Tuesday, March 13, 2018

My second novel "Kaiju" is technically out of print but it's still available through the Barnes & Noble website. One independent seller is actually selling it for $1.99! I suppose I'd find that mildly insulting if not for the description of the book's physical condition. 

I'm planning to re-edit this novel at some point in the not-too-distant future so I suppose this could become a collector's item or at least a good comparison to whatever Version Two is like. 

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Greatest Compliment.

Any positive review of my work is appreciated, of course. When you're a relative unknown, most of the comments you receive come from readers as opposed to critics. It's rare that a reader will take the time to review something they read, especially when it isn't a famous work. And while many of the reactions I've received have been favorable, I don't think there is a greater compliment than this.


Sunday, March 11, 2018

Raving Review.

I may have posted this before but it was nice to run across this reader review of my short story in the "Shadow Masters" anthology from a few years ago. Scroll down to the bottom for mention of yours truly.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Quote of the Week.

(Cocaine) Makes you think you're smarter than everyone else. Makes you talk too much. Makes you think you're incredibly attractive even when you're fat and old. Makes you think you're on top of the world even when everything is falling apart.

Does that make you think of anyone?
-Tad Williams


Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Oops, I done it again!

Clearly the rumors of my semi-retirement from fiction writing were greatly exaggerated. At least for the moment. The apparently controversial Dark Regions Press has a contest and the concept grabbed hold of me like a lecherous wino at an outdoor cover band concert. The maximum length of 1000 words seemed a good starting point, although short lengths can often be rather intimidating for a writer like me.

I went through three basic ideas for my deserted island story before I was satisfied. Interestingly, each rejected idea strengthened the overall finished product because there were elements of each I really liked. Just not enough for the conclusion and overall raison de'tere.

The result was a short story that clocked in at just under 1000 words titled "Day 38." Having taken a lesson from "Lost," the concept of someone remaining on a desert island for months and years seemed a tad difficult to believe.

I'm not a newbie. I don't automatically expect that because I wrote it somebody should publish it but I'd be lying if I denied this got my creative juices flowing again. I'm pretty sure my sub-conscious knew that would happen.


Thursday, February 15, 2018

Stranger Things as Written By Yours Truly.

I swore I had my final word on this undeservedly popular Netflix series, but some expressed interest in how I would have taken the same concept and written it my way. Since I had such harsh words for the show, what would I have done to make it supposedly better? Well, here goes. I know many won't agree or might even find my changes equal to what was done. So be it. Art is subjective.

A few things I won't include in this piece are things I would have no control over, such as quality of acting, direction and casting. This will only be my suggested fix-its from a writing perspective. I'll begin with the most obvious one:

STORY STRUCTURE- The organizational setup of "Stranger Things" is rather lacking. For one thing, it opens in the wrong place to serve the needs of the plot. Starting with the abduction of a character the audience has not grown to care about at all is a huge misstep. One would think that given eight episodes to develop characters, the Duffer Brothers could have at least given us fifteen minutes of the kid before he disappeared. Even "It," that terrible adaptation of a brilliant novel, was able to let us get to know Georgie before he was killed. And that was within the confines of a two and a half hour movie. Whether or not it was done effectively is irrelevant. The effort was made.

Frankly, the series starts in the wrong place regardless of that little dramatic misfire. I'm no fan of "Something went wrong in the secret laboratory" stories, but the lab is undeniably where all of this starts thematically and should also be where it starts structure-wise. If the Duffers really wanted to create an homage to Eighties horror and science fiction, they should have known to start their show in that laboratory. Actually witnessing Eleven's escape would have made here a more interesting character and would have set the tone for the weirdness to come. She could have run into the character of Will, they could have had a brief interaction, then he could have disappeared. Early on both of them would have been established as people the audience should care about instead of two separate incidents with a nary an emotional investment between them.

Also, the plot should have been expanded to justify the amount of episodes. At a mere eight episode run, this show should have been so chockful of story that them Duffer Boys could barely tell it in the time allotted. Instead, what we got was a show so thinly plotted it contained not one by two episodes of filler featuring characters sitting around discussing the plot and their motivations. I don't believe this was an intentional stylistic choice either, considering the overall thinness of the plot.

One way to expand the plot would have been to expand the involvement of the lab workers. Instead of trying to mimic Spielberg's approach to the government agents and scientists in "E.T.," where they were mainly faceless entities as seen through the eyes of children, the Duffers missed a real opportunity to go from archetypes to genuine human characters. It doesn't work here because there are too many non-kid characters.

