Category Archives: Blog

Polarization: The Insidious Plague of ‘Us Against Them’

Brace yourselves. War is coming.

Not just any war—a flame war. Many are already being waged.

All joking aside, I’ve noticed that since the last presidential campaign season, during which people dug their heels into the ground for whatever candidate they supported, the tendency toward polarization has spilled over into other areas. In particular, seems to have become more prominent in the fandom/nerd/geek community. No longer is it a friendly rivalry where people can agree to disagree. No, now those who disagree must be smeared and the supposed “right opinion” presented with pretense.

Image courtesy of www.patheos.com.

While these “factions” have existed for years (Marvel or DC? Star Trek or Star Wars? Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat?), I’ve never seen such vitriol in the past. Divisions have even formed within fandoms, and thanks to the anonymity of the internet, a “civil war,” of sorts, has waged.

The situation that brought this to my mind is Capcom’s newest fighting game, Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite. Because the game wasn’t living up to everyone’s expectations leading up to its release, interest waned for the game. Then another company, Arc System Works, announced a similar game called DragonBall FighterZ. It was then the camps formed. Hardcore MvC fans held out for the former game while defectors, “casuals,” and DBZ fans formed around the other game. They created copious memes, both photos and videos, denouncing Capcom or MvCI and proclaimed Arc Systems and DragonBall FighterZ the greatest things ever. Personally, what passing interest I may have had in the DragonBall game was killed by their pretentiousness.

I follow several YouTubers, like Maximilian Dood, who make videos on fighting games, and they soon found themselves enveloped in the firestorm. Max in particular has said he’s been accused of being both a shill and a hater. In other words, both sides dislike him. He’s actually taken what I think is an honest and realistic approach to things. When MvCI was released, he criticized some aspects but praised it for others. I’m sure that drove some people on both sides crazy.

What gets to me is how quickly people rally around what’s honestly unimportant things. These are games. They’re entertainment. It’s not life or death. And yet the human desire to fit in and belong to a group compels them to form factions and fight for their cause, no matter how trivial.

This needs to stop.

Not just in fandom circles. Everywhere. For everything.

I heard many stories about families dividing over politics last year. Groups and movements have sprung up over the years that claim they want to bring equality, but all they do is create hate for “the other side.” What they don’t realize is movements based on hate can’t last. All they do is create a self-perpetuating crazy cycle. But all it takes is one person to break it.

Be that person, True Believers.

Have you witnessed polarization over things besides politics? Where? Why? What have you done to break the crazy cycle?

Wish Fulfillment in Stories

Image courtesy of www.luckymoney.net.

While working on my new podcast, Kaijuvision Radio, I re-learned that one of the appeals of fiction—particularly genre fiction—is wish fulfillment. Not just for readers/viewers but for creators as well.

You might be thinking this is a bad thing; a sign of someone living in a fantasy world. While I acknowledge that’s true in some cases, I’d also argue that it speaks to a deeper, nobler desire within people’s hearts.

In the podcast, my co-host, Brian Scherschell, and I were talking about the alien invasion plot in 1966’s Invasion of Astro-Monster (aka Godzilla vs. Monster Zero). The heroes, most of them non-military types, band together to repel invaders from Planet X. The audience is able to see themselves in those characters and live vicariously through them for 90 minutes because they understand what it means to protect what is theirs. For those living in countries that have been successfully invaded, it’s satisfying for them to defeat invaders. Americans, on the other hand, have a huge independent streak in them, and they will do what it takes to preserve their freedom.

Wish fulfillment can also come in the form of seeing characters do things one wishes he could do but can’t, which makes it a form of escapism. These could range from things that are impossible (flying like Superman, for example) to things that are possible but unlikely (like captaining a ship). In these cases, the stories could become inspirational. One can’t soar under his own power like Supes, but one could become a pilot. One may not be a ship captain, but he could become one, even if it’s only on his own private yacht.

I realized recently that even romance stories have elements of wish fulfillment. The audience wishes they could have relationships as exciting, sensual, and committed as the ones in those tales because it seems impossible to find true love in real life.

