Saturday, April 2, 2016

A Tale of Two Sets of Data

Scott D. Parker

A funny thing happened on the way to finished my latest book: I collected data.

I mentioned a few weeks back that I’ve been using the HoursTracker app to track the time and word count in this most recent book. I started the book on 1 March. I finished it yesterday. The book—a western titled ALWAYS BET ON RED—clocked in at 64,200 words. Take away the 7100 short story that served as the opening segment of the story, I managed 57,100 in March (plus 1 April). And, according to HoursTracker, I did it in 33.5 hours.

Now, if you’re thinking like I used to think, you might be telling yourself, “Hey, 33.5 hours is a little less than the typical 40-hour work week. I basically wrote a novel in a week.” Think about it. If you start at 8am on a Monday and worked consistently for eight hours a day, I finished this book a little before lunch on Friday. You can do the easy math as well. 57,100 words divided by 33.5 breaks down to 1704 words per hour. Coming back around to the ‘workday,’ 1704 x 8 = 13,500 words on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Friday was just the finale. Easy peasy, right? That was my thought as well…until this past Monday.

My company gave us Monday as a holiday. Easter Monday as it were. I checked with the wife and there was nothing truly pressing to do. My boy also had a holiday, so the whole family basically had nothing to do.

I decided to write. For one day, I told myself, let’s imagine if my dream job—full-time fictioneer—was real. I woke early—before 7am—got the coffee, checked email, reviewed the outline and where I had left things the day before, and put the fingers on the keyboard.

I treated the day like a job. I took breaks to make more green tea, have snacks, and a lunch hour. Every time I finished a chapter, I walked around the house or into the yard. By 4pm, I had amassed over six chapters and over 7,000 words. Wow, I thought, this is what it is like to be a full-time writer.

Then the reality check. If I were to match the hours and word count the HoursTracker app spat out, as good as 7,000 words was, I was still nearly 6,000 short. That was when the reality of the situation slammed home. It was impossible to write a novel in a “work week” not matter what the data indicated.

Wow. You full-time fiction writers have your work cut out for you, huh? This process, while producing a western novel (a first for me) had produced a book in a month, the hours actually spent on the book appeared deceiving. But that was all the time it took to produce this first draft: 33.5 hours.

Man, professional full-time writers, I don’t know how you do it day in a day out. By the time this post goes live, I will have started my next book. So my writing streak is still active. But I just can’t imagine the output of someone like Lawrence Block or some of the other golden age of writers cranking out book and book. To them, and the modern purveyors of books, I say bravo!

Friday, April 1, 2016

The First Rule of Writing Conferences Is...


A couple years ago, Bouchercon was in Long Beach, which is about an hour's drive from my home. I couldn't attend the entire conference, so I commuted. Given that I wouldn't have been able to attend at all if I didn't drive, the big pains in the ass that driving brought with it seemed minimal.

This lead me to a fairly disastrous decision.

AWP 2016 is my second AWP with the LitReactor crew and I've been looking forward to it since I said goodbye to my awesome teammates last year. Things have been a little crazy, so I thought, why not make them crazier? I committed to commuting each way to and from Los Angeles this year.

It's day one and I am fucking done.

Luckily for me, the LitReactor crew is full of awesome people and I don't have to repeat today's mistake over the next two days, but damn was that a hard lesson. I left my house at six am and didn't get home until after nine - and that was with missing the reading I wanted to attend. I was so wiped out from the drive that the normally slow and relaxed first day of the conference went by me in a coffee fueled blur - I didn't even think to take photos.

I also didn't drink enough water, eat enough food, or follow any of the common sense rules of surviving a conference, but that's okay. I get Friday and Saturday to make up for it - and Friday night at the LitReactor/Broken River Books/ Booked Podcast party (Check out the info HERE if you're local) I can have a few drinks and try to forget this, the day I thought commuting two hours to and from Los Angeles was anything but a disaster of an idea!

Come see us at booth 322 if you're at AWP, and if you're in the area, be sure to check out our party!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

New Donald Ray Pollock coming

By Steve Weddle

Weird week. I only escaped to tell thee about the new Donald Ray Pollock coming this summer.

