from the archives: Seminar is awesome

In 2012, the late great Alan Rickman starred on Broadway in a play called Seminar, which was about a grand old writer who gave expensive workshops to up-and-coming writers. Here was my take on it. We miss you, Mr. Rickman, very much…..

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We went to see Seminar at the Golden Theatre on Broadway today. It stars Alan Rickman as a cranky, past-his-prime literary writer who teaches exclusive ten-week writing seminars to any aspiring writers who can pay the $5000 to take it. His students are four young people — a pretentious ass with minor talent who has a famous uncle (played by Jerry O’Connell, late of Stand By Me, Sliders, and Crossing Jordan), a rich young woman who’s been working on the same short story for six years, a broke young man who has written a ton and shown it to no one, and a young Asian sexpot who thinks about sex pretty constantly…

Rickman’s character is magnificently snotty, but he also speaks the truth, even if that truth hurts (and it often does). It’s simply a brilliant performance from one of our finest actors, as his character is at once awful, tragic, hilarious, bitter, and miserable. O’Connell perfectly plays the pretentious ass (he opens the play by waxing rhapsodic about a writers retreat in the most ridiculous manner possible). The rest of the cast is equally excellent, particularly Hamish Linklater as Martin, who is just as pretentious (if not more so) than O’Connell’s character, whose pretentious he routinely decries.

What amazed me about this play was that it was the first piece of dramatic fiction I’ve ever seen that was a 100% accurate portrayal of writers. I’ve met and known all five of the writers in this play, seen all those behaviors, all those types. The writer who keeps revising the same story over and over rather than moving on, the writer who refuses to show his work, the writer who thinks he’s hotter shit than he actually is, the writer who only thinks in terms of getting ahead, and the writer whose career is on the downslide.

(A friend asked which of the five writers I was, and I pointed out that these were literary authors. I’m a genre author — different animal, same zoo.)

There wasn’t a single wrong note in this script, nothing that rang in any way wrong to me after two decades in publishing. Deftly written, very well paced, and with a lovely set design. The latter was especially spiffy — most of the play is in an upper-west-side luxury apartment that is tastefully hideous, and then the last scene is in Rickman’s character’s more dilapidated place with floor-to-ceiling books all over. But for the wide spaces dictated by being on a stage, they’re perfect old NYC apartments of two totally different types. (The film has several moments that place it firmly in New York, including a great conversation where the students force one character to telling them what her parents pay per month for the apartment that’s rent-controlled back to the stone age.)

Michael Glitz of Huffington Post wrote a scathing review of the play, in part due to several bits that he viewed as unrealistic and ridiculous — except everything he points out is quite typical and normal, whether it’s judging a work on the first few pages (standard practice for every professional editor in the world), or a writer spending five grand on a seminar that he then never submits anything to (not even close to the strangest thing I’ve seen in a writing workshop), or someone writing a novel in two weeks (I’ve done it, and so have many of my colleagues). Those are not the cheats that Glitz assumes them to be, but rather signs of verisimilitude. That he thinks this is lazy writing is just adorable…

from the archives: John Carter is pretty terrific

In 2012, I reviewed John Carter on my LiveJournal, and I thought it’d be good eight years later to reprint it here. This movie wasn’t perfect, but it was tremendous fun and deserved so much better than it got….

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Despite a pathetic marketing campaign, and a legion of journalists who condemned it as a flop before the first weekend’s box office tallies were made, John Carter is actually a good movie. Based on the 100-year-old Edgar Rice Burroughs stories about a Confederate captain who finds himself on the world he calls Mars and the natives call Barsoom, director Andrew Stanton has done an amazing job bringing the Carter tales to life.

