I always intend to write reviews of movies or TV programs I find especially fun or engrossing. Often someone reviews these properties long before I have a chance, so I don’t bother writing my own opinions for fear of simply echoing earlier publications. I frequently talk with friends about shows and movies they recommend, and I realized that the opinions of people I know carry far more weight with me than reviews by strangers. So perhaps if you’ve started to trust my judgement by reading some of my earlier posts, the following mini-reviews will be useful to you. Please feel free to comment and let me know if you agree or if I’ve steered you wrong.
You can’t be a published writer if you’re afraid of rejection because rejection is inevitable. You can still be a writer, scratching or typing away with no intentions of revealing your secret love to anyone, but you’re very unlikely to have your first or second (or tenth) submission of a piece published without it being rejected by someone. For some people, this fear is paralyzing, as it was for me over many years of writing. Learning to swallow it was not an overnight victory. It took years of almost-submitting a few stories before I finally took the leap, and it’s only minutely easier every time I submit something now. Sometimes thinking of future regret you’ll experience can have great impact on the choices you make in the present. I knew I had to try, and it still took heaps of encouragement from friends and family along with a desire to set a good example for my son to apply to his own goals.
I’ve read a fair amount about the constructive aspects of rejection, how it desensitizes one to the process. I’ve found, so far anyway, that rejection stings about the same every time. The rationalization only occurs later, and it can be made easier by the accompaniment of honestly constructive criticism. I always welcome suggestions for improvement, though sometimes it takes me a day or two to really appreciate them. I don’t know too many writers who want to continue churning out lackluster prose, but we’re normally too emotionally attached to our work to view it objectively, at least until someone we trust offers an opinion.
Many articles I’ve read on the subject like to point out the number of rejections that were received by famous and prolific authors. On one hand, this is a salve for the ego. Then I wonder how many rejections I might have to receive, comparing my writing to those masterful wordsmiths. Certainly every reader’s preferences are different, but how many submissions must be made until there’s a statistical probability one will cross the desk (or monitor) of a publisher who will love it? I think the standard answer to that is “as many as it takes”.
Recently I read an article that encouraged widening the pool of possible critics, completely at odds with my youthful philosophy of keeping my writing safely private. It makes sense that a wider audience, one encouraged to comment and critique, would only open myself to more rejections. But I also stand to glean far more helpful criticism and perhaps thicken my skin to negativity. I’ll get calluses on my ego until eventually my sensitivity no longer affects my decisions to reach higher and higher for my goals. Better yet, I hope I’ll be more likely to weaken my attachment to my fiction, so I can edit more objectively. In turn, this may lead to fewer rejections as my finished drafts improve.
Would you like to give me a hand by offering some criticism of my blog entries? Please leave me some comments. No need to be gentle. Give me some tough love. I have a story that needs your brutally honest criticism here: An End to Hiding. For those of you who’ve already given me some helpful feedback, you have my heartfelt appreciation.
I recently submitted an excerpt from a fantasy tale at Inkitt.com. Here’s the link to the complete entry, told in three parts: An End to Hiding
Gazing downward, the arrow shaft and point protruded obscenely from his chest. The archer on the bank some thirty yards upstream already pulled an arrow to his cheek. Only then did he realize he was being swiftly carried away. He tried in vain to orient himself with feet downstream and head protected, but the current ordered and his body obeyed. He failed to see the rock, and then he failed to see anything.
In my early years of living in NC as a transplant from NY, I encountered my share of embarrassments, language barriers, and dietary conundrums. For some of my new found friends, these were priceless amusements. It was even greater fun for those northerners that had arrived before me and successfully adapted to life south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Eventually I had my share of laughs at the expense of newly relocated folks, too. Only later did it occur to me that laughing at these people was wrong. I was guilty of something akin to hazing. I decided instead to write down some advice for people to make their adjustments easier.
Firstly, some notes about language. The dialect you hear in the South is in fact English. At first, you will struggle. Prepare yourself with some viewings of Forrest Gump and Steel Magnolias. A note to guys: it’s OK if Steel Magnolias makes you cry. It’s supposed to. Once you think you’ve gotten the hang of the lingo, there’s nothing better than immersing yourself in the culture. You might feel more comfortable if you just listen at first, but southern folks are generally nice and will want to chat with you. They would also rather you confess to having a hard time understanding them than faking it. It will just be a matter of time before “y’all” and “might could” come out of your mouth. Don’t fight it. That will only make you look uppity.
Don’t get drawn into an argument about bar-b-q. It’s not an argument to be won, but rather an opportunity to try a lot of different recipes. You will be forced to have coleslaw with your bar-b-q. It’s affectionately known as “slaw” here. If it disgusts you, try to scrape it off your plate when nobody’s looking. Have a second helping of the bar-b-q and pretend you don’t have room for the slaw if somebody asks. If you venture an opinion on the bar-b-q and anybody finds out that you’re a Yankee, your opinion will be dismissed as if you’re an alien. Try not to take it personally.
