Thursday, May 31, 2012

#418. Hub City, Scouring Monk, Yoshimi

While adding to the Scouring Books archives at Hub City, it occurred to me that all that work to list the contents of my library, a task I'd been neglecting for months, probably should also be reflected on the Reading List page, which made me turn once again to Scouring Monk's own archives.  Except I was reminded that until recently I didn't have the capability to names posts here (something that was corrected in a very timely manner just before A-to-Z in April).  Which led to many hours titling some four hundred posts.

So yes, I'm my own editor, and I waste a good amount of time editing my family of blogs.  But I have fun doing it!  I'm just insane enough to even consider making an archive page for Scouring Monk, with a list of all my entries, because labeling can be so inadequate a system.  (Yes, I'm crazy.  My mother did not have me tested.)

Anyway, some of this is to say I've been working at Hub City, even though I don't write about it as much here as some of my other blogs.  I've been making steady work at my Reading List, and there I write about those books and subsequent thoughts on those experiences, because I love reading, even though it sometimes seems the only books bloggers care about are the ones their friends are writing.  That's fine and all, but there's a whole wealth of literature out there, both old and new, and if that's not supported, it's that much more unlikely that a wide audience will ever discover new talent.

Which is not to say I'm above doing the same kind of shameless self-promotion so many of my fellow bloggers do (both for their and their friends' works).  I'll be talking about some of my previous manuscripts in the coming weeks, and hope by the end of it to have some concrete news about the publication of Yoshimi, now that Hall Bros. Entertainment has provided its contributors with a schedule update.

Hope to keep you sufficiently amused!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

#417. Men in Black 3, Star Trek, Superheroes

I went to see Men in Black 3, because I'm a fan of the series and Will Smith and Josh Brolin.

That's out of the way.  It's also a good movie.  The whole series is like the American Version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, with humans thrust into the knowledge of the existence of aliens, and then dealing with it.  In the world of MiB, aliens regularly travel to Earth, but agents prevent any real mischief from happening.  Mostly, aliens blend in with the rest of human civilization, explaining in superficial terms why some things are the way they are (odd people, mostly), and also who those mysterious "men in black" are.  In these movies, they're Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith, who enjoys his job a lot.

In this one, he's bothered that Jones's Agent K doesn't, and so keeps trying to find out the answer, until he does.  The recurring theme of the movie is to be careful what you wish for.  Time travel is involved, and so is Brolin's impersonation of Jones.  After the first movie, everyone realized what they had in this franchise, and so the second movie exploited that with entertaining results, but this one is about appreciating it.  Smith hasn't been in a movie in three years, but he seems to have done this one so he can continue his streak of finding depth in the projects he chooses.  It would at first seem as if the MiB franchise is the last place to find depth, but they figured it out (reports indicate that it was, in fact, difficult).  With heavy foreboding, Agent J sets out to figure out why Agent K derives no pleasure in his work.  The explanation is entirely appropriate, and could have been told entirely differently, if this had been any other franchise.

As it is, there are a lot of deviations from the formula.  There's no attractive actress to play the third lead (after Linda Fiorentino and Rosario Dawson in the first two), just the series stripped to its pure essentials, the dynamite dynamic between Jones and Smith, returning to the act ten years hence.  Was there any other reason to do it again except to make a final point about the whole thing?

Except that these movies are consistently better as blockbuster experiences than just about anything else.  They know they're lighthearted entertainment, but with this entry they're now lightyears ahead of the competition.  The Avengers will never approach this stuff.


I've got more stuff up around my family of blogs.  My "Star Trek '12" project over at Sigild V is now past the halfway point, and this time explores the origins of the Voyager hangout Chez Sandrine (while at Fan Companion I look at more episodes from the show's second season).  It takes me a moment to remember I'm writing more Star Trek fiction, because I'm not doing it the way I usually do, which is pretty much what everyone else does.  I'm looking at the franchise this time with a microscope, breaking down the elements, really digging at the heart of it.  Which is what I think any Star Trek fiction should do.

I'm also continuing the twelve-part "Back from the Dead," three away from finishing, my latest daily challenge at Sigild.  It's about superheroes and is pretty much doing the same thing that I just described about Star Trek.  May be worth a look.

I've got more comics to talk about at Comics Reader, including the return of Grant Morrison's Batman Incorporated and my continuing examination of the contents of Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 2.

My sentimental examination of my mother at Epistles from the New Fade, meanwhile, may have just concluded, but the poetry blog pushes forth until I hate a hundred poems.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

#416. Versatile Blogger Award

I just got this award from Spacerguy.  It's the first one I've gotten as a blogger, and so I'm pretty proud of it.  Spacerguy loves Star Trek.  I love Star Trek.  But yeah, I'm all versatile and stuff, too.  Thanks!

Monday, May 28, 2012

#415. More from TV Season 2011-2012

I knew I was forgetting some TV shows yesterday, and so here's more!

I watched the first episode of Grimm, and probably could have gotten past the bad CGI effects for the monster face-morphing had the lead actor actually been Brandon Routh.  I also watched the early episodes of Once Upon a Time (and even gushed about it here), but lost track of it, a little too easily (will probably give it another try next fall, though).