It’s in these cases that wish fulfillment speaks to someone’s inner character and desires. Maybe they can’t “leap tall buildings in a single bound” but they can still be heroic, even if it’s in a small way. They know something isn’t right in the world and want to make it better. They could volunteer at a soup kitchen or go on a missions trip. They can love the way they want to be loved. They can make their wishes a reality, and by doing so, inspire others.

I’ve heard countless stories of people who became engineers, doctors, and writers because of Star Trek. They saw characters like Scotty doing cool things in the Enterprise’s engine room and decided on their career field. Now, while they aren’t exploring the galaxy, they’re creating fantastic new technologies. That’s the inspirational power wish fulfillment can have.

It can also be a mirror into oneself. If one finds himself reveling in Superman’s abundant superpowers because he wants to have power over others, it should give him pause for concern. I’ve known people with power fantasies like that. It always makes them weaker because they don’t aspire to do greater things. I pity them.

What do you think, readers? Is wish fulfillment in fiction good or bad? Why? What are some examples from your favorite stories?

Upcoming Book Signings for 2017

Hello, True Believers! It’s October, and the nip in the air signals the oncoming end of 2017. But it also signals Halloween and the holiday season. This is one of my favorite times of the year.

My book signings have been a bit sparser this year, but I do have two more coming up in the next few months. One I’ve been committed to for several months and another that I just applied for. Here’s all the pertinent info.

Fantasticon Fort Wayne, Oct. 28-29

I’m returning to my new “hometown” comic-con! Once again, I’ll be joined by my co-authors/collaborators Nick Hayden and Eric Anderson. Nick and I will hopefully have copies of our new book, Zorsam and the God Who Devours, which we co-wrote with Aaron Brosman, available for purchase. The guest list will include several actors from The Walking Dead, a few comic book artists, and a replica of the Optimus Prime truck from the Transformers movies (if you can call that a “guest.”

The venue will be the Grand Wayne Center in downtown Fort Wayne, Indiana. Admission is cheap, so don’t miss it!

According to the show’s website:

Fantasticon is a mid-size show created for true comic book and pop culture collectors and fans. The fans that come to our shows are true collectors that are looking for those rare items for their personal collections. Most leave very satisfied as we pride ourselves on having great dealers and artists at our shows. If you collect it, you will find it at a Fantasticon Show.

It’ll be a great way to your Halloween weekend!

Seventh Annual Allen County Public Library Author Fair, Nov. 11

Another returning favorite. I’ll be one of 70 local authors attending this event at the main branch of the Allen County Public Library in downtown Fort Wayne, Indiana. There will also be author-led panel discussions (fingers crossed that I get in one) on various subjects. Best of all, admission is free!

You can learn more about the event and the library here.

See you around, True Believers!

Creativity Thrives on Limitations

I wrote this blog a head of time because I’m at Gen-Con 50 this weekend. Come visit me at my table in Authors Avenue!

Wise words.

Reboots are all the rage now, especially at the cinema. I’ve heard it said that the biggest reason for this is because it allows creators the “freedom” do something new without the constraints of continuity; they don’t have to be limited by what has come before. In other words, they can do whatever they want.

But is that such a bad thing?

Case in point: the infamous Spider-Man storyline One More Day. The creators at Marvel Comics (the supposed “House of Ideas”) had complained for years that they wished Peter Parker (aka Spider-Man) hadn’t married Mary Jane Watson back in the mid-1980s. Why? Because they claimed they couldn’t think of enough good stories for a married Spider-Man. Seriously. Did they think all of life’s excitement was gone after getting married? Must stories always include sexual tension and unrequited love? Anyway, to “remedy” this, they didn’t just have them get a divorce. No, that meant they didn’t love each other. Instead, Peter and MJ made a literal deal with the Devil to erase their marriage from continuity. To save Aunt May’s life because she was dying from a gunshot meant for Peter.

Dumbest. Idea. Ever!         

