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Musings

Best Of The New York Pics Part 4

January 4, 2017

Here’s another installment of my favorite New York City pics.

2014 was the last year for number 2, Derek Jeter. I made sure to get to a game that season to see one of my all-time favorites in the flesh before he hung up the cleats. For a guy who was so committed to excellence, it’s just a shame that the Yanks weren’t too good that year. Though they finished with a winning record, they didn’t make the playoffs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I believe this picture is from 2011. Lady Gaga was just in the process of becoming an enormous mega-star, and the Monster’s Ball Tour was coming to New York. Apparently, someone who’d spotted this poster, in the area of Times Square, wasn’t a fan.

 

 

 

Although it can’t be said that Megan and myself took advantage of all the cultural opportunities New York had to offer every day of the week, we did occasionally make it to a show. We saw Phantom of the Opera, Book of Mormon, and The Lion King, among others. This was an enormous Lion King mask hung on the wall in the theater lobby, winter of 2012.

 

 

 

If people thought the candidates in the 2012 election were bad, they had no idea what they’d be in for in 2016! New York is a highly political city, and I enjoyed some of the commentary you’d see represented by posters, subway ads, and things of that nature.

 

 

 

I’ll be back with the final installment of my favorite New York pics next week.

Musings

Best Of The New York Pics Part 3

December 29, 2016

Here’s another installment of my favorite pics from my time in New York.

Halloween of 2012 saw me with long hair, and walking the streets as Zombie Steve. I got my traditional shaved head again not long after this. It’s much lower maintenance.

 

 

 

Dragon Gate Wrestling’s “Freedom Fight” event in 2011 saw me up on stage in the first row at B.B. King’s, in Times Square. The guy in green is ECW legend Sabu, a man who has punished his body for the pseudo-sport of professional wrestling over the years more than just about any other, and he’s got the scars to prove it, believe me. He was involved in a six-man tag, which ended with the canvas covering the ring spattered with blood.

 

In October of 2012, Hurricane Sandy flattened New York. Bay Ridge, my neighborhood, wasn’t as badly hit as some others, but it didn’t escape unscathed. Hundreds of millions of dollars were needed to repair damage to homes, businesses, and particularly the subway. The severity of this storm really made it necessary for governmental officials to rethink how they were going to deal with climate change going forward. The consensus seems to be that this sort of thing will no longer be a “once in a lifetime” event.

 

I went to many Yankee games during my time in New York, like this one in 2014. More times than not, this guy would be standing out in front of the gates, haranguing the crowd. Exactly what Jesus or repentance or religion has to do with baseball I couldn’t tell you, but I’m sure this man would be happy to let you know all about it.

Musings

Best Of The New York Pics Part 2

December 21, 2016

Here’s some more of my favorite pics from my time living in New York City.

This is the parade for the Yankees in The Canyon of Heroes after they won the World Series in 2009. C.C. Sabathia was on this float; he had several key pitching performances in the postseason that were key in the Yanks capturing their 27th World Championship.

 

 

 

 

Comic Con at the Javitt’s Center was always a good place to get interesting pictures. This is from 2012. It’s Frodo and Gandolf from the Lord of the Rings, made entirely out of Legos.

 

 

 

I never knew quite what I was going to get when I stepped on a New York City train car. This was from Halloween night, 2009. I’d just gotten off of work, and I was headed home. These were two guys in drag, dressed as nurses. They were both belligerently drunk.

 

 

 

 

This is an exploded dye pack and some money, lying on the sidewalk, from when a Popular Bank was robbed. The building in which I worked shared space with this bank branch, and they were robbed three times while I was working there. There was also a Bank of America in the same building, and it was robbed once too. The guy who did this (in broad daylight, I might add) initially got away, but I heard he was caught within a few hours.

 

 

 

 

 

It wasn’t at all uncommon for there to be fires in the part of town where I worked. This was a building just down the street from mine, which blazed up pretty well  one afternoon before the fire department came. As I was a Fire Safety Director in my building at this point, it would have been a real headache if I’d have had to deal with it. As it was half a block away, it wasn’t my responsibility.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hoped you liked these. I’ll be back with more soon.

Musings

Best Of The New York Pics

December 14, 2016

This week, I thought I would showcase some of the best pictures I took while living for the past seven-and-a-half years in New York City.

It’s not at all uncommon to see homeless people practically living in train cars in New York, especially during the winter. This picture was taken in 2009, shortly after I’d arrived in the city. The man to whom this cart belonged probably had everything he owned piled into it. He was also probably schizophrenic, from the way he was acting. Note that “Judgment Day” is misspelled.

