2014 In Review….eh, better not

Optimism is a prized trait, and for good reason. It is our ability to see good that makes progress possible, and keeps hope alive. Optimism is an admirable trait, to be sure.

Likewise, there seems to be a professional requirement that one be upbeat, cheerful, and even happy. Certainly positive. And again, it’s understandable. Positive ness helps motivate others, to work harder, do more, whatever.

And yet, if I can be real and honest, 2014 was terrible.

Looking back over the whole of 2014, there’s very little that inspires hopes or even cracks a smile. Most of 2014 was a nightmare, marred with the deaths of so many friends and loved ones while at the same time, our confidence and faith in social systems that we rely on took more than a few big hits.

This was a sobering year, where most of the ‘good things’ weren’t so much good as merely a cessation of the bad. When there was a cessation.

About the only thing that gives me any real hope was publishing Rhest for the Wicked. It had been so long since I was in print, it was a real sense of comfort to return to the con scene with a table, with print copies of books to sell. Even publishing the serials here at my site pales in comparison.

So, maybe it’s a little self-centered, but as we go into 2015, I’m focusing on that, my book. The fruits of labor of myself and my publishing house. 2015 doesn’t have to do much to be better than 2014, but I feel like it’s got a lot to do to be a good year. But maybe, at least, that’s a start.

Happy New Year, folks. Here’s to hoping.

What’s Your Favorite Christmas Carol?

Charles Dickens’ famous novella about a miserly old man being scared into generosity turned 171 last Friday. First published on December 19th, 1843, it was an instant classic. From it, we would get the famous characters of Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim, Jacob Marley, and the real stars of the show, the Spirits of Christmas.

Stage productions of the story have been around for almost a hundred and fifty years, and thus film adaptations followed almost as soon as the medium could allow it, with the earliest recorded versions dating back to 1901.

As with any adaptation, different versions have their own strengths and speaking to people differently. Here are a few of my personal favorites.

A Christmas Carol (1984) – Starring George C Scott, this highly acclaimed adaptation hinges on Scott’s marvelous performance, as well as possibly the creepiest version of the Ghost of Christmas Future ever.
One nuance of special note about Scott’s performance is how upstanding his Scrooge actually is. Many perform Scrooge as a duplicitous old man, out to swindle anyone. Scott’s version comes across as less malevolent and more indifferent. Likewise, his miraculous transformation is a change in demeanor but not in personality. He’s still Scrooge; just a happier and more generous Scrooge. This makes the redemption all the more delightful.

Scrooged (1988) – Starring the incomparable Bill Murray, Scrooged is a rare modern retelling. It follows network executive Frank Cross preparing for a live broadcast of the Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve. This provides a host of pseudo-fourth wall breaks about the story and the culture that surrounds it, while the story of Scrooged itself deviates from the source material more so than most versions.
The film can be a little hard to stomach. There are segments that seem needlessly gross (such as not-Jacob Marley as a zombie rather than a ghost dangling Bill Murray out a window, with his arm literally (and graphically) disintegrating). Still, the movie does a nice job of capturing 1980s culture at that time.
Also of note is Murray’s turn at drama. While this wasn’t his first dramatic role (if this can even be called dramatic), it was likely many film goer’s first look at Murray playing serious. The movie is a lot of slapstick, a few prat falls, and a lot of Murray wit, but there is real heart at times. Personally speaking, this was first version where I ‘got’ why Scrooge was the way he was, that he was emotionally wounded and the combination of pain and shame (as the wounds were mostly self-inflicted) was too much to confront.
This is not the definitive version by any stretch, but there are few modern adaptations and fewer still that change so much and yet still keep the core of the story.

Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983) – While hardly definitive or even remotely authentic, this charming tale casts Uncle Scrooge as, well, Scrooge. It fills the story with Disney characters, familiar and obscure alike (not too many are likely to recognize Rat and Mole from the Wind in the Willows). This story is delightfully succinct, breaking down all the major themes into smaller, family-friendly digestible bites.

There have been dozens upon dozens of adaptations of the Christmas Carol. Some are more ambitious than others, but they are all built around a tradition of the holidays and around telling the story of redemption and recovery, a story that it isn’t too late to change one’s ways. Not a bad moral, that.

Different versions have their strengths, and speak to different elements of the story. What’s your favorite?

Concentration (or, What Forgetting My Power Cord Taught Me About Focus)

I forgot the power cable for my computer this past weekend.

It’s not too surprising. I travel a lot, especially these days where my weeks are divided between the Triangle (Raleigh-Durham NC) and Asheville. There’s a skill to traveling and it’s one that I don’t think I’ve mastered but I do think I’ve gotten a knack at. Still, accidents happen and stuff gets forgotten.
In the case of the power cord, though, it wasn’t like I could easily run down to the local store and pick up a replacement. Yes, technically, I could have but it would have cost me a small fortune. And since I’d be going back down to the Triangle in a few days, that seemed like a bit of a waste. So, I decided to just see if I could muddle through. My computer had 50% charge so I’d see what I could do.

