Wednesday, July 1, 2020

For this month's IWSG I'm answering a question about the future of publishing.

For once, time seems to be not moving as fast as I used to think it did. Thanks, Covid-19. But even if it does seem slower now, the first Wednesday of every month still rolls around. It's now July 1st, and it's time for the Insecure Writer's Support Group.

Here's the purpose of that blogfest: to share and encourage other writers by providing a safe place to discuss our insecurities. That being said, many of us choose to answer the monthly question that our co-hosts come up with. If this is something that interests you, please head on over to this place and sign up.

July 1st question: There have been many industry changes in the last decade, so what are some changes you would like to see happen in the next decade?

Based on what I've observed Michael J. Sullivan doing with his Kickstarters, I predict that traditional authors (he was one of these) will go hybrid. Meaning that they will publish some of a series with the Big Six, and the remainder of a series by going self-publishing. The reason? Money. Michael J. Sullivan has probably made half a million dollars in the last year doing the self-publishing thing, and I think that's really damn good. I also don't think it will slack off. I think he's probably established himself enough, and he's got enough of a following, that this will be his income in perpetuity. 

I also think that self-publishing is going to be where people are making the most beautiful print books. I'm talking all the works with the fancy paper and the gorgeous artwork and the things that previously seemed untenable without a big publishing house. The reason? Photoshop is making it super easy to create stunning covers and places like Lulu are offering publishing options wherein a final product is indistinguishable from a professionally done manuscript. Additionally, the price is going to keep falling on being able to do this as artists are a dime a dozen online and the price of producing print has become super affordable.

Anyway, those are the changes that I think are coming down the pipe. I can't wait to read some of yours. Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, June 29, 2020

You should take a few minutes from your Monday to appreciate Mark Hamill singing a country song about King Kong's dong.

In these really strange times, Mark Hamill singing a country song about King Kong's dong size seemed to capture a rather perfect moment in time. So, I'm linking it below for your enjoyment. It really is worth a watch, if anything, because it's hilarious. Have a Happy Monday.

Friday, June 26, 2020

I should have seen Mulan by now. I wish times were different.

Without much to write about, I started to think about the summer movies that I would have seen by now and pick out one that (I think) I would have really enjoyed. That movie is Disney's Mulan. The reasons I was excited to see it were because I enjoyed the original story, and I tend to gravitate toward things with Asian themes to them (as I'm half-Asian). From the preview trailers that I've seen of the movie, it looked fantastic with the usual high production values from Disney and cinematography which feels epic in its lavish portrayal of China.

Regarding this kind of thing, we probably can thank many actual Chinese directors for this particular take on China. I can think of Hero, House of Flying Daggers, and Curse of the Golden Flower to name a few off the top of my head, as well as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Curse of the Golden Flower in particular is a tragic tale that sticks in my memory, because the final fate of one of the royals in that show is quite gruesome in its telling. Not that Disney's Mulan will have any gruesomeness to it, but it does seem to be borrowing heavily from the tradition of presenting China in bold color and fantastical beauty.

I am a little disappointed that there won't be a talking dragon called Mu-Shu being played by Eddie Murphy. However, I'm looking forward to seeing how they avoid that character in favor of something else that might seem to be a better fit in a movie with live actors.

Are any of you lamenting the absent summer movies? Are there any in particular that you wish you could have seen by now? These are interesting times, indeed.


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Stargirl is a fantastic show and you can watch it on the CW every week.

I've got to say that I'm about six episodes into the new CW show, Stargirl, and I absolutely love it. Unlike some of the other CW offerings, the drama between angsty characters is a lot more subdued. For example, there's less of things like Barry Allen (The Flash) moping around with regard to his relationship with Iris and being all moody about how only he can do this thing (and then it turns out that he actually doesn't need to do that, because...you know...there is no "I" in team). But even more than cutting some of the soap opera out of this thing, it has lots of superhero action that I crave from a show, and it's pretty light-hearted giving us mustache twirling villains that seem way more aligned with all the best things I love about Legends of Tomorrow. In other words, it doesn't ever take itself too seriously.

It also has a strange kind of Spielberg-esque circa 1980's vibe to it that reminds me of the best parts I enjoyed from E.T. and other movies of similar bent. I'm not exactly sure how they are accomplishing this, but I do like it. Maybe it's the small town setting that does it, but Smallville also had a small town setting and I didn't get the same feel from it as I do from Stargirl. I'm really liking that Stargirl is putting together a new JSA, and I cannot wait to finally see Doctor Fate in action. He was an incredibly interesting character, and the full-helmeted Doctor Fate was an extremely powerful sorcerer (so that should be a lot of fun).

I have heard that the reason this show feels different is because it comes from DC Universe. If so, then that does make sense. The DC Universe shows I have watched thus far, like Doom Patrol and Titans all had higher production values (I think) than the CW did. Their special effects also looked better, so I guess I'm saying that it looks and feels cinematic. I wonder if it will crossover with the other DC universe shows. I'd love to see Titans and Doom Patrol crossovers.

Is anyone else impressed with the show?