Snow is a mysterious and awesome meteorological phenomenon in the South (unless you live in the mountains). While pretty when it falls, panic will ensue if it starts to stick to the ground. You may have grown up shoveling it and driving in it, but this will not prepare you for the Snowpocalypse. You may be stranded in your home with no more than several inches of snow on the road. You will also not be able to find a loaf of bread, a carton of milk, or a dozen eggs within driving distance once the flakes appear. Just stay in your home until it melts. It could be days before your road is plowed, if it’s plowed at all. If freezing rain is in the forecast, a generator will be your best friend. Trees will come down, power will go out. It might seem like an unnecessary purchase, given that some years inclement weather never appears, but remember that it may also come in handy during hurricane season. That’s no joke.
People will show up at your door unannounced. Those are probably your neighbors and not just those that live next to you. Don’t be alarmed. They might bring you food, or a gift, or just want to see how you’re doing and invite you over for bar-b-q. This is the fabled Southern Hospitality. It will be expected that you show some now that you live here, too. You will find that it can lead to friendships and the knowing of everybody’s business. People will still come to your door trying to sell you stuff, but don’t assume that’s the reason your doorbell was rung. You might miss out on some pie and some fun conversation if you ignore it.
Sweet tea is the only kind of iced tea. I don’t mean that you can’t get unsweetened iced tea; I just mean that your waiter will act like you slapped him if your order it. There is so much sugar in it that the crystals fail to dissolve, and that’s normal. Squeeze some lemon in it if you’re afraid it might be too sweet. As much lemon as you want will be brought to you with a smile, but don’t expect one if you’re drinking that Yankee tea. It’s a dead giveaway that you’re “not from around here”.
That’s by no means an exhaustive list, but it should be a good start for any of you considering relocation. I’ve been here for nearly 20 years and never contemplated returning north. I might still have to employ the “too full for the slaw” excuse, but I feel like I belong here now. Good luck to y’all on your move.
As I get older, fatter, balder, and generally dilapidated-er, it’s probably natural that I reflect on science fiction’s answers to aging. By the 21st Century, I was sure people in some of the more technologically advanced countries would be extending youth into the triple digits, enjoying active lives up until the end. Some novels I’ve enjoyed used drugs or gene therapy for their longevity solutions. Others employed cloning. One of my favorites at the moment is digital consciousness transference, described in the Takeshi Kovacs novels by Richard K. Morgan.
Having read the novels out of order, it took me a bit to wrap my mind around the concept. In short, the process involves a piece of implanted hardware, called a cortical stack, that a person receives at birth, allowing one’s consciousness to be recorded. At one’s death, the preserved memories and personality traits stored in the device can wind up in a variety of places, some not so nice. Ideally the device is implanted into a clone of the person’s choosing, so the physical body, called a “sleeve”, can be genetically designed to the person’s specifications.
Morgan makes this concept even more interesting by attaching price tags to this type of operation. Sometimes bodies of convicted criminals are sold to host a deceased person’s stack. Sometimes someone’s consciousness can only exist using a cheaper option, living in a sophisticated but confined and computerized reality. Other times, such is often the case with for Takeshi Kovacs, a person’s skills are in such demand that they are placed into a superhuman body designed for a specific purpose, like a genetically enhanced and cybernetically augmented James Bond.
This process is so common in Kovacs’ universe that it’s taken for granted by wealthy characters the way I go to the pharmacy drive-thru. For others, the re-sleeving process represents their life savings, even the savings of multiple generations. Morgan is able to establish this as an additional type of economic stratification in his societies, where the truly wealthy enjoy near immortality, living lives in attractive, healthy bodies for hundreds of years. The super-elite even have clones immediately available and a backup system for their cortical stacks should something, or someone, happen to destroy them.
All kinds of ethical, logistical, and theological issues arise around this technology, and Morgan doesn’t shirk his responsibility as an author to expose readers to the problems that develop. Consciousness can be broadcast at faster-than-light speeds, allowing one to be loaded into a body on another planet. Human colonization of other worlds has allowed for the population increase digital consciousness would cause. Religious objections require worshipers never receive the stacks and live only the limits of their natural lifetimes. Some stacks are taken from the recently dead and sold once the skills of the deceased are identified or by the pound if buyers feel lucky. In any case, shuttling between bodies can and does have adverse psychological effects from time to time.
It’s doubtful that anything like this is just around the corner, but in a couple of decades maybe I can get on a waiting list for a young, athletic body with a great head of hair. Good-bye retirement savings, hello extended writing career!
