Wednesday, December 31, 2014

It's New Year's Eve in 'Murica...

As 2014 drops to the ground, a lifeless, smoking hulk of pain and misery, let's pause for just a second to kick its corpse before moving on to a presumably brighter and more lustrous 2015. Well, you don't have to kick it if you don't want to, but I'm going to throw a few, for all of my friends who are no longer with us, and for their loved ones who are no longer with us, and even for the quantity of celebrity deaths that affected us all. Tough year, man. Tough year.

It wasn't all bad. I co-edited and
contributed two introductions to
this four-book collection of REH's
boxing stories.
I'm here to personally report that I failed miserably in my stated goal of writing 500,000 words this year. I managed to get a lot of writing done, though not nearly as much as I would have liked. And I got MOST of my back list out. Most of it. There's two books yet to come: Bowen's Bluff, the second book of Sam Bowen stories that originally ran on Clockwork Storybook, and The Chance of a Lifetime, the third and final Con-Dorks novel that has never been collected in book form before. These are coming, and sooner, rather than later.

But how much DID I manage to write this year?  I was on pace and looking good, until May. May was when my business came crashing into my writing and more or less took over the year. You may know that my wife and I live over a movie theater that we own and operate. For the past two years (and longer) we've needed to convert from showing 35mm film to digital cinema. This is not an easy nor a cheap project. It took a year of research and planning to put together, and then it took five months to get the financing in place (that would be the end of May). After that, it was all project, all the time.

What should have taken six weeks ended up taking five months to fully implement. Everything from construction hassles, electrical work, you name it. It was all going on at the same time--or it wasn't going on at all--and it drove me fairly crazy.

I liked how this came out. Really,
I think this series is going to
be a stand out, when I finish it.
The work was completed in October, and since then, it's been chaos keeping a weekly schedule and keeping up with everything else. I'm STILL not out of that learning curve yet. But it all conspired to keep me busy and benumbed and my writing output slowed to a trickle. Final tally for the year: 279,368 words. That's not taking the five books that I published, either. Those were already written.

I can do better. I know it. So, starting January 1st, we're going to reset the spreadsheet and start this goal all over again. I can do half a million words in 2015. I'll keep you posted.

And Speaking of Posted...

Starting in 2015, I'm going to be posting WEEKLY on this very blog. Weekly. Yep, you heard me. They may be short pieces of commentary, or longer, essay-style things. Not sure. Depends on the week. But I will be making a conscious effort to engage a little more freely about what's going on, as well as talking about books I'm reading, life, other words, you know, a blog.

If there's something you'd like me to talk about, or if you have questions, you know the drill: email my happy ass, and we'll see what can be done to accommodate you.

I've also been commenting more on Twitter. Mostly just snarky asides. I mean, what else is Twitter for? You can follow me if you want to: @FinnsWake is my handle.

That's it. Oh, one final thing about Sony and The Interview. There is no conspiracy. It's a combination of stupidity and coincidence that makes it seem as though there are connections. There aren't. I'm looking at this from the back end and trust me, none of the players involved are smart enough to have orchestrated such a brilliant scheme that mimics failure so well.

Have a safe New Year's celebration. I'll see you on the other side. Here's to a much, much better 2015.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Comic Book World Building for Dummies (and Studio Executives)

The Flash on the CW. So good. So Very Good.

I have an axiom that I use whenever people want to discuss rumors about upcoming super hero movies, and stuff that “they” have said “they” are working on: Until I see a picture of the alleged actor, in costume, on the set, with a cup of Starbucks coffee in his hands, talking to the Director about the next shot they are lining up, my official policy is, It’s Not Happening.

That axiom has saved me a ton of grief over the years. I’ve used the hours I didn’t spend freaking out about things that ultimately did not come to pass to write books, cherish loved ones, and learning to ballroom dance. It’s added much to my quality of life, and I suggest you all implement it immediately.

I bring this up because right now, there’s a lot of talk going on about Warner Brothers’ plans with the DC Universe. You’ve seen the announcement by now, I imagine, but just in case you haven’t, here’s Entertainment Weekly’s coverage of the press release. Forgive me if I don’t get excited, just yet. This sounds like a fanboy’s wish list, and looks like it closely mimics the Marvel Universe movie line up, like their recently-announced Phase Three Plans.

When you compare the two lists, a couple of problems bubble immediately to the surface. Number one, Marvel is into Phase Three of what is clearly a complicated, overlapping, interlocking network of movies—and in fact, every single one of the movies in Phase 1 and Phase 2 has been made or is about to wrap up. DC, on the other hand, has made, remade, and in some cases, re-remade Batman and Superman origin stories until we are sick to death of them. Their one foray into the wider DC Universe was Green Lantern, and it was a hot emerald mess from top to bottom.

And if you remember the not-too-recent history, Warner Brothers has a habit of starting and then scrapping plans when it comes to their super hero franchises. The Doomed-From-the-Start Nick Cage/Tim Burton/Kevin Smith Superman movie is proof of that. How far down the line did they get? And it never got made, right? So, what does this announcement about two Justice League movies mean to me? Bupkiss, is what.

When we do get a Batman and Superman movie—again, because I’ve totally forgotten their iconic-to-the-point-of-being-imprinted-on-our-collective-DNA origin stories, they are either happy accidents (Nolan’s Batman trilogy) or controversial wedges that divide the Geek Nation (Zach Snyder’s Superman). Warner hasn’t hit one out of the park since Nolan’s second Batman movie, The Dark Knight (2008), and even then, there was a small sub-segment complaining that the movie was too dark. But it was that success that took us directly to neck-snapping Superman, because Warner Brothers executives don’t understand their intellectual properties and haven’t in decades.  For the reasons why this is so, I’ll point you to this excellent article on how the accountants are running Hollywood these days, as well as why this is so.

In short, I have no faith, nor any confidence that Warner Brothers Studios will be able to fulfill or deliver on any of the promises made in their grand announcement. It would be great if they could, but if you’ll look closely at me, you’ll notice I’m not holding my breath. I feel like Charlie Brown, trying to kick the football, only instead of trusting Lucy one last time, I’m walking off. I’ve got better things to do.

I told you all of that to tell you this: I am in love with what Warner Television is doing right now.

Arrow. It's gotten much better.
I wasn’t, for a long, long time. Arrow did not grab me, initially, and that’s mostly because I suffered through an excruciatingly long marathon of Smallville—nine seasons, in fact—to get to the “good stuff,” only to find that I really didn’t like where Smallville ended up. I hated the soap opera elements of the show, and I really hated the casual name drops that showed someone in the writer’s room googled “Superboy” but that didn’t always connect with an actual in-show concept. It was too intense, too apologetic about the source material, and way too back lit for my tastes. But for a decade, it was the only live-action super hero show in town.

Yes, I know, there was Birds of Prey. I stand by my original statement.

The first season of Arrow looks and feels exactly like 2001 Smallville, only 30% more Grim and Dark. The Geekster Eggs are dropping like drone strikes, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. “See? We named his SISTER Speedy! Eh? That’s what you guys like, right? Lots of in-jokes?” Then there’s the back story... However, despite all of that, Arrow covered a lot of ground for a show that had nothing more powerful in it than guns, arrows, and martial arts.

The second season felt like a response to the Internet, and so here come the super powers. Nothing major, just yet. Super soldier stuff, mostly. I suspect this toning down of the Four-Color Hero stuff was a way to pitch it to executives that didn’t quite get what the show was about. “Green Arrow? Why is it green? You know, studies have shown that Orange is trending with the kids right now. Let’s call him Orange Arrow!” Hey, I get it; you had to get the show on the air. That’s why the soap opera elements are cranked up through the roof and there’s not a lot of trick arrows flying around. But it got better. And it continues to move closer to what we wanted to see in the first place: super heroes doing super hero shit.