Two other casualties of my particular circumstances this season were Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice, shows I used to watch thanks to a girl I used to like.  It seems I didn't really miss much with Grey's this season.  They finally got rid of the superfluous sister in the season finale, but otherwise spun a lot of wheels.  Private Practice has been the better show, consistently, more a few seasons now, and once I discovered that it had been moved to Tuesdays, got to see why again.  It's a cast filled with actors who know what they're doing (my favorites will always be Paul Adelstein and KaDee Strickland, though Kate Walsh and Taye Diggs, the bigger stars, are worthy competitors).  It was funny to see another would-be lead actor, Benjamin Bratt, wash up in the offices.

I didn't watch a single episode of The Office this season, or Parks and Recreation, and I don't think I missed anything.  Same with 30 Rock.  One show I haven't seen but increasingly wish I have is Vampire Diaries.

I also didn't catch any Simpsons, much less Family Guy, American Dad, or Cleveland Show.  I think I may also be interesting in seeing me some Bob's Burgers at some point, but that hasn't happened, either.

Mike and Molly remaining a baffling misuse of Melissa McCarthy.  I watched a fraction of Rules of Engagement, even though I enjoy it.  I caught the early episodes of the new Two and a Half Men, but stopped.

And, anyway, I haven't really been able to obsessively watch everything I really want to watch, so any look back will be necessarily be incomplete.

Bottom line, best shows of the season:

1. Fringe
2. How I Me Your Mother
3. Survivor
4. The Big Bang Theory
5. Person of Interest
6. The Walking Dead
7. Community
8. Criminal Minds
9. Awake
10. New Girl

Sunday, May 27, 2012

#414. 2011-2012 TV Season

I had a pretty interesting fall last year.  The company (Borders) I was working for went out of business, so I started a months-long odyssey to find a new job just as the new TV season was beginning.  Many of my regular decisions were affected by this, since I started staying at my sister's house and I deferred to her tastes a lot.  Thankfully, we share some of the same shows, and I got to watch some of the stuff I really wanted to.  Two notable exceptions were Cougar Town (didn't catch any of the new season) and Community (caught only a few episodes, but brilliant as ever).

What that really meant was that I got to watch two seasons of Biggest Loser (this spring's edition featured the very people who were probably never really going to benefit from such an experience, in the long-term), as well as my first season of Criminal Minds (I am now a fan).

I intended to watch more of the new shows from the season than I actually did.  Never actually watched an episode of Terra Nova (oops!), and only caught a handful of New Girl (love it, though!).  Person of Interest became my main lifeline to the freshman class, and it was totally worth it.  Brilliant show.  Never got to see Alcatraz, though, and I kept missing episodes of Awake, even though it was instantly a favorite.  Tried watching Touch, but couldn't really get into it.

I watched a few episodes of Blue Bloods this season, and so can still count it as a regular viewing favorite.  NCIS and NCIS: Los Angeles were predictably entertaining.  The season finale of CSI was brilliant, perhaps the best single hour of the series to date, and all it took were two strong new leads and a long-time regular reaching a fateful decision.  I kind of hate myself for not seeing a single episode of the final season of CSI: Miami, but it's one of those timeslot things.  If it had still been on Mondays, there's no doubt I would've.

I watched WWE Raw, so I enjoyed the rise of CM Punk as a regular member of the main event, and his subsequent (and ongoing) six month reign as champion, but this is not really a part of any specific season.

How I Met Your Mother took long strides toward making its characters more mature, which makes it ironic that the season ended with some of them acting irresponsibly.  The show is still awesome.

Fringe had another brilliant season, perhaps its single best, and none too late, too, earning a shortened final season next fall.

The Walking Dead made a fan of me in its second season.  I caught snatches of the first season, didn't like what I saw.  But I liked just about everything from the second one.

The Big Bang Theory had another slam-bang season, but that's to be expected.

I saw enough of the second season of Raising Hope to know that the first season was not a fluke.

What else?  Survivor had a couple of interesting seasons, but I'm not sure that they were some of the best ones the show has had.  Some questionable casting decisions left contestants scrambling for fates that shouldn't have been such problems for them.  Ozzy should have won.  Troyzan should have won.  Neither, ultimately, reached the finals, and it's a damn shame.  They should play in the same season together, and ensure victory for one of them.  I would compare both to Boston Rob.  Given the right circumstances, they, too, can eventually win.  That's the kind of show Survivor is.  I'm not saying that the people who actually do win don't deserve to win, but that there are always contestants who actually deserve it more, and they just can't manage to do it.  Amanda is another prime example of this.  Jonathan Penner, too, but it looks like he'll have another shot next season.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

#413. Scouring Scribe

Yesterday I concluded "Who Killed Iron Joe?" and The Assassination at Magnumtown, two halves of the same story, part of the tapestry that is the Space Corps saga, a project I've worked on for two decades.

Space Corps began life as a bad knockoff of Star Trek and evolved from there, sometimes kicking and screaming, always assimilating other influences and interests, until 1998, when I first envisioned Seven Thunders, which became a story that would pivot around the framework of the often-overlooked War of 1812.  If you're asking right now why anyone would bother to care about the War of 1812, or how it could possibly inspire a story worth your time, then you, too, have fallen victim to the notion that American military history falls either under the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, WWII, the Vietnam War, or the War on Terror, or otherwise it's vaguely irrelevant.

