Pitfalls

This post is really for me more than anyone else. I promised myself I would market my completed manuscripts (yes, plural) this year rather than start writing something new. I mean, I have three completed novels. Do I really need more content? Yes, always, but I also need to start moving inventory and by that I mean, I need a new agent.

The difficult with even beginning this task is hunting for agents is full of rejection and writing is full of fun. I know some people hate writing (“though I love having written”) but I am not one of those. I used to be back in the beginning when it was hard. And it’s not easy now, it’s just more pleasurable to solve the problems than it was when I had no idea what to do about them.

I’m also very thin skinned. I hate rejection and I do very much take every pass personally. And eventually I just stop submitting and return to the part I like. Writing.

That’s why I had to make a pinky swear with myself to market my work this year. I’ve come to an agreement with myself on that promise: I can write after I’ve submitted to one agent.

And, of course, the passes started flowing in almost immediately. My mood began to darken. I came close to giving up hope.

But then I reminded myself what I’m like in a bookstore. I pass down the Science Fiction or Horror aisle pulling out books, rejecting or accepting them based on their cover, then read the back jacket and toss some back based on that, and then I carefully open to the first chapter and read a bit before I even begin to decide if I’m going to buy that book.

Why? Because I’m a person. I don’t have particularly high standards, but only a very narrow slice of the pie actually interests me enough to read a whole book (carrying my bad eyes, dislexia, and reading comprehension problems on my back like a bag of rocks).

Imagine if I sent a rejection letter to every author of every book I rejected on my quick pass down the aisle. What would I say? Meaningful feedback on why I passed? No. Because I don’t really know. In the rush to consider a hundred books in the time I have to spend at the bookstore, I have to make snap judgments based on intuition.

Now imagine being an agent who receives a thousand emails a week. They’re not saying you’re bad when they pass — unless they specifically do say that, which would be terrible. They’re saying, “In the few seconds I spent with your query letter nothing clicked with my intuitive response so I moved on without reading your sample.”

It sucks, but it’s a numbers game. If you quit after the 100th rejection you won’t get to the 200th acceptance.

“Have. Thicker. Skin,” I say to the mirror and then punch myself in the face as hard as I can.

Arriving Late Bonus Episode: The Mandalorian 1&2

There’s just too much good genre on TV right now to limit our podcast to once a week (or moldy old stuff from the 90s) especially for a couple of nerds who love both the Wars and the Treks so we did a second one about the Mandalorian’s first to episodes.

The Outsider

Stephen King didn’t make me want to become a writer, that happened long before he came long, but he did make me feel like it might be a thing I could possible hope to achieve. I read The Shining in advance of the movie coming out and it changed my world as much as reading Starship Troopers or Dune or Foundation or Something Wicked or A Boy and His Dog or Neuromancer.

Okay, I got a little carried away there. Yes, books have knocked my helmet off more than once and the author of those books was, more often than not, Stephen King.

But I don’t care for his detective novels. Yeah, I know, right? But that’s just me.

So the next time some agent doesn’t even bother to reply to your query, remember that you go through the same winnowing process when you’re looking for something to read. Every book on that shelf is hoping against hope you’ll pick them as you pass by looking for the right… cover. Or back jacket text. Or author name.

Life is a game of numbers.

And, having said that, I have to admit there are Stephen King books I’ve not been able to complete. And I read ALL of Fire Starter.

When I started The Outsider, I got a bad vibe that this was another of his detective novels. I don’t know why — he’s a credible and engaging crime writer — but I do not care for these books of his. So I dropped it and went on to the next thing.

Then I started watching the HBO series and realized I had made a HUGE mistake. I’m so hooked on the show, I’ve returned to the novel to fill in the gaps between weekly episodes.

Here endeth the lesson.

Arriving Late… And Weird

Major change has come to the pod, folks. We’ve given up on watching old SFTV because there’s just too much good current SFTV. We’re also going to two podcasts a week starting with ST:PICARD.

Look Back In Dread

Stephen King once said that most writers endured a period of isolation in their childhood when books were all they had for company. For him it was an illness, for me it was two years of living in rural New Jersey.

