Category Archives: Writing

Blog posts that have to do with my playwriting, Community Theatre or freelance writing interests.

I read for fun, and that’s ok.

We’re living in weird times, and I’m not just referring to America’s apparent slide into Medieval Theocracy. Guys like me are in charge of most of the big media the world consumes – TV and Movies – and we are producing endless love letters to our childhood selves. Comic book movies, Sci-Fi epics, reboots or remakes of the films we grew up with, sequels that have taken decades, tv shows that fill in gaps that, quite frankly, most people didn’t care about or notice.

More than one critic, and a few film-makers, have said this childishness is unseemly. That superhero movies are all very well, but they’re not Art, they’re not what the medium is about, and so on and so on.

The same snobbery is alive and well in the publishing industry. While the big Five are happy to publish anything that will sell, there’s still this weird perception about what is a “proper” book. Romance is a derided genre, but sales pay for most of the rest of the books. People might sniff at Danielle Steel books, but she’s topped bestsellers lists for decades and shows no sign of slowing down, and unlike some James Pattersons I could mention, she writes all her books herself.

Speaking of James Patterson, the Mystery/thriller genre doesn’t count as high-quality stuff either, even if it’s a gritty Norwegian thing. People went wild over the Stieg Larsson books, but then people went wild over Harry Potter too. Doesn’t mean it’s literature, Darling.

I hardly need mention that Sci-Fi, despite being able to trace its roots back to Mary Flipping SHELLEY, is still the awkward Uncle at the family barbeque.

Which just leaves general fiction. Now, a lot of that can be discounted too, because it’s just stories. Good stories, fun stories, heart-wrenching stories. But not the real thing.

And now we get to it, because the figure in the Opera mask, playing the organ in the basement of this baroque construct is none other than Lit Fic! Yes, Literary Fiction, stories that are, by some esoteric definition, more than their genre cousins. Or perhaps not more, but “better”.

Let me be honest here: I don’t like lit fic books. If I see a book and the author bio says they just got their MFA and this is the book they’ve been working on for five years, I will eye it with suspicion. If that author is a white male and he teaches Creative Writing, I will hurl it from me with great force.

“But Dim!” I hear you cry “Isn’t this a terrible prejudice? How can you condemn all these works without reading them?”

And that brings me to the reason for writing this post. I do read lit fic from time to time. After all, I work in a library and I like to read. I will actually check out a book just because of the title, or the premise, or even the cover. There, I judge books by their covers. Sue me.

Over this last week, I’ve been short of books to read. A fire at my branch of the library has shut off access to the main collection, including a couple of holds I was waiting on, so I grabbed a book from Mrs Dim’s TBR pile (TBR = To Be Read). It was by an author I had read before, and I hadn’t liked that book, but I prepared to cut him some slack and read this one.

It wasn’t as bad as the other book, but it was bad. And I know, that’s a subjective opinion, because he’s an award-winning writer who’s had two books made into movies (one of which is the aforementioned bad book). I read this one because the premise was interesting and I wanted to see how the story turned out, but along the way I had to listen to the writer chuckling to himself about his wonderful command of the language and his wonderfully poetic sentence construction, regardless of the effect this had on the characters he was using to prop up a preposterous and unwieldy plot. The story progressed, and then it ended in an unsatisfactory fashion, because the author had said all that he wanted to.

Stephen King (who knows a thing or two about writing) says that you should write the first draft of your story with the door closed. In effect, write that first draft for you, telling the story to yourself. Don’t worry about the language, or the themes, or maybe even the continuity. Get the bones down, get some flesh on them. Then, you open the door. You write the second draft with the reader in mind. What you want them to feel about the story, what effect you want to have, what themes you want to emphasize.

I don’t think Lit Fic authors ever open the door. If they ever write with a reader in mind, it’s the Art Critic, or that girl who sneered at them when they were fifteen. They want to impress people with their cleverness, light up the sky with the fireworks of their prose. And if you ask about story, about a satisfactory narrative, they will smile condescendingly and say “Oh, well, if you’re looking for that kind of book, the Maeve Binchys are over there.” and they would laugh with their friends, but they don’t have any.

I heard about an interview with a Lit Fic author who had written a book with Science Fiction elements. In fact, what he had done was taken a long-established sci-fi trope about what makes someone human (remember “Frankenstein”?) and trotted out a thin volume of his own. When the interviewer asked him, naturally enough, what Sci-Fi books he had read as he prepared to write his variation on this ancient theme, he (probably) smiled condescendingly and said “Oh, I don’t read genre.

And that was apparent to anyone who read the jacket of the book, since the same idea has been done over and over and much more interestingly from Mary Shelley herself and on down through the years. But this guy, he thinks he’s being so damn original, so clever, so incisive, as he ponders questions that have been old hat in Sci Fi since before Jim Kirk took over the Enterprise from Pike. Because he doesn’t read genre, darling, so he doesn’t know what he’s missed.

