Monday, July 30, 2012

Goodbye Cigarettes...Maybe

About a month ago I made the decision to quit smoking. Four weeks later, I finally acted on my decision and have not had a cigarette in a little over 30 hours. I have taken breaks from smoking, once for 6 months and another time for an entire year. Each break I did it cold turkey, but I don't recall it being this hard.

One minute I'm ravenous; the next minute I'm nauseous. I alternate between headaches and being light-headed. I'm tired yet can't sleep. I'm agitated to the point where bringing a laundry basket down ten stairs has me muttering and cursing.

I think of smoking. Constantly. After all, I have been smoking an average of a cigarette an hour for six straight years. Smoking isn't just a habit or addiction; it's an extension of ourselves. Quitting is like an amputation.

I want a cigarette with each sip of coffee. I want a cigarette when a good song comes on the radio. I want a cigarette after I finish a meal, a snack, a piece of candy. I want a cigarette after a TV show, after a book, after a video game, after every sentence I write. I want a cigarette to think. I want a cigarette to not think about cigarettes.

Cigarettes have become a reward system for every aspect of my life. I did something, anything, even starting a car, and my prize was the click of a lighter, the spark of a flame, the soft inhalation and puff of smoke, nicotine in my lungs.

To combat cravings, I purchased an exercise bike. Every time I have an urge to go buy a pack or bum a cigarette from someone, just to lessen my withdrawal, I hop on the bike and cycle until the thought has passed. This is how I took breaks before; I exchange slow self-destruction for physical improvement.

I'm hoping that quitting sticks this time around, that I won't relapse in the upcoming weekends when I've had a few drinks and everyone around me lights up. Last break I took I had a bad day, got drunk, took a taxi to a gas station, and bought a carton.

I'm hoping for more control, freedom. Addiction is slavery, and I've always justified it by convincing myself I enjoy my shackles. Maybe, just maybe, my third time will be a charm.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises Review (Spoiler Alert)

I really enjoyed The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR) last night, even with a large group of obnoxious teenagers talking, laughing, shouting, and throwing glo-sticks from the previews to the last half hour, when the guy in front of me yelled, "Shut up!" for the third time and they finally did.

Nolan managed to get the majority of Inception's cast into TDKR, and all of them were splendid. I figured out Marion Cotillard was Talia al Ghul early on. I always suspected Nolan would include R'as al Ghul's daughter at some capacity after Batman Begins. Miranda's accent, social status, interest and knowledge in Wayne Enterprises were huge indicators, especially being new to the cast. When Miranda took control of the company, my suspicions were confirmed, so a major plot twist meant to be shocking didn't do much for me.

Bane was outstanding. Granted, I thought his voice in the mask could have used a little bit of tweeking, but it didn't ruin the film. He was portrayed brilliantly by Tom Hardy; every time Bane was on the screen I got a sense of menace and danger. I even worried for the Bat when Catwoman locked him into Bane's lair, wondering how closely Nolan would follow the comics--Bane broke the Bat...sort of. Regardless, the scene when Bane lifted Batman over his head and slammed him over his knee was my favorite in the movie.

I didn't think Anne Hathaway would be good as Selina Kyle/Catwoman. In fact, it almost turned me off to seeing TDKR. I was wrong. Her delivery was smooth, clever, and even firing rockets from the back of the motorcycle came off as sexy. She did bad things, even betrayed Batman by leading him into Bane's trap, but like her character in the comics, the good in her won out. I don't know if it was Hathaway or a stunt double doing the cartwheels and acrobatics but they were fun to watch.

Nolan included subtle things to entertain us comic book geeks as well. For instance, Blake said, "When Gordon told Foley about the sewers, he asked if he saw a crocodile too," and I couldn't help laughing and thinking of Killer Croc, another villain in the Batman universe. It was also nice to see Jonathon Crane a.k.a. the Scarecrow again, though I did complain in the parking lot that he did not don his mask.

The action was great. I've read a lot of online reviews by moviegoers claiming there wasn't enough, but they also said that of Avengers. I found both movies had adequate fighting and explosions that blended nice with the stories. Even Die Hard had downtime between the action, and at least in TDKR and Avengers we received deep characters expressing emotion, not a bunch of frantic screaming and bad jokes like Transformers or G.I. Joe.