I started by not leaving my computer on. Like most people, I rarely turn my computer off, instead leaving it in hibernation. Not this time; I turned that bad boy off the second I was done writing.

Secondly, I did nothing with the internet. No surfing, no chatting, no nothing. Start up the computer, go right to writing, and the instant I was done with the day’s goals, close it all down. Any surfing was done on my phone (which, because it’s a subpar internet tool, meant my surfing was also kept at a minimum).

Thirdly, I had to condense my goals. I couldn’t just sit staring at a blank screen for an hour as I tried to get my thoughts to coalesce. I had to write. So this meant that I didn’t fill time with writing but wrote with specific goals (this is something I do anyway, but this experience underlined the importance of it). Wake up, write six pages (or whatever the goal was for that day), and close shop.

The result was that I powered through a tremendous amount of work in a very short period of time. Six-pages-in-two-hours kind of thing. There were no distractions, no checking email or checking Facebook or even researching anything I was writing about. I wrote from my gut and I kept it going. The results have been phenomenal.

People far more committed than I to the optimization of time have written about isolating internet, email, social media, etc, to specific times of the day. I’m merely seconding what they’ve been advocating:
– Resist the allure of the internet and other distractions. If you’re sitting down to work, work.
– Resist the allure of multi-tasking; focus on getting one thing done. When it’s done, then and only then go on to something else (this doesn’t need to be a whole project; one stage of a project or one piece at a time will suffice).
– Check email, social media, etc, at designated times of the day (ideally when your productivity usually takes a nose dive anyway). Check email at lunch and before the end of the work day. Odds are, it can wait a few hours.
– Shut off the electronic devices when they aren’t in use. That will help curb the ‘I’ll just see what’s happening on Facebook’ habit.

It’s been really illuminating working this way. I’ve read considerably more these past few days than I normally do. And, much like a previous article about a healthy diet making food taste better, spending less time online has made me resistant to ‘killing time online’ (I’m looking at you, online personality quizzes).

So, I’ve gotten more done in less time and enjoyed the process. Give it a try and see what you think.

More Than The Cover

I’m going to make a video game.

It’s going to be a 2D platformer, probably somewhat like Castlevania. I will be making it on the Codea software-making engine. The game will be based off my current serial, Red Moon Rising.

Now comes the important question: why?

Making video games is hard. Why would I devote all this time and energy to making a video game? And the answer is two-fold.

1 – It’s hard to promote literature.

Comics are fairly easy: “Here, flip through a few pages and look at the pictures”. Music? “Here, have a listen”. Films and television? “Just stand there and watch”. It’s easy to give the prospective audience an idea of what they’re getting into with just a few seconds of their time.

Literature is different, though. You need longer. Getting them to read a paragraph won’t do it. They need to read at least a full page – at least! – in order to get some idea of the book. That’s a tall order in a dealer’s room or artist alley.

A video game may provide the answer. A video game is different enough that people won’t confuse it with the project in question (a problem I’ve encountered in the past when I would present character art; some fans thought the story was a comic). It can allow me to show off the characters and the world, and also convey some aspects of the story while still keeping the two separate enough that they are distinct. Also, a video game running as a demo at a table at conventions can help attract attention.

2 – I Want To

I love video games. While recent cultural events have inspired me to discard the handle ‘gamer’, video games remain one of my favorite artistic mediums. On a vacation recently, rather than go anywhere, I stayed home and replayed Final Fantasy XII, and it was wonderful. I still count the Castlevania and Dragon Quest series amongst my chief inspirations. I got into martial arts and physical fitness because of Double Dragon and Street Fighter. Anybody who has read the Crossworld series knows the depths of my passion.

I would like to contribute to the video game art form, even if it’s just by making some rinky-dink platformer. And who knows where this might lead? Maybe I’ll make a Maidens of Steel fighting game. Maybe a Neo-Romance dating sim. We’ll see. 🙂

Over the next few weeks, I will probably be posting about the trials and tribulations of learning how to make a game. My hope is to having a working demo by MAGFest in January. I doubt the game will be browser accessible, but once the game is done, I will be releasing it somehow.

I’ll keep you posted. 🙂

Print!

I am back in print, after over five years. It’s a good feeling.

At the VA Comic-Con, I unveiled the new print editions of Rhest for the Wicked (which will be available rough Amazon shortly, ebook is currently available). I am delighted that they sold like hot cakes. I am next slated to appear at MAGFest and will be bringing copies with me. As we gear up for the holiday season, I remind you of the gift of literature. 🙂

Lots bubbling, lots to reveal in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!