03/28/20

My Reaction to the Pandemic — or — How I Beat Breath of the Wild

At the beginning of this month, I decided I would try to put myself out in the world more. I said on Twitter (half joking) that it was the #MonthOfBrian. I intended to focus outwardly.

I arranged to go to Portugal, Italy, New Zealand, and a third Writing Excuses cruise. Along with a handful of minor successes, it felt like momentum. People won’t be able to discover my writing if I hide in my garage.

The reality is I entered March with a lot of bluster in order to stay positive and suppress bad, counterproductive feelings. My emotions are irrational and non-negotiable, so I decided to work around.

When the reality of Covid-19 hit home, all my plans went out the window. The trip with Sierra Nevada College canceled first. I recently heard New Zealand WorldCon is canceled, though I personally haven’t received notification. The final decision hasn’t been made the Writing Excuses Cruise, but let’s be real. It’s a cruise. It will be canceled.

I responded to all this by not responding. I all but disappeared from social media. A handful of people reached out to me to check in, and I told them I’m fine.

Am I fine? I don’t know. I would rather have nothing to do with my irrational, non-negotiable emotions. Critical self-analysis has not been my highest priority. Avoidance is the name of the game, both personally and socially.

During this crisis, I try to do the best I can for Melissa and the kids. I work during the working hours. I contribute around the house. In the evening, I play Breath of the Wild.

I haven’t been writing. I haven’t been making plans. I’m not interested in books or movies or music. There’s work, the family, and the nightly video game distraction.

At 2AM today, I finished Breath of the Wild. The game was fantastic and I enjoyed it. But now what?

I used the game to avoid reality, but I don’t think I can do that anymore. I should write. I need to write. I don’t know if I can. Right now, going to that place where the words live is like sticking my naked hand into a hot oven to pull out a pan.

As they say at the end of the podcast, I’m out of excuses. It’s time to roll up my sleeve and get back to work.

03/1/20

VLOG #4 – Perseverance

It’s March 1st, the beginning of The Month of Brian, and I thought I’d kick it off with a brand new VLOG post!

Today’s VLOG is advice for how to persevere as a writer.

There’s a huge gap of time between this video and the last. The biggest reason for the delay is that I changed hardware between #3 and #4.

My fourth VLOG was going to be called “The Lies of the Writer.” Previously on my blog, I wrote about Fears of the Writer. Later, I wrote a guest post called Pride of the Writer. My next VLOG was to be another in that series. I wrote the script, took my new Surface into my backyard, and tried to record it.

It didn’t work out. The software I used didn’t like to share camera and sound resources, so I didn’t make it very far.

Then life got busy. Mostly work, but also writing projects. I like writing blog posts and making VLOGs, but these activities are at the bottom of my priorities.

Today felt like a good day to try again. And now it’s done!

Let me know what you think of this video. And please share any ideas you may have for future VLOG posts.

02/9/20

What If Trump Loses the 2020 Election?

Today, let’s imagine the future together. We will keep in mind everything that’s happened with this presidency since 2016. Let’s imagine the near future unfolding, informed by the events of the recent past.

The Run-up to the Election

As the year moves forward, Democratic candidates will continue to snipe at each other, doing some of Trump’s dirty work in tearing each other apart. We will have one viable candidate against Trump, but they will be bruised and battered by the gauntlet they traversed in order to secure the nomination.

From the vantage point of February, it will either be Bernie, Pete, or Warren. I’m hoping for Warren, but this prediction isn’t based on my wants. As it gets closer and closer to crunch time, either Pete or Warren will bow out gracefully. Bernie will hold out until the convention, even if it doesn’t look like he has a path to victory. He’ll make sure that the fight goes as long as it can go, just like he did in 2016, because he’s running for himself and not for the country.

Some of the Bernie supporters will continue to be monstrous, but Russian bots and social media propaganda will bolster them and make them seem even worse than they are. Putin seeks to complicate and ruin our election. He doesn’t really care which candidate wins the election as long as we’re in disarray. Money will flow into Facebook just as it did in 2016, Fox News will continue to misrepresent the truth to put a pro-Trump slant on everything, and those of us that are paying attention will feel like we’re in hell.

For anyone that values truth and integrity, this summer is going to suck.

The Election

In spite of all the propaganda, the Russian money, the Trump lies, the Fox News smears, and all of the other covert assaults on our democratic process, people will show up for this election in huge numbers.

Some people will show up because they’re tired of kids getting separated from their families at the border.

Some people will show up because the destruction of landmarks along the border in support of a border wall is the last straw. Mexico didn’t pay for it. The proof of the ineffectiveness of the wall is overwhelming. The cost cannot be justified. The inherent racism that is woven into into every slat and support of the wall is too much to swallow. Whatever the aspect, some people will find the wall itself to be a compelling reason to vote Trump out of office.

Some people that read the Mueller report, that paid attention during the Impeachment hearings, that have read the headlines about Trump lining his pockets at his resorts by charging his security detail $650/night… he’s done enough illegal or amoral activities from the White House that a good number of people will show up to vote because they know that right is right and wrong is wrong.

Some people will show up because they’re concerned about climate change, and they remember how Trump pulled us out of the Paris Climate Agreement. They remember how he shredded Obama legislation intended to fight climate change. They read the news, how the antarctic reached temperatures higher than Orlando this year, the highest ever recorded, and they know that we can’t trust Trump to lead us to a viable solution.

Some people will show up because they’re sick of the hypocrisy. They did as he said and “read the transcript” to find that Trump and his family attacked Biden over issues of nepotism, while Ivanka and Jared line their pockets in government money they’ve “earned” through nepotism.

Some people will show up because they are economists, and they can see how Trump’s tariffs and deficit spending is not promoting the economy, but hurting it. They know that the job growths are smaller than they should be, and in areas of industry that are not significant in contributing to GNP. They see that manufacturing jobs are actually down, that the indicators are pointing at a coming recession, and the responsible thing is to change course immediately. These people also know that for the last 25 years, the economy has taken a dive under Republican control, and recovered under Democratic control.

And yes… some people will show up because they genuinely like the candidate that made it through the gauntlet to vie for the Presidency.

Just like in 2016, Trump will lose the popular vote. But this time, Trump will lose too many of the key states he needs to secure his victory. It won’t be a landslide. It should be a landslide, but there are still too many people in the US that aren’t paying attention, and will simply vote for whichever candidate claims to be a Republican.

