Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Stonehenge and My Biggest Problem With It.

Stonehenge is generally accepted as a  calendar created by the Druids to mark the Winter and Summer Solstices.

So far...this is the only agreed upon reason for its existence.  I am bothered by this.  Quite unnaturally, I may add.  The thinking here is, based on the fact that the Earth makes its circumnavigation of the sun at precise intervals  (give or take a day) It is not that far a stretch to think that one could simply count the days and know that the event is on it's way.  I see this as the sole reason that calendars on the whole ought to have existed LONG before we give people credit for inventing them. 

When one accepts the theory that if the same thing happens at the same time year after year, folks would begin to sense a pattern and create some method of notification to direct this.  Let's say that every 2nd Friday, some big German comes to my door and punches me in the nose.  I can tell you that after three or four of these unexpected occurrences, I would be ready on the fourth or fifth with a surprise.  It all comes down to patterns.  As early man began to understand seasons and time with his forays into agriculture, these lessons would be learned.  This is key here.  When your life depends on something, you take ZERO chances. 

So where does the need of marking the solstices come in?  My one stretch here is that I am assuming that they could count.  That sounds like basic understanding to you and me, but the zero hadn't even been invented then.  Let alone the alphabet.  It takes a fantastic imaginationary leap to assume that early man could count.  But that's where I'm going here.  I think they could. 

The second part of my problem is, based on the understanding they could count...why go to the expense of building Stonehenge to prove the counting?  Was it just to check their math?  To prove that "Hey!  I was right....again!  That's 45 years in a row?"  That would get old fast.

I take these two assumptions (A) Early man could notice the changes in seasons followed a pretty static pattern,  and (B) That early man had some rudimentary form of counting that allowed him to see when the right time was to plant his barley and wonder why build it?  I could see reasons.  Build out of stone because wood rots and big because small scale just doesn't have the permanence.  That gives me the reason why it was made like it was, but doesn't address the necessity for proving the same thing year in and year out.

I have a theory regarding this.  My thinking is that the seasons were not predictable then.  Perhaps there were celestial mechanical changes that were occurring over time that altered the pattern of these events?    What if there was some sort of cataclysm that altered the axis of the Earth over time and made it a necessity to have a Never Wrong way of seeing when the time was right?  There is a theory out there that Plate Tectonics has it wrong.  The Earth isn't moving, it is growing.  If the circumference of the planet was in a constant state of flux, your patch of farmland would get the seasons at differing times.   if the axis of the planet flipped because of some celestial event, you would need to be able to predict the solstices and more importantly KNOW when they changed.  That theory is stretched thin when you factor that the sun still lines up right on the money now.  That there has been zero degree of change since it was build says that either (A) the theory of a growing planet is wrong or that (B) the planet has stopped growing.

That leads me to think that something caused the planet to grow....something caused the planet to change.  Something that lasted for a time long enough to warrant racial memory to force mankind the world over to watch the skies carefully for any further alterations.  Throughout civilizations...the Celts of Brittan, The Mayans...the Toltecs, the Chinese, the Assyrians...they have watched the skies.

I just sit here and ask "Why?"

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The FUN of being a Writer

It's a pretty easy sell, being a writer.  You get to make stuff up for fun (and for a living)  You get tasked with an overactive imagination and a keen insight into the workings of the human mind.  You can create conversations out of the ether and breathe life into people that never existed.  Got an ancient civilization you want to create?  BAM.  Done.  Like Dragons?  BAM.  Done.  Vampires?  Ghosts?  Gods?  BAM.  Done, done and done.

This creativity comes at a cost.  Like erosion, the cost itself is so small it escapes casual notice.  You have to write.  That's it.  That is the cost.  It looks like it's not too much to ask, but what often gets left off is the (All the time) part.  Writers have no OFF switch.  We are always on.  We are always creating.  Always writing.  Always revising what we wrote.  Always asking others to read what we wrote to validate our time.  It never ends.  It is like being an athlete.  They train days, weeks, months, years for one minute to display their prowess.  They get that one minute and when it's done...they begin training for the next one.  It doesn't end for them until their bodies lie wrecked and broken, and even then, it's impossible for them to fully accept when it's over.  From the edge of their death beds, give an athlete one final request, and it won't be "Spend more time with my family."  If they are truly honest with themselves, it will be "Give me one more play, coach."

