Check out SAVE CHANGES…now in book form!

So now that SAVE CHANGES is over, I’m going to be taking it down and fixing up the Tumblr for it to display something else…mostly because I’ve expanded on it a bit, cleaned it up, and putting it out as a free little e-book/novella exclusive download courtesy of Smashwords.com. 

Screenshot 2016-01-03 15.38.18It’s not really long enough for me to justify working on it to put it up on both Amazon and Smashwords, let alone charge for it, and since I’ve been touting it the whole time as a free serialized read, I figure it’ll be a cool little experiment just throwing it up as a free download on a variety of platforms, even just your computer.

Also, it’s the first “official” debut of my cat Scully as a cover model for a book, she was the unofficial mascot and spiritual mascot of SAVE CHANGES as I’ve been writing it. Scully isn’t as badly-behaved as Lee’s cat, but she’s close.

Anyway, check it out.

“TV Party Tonite…”

destroyer

I remember watching CHEERS as a kid. I specifically watching the famous last episode of the show, with the “Sorry, we’re closed” line and straightening of the Geronimo photo on the wall. The show has a weird place in my memory and my heart.

Strangely enough, even though I didn’t really realize until I was older and watching reruns did I realize the true impact of that show, including a lot of episodes that at the time would be considered “very special,” and nowadays in the so-called “Golden Age” of television, would be considered “important.”

(I’m using the quotation marks to create critical reads of those words and phrases on purpose, so bear with me.)

The episode with Sam and his lucky bottle cap (“Endless Slumper”) in particular is incredible to watch later on, now aware and more informed about addition, addict culture and behavior, so those last few minutes are surprisingly intense to watch. It’s one of those standouts of writing and acting and set all working together really well, the uncomfortable silence of the live audience adding so much to the pain coming across. It’s up there with those episodes of THE GOLDEN GIRLS dealing with dementia and elder care (“Old Friend” and “Sophia’s Choice”) that have really rough endings that just hit you, or the entire run of MASH or the first 3/4 of ROSEANNE (two serious masterpieces as far as I’m concerned).

~

I distinctly remember the CHEERS episode “The Boys in the Bar” from when I watched it as a kid, even though I don’t think I fully understood it then. It originally broadcast in 1983 (when I was born) but I saw it in reruns a couple of times over the years, the last time being probably in 2012, which is when I realized the entirety of the impact of this episode.

Can you imagine what it was like for blue-collar sitcom TV to address homophobia in 1983? For this intensely-uncomfortable feeling to come through the screen and let you realize that passive bigotry from likable/loveable characters like Norm and Cliff is considered the standard? No one is hanging a “No Homos” sign in the window when Sam’s old teammate on the Red Sox comes out, but the idea to make it a “no gays” bar and try to basically trick supposedly-gay patrons to leave is an indication of that attitude.

I looked up a review of the episode by Cory Barker, who called Norm’s reactions “honest for the time,” and also tackled how much of the episode centers on Sam’s sympathies and support for his old teammate versus a practical wish to maintain his business, which, as the show constantly likes to tell us in more comedic episodes, was all Sam really had in the world. And yes, it’s a typical feel-good serious-issue episode of a TV show that, in typical fashion, never comes back to the topic or the character in general at the time because you only have 22 minutes to deal with that one particular moment in social growth before going back to fat jokes and baseball references no one but by dad gets.

Still though, it sticks out to me.

~

I never understand “golden age of TV” talk, mostly because I grew up on TV. To me, it was always a medium with great examples.

Yeah, there was reading and riding my bike, but I grew up in a fairly good middle-class family and had an active imagination, not a lot of friends, and spent a lot of time visiting family who were significantly older so I’d just watch TV. I’d watch it with my parents, I’d watch it with my grandparents, with friends, with my little brother. I’d get older and hang out with friends and drink shitty beer and watch movies and TV shows and laugh.

I’m in my 30s now, I’ve got what I think is a pretty good sense of critical history and cultural and media awareness, so watching older TV now in reruns is an interesting experience. I watch out of fond nostalgia, curiosity, or habit because it was something I liked then, not to mention the period of time I had where I worked from home exclusively and left daytime cable reruns of sitcoms play in the background.

