Sunday, April 7, 2019

WHAT IT IS week ending 4.7.2019

April is here, which means it's really, honest to god, officially springtime.  Which also means, up here in Maine, that we are still getting snow.  Luckily, I'm in the central part of the state where a snowstorm now means big, fluffy flakes all day long that only amounts to a couple of inches of accumulation.  Down east, where I grew up, they got substantially more.  But, with the warming temps, it won't stay for long.
Ah, well, onward and forward, up up and away, let's get to the heart of the matter . . . the week that was.




VISUAL MEDIA --

Bloodline:
The slow fuse lit in the first season, threatening to destroy the Rayburn family, continues to burn, inching closer to entrapping John in the tapestry of lies that continue to spread, as the ghost of their brother, Danny, hangs over all their heads.  I have thoroughly enjoyed this season, even if, at times, it feels formulaic--which isn't to say that it is lazily formulaic. 



With John's decision to run for sheriff, it put him and his family into the spotlight, and his opponent, incumbent sheriff Aguirre, wants to dig a little more deeply into Danny's death.  This means going back to re-question John and his family, resulting in more lies shared with authorities, lies that begin to unravel as Marco, one of John's closest friends in the sheriff's department and his sister's former fiance, becomes suspicious, thanks to his long, close relationship with the family.



The formulaic aspect comes in when the Rayburns, and others, are confronted with their lies, or, more specifically, with questions from either the police or their mother or John's wife, who know something doesn't add up or suspect something and call them on it.  At that point, it seems as if there's nothing for them to do but to admit to the deceit, and many times John or his brother Kevin or their sister Meg will preface a response with something to the effect of:  "I've been holding this in for a long time," or "I can't live like this anymore."  It feels like they will confess, but then they confess to something different--as examples, John tells his mother that he knew of Danny's son well before they brought it to her and Kevin tells Marco, the sheriff's deputy, that he didn't come clean about the burnt-out boat because he recognized it as one his cocaine dealer had docked at his marina.



You quickly come to realize that when confronted with suspicion by someone in a position of authority--even Kevin, the drug-addled alcoholic who has been frantic about Danny's death and always seemed the one who would crack under the pressure--the Rayburns will play as if they are going to confess and then swerve to offer something just as juicy and, legitimately, plausible, in order to deflect that suspicion.



Which, again, isn't to say that it isn't done well.  All the swerves are quite plausible, coming from character and from their backstories, and they never feel forced (though the ease with which they sometimes offer up "second options" can sometimes feel inauthentic, but not enough to pull you out of the show).  It's just, once you know the pattern, it does sap a bit of the dramatic tension from events.  But, maybe that's due to the way we watch these shows now, one episode after another after another, with no time in between to mull over what happened and contemplate the consequences.  It is possible that the old pattern, from network days, of watching an episode a week, with regular breaks during production resulting in weeks without a new episode, might have hidden this pattern, at least a little while longer than an episode or two.



Ultimately, though, the big takeaway, for me, from watching season 2 of Bloodline is to try and have multiple narrative threads for characters, whether those threads are just family backstory or a drug problem that remains in the background or something, because these are the things the writers of the show utilized for these swerves.  I suppose it's the same as stating one should create complex characters with full lives for your fiction, because, ultimately, that is what this is.  The writers seeded the show with these glimpses into the personal lives of the characters, including the messed up family dynamic and the drug issues for Kevin, and once those were established, they were able to pull on these skeins to not only push the narrative forward but ratchet up the tension in the process.  It's certainly made for an entertaining series, thus far.


WRITTEN MATERIAL --



Hemingway & Women:
I finished up this fascinating book this week, and I cannot recommend it highly enough, especially for fans of Hemingway.  It shines a new light onto his body of work and also tackles the issue of how his work has been perceived--and, by extension, all other literature to this point--in light of the reality that criticism, like every other endeavor on this planet, has overwhelmingly fallen under the purview of men.  When the perspective for analysis only comes from one portion of the multi-faceted gender die (to utilize a D&D metaphor that hopefully does not mangle my point), the resultant discussion is too narrow.  But allowing for other perspectives affords us an opportunity to reassess his, and others', work and find something new and exciting within that oeuvre.



