Thursday, January 24, 2013

Chicken Dumplings for the Spleen

Today, I made a new recipe for lunch. Loved it. (Which is good, cuz I'm going to be eating the leftovers all week.) But as I was chopping veggies and mixing dough, I kept thinking, "somebody I know is having one of the worst days of her life today, and here's me getting raunchy with a pot of chicken and dumplings."

A thick, sordid, Depression-era gravy tryst.

I might be about to have a pretty god-awful day myself. Won't know until Saturday. And if I do, there'll be some good friends of mine who carve a slice out of their day to listen and sympathize, and then get on with their own lunch-oriented endeavors.

Because what else can you do?

So here's my two thoughts:

1) Real life needs a job/quest system, like in RPGs. Sure, every now and again you get a Helpful Thing To Do - you can bring a casserole or give someone a lift or administer insulin to their diabetic ferret - but even then, you aren't so much relieving a person's suffering as freeing them up to give it their undivided attention. This is horseshit. I should be able to collect five Immaculate Cards of Sympathy, play the Dance Dance Consolation mini-game, craft Legendary Item: Emotional Equilibromide, and make you feel 65% better by doing so.

2) It can't be an accident that all the best story-driving emotions for fiction - gut-wrenching heartbreak, edge-of-your-seat suspense, knife-edge desperation - are the absolute shittiest to slog through out here in the real world.   I know we read/play/watch as a form of relaxation and escapism, but sometimes I wonder if we aren't also visiting the Land of Make-Believe in order to practice our feelings for the Land of Random, Soul-Bludgeoning Shit-Blizzards.

Anyway - take care out there, folks, and try to hang on to your hat, your horse, and your happy.  Some days that's about all you can do.

It's all right to be afraid, David, because this part won't be like a comic book. Real life doesn't fit into little boxes that were drawn for it.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Being Malton Milquetoast

Well, as of yesterday, it's official: One Night in Sixes is out on submission.  I would say something here about taking up a position at the punch bowl and waiting to be asked to dance, but that is exactly the wrong kind of metaphor.  Better to say that I've already got my dream date, we are already cutting one hell of a rug, and we have no plans to pause until the the lights come up and the judges are ready with their scorecards.

In the meantime, here is another thought that's been a few months in the making.  (Yes, I suck at topical timeliness.)  Let's talk about these guys:

Just in case you didn't catch them in theaters, they're the Sugar Rush racers from Wreck-It Ralph.  And I bet you can spot their pattern even if you didn't see the movie.  Shoot, you could probably make up your own glucose-fueled NASCAR cherub, if you wanted to.


As it happens, that is exactly what Ronald MacKinnon did.  Meet Malton Milquetoast, mild-mannered soda jerk and high-octane milkshake stuntman.

(We may pause here for a moment of virtual cheek-pinching, yes.)

So what?

Well, in the words of LRC, the triple-initial-wielding author of

I really think writers should create universes that are friendlier to fan characters... Any fiction that has a small and non-negotiable number of Chosen Ones or Special People is hostile to fan characters by nature. Be a good sport and share your toys - write universes that easily accomodate fan characters and make the rules and mechanics clear.

(Incidentally, Wreck-It Ralph does a stellar job on this front.  Halfway through the movie, we have absorbed all the relevant rules: how the video game worlds connect, which characters can cross from one to another, what could happen if they do.  I could write a competent canon-faithful sequel right now, with no more guide than the original movie.)

"Well," you might very-reasonably say, "I don't especially care to do that.  They're my toys, it's my creation, and I believe you'll find that copyright law supports my decision not to willingly open my universe's door to every amateur-hour writer and artist who wants to take a free ride on my hard work."

You would be entirely justified in saying that.

However, it's also true that competition for followers, readers, listeners, and buyers is fiercer than it's ever been.  And no matter how prolific a content-creator you are, it ALWAYS takes longer to create said content than it does to consume it.  The book I spent three years writing can be read in a few hours.  A song that took a month to produce plays out in three and a half minutes.  Shoot, even a meme takes longer to write, assemble, save, and upload than it does to "Like" and "Share". 

So I think a good question for ALL content creators to ask themselves is, "what am I giving my fans to do while they wait for my next work?" 