Monday, June 22, 2020

Dungeons and Dragons is making some big changes to make its game more inclusive and diverse.

Dungeons & Dragons is a game I play, and it's also making some interesting changes in its current 5th edition roleplaying game to modernize it for today's world. In an announcement they made on Juneteenth, they hinted at no longer providing racial bonuses for people to pick certain races over others in making their characters. I never really thought of this as racism, but there you go. And then they're going to overhaul the Drow, which are a race of evil elves who have black skin. I've thought the Drow seemed problematic for a long time, and even suggested that people should never cosplay as a Drow because that could be construed as blackface. But sometimes you did see someone do it, and I don't think they were aware that the image might be offensive to some.

Another thing they are doing is overhauling monster races like orks and hobgoblins who typically have been depicted as having darker skin tones. I guess that is going to change, as well as their behavior. In other words, orks are not always evil, and there's going to be a move to make them more of a society that could actually exist. I know in the current D&D game I'm running for friends, I have a couple of goblins I've cast as sanitation workers and they smell like hot garbage. But after reading Wizard's post (Wizards of the Coast is the owner of the brand Dungeons & Dragons), I'm wondering if I'm not being diverse enough in my depiction of sanitation workers in this fictional world. Goblins just seemed easy to pick on. And there's a kind of "stereotype" built around exactly "what is a goblin?"

To be honest, these were always questions I had in my mind when I watched something like The Lord of the Rings, or read books with these kinds of monsters in them. Anyone who is a fan of The Lord of the Rings wonders how the orks in and around Mordor can survive. There's nothing to eat there. It's all rocks strewn over with ash and sulfurous fumes, etc. Basically, it's a real hellscape. Yet there are tens of thousands of these creatures just milling around, obviously finding water somewhere, though I don't think venturing out from behind the Black Gate to find food and water would necessarily support a society. Maybe Barad-Dur had mushroom farms underneath it or something like that.

And then they're going to take a hard look at the Vistani, which are a people in a famous Ravenloft module who have all of the gypsy stereotypes. I guess they will be consulting with (or already have consulted with) a cultural expert on gypsies so that they can get it right.

And there's another part of me that wonders if all the "woke"-ness goes too far with the fantasy genre. Look, I get it that WOTC needs to make money and survive as a business, so they have a vested interest in making fictional and fantasy worlds as diverse and inclusive as possible. But in figuring out that goblins or orks couldn't actually exist if they didn't farm and have children and attend P.T.A. meetings kind of takes all the magic out of the fantasy. I say that because the more and more detail we put into fictional worlds moves the slider toward the real world. In other words, if we keep sliding things toward "more realism" and answering questions like, "how exactly does this work" and "let's figure out everything"...well...what you end up with pretty much resembles our world. And at that point, why play a game? You could just live your life.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see how the makers of D&D thread the needle and make their game more inclusive. Good fantasy games tend to need bad guys, and when you remove things like orks and goblins and Drow from being good bad guys, it probably means that there will be some kind of "other monster" that is created with a made-up name which will be the new bad guy for a while. And if that's all people are doing (shifting the bad guy to something else), I suppose it may work in some ways. However, I'll always wonder if this new bad guy isn't the same thing as the old one, only with a different name (because using the old bad guy became problematic with regard to identity politics).

Friday, June 19, 2020

This year Jaws turns 45 and I think it's become an allegory for modern life in the United States.

Jaws turns 45 this year, and I thought I'd bring up things that the story profoundly illustrates. They are unchanging and enduring with regard to the way humans treat each other.

The corrupt money-grubbing Mayor (Larry Vaughn) is every Republican in Congress, and he's President Trump in a nutshell. "Let's open the beach...we can still save July 4th!" "It's the economy that's important!" The parallels between Covid 19 endangering and killing people seems remarkably similar to the shark swimming around eating people. Another one of his quotes that I love is, "Martin, It's all psychological. You yell 'barracuda,' everybody says, 'Huh? What?' You yell 'Shark,' and we've got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July." This is an acknowledgment of the power of gaslighting people, and it's happening every day with our current administration.

There's also the time when Sherriff Martin Brody says, "I can do anything, I'm the chief of police." It's a great line and clearly a joke. Martin's been drinking a lot, because he's incredibly frustrated and worried about his own family and the citizens who live on Amity Island. He feels the weight of his decisions and is troubled by the death of Alex Kintner, because he didn't have enough guts to close the beach. And he doesn't know if they actually caught the shark. When taken into 2020 context though, the quote takes on another level of meaning that they knew about even back then: that cops (when push comes to shove) basically feel like they are not accountable to anyone. To put it another way, society does not (often) visit consequences on law enforcement officers. It's as true in 1975 as it is in 2020 America.

Ignoring science experts--this was a thing in the movie and it's still a thing today. The mayor in the film prefers to use "cheap" solutions to try and get the shark. None of them work, but he gaslights everyone into believing that the beaches are safe. The science expert in the movie is named Hooper (played brilliantly by Richard Dreyfuss) and he knows that the shark is still out there. He even explains to the mayor very passionately that he pulled a tooth the size of a shot glass out of the bottom of Ben Gardner's fishing boat, but got spooked and dropped it. The mayor instantly seizes on this with, "So you don't have the tooth?" and then uses this lack of evidence to dismiss Hooper utterly and completely.

