Boy, we haven’t done one of these in a long while.
Those of you who stuck around (got stuck) with me for a while might know that this here blog started, not as the MMA ramble-store (with seemingly random cultural commentary) it is now, but as a place for me, to flesh out my writing process, to air my dirty writing laundry and make some forward progress on that front.
With time, things have significantly shifted from the beautiful craft of writing, to the celebration of the art of mixed martial arts. I’m like that, I find beauty in the exquisite wordsmithery of Ursula Le Guin on the one hand, and the devastating accuracy of a prime Anderson Silva right cross.
With that been said, let us leave the sports, respectfully aside, and talk about the writerly side a little. I think a status report is overdue by a couple of years, and I do believe I have some things to say, that may or may not be of some value to those of you, who may or may not share my affliction.
Those of you who just got on board, might be surprised to hear that I have finished writing three novels. Well, ‘Finished’ is a big word, so let me be a little more specific. I finished a first draft of a science fictiony book. This one, serving mostly as practice, is currently sitting collecting some dust, until such time I decide what to do with it next. The third one, is a draft for a thriller I need to get back to at some point in order to decide whether it needs more polishing or re-writing. The second one is done! Oh yes, by that I mean that it was written, rewritten a couple of times, professionally edited, copy-righted, designed, edited for print and pending only one technical issue to be resolved before it gets published! I invite you to get excited for me, as there’s so much of this I can do by myself.
So in the macro, I guess I can say it’s all good. Can’t complain. But then again, what is a writer but a guy who just has to keep asking questions? (See what I did there? [and here?]).
See, people who’d written novels before, warn you all the time, that having done so once, doesn’t mean you cracked some ancient puzzle and all you’d need, in order to repeat that feat, is to go through the motions again and shazzam! No, it is quite obvious it is far more complicated than that. I wrote three of ’em bad boys, and I believe that it is the experience of having written them, that – quite ironically – put me in a state.
You hear a lot about the infamous “writer block”, and no, I don’t think I have one. I write pretty often, on different topics in different platforms, so I know I am not blocked. Yet, I have not made further progress on my creative writing endeavor in a while and I admit, it is starting to frustrate me.
I have all the reasons lined up. My day job is very demanding, leaving very little time for family, let alone other things that one does for his soul, and all that jazz. But in reality, that is not what’s stopping me.
Let me contradict myself a little before we continue. I do have a method to this madness, and this method took me through the aforementioned three novels. I’ve written about the 60 scenes method in the past, and wouldn’t have said a word about it, unless it actually worked for me – not just in theory, in practice – and I feel I can continue to use it for any future work.
So what is stopping me? I know all the questions a writer should ask himself. Or do I? And believe you me, I ask them. I spend smoke breaks, bedtime, showers, and other opportune moments to ask them. But I guess that I am not just asking questions, I am applying increasingly growing pressure on my poor brain. Who is your antagonist? What is the actual premise? What does your hero want? Is this your main plot? or is it a sub plot? Does this make sense? Why would he do that? Who is even going to care? Are the stakes high enough?
One thing I am really struggling with is really an ironic, fundamental conflict between my personal journey in life, and my journey as a writer. It seems that the better I do in my personal development, the worse I do in writing. To wit, as I learn to resolve and diffuse conflict in my own existence, I find it harder to create it in my stories.
In most cases, I am able to separate person from writer, from character, but I find myself sitting in front of the paper thinking “Meh… this isn’t conflict. It’s tepid.” Then I create some conflict and after some reflection “Whoa… that’s not conflict. That’s world war 3 you moron. People don’t work like that!” and the internal critic (perhaps the least forgiving one) berates me to paralysis.
As my friend Christina Ranallo, rightfully says – If there’s no conflict, there’s no story. And so far, there is no story. There are many things happening to and around my character, all impacting him, and his goals, moving him along a path, but at this moment I am sorry to report that the path is going nowhere. At least nowhere you, as a reader might care about.
The most frustrating part of it all is, that – as you can see – I am aware of the problem, yet unable to get out of this loop… yet.