Yes, Nolan altered the stories and characters from the comics to fit the big screen: Bane did not use venom, Robin's name was wrong just to be a surprise at the end (I thought Nolan said he'd never have Robin in his Batman?), Talia al Ghul was a villain rather than an anitheroine known for loving Bruce Wayne, often saving him, Catwoman didn't use a whip or gadget of her own, and we're told it's R'as that rejects Bane, not Talia. This is an abbreviated list of changes; most of the them didn't sink in for me until a couple hours after the movie. I doubt anyone but a Batman fanatic would be distracted by them.

We saw too much Bruce Wayne and not enough Batman. Yeah, they're the same person, and the movie centers around Wayne getting back to where he was mentally and physically when he went against the Joker, but as we learned in Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne is the real mask, not Batman. For TDKR to center around wearing masks, it was odd Bruce didn't wear his as often as the previous films.

That said, the greatest flaw in The Dark Knight Rises was the ending. I didn't care for it. While it left room for a Nightwing movie, albeit by changing Dick Grayson to a fellow named Blake/Robin, the ending put a nail in Bruce Wayne's fake coffin. He lives, but Nolan left Bruce Wayne bankrupt and physically damaged from fighting crime, having dropped his identity to multiple people, and donated Wayne Manor to orphans. It fits the trilogy, not the franchise, and the only way Hollywood is going to return to Batman is by regaling us with another meaningless origin story. I refuse to see the Amazing Spider-Man in the theater, because I'm sick of origin stories, and I doubt, even though they finally wised up and stepped away from Lex Luther for the first time, I will see the Man of Steel in the theater either.

One last idea I want to throw out there, unrelated to TDKR, is I want to see an adequate Mr. Freeze. I had hoped Nolan would use him. He's my favorite Batman villain, and Arnold Swarzenegger, surprise, surprise, did not portray the genius and cunning of Mr. Freeze in the terrible Schumacher installments. When I envision Mr. Freeze, I see Patrick Stewart.

It's a long way off, but I hope whoever helms the next installment of Batman gives us something new, a villain or story we haven't seen before or a fix to the characters Schumacher almost destroyed. Nolan certainly redeemed the steroid, grumbling wrestler Schumacher made Bane into, and offered us a much better, disturbing Two-Face, so I believe it can be done for other characters: the Riddler (Jim Carrey was over-the-top), Mr. Freeze, and Poison Ivy.

Unlike Schumacher, Nolan understood we want Batman to be taken serious. We don't want nipples on Batman's suit or neon lighting. While Tim Burton's Batman movies were more lighthearted than Nolan's they were still good...and dark. It's safe to say a director's vision is critical, and my hat is off to Christopher Nolan. All in all, this trilogy is one to be remembered.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mists of Pandaria Release Date

As of today, there is an official release date for World of Warcraft's expansion: Mists of Pandaria. It will be available for digital download and purchase in stores on September 25th, sooner than I expected. I was hopeful for late October or early November, making the date a welcome surprise.

MoP couldn't come at a better time. In recent months, my play time has diminished to less than a handful of hours a week for rated battlegrounds with my guild. Cataclysm got really boring really fast, with me having leveled every class and a spare druid to 85 in that time. Leveling is about all I did in Cata, losing interest in raiding during Firelands.

I haven't been on beta since getting a new computer either, so I hope Blizzard listened to at least some of the concerns and suggestions players had, as well as the Public Test Realm, which went up a week or two ago. Obviously, there are bugs to find and get ironed out before release.

Now the clock is ticking.

Monday, July 23, 2012

True Blood: Roman, Why? (Spoiler Alert)

Roman Zijovic played by Christopher Meloni is officially dead as of last night, and I think I'm a bit angry about it. I don't know if this character dies in the novels by Charlaine Harris (update: Roman is not in the novels at all; HBO could have done anything with this character), but a five-show run is really short, especially when advertised as a regular. There are conspiracy theorists out there saying Roman isn't dead, but unless that was a body double, I don't see a vamp younger than most of the others in the room coming back from a pile of goo. Were they going for a Game of Thrones/Ned moment? What's the deal?