It was, for the most part, really fucking good. It’s stupid to fall back on this phrase but the AV Club’s CHEERS oral history from a few years ago made a reference in it that the writers of that show were from one of the last generations to work in TV who didn’t grow up watching TV, which lent a different element to their influences and writing, drawing more on theater and prose. There’s a lot of theater elements in those moments, in dead-silent confrontations that bring conflicts directly to light, directly into the focus of the audience as opposed to hiding them in the settings of the scene.

THE ODD COUPLE was really great and funny. The very last episode of MASH makes me cry every fucking time (that fucking chicken…). Even your hipster girlfriend’s ironic favorite THE GOLDEN GIRLS illustrates some character and story work that you’d never see nowadays in any serious light, with older characters (especially women) doomed forever by faux-Betty White worship and idolatry into making sex and drug use jokes and swearing a lot.

~

What “the Golden Age of Television” isn’t is some sort of finally-good wave of broadcast/serialized TV shows, the first in forever because television was where talent traditionally went to die. What it is though, is a level of awareness of (at least in an utterly shallow and surface sense) of the basics of storytelling that makes more people in the audience aware that what they’re watching might just be pretty good.

Of course, another element is that TV is now seizing on the public consciousness of popular ephemera at an increasingly-alarming rate, making stuff people are interested in seeing at a faster and relatively-high quality rate. The web model (outside of YouTube, where indie web TV lived forever) of Hulu Originals, Netflix, Amazon Streaming, etc allows for even more flexibility and quick turnaround on whole-seasons-at-once, material that would be hard to approve for regular broadcast, etc.

You know though, the bubble’s gonna burst eventually. Is it still going to be the Golden Age of Television? Probably, in some way, shape, or form. Look at nostalgic archaeology of 1990’s sitcoms and cartoons (especially cartoons) within nerd subculture. I was watching clips with friends and someone asked how so many TV shows could have been available at that time that seem to stick to the popular consciousness. The answer may surprise you, as the Upworthy headline would say…

They weren’t available. So many just existed as quarter-seasons of failed toy launch campaigns, straight-to-video TV movie pilots because the show runner or animators quit right after, or the toys didn’t do well, or the show sank after a whole season due to the glut of TMNT-esque ripoffs hoping to capture Eastman and Laird’s lighting-in-a-bottle moment they were smart to cash in on.

There was no golden age of 90’s cartoons, because “ages” don’t exist in TV. There’s only seasons.

Howling Into The Cold

I wrote this short story for the email newsletter a month or so ago, and I liked it so much I decided to clean it up a tiny bit, change one or two things that slipped past my  and share it here.photo.PNG I actually wrote the first draft in my iPhone in the note-taking app that came with it, which has turned into a great tool. I like to always carry a notebook, but it’s not always possible. The phone’s a great way to put stuff down, even if I never use it, probably moreso than the notebook. I’m glad when stuff that comes out of the phone writing ends up being something useable, like this story.

So here you go, please enjoy “The Woods”.

Continue reading →

Broadcast Bones

monsterradio

When I was in college and getting back into reading comic books, I was exposed to the beginnings of podcasting culture, finding a lot of comic book podcasts that I’d listen to. I had an office job at a college, in a windowless back room in a cubicle.

For the most part, I was alone, except at times when I had a few interns…and of course, there was someone in the cubicle all the way in the back of the room who had a position in the college I didn’t quite know but I think he managed proctoring and coordinated testing. He was really scary, a little racist, and hung up conservative newspaper editorial cartoons and front-page headlines all over the walls.

For the most part though, alone, like I said. So I listened to comic book podcasts, though I couldn’t tell you how I discovered what they were and how to listen to them. Regardless thought, it was something new and interesting, and it was, I think, an evolution of growing up listening to radio. Music came from records, but talking and sports and news all came from the clusters of numbers on the dial that tuned into whatever I could find, being broadcast from wherever.

I grew up on car radio, sports talk radio, afternoon talk radio, baseball games on radio, and taping music off the radio into weird staggered mixtapes before I had CDs. I can still remember listening to Mike & The Mad Dog in the car to catch the Yankees game. I was, I’m a little ashamed to admit, a fan of listening to Howard Stern in the mornings and 101 WNEW FM in the afternoons after school when I got home from school (this was after I moved back to the US from a stint in Greece with my family, where radio was another glorious story. I still periodically bring up the story of finding the Turkish pop station that ran then-cutting edge American pop and R&B blocks at random times, & the bemused joy I took in it at 14).

