Like a streak of light, he arrives just in time

Amazing_Spider-Man_Vol_1_185With Marvel’s announcement in February that a joint venture with Sony would allow Spider-Man to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe, comic nerds rejoiced. The decision was apparently prompted by Marvel’s desire to incorporate Spider-Man into the upcoming Captain America: Civil War, presumably based on the comics crossover event in which Web-head played a pivotal role. Kevin Feige promises that this will be a “different” Peter Parker than we’ve seen so far, and will interact with the rest of the MCU as well as mainline his own movies. And they won’t be foisting yet ANOTHER origin story on us. So far so good, yeah?

Then we learn that this “different” Spider-Man will be a teenager and star in one movie for each year of high school. Chasing the Harry Potter demographic, are we?

First world comic nerd problems, to be sure, but one of my pet peeves is Marvel’s weird insistence that Spider-Man is only relatable as a gangly, bumbling high school geek. Set aside for the moment that the last two cinematic reboots of Spider-Man chose this same tack. (With the added burden of believing a late-20s dude is still in public school, but whatever. Casting a real teen hardly qualifies as innovation.)

Peter Parker graduated high school in 1965. That was issue 28 of Amazing Spider-Man. Heck, he graduated from college in 1978, in issue 185. Almost 800 issues of ASM are now in print. Never mind the well over a thousand other issues of Spider-Man titles. Even if you add in the two hundred or so issues about alt-universe Peter Parker before Ultimate Spider-Man kicked the bucket, the overwhelming majority of classic Spider-Man stories do not take place in adolescence. Kraven’s Last Hunt? The Death of Jean DeWolff? The recent Superior Spider-Man digression? According to Marvel, those aren’t Spider-Man at his most cool and relatable.

So, here we go again. Peter flunks geometry because the Scorpion is on the loose. Bullies steal Peter’s lunch money because he can’t fight back. Peter gets his ass kicked by the Rhino because he’s distraught over someone else asking his crush to the prom.  Hey, these Spider-Man movies keep tanking, in part, because we’re tired of the same old thing. Why eschew the origin story but keep him as a teen? And if Marvel wants to give us a high school flick, but also keep things fresh, why not use Miles Morales? Or even Kamala Kahn?

I’m not saying young Peter Parker ain’t fun. But let’s not pretend we haven’t seen it on screen before. And let’s not pretend Spider-Man can’t be an adult, or married or acne-free because that would render him unrelatable. Thousands of comic books from the past fifty years disprove that theory.

Point Sur Light Station

One of the best things about writing fiction is that research is often required. This does not always mean burrowing through the library stacks or sequestering yourself in a basement filled with musty tomes. Counterintuitive, I know. But sometimes it requires getting out into the world and experiencing some of the most beautiful places to be found. Case in point: a few weeks back I hopped in the car and headed down the coast to the Point Sur Lighthouse, part of a state historic park in California’s Central Coast.

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A little backstory. I discovered this place while driving near Monterey and wondered WTF was up with that volcanic rock just off the shore with a little settlement on top of it. Turns out it houses one of the key lighthouse stations that keeps ships from wrecking in the fog and darkness of the Central Coast. Oh yeah, and it’s a beautiful spot. But you wouldn’t know it from the foreboding sign along the highway, as shown.

Of course a Keep Out sign for a crazy place like that means a protagonist somewhere must inevitably flaunt those rules. Voila, a major location for PCH Roadkill.

Day tours last for three hours, and are well worth the trek. They include a thorough exploration of the lighthouse itself and the grounds where operators and their families lived in previous decades. Here some snaps from the top of the lighthouse:

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The diamond-shaped glass pieces are prism lights, similar to those used to light basements below sidewalks in large cities during earlier times.

I heartily recommend the tour to anyone driving the Pacific Coast Highway between Monterey and San Luis Obispo. If further incentive is needed, how about a view of the lovely Central Coast from the widow’s walk, looking Northeast toward Carmel:

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SFWC FTW

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OK, that’s a good sign.

Now that’s more like it.

Had a great time this past weekend at the San Francisco Writers Conference. 2015 marks my first appearance at said event, and in retrospect I have to wonder why. The sessions were overall useful, the staff friendly and helpful without exception and the hotel was top-notch. Best of all: Queen Calafia, goddess of California, lent a watchful eye to the proceedings from her perch in the Room of the Dons. Yes, the very same Calafia that made an appearance in my previous work, In Cahoots (as referenced in a previous post.) Even better, she was in position during the Agent Speed Dating session on Saturday. Bless the Goddess!

Right, the pitching. Without a doubt the best part of the conference was a pair of editorial consultations followed by several expressions of interest from said agents. The year is off to a rip roaring start. I’ll be busy shipping out words into the void and telling them not to come home without a request to send more.

This was one intense conference. I had the good fortune to meet up with Cath Schaff-Stump and Debbie Goelz, both of whom also had great success with pitches. (Cath has posted her own exceptional account of the goings-on at her own website.)  We scurried around town between sessions and helped each other refine our presentations. I can’t imagine attending one of these things without such stalwart support.