Every once in a while, my son has a genuine moment of Zen wisdom. Often I’m slow to appreciate those nuggets. Sometimes it takes years. Once when driving Spud (not his real name) home from daycare, I stopped at a light and noted his swiveling head.
“Do you know where you are?” I thought I would see if he recognized anything along our daily route home.
“Daddy, I’m here,” he said.
I started to name landmarks and estimate distances from the house and school. Then I realized it for a profound moment of clarity on his part. Buckaroo Banzai couldn’t have said it better.
A few years later, we were driving to NY to see my family. We had picked up Spud after school, and we planned to stop for the night in southern Pennsylvania. The anticipation of a night spent in a motel room threatened to keep him from napping in the car. Eventually the Dramamine kicked in and then snoring from the back seat, his head cocked at an angle that couldn’t be comfortable.
By the time we arrived at the hotel, having endured hours of infamous PA road construction delays, we were beat. Spud’s enthusiasm energized us a bit. My wife, Shmoopy (not her real name), had reserved a suite with a hot tub. Thoughts of soaking my aching back, the jets gently massaging out the knots, made me almost as excited as Spud. We promised him he could try it before bed, and he could hardly stop talking about steam and bubbles.
There was nobody at the hotel desk, but I could hear talking from a room walled off from the counter. The motel was a recognizable chain, but I noticed a sign declaring that one to be independently managed. The sign was foreshadowing. Eventually somebody heard us talking and tore herself away from her giggling companion to welcome us. There followed a monotone briefing on pool hours, check-out time, and the free continental breakfast, and we were on our way to the hot tub and blissful slumber.
We wheeled, wrestled, and juggled our luggage along the sidewalk to our room. I noticed a crumbling concrete staircase, complete with bright yellow cautionary tape. The over-chlorinated pool made my eyes water and nostrils tingle. It was conveniently located close to our door and populated by a raucous bunch of people ignoring the posted closing time. I comforted myself with the knowledge that the sound of hot tub jets would soon drown out their antics.
The odors from the pool were quickly replaced by the smell of cigarette smoke when we entered the non-smoking room. I called the front desk to request a different room, but nobody answered. We decided that maybe we were wrong, since we didn’t see any ash trays in the room. Maybe it was drifting in through a window or vent from outside. Then we spotted the pile of ash in the corner of the room. At least Spud would be sleeping in the second bedroom.
We opened the door to his room and found no bed. There were, however, very good instructions for unfolding the couch. Oh, well. Spud could sleep just about anywhere once he was tired enough. We dropped our things. Shmoopy tried to cheer us by filling the hot tub at the edge of our bedroom. The jets didn’t work. At least there was hot water, so Spud got to take a bath in a giant tub. We made bubbles for him with the hotel shampoo, and soon he was off to bed.
The next morning, I went to take a shower and noticed a pile of curly hair near the drain. I wondered if the shower had been cleaned after the last guests had stayed in the room. Obviously the ashes hadn’t been vacuumed from the carpet. I thought the sheets had been clean. If they hadn’t, it was too late. I began to itch with just the thought of it, so I wiped up the hair with some toilet paper and took my shower with flip-flops on my feet.
The doors to the breakfast area were locked when we arrived. We waited 15 minutes past the posted time for breakfast, and then I went to the front desk. There was a different woman on duty, and she unlocked the door and began heating up water for tea. There were packages of cereal, some granola bars, and the coffee wasn’t yet made. We were advised that it would probably take twenty minutes or so until that would be remedied. We left, checked out, and went to McDonald’s.
With every small disappointment, I felt bad for Spud. I had stayed in some crappy motels in the past, but the online reviews of that one promised better accommodations. I had been completely unprepared for the mess we encountered, and surely Spud had anticipated a veritable Magic Kingdom of hot tubs, huge beds, and fresh waffles.
“That hotel was cool, Dad.” That’s what he said to me later that day. Shmoopy and I were stunned. Hadn’t he seen the ashes, busted hot tub, and hirsute shower drain? Sure. He’d experienced the exact same things we had, but he didn’t get upset. He just enjoyed being on vacation with his family.
Lesson learned, wise Spud.
I was lucky enough to spend Independence Day with family and friends at the beach this year. Despite thunderstorms that rolled through in the afternoon and early evening, we trekked out to the sand to watch fireworks on a distant pier. Sunset is my favorite time to be on the beach, since I’m pasty of complexion. I’m not so much a fan of the beach as I am awed and mesmerized by the ocean. As the light diminished, I watched the waves retreating until I could at last only hear them. The smell of the brine still lingered in my nostrils as we rode back to the house.