First off, the movie looks like a Frank Frazetta painting. The scenery of Mars (really Utah) is gorgeous, and the makeup, costuming, set design, CGI work, and sets all are perfect. Lynn Collins is a superb Dejah Thoris, kicking ass and taking names and magnificently embodying one of the great female characters in early 20th-century science fiction (for which, admittedly, the competition is not fierce). Some other great actors are in this — Mark Strong, Dominic West, Ciaran Hinds, James Purefoy, Willem Defoe, Polly Walker. (I joked on Facebook and Twitter that you gotta love a movie that has Detective McNulty and Sinestro going up against Julius Caesar and Marc Antony.)

The weak link in the film is Taylor Kitsch, who is only adequate in the title role. There’s nothing wrong with his performance, but there’s nothing particularly memorable about it, either. Of course, Carter is supposed to be the POV character, reacting to the amazement around him the same as we are, so there’s something to be said for him being fairly generic.

The movie honestly feels exactly like a Pixar film — and that’s not a complaint. (Also not a surprise from the director of Finding Nemo and WALL-E.) It follows many of the same beats and has a lot of the same style as many of Pixar’s movies — but since Pixar has made some of the best pure movies of the past 20 years, that’s a huge point in its favor.

Sadly, John Carter has been a victim of bad marketing, studio sabotage, and a director who reportedly thinks that John Carter is as well known to the general public as Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, and so apparently made some assumptions about the public’s reaction that were optimistic at best. It all starts with the world’s most nondescriptive title — but a Walt Disney Company that was burned by Mars Needs Moms (not realizing that it was the “Moms” part that was the problem) and who probably noticed that the last Mars-focused movie to be a success was Total Recall in 1990, took the word “Mars” out of the title. (And of course, they can’t call it A Princess of Mars, the novel on which it was based because Disney movies with “princess” in the title means a whole ‘nother thing…..) Nor did they take any advantage of the director’s past work, or the fact that its based on novels by the same guy who created Tarzan (who actually has a Q-rating among the great unwashed).

I’m not surprised that the movie hasn’t received the best notices in the world, as most people have seen this plot before — because genre adventure stories have been inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs for years. In particular, the oeuvres of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg owe one helluva lot to ERB, by their own admission. But to a 2012 audience, especially one that has not been told by the marketing campaign that it’s based on a beloved 100-year-old set of stories, it just looks like a story they’ve seen a thousand times before.

Pity, as I’d love to visit Barsoom again……

from the archives: thoughts while in the midst of my nidan promotion

I wrote this piece on 23 March 2013, after the second day of my promotion to second-degree black belt. I’m reprinting it here mainly because I like the discourse on kata in particular, and it’s a nice reflection of my views on karate and on my own journey from overweight, underpowered 35-year-old white belt to the in-much-better-shape 50-year-old third-degree black belt I am today.

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The second day was less grueling than the first, but that was partly because we’d already been through this, partly because we were doing the stuff that I know and love best: kata and various self-defense and prearranged fighting drills. This is my favorite part of karate, especially the kata.

We have three sets of kata: First are the basics, the three Taikyoku katas and the five Pinan katas. These are common karate forms — the links in the previous sentence are to YouTube videos of those eight forms being performed in the style of Kyokushin, from which my style derives, and while there are differences in how we do certain parts, the overall feel of the katas are the same as how we do them. Then there are the five katas that were developed by the founder of our discipline, and then there are the makuso katas.

The makuso, or meditation, katas are my favorite, as they are complex and graceful: Sanchin (the oldest known kata), Geki Sai Dai, Yantsu, Tsuki No, Sai-Ha, Tensho, Geki Sai Sho, and Seiunchin. That last one is the one I and three other shodans performed at our dojo’s 20th anniversary party, and I also adore Yantsu.

Of course, the real test comes during Sanchin and Tensho. Those two katas are primarily done with ibuki, or deep breathing, where movements are slow and strong and the body is tight and firm. Both kata are spent in sanchin dachi, a very stable stance (here’s a picture). During promotions, it’s kicked up a notch, as we did both those katas while several black belts do everything they can to destabilize us: punching us in the stomach (with or without handpads), hitting us in the back or thighs with handpads, kicking us in the thighs and stomach, pushing against our punches, and so on. (Here’s me getting pounded during my shodan promotion three-and-a-half years ago, for an idea, though the picture does not do it justice, particularly the part last night where Senpai Ryon used me as his punching bag for the second half of Sanchin Kata.)

