Tuesday, June 25, 2019

What to Do With Time?

It was probably because I'd seen the so-bad-it's-still-bad time travel movie Time Chasers on Pluto TV's Rifftrax and MST3K channels about 50 times in the last few months that I got thinking about time travel.  At one point in the movie the main characters use the time machine (a Cessna using a Commodore 64 program--seriously) to go back to a diner in the 50s for a date.

And I got thinking that with time travel movies you always get all these cliches like going back to kill Hitler or save Ann Frank or whatever like that.  Or going back to buy a lottery ticket or bet on a sports team so I get rich.  Even Quantum Leap pretty much every episode was about fixing someone's life.  That stuff is like when someone asks, "Who would you have dinner with?" and you say Jesus or Einstein or MLK Jr or Gandhi or someone like that when in reality I'd have dinner with early 90s Cindy Crawford or if I'm being less of a pig one of my favorite authors, though I'd probably just embarrass myself in both cases.  Anyway, those other ones are just so cliche and disingenuous.

But what about the more benign uses of time travel?  So, let's say I have a time machine but with a couple of rules:

  1. I can't make any real changes to the timeline--nothing I do will affect anything, there is no "butterfly effect" or anything.  I can't buy a lottery ticket or bet on sports or buy stocks or deposit something in a savings account to get rich.
  2. I can't interact with people I already know.  I mean it'd be cool to go back and see my dad or my sister or my various uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandparents, but that's so maudlin.  Let's have fun!
(Basically Avengers Endgame rules only without the sciencey blather.)

OK, so what are the things I would do if I could go back in time then?  The first thing that occurs to me is I'd go back to like 1995 and get myself a double olive burger combo from Hot n Now in Midland.  Or maybe I'd get a couple dozen of them.  I'd basically be like Wimpy in Popeye or Jughead in Archie.

One of the next things I'd do is go back to 1985-1987 and go to Toys R Us and Children's Palace.  Even if I didn't buy anything it'd be so neat just to see all the old Transformers, GI Joe, and other toys.  Maybe get myself another gray with brown spots Pound Puppy.  Since I talked about it a couple months ago I could get the original Robotech toys and models.  If I could I'd take a whole paycheck and just buy the complete Transformers line for a year.

Though really it'd be neat to just go through some of those old stores that don't exist anymore to look around and see the old stuff like clothes, appliances, food products, and so on.  I wouldn't necessarily want to eat C3PO or Mr. T cereal but it'd be fun to see it on the shelves.  And it'd be fun to see how ridiculously inexpensive it would be compared to current prices.

Speaking of, it'd be fun if I could get on some of those old game shows I watched as a kid but was too young to actually play like the Price is Right, Press Your Luck, Let's Make a Deal, or Supermarket Sweep.  Though the problem would be I'd probably overestimate all the prices of stuff.

Besides the double olive burger at Hot n Now you know what else would be good?  Fried chicken from Hardee's!  Or Long John Silver's used to have these really good wraps.  When I worked at Burger King in 1997 they had a really good Big Mac clone.  Or go back to all the Chinese buffet places that have closed but used to have a few really good items.  Let's face it I could just eat my way through the last 30 years.

It'd also be cool to say go to The Empire Strikes Back when it first comes out or other movies like that when they're fresh--for everyone else.  To get a little maudlin it'd be great to go to concerts from bands that have broken up and/or have a member(s) who've died like the Cranberries, REM, the Beatles, or of course Elvis Presley.  I mean you can listen to albums but wouldn't it be sweet to actually hear it live with your own ears?

It would also be cool to go back to July 20, 1969 for the first moon landing.  I wouldn't have to be on the moon but just around to soak up the atmosphere.  Or June 1997 when the Red Wings won their first Stanley Cup in 42 years.  (I saw it the first time but why not see it again?)  I'm sure there are some other good days to go back to:  the Berlin Wall, VE/VJ Day in 1945, Obama's inauguration when all but the most hateful people had hope?

I never really went to arcades because the only ones near us were in the malls and we didn't really have time or money for those, but it might be neat to play the original Pac-Man arcade game or Frogger or Asteroids or whatever.

Books aren't really as important for me in this scenario.  I mean I don't care if I read a first edition John Irving book or a reprint.  I suppose some people might get a kick out of reading a first edition Carrie or Harry Potter or LOTR.

Since travel would probably cost a lot less in the past I could probably fly first class to Europe or take a train across the country in a sleeper car or something.  It would be pretty sweet.

So time travel stories don't have to be about trying to kill people or stopping people from being killed or almost having sex with your mom or grandma; there's plenty of stuff you can do that's fun and benign.  Maybe you can even think of some on your own.  If you were reading, which you probably weren't.  Maybe I should go back in time to when people read this blog...when was that?  Never.  Now's who's being maudlin?