All right, I admit, we all knew this was going to happen when we first learned Russell was back, there were spies in the Authority, and vamps were on the verge of civil war but why so soon? And why didn't anyone help? The rest of the vamps all stood there as Russell talked with a stake in his hand. They must have known what the result would be, as Russell is over 3,000 years old and Roman was only 500, which also begs the question: how the hell did Roman get that position of power to begin with? Is there no other vamp older than Russell or am I going to have to sit through seasons on end listening to this guy?

In case you can't tell, I'm really not a fan of Russell. His character had brilliant moments until he went insane; at this point though, he's a one-trick pony now backed by vamps with identical motivations. He's become almost a stereotypical, over-the-top villain.

Then the vamps all succumbed to peer pressure, got high on Lilith's blood, and slaughtered a bar full of people. Cool to look at until you try and wrap your head around Bill and Eric's involvement, befuddled that it's the opposite of what their characters would do. Eric came to his senses, which I can live with; Bill didn't and seems to be on his way to either being a villain or masterminding a ruse to take over.

On that topic, some of the characters had head-scratching moments this week. Jason shoots Jessica in the head because he's jealous? Hoyt gets taken in by a hate group and is brainwashed in an instant? Lafayette, lips sown shut, doesn't attempt to use his powers to save himself? A bruha has to be saved from an old man with a knife? Tara cries tears, not blood? Roman doesn't explode instantly like every other vamp death in the history of the show, despite not being the oldest that died?

I'm thinking I will now read the books. I'm at a loss watching the show, which I praised a couple weeks ago, and I need to get to the bottom of where HBO is taking liberties (I read the entire Lilith  aspect is fabricated), as well as get some clarification on characters, events, motives.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Theater Shooting

I woke up this morning, made some coffee, sat at my computer, and typed in Dark Knight Rises to find some reviews from last night's premiere. The first hit to pop up was about a theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, just a few blocks from where I lived for years. I used to pass the theater on my way to work, Monday through Friday, and for a couple seconds, I wondered if I would have been there if I still lived in the area. Probably not, yet the thought lingers...

What's most shocking about this particular shooting, aside from the deaths of men, women, and children, is where it took place: a theater. This could have happened anywhere in the country and will definitely make me think about copycats the next time I go to a midnight showing. A theater is usually a place of comfort, a setting where our imaginations are free to run wild. We all go to the movies to relax, eat some popcorn, share some laughs, let our guards down, and kick back--this is in part what makes this tragedy so heinous.

Though we will continue to go to the movies, I doubt any of us have ever thought our lives could end in a theater. This proves death's scythe is unpredictable; it can find us anywhere and lay us low. These people expected to leave and return home, discussing the film. They expected to talk with family and friends again. They expected to see their children grow.

At the theater because they loved Batman and wanted to geek out, they were caught unaware by a beast. The shooter is a villain, plain and simple. Most of us are not, and we shouldn't allow the villains of the world to rule our actions. Not only do I hope for the best for the family and friends of the victims, some of which are still fighting for their lives in the hospital, I hope never to see anything like this again.

I also hope for justice.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Misfits' Season 3 And After (Spoiler Alert)

When I read Robert Sheehan, who played Nathan Young, was leaving the Misfits I thought it would be the death of the series. I was way off. Joseph Gilgun as Rudy was outstanding. I laughed more over his lines this season than ever before. Rudy was a stammering, perverted, sarcastic mess, complete with a power where he split into two versions of himself to have whimsical discussions. Just like Nathan, all the best scenes and episodes of the season revolved around Rudy. From the first episode I thought how great it would be if Nathan and Rudy were in the show at the same time, how hilarious the conversations would be.

It's a hope that probably won't pan out, unless Sheehan's movie career bombs, but even if he returns, the group dynamic has changed. In the finale, Alisha dies at the hands of a vengeful ghost and Simon ventures back in time to save her, where he too will die. I have to assume neither character is ever returning.