Because if you look at the biggest, most mega-successful series of recent years, a tremendous number of them - Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Avatar: The Last Airbender, My Little Pony, Adventure Time, Star Wars, and others- are so intricate and explorable in their mythology that they seem almost custom-designed to encourage future fan-created ponies and wizards and Jedi and benders of every imaginable stripe.  (As a matter of fact, you may reliably find Mr. MacKinnon working undercover as Equestria's resident advice columnist and self-appointed field medic, Ask Charlie Foxtrot.)

Lumbering laboriously to the point, then: you CAN craft your world however you want.  You CAN hold it up as a perfect, untouchable work, to be admired and critiqued from behind museum glass.  But if you design it a little differently, build in some few extra features ahead of the curtain rising, and then have the courage to toss the whole thing out into the mosh pit, I think it'd be enormously satisfying to watch your creation go crowd-surfing as you set to work on the next one.

I am looking forward to saying that with authority, though.

I'm gonna wreck it!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


You know what's great about school?

School is structure incarnate.  School is boot camp for proto-humans.  You show up, they issue you a supply list, a schedule, and a syllabus, none of which are unclear.  "You have only to follow all of these directives, exactly and to the letter," they say, "and all will be well."

And really, for all the bad rap school gets, those little Doozer-towers of artificial structure are solid as hell.  You know, no middle schooler lies awake at night trying to figure out who he has to kiss up to in order to make freshman.  There's no rumors running around the lunch table about downsizing if the tenth grade doesn't meet its fourth-quarter projections.  Shoot, kids in school don't even have the luxury of a midafternoon slump.  Yeah, you can sit there all full and sleepy from lunch, but it's not like you're staring down a tedious inbox and a mess of papers on your desk and trying to figure out where to start.  It's 1:27PM, you're in Spanish I, and your only job is to sit up and pay the hell attention while Mrs. Hill teaches you how to have an involved and respectable discussion about how many lapices and cuadernos you have in your mochila.

By the way, the answer is tres.  Or possibly azul.

Real life is so not school.

Oh, sure, there are still assignments and deadlines and multiple authority figures, each completely oblivious to the demands of the others.  (Tomorrow, I have a tutoring session scheduled for 2, a PowerPoint presentation to turn in by EOB, and a can of Fancy Feast due at 6:30 sharp.)  But as soon as you zoom out of the daily do-list, things get so much more nebulous.  Where's the assignment sheet for the Career project?  What's your current GPA in Health?  Is there some sort of extra credit you can do to bring up your grade in Girlfriend?

Pro tip: it only counts as extra credit if you do it before it starts to smell.

Lately I've been feeling pretty miserably disorganized.  I want so badly to make 2013 the year I turn writing into my Real Job (not necessarily in terms of income, which is in the lap of the gods, but in terms of "this is my full-time focus, the cornerstone of my identity as a self-respecting functional human, the thing I can tell people at cocktail parties while keeping a straight face.")  But it is also the least self-structuring vocation ever.  And there is this annoying voice in the back of my head saying, "Christ, you can't even remember to return text messages - what makes you think you have the organizational chops to grow a platform, write a curriculum, publish articles, serve on a committee, and god forbid, actually write another book?"

Not gonna lie - I could really go for an angry ruler-wielding nun.

However, the ever-fantastic Annie Neugebauer has ridden to my rescue with her Tips for Greater Productivity blog post, and its chart-topping sequel.  Here was me fantasizing about bell schedules and assignment calendars, and there she is laying it out straight.

We CAN have school again, you guys.  We just have to school our OWN SELVES.

Meet Sister Mary Lazarus, my new personal assistant.

And I can't tell you how happy I am to finally have a system in place.  No more fermenting in bed until 10 AM - I've been up before 7 every day for a week.  No more firing up the computer, wondering which of the two dozen things on my to-do list to hit first, and ultimately soaking half my time into the endless thirsty sponge of Wikipedia and Google News.  I have written out a schedule, organized my desk, and yes, bought myself a professional set of Ninja Turtle two-pocket folders, and I am going to handle up on my business.

And that is my wish for you as well.  Whatever business you have set for yourself this year, I hope you handle it tenaciously and with enthusiasm. And a minimum of mental knuckle-whacking, because let's face it - life is much better when you're no longer four feet tall and powerless.

There's lots to do; we have a very busy schedule-
At 8 o'clock we get up, and then we spend
From 8 to 9 daydreaming.
From 9 to 9:30 we take our early midmorning nap.
From 9:30 to 10:30 we dawdle and delay.
From 10:30 to 11:30 we take our late early morning nap.
From ll:00 to 12:00 we bide our time and then eat lunch.