So, I may not like Lit Fic, but I will continue to pick them up from time to time. The same way I read romance from time to time, or thrillers, or horror, or YA. Because I love books, and stories, and just because Sci-Fi is my wheelhouse doesn’t mean that’s the only thing I’ll ever read. I don’t want to become as provincial as that Lit Fic author. It’s ok not to like something, but I’m quite happy for other people to go on reading Lit Fic if it floats their boat. Just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean I want it gone.

And one day, I shall finish writing my own lit fic book, currently stalled at 7,500 words because I keep wanting it to have a plot and a point…

Dinosaurs and the Action Woman

Yesterday, Mrs Dim and I went off to see “Jurassic World: Dominion”. We’d seen Lucy V Hay’s review, so we weren’t going for great cinema – we were going because we love the franchise in all its goofy magnificence. Mrs Dim said she was expecting a kind of “Pantomime walkdown”, with all the old stars (the ones still alive) using their catchphrases one last time.

To be honest, I really enjoyed the movie. I didn’t watch it with my script-reader’s head on, nor was I out to pick plot holes (although I did wince about the way the “hyperloop” system worked – where was the vacuum? That tunnel was open EVERYWHERE! That’s just a sodding TRAIN, mate!) But I felt bad for Claire, the character played by Bryce Dallas Howard.

In the first movie to show her, Jurassic World, Claire is an upwardly mobile executive, estranged from her family because she buries herself in work. IN the course of the movie, much like Alan Grant in the first, she comes to appreciate her family and the connections with people over the tough and soulless business world.

Claire as she first appears.

In the second movie she has knocked off some of her corners and is better prepared for the action sequences. She’s brave and doesn’t hesitate to step forward. I came out of the cinema this time feeling she’d been badly served, spending more time frozen and waiting to be rescued.

However, talking it over with Mrs Dim on the dog walk this morning, I may be wrong (This happens quite a lot: I discover I am wrong when talking things over with Mrs Dim…)

At the start of the movie, Claire is leading a raid into an illegal dino breeding facility. She breaks a lock, and when they find a creature in distress, she doesn’t hesitate to free it, even though they’re only supposed to be gathering evidence. Then she piles into the van as other vehicles come screaming up, and she drives away under fire, through a charging herd of Triceratops. This is not a weak and feeble character. She is in charge of her actions.

The moment that I was thinking of, when she freezes, comes after a series of traumatic events: She has to eject from the plane, has her parachute trashed by Pterasaurs, lands in a tree and is almost eaten by another predator (didn’t recognise the species, sorry!), and then she has to make her way through the dino-infested valley to an observation post. As she’s trying to get inside, she’s cornered by three dilophosaurs. She’s unarmed and alone, so it’s more than fair to accept that she’s reached the end of her rope at this point.

Mrs Dim’s argument was that we still haven’t got a very good idea of a what a strong woman looks like. Lucy talks a lot about this issue too (having written some strong women herself). Strong women aren’t simply Rambo with boobs. Women don’t tend to be as physically muscular as men (though obviously there are some women who are more muscular than some men) and while there are a number of female characters who can seriously kick butt, they tend to be ones who are trained from birth or have super-abilities (I’m thinking of Wonderwoman, Buffy, Spider Gwen and so on…)

Claire’s motivations in the movie are atonement (brought up in the first scene) and the maternal desire to rescue and protect her adopted daughter. She does fight, going toe-to-toe with Dichen Lachman’s villainous character (who almost certainly WAS trained to kill), and she persists through a variety of risky situations until she finds Maisie again.

Both Bryce Dallas Howard and Laura Dern play tough women who aren’t fazed by hard choices and physical difficulties. They didn’t enjoy wading through dying, burning locusts to try and shut off the power, but it had to be done to save their friends and loved ones, so they did it. I think they’re actually pretty good role models, for all it’s a crazy film.

(By the way, the message of the film is pretty stark – we’re screwing up the world, but it’s never too late to stand up and do the right thing – but it’s right on the money.

Better living through chemicals

Medicine is a serious business, and you shouldn’t experiment with it unless you’re being advised by a qualified medical practitioner. So, not a Homeopath.

One of the things we like about our local family GP is that he doesn’t reach for the pill bottle every time. He’s interested in diet, in exercise, in counseling. He’s very big on testing. By the time he’s writing out a prescription, you know it’s a decision he’s come to after weighing a lot of evidence.

In the time we’ve been here in Canada, I’ve seen our doctor quite a bit. Sometimes because one of the kids had something and they needed a parent to go to the appointment with them. Sometimes I’ve been under the weather for one reason or another. I’ve asked him about my inability to eat vegetables, my bus travel phobia and some of the other, less embarrassing things that turn up as you approach fifty years old.