Weirdly, I never got into National Public Radio. The “NPR aesthetic” was, in retrospect, something I should have liked, brought up on “Mr. Bean” and Sesame Street and a burgeoning sense of political awareness and humor thanks to newspaper comics. I think thought that the relatevely-limited public access TV impact I’d had in my psyche versus comic books, cable, and middle-class Queens, not to mention the ugly thrash of adolescent punk rock and heavy metal kept me away from that.

College in New York City for me as a guy into hardcore and punk and thrash was K-ROC 92.3, the college and pirate radio stations from Long Island and New Jersey. It was radio station-sponsered concerts, car rides to and from the deli or shows with the late night shows playing the stuff we really liked versus the stuff we tolerated. I also listened a lot to the old Motown radio station CBS FM, which would play constantly in the barbershop that was only a few blocks from the house I lived in.

Yeah, growing up in the waning days of CDs and cassette tapes and the early days of torrents and MP3s was all about mix tapes and album sharing and passing, but it was also about still holding out for “good” radio.

~

I listen to a lot of podcasts still, though it’s something that’s drastically changed in terms of what sort of material I like to listen to and immerse myself. Also, I feel like the inevitable bubble burst on this is going to create a weird wasteland of material scattered about, half-forgotten archives of episodes and scripts and cheaply-made shirts  with logos for shows that couldn’t keep up a schedule or didn’t have the money to keep doing it for free.

Something significant about that too is the amount of really short podcasts. The rise of guaranteed weekly episodes means you can stretch stuff out, especially for topical shows. However, a series of twenty-minute episodes broken up into “seasons” isn’t the same thing as a radio show. Granted, when you’re not live and not taking an hour of calls, and when you’re a one or two-man operation, it’s a little harder to stretch that time out.

Still though, I find it fascinating. It’s a subconscious admission of a failure to replace, and instead shift the focus slowly over time towards re-shifting the goalposts. It then becomes less about “replacing” radio as it is being inspired by it, which sort of makes podcasting less Internet Radio, more Audio Blogging and Audio Prose Publishing.

The rise of popularity for fiction podcasts, which probably goes back to the Reddit-based No Sleep show (premiered in 2011) has led to some cool and interesting stuff coming out nowadays, though if you go back far enough, like No Sleep you’re finding that it’s always existed, people bringing the radio drama back to life like a resurrected cigarette. Live stage shows where theater companies put on live readings with foley sounds and everything were, at least when I was in college, something coming back in style. I remember my friend Shari and some group she was a part of doing “The Invisible Man” by Wells.

On the train of thought from right before though, there’s this point that if podcasting and audio publishing online isn’t trying to be Internet radio, then fiction podcasts are more akin to the zine and DIY publishing scene of comics and prose fan manuscripts, stuff circulating at conventions, in swaps, and small bookstores or flea markets. Sure, we’ve had the self-publishing boom of e-books, but it was always there before.

~

My bookshelves since I was a teenager have been scattered with demos and zines, with one-shot mystery and fantasy novels from series that never really took off. The amount of comic books and magazines I’ve gotten into, only to find them dying off, or ending right as I get into it. Podcasting these days, post-Serial, post-No Sleep, post-Welcome To Nightvale, is the same thing. The one-off series, the failed and stalled incomplete stories, the ones broken up into seasons that come whenever they can scrape the money together (similar to indie comics like say, Eastman and Laird’s TMNT early comics).

I’m ultimately curious what the podcast wastelands will look like, and what’s going to come out of not just those unburied corpses, sorta how the corpse of radio itself still gets picked at by podcasting. It’s a weird vulture constantly going back to this food source that never seems to truly run out, except it feels like a scanty and mythical sort of carcass, of something that we can’t believe ever existed.

I know it existed though, and because of that I can tell that what we think rose from the remains of it is a different beast entirely. I’m a little interested, I have to admit, to see what that beast is going to be.

“I’m coming home.”

I’ve been slowly exploring playing video games more and more these days. I’ve got terrible reflexes when it comes to stuff like that, but writing and storytelling and mysteries are things that I’m drawn to, so those elements are always interesting. There are games where the action is non-existent and the puzzle-solving or the mystery is the primary drive behind the game’s engine, and that sort of stuff is what I find myself liking.