Fortunately, I was born with a hyperactive imagination and the ability to entertain myself. Even more fortunately, my father was a science fiction fan and he never threw a book away, even the ones he didn’t like.

I started my real education by perusing this wall of shelves populated by an odd assortment of paperbacks, hardbacks, and QPBs. Being in 5th grade, my selection process was pretty simple: I chose the most interesting cover.

At the beginning I hewed close to age appropriate stuff, what they called “juveniles” before YA was a term, but I pretty quickly followed my new favorite author, Robert Heinlein, into his more grownup stuff.

I read them all — Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bardbury, Theodore Sturgeon, Philip Jose Farmer, and on and on — but I clicked with Heinlein. I idolized him to such a degree that I never went back and reread his books when I got older.

A little voice inside my head urged me to let that memory go undisturbed. And I heeded it.

Until the other day when I discovered that someone is publishing Heinlein’s last unpublished novel and, in order to make my decision, I read some of the preview text.

The thing I have to remember is even though he wrote through the 60s and 70s and he was an early feminist and progressive, he was also a man of his times who learned his craft in the 1940s and eventually became a grumpy, old libertarian.

But mostly, it’s his prose. It’s the bounding, leaping, exclamation point prose so common to him and his peers, the people who came before the writers of the naturalistic style we’re so used to today.

I didn’t buy the book and I certainly didn’t return to Starship Troopers, Glory Road, or Stranger In A Strange Land to revisit those books so cherished in my imagination. Better to leave them there, pristine and dripping with the dew of new discovery.

Rise of Skywalker

TL;DR: A sketchy, shallow, overly busy but beautiful end to the Skywalker saga. Only really necessary for completists. For the record, I prefer The Last Jedi.

Rise of Skywalker has something in it for everyone, but if they blink, they’ll miss it. The movie seems overstuffed with shout outs and Easter eggs while at the same time servicing a too complicated plot. Add the army of incidental (some actually disposable) characters that need screen time and you’ve got a recipe for a movie with a lot of very quick scenes where poorly drawn characters deliver some unmotivated (and usually unnecessary) line readings.

SPOILERS for RISE OF SKYWALKER follow:

Do you ever look around the table and ask, “Do I really need to be at this meeting?” because some yahoo with a 27-point agenda invited a hundred people who each need one minute?

Before you send out that meeting invite (or release a Star Wars movie) always ask yourself, “What is this meeting about?”

I just got back from Rise of Skywalker and I can’t honestly answer that question. At one point it seemed to be about the superfluousness of the Jedi/Sith war. At another, I thought it might be about how you can still come back from evil if you only dip your toe in and kill one parent. Then I thought it might be a love story between Rey and Finn or Rey and Ben or Po and Finn.

If you don’t have something specific to say it’s very easy to end up with a movie that is chock full of action and fan service, but doesn’t add up to much as a film.

Also, don’t get me started on the rapidly expanding force powers that appear to be able to do anything in the moment it’s needed.

Whoever said it was right: Star Trek is science fiction, Star Wars is fantasy.

I loved the innovative take Rian Johnson took with Last Jedi. Throwing away the family name drama made it feel more real. JJA making Rey a Palpatine and then claiming the name of Skywalker just brought it all back to how an entire galaxy is rent asunder because of infighting between two trashy families.

Character development, which was so strong in TLJ, is really lacking in ROS. Even the main characters skate along the surface performing their functions and saying their lines quicker and with more urgency. We lose Rose Tico, one of the best new characters added to the SW universe in a long time, to a racist insurgency and the rest of the cast is wasted on sub-par dialogue.

It is beautiful, though. Seeing the star destroyers going down in flames at the end, the fight on the drowned death star, the kite festival (on a planet they destroyed for no narrative reason) are all beautifully rendered, but they are gorgeous paintings in a story that is otherwise inert.

Let’s be honest, you’re going to see it. You have to, right? But let’s say a prayer that Disney takes a beat after this and allows some creative people to come up with a new direction for the galaxy far, far away.

Good News/Bad News

I don’t post reviews on this site so much as my thoughts about genre experiences. And while I feel perfectly justified in posting negative thoughts about movies and television shows, I rarely post anything negative about books because it just feels too personal. Movies and television shows are the product of armies of people. Books generally come from the mind of one author. Movies are in it for the billions. Books are in it for the thousands.

