Wednesday, August 4, 2021

The Big Fat Truth

 On Facebook a few weeks ago there was a clickbait article on my feed saying that Brendan Fraser should be having a career renaissance after his work in some movie.  Feeling a bit naughty, I decided to drop a truth bomb:  he'd be getting more work if he got back into shape instead of looking like he ate his younger self.

The reaction was predictable:  you're a bully!  Body shaming!  Troll!  You can say that and use all the stupid memes you want, but it doesn't change the truth.  And sorry, but it is the truth.

One person said, "There are parts for people of all sizes!"  Yeah, that's great, but that's what you tell little kids.  Adults should know better.

It's really simple:  the world is shallow and superficial and nowhere is that more obvious than in Hollywood.  When Brendan Fraser was buff and young and had hair, he could get leading roles.  Now that he's middle-aged, fat, and balding, it's not going to happen.  He can get supporting roles and voice work like in Doom Patrol, but no one is going to cast him as the lead in anything major.  Career-wise that can work out fine for steady work.  Guys like Ned Beatty, Charles Durning, and Ernest Borgnine did that for decades.  But no, he's not going to be headlining big action movies like The Mummy anymore.  It's just a fact.  Deal with it.

Since it's I think Insecure Writer's Support Group Wednesday, it seemed appropriate to air this little insecurity.  And of course it's not this way just in Hollyweird; it's that way everywhere.  I'm sure I'd have a much better job and thus be living a lot better if I were thin and had a full head of hair and two good eyes and good teeth.  If I did I'd have a lot more confidence and thus I'd be able to do a lot better in interviews.  And interviewers wouldn't shut down the moment they see me.  

Seriously, that's happened.  Like one time a lady from a temp agency calls me and is breathlessly telling me about all these jobs she has open for me.  I drive 40 miles to her office the next day and suddenly no jobs are available.  Hurm...what changed?  Or other times I show up for the interview and they bail out after one or two questions so the interview is pretty much over in five minutes.  Or a couple of times when they sent me a form rejection email about an hour after the interview.  I mean,  how much consideration could they really have given it?

We tend to think about prejudice as just applying to skin color or religion or age, but there are a lot of other factors too.  And despite all the TV shows and books and movies telling kids to be themselves and tolerate people who are different, that's not how the world works.  You can call me a bully or troll or give me your SJW hippie-dippy politically correct bullshit, but it won't change anything.  It won't change reality.

Is that insecure enough for you?

Here's an appropriate song, John Prine's "Big Fat Love" played by some guy on YouTube.

Monday, August 2, 2021

Loki Was Good Even Though Loki Didn't Really Matter

Like the other two Disney+ Marvel series, I didn't rush to watch Loki.  I waited until all the episodes were up and then binged it.  I planned to spread it out over a few days like Captain America Falcon and the Winter Soldier but I wound up doing it all in one night instead.  In part because I was bored but also because the show was really intriguing.

The thing is, I'm not really a big fan of Loki, not like my sister, who even named a cat after him.  I will say he's the best villain in the MCU if only because Marvel sucks at creating villains with any depth, mostly because they get bumped off after one movie.  By default Thanos is the second-best villain because he didn't get killed right away.  It just annoys me that like with Magneto in the Fox Marvelverse, they're always trying to make Loki seem like a good guy despite that he's killed thousands or maybe even millions of people by now.  I don't need villains to be mustache-twirling clich├ęs but it sucks when they're wishy-washy.

This show is the latest attempt to redeem Loki.  During Endgame, a Loki from 2012 (during the first Avengers movie) escapes, but he's quickly apprehended by the mysterious Time Variance Authority or TVA.  While most "variants" like him are "pruned" (ie beamed to a desolate wasteland at the end of the universe) he's recruited to help find another variant Loki in sort of a Silence of the Lambs arrangement.

Soon Loki finds out that this other Loki is hiding in natural disasters throughout time and they're able to find her.  Yes, her.  It's a lady Loki who calls herself Sylvie.  The TVA tried to prune her when she was a child but she escaped and has been killing TVA agents and stealing their "reset" bombs to get to the "Time Keepers" who supposedly control all time.

The 2012 Loki and Sylvie wind up stranded on a planet about to be destroyed by a rogue moon but when they're about to get romantic it creates enough of a variance or whatever that they can be rescued.  Soon Loki and Sylvie uncover that the Time Keepers aren't real and there's a man behind the curtain who's called "He Who Remains" but comic fans would know better as Kang the Conqueror, a villain from the future who repeatedly tries to take over the universe and is repeatedly stopped by the Avengers.

Anyway, he offers Loki and Sylvie the choice of death or taking over the TVA to carry on his work.  Loki would gladly take over the TVA to use it as a stepping stone to ultimate power but Sylvie would rather just kill Kang, which she does.  Loki ends up back at the TVA base but now no one remembers him and instead of the "Time Keepers" there's one Kang in charge of everything.

To Be Continued...[ominous music]

I already knew some of the stuff that would happen just from people's spoilers, but it still drew me in to see what exactly was going to happen.  In that sense it was a success.  What really keeps bugging me though is that Loki--the Tom Hiddleston version--is one of the least important characters in a show named for him.  Sylvie is the one who really stirs the drink here.  Her and Kang are the two most important characters to the plot as the central conflict really revolves around them.  The Loki we're familiar with finds Sylvie and then accompanies her but the show could easily have been the same without him.  The only real reason he's there is they needed a familiar face to sell the show to the public.

