I rest my case.
Was reading an interesting tidbit on the Internet yesterday about the misbehavior of the CEO of Chipotle. I’ve never cared for or about Chipotle, personally. You don’t need them after you to go the El Paso Taqueria on Blair Street, anyway. The negative notoriety reinforces something I’ve known for a long time about fame and why it’s not something I’ll personally chase, regardless of what happens with the writing.
To help understand this, I drew from something in my high school economics class, the velocity of money, or VoM for short. VoM measures the speed at which money changes hands, and is an indicator of the health of any economy. You can actually make money off of the VoM, if you time it correctly. If you understand that, you can also understand that fame also has a velocity, and that people make money off of this, too. The speed at which the public becomes aware of something, positively or negatively, is about 99% of the infotainment industry.
TMZ, Radar Online, Perez Hilton … they all make their money off of turning scandals and lurid stories into news. The teen pop superstars of 2016 are the teen diva meltdowns of 2017. ‘Cause Marketing’ turns cancer victims into a profit center. Now, as the unfortunate CEO of Chipotle demonstrates, companies and corporate execs fall into the same bucket. Yesterday’s Wall Street darling is next week’s Bernie Madoff. Yesterday’s Jared from Subway is today’s Jared from Subway. Media outlets time their activity so they profit either way. The news cycle is designed to make money when your star rises. They’ll be back when your star is ready to fall.
I could easily fall into this mess and I don’t want to. So yeah, even though I want to get my name out there, and for people to read my work, I need to hold onto my skepticism and cynicism of media. I want to be precise about how I engage with people. Viral media is a bell you can’t unring. Precision takes time.
Some brief thoughts after finishing the first draft of ‘Victoria Crater.’ It took me MUCH longer than I expected to write this short story. I took breaks to re-focus my brain on telling the right story and use the right style. It’s harder than it looks. I asked myself over and over again, am I losing my mojo? Am I losing steam on writing? I think the answer is no, and here’s why.
I’m not sure if it’s a personal thing or not, but the words aren’t flowing like they used to. That might not be a bad thing. In the past words when flowed out like water from a broken faucet, I didn’t like what they said. I took Bruce Lee’s mantra about ‘being like water,’ to heart but I wasn’t cutting stone so much as I was making a mess on the kitchen floor.
Starting over again has renewed my appreciation for doing things the right way. So I’m focusing on the fundamentals. There’s no point in writing a hundred-thousand words no one will read. Writing Tweets helps me remember that much can be conveyed in a small space. Now I’m trying that discipline on the page.
Weight lifters have to focus on getting their form correct before adding weight. Writers do, too. There’s a certain level of precision involved, and it takes time and effort to master. I’d love to say that all of this comes as naturally as golf does to Tiger Woods, but the fact is that this is actual work. Calories are burned. So while I don’t want to be that guy who hangs out at Starbucks with his Mac Air in a turtleneck and calls himself a ‘writer,’ I want the work that I do to mean something.
So to sum up, this is a process. I’m not there yet, but I’m learning to love the ride.
DONE, DONE AND DONE.
It’s taken four months of grinding, but I’m happy to say that the first draft of ‘Victoria Crater’ is complete. Under normal circumstances, it shouldn’t take four months to write thirteen-thousand words, but VC was an experiment for me. I had to develop a whole new writing style to bring together new elements of storytelling. The process is kind of like reverse-engineering a Jackson Pollack to understand how you should mix paint.
For my part, I’m happy but exhausted – this was a lot more work than I thought it’d be! The fact is, I’m glad I did it. It was hard, it was a challenge, and I did it. Being able to say that makes me feel good.
Would you like to test-drive Victoria Crater? Go visit the thread on Reddit to learn how you can get a beta copy.
I’ve been a fan of Edward R. Murrow, ever since I saw ‘Good Night and Good Luck’ twelve years ago. Amazing movie, great cast, gripping tension. What’s always made it stand out as a historical drama is the fact that its director (George Clooney) more or less told the story as it actually happened.
I mention this, because Murrow is famous for saying “television in the main insulates us from the realities of the world in which we live … surely we shall pay for using this most powerful instrument of communication to insulate the citizenry from the hard and demanding realities which must be faced if we are to survive. I mean the word survive literally.”
Murrow was more right than he ever knew. The world of 2017 is beginning to wake up to the reality he warned against. Humanity’s decadence, escapism and insulation from reality are starting to result in very real consequences we cannot escape. I just finished watching ‘White Helmets’ on Netflix yesterday. If you haven’t watched it yet, go watch it. Then you’ll understand why I say that the Western world has no business writing dystopian or post-apocalyptic science fiction anymore.
You might wonder why a guy with a diagnosed anxiety disorder chooses to watch such things but it’s really quite simple. The answer comes in yet-another Murrow quote: ‘in learning how others have faced their problems — this has given me fresh ideas about how to tackle mine.’ I learn something from every documentary I watch and yesterday, I learned something else.
Here’s the deal: we don’t have the market cornered on what the end of the world looks like anymore. Maybe we never did. The fact is, there are people who are living that nightmare every single day and none of them are as photogenic as Jennifer Lawrence. What a sick joke it must be for them to realize that we spend time watching actors pretending to survive while they struggle to survive every hour of every day.