This November, after a record turn-out, the American people will demonstrate that the majority of them have a conscience and a soul, and they will vote Trump out of office.

But What Happens Next?

Unfortunately, this story doesn’t have a happy ending.

Trump will not concede.

Trump will refuse to leave the White House.

Trump will declare the election a sham. He’ll say it does not represent the will of the people. He will declare himself a winner and blame immigrants and illegals for inflating the numbers. He will state that the news media, the enemy of the people, were out to get him from the start and that they’re responsible for posting false results.

He will fire people that oppose him. He will call for investigations into his opponent, the one the American people dutifully and rightfully elected to be their next leader.

Trump lacks grace and refuses to admit when he’s wrong. He does not listen to criticism. When the American people state in a loud, clear voice, “We do not want you as our president,” do you really think he’ll listen?

As a people, we have given up civility. There will not be a reasonable, rational discussion about Trump’s refusal to leave the White House. His loyal followers will say he’s right, and they will be ready to show up with weapons and fight for him.

The courts will offer conflicting rulings. Trump has appointed so many Republican shills as federal judges over the last 3 years that it will be a crap-shoot as to how they will rule.

The truth won’t matter. The facts won’t matter. The Constitution does not matter and neither do our laws. Reasonable discourse will be drowned out by the shouting and the name calling and the threats.

We will fight. People will get hurt. Nationally, we’ll be less secure. Industries will grind to a halt. We will know poverty and hunger and strife like we haven’t known for a century.

Is It Really That Hopeless?

I’m describing a plausible scenario, but I’m also allowing pessimism and fear paint the scene with the bleakest colors possible.

I think I’ve described Trump’s reaction perfectly, based on his behavior the last 4 years. However, I may be underestimating the American people and the institutions we have in place.

We have to show up in numbers to vote Trump out. If we show up in sufficient numbers, if our voice is loud enough, even the die-hard Trump supports suckling off the Fox News teat will be unable to deny that he is no longer the President, and they’ll dismiss his lies and tantrums for what they are.

Then we can get back to trying to make the world a better, freer place.

02/4/20

Let’s Talk about Picard

I was tempted to talk about politics again tonight, but the internet is already on fire with what went down in Iowa, and with the State of the Union address. Reality seems pretty terrible right now, so how about a nice distraction by visiting the utopian society of Star Trek?

* Spoiler Warning *

Before I get too far into it, I want to give a quick warning that I will be getting into the details of the first two episode of Star Trek: Picard. If you have not watched the show yet and you want to experience it with as little foreknowledge as possible, this is where you should turn away.

You have been warned.

Let’s get into it.

Star Trek: Picard starts on Earth, opening with black-clad, masked combatants transporting into someone’s apartment. They use a knife to murder a sideways-blinking alien while trying to abduct a young woman.

… Okay, remember when I said we could all use a utopian distraction?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. I enjoyed the first and second episodes of this new show. It’s beautiful, familiar, with a great score and some fun action scenes. I appreciated all the callbacks to TNG. The show is good! Star Trek: Picard has been put together by people that know what they’re doing.

It does make me a little sad, though. The character of Picard always represented the best of Starfleet to me, with his integrity, his scientific approach, and his tendency to lead with diplomacy rather than violence. That’s what Starfleet and The Federation is supposed to be! That was Roddenberry’s dream.

Starfleet is no longer that. They turned their back on an entire species in need and let untold millions die. Starfleet is so bad that Picard, still the man of integrity and compassion, quit in a huff.

It’s hard to look at The Federation as the good guys anymore, which from my perspective, hits a little too close to home.

I’m also disappointed that androids are banned. They’re referring to them as synthetics, which… you know I just spent the last year and a half writing a novel called Synthetic Dreams, right?

Anyway, I was hoping to see a future where people like Data were common. I want to see a future where the children of mankind’s technology thrive and teach us how to be better people. Instead, they were co-opted by a mysterious, rogue organization.

Fear rules The Federation. It kept them from saving the Romulans when their star went nova. It keeps them from exploring the new life of synthetics. It hinders them from being their best self, which doesn’t sound much like a utopia at all.

It really must seem like I don’t like this show, but I do. I’m just disappointed because the future is not as bright as I hoped. That’s particularly difficult to swallow right now, when I’m trying to find hope wherever I can.

02/1/20

An Independent’s Look at Politics in 2020 – February Edition

Who I Am

Some friends and family probably think I’m a Democrat. I live in California, dislike Trump, McConnell, Rand Paul, Lindsey Graham, and a number of other Republican hucksters, and I espouse a number of progressive views. However, I’m registered as an Independent, and my perspective and viewpoint is shaped more by primary sources than falling in line with any particular ideology.

If you’re right-wing enough, I will appear to you as a bleeding-heart liberal. If you’re sufficiently left-wing, I may appear too conservative, and slow to commit to a generalized liberal agenda.

The forces within me that drive my decisions are this: integrity, empathy, and humility. I wish to stay true to myself and encourage others to stay true to themselves, even when I disagree with them. Integrity is about valuing honesty and acting accordingly.

Empathy is about trying to understand other people and respecting what they see. I try to look at things from other people’s perspective, and I try to understand how they came to their conclusions.

Humility, for me, is about keeping an open mind and acknowledging that I may be wrong. I don’t always have all the information, and sometimes the information I think I have is incorrect.

That’s who I am and where I’m coming from. I watch social media and I read the news, usually focusing on videos and documents that are primary sources. If someone tells me that Trump said something outrageous, I’ll find the video myself and listen to him. Sometimes the hot-take that got me there is overblown, and I acknowledge that. With Trump, it’s usually understated.

The Impeachment

Now that I’ve told you who I am, I’m going to tell you where we currently are. In a later next section, I’ll talk about where things are going.

The Senate Republicans, lead by Mitch McConnell, have used their majority to block witnesses in the Trump impeachment trial. McConnell made it clear before the trial started that he was going to work with The White House, and that the Republicans position was going to be in alignment with Trump’s. Then they all signed a document and swore to uphold impartial justice. Unlike me, integrity and honesty means nothing to McConnell, and he’s a powerful enough figure in the Senate to lead the other Republicans down a dark and dishonest path.