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Choose Your Own Adventures

The other day someone tweeted how much they love the movie Moneyball about "an underdog team overcoming the odds with advanced sabermetrics."  Which if you actually followed baseball around that time you'd know the A's didn't actually win anything except maybe their division.  Billy Beane's team lost to the high-priced Yankees in the league championship series.  Twice in a row, I think.  In 2006 the A's got swept by the Tigers in the league championship series.  And they haven't really done much since.

Meanwhile the rival Angels won a title in 2002.  The low-budget Marlins won in 2003.  The much higher-budget Red Sox won in 2004.  The medium-budget White Sox won in 2005.  The Cardinals lucked into a title in 2006.  The Red Sox won again in 2007.  The above-average-budget Phillies beat the low-budget Rays in 2008.  The high-budget Yankees won in 2009.  The medium-budget Giants won in 2010, 2012, and 2014.

What do all of these have in common?  Nothing except they're all baseball teams.  Teams of all budgets have won titles.  Some have managers that use stats and others with managers who use their guts.  Basically there is no one way to win a title.

Similarly, studies have shown that there is no one perfect diet for everyone.  Low carb, low fat, keto, paleo, Mediterranean, Weight Watchers, Sugar Busters, grapefruit, or whatever they pretty much all have the same level of effectiveness.  It's really all about what works for the individual.  Just like running, biking, walking, lifting, Crossfit, yoga, and so on are all different exercise regiments that can work depending on the individual.

Monday I talked about essentially how random success is.  And that's because there is no one way to achieve it.  There are a lot of different ways for someone to succeed in anything:  baseball, dieting, exercise, or of course writing.

A lot of books like Moneyball can claim they have a winning formula but there is no winning formula.  If there were one formula for success, everyone would be doing it already.  And if there were a secret to success, why would that person tell everyone?

Not that books about how to succeed in something are a complete waste of time.  They can help to give you ideas of your own.  The idea is to not follow them too slavishly.  You have to find what works for you.  Now if only I knew what that was.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Success Often Depends on the Butterfly Effect

A couple of months ago I got the 20th anniversary collection of Mystery Science Theater 3000 from Amazon since it was pretty cheap used.  On 3 of the four discs was a documentary talking with the cast about the history of the show.

It highlighted to me how often success in something depends on a number of seemingly random events happening.  Series creator Joel Hodgson basically came up with the idea by combining a few disparate ideas:  a movie "wraparound" show (where a host introduces a movie and talks about it before/after commercial breaks like Elvira and so on), the movie Silent Running where a guy is on a ship with only robots he built for company, and silhouettes from an Elton John album cover.  Those ideas created the gist of the show's formula:  a movie show where a guy and his robot pals are shown in silhouette during the movie making jokes.

Pretty much the way most of the core writing/performing group was hired was a guy who knew a guy.  Like Hodgson was working in comedy clubs and the like around Minneapolis around that time where he met original Servo and evil henchman Josh Weinstein.  Later that's also how they found head writer and future host Michael Nelson.

The show was on local Minneapolis TV the first year but then got picked up at Comedy Central.  It was on a bubble for a second season but then a freelance reporter for a paper in Philly saw the show and pitched a feature on it.  That attracted attention from TV Guide, which attracted attention from Time, which attracted attention from Newsweek.  The resulting buzz is what largely got the show picked up for a second season.  And the rest was history.

If you start thinking about it, there's a sort of butterfly effect that goes into something like that being a success.  If Hodgson doesn't combine those three ideas the format of the show is different and maybe it's not as successful.  Or if he hadn't met Weinstein, Nelson, and other people around clubs and such then the show would be completely different.  And of course if that reporter doesn't see the show there's no newspaper article, which means no buzz, which means no second season on Comedy Central.  Which means I never see it and buy the DVDs almost 30 years later!  And it would also have meant there never would have been more than two seasons, which meant there'd also never be a Rifftrax, which means there'd be almost nothing for Pluto TV to show 25-30 years later for me to watch obsessively.

Most everything successful pretty much depends on this sort of butterfly effect.  When coming up with a story it's a lot like what Hodgson did; it's often combining different bits here and there to create a final product.  For me sometimes it's a title or a character or some vague "what if?" thought.  Or maybe I saw a movie or TV show or read a book and something in that makes me think of an idea.  Like when I made gender swap stories on Transformers and GI Joe episodes.

And of course the whole business of writing depends on this butterfly effect.  You have to send it to the right agent at the right time who then has to pitch it to the right editor at the right time.  And knowing a guy who knows a guy also would help a lot--which is why so many of us aren't successful.  If one variable doesn't turn out right then it spoils the whole equation.

On a similar tack sometimes sites will run stories about some famous actor who turned down an iconic role.  Like Burt Reynolds turning down Han Solo, Tom Selleck turning down Indiana Jones, or Will Smith turning down Neo in The Matrix.  The latter was on the Geek Twins site and I was thinking aloud (or through my keyboard) that if Smith had taken that role it might have hurt the movie because he was coming off Men in Black and so people would probably have whined that the movie wasn't an action-comedy like MIB.  But then Wild Wild West might not have sucked as much--or probably not.