So what's going to happen next season? New characters, new powers. With Seth giving up his day job, I expect the powers won't switch as often, if at all. One setback I thought season 3 had was the weak powers; Curtis spent majority of the time changing into a female and masturbating. He ended the season with the ability to raise the dead, but they all came back as zombies--a great episode, as was the episode dealing with a failed attempt to kill Hitler. Alisha used her power to see through other people's eyes in two episodes. Simon had a handful of visions. Kelly was a rocket scientist that used her powers twice. Rudy is the lone character of the series that uses his power often, every single episode.

Though I'm always a couple months behind in the series (the shows premiere in the UK and go up on Hulu about a month later), I'm looking forward to season 4. Each season has progressively improved. The writing is both hysterical and interesting, characters having levels of emotions and unexpected reactions to the mayhem that is their lives. However, I'd like to see less probation worker killing. It used to be funny; now it's old. Also, the Misfits don't take the time to cover their tracks anymore other than burying the dead, leaving fingerprints everywhere--maybe a detective will hunt them?

I could be misremembering, but I could have sworn Simon told Alisha powers were public knowledge in the future and everything was different. From the way season 3 ended, their lives didn't seem that different at all, neither did society.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Ode To Image Comics

As I mope around my house, having missed Comic-Con for yet another year (it's already on my bucket list), I have spent some time going through my comic collection, and I have a lot more Image Comics than I originally thought.

Back in 1992, when artists Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld, Marc Silvestri, Erik Larsen, Jim Valentino, Whilce Portacio, and Chris Claremont broke off from Marvel because they were unhappy with the rights and distributions, they formed Image Comics, and soon after, they published work by Sam Kieth and Dale Keown, creators of The Maxx and Pitt, two of my favorite series. These artists were the Avengers or Justice League of comic books. The things these guys could do with a pencil had me tracing, sketching, and copying for years; it's where my interest in drawing derived. I still go back and try to duplicate how McFarlane drew capes and Keown splattered blood...and I often fail if not looking directly at it.

During their time at Marvel, the founders of Image transformed super heroes into what we see on the big screen today. They took Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's brilliant characters/stories, which had started to feel outdated, and revamped their appearance, suits, webs, bodies, and all, from Iron Man to Fantastic Four to X-men. Though it's debated, McFarlane is often credited as co-creator of Venom. Lee and Claremont created Gambit, and Claremont had part in Rogue, Mystique, Phoenix, Emma Frost, Sabretooth. Sound familiar? They should. The entire list has been included in the X-men movies, some more worthy than others--Gambit could have been a hundred times better. His accent wasn't even delivered right; the cartoon did it better.

This is just a taste of what some of these artists did. To list it all would resemble an encyclopedia. A lot of these guys are now working for DC, but some seem to have practically dropped off the planet, and it's a shame. McFarlane, maybe my favorite comic book artist, doesn't appear to do anything but design toys for his company. At this year's Comic-Con he is introducing work he did with Stan Lee called Blood Red Dragon. I might, for the first time in years, buy myself a comic, yet I'm still hoping he'll return to Spawn at some capacity.

The HBO series of Spawn was outstanding, so close to the dark, edgy feel of the comics. Ultimately, it was cancelled with no clear ending. A lot of HBO series end this way (Carnivale, Deadwood), and the Spawn movie was a sham. It was watered down for a general audience, filled with corny dialogue, bad action, and a troop of bad actors. The special effects were horrible. If Hollywood considers any remake or reboot, it should be Spawn. I usually don't pay attention to the rating system but anything less than a R rating on a Spawn movie isn't worth my time. The comics were violent, sexual, and gritty. The movie should be too, the way the cartoon was.

Speaking of Hollywood, there's a multitude of films to be had from the Image series of the 90s: Pitt, The Maxx, Cyberforce (Ripclaw), Youngblood, The Savage Dragon, and WildC.A.T.S. They could easily take these characters and develop them the same way Marvel has with the Avengers. I'd look forward to a Deathmate trilogy as much as Infinity Gauntlet. They'd probably all be dark and violent, but it worked for Frank Miller's Sin City and 300.