I quit reading Spider-Man comics after that. From what I’ve heard, Peter Parker, now a 30-year-old single, spends a lot of his time whining about being alone. (Cue eye roll).

Most fans hated this story, and rightfully so. It was a character assassination done by the creators to serve themselves and not the readers. All because they didn’t want the constraints of writing a married Spider-Man.

Recently at a Children of the Wells creative meeting, my friend/collaborator Nick Hayden mentioned that writing for our serial, with all its continuity and parameters, forced him to be a better writer. It required that he keep consistent with what was written before and follow the rules we’d set down for the world. In many ways, since not all of the characters he created and since the ones he did create had changed since he last wrote them, he was a caretaker for these story and characters. They weren’t entirely his, so he had to be more careful with them. Beyond that, though, it required that he dream up ideas that worked with what had been written before as opposed to going with whatever came into his head.

There are constraints in most creative endeavors. Even improv comedy has to have parameters. It gives the performers a framework from which to work, a way to focus their creativity. If they were sent on stage with no direction, they’d either come up with nothing or not say anything funny, most likely.

Are there times when creators should start fresh? Yes. But that should be done in such a way that respects what came before, respects the characters, and respects the readers.

Do you think creativity thrives within restrictions? Why or why not?

In Anticipation of Gen-Con 50

Image courtesy of DDO Players.

Next week is the biggest convention I attend as an author: Gen-Con. The show is celebrating its 50th anniversary. That’s an incredible run! The show gets bigger every year even without having huge celebrity guests all the time. They sold out of four-day badges a month ago!

As usual, though, the show snuck up on me. Yes, I paid for my table months ago, but since I have this crazy habit of keeping myself constantly busy, I don’t think about what else I could do at the show until it’s nearly upon me. I like to enjoy the cons I table at, so I try to attend some of the events at the show. The problem is Gen-Con is so huge, many of the events sell out months ahead of time. That isn’t to say there aren’t plenty of other events to attend, but it is a bit disappointing to see some of the more interesting things sell out that far in advance.

Another bummer is the fact that I won’t be staying at one of the adjacent hotels to the Indiana Convention Center like I’ve been doing for several years. Let’s just say things didn’t work out for that to happen. So, I had to get a room at a hotel seven miles away, which means making a potentially long commute every day to the convention. I’m not looking forward to that.

I won’t have any “new” books with me, but not because I haven’t been writing. No, my next book, Zorsam and the God Who Devours, which I co-authored with Nick Hayden and Aaron Brosman, just won’t be published in time for the convention. It’s still a few months away. (More on that later).

On the bright side, I’m happy to announce that I’ve been invited to be on a panel! (G-Fest must’ve been the start of some good luck for me). Specifically, it’s the Christianity and Gaming panel put on by the Christian Gamers Guild. I’ve attended that panel most years I’ve gone to Gen-Con, so it was a surprise and an honor to be asked to be on it. I’m not sure what to expect. It’s only the third time I’ve ever been on a panel. I’m excited.

Other than that, I’m eager to meet all my Gen-Con friends in Authors Avenue again, and, of course, all of you wonderful readers!

See you in Indy!

Do Fans Always Know What’s Best?

Image courtesy of Lean Pathways.

In 2015, my friends Nick Hayden and Tim Deal produced an episode of their podcast, Derailed Trains of Thought, about who “owns” a story. This included the writer, the audience, and the publisher. That planted a kernel in my head that has recently bloomed. It has to do with whether the fans of something—particularly in the creative fields—know what’s best for what they like.

The most immediate example I can think of is taken from this video on Linkin Park (produced before the sad death of frontman Chester Bennington). The host mentions that the band, which has experimented with different sounds in all of their albums, was constantly being asked by their fans if they’d make something like their first album, “Hybrid Theory,” again. This prompted an angry response from Bennington, who more or less said that was a great album but that the band was working on new things now.