The acquittal isn’t in yet, but it’s all but certain. Many Republicans have acknowledged that Trump did what he was accused. He illegally blocked foreign assistance to an ally for the purpose of getting personal gain in the upcoming election, and he did everything he could to cover it up. These are impeachable offenses, equal or worse to what Nixon did.

The fear is that Trump will now be emboldened to do more or worse. The checks and balances have failed, thanks to the efforts of Mitch McConnell.

That’s where we are now. It’s bad. I don’t think we’ll know how bad until it comes time for the election.

Meanwhile…

Trump continues to hold continuous rallies, and people are showing up in droves and supporting him.

I do not understand these people. Mitch McConnell… I get it. He’s a villain, but I understand his motivations. He is not driven by integrity, empathy, or humility. He’s just greedy. Like the Trumps, McConnell’s family is making a lot of money off the government right now. McConnell is your run-of-the-mill soulless politician. I don’t like him, but I understand him.

But the Trump fans that show up at his rallies? I don’t understand them at all.

I want to think they are ignorant and not paying attention. I want to think that they’re living in a right-wing bubble, and the only news and information that they receive is the talk-show radio that hides the atrocities through omission or reframing. The kind of garbage Sean Hannity shovels on Fox News.

But what if they’re paying attention to the same videos I’m seeing and simply coming away with a different conclusion? I see Trump asking Russia and China and “anyone else that’s listening” for help in the next election which leads me to believe he is willing to compromise the good of the nation for his own personal gain. What are these other people seeing? A strong autocrat that’s a good politician on the world theater? Even though Trump impulsively killed an Iranian general at the start of the year as a way to distract from the Impeachment, and nearly sent us into another war? An action that resulted in bases with our troops getting attacked by Iran, resulting in dozens of brain injuries and a weakened position in The Middle East?

Yeah, I don’t understand that average Trump supporter at all. My empathy is failing me here. Is it because Trump gives lip service to conservative principles, and these Trump supporters are simply good church goers? Trump’s personal life and history demonstrates unequivocally that he is not a good Christian influence. He is the least Christ-like President we’ve ever had.

Christians falling for Trump… open your eyes to the scam. He thinks you’re gullible and pathetic, and if you continue to worship him, a man that cheated on his wife while she was pregnant and then paid off that woman $130,000 in order to cover it up… if you continue to close your eyes to his actions and fall in line behind him purely because you’re Republican… you have failed to learn some critical lessons from The Bible.

Where are We Going

This is an election year, and we’re about to be bombarded by a whole lot of people wanting us to vote for them. There is going to be a wave of disinformation and lies this year like nothing we’ve ever seen before. Some of those lies are going to come from Russia, because if it worked in 2016, and we did absolutely nothing about it for 2020, they won’t see any reason not to double their efforts in this new election.

Social Media is going to be an information war zone, a digital dystopia unlike anything we ever imagined. We thought Cyberpunk was going to be all about body modification, putting our minds up in a digital plane, and just trying to survive a world wholly owned by evil corporations. We got some of that right. The things we got wrong turned out worse.

This year, the United States is going to find out if we really are a democratic republic anymore.

Look, we’ve already failed as a democracy. Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 by millions. The Republicans, which represent the minority of Americans, are ruling right now. The people that voted for no new witnesses in the impeachment represent about 20 million people fewer than the people that wanted witnesses and documents.

Who do I Want for the Next President?

The most important thing we can do for the next election is remove Trump from office. He has demonstrated every day, in every video I’ve seen of him, in every decision he’s made, that he is unfit for office. He should not have been elected in 2016. He should not be reelected in 2020. If he is still president next year, he will continue to run the Presidency as a campaign, and he will try to stay in power in 2024. That will push us towards civil war.

I wish that was hyperbole. He’s already said things like that at his campaign rallies. I’ve seen the videos. I’ve heard it from his stupid mouth. And there are a few Republican senators (like Mitch McConnell) that have suggested that Trump should be allowed to run for a third term because the Democrats didn’t give him a chance in the first term.

NOTE: For those that may not have been paying attention, Republicans controlled the House and the Senate the first two years of Trump’s presidency. Any argument amount Democratics blocking Trump is hogwash, especially with Mitch McConnell sitting with hundreds of House passed measures on his desk.

So whoever is on the Democratic ticket this fall, I will vote for them. That is the only way that we’re going to get Trump out of office.

Of the Democratic candidates, which one do I want to win?

Warren. I wanted her to run 4 years ago, and I’m glad she’s running now. I like her planned approach. I think she’s intelligent, and even if I disagree with some of her ideas, I acknowledge that I might be wrong and am willing to go along with her plans to see if they pan out. I think she’s flubbed in the past over the Native American heritage, but if that’s the worst she’s done, we will all find that a refreshing change over what we have now.

What about Bernie?

If he’s on the ticket at the end I’ll vote for him, but I don’t like him for President anymore. I hope he has a good running mate because I’m unsure his health is going to hold out through to 2024. He recently had a heart issue. He was one of the oldest candidates ever 4 years ago. He hasn’t grown younger.

There are a lot of people supporting Bernie that are reprehensible. I don’t want to judge Bernie by their behavior, other than it would be nice if he brought his followers in line and admonished the more caustic members of his body.

I’m just not a fan of Bernie in general, based on how he ran against Clinton in 2016. He did not always deal with Clinton with integrity, and that makes me wary. I have reservations.

And Biden? Again, I’ll vote for him if I have to, but I think he’s not awesome. On issues, he’s more like what the Republicans used to be. In fact, he’d be great for the Republican party at this point.

As for the others, I don’t think they’re going to make it through the primaries. It doesn’t matter what I feel about them. Yang seems like he’s got some great supporters and some good ideas, but he hasn’t captivated the nation.

So, I’d very much like to see Warren sworn in next year. After that, I’d like to see the US invest more in healthcare and education, deescalate tensions overseas, and shift the trillion dollar defense budget into domestic programs. These are the things I hope for optimistically.

When I’m feeling pessimistic, I think Trump is going to get reelected and Russian money will continue to influence our foreign and domestic policies.