There was this video game that I heard about, called Gone Home. I didn’t really know what it was, or what it was about, although the basic surface details I got were intriguing. A imagesgiant empty house on a stormy raining night, scattered with clues about the past year’s events. You’re the older daughter home from a year abroad, and the clues help to develop a sense of what went on while you, the older perfect daughter, went away. Did your parents’ marriage fall apart? Why is your sister gone? Seriously, where is everyone? How did you end up with his new home, this house in the middle of nowhere in Oregon?

So we got it to play together. We were both interested in it, and we played it together.

My apartment looks lived in. Sure, there’s cool stuff up on the walls (well, crap I consider cool), but there’s the clean dishes drying in the rack, the bills on my desk, the tax paperwork, the books I use for work. Someone lives here, it’s not just a collection of furniture or of things, it’s someone’s messy (in my case, very messy) life.

The house I grew up in for the most part, the house my grandparents lived in together (and my dad spent most of his life in) and that my parents and grandmother live in now, when I go to that house, the comfort comes from it being lived-in. The TV remote is on a couch, and the couches are ancient. The dining room table used to be covered in stuff during the days, though not so much anymore now that my grandfather died. Still, the kitchen is constantly going, and the books are everywhere, the one basket of laundry either going up to the linen closet or down to the washing machine is always at the top of the stairs. When I moved back to New York and was back in that house for a while, the first few months has a very surreal feel, as I was recovering from a ruined attempt at a new life and seeing if I really could just slide back into the old shed skin of my old life.

I couldn’t, obviously. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t feel at home.

My grandfather was still alive then, so the TV was always on. He drank a lot of coffee, so the leftover cups were either on that kitchen table or in the sink. I got my voracious reading habits from my dad and grandfather, so of course the books were everywhere, and the same old fridge, older than me, with the same old magnets, older than a lot of us, were up. They’re still there.

That, I think, more than anything is what I really enjoyed about this game. The setting of Gone Home is lived-in, and I think that this element of the game’s writing and development was done on purpose. Lived-in environments (in real life) always draw us in, because they (like comfort foods), remind us of home and security. Something lived-in is something we can connect with, there’s an element of life and of reality to it. What makes people so wary of the cliche of picture-perfect homes with nothing out of place is the fact that there’s no elements of people actually living in those spaces, so our natural fear of impostors, of simulacra, rises up.

The drawers in the bedrooms of Gone Home are somewhat half-filled, half-open. The dining room and office tables and desks are scattered with mail and papers (the game takes place in the mid-1990’s, so no bills paid online or email). A nice chunk of the story is the allusion to the house being perpetually half-unpacked, of a family life struggling to be maintained that’s very evident in the evidence that you both actively seek out as well as notice. The dad’s spaces, with notes and papers and books and typewriters. The mom’s spaces, with letters from her friend and work notices and books and day planners. The sister’s spaces, with mix tapes and zines and letters.

There are a lot of letters. There are a lot of other little things that are clear time period indicators meant to feed into the 1990’s nostalgia that this game brings up, from furniture and home style to electronics and the lack of certain other kinds of electronics (landlines, old video game consoles, older model TVs, no cellphones obviously, no Internet, probably no cable TV).

I had one of those older TVs in that house I grew up in until a few years ago, still-working artifacts that we kept out of sheer stubbornness. They worked, and they interfaced with the cable box, so why bother replacing them?

Reclaimed parts of the house that are hideouts and comfort zones besides the traditional office/kitchen/bedroom are probably both the biggest indicators of the interactive narrative of the game with all the clues, but they’re also the big indicators of familiar comfort spaces being built within the house. The basement and attic where the younger daughter Sam makes zines, has secret sleepovers with her girlfriend, and explores for the ghost of her dead uncle who built this house. The second writing desk and typewriter in the greenhouse/glassed-in garden, where the dad goes through mail and is working on a new book that that isn’t the stereo reviews he seemingly does for a living, somehow revived as a writer. The sewing rooms off the main bedroom where Mom’s books and sewing machine and materials are, and the corner of the kitchen where her promotion letters from work are displayed, work that we can tell means a lot. I’m reminded a bit of a page in Alison Bechdel’s Gone Home, where she describes her childhood home as something like an artists’ colony by the time she and her siblings were teenagers, with every family member off in their own worlds and corners, oblivious to the rest until dinner time.

