Sunday, March 10, 2019

WHAT IT IS week ending 3.9.2019

Back for more ---  week 5 of my return to writing regularly, here at Warrior27.  This is the week that was . . . March 3 - March 9 of the year 2019.
For those new here, this is a look at what I read, watched, listened to, ingested, and osmosized over the past week, in the form of entertainment, with a look at how I might hope to apply lessons or tricks gleaned from these resources into my own writing.  And if that convoluted sentence didn't put you off, let's sally forth to the heart of the matter.


SPOILER ALERT...........

The Americans, final season:
These last 10 episodes have been a masterclass in writing.  The writers create drama from the relationships and the personalities of the characters, using their temperaments and loyalties to guide the choices made by the principal players, which affords the storytelling to evolve in, what feels to the audience, a natural manner.  It is exceptional and riveting.

But, they also don't lose sight of the characterizations of the protagonists within the framework of the plot.  As an example, in episode 8, "The Summit," Philip reveals to Elizabeth that he has been spying on her for the past couple months.  There is a cadre of military generals, back in Russia, who want to bring Gorbachev down and make sure the nuclear summit with the American government is a failure.  Philip knows that Elizabeth has been working, unknowingly, for this cadre, at the bidding of the Center  He wants her to look at this situation with an open mind, not just take the word of their handler and do the job like some automaton.  Elizabeth . . . is furious. 

By the end of the episode, she has come to realize that maybe Philip is right.  She is having second thoughts about what is being asked of her, in the specific instance of a Russian operative they want assassinated, and discovers that her reports were to be doctored so that she would have full deniability.  Elizabeth doesn't believe this operative is someone who has betrayed Russia, and the idea of her reports being changed without her consent doesn't sit well with her.  She goes home and asks Philip to get a message to the operative who came here to have him spy on her.  She now believes Philip was correct in his assessment of the situation, but the fact he didn't tell her he was relaying information about her work still fills her with rage; she is in no way ready to forgive him.

This is great writing!  So often, when something like this happens -- two characters have divergent opinions on something meaningful and one of them is proven right -- the other just falls in line and accepts it without much consideration.  But here, Elizabeth acts like a real person.  She has accepted what Philip told her is correct, but she is still pissed off he betrayed her.  And that is so much more interesting.


My Half Century:
I finished Anna Akhmatova's "My Half Century," which is a selection of prose from the Russian poet, much of it in the form of letters or diary entries, but there is also a section dedicated to some of Akhmatova's thoughts and analysis of Pushkin, particularly his final story, "The Tale of the Golden Cockerel."  Admittedly, I've never read Pushkin before, but after reading this book, and being introduced to the fact that, alongside her poetry, Akhmatova was regarded as an authority on Pushkin, with major works devoted to the analysis of his poetry, I am more than ready to seek out his work.

Despite little more than a recognition of names and a personal lack of knowledge surrounding Russian history, both political and creative, I found this book to be fascinating.  The early sections utilizing Akhmatova's diary entries included many entries that evoked strong images and insightful opinions, thanks to her facility with the written language.  There were a number of quotes I pulled out to share here on the site, and there are a few more I plan on sharing in the coming days.

QUOTES part one
QUOTES part two
QUOTES part three

I cannot recommend this highly enough, if you are someone who loves language and, in particular, loves poetry.  Seek out the work of Anna Akhmatova (I read a book of her poetry last year, which led to this book).  And if you're also a lover of history and, in particular, early 20th-century Russian history, then this book is for you.

Black Science vol. 1, by Rick Remender & Matteo Scalera:
I read the first volume of this science fiction comic series, from Image Comics, and it was pretty great.  An obsessed scientist, Grant McKay, has discovered how to successfully traverse parallel dimensions in the Eververse, but the machinery is immediately damaged, continuing to regularly jump those within the proper vicinity to other dimensions but without the ability to navigate where it takes them.  Through the course of these first six issues, the group, which includes a bodyguard, assistants, the antagonistic head of the project, and McKay's two children, one a pre-teen and one in high school, jump from one harrowing experience to another, with a few of their numbers meeting a fatal end.

I was impressed with how quickly the story moved along, and how ruthless Remender was about his characters.  He is more than willing to kill a character to throw up more dramatic roadblocks to the protagonists's desire to get home.  It makes for good drama and engages a reader, spurring me to ask, how the hell is he going to get them out of this fix?