FOCUS- This rivals story structure in its wrong-headedness. Let me begin by saying I know what the Duffer Boys were trying to do. It's rather obvious, so the kids make sense when considering the influences the creators are attempting to channel. Without criticizing their acting, it's difficult to fault their presence, but here's a story-centric reason for saying they should not have been the focus of the story. If you remove Eleven's interactions with them from the story, the kids literally serve no purpose except to remind us of older, better movies in the same genre. They do nothing except hide her from the Big Bad Lab Folks until the inevitable showdown scenes. They're not particularly interesting or likable and their entire sub-plot could be removed without scarcely a minor inconvenience to the overall plot-line.

Fans of Eighties B-movies know that teens were usually the main characters. Not old enough to have total freedom but definitely old enough to figure things out and handle themselves physically, they're the perfect protagonists to face the unknown. The teens in "Stranger Things" are among the show's few strengths and they should have been, if not front and center, certainly more prominent. Instead of having the kids hide Eleven, the story would have been better served having the teens do it. There could still have been a kid or two present, but the story would have been tighter with this simple change.

No character on this show was better than Sheriff Hopper. Perhaps because he's the only character with more than two notes to his personality, he feels authentic and we want to follow him on his quest to find out just what the hell is going on. Clearly he should have been the focal point of the series (I hear his part is horribly diminished in season two) and all the rest should have grown outward from that.

The greatest misfire involves the people at the laboratory. As I mentioned above, they needed to be better developed. This would have shifted some of the focus to them and their admittedly laughable experiment. Perhaps Matthew Modine's character had a real story to tell, one that would have juxtaposed nicely with Hopper's. I don't care if it turns out we learn more about him in the second season. It's lazy writing to not develop your characters to at least the point of not making them background noise.

PLOT- Once we find out what's really going on beginning with episode three, the entire concept is revealed to be quite terrible. First, the trite idea that this evil laboratory opened a doorway into another dimension that's really just an ugly, unimaginative mirror of our own is absurd. It's also home to the dullest monster since the one in "The Relic." It's little more than a mindless, hungry animal. There's simply no way to develop something that lackluster into a compelling antagonist. Also, having it come from a place that's really just our world's reflection makes little sense within the context of the Duffers' own established rules. Why is there no equivalent here? And while some may say the scientist and his cronies served as the real bad guy, they're far too underdeveloped to mean anything except a stumbling block for the heroes to overcome and redshirts for the monster to kill and eat. Also, a less predictable ending that didn't involve Eleven killing the creature and disappearing would have been nice. How about instead, the creature and Eleven are connected or maybe Will was the creature's counterpart in our universe and a true moral quandary resulted as everyone had to decide it killing one meant killing both?

That's it. I'm done with this show now. I've exhausted my fingers on discussing it enough. I won't get into dialogue because I'd need specific examples beyond that ridiculous Stephen King reference. I also won't go into how three teenagers can inflict major VanDamage on the monster but highly trained paramilitary guys are swatted down like flies. Some of these things are just a given in a B  movie after all. But the Duffers had the opportunity to elevate the medium to something much better than its perceived limitations. Instead, they went lower.

Feel free to eviscerate me now!

Monday, February 12, 2018

A Review of "Stranger Things: Season One"

Recently, the only person on the planet who could have talked me into watching the entire "Stranger Things" Season One did so. I had already forced my way through the first two episodes and decided the show wasn't for me, but this individual seemed to find it important that I complete the season and then decide. So, I did.

To say I was unimpressed would be redundant, but I also was able to spot a meager handful of gems hiding among the manure. And while I have mostly chosen to refrain from opining on these popular shows and films I find so severely overrated (Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, etc.), I feel justified this time because I was asked to watch six more episodes of something I really did not want to see.

Rather than write a lengthy diatribe on the series which, frankly, this writer already did so well, I have broken my critique down to a small list of technical aspects that (mostly) didn't work and some that actually did.

Lazy (Possibly Incompetent Writing)- The Duffer Bros. are the creators, writers and directors of this show, so everything that works and doesn't work falls squarely on their four shoulders. Sadly, they aren't very good at any of the three tasks they've assigned themselves. Like so many writers in Hollywood these days, they seem incapable of distinguishing between homage and flat-out copying. It's one thing to write a story that is in part a tribute to another writers's work; I'm talking about Stephen King here, in case it isn't obvious. The creators of "Lost" did it while creating something entirely new. It's quite another matter to blatantly steal from those works and pass it off as something new and exciting. And King isn't the only one they do this to. Spielberg is heavily "borrowed" from as well as John Carpenter, Dean Koontz and a host of other lesser known filmmakers and authors.
Yet the Duffers lack the necessary skill set to do anything more than copy better artists and nowhere does it show more than when they have a character literally ask, "Have you ever read Stephen King?" I guess that was for those who have no idea they're watching theft repackaged as originality.