But in the middle of the series, we get to watch the Flash’s origin play out, and then suddenly, the kid gloves are off, and they never come back on. It’s still Grim Dark, and major characters are dropping like flies, because that’s how you keep people’s (and hero’s) interest; by slaughtering everyone around them.  Somewhere in there, it was announced that they were spinning off a Flash TV show. Helmed by the same guy that did Arrow. Very cool, but...will it be Grim and Dark? I was initially worried, because in the new, retconned, and thoroughly unnecessary origin written by Geoff Johns, young Barry Allen witnesses his mother’s death at the hands of a super speedster dressed in yellow. Because we can’t have nice things, apparently. Everyone has to die, or there’s no reason to be a super hero.

Aside from that, the show has been a real breath of fresh air, throwing villains out into the show, nilly-willy, and with alacrity in its heart. Actual super powered villains. Captain Cold, for example. Granted, he’s not dressed in the blue and white parka, but you didn’t really expect him to be, now, did you? And instead of reworking his name, they kept Leonard Snart. No stupid fake Easter Eggs here that go nowhere and do nothing. When one of the characters says Ralph Dibny (and he does), he’s talking about the guy who will become The Elongated Man. Really? How cool is that?

And you can really appreciate the difference in tone from the two part, two show crossover (one of which was named The Brave and the Bold) and see these two characters working side-by-side. It’s striking at just how different the shows are. But the more important thing going on here isn’t the transformation that has taken place in just two and a half seasons of Arrow and a half season of The Flash. No, the thing you need to be checking out is the world building going on.

Those two shows are building the DCU right under Warner Brothers Studios’ noses.

So far, in the two series, Arrow and The Flash, we have been introduced to, among other minor and lesser and non-powered characters the following DC staples:

The Huntress
Count Vertigo
Black Canary
Amanda Waller
The Suicide Squad
Deathstroke, The Terminator
The League of Assassins
Ra’s Al Ghul
Brother Blood
Bronze Tiger
China White
Captain Boomerang
The Atom
S.T.A.R. Labs
The Flash
The Crisis on Infinite Earths event
Captain Cold
Reverse Flash
Weather Wizard
Simon Stagg (and Java)
Gorilla Grodd
Firestorm, the Nuclear Man

Grodd! Grodd! I swallowed my gum when I saw this.
This is not every single reference in both shows: I specifically omitted characters whose names were appropriated in a stupid way and never used (Arrow, seasons 1 and 2) and that list of characters we all heard, but haven’t seen yet (The Flash, season 1) I ended with Gorilla Grodd and Firestorm on purpose. Show of hands, here: who among you ever thought in your wildest dreams that we’d ever see Gorilla Grodd and Firestorm on live-action TV? If you actually raised your hands, then take a well-deserved victory lap, because the rest of us just snort-laughed and said, “Sh-yeah, that’ll be the day. We can’t even get a Wonder Woman movie.”

That list above encompasses some very large concepts and real estate in the DC Universe. First of all, I want to point out that the League of Assassins and Ra’s al Ghul are Batman Family concepts, and pretty big ones, at that. So Star(ling) City and Central City are in the same world as Gotham and Metropolis. That means, Bludhaven, Hub City, Coast City, and in fact, they’ve already mentioned Keystone City. Pick your favorites, place your bets, ladies and gents! The Question? Nightwing? Who’s up next in this collection of shows? Another spin-off? Sign me up, man.

Greg Berlanti, the creator of both Arrow and The Flash, is in a unique position at the moment. He’ll have two full seasons of Flash and four seasons of Arrow under his belt before the next turgid, overblown Zach Snyder movie trundles in and splits the comic con hall in twain again. Considering how fast (forgive me) The Flash is developing, how much extra world building do you think he can get done between now and then? Firestorm? Metamorpho? The Atom? 

Granted, it’s not Hawkman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern, but at this point, who would you rather have helming those projects? The movie studio that gave us that last Superman fiasco, or the guys who just pulled off a Two-Part Green Arrow/Flash Cross Over that introduced Prism (formerly known in the Silver Age as the Rainbow Raider, I swear to God) and Captain Boomerang? You heard me, Captain Boomerang, and he was a bad ass from start to finish. I’ll take door number two, every single time.

I should be the target audience for this. Instead, I'm
dreading it worse than a trip to my German Dentist.
So stop worrying about the DC movies. There’s nothing you can do to save them, except, you know, stop thinking they are going to be great. The odds are not in your favor, here. And they won’t be, either. Let them go. If you want to see them, fine. But if you don’t like them—and you probably won’t—the worst thing you can do is contribute to their bottom line. The only way to get what you want in today’s culture is to loudly explain why you’re not giving the company any money, and then, you know, don’t give them any money.

Better instead to loudly talk about what you DO want. For example, Grant Gustin is currently owning The Flash. Likewise Stephen Amell as Green Arrow. If you think they deserve to be in The Justice League Part 1 and Part 2, then boost that thought to the rafters. Dangle money in front of that idea. That’s what the studios will reply to. Kvetching about what’s maybe going to happen online is akin to building a moat around your house in case the Visigoths ever decide to attack you. It’s a big waste of time, and there’s no guarantees about anything anyway.

The really sad thing is, Warner Brothers Studios could use the television shows to its advantage. After all, Arrow and The Flash are doing all of the heavy lifting, right now. They could swoop in after two more seasons, scoop everyone up, and announce a JLA movie with all of the current cast members and get not only the movie-going crowd, but every single person watching any of the TV shows. And they would spend exponentially less money on marketing, salaries, and so forth. But they won’t do that. They are incapable of playing nice with others.  So we’re going to see this weird TV versus the Movies thing play out, and fans are going to try to convince themselves that it’s Earth 1 and Earth 2 and this was the plan all along, and yadda yadda yadda. And it’s not any of that. It’s willful ignorance and petty jealousy propping up tent pole movies and counting the bottom line and calling that movie-making. 

I’ll stick with Berlanti, thanks all the same.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Don't Tell ME What to Think About the New Star Wars Trailer...

J.J. Abrams dropped a 90 second bombshell on everyone today when he released a teaser trailer for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens in select theaters and also online, where the world suddenly ground to a screeching halt. Without even checking, I am confident that the Internet responded as it always does: DeviantArt users are even now painting Milennium Falcons with My Little Pony art stenciled on the side and slapping them on T-shirts; 4Chan users have drawn penises on the droid; Buzzfeed is currently compiling a list of 27 reasons why the Ewoks are still better than Wookies (and over one-third of the reasons will involve the word 'cute'); Reddit users have made gifs out of the images and leavened them into the other pop culture memes making the rounds this week, which means Dr. Who is flying the Falcon, now, as is Bill Cosby; and of course, the Geek-Universe-Blog Sites all have dutifully posted links to the trailer, along with some commentary.

They look like the cool aunt and uncle
now, don't they? I dig the beard.
I haven't read any of the other commentary, and I don't have to. I'm 45 years old. I was 7 when I saw Star Wars for the first time in the theater. I'm a card-carrying member of Generation X, you dig? I make the commentary about Star Wars movies. Not the twenty something who grew up watching Episode I. Not the thirty-something whose first Star Wars movie was Return of the Jedi. This franchise belongs to me as much as it belongs to George Lucas. I made him what he was. I propped him up, swallowed his Kool-Aid, and made him a billionaire. And I promise you this: me and my people have spent more time thinking about Star Wars than any of the blog sites currently operating, with the notable exception of The Nerdist and RevolutionSF, which are both run by fellow forty-something GenXers.