This is me, looking on the bright side of getting older…

But recently I had a bit of a revelation. Mrs Dim had been prescribed some medication to combat her fatigue (as I mentioned here), and it didn’t work. It was, the doctor explained, for treating ADHD, but in people without the condition, it may be calming. When it didn’t work, she stopped taking it, but we had some of the tablets – about 5 – left over.

You know where this is going, don’t you?

I took a tablet on one of my days off, reasoning that if it sent me off the deep end, at least my co-workers wouldn’t have to deal with it. But it didn’t make me hyper, didn’t make me sick, didn’t send me to sleep.

It was like there had been a radio playing in the back of my head for years, and someone switched it off. My head felt quiet. When I talked to my wife, I could listen to her entire reply and keep thinking about what she was saying, not what I was going to say. I didn’t feel jittery,or overwhelmed, or like there were a dozen things I should be doing.

Over the next few days I took one tablet each morning. Travel on the Skytrain was easy, because I wasn’t swamped with anxiety. My unreliable stomach calmed down, because I wasn’t so worried about everything. I started a task, and continued working on it until it was done, or it was time to do something else – I didn’t flit between tasks, or constantly open social media, or music players, or videos.

When the tablets ran out, I worried that I was going to be inundated with all the wild, woolly thinking that I had been holding at bay, but the return to “normal” was a slow process. Worse was trying to figure out how to tell the doctor that I would like some more of this medication that I had taken on a whim.

He was great about it. Of course, he couldn’t just prescribe me a bunch more of it (shame!). He sent me a questionnaire as a prelim to an assessment for ADHD, and prescribed me a similar medication to see how that worked out. He assured me that the clinic would be in touch about the assessment.

And they did get in touch. They offered me an appointment in 2024, and asked what my availability was. I don’t know about you, but after the LAST two years, I am not optimistic about booking things two years ahead of time…

And that’s where I am. It’s not like the dream I used to have, a dream illustrated by the movie “Limitless”, where the character takes a drug that makes him focused, and able to retain every piece of information he’s ever received, and to put them together. My favourite scene has him sitting at his laptop as letters fall from the ceiling all around him, showing how the words he needs are flowing right from his brain onto the page. 

That’s what I hoped for, but this is a close second. I may not have a limitless flow of words, but I can sit down at a piece of work and actually do it. That’s worth a whole lot.

5 reasons I didn’t make it.

Stop me if you’ve heard this already.

I’ve been writing with intent to earn since 1998. Been dreaming of being an author for another two decades before that. I have written and published something like ten e-books, over eighty plays, several short stories and some non-fiction articles. I’ve written a couple of screenplays that have gone nowhere, and I’m still not rich or famous.

July sixth 1975

To be clear, I do comparatively well from my play writing. When there’s not a global pandemic shutting down every public gathering, I get a monthly payment for my scripts that’s very nice, especially considering there’s no heavy lifting involved. Some even won awards, like this nice medal.

WP_003461

But no matter what, I’m not topping the bestseller charts with my books. Look:

Amazon top 100

All the way up to number 73! Inside the top 100 of a very, very narrow category! Anyway, my point here is not just to whine about not being an NYT bestseller, but to explain why I’m not. I mean, sure, there are LOTS of reasons, but here are the top 5 I can think of. You can add more in the comments if you would like to be hurtful.

1. Writing is rewriting.

Stephen King says the first draft is you telling yourself the story*. That’s all well and good, but you should get to the end, then (after going and doing something else for a while) go back and look at the story you’ve got. You should maybe think about theme, and how to emphasize it. Look at the characters you have, and see if there are any you’re hanging on to for sentimental reasons. Do they all serve the story? Look at the different scenes you have. Are THEY all important? Is there one there that you don’t need, but you just think it’s funny? Is that a problem?

See, rewriting can be hard. people say “Stick your draft away for a few months and it reads like someone else wrote it.” and that’s good advice, because they’re right. But the big test is whether you can take that story you built, word by word, and break it down, then reassemble it as a different version. I can’t. Even when I have had brilliant people like Lucy V Hay showing me the parts that need fixing, I can’t do the work. I’ve done it with plays – rewriting, restructuring, changing the endings. But not short stories or novels. So what I end up with is a first draft. Maybe proofread, maybe spellchecked, but not fundamentally different to the first version that fell out of my head, and I think people can tell that.

2. Bang the drum.

Nobody thinks to themselves “I love selling things! I think I’ll write a novel!” And no one says “Hey, I’m a novellist, but my favourite part is doing the publicity!” If you’ve chosen to devote huge chunks of your time to sitting alone, building imaginary worlds and people out of words, then you are unlikely to be the kind of outgoing gladhander who can sell product to everyone.

And yet, if you want to jump from writer to published author, you have to learn to sell yourself and your book. Even if you think you’re going to get an agent and get picked up by the Big Six and they’ll do the publicity, you have to sell yourself to that agent. You have to believe your work is good, believe you have more in you, and you have to be able to communicate that belief to someone who’s never met you.