In that sense it's appropriate because Loki is the god of mischief and lies, so why shouldn't his show be one big convoluted lie or misdirection?  There were a few moments where Loki was allowed to shine, like when he finds out what happened to his original self and the destruction of Asgard and death of his adopted mother and his sorta creepy relationship with Sylvie.  There's not enough to where I'd say this is a great show, but it was decent and it helps set up all the multiverse crap that's going to happen with Dr. Strange 2, Spider-Man 3, and Ant-Man 3, the latter featuring Kang as a villain.  It probably could have been even better if it had tried a little harder to focus on its main character and give him a real character arc instead of making him a sidekick in his own series.

For comics fans there were plenty of Easter eggs, especially in the 5th episode when they go to the TVA's dump for all the shit that got "pruned."  There are other variant Lokis like the classic one (I have an action figure of that one), a child one, a black one, an alligator one, and another Tom Hiddleston one who was running for mayor or something.  At one point you can also see the infamous frog Thor and there's a helicopter with "Thanos" written on it from some ridiculous old comic book story.  And probably more shit I wouldn't know about because I haven't read that many Thor/Loki comics.  

Other than Lady Sif appearing in a cameo there aren't really any other MCU guest stars except in footage of previous movies.

Much was made about Loki being DB Cooper but it was kind of a fake-out that didn't make much sense.  Apparently it was just a prank Loki pulled.  He came to Earth and somehow flawlessly impersonated a normal human to hijack a plane and steal a bunch of money and then jump out and get beamed up by the Bifrost?  It didn't really make any sense and contributed nothing to the plot.  Really if Asgardians were hanging around Earth or "Midgard" back in the 70s why didn't Thor know much about our customs in the first movie?

Anyway, this show didn't really make me want another season about Loki so much as it made me want a series focusing on Sylvie.  Which is good in a way but also not good if your title character is less interesting than someone else.

Friday, July 30, 2021

What Do You Do After Your Replacement Hero Has Been Replaced?

With Falcon and the Winter Soldier coming out on Disney+, Amazon Prime Reading had a bunch of the comics featuring those characters for free, so I wound up reading them.  That was the inspiration for the question in the title:  what do you do with a replacement hero once they've been replaced--by the original hero, usually.

After the Civil War event around 2007, Steve Rogers was shot and killed by an assassin.  His former sidekick Bucky Barnes, most recently the assassin known as the Winter Soldier, took over as Captain America for a little while.  Until Steve of course came back--for a few years.

Then around 2013 or so, a villain sucked the super-soldier serum out of Steve's body so he got old and weak.  This time Sam Wilson, aka The Falcon, took over for him for a couple of years.  Then Steve came back and there were two Captain Americas.  But that Steve was an evil double created by a Cosmic Cube or something.  A second, good Steve, came back in the Secret Empire event of 2017 or so, during which Sam stepped down as Captain America.

So what became of Bucky after his turn as Captain America?

In a series immediately after that, he and Black Widow go after some former Soviet agents who were involved in the Winter Soldier program.  I read the first volume and it was pretty good.  More in that down-to-earth thriller vein of the Disney+ show.

That series ended after a couple years.  Then in the Original Sin event (about the same time Sam Wilson was taking over as Cap) it's revealed that Nick Fury has for decades been secretly protecting Earth from threats in space and whatnot.  When he dies, Bucky takes up the mantle.

I read the first volume of the new series with Bucky and Maria Hill out in space.  It was obviously a lot less down-to-earth and the art was the cruder type I don't really like.  So overall I didn't think much of it.  And neither did most people because I think it had only two volumes or about 12 issues before it ended.

The last one I read was from 2018 or so.  Bucky has returned to Earth and with Sharon Carter set up shop in Indiana as kind of an independent Witness Protection Agency.  It's kind of like the Schwarzenegger movie Eraser from the mid-90s where his job was to rescue witnesses in distress and get them set up with new identities. Trying to save one guy, Bucky meets a kid who has been trained to be an assassin from a young age and so Bucky takes him under his wing as sort of a sidekick.  It was better than the space series but not really as good as the first one and I don't think it lasted all that long.  Again, probably about 12 issues.

What about Sam Wilson, the Falcon?

I read the 8-issue 2017 series after he stopped being Captain America.  It was pretty underwhelming.  At the start Sam and a teenage SHIELD agent calling himself Patriot go to Chicago to stop gang violence.  So this is going to try to be a down-to-earth, socially relevant series?  Um, no.  The mayor of the city is actually Blackheart, the son of Mephisto, the devil of the Marvel universe.  Blackheart gives one of the gang leaders some magic to set off violence all through the city, which Sam and Patriot have to try to stop.  This involves Sam actually going to Hell before he can escape.

The last three issues go back to New York, where Mephisto sics vampires on Sam, Patriot, and Misty Knight.  With Blade's help they're able to stop them.  Hooray!  There's a really rushed, unsatisfying romantic plot with Sam and Misty.

This series is really what made me think about this subject because it seemed like the author was struggling to find something for Sam to do.  That is pretty much always a problem for these characters.  After you've had them be a big-time hero like Captain America, Batman, or Superman, where do you go from there?  It's a tough act to follow.

In the 90s DC replaced both Batman and Superman for a little while.  After Superman "died" there were four replacement heroes:  Steel, Superboy, Eradicator, and Cyborg Superman.  The first two remained heroes wile the Eradicator pretty much disappeared and the Cyborg Superman became a villain.  Steel had his own comic for a little while and a crappy Shaquille O'Neal movie.  That Superboy stuck around for a little while too but was eventually replaced by the more popular Connor Kent version in Young Justice and the Titans TV show.  Steel still shows up in Superman and other DC titles and I think is in that Superman and Lois show on the CW though I don't think he's a hero yet.