All of existence is so fragile when you get to thinking about it.  You're probably better off not thinking about it unless you're writing an alternate history book or TV show.

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Mt. Rushmore of Bad Filmmakers

I'm not sure if former ESPN commentator Bill Simmons invented the idea of a "Mt. Rushmore" of ranking things or if he just popularized it but it's something that's been used a lot since the 2000s on social media and such.

For those who don't realize it Mt. Rushmore is a monument in South Dakota (almost literally in the middle of nowhere about 30 miles from Rapid City) with four presidents carved into the side of a mountain:  Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and T. Roosevelt.  So the idea in creating a "Mt. Rushmore" of something is to pick four things like the four presidents.  So a "Mt. Rushmore of Basketball Players" you might have Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James.  Or you might have some different people.  The thing about it is you only have four slots so it can create a lot of debate in comment sections.
Spoiler alert!
So at one point when I was bored I got wondering, who's the Mt. Rushmore of bad filmmakers?  Well I suppose you have to have Ed Wood, right?  Plan 9 From Outer Space, and so forth that were so cheaply and incompetently created as to be laughable.  I think you also have to have Roger Corman who's made like 400 low-budget movies, though slightly more competently.

As someone who obsessively watched Rifftrax movies I have to put James Nguyen on there.  I mean Birdemic and Julie & Jack are as cheap and incompetent as anything Ed Wood ever made.  The only knock against putting him on there is the quantity isn't as large as others like Bert I Gordon or other schlock-mongers who put out dozens if not hundreds of crappy movies.  Still, there's something to be said for quality over quantity; the sheer awfulness of those movies makes up for the lack of quantity.

I wasn't all that sure about the fourth slot until one weekend when on a lark I rented three Rifftrax movies all written, produced, and directed by Greydon Clark.  To that point my experience with him had been relatively benign.  Mostly the 80s "thriller" Final Justice where a bloated Joe Don Baker plays a Texas deputy who loses a prisoner in Malta and has to track him down on the island.  It wasn't great but not on the same par as a Plan 9 or Birdemic.  Then there was the 70s Charlie's Angels/After School Special ripoff Angel's Revenge where a schoolteacher recruits a group of women to take on Joey Bishop, Jack Palance, and some sitcom has-beens from Gilligan's Island and Beverly Hillbillies.  That one was pretty bad.  But not bad enough.

Then came that weekend I mentioned.  One movie was bad but not completely awful.  Dark Future was shot on the cheap in post-Cold War Russia in 1994 but it looks more like it was made in the late 80s.  The story is fairly confusing too as it's sort of a reverse Westworld/Futureworld where androids stock a theme park with humans to amuse them by recreating past locales like a 30s Chicago speak-easy.  One of the humans has a baby, which is the first in decades so they have to keep the child alive.  Then there are all these old guys who control the androids and want to do something with the baby so they can live forever...or something.

The "horror" movie Uninvited was pretty ridiculous.  Our auteur shows up as a scientist who's so stupid that he doesn't close the door when injecting a cat with an experimental drug.  The cat gets away from him to terrorize people.  The ridiculous thing is the cat looks like a normal orange cat but then a "monster" comes out like a hairball or the small mouth of the xenomorph in Alien.  Somehow it gets on a boat and starts killing people.  It takes the whole rest of the movie then for these idiots to realize they could just GET OFF THE FUCKING BOAT to escape the thing.  Duuuuuuh.  And of course the cat washes up on a beach where it's picked up by a little kid who happens to be one of the director's sons.

Which I mention because the same kid is one of the "stars" in Greydon Clark's magnum opus Star Games.  If I had never seen another Greydon Clark movie I'd still put him on my Mt. Rushmore of bad filmmakers because holy shit is this movie bad.  It's easily on the Plan 9 and Birdemic level.  Except that Clark by that point should have been a little more competent than Nguyen and probably had a slight bit more money than Ed Wood.

What makes it so bad?  First it "stars" both of the director's sons.  One is a human and one an alien prince who crashes on the planet to escape an evil alien warlord who looks like a bad cosplay of a Power Rangers villain.  The prince's people, led by a decrepit Tony Curtis cashing a paycheck, have an impenetrable shield around their planet.  But for inexplicable reasons the prince is on another planet that isn't shielded so the bad guy plans to capture him and ransom him.  Wait, if your shield is impenetrable why wouldn't you have the prince living under it?  It makes no sense!

But the prince escapes to Earth in a ship piloted by an AI resembling a clown.  An actual fucking clown.  Gah!  The prince meets a human kid on Earth and they have to fight off evil henchmen in a variety of annoying ways.  One way is the prince creates the illusion of dinosaurs that use really bad claymation like something from the 50s.  There's also a bear sometimes chasing them that at least doesn't look like a guy in a bear suit most of the time.