This being 2012, and you haven't heard anyone loudly commemorating the War of 1812 like they were last year for the Civil War's 150th anniversary, you might better understand the lack of respect and general awareness of what exactly the War of 1812 meant.  Simply put, it's my contention that without this conflict, America as we know it today wouldn't exist.  It was a generation removed from the Revolution, and everyone was wondering if there was enough inspiration to impart a new generation with the ideals of the Founding Fathers.  The War of 1812, in case you didn't know, was also fought against the British.  "The Star-Spangled Banner" was written during this war, the White House burned during this war, and, and the legend of Old Ironsides came from this war, too.

The politics of the war, which arguably sprang from the politics of every president after Washington, led to the conflicts of ideology that made the Civil War inevitable throughout the century, because no one was interested in addressing the issues that would have prevented it.

Anyway, so I shaped Seven Thunders around the framework of this conflict, and lived with it for many years.  I shaped many other Space Corps stories in the meantime, and shaped a great deal of history, and most of the time, I lost sight of the fact that the central Space Corps story still revolved around the same conflict I'd envisioned in Seven Thunders, but only sometimes understood, the conflict between humans and the Danab (there's a vicious twist to this conflict involving the nature of the Danab that will make for a really good moment in Seven Thunders, so I'm reluctant to spoil it here).

So I started to circle back around to it, and when I finally decided that I was going to finally write Seven Thunders, and had a whole blog dedicated to stories, that it wouldn't be such a bad idea to write a little preview of the bad blood that rests at the heart of this conflict.  It's like Native Americans, the state of Israel, and JFK all rolled into one, is what "Who Killed Iron Joe?" could be summarized as (again, to be found most conveniently on this page).

It's also something of The Iliad, which is a story I've read a great deal about in the past few months (visit Hub City for more details), and came to greatly admire its offbeat structure.  There is not much actual resolution in "Who Killed Iron Joe?" but a lot of emotional resonance.  I tend to write that way a lot, but the story was also meant to be something of a mystery, which was something I was interested in doing after the A-to-Z challenge, when one of the bloggers brought it up.  I don't write a lot of mystery, once with a Star Trek story and again with Yoshimi, at least in its basic structure (Yoshimi is my forthcoming book, and you can read a bit more about it here, which will also give you a better idea of what kind of writer I am), so it's always interesting to try something out of the ordinary.

(And anyway, I wrote The Assassination at Magnumtown to serve the same function as all those tales that explain the rest of The Iliad, like how Achilles died and the war actually ended.)

"Who Killed Iron Joe" was a twelve-part, daily challenge for me, and I'll be doing it again with "Back from the Dead," which involves superheroes.  Now, I write a lot about superheroes at Comics Reader, but perhaps more notably still, my existing (self-)published work also concerns superheroes.

I don't do a lot of publicity for The Cloak of Shrouded Men, partly because it was published in 2007, partly because that edition features typos I'd like to forget, and partly because it's hard to market superhero fiction that doesn't have pictures with it.  And yet it remains one of my proudest accomplishments.

It is also agonizingly cerebral, as is most of my fiction.  I determined at some point that cerebral fiction isn't exactly everyone's cup of tea (which is why Yoshimi is the least cerebral I've managed to make any of my novels), yet I am proud of what I did with it, beyond a shadow of a doubt.  It's the kind of superhero story that every comic book writer tries to do, but instead of the kind of extended run most writers only hope to get, making a statement about the career of the characters they get to handle for a few years, I did it in one story, the epic highs and equal lows of a vigilante who tries to undermine the ineffectual system that has stifled him for years, sometimes at his own consent.  He's Batman if Batman weren't written as an NFL quarterback, with Superman being his best wide receiver.  The Eidolon's wide receiver is Godsend (how has no one used that name yet?), and they have the kind of relationship that explains everything that happens to him, and why he goes off the deep end.  Literally.  He loses his mind, develops split personalities, and causes a Trojan War.  Anyone who's familiar with Watchmen will understand a lot of what happens in this book, but then, where Alan Moore is interested in sensation, I dive deeply beyond the surface to examine motivations, failures, triumphs, and moral ambiguity of the kind Ozymandias could only dream.  Imagine if Rorschach was in charge of how everything turned out.

Anyway, so yeah, I've been trying for years to write comic books, and that's half the reason why I wrote The Cloak of Shrouded Men, and why I'm now writing "Back from the Dead" (start reading it here), about an equally complicated world of superheroes which should hopefully be compelling to read.  That's what I'm always going for, something to stop and make you think.  My writing style tends to be peppered with a lot of thoughts anyway, but they're designed to open a conversation.

Got any thoughts?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

#412. Star Trek, Comics, Space Corps

I think one of the things that must've confused A-to-Z visitors during April was the fact that I blog not in a single blogs, but on a network of them.  This is not totally unheard-of, but unusual enough so that it presents a problem when you're trying to decide how to keep reading me after all the hoopla of the challenge is over.  Most of what I actually write here at Scouring Monk is redirection to these other blogs, too.  (Most of it.)  Anyway, why else am I here if not to help?