In 1993-1994 during the "Knightfall" event Jean-Paul Valley, aka Azrael, took over for Bruce Wayne after Bane broke him.  Exposure to Scarecrow fear gas made Jean-Paul crazy, paranoid, and brutal and eventually Bruce took back the mantle.  After that Azrael had his own series of 100 issues before he was killed off.  Having read that series, it was obvious author Denny O'Neil was struggling to establish a new identity for Azrael.  Sometimes he was traveling the globe.  Sometimes he was in Gotham.  A few issues he was in a smaller city.  He went through a few costume changes too.  Nothing really worked.  The character was brought back in the post-Rebirth Detective Comics but really just as a minor part of the "Bat Family."  He's also shown up mostly as a bad guy in the Gotham TV show and the limited series Curse of the White Knight.

Besides Superman and Batman, DC also had replacements for the Flash and Green Lantern through most of the 90s.  Wally West took over for Barry Allen after the Crisis on Infinite Earths event in the mid-80s and remained as the only Flash until Geoff Johns brought Barry back about 2009.  After the Flashpoint event a couple of years later, Wally disappeared, much to the chagrin of many fans.  He was brought back in the Rebirth event and was part of the Titans for a little while before in the limited series Heroes in Crisis he murdered a bunch of people, again to the chagrin of many fans.  But just recently he was brought back to again be the main Flash in Infinite Frontier or whatever.

Meanwhile, after Coast City was destroyed by Doomsday, Hal Jordan went nuts and killed pretty much the entire Green Lantern Corps.  A single ring survived to go to an artist named Kyle Rayner.  For most of the 90s then Rayner was the main Green Lantern, until about 2004 when Geoff Johns brought Hal Jordan back.  In the Blackest Night event, Kyle became the White Lantern, with power of all the various colors.  He was a big part of the 12-issue Omega Men series but after that has pretty much just been a minor character in various Green Lantern and DC titles.  He hasn't really shown up in any movies or TV shows to my knowledge.

What happened to Steel and Kyle Rayner is mostly what seems to happen.  The replacement hero might have a spotlight series for a little while, but after it folds they just wind up as bit players.  Maybe then it was for the best that Jane Foster's turn as Thor ended with her dying so no one at Marvel had to worry about what to do with her--though I'm sure she'll be back.  Or maybe she already is; I haven't read a lot of Marvel comics lately.

Obviously there are more characters who could be added to this.  It is kind of sad these characters get the spotlight for a little bit and then most get cast aside to be supporting characters again.  It's like a "one-hit wonder" in music or someone who gets "15 minutes of fame" for going viral or whatever.  Their star burns brightly but a short time and then afterwards it just glows dimly but can't ever get back to that point again.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Amazon Decoded, Decoded

 I've never been a big fan of how-to books, especially how-to marketing books.  I have read a few and they mostly seem like a lot of empty vamping that can usually be summarized into a blog post--which is what I do after I read them.  But I have read some of David Gaughran's stuff on Facebook, especially involving scammers and the like, so when it was on sale, I got a copy of his Amazon Decoded book for how-to market in the Kindle store.

And it was pretty typical.  A lot of vamping and extraneous stuff.  Most every section included an entreaty to go to his website for more, to the point I thought, "Why did I bother buying a book when I could have found everything on the website?"

I suppose there are some newbs who would enjoy hearing the entire history of the Kindle store or maybe even the entire history of Amazon itself, but I'd prefer to just get down to brass tacks.  What should I do and how should I do it?

In the end a lot of it is:  use Amazon Ads, Facebook Ads, and BookBub Ads.  The latter two more than Amazon.  Except that for someone like me who's into a super-tight niche, Amazon Ads would probably be better because you can narrow the focus more.  People in more traditional markets would get more bang for their buck with the other two.  But of course you have to have some bucks, which I really don't, so that part of the book doesn't have tons of relevance for me.

Since this came out in 2019 some of it is outdated, like the stuff about series and how important it is to have all the same name and stuff.  You no longer really have to worry about that with the series managing tool KDP added last year.  Now you can put books into a series even if they weren't really intended that way, like how I put all of my holiday-themed gender swap stories into one series.

The section on metadata was disappointing.  It all boiled down to:  either spend $97 on a program called KDP Rocket or just brute force it by searching keywords to see what comes up and if that would apply to your book.  The former is too expensive and the latter too time-consuming.  Probably the only helpful part of that was the reminder that your keywords don't have to be just one word.  I don't usually use more than two or three words in a keyword but you can use a bunch of words if you want.

There was one really interesting and potentially useful thing, though.  You know how fast food places sometimes have a "secret menu" of things not on the menu but available if you ask for them?  I think it's In-n-Out Burger out west that's especially famous for that but even McDonald's and Taco Bell in certain places will have stuff available if you know to ask them.   Anyway, KDP has a sorta secret menu item.  It's not exactly secret, but you have to know where to look.

When you set up your book, Amazon only lets you put in 2 categories (unlike B&N or Draft2Digital that give you 5 or Smashwords I think had more than that) but there are over 13,000 sub-categories on Amazon.  It turns out you can expand your categories up to 10--if you know how to ask.

You can just send a help email to KDP, but the better way is to go to your Author Central page and find the "Contact Us" link down at the bottom.  Then you can find the link where it will give you a sort of template on how to ask to add additional categories for your book.