The Heavenly Table
by Donald Ray Pollock
From Doubleday Books
Pub Date 12 Jul 2016

From Donald Ray Pollock, author of the highly acclaimed The Devil All the Time and Knockemstiff, comes a dark, gritty, electrifying (and, disturbingly, weirdly funny) new novel that will solidify his place among the best contemporary American authors.

It is 1917, in that sliver of border land that divides Georgia from Alabama. Dispossessed farmer Pearl Jewett ekes out a hardscrabble existence with his three young sons: Cane (the eldest; handsome; intelligent); Cob (short; heavy set; a bit slow); and Chimney (the youngest; thin; ill-tempered). Several hundred miles away in southern Ohio, a farmer by the name of Ellsworth Fiddler lives with his son, Eddie, and his wife, Eula. After Ellsworth is swindled out of his family's entire fortune, his life is put on a surprising, unforgettable, and violent trajectory that will directly lead him to cross paths with the Jewetts. No good can come of it. Or can it?

In the gothic tradition of Flannery O'Connor and Cormac McCarthy with a healthy dose of cinematic violence reminiscent of Sam Peckinpah, Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers, the Jewetts and the Fiddlers will find their lives colliding in increasingly dark and horrific ways, placing Donald Ray Pollock firmly in the company of the genre's literary masters.


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Why I Went the (Sort of) Traditional Route

Guest Post by Dharma Kelleher

Holly's note: I was happy when Dharma agreed to write about her path to (sort of) traditional publishing since her route (and reasons for pursuing it) are similar to my own. Before we begin, some takeaways: Dharma sent queries to ninety agents and four were interested in pursuing her project. Four out of ninety. These numbers are depressing, but par for the traditional publishing course. The important thing to note is that querying widely is a vital part of the process. It doesn't matter that eighty-six agents didn't feel they could sell her book, it only matters that one did. And a good one, at that. 

There's a perception that self-publishing is somehow easier and perhaps in some ways, it is. But it's by no means the easy way out and some of the rejection that occurs in the front end of the traditional publishing biz often happens on the middle and back end of indie-publishing in the form of cost, marketing and closed industry doors for self-published books (reviews, bookstore shelf space, awards and such). 

Regardless, the work involved in writing and publishing books is staggering and sometimes demoralizing, no matter what path you take. Persistence and educating oneself about the business are some of the keys to success, but in the end, the most important key is writing the best book you can. Then, write the next book and the next.

But I'll shut up now and let Dharma tell her story.

There’s not a lot traditional about me. I’m a rebel at every turn. I’m a Zen punk, transgender, lesbian biker chick who’s done just about everything from broadcast news to web development.

So as untraditional as a I am, why would I publish my debut novel with one of the “Big 5” publishers? Especially with the popularity of self-publishing?

To make a long story short: goals, professional standards, and money.

As a kid growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, I was writing short stories on a manual Smith Corona typewriter, religiously reading Lawrence Block’s Fiction column in Writers’ Digest, with dreams of one day publishing a book with one of the major houses.

Cut to 30+ years later and when I rediscovered my love of writing, that dream was still on my bucket list.

Part of it was the challenge. Writing a quality novel was daunting (because it’s freakin’ hard). Getting an agent (most agents accept less than 1% of submissions) was even more challenging. And the coup-de-grace, breaking out of the pack to sign a deal with a big name publisher. Yeah! I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.

You can call it an ego thing or whatever, but that was one of my goals. Not simply to see my name in print, but to know that my book had risen out of the slush pile and caught a publisher’s eye.
You may have different goals where self-publishing or a small press might be appropriate. Maybe you’re a consultant looking for an additional income stream and you have the money to invest in a freelance editor, a book formatter, and a cover artist (don’t skimp on these), so self-publishing seems a better choice for you.

Or maybe you write something really niche with a small audience like Pakistani steampunk or hardcore senior citizen erotic thrillers (to each their own, right?). A small alternative press with lower sales expectations might be a better fit.

But for me, my childhood/bucket list goal put a +1 in the traditional publishing column.

Professional Standards
My time is precious, as is yours, I imagine. I don’t want to waste it reading something that was poorly written and barely edited. Likewise, I wouldn’t want to waste my readers’ time by publishing something that isn’t as engaging as the stories I like to read.