 

 

I saw this on the way to work one day in 2013. Somebody obviously took some time on this one, as it’s of very fine quality. The lettering and the color scheme are identical to actual signs used by the MTA.

 

 

 

I got part of this tooth knocked out at the first ever New Japan Pro Wrestling show to take place in the United States, May of 2011. It was in a filthy warehouse in Chinatown. I got hit with a knee in the face during a scrum, when I was trying to catch a DVD thrown into the crowd. I got the DVD, but it probably wasn’t worth it…the tooth cost $800 to fix.

 

 

The squirrels in Madison Square Park, by the Flatiron Building near where I worked, were completely tame. This one had no problem at all approaching to within a foot of where I was sitting on a bench. I gave a piece of the fruit-and-nut bar I was eating to him.

 

 

 

This woman was completely dead to the world on the N train, as I was riding home from work. It’s generally not a good idea to fall asleep like that on the trains, though I would see people doing it all the time. It’s a great way to get yourself robbed, or worse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hope you all enjoyed these. I’ll post more soon.

Musings

Recovering

December 7, 2016

It’s been a little more than a month since I moved out of New York City and headed north, to the other side of the state, to Rochester. Do you not have much knowledge about Rochester, NY? Good. That’s just the way I like it. Rochester, for those not in the know, has a population of about 210,000 people, and it’s the third largest city in the state, behind Buffalo, and New York City itself. NYC, where I lived for the past seven-and-a-half years, has a population of over eight million, so obviously, it’s way, way different to live in a place like Rochester. There are some people who would be bothered by the change, but I’m not one of them. I had the feeling I was going to be very happy living here, after my long stretch in New York, and so far, nothing I’ve done, seen, or experienced, has changed my mind on that score.

Like I wrote about in my previous post a few weeks ago, New York takes its toll on you. If you’re not independently wealthy, the grind, having to work long hours, the commute, and dealing with the craziness that seems inherent to the New York lifestyle, wears you down. It has to, no matter how dedicated you are to making it work. You need to have a tough-as-nails attitude to make your way in New York; you need to be ready to fight, you need to be quick to shove somebody out of the way, literally or figuratively, when you leave the house in the morning. I don’t know, maybe if you’re a person of leisure, and you’re living in a penthouse on Park Avenue, and you’re being driven around in a limousine everywhere, then it’s different. But I don’t know anybody like that, so anyone I would talk to felt the same pressures, the same stresses, that I did.

That’s why, when it became possible to buy a house more than five hours away, I jumped at the opportunity. I know that few people know anything at all about Rochester, and that’s what really made it perfect. When people know about a place, they move there in droves, and that’s just not happening here. The population has remained remarkably steady, over the past decade. That’s not to say that I’m living in farm country, or something; this is still a city, if a significantly smaller one than New York, or Los Angeles, or Pittsburgh, or Cincinnati, all of which I’ve spent time in over the years. Yeah, this is a city, alright, a smaller one, an economically depressed one, with a number of dicey neighborhoods. But we didn’t move to one of those. Ours is comfortably middle class, or maybe lower-middle class, but we feel safe here, and we’re liking it, the more we see of it. This is a place where the neighbors know each other, and say hi. It isn’t like New York. The pressure, the intensity, isn’t here. And I’m loving it. It feels fantastic.

It seems to me, now, like I’m recovering from a years-long illness. The weight of so much was on my shoulders in New York. I worked fifty hours a week for more than four years, and took spare quiet moments to work on my writing. While I still don’t know exactly what my work situation will be here, I know that it’s not going to be so intense. Who needs that sort of stress? I’m well into my thirties now, I have asthma, a heart condition, and high blood pressure, a triple threat of health problems. To scrape and struggle, just so I can proudly say to people “I live in New York! Brooklyn, no less! I made it here, just like the song says!” Yeah, I made it there. I did it for several years. Till I got tired of it…and at this point in my life, I don’t think I have anything left to prove.