Gone Home garnered a lot of praise, which I can see in the story and the gameplay (a really in-depth Forbes piece on the game’s flaws describes it more as an interactive narrative than a “game” per se, which I agree with). There’s something lacking in it, though, which I can’t quite put my finger on.

For one thing, the game’s ending leaves a lot to be desired, honestly. You probably could have fit another hour or two of story into this game without sacrificing much in terms of gameplay. You don’t really solve mysteries so much as piece them together the main story from reading and inferring, but I feel like the story could have been expanded more to fill in the missing year’s life before coming to the conclusion of the end.

Also, while I understand the desire to not just be a “haunted house” story or game, the mystery of Uncle Oscar, the father’s uncle who willed them this weird old house, is one that I feel could have been further expanded on, and not in a supernatural way. Personal/family mysteries, Nineties nostalgia, and the Pacific Northwest are great as concepts to work with, but for $20, I kinda wish I’d gotten more out of it.

I think there’s at least one or two more play-throughs of this, mostly because i think I missed some stuff and I want to go back. However, even with the flaws, I really enjoyed this primarily because of the things it made me think about and feel. So much of the game is about the cycle of a year and metaphorically “going home,” a heavy-handed trope but one that, with a deft hand, works incredibly well in literature. Gone Home is pretty much that. It’s a really good little novella/longer short story, albeit one packaged more as a full novel.

I like novellas. They’re comforting. Short and interesting fiction I can always come back to, to me, is coming home.

Hockey & Home (on Jeff Lemire’s “Essex County”)

A few months, it was announced that Jeff Lemire’s graphic novel Essex County has been optioned for some type of TV development. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this, primarily because I think that the complexities of translating literature into television and film  I figured this would be a good time to revisit Essex County and talk about why it’s such a wonderful work of literary fiction.

Lemire’s first serious work, it’s a trio of smaller graphic novels combined in one bigger volume about three somewhat-connected lives and stories in the small Canadian townessexcountysoftcover_lg of Essex County, a reflection of the town Lemire himself grew up in as a child. He’s known for his unique cartooning style, which is a visually-unique work that stands out in a stark, scratchy, almost-spindly minimalist way that is anything but.

As a comic book, it’s a great one, possibly even an amazing one. Lemire’s art and flow, the usage of the page layouts and crafting the pages themselves in their layouts makes the richness of the story, even with what would be considered limited dialogue and no real expository writing. So much of what helps tell a story outside of the basic concept in comics is the art, and I really think that Lemire’s art style lends itself to the storytelling he wants to do overall. In specific, his style seems to be matched to the type of story he wanted to tell in Essex County.

Outside of the visuals (a must when writing about comics), what really and initially drew me to the book was the story. I think that you can look at something like Essex County not just as an amazing comic but also a wonderful work of literary fiction, depicting these intertwined lives in a setting that lends itself to the sort of moments Lemire was trying to create. In a case like this you have to look at the story not just as a comic to critically appreciate and be in-depth about, but draw more on the writing, the raw storytelling, and the prose elements (in an abstract sense).

Can you really remember being a kid and playing pretend? How about when you were probably too old for it, but isolation, loneliness, and deep longings for some kind of connection, even if it was the connections you created in your mind? That’s what you can get from Gus from the first story out of the comic, and his struggles slowly unfold about his life. I think the overall brilliance of the story is how Lemire ties what seems like a simple thing into the overall blanket, both metaphorical and literal (read the last book, “The Country Nurse”), of the story of this community. That small slow start that spools out, person by person, fold by fold

There’s this rise in literary awareness through the past few years tied into the rise of crime fiction and crime writing called “rural noir,” which is the acceptance of rural communities being far more complicated than the cliches allow. I think that despite the lack of crime or noir elements in Essex County, the focus on the complexities of living and relationships between hurt and damaged people in this town is very much in the spirit of “rural noir.” Essex County is not a podunk small town, it’s a living character that can, just as much as Mr LeBeuf does, feel sad at the state of relationships between people who should be closer, but aren’t. The language of the way things are described, not just in the abstract non-prose way of the art and cartooning but also in the way that the story is crafted and the dialogue captures the mood of an argument, that to me is just as important in the storytelling.