I once rang a publisher when I had finished a first draft of a novel. I don’t know what I was thinking, but the poor guy actually answered the phone. I told him I’d just written a book, and he asked me to describe it. Right then I knew that I wasn’t going to make it. I stuttered and stammered and I credit that unknown phone-answerer with tremendous kindness. I don’t remember him sneering at me (as he should), nor slamming down the phone in disgust (also warranted.) He taught me a valuable lesson, which is that you have to have a pitch at your fingertips, and you have to make your story sound good. I did not.

3. Pick a lane.

This is maybe a little more controversial, but I think it applies to us enthusiastic amateurs. I mentioned I have ten e-books out there, but only two are novels. One’s a zombie novel, the other a vaguely YA book about a musician. I have four collections of short stories. One is Sci-Fi, two are coffee-break stories (warm, minor-twist endings, no bloodshed or graphic stuff), and one is… other stuff. I have a book of poetry. I have a non-fiction book about my family’s first year emigrating to Canada, and three non-fiction books about my hobby of building prop helmets. The point is, if you like one of my books, there’s no guarantee you’re going to like any of the others. And if I wanted to approach a regular publisher or agent, I could show them my dazzling sales stats (“Look! This month there were three sales! Three! In the same month!”), but would have to acknowledge that they are spread out amongst different genres. No big, pre-built audience waiting there for my next zombie novel.

When people talk about e-publishing, they often mention having a tail. Publish two or three books before you expect to pick up a serious readership. They may be right, but I bet it helps if you stick within your genre. I have a couple of friends who have written sequential books – Rick Wayne and Lisa Cohen, for example. Their earlier books were written on faith, and their readership grew as the series progressed. The clamour that people made on social media for the next book interested new readers. Don’t be a butterfly author.

4. Maintain your platform.

Everyone knows that authors these days have to have a social media presence, but that’s getting harder and harder to define. Let’s start with where I went wrong: I loved G+, built up a group of friends there, and gradually slid off the public face of G+ into more private group areas. It was more fun for me, but less useful for selling my books. I have a Twitter presence, but find I’m resistant to the Twitter style of trumpet blowing – posting pictures of your book cover fourteen times a day with pull quotes from other people saying how much they loved the book. Worse are the ones that try to give a sample of the book’s dialogue without running out of characters. Still, that’s more than I do. I can’t publicise my books on social media without deprecating them, even though I have devoted a lot of time to each one, and they’re sooooo cheap! But I don’t have a plan, I don’t have a schedule, and I lurk on Twitter rather than dividing my time more usefully amongst other sites too, like Goodreads, and Instagram and whatever else the kids are into these days. Somewhere online, there’s a group of people to whom your book will appeal. Finding them can be a big challenge, or maybe even a part time job. But if you choose not to do it, like me, then you can’t complain about book sales. Well, you CAN, but no one will listen.

5. Don’t drop the ball.

So, you write your novel. You re-write your novel. You get it edited (always a good plan). You maybe re-write it one more time. Then you go out to sell it. Maybe it sells, maybe it doesn’t. You sit down to write novel number two. The thing is, don’t completely abandon your first novel, especially if you’re self publishing. It may feel like last week’s laundry, but there will always be people out there who haven’t heard about it. People join and leave social media sites all the time. If you’re maintaining your platform, your number of new followers (or whatever) should be rising, and those new people need to know about your first efforts as well as your latest blockbuster. Yes, there’s a balance between ‘I didn’t know you’d written that!” and “Dear god, are you STILL banging on about that old thing?”, but you can find that balance. Look at what others do. Work out your own strategy for new versus old. It may be that, like Seanan Mcguire or Delilah S Dawson, you’ll want to split your genres out under different names, but whatever you decide, remember to cheer for your early efforts too. Any one of them could be the way a new reader finds their way to you.

So, Dim, does all this negativity mean you’re done with writing e-books?

I don’t know. The pandemic hasn’t been good for my confidence, or my creativity, like a lot of people. And there’s that stupid feedback loop, where I don’t make any money from e-books, so I don’t invest any time in them, but they’re not going to sell if I don’t invest the time (see three of the points above) and right now I should have time but I still can’t muster time and energy to do all the things I have to, let alone the things I think I want to.

Well, that got dark quickly. Are you still writing plays?

Yes. Sllllloooooooooooowwwwwllllllyyyyy. But yes. And tomorrow I may laugh again, because me and my writing partners at TLC Creative are still working on The Hound of Music.

Thanks.

 

 

*He says other stuff too, I expect, like “Pass the potatoes.” and “Who elected this clown?”, but I thought I should stick with the relevant stuff.

Talking a good game

My next book

Publicity is a tricky thing. A lot of social media is people carefully trying to sell you their stuff, without looking like they’re trying to sell you anything at all. Influencers call this “your brand”, or your “author platform”, and some people are better at it than others, like most things in life.