These last few weeks, I’ve stood on my back deck, as winter has come on, and I’ve watched and felt the wind moving the branches on the ancient tree that overshadows my property. I’ve stood in the kitchen and observed silently as a young falcon landed on that same deck, and preened, and scared the squirrels. I’ve talked with the neighbor behind me about football, and the weather. I’ve said hello to people I’ve passed, walking around the neighborhood. And I’ve thought to myself, this is what it’s all about. This is what I wanted and needed in my life, I think. This feels comfortable. This feels normal. This feels like something that I could get used to, for a long, long time. I don’t need the clubs, I don’t need the culture, the museums, the art galleries, the latest restaurants, the Michelin stars. I don’t need to stockpile anecdotes about running into actors and singers on the streets; I don’t need to worry about being a terrorist target. I highly doubt anyone is bombing Rochester. No, I think I’m done with the New York time of my life. I’m ready for a little peace, and quiet, and contentment. If anyone wants to come and see me, they’re welcome to. Just don’t move here. The last thing I want to do is start a trend.

Musings

The Simpsons and The Undertaker

November 6, 2016

I’m thirty-five years old, and there have been some aspects of or influences in my life that have been around for nearly as long as I can remember. They’ve been there, in some cases, going back to when I was growing up in a lower-middle class section of Cincinnati, Ohio. Now, as I’m approaching middle age, I find myself reflecting more and more on the fate of some of those things that have for so long been a part of my life, because, in all probability, they’re not going to be around for much longer. One of those things to which I’m referring is a television show…The Simpsons…and another is professional wrestler the Undertaker.

Now, at first glance, these appear to be completely disparate things, with nothing that could possibly link them, Mark Calaway, the WWE wrestler known as the Undertaker, and the beloved Matt Groening television show featuring Homer, Bart, and the other classic characters that has been a part of the American consciousness even before it officially debuted in 1990. But, if we are to pause right there for a moment, the time of the debut of Undertaker can be seen as corresponding almost exactly to The Simpsons‘ first appearance as an episodic half-hour television show. Calaway made his debut as the Undertaker character in 1990 as well, as a heel, or bad guy, feuding with Hulk Hogan in what was at that point the World Wrestling Federation. With his menacing stare, his black funereal attire, and his manager with the sing-song voice, the inimitable Paul Bearer, it wasn’t long before he made the transition to baby face (good guy), and was a huge draw for master carnival barker Vince McMahon. It so happened that I got into wrestling, and The Simpsons, right at the same time, not just because they burst onto the scene simultaneously, but because at that point my family didn’t own a television. I don’t want to imply that we were too poor to afford one, or something. My father, an English professor at nearby Xavier University, wanted his children to live “the life of the mind,” so he refused to buy us one, instead giving us books and telling us to play outside. There’s nothing wrong with that, necessarily, it’s just that anything that is taboo is desirable, and this meant that I had to go across the street to sleep over at my friend Mike’s house and get my fix of the warmly flickering idiot box. What was on the screen, more times than not, was what Mike was into…new sensation The Simpsons, and professional wrestling, specifically the WWF, which was at that point in the middle of the Federation Years, with Taker, Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior, Randy Savage, and other larger-than-life personalities that I came to know and love.

My interest in professional wrestling, and The Simpsons, never completely went away, not when I moved from across the street from Mike in that same year, 1990, not when my father finally relented and let me get that TV for which I’d been pining, not even when I slogged my way through high school, went off to college in Pittsburgh, then graduated and joined the “real world,” and the work force. My time and inclination to keep up with both went through its ebbs and flows. In high school I was obsessed with the NWO and the Monday Night Wars, in what would later come to be known as the Attitude Era in the WWF. In college, I lost interest in much of anything other than drugs and trying to get laid. When I came out of the drug haze and my hormones had calmed down a little, Vince McMahon had just finalized a deal to buy WCW, and the landscape of professional wrestling had changed in earnest. The Simpsons had gone through a number of creative teams, the Undertaker had gone through a number of “turns,” having successful runs as both a face and heel, but always remained a top star in Vince’s stable, as his bearing and physical stature, not to mention his tendency to have consistently top quality matches with all sorts of different opponents, made sure to keep him relevant. As for me, I lived in a number of different cities, had a number of different jobs, eventually got married, and have come at last to the age of thirty-five, which is somewhat surrealistic to me, but hey, such is life.

What’s also surrealistic to me is the fact that the Undertaker still hasn’t retired, and The Simpsons is still going strong. Mark Calaway, the man, is now 51. He looks good for his age, and obviously keeps himself in great shape. Still, this is a guy who has been walloped in the head with steel chairs and squashed by four and five hundred pound men countless times, and in your fifties your age starts to tell on you even if you haven’t lived a particularly physical lifestyle. The Undertaker now wrestles only once or twice a year, and it’s rumored that the upcoming Wrestlemania 33, in Florida, might be his last match. But then again, the last two or three years he’s been dogged by retirement rumors, and he’s still going strong. But it all has to end sometime, and it seems clear that at his age, even though he obviously loves the business and never wants to leave it, he’s going to have to hang the boots up at some juncture.