So what to do? I guess I can ask you that (and will be happy to hear about it here in the comments section).
Here are a couple of things I am already doing:
Reading – Always a good idea. catching up on some “Discworld” books, as well as some long-awaited Brandon Sanderson novels. Oh, also read Ursula Le Guin’s “The word for world is forest”, and Emma Newman’s “Planetfall” series… all very much recommended.
Writing posts like this one… Part of what’s stopping me is the fact that this discussion is going on inside my head. I find that putting things down “on paper” helps me look at it from a different perspective. Not to mention that it is writing about writing.
Writing – while nothing creative (in the artistic sense of the word), the action of writing is, in itself, a mechanism to keep this habit going, providing some outlet so my head doesn’t explode with thoughts, and hopefully, giving someone something to read and – who knows – maybe derive something worthwhile out of it.
perhaps something that doesn’t sound intuitive to this predicament – not committing to a timeline. I will do everything necessary to write this story (and the next), and will not cut corners, but I will take the time. No one is holding a gun to my head, is one? I’d rather come up with something worth writing, something that I can enjoy writing, than inflicting unnecessary, and unproductive pressure on myself. I do believe that there are a whole lot of writers there, to release read-worthy books while the world awaits my next piece of work… not to mention that I am about to release one very soon.
That’s it from me – for the time being. I have to wonder, what is stopping you? and what works for you in situations like this? I sure would appreciate your tips, tricks and pieces of magic.
This will be a short rant, so hold on to your seats.
So… Seven episodes into season 11 of Doctor who, I stumbled upon a few – how shall I put it – “interesting” takes. For the most part, I see positive reviews, but every now and then, there are some really seething videos out there, with tons of venom… People care. Well, sort of.
So what are the more negative comments so far? I guess there are 3 main ones:
1. The show is too politically correct
2. They ran out of ideas
3. Jodie Whittaker is a horrendous actress
With the first one, I have no argument. We have a female doctor (finally, by the way), two young companions of different ethnic backgrounds, and an older white “apologist”. I do find the casting of the companions too much “text-book PC”. It’s cool, I’m not objecting (and no one would care if I did) to casting more diverse characters, but right out the gate, it just makes it too lazy and less interesting.
About the ideas, I guess it’s very much a matter of taste. While going back to the past, to protect Rosa Parks, and the change she helped drive is less exhilarating than say… save the world from the Daleks’ latest scheme, it still is a valid exercise of the Doctor Who concept. The problem with episodes like these may be related again, to PC. While the doctor (especially recent incarnations) always dealt with topics like interracial conflicts, it was done via allegory. Personally I prefer that method of delivery, and I get why it irritates some people. Still, I don’t see anything so wrong, that should incur so much rage…
And finally… Jodie Whittaker… I watched a video yesterday where the reviewer used the very phrase “Horrendous actress”… While I am a pretty civil person at most times, allow me to break character and ask a short and direct question:
WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK?
Jodie Whittaker is a GREAT actress, and is doing a GREAT job as Doctor Who, with the tools she’s given.
As opposed to previous regenerated doctors, she literally “falls to earth” and put in action from the first second, with little to no chance to stop and think about who she is.
If anything, the show runner should be put on trial, for giving such a good actress so little to chew on… I thought Peter Capaldi’s first season was great, especially because it allowed him to ponder, to understand himself better. But Whittaker is asked to just hit the ground running and deliver something out of thin air?… You are aware she follows a script right?
And here is where I get more than a little miffed.
With the show being as politically correct as it is – How in heaven’s name do you miss the ONE place where playing up gender is not only appropriate, but a MUST???
“Oh, I’m a woman. let’s move on…”
This is the FIRST female doctor – spend some quality time, allowing her to play off of this. Let us revel in it. There are sooooo many opportunities (ALL of them missed) for humor, for more character depth… This is my biggest disappointment.
And all of that is dumped onto Jodie Whittaker, and in return, what does this great actress get? jeers from some keyboard warrior…
Season 11 is not the best season by any means. It’s also not as bad as some of these raging reviewers make it out to be. I enjoy watching for the most part, and a lot of it is because Whittaker is, in fact, a very good doctor.