My own experience with selling my stuff (ie, plays, ebooks and whatnot) online is that I am not good at talking myself up. I like the things I have written, am often quite proud of them, but it just doesn’t feel right to shout “My stuff is great! Buy it!” without at least adding “Of course, you may disagree, and there’s lots of other great stuff out there which may suit your needs better, I would perfectly understand if you want some time to compare and contrast and make an informed decision…”

This is NOT a great advertising strategy.

The trouble is, if you’re going to build a brand online, you need to be consistent. If you’re going to be consistent, you have two choices. The first is to invent the person you’re going to be, and stick rigidly to that persona whenever you post ANYTHING AT ALL. The second is to be yourself, and admit that sometimes that might not be great for everybody. This is why we see actors or authors get slammed for having political opinions online. We think we want to get to know the real person, but often there are doors we don’t want opened, or illusions we want to keep intact.

Part of who I am is the self-deprecating, anxious, uncertain person who feels it’s wrong to brashly boast of your brilliance. Certainly you won’t find me quoting reviews of my stuff on Twitter where I refer to myself in the third person (I have seen authors do this, and it looks weird.)

Anyway, this is a roundabout way of saying, when I finally got “Even More Cosplay Disasters” fixed for the third time and published for the second time, I was all out of enthusiasm for doing any publicity at all. I’d done a little for the first publication, and luckily it had fallen flat, because the book had NOT been properly published, and anyone who bought it would only have been able to download the cover.

I thought I might try and interest the local papers, but writing a press release is really just talking about yourself in the third person again, so instead I wrote directly to the reporter for the local paper (Janis Cleugh of the Tri City News) and asked if she might be interested in the story of a playwright who builds strange helmets and props with his daughter. She was, and she came round to interview me and my Eldest Weasel, as well as taking a very nice picture. She was kind enough to mention the books, as well as being very thorough in her questioning (best of all, she didn’t ask “Why the hell do you bother with all this tosh?”, which is Mrs Dim’s favourite question.)

Here’s the online copy of the article:

https://www.tricitynews.com/entertainment/sci-fi-superfans-build-costume-props-1.23852723

Sales of the books have not gone through the roof, so as an advertising stunt, it hasn’t achieved its aim. On the other hand, I did take a positive step towards marketing, and it was a different one to the ones I’ve done before. We got a nice picture out of it, if nothing else, and the article seems to have spurred Eldest Weasel on to fixing up Derek the Dalek for the next Fan Expo.

20190616_212443

The Marvel Cinematic Universe Re-watch

Image result for marvel cinematic universe order

Mrs Dim found a graphic very much like the one above soon after we saw the brilliant “Captain Marvel” at the cinema. Since, like everyone else, we were waiting for “Endgame” to end the misery following “Infinity War”. it seemed like a good idea to work our way through the movies again, following this sequence.

Captain America:

Image result for Captain America

We always liked the original Captain America movie, with Haley Attwell giving a star performance, and Tommy Lee Jones underplaying it brilliantly. Another family favourite is JJ Field, who the Weasels have loved since “Northanger Abbey”. I’m still amazed by the weedy young Steve Rogers, and while I know it was done with CGI, it hurts my head.

Iron Man:

Image result for Iron Man

Like Captain America, time doesn’t seem to have affected this movie overmuch. Mrs Dim pointed out how much of a jerk Tony Stark really is in the movie, how unlikeable. His transformative event, the inciting incident of his storyline, really is traumatic and shapes his character for the upcoming movies as well as this one.

Iron Man 2:

Image result for Iron man 2

It seemed wrong to watch this movie next, with so many different characters to get through. Still, that’s what the instructions said, and we follow the instructions, no matter what.

There’s a lot of relevant parts to this movie, though I understand the criticisms levelled at it: At times the story meanders a little, and the logic of Tony discovering the element in a coded message from his father is…a reach, to be fair. Still, it underlines that Tony’s ego is unblunted, and causing trouble, something that gets dealt with in later films.

Thor:

Image result for Thor

Thor always seemed an unlikely choice for a superhero, and I wasn’t that enthusiastic about seeing the movie. Chris Hemsworth is a great performer, though, and the movie is surprisingly funny at times. My family can’t get over Loki, of course. It’s fun, and it still looks good.

The Incredible Hulk:

I admit, we skipped this one. Mrs Dim wasn’t interested in watching it (I don’t know why) and I had seen it quite recently. I liked Ed Norton’s performance, I have a weakness for Liv Tyler and Tim Roth is always great value.

The Avengers:

Image result for The Avengers

This is one of my favourites of the whole bunch. Whatever his failings as a person, I really like what Joss Whedon did with the challenge of bringing all these characters together and putting them through the wringer.

Iron Man 3:

Image result for Iron Man 3

Tony’s journey is really the most interesting so far. This movie shows how dependent he’s become on his armour, the PTSD of his captivity compounded by the battle of New York. In trying to protect the ones he loves, he puts them in greater danger, and he has to rediscover the truth that he later tells Peter Parker “If you’re nothing without the suit, you don’t deserve the suit.”