This is what my email looked like for my book Swapnado:

I would like to add some categories to Swapnado by Eric Filler, ASIN B097SR4X84

Categories to be added (list each category as a separate line item):

1. B097SR4X84, .com, Kindle, Kindle Store>Kindle eBooks>Romance>LGBTQ+>Bisexual Romance

2. B097SR4X84, .com, Kindle, Kindle Store>Kindle eBooks>Romance>LGBTQ+>Gay Romance

3. B097SR4X84, .com, Kindle, Kindle Store>Kindle eBooks>Romance>LGBTQ+>Lesbian Romance

4. B097SR4X84, .com, Kindle, Kindle Store>Kindle eBooks>Romance>LGBTQ+>Transgender Romance

5. B097SR4X84, .com, Kindle, Kindle Store>Kindle eBooks>Literature & Fiction>Genre Fiction>LGBTQ+

6. B097SR4X84, .com, Kindle, Kindle Store>Kindle eBooks>Literature & Fiction>Genre Fiction>Psychological

7. B097SR4X84, .com, Kindle, Kindle Store>Kindle eBooks>Literature & Fiction>Horror>Dark Fantasy

8. B097SR4X84, .com, Kindle, Kindle Store>Kindle eBooks>Literature & Fiction>Horror>LGBTQ+

9. B097SR4X84, .com, Kindle, Kindle Store>Kindle eBooks>Literature & Fiction>Genre Fiction>LGBTQ+>Lesbian Fiction

10. B097SR4X84, .com, Kindle, Kindle Store>Kindle eBooks>Literature & Fiction>Genre Fiction>LGBTQ+>Transgender Fiction

The only problem with it was I didn't do my math correctly.  You get up to 10 TOTAL, so you can only add 8.  The person at Amazon sent me back an email saying they would only add enough to make it 10 total.  But otherwise it worked the way it was supposed to.

The obvious problem is you have to do this for each and every book, so for me I'd have to send like 200 emails, which I think would really piss them off.  But if you just have a couple of books, it's a good idea.  The caveat is you have to know which categories exactly that you want and they won't give you a list.  So the best idea is to go to other books, like ones it suggests you buy if you bought your own book or what people looked at after reading yours, and see what categories those are in and then copy and paste those into your email.

To get the full category I clicked the link on the book's page to take me to the chart and on the left side you see where it has the complete tree for that chart.  That's where I got a couple of my categories from; under the Genre LGBTQ+ I saw Lesbian and Transgender and so decided to add it to both along with the regular LGBTQ+.

You'd think Amazon could just make this part of the process when you're loading your book instead of making authors bother their low-paid minions in India about this.  But it's just part of what I've said all along:  Amazon is your frenemy.  They really don't want to make it too easy for small authors to succeed.  That would interfere with their plans for world domination.  But those plans need money, so they're happy yet to take a cut of our sales to fund their machine.  If you start taking sales away from their books, though, you might wind up floating upside-down in the Ganges.  (How much of that was tongue-in-cheek?  Hurm...)

There's also another thing sorta hidden, which is the chart of Most Popular books, which is different from Bestselling.  For most of us this won't really matter a lot because we're never going to be on that list.  It's really more for big traditionally-published authors.  Still, it's good to understand some of the different types of information Amazon uses.

Another good piece of advice is that when you're advertising your book, it's best not to have friends, family, and a bunch of random people buy it and/or review it.  The reason is that if those people don't traditionally read or buy in that category, it can throw off Amazon's marketing algorithms, so it would be telling people who don't read books like yours to buy your book and then they won't like it and give you a bad review.  

There's some other stuff, but really that was what jumped out at me as important.  As you can see, it didn't take that long to go through it.  That's why how-to books are usually so irritating.  Really unless you can get it free I'd say to just go to the guy's website and check out the stuff there and save yourself 200 pages of vamping.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Stories Are Better When They're Local

 Recently I finally finished and released the Eric Filler gender swap story Swapnado.  After a couple of tries, the story I ran with focuses on a pair of storm chasers who get changed when an experimental chemical is sucked into a tornado.  That was my third attempt at a story but it wasn't the third idea.  I had other potential ways of doing it.

One of those ways was to have a swapnado hit some small town--or maybe even a big town.  But I resisted this idea.  Why?  Because it would have gotten too big.  If you have a whole town affected by it then you've got a lot of people and you have all these excess issues to deal with.  Like what happens to women who get hit with the swapnado?  What happens to children?  And before you know it, you have a bunch of different storylines and it would wind up the size of a Stephen King novel.

This was to some extent the problem when I did the Gender Swap Outbreak trilogy in 2019.  I created a disease that would cause people to swap but then that brought up the issue:  if it changes a man into a woman, what happens to a woman?  Does she change into a man?  What happens to kids who get it?  So I had to come up with answers for that.

It was kind of the same problem in 2013 with the third Girl Power novel, League of Evil, where a feminizing weapon is used on the whole world.  Because it was literally the whole world, there was a lot of stuff to cover about how people were affected and the damage caused and so on.  In the end I think I only skimmed the surface of it for the sake of the narrative.

To me the same thing is true with "the blip" in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  There's so much stuff brought up by simply vaporizing 3-4 billion people and then having those same 3-4 billion people return 5 years later.  They hardly skimmed the surface of all the issues this would create.  It's something that could have its own anthology series--for a few seasons.  That's one of many reasons I thought that was pretty lame.

So when I was conceiving Swapnado, I never wanted anything that would create a ton of additional issues.  I wanted to keep the focus small--and thus the story smaller.  It still wound 85,000 words, but it could have been 10 times that if I'd made it a much larger phenomenon.

At least to me, I always think it's better to keep stories as small as possible.  Even the Sharknado movies on which that was based do that for the most part by focusing on just a small group of people.  In movies and TV (or TV movies) that's practical as you can't hire millions of actors to do a ton of different stories.  It's easier to do with books because you don't have to hire people, but stories with a lot of characters are usually long and confusing.

So that's why I'm saying, keep your threats on a local level and it makes the story a lot easier to deal with.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Separation Anxiety: Clarifying the Previous Post

From the comments on my previous post, The End of Imagination, it seemed that my meaning was not entirely clear.  So I wanted to clarify the post.