Between the nepotism, horrid effects, and incoherent story it's one of those that's almost too bad to be so good it's bad.  For that and decades of crap Greydon Clark gets on my Mt. Rushmore of bad filmmakers.

I'd ask you, Phantom Readers, for your recommendations but I know you don't have any.  But maybe you can make your own Mt. Rushmores of things good and bad.  Trying to distill something down to only 4 options can be pretty tough.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Does a Superhero Need an Origin Story?

At the beginning of April Amazon dropped season 2 of The Tick reboot.  Unlike the first season they didn't piecemeal it out, which is nice.  (The first season came out in 3 installments:  first the pilot in 2016 then 5 episodes in 2017, and then the final 6 episodes in 2018 so it took about 2 years for one full season!)

Overall I really liked the second season, in many ways more than the first.  The first season was the origin story, but mostly it was the origin of Arthur, the Tick's sidekick more than the eponymous Tick himself.  We really have no idea who the Tick is or where he comes from and by the end of season 2 we still don't know.  (Apparently we'll never know as Amazon canceled it.)  Which begs the question:  do you need an origin story for your superhero?

In this case, I don't think you do.  I mean if I knew the Tick was an alien or a cyborg or a government experiment or a construction worker with a wife and two kids who got a super-suit from aliens, would it add or subtract to my enjoyment of the show?  If anything it would probably detract from the show because it would bog the show down in flashbacks and a lot of drama when the story is supposed to be a comedy.  The Tick isn't supposed to be the dark, brooding Zack Snyder kind of hero (that's the vigilante Overkill); he's basically like the Adam West Batman, which if you remember that show they didn't really get into Batman's origin story in that because again it wasn't supposed to be a serious show.

So, if your hero isn't serious then origin stories just kind of bring it down.  But even more serious ones don't necessarily need it.  After two versions of Spider-Man's origin story in Spider-Man and Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel decided the hell with the origin story for Spider-Man: Homecoming and I don't think most people really missed it.

I'm sure whenever DC gets around to the next Batman or Superman movie they'll include the origin story.  Which especially with Batman it's pretty played out by now.  How many times can we see his parents being gunned down in an alley by whoever?  Just about everyone should know that story by now, why do we have to keep repeating it?  Especially since the longer time has gone on, the more antiquated it becomes.  Why the hell would rich people be WALKING in an ALLEY?  They don't have a limo?  I mean they have a butler but no chauffeur?  WTF?  They don't have bodyguards?  Back in the Great Depression it could still work but in the 21st Century it doesn't make a lot of sense.

I've done superhero stories with the origin story and without.  Or really with the Girl Power and Gender Swap Heroes series it was more of a split.  Most of them we didn't go much into the origin of their male character, but they were origin stories for the female versions of those characters.

Could I have done the Tales of the Scarlet Knight series without the origin?  I guess so, but really the whole series is Emma's journey so not having the origin probably wouldn't have made sense.  But I think it depends a lot on the story you're trying to tell.  Sometimes you're telling the hero's journey but other times maybe your story is something else.  Like a few months ago I talked about a series called Young Protectors that was about the homosexual relationship between a young hero and an older villain.  There was really no need for origin stories--at least of how they got powers and stuff, because it was more about the origin of their relationship.  Or in my gender swap hero series there was no need to give the male character origin stories in depth because it wasn't about that; it was about them adapting to becoming women.  In the case of The Tick, it's not really about the Tick's origin so much as Arthur's origin and overcoming his fear of The Terror to save the day.

The same is also true for villains.  The Joker is probably the best example of this.  Was Jack Nicholson's Joker better than Heath Ledger's because we knew where he came from and how he came to be?  I don't think so.  In fact the whole The Killing Joke story is kind of meh in its conceit that one bad day is all you need to become a psychotic killer.  One bad day might prompt you to go on a killing spree like all those workplace and school shooters, but to become the sort of calculating psychopath of the Joker you need to have some bad things already inside of you.

Michael Myers is another example.  In the original Halloween there was an origin of Michael killing his sister but there was no real explanation of why he was going on a killing spree years later.  The sequels added theories as to his motivations like Laurie Strode was his sister to a curse based on Celtic mythology.  The soft reboot last year tried to rewind it back to the first movie but it didn't really work--in large part because the movie was spectacularly boring.

Little to no origin for villains can make them scarier than if they have an origin.  An origin tends to humanize them and in many cases that's not really what we want.  You want your bad guys bad not someone to feel sorry for.  The Joker is scarier if he's some evil mystery man rather than a failed comedian or mob henchman.