I liked “Torchwood”. As far as spin-offs go, it’s a pretty good one. I am still not a huge fan of “Fear the walking dead”, though the last season finally started to take steps in a direction I’m willing to go along with. I am, however all in for “Better call Saul”!
When it was just announced that this series is going to be produced, and by the same folks who gave us “Breaking Bad”, I was excited and worried at the same time. Excited because I can watch Saul Goodman doing his thing all day, but worried because being a spin-off to a show of that magnitude (“Breaking Bad” is, in fact the best TV drama ever. It’s a fact because… reason) it had the perfect opportunity to fail. Having finished watching season 4, I have a few things to say about what I consider to be the best current drama show on TV.
They took their time
It was something of an itch, to some of us Saul Goodman fans, to see the guy from Breaking Bad come out, guns blazing from the get go. Luckily the gifted production team, starting from the writers, with the perfect delivery of Bob Odenkirk and the wonderful cast, decided to take their time and show us how Jimmy McGill becomes the man we all knew and loved. It wasn’t a gag fest of “criminal lawyer” Saul Goodman. Instead it is – as a good story should be – an arc. We take the ride with a very relatable character, with plenty of flaws, and we cheer for him. Even if we know he gets corrupted, we understand. We get it. It’s all good man!
Those aren’t really cameos
Sure, there are a couple of faces who show up with limited purpose, but for the most part, characters who we originally met in “Breaking Bad” and were introduced into “Better call Saul” were introduced because there’s a story to tell, and they either play a major role in it, have some back story to show or both. The best examples might be Mike and Tito Salamanca. Along with Gustavo Fring and others, they don’t just play the “Hey, these guys were on Breaking Bad” roles, but move the story forward, or serve as part of the setting (we all know that at some point, Walter White meets Saul. It’s part of a bigger story).
They are respectful
The way the story is written, and told both by way of script, as well as the way it’s screen-played, shows a great deal of respect to “Breaking Bad”, to Saul and his cast of course, and perhaps most of all to the fans. There is an independent story here, told with great care, putting the focus on the main character – Jimmy/Saul – and woven into this, the larger story of the set of characters who feature into the “Breaking Bad” universe. There is a lot of correspondence with the original series, both obvious (again, not just for cheap pops – with a purpose), as well as far more subtle. I may be barking at the wrong tree, but there are many scenes that I can immediately relate to “Breaking Bad” without them even having to do with the story directly. An example of that, I find, was the scene in the last episode of season 4 (Spoiler alert if you haven’t watched yet), where Mike is about to kill Werner. Mike’s character is of a person who always owns up, and even if for a brief moment there was hope for the German, it was never going to be different. And why does that scene corresponds to the original? In my mind (and I believe that it was done with thought behind it), this was very similar to when Mike was going to Kill Walter, and the only reason he didn’t was Jessie getting to Gale, leaving Fring without a cook. Werner is a professional like Walt, who’s skills are valued. Unlike Walt, he could be replaced and had no backup.
On a “Breaking Bad” panel, I heard Bob say that “It’s just the writers”. That he just comes to work, reads what they tell him to and go home. Rrrriiiigghht…
I don’t think Bob Odenkirk is a good actor. I think he is a phenomenal actor. I think he can do a Psycho killer, a lover, a tough military guy or a clown with the same level of credibility and grace. He is required to do a nice range of acting in this series and I think he nails it on every turn.
I think that part of what makes this series so great, is the decision to have it as a kind of prequel, and not a disconnected series of events. By making that choice, the producers committed themselves to an end. An end that we are all very familiar with and as such, it is tied to some expectations. This gives the writers an obligation to stay true to the character, and not go off on some crazy bunny trails that in so many cases result in completely losing focus and faith from the viewers.
Whoever is in charge of making the decision better let these guys take this series all the way to its satisfying end.
You want the end to be Walter White walking in with a silly disguise, trying to influence him to keep Badger quiet – great. You want to end it simply by receiving his first customer in his tacky strip mall office – great. But let it get to its natural conclusion. However you want to – It’s all good man!