Journeyman Direction- Speaking of their lack of skill, I would be remiss if I overlooked the basic, trite direction the Duffers indulge in. The imagery is often flat and uninteresting, the performances rarely rise above the needs of the thin plot and the artifice is thicker than a London fog.

Really Bad Acting (The Kids)- Give them points for earnestness. The kids on this show really try. Unfortunately, the effort is visible and often grimace-inducing. I won't single anybody out on the negative side, but it is interesting that the one kid who can actually act is the one that only shows up in the last half of the season finale. The lack of credible performances from the kids in the cast is a real detriment early on, but the Duffers wisely incorporate the little tykes into the overall action in the the last few episodes, which helps.

Uneven Performances (The Adults)- I have never been a Winona Ryder fan. Much like the kids on the show, her "acting" has always felt obvious and artificial to me. Maybe it's her voice or her verbal delivery, but she tends to diminish the work of other actors in the films she's in. In this case, there aren't many adult actors that are all that great except the always dependable Matthew Modine and a surprisingly good performance from David Harbour as Sheriff Hopper. In Ryder's defense, however, the Duffers provide her with a two-note character for most of the show's run, only toward the end giving her more to do than act hysterical or angry.

Surprisingly Good Acting (The Teens)- At first, I was on the fence about the teen characters. They reeked of cliches when they were introduced, but there was a surprising depth and compelling aspect to their characters as the show went on. In fact, there wasn't a bad teen performance.

Lack of A Diversified Approach- Simply put, the Duffers aren't talented enough to do it all on their own. That's why their work on "Wayward Pines" was so much better. There were other writers involved and it had a quality source material. Much like the two former "Lost" writers who created the gods-awful "Once Upon a Time," these guys need help and they need it yesterday. They need good writers who can say, "Wait. That scene in the hallway where they coat the entire area in gasoline should not be extinguished with two pumps from a fire extinguisher!" Or, "Maybe mentioning Stephen King is too on the nose. Could we consider assuming our audience is reasonably intelligent enough to know what we're doing and let those who don't find out through different means?" And maybe, just maybe, somebody might have said, "The monster is boring and a terrible antagonist."
Maybe somebody would have had an issue with  the fact that a mere eight-episode run was so thinly plotted it resulted in two filler episodes that literally consisted of characters discussing the plot and their motivation for forty-five minutes. Hire more writers!

Pointless Setting- Why does this show take place in the Eighties? Let me explain why I'm asking. As someone who has not only written for publication but studied it as well, there were many times when I was asked similar questions.
"Does this story need to be written in first person?"
"Is this scene necessary to the plot or just here because you enjoyed writing it?"
In a similar vein, I ask again: Why does this show take place in the Eighties?  What purpose does it serve? As much as I hated the recent version of "It," the Eighties settings makes perfect sense because the followup takes place thirty years later. What is it about the Eighties that makes the setting so important in "Stranger Things," though? Is there a certain limit on technology that wouldn't work now? Were there social attitudes of the time that lent themselves towards a story about a laboratory experiment getting out of hand?
I can't speak for the Duffer Bros. but I am inclined to say they have no idea beyond the fact that they wanted to reference Eighties horror and science fiction. Newsflash: You can still do that in modern-day storytelling.

Lack of Authenticity- Springboarding off the previous point, the Duffers are clearly too young to remember the Eighties. (They are. I looked them up.) While they get the clothing and cars right, the decade itself feels less real. This was one of my many issues with "It" as well. And while being too young isn't in and of itself a reason to avoid writing about prior periods, it does bring me back to the need for more writers on the show. Writers who, I don't know, might actually be able to say, "People didn't use the word 'awesome' like that in 1983!"

So, you might be getting the idea that I hated the show based on the above points. I didn't. I just found it trite, bland and derivative. It angers me that I worked so hard to make something of quality and guys like this can just wander out with half-baked rip-off material and have people hail it as a masterpiece. At least if the other elements, namely the acting, direction, etc. were better, I might be more forgiving. Also, if the season finale had been stretched to another twenty minutes and just turned into a movie, the story would have been much more effective.

All in all, it isn't a terrible show by any stretch. But it's mediocre and sometimes that's almost as bad~