While it's a bit off topic...give me Deathblow, X-O Manowar, or Neil Gaiman's Sandman too, instead of rehashing films like The Thing, Fright Night, or Total Recall that are classics to begin with. The artwork and stories for great movie franchises are there; they just have to be molded into compelling live-action.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

True Blood's 5th Season

So far I'm really enjoying the direction the show has taken in the latest season of True Blood. The general theme is about the past. Every character seems to be plagued by events from previous seasons, and in the case of Terry Bellefleur, we finally learn what happened during the war that gave him mental issues.

While one of my pet peeves about True Blood is the fact just about every character is a "Super" or supernatural being, the turning of Tara into a vampire has become a great storyline. She was reluctant and suicidal, but after a great scene with Jessica (the character that kept me interested last season when I became mostly bored with the show), Tara looks to be adjusting to life as a vampire...and there's no telling what she'll do with her new powers.

The writers, at least a few episodes into the season, are giving us a lot more backstory, mystery, and all-around misery for each character, stepping away from the trendy let's-all-work-together-and-fight-this-really-really-bad-person theme, a theme that persists in most shows dealing with the supernatural...such as Supernatural on the WB. Instead, we follow groups of characters off dealing with their own problems.

I haven't read beyond the second Sookie Stackhouse novel by Charlaine Harris, so I can't really comment on what's different about the show from the books the way I can with Game of Thrones; I merely take what HBO gives me. I know that in the books Lafayette dies in the second installment and Jason Stackhouse becomes a were-panther or something. I'm glad that HBO changed these parts, as Lafayette is always hilarious and interesting, and if Jason was a "Super" there would be even less normal characters. It seems there's only three normal characters left in Bon Temps: Andy Bellefleur, Jason, and Arlene Fowler, the red-headed waitress. Oh, and Hoyt, who hasn't been interesting in a while now. Despite being portrayed by a good actor, I kind of wish they would kill him off...

The love triangle between Bill, Eric, and Sookie is present this season yet seems to be taking a back seat while Russell Edgington is loose. Then again, maybe the writers plan to make it a four-way since Alcide and Sookie hooked up recently. The love stories really aren't my favorite part of True Blood though. I'm more interested in what's happening with the fairies, vamps, and what-not.

Plus, every scene with the Authority, aka Roman Zijovic played by Christopher Meloni (completely underrated actor in my opinion), has me captivated. There's inner turmoil within the vampires, and they seem to be on the verge of a civil war. I like conflict. I like the idea of purists fighting the Authority and instead of main-streaming, coexisting with humans, they want to rule them as if they were cattle.

All in all, I haven't been this interested in True Blood since the second season, when I used to eagerly await my smoke breaks on Mondays to discuss that week's events with a coworker. If the writers and actors can keep me laughing and genuinely entertained in the story throughout the rest of the season, instead of griping that they didn't show me enough Jessica like I did all through season 4, I dare say it will be one of the show's strongest.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Questions About Death

What happens when we die? It's a question that's probably as old as death itself, and I find myself wondering all the time, imagining the possibilities. What's most interesting is that it will happen to everyone, yet no one really knows what "it" is. We don't have a clue; every theory is as good as the next, and there's no way of knowing until we're called. Ask anyone, even people of the same religion, and you'll get a different answer.

Is death bliss? Is it torment? Is it an endless void? Are we reunited with family and friends and ancestors alike? Are our questions answered or do we keep coming back unfulfilled until we live the right way, a way according to a higher power? Do we play with scores of virgins? Do we fight in Valhalla? Do we run around like madmen eating dirt? Have we died already; is this the afterlife?

There's a hole in every theory...or is there a sliver of truth in every theory? You could make a case for any idea. You could make a case that when we die we all get super powers and ride translucent, flying turtles. Who can prove you wrong? Other than near-death experiences, which some scientists can strongly argue are nothing more than a physical reaction to trauma, there are no witnesses to inform us. There's no proof, one way or another, of life after death. There is only belief.

Without contact with the dead, how are we to know the merit of one text over another without depending on faith, a deep spiritual assurance? Even if ghosts were real, are they actually spirits? Could they not just as easily be ripples in time/space or hallucinations?