Anyway, something to consider is that some of the most popular heroes like Superman and Batman didn't start with origins.  Those origins only came out after the characters were already popular and people began to wonder where they came from.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Bubble Boys & Girls

During a “polar vortex” this winter I decided to try a social experiment.  The front door of my building often doesn’t shut completely, especially when it’s really cold or really humid. Since it was going to be -30 wind chills, it seemed to make sense to actually close the fucking door so as little arctic air as possible would leak into the building.

To that end I got a marker and piece of paper and wrote “Close the Door!” on it and hung it from the door.  I couldn’t keep real statistics, but do you think people actually closed the door?  Meh.  Of course not.  Most people still just barged through the door and let it slam behind them like a tough guy walking away from an explosion in a movie, leaving it ajar despite how fucking cold it was outside.  All they had to do was wait five seconds to pull the door shut behind them, but nope.

Because that would require thinking about other people instead of ourselves.  Most of us don’t have the ability to think outside the little bubble of ourselves to consider others.

For instance, just go to the grocery store.  One night I went to Kroger and right as I enter an aisle this guy decides he’s going to pull his cart angled across about half the aisle while he looks for shit on the shelves.  Because no one else would possibly want to use the aisle, right?  So I just yanked his cart out of the way and kept going about my business.  But so often you get these people (sometimes employees or delivery people too) who park their carts at the choke point of an aisle where there’s a pillar or display, thus making it hard for anyone else to get through, especially if they have a cart.  Or someone parks their cart flat against the shelves but then they stand right across from it so they’re taking up twice the space.  And then there are people who instead of pushing the cart from behind walk beside it, again taking up twice the space.

Especially in winter when it gets dark earlier there are times when I’m working in the evening at Panera or Starbucks or Biggby on a story and you get these people who shine their headlights right through the windows of the building.  Not just for a minute or so before they turn off either; they have someone else get out and sit there idling with their lights on for 10-15 minutes!  I just want to go outside, tap on their window, and say, “Hey, dumbass, you maybe notice that building right in front of you?”  That building full of people who might not want blinded by your obnoxious blue lights that are brighter than “bright” lights were back in the 90s?

Sometimes I also work in the Starbucks of Targets and usually they’re facing the parking lot so I can watch people park in the fire lane where it says to not park.  Or sometimes across the main aisle from that.  Either way like in the store it creates a choke point for traffic.  Sometimes they’re just waiting for a big item to be brought out, but more often it’s someone going into the store or Starbucks thinking, “I’m just going to be a couple of minutes.”  Well here’s news for you buddy: just about everyone is going to be a couple of minutes.  And they actually parked in the spaces.  What’s the matter with you?  You think you’re special, snowflake?

I’m sure you’ve seen your share of people parking in handicap spaces who aren’t handicapped or parking across 2-3 spaces.  Or passing on the right, weaving through traffic, tailgating, and all the other fun things assholes do to get that slight bit farther ahead.  One time this lady comes out of a Chase bank and decides to sit across the turn lane into another lane of traffic.  So those of us who wanted to turn had to wait until she finally completed her turn before we could go.  When I honked at her, she just turned the other way and pretended we didn’t exist.  Wouldn’t want to start considering other people now, would you?  Because clearly it’s more important you turn than the five cars in the turn lane where they’re supposed to be.

In my building there used to be people across from me who had dogs they’d let run outside without a leash.  It was less annoying when it was just one smaller dog, but then they got a huge fucking Great Dane too.  They’d look outside before they let the beasts out, but of course just because there’s no one outside at that moment doesn’t mean people won’t come by in a minute or so, many of them with their own dogs.  And then all they’d do was ineffectually call for the dogs, which might be helpful if they’d ever trained their animals.  I think they finally had one run-in too many with other people because they finally started taking them out on leashes.  Though of course they’d spend the whole time with one hand on the leashes and one hand with their phone.  So if the fucking Great Dane wants to start running, you think this person can hold it back with one hand?

Of course cell phones have made this problem a billion times worse.  Now you have people blundering around with their head in a phone.  Or worse, driving around with their head in a phone while operating a two-ton urban assault vehicle.  It’s not really a surprise when the local news reported recently that pedestrian-car fatalities were at a high not seen in almost 30 years.  Over 6,000 people in one year!  You have a pedestrian on his phone and a driver on his phone, what do you think will happen?  Remember when Google Glass and Pokemon Go were big things and you’d have people walking into traffic or fall down an open manhole or something because they weren’t paying attention?

I could go on and on and on, but the simple thing is that people just don’t fucking THINK outside themselves.  It’s not just Millennials or people on phones, it’s everyone!  Even me--and you.  We’re all guilty at one point or another.  We need to slow down and consider others.  As Fraser the Mountie on Due South said, “It only takes a moment to be courteous.”  It only takes a moment to close the fucking door when it’s -30 or park your cart properly or park your car in a proper space and walk or turn off your fucking headlights when you’re not in drive.  It’s the little things that often make the biggest difference--like not running over someone (or getting run over) because you’re on your phone.  That’s how you can start making a better world.