The writer has no body to break.  His muscle is his mind.  And OH what a fragile yet powerful muscle it is.  With his mind, a writer can become God, creating a world from a grain of sand.  With his mind, a writer crafts humanity in its darkest hours and most shining moments.  He is unshackled and uninhibited save only for the limits he puts on himself. 

Writers have the ability to peer into the dark cracks and recesses where normal people fear to look. Writers insist.  It is this curiosity that dooms them.  Nietzsche was speaking from experience.  Every second you spend staring at the beast, the beast is also staring at you.  Spend too much time wallowing with druggies, pimps and criminals, and your mind becomes warped.  Twisted.  But that is the coin our quest for realism demands. If you do indeed write what you know, you damn well better know all of it.  No one wants to see a half hearted pimp.  The world has no time for a timid killer.  If you want to waste your time, try writing about something you haven't any interest in.  The reader will be able to spot that from a mile away.

What does this coin cost the writer in real terms?  What is the effect of this mental erosion?  Well, first thing, the analogy of erosion is incomplete.  It is actually reverse erosion.  A writer's mind isn't worn down by a gradual trickle through is built up.  Like the Mississippi Delta.  The constant flow of ideas and concepts and dialogue that travel through a writer's mind all leave tracks and deposits.  Writers remember almost every word they ever write.  They may not recall the "And's" and the "The's: but they understand the core that was in their minds that their sometimes limited arsenal of words allowed them to craft.  I still recall the story I showed Clarice Douglas and Carolyn Sellars as a Freshman at Sunset High School that was a 7 or 8 page rip off of the Maltese Falcon.  I spent hours on this tale and provided it to them to read at lunch.  The girls to my eternal gratitude read it cover to cover and pronounced it great.  It was my first review, and though the story itself was horrible in remembrance, I would wager the girls recall it much differently than I do.  But it stayed with me.  The lessons I learned writing it all applied to the next story I wrote.  The lessons from that one, so on and so forth to today...where I am applying the hundreds (maybe thousands) of lessons each writing has imparted upon me to craft this.  But do I consider myself done?
If I were a would be easy to tell.  A steak?  A little more tricky depending on your personal taste.  Medium?  Rare? Well?  But a writer is done in infinite degree.  There is no final measure of doneness for us.  Even were we allowed immortality, the reverse erosion of all those lessons would always find a shore to settle upon.  This journey is truly never ending.  That...RIGHT what makes being a writer fun.  (That and catching your own typos.)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Booze Blood Broads and Bullets

Essentially what you have there is your barbershop quartet of what makes comic books fun and engaging.  You look across the spectrum of top sellers and they all have some aspect of this in their DNA.

I'm not about to attempt to deconstruct this.  Nor is it my desire to deny it.  I embrace it, in fact.  I think that the use of comics as a glorified adrenaline boost is precisely what the form is meant for.  Let's be honest with each other here.  You never read the Classics Illustrated version of Oliver Twist, did you?  I didn't think so.  But faced with a copy of Classics Illustrated: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea , you had a different take.  And when given a copy of Kick Ass, you then knew precisely what I mean.

I think the greatest failing of comics (and one I find myself being guilty of more often than not is to expect too much from the medium and the patience of the folks participating in it.  Too often we creators see our readers as willing companions on this ride with us.  The truth is they are passengers on a bus, able to get on or off at any time and completely unaffected by all our protestations.  They notice when we're late but take for granted our hustle to be on time.  They are simply along for the ride as long as it suits them. 
And I am more than OK with this.

This presents us as creators with a huge task.  We have to be able to attract attention.  We then have to maintain attention.  Finally we must create the need for future attention.  "What happens next?" is the comic writer's biggest question.  If he answers this well, the reader will want to know.  If he fails...he loses another passenger.  We are expected to provide titillation.  This comes in many forms...specifically the four that make up the title of this story.