All of that was simply to tell you that I have a very different perspective on this. I've been a vocal and outspoken critic of the franchise over the years, especially with regards to the prequels. Despite all that, I took the news that Lucas sold his creation to Disney very hard. I knew it meant that we would get three more movies, because Disney doesn't leave any money on the table, ever. But I wondered and worried that what we got would be a watered down feel-good family friendly mess.

J.J. Abrams as director restored some of my confidence, as well as the recruitment of the old stars, now in the role of sending the youngsters out to do battle and have adventures. Smart. Very smart. And it's in keeping with what I thought the next trilogy should be.  And sure, we've gotten some teases along the way (no offense, but if you were worried that the Millennium Falcon wasn't going to make an appearance in the movie, you know nothing about Disney, merchandising, or modern movie promotion).

At first glance the teaser trailer appears to be just that; images, seemingly at random, with the only constant being a sense of movement. No pictures of the old-timers. Only these new guys. At the end, a familiar sight, but otherwise, what a bummer, right?

"Rogue Group? I've found them. Repeat. I've--oh, wait.
Wrong movie. Yeah, I need my line, please. Line?"
Not at all. What I found interesting was the number of shots in the trailer that seemed to evoke (and by that I mean, 'are lifted directly') from the original series. Whether it's the Speeder Bike chase sequence, or the Snowspeeder patrol looking for Luke and Han on Hoth, there's a real familiar feel to all of the shots. I suspect this is intentional and purposeful, to make us feel more comfortable.

Why do we need to feel comforted? Because for the first time since 1977, none of us have the faintest idea of how this will play out. This is something that didn't happen with the prequels. In fact, the problem with the prequels was that there was no way Lucas could make a Clone Wars saga that matched what the first generation Star Wars fans had cooked up in their imaginations over the course of 25 years. Unfair? Probably. But Lucas made exactly the movie he wanted to make, with zero apologies and quite a bit of derision. This pushed me and others like me away. And speaking of Lucas...

This droid literally encapsulates the fusion of the first
trilogy (Astromech head) and the second trilogy (rolling
droid bottom). Designed to appeal to everyone.
This is his creation (some would say "collection of other people's intellectual properties he cunningly appropriated") after all. And he shepherded six films through. This being the first Star Wars that won't have his name and fingerprints all over it, there's a real need to soothe some savage beasts right now. How better to do that than to show a collection of scenes that look like they are straight out of the George Lucas playbook?

It's a smart trailer, and make no mistake about it. Finished shots, the obligatory lightsaber gag, a flash of something familiar (but not necessarily integral to the story) and pictures of the newcomers. No hint of story, aside from some things we can guess. This is more than just a teaser. This is the teaser that brings two generations of Star Wars fans together for the first time since Episode I opened. We, together, will get to experience Episode VII with no pre-conceived notions, no expectations, and no baggage. Just pure fun and excitement.  This is as it should be.

Hi. My name is Mark. And I'm a Star Wars Fan.

Friday, October 31, 2014

My Top 5 Horrors From the Deep Movies

Ever since we first took our steps out of the water, we immediately looked back over our shoulder and wondered what that splashing sound was. I was a member of the Jaws generation, one of the more influential horror films in modern cinema. Not just in terms of resetting and expanding what actually scares us by making use of the water as the metaphor for The Great Unknown, but also in managing to keep me out of swimming in a lake until I was a teenager. Even then, I stayed in motion constantly, kicking my feet as if my life depended on it—which it undoubtedly did.

What about the water is so terrifying to us? Is it the idea that it can instantly kill us? The fact that it slows us down and provides a hazard for us that the predators can cheerfully ignore? Personally, I think there’s something primal, if not primeval, about what lives in the crushing depths. We know we don’t belong in the water any more, and they do. It’s their domain, and we’re just trying to survive—badly.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

My Top 5 Favorite Killer Doll Movies

One of the reasons why the clown scene in Poltergeist scares the hell out of us is that we’ve all had that experience at least once in our lives, usually with a favored toy or an artfully-thrown jacket and baseball cap, or something similar. In this case, the clown doll does double duty for being both (A) a doll, and (B) a clown that is disturbing even in the light of day. Our fascination with totems and effigies that move when we’re not looking, whether it’s Pixar’s Toy Story movies or the venerable and not-very-good Dollman franchise from Full Moon Entertainment, is actually a place holder for a lot of things: the Pinocchio story, the Frankenstein/Prometheus tale (gone wrong, of course), the betrayal from something innocent from our childhood, or just a plain ol’ stand-in for a loss of control from things beyond our ken. Pick one, or pick several. It doesn’t matter. It all adds up to one thing: sheer terror.

This is one of the few things that really scares me. There’s nothing worse than a creepy-looking doll suddenly turn its head to look Right. At. You. Just thinking about some of the movies on this list gives me the heebie-jeebies. As a life-long collector of action figures, there’s a niggling thought at the back of my head that they talk about me all judgey and stuff when I’m not in the room. Not that I don’t think I could defend myself from a pack of 3 ¾” action figures, but still...

Monday, October 27, 2014

My Top 5 Favorite Horror Anthology Movies

I’ve always loved reading horror anthologies, and for one simple reason: more bang for your buck. There’s something wonderful about a short story, well-written, that scares the beejeezus out of you. It’s a particularly good literary magic trick to pull off. Sure, you’re going to run into the occasional story that doesn’t do it for you for one reason or another, but that’s okay; there’s another story right after it, and chances are, it’ll be better.

Horror anthology movies are fairly uncommon, and I guess it’s because of the expense. I mean, you’ve got to set up three different production crews, and much like a literary excursion, not all of the segments are going to inspire thrills and chills. Usually. There are some exceptions, and many of them have made the list below. In thinking about this category, I ranked each segment by how scary/creepy/effective it was, and then averaged the scores together to get a single ranking.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

My Top 5 Favorite TV Horror Shows

For horror and sci-fi fans growing up in the 1980s, TV was the best place for a quick fix if you were looking for something ghoulish and ghastly to watch. In addition to Twilight Zone reruns (always on somewhere) and later, The Outer Limits, there were several syndicated shows that promised at least an entertaining story, if not a scary one. Now in the age of dvds and streaming content, you can get what you want when you want...well, mostly. There are a number of shows, smaller, more obscure, that have yet to find their way to a blu-ray near you.

It’s hard to talk about horror anthologies on television without mentioning The Twilight Zone (1959-1964). As a fledgling effort, The Twilight Zone is lionized, and perhaps a little too slavishly, for its innovative approach and subject matter. Keep in mind, however, that for every instance of, say, Richard Matheson writing “Nightmare at 10,000 Feet” there was an episode that was a gentle or whimsical fantasy with no horror or terror or freakout by William Shatner in it. A lot of the stories were informed by the politics of the Cold War, and some were outright science fiction think pieces. None of this is a criticism, mind you. It’s just to say that while the show was overall a hit, not every episode of The Twilight Zone was a home run.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

My Top 5 Favorite Dracula Movies

There’s a big difference between Dracula movies and vampire movies. Dracula is always a vampire, but not every vampire is Dracula. That’s a bit of an understatement. Ever since Nosferatu was made in the silent era, people have been perennially fascinated with bringing Bram Stoker’s historic and histrionic novel to cinematic life, with wildly varying results.

The story is now a part of the larger pop culture zeitgeist. Jonathan Harker, Mina, his fiancĂ©e, Quincy the Texan, and Van Helsing are the original monster hunters and their exploits are not unfamiliar to us, thanks to movies, TV, comics, radio, stage plays, and of course, the novel itself. Written in the form of epistolary correspondence from person to person, the novel is accused of being overly romantic, and is most famously analyzed as Stoker’s reaction to the influx of immigrants to Great Britain at the time and a cautionary tale of the dangers of these dark, mysterious, swarthy men ravaging the fair maidens of England.