I wanted my book to have a high level of professionalism. This meant that a professional editor (and maybe more than one) would go through my book on multiple passes, helping me work out any structural issues and plot holes, along with eliminating crutch words and typos.

An experienced professional book cover designer would create the cover that would immediately enthrall my target readers. A professional formatter would turn the books interior into a work of art.
And a publicity team would help me market that book and connect me with people, organizations, and events that I otherwise had no access to.

A small press would get me part of the way, but wouldn’t necessarily have the connections a big publisher would. At the same time, small presses often give more personal attention to debut authors than a traditional press. So a small press was still in consideration.

The self-publishing route was less favorable on this issue. The stigma associated with self-published books (caused by the majority of indie authors not hiring professional editors, formatters and cover artists) has blocked access to many networking and distribution channels.

So in this case, I gave points to both traditional and small press.

Here is where the rubber meets the road. Writing is both a craft and a business. While I am no business guru, two mantras are burned forever in my tiny, twisted brain.

It takes money to make money.
Whenever possible, use someone else’s money.

Why should I pay thousands of dollars to a professional editor, formatter, cover designer, or publicity manager, when a traditional publisher could do it for me and the two of us can split the profits 50-50? And maybe even an advance to boot.

Some fear that signing with a traditional publisher or even a small press means giving up creative control, but it doesn’t have to. Not if you have a good agent.

Based on all of these factors, traditional publishing was the best route for my literary goals, professional standards, and financial situation. Small press (like Midnight Ink or Poisoned Pen Press) was a backup plan if I couldn’t sign with a big house. And self-publishing was a last resort. So I decided to swing for the fences.

The Deal I Struck
I sent queries to ninety agents, four of whom were interested. I signed with Sharon Pelletier of Dystel & Goderich, a New York–based agency with a solid reputation. After a few rounds of edits, she shopped my book to publishers for a few months.

I saw rejection after rejection from publishers who loved the book, the writing, and me, but consistently said they “didn’t know how to market it.” Turns out that’s code for “we ask for stories with more diversity but only buy manuscripts about straight, white men.”

Then my agent notified me that Alibi, a digital-only imprint of Penguin Random House, was offering me a two-book deal. Yay! Wait, what? Digital only?

Yeah, no print books. And yet they insisted as a matter of company policy that they purchase the print rights (perhaps to avoid diluting e-book sales).

I was torn. I wanted to see my book in print. On my bookshelf. Next to the Pulitzer I would one day win.

Teri Bischoff at Midnight Ink was interested in reading my manuscript after I pitched it to her at the WriteNow! conference.

I knew from talking with other Midnight Ink authors that Teri does a lot for her authors. Not uncommon for small presses with a limited stable of authors.

Compare that to the horror stories of authors who sign with a big publisher who are all but ignored because they’re not a famous celebrity with a huge following.

Then again, I had no guarantee of an offer from Midnight Ink. And because Alibi was part of Penguin Random House, they had access to resources that Midnight Ink might not due simply to PRH’s behemoth size.

It was a gamble either way. There are no guarantees in publishing, especially with constantly changing technology and thousands of new books published daily.

I read that article John Scalzi had written a few years ago all but calling Penguin Random House the anti-Christ over their four digital-only imprints. I also talked with several Alibi authors who loved what Alibi had done for them. And I had some deep discussions with my agent and my wife.

Ultimately, I decided a bird in the hand was worth more than the two in the bush. I signed with Alibi and I am glad I did.

First of all, I get 50% of net sales (minus my agent’s well-earned cut). And I retained creative control over editing, title, and cover design, as well as foreign rights, audio rights and TV & film rights. Because you never know.

My editors at Alibi have blown me away with their ideas about how to improve the story. The design team created a badass cover. And the publicity team is doing all kinds of things to spread the word about my book including designing marketing materials, an appearance at Phoenix Comic-Con, a blog tour, blurbs, BookBub (and related services) and much more.

My debut novel, IRON GODDESS, launches June 28, 2016. The support I’ve already received and the pre-sales at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, etc. have shown me that going the (sort of) traditional route of publishing with Alibi was the right choice for me.