Booze, Blood, Broads and Bullets

Readers are way more sophisticated than writers give them credit for.  They appreciate a well told story and can spot a piece of garbage from a mile away.  The thing about it is, writers are of the mind that readers have no taste.  Sometimes, as with the success of neuro-rot such as Twilight, the writer is proven right.  Other times, as with S.King's masterpiece The Dark Tower, the writer is shown that taste is precisely what the reader has in spades.

But the number one thing that these works have in common is Booze Blood Broads and Bullets.  You add any one of these to your story, and you raise an eyebrow or two.  You put in two of them and you have given the reader reason to turn the page.  You get a majority of them worked into your tale and you have a bestseller on your hands.

Writers often fail at being clever.  We can out think ourselves quite easily.  We fall back on the tried and true.  We use symbolism.  We use plot devices.  We try to outsmart the reader.  The reader can see through this veil.  How often have you found yourself as a reader involved in a story with a clever ruse involved only to lose interest as the writer held on to his Magguffin as if it were solid Gold, refusing to let it go till the end lest he give too much away?  I have put down hundreds of stories that just flat-out refused to give up the gold. The writer had leg but refused to show it till the end of the show.  This works when everyone KNOWS what the leg looks like...but when you are dealing with an unknown quantity, that old maxim SHOW not TELL is often the best advice.

Why are readers attracted to these four horsemen?  That is a good question. 
They want to see Booze because it allows them to express a little freedom at someone else's expense.  They get the joy of inebriation without the hangover.  They don't suffer the effects of alcoholism unless the writer wishes to take them down that path.  Often times, they simply revel in another's misery, safe in their warm chair.  It's voyeurism, pure and simple. 
The same goes for Blood.  Though many of us get furious stuck in traffic as rubberneckers slog along at the scene of a horrific accident?  How many of us actually refuse to look at the carnage when we get even with it?  It is in our nature to see the pain of another because in that, we feel more alive.  Someone else's blood cannot be our own.  Often the reader is allowed the freedom by the writer to peek behind the curtain of a murder and see teh world as he does.  Even if only for a moment, this peek provides enough charge to keep him coming back for more.  Just look at how many people are murdered on Prime Time TV today?  American Television kills more people than cigarettes....if only fictiously.  It is the promise of that peek that keeps us coming back.
Broads are self explanatory.  Our peepshow tendencies kick in anytime we get offered an opportunity to look at what we ought not.  When we see someone begin to remove clothing, a switch flips in our brains.  We become facinated.   The more skin we show (As witnessed with Power Girl's costume or Supergirl's panties or the inescapable phenomenon of Catholic School Girl uniforms) the more people become engaged.  It falls on our basic inclination to look at beautiful things.  Liek food or models.  They all stimulate the same brain parts.  And they are equally addictive.
Bullets fall in mainly because of the need for Alliteration.  (Another case of the writer being too clever for his own good) but they hit on the points of the first three.  Violence is just as voyueristic any of the others.  Seeing someone allowed, if only just momentarily, to release their demon upon an unsuspecting world allows us the opportunity to release our own.  If only for a moment.  How many of you have watched Dexter?  How many of you same people have thought about how YOU could do that if given the chance?  I think it's a safe bet the numbers are very close.

What does this mean?  I've reached the point in this tale where the reader expects a wrap up.  The facts have been presented, the story told.  It is the job of a good writer to put a bow on it and walk away.  So here it is.  If you want to be a writer.  No.  If you want to be a successful writer, you need to incorporate these into your style.  Write horror, romance or action, but fail to have these in there and you will fail commercially,.  The people demand it.  You must deliver.  Write the Grapes of Wrath on your own nickle.  There is a small percentage of the world that will appreciate that.  But if you insist on making a living at this craft, you damn well better be able to write a gun-toting, whisky swilling, lingerie-wearing supermodel.  Because if you do THAT, there are 50,000 people out there who will buy it.  But you damn well better keep it simple and get to the point fast because there are 100,000 writers just like you out there who are doing it better, who are showing more skin, and who are digging deeper into the cobwebby recesses of the human frailities that the people demand.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Blood Moon Rising