Monday, October 20, 2014

My Top 5 Favorite Lovecraftian Movies

When I was a teenager, I read my fill of H.P. Lovecraft, the man responsible for the Cthulhu Mythos and the current dust-up about the World Fantasy Award statue. Widely considered unfilmable for literally decades, we’ve only recently begun to see his weird and uniquely bleak visions translated into cinematic fever dreams.

To be completely fair, Lovecraftian cinema has been in effect since the 1960’s; it’s just not been done very well. Compromises were made in nearly every movie bearing Lovecraft’s name, some of them so egregious that it makes one wonder why they even bothered in the first place.

I think the best movies that encapsulate Lovcraft’s themes, tropes, and ideas tend to be the original movies made with a Lovecraftian sensibility; this notion that the more you know about the things just outside our consciousness, the more insane it makes you. This is an effective horror motif, and done correctly, like many of the movies below, it’s some of the most effective scares in book or movie form.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

My Top 5 Favorite Haunted House movies

Is there anything more clichĂ©’? More hoary and hackneyed? More played out? The Haunted House “trope” has been beaten to death, thanks to Scooby Doo, ABC After School Specials, and a ton of pop cultural appropriations. Along with the ghosts who frequently accompany them, no other supernatural occurrence has been so abused and ridiculed as the Haunted House.

And yet, some of the best horror movies ever made are haunted house movies. Some of the most terrifying films of all are about something being left behind, or being “not quite right” about the cornerstone of our notions of safety and security. Houses—our homes—are our defense against the forces of darkness that stop at our threshold. When our own walls revolt and offer us no protection, what hope do we have? That’s where the best haunted house movies get us: right where we live.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

My Journey into Boyhood

I thought I'd covered this already in my various social media channels, but the question keeps coming up, and so I thought I'd drop a few lines here to answer some of the incredulous and excited queries flying my way.

Yes, that's me in Boyhood. Eleven seconds of a major-indy-Hollywood-Third Coast-Richard Linklater movie, and I've even got a speaking part. I won't give it away if you haven't seen it, because you'll be profoundly disappointed if I tell you about it beforehand. Instead, I'll tell you a little of what I remember of that night, some eight years ago.

The year was 2005 and I was one of the floor managers at BookPeople, in Austin, Texas (the largest independent book store in Texas). The store is very well thought of, and at the time, we were positioned right in the heart of the Keep Austin Weird movement. We were known for throwing very large, very hard-to-beat Harry Potter parties. This was the sixth book coming out. The last party was huge, and so the pressure was on to top ourselves. Six months of planning. We were making ourselves cheerfully crazy.

With maybe two weeks to spare, the marketing people popped into one of the strategy meetings and told us that Richard Linklater was filming some sort of documentary film wherein he is following four kids around for twelve years, chronicling their growth. Well, those kids wanted to come to OUR Midnight Book Release party, and so, can they come film our shenanigans? Like any good retailer, we said "Yes" first, and then thought, "Lord, what have we signed ourselves up for?"

My job in the midst of all this chaos was Ringmaster, which was a very polite term for "crowd control." My job was to keep the masses happy; make sure they were up-to-date on the lastest information, introduce each new act on our "main stage," remind others about the booths and carnival refreshments to be had at our home-made "Diagon Alley," and whenever necessary, fill the dead time with banter and snappy patter. In other words, my usual gig.

A small picture to give you a hint of the size
of this particular endeavor. Yeah, that's the
maze there in the lower left hand corner.
Harry Potter's birthday dawned (when the books were released each year), and we were all amped up beyond belief. Imagine five thousand people in a parking lot, many of whom will have been there since 8 a.m. waiting for the Midnight release. We had carnival booths, fire dancers, a magician, and the Alamo Draft House's Rolling Road Show set up showing Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. There was even a maze made out of haybales. Sorting hats. Coloring stations. My God, it was an enormous undertaking. Most of the staff was in costume. The books were in the building, but we couldn't open the boxes. Oh, and did I mention this was in the middle of July? That might be lovely weather in Merry Olde England, but in Texas, during the Summer, it's profoundly miserable.

There's one other pertinent fact I left out: a week prior, I had dislocated the middle tendon in my right hand. It required minor surgery to repair, and while it was technically no big deal--a very simple operation--I had never been under before. Never had a broken bone, or anything like that. Oh, I had my tonsils out when I was four or five, but I really don't remember any of it. So it was a little nerve-wracking, and it left me with a throbbing hand, wrapped up just like a lobster claw, and a prescription for Vicodin for the pain.

Have you ever had Vicodin? Man, that's good stuff! I wake up in the morning, my hand is throbbing and aching. I eat breakfast, take a pill, and then suddenly, I don't care about my hand anymore. It's like the volume got turned down on the whole world. Lovely drug, simply lovely. However, it turned my brain into chunky pea soup. I knew I couldn't take the pill during the party, or I'd screw it up. I had to read cue cards, answer questions, think on my feet--no, it wouldn't do. So I took a vicodin at lunch and decided to go long.

Linklater at the BookPeople Harry Potter Party.
Now, it's hours later, and the party is in full swing, and it's crowded and hot and miserable. There's a steady stream of people going to the bathroom like carpenter ants. The kids and parents are gathered around the main stage, watching the goings-on, and the whole staff is jumping through hoops. I'm making my announcements, and I'm even getting some laughs with the bit. "Attention, everyone, would whoever parked their hippogriff in the parking garage please tend to your animal. It's broken loose, and guarding an SUV right now." I had another joke about a mix-up at the broom closet. You get the idea.

Suddenly, there's cameras. And people with clipboards. And Richard Linklater. And I'm being flagged down by one of the production assistants. Now, I'm acting as a liaison to the film crew--the P.A. to the P.A. I don't remember much of what I had to do for them because they were there when things were in full-swing, and by this time, the Vicodin had long worn off and my lobster claw was throbbing like a doghouse bass.

At one point, I was making announcements and remembered distinctly that a camera was being pointed at me, so I did my best to be clever and articulate. Of course, I assumed it a camera from one of the news trucks that was covering our party. The P.A. was back, now, and they had a question for me: would it be all right if the four kids got their books first? You know, at Midnight?

My first thought was to protect the integrity of the line that had been waiting for eighteen hours, but I knew better than to try it. There was a quick conference, and sure enough, they got the clearance. By this time, I'd seen Linklater a couple of times. He and his people were running around, guerrilla-style, shooting whatever they could. It looked like fun, save for the God-awful heat.

At last, Midnight came, and I counted the crowd down and we all cheered. The band resumed, and the movie kept playing, but make no mistake, the star of the evening was that big-ass hardcover book. Well, that and the four kids being filmed. They got a shot of the kids walking up and getting their book, and then, amazingly, Linklater asked, "Can we get another one?"

Patricia Arquette reads to the kids from Harry Potter in the
movie Boyhood. Not pictured: me, off-camera, rubbing her
feet, because that never happened, no matter how many
notes you send, and singing telegrams...
"Some documentary film," I thought to myself, but sure, what the heck. The people in line were amazingly understanding that they had to wait two whole extra minutes to get their books, but they did it. The line started moving, and within ten minutes, we'd gone through all of the event books, and the crowd magically bled off. It was surreal; there were kids on the ground, twelve-fifteen at night, reading the book by flashlight. The staff was completely spent. We were all numb and kinda shell-shocked. But of course, the whole thing was a complete success. There's a ton of pictures on Flickr if you want to go check them out.

I walked up to Linklater, who was wrapping things up, and asked him if he got what he needed. We chatted very briefly, and I wished him luck with the rest of the shoot. Then I went inside and popped a Vicodin and drank a liter of water.

And that was it. I didn't give it another thought until late last year, when I got a call from someone in Richard Linklater's office, telling me that the 12 year project was finished and I'd made the cut of the movie.

I did what, now?