What kind of a world would we live in if there was a definitive answer to what happens when we die? Let's say God is truly keeping a tally and weighing our choices. If we knew this as a universal fact, I think people would be much more behaved, less likely to mock, steal, rape, or murder. We would be careful and thoughtful of every action, fearful of our eternal fate. Conversely, if we knew there was nothing and this is all we get, there's a good chance people would do bad, bad things.

In the end, the only certainty I have about death is that I don't know. I'm open to each and every idea.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Diablo 3 Weakens

So many problems...where to start?

I finally hit the wall that is Inferno difficulty and have been able to reevaluate the game in full...well, mostly full. At present, my demon hunter is slowly crawling through Act 2 as I grind for gold rather than gear. Since arriving in Inferno, I have received zero beneficial drops. There was a patch to increase ilvls and droprates; I get more high lvl drops yet their stats are atrocious or completely useless. I have salvaged or vendored everything, taking the long, hard road to millions in gold, as I refuse to purchase off the real money auction house.

The loot system is just downright terrible. A lot of times you receive a drop for a specific class, say a wizard that uses intel, and the item will be stacked with strength. In other words, it's garbage. Random stats on an item that can be used by every class is understandable, but something that is class-specific should contain the main stat for that class at any capacity. To make any sense, it could be low intel on a wizard-specific helm, doesn't have to be a huge number, not dex or str. They haven't buffed legendaries or sets, so they're still terrible, despite dropping once in a blue moon. Rares are better.

And the AH game got old real quick. Even on the other classes I'm currently leveling, I'm forced into the AH because a lvl 40 barbarian will get lvl 20 drops. I have to farm acts and modes ahead of my characters, if I want upgrades, and upgrades are necessary, because at any point in the game there is a gear check, whether a boss or a champ/elite pack that wipes the floor with me. It leaves me scratching my head.

I said in previous posts that I'm the type of person that enjoys breakables and searching every corner of a map. Doing this, however, is now pointless. In a patch, gold and gear drops were nerfed into the ground, and magic find on breakables and searchable items was removed. Now when I level new classes, I dart through maps. If I find a side dungeon I haven't explored, I go in. Otherwise, I travel from point A to point B (on another post I explained how predictable maps have become), only killing mobs I encounter along the way. More than half the maps remain unexplored at the end of a quest.

Another reason Inferno's grind is so daunting is the affixes on champion and elite packs. They have four, and when I see fast, invulnerable minion, vortex, arcane on my demon hunter, for example, I run for the hills. Running, as crazy as it sounds, is not what I expect from an arpg on any difficulty. Kiting I can deal with as that's how ranged is supposed to play, but there have been times where I'm literally running in circles around a tree for ten to fifteen minutes or skip a group with insane affixes I know no amount of skill will overcome. To beat these groups, one must spend a lot and outgear them.

To further the aggravation when fighting mobs, they patched in double the repair costs that they were originally and made it so monsters reset in health when you die, in case you wanted to corpse run a near-impossible affix group down. Both decisions are frustrating. As a demon hunter, I basically can't get hit more than once or twice; that means I have to fight for about ten minutes without letting anything near me while avoiding ranged fire. If I die too much, I start losing more gold than I started my session with.

Bosses and champ/elites have rage timers now. It's ridiculous. In fighting the Skeleton King, I couldn't beat the timer, had to squander gold for more dmg, and then downed him solo. It didn't matter that he wasn't touching me until he enraged, because once he went crazy, I was one-shot. Bosses are a dps race, nothing more. If you can't shell out damage fast enough, you're doomed.

Past Hell difficulty, the builds become very specific as well. A few abilities are successful while the rest become throwaways. I have had to forgo four of my six favorite attacks and maneuvers simply to survive. For a game that touted customization, this is unacceptable.

Almost two months in and I still rubberband constantly. I still disconnect at random. I still lag and experience some choppy movements. On a rare occassion, I have mobs that vanish when I get close to them, and I just have to move on. In fact, these things happen more often than a month ago when I was playing on a ten year old computer that could only handle the minimum settings. I had originally thought the problems had more to do with my computer than the servers, yet since receiving my upgraded technology, it's glaringly obvious the issue is not on my end--my fps and ms are stellar.