You have your own goals, your own professional standards (I hope they’re high), and your own financial situation. Make your own decisions. Live with the consequences. Don’t whine about them.

And in the words of Neil Gaiman, “Make good art.”

Dharma Kelleher writes gritty tales about outlaws, renegades, and misfits. Her hobbies include riding her motorcycle, picking locks and getting inked. Her debut novel IRON GODDESS will be published by Random House’s Alibi imprint on June 28, 2016. Learn more about her and her writing at

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Messing with Icons

by Scott Adlerberg

If nothing else, the many Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice discussions going on reveal the peril writers and filmmakers face presenting their own version of iconic fictional characters.  Alter that icon in any way, however slight the alteration, and there may be hell to pay from a substantial portion of fans.  A comic book character around for a long time or a novel series character who's revered has come to have certain defining traits, and obviously it's those traits the fans of the characters love, or they wouldn't be icons.  Superman, the thinking goes, with his innate decency would not be a brooding figure, wondering whether he should continue helping a fickle and ungrateful mankind. The Man of Steel should not be causing collateral damage while he's fighting villains.  He would find some way to take the fight to a place where the destruction won't cause peoples' deaths.  (Hard to argue against this point, which is NOT a slight alteration of Superman's character.)  Batman has a code against using guns and implacable as he is in fighting crime, he does not kill criminals.  For what we might call traditional Batman, these two points are crucial to his crime fighting ethic.  It's not that Batman has never used guns in his comic book incarnations, but basically through his 70 plus years of battling criminals, it has been established that Batman doesn't use firearms.  So in movies, when people see Superman brooding or see him oblivious to the utter chaos he's causing in his pursuit of victory over an enemy, when they see Batman driving a car with mounted machine guns or shooting a gun from his flying vehicle or using a rifle (these things happen in Batman films made by Tim Burton, Christopher Nolan, and Zack Snyder), people comment on what they're seeing in their heroes. They question the motivation behind making such changes to these characters.  Do the creators actually hate the characters they have been entrusted with?  Don't they understand these characters? Do they even care about them?  These are certainly the types of questions popping up now, with Batman v Superman in theaters, and the various conversations set me thinking about other iconic characters who've seen themselves changed, sometimes drastically, by people who crafted stories around them but who were not their original creators.

James Bond

It's 54 years and counting for Ian Fleming's spy.  Discounting David Niven's 1967 Bond in the comedic Casino Royale, there have been six Bonds.  Everyone has their favorite Bond, their least favorite Bond.  And at least since Sean Connery quit playing the part (twice), there's been a segment of Bond fandom that had reservations with the successor Bonds.  

1) George Lazenby: Too stiff as an actor or too vulnerable in how he portrays a more human Bond.
2) Roger Moore: Too elegant to be a tough Bond, a lightweight, with too much emphasis put on one-liners and a tongue in cheek attitude.
3) Timothy Dalton: Too brooding and humorless, a touch neurotic, playing the role with more gravity than necessary.
4) Pierce Brosnan: A welcome relief from the overly intense Dalton, but perhaps too pretty and polished and suave for a man who's supposed to be a ruthless assassin.
5) Daniel Craig: Remember the furor that greeted the announcement Craig would be the next Bond. He's too short, screamed some.  He has blue eyes. He has blond hair.  He's not handsome enough.

Can the people casting Bond and the actor who winds up playing Bond ever win? Not with everyone, not a chance.  But in this case, it must be said, that no one seems to doubt that the people running the franchise, producing the films, have ever had anything but the best in mind for the character and series.  Maybe not every Bond choice worked to everyone's satisfaction, but I've never heard the sort of disparagement leveled at the filmmakers as I have at Zach Snyder, for example, where the very idea that he's the one shepherding the Warner Brothers DC film Universe is an affront.

Sherlock Holmes

There have been too many Sherlock Holmes' on film and TV to count over the years, so I won't go into every one. My favorite rendition was Jeremy Brett's in the PBS television adaptations, followed by Peter Cushing in Hammer's The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959) and Basil Rathbone in the first two films he did as Holmes - the original Hound and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (both 1939).  But the version that truly messes with the prevailing image of Holmes is The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, from 1976, taken from Nicholas Meyer's bestselling novel.  