So tonight there is to be a lunar eclipse. 
The moon will turn black then red then black again.
The Blood Moon, they call it.
The last time I saw this happen was January 2000.
I had a house then.  I had a great job.  I had a Jeep and a girlfriend.
Then the Blood Moon came and I lost it all. 
Slowly.  The moon didn't take it all from me at once.
It was patient.
First I lost the job.
Then the girlfriend.
Then the Jeep.
Then the house.
The moon was hungry.  It wanted blood.
I sat on my deck in a booze soaked haze and watched the sky bleed, it would be safe to say things have been bad for me since.
There is some truth to that old saying.
Beware when you look at the abyss, for the abyss also looks at you.
It has been a life altering decade for me since the last moon.
I held 5 jobs.
I had a dozen girlfriends.
I have another Jeep.
I lost the three best friends I ever had in life.
I buried my parents.
Like I said.  The moon wanted blood.
Well, the moon has fed.  Not just on me but on humanity.
For over a decade, the moon has drunk its fill.
People have suffered.  Banks have failed.  Fortunes have been squandered. 
Friends have left my life never to return.
Tonight we will all see the Blood Moon again. 
I'm certain that for someone else, it will harbor their doom.
For me, I have a different idea.
I have a plan this time, you see.
I will stare at tonight's Blood Moon.
I will stare at it until it blinks.
And blink it shall.
When I have done this I will tell the Blood Moon "You have taken all you will from me."
"You will take no more."
My friends will suffer no more.
My fortunes will be restored.
My Family will enjoy health and prosperity.
The moon will want blood again.  Like I said, it is thirsty.
But this time the moon knows I have given my share and then some.
This time, the moon can take no more from me.
This time, the Blood Moon owes me.

In an ironic addendum, as I lie on my back and stare at the Blood Moon, I swear I hear it offer me a deal. 
I can turn back time.  Take you back to that night.
All that I have done to you will be wiped clean.
You will have your success.
You will still have your friends.
Your family will still be alive.
It doesn't tell me what this deal will cost me, but I don't need to know.
The hell that has been this past decade has forged me into something.
I am unsure just what precisely that something IS, but I know this.
I would lose more than I would gain were I to allow this to be stripped from me.
So I tell the Blood Moon "No thank you."
I will take my pain.
I will take my loss.
I will not be happy with these, but I know that having them makes me stronger than not having them.
In that, I think....lies all the difference.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


Admit it.  Your initial reaction is to think of the cannibal.  You would be wrong though.
It started a long time ago.  I listened to the story of Rome told on a PBS special while I was a small child.  This documentary dealt with the parallels that some point out between our nation and the fortunes of the Roman Republic/Empire.  I was bored with this program.  As I was getting up to turn the knob (This was a LONG Time ago) I was stopped dead in my tracks by a painting of a war elephant. The narrator went on to discuss how the brazen African general Hannibal marched his elephants over snow covered mountains and into the heart of Italy to massacre the Roman Legions.  The story was burned into my mind then and stayed with me.  Through my life as I went on to do other things it was always back there.  In the back of my mind.  One simple phrase. at the gates.   The success of Frank Miller's 300 inspired me to tell this story.  At the risk of being called a copier, I can point to no other person as the guiding force behind my decision to write this story.  I say write this story because as I scoured all the books I could find on  this man and the absolute miracles he accomplished, the voices telling it came from a wide audience.  Garland,  Cottrell, Bickerman, Bradford, Plutarch and Livy all had their own takes on the man and the action he took.  There was a lot told about his character.  There was a lot said about the battles.  But no one knew the man.  All his journals vanished.  Livy was the sole source for any insight into the man himself, as he was closer to the event than anyone else.  But I always felt an affinity for Hannibal that I couldn't explain.  I felt the heat of the Zama plain.  I saw the blood soaked field at Cannae.  I could commiserate with the man more than I could with any other historical figure.  Sent into action by a vow made to his father and eventually forced to fight a losing battle for the very senate that abandoned him.  He was a mixed bag of honor and brilliance and I want to tell his story.  But since a lot of the tale is subjective save the dates and the body count, I decided I would have to apply artistic license where applicable.
The following 13 pages represent my first draft with this story done over 2 years ago.  I had intended this to be a 4 issue miniseries, but have since revised that to make it longer.  There is simply more I want to tell regarding this man.  I did mention Livy as a source and I do use the words he attributes as the basis for my story.  Not sure how the copyright laws affect dead Romans though...