This has been a Public Service Announcement by the Foundation to Actually Fucking Think, You Dumb Motherfuckers!!!

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Playing the Angles

On my first Kindle Fire tablet back in 2013 one of the first games I installed on it was 8 Ball Pool.  It is what it says it is: a pool game, as in the kind where you hit balls with a cue. I don’t have nearly enough room or money for real life pool and I’d suck at it anyway, so this was the next best thing.  And in the lower-rent halls you get guidelines to have an idea of where the ball will go when you hit it, something you don’t get in real life.

Of course like most games these days it’s “free to install” but then there are a lot of mini-purchases you can make for better cues, coins to bet with, and cash to buy upgrades.  There are also mini games like a Wheel of Fortune-type wheel, scratcher tickets, and boxes that contain coins or cue pieces.

Like with Candy Crush sometimes I probably spent too much on the mini-purchases and so I didn’t install the game on my second Kindle Fire.  That Fire was junk and I finally got so mad at how slow and useless it was that I threw it against a wall and broke the screen.  I went back to the original Fire and guess what?  The 8 Ball game still worked; I had all the coins and cues I’d had before I quit playing.

It didn’t take long to get back up to speed on the game.  At least for me.  Because the thing is, I never was that good.  I can do pretty well on the basic shots, but the steep angle shots remain a problem for me.  And the fancy bank shots I make on accident more or less.  Which is why I can’t really play the more advanced levels without guidelines and against better players.  Mostly I just putter around in the Miami hall playing 9 Ball for 100 coins.  It makes the coins last longer and most of the time the competition isn’t all that advanced.  (9 Ball is a different game from 8 Ball with a lot of different rules that are actually more fun, IMHO.)

Anyway, pool is kind of like writing for me and a lot of other people.  No matter how long you try at it, your talent and skill is only going to take you so far.  Just like I have trouble with those steep angles or bank shots, I’m probably never going to have the skills to win a Pulitzer Prize.  There’s only so much you can do.

I’m being fatalistic, but also realistic.  I think it’s true for everyone that there is a max level to your talent and ability.  A lot of mush heads on critique groups would probably disagree and say, “You can do anything if you try hard enough!”  And maybe point out that one success story that proves the rule.

But really there’s no shame in it.  Not everyone can be as good as Paul Newman in The Hustler--not even Paul Newman.  Not every basketball player can be as good as Michael Jordan or LeBron James.  Not every football player can be Tom Brady.  (Thank God.)

That doesn’t mean you should just give up.  You can still have fun.  Like I said, I still play pool even though I’m not great at it.  It’s fun--most of the time.  When I lose 8 games in a row it’s not as much fun but most of the time it’s fun.

In other sports there are plenty of guys who make good careers as role players.  3 point shot specialists or defensive specialists in basketball.  Pinch hitters, middle relievers, and utility players in baseball.  Special teams players and backup quarterbacks in football.  Penalty killers, backup goalies, and goons in hockey.  The guys who do that stuff will never be superstars or get endorsements but they make decent money and can hang around for a lot longer than some flash-in-the-pan kid who turns out to be a bust.

It's like in acting there are plenty of actors who manage to stay in Hollywood by being "character actors" or playing villains or whatever instead of title roles.  It's certainly not what they probably dreamed of when they were kids, but it's better than the kind of actor who ends up waiting tables or doing porn.

So most of us will never win awards or have sales like JK Rowling or Stephen King.  We’ll never get movie or TV deals.  But we can still have fun and maybe make a little money.  That’s something at least.

There’s your yearly pick-me-up from the Grumpy Bulldog.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Other Anniversaries

Last month was the 10 year anniversary of the publishing of Where You Belong.  But there are actually some other anniversaries coming up in the next year.

First off, June 2009 (I don't know the exact date) was really the 10th anniversary of the Scarlet Knight series.  I started the first story as kind of a way to blow off steam after WYB.  The first two drafts of the first story weren't very good.  The first had some plot holes and the second I used an unusual POV system that didn't really work out.  But still it was around this time 10 years ago that I was finishing the first story the first time and the second time.  August 2009 was when I started on the second book (the first time).  I know because it was the first story I wrote on my old Toshiba netbook which would also be 10 years old in August.  The third story, Hazards of Love, I also wrote in 2009.

The unrelated story Liberation Front I think came between the first and second Scarlet Knight books so that would be 10 years old in July-ish.

The 4th to 8th stories I wrote in 2010 so their 10th anniversary is next year.  It would also be the 10th anniversary of the prequel Sisterhood.

2020 would actually be the 25th anniversary of the sci-fi story First Contact.  The next two spilled into 1996 originally so they'd be 25 years old in 2021.  One thing I've wanted to do is to write a clean draft of those because there are a lot of grammatical problems like comma splices.  But it's really annoying to try to rewrite something without actually rewriting it.  I mean when I start correcting the grammar I start wanting to make other changes and then I start wanting to redo the whole thing.