As for The Simpsons, it recently began its 28th season, and, just as I have for so many other season debuts, I was sitting smack-dab on my couch, ready to welcome this oldest and most venerable one of my friends back into my home. I consider The Simpsons to be, without a doubt, unequivocally, the greatest and best show, ever, in the history of television. There are literally dozens of classic characters and episodes. That show made me aware of concepts that I had been ignorant of before, improved my vocabulary, and lights up a special part of my brain that no other imitation has ever quite duplicated. Since first watching The Simpsons, I’ve been introduced to and become a fan of South Park, Futurama, Family Guy, and others, but there’s nothing quite like the original. Even if the quality of some episodes has dipped, now that it’s in its freaking 28th season, I have come to the understanding that I’m never going to stop watching it, until they stop making it. It’s that simple.

I’m a fairly cynical guy, but there are certain things that are always going to be magical for me, and instill in me once again that sense of childlike wonder. The Simpsons, even once they ride off into the sunset, probably some day soon, will have reruns going probably until the end of time, which is great, because nearly any time I flip on the boob tube, if an episode is on, that’s right where I’m going to set down the remote. As far as Mark Calaway, known to not one but several generations as the Undertaker, one of the best of all time, a first ballot Hall of Famer, he’ll always be a guy that captures my imagination. I’ve seen him numerous times in person…I was there in New Orleans, watching in stunned silence as Brock Lesnar broke the streak at Wrestlemania 30…and every time I hear that gong, I know I’m going to get those shivers up my spine that only the Dead Man, unafraid to wear eye liner at his age, can deliver. These are simple pleasures for me, broadcast into my living room over the years regardless of what city, or state, I was calling home. I know that, due to the simple age of both of these institutions, I will probably have to say goodbye to them very soon. That’s unavoidable, I’m afraid; nothing lasts forever. But both of them have made an indelible impression on me, and my life is richer for them. The Undertaker’s music is always going to be my ring tone, even if I live to be a hundred, and I’m always up for arguing the cultural merits of The Simpsons with any stranger on the street. Some people have Don Giovanni and Tchaikovsky. I have cartoons and musclebound guys in tights. To each their own.

Musings

Why I’m Leaving New York City

October 20, 2016

In 2006, I lived for six months in New York, for no other reason than that I thought the writing industry was mostly here, and I had a better chance of getting my stuff noticed. While the publishing industry is indeed mostly in NYC, I had no luck getting the right manuscript into the hands of the right person, and I was forced out due to lack of money. I always knew I was going to come back, though, and indeed I did, along with my then-girlfriend Megan in late June of 2009, after sojourns in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and South Carolina. Both of us wanted to live in New York. I still felt it was the best place for me as a writer, and she, as a small business owner, felt that the city afforded her unique opportunities in networking. We came here with little money, but plenty of ambition.

I got a job in the security industry, and, in the seven-and-a-half years in between now and then, I’ve risen to the pinnacle of that profession, to the point that now, as I prepare to leave my current job, I hold four different titles, security officer, fire safety director, emergency action plan director, and security supervisor in my building. I can’t complain about the work, really. There are parts of it that are infuriating sometimes, but it’s been steady income, and I’ve found that I have an aptitude for it. Of course, all the time I’ve been doing it, I’ve been writing on the side. In the time that we’ve been here, I’ve written several novels, and many short stories and essays. Megan has sold her goods at a number of different craft shows around the country, has had products featured in dozens of national and international publications, and has sold her stuff to several celebrities.

So why now, after meeting with some measurable degree of success, are we leaving New York and moving upstate? Well, there are a number of reasons for it, but here’s the biggest one, summed up in one word: expense. New York, if you’ll excuse my language, is just too goddamn expensive. Brooklyn is literally the most expensive place to live in the country, and our rent here in Bay Ridge has continued rising and rising exponentially. It used to be somewhat “reasonable” living here, since we’re in deep south Brooklyn, far off the beaten track, but lately, the neighborhood is being discovered more and more, as denizens are being forced out of Park Slope, Greenpoint, Williamsburg, and other locales closer to Manhattan. It’s getting more crowded, and also, crime stats are going up. There was a murder in nearby Owl’s Head Park; the police think it was drug related. There have been several armed robberies in broad daylight. In the nearly six years that we’ve been the neighborhood, this is the first we’re hearing about this sort of thing.