Thor Dark World:

Image result for Thor Dark World

One of the positive things about this sequel is that Jane Foster is at least an active participant in the proceedings. We’re introduced to the unlikliest Infinity Stone and get a bundle more comedy lines and the twistiest twist ending of all.

Captain America, Winter Soldier:

Image result for The winter soldier

The most memorable part of this movie is that it reveals Hydra infiltrated SHIELD years ago, and upsets the apple cart in a big way. We meet new allies, like Agent Carter’s niece Sharon, and discover that Bucky didn’t die after all. We also get our first hint that Cap\s personal view on right and wrong might lead him into confrontation with authority figures.

Guardians of the Galaxy:

Image result for Guardians of the galaxy

I still love the first Guardians movie, though I have heard the soundtrack way too much and loathe every single song on it. Thanks for that, James Gunn! It’s still a fun ride, with the bonus of underlining the whole Infinity Stones ultimate power plot.

Guardians of the Galaxy 2:

Image result for Guardians of the galaxy

Again, it was weird to be watching the sequel instead of bouncing off to a different group of characters, but it was nice to get a swift answer to that “Hey your father was a mysterious ancient being” line that is dropped casually at the end of the first movie. In terms of the greater arc, the only thing this movie does is add Mantis to the team and grant Nebula a step on her redemption arc. Also, I hate this soundtrack too. Really, the nostalgia for the music of the 80’s is overrated.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Image result for Age of Ultron

Tony builds on his “causing problems by trying to save the world” theme of Iron Man 3, and we get a brief introduction to Wakanda here. There are the first signs of fractures in the team,  and the addition of a couple of new recruits. My favourite part of this movie will always be Hawkeye NOT dying, despite the fact that he promised his wife he would come back to finish the renos. There was actually a groan in the cinema as he said it, and we were all wrong.

AntMan:

After the “world in peril” stakes of Ultron, AntMan feels like a real downshift. Sure, the Yellowjacket super-soldier could be a threat to world peace and whatnot, but really we’re concerned with Scott getting through the day without being sent back to jail. It FEELS like an origin story, and it feels late int he series to be introducing someone.

Avengers: Civil War

Image result for Avengers civil war

This is the payoff for Cap’s conflict over Bucky and the fracture lines we saw beginning in “Age of Ultron”. We also get to meet Black Panther.

What’s interesting about this is understanding both sides of the argument – Tony wants some oversight, to try and prevent the guilt he feels over the innocent who suffer. Cap wants the freedom to do what he believes is right, what he’s “meant’ to do, since he has these strengths. I like that we get to hear just a small section of the story of those who are affected by the actions of the superheroes – not those rescued by them, or defeated by them, but the collateral damage. Every fight we have seen in the movies to this point has included massive structural damage, and it’s good to know that the writers think of the small people in their stories too.

Black Panther:

Image result for Black Panther

Introduced in Civil War, Black Panther doesn’t need an origin story, though in the opening of the movie we do get a potted history of Wakanda and the people who live there. Like many, many people, I loved the colours and sounds of Wakanda, and though I have to agree with my kids (why didn’t he just tell Killmonger that he had been treated badly and accept him as part of the family?) I enjoyed the film immensely and have rewatched it several times.

Spiderman Homecoming:

Image result for Spiderman homecoming

Spidey also got a cameo in Civil War, and one of the fun parts of this movie is how those events were shown from Peter’s point of view. There’s also a more realistic look at the problems of being a superhero : how do you find crimes to stop? How do you tell the guy locked out of his own car from the professional car thief? And, obviously, what do you do when you find out your prom date’s father is a supervillain? (I admit, I don’t know if prom and homecoming are different things, and have no interest in finding out…). Despite the struggles, the film is fun and bears many rewatches.

Ant Man and the Wasp

Image result for Ant man and the wasp

This was the first sequel where I found myself telling other people “Yeah, you maybe should watch a few of the other Marvel movies to get the most out of this one.” You don’t HAVE to, but it does make more sense if you do.

I like this movie particularly because Evangeline Lily actually gets to do stuff, and it features Hannah John-Kamen, who is awesome (I’m a big “Killjoys” fan). From the trailers we’ve seen for Endgame, there’s a lot of significance in the plot of “Ant Man and the Wasp” with regard to the Quantum realm and time manipulation and stuff. Unless that’s all a red herring.

Doctor Strange:

Image result for Doctor Strange

There’s a recurring theme with me and these Marvel movies: Characters I’m not interested in get movies, and I enjoy them way more than I thought I would. It happened with Thor, Black Panther, Ant Man and then Doctor Strange. Again, there was a sense of “Wait, we have to learn about ANOTHER new character?” but of course he’s tied to another one of the Infinity Stones, so we have to learn who he is and how he became the master of the mystic arts. I found the film enjoyable, despite the American accent Benedict Cumberbatch had to put on, though I wish Rachel McAdam had more to do in the movie.

