHAN kills Admiral Marcus while Kirk just stares in horror or picks himself up off the floor. Khan steps out of his role and takes up a new one. This is jarring to the audience in a way that they might not even notice, but it's there. So, Khan--in a way--steps into the role of Antagonist way late in the film. Okay, but then he gets everything he wants. He's killed a bunch of people at Star Fleet and exposed the program that ruined him. He's reunited with his tribe of popsicles and reinserted into the Matrix where he can have happy dreams of genocide.
Khan wins. So, Khan gets all the glory of the Protagonist, the wrath of the Antagonist and the heavy wisdom of the Relationship Character.
What does Kirk get? A blood transfusion. A 5-year mission. No personal sense of having avenged Pike. He gets to stay Captain Kirk (which he was at the beginning of the film).
So, while it is a fun film with pretty effects (lens flare!), a kick ass ship or two and some great one liners, Star Trek: Into Darkness fails at delivering an emotionally satisfying story. The promise is made in the trailer and in the first two acts that we have a clear Antagonist (and we do, it's just not the one we thought it would be) and that he will be dealt with by Kirk. That promise is broken. It's story-telling bait and switch.
So yeah. I loved it. I hated it. If I could tell J.J. Abrams one thing, it would be this:
Listen to Captain Pike from the first film. "I dare you to do better."
So on this blog I've always tried to be honest and up front, showing you me with little pretense. (Ego happens, kids, so some pretense gets through the censors.) Part of what this means is that I show you not just the good times, but the bad. I show you the pretty, dolled up words that have been edited, and I show you the ugly muck that comes out on the fly.
And part of that is showing you the realities of me.
I've never hidden the fact that I've struggled with depression for much of my life. I have baggage and while I try to go through it and deal with it, I leave it out in the open for you to see. My depression has been well-managed since 2008, but there are days.... Oh man there are days when I look up and I'm in the thick of it.
What is "it"?
It's whispers. Voices. No, not characters talking to me. And it's not the other kind of head voices that you might think of. These voices are mine. They are re-runs of insults I've slung at myself, or things I expect to hear from others. Some days, these voices are all I can hear.
The past 2 days have been rough because those voices are in town. And they've been throwing a parade. A "Jamie is Shitty" parade.
I've been busting ass for a month or so on various projects. Most of them involve support work--meaning they are things that support my career, but aren't writing. Like writing pitches for Cracked. (I know I just said it's not writing, but this is different.) Pitches involve hours of research, then putting that info together and presenting it to editors. It's more like reporting than writing at this stage. So I've been doing a metric fuck ton of that work. Other tasks, too, like researching and ordering merchandise for Kickstarter backers. Well, to do that efficiently, I needed to do a lot of data organization/entry with the Kickstarter reports and spreadsheets. But, yay, that info is there and the cards and bookmarks are designed and ordered and woot. And hiring my publicist! That's done (and cool.) And this website came due for renewal, but I hated my former hosting service.... so that was another couple of days spent researching new providers, toying with interfaces and such, then doing the actual work of, you know BUILDING this whole new site from scratch. (Including the new store, woot!) And the audio book for WILD CARD! Mandy got the final draft to me and I had to listen to that. If I wanted to give it my attention, I couldn't be writing another story, ya know? My brain is good at multi tasking but not to that level, yo. So there was that. And we got the audiobook done (Mandy is amazing) and you can now buy it on Amazon, Audible and iTunes! And there's this new book I want to write, so I started doing character studies and research and plotting....but no actual writing. (And then a short story idea came in....)
All of this on top of regular life tasks. A sick daughter who stayed home from school for most of a week. Then I got sick with the crud. Then Sean (the hubbins) got sick and stayed home for most of a week.
Anyway, what I'm saying is that I've been burning the candle hard lately and have accomplished a lot! Yay, productivity. But at the end of the day, there's that thing that writers do, right? We write. And I haven't written my fiction in too long. I managed to eke out 200 words on Tuesday. That's not even a page. Yesterday, 530 words. I then spent yesterday telling myself those words weren't good enough, and slamming myself for having not accomplished a damn thing but a much-needed nap.
I recognized it for what it was. This is how my depression manifests. This self-loathing chorus of voices that lashes out and constantly tells me that I'm not good enough stands up and starts poking at all my soft parts. I call it out for what it is. I recognize it. And that's part of how I get through it. I hear what is said and remind myself that those are lies. Depression lies.
The illustrious Monica Valentinelli asked if I wanted to do wordsprints with her today and I did! I jumped at it. And today while waiting for noon to roll around, I found myself already exhausted. So I decided I didn't want caffeine to keep me awake. I took a walk. I haven't done that in months, honestly. I walked a mile in 30 minutes. Outside! In the sunshine!
And all I could think was, "You used to do 3 miles in an hour."
Shut up, lying voices. This was good for me right now. And I feel good. I did this now. I started.
Then the word sprints. I wrote more than 2100 words today in 2 hours. And all I can think is, "You used to have 5k days. And I bet you those 2100 words are all shit that will get cut. I mean, were you saying anything at all in them?"
This is what it's like in my head.
I know it's lying. I know that I am enough. I know that I am worthy.
Just some days it's harder to remember that. It's the still small voice that sometimes gets lost in the din of all that other shit.
So here it is. Here's me. From the middle of it, wearing this bracelet I got that says, "I am ENOUGH" as a reminder. I'm not writing this to get a fix, but to acknowledge where I am.
This is me.
This is how my demons manifest.
And this is how I cope with them.
I name them and deal with them until they go away for a bit.
Thank you for hanging with me.