What was especially amazing about that experience was how little I moved around during that part of it. I remember my shodan promotion — that picture I linked to in the previous paragraph has me at a 90-degree angle to where I started because I got moved around so much. This time around I was being abused much more than I was three-and-a-half years ago, but I barely moved from my original spot.

You have to understand, I was the stereotypical weakling who got sand kicked in his face by the bully on the beach. In high school, we did a production of West Side Story, and I was cast as Gladhand, the nerdy guy who ran the dance, because honestly who the fuck else would I play? The idea that I could be in any way physically strong has never been a part of my worldview.

And yet, there I was last night, several black belts (some of whom are fighters who score high in international fighting tournaments) were just wailing on me. These are the people who would’ve kicked sand in my face not that long ago, and here I was barely being moved by them.

That’s weird. Seriously. Eight-and-a-half years of karate, and I can’t even process the notion that I’m strong, even though I spent last night not only doing that, but also dozens of pushups and any number of other physically intensive activities for two hours straight. It just doesn’t fit with my self-image, y’know? I’m still surprised when people tell me how strong I punch during fighting class, too…

Anyhow, that was the first part of the evening. The second part was when we each discussed our essays. Once the promotion’s done, I’ll post my essay here, but mostly I talked about how helping Shihan teach and teaching myself has been an incredibly enriching experience. It was also great to hear Jorge, Charles, Cliff, and Rey talk about how karate has affected them, through the ups and downs of their lives. It’s a pleasure and an honor to go up with these people, who have become good friends, and it was especially nice to hear their stories about their lives.

What especially struck me was a story that Cliff talked about Senpai Joe, a black belt who helped him immensely when he was starting out at our dojo, telling him to calm down and take it easy and just generally looking out for him. It floored me — and I got to say so in front of everybody a few minutes later — because I could tell the exact same story except substitute me for Cliff and Cliff for Senpai Joe. It fit nicely with the theme of my own essay, which was about how you learn from the people who came before you and you try to pass that on to the next bunch of people. And, as I’ve mentioned on the blog before, Cliff was hugely inspirational to me when I started out. Shihan was the teacher, but Cliff was who I wanted to be when I grew up. And in a way, I have, as Shihan talked at length about how grateful he is to the two of us for all the help we give him especially with the kids classes (which have grown quite large).

Tomorrow morning is sparring. Tomorrow afternoon, I stumble home and lapse into a coma……

from the archives: The Taming of the Shrew

In June 2016, we went to see an all-female production of The Taming of the Shrew, as part of the Public Theatre’s annual free “Shakespeare in the Park,” which has been going on almost as long as I’ve been alive. I just finished watching Jessica Jones season three, which made me think of Jessica Jones season two, which guest-starred Janet McTeer as Jessica’s mother. McTeer played Petruchio in this production of Taming, and I went to re-read my review and realized it was on the old LiveJournal. So now here it is on the new blog…..

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Yesterday, our friend Laura, who’s visiting for a few days, joined me and Wrenn in Central Park to see The Taming of the Shrew at the Delacorte Theatre, the first of two plays being done this year for the free Shakespeare in the Park put on by the Public Theatre. (The other will be Troilus and Cressida. The theme this year, based on the signage around the park, is WAR! LOVE! Which both fit both plays, actually…..)

The last time I saw Shrew in the park was in 1990, when Morgan Freeman and Tracey Ullman played Petruchio and Kate, with Helen Hunt playing Bianca. It was set as a Western, but without changing any dialogue — so it opened with a guy with white hair and a white beard doing his best Walter Brennan impersonation drawling, “Waylcome to Pad-yoo-uh!”