So why, you might ask, don’t we just try to find another neighborhood? New York is a huge city, and we might have better luck in Queens, or the Bronx, or even Staten Island. But it’s expensive everywhere, and there are other issues. We’re tired. I mean that in every sense of the word: we’re just fatigued, weary to the bone, ground down by the City That Never Sleeps like previously sharp pencils now reduced to stubs. This city is hard on you, man. I’ve been working at that good old steady job of mine fifty hours a week since 2012. That’s a long time. I know that people in some industries will scoff at that. Fifty hours a week, that’s nothing! I work sixty, seventy, eighty hours a week, you pussy! Well, maybe so. But there comes a time when grinding and grinding to make ends meet, and to live a lifestyle that is only “comfortable” by a very dubious definition of the term, is just insufficient. Me and Megan want more and different things now that we’re in our thirties, like a back yard, one big enough for a dog to run around in. Like a back deck, where I can grill out on sultry summer nights. Like a house, one that we can actually own. And when a confluence of events took place last year that allowed us to get some money together, we had a sincere and earnest discussion with each other about what we both wanted going forward. It was to leave. That’s what we decided on, and we’ve taken steps since then to make it happen.

New York didn’t beat us, not this time. On the contrary, I feel like we’re walking away victorious. No doubt, there have been some ups and downs in the seven-plus years that we’ve been here, but we did more than “keep our heads above water” during this stretch. I think it could be accurate to say that we’ve thrived. Yes, we’ve thrived…but it’s taken a lot out of us. By moving upstate, and getting our own house, with all the amenities I’ve mentioned, we’re not admitting defeat. What we’re doing is slowing down. We’re getting away from the hustle and bustle, from the aggressive beggars and the train traffic and the vague fears of a terrorist attack that are a grim reality of a big American city in modern times. We’re going to have, literally, a change of pace. And I can’t wait. New York City can be a magical place, and I’ve had some experiences here that I’ll never forget. Megan and I got married here. I’ve attended Yankee playoff games, Wrestlemania at Metlife Stadium, my Bengals beating the Jets and spoiling their season opener. I’ve seen Hurricane Katrina batter the five boroughs, the end of Bloomberg’s reign and the beginning of DeBlasio’s, and I’ve eaten more great meals and seen more scintillating live music than I can ever even remember. It’s been a privilege to look out my window and be able to see Brooklyn, Staten Island, New Jersey, and the lights of Manhattan in the distance, all in one dizzying panoramic shot. Likewise it has been a privilege to see Lady Liberty holding up her torch, proud and true in the idealism she represents, on my way to work over the Manhattan Bridge every morning. I wouldn’t change anything that’s happened; it’s all helped to mold and shape me. But I find I simply don’t need to be here anymore. I can do my writing anywhere. And so, New York, farewell. You have been a home to me, but you are and always will be a harsh mistress. It is bittersweet leaving your embrace, but for the sake of my own sanity, it is necessary. Perhaps I’ll tread your streets again, somewhere off down the road.

Musings

Still Out Of Reach

September 5, 2016

For many years, I’ve wanted to support myself exclusively through my writing. It seems like a tangible goal, but has it ever been a realistic one? It’s hard to say, but what’s undeniable is that it hasn’t happened yet. I’ve now written six books, five fiction and one nonfiction, and I’ve self-published four of them- three novels, and the story short collection, the link to all of which can be found here on the website. I’m thirty-five years old, and I don’t believe I’m any closer to that goal now, the goal of my writing being my primary source of income, than I was fifteen years ago, which was about the same time I decided to really get serious about being an author. It’s a strange time to be a writer. The print industry is dying, and it’s the age of the Kindle and other electronic formats for viewing written content, both older and classic novels, short stories, etc, and the new stuff that’s coming out. Whether that will ultimately be beneficial to writers remains to be seen, but it’s true that self-publishing is easier than ever. As a writer, I’m glad of that. Since none of the literary agents I’ve ever approached have been willing to represent me, I was at least able to get my writing out there. The three novels and the short story collection are available on Amazon, for Kindle or as print-on-demand options, and if I hadn’t decided to take the initiative and do that, those stories would still be languishing on my computer, or on a flash drive in a drawer somewhere. In that respect, self-publishing technology, and technology in general, have been a boon to me as a writer.