If you don't know, the story portrays Holmes as brilliant but hopelessly high strung. He also happens to be a cocaine addict.  Watson and Mycroft Holmes manage to come up with a pretext to get Holmes to leave London and go to Vienna, where the great detective of the streets meets the great detective of the mind, Sigmund Freud. Against his will, Holmes winds up undergoing drug therapy (the cold turkey treatment) and psychotherapy to deal with his inner demons.  The Holmes we usually know as the pinnacle of rationality is here a man suffering from delusions, the main one being his insistence that Professor James Moriarty is a criminal mastermind.  In this telling, Watson has never seemed to buy the idea that Holmes has an enemy who is the Napolean of Crime.

There is some serious icon messing going on here, but in fact, at least as I remember, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution got a very good response when it came out.  As had the book.  I read the book when it first became a paperback and saw the movie when it opened, and even as a 14 year old, I could tell that Meyer was playing around with Holmes in a way quite consistent with how he's presented in the original stories. Holmes of course can be high-strung in the Conan Doyle tales, and we know he resorts to cocaine when bored.  But the cleverness of Meyer's re-imagining extends to "The Final Problem" itself, since in that story, as Doyle wrote it, almost all we learn about Moriarty comes from Holmes himself.  We don't get much outside objective evidence that Moriarty is indeed an evil genius.  Watson takes Holmes' word for everything and so do we as readers, but if you step outside that construct for a moment, it's conceivable that everything Holmes says about Moriarty comes from his own fevered mind.  It's a possibility, let's say, and that sliver of possibility is what The Seven Per-Cent-Solution builds on to give us a drug-addicted paranoid Holmes persecuting an innocent man.  Or maybe not so innocent; the new story reveals that Moriarty does have a connection to Holmes stemming back to the detective's childhood (It has to be childhood. Freud is involved.). Moriarty is guilty of something but it's nothing so grand or extreme as what Holmes has been saying about him.

The-Seven-Per-Cent Solution, for my money, is one of the best examples of a work that plays around with an icon successfully.  It gives us a different Holmes but it's a Holmes created entirely and believably from the fabric of the original Holmes.  I should add that by the time Holmes is both cured of his cocaine addiction and made to understand the roots of his obsession with Moriarty, he gets back on a case and solves it in typical Holmes fashion.  His mind remains razor-sharp, his energy and athleticism are undiminished.  All bases get covered here.

Philip Marlowe

Again, there've been a bunch of different Marlowes depicted on screen, and I don't want to go into every one.  I like Robert Mitchum in Farewell, My Lovely (1975) best, with Bogey in The Big Sleep (1946) second. But wait a minute.  There's also the Marlowe in the film that's my favorite of all the Raymond Chandler adaptations - Elliot Gould's version of the character in The Long Goodbye (1973).  This is the Marlowe to watch for yet more icon monkeying, and it's actually the movie that came to my mind as I started hearing the reactions to Batman v Superman.  I know way more people than not who love The Long Goodbye and consider it among Robert Altman's very best films, but I have met quite a few people who can't stand it.  They feel that what Altman did to Marlowe in the movie, treating him without due respect, and like an antiquated oaf, Rip van Marlowe, wandering around a Los Angeles he doesn't understand, is akin to insulting Chandler.  Altman himself aimed to create a Marlowe who's a "loser".  Worst of all, at the end of the movie, Marlowe simply shoots a man he can't bring to justice otherwise, and then he walks away looking carefree - something that would never happen in the books.  

The critics at the time weren't friendly.  A lot of the initial reaction was withering. Jay Cocks' Time review is typical.  He lays into the movie by saying, "Altman's lazy, haphazard put down is without affection or understanding, a nose-thumb not only at the idea of Philip Marlowe but at the genre that his tough-guy-soft-heart character epitomized. It is a curious spectacle to see Altman mocking a level of achievement to which, at his best, he could only aspire".   

Does any of this language sound familiar?  