If you are a fan of Star Trek, you have to visit Fan Companion.  I've been working away at this blog since 2010, since it became a surrogate for a community that all but died at that time.  The whole point of Fan Companion was to post my thoughts on the franchise, pretty much in its entirety, since to my experience very few Star Trek fans actually like all of Star Trek, and by "all of Star Trek" I mean the six TV shows and eleven films (to date), and so the Fan Companion was literally that, the first steps to building something akin to what four of the six series have enjoyed thanks to various writers sanctioned by Paramount and published by Pocket Books to help fans navigate them, but from the perspective of an unabashed fan, one who wanted to make it easier to see what the franchise has been up to for the past forty-five years.  This page is a handy compendium of those efforts (just as this one slightly expands on what all those April visitors saw on a daily basis).

That being said, this is work that is never complete.  I'm still working on individual episodes, and still on Star Trek: Voyager, now in its second season (with "The 37s," "Initiations," and "Projections" now represented).

I had done a fair bit of other stuff at Fan Companion outside of Star Trek, including the popular movie thoughts that served as the main crux of my April musings, but I've also talked about professional wrestling there, and that basically killed any regular interest the blog previously enjoyed.

Anyway, I've got more Star Trek stuff at Sigild V, where I've been writing the "Star Trek '12" project, this week having a look at the Bajorans once again and their solar sailing ships.  You can find more of my Star Trek fiction listed here, among other things inspired by other people's things.  I'm always working on original material, too, including Space Corps, and the current, twelve-part "Who Killed Iron Joe?"

And I like comics books.  I read a lot of them, new ones and old.

Oh, and I write poetry, too.  Still have to plug that.

Monday, May 14, 2012

#411. First loves, Survivor, Space Corps

I'm making an unofficial entrant in the First Loves blogfest, for those who are taking part in that:

First Movie
My family has watched the original Star Wars films for as long as I can remember.  As a result, it's impossible for me to select any other movies but A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi.  I have no doubt that prolonged exposure to this saga shaped me in ways I still have yet to understand.

First Band
Hootie and the Blowfish must stand as my first and still favorite band.  In the general public their music quickly went out of fashion, but the current success of Darius Rucker as a country artists suggests that maybe it was that odd little name all along (Darius, for the record, is not Hootie, nor are Mark, Soni & Dean the Blowfish).  They were always Southern-fried, but they were also one of the more universal acts to emerge from that era, and their catalog of songs remains one of the most cherished collections I have in any creative medium.

First Book
Thanks to a good friend of mine, I discovered Jerry Spinelli's Maniac Magee early on in grade school, about a boy who becomes something of a legend while trying to make a life for himself and struggling to fit in.  It remains one of my most treasured reading experiences.

(Noticing a pattern yet?)

First Person
Gosh, who finds this one easy to select?  My first person outside of my family that truly made an impact on my life has got to be Jonathan Lawless, the aforementioned friend who introduced me to Maniac Magee.  He was a transfer student I think in second grade, and was the first friend I made after all but losing all the friends I'd originally made in school, and we remained pretty close until life finally took us in different directions.  We remain in touch, but like everyone else I know, there are many states in between us.


I called it.  Kim won Survivor: One World.  She made it far more difficult than she needed to, and it was Troyzan who called her on it, and she had no answer, and Jeff pretty much ignored it at the reunion.  But then he pretty much ignored Kim, too.  She deserves the win, but she doesn't get a lot of respect for how she did it, relying heavily on alliances and two-facing and a personality so blandly likable she might as well have appeared in The Avengers.  She's the evil version of Amanda, who did this kind of game while allied with stronger players than Kim kept around, and she was actually able to win.


For those interested, I'm working on another daily challenge, completing the twelve-part Who Killed Iron Joe? at Sigild V, the run-up to Seven Thunders, the big Space Corps story I've been working toward since 1998.  WKIJ? is not so much heavy sci-fi action or big concept so much as an intimate look at some of the influences of the big events that will take place later on.  I'll be following it with an unrelated superhero story, Back from the Dead, and then finally concluding Roadkill Cafe, and then I will begin writing Seven Thunders.  Y'know, if you care.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

#410. Avengers, Comics, Star Trek

The Avengers is a flawed meme of an experience, building on expectations film-goers have been formulating since Iron Man first suggested this was going to happen, a pop culture experience that presents something new yet expected, instant familiarity and comfort, and yes, an epic experience.

Marvel has to be considered a house of evil genius, tricking so many people into accepting a series of flawed movies with the constant promise of fulfillment later on (not one of the associated films satisfies a complete experience, and not just because they all hint toward something else).  If a film falls out of this sequence (and about half of the movies based on Marvel characters do), it is fairly quickly rejected based on the same qualities but without the associations that've made the Avengers sequence work.  Not a single one of these things has approached the transformative brilliance of Richard Donner's Superman or Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, and yet they're at the vanguard of the geek phenomenon that has successfully made superheroes a regular genre at the box office, in much the same way the X-Men films and Sam Raimi's geeky Spider-Man flicks have.