Where dystopian stories fail is quite simple. They put protagonists in the center of the horror of their human society that all change rests upon. Plucky hero overcomes all odds to change the system. Maybe she even meets a cute boy or two! The stories have become stale cliches; Twitter lampoons them mercilessly and they deserve it.
Meanwhile, kids in Aleppo know better. The horror of human society that is visited upon them has nothing to do with them. They’re just the unlucky souls that bear the burden of being caught in the crossfire. The battle is being fought hundreds of miles away, by other men in other countries. The bombs that kill them come from men they will never see. They have no power to escape, or change the system. They can’t defeat the bombs with a compound bow. Those kids are made to suffer, and they do.
Maybe it’s just me, but I just don’t think I have a right to ignore that. I don’t think it’s appropriate to write post-apocalyptic stories when other people are living it. Where dystopian fiction originally warned people of what could happen if certain authoritarian measures grew out of control, now it distracts us from the apocalyptic scenes happening all around the world.
It would be a disservice to those people, those suffers, if we continue to ignore them. It would also be a disservice to the the better men we descend from, and to ourselves not to recognize who we are, what we are and what we can be. Just as Robert Zemeckis was self-aware enough to realize that nobody wanted to see Forrest Gump 2 after 9/11, we ought to be introspective enough to realize that dystopian sci-fi ‘just isn’t relevant anymore … the world has changed.’
I’m not advocating that we stop writing stories. In fact, we should write more stories and we should write them for those people. If anyone deserves a story that can be escaped into, it’s them. We can be the persons who make those worlds they can escape into. We can make worlds that welcome them. We can make worlds that let them know that someone from the other side of the void hears them, knows them and cares about them.
I can’t solve the problem, but I can imagine a day when it’s behind us. Hopefully I can help you imagine it, too.
Two rejection notices for short stories. Submitting them elsewhere and refusing to give up!
Rejection never feels good, but if you’re a creative person, you have to learn to live with it. I remember an interview with Jerry Seinfeld in which he described the process of writing comedy every day. Someone asked if it was easy for him and he said, no … sometimes it was torture. But, Seinfeld continues, in life you have to find the torture you can live with.
That’s where I am. It’s torture, but I can live with it.
Along with everyone else, I read the Facebook clickbait (I know, shame on me) about Fox being willing to ‘reboot Firefly.’ As the article indicates, Fox would consider rebooting Firefly “if Joss Whedon himself wanted to revisit it.” Then they admit that they are in fact yanking our chain by saying: “Madden suspects Whedon is now too busy with movies, and he would not consider doing Firefly without Whedon.”
So there you have it. This is the sci-fi equivalent of Lucy going “come and kick the ball, Charlie Brown.” For all kinds of personal and professional reasons, I feel comfortable in saying that a reboot of Firefly will not happen. Not that I should have to revisit this same territory. God knows, we’ve raked over this endlessly since the show ended fourteen years ago. But let’s go over it again. Hey, it’s Friday. Continue reading
I know I said dystopia is no longer relevant, but I saw this Reddit comment and it jibes with an element of my upcoming short, ‘The Battle of Victoria Crater.’
We’ve become conditioned to the idea that we NEED to have jobs. Not just to feel useful, but in the sense that if we don’t have jobs we won’t be able to survive, and if you can’t survive it’s your fault … Instead of not having to work being the future we’d all dreamed of, not being able to work means we’re going to starve in the streets.
All sci-fi stories have some kind of ‘what-if’ premise baked into them. Victoria Crater’s premise is: What if this happened on Mars, out of reach of earthbound nations?
Yes, yes and *YES.*
Had to blog about this: read something very encouraging this morning from one of my favorite directors, J.J. Abrams. Like me, he’s tired of sci-fi reboots:
You know, I do think that if you’re telling a story that is not moving anything forward, not introducing anything that’s relevant, that’s not creating a new mythology or an extension of it, then a complete remake of something feels like a mistake.
On behalf of writers and geeks everywhere, let me extend a salute to Mr. Abrams. His as a filmmaker and storyteller have already won my admiration and respect, but now he’s going further. He’s continuing to pivot and innovate, even as he celebrates the reboots he’s already been a part of:
You know, I feel incredibly lucky to have gotten involved in things that I loved when I was a kid. In fact, even Westworld, which we’re here for tonight, is one of them. But I don’t feel any desire to do that again. I feel like I’ve done enough of that that I’m more excited about working on things that are original ideas that perhaps one day someone else will have to reboot.
In one deft move J.J. Abrams is giving himself, and us, permission to reboot the reboots. Bravo. It’s like, enough already. Like mango chutney, reboots are perfect in small doses. The problem is that they’ve gotten out of hand. Even Conan O’Brien openly mocks them:
Every generation just wants their kids to have a better “Spiderman” reboot than they did.
— Conan O’Brien (@ConanOBrien) April 15, 2016
This comes back to what I was saying earlier – the world is ready for original sci-fi. Yes, we were born to make, not take. But making reboots always felt like we were making by taking and that isn’t fair to the audience. Hopefully this represents a new direction in science fiction that writers like me can be a part of.