In my thinking, the post wasn't about an end to imagination as in writer's block.  It wasn't even so much an emotional or psychological ending.  After reading Lawrence Block's story "The Burglar's Future," wherein the author laments how old age means he can't write any more stories in the series, it got me thinking about how inevitably all authors have to let go of their characters.  In cases like Block's or his friend and sometimes co-author Donald Westlake's it was a physical reason.  They got old and in Westlake's case, he died, and thus could no longer continue their series.  I probably should also have mentioned Terry Pratchett, who had to stop writing the Discworld series when his Alzheimer's got too bad and shortly after that he passed away, leaving the Discworld at an end.

Sometimes a publisher will try to continue a series with another author.  Some like the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew it works better because the original author was working under another name and so it was probably hard to tell when the torch might have been passed--or  how many times.  Others like The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy you wish they hadn't bothered.

I probably muddied the waters in my last post by talking about my series that ended.  It is my blog, so I usually feel like I should chime in with my personal perspective.  The end of my series were not really a physical issue.  I mean, I didn't quit because I was old or sick or dead.  I stopped the Tales of the Scarlet Knight series and the Chances Are series because I felt I had everything at a satisfactory end.  That was an emotional reason instead of a physical one.  And certainly you couldn't say I ran out of imagination or I had writer's block, because I have thought of ways to continue those; I just never feel any real need to do so.

Besides the physical reasons or the emotional reasons there's also another reason to quit a series:  the retail reason.  Some books like Justice for All or Army of the Damned or The Lipstick Lesbian Elixir just didn't sell enough copies for me to spend time and energy on a sequel.  If I so chose I could probably think of something, but who would buy it?  You see that a lot more in comic books or movies (and comic book movies) where a series gets cancelled because of low sales.

I likened this phenomenon to a couple of songs about how a child grows up and leaves his imaginary friends behind.  This is I suppose both a physical and emotional reason.  The child grows up physically and (hopefully) matures emotionally and breaks contact with his imaginary friends.  So maybe that muddied the waters as well.

The point is that at some point all authors inevitably have to say goodbye to their imaginary friends--their characters.  In some cases it's because the author gets old or sick and then dies.  Or in other cases it's simply that the author decides to move on to something else either for emotional reasons--feeling they have taken the story and characters as far as they need to go--or retail reasons--the series isn't selling enough books to remain a profitable venture.

So now, is that clear as mud?

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

The End of Imagination

 When I heard "Puff the Magic Dragon" by Peter, Paul, and Mary the last verse of the song was always a bummer:

A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys
Painted wings and giant's rings make way for other toys
One gray night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more
And Puff, that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar
His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain
Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane
Without his lifelong friend, Puff could not be brave
So Puff, that mighty dragon, sadly slipped into his cave

The idea being that the kid grows up and abandons Puff because he's got grown up stuff to do.  The Loggins & Messina song "House at Pooh Corner" has a similar melancholy vibe about imaginary friends:

As our days disappeared all too soon
But I've wandered much further today than I should
And I can't seem to find my way back to the wood
So help me if you can, I've got to get
Back to the house at Pooh Corner by one

I hadn't really thought about this much for books until I was reading Lawrence Block's collection of Bernie Rhodenbarr short stories.  The final story, "The Burglar's Future" has the author go to Bernie's used bookstore.  There Bernie laments that there are no customers because everyone buys books online these days.  And Bernie can't steal stuff because there are cameras and stuff everywhere.  Worse, unlike Block's other long-running character, Matthew Scudder, Bernie doesn't age in real time, so he's forever about 35, thus he can't retire.  And the author, in his mid-80s now, no longer has the stamina to write any new stories.

Like Puff or the characters at Pooh Corner, Bernie's friend in the real world gets older and no longer can hang out with him.  Like our stuffed animals or other toys, most authors inevitably have to put away their characters too.  Sometimes it's by design and sometimes it's simply that the author dies and thus can no longer continue the series.

That's how it was with another series I finished recently, the Dortmunder series by Donald Westlake.  They were a fun series of 14 books (with an additional volume of short stories) about a criminal mastermind and his associates who usually succeed at some great theft only to somehow get shortchanged.  Westlake died in 2008 so there haven't been any more books since then.

In many cases like with the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew or James Bond or Jason Bourne they hire someone else to continue the series, but it's usually just a hollow pursuit to try to wring more money from the public.  As much as I like Block's Bernie Rhodenbarr books or Westlake's Dortmunder books, I don't really want to read someone else doing them.  Nor would I want to try to continue them myself.

Really it is a bit comforting to think that Bernie is still in his bookstore with his cat and best friend Caroline.  Or that Dortmunder and his associates are still in the back of the OJ Bar & Grill plotting schemes.  It's much like how we find comfort in the afterlife, thinking that someone is on a cloud playing a harp or whatever you believe.

While I've pitched sequels for the Scarlet Knight or Chances Are stories, I've never really had much interest in doing it.  I left Emma and Stacey and their family, friends, and acquaintances in a good place.  Their universes more or less work in real time, so they're more like Matthew Scudder than Bernie Rhodenbarr.  There really seems no need for me to upset the balance.  It's good that unlike Westlake with Dortmunder, I was able to pick where I wanted to end, just like Lawrence Block basically chose where to end things with Bernie.  Most of us in real life don't get lucky enough to decide that for ourselves.