My mind raced back to the party, and I gave them my information, as well as how I'd like to be listed in the credits, and they sent me a check, and a S.A.G. membership application, and the next thing you know, I'm in the movie. It was really that easy. And it wasn't a documentary, after all. Whoops!

If you live in Austin, it's not THAT hard to end up in a movie. I'm surprised more of my friends aren't in them. At BookPeople, we were regularly inundated with actors and rock stars coming in to buy books. No, seriously. I helped Ted Dansen pick out mysteries for his plane ride, gave Kevin Spacey directions to the bathroom, told Carla Gugino that there were no American editions of Elmore Leonard's book Out of Sight, and had several conversations with Luke Perry. Sandra Bullock. Matthew McConaughey. That shouldn't surprise anyone, really. Austin has always been a town for Starfu--well, let's just say, if you want to cozy up to someone famous, you can do it.

They don't even have to be famous; just notorious. I spent my first Thanksgiving in Austin with a friend of mine who's father happens to be local character actor David Blackwell. All through dinner and afterward, he called me "young lad." Fun stuff. One of my co-workers actually ended up in the movie Grindhouse. She even had a speaking part. It was crazy. It's all "right place, right time" kind of stuff; it's just that, in Austin, there's a lot more right places and a lot more right times than most other cities.

I did get to attend the premiere in Austin earlier this year and I really liked the movie. I like the vast majority of Linklater's films anyway, and so this was no exception. I also met my co-star Ethan Hawke years ago at a BookPeople signing. See? Easy peasy. Starfu--I mean, ripe with opportunities.

Boyhood is still playing in art houses across the country. It's a good movie, very interesting to watch, and if you're diligent, you can spot me (oh, who am I kidding? You can't MISS me) in the movie. Please, no autographs. For all other requests, see my agent.

Friday, August 29, 2014

A Beginner's Guide for Reading Mark Finn *UPDATED*

The Author, trying to out-spooky Alan Moore.
You may have noticed this year that I've had a few books re-issued, published, and reprinted. So far, there's five new books out there and three more on the way. You may be thinking to yourself, "But Mark, you've written so many books, I can't keep up! I might as well just go outside and play with my dog."

Don't pick up that leash yet, Hot Stuff. Sure, modern living forces you into doing these you don't want to do, like Jury Duty, and math. I get it. So, for those of you who want to support your old buddy/school chum/lover/personal trainer Mark Finn, but you don't have time to read brief descriptions to gauge your interest levels, here's a quick and easy guide to help you select the book that's right for you. Just click on the links below and you will be whisked to where you can make a fast, painless transaction. And if you still can't decide, you can always buy two books. I promise, I won't tell.

"I don't like all that weird sci-fi and fantasy stuff you like. Except for True Blood. And Game of Thrones. Oh! And Twilight. And of course, the Harry Potter books. And American Horror Story. But other than that, I'm not really into that crazy stuff."

Newsflash: Yes, you are. And you'll love Year of the Hare. Sam Bowen is one of my most popular characters and he's a normal guy who learned magic to try and reverse a family curse that's been placed upon him. This is the first of two books that will collect all of his stories together from the Clockwork Storybook shared world of San Cibola. Click here for a preview!

"I like fantasy and sci-fi, but I'm not real familiar with it. It's all very big and new to me. Also, I like romance and love stories."

If this is you, then you want to pick up Empty Hearts, my collection of short stories that all deal with love, loss, and desire in a modern-day city where magic is an everyday occurrence. These stories take place in San Cibola, as well, and are a kinder, gentler introduction to that world. Well, mostly... Expect some ghosts and some monsters mixed in with the romance and intrigue. Click here for a sample!

"I love modern fantasy, and I also think Quentin Tarantino is a hoot! This means I have a short attention span. And if you've got something with Elvis in it, well, that would be one Hell of a Hat Trick for me!"

Say no more, Bwana! Road Trip is just what you need. Brash, violent, over the top, and best of all, it's chock-full of profanity and adult situations, just like an R-rated movie! Elvis and Cupid are on a Road Trip to South Padre Island to find Cupid's mother, Venus, who is hiding out amongst the mortals. Really, that's all you need to know. Anything else will spoil the story. Perhaps best of all: It's short! Click here for a sample!

"I'm really into this geek culture. I love it. I have strong opinions about all sorts of things that are, in fact, completely outside of my control, like every casting decision made in Hollywood. Got anything for me, Smarty Pants?"

You betcha! The Transformation of Lawrence Croft is tailor-made for you. Follow four super geeks as they make their way to MagicCon, a three-day comic and sci-fi convention in San Cibola. What could possibly go wrong, right? Plenty, is what. It's a romp through geek culture at the intersection of magic and make-believe. And it's also the first part of a trilogy of stories starring the four Con-Dorks.And if you like the first one, the second book, The Chance of a Lifetime, is also available. Click here for an excerpt!

"Well, I don't know about any of that. But I am curious about this mysterious story you just sold to Vertigo. What's that all about? Can we get a hint?"

I can't really give you a hint, since the book hasn't been announced or solicited yet. However, if you want to read something that's 100% in the wheelhouse of what I wrote, let me show you The Adventures of Sailor Tom Sharkey. This is a collection of historical weird humorous boxing stories written about real-life Golden Age boxer Tom Sharkey. These stories are very much in the tradition of Robert E. Howard's Sailor Steve Costigan stories, so if you like those, you'll probably like these, as well. Click here for a sneak peek!

"Robert E. Howard? Now you're talking. Aren't you supposed to be some kind of Robert E. Howard expert or something like that?"

Yeah, something like that. Here's the biography of Robert E. Howard that I wrote. It's called Blood & Thunder: the Life and Art of Robert E. Howard. If you like biographies of literary people mixed with Texas history, then you'll enjoy this book. It's probably what I'm best known for, and a number of people have read it who were not fans of Howard or his writings who said they enjoyed it a great deal. It moves fast, and has a lot of information packed into it. The book was nominated for several awards when it came out. This is the updated and expanded second edition. Click here for a sample!

"Yeah, so, none of that's really working for me. Anything else you want to show me, Mister Writer Guy? Or can I go play with my dog, now?"

Boy, you're a tough nut to crack. Why don't you just head on over to my Amazon Author Page and browse the other things I've got listed there? I've got stories and essays and introductions in several books, and there's even a couple of comics for you to purchase if you want to go that route. For example, in The Apes of Wrath, I wrote an essay about the guys who play gorillas in the movies. It's a fun romp through that specialized world. And the rest of the book is really good, too! Fun Fact: Many of my books are also available as ebooks.

Granted, this isn't everything. I've got some projects in development, some stories which are scheduled to appear in books coming out later, and some novels in various stages of completion. If you'd like to keep up with me and you're not bored with Facebook, I've got an Author's Page you can follow. Optionally, you can find me over at Good Reads, where I am trying to be more active.  I'll keep on writing, if you keep on reading.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

O Captain, My Captain: Robin Williams (1951-2014)

I watched this show religiously for Mork's antics.
Bonus: I had a thing for Pam Dawber, too.
If you were in grade school in the late seventies/early eighties and your name was Mark, and if you happened to be the class clown, then you were "Mork" until middle school.

Robin Williams was my first comedian. "Mine" in the sense that I took ownership of him. Sure, I listened to my mother's comedy albums (Kids: Google "album"): Lily Tomlin, Flip Wilson, and especially Bill Cosby. Great stuff, all, and very funny. But Robin Williams was the comedian that I discovered myself, first on Happy Days and then in Mork & Mindy. My god, he was funny. I don't know if the act holds up, but at the time, there was nothing like him to be found anywhere else.

Because of Williams' performance as Mork (and mostly any other comedy role he ever took) I learned about improvisation, the art of the ad-lib, and best of all, he re-introduced the world to Jonathan Winters.