So if you’ve noticed I haven’t posted anything about my reading list for a long time, you should be able to guess that I’ve had a run of very bad luck. I have only finished reading one book in the last six months and there was a negligible return on investment there. I got less than a hundred pages into the rest of the refugees from my TBR pile.

Everything in SF I’m reading feels like it exists in a predefined world. There’s no sense of anything new there. The last SF book that truly blew my mind was the Southern Reach trilogy. Five years ago.

In the horror genre, even my tried and true authors seem to be limping along providing little of interest. And certainly nothing scary or new.

The detective novels fare even worse. Some of the authors I’ve enjoyed over the years have turned themselves into ghost written factories producing a toneless, uninteresting product no one asked for.

So I’ve been taking a break from novels for a while. In their place I’ve been listening to comedy podcasts. Comedy is a genre, too, and the last book of any kind that blew my mind was Patton Oswalt’s Silver Screen Fiend. Part memoir, part Inside Baseball of the stand-up comedy world, I reread it six times in a row. And just talking about it right now, I feel like maybe I’ll spend the rest of the day listening to the audio book.

My New Year’s resolution will be to dig deeper, abandon my usual authors, and seek out the new and different. Let’s hope this silent streak doesn’t last.

Arriving Late Ep 36: The Nagus

That is not a typo, thank God. Join us as we discuss the 11th episode of Season One of DS9. Bonus Ferengi content!

Arriving Late Ep 35: Move Along Home

Join us for the episode of DS9 that was voted worst in the series and 8th worst in the entire Star Trek franchise. Hey, at least we had fun because the actors sure didn’t.

Opening Day

It’s 123 days until opening day for the Washington Nationals. This is important to me and about a million other people, but not at all to anyone else.

I played Pop Warner football growing up and spent the time before I discovered girls obsessively following the NFL. But the game changed and I also changed and we drifted away from one another. Decades later when I sat down to reconnect with my old favorite sport, I found it unrecognizable and dull.

About the same time, I discovered the Ken Burns documentary on Baseball. Watching it repeatedly allowed me to bask in the history and culture of a sport I had never known. I literally got my love of the sport from that PBS series before I ever went to a stadium to watch a game.

My wife and I began attending University of Texas baseball games, trying to puzzle out the rules and strategies with the help of more seasoned fans. Eventually, I got it. The hook, firmly sunk and the line taut, I ordered our first big screen flat panel plasma television for the express purpose of becoming an MLB fan.

One thing about baseball that really leaned into the more obsessive traits of my “if one a week is good then one a day is even better” personality is the sheer number of games. Football’s regular season? 16 games. Baseball’s? 162. For six months, I am able to watch a game almost every day.

I immediately drew a line in the sand on some of the more sanguine issues of the sport — Infield fly rule: good. Designated hitter: a sin against humanity — and quickly became an acolyte of the National game. The Houston Astros, then, became the only logical choice for my home team as I’m from Austin and spent some of my childhood in Houston.

I bought into the Astros at the top of a terrible slide. For six seasons, they did worse and worse (something I discovered was common to a team that had just missed a world series run and was up for sale). Then the unthinkable happened. The team was bought by carpetbaggers who moved it to the American League.

I can’t put into words how awful that was — not because I don’t have the words, but because there are so many of them it would simply take too long.

There was only one thing to do: Find another team in the National League with the kind of announcers I liked. When you watch 150 or so games a year, the quality of the announcers is critical. I landed on the Washington Nationals and immediately became an ardent fan.

Two seasons later, the Astros won the World Series.

And I ate my own liver with rage.

But I never regretted staying with the National League. It’s the one true expression of the sport, unmuddled by new wave rules like the DH. And this year I was rewarded with a Washington Nationals Series win.

When my daughters asked me why, later in life, I suddenly developed a love of sports, I quoted a line from the baseball documentary, “An American needs something to kick about without really meaning it.”

The passion we feel for our sports teams is a shallow thing that dissipates shortly after every season. But while it’s flowing, it gives us the feeling we’re experiencing something both wonderful and terrible.

So, it’s 123 days until opening day and I’m counting down.