I don’t know about you, I love me some podcasts. There are some great sport related ones that I follow, and others that are completely unrelated. An excellent example of the latter is “Writing Excuses” which from my perspective is a “Brandon Sanderson and friends” kind of deal. I learned of this podcast quite recently (as in sometime in 2018. You’ll have to excuse me, at my age one starts to forget details), and for the most part, I really enjoy it. It’s kind of short (which is the point really) and focuses on a specific writing related topic in each episode. It’s also ordered by seasons and episodes, which I find fun, and while I’d never recommend to take any podcast as a bible, one thing this one offers is some perspective. Out of what the team has to offer, I may or may not take advice, but even if I disagree with some things (and I do), I still enjoy the contrast, even if only as a test to my current held position. You should definitely check it out if you’re interesting in the topic of writing at all.
Having said that, I listened to the episode “How To Handle Weighty Topics” from Sunday, August 12th, 2018 on my way to work and it (as it often does) made me think. I’m not necessarily challenging anything said on the podcast, or saying “you’re wrong”. I merely offer my thoughts on the topic.
As the topic of weighty topics is… weighty… I’d like to break it down a little (well, more than a little). First, what did they mean by weighty? My understanding is – At any time one writes about a person or persons who are not of his “group” (we’ll get to that), or something that is outside of his existence which is of sensitivity to one or more groups, the topic becomes weighty. Of course I could be misunderstanding, but that – in itself – doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
With the above assumption in mind, let’s start touching the weighty topics.
One of the best questions asked during the podcast was “Why is it so important for the writer?” and I think that this is the fundamental question each of us should ask ourselves before embarking on the project. Are we writing about racism because we want to “be cool”? or perhaps because we “have a message”? Are we writing about racism, or is what we write racist (or can be perceived as such)? mind you, this applies to most all isms. Is one of our characters racist? “just a little”? Outright obnoxious, racist, pig? and if so, what does that mean for our story? Do we write that character in “to have a racist character”? There are a lot of “whys” we should ask ourselves before even going into a weighty topic (more on that later).
For me, the decision is made based on one question – Does it serve the story in any meaningful way? whether it’s the plot, character or settings. If the answer is yes – you will see some ism in my book. If not, I’m not even going there.
Another question that really interests me, and I’m hoping some of you may want to give me possible answers (I’m really asking) is, do we really need to address the isms every time? What I mean is this – If I’d elect to write a story featuring, say… a gay person. If I illustrate the discrimination and suffering that person may experience, I may be misrepresenting it, or perhaps worse, over simplifying it. If I tell a story, in which a character just happens to be gay, why does he have to be gay? (and excuse the usage of male, that’s just my habit). How does the character, being gay, contribute to the story, other than to be a “hey, I included a gay person in my story” (Do we really have to choose a “pet minority”?). And If I chose one group, or three, and not others…
What I’m trying to say is, inclusiveness is fun, and I go back to that question – does it serve the story in a meaningful way? if so, why the hell not. As a reasonably new writer, I tend to write more of what I know, and I do not know enough yet to pretend to get in the head of some groups. I feel that, until I’ve spoken to, learned about, understood people better, I’d rather stay away. That way I am – at the very least – significantly reducing my chances of falling into the trap. One day I will know more. On that day, I may take the plunge.
The most insightful and meaningful comment I heard on the podcast (and excuse me, I don’t remember who said what – they are all interesting) was regarding the fact that, though we all may be (whether we want to or not) part of certain different groups, we have so much more in common than we are really different. I totally agree that, from a writer’s perspective, if we write our characters with that in mind, the chances of our writing being offensive, or perceived as such, are reduced. I want to say it clearly again – there’s a huge difference between writing an offensive character (which is perfectly fine) and writing offensively (which I don’t recommend).