I was fascinated by him. That stream of consciousness babble of ideas, each one spilling out on top of one another... Of course, later, I found out that was the cocaine talking, but even when he quit doing blow, he was whip smart, and his observations were sharp and funny.

Over the years, his vast movie career has been a series of ups and downs. Lord knows, I haven't liked everything he ever did (Kids: Google "Hook"), but it's only because when he was on, he was brilliant. It made the lame projects stand out in sharp relief.

Some of the movie is very good. Loved the boxing scene.
I kind of want to talk about Popeye right now. I know not everyone liked it, and it lacks, well, a lot in terms of what people were expecting to see. But as far as recreating Thimble Theater (E.C. Segar's strip in which Popeye appeared) goes, it was pretty good. For recreating the Famous Studios cartoons where Bluto is always grabbing Olive and saying, "Hey Doll, Howzabout a Kiss?" the movie was a flop. However, when I'm in the right mood, I love the movie. The art direction is brilliant, the characterizations are fantastic, and to my chagrin, I even like the songs. Mind you, if you ever ask me my favorite comic book movies, it will never be on the list. When I watch it, it's because I'm feeling nostalgic for the early 1980s.

So much of how I approached being funny was tied up in trying to figure out what made Robin Williams tick. Dropping instantly in and out of character and being able to sell a bit onstage are about as far as I got. No one put stuff together like him. His timing, along with his ability to economically cut out everything that didn't look like the joke, was his singular gift.

I was there for all of it. His HBO specials, his early critical acclaim, his later critical acclaim, his transition to elder statesman, all of it. I hated it when I didn't like a movie he was in, or the film was bad, or whatever. I wanted to like everything he did. And looking over his incredible resume, I liked way more than I didn't like, and you can't ever say that a .500 batting average is a bad thing.

Mime Jerry, from the Cult Classic Shakes the Clown.
These smaller, art house movies he did with Bobcat
Goldthwait and others are among my favorite things he
ever did. You must watch World's Greatest Dad.
In the back of our minds, I think we all knew there was something wrong; he was laughing to keep from crying. We could certainly see it in his sobering film roles, or the occasional interview where he's not climbing over the furniture. That razor sharp observational humor cut both ways, and sometimes, you'd see it nick a wrist. I've seen a lot of references to the old joke with the punchline, "But Doctor, I AM Pagliacci," and I think that's apt, and sadly, very prescient for a lot of performers, writers, and actors. Some people need the energy to thrive, and some need the energy to just keep their heads up.

I don't know about all of that, really; it's pure conjecture, and I don't know that we'll ever really know the whole story. I don't know if I want to. In the last few years, I had noticed when he had a heart attack, got divorced, and then very recently, went back to rehab. Those things were happening a little too close together, and I was actually saddened and concerned. Then this. It feels like someone just slammed the door on my childhood. I never met the man, but he's a part of my humorous DNA.

I hate that he felt he was out of options. I don't know if anyone knew how much pain he was in. All the laughter--the belly-aching, side-splitting, howling and crying laughter, and all of the cathartic tears and genuine anger, rage, and sadness, he brought out in everyone over the years, and it still wasn't enough.


Go listen to Marc Maron's very poignant eulogy and rebroadcast of his interview with Robin Williams on his WTF podcast. He really nailed down a lot of things for me, and if you're struggling to cope with this, his words may help you, too. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

My Thoughts About James Garner

One of the best-written TV westerns of all time.
He was one of my all-time favorite actors.

The L.A. Times wrote a cogent and, I think, really well-nuanced obituary of Garner. Dennis McLellan is clearly a fan, as he made the point several times that Garner was an amazing actor. He never looked like he was acting, and everything that came out of his mouth was natural and pitch-perfect. As I've gotten older, I have come to really appreciate the guys who don't look like they are doing anything, but they end up saying everything.

My first memories of Garner are tied directly to my grandfather, who used to watch Maverick and The Rockford Files religiously. He liked other TV westerns, like Gunsmoke, but he loved Maverick. Specifically, he loved James Garner. And who could blame him? The wise-cracking, laconic gambler who gets in over his head with the ladies and outfoxes the bad guys at every turn. What's not to like? As a child, I never understood it when Bart Maverick was in the show instead of Bret. I didn't realize they were supposed to be brothers, or why that was interesting. All I know is that when Bart was on, Pappy drank more read the paper.

Thankfully, Jim Rockford didn't have a brother. Mike Post's theme song is a permanent groove in my mental jukebox. I can't ever see a picture of Garner from the seventies without that music cuing up, an autonomic response borne out of years of conditioning. I've been rewatching The Rockford Files on Netflix these past few months--one or two a week, more or less as they were intended to be watched, and it's a joy and a treat to see Garner in action in his heyday.

My grandfather died when I was fifteen. I went to his funeral and didn't quite know how to say goodbye to the man; it was my first experience with loss on that level. I have spent years of my life picking through the memories I have of "Pappy" as I called him. I collected stories about him, from anyone who'd tell them. I don't know my grandfather personally--that is to say, he was different when he was around me--but I am pretty certain that he envisioned himself to be the kind of character that James Garner liked to play on TV. More mischievous and less anti-hero, maybe, but no less charming. He played cards, drank like a fish, had a positively caustic wit, and even pulled the occasional "heist." When he needed lumber for some project that he and his friends had cooked up, my grandfather would put on a coat and tie, grab a clipboard, and a yellow hard hat, and drive out to a construction site in a battered blue pick up truck and order some lackey to load two by fours, plywood, and anything else they might need into said truck bed. My grandfather owned a shoe store, but apparently, he was a pretty convincing actor, as well.

From the inimitable opening montage to The Rockford Files.
The show does an excellent job of deconstructing the P.I.
and then building him right back up again.
I don't know if my grandfather would have gotten along with James Garner had they met, but it doesn't matter, really. Pappy had his romantic notions, and I had mine. Because my grandfather is little more than a sketch to me, I've taken on some of his likes and dislikes over the years in an effort to bring myself closer (in head space, if not heart space) to the man. Just as my grandfather is in my style book of What Constitutes Manhood, so too is James Garner. The funny tough-guy or in some cases the tough funny guy, is a pose I could never pull off. 

But Garner is right there in my Frankenstein Monster's Version of Masculinity, alongside Steve McQueen, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Captain Kirk, Captain America, Errol Flynn, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Lee Marvin. Watching him over the years in movies like Support Your Local Sheriff and The Great Escape (one of my all-time favorite movies, a movie I have to compulsively watch if I stumble across it on television) only reinforced that idea of the fast-talking trickster in that mix of blistering testosterone. The eternal charming rogue. His scenes in The Great Escape with the hapless guard, Werner the Ferret are among the best scenes in the movie. The way he could put the pressure on someone, and still be so likeable, is a trait that people have been writing into his characters for decades.

I always felt a little guilty that I didn't watch 8 Simple Rules for Dating my Teenage Daughter. I was happy that Garner was still getting work, but I just didn't want to watch him as the grumpy grandpa. I much preferred (and still do) the "I do my own stunts" James Garner, or the "I race cars on the weekends" James Garner. The guy I grew up with. Even Space Cowboys or The Notebook James Garner was preferable to that.

I never got to grow up with my grandfather. I never got to drink a beer with him, and listen to him tell me about being a tail gunner in World War II. So I take what I can get. I watch James Garner and I go right back in time to that house, with that huge-ass console television, and the smell of roast beef and scotch, and the sounds of laughter in the kitchen of my mother and grandmother talking about something else. Not this. Me and Pappy and Dad are watching The Rockford Files. They're laughing about the answering machine message. It goes over my head. But one day, I will get the joke.

Rest in Peace, James Garner. Say hi to my dad, and my grandfather, if you see them.