So much of what I love about literature is crafting the voices of characters and interpreting the tone of dialogue in my own head, which, on a subconscious level, is what makes reading so wonderful. You can mold the tone to fit your own level of interpretation and your own level of how you understand and work on chewing those arguments and relationships and dialogues around, fitting them to your own mental pace. It also helps you very much figure out the rate at which you immerse yourself in the flawed relationships of a story, especially the stories in Essex County. It’s a work that I’ve had to go through multiple times, at multiple paces, to fully absorb.

The thing is, I feel odd about the translation of that network of flawed relationships, personal paces, and of portraying people trying to work on those relationships against the background of this very stark rural Canadian community into the screen. So much of TV and film is tied into action and movement balanced with dialogue and imagery, which is why dialogue-heavy comics or prose are so much more likely to not be as good. Also, the effect of the setting and background are intrinsically tied to the art, something difficult with Lemire’s style to portray on-screen.

Ultimately my weirdness here is part of that level of attachment a fan of work has to the work itself in a weird respect for “purity.” I’ve been trying hard to detach myself from that over the past few years, because ultimately if it’s good for the author of the work, then I as a fan of that author should be glad for that author.

On the other hand though, are all works equally able to be translated to different platforms while telling the same story? I honestly don’t think so, and I think that deep down the prose of Essex County is difficult to translate into other mediums. I think that the words themselves are insufficient to translate into compelling screen-watching, and I think that the  art itself as a template for a visual look isn’t enough to sufficiently translate the story of Essex County from one medium to another.

Hey I’m an Amazon-listed author!

Screenshot 2016-01-01 20.01.28

Well now that 2016 is going, it’s actually going pretty well. So not only can you now find my work on Amazon for the Kindle directly, but you can now find me on Amazon.com as well. I got an Amazon Author Page established, which is hopefully one more little thing to help bring a smudge of awareness at my writing.

There’s definitely more new work coming from me, and I don’t want to spend my time working just re-pushing the same older work over and over. However, establishing that I have done stuff and it’s there for people to check out while newer work is coming is definitely part of the plan.

Anyway, don’t forget the new ELKHEART went out yesterday in the email newsletter (& will be going up to the Tumblr archive soon), plus a new SAVE CHANGES chapter (that’s slowly winding down to some kind of end).

Catch you on the other side of the diner counter…

ELKHEART and SAVE CHANGES are both all-new!

tumblr_nz5q52Okwc1qaovp1o1_500

There’s a new chapter up of my serialized weirdo mystery novella, SAVE CHANGES, as I get closer to the end on this bizarro tale I came up with over a shirt that wasn’t mine, & then turned that into an opening line. Go check it out, share it, lemme know what you think.

ALSO!

The latest issue of the email newsletter just went out with a brand-new ELKHEART page (which will be posting at the Tumblr archive in a week or two). It’s the first comics page I managed to put together in a while, and a slight shift in ELKHEART pages, trying different art styles and more mixed-media types of pages for some stuff. We’ll see how it goes.

Anyway, happy 2016, let’s hope it’s a good one.

A year in review

ip0qfrikhn2k8Nbbu8QrdXsjSOIFIvfiO88Bf4bf9Ug

OK, a quick-n-dirty whatever about the year in review, because I’m killing time before cleaning the apartment and running errands and shaving and getting a haircut.I wrote a lot this year and got a lot done, in hindsight. I got my e-books on Amazon, had a short piece published by someone other than myself, got a ton of nonfiction essays done (herehere, and here for example), and started an email newsletter. I got a semi-regular serialized prose series going online, as well as two different webcomics (here and here).

Granted, a lot of stuff (mostly comics) is on hold right now, but I’m hoping that allowing my writing patterns and schedule to be flexible instead of as rigid as I was trying, more will get done. I did also get a new apartment, a cat, a bunch of teaching and writing and work opportunities, I had a death in the family that was pretty shitty and is having some weird after-affects in my immediate family, as well as losing a teaching position once I got back from a vacation I’d been assured was OK to take because I’d have a job when I got back from said vacation. That was, if I’m being honest, pretty shitty too.

HOWEVER, in the long run it’s been a good year. Here’s hoping the next one is a good one, if not better.