Honestly, I sympathized with Bennington. It can be annoying when you’re trying new things but your fanbase just wants you to keep making all the same stuff. If I had readers coming up to me, saying, “Why don’t you write more books like Pandora’s Box?” I’d be vexed. I decided a long time ago that I didn’t want to be a writer who got pigeonholed, as many have been. It’s why, believe it or not, many authors use pseudonyms if they write something outside their usual genre. The publisher thinks that readers won’t buy the book because it isn’t the same stuff they’re used to seeing from that author. Now, some authors are such huge names they can get away with it now (like, say, Stephen King), but they’re exceptions. It is something I’ve considered doing, though. I have some ideas so divergent, seeing my name on the cover might disinterest readers.

The problem is fans can like something so much they just want to keep getting more of the same. But no matter how much an artist tries to refine it, it gets stale. Instead of branching out and taking risks, they play it safe. That might bring them money, but it won’t help them grow as artists. Changing things up, though, could scare their fans away because it isn’t the same. People like familiarity and often oppose something new. Just talk to any Whovian (Doctor Who fan) whenever a new Doctor or Companion is introduced. Many won’t like them at first, if at all.

Am I saying artists shouldn’t listen to their fans? No, not at all. There are times when an artist could stray so far off the beaten path he produces something that ceases to resemble what he created that made his fans like him in the first place. Or it’s just plain bad. Believe me, I’ve often said that I could write a better script than most people in Hollywood when lamenting the dumb decisions made in films and TV shows I like.

The other problem, though, is the creator may hear what fans want and try to give it to them, but they end up not liking it. Now, this could be because the creators misunderstood what the fans wanted (i.e. the demand that DC/Warner Bros. make a Superman movie where he “fights” a villain, which resulted in the oft-criticized Man of Steel), but more often, I think, fans realize that what they wanted wasn’t what was best.

In the end (hey, an unintentional Linkin Park reference!), it boils down to trust. Fans need to trust creators to know what they’re doing and that the creators are taking their thoughts/ideas into consideration. Creators need to trust their storytelling instincts and abilities and not be people pleasers. It’s impossible to make everyone happy. Even the best-reviewed films have detractors. Even literary classics have readers who don’t like them. That’s why my mantra has always been, “Story is king.” Whatever is the right thing to do for the story, whether that’s what the fans or creator want, is what’s best.

Do you think fans or creators know what’s best for stories? Why? What are some good and bad examples of both?

Jodie Whittaker, Doctor Who, and Double Standards

It’s been nearly two weeks since Jodie Whittaker was announced as the 13th Doctor on Doctor Who (one of my favorite shows), and the Internet has been on fire ever since.

I added my voice to this fire by speaking out against this casting and declaring that I was done watching the show. This led to arguments online and offline full of ad hominems aimed at me. As far as I care, if someone has to resort to such tactics, they automatically lose the debate regardless of how good their points are. I was accused of sexism and misogyny and told I would scare away any and all potential dates by saying what I was saying (in other words, I’d never get a girlfriend).

I kept quiet after a day or two, but now I’ll lay out what I think are nuanced reasons for disliking the BBC’s decision. I won’t repeat what I said in a 2014 blog (which has now garnered me some derision). This isn’t as simple as, “The Doctor is a woman, therefore I hate it!”

Artwork by Zapekanka. (http://zapekanka.deviantart.com/)

Let me begin by asking my female readers this:

If you heard Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games was being transformed into a boy and recast with a male actor, would that upset you?

If you said yes, then you may understand why I don’t like the idea of female Doctor.

It’s perfectly plausible that it could happen. Given the Capital’s penchant for genetic manipulation, vanity, and cruelty, it’s quite reasonable they could force a sex change operation on Katniss. But neither Suzanne Collins (the original author) nor Lionsgate ever did that. It would’ve made things needlessly complicated and messy. If they wanted to tackle gender issues within that universe, they’d have been better off creating a new character.

