Pre-Order TOO CLOSE TO KILL on Kindle

Banner_PreorderThe second installment in the Madeline McCallister series will be released on January 2nd, 2018. The e-book version is an Amazon Kindle exclusive and is currently available for pre-order!

Click here to get your copy!

As an added bonus, the first book in the series is only $2.99 on Kindle through the end of January or paperback copies can be found through Lulu for only $6.99.

Get on board the Maddie hype train, people!

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Bullet Truths

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Occasionally I will find a piece I wrote and squirreled away for some reason. This is a short-fiction piece I put together back in 2011. I figured I might share it just for the fun of it all.

Enjoy.

-J.


One of them was going to die.

I sat in the back of the smoke-filled room, my arms folded in front of me and my eyes locked on the two men standing across from each other, only a long polished oak dinner table separating them. I watched as they stood hurling obscenities and slander at each other like greedy politicians nearing election day. Spittle flew from their lips as they cursed and yelled and pointed their fingers all in a manner most heated. They both knew the gravity of the situation. They both understood exactly on what type of edge they were precariously perched. In the moment where a situation becomes a matter of life and death, a man’s instincts for survival take over and everything that society has imprinted on him; be it morals or values or a sense of honor, they all fly out the window like a canary let loose from his cage.

“You’re a lying sack of crap!” the man on the left yelled. “You don’t have the spine to admit when you screwed up and I won’t stand for it.”

He was breathing heavily. Exhausted under the weight of his own argument. I watched as his chest heaved and his left eye began to twitch. The man was mere seconds away from a violent physical altercation and yet I sat, calm and steady as a rock, knowing that my place was not to interfere.

“I know better than to lie,” his opponent replied. “I know things went to hell in a hand-basket today, but lying about what happened will only make things worse. If I did what you said I did, and I’m not saying I did, because I didn’t, but if I did, why would I shoot myself in the foot yet again by lying about it when everyone knows the truth will come out sooner or later? Why? It doesn’t make sense!”

My gaze drifted to the man seated at the head of the table. His hands folded in front of him and resting gently upon his lap. His eyes were hidden under the wide brim of his fedora. He showed no emotion. No indicator of his mood showed on his face. The man was a blank slate.

“Charlie,” the man said, his voice low, a hair-touch above a whisper. “I want you to tell me your story. Tell me what happened. In your own words.”

“Of course boss,” the man on the right replied, adjusting his collar.

“And Matthew,” the old man continued, “I want you to keep your trap shut while Charlie is talking. Am I understood?”

“Yes sir,” the man to my left replied, chilled to the bone by the boss’ icy words.

“Then begin,” he said, shifting ever so slightly in his chair.

I watched as Matthew took his seat, the fiery hatred in his eyes not daring to recede as Charlie cleared his throat and began his tale.

“It all started this morning when me and Matt went with Joey Q to pick up the weekly payment from Tommy Johnson, that old jerk who runs the antique shop. Every week the guy’s supposed to kick up ten percent of his take to Joey to pay off a debt for something I don’t quite remember.”

“Does it matter?” Matthew interjected.

“I’m trying to tell the damn story, alright?”

“You’ll get your turn, Matthew,” the old man said with a nod. “Continue.”

“Thanks Boss. Anyhow, Joey Q brings me and Matt along for backup because the old codger’s been busting his balls about the payments. Says that business is slow so ten percent is taking too much out of his bottom line or some other such line of crap. So he wants to bring us with him to show the old jerk that he’s got the muscle to take the money if he doesn’t want to hand it over willingly.

“So we get to the store and Joey says to the old man ‘Do you have my money this week?’ To which the guy says ‘I’ve paid my debt and then some, you’re not getting anything else’ and so Joey busts him one across the lip to show him who’s boss. Well the old guy reaches under the counter and Mr. Shortfuse sitting over there assumes he’s going for a gun and pulls a piece of his own. Before I know what the hell is going on he’s popping six shots off into the old shop keep.”

I kept my eyes on Matthew, trying to gauge his reaction to Charlie’s story but he doesn’t flinch. He knows he’ll get his chance to tell his side of the story. He doesn’t want to give up anything before he’s had his say. He’s smart and he’s collected. He knows his place.

“Turns out Johnson was going for his stash box to get Joey his cash, but Matthew got jumpy and plugged him. Of course, the gunshots bring the kid who works the back room running out and he’s got himself a shotgun. Matthew emptied his gun into the old guy, so he’s standing there like a squirrel on a railroad crossing while this kid racks off a shotgun blast into Joey Q’s face. Of course then I pull my piece and shoot the kid twice in the chest and we high-tail it out of there before the police get there.”