I’ll be posting more thoughts on this weekend soon. For now, let’s say it was well worth the time and effort and greenbacks to attend. And I’ll likely return next year.

 

PCH Playlist

Like many writers, I often turn to music to get me through a draft. Every project requires its own inspiration. Since I’ve found it fun to share playlists with other writers, here’s one for my most recent work, PCH Roadkill. It’s a California tale of sun, surf, aliens and shady dot-com startups. Needless to say, this one was a bit more esoteric than simply burning through a film soundtrack or looping ambient nature sounds. Enjoy.

DJ Shadow – Six Days (Soulwax Remix)
Modeselektor – Vote or Die
Mr. Bungle – The Air-Conditioned Nightmare
Tommy McCook & The Skatalites / Silver Dollar
Man or Astroman? – Bermuda Triangle Shorts
Mass Effect OST – Liara’s World
The Mermen – Scalp Salad
Mike Ladd – Housewives At Play
The Ventures – Moon Child
Aphex Twin – Shiny Metal Rods
Lene Lovich – What Will I Do Without You?
Descendents – Silly Girl
Mr. Bungle- Desert Search for Techno Allah
Modeselektor – Die Clubnummer
Dead Kennedys – Winnebago Warrior
Jack’s Mannequin – Miss Delaney
The Ventures – Slaughter On Tenth Avenue
Final Fantasy XI OST – Faded Memories – Promyvion
Guns Of Navarone – The Skatalites
Mass Effect OST – The Secret Labs [extended]
Man or Astroman? – Madness in the Streets 10
The Mermen – Brahms Symphony 3, Movement 3
Psykosonik – Secret LifeDJ Shadow – Six Days (Soulwax Remix)
Modeselektor – Vote or Die
Mr. Bungle – The Air-Conditioned Nightmare
Tommy McCook & The Skatalites / Silver Dollar
Man or Astroman? – Bermuda Triangle Shorts
Mass Effect OST – Liara’s World
The Mermen – Scalp Salad
Mike Ladd – Housewives At Play
The Ventures – Moon Child
Aphex Twin – Shiny Metal Rods
Lene Lovich – What Will I Do Without You?
Descendents – Silly Girl
Mr. Bungle- Desert Search for Techno Allah
Modeselektor – Die Clubnummer
Dead Kennedys – Winnebago Warrior
Jack’s Mannequin – Miss Delaney
The Ventures – Slaughter On Tenth Avenue
Final Fantasy XI OST – Faded Memories – Promyvion
Guns Of Navarone – The Skatalites
Mass Effect OST – The Secret Labs [extended]
Man or Astroman? – Madness in the Streets 10
The Mermen – Brahms Symphony 3, Movement 3
Psykosonik – Secret Life

Beware the ides of February

Hey, remember me? Yeah, I’m still around. Though you wouldn’t know from this blog. Happily, I have not been making updates because I’ve been busy at work on other projects. I finished a rough draft of my latest novel, polished up my last one (last time, honest) and completed about a half dozen short stories. Not bad after the post-Taos slump of late 2014. This new year shows promise.

Beginning with the San Francisco Writers Conference a week from now! I’m all signed up and looking forward to meeting up with several other writer pals at the fancy-schmancy Mark Hopkins International. I’m even signed up for the Agent Speed Dating Session on Saturday. This will be my first face to face encounter with the fabled literary agent. Wish me luck.

Interestingly, 2015 is shaping up to be the Year of the West Coast. I’ll be hanging out at a writers’ retreat in Portland this spring, then heading to Spokane for Sasquan (aka the 73rd Worldcon) during the summer. Too bad the Nebula Awards Weekend moves this year from San Jose to Chicago.

So, yeah. Lots going on. Just not here, so much.

ICONography

WP_20141101_10_49_41_ProI’m back from the wilds of Eastern Iowa following a smashing time at ICON and its associated writing workshop, Paradise Icon 3.  This was my second year at the workshop, which is run by the inimitable Cath Schaff-Stump. (Incidentally, Cath posted a 5-year “where are they now” restrospective for our Viable Paradise class on her website. Go ahead and read it. I’ll wait.)

Last year was a tough act to follow, but I can now declare– from the safety of my 70-degree homeland– this year was even better. Great writers, awesome stories, insightful critiques, annd I’m out of adjectives. The guest lectures/Q&A by Jim Hines, Elizabeth Bear and Scott Lynch  proved entertaining and energizing. (Best advice of the weekend, courtesy of Mr. Hines: Trying to make it perfect will keep you from making it good. “It” referring to a work in progress, of course, but doesn’t that apply in so many other cases?)

Hats off (mostly knit sockhats, I’m thinking) to Cath for another stellar job on Paradise Icon 3.  Now to buckle down and bang out that next rough draft, which I am disappointed to report hasn’t written itself in my absence. I guess winter’s good for something after all.

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Taos Toolbox 2014

That's me in the back, the Sasquatch looming over the unsuspecting vacationers.

That’s me in the back, the Sasquatch looming over the unsuspecting vacationers.

Last week I drove from Taos back to California. I arrived home Sunday evening, and had to work bright and early on Monday morning. Needless to say it was a loooong week. But! I made it to the next weekend, slept on and off for a majority of it, and now I’m back to normal. For some value of normal that works for me, anyway.