Now I should state for the record that I despise this play. I mean, it’s not Shakespeare’s fault, his theme of wives being subject to their husbands was the morality of the day. But I find it painful to watch, generally, and have found that the most interesting ones are the modern interpretations that try to subvert it.

The production we saw yesterday took an interesting tack: the entire cast was female. Reversing the norms of Shakespeare’s day, when all the parts were played by men, this was a fascinating choice, made more so by the framing sequence setting it up as a beauty pageant (complete with Donald Trump-style voiceover — references to Hillary Clinton and #Brexit snuck in at various points, too), with Bianca and Kate competing in a contest as Miss North Padua and Miss South Padua. (Director Phyllida Lloyd has previously done all-female versions of Julius Caesar and Henry IV.)

This version took the tactic of having Kate give in to Petruchio’s torments, not because she was being broken by him (which is the standard interpretation), but because agreeing with him got him to actually do stuff. But Cush Jumbo’s Kate never at any point is cowed, just frustrated — until the end.

The ending is the biggest problem. Up through Bianca’s wedding, Kate is resigned, but not broken. However, when Petruchio makes his wager that his wife will be the most obedient of the three at the wedding, and Kate gives her appalling speech about how women must always serve their men, the wind comes out of the sails, because Kate has stopped being defiant. A production that has been aggressively defiant up to this point, that has taken a distinctively modern (from the 1940s fashions to the 1970s beauty pageant to the 2010s attitudes and gestures and speech patterns overlaid over some of the Elizabethan dialogue) suddenly becomes very much an offensive 16th-century sexist colloquy.

The 1990 production with Freeman and Ullman did its subversion by making it clear that Kate went for Petruchio, not because he gaslighted her, but because she thought he was hot. Basically, the sex was fantastic, so she put up with his nonsense. But that version also strongly implied that Kate was in on the bet — that her speech at the end was bullshit, done entirely to help Petruchio win the bet and win money for both of them.

That doesn’t really fit with this version — instead, Jumbo gives the speech straight, and the audience is totally squirming in their seats at this horseshit. And then the beauty pageant element (forgotten since the very opening of the play) kicks back in, with Kate being given the tiara and the sash and the flowers–

–and then she has a psychotic break, crying out, “What the fuck is this?” and going batshit, before being carried off, the queendom hastily given to Bianca instead. Then the whole cast comes back onstage (Jumbo now in a t-shirt with the word “SHREW” on the front) and they all do a rousing song-and-dance rendition of Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation.” It was an epic conclusion, a brilliant way to fuck-you the stupid speech. (And Gayle Rankin played Bianca as a spoiled beauty queen in any case, so that worked out nicely……)

Speaking as a lifelong male, I must say that the women who were playing men all did superlative work, utterly convincing as men. In fact, the only one I didn’t get a male vibe off of was Janet McTeer’s Petruchio, who came across more lesbian than male. Not that that was at all an issue, because the main thing McTeer brought to the table was that Petruchio was just as much of an outcast and just as impossible as Kate — the difference is that as a man, Petruchio being unpleasant and abusive is acceptable. In fact, McTeer’s Petruchio is more unpleasant than Kate (at various points, peeing in public, vomiting in public, abusing his servant physically, and just generally carrying on in an I-don’t-give-a-shit manner — to add to it, while all the other male characters wear 1940s-style suits, McTeer wears a flannel shirt and leather jacket, doing a proto-James Dean).

It takes a lot to get me to like a production of Shrew. Lloyd and the cast managed it.

from the archives: the ending to How I Met Your Mother was perfect and good

There’s a lot of talk right now about the final season of Game of Thrones, and a Twitter user that I’ve since lost track of was asking for shows that fucked up the ending, and almost everyone listed How I Met Your Mother. Thing is, I don’t think HIMYM fucked up the ending, they fucked up the road to the ending. Here’s the post I made on the old LiveJournal blog in December 2016 on the subject.