But there’s a flip side to all that. The novels and the collection haven’t sold particularly well, and the reason for that is very simple. I genuinely don’t believe it has to do with the quality of the work. That might be just ego in my part, but I think each one of those projects is solid, and was well worthy of publication. The reason they haven’t gotten the attention they deserve is because there’s no advertising campaign behind them. And let’s face it, that’s what a literary agent is really for. An agent’s job is to sell your work to a publishing company…it’s to say “hey, I feel that this is a guaranteed hit, and you’d be well served to get behind it.” And, based on the reputation the lit agent has established, the publishing company does just that. They get behind the project, they promote it, and they get people in the literary world whose opinions matter to read it and say nice things about it, so that they can be used as blurbs on the book jacket. By my self-publishing, I have assured that there is no campaign to promote my work. There’s no promotion for it at all, so there’s no fanfare. There’s no one famous saying “this is worth reading.” So, other than a little word-of-mouth I’ve been able to spread among family and acquaintances, no one has been enthusiastic about my published efforts. None of them are likely to become a best seller that way.

Perhaps it would be different if I was a social media-oriented person. I suppose I’m a Millennial, but I’m one of the oldest of that group, and, unlike so many others in that category, I hate Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, and all those other self-promotion tools that seem to be second nature to so many fresh-faced youngsters now in their twenties and early thirties. Since I have no patience for that sort of thing, that’s yet another form of advertisement for my work that I’m not utilizing. The bottom line is, without things like that, I’m not likely to sell any more books than what I have been. I’m halfway through a new one right now, but unless I manage to attract some interest in it from a literary agent, I don’t find it likely that it’s going to sell any better than any of the others, even if it’s the best thing I’ve ever written.

I feel like the narrative surrounding who I am as a writer keeps changing, at least to myself, the older I get. If I had been “discovered” right out of college, while still in my early twenties, I would have been a prodigy. Much as I wanted that to happen, I can  now recognize that the quality of my work was nowhere near good enough to warrant that kind of attention. Finding success when in one’s late twenties or early thirties happens to a lot more writers, so if I had followed that career trajectory, then it would have seemed normal or natural when comparing myself to many of my peers. Now, in my mid-thirties and still not having achieved the success I crave, I’ve gotten to the point when I wonder if I ever will get to where I want to be. I know that there are writers who didn’t find an audience or widespread success until they were well into middle age, or past it. I think of Brian Jacques, for instance, writer of the Redwall series. I know he didn’t really catch on until he was into his middle years. And there are many other examples…but what I keep thinking, as it relates to myself, is simply this. I’m past the time where wanting and needing to be a famous or successful author made me get up in the morning burning to achieve that goal and that one alone, where it seemed like nothing else would do. I think I’ve reached a point now, mentally,where I understand that I’m never going to reach the lofty heights that I set for myself. I’ve come to a time where I allow other things besides my writing to define me, and honestly, I’m glad of that, because if I still wanted so badly what I don’t think I’ll ever have, I’d probably have driven myself completely crazy a long time ago. The fact is, I’ve adjusted my expectations. And maybe I’ll still find the success that I want, miraculously, against all odds. But if it does happen, at this rate, it won’t be till I’m an old man…and by that point, I may well find that what was once so important to me no longer has the same luster that it did when I was a younger man, and a more idealistic one. As a famous poem has it, a dream deferred has the capability of exploding, but just as many times, I think, it wilts away on the vine.

Musings

Successful Adaptions vs Unsuccessful Ones

June 19, 2016

When you’re a fan of a certain media property- book, comic series, etc- you can be elated when the news comes about that it’s going to be presented in a different format. I’ve been excited lately, for example, with the thought that a full-length, big-budget movie of the Marvel comic Dr. Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme, is going to make its way to the big screen this November. It’s a lesser known, and, if I might say so, stranger comic than some of the better known Marvel properties, Spiderman, the X-Men, etc, and I think that in the current climate, it’s pretty cool that so many of the lesser known heroes like Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy have gotten some attention, and even resulted in movies that were genuinely fun to watch. I’m excited, too, with the news that a movie adaption is coming of the Stephen King Dark Tower series of books, with Edris Elba as Roland, the main protagonist, and Matthew Mcconaughey as his antagonist Walter. Talk of a movie or TV show based on that series, King’s most iconic, has been going on literally for decades, and now it seems like it’s actually going to happen.