So far I focused on the writing itself, as it relates to weighty topics. But There is still the question of what is the writer’s role in the discussion of a certain weighty topic. My personal opinion is that it’s up to the writer. Some may feel a burning need to address a weighty topic because it may hit “close to home” for them, or perhaps the opposite – choose to stay away from one, for the exact same reason. I don’t think that everyone should necessarily write about them, but I do expect from any book that I write to be true to its reality. If a character in our story is of a group that suffers blatant discrimination, I expect to see him as such. I don’t need a militant activist of any faction for that. I just expect that the character will not be “just another guy”. Otherwise I will ask again – why does he have to be part of a specific group?
I’m not a big fan of preachy fiction. I identify with causes, but I do that in real life. In fiction I’d like to read a story that is informed by whatever reality it exists in. I can identify with a suffering character, as long as it’s not meant to “educate” me. It’s more about empathy to a character than a “message” that the writer wants to send.
I also don’t view the writer as a pacifist. What I mean by that is that, I am not actively looking to offend people. As I mentioned, I do not intend to write offensively. But I don’t believe a writer should “hold back” when it comes to writing about weighty topics. It boils down to target audience I guess.
If the story justifies it, a character will say the most horrific racist slurs and will behave in a despicable manner. Because the character is not the writer. That character may even be successful in his endeavors, because – it’s fiction… and yes, some people may be offended.
Beside the fact that people get offended more easily these days, there’s also the question of why should the writer compromise on a story that could be stronger should it included things that might offend some people? Again, target audience aside, I think the story should be told, IF – and I will try to close a little circle here – the writer has a satisfactory answer to that question: “Why is it so important for the writer?”
A Facebook friend of mine posted a couple of days ago about people who say that, when it comes to people, they are “color blind”. Meaning, we don’t see a black or white or whatever person as a black or white or whatever person. She challenged them, and I agree with what she said. This color blindness is mostly reserved to the privileged, to people who are part of stronger populations. Because it’s much easier. Like her, I choose to see colors, and religions and sexual orientations and other points of conflicts.
Is it not the ability to recognize the differences and yet look past them, understanding that indeed, these are far less than the things we have in common, and kill our prejudices the way to get rid of racism and other isms?
And also, how do we expect to empathise with a person who is marginalized, categorized and mistreated if we fail to recognize that he is? by being blind to the differences, we also have to be somewhat blind to problems that need to be addressed.
Now, I don’t see a gay person ONLY as gay, of course. That’s part of the problem. But I’m not going to ignore the fact that he is. Not as a person and not as a writer. As a person, by doing that I’d be ignoring the issues and basking in my privilege. As a writer I’d miss – at the very least – on two of writing’s most valuable aspects – conflict on the one hand, and empathy on the other.
Hopefully no one’s offended. You know no offense was meant.
First of, no. This isn’t becoming a TV review site anytime soon. It’s a matter of coinciding schedule on Netflix. You can read the short post I wrote about “The Punisher” here. That was written after a binge. This here post on the other hand was not. Yes, I doubled up on episodes of Longmire (because damn it, I love this show), but I let it last a whole week (trust me, it took a lot for me to hold off). After all, this was the last season, so I thought I’d make it count, in hope that they made it count too.
Well, the short version is – they did.
But we’re not here to take shortcuts. No. We’re here to celebrate one of TV’s most underrated shows.
Like quite a few TV shows I loved, this one was recommended to me by good friends in Georgia (other notable mentions: Justified, Top of the lake, The walking dead among others.). Had I not gotten this recommendation, chances are I’d never watch an episode of Longmire.
I mean, come on. It’s the second decade of this millenium for crying out loud. Who tells a story about Cowboys and Indians? No zombies, no high-tech, no weekly deaths of main characters, no full frontal…. Jeez…. right?
Like many less than flashy productions, Longmire is a proof that a good story could be told and acted, regardless of the year. And yes, there are still cowboys out there, and thankfully a few native Americans.
Every story, absolutely must have these things (a very condensed checklist):
relatable main character:
You can’t get much more relatable than Walt Longmire. A man of the law (automatic good guy), Widowed due to murdered wife (we’re on board) and father to a beautiful, loving and caring daughter, leading a police force of seemingly less than stellar cops. Walt’s as real as they come. He seems to have quite a few of those very human flaws and just enough charm and guts to get us behind him.