With The Long Goodbye, critics eventually came around (though the film flopped at the box office), and the film settled into its place as a 70's classic. It took awhile for it to get that appreciation, though.  When you play with a character people love, people get upset.  We saw it then, we're seeing it now.  And no, I don't think  it's likely, down the road, that Batman v Superman will take on the stature of The Long Goodbye.  But it is interesting to observe old battles fought anew, people debating whether this hero or that one should have been placed in the hands of so and so - "who fucked it all up".

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Why So Serious?

By Jay Stringer.

Bear with me on this post, guys. I don't think this actually works as a cohesive article. I'm just letting off steam for my own sanity. This is more like a really long tone poem, and that tone is 'AAAARRRRGGGGHHHHH'. 

I've been trying for a long time -long before the film that has inspired so much ranting in the last few days- to find the right term to describe what I'm here to talk about today. The closest I can come is empty cool. There's a culture of empty cool that pervades storytelling at the moment. 

A lot of storytellers of my generation (and rather than our own ages, I'm defining this generation as the people who read comics between, say, 1985 and 1995) have bought into this idea.

I noticed it in the 90's as my own tastes were really forming. I was learning what kinds of stories I wanted to read and write. There were characters becoming hugely popular who didn't seem to have much actual character to them. Fans started to talk about things that were 'cool.' Fight scenes. Costumes. Swearing. Death. Explosions. Splash pages. Wolverine. Deadpool. Cable. (Not that these characters can't be well done. They've all had good stories. A couple very good films. But at the time they were simply coooool.) This is an era that has been much lampooned for the way every hero had to start wearing armour, and become dark, and possibly even die. (Hey...anybody seen the movie yet? This description sounding familiar?)

I noticed that there was a comics culture that I simply wasn't a part of, even when I was at the right age. It should have been my thing, but it felt alien, and I couldn't talk about it because that would alienate me further; I'd sound like a pretentious hipster prick. (Imagine that.) And then I started to notice it in films, too.

It's not so much a culture of style over substance, as a culture that thinks they're the same thing. Style is the substance. Cool, bro. Cool. 

It's, "oh man, you're going to love this fight, it gets wild," rather than, "oh man, you're going to love the reason these characters are fighting." I praise the hallway fight in season one of DAREDEVIL  to anyone who'll listen, and it's got almost nothing to do with the fighting. I love it because the scene is pure character, and is a brilliantly effective final act to that episode's story

For similar reasons, I've never connected with THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. Reading it is a cold and mean task. Frank Miller writes these characters as if he hates them, and that's never a good place to come from. To me, the book is just a hollow reactionary tale that happens to have some brilliant images. And yet, for fans of my era, and many since, TDKR is a holy book, a touchstone. On the other hand, a book I enjoyed for a long time was THE KILLING JOKE. But you know what happened? I grew up.

And let me pause here to clarify that. I don't mean 'I grew up' as in I outgrew comics. That would be a  ridiculous and condescending thing to say of a whole medium. But there is a weird form of arrested development in certain corners of the superhero comics -and in geek culture in general, I think- where it's like they tell adult stories as defined by a thirteen-year-old. All this edgy and gritty bullshit, that fetish of darkness. Maybe that's what adult looks like when you're a hormonal teenaged boy, but it bears no resemblance to any part of actual adult life. So when I say I grew up, I'm meaning that I outgrew that bullshit. I still enjoy the hell out of comics, but I live in the real world, and TKJ isn't adult, it's just mean. Frank Miller's work isn't adult, it' a weird fever dream of hormonal male bullshit. 

I find it interesting that Frank Miller's storytelling style has leaned ever more into this hollow style, whereas Alan Moore -who often gets cited alongside Miller as making comics more 'grown up'- has spent thirty years trying to push stories back in the other direction. Miller's career is defined by TDKR. Moore has disowned TKJ.

I don't know. Maybe it's just me. Maybe I'm out of step. More and more, from MAN OF STEEL to now, I see people telling me that 'DC is not MARVEL.' DC is 'more adult.' It's 'darker and edgier.' Well, they're correct in that DC has pushed a certain aesthetic for most of the last 30 years. I'm just not sure why we culturally agreed that this was more 'grown up.' I'm 35. I'm the exact kind of vague-30-something that DC characters tend to be, and I see way more of the tone of my adult life reflected in MARVEL movies than DC. 