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There’s a meme going around Facebook asking for ten unpopular opinions. It’s been interesting to see people opine about stuff — and the meme dictates that the opinions all be non-political, which means the subsequent discussions haven’t been nasty — and I decided to participate. But I was lazy, and only listed two similar opinions, to wit, that The Walking Dead and The Matrix are overrated claptrap whose mass appeal is incomprehensible to me. These opinions should not surprise anyone, as I’ve been up-front about my dislike for both all along, and I dissed TWD on The Chronic Rift podcast back in December 2011 when the first season ended, and I eviscerated The Matrix back when I finally saw it on HBO in April 2000.

However, my dear friend Stevie Williams mentioned that she never liked either Friends or How I Met Your Mother. I agree with her on the former, but actually adored the latter, as I thought the writing craft on that show was brilliant and superior to most of what you get on television, and certainly superior to almost any sitcom.

But it reminded me of a rant I’d been meaning to post since HIMYM ended and never did…..

The ending of the show came in for a lot of shit, with a lot of people dissing it and hating it and loathing it and ripping it to pieces. I think the dissatisfaction with that ending is why the show has fallen right out of the zeitgeist.

Thing is, the ending was perfect. It was absolutely the right ending for the show.

Having said that, I totally get why people don’t like the ending, and it’s the true reason why the show failed:

It got renewed for a ninth season.

If the show had ended after eight seasons, the ending would’ve been the perfect wrap-up. The collapse of Robin and Barney’s marriage, the progression of Ted and The Mother’s relationship, Barney discovering fatherhood, The Mother’s death, and Ted and Robin winding up together all would have worked perfectly.

But they came back for season nine, and they spent the entirety of season nine on Robin and Barney’s wedding. Prior to that ninth season, Barney and Robin’s relationship was on-again/off-again, tumultuous, and problematic. It could’ve worked, but it could just as easily not have worked. Going straight from the wedding in the penultimate episode of season eight to the one-hour ending would’ve worked.

Instead, we spent more than twenty episodes chronicling Barney and Robin’s wedding weekend. By the time we got to “The End of the Aisle,” we’d spent six months living with that wedding weekend. We were heavily invested in that wedding weekend, which made us heavily invested in Barney and Robin as a couple.

So to trash it in an hour came across as a betrayal. To put Robin together with Ted just didn’t make sense because the entire ninth season was dedicated to the rightness of Robin and Barney as a couple.

The thing is — Ted and Robin winding up together was the way the story was set up to end back from the very first episode. As Ted’s kids said (in a sequence that Lyndsy Fonseca and David Henrie filmed back in 2006 during the second season of the show, saved for the finale), the story that Ted told over the course of the show’s run wasn’t really about how he met their mother, it was about Ted’s life with Robin. That started with the pilot episode in which we think the story is about how Ted met their mother and is in fact about how he met Robin. Robin has been the fulcrum of Ted’s life throughout the run of the show, and having them get together at the end, and having the true reason for him telling the story to them in 2030 being to get their permission to date Robin now that their mother is dead, makes perfect story sense.

And if the show had ended in season eight, everyone would probably have realized that……….

from the archives: two Grits

In 2010, the Coen brothers did a new adaptation of the novel True Grit, which had previously been adapted in 1969 with John Wayne starring as Rooster Cogburn (which resulted in the Duke’s only Academy Award). The Coens cast Jeff Bridges as Cogburn. On 3 February 2011, I talked about both films, having seen the ’69 film on video before seeing the ’10 film in the theatre. (There’s also a link to another post where I talked more about the ’69 film.)

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So Wrenn and I went to see the Coen Brothers’ new adaptation of the 1968 Charles Portis novel True Grit, having recently seen the version starring John Wayne released the year after the novel came out. I was already predisposed to like the film for three reasons: 1) It’s the Coen Brothers, and even their flawed films are worth watching. 2) It’s Jeff Bridges, and he’s always great. 3) It’s the Coen Brothers and Jeff Bridges, which is a combo that has already resulted in one of my favorite movies (The Big Lebowski).