In summary, after sinking over 250 hundred total hours across all five classes, I have no idea where Blizzard is taking this game. If anything, Diablo 3 seems to be taking steps backward with each patch rather than forward. My enjoyment is becoming less and less to the point that some days I log on simply to check my auctions and log off, as my demon hunter can not progress until I farm/auction enough gold to gear him properly.

A few weeks ago I recommended this game to my brother, but the other day I told him to forget it; he's better off just playing WoW or getting Diablo 3 when it's only 20 bucks. I'd give this same recommendation to anyone else.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Submitting Fiction

As I polished the final draft of a short story I submitted today I am reminded how tedious the process of getting published is. Writing in and of itself is grueling. I go through a couple handwritten drafts per story until I'm to a point that I'm happy with most of what's on the page and decide to type and revise the rest on my computer.

Once I've ironed out my grammar, structure, and punctuation as best I can, I send my story to my friends to get an idea of what they think. Usually, I never hear back or their response is simply, "I like it." There's often zero feedback, no specifics. Apparently, my feelings are a delicate flower.

Then I shift to research/submission. For me, it's the most daunting task of writing. Cover letters, samples, queries, synopses, and manuscripts have to be in a precise format that follow the specific instructions of each magazine, agent, or publisher. Every place a writer submits wants something different. Some want bios. Some only accept snail mail. Some only accept emails with the story in the body, instead of attached. Different places read manuscripts at different times of the year with editors that decide if a story fits their publication in as little as a sentence or paragraph.

Getting your work in the right hands at the right time is like playing the lottery. You could write a masterpiece that lands on the desk of someone that just found out they're getting a divorce and possibly be rejected because they're having a bad day. After all, being published is dependent on strangers and people are as emotional as they are unpredictable.

To make matters worse, websites aren't always up-to-date. A few months back, a story of mine was rejected because a website listed the wrong editor, so my cover letter was addressed to the wrong person. The editor that received my story was insulted and told me so in the returning email a couple hours after I sent it. I was tempted to write back, informing them their website and Writer's Market post needed to be updated but decided not to, knowing my frustration was getting the better of me. Learning from my mistake, I now hunt for the most recent issues of magazines I plan to submit to and verify the editor.

The wait for a response is also tiresome. I have two submissions currently out that I've been waiting to hear about since February and April, yet the websites do not give a time frame for a response and suggest writers to be patient and not to contact. My solution has been to write new manuscripts and send them elsewhere, if only to keep my anxiety down.

Over the years, I've amassed a small library of my work. A lot of what is stored on my computer are short stories and a pair of books I gave up on. It occurred to me a while back agents and publishers might have little to no interest in writers that have yet to publish a short story. Lately, I stick to submitting short stories based off the fantasy/science fiction novel I'd like to see in print before I die...not that my death is imminent.

Luckily, rejection has toughened my skin. I no longer pout for weeks and refuse to write because a manuscript is sent back. If anything, I work twice as hard, and I must say, I'm appreciative of editors that offer critiques or suggestions rather than a form letter. For an editor to take the time to do so tells me my work is improving and I'm closer to reaching my goal. Unpublished still, that's about all I can ask for.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Bad Concert Behavior

As I recover from last night's Phish show at SPAC, I have to say I'm still shaking my head about some of the behavior I saw there. I've been to a lot of concerts for all types of music, thought I had seen just about everything, and I was startled. To be honest, the Phish shows I have been to are usually packed with happy, friendly crowds. There's a lot of sharing and dancing and if you bump into someone you both apologize. The attitude on Friday's show was far more jovial than Sunday.

Here are some things I experienced last night:

Random guy that turned around and got in my friend's face as we were all dancing. I think Phish is the last place you want to get in a person's grill, especially when nothing was done to the guy that was so belligerent and loud we thought he was going to throw a punch. From what I witnessed, it looked like the guy was dancing with glow-sticks, tripped on his own feet, and thought my friend was responsible.

Picking up random people/friends and running down a crowded hill with them. I was a victim to this, cheering, in my own world...then a few feet off the ground with arms around my stomach and nearly dropped on my face.