My Lengthy Absence and an ArmadilloCon Schedule

My apologies for the lack of regular updating. I've been grinding away at my stated goal of 500,000 words in one year, and I'm also in the middle of a work-related project that is taking all of my free time, most of my concentration, and the majority of my will and effort. Most days, it's all I can do to scoot around on Facebook for ten minutes.

I've got some larger thoughts I'd like to articulate, and I'll put them here just as soon as I can get out from under one or more of the rocks overhead.  Oh, and of course, I'm still publishing my back list via Monkeyhaus Books. If you bought one, I thank you. If you liked it, please tell someone, or throw up a quote on about it. The reviews really do help with getting eyeballs on the books. So far, I've got the following available:

Road Trip
Empty Hearts: Stories by Mark Finn

And Coming Soon:

Year of the Hare: The Sam Bowen Chronicles Volume 1

Chance of a Lifetime: The Con-Dorks Saga Volume 2
 (First time in paperback!
Thanks for your patience and also for your support! Now, here's my ArmadilloCon Schedule. As you can see, I'm going to be on a lot of faboo panels. Also note: I will have an HOUR for my reading this year. This is huge, and I fully intend to kick out the jams, as the kids like to say. It'll be a real Tour-de-Finn of new stuff, upcoming projects, and maybe, just maybe, I'll drop a chapter or two from Replacement Gorilla.

4:00 PM-5:00 PM Dealers' Room
Chiang, Denton, Finn

Hollywood vs. Everyone Else
5:00 PM-6:00 PM Room F
Finn*, Crider, Hardy, Sullivan
Comparing American film noir with other countries' productions.

True Detective
6:00 PM-7:00 PM Room D
de Orive*, Cupp, Finn, Johnson
WTF did the ending mean?

40 Years of D&D
9:00 PM-10:00 PM Room F
Benjamin*, Finn, Maresca, Marmell, Sarath, Wright
How did D&D inspire authors?

Build the Perfect Thief
11:00 AM-Noon Room E
Finn*, de Orive, Foster, Sheridan Rose, Sullivan, Wright
Thieves can make delightful characters, but what does it take to create a great thief?

Gorilla Playing Saxophone with Balloons
Noon-1:00 PM Room D
Finn*, Crider, Klaw, Johnson
Some of the strangest, craziest, weirdest stories about apes ever written.

Fannish Feud
4:00 PM-5:00 PM Conference Center
Finn*, Babcock, Eudaly, Chiang, Close, Law, McDonald, Orth, Walsh, Weisman, Wilson
The classic game show reworked for ArmadilloCon. Fans vs. Pros—which family is smarter?

Charity Auction
Sat 6:00 PM-7:00 PM Conference Center
Spend money to support GirlStart and promote math and science for girls and teens.

11:00 AM-Noon Southpark A

Writing Pulp Paced Stories
2:00 PM-3:00 PM Room F
Reisman*, Finn, Hardy, Johnson, Nevins
Writing fiction that has heft, depth and aspirations of greatness with the energy and pace of the adventure.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Desperately Seeking Someone to Punch #YesAllWomen

I held off for a week from commenting on the Santa Barbara shooting, and with good reason: I was in no place to make any grand, sweeping pronouncements about anything. I’m glad I did, and I’m also humbled and angry, as a result.  It goes without saying that the shooting was senseless and horrific, and absolutely could have been averted, if not avoided. While I applaud that the response time for the ancillary concerned parties has advanced from “We had no idea he was capable of this” to “We knew he was troubled, but we never thought he was violent,” to finally “We were on our way over to stop him when this happened,” it’s still not much comfort. I think the Onion’s recent stance on the issue, while bitingly satiric, is still very relevant. I’ll just leave that right there and move on.

Instead, I want to talk about the fallout from the tragedy. The #YesAllWomen hashtag has been a kind of wake-up call for the rest of the Internet, and while it’s good to finally have a discussion about this, it’s been like bricks on my head for five days as I read about all of my friends who had these horrible experiences, and I never knew about it.

I haven’t seen hardly any of the detractor’s responses, other than noting from other people that there seems to be a line in the sand being drawn in the big Internet Sandbox, and again, I have to ask, who would even want to be on the other side of the line? Mostly, I’ve just been reading, trying to make some sense of it all. Here’s some of what I have been looking at, and I’ll tell you what conclusions I’ve come to afterward.

Chris Roberson’s confessional polemic, while not quite as broad shouldered as John Scalzi’s, was very refreshing to read for its honesty. I don’t disagree with either of these guys; on the contrary, I admit my culpability in the entrenched hegemony, as well. This is something I’ve been looking at for the past couple of years, ever since the controversy over Cosplay participants and “fake fans” reared its head in the Geek Nation. I’ve been very mindful of it and spoken out against “nerd-misogyny” before. But this was...too much.

One of the 1980's best worst people. Look at this guy. Now
go look at the shooter, with his smirking face and his
squinty eyes and his clothes and his hair and if you can't
see the resemblance, I'll be very surprised. Of course,
the shooter would probably admire this Douche-Nozzle
for the way he handles his girlfriend, but that's not the point.
I mean, there was something about this shooter, aside from his disturbing resemblance to Nick from the 1985 cult classic movie Tuff Turf (a character who was also a mentally unstable misogynist, by the way), that felt very “been there, done that,” and by that I mean, I don’t think there’s an eleven to thirteen year old male in America who hasn’t gone through a phase that looks something like, “One day, I’ll be rich/powerful/famous/a porn star/have super powers, and then they’ll all be sorry they laughed at me!” Depending on your peer group and how quickly you discovered Dungeons and Dragons and/or masturbation, this phase can last anywhere from ten minutes to six months. 

And then we grow out of it. Most of us, anyway.

Those few guys that don’t tend to skitter backwards into the darkness wearing their Members Only jackets and then we don’t see them too much after that. I’m not saying they aren’t there (obviously), but they become sort of "out of sight, out of mind" for the rest of us. I think it’s scary, and sad, for grown-up people to have those kinds of resentments and anger and rage. That is the extent of my sympathy with any man who feels mistreated at the hands of others. We all caught a snowball in the face. All of us. Deal with it and move on.

What’s even scarier and sadder to me is this idea of “a Pick-Up Artist” Community forum, wherein all of these guys who want to learn how to “get with” women go to lick their wounds and build themselves back up again, followed immediately by another Community Forum wherein the guys who tried this approach failed, and now they hate the Pick-Up Artists, too! Talk about victim-thinking... Amanda Hess wrote a sobering article about their response to the tragedy  and then she followed it up with why it’s so hard for men to see misogyny. Again, I have no argument for this. But as we all started to try and find a reason for how this became a sub-culture in modern America, there were a couple of false steps. A film critic went so far as to suggest that the comedies of Judd Apatow were to blame for the mass murder, prompting a rebuke from both Apatow and frequent collaborator Seth Rogan.

She’s wrong, of course, but I can see that she was picking at the edge of something. Then I read Your Princess is in Another Castle: Misogyny,Entitlement, and Nerds, by Arthur Chu and the light bulb went on. He’s dancing around the idea, as well, but he’s a lot closer to the hows and the whys.

Here’s what I think: There is a generation of people for whom it is difficult to discern reality from fantasy. I first noticed it years ago, in the mid-90s, when I was watching a show on Cartoon Network and a Barbie commercial came on that showed the doll water-skiing using the magic of Stop-motion animation (probably actually CGI, but let’s not quibble; you know what I mean). Flashed across the screen in the midst of this crass consumerism was the disclaimer, “DOLL DOES NOT ACTUALLY MOVE.” Wow. I thought we’d gone round the bend, but we were just getting started.