And I loved it even not considering that. Hailee Stanfield is magnificent as the main character, Mattie Ross (why the hell her Academy Award nomination is for Best Supporting Actress is a textbook example of why the defining characteristics for supporting roles makes absolutely no sense, since Stanfield is “supporting” in the same way that Bruce Willis is “supporting” in the Die Hard films). Kim Darby was, IMO, the best part of the 1969 film, and Stanfield lives up to Darby’s example.

The original novel was narrated by Mattie, and the Coen Brothers use that as their guide, as the entire movie is filtered through Mattie’s POV. This means that Mattie’s in every scene, making the whole “supporting actress” thing even more absurd.

The new version is superior to the 41-year-old version is virtually every respect. For starters, Jeff Bridges is greatly superior to John Wayne. Though many would consider it sacreligious to say so, a potted plant would’ve been greatly superior to John Wayne. It boggles my mind that he won an Academy Award for his performance, which was stronger than his usual, but that’s damning with faint praise.

And Bridges actually inhabits the role of Rooster Cogburn, making him into a much more complex and fascinating character than the Duke was able to manage. Meanwhile, Matt Damon out-acts Glenn Campbell — another easy one to accomplish — and the rivalry between Damon’s LeBoeuf and Bridges’s Rooster is far more effective (and funny) than the one between Campbell and Wayne.

The Coens’ focus on Mattie also puts the superior actor in the role of Tom Chaney, Mattie’s father’s murderer. Played by minor character actor Jeff Corey in the 1969 version, they gave the bigger villain role to Ned Pepper, played by Robert Duvall. But the Coens had Josh Brolin as Chaney and minor character actor Barry Pepper playing Ned. The Coens rightly identified Chaney as the true villain, and Brolin plays him brilliantly, perfectly modulating from seemingly ineffectual and lamebrained to vicious and nasty. (But then, this is the same man who played George W. Bush, so we know he can do that…..)

I also infinitely prefer the bittersweet ending in the Coens’ film, which is closer to that of the original book, as opposed to the semi-happy ending of the earlier film (though oddly, the older adaptation kills off LeBoeuf, who survives in the novel and the newer version).

The one way that the 1969 film is superior is that it does a better job of establishing Mattie’s character early on. Where the Coens start with Mattie arriving to claim her father’s body, the earlier adaptation started sooner, showing Mattie working on her family’s farm, and impressing us with her efficiency and acumen, and also showing her relationship with her father.

In any event, where the first adaptation of Portis’s novel was good, the more recent one is excellent, and I strongly recommend it.

from the archives: cosplay, still not consent

This blog entry was made after New York Comic-Con in 2015. It’s even more relevant now in the post-#MeToo and post-Kavanaugh hearings age.

One of the things I loved about New York Comic-Con was that these signs were all over the place (the two pictures show the front and back):


I posted these pictures on Facebook, and was surprised by comments along the lines of: “Makes me very sad that these need to exist at all” and “If people need to be reminded of this it is pathetic absolutely pathetic.”

And these types of comments boggle my mind, because it seems to come with the mindset that these signs being necessary is a new phenomenon. No, they’ve been necessary for as long as there have been conventions, but we’ve only just now in 2015 gotten to the point where it occurred to anyone to put the signs up.

A few years ago, an editor in the field got fired for sexual harassment. This was someone I saw engaging in pretty awful behavior at parties back in 1991 — but it took until the 2010s for him to actually lose his job over it. And that’s just one of millions of examples, which went unreported or unremarked upon, or if they were remarked upon it was to dismiss it as unimportant or an exaggeration or “boys being boys” or some pathetic variant.

The tragedy isn’t that the signs are going up now. The tragedy is that it’s taken this long for them to go up.

from the archives: Happy Bartolom√© Day!

I wrote this piece in 2013 and five years later, it’s just as relevant with regards to both the good and bad (but mostly bad) of Columbus Day.