Thor Ragnarok:

Image result for Thor Ragnarok

This is THE family favourite. If there’s a three-way tie for the Friday night movie, we can always compromise with Ragnarok. The look of the film, the lines, the characters, and the story all work well for us. The only stain on the movie is knowing what comes next.

Avengers: Infinity War

Image result for infinity war

Which brings us up to date. One of the things I admire most about this movie is that it allows the heroes to succeed in every way but the vital one – they defeat the minor henchmen, they stay alive against the odds, they drive off threats, and yet even when they band together and Thor produces his special weapon, Thanos (spoiler alert!) gets all the stones and clicks his fingers. It’s a tough job to do: write a story where both the villains and heroes are capable, and the heroes don’t win by default, and the villains don’t win because of an unlikely error.

We’re hoping to go and see Endgame in the first week it’s out. I don’t doubt there will be spoilers galore, and I’ll do what I can to avoid them, but I spend a lot of time online, and some people delight in ruining these things. A few days before I was going to see “The Force Awakens”, someone posted a picture of Han being skewered by Kylo Ren. No words, just the photo, dropped into a timeline where people would not have a choice about whether or not they would see it. Because I knew it was coming, I spent a lot of the movie in a permanent cringe. These things matter. Don’t be a spoiler.

I enjoyed rewatching all these movies, and I think we’ll do it again another time. They’re all still good, despite the fact that it’s been a decade or more that they’ve been being released. It was a bold strategy, and I’m glad it paid off, but I hope it doesn’t become the accepted norm. Not everything needs an interconnected universe to tell a story, and it’s telling the story that’s the important part of every movie.

 

Why do you have unfinished or unpublished projects?

20190108_184916

You work hard on your manuscript. You produce anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 words, right? That’s a LOT.

So why, why on earth would you NOT submit that completed manuscript to a publisher? And if you haven’t reached the end, but you know the story and you have the drive, why not FINISH the story?

A lot of authors who have made it (a term that covers so much ground it’s pointless trying to define it) will tell you they have complete manuscripts in their desk drawers (sometimes virtual desk drawers) that will never see the light of day. It can be an infuriating thought. Imagine, another Stephen King novel, or a Delilah S Dawson book that you can never read! Why would they do that? If a story is worth investing enough time and energy to type to completion, it’s worth reading, right?

The sad answer is no. Like Terry Pratchett said, “The first draft is you telling the story to yourself”. Until that first draft is down, you have no idea, really, what the story is going to look or sound like to anyone else. And sometimes, you look at what you’ve got and you say “Yeah. That’s what I was thinking, that’s what I wanted to say, but it’s not good enough. It’s not right.” Sometimes that means draft two will come at the same story from a different direction. Sometimes it means you explore the same theme with a different story. Some of those drafts just go into the drawer.

Years ago, I wrote a complete screenplay. I used some bespoke software that doesn’t even exist anymore, I worked hard, and I got from “fade in” to “fade out”, and I was really pleased with myself. Pleased enough that I sent it off for some feedback.

What came back was a stack of notes. I began to re-work the screenplay from the notes, but it quickly became clear that the resultant story was not the one I’d written, and it wasn’t engaging me. If I didn’t like it, I wasn’t going to do a great job writing it. I still loved the original story, I was glad I’d told it to myself, but it went into the drawer.

Not every story you tell will be for everyone else. Sometimes, we are the only audience we need for our stories.

Start as you mean to go on…

20181231_181001

The start of a new year is a great time for new beginnings. We make resolutions, renew memberships, draw up lists. We pledge on social media to be better, to be more consistent, more productive. In the post Christmas calm, when work has shut down and we bask in the warmth of good food, gift-giving, family and friends, a new start seems almost inevitable.

Neil deGrasse Tyson upset some people on Twitter by pointing out that January the first is only significant in the Gregorian Calendar.

Neil Twitter.jpg

I understand why people were annoyed, but I think he’s right. If we’re only prepared to make a new start one day a year, what good is that? The day before the new year began, I tried to load up the file for my latest book, but it had corrupted, and all the work I had done up to that point was lost. One day it worked, the next day it didn’t. So, here’s the new year, and I’m preparing to make a new start on a project I was a third of the way through. And once that’s done, there are plays to write, sketches to produce, DIY and craft projects to take on. Each one will require a new start.

Every day is a new beginning. Enjoy the next 365 fresh starts.

As You Like It

20180831_191143

Let’s see – I’ve had a birthday, we’ve been camping, but school hasn’t started yet… It must be time for Bard on the Beach!

Every year we try to go (some years more successfully than others) and every year I am driven to blog about the experience because the productions are so good. Bard don’t need the publicity, I think, they’re doing just fine on sales. Tonight’s tent was sold out, and every seat occupied by an enthusiastic supporter of the arts.