Jaws is a great story. But more than that, it has become (in the decades that followed its release), an allegory that reveals much about human behavior in modern America.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Adults make decisions and so do children but is one actually any better than the other?

One of the realizations of becoming and being an adult has been the realization that nearly every decision humans make from childhood to adulthood can be measured as awful if you look at it from a certain point of view. And it's interesting that society has drawn a line in the sand, the age of eighteen, as the point where a person will now own all the terrible and awful decisions that they make.

A recent opinion piece from the New York Times observes that moderates and those with liberal views got shipwrecked the morning after the 2016 election. We were washed up half-naked on a cruel and hostile strand of beach, where people with disabilities are mocked, immigrants are reviled, grabbing women by their private parts is perfectly fine if you are a celebrity, etc. On this island, unemployment is at its highest since the Great Depression, 100,000 plus Americans are dead, the president has been impeached for abuse of power and obstruction of congress, and the president has made an estimated 18,000 lies and misleading claims to the citizens of the country. The worst of it is that a shockingly large part of the president's core supporters loves this island we are marooned on just fine. It allows white men wearing camouflage to bear assault rifles to occupy the Michigan State House with Hitler's mustache scrawled on pictures of the governor, and it allows adults to indulge in their most barbaric selves.

And I want to point out my own use of the word "adult" there, because in any other context, a person under the age of 18 would just be dismissed as making a bad decision or a psychologist might say, "Their brain is not fully developed which prevents them from recognizing that the actions they take are terrible." And that made-up statement I could see a fictional psychologist (in my head) saying is biased toward liberalism. To clarify, it's only terrible because it's terrible to those of liberal views. To those with conservative views, the person brandishing the weapon and storming Michigan's House is a hero worth celebrating. Put another way, is a pedophile actually doing something awful when the only ones judging the decision are fellow pedophiles? Is a murderer actually doing something awful when the only ones around are other murderers? Do you see what I'm getting at? Where and what one is surrounded by matters a great deal.

So what then makes a decision terrible or good? I'm beginning to think that there are no terrible and no praise worthy (read as good) decisions. The good and the bad are determined by what goes against the norms of society. Society is kind of like a civilized mob or like those birds that all change direction at the same time in the sky...it has a flow to it. It moves in one direction or another with regard to things that I'm having a difficult time trying to nail down in my head. But there is a flow to it. In a society like ours that is deeply divided so that half the country is flowing in an entirely different pattern than the other half, finding out if a decision is good or bad seems to come down to location, location, location. It's also apparent to me that getting these patterns to merge with each other is not going to happen. If I were a blacksmith, I'd say that two different metals are not going to join together unless they are white hot and forced to do so through violence. What does white hot look like in America? You don't want to know...but it's happened only one time before in our much "storied" history.

If there is a point to my essay here, I think it is this: all decisions are bad and all decisions are good depending on where you stand morally, regardless of age. And what you use as a moral compass is going to depend on location, location, location. Adults are proving to make the same disastrous decisions that children make (or the same good ones), and age (to me) does not appear to be a factor. As Forrest Gump once said, "Stupid is as stupid does." Forrest never made a distinction regarding age, which ends up being kind of brilliant if you stop and think about it.

So what is society then? In my opinion, the whole of society is a made-up construct...a house of cards...and that includes all of our laws and the other things that millions of people believe in. It's weird to see it in this light, but the wars going on in our streets, the violence between cops and protestors, the mysterious hangings of black men in California, and the list goes on and on...is making cracks in the smoke and mirrors that (I think) was put in place to keep people like me from seeing things as they truly are. I'm now seeing the wizard behind the curtain who is pulling all the levers. Instead of having a kind of reverence for the law and its enforcers, now I see that some dude in the past just wrote that law, and they said all of us should abide by it. And that other dude shot and killed this other man because he actually felt like doing that, and he has some kind of immunity because some other dude said he was immune. Like...what the hell? Is this what life really is? People have just been making up stuff for centuries and expecting others to live by it? Yes...that's exactly what has been going on. And, it's dizzying.

That's the overall effect I'm experiencing having been "marooned" on this desert island with the "President of the Flies" and where barbarity begins with the line, "You are not the boss of me," and just degrades to everyone saying, "I do what I want!" It strikes me as telling that the horrible decisions a child makes draws ire and condemnation from adults, when the same horrible decisions put into action by adults just makes people wring their hands in helplessness. But then again...maybe they are only horrible to me because of where I stand morally. There are others who clap and celebrate the decisions, because to them...they are beautiful and good. Maybe the demarcation line of the eighteenth birthday is just secretly a societal agreement with parents that "You are allowed to brainwash your child to whatever things you believe in up to this point. If it hasn't set in by then, they are free to pursue other things." That just sounds grotesque, doesn't it?

Well, maybe to some of us it does. Thoughts?