The art from Scalera is a wonderful complement to the story Remender is telling.  Similar in style to Sean Murphy, Scalera's ever so slightly loose linework overlaying a photorealistic approach provides an appealing base that is infused with a franticness that mirrors the narrative.  Also on display are Scalera's design chops, asked to create strange alien creatures for some of the parallel dimensions, while "dressing" others in distinctly "futuristic" costuming, when the denizens of a dimension closely resemble the humanity we are all familiar with.  And all of these creatures and settings are brought to wonderful, chromatic life by colorist, Dean White.  His color palette for this series is sharply distinct and makes the images pop, when needed, or become somber and disturbing when the story calls for it.  Overall, this is a fun series, and I can't wait to read more.

Southern Bastards, vol. 1 by Jason Aaron & Jason Latour:
On the other end of the scale, we have Southern Bastards from the two Jasons.  A story set in a small town in Craw County, Alabama, revolving around a former high school football star, Earl Tubb, who was son of the local sheriff and has returned, after too many years, to settle things, since his father died.  The football team is now coached by Coach Boss, who seems to have a stranglehold on the town, like some Mafioso in a 70s crime film.  Tubb comes into conflict with a couple of Coach Boss's minions, after an old friend he runs into winds up dead.  Violence and dredged up memories ensue.

This is a raw, mean comic, with art from Jason Latour that fits perfectly.  With Aaron's dialogue and Latour's jagged lines, the audience is offered a window on the harsh reality of this small southern town.  This first collection only includes the initial four issues, and they breeze along at a quick pace, but it whets the appetite and sets the stage for the hard knocks, and inevitable bloodbath, that is sure to come.  I'm looking forward to reading the next collections.


Scott Morse -- comic book creator, Pixar animator, overall nice guy who is hugely talented, Morse is one of the people on my personal Mt. Rushmore of comic creators.  The man's a genius.  I just wish he had more time to focus on comics, but I suppose a day job at Pixar isn't a bad trade-off for the man.

Anyway.  One of the biggest lessons you can take away from Morse's work is his ability to craft stories about serious subjects -- suicide, depression, the loss of a child -- and still make it entertaining without it being too heavy.  A lot of it comes down to the man's cartooning style.  His work is very stylized, almost cute, which can be disarming for a reader when he throws the heavy stuff at them.  But it works, and it works extremely well.  It's this juxtaposition of cartoony, cutesy characters with adult themes and scenarios that makes his work resonate, long after you finish the book.

How to apply this to my writing:  infuse my drama with humor; infuse the funny bits with some pathos; make sure to craft complex characters who aren't merely 'good' or 'evil'; and try not to write at a single tonal level -- the joy and the verisimilitude are found in the idiosyncrasies of humankind.

For more of my thoughts on Morse, check these earlier posts out:

--Comic Artists I Love...
--Review: The Barefoot Serpent
--October Comics: Crime & Terror
--October Comics: Frankenstein
--an early interview with Morse


Took another page from Warren Ellis's book (or, more accurately, from one of his recent Orbital Operations newsletters).  He listed the podcasts he currently subscribes to, which includes a number of ambient and experimental music podcasts.  These are always great for writing, so I added a couple to my own collection of podcasts, and this week I listened to AMBIENT ATOMIC ORBITALS, while writing, and it was great.  Definitely check it out, if you're in the mood for some mood music.


I wrote a piece about details in my writing, why I try to add a good number of details in the beginning of my stories and how, aside from adding verisimilitude to my narratives, they can often benefit me as I approach the climax of a story.  Check it out here.

Also kept to my daily writing and equaled my previous best streak of consecutive days of writing -- 34.  It helps that I've started revising the first draft of novel#2.  In the first few days I took the opening 2996 words and whittled it down to 2017.  As I stated on twitter & FB, there sure was a lot of chaff in them there words.  But this is a good thing.  As I seek to have my first novel published (still waiting to hear back from one agent who requested the full manuscript), it's necessary that I offer books that run to under 100,000 words, which is a general rule of thumb to help increase first-time authors' chances.  The first draft for this novel came in just shy of 140,000.  So, I have a bit of work to do.  In my experience, my second drafts always come in at roughly 75% of my initial drafts, so this shouldn't be a problem.  But it's nice to see that my tradition of piling on in the first draft continues -- much of this comes from trying to figure out what the novel is, as I'm writing, with much of what eventually becomes subtext or backstory, and unnecessary for the readers to know, being on the page in the opening draft.

So, the work continues, and, so far, it's been fun.  Hoping the next 137,000 words are just as fun.

Until next week, keep pressing forward, make time to do something you like, and let those important to you know that you love them. 


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