(The Amazing Spider-Man, it must be said, looks to be the first one to break with this tradition, and is the true rival of The Dark Knight Rises this summer.)

The Avengers only truly rouses at its climax, when the novelty of seeing all the heroes in action at the same time  finally trumps what any other film has so far accomplished, within or out superhero movies.  Never mind that it's not so different from League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (or that Watchmen is leagues superior).  A series of false notes and a lack of a central character makes most of the experience jarring, but then things finally start to click, and then the random aliens that serve as cannon fodder point toward Thanos, a truly worthy challenge, making even this cynical viewer once again hope for a payoff.

I won't talk about the actors.  Almost everyone focuses on the actors in this one, but there is no real standout, except maybe Mark Ruffalo (but I wouldn't be the first one to say that, either) and Tom Hiddleston (with little to do except preen this time).  This is really an example of the Joss Whedon model stretched to its limits.

So ends this fairly contrary opinion of the blockbuster.

(If you were amused by these films thoughts and/or what you read during A-to-Z, then maybe you should check out what I've written about other films here.)


At Comics Reader, I've got a good number of good stuff worth looking at that I hope to draw your attention to, starting with Long Tack Sam (the name alone should intrigue you), continuing on to Bottom of the Ninth (a comic book with motion), and also including Mike Mignola.  Finally, I have a regular update on the new comics I've been reading.

At Fan Companion, I've finished out my look at the sixth season of Star Trek: Voyager, including looks at standouts like "Good Shepherd," "Live Fast & Prosper," "Life Line," and "Fury," which may just be the best episode most fans only think they're supposed to hate.

At Sigild V, I've continued "Star Trek '12," with a rare departure from TV/film canon.  I'll be starting up Who Killed Iron Joe?, a twelve-part Space Corps story probably tomorrow.  This is the story that ties directly into my forthcoming book project Seven Thunders, the one I've been building toward writing since 1998.  May be worth checking out!

I've taken a brief break from Epistles from the New Fade, but I'm not quite halfway through the poem challenge yet, so of course I'm returning to it.

Monday, May 07, 2012

A-to-Z Reflections (#409)

How did your journey through the alphabet go?  Did you meet new bloggers with similar interests?  Are there any you would like to feature and share with others?
My journey was excellent.  I planned my excursion in advance and pretty much stuck to my selections.  To my surprise, there were a number of other movie bloggers, plus some Star Trek and comic book ones, too.  I featured those guys two Sundays ago,l so now you'll just have to visit some archived posts (or simply click here).

What were the highlights for you (lowlights, too...we want to hear it all)?
The highlights were the many fascinating blogs I read throughout the month.  The lowlights, as I've read from others, was the way the blogs were listed, which maybe for some people was easy to navigate, but not very structured, so was not very inviting.  Early on I narrowed my search results to the suggested ten (or whatever it was) blogs after mine on the list, but then later tried to go through the list again.  It was a really long list, and like I've heard from others, finding Wordpress on the list was never inviting, because the easiest way to bookmark on Blogger is for the blog to be...on Blogger.  Maybe I'm just being simplistic, but I like the concept to be simplistic.  Listing the participating blogs by category of interest, or even the theme the blogger will be using would have been extremely useful.

Did you enjoy posting daily?  What was your biggest hurdle?  What was your easiest task?
It became easy.  My biggest hurdle was settling on a time of day.  I started blogging early in the morning, found a new routine.  My easiest task was writing about what I chose as my topics, which hopefully should have been the point.

Was time management an issue (I know, silly question, when isn't it? but worth reflecting on)?
It was only an issue because I kept finding it a little difficult to do my posts and also visit the challenge blogs I followed within the time I'd allotted myself.

And what about your content?  Did you have a theme or dd you wing it?  Was it easy to come up with ideas for each letter, or were some harder?
The only one that I had to manipulate was "z," mostly because I didn't think to actually watch Zelig before last month, and I only wrote about movies I'd actually seen.  So I had to cheat that day.

How about commenting: Did you stumble upon lots of sites still using word verification?  Did this prevent you from leaving comments?  What worked for your blog?
One of the blogs I followed regularly (and hopefully you know which one you are, Michael *cough*) had word verification, but I put up with it.  I found that it helped to have both movies and Star Trek, because if one subject on a given day didn't elicit comments, the other one did.  It was funny to hear some commentators say they didn't know much about Star Trek, though.  

What will you do different next year (yes, you are doing this next year, you know it, even if your brain is telling you to run for the hills; it appreciates the exercise)?
I guess I would link directly in my posts to the blogs I'm following during the month, so there's some continuity.

What pearls of wisdom do you want to share with the hosts of this event (we would love to hear from you and know what you think would make this awesome event even better)?
The hosts really have nothing to do once the events actually start, except maybe monitor the blogs that actually participate after signing up.  Trends or maybe featured blogs could be spotlighted on the host blog, so anyone interested could see what's actually going on during the month without digging through the entire list.

That's all!

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Vantage Point: Lost (#408)

what it is: Lost
what category: television
vantage point: the story

I guess I'll always be surprised by the fairweather fans who distort the perception of success for anything popular.  "Success" isn't defined by popularity so much as achieving the original goal.