Running down that same hill with your pants around your ankles urinating on strangers. I will never forget hearing this as long as I live. I didn't see it actually happen, only the aftermath of a man chasing the urinator up the hill; the urinator then got into a yelling match with his girlfriend/counselor over the scene he was making (he also happened to be the same guy picking people up). Angry screams in my ear does not help with the enjoyment of the show either, but I'm glad the girl was at least able to talk the guy out of the show and into a car, before there was a worse incident. Once gone, the entire area on the Page side felt a lot more relaxed and what I'm accustomed to.

Insulting random strangers in passing. A girl in a fur hat walked by me, said, "Your hat's awful," and kept going. Since I was only wearing a baseball hat, I laughed; it was a harmless act yet uncalled for, though one of my friends tried to convince me the girl was flirting.

All in all, I still had a great time at the shows. The music was stellar; I downloaded both nights already, and I've played the cover of ZZ Top's La Grange no less than ten times today. If I'm in the area the next time Phish tours here, I'll go again...and hope the crowd is a bit more tame.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Terrible With Names

Entering SPAC Friday night for a Phish show, we ran into a large group of people from our hometown. One of them kept yelling my name, excited to see me, though I probably haven't had more than a handful of conversations with him in my life and all of those happened years prior. I couldn't, for the life of me, remember his name. Having had a few beers in the parking lot, rather than beating around the bush, I simply said, "I remember your face but not your name."

He gave it, then I had to get his last name from my friend to verify I had the right person in mind. I have always been bad with names. Usually it takes a few encounters or some sort of memorable action for me to remember a person's name. If anything, it's one of my weakest social traits, as forgetting a name is equally embarrassing for both people involved, and I come off as an ass.

My forgetfulness is worse when drinking. Sober, I would have remembered the guy's name at Phish; buzzing, it's 50/50. Once, at the bar, I had a group of six girls I went to high school with ask me to name them one by one, even though I recited their names earlier in the night when saying hello. I went 0-6. Other times, I have flat out called someone by their older sibling for hours or called them Craig when their name is really Greg. Sometimes, I've even mumbled names or just called them, "you." At a wedding in October, I even had a couple grill me about their names and when I couldn't come up with them, they were insulted. One of them said, "We remember yours. Why can't you remember ours?"

Shrugging and apologizing, I wasn't about to try and explain that I never forget a face but names are elusive or that I once hung out with a couple in college almost every day for a month before learning their correct least well enough that I didn't second-guess myself when talking to them.

As far as I know, there's no way to improve on my recollection of names either. I have tried repeating names right in my response to an introduction, but ten minutes after the conversation I usually find myself whispering to someone, "What did she say her name was again?" I've tried association and rhyme games. I've tried just repeating a name in my head until it sinks in, but once I'm distracted, I lose the name.

One thing I have noticed in recent years is there are factors that help me learn a name faster: the person says or does something funny or the person does something embarrassing/socially awkward. Not only will I remember the name, I'll remember the moment, but I'm not offended when somebody forgets my name either--it happens. It's best to simply remind them and move on, rather than holding it against them or dwelling on it the rest of a conversation.

For me, nothing is more effective than a pad of paper and a quick note. At my old job, I went as far as to sketch a cublice layout of the building with everyone's name to study, adding anyone new I interacted with--it worked. I never called anyone the wrong name in the office, and it never appeared I had forgotten anyone.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

"Four Horsemen"

I made this during my Animal Drawing class at class. It was the first time I started to shade in ink the way I do with a pencil, so a lot of it looks scratchy. The wings on the Pestilence horse in the center kind of bother me, and when I did the scan the horse-part, bottom half of the War centaur in the front, bottom was cut off. Nothing I could do about it unless I wanted to lose the head on Death. Also, the hooves on the bear/Famine were cut off as well.

Monday, July 2, 2012

"Temple Grounds"

I dug this out of my portfolio. I know it's from college but don't know from what class. I also remember the assignment was to draw from photos in magazines, so I used National Geographic for the major components: head and hand from the Sistine Chapel, the temples, eyes from a woman on the cover, a laughing gorilla, and the eel.