It would be nice since I like those stories; a cleaned-up version would maybe let more people enjoy them.

June 2019 is also the 5-year anniversary of Eric Filler's Transformed series.  The first book, Transformed Into a Little Girl, came out at the end of June 2014.  I wrote the first 20 books of that series by the end of the year and there were a few others too, ending I think with The Lipstick Lesbian Elixir.
So 2020 would have a bunch more anniversaries for Eric Filler books.  It'd also be the 5-year anniversary of the P.T. Dilloway novels Another Chance, Justice for All, and Sky Ghost:  Army of the Damned.

2019 is also the 15th anniversary of most of the short stories in The Carnival Papers, though a few came after 2004.  The newest was 2010 so it would be 10 in 2020.

2021 is the 10 year anniversary of the Chances Are books, starting in August of that year.  July of that year would be the 10th anniversary of The Night's Legacy.

2023 would be the 10 year anniversary of the first three Girl Power books, though the short stories and spinoff GAIA:  Rogue State have probably already turned 5.

2021 would also be the 15th anniversaries of Virgin Territory, Higher Power, The Naked World, and The Best Light.
And 2021 is the 15th anniversary of Forever Young, Young Hearts, and When You Were Young.  But the second book, Young Family was completely rewritten in 2012 so it'd be 10 in 2022.

2021 is the 20th anniversary of the short novel Waking Prometheus, which could also use a complete overhaul to fix grammatical errors.

2022 is the 20th anniversary of The Leading Men while 2023 is the 20th anniversary of The Changing Seasons and 2024 is the 20th anniversary of A Necessary Innocence.

I think that covers most of the important ones.

2020 is also the 5 year anniversary of the Andrew Leon Fiasco (TM)

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Screen vs Screen: Catch-22

It probably would have been better if I'd done this before Memorial Day, but oh well.

Anyway, this week I watched Hulu's Catch-22 series.  Or since it's only 6 episodes maybe miniseries would be a better description.  I thought it was really good but then since I hadn't read the book in about 12 years I wasn't sitting around saying, "That wasn't how they did it in the book!  That's not what happened in the book!  That's not how he looked in the book!"  You know, as can happen if you're really familiar with a book when you watch a TV/movie adaptation.

The gist of the story is the same:  in 1944 there's a bombardier named John Yossarian who is deathly afraid of death.  He does just about anything to keep himself from going on bombing missions from making a liver ailment to poisoning his own squadron with soap flakes.  And yet his commanding officer, Colonel Cathcart, continues raising the number of missions before someone can be rotated back home.

A recurring theme in the Hulu version is that while he's trying so hard to escape death, Yossarian inadvertently causes many of those in his unit to die.  Early on a new guy named Mudd shows up and asks where the admin tent is; Yossarian tells him it's the 2nd tent on the right but too late realizes it's the 3rd tent on the right.  Mudd goes into the 2nd tent and gets pressed into a bombing mission in which he's killed.

Later Yossarian is on a mission but he and the navigator can't agree whether the bridge is the right bridge so he doesn't drop the bombs.  He has them go in for a second pass, during which they destroy the bridge but the plane is shot down and one of his friends is killed.

When Cathcart is determined to send the unit on a dangerous bombing run of the city of Bologna, Yossarian sneaks into the briefing room and out of spite moves the "bombing line" north of the city on the map.  To his surprise, Cathcart and the rest of the command staff wake up thinking the city was captured.  Instead of radioing headquarters to check this, Major de Coverley heads to the city to start obtaining quarters for the American soldiers only to find Nazis still occupying it.  He's never seen again.

Another time Yossarian sabotages the intercom on his plane and convinces the pilot, McWatt, to turn back.  That night Cathcart singles their crew out for punishment by not letting them have baked Alaska like the rest of the unit.  He dresses McWatt down in front of everyone, which prompts McWatt to steal a fighter the next day and do a little stunt flying.  But he flies too low and kills a guy named Kid Sampson.  Out of guilt, McWatt crashes the fighter into a mountain.

But what breaks Yossarian is the inadvertent death of a Private Snowden.  Since his friend Nately died in the rear gun turret, Yossarian tells Snowden to just sit to the side since there aren't any German fighters at this point anyway.  But the plane is hit and Snowden dies; had he been in the back turret he'd have been fine.  The terrible part is at first Yossarian thinks Snowden's only been hit in the leg.  He assures the young private it'll be fine after he puts a tourniquet on it.  Snowden keeps complaining he's cold--and then Yossarian realizes Snowden has been hit in the abdomen and there's nothing he can do to save the boy.

When the plane lands, Yossarian strips off his bloody clothes and refuses to put clothes on again, even to a medal ceremony with an important general, who just shrugs and pins the medal to Yossarian's hat.