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Columbus Day has always been a holiday I’ve hated. Back when I was a kid, I never understood how Columbus could possibly have “discovered” something that had people on it. (Later, of course, I learned that he never even made it to North America, only arriving at the Bahamas and never getting that far.) Plus, of course, he was allegedly searching for Asia, so he not only allegedly “discovered” North America, he also mistook it for somewhere else entirely. And this guy gets a holiday?

The more I learned, the less impressed I was. The Oatmeal nicely sums up just how repugnant a human being Columbus was (thanks to fellow Chronic Rift-ee Krissy Myers for the link), but the short version is that he was a racist tyrannical homicidal gold-digging fucknut. A lot of the bullshit about Columbus that has been perpetrated over the years comes directly from an 1828 book by Washington Irving entitled A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, which was more of a hagiography than a biography, and also purest horseshit — but it’s the source of most of the rote myth surrounding Columbus that most people believe.

Having said that, the holiday comes from a good place. Columbus Day became a holiday in the 1930s after lobbying by the Knights of Columbus to have a federal holiday that showed the contributions of Italians and Catholics to American history. See this NPR article as well as this American Interest article (thanks to, respectively, The Mom and SM Rosenberg), [NOTE: The American Interest article seems to have disappeared into the aether, but the NPR piece is still there] but the short version is that Italians and Catholics were both heavily discriminated against in this country, and the Knights were working to reverse that prejudice. Still, while their motives were good ones — speaking as an Italian American, I can safely say that we’re still marginalized (I challenge folks to find a substantive number of Italian characters in pop culture who aren’t mobsters and/or caricatures, especially compared to the number of WASPs and Irish characters) — they really made a crummy choice of role model.

The Oatmeal suggests instead celebrating Bartolomé Day, after Bartolomé de las Casas, who was also a racist fucknut explorer, but who later in life repented and fought for the rights of the natives who were enslaved and murdered by Europeans. After all, redemption stories are way cooler than whitewashed genocide.

Or we could just call it “Monday.” Hell, I’m a freelancer, federal holidays don’t mean much to me…………..

(This post grew out of a discussion on Facebook. Feel free to add to the discussion here or there.)

from the archives: the long journey of Torin and Danthres from RPG characters to the stars of a book series

This piece was written in 2012 shortly after Goblin Precinct had been published and Audible bought the rights to audio versions of the first four novels in the “Precinct” series. Since then, Gryphon Precinct and Tales from Dragon Precinct have come out, the books have changed publishers, and now I’m working on Mermaid Precinct, plus we’ll be adding Manticore Precinct and Phoenix Precinct. Oh, and the vague thing I talk about that might happen still might happen, but hasn’t yet. So the conclusion of this six-year-old blog entry is even more poignant now…..

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From 1983 until 1995 or so, I played role-playing games a lot: Dungeons & Dragons, Marvel Superheroes, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Champions, an early version of what was eventually released as the Wildside Gaming System. Lack of time led to me moving away from it, and it’s now been ages since I RPG’d.

But there were two characters I played that I had a particular fondness for. One was a D&D character I played in college, the other a Wildside character I played in my 20s. The former was a friendly, red-haired male Ranger named Torin ban Wyvald, the latter an attitude-laden half-elven woman warrior named Danthres Tresyllione.

For years, I kept starting stories that paired these two up. The D&D game that Torin was part of included a human cleric, an elven mage, and a dwarven warrior, and I added Danthres to that mix and started a fantasy novel loosely based on our campaign. It failed miserably, as what makes a good game doesn’t always make good fiction. I tried Danthres and Torin in a bunch of other combos, but they all sucked.

Still, the characters never strayed very far from my head, and when John Ordover invited me to pitch an original novel to him in 2003, I was deep in the throes of my abject love of police procedure. I always loved cop stories, going back to being captivated by Hill Street Blues at the tender age of 12, and by the early days of the new millennium I was practically obsessed.

And it occurred to me that that was how to use Torin and Danthres — make them cops.