01/29/20

Handling Pain

As I’m writing this, I’m in quite a bit of pain. Friday last week, I experienced a minor kidney stone, one I was able to deal with by drinking a bunch of water and taking a couple of Tylenol. On Sunday, I had another kidney stone hit me, strong enough to force me to go to urgent care and get checked up. Monday, the pain hit in the late afternoon and I managed it with the prescribed Norco. Today, siting in a Starbucks, I’m drinking a bunch of water and decaf coffee, hoping that my current discomfort will dissipate soon.

I’ve written about kidney stones before. I’ve had so many now that I can’t remember all of them individually. I’ve done everything I can do to avoid them, but they still occur, taking over my life, ruining my plans and overshadowing all other concerns.

While I have talked about kidney stones and the kind of pain they produce, I don’t know that I’ve ever talked about dealing with the pain. In this moment, with an awareness of my internal organs I’d rather be without, all I can think about is the pain I’m feeling, so I’m going to talk about it. Maybe it will prove to be writer fuel for another story.

The present pain is physical. It’s a continuous pressure situated on my left side. It’s not a sharp pain, like a stab wound. It’s not a pinch or a burn. it feels like my kidney is twice the size it should be, crammed into a spot near my lower back without enough room to accommodate it. It doesn’t feel like a burn, but there is a sense of warmth to the pain.

It is pain that knows no compromise. I can’t sit in any position which makes it easier. If I apply pressure to my left side, it makes the pain a little bit worse, but not so intense as to drop me to my knees. It is persistent. Constant. Unrelenting.

It’s the kind of sensation that makes me think “This isn’t fair!” It’s the kind of pain that makes me want to plead and bargain for it to go away, but prayer hasn’t done any good so far.

What do I do about it? How do I survive?

Time for some dangerous honesty. I’ve had suicidal thoughts in the past, and while I’m not seriously considering suicide at the moment, death would be a mercy right now. Not for my family or for the people that care about me, but this isn’t a life affirming pain. This is debilitating. This is crushing. This is torture.

I thought that writing about this would help provide a distraction and help me get a handle on it. I’m at Starbucks. It’s Wednesday and I’m here to write tonight. A moment ago, I had to lock my workstation and run off to the bathroom to throw up. If you haven’t had pain intense enough to make you sick, consider yourself lucky.

Why am I writing about all this? Why am I putting you through what I’m going through? Am I such a monster that I would take this pain and force you to feel some measure of it through my words?

The thing about pain is that it is often invisible. When it isn’t invisible, it’s ignorable. When it’s not ignorable, it’s inconvenient, and we do whatever is required in order to bury the pain or make it go away.

In this Starbucks, there are two men sitting less than 10 feet away from me. I’m clearly visible to them, writhing in my chair, trying to keep myself still long enough to type this post, but they don’t see what I’m going through. After I left the bathroom from vomiting, I checked myself in the mirror. I’m pale, my eyes are bloodshot… the signs of distress are obvious to my eyes. But no one in this whole store has said anything to me. Not that I want them to, necessarily. It just strikes me as remarkable that I can be here among all these people, agony twisting me and reshaping my reality, and no one is aware.

There are people all around us every day, going through their own flavor of trauma. Maybe their pain isn’t as intense as a kidney stone, but it’s there. Maybe it’s in their joints. Maybe it’s in their stomach. Perhaps someone is struggling to contend with a migraine while still wearing a smile on their face, taking your order and making your drink while you’re just trying to move on to the next thing.

Not all pain is physical. If I have to say one good thing about this kidney stone, it’s that it alters my perspective enough to make me forget the other pains in my life.

Recently, I left my online critique group. I had a feeling that I didn’t fit in well. My insecurities are always telling me that I don’t fit in with the groups I associate, but I decided to check in and see if there was anything to it. My presence in the group created stress for the others. It wasn’t just in my head. I bowed out as gracefully as I could. I want to maintain the friendships, but I know that things will be different from now on. It’s another sort of pain that I can’t reason with, but it’s not the kind of discomfort that leads to me throwing up in a public bathroom. It’s the kind of pain that makes me want to spend less time around other people.

My Mom died 18 years ago this month. She was a difficult person to be around. Overbearing, competitive, and prone to anger. I share these qualities with her, and it makes me unbearable. In groups like the one I just left, it made me a source of pain. But unlike a kidney stone, I can be reasoned with, and I’m sympathetic.

I still feel the emotional pain from leaving that group. It is present, even now. But the kidney stone changes my perspective. Once this bout of kidney pain has run its course, my perspective will still remain altered, and the pain of leaving that critique group will be less.

What’s the point of all this? Why am I posting this? What are my parting thoughts this time?

If you’re a writer reading this, consider the affect of pain on your characters. Both emotional and physical. Pain makes people want to withdraw to lick their wounds. Intense pain isolates. Sitting here in this Starbucks while a tiny stone ravages my internals and ruins my day, I feel alone. Separate. Not all people deal with pain the same way, but they do deal with it. If your characters are going through some trauma, be it physical or emotional, make sure their reaction to that trauma is appropriate.

If you’re reading this because you care about me… thank you. I don’t want anyone to worry about me and I’m not calling out for sympathy or special treatment. This is just a time of pain, and the way I handle it is to take it apart, compartmentalize what I can, and push to get through to the other side.

As a call to action, I urge you to consider the other people around you with as much sympathy and empathy as you can muster. Chances are, there is someone near you at this very moment that is enduring pain you cannot see. Since you have no way of knowing who is suffering and who isn’t, the best thing you can do is treat everyone with as much love and kindness as you can afford.

12/20/19

Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker Review

I’m going to get into spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet and you’re planning on it, come back later and see if your opinions match mine. I have strong opinions, but an open mind. I usually love talking about Star Wars with people, so hit me up!

And before you go, I want to throw out a quick note that I finished the first draft of Synthetic Dreams a couple of weeks ago. It’s currently a little over 100,000 words. I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written. It’s going to take a couple of drafts before it’s presentable, but I think it’s something special.

Also, if you’re bailing on this post early, I want to wish you a Merry Christmas and a wonderful holiday!

Now let’s talk about Star Wars.

** Spoilers Below **

In Rise of Skywalker, we learn that Emperor Palpatine has returned from the dead, Rey is his granddaughter, and nothing makes a lick of sense.

At this point in time, I do not like this movie. It was visually stunning, but a sloppy mess in every other respect. Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley did great. There was a few moments that were cool. Other than that, it was in a mad rush to deliver shallow fan service to people that I don’t believe are actual fans.