DC pushes this fake version of adulthood. The adolescent pastiche. And I guess some people just want that because it's nostalgia, it's what they liked at 13, and it's what they want to see on the page or on screen. But it has zero emotional truth. 

MARVEL movies do lean more towards the comedic, sure. And with actors like Robert Downey Jnr and Chris Pratt, they're going to play to the jokes, and I understand that's not everyone's cup of tea. But they have a lot of different flavours. A variety of tone. Especially when you throw in the Netfllix shows. And that -from my perspective- is real life. That is adult. Real life is not all one thing. It's happy, it's sad, it's dark, it's light, it's serious, it's goofy....and all at the same time. If you don't like the tone of one MARVEL movie? Hang around five minutes, there'll be one that suits you better. (And I'm not ignoring that many people feel there are way to many of them, but that's an argument for another day.) MARVEL gives us action movies, fantasy movies, heist movies, comedies, crime TV shows, space operas. We're surely only a few steps away from a musical. And DC? We get the one thing. DC could have an even more varied roster, if they tried. Their potential movie characters include sandman, Swamp Thing, Plastic Man, and Billy Batson, for fucks sake. 

Bring in some comedy filmmakers, bring in some horror filmmakers, bring in some social realists, bring in some goofballs. Don't just deliver a bleak, nihilistic vision. 

(There is a similar trend in crime fiction, and I probably lose friends every time I talk about it; the race to the bottom of noir)

DC comics led the charge in the 'silver age' of comic books. Long before Stan Lee dreamed up the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man, DC gave us Barry Allen and Hal Jordan. These guys were heroes. Adventurers. And most of the best DC comics of recent years have been works that reminds us of what was great about characters pre-Miller, books like ALL STAR SUPERMAN and WORLDS FINEST. I would love for DC movies to be doing the same now, and to be kicking MARVEL's ass in terms of diversity both on-and-off screen. 

Much was made in the early 2000's of there being a new era in comics. 'The age of the writer.' I think that's bullshit. Writers generally (with exceptions, like Bob Kane) are always the ones who get the credit. The greatest artists in the history of comics had to fight tooth and nail to receive their due, and in many cases it wasn't given until after their death. What I do think happened around then is we got a bunch of writers coming through -Bendis, Rucka, Brubaker, etc- who weren't just interested in empty cool. They knew story. Character. Structure. Empathy. They also had a love of an older age of comics, drawing largely from the 70's. It's possibly revealing of a behind-the-scenes culture difference that most of these writers got to make way more of a mark at Marvel than DC. 

(And don't read this as the rantings of an anti-DC fanboy. My favourite character is Daredevil, sure. And I have a lot of love for Captain America. But most of my childhood/teen reading was with DC. Batman is easily my second favourite comic book character. And the others -John Constantine, Jesse Custer, Zatanna, Dick Grayson, Captain Marvel (Billy Batson), Green Lantern, more recently Superman- betray a heavy DC bias. I hold WATCHMEN as one of the finest pieces of literature ever. I devoured Vertigo books. I want DC to be brilliant.)

(I also want them to stop screwing over creatives, and to give credit where it due, and to have less old-time artists and writers dying in obscurity and poverty...)

I've been told numerous times in the last few days that the Superman I like (i.e, the actual character) doesn't work in the modern day. The times are too dark, apparently. It's not like the aw shucks old days. Bullshit. You know what was going on at the time Superman was being created? A little thing called The Great Depression. Immediately after that his sales soared during an even smaller thing we like to call World War 2. Are people seriously going to tell me that what we have going on in the world now is somehow darker than two of the most difficult periods in American (and world) history? could it maybe, just maybe, be that dark times need one or two brighter characters? That as our pop culture turns inwards and fearful, and our stories reflect the grim and desperate times we live in, it's important to have just one or two icons that represent something better?

I'm starting to feel that the only genuinely transgressive move in storytelling these days -in comics, movies, and crime fiction- is to tell some stories about the good guy. Because everybody is telling the other story. We all seem scared to do anything else. And that scares the hell out of me, because it means we're not doing our jobs.