I say this because that’s the sort of arguments I hear for making the Doctor a woman. Recent additions in the Who mythos—most notably his archenemy, the Master, regenerating into a woman—paved the way for this happening (despite the fact that if Gallifreyans could do this, their society would look vastly different, but I digress). Others say science fiction has always tackled the issues of the day, and issues of gender identity are certainly hot topics now. But as I said above, taking a main character who’s been established as being male (or female) and forcing a gender swap just to make a social commentary isn’t good storytelling. It just makes the character a means to an end and doesn’t do the character or the audience any favors.

What saddens me is I’m pretty sure that if a female character was changed to a male in a similar fashion, there would be huge backlash and it would be considered legitimate. However, most people who criticize the decision to make the Doctor a woman are met with nothing but trolling and accusations. That, True Believers, could be extrapolated to be a double standard.

Would I object to a rebooted Doctor Who with a new continuity and new characters that included a female Doctor? No. That’s worked for other franchises like Battlestar Galactica with a female Starbuck. How about a spin-off with a Doctor-esque Time Lady? That’d be cool. Heck, 5th Doctor actor Peter Davison even suggested that a few years ago while also saying the Doctor shouldn’t be a woman. (His opinion hasn’t changed, and he’s been criticized for it).

Another argument in favor of this decision is it’ll give little girls a Doctor for a role model. While I’ve argued that representation is overrated and people can relate to a well-written character regardless of demographics, the fact remains that people still gravitate toward characters who look like them. But what about the little boys who are about to see their hero morph into a woman? Wouldn’t that be a shock? Might they ask awkward questions of their parents? It’ll already be difficult adjusting to a new Doctor; this’ll only make it harder. They might even stop watching.

Admittedly, this is all pure theory. I have no way of knowing what will happen. Regardless, as much as it pains me, I don’t plan to watch the series beyond the Christmas special. I find this decision to be a desperate gimmick motivated by political correctness aimed to please a vocal group of fans who don’t speak for the whole fanbase.

Do you agree or disagree with me? Why? What do you think of this decision? (Please keep your comments civil).

Drafted for a Panel and Other G-Fest XXIV Stories

You get two blogs this week since I missed last Thursday!

I went to G-Fest for the first time a few weeks ago in Rosemont, Illinois. I was accompanied by my Kaijuvision Radio co-host Brian Scherschel. It’s a convention dedicated to Godzilla, kaiju, and tokusatsu. I’ve heard about it for years but never attended. There are a lot of great stories I could tell about the show, most of which you can read about on the Kaijuvision Radio Twitter feed and in Brian’s latest blog on the podcast’s website, but there are a few writing-related ones I wanted to share with you.

I attended a pair of kaiju writing seminars the Saturday of the con. The first was a session for writers to share their ideas and get feedback. Since I’ve been kicking around ideas for a sequel to Destroyer (mostly because people kept feeding me ideas that I’ve churned in my head), I thought I’d talk about it in this session. However, I realized I was the only one there who’d never been published (except for the moderator), so I decided I would let the other attendees take priority and offered feedback. If there was time, then I would share. There were some great stories and concepts presented, such as a first-person tale told from a kaiju’s perspective, but the one I found most interesting was a story treatment for a fanfilm that included a potentially brilliant meta-commentary on the Godzilla franchise. I told the presenter that it reminded me of Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. That was one of several pieces of advice that brought several people to me afterward wanting to add me on Facebook. I gave them my bookmark/business card that directed them to my website and other professional social medias.

(So, if you’re one of those people: Hello and welcome!)

Later in the day, I arrived early for a writing advice panel. I overheard the moderator say he wanted to add one more panelist (they brought on a new one thinking one panelist wouldn’t make it, but he did and they decided to add one more). I jokingly said I was a published writer with some kaiju credentials. “Oh?” he said. I flashed him the Amazon page for Destroyer and mentioned my kaiju short story in The Worlds of Nathan Marchand, among others, and he replied, “Get behind the table!”

Yes, True Believers, I got myself “drafted” onto the panel! It was only the second time in my life I’ve been on one.

Once more, the advice I offered impressed attendees and panelists so much, they came to me afterward for more advice and contact info. The moderator even said he would keep my name in mind when planning the same panel for next year’s G-Fest.