The titular track of country-folk singer John Prine's final album was called the "Tree of Forgiveness" about what he would do when he got to Heaven.  Then he died in 2020 during the early days of the Covid outbreak.  So maybe now he's able to do all this stuff.  It seems like an appropriate song for this theme:

When I get to heaven
I'm gonna shake God's hand
Thank Him for more blessings than one man can stand
Then I'm gonna get a guitar
And start a rock-n-roll band
Check into a swell hotel
Ain't the afterlife grand?
And then I'm gonna get a cocktail
Vodka and ginger ale
Yeah, I'm gonna smoke a cigarette that's nine miles long
I'm gonna kiss that pretty girl on the tilt-a-whirl
'Cause this old man is goin' to town
Then as God is my witness
I'm getting back into show business
I'm gonna open up a nightclub called "The Tree of Forgiveness"
And forgive everybody ever done me any harm
Well, I might even invite a few choice critics
Those syph'litic parasitics
Buy 'em a pint of Smithwicks
And smother 'em with my charm
'Cause then I'm gonna get a cocktail
Vodka and ginger ale
Yeah I'm gonna smoke a cigarette that's nine miles long
I'm gonna kiss that pretty girl on the tilt-a-whirl
Yeah this old man is goin' to town
Yeah when I get to heaven
I'm gonna take that wristwatch off my arm
What are you gonna do with time
After you've bought the farm?
And them I'm gonna go find my mom and dad
And good old brother Doug
Well I bet him and cousin Jackie are still cuttin' up a rug
I wanna see all my mama's sisters
'Cause that's where all the love starts
I miss 'em all like crazy
Bless their little hearts
And I always will remember these words my daddy said
He said, " Buddy, when you're dead, you're a dead pecker-head"
I hope to prove him wrong
That is, when I get to heaven
'Cause then I'm gonna get a cocktail
Vodka and ginger ale
Yeah I'm gonna smoke a cigarette that's nine miles long
I'm gonna kiss that pretty girl on the tilt-a-whirl
Yeah this old man is goin' to town
Yeah this old man is goin' to town

Monday, July 19, 2021

Battlestar Galactica: The Original, Not the Best

Having watched the 1979-1981 Buck Rogers show on Tubi TV, I decided I might as well watch the classic Battlestar Galactica as well.  Galactica actually came first from creator Glen A Larson with a miniseries in 1978 that led to a full season of episodes. 

The miniseries establishes the premise for the series:  in another galaxy (or whatever) twelve tribes of humans have settled twelve planets.  Everything was cool for a while but then a race of robots called the Cylons started attacking the humans.  A war raged for a thousand years but when the show starts, the humans and Cylons are reaching a peace agreement.

Except as Ackbar would say:  it's a trap!  Captain Apollo and his little brother fly their spiffy Viper fighters out into some asteroids or whatever and find a fleet of Cylons waiting to pounce on the human ships.  Their communications jammed, the Vipers have to fly back to their base, the titular Battlestar Galactica to warn everyone.  Apollo's brother is killed but he gets the message back.  Still the human leaders don't want to risk the peace treaty and dither around until it's too late--all except Adama aboard the Galactica.  Apollo is his son and so he puts more stock into the warning.

But then it's too late and most of the human ships are slaughtered.  The human colonies are razed as well, including Adama and Apollo's home of Caprica.  There Adama tells the survivors to get anything they can flying and with the Galactica escorting them, they'll look for the missing "thirteenth tribe" on a planet called Earth.

The miniseries introduces us to the other main characters:  Starbuck, who like Yossarian or Hawkeye Pierce is a noble coward, a talented fighter pilot who doesn't really want to be in the military; Colonel Tigh, Adama's executive officer, who's often the bad cop to Adama's good cop; Cassiopeia, a nurse/babysitter/Starbuck's sometimes girlfriend; Boxey, a kid displaced by the Cylons whose mother marries Apollo and then dies shortly after; Boomer, who is Apollo and Starbuck's black friend and wingman; and Jolly, the chubby pilot, aka the Porkins of the group--though he lives a lot longer.

While there are some comic moments (like the goofy robot-dog thing an engineer makes for Boxey to replace his dead dog thing) most of the first few episodes are pretty serious as the ragtag fleet struggles to find fuel and food and evade the Cylons.  It's kind of like Macross (later the first series of Robotech) where they're dogged by an enemy that probably could destroy them if they really pressed but instead comes at them with just enough so the good guys can survive.  If the Vipers could transform that would actually have been really awesome.

There are a couple of cornier episodes where they go to other planets, like one where Apollo crashes on a planet that's like the Old West only it's run by some Boss Hogg-type guy who uses a reprogrammed Cylon robot as his enforcer, Redeye--because the Cyclons have a red dot that goes back and forth through their visor.  Another one they have to make peace between settlers and some pig guys so they can get seed to grow crops.

About halfway through the first season the Cylons pretty much drop out as the Galactica gets far enough away from them to leave their territory.  An Earth-like planet called "Terra" and its various colonies called Luna 1-7 are introduced.  A sort of Nazi-ish group called the "Eastern Alliance" patrols the area with neat, sorta Gundam-looking destroyers.  There's also a mysterious group of advanced aliens who abduct most of the Galactica's main pilots and later try to guide them to helping Terra.

The Cylons return in the final episode of the season and--mostly because it was the end of the season and they needed something big--the Galactica makes a plan to destroy them.  It involves a captured Cylon fighter with Apollo and Starbuck inside to sabotage the Cylon mother ship.  In the end of course the heroes prevail and go on with their journey.  Unbeknownst to them, but knownst to us, they receive a signal of the Apollo 11 landing on the moon.

Like Buck Rogers, season 2 changes concepts--for the worse.  It's supposed to be 25-30 years later (I guess) and the Galactica is near Earth.  Adama is the only regular cast member who is back full time, though Boomer and Starbuck get guest spots.  Like the Dukes of Hazzard it focuses on two new dudes who are supposed to be like the old guys, in this case Dillon and Troy stand in for Apollo and Starbuck.