Looking over the SparkNotes for the book, I saw that the miniseries actually rearranges some events.  Snowden's death was chronologically near the beginning, not the end in the book.  It's the event that gives Yossarian his fear of flying.  Whereas in the Hulu series it's used as the breaking point for Yossarian, when he no longer has the will to try to fight his fate.

Besides the Hulu series I also watched the 1970 movie on Amazon Prime.  The movie kept more closely to the order of events in the book.  Really between the movie and miniseries you get most everything that happens in the novel as the movie cuts out some things like Yossarian's training in America with Lieutenant Scheisskopf (German for "shithead") and sleeping with Scheisskopf's wife.  Major de Coverley is cut out entirely.  But the Hulu series cuts other things like Yossarian being stabbed by an Italian whore.

The movie has a far more hopeful ending than the Hulu series.  In the movie Yossarian hears his friend Orr, who crashed in the ocean and was presumed dead, has washed up in Sweden.  Yossarian sees a way to break the cycle by following Orr's example and running away to Sweden.  This is also the end in the book.  Whereas the Hulu series ends with Yossarian broken and naked in the nose of a bomber on yet another mission.  Neither ending is "happy" but obviously the movie/book ending is happier than the Hulu one.

Both the movie and miniseries are good in a way.  The movie is obviously shorter at 2 hours while the miniseries is about 4 1/2 hours altogether.  But I think the miniseries has a more easy to understand narrative as the movie's narrative, like the book, frequently uses flashbacks, especially to the death of Snowden.  Since the movie was made in 1970, the production values of the Hulu miniseries are a lot better.  And while Alan Arkin is a great, respected actor, I think Christopher Abbott's performance as Yossarian was better.  A little more subtle and realistic, I'd say.

No matter which you watch, there's still a lot left out from the book.   You should probably read that for the full experience.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Payoffs Big and Small

A couple of months ago a couple of newer Rifftrax movies provided a good object lesson on having payoffs for plot elements.  Sometimes those elements can be small or sometimes they can be much larger.

First up the 1995 horror movie Ice Cream Man where Clint Howard plays a crazy ice cream man who murders people for little to no reason before being killed by a kid he abducted.  The kid then carries on his legacy.  Or something.

Anyway, in the movie there's a group of local kids who call themselves "Rocketeers" because they have toy rockets that can launch from the front of their bikes.  Like what Chekhov (the author guy not the Star Trek guy) said about a gun, these rockets will have some use in the final act, right?  Nope.  The most they're used for is one kid accidentally shoots a cop car and is nearly killed.  Which contributes almost nothing to the plot--such as it is.

One of the "Rocketeers" is a girl whose father is British (played by David Warner, who you might remember from Star Trek V/VI and the "Four Lights" episode of Next Generation) and a minister.  At one point she comes home and he's psyched because her mom is foaming and speaking in tongues.  This is going to have some relevance to the plot, right?  Maybe she'll warn them about the ice cream man or something?  Nope.  It's never mentioned again and the next time we see the mother she's fine and dandy.  And why is her father British?  And why waste money on a recognizable actor like David Warner when they could have hired any community theater schlub for that tiny, unimportant part?

The same weekend I also watched a 1990 dystopian "thriller" called Omega Cop where a bland guy who looks like a cut-rate Ben Mendelssohn fights a gang of slavers and rescues three women while Adam West almost literally phones in his role as the guy's boss holed up in a bunker that's supposed to be the last vestige of civilization.

At the start of the movie the bland cop and a dispatcher in the bunker are bantering about retro music.  She left a tape in his Jeep that he puts in and it plays...some vague sorta doo-wop song.  Nothing recognizable like Elvis or the Beach Boys or Buddy Holly or something.  Pretty weak payoff for that bit.

But the longer-term plot that doesn't really have much of a payoff is at the beginning the bland cop's comrades are killed by the henchmen of some big dude called "Wraith."  A couple of times the bland cop even screams, "Wraith, it's not over yet!"

So at the end they're going to have an epic throw-down right?  Um, no.  Wraith and his goons invade Adam West's bunker and the bland cop blows up the bunker with him in it.  They never actually fight each other!  I mean, at the end the bunker blows up and then it shows bland cop jumping into a lake in Montana with his new girlfriends who I guess are going to repopulate the Earth now and it's like, wait, that's it?  That's it?!  He didn't even quip, "It's over now, Wraith."  Weak.

When editing stories sometimes I'll notice a character or plot thread that doesn't really have a payoff.  Maybe I forgot about it or maybe I decided to make some change to the plot and that got left behind.  But it's important to make sure whether it's something small like a gag about music or rockets of kids's bikes or something big like an end with no confrontation between hero and villain that you have some kind of payoff for your audience.  For the small things you can just delete them if your story is running long.  The big things are definitely something that you'll need to rework. 

See, as I keep trying to tell you, you can learn a lot from bad movies. 🙀


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