The original goal of Lost, for instance, was to tell the story of the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 and the mysterious island they landed on.  As with any TV show, that's exactly what the show was about.  The fairweather fans started believing around the second season, and then definitely by the third, that the show had lost its mojo, and then the show's creators started to agree, and the network allowed them to produce shorter seasons, which was less to handle, easier to swallow, and therefore the series regained its favorable impression, until the final episode, "which was a huge letdown."

As you can see, I never shared the opinion that Lost was anything but what it always intended to be, and that it was a game of perceptions that suggested otherwise.

Simply put, the story was always king, even if it wasn't easy to see what that story was at the beginning or ending.  In the first season, it became incredibly easy to misinterpret what exactly the story was, because of the wild success of the creators to establish an incredible cast of characters, each of whom had a compelling backstory, so that the greater picture became obscured in expectations that distorted what was actually going on, and at a certain level, sensationalism was built into the series, or at least was a main hook, trying to figure out what exactly was going on.  The creators knowingly strung along certain fans who liked the concept of a mythology that seemed like it was actually bigger than the show, especially in the first two seasons.

Yet all of that work was merely a campaign to deepen the experience and to capitalize on a success that was greater than anyone could have anticipated.  I mean, the last time a group of people got deserted on an island, it was a bad sitcom filled with stock characters and ridiculous gimmicks.

Lost was always the inversion of that.  The first season was all about subverting expectations.  The moment you thought you knew what was going on, something happens to reveal that it was actually something else all along.  I think that idea was, well, lost on some fans, especially the ones who were just fans because the series was cool to watch.  The second season was all about this, especially how it actually introduced an entirely separate group of survivors without actually stealing time away from the ones we already knew, and of course the introduction of one of the most important characters in the series, Benjamin Linus.  (How long did it take you to stop thinking of him as Henry Gale?)

The third season seemed to frustrate a lot of fans, and I think it's because the story was slowly changing from the survivors being seen as in control of their own destinies to the island taking over, especially once we learned the truth about the Others, that they weren't the boogeymen we'd thought them to be but rather just another group of ordinary people, trying to figure out for themselves what was going on with the island.

The funny thing is, Lost continually went out of its way to explain that it was always a series about characters who couldn't figure out their own lives, couldn't solve their own problems, and that they needed extraordinary help.  John Locke was the first character to realize and accept that the island was going to be the solution, and yes, he was also the first one to realize that it wouldn't provide easy answers, that he would still have to work at it, and his dramatic arc in the first three seasons, and especially his eventual fate, forced everyone to really begin thinking about how they had to depend on each other to figure it out.

By the time we meet Jacob and the Man in Black, we realize the scope of the story, that the pattern has been going on for far longer than we could have originally realized.  It might seem to trivialize everything we'd been following from the start, but it actually gives that much more weight, because these are the people who finally figure it out, and they needed each other's help to do it.  If Jack hadn't had such a complicated relationship with Lock, for instance, he would never have reached the point where he both accepted the responsibility of the island and voluntarily gave it up.  If Hurley had never come to the island, he would never have found the courage to both trust and accept himself, and therefore become the unlikely new guardian.

And the finale really said, it's not really about the island at all, but about these characters using the island, using the extraordinary opportunity it presented, the clarity it provided them, to finally find peace for themselves, because before it, none of them had any chance of finding it.  The island was always a metaphor, a way of guiding each character along a path to trusting others and in that way trusting themselves, repairing their individual damage, finding balance and peace.

That was the story of Lost.  Some people came away from the experience wanting specific answers to every last detail presented along the way.  That wasn't really the point.  The point was the story, about redemption.  Everything else supported that, and Lost was an experience where most of it was absolutely brilliant, far beyond the scope of anything else ever presented on television.  Perhaps the fans who came to the experience just expecting something cool never allowed themselves to be prepared for what it was really all about.

And maybe, in time, they will be.  That was the point.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Vantage Point: Star Wars (#407)

what it is: Star Wars
what category: movies
vantage point: actors

There seems to be a great deal of confusion surrounding the Star Wars saga.  For instance, many fans of the original films hate both the new prequel films and the fact that George Lucas has repeatedly gone back and "tampered" with those original films, believing both to be entirely unnecessary actions that have damaged the original impact they fondly remember.

First of all, unless you can alter memories, you can't do that.  Secondly, don't be ridiculous.

Maybe it helps approaching approaching the saga from a different point of view.  It's easy to think of Star Wars for all the pop cultural references and the giant impact it made, right from the start, about Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, the Force, the Rebellion, and the Galactic Empire.

Yet you also have to remember that Old Ben Kenobi himself, Alec Guinness, thought his role was a joke, that Lucas had scripted his lines horribly, and if you look at his performance that way, you'll see how stilted it is.  You never really think of Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher that way, but they were working with the same material.  There's a good reason why they didn't become stars and Harrison Ford did, because he understood the material and what he could bring to it, whereas they merely filled their roles.

What I'm saying is, if you look at the original films from an acting perspective, you may see them differently.  They're not perfect.  Many fans seem to think they are, but they aren't.  I'm not just talking about Return of the Jedi.  They're really good, really imaginative, but they're not perfect.  They're not so different from the new films as some fans would lead you to believe.

Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen, and Ewan McGregor, aren't so different in the new films as Hamill and Fisher (though Portman is the closest to Ford that these films get, and Christensen did Shattered Glass, and hey, McGregor is a longtime star of indy films).  It's the vision Lucas has and the visual splendor that makes these films what they are.

James Earl Jones and Ford brought the real charisma to the original films, just as Liam Neeson and Ian McDiarmid do in the new ones.  They're supporting players who bring outsize personality to their roles.

When Lucas goes back and tries to make the visuals better in the older movies, it's to try and keep them relevant, not for existing fans, but newer ones, the same ones who are more likely to view the prequels the way old fans fell in love with the old films.  Stop me when this makes any sense, because chances are either you understand what I'm saying or I'm making you see Star Wars for the first time.

Stop viewing Star Wars as Star Wars, is what I'm saying.  Alec Guiness was not Kenobi in the same sense that Ian McKellen was Gandalf.  Maybe that'll clarify things.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Vantage Point: Harry Potter (#406)

what it is: Harry Potter
what category: books
vantage point: characters

I was still in high school when I first heard references of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter, referenced in the arts section of USA Today.  I bought the first few books while in my freshmen year of college, reading them in the winter of 1999-2000.  My parents got me Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban for my birthday, the first hardcover of the series in my collection.  And like everyone else, I then started to attend the release parties for subsequent entries.  

What is it that made these books so successful?  It's my argument that Rowling succeeded because she did what any author does, found what she did best in the medium she chose to work in.  With books, it's all about the characters.  I'll choose to illustrate how she did it by focusing on Prisoner of Azkaban, because it's still my favorite entry in the series and because it best illustrates my point (and is probably the reason why it's my favorite).

Harry Potter is the most famous modern orphan in literature.  Unlike Oliver Twist, he has the opportunity to discover his intrinsic worth in the world in a fairly sensational way, learning that not only is he a wizard, but that his parents died protecting him from the greatest evil the world has ever known, Lord Voldemort.  Prisoner of Azkaban is the entry that pulls the whole story together for the first time.  No, Harry never truly gets to meet his parents, only the remaining individuals who knew them best.

We've met Severus Snape already, and his story is the most fascinating one in the series, though Prisoner of Azkaban is the first time he seems human, even though it takes a long time in the book to realize it.  He's hated Harry since meeting him, even though curiously, he's saved the boy's life on numerous occasions.  Why can that possibly be?  He doesn't like the new professor in Defense Against the Dark Arts, either, Remus Lupin, who harbors a dark secret, even though he's involved in a secret relationship Harry and his friends are not privy to throughout the book.

Lupin immediately takes to Harry, not just because of the dramatic rescue from Dementors on the way to Hogwarts.  Where Dumbledore had been the kindly mentor in the first two books, there was a distance between them.  Harry was very much a child to the headmaster.  Lupin treats him like a peer.  Why is that?

Harry's biggest concern is Sirius Black.  He knows he should fear him, but why?

And Ron's rat Scabbers suddenly becomes the most important pet in the series.

The key to all these characters is that they're all connected to Harry's parents in weird and startling ways.  Snape, as I said, begins to blossom thanks to Prisoner of Azkaban, but it's the discovering of Lupin and Sirius and even Peter Pettigrew as complicated members of the inner circle of a previous generation, friends and betrayers of James and Lilly Potter, that deepens the story of young Harry Potter.

For most of the series, and especially in the first few books, it may be easy to assume that Rowling is writing a narrative of education angst, but no, she's deliberately building a world of immense complexity, through the eyes of children, not in a childlike way, but through a dawning maturity, and it's Harry who's always at the center of things.  His relationships define everything, and never before or after are the relationships and how he comes to understand them as important as those in Prisoner of Azkaban.  Here is where we discover how important her characters are to Rowling.

Why love this series?  Here's a good place to start, if you've ever been curious.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

#405. Star Trek, Dean Motter, Poetry

At Fan Companion, I've taken a look at five characteristic episodes of Star Trek: Voyager's sixth season, which has sometimes been called the show's most disastrous year, arguably responsible for the decline of the franchise at the start of the millennium.  While I celebrate the popular success of the J.J. Abrams reboot, I was never of the opinion that Star Trek had gotten so horrible that it needed a break (I should clarify by saying I never found it to be horrible in the first place).

Perhaps as a companion to that, I've got a new "Star Trek '12" piece up at Sigild V exploring the Caretaker entities from the first (and later in the second season) episode of Voyager.  "Star Trek '12" is a journey through the history of the franchise's timeline, century by century, with the central gimmick that these events all occur in that century's twelve year, which happens to be what this year is.  There's a certain amount of perspective inherent in this tour, since you may not have expected, say, the Jem'Hadar to have been created by the Founders so close to Surak's Vulcan reformation, or the Vidiians succumbing to the Phage at the same time, but these are events I've had to juggle, because that's exactly how they fall.  I'm a big fan of Star Trek, but not in ways a lot of people normally think of.  I've been writing Star Trek fiction for more than a decade, but not in ways that Pocket Books appreciated when I submitted to several consecutive Strange New Worlds contests.  I wish the publisher were less interested in sustaining their own version of the franchise and more in the literary possibilities in handling something as inherently visionary as Star Trek.  But then, I don't get a lot of respect from publishers in general, so what do I know?