We had the chief of the reservation police Malachi, and his successor Mathias. Both in constant ends with Walt and his view of police work and interests.
Branch Connally and his father Barlow were a different kind of opposition, as were investigators trying to tie Walt to a murder.
The Irish Mafia came to town, and of course, the one guy who always walked the fine line between legal and charity – Jacob Nighthorse.
Add the different antagonistic forces that came with the sub plots and you have yourself a very strong, forever threatening opponent. Some of whom were truly a mirror of sorts. Keeping Walt on his guard, both as it relates to the threat they posed, as well as to what their similarities told him about himself.
First and foremost, Walt’s best friend Henry Standing Bear. How do we know he’s his best friend? Well, he answers the two qualities of such person. He tells it like it is. There is no beating around the bush, walking on egg shells type of BS about Henry. When Walt Effs up – Henry is there to tell it to his face. And even though they may disagree or even downright oppose each other, Henry is always there for Walt (and the same is true the other way).
Cady is a character that manages to stay away from cliché. Yes, she stays by her dad after her mom dies and yes, she is that one who always wants to leave “small town USA” and falls in love with the good-looking quarterback (or bull rider). But she is also an intelligent, independent and driven person, who may irritate her old-fashioned dad, but ultimately (and recognized for it by him eventually) she is what Walt evolved into (though we will never actually see it on-screen).
Vic (Philly) is the outsider who wants to understand Walt, admires him and frustrated by him. Her being that stranger is what makes this slow burning, tense love story so effective.
Yes, there are others, but these three are the most important for the story and for the main character.
A believable plot and sub plots (within the rules of the story world):
A small (fictional) county, with “regular folk” and yet a lot seems to happen. Sure, when you say it like that, it may not be believable at all. Especially if you bring in the Irish mob from all the way out in Boston. But all told, every event makes sense. Either via cause and effect or by reasonable explanation.
The intermingling of plots and the relationships between White Americans and Native Americans, as well as the inner working of those societies living side by side (which in itself is a story), make for a very interesting mix of dilemmas and questions. Those drive character change and development in subtle but impactful ways.
Oh, how far did we go in six seasons. From the loner drunk, stubborn and – let’s face it – selfish sherif of season 1, to the open-minded, flexible, emotionally engaged and proud father and lover we said goodbye to this season.
Every episode and every season brought Walt closer to that beautiful man we saw in the finale. And no, it wasn’t just a sequence of make a mistake, learn, improve. One of the most beautiful things about this story is that it is very real. It’s a tale of real men. You know, those who make the same mistake more than once (or three times) before they learn. Real men like us. relatable.
And after winning some of his battles and losing more than his fair share, this man learns to overcome his grief, open his heart to another woman, understand his daughter completely and come to terms with his imperfections.
Hey, He even has his own cellphone!
Perhaps in TV is easier, because these words are spoken, but think about it. It’s not only the difference between cowboy Walt’s everyday guy English and Henry’s official-talk. It’s also the differences between Henry, Mathias and Malachi. Cause you know… not all injunes are the same. It’s also the way Cady differs from her dad (not to mention Vic from Philly).
And if we want to look at the voice of the story-teller, we can follow the camera and the directing and editing. A really solid work of modern-day Cowboy/Indian world creation.
Longmire is one of my all time favorite shows. I will surely re-watch it.
One point of contention though…
This series did such a phenomenal job in telling a story about a Native Indian society without falling into the trap of making it look like a group of identical individuals on the one hand, or go science fiction on the other. I loved that fact that visions and symbolism played a part in the story.
One thing I wish they kept out. In the last season, Cady helps a native American lady kidnap a kid in order to get him “proper” medication.
I truly believe this was unnecessary. If we credit visions and symbolism (which we should), we really should have not fallen into the trap of western medicine’s superiority over that of native Americans. It felt preachy and uncharacteristic.
But hey, it’s just a little piece of a very big and beautiful puzzle of story telling and TV production.
So long Walt (seems to be a great name for a phenomenal protagonist). See you later.