Saturday, July 27, 2013

Bathroom Monologue: Playing Pool

"I have a headache. Go without me."

"No, come down to the pool with us. Francis invented a new game. It's amazing."

"I don't know. What game?"

"We take ten Nerf balls. They're foam and full of air, so they float. And you make a triangle out of them, floating in the middle of the pool."

"Ugh, and Francis gets drunk and jumps on them?"

"No, it's way more measured. Everyone takes turns aiming the pool skimmer and knocking an eleventh ball at the triangle of ten. They scatter and bob all over the pool, usually towards the filters."

"So, it's like billiards? I like billiards."

"Exactly like billiards. You get a point for every time one goes into the filter. It's really fun to see if you can aim with the way the water sloshes around. Kind of zen. I bet you'd be good at it."

"I might try it. What's it called?"

"Oh, Pool Ball."

"Get away from me."

Friday, July 26, 2013

Bathroom Monologue: The Catch

The breath caught in Ade Akingbola's throat for the last time as the doctor explained his heart condition. Well, the second to the last time, and as he looked at x-rays and listened to possible surgeries, he calculated to not permit the true last catching of breath for a damned long time.

He explained to the others that they'd be losing their second-best shortstop. How he loved softball, and he'd still come, and still bring the home-made limeade, though he'd add less sugar from now on. That, too, was a loss.

More doctors, these cardiovascular elites called "specialists," explained that the condition was spreading to his lungs. Except "spreading" here meant "atrophy" or "corrosion." In a month, it was in his bones too. How did your heart rob your bones? By being too weak.

In a month the softball season started up again, too. By then he needed a wheelchair. A second wheelchair, actually, a motorized one after he could no longer safely move him. The effort, you know, was often hard on people.

The spring was too hard on too many people. Ade only had to visit the hospital three times a week; his friends had to lose at softball on four. He couldn't play shortstop, he couldn't even yell to support them. He could dump vodka in the limeade, though, and by Week Five, he strongly suspected it was helping more than their coach. They still lost – he'd been their second best shortstop because all but Nelson and Idrissa lacked reflexes – but they were cheerier about it an hour later. Sometimes they played morning games hung over, and no hangover changed how badly they lost. Sometimes they came closer to winning, sliding into first while trying not to throw up on the opposing team.

Ade watched every game from his mechanical chair, a sippy cup of water to keep himself hydrated and an iPhone full of cardio stats he had to monitor. There was, it appeared, an app for your heart turning against you. An app for it taking your lungs and bones with it.

He used the phone to count the unhappy winners. Team after team waddled off the field as softball season grew deep, complaining about their backs, frowning at their bats, squinting at their cars as though they hadn't played a game for several hours, as though softball had been a square traffic jam and the dugouts a miserable off-ramp preventing them from hitting their cars. God, Ade hoped he'd enjoyed playing more than all these winners did. He remembered himself having loved it, but also remembered complaining more than he liked, the mere memory making his breathing speed up, which he couldn't abide. Not if he wanted to postpone the last time his breath would catch in his throat.

Ade Akingbola found his lips smiling – had to raise his hand and feel his mouth to be sure of it, and moving his hands idly like that was no easy task anymore. He was fondling his own smile as a winning relief pitcher, who'd shut out Ade's friends for the last three innings, grimaced, spat chaw in the red dust, and walked for his Volvo. Ade pushed the switch to wheel backward, to get out of the miserable winner's way. The miserable winner wouldn't look him in the face; looked him in the chair, sure, briefly, before ticking his head away. Winning must have been so hard on some people.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Why I tried writing a Wonder Woman movie no one will make.

TV series cancelled because a DC main character smiled.
So yesterday I posted the synopsis for a Wonder Woman movie that I tried to write in thirty minutes. It's rough as heck, but seemed worth trying when many people have spent years on adapting the character to film and came out of it saying she's an impossible character. At Comic-Con last weekend they announced a Flash and a Batman/Superman movie, and Twitter rightly got upset about the lack of such a famous character getting her screen time.

I wasn't offended until the old arguments that she's uninteresting or not fit for motion pictures resurfaced. These arguments are nonsense, and given that she is the most iconic female superhero, and the current glut of superhero movies are already decidedly light on ladies, it reads gross.
First and foremost: there is an excellent Wonder Woman movie. It's animated, free to stream if you have Amazon Prime and cheap on DVD, and could be remade live action shot-for-shot into a splendid blockbuster. And it'd be an empowering, fun action flick that happened to star an iconic woman. Please don't tell me that's the reason why you can't make it.