Since Tubi TV has the second season out of order, the first few episodes are really confusing.  Because it just throws all these new people at you with no explanation.  Near the end of the second episode, Adama calls Troy "Boxey," and he calls Adama "Grandfather" so I guess Boxey grew up and became a warrior?  And who the hell is the reporter on Earth who already seems acquainted with the Galactica?  And who's "Xaviar?"

It turned out that the last three episodes listed under season 2 were actually the first three that set up the new season.  The Galactica wants help from Earth but clearly Earth isn't ready so they send teams of warriors down to talk to scientists to offer technology to help speed up Earth's development.  Troy and Dillon go to find a scientist in Los Angeles (played by Robert Reed, the former Mike Brady) but wind up getting in all kinds of trouble and revealing who they are to a female reporter.

Meanwhile this Xaviar guy is a commander who wants to go back in time to give technology to Earth in the past to speed up its development in the present.  Because apparently they can go back in time now.  Um...wait a sec, if you can go back in time, why not go back to stop the Cylons?  Then you wouldn't need Earth at all!  But whatever.  Eventually Xaviar goes back to 1944 to work on the V2 rocket with the Nazis.  Dillon, Troy, and the reporter go back to stop him.  Then he escapes in the present so they have to track him down.

After those first three episodes, the basic premise of the second season is that mostly to save money, Dillon, Troy, and a group of kids land on present day (1980) Earth.  Like the security officers in The Orville, the people from the Galactica have super strength and super jumping and stuff because their gravity was higher than Earth's, which seems kind of silly.  Really it seems like it should be like The Expanse where people who grow up in space are weaker in gravity.

Anyway, Dillon, Troy, and the kids go around with the reporter's help trying to find somewhere to hide out while being pursued by an Air Force guy.  A message at the end of each episode says that the Air Force stopped investigating UFOs and found nothing, because I guess the Air Force must have been cheesed off about the show implying they were still doing that.  The time travel thing was never brought up again after those first 3 episodes.

In the 7th episode (which apparently was the last one) they finally say what happened with Starbuck.  He crashed on a planet and war marooned with a Cylon and a mysterious woman named Angela who shows up...somehow and is pregnant.  Starbuck is able to get her baby off the planet and the baby is eventually found by the Galactica and the kid becomes "Dr. Z," some kind of child super-genius.  Meanwhile I guess Starbuck is still on that planet.  As for what became of Apollo...?  They don't really say but the implication is that he's dead.

It was really a chore to get through the second season because it was so lame with changing the premise and most of the characters.  One episode where they help a Latino farmer would have been better as an A-Team or Knight Rider episode.  Not surprisingly after 10 episodes the show was cancelled until the reboot about 25 years later.

Fun Facts:  The first miniseries featured Jane Seymour as Boxey's mom, whom Apollo marries.  And then of course she's killed.  Also in that miniseries, 80s heart throb Rick Springfield plays Apollo's little brother, who gets killed by the Cylons.  Ed Begley Jr. appeared a few times in the first half of the first season as a Viper pilot named "Ensign Greenbean."  Seriously.  Greenbean.  In a 2-part episode, Lloyd Bridges guest stars as the commander of another Battlestar, the Pegasus.  He and the ship are never seen again but his fighter pilot daughter Sheba joins the cast for the rest of the first season.  One episode where they go to a planet to trade for seeds features Brett Sommers of Match Game fame as a former flame of Adama's.  I couldn't help thinking she was a precursor to Troi's mother in Star Trek TNG and DS9 with her royal bearing and throwing herself at the commander, who had no interest in her advances.

The episode "Experiment in Terra" has two fun facts.  First, the show was produced and sometimes written by Donald Bellisario who created Magnum PI, JAG, and Quantum Leap.  The Galactica episode is kind of a prototype of Quantum Leap.  The advanced aliens mentioned previously send Apollo to Terra, where they surround him with an "aura" that causes the people there to see him as a colonel from that planet.  One of the aliens stays with Apollo to help guide him, but only Apollo (and later Starbuck) can see or hear him--just like how Sam was the only one who could hear or see Al.  It just needed Apollo to say "Oh boy" to complete the comparison.  When Starbuck's Viper lands on the planet he encounters a patrol led by John deLancie, Q from TNG, DS9, and Voyager.  You can't see his face because he has a helmet on but I heard his voice and thought, "Hey, that sounds like John deLancie."  And, yup, his name was in the credits.

In the second season, Lieutenant Dillon was played by Barry Van Dyke, the son of legendary comedian Dick Van Dyke.  In the 90s they worked together on the mystery series Diagnosis Murder.

Wikipedia mentioned a lot of the Galactica sets were later used for Buck Rogers and in a two-part episode you can clearly see shots of an "alien city" that were later used as Buck's home of New Chicago.  Some of the actors were in both shows like the old guy who played Dr. Goodfellow in season two of Buck Rogers was a council member in the first few episodes of Galactica.  A couple of other actors also appeared in both.

Galactica has a really weird credit sequence in most of the first season.  The opening titles only introduce Apollo, Starbuck, and Adama.  But then there's a follow-up sequence that goes through other characters like Tigh, Boomer, Jolly, etc. before going on to guest stars.  It seemed really inefficient and the second season uses more conventional credits.  But the funny thing with the second season credits is they use footage from the first season but make sure that you never clearly see characters besides Adama so you just see Apollo from the back or the side or from a distance.

In the second season of Buck Rogers, they mention a couple of times that their mission is to search for lost tribes of humanity.  The Galactica's mission was likewise to search for the "lost 13th tribe" that went to Earth.  So conceivably the two shows could have crossed over--if you disregarded season 2 of Galactica.  A crossover movie might have been neat, especially seeing Vipers tangling with the ships from Buck Rogers and then joining forces to fight Cylons and Draconians or whatever.