The flip side of such excitement, though, is the dread that you feel as a serious fan at the thought that a book, a comic series, or whatever else, that you held in such high esteem, is going to be made into a movie, or a TV show, and the result is not going to do justice to the source material. A perfect example of this is the trio of Hobbit movies that made it into theaters a few years ago. I thought the Lord of the Rings trilogy was very strong, and indeed, those were books that I thought would never be able to be made successfully into movies, just because of their epic grandeur and scope. But Peter Jackson pulled it off, so I had every confidence he could do the same with “The Hobbit,” one of my favorite novels ever. He couldn’t. Whether it was pressure from the studio or Jackson himself, the movies were a trilogy when they should have been a pair of movies at most, they were bloated to the point that they were nearly unrecognizable, and characters were invented out of whole cloth and inserted into the films for reasons that still baffle me…here’s looking at you, Tauriel.

Which leads me to the Preacher TV series, currently three episodes in, on AMC. The fourth episode airs tonight. Preacher is based on a comic book series by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, the writer-illustrator combo that also had a very good run on John Constantine in the ’90s. I loved the entire Preacher series; I had graphic novels that covered the whole story, which is finite, rather than stretching on into forever, as is the case with Batman, or Superman, or so many other series. The Preacher comics were hilarious, thought-provoking, masterfully written, and beautifully illustrated. There just wasn’t anything else on the market like them at the time. Along with Sandman, by Neil Gaiman, Preacher epitomized to me what comics could be, and should be. I sold my whole collection a couple of years ago, because it was so large that there simply wasn’t room for it any longer, but Preacher remains a favorite of mine, holding a special place in my heart. I was nervous, therefore, when I heard that it was being adopted for TV, because of the same reason that I was originally worried about the Lord of the Rings trilogy when I saw the trailer for the first one way back in 2001. It was the thought that the scope was going to be too big, and what could be done on the page couldn’t be duplicated on the screen, especially on a basic cable network like AMC. But I hoped for the best, and was at least encouraged by the fact that another one of my favorite comics, The Walking Dead, had been extremely successful on network television, the same network, no less.

But three episodes in, I’m underwhelmed by Preacher. Maybe it’s the fact that it was inexplicably developed for TV by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, talented guys, I suppose, in their way, but not anyone that would immediately spring to mind to handle such a project. The two of them are comedy guys, known for bro-ish sorts of movies like Superbad and Pineapple Express. Those aren’t bad films, but it seems kind of strange that those two guys should have gotten the intellectual property rights to Preacher. I guess they’re fans of the series, but Peter Jackson was a huge fan of Tolkien, and look how the Hobbit movies turned out. In any event, the show’s not great, or at least I’ve been underwhelmed with it so far. Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy have all been introduced, as well as some of the minor characters, but already it seems as though the series is going in a very different direction from the comics. In the first issue of the series Jesse and company have met up on the road, away from Annville, and are going on a sort of road trip to catch up with God and make him answer for miseries that he has inflicted on human kind. In the first few episodes, it doesn’t seem like the trio are going anywhere, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the reason is exactly what I feared, because the epic scope and the bigger set pieces that show up in the first couple of story arcs in the comics just can’t be depicted on film because the budget for the TV series won’t allow it. There’s nothing to say that Preacher cant get better, but it’s off to a bad start, and I feel like, because it’s a TV show, some of the stuff that it was easy enough to have on paper isn’t likely to make its way onto the small screen.

To sum up, it’s a crap shoot when something you love undergoes a metamorphosis. You can be excited about it and it can tun out just fine, like the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, or it can be a disaster, like the Hobbit movies. The Walking Dead turned out okay, but Preacher seems to be heading in the wrong direction, and it’s a pity. I suppose I’ll keep watching for the moment, in the hopes that it improves, but if that hasn’t happened by the end of this season, I may get off the train. There’s so much good TV these days, and I only have so much free time. As far as the Dr. Strange movie and the Dark Tower movie, I have my doubts, but I’m more than willing to give them a shot. Optimism doesn’t come easily to me, but I’m making the effort to be a glass-half-full type of person these days, so I’ll try and by appreciative of the projects that translated well from book or comic to the big or small screen, and try my best to forget misfires like Peter Jackson and his woefully disappointing Hobbit trilogy.