Second and possibly foremoster: Wonder Woman is a sexy warrior from a familiar but different culture who engages critically with ours and gets to fight anything from the Grecko-Roman bestiary or pantheon you want. She has a history of punching Nazis, robots, aliens and dragons - the untouchable holy quartet of ass-kicking. From a writing and promotional perspective, there is no reason she's not a franchise. Probably a really explodey dumb one that grosses embarrassingly well.

And my synopsis was for that kind of blockbuster. It's honestly not the Wonder Woman I'd like to make, rather the kind that seems like every producer deems unfeasible, a message I deem harmful.

If Smallville adapts the costume well as a gag,
then costume design isn't a valid excuse anymore.
The Wonder Woman movie I'd rather make is of a superhero who bridged to our culture in World War II against the worst of all possible enemies, then grew up with us for decades, with the moral decay of wars in Korea and Vietnam and Iraq, who is a crucible for our shortcomings and an agent against them. If it's too much like the Superman I'd write, well, tough. We deserve heroes we can’t relate to when we suck.

Also, the superhero movie I really want to make is actually Daredevil & She-Hulk: Attorneys at Law, but that's another story and another company.

There's a Wired column I won't waste your clicks linking to that asserts a Wonder Woman movie has to be uncomfortably feminist and bondage-themed. That's needless clickbait writing, something encroaching more and more of Wired. The truth is that a WW film can be about uncomfortable feminist issues and bondage, or about other facets of her character. The bondage baggage, in particular, is something I couldn't think to incorporate in my half hour and probably wouldn't in my final draft. It ain't essential, but it's out there and a valid interpretation.

My guess is that the real pitfalls of a Wonder Woman movie aren't that no one has an idea. As many annoying things as Joss Whedon has said about the character, he had a decent idea before Warner Bros shot him down. It's more likely money-backers who don't believe in female leads, testy focus groups, the decreasingly tenable profits blockbusters must bring in turning studios even more conservative. It's enough to make you wonder what we'd get if copyright laws were different and anyone could make a movie about her.
Enough to make you wonder. Get it?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Wonder Woman Movie Outline - Written in 30 minutes.

Yesterday: I ran my mouth about people saying there can't be a good Wonder Woman movie. They've taken years to produce nothing. I have myself half an hour to write how one might go and had to stop when the alarm clock rang.

Today: I'm sharing what I wrote, no editing, exposing my typos, my stream of consciousness, and some hackneyed writing. At worst, I'm showing the earliest thing in any of my creative processes I've ever put out there. I'm a little scared.

Tomorrow: I'm going to unpack my reasons for trying this, the offense of being told there's no chance of a good Wonder Woman movie when they're trying to reboot Green Lantern and Flash, and perhaps field some comments/hatemail.

We start with two points of view. Our first is Steve Trevor, grounding us in the present United States, post-Man of Steel. Our government is paranoid about what else is out there. The Fortress of Solitude was just hiding in ice? So drones and stealth pilots are sweeping as much space as possible. Trevor is piloting the most advanced human machine out there scanning for suspicious signs and jaw-jacking with friend Hal Jordan.

Our second (and main) point of view is through the island of Themyscira, removed from modern culture. Their sky shimmers with the magical barriers that keep the world ignorant to their presence; the Amazons have been hiding for a long time, and there's mention that they've refused reconciliation even with the king of Atlantis. Something awful and unspoken once happened here, but Queen Hippolyta has decreed silence and progress. She sometimes watches the modern world through a pool, ala the original Clash of the Titans, but forbids others to view of it. The Amazons do not speak of the prison of Hades that exists beneath their palace. The Amazons want to be alone, all except one. Guess who.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Happy Urban Legend 5: The Call is Coming From Inside the House

We all pretend we were that teenager. Down on her luck, no cash from the parents, desperate to make ends meet, and then she gets the call. A wealthy family with a big house who just need her to watch the kids overnight. They'll sleep through all of it.

This lucky girl tucks the kids in at 7, and because it's a fiction, they don't make a peep. She's wandering the mansion and pocketing their candy bars when her cell rings. In older versions of the story it's the house phone, but who has one of those anymore?

"Hello?" she asks.

The response is heavy breathing, like the caller has been sprinting. It goes on for a few seconds before he hangs up.

She thinks that's weird, and Caller ID says it's an unknown number. Maybe a friend from school butt-dialed her. She's walking into the next room when her cell rings again.


Heavier breathing this time, labored like it's coming through a cloth. She's about to threaten the call-troll when he hangs up again.

She goes to the foyer, looking out the windows, because if you've even heard of Horror movies, you look out the God-damned windows when this happens to you. There's no one there. She's convincing herself it was a dumb prank when her cell rings again. This time the shock is so great she almost throws it at the wall.