For fans of MST3K and Rifftrax, shots of the ships and battles from the original Galactica miniseries were shamelessly reused in the completely awful movie, Space Mutiny.  Veteran actor Cameron Mitchell sports a beard and robe to look like a really discount Adama.  After Galactica, Richard Hatch (Apollo) appeared in the lame, tonally inconsistent fantasy Prisoners of the Lost Universe.  Roy Tiennes, the star of a pilot called Code Name Diamond Head featured on MST3K guest starred in a Galactica episode as part of a sort of Suicide Squad who have to destroy a Cylon weapon.

Language Lesson:  Like the later series, the show uses "frack" as an expletive that means shit/fuck, like, "Oh frack!"  There's also "felgelcarb" which means shit in the other sense as a noun like, "What a piece of felgelcarb."  There are words for time too, which gets confusing.  "Yahrens" are years and then there's one like "centon" that I think is hours.  I'd rather they just used Earth measurements so you'd know if they're talking about hours, minutes, or seconds for something to happen.

BTW, I have started watching the reboot series on Tubi TV and in most ways it's better.  But there is one thing I like in the old series:  the uniforms the warriors wear.  The brown jackets are really cool.  I'm not sure if they're leather or suede or just fabric but they look neat.  The padded tunics underneath less so but the brown pants with the gun holster are also nice.  The blue uniforms the bridge crew wears in the reboot series are better than the uniforms on the original series though, so clothing wise it ends up as a push.

Friday, July 16, 2021

1 Job, 2 Perspectives

 A month ago Al Sirois posted this job listing from freelancer site UpWork on Facebook:

Wanted: Short story in 9 parts in fantasy and speculative fiction. This will be a serialized fictional tale that should be engaging and includes well-crafted visual and other sensory details.
The plot is up to you but should involve multiple pantheons of Gods interacting in the real world as we know it. Whether they get along or not is up to you, along with setting and anything you want. I will be available for brainstorming, questions, anything you need.
I need this project completed within four to five business days. It’s likely more orders will be made, but the first 9 stories should complete a satisfying arc while still leaving the reader wishing there was more.
Each story should be between 900 to 1500 words and formatting as an ebook.
This is a ghostwriting position and may require signing an NDA acknowledging the transfer of rights to the content.

The post didn't mention it, but he said that the author was paying a flat fee of $80 for the job.  As a professional ghostwriter, he thought that was utter bullshit.  And most of his friends then made fun of how stupid this was.

For the record, I don't think it's a great deal.  Still, I did the math on this.  9 stories of 900-1,500 words is 8,100-13,500 words.  For someone like me, I figure I could bang that out in about 2 days once I knew what I was doing.  Basically I could do it over a weekend and make $80.  That's a week of groceries or a couple of tanks of gas or something.

It'd be a better deal than the two rounds of flash fiction I wrote for December House Publishing.  I spent weeks on the first 23 stories I wrote (and then I think had to write 2 more).  The second batch of 7 stories I wrote pretty much in one afternoon at the crappy old Arby's in Roseville.  Which is how I know I could pretty much do this in one weekend if I had my druthers on.  How much did I make for those flash fiction stories?  $0.  I barely even got "exposure" because the publisher went out of business.  I've probably sold a few copies of Last Dance and Other Stories and Mortal Sins on Amazon, but not $80--or $160 since it was two projects.

The difference in perspective is Al is a professional writer while I have a regular job.  For me it's just a side hustle to do on the weekend, so $80 is not as much of an insult.  It's like the difference between a taxi driver who does it full time and an Uber driver who does it only occasionally; if someone said, "Drive me from New York City to Vermont for $80" the professional driver isn't going to do that, but an Uber driver might not be as picky because they might just be squeezing it in in their spare time.  $80 for one day isn't as bad because it's not their sole source of income.

For me the real problem is that the person on UpWork wants me to come up with most of the idea and send them a proposal.  I mean all they give you is some vague idea that they want it to be like American Gods or something similar.  Banging out a few flash fiction stories is one thing but when you want me to come up with pretty much this whole idea too, then that's more work.

So, what do you think of this deal?

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Kindle Vella: First Impressions

I mentioned a while back I got offered contracts from a couple of places like Webnovel and Ringdom that specialize in serialized stories for people to read on their phones.  This is I guess a big thing, especially in Asia, so it was inevitable that Amazon would join the fray.  I mean why let all these small operators get all that money?

Amazon's entry into the serial market is called Kindle Vella.  The idea is that instead of just dropping a whole novel or short story on there, you drop parts of 500-1500 words or so.  They call them "episodes" so you could either do chapters of a story or maybe just different flash fiction stories that all tie into some anthology.

I wanted to try it, but I was busy and didn't want to actually write anything new. So I took the first part of Mortal Sins, a flash fiction anthology I wrote for December House Publishing back in 2013 or so and published on Amazon after they went out of business.

There were a few hitches in the process if you've been using KDP for a while.  The pasting from Word did not work all that great.  I had to go in and redo a lot of paragraph breaks and such.  It would work better if you typed it out on their site.

Instead of a traditional cover you're supposed to just use a picture without title or author name because those will be shown separately.  So I just used a portion of the Tales of the Scarlet Knight cover Rusty Webb made back in 2012.

You can see in my screen capture that it says "Blocked."  Why?  Because I had previously published it on KDP.  So I couldn't actually go through and get it online, but this did give me an idea of what is involved.

I would like to do an Eric Filler story on this just to see what the response would be, but I haven't really gotten around to coming up with an idea yet.  As you can see, it is a little different from the regular KDP platform, so if you want to try it, be aware of that.  And make sure you don't try to load something you've already published through Amazon.

If you've tried it, share your thoughts in the comments.


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