This? It was a Male Idyll. A fantasy.
A wishful indulgence. And it was
fake, and we all knew it. It was
never real, and it never will be.
We all grew up surrounded by stories. Myths. Legends. George Washington chopped down the cherry tree and said, “I cannot tell a lie.” Legend. Any American who works hard can pull themselves up by their boot straps and become millionaires. Myth. “They lived happily ever after.” Stories. We are inundated by fantasy at an early age, whether it’s that “all girls are princesses and deserve to marry a prince,” or “Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.” You get it as soon as they start reading stories to you. You get it as soon as they plop you down in front of the television. You get told things, over and over again, repeating endlessly over and over again. And it sticks, or at least, it stays until another story takes its place. And stories that get told over and over stop becoming stories and start to become beliefs. Truths. They become how you see the world, instead of a way to look at the world differently.  And that’s what I think is happening here.

Let’s take a benign example. We were all told that Santa Claus is real; we all got that story. And we believed it, earnestly, diligently, and without question, until we were, what? Six? Seven? Eight? Do you remember how you found out? For most of us, it was the other kids. There was always some kid who figured it out, or whose parents didn’t practice Christmas, and they spilled the beans about Santa. Despite your mother and father’s efforts, when you saw that enough people didn’t believe it, either, you had to come to the conclusion that yeah, Santa wasn’t real.

So, why is there a generation that seems to have trouble discerning fact from fantasy? How is it that there’s more people who believe in conspiracy theories than ever? How is it that even with hundreds of thousands of women sharing their stories, there’s people who fervently believe it’s some sort of “feminazi plot?”

I think we can lay the blame right at the Internet’s feet. See, when you were eight years old, your peers taught you that Santa wasn’t real. When you were a teenager, you learned from the people around you that life wasn’t fair, and that we all had the same kinds of problems (Okay, you might have learned that from The Breakfast Club, but still). We used to all watch the same news programs and have something to discuss around the water cooler the next day. Sixty Minutes used to be a going concern. So was 20/20.

We don’t have that, now. Now we have the Internet. And while it’s true that it brought people together and formed new friendships and relationships and has been a major impact on art, commerce, and society, it’s true that it also united every lone freakshow, socially retarded troglodyte, sociopathic misogynist, and backwards-thinking assbug in the country. See the above “Pick Up artist forums” for examples of this. Now, you’re not the only guy in high school with no sex life. You can get online and connect with every other trenchoated loaner in America, where the stories they tell themselves are very different from the stories in the real world. Or even, the real world itself.

Now, anyone with a grievance can simply unplug from society, the real world, and their personal environment and go into whatever nurturing cybercave they choose to visit, where everyone agrees with what they say, because they all think and feel the exact same way. The internet has become the mysterious cave in the story of our lives. Sometimes, there’s treasure, or magic, or knowledge in the cave. But most of the time, there’s also monsters in the cave.

I know a great many of you around my age and older had a childhood had an adolescence similar to mine. I was told that the music I listened to would turn me into a devil-worshipper. That the cartoons I watched would make me a sociopath. That the role-playing games I played would turn me into a paranoid schizophrenic. None of that actually happened. We all had parents who either grounded us in reality, or anchored us in place. We had peers with similar experiences. We were all still somewhat connected to one another, even if it was only through the umbilical cord of shared popular culture. After all, weren’t you a little leery of the kids who didn’t like Star Wars? I sure was.

All of that’s changed. I don’t want to whole-cloth write-off the Special Snowflakes of the world for their helicopter parents and their overly-developed sense of entitlement, but we’re not doing Generation Y any favors, not at all. The Santa Barbara Shooter felt he was owed beautiful women, that he was entitled to them. Says who? What on Earth gave him that idea? Well, a lot of things, apparently. Look, I think any crazy person can get a crazy idea from anyplace, and there’s no telling what they will latch onto—movies, video games, a Pick-Up Artist website’s bullshit, you name it—but I’m just wondering if that idea would have stuck in his head so firmly if there was a group of real people around this little monster who shouted him down every time he tried to bring up the “bitches be tripping” rhetoric? Or parents who took him aside and said, “Yeah, son, you’re being a douche right now.” Something, anything, other than The Internet.

Granted, it sounds like I’m picking on Generation Y, but to be sure, there are members of Generation X that have fallen into this pit trap, as well. Again, I don’t see them very often, because they aren’t engaging with regular people in the real world.  And that’s the problem, isn’t it?  I’ll wager there are very few of us who have studied the actual psychological effects of long-term online communication, and how it’s different from actual live person social interaction. I sure don’t know very much about it. I don’t know anything. But I do know this: talking to people online, even on FaceBook, is very different from talking to someone on the phone, or sitting across from me. Maybe, just maybe, when someone is a borderline narcissistic sociopath, or has tendencies along those kinds of lines where it seems easier to pick up a gun to solve your problems, maybe that person would get more positive results from talking to humans in the real world instead of “ImBobaFettBitches1974” on some message board that’s connected to the thing this person obsesses endlessly about.

I told you all of that, to tell you this: I want to start trying to do something about it. The sexism, I mean. The misogyny. I want to start making a change. I don’t want my friends to be scared anymore. I don’t want to hear about another woman’s stalking incident. Only, instead of going into my little cyber-cave, I want to stand out, in the middle of society, and say, “Okay, let’s do this! Who among you is a shithead? Come forth, and let me smack you!”

Yeah, that approach probably won’t work. I know that. Ever since the cosplay controversy, I’ve kept my eyes open at the various shows and conventions I attended. I paid more attention. I checked in with people more frequently. And you know what I discovered? Nothing. Nada. Bupkiss. Mind you, I was ready to step in, to intervene, to sweep the leg, even, if necessary. But I saw nothing, heard nothing, and experienced nothing that was actionable. I’m not saying nothing happened at all, but I am saying, I was looking for it, and personally saw nothing. Maybe if I had my telepathy helmet on, I could have scanned the whole convention and found the two or three skeeves and pointed an accusing finger at them and scared them off. But I have limits.

I’ll keep looking. And I’ll keep trying. But I want to know: how do we as men start to apply peer pressure to people who need it when they are keeping their mouth shut around us, hanging back, and in general slinking around because they know we’ll call them on it? And worse, how do you keep that lesson from transmogrifying into “the popular kids beat me up and stuffed me in a locker today because I tried to talk to one of their girlfriends” in their brain-damaged heads? Because at night, online, that’s exactly what it’ll turn into.

I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know where we start. I only have one idea to put forth. It’s probably not going to be well-liked, but that’s that, really. Maybe the Internet shouldn’t be wide open. Maybe anonymity online is a bad thing. Maybe if you want to comment on blogs, message boards, or send private messages, you have to provide your real information, instead of goofy screen names. Maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way, and if so, please tell me. I’m willing to be educated.  I’m just thinking in terms of how to curb some of the bad behavior. Anonymity tends to bring out the worst of us, instead of the best of us. Now there's studies that show trolling online is psychologically in the same head space as Narcissistic tendencies and sociopathic behavior. And also, the people who troll more often than others are (surprise surprise) sociopaths. Why give them the platform to disrupt? 

I don’t think registering your real name, I.P. address, or other measures will change the minds of ingrained misogynists, but if more women feel comfortable taking to the Internet, and there’s a mechanic in place that allows anyone who gets threatening messages to shut the other person down with extreme prejudice (and maybe even fines or penalties), then more voices can be inclusively heard (and agreed with) and that is in and of itself a kind of peer pressure.

My stance hasn’t changed. If I see something happening, I’m going to butt in. If you come up to me at a show or anywhere else for that matter and tell me someone was being a creep, I will help you. But these whiny, abusive, self-absorbed creepshow guys are scattering like cockroaches when the kitchen light comes on, and until we can all be in the same room together, it will be difficult for the rest of us to police our own. I'm open to suggestions.