What did I find so sloppy? Let’s get into it.

In the beginning, Kylo Ren is kicking ass in order to find one of two Sith triangle thingies that will enable him to navigate this weird region of space to arrive at a Sith planet. The point is, not just anyone can go to this Sith planet. It’s dangerous and mysterious.

Kylo gets there and finds Palpatine in the flesh. Not a Force ghost or anything. He’s shabby and messed up, croaking and laughing, telling Kylo that’s been pulling the strings the whole time. That he made Snoke and pretended to be Vader. If he had a mustache, he would have twirled it.

So, for anyone upset about how Snoke was treated… are you happy? They even showed a vat where Snoke-like beings were being grown. You wanted to know Snoke’s backstory? Here you go!

Honestly, I’m not bothered for the explanation of Snoke. I don’t care about him! His presence in the story was exactly like Emperor Palpatine’s, and he had exactly as much backstory as Palpy for how he got to be an evil raisin, which is none. Neither needed it, so dropping this little side note feels like an effort to appease a noisy subset of the fan base.

But I’m getting sidetracked, and I’m not sure anyone else even noticed all the stuff about Snoke. That includes the fans for which it was targeted.

The point is, Palpy is back in the flesh, miraculously, and he’s living on this Sith planet where he’s been building a brand new fleet of star destroyers, each equipped with a weapon capable of destroying planets. And we’re not talking 5 or 10 of these ships. There were dozens, maybe hundreds, on screen.

So… wait.

Who built these things? Who’s operating these ships? Where did the material come from? These ships rise up from this remote and treacherous Sith planet that you need a special pyramid just to get to. How did these ships come into being? How did we get enough people here to run them? How can there be so many people involved in this, and yet this place is still a secret?

I like stories to make me ask questions, but I’m these are questions I’m probably not supposed to ask. There are no answers. Palpy brought himself back to life off screen, somehow, and he conjured a huge and deadly fleet to threaten the galaxy… somehow. And there are people running these ships… somehow.

Meanwhile, our heroes are rushing around and quipping, and I’m not sure they’re actually doing anything that matters. A spy has informed them that Palpy’s back, and Rey knows from sacred texts and Luke’s notes about the pyramid thingies that can take you to the Sith world. So they rush for a McGuffin, almost die, Chewie’s captured, then killed by Rey(!)… but not really, because this isn’t a movie about taking chances or telling something new. It’s more about throwing disconnected plot elements at the screen and offering spectacle as distractions while hoping the audience doesn’t notice all the raging gaps.

I’m going to jump around a little bit, because I feel like the points I’m trying to make are starting to sound like baseless attacks. There are a few different McGuffings, including two pyramid thingies and a weird knife. The knife points out the location of one of these triangles… but don’t think about this too much, because you’ll quickly realize that the knife would only work if you’re standing in the exact place where the ridges in the blade would line up with the ridges of the remains of the Death Star… and why would someone go to all the trouble of making a dagger like this again? And…

Focus, Brian.

Rey runs off to get this pyramid thingie — she runs off a lot during the run of this movie — and has a conflict with Kylo Ren. He destroys the thingie, they have a tense fight which is actually effective, Leia dies at exactly the right moment to distract Kylo, and Rey runs him through with a lightsaber.

This conflict works for me. The story could have gone in a couple of different directions, and I’m okay with the one they chose for this moment. This is one of the highlights of the movie for me.

Rey leaves Kylo Ren behind, stealing his ship and flying off to the planet where Luke had been hiding out. Luke shows up, they talk, and he sets her right. There’s a lot in this scene I like, too.

But now we’re back to the sloppiness. Rey is convinced that she needs to go and confront Palpatine, and Luke tells her that she has all that she requires. Then she remembers that she stole Kylo’s ship, and his pyramid thingie is in it! Now she can go meet her destiny using Luke’s X-wing!

However, something I failed to mention previously…

Earlier, in a scene they showed in one of the trailers where she jumps up with a lit lightsaber as Kylo’s TIE fighter is about to run her down, Rey destroys Kylo’s ship. He walks out of the wreckage and they have a bit of a showdown, but she definitely destroyed his ship.

So later, when she steals his ship and finds the thingie inside… it doesn’t add up. He could have taken it from the wreckage of his other ship and put it in the new one, but that would have happened entirely off screen, and this is a plot point. They focused on this to make it seem clever, but since Rey destroyed the ship that probably had the McGuffin, it doesn’t feel clever at all. It feels sloppy and stupid.

I didn’t care for the relationships. Finn ghosted Rose for Rey, but was too scared to actually tell her how he felt, so that whole thread goes unresolved. Rey kissed Kylo/Ben for some reason.

Oh, and Palpy. Everything about Palpy was unsatisfying. If he just kept his mouth shut, his plan would have worked. Rey would have chopped up his bits and he would have possessed her and ruled on the throne. And when the hell did Palpy make a baby? Why didn’t he try to possess his child instead of his grandchild?

I’ve focused pretty heavily on what are effectively plot holes, and I’m usually fairly forgiving of that sort of thing. Most plot holes don’t matter. The ones I’m talking about bug me because so much of the story rests on them.

Let’s talk about themes. What was this movie trying to say? One of the themes is that together, we are stronger. Sure enough, whenever Rey runs off by herself, something terrible happens. It’s when Kylo/Ben shows up at the end to stand with her that they are able to rise up and be victorious over evil. The Rebels would have lost if the rest of the Galaxy hadn’t shown up at this impossibly difficult to reach location to shut down The Final Order. We are stronger together is a consistent theme in the movie.

So why is the last scene of the movie Rey going off on her own to Tatooine, without her friends, to bury Luke and Leia’s lightsabers?

Parting Thoughts…

Maybe I’ll enjoy the movie more in the future. I don’t know. The more I think about it, the more flaws stick out to me. There were some good moments, and then there were some moments that were almost good.

I’m sure this movie will make some people happy. Maybe I’m being too nitpicky and too harsh. I wanted to have a good time. I just didn’t.

If you enjoyed it, great. I don’t want to yuck your yum.

I’m reminded a little of when I went to see Star Trek: Generations. I could not get over the stupidity of the plot. I still can’t get over it. I hope I’ll like Rise of Skywalker more in time, but since I never forgave Generations, I’m not holding my breath.