I also burned through a number of comic collections this week--catching up with Southern Bastards and closing in on being up to date with Black Science.  These are both engaging narratives, deftly told, though I have to give the edge to "Bastards" by Aaron & Latour.  Though over the top, it continues to entertain and has me wondering how things will end up.  Just when you think you know where the two Jasons are heading, you find out you don't. 



Black Science is also pretty great, though I must admit that, after Remender & Scalera introduced the other-dimensional McKays, I mentally tapped out, a bit.  And because of the introduction of these doppelgangers, I did not realize that the original Grant McKay, who appeared to die early on, had actually returned.  Because they all look similar and they all have the same name, and because he was "definitely dead," I figured it was one of the other-dimensional Grants going after the children, because when we were introduced to the second Grant, he was on a mission to save the first-dimension children and take them to care for, because his children had died during his experiments with dimensional travel.  Maybe it was me not reading carefully enough, but this isn't the first time in the series that Remender's writing mildly obscured the reality of the situation (and, in re-reading that earlier section with a better understanding, I can state that Remender wasn't attempting to obfuscate in that writer's way of offering mystery, but he was just unable to read his dialogue from the point of view of someone unaware of the fuller narrative, which is a problem).  So, I'm still enjoying it, but I won't be adding it to my permanent collection.  I can recommend it, if you enjoy some fun, thoughtful science fiction with lovely illustrations, but you might want to decide for yourself if it's something you need to own.


INSPIRATION(s) --



Warren Ellis (again):
Ellis is a busy man with multiple irons in the fire in the mediums of television, prose, and comics, and probably others beside.  But he has, for a couple of decades now, tried to keep an online presence, in order to remind people that he's still there, on the Thames Delta, working, even if months may go by with nothing on the shelves.  His most recent iteration of this is Warren Ellis LTD, and last week he shared his commencement speech from 2017 for the University of Essex at Southend.  You can read the whole thing here; it's not very long.  But, for me, a couple of quotes jumped out, which I wanted to share with you here:

...this big guy comes up to me, with wet eyes, and told me about the story I'd written that saved his life one night when he'd been down so long that he didn't see a better day ahead.  Whatever was in that story, it gave him something to think about, a goal to stay alive for ... I tell [that story] because life is unpredictable and you never know what's going to happen to let in the light. 

Making mistakes happens when you're trying something new.  It's how you know you're bending the envelope.  Making mistakes is how you learn, and sometimes a mistake gives you something valuable ... Don't worry about making mistakes.  You'll learn something, and that will be added to the commonwealth of our knowledge, and we all take one step forward.


MUSIC TO WRITE BY --

Michael Giacchino's music for the new Star Trek:
I love this new iterations of Trek, or, at least, I loved that first new film from J.J. Abrams.  So, as often happens, I needed the soundtrack by Giacchino.  It's wonderful.  All the songs seem based on the same theme, but it's a great theme that opening piece.  It evokes wonder and excitement and anticipation, and it's great to write to.  What more could I ask for?




ON WRITING --

Made it through chapter 9 this week, and I did a little clean up with the opening bits of the novel.

One thing that I feel is a deficit in my writing is my descriptive passages.  I find it challenging to flesh out the scenes and to get down what I see in a manner that does not feel overly simplified.  I suppose, being a devotee of Hemingway's work, I should just worry about keeping it simple, which is where I often fall during revisions, so that's a plus.  But, this also carries over to my descriptions of characters.  Though I feel like I've reached a point where I'm able to competently describe a character in a sleek, concise manner, I often find it difficult to figure out where to insert these descriptions.  This was one of the issues I "cleaned up" this past week.  While reading one night (because even if it's in your subconscious, if you're writing regularly then your brain is always mulling over the issues you have with your manuscript), I suddenly realize where to slip in one of my protagonist's descriptions.  I sent myself an email with my realization and, at the end of the week, inserted this, as well as the second description I'd been toiling over, which extended naturally from this initial description.

Next week, I should finally dip below 100,000 words left in the first draft, which will be a big milestone.  That will afford me the chance to take a short respite, when the family and I head to NYC with friends, during April's school break.  Can't wait for that.  But, until then, it's back to the writing and revising.

-chris


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