Credit to John for the title — I don’t even remember what I was originally calling it, something uninspired like Cliff’s End Castle Guard or some such nonsense, and John said, “Why don’t you call it Dragon Precinct?” It was perfect — it showed both elements of it, the fantasy element and the cop element, in one simple, elegant title.

I had already plotted out the book and written a good chunk of it when John made that suggestion, so it was only after that that I retrofitted the five-precinct structure into Cliff’s End. This also gave me five handy book titles, and I thought having more precincts was just going to be considered hubris…..

Then the original SF/fantasy line that Dragon Precinct was part of was discontinued. The novel had decent sales, nothing that blew the doors off, but not a flop by any stretch, either. Still, when Pocket started up doing non tie-in stuff again years later, they passed on doing a sequel. Their fantasy focus was more of the urban variety than the high variety, and the Precinct books didn’t fit the bill.

Then in 2011, Neal Levin of Dark Quest Books offered to take on the series, and I wrote Unicorn Precinct, then I got the rights back to Dragon, so DQ reissued that in trade, and then Goblin Precinct, and now a deal to do audio books of the novels, and I’m also talking with someone else about something else related to the novels (specifics deliberately vague until and unless something real happens beyond talking about it).

This is why you need to be patient. Sometimes it takes a while for stuff to happen. And then stuff happens all at once. And sometimes stuff never happens. It’s a crapshoot, but instant gratification should never be expected.

from the archives: I don’t give a rat’s ass what Gene Roddenberry would have wanted

In a Star Trek group on Facebook, someone asked if Gene Roddenberry would be happy with how his vision — by which the poster meant Star Trek in general — has evolved since he died. It seemed to me like trolling for people to bash Discovery as not being “real Star Trek,” or perhaps to bash the Bad Robot movies, or all the spinoffs since TNG, or whatever. Anyhow, it prompted me to dig up this rant from January 2016.

roddenberry

Recently, there’s been a lot of discussion in Star Trek fan circles about the lawsuit that CBS/Paramount has taken out against the Axanar fan film. This post is not about that, and I have no specific comment on it, as I Am Not A Lawyer, and anyhow, that’s not what’s pissing me off right now.

What’s pissing me off right now are the declarations of “what Gene Roddenberry would have wanted,” as if that matters.

Yes, Roddenberry created Star Trek, and that’s not unimportant. But this isn’t a case like, say, J. Michael Straczynski with Babylon 5 or Joss Whedon with Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Aaron Sorkin with The West Wing or Vince Gilligan with Breaking Bad. Yes, Roddenberry created Trek — though, by WGA guidelines, he should, at the very least, share that creator credit with Samuel A. Peeples, who actually wrote the pilot episode that sold the series. And while Roddenberry was partially responsible for making Star Trek what it was, he was hardly the only one. Gene L. Coon was the show-runner for the latter first season and first half of the second season, not coincidentally when the show was at its strongest. Roddenberry himself wasn’t involved with even the day-to-day of the third season, and while he was the executive producer, it was Coon and John Meredyth Lucas who did most of the show-running work for most of those two seasons he was there, and Fred Freiberger entirely ran the third season. Roddenberry had very little direct involvement with the animated series, and after that, the only parts of the franchise he was directly responsible for were The Motion Picture — a bloated disaster that got his ass fired from the movie franchise — and the first season of The Next Generation — which most people try to forget. It’s also not a coincidence that TNG started getting good when Roddenberry was too ill to run the show anymore.

What people also forget is that Roddenberry spent 1982 going to conventions and begging fans not to go see The Wrath of Khan, because he wasn’t involved and it wasn’t “real” Star Trek. (Sound familiar?)

Argue however you want about what constitutes “real” Star Trek and who should be running things and all else, but don’t cite Roddenberry as your argument. For starters, he’s been dead since 1991, so nobody’s in any position to say what he would have liked. For another, his is not the only voice that matters, and one could argue it matters less than most.

(Thanks to Steve Roby, whose similar rant on Facebook inspired this post.)