I know I sound like I’m bragging, but to be honest, I was surprised by all of this. Weird, right? The shameless self-promotor is surprised when people actually like him. Maybe it’s because I’ve yet to make it big or because I hang out with brilliant writers like Nick Hayden (I haven’t name-dropped him in a while, haven’t I? 😛 ). I suppose I take those as signs that I’m not as talented as I want to think I am. But success isn’t always a marker of ability. Plenty of gifted people (including Mr. Hayden) haven’t become huge successes and many untalented people are big stars. And just because someone is better than me doesn’t mean my talent is worthless. It’s hard to live among giants, though.

I guess what I’m saying is I haven’t been “discovered” yet.

Did you attend G-Fest this year? What did you think of it? Are do you deal with feelings of inadequacy as an artist?

Worshipping Work

Overworking turns you into Vishnu? Who knew? (That rhymed!)

While I don’t often get political here on my website, I’ve made it no secret that I’m a conservative. However, my loyalties are to ideas and not to, say, Republicans or President Trump. I want to say that upfront since some people simply assume when I say I’m a conservative that it automatically makes me either of the latter.

I bring this up because there’s been something about conservatives that kinda bugs me, but I’m not sure any of them realize what they’re saying. Conservatives are always railing against entitlement programs, insisting that they do nothing but encourage laziness. While I would say there are those who genuinely do need the help (though I’d prefer that help come from people and not the government), I mostly agree with conservatives on this. However, I’ve often heard callers on the local conservative radio show tell the host—almost like they were bragging—about all the many, many hours they put into their jobs/businesses, often with little or no sleep. They always seemed like the kind of people I talked about in a previous blog.

As often happens, to countermand one extreme, people succumb to the opposite extreme. In this case, from laziness to overworking. In fact, some conservatives almost seem to worship work. It’s as if those copious hours being productive are the noblest of sacrifices offered to some sort of ethereal god. What they don’t mention, though, is what those sacrifices probably included: their health, their family, and perhaps even their sanity. They live their lives making money and chasing prosperity.

Yet what they don’t realize is it makes them vulnerable to the sins of greed and pride. They accumulate wealth to provide for themselves and perhaps a family, but what good is riches if they have no time to enjoy it? What good is providing for a family they rarely, if ever, see? They won’t be a person to them, but a bank. Meanwhile, the wealth they piled up becomes a means by which they can brag about themselves. They’re better than the “lazy” people on welfare because they earned what they have. It makes them feel superior, perhaps even pompous.

I’m not saying hard work, money, or prosperity are evil things. Far from it. But in the end, wealth is only a resource humans can use to make a difference in the world around them. What’s important, what has long-lasting and eternal significance, is what we do for each other. Life is about investing in people, not things. Money, possessions, businesses—they’re all fleeting.

Do not wear yourself out to get rich;
    do not trust your own cleverness.
Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone,
    for they will surely sprout wings
    and fly off to the sky like an eagle.
(Proverbs 23:4-5)

What we do for people, though, will outlive us. Using our money to donate to charity that help inner-city kids or feed starving people; buying thoughtful gifts for those we love; employing our neighbors at our businesses. All of these give us chances to show love and teach lessons.

Besides that, God didn’t design human beings to work constantly. Some argue that the Sabbath—a weekly day of rest—isn’t relevant anymore, but I disagree. We all need to stop working and let ourselves recharge. If we don’t, we won’t have as much, if anything, to offer others. Plus, it forces us to trust God more. Instead of working to provide for ourselves, a Sabbath requires us to trust God to provide for anything we might be able to get for ourselves if we worked. As Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).

Balance is key. Put in your 40 hours a week, but try to avoid overtime. Why? So you have the margin to invest in the lives of your loved ones. Work eight hours, play for eight hours, and sleep for eight hours. That comes to a 24-hour day. Equilibrium.

What do you think? Do some people “worship” work? Do you? What can be done to countermand this? Should it?