11/16/19

Defending Your Beliefs

I took a little break, both from blogging and from writing. After months of pushing and pushing, I reached a point where I needed to stop, play some computer games, and just let things rest for a few days. I’m not participating in National Novel Writing Month this year, but I am still planning on finishing a first draft of a novel I started last year.

Today, I want to talk about what it means to defend one’s beliefs. This is about faith, integrity, facts, and stubbornness. It’s about religion, politics, science, and fiction. This is a topic that is at the heart of many of my stories, and in light of recent events, I want to get into it.

In other words, I want to finish my novel, but I’m not going to be able to write any fiction today until I get this off my chest.

Facts are Facts

Let’s start with the most important point: facts are not subject to interpretation. You can make an argument that the truths we cling to are dependent on our point of view, but statements of fact are immutable. This is the information that is measurable. You can see, taste, feel, hear, or smell a fact. My cup holds 12oz of sugary coffee. My keyboard is a bluetooth device. I’m sitting at Starbucks off of Florin road on a Saturday. These are facts.

Opinions are not facts. Opinions can be informed by facts, but they are not interchangeable. “Starbucks has the best coffee” is an opinion. You can try to support the opinion by comparing it to other coffee chains, the amount of money they make and how many stores they manage to keep open, but there are people that will prefer Peet’s or McDonald’s or whatever they brew at home.

Faith is Fine Until it is Not

You might have thought I was about to go into politics, but instead I’m going to pivot and speak directly to my Christian readers. Let’s talk about faith and The Bible.

I learned in church that faith is knowing something without the need of evidence. Different words were used, but the definition I’ve laid out holds true. God wants us to trust in Him, give our problems over to Him, and have faith. We are instructed to walk in faith. Have faith that Jesus was the son of God, died for our sins, was raised after three days, seen by his disciples, then ascended to heaven. Faith.

In Acts, we are shown a situation where God demands us to adjust our faith when a set of facts contradicts it. Peter is on a roof, and God lays before Peter a banquet full of food Peter ordinarily would not eat. To paraphrase a little…

“Eat the BLT, Pete!” God says.

“I can’t! You put me on a diet!”

“If I’m the boss of you, and I tell you a bacon lettuce tomato sandwich is yummy, put that food in your lowest face hole!”

“Are… are you sure?”

“Bitch, eat your sandwich and be happy!”

Peter entered that scenario with his faith and his dedication to his Jewish heritage. Then God presented a new set of facts which contradicted Peter’s faith. And Peter, after having already failed Jesus three times, was taught the same lesson I’m trying to present in this essay: incontrovertible facts outweigh faith.

If we are presented with undeniable, provable facts which contradict our beliefs, it is not the facts which are at fault. It is our beliefs.

Statements of Fact Should Not Be Political

Now let’s get political. I’m going to start listing a number of facts. These all sound like political statements.

  • The 2016 election was over 3 years ago and Donald Trump continues to bring it up.
  • In the 2016 election, Donald Trump lost the popular vote by more than 3 million votes.
  • Donald Trump was elected as the Republican candidate.
  • Republicans usually support conservative values, including Christianity, anti-abortion, fiscally conservative, pro-gun/2nd amendment legislation.
  • Donald Trump has been married multiple times, mostly to models from other countries.
  • Donald Trump had an affair with a porn star and paid her off with $130,000 to stay quiet during the run-up to his election.
  • I do not believe Donald Trump is a good representation of Christian family values or conservative principles.
  • Donald Trump said running up into the election that he would release his taxes.
  • Donald Trump is the first president in decades to not release his taxes.
  • Donald Trump is fighting the release of his taxes in the court system, a battle which appears to be going to The Supreme Court.
  • Donald Trump repeatedly berated President Obama for spending time at the gold course.
  • Donald Trump has spent more time at the gold course than any other president in history.
  • The Emoluments clause in the Constitution is meant to shield federal officeholders (including the office of President) from “corrupting influences.” In other words, a person holding a position such as President is not supposed to supposed to be open to bribes through the use of their property.
  • President Jimmy Carter put his peanut farm in a trust when he became president, in order to adhere to the principles of The Emoluments clause.
  • Donald Trump has made millions of dollars through his hotels while in office, as dignitaries and security details are charged to stay at his properties.
  • A sum of money was approved by congress to support Ukraine against Russia.
  • By order of Donald Trump, that money was held up.
  • Donald Trump had a conversation with the newly elected president of Ukraine, in which Donald Trump asked the new president to do him a favor, work with his personal attorney, and investigate a potential political rival and their son.
  • At no point in that conversation did Donald Trump use the word “corruption” or refer to corruption within Ukraine.
  • Someone listening to the conversation became concerned that the president was abusing his office for political gain and went through legal channels to raise a whistle-blower complaint.
  • Two days after news broke of the whistle-blower complaint, the money was released to Ukraine.

These are all statements of fact. They are all verifiable. There is video evidence for most of these. Many of these have been verified from Trump himself in the form of transcripts released by the White House.

If I’m wrong about any of these, if I have the facts wrong, please let me know, and provide credible evidence that refutes what I’ve stated. I’m open to having my opinions and beliefs changed by the presentation of more, irrefutable facts. I learned the lesson of Peter.

Parting Thoughts

I can see people disputing some of the things I’ve stated, saying “you only watch the liberal news!”

There is a smidgen of truth to that. Most of the news sources I listen to are branded liberal. CNN, Washington Post, sometimes NY Times.

Every once in a while, I’ll glance at Fox news or The Hill or Politico or MSNBC. As I’m reading, I watch for opinions disguised as facts. If the ratio leans too far into opinion, I abandon ship.

Mostly I watch for the direct evidence. I download the White House transcripts and read them myself. I watch videos of Trump speaking, and I read his tweets. He does himself no favors.

It’s painful, because I can list a series of facts which are damning when all taken together. I didn’t even list them all. Those were just the ones I could think of off the top of my head. I didn’t go into The Mueller report, or Manafort, or Cohen. There’s so much more.

I see all these things and it makes me sad and angry and frustrated, because there’s so many people that still support Trump. When presented with provable facts, they’d rather close their eyes or look away. Lindsay Graham is a good example of this.