Musings

Sex in the Fantasy Genre

May 22, 2016

If you’re a regular here on the site, you know that I’m a big fan of the fantasy genre. My novel Rogue: Time Out Of Mind is currently being published on Juke Pop Serials, and I’ve been reading Tolkien since I was five years old. Since falling in love with The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, I’ve gone on to read Terry Brooks, R.A. Salvatore, Robert Jordan, and many others. I talked here on the site a few weeks ago about my opinions regarding the quality of the writing of some of those authors. Terry Brooks is an interesting case. He’s best known for his Shannara series, which spans some two dozen books and recently spawned the Chronicles of Shannara series on MTV (I tried giving it a chance but it was clearly intended for a teen audience, and I couldn’t get into it). I first read a Terry Brooks novel, The Druid of Shannara, when I got it for fifty cents at a book sale at my local library. I’d never heard of Brooks, but the book looked interesting, and I was impressed with the quality of the writing. The characters were well developed, the language was clear and concise, and I found it easy to become invested in the story. But there was something that I noticed with Brooks’ writing that I thought bears mentioning, or, I should say, there’s a lack of something. There’s no sex scenes. In fact, there’s hardly even any reference to the sexual act. It’s like it doesn’t exist; in this world of elves and ogres and trolls and every manner of fantastical creature, bumping uglies, which happens every day here on the “real world” is glaringly absent.

Now, I’m not saying that as a criticism, necessarily. Look at Tolkien. It’s the same. There’s absolutely no sex, nor even, it feels like, the possibility of any sex, in The Hobbit or the Rings trilogy. Aragorn and Arwen love each other, presumably, but to hear Tolkien tell it, they probably express that love with a hearty handshake. It’s like that for several other fantasy writers too. Robert Jordan doesn’t really have any sex scenes in the Wheel of Time books. At least R.A. Salvatore hints clearly at sexual attraction occasionally in his writing, even if it’s just to speak about, in passing, the swell of some buxom bar maid’s chest.

So, why should that matter? Am I just sex obsessed, or are those fantasy books that don’t mention sex automatically inferior in some ways to those that do? Well, that’s certainly a matter of opinion, but here’s one thing that I’ve noticed. There is one author that doesn’t shy away from graphic sex scenes in the fantasy genre, and you know who that is? George R.R. Martin, writer of the Game of Thrones series, the most popular fantasy series, bar none, in the past two decades. I hardly need talk about the widespread popularity of those books. The HBO series has routinely scored the highest ratings for a scripted TV show in television history. I’ve both read the books and watched the show, and there’s nudity and sex galore, on the screen, and, to a somewhat lesser extent, in the pages. I mean, a major plot thread that opens the first novel involves the Lannister twins being involved in an incestuous relationship, and it’s not just hinted at. We have it described in graphic detail, and while some people would never admit to wanting to read about such scandals, would never admit to desiring such crude imagery, I have no problem saying that I like reading about graphic sex in fantasy…or in other genres as well. I’m not saying I want my literature to be inherently pornographic, because then we’re just talking about erotica, and, while there’s nothing wrong with that, what I look for, ideally, is titillation that is not gratuitous. It can be a fine line, but I admire authors that don’t mind hunting for it. It spices things up. It’s better to have it than not to have it.

I think Tolkien is the greatest fantasy author ever, or at least that I’ve ever read, and he accomplished the high drama that he was looking for in his fiction without sex. It is therefore possible to separate one from the other. But the second greatest fantasy writer I’ve ever read is probably George R.R. Martin, so we also know that it’s possible to be salacious and it doesn’t hurt your writing at all. So, ultimately, here’s where I land on this thing. I like fantasy worlds where the characters lust after one another, because that’s what people do in real life, and fantasy with a touch of reality makes writing in this genre more compelling. Yes, we’re reading about lands where there are inhuman creatures and fantastical monsters, but that doesn’t mean a character’s motivation should be unrecognizable, and lust is a near-universal human trait. It’s nice to see it talked about and expressed on the printed page, because in my mind, it means that the author is treating his or her reader like an adult, who is capable of reading about grown-up situations. That doesn’t seem to be the case so much with someone like Terry Brooks and his Shannara series, where, like Tolkien, there’s this sort of sanitized fantasy…no sex, violence without that much gore, and no profanity. It’s still fun reading, still fulfilling reading. But it doesn’t pack quite the same wallop as Game of Thrones, because Martin is a writer who understands that a lot of the social misfits who read his books are sexually repressed little horn dogs who want to hear descriptions of unrepressed carnality. So yes, different fantasy strokes for different folks. But I have to say I’ve never thought less of a fantasy writer who wanted to spice up their writing by spelling out what their characters wanted to do to each other, other than gaze wistfully into each others’ eyes.

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