PS: Don't forget, in honor of #WorldBookDay you can get a digital copy of WILD CARD for just 99 cents here on ye olde website! Just click "MERCH" above. Sale ends tomorrow. Also, you can pick up the audio book of WILD CARD on Amazon, Audible and iTunes. Also, also, you can preorder the alt.sherolck.holmes collection. Features novellas by Gini Koch, Glen Mehn and yours truly as we ponder variations on the Great Detective.(yes, even when in the mire I have to make time to pimp myself.)
So this week I'm going to do something a little different. Patreon Patron (AKA Patronus*) Brian suggested the following topics for flash fiction: "Non-binary decision, free fall, what does it mean to create?" And while I love the idea of using these in fiction, I wanted to write about at least two of them in essay format. So this week, in lieu of 1000 words of flash fiction, I'm going to be taking on the topic of what it means to create.
Creation is... well, for one thing it's weird. It's fucked up. There's this thing that doesn't exist and it's in your mind. And the mind is that part of your being that can't be seen. You can't point to it on an MRI or an x-ray. Yet you keep all your stuff there. Your ideas, your beliefs, your memories, hopes, dreams (literal and figurative), movie quotes and 8th grade horror stories. They're all there in your mind. It's where you keep YOU. And no two minds are alike. Mine, for example, is best visualized as a Suessian high rise condo. My characters live there, my friends stop by to visit, and all the various Vox Crania run the place. The security team has its place up in the penthouse (under the watchful gaze of the Jagrafess and Simon Pegg's portrayal of The Editor, of course) and Heart & Brain hang out at the bar most of the time.
Yes, there's a bar.
My mind is a strange and spectacular place like unto that one awesome room in the Wonka Factory spliced with Avenger's Tower. Occasionally, with the twisted alchemy that is life, something will come in through the revolving doors of said condo, and mix up with the primordial sludge from which it is made, and bam!
There's an IDEA! It's something that is a non-existent seed that lives in that place we've already established can't be proven to exist except that you believe it does. (And you've just realized that you invented your own Matrix.)
Creation, for me, is taking that seed and putting it in the window box in my brain condo.
So, this seed...
It goes into the soil, such as it is, where I water it and give it sunlight and such. From there? Well the metaphor can stay the same...the seed will either grow or it won't and when it pops up from the soil we see what it is. And it might bloom or it might not. It might be an orchid--something delicately beautiful and difficult to maintain. It might be the dandelion--commonly thought to be a weed but appreciated by small children and whimsical adults. It might end up being a beanstalk or something else huge that grows from a seed. I don't know when that seed goes into the ground what it's going to amount to.
That's one of the risky bits of creation. You don't know if it's going to "work". You aren't sure that the efforts you're spending, the resources and hours you're putting into nurturing that seed will actually pay off. When you break out the Play-Doh and start squishing it around, your mind says "This is going to be as beautiful as Michaelangelo's Pieta" and it turns out being an amorphous pink glitter blob. Creation is not a sure thing. You might think you know what you're trying to say in a story but a group of readers glean the exact opposite.
It's maddening! It's terrifying! It's exhilarating!
Creation is totally amazeballs and also wiggity wiggity whack! (--the great poets Kriss and Kross.) You're consumed by this noncorporeal thing. Your thoughts wander to it while you're talking with friends, driving, operating heavy machinery. Everything in your physical existence comes back to this thing that only you can see or hear. You're laughing about jokes made by figments of your imagination. You're shipping people who don't actually exist and wondering how you can orchestrate events in a world in which normal physics do not apply. The THING takes over all of your background processes!
And then someone who can barely count his nipples ragdolls you around your brain condo with helpful feedback that completely makes you question your work, your life choices and the parachute pants you got for your 8th birthday. (So I'm told.)
That is creation.
Re-creation, revision and reshaping all happen later, and they're part of the process, but actual creation is this strange thing where something that didn't exist previously lives in a place that only you can get into. It's messed up! Like actual pregnancy. You can't see what's going on in there and the creation is completely changing everything in your life.
In movies (and sometimes in life) creation is treated like this holy event. It's not unlike a religious Mystery, like transubstantiation or the Virgin Birth.
Remember that scene in Dogma where God/Alanis comes along with her silver clothes? She looks around the devastation and as the camera pans around only Her face, the world is restored. And when She saves Bethany from death? She places her hands on Bethany's mortal wound, the shot cuts away to the awe-stricken faces of our erstwhile prophets--Jay & Silent Bob--and other than a golden glow and some dramatic vocalizing from the choirs of Heaven, we don't come back to Bethany until she's shooting up from the ground taking her first breath.
I get that this was a conscious choice about God's ways being mysterious, but it applies to artistic creation as well. We don't see creation. Sure, with visual artists like painters and sculptors, a movie will show a montage of said artist working their mojo. But it's a series of frenzied cuts and sweat and silent grunting. The labor pains. You can't watch the whole thing (because it's lengthy, toilsome and lonely work in the real world).
We don't see the actual moment of magical conception. Because you can't. That moment always happens behind the closed doors of your brain condo (or mind palace if you're nasty, nooch). So in movies it's either a montage or it's represented as a literal flash of inspiration--literal light bulb moment--that undoubtedly leads to a montage with a gripping Hans Zimmer soundtrack. (I'm looking at you A Beautiful Mind.)
To wax poetic, the transformations of moths and butterflies happen inside a chrysalis, away from prying eyes. Back to our vegetation analogy, the seed does its biggest work beneath the soil. The edits and changes (blooming) happen above ground.
So what I'm saying is that all artists are cave-dwelling gods and you should shower us with chai, chocolate and money. Or we might be weeping angels who, when you blink, syphon your life force to create masterpieces. Take your pick.
*Like what you read? Want to suggest something for me to write, be it fiction or non? Want early and exclusive access to new work? Want to shower me with chai, chocolate and money? Consider becoming a Patronus!