I write about another visionary, Dean Motter, at Comics Reader.  Motter's best known for Mister X, but he's not really that well-known.  I'm always trying to correct things like that.

I'm still writing poetry at Epistles from the New Fade.  I don't write typical poetry, either.  Most poets litter their works with images.  I litter mine with ideas.  I figure that's the way it ought to be, and the way the most important poets have always done it.

In coming days, as I've said, I'll be writing more here at Scouring Monk about some of the more broad pop culture topics A-to-Z readers might have come to expect, but I'll also be writing more about my journey as a writer, including my self-published book, Cloak of Shrouded Men, whose cover is too bland (yet awesome!) to paste everywhere on this or any other blog.  Visitors during April might have caught three excerpts from my forthcoming book Yoshimi, but I'll be giving similar treatment to Shrouded Men, as well as my two existing, unpublished manuscripts, Finnegan and Ecce Homo.  I noticed a trend among my fellows bloggers to self-publish their books as a matter-of-course, but that's not my ambition.  It's great to build a readership and support group, but if you self-publish, chances are greater than not that your readers will most likely be pooled from those existing readers and a limited selection of others of that kind.  I self-published Shrouded Men in 2007, out of an interest to see my work in published form.  I didn't expect sales, and haven't gotten them, so far, because I hadn't earned them.  I had no public awareness.  I value blog awareness a great deal, but to me that's just the first step, like any advertising.  I want people to read me, but practically speaking, blogging is more about awareness than it is reading (which is why this blog post is so short!).  There's a difference between being seen and being heard.  This blog is about being seen.  Hopefully if you care about me you'll also want to read me.

That being said, any writer who really wants to be heard should have something worth saying.  That's why I write about what I'm passionate about, rather than writing for the sake of writing.  The idiot teachers who suggest writing everyday just to get the experience don't really know what they're talking about.  Write about what you're passionate about, rather than learning to write like everyone else.  A writer theoretically already knows how to write.  Their authentic voice is more important than anything else in their writing.  That voice is a product of their interests and what they have to say about them.  The sentences will form themselves.  If your readers are only interested in your ability to string along sentences, then they're not really supporting you.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

#404. Comics, Poems, What Comes Next

Okay!  So the A-to-Z Challenge is officially over, and business can return to normal here at Scouring Monk.

Some of it is business as usual.  For instance, Epistles from the New Fade, my own personal challenge of a five blog with one hundred new poems, continues, now with more rhyming!  So please check that out if you thought my writing was worth checking out in April.  It continues on a pretty much daily basis.

Comics Reader also continues.  I've started reading comics on a more regular basis (you can read some thoughts on that here), but this is probably the spin-off blog with the most regular activity, which I've maintained for more than a year.

I'll be starting a new Space Corps saga over at Sigild V, twelve installments of a story that serves as a prequel to the next book I'll be writing, Seven Thunders.  I will still be working on the "Star Trek '12" project as well, because I have many years to touch on before I'm finished.  (Speaking of that kind of project, if you read this Comics Reader post, you may also be interested in the "DC Decades" project I've postponed at Sigild, just one of many hopefully fascinating stories waiting for you to discover.)

I will also be starting a new feature here at Scouring Monk, aimed squarely at all the new followers I got from the challenge, which will be known as Vantage Point, covering a number of artistic mediums but most certainly including movies, and also TV, comics, music, and books.  I figured I made a certain impression for expectations, and it really wouldn't make sense to just continue as I'd been doing before April and simply link to updates from my other blogs.

In the vein, I've got some thoughts on Survivor: One World, something I talked about in March, when I endorsed Troyzan and Kim as the most likely winners of the season.  Well, Troyzan's gone now and Kim gone mercenary, turning on her own surefire alliance to throw in with a more random if numbers-rich female voting block. To say the least, I respect her far less now than I did at that time.  She may still win, but I will no longer be particularly happy about it.  There are some other options still in play.  I may actually be rooting for Kat now, but we'll see how long she sticks around.  Chelsea, the one with the conscience, may prove more interesting as a possible winner, too, and perhaps more likely than Kim if they both make it to the finals.  How about Tarzan?  He'd be a classic spoiler if they forget to actually eliminate him.

And professional wrestling!  Readers who may exist from earlier times know I wrote about wrestling all the time.  I'm a big fan (check out Fan Companion for proof).  I'm glad CM Punk is still WWE champion, and that Daniel Bryan is his next PPV opponent.  It's a good time to be a fan, actually.  Lots of interesting things going on.  Even TNA seems to have gotten its act together, turning Bobby Roode into a legitimate champion and making it interesting to see who may finally defeat him, if it actually is James Storm, his one-time Beer Money mate.

Anyway, to prove I'm not a cultural heathen, I'll also remind you that I love books, too (Hub City).  I'm still working on my Homeric marathon.  Tell me Achilles wouldn't recognize Brock Lesnar.


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