Anyway, that’s enough of that for the day. I think I’ll focus on something more positive, like the post-apocalyptic setting in the novel I’m trying to finish.

11/4/19

Save the Cat, Marvel Movies, Scorsese and Coppola

Due to travel and a wee bit of exhaustion, I broke the #blogtober chain. I wondered how long I could go, posting something every day. It turns out one solid car trip is enough to break the run.

But that’s okay! I’m not doing NaNoWiMo this year. I’ve got too much other stuff going on. All good things. That means I have more time this year to be active here, so hopefully I won’t disappear for months on end like I have before.

As I mentioned, I spent a good chunk of the day driving from LA to Sacramento. I finished the audio book I started when I drove down to LA on Thursday, and then I listened to music and thought about writing and the book I just listened to.

The audio book was Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. A lot of people rave about it online, and I wanted to see what all the buzz was about. Now that Snyder’s book is in my brain, I have a lot of thoughts I want to share.

Save the Cat – A Summary

Save the Cat is directed towards screenplay writers, spending time not only getting into the nuts and bolts of writing a screenplay, but also touching on the business side of it. The author makes bold claims about how the methods and rules described in the book are the difference between a screenplay being successful or failing in obscurity. Snyder describes success in financial terms, and is very clear that writers should focus on the bottom line more than following their heart. They will still make art, as long as they follow the rules and don’t paint outside the lines.

The term “save the cat” is itself one of the rules described in the book. It refers to a moment in the screenplay where the protagonist does something likable, making it easier for the audience to engage with them. They can save a cat, show mercy to a criminal thug that brought their son to a baseball game, or engage in a conversation about French cheeseburgers before doing a bunch of gun murder.

There are other rules in Save the Cat which I thought were interesting. Pope in the Pool, Too Much Rope, Black Vet… these were all great tips which have direct application in other forms of writing.

Save the Cat – My Reaction

I think the book has a lot of value. I recommend other writers read it, even if you’re like me and have no desire to write a screenplay. I know Save the Cat Writes a Novel exists, but I heard it’s not as good as the original. I may give it a try later when my to-be-read pile is a little thinner.

That said, I had some problems with Save the Cat. For starters, Blake Snyder took issue with movies like Memento and Unbreakable, movies which don’t easily fit within structure described in the book. He also bashed Signs, but I thought that was fair. A movie he didn’t mention is the original Rocky, which would have been ruined by his three act structure methodology.

The overall attitude of Save the Cat is that success is measured in dollars, and if you want to be a successful writer, you must adhere to the structure laid out in the book. The structure is rigid enough that it describes the number and placement of scenes, the emotional curves, and the overall journey of any story. It’s rigid, mechanical, and guarantees that the movie goer is going to get the same basic movie experience every time.

Novels are different, but like I said, I see people online applying the terminology and methods of Save the Cat to novels, and it makes my teeth hurt. I think something is lost. It’s exactly the same as telling a musician they can only write songs using the same four chords.

Four chord songs are extremely popular and successful, but it’s not the only way to write music. The three act structure is handy and reliable, but it’s not the only way to write a screenplay. It is definitely not the only way to write a novel.

Scorsese, Coppola, and The Marvel Cinematic Universe

Recently, Martin Scorsese said that the Marvel movies were not cinema. Francis Ford Coppola joined Scorsese in admonishing the films, going a step further and calling them despicable.

Some people may agree with them. A lot of people disagree. Emotions can run hot because these are very popular movies. If you don’t like Marvel Movies, we can still be friends, but I’m of the opinion that these are some of the finest experiences I’ve enjoyed at the theater for the last decade, and I respectfully disagree with the legendary directors disparaging the MCU.

But let’s take a step back and put this in context. Let’s break apart some of these Marvel movies and examine their structure. Actually, let’s be a little bit lazy and let the more educated and eloquent Lindsey Ellis break it down for us. In the following video, she breaks down 3 act structure and includes Iron Man as one of her examples.

Let’s also listen to Michael from Lessons of the Screenplay’s video, which dedicates the entire run time to analyzing the structure of Marvel movies.

Both of those videos are excellent. If you don’t have time to watch them now, watch them later. They’re worth it.

In the mean time, accept my word when I say that Marvel employs the three act structure, adhering strictly with the rules Blake Snyder describes in Save the Cat.

The Paradox Spelled Out

In case you missed it, here is what I’ve said so far:

  1. I don’t like reflexively applying the three act structure to stories
  2. Scorsese and Coppola don’t like Marvel movies
  3. I LOVE Marvel movies
  4. The Marvel movies successfully use the three act structure as if they’re trying to replace all their toilet paper with dollar bills

Am I being inconsistent?

On the surface it looks that way, but I don’t think so. What turns me off of Save the Cat isn’t the content, it’s the attitude that it is the only way. That attitude is backed up and supported by individuals in the writing community. I don’t actually have a problem with the three act structure itself. I have a problem with the inflexibility surrounding it.

When I constructed the outline for Synthetic Dreams, I used a three act structure as a framework! And as the story has grown, I’ve broken away from the structure a little, organically allowing the novel to take its own form. The tension has escalated in the third act, dropped off, then escalated again. There have been two scenes that could be described as “whiff of death” moments.

And it’s fine. For one thing, I’m not writing a screenplay. For another, I’m not writing a screenplay, so we shouldn’t strictly apply screenplay rules to my novel. If it ever gets adapted to a movie, we’ll have a different conversation about how my story will be adapted.

But let’s get back to Scorsese and Coppola. Are they criticizing the three act structure the way I am?

No, they’re not. Many of their movies, especially Coppola, adhere to a three act structure.

So what are they bitching about? The spectacle? The big budget action thrillers based on pop culture media?

If that’s what their pointing at, Coppola is a hypocrite. The Godfather movies were exactly that, in their time. Moderate budget films based on books that were popular.

Are the Marvel Movies Cinema?

I honestly don’t know what Scorsese and Coppola are saying. They’re geniuses, and they’re entitled to their opinion. It seems like they’re saying that cinema should teach. That the movie goer should leave the theater having gained something.

From Tony Stark, we learned about taking responsibility. We learned that we are more than the legacy we inherited, and that we need to rise up out of the mud when we’ve been knocked down. We learned that sometimes doing the right thing comes with a cost. We saw a man conflicted, dealing with grief and loss, falling into his more base humanity and losing one of his closest friends as a result. In the final movie, after escaping the fight and having a taste of the happy ending he deserved, he walks away from retirement, puts on the suit on last time, and gives his life to save the world, fulfilling the promise of his story laid out across ten years of cinema.