DC -and by extension their movies- seem stuck. Pushing this weird, fake version of adult storytelling. They've had great creators and stories in that time, but nothing that can seem to take hold in their mainstream stories. WATCHMEN and THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS may have given the company a huge shot in the financial arm, but creatively they can't seem to get out of the shadows cast by those stories. 

I wonder how different their film universe would be looking right now if they'd gone with Joss Whedon's BATMAN pitch over Chris Nolan's? Or his WONDER WOMAN? Or if they'd not rewritten Greg Berlanti's GREEN LANTERN script into a mangled botch-job? If they'd given MAN OF STEEL to someone like Brad Bird? 

And now there is a generation of these empty cool storytellers who are in positions of power in Hollywood. People who grew up with this hollow, splash page mentality. 

When Zack Snyder remade DAWN OF THE DEAD I was pleasantly surprised. It's a popcorn version of a horror flick. It has some wit, some style, and a deftness of touch. I enjoyed that film way more than I expected to. But I have hated everything since. 

This was crystallised way back during the making of WATCHMEN. I saw him give an interview in which he talked of them making a rubber copy of Comedians hand, so that during the opening fight sequence the camera could get in real close, and we could see that hand get punched really hard. In slow motion. Cool. He talked about this rubber hand for about five minutes, which is five minutes longer than I've ever heard him talk about a character's story arc. That's not why I go to a film. Not why I re-read WATCHMEN on an annual basis. The film is an exercise in seeing someone who loves the imagery, but has zero interest in digging down into the subtext (or even the text, really.) Is this style? Because it sure ain't substance.

His version of deep is basically the same as West Wing's episode about ten word answers. We all know people who can talk politics by reeling off slogans ("we just want more freedom, not less.") But can they talk beyond those trite lines? Can they talk policy? Can they back up their arguments? Snyder is the filmic equivalent. "Look, I can reference Jesus. I can show Hercules. Here's something that invokes the samurai." That's nice, Zack, but those are images. Can you explore what they mean, or why you're using them?

(And don't get me started on the fucking stupidity of turning Superman into a Christ figure. Look, I'm an atheist, I don't care either way, but Superman is Moses. You wanna do Jesus? Then go get J'on J'onzz.) 

This is the TDKR mentality. A bunch of cool images, some over-the-top dialogue, a vague awareness of iconography and mythic images, and zero depth or empathy. Snyder makes splash page films. 

He kills off one of the most beloved Superman characters in the first fifteen minutes of BVS. This character is never referred to by name, and is executed by terrorists. Now, I'm a storyteller, and I understand that killing characters is part of the job. So it's not the choice to kill that's the problem. But do it as part of a fucking STORY. With emotional arcs. With structure. With meaning. Snyder's reason for this death? To "have a little fun with the character." Yeah. A little fun. Killed by terrorists. Yeah, that's empty cool. I've read an interview where he says they had many discussions over whether Batman should swear in the movie. That seems to take up more thought than whether Batman should kill, or if the most anti-gun character in comics should use guns. Cool, bro, cool

And so, I guess I just need to accept that he and I will never agree. He is not going to make films that interest me, and it's pointless getting angry over that. 

That's also not to say that the fans of his films are wrong. I can't say that. Maybe it's me that's wrong. I know the way I talk about the whole empty cool culture is loaded with implied snobbishness. But I've honestly spent a long time trying to think up a better way of describing what I see, and I've failed. 

I know there are people who love 300. People who love WATCHMEN. There are people who have tried to convince me of the artistic merits of MAN OF STEEL. I hear what they're saying, I simply can't cross the bridge they've tried to build. Just as I remember conversations with friends when I was younger, and they would try and convince me that I was missing something with Spawn. They would say Todd McFarlane was correct to believe Batman and Spider-Man should kill, because "this is the 90's." Yeah, cool bro, cool. 

I have to call it the way I see it. If you're a fan of this culture of storytelling, I apologize for not being able to describe it in less condescending terms. All I can really say is that this little rant is me agreeing not to keep shitting on you; you go do your thing, and I'll go do mine.

And that goes double for the director. He tells stories that I just don't like. That I've never liked. But if I simply don't engage with it, it's pointless losing sleep over them. He can just go do his thing, I'll go do mine.

And I guess mine is going to need to be to try and tell some stories about the characters that empty cool isn't interested in.