So how was it, you ask? Even if you don’t, I’ll tell you. In a word, several times over: incredible. Inspirational. Fun. Challenging. Exciting. Draining.

What a great bunch of people. Walter and Nancy were gracious, if exacting, hosts. Our group consisted of four men and nine women, a reversal of many previous classes. Also unique was the large percentage of humorous fiction submitted and written at the retreat.  With a default setting of Grim to Dark in genre fiction these days, this was a refreshing change of pace.

Time well spent, without a doubt. I achieved a decent sweet spot; my fiction was well received, but greatly benefited from feedback. I’ll be unpacking what I’ve learned for some time to come. If you have any genre writing aspirations, I can’t recommend it enough.

The only universal truth in writing is that there are no universal truths. Walter and Nancy don’t offer platitudes and plug-in formulas. They point out strengths, hone in on weaknesses and expect improvement before you leave. It’s fun and demanding all at once.

Sleep deprivation. Altitude sickness. Wildlife invasions. Trapped under a dome for two weeks with some of the brightest folks you’ll ever meet. Planning, writing, revising and then revising some more. You will experience the Quickening. You won’t recognize the writer who returns from the mountaintop, but he or she will remember you as an ancestor. You cannot help but improve. The bear gods demand it of you.

The Road to Taos

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Last night I returned home from the brain-melting, life-changing experience that is Taos Toolbox. Now that I have returned to Home Sweet Sea Level, my oxygen levels are returning to normal and I’m just about caught up on normal sleep. So it’s finally time to start weighing in on the experience.

I chose to drive to the workshop. 2,500 miles round trip, 36 hours on the road. I questioned my sanity a few times before loading up the car, but it turned out to be a great choice. Didn’t hurt that my current work in progress revolves around a road trip, so hey, research.

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A good chunk of the route fell on Interstate 40, which closely follows the historic Route 66 across the Western U.S. Route 66 kitsch abounded: flags, road signs, abandoned motels of the neon-and-stucco variety. And then there was the 66 Roadkill Diner in Seligman, AZ. I pity the traveler who hit a buffalo on their way through town.

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Speaking of Seligman, the heightened stakes arrived when I found myself thirty miles out from said town, experiencing a precipitous plunge in the fuel gauge while winding through an isolated mountain range. So sue me, I’m a city driver. We don’t have 100-plus-mile stretches of road without basic services. I coasted into town on nails chewed to nubs, and an estimated zero miles left on the tank over the last few miles.  Lesson learned: a half gallon remains when the mileage zeroes out. Hooray for hybrids!

Needless to say I refueled at every town thereafter. Onward.

 

The Southwest seems to love dinosaur statues, scattered at random along roadways. Can’t say I disapprove.

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I made it in plenty of time, richer for the experience. Little did I know what adventures awaited at 10,000 feet. Some thoughts on the workshop itself once I figure them out.

 

Help out Hadley Rille

Here’s a good cause for the crowdfunding inclined out there. Hadley Rille Books is an excellent small press looking to expand. They’re very open to working with new writers and their roster includes several VP alumni.  They’ve opened an Indiegogo campaign designed to support their continued growth. Aside from publishing great books they’re also offering up some great prizes, including manuscript critiques and a spot in a seaside writing retreat. The HRB authors have taken up the cause and offered quite a lot of time and effort in support. Why not show some love to those out in the trenches?

Twitter Pitchin’

Yesterday I participated in the #SFFpit Twitter Pitching Contest hosted by Dan Koboldt. Happened to be quite a bit of fun, though I wouldn’t want to do it every day. I started to feel like a day trader obsessively checking stock prices. And I did feel a bit sheepish about bombing my feed with pitches all day. But I did net a couple of nibbles from agents, and a couple more from small presses. Mission accomplished! Cheers to Mr. Koboldt, as well as the participating agents and editors. And, of course, the other awesome pitchees who retweeted with abandon.

Here are a few observations from my virgin foray into Twitter pitching (not a salacious euphemism, I swear):

1) My two most successful tweets were crafted by friends. A small group of writers banded together and traded pitches beforehand, and guess what? It helped. Believe in the power of other people to offer clarity in your own work. Someone who hasn’t been in the trenches with the manuscript sometimes has an easier time sussing out the big picture. Go figure.

2) Most responses seem to arrive in the early hours. Your mileage may vary. But it does make sense as the workday in New York ends halfway through the cycle.

3) Pitching in an elevator is one thing. Pitching in public is quite another. I remain impressed by the number of writer-types who put themselves out there under that hashtag all day. This being the internet, a few ne’er-do-wells stopped by just to pee in the pool, but the snark remained quite low.  Every aspect of writing requires an output of energy, often with little or no return on investment. To those that stuck with it, I salute you.

4) If you incorporate the word “supernatural” into your pitch, you will receive spam from some wag selling t-shirts for the Supernatural TV show.

5) If you incorporate the word “entrepreneur” into your pitch, you will be auto-targeted by multiple internet startup spambots that aggregate tech news articles. Curse you, False Favorites!