"Who the hell is this?"

There's more muffled breathing, and what sounds eerily close to a child's giggle. Then a muffled voice asks, "Have you checked the children?"

Like any smart young woman, she calls the police while fleeing the property. She isn't checking on crap until men with guns show up, and they do, with guns and radios and flashing lights. She gets several more calls while the police sweep the premises, begging her to send them away. By the second call, she sees movement in an upstairs window and realizes who's been trolling her. Every brat has a cell phone these days. She lets the sheriff be the one to catch the kids, and sticks around to see their parents have their own freak-out. The kids are grounded for life, and the parents pay her triple, so it's a happy ending. She doesn't spend the money on a new phone.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Bathroom Monologue: War Reporter with a Night Light

"It was only after people started shooting at me that I started using a nightlight. I didn't grow up with one; we didn't have reliable electricity in my home town. Back then, if you saw a light, it was a fire and you had to haul ass out of the house. That probably prepared me for a life of covering Sri Lanka and Iraq. And Chicago and Oakland, before you start thinking the foreigners are so violent. I took two bullets to the shoulder in Oakland on a police ride-along. The bullets went right through, like I wasn't even there. I was.

"Whoever had my hospital had owned a nightlight. It was orange, a jack o'lantern, way out of season. It had to have been a kid's. There was something about the orange glow amid the nurses saying it could have been way worse a few inches over here, and the doctor with all his eye contact, and the pain pills. I was profoundly lucky to be alive with that little light.

"I left it, hoped its kid owner would retrieve it. I bought my own on the way home, and plugged it into the bathroom with the door ajar. They made me stay home for two weeks while I became a bigger story than the beat I'd been trying to cover. It was a fog of frustration, of phony friends asking for quotes, of barely being able to leave the apartment. By the time I was clear, I just loved my nightlight. This one was jade.

"It stays home. When I went to cover Egypt last month, it shone on an empty apartment. No nightlights at work, no privilege of safety. Not until I got home. Then I slept with it on. Jade. Green light, go home."

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Lit Corner: What J.K. Rowling's Pen Name Means

By now you've heard that J.K. Rowling published Cuckoo's Calling, a pulpy crime novel, under the pen name "Robert Galbraith". It was a fascinating experiment that I can't blame her for trying after how her A Casual Vacancy was received. There were unreasonable hopes that the novel would be like Harry Potter, and a clear critical glee whenever it was weak. There was a feeling of a ripe target, of somebody so widely beloved who was now vulnerable and could be sniped at.
The Cuckoo's Calling experiment is interesting to most because she wowed critics. Reviewers who thought she was Robert Galbraith likened her novel to the bestsellers of the field. It's only now that she's been outed that critics are putting the knuckles to it.

It's more interesting to me because of its mediocre sales. Released by Little Brown, the New York Times reported it moved barely 1,500 copies. Rowling has since taken to the web claiming sales were a little higher, but like the depressing reports about how Pulitzer Prize nominees sold, this again reveals how little critical praise can mean to the book-buying public. It feels like someone in the law firm or publishing house outed her to sell more copies, and indeed, they're now printing 140,000 copies to catch up with sudden demand. 

That it sold so meekly makes some immediate sense: this is another crime story, not a revolutionary YA phenomenon. And the author could only promote it so much while hiding her identity. But it's still a sales performance many self-published authors have trumped from the woman who has unparalleled experience in the publishing industry. She's been privy to information from publishers, distributors, and even transmedia corporations. While the success of Harry Potter got much bigger than her grasp, she likely knows how to get books into the hands of critics and mavens (or knows the people who know how to).

There are two comforts in this story. One is that Rowling's writing is at least a little vindicated by hoodwinking critics into giving her a fresh analysis. Her trick reveals, once again, that expectations can rig the game, and that that our baggage distorts.

It's also comforting to know that one of the richest authors in human history can fall on her face when only quality of the work determines its place in the market. Cuckoo's Calling has been a critical success in crime fiction, but as a commercial mid-lister, it reminds that all those struggling debut and self-publishing authors are up against high adversity. It's easy to be chilled thinking our best work will be ignored, but if you've spent any time in the industry, you already knew there were severe odds. This affirms that every new face has to roll with those. You're not alone.

When the current wave of joke and back-patting articles subside, I imagine another wave of hindsighted visionaries explaining how Rowling could have done this all better. What I'm really looking forward to, though, is someone to write under a pen name and prove a theory of how a beginning author can win. Rowling did it once, though it took quite a long time for the spell to work.
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