The next day we spent most of the afternoon on the beach. The kids ran around, dug holes, and fled from waves. Sharks forced the sullen teen to leave her surfboard at home. I had taken a book to read, but I never opened it even though it’s been a tremendous read so far. I watched the waves for hours, watched the colors shift green, blue, gray. I watched the rip tides suck sand out to sea, watched the breakers pound the beach, and gulls skim the water where fish broke the surface. I looked out to the horizon and imagined myself aboard a boat with nothing but water on all sides as far as I could see.
For the most part, the surf was calm and picturesque, a sharp contrast to the storms the previous day. I’ve been at sea when the waters have been angry, and I was elated to reach shore safely. There’s nothing like the ocean to make one feel small, weak, and completely at the mercy of nature. Everyone I know who has spent any time in or on the ocean has memorable stories of close calls, times when they thought for sure they would drown. Yet they still swim, boat, and surf. It draws them back time and time again, more respectful of her mercurial power every time they witness it. For me, it’s enough to stand on the shore and let the tide tug at my legs, feeling that might and the appreciation for dry land.
It the novel I’m outlining, the aliens love Earth’s oceans. They live in the sea and in many ways are indistinguishable from it. Its power is theirs. They command the water cycle, the storms, and the lightning. They thrive in the benthic pressure and are just as comfortable in the midst of storm clouds. To most, their nature is as unknowable as mist and unpredictable as a hurricane. Despite this, there is something about them that is essentially human, like the water in all of us, like the blood so close in its makeup to sea water.
I will miss the sound and smell of the surf, and I’ll think about it often as I write my book. My awe will no doubt appear on my characters’ faces. They will have their own stories of close calls before the book is done, and they will still be drawn to the ocean after experiencing them.
If you’re a fan of superhero media, you’ve probably wondered what it would be like to have extraordinary superhuman abilities of your own. If you’re a geek like I am, you’ve undoubtedly conversed at length on the subject with like-minded friends. Maybe there’s a hero with whom you particularly identify, one who inspires you as an example of selfless bravery, a righteous deliverer of justice.
For my money, the best superhero fiction doesn’t stop when the capes come off. I love to see the impacts of super powers on the heroes’ lives. For some of the characters, the negatives are trivial and easily overcome. My favorites are the heroes whose lives are messy because they choose to use their powers, even when it makes them targets of animosity. In no small part, it’s that decision, despite the complications and even suffering it causes, that makes them heroes. It’s the reason this type of fiction still appeals to me 30 years after I started reading it. I see it when I watch Batman don the persona of Bruce Wayne, while his need to dish out justice burns behind his smiling facade. I see it when I flip the pages showing Spiderman agonize over keeping his identity a secret from his friends and family. I see it when I watch extroverted Nightcrawler try to disguise his demonic appearance, so he can experience the simple joy of walking among other people, people who would fear or even attack him if they could see his pointy ears and tail.
Sometimes I read or watch this type of fiction and imagine myself in these same situations. How must it feel to be shunned by the very people you risk your life to protect? What must it be like to be hunted by the authorities even though you catch the bad guys too powerful for them to apprehend? If I could teleport myself away on a whim, what inner reserve of nobility would I need to stick around people who vilified me? Quickly I come to the conclusion that I’d be the worst superhero ever.
There’s no way I could maintain a dual identity. I have enough trouble switching among father, employee, writer, and husband. I space out thinking about what I’m writing when I should be doing other things. And I get caught doing it all the time. If I were Spiderman, I would show up to work in my spandex. I could pretend I thought it was Halloween only a couple of times before I got fired or committed. Work all day and fight crime by night? Uh, no. It’s hard enough to find time to blog and get on the treadmill for an hour before I fall asleep. I can’t imagine patrolling the city for hooligans after a full day of work. Unless I could sleep at work, I just couldn’t do it. Even if I had a super power, I would be too tired to use it. Aaron Hamilton, part-time crime fighter when there’s nothing good on TV.
The Daredevil series on Netflix did an excellent job of showing the physical punishment he received even when he walked away victorious from his scuffles with criminals. The obsessive determination he employed to fight crime night after night, after each narrow escape of death, left me questioning my own resolve in much easier situations. I heroically drove a car without air conditioning for two summer months. Once I mowed the lawn when I didn’t feel well. That’s about the limit of my perseverance in the face of adversity. Even with superpowers, I have a feeling I would skip a lot of nights patrolling the city if I felt a cold coming on.
I expect my heroes to be better than I am, and I hope the world never tips on the brink of destruction with only me to save it. I guess the only way to know for sure if I would suit up to save humanity is if I were the recipient of some kind of superhuman ability. Pretty unlikely that will happen, I think, but you never know. For everyone’s benefit, I hope some nobler guy or gal gets bitten by the radioactive spider.