20180831_191155

With no visitors, it was only Mrs Dim, myself and all the Weasels, settling into our seats for a performance of “As You Like It”, a play that none of us were familiar with. Well, that’s to say, none of us had seen a full production, but it’s the play that contains the “All the world’s a stage..” speech, and one of the scenes was used in the “I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue” Shakespearean Special ‘Pick Up Bard’ game.

20180831_191136

What really put the icing on the cultural cake for us this year, however, was a staggering coincidence. All this summer, Tiny Weasel has been obsessed with the Beatles. OBSESSED. She’s watched their films, documentaries, recited interviews and even purchased a cd! A Child of the Millennium, buying physical media! And this year’s production of As You Like It was going to feature 25 songs…by The Beatles!

20180831_210802

It was a toe-tapping extravaganza, with audience singalongs and plenty of sight gags, alongside the snappy dialogue. Mrs Dim’s favourite moment was

“She’s coming. Hide!”

“Why?”

“Because it’s Shakespeare!

Bard on the Beach must work very hard to make this all look so effortless. It proves there’s life in the old plays yet, as there were people of all ages in the audience, and they had no trouble following the plot or the language. I’m already looking forward to next year.

The Play I didn’t write

First Lesson: Write what you know.

It’s advice handed out almost as soon as you begin, and it’s misunderstood, misapplied and misinterpreted over and over. It doesn’t mean write about the life you live, because if everyone did that there’d be no science fiction, no Steampunk, no historical romances, no pirate adventures, no Narnia or Hogwarts… It’s the emotions we know that matter, it’s writing the truth of how we are affected by events. CS Lewis was never offered Turkish Delight by a woman on a sleigh, but he did know what it was like to be a young boy, to be jealous, to want more. Because he knew, we understand why Edmund betrays his siblings, even if we don’t like him for it. It feels true.

Second Lesson: The only limit is your imagination.

You can write about anything. You can put Victorians on the moon, you can have the American lose the War of Independence, you can say there’s a nice Pot Noodle flavour…Anything can be written about. Anyone can write anything.

And yet. There’s that Jurassic Park warning, isn’t there?

Stop to think

When it comes to honing your craft, all writing is good. You have an idea, write it down. Try to express it as clearly as you can. Try different genres, different formats. Some things will click for you straightaway, some will take real effort, and what you want to do might not be the one that comes easily.

But if your goal is to put your stories out for other people to read, I think it’s worth considering if that story is yours to tell.

Recently the Chesil Theatre in Winchester announced their latest 10×10 competition. This is a great contest to find 10 ten-minute plays on a theme. Last year’s theme was David Bowie, and I had a chance to read through the winners of the competition and they were all excellent. Very different, in tone and style and even in inspiration, but all fitting the theme and all worth the audience’s time. I was keen to enter this year, and the theme of Hidden Worlds sounded great.

Almost immediately, I had an idea and started to sketch it out. And almost as quickly, I realised it wasn’t going to work. I’m a middle-aged white guy from the middle classes of the UK. I wanted to write a play about  a young black woman confronting her boss at work to try and make him see the world as she had experienced it, a world that was entirely hidden from him by the privilege he didn’t even understand he had. I’m sure I could’ve written a ten minute play along those lines. I’m sure some of the dialogue would’ve been quite compelling, and the point would have been made. I think the subject is important and is something that is finally drawing attention. But I’m not the person to write that story.

Is this wrong? Is this self-censorship? Well, I don’t think so. Years and years ago, I read “The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole“, like thousands of other people in the UK. It was funny and touching and terrifyingly true, but I remember being just a little perturbed by the fact it had been written by an adult woman. “Who is she,” I thought to myself, “to tell us how a thirteen year old boy thinks?” The fact that she was so right just made it worse. So here I am, among the most privileged demographic of all, and I’m piqued by someone writing a character who’s like me, when SHE’S NOT. How much worse must it be to have someone who doesn’t look like you, who has no real concept of the life you’ve lived, the life your family has lived for the last…what? Couple of centuries? More? What if they write a story about you and your life?

As a child I got to see myself on the movie screen over and over again. Luke Skywalker, The Goonies, Ferris Bueller, Bugsy Malone, Doc Savage, Tarzan, Indiana Jones… They were all people I could imagine being, because they looked, more or less, like I did. Representation matters. I can only imagine how it feels for kids in Oakland to see Black Panther. How it feels to see a vision of an African country that wears its culture with pride and stands tall. To see young black women who are masters of technology, who hold positions of responsibility and power. To see them leading. And if representation matters, it matters even more that the stories we tell are as true as we can make them. I would be telling them second or third-hand, and that’s not good enough.

I will keep writing plays and stories, and some of them will be from the viewpoint of characters who are not me. That’s inevitable. But I will also consider how the stories I write will sound to those who have been negatively affected by my privilege. They have voices, and they can tell their stories with more truth that I ever could. Getting out of the way to let them speak is the best thing I can do.