That’s just one of dozens of characters that have compelling character arcs across multiple movies. From Steve Rogers, we start with someone that seems to already have it together, their physical body becoming as perfect as their morality and integrity. But then we see him challenged, force to put down naivety and make difficult choices. Can he just be a soldier when the organization he’s fighting asks him to do wrong? Can he be the man he wants to be without leaving his friends behind? In the end, to be a complete person, he must lay down a little bit of what makes him The Perfect Soldier and simply be The Good Man that the doctor saw in him when he was first chosen. It’s then that he becomes worthy to lift Mjolnir. It’s then that he decides he is worthy enough of the life he always wanted, full of love and joy with the woman that fell in love with him before he became a living Adonis.

This is cinema. This is story. These are characters that we can love and learn from. And thanks to Marvel, we can have a damned fine time doing it.

Parting Thoughts

I want to reiterate that I do not have a problem with the three act structure anymore than I have a problem with four chord songs. Media made with these structures in mind can still move me. And sometimes, I am inspired to make my own stories that adhere to this structure.

One of the jobs of the creature is to be true to the characters, and speak truth through the characters. Truth, in this case, is not the same as facts, and it may not be the truth according to the author. An optimistic writer can include a nihilistic protagonist, and the truth of the character is different the truth of the person that created them.

If you find yourself forcing a character to act against their truth in order to adhere to the three act structure, you are probably doing something wrong. Characters are the story. The three structure is just one of many delivery mechanisms.

11/2/19

A Great Day at World Fantasy

It’s Saturday, my third day at World Fantasy 2019, and before I get too far into the day, I want to talk about yesterday. Yesterday was a really great day.

To Panel or Not To Panel

When I first started going to conventions, I’d take out my laptop and take judicious notes. I mapped out my schedule to maximize the efficiency of my day, going to panel after panel, filling my brain with the wisdom of the panelists. I did this several times a year for several years. For a while, I even posted my notes to this blog.

Over time, the efficacy of the panels began to wane. I started to hear more and more repeat information. I kept taking notes, but I was writing down the same thing I’d written before. The faces changed, the words changed slightly, but the content remained the same. Learning stopped happening, and I stopped enjoying panels. It felt like being a college student taking the same courses over and over and never advancing. A waste of both time and money.

I went to a panel early in the day yesterday about ways to make sure your manuscript isn’t dead-on-arrival when it reaches an agent or editor. I took out my laptop, prepared to take notes as usual. I listened attentively the entire hour, then left. Outside the panel, I ran into someone that arrived late.

“Oh, I can fill you in on what you missed,” I said. “Here it is in its entirety. In order to make sure your manuscript has the best chance of landing, do the following two things: 1) Do your research. 2) Be professional.”

The panelists didn’t say that in so many words, but everything they did say fell into those two categories.

That’s when I realized I wasn’t going to worry so much about panels at cons like this. If there are people on the panel I like listening to, I’ll go. If there’s nothing better for me to do, I’ll go. Otherwise, my time is better served hanging out with friends or writing. That’s what I did most of the rest of the day.

Writing! Getting to The Sweet Stuff

A week or so ago, I talked about how I felt stuck in my writing. The words were coming, but they were slow. I had to really work to get through a part of my manuscript, and frankly, I felt depressed that I was going to miss my goal of completing the first draft before November.

Yesterday, I wrote over 8000 words, and it felt great. The words were easy. The scenes were clear. I like what I wrote, and I’m finding greater depth in the story than what I originally envisioned. The themes I wanted to include are there, but there are others that are popping up I hadn’t consciously intended, and I love it.

Some of this is because I’m relaxed. I probably put too much pressure on myself before November to finish, which caused me to clench.

More importantly, I’ve reached scenes I’ve been looking forward to writing for months. These are fun, pivotal scenes, where everything is coming together. The tension is ratcheting up as we get closer and closer to the climax. This is the Sweet Stuff. I’m fulfilling for myself the promises I made when I set out to write this story. These aren’t necessarily the same promises the story makes to the reader, but there is overlap.

I understand the appeal of writers that are able to jump around in their manuscript. I’ve always written chronologically because so much of the interesting stuff happens during discovery. I can’t write a call from chapter 30 to chapter 15 if I haven’t written chapter 15 yet. Non-chronological writers work the callbacks in during revisions, sure, but I like to include them as I go.

It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know

So, if I’m not getting much from the panels at this convention, what am I doing here? I could just write at home, right?

The real value of cons is the networking. It’s meeting peers and business associates that are working in the same field. This isn’t just predatory or transactional. In fact, I advise against trapping an editor or agent into a conversation, because that’s the worst possible impression you can leave.

Conventions are full of people, so the main benefit of attending is meeting people. You can meet some people at panels, but the real opportunities happen at the parties (if they have any) or at the bar. BarCon is real. We would not have The Dresden Files if not for BarCon.

The problem for me is that, while I can maintain my end of a conversation once I’m involved, I have a hard time meeting people. I’m shy, introverted, nervous, anxious… I approach the noise and chaos of the crowds near the bar, and I feel the blood drain out of my face. I don’t know how to engage. Several times last night, I stood at the edges looking in, seeking a familiar face or an invitation. When I didn’t see an opportunity, when I felt tired from the efforts of trying to engage, I retreated to my room and worked on my novel.

You’re starting to see how I wrote 8000 words in one day, aren’t you?

Fortunately, my buddy Michael didn’t let me off the hook. He found me in my room, talked me into going back to the bar, and helped me find ways into conversation. And then I was fine. I met some cool people and I had a good time.

Parting Thoughts

I’ve spent the morning near the bar at a tall table meant for people with laptops. Several people have approached, often delighted by my keyboard, and I’ve been able to engage in conversations. I have also managed to write several hundred words and this blog post.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again. Do, or do not. There is no try.

Whatever cliché or phrase you want to use to describe it, the trick is to not give up and to keep doing what you can do. I’m seeing incremental successes. And at this moment in time, I feel like I have what it takes to have a career in writing.

Speaking of… CHECK THIS OUT!!