As Charlie took his seat I took a glance at the boss. He didn’t offer any reaction. He was always good at that. Keeping himself in check and letting nobody get close. He’d been a crime boss for close to forty years. He came to power back when gangsters were still gangsters. The kind who could walk up to a parked car in broad daylight and empty a clip into the guy inside and walk away without fear of police action. He was the kind of gangster that people wrote books about. The kind that stood covered in the shroud of American myth and nobody knew how to get to. His name was Vito Castiglio and he was the last of his kind.

I had seen Vito in many meetings just like this one. I had watched him sit there, unmoving and unyielding, as he boiled any situation down to its core and resolved the issue with the steely resolve that came with decades of finely tuned illegal business savvy. Today would be no different. While these two idiots yelled at each other, convinced that one’s story would influence the boss to their favor, neither of them understood like I did that the outcome had been decided before either of them had stepped into the room.

“Derrick,” he told me, “I’m a patient man. More patient than most men in my business. But people will always test my patience. The fact that even with my reputation people still try to pull the wool over my eyes forces me to treat every word that comes from the mouth of anybody as inherently false. There are three sides to every story, the way one guy sees it, the way the other sees it, and the truth. I make it a point that I find the truth. Every single time. Let someone get away with a lie once and they know they can do it again. The bold grow bolder when left unimpeded. You’ve got to show them that you are above them. So far above them that they’re almost beyond notice at all. That’s how you succeed in this business.”

That stuck with me. It’d been years since he gave me that speech and it still rattled in my brain like a song stuck on repeat. The way I saw it, someone like Vito Castiglio could make his own truth by sheer force, but he wouldn’t let himself work that way. I guess he could have just as easily been the greatest police detective the world had ever seen if the money was right. Vito Castiglio took enormous pride in cutting through the mystery and solving the puzzle. It was just another way to feed his ego.

It was hard to watch as Matthew told his version of the day’s events. “Look, we showed up to the store like Charlie said. Except Charlie decides he wants to play ‘Mr. Tough Guy’ and grabs the kid working there and says he’ll kill him if the old guy behind the register doesn’t pony up the dough. Turns out that old man Johnson isn’t as useless as he thought and he pulls out a shotgun from under the register and aims it square at Joe’s head. Charlie freaks and plugs away at the shopkeep, who as he’s falling down pulls the trigger, scattering Joe’s brain across the ceiling tiles. The kid rushes at me like a damn banshee and bites my damn arm so I pop him once in the head with my piece. I even got the bite marks to prove it.”

Matthew rolled up his sleeve to reveal a bandage wrapped around his upper forearm. Showing it off to Vito and proving nothing in the process. The bandage covered whatever the wound really was and for all I knew it could have been a cheap trick covering nothing at all. I wouldn’t put it past the guy. I hadn’t known

Matthew long but he was a con artist to rule all con artists and my gut reaction said that bandage was a fake out.

“Are you both finished?” Vito asked looking up from the table, his pale blue eyes glinting in the dull glow of the lamp hanging overhead. “Because my time is valuable and I have places to be.”

“I’ve said everything I have to say,” Matthew half-mumbled.

“Same goes for me,” Charlie echoed.

“Good,” the old man said.

Neither of them had time to react as the old man fired two bullets into both of them, his hand gripping a smoking gun underneath the table. The two men slumped over in their chairs and fell to the floor, groaning as the blood seeped from the holes in their gut.

“I know everything. You should have just left town, you might have lived longer,” Vito said, stepping around the table and aiming his gun at Charlie’s head. “You both had a beef with Joey and you wanted him dead. So you killed him and tried to use the shop keeper as a patsy.”

Another shot rang out as Vito put a bullet in Charlie’s head.

“You thought he would be alone, but the boy showed up and you had to take care of him. You not only cost me the money old man Johnson was kicking up every week but you betrayed one of your own to do it. And worse than that, you thought you could lie to me about it.”

Another shot and another bullet. This time into Matthew’s head.

“When you lie you dig your own grave.”

The old man handed me his gun and I wiped it clean with my handkerchief as he walked out the door letting it slam closed behind him. I shoved the gun into my waistband and walked over to where Charlie lay bleeding out onto the floor. I shook my head in frustration. I told them to be discreet. I told them never to panic. If I had known how this would have turned out I never would have asked them to kill Joey Q. I would have done it myself. The old man trusted me. In all the years I’d known him I’d been the only one to keep him fooled. All that talk and all that rhetoric meant nothing when it came to family.

My name is Derrick Castiglio and I am my father’s son.

Creation and Ownership – The Value of DIY Publication

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It has been said that nobody reads anymore. Of course, each successive generation since the time of Plato and Aristotle has been branded lazy and unintelligent by the one that preceded it. But if you look at the reality of the situation, perhaps things are not as dire as they seem. According to a study reported by The Atlantic, “[s]ome 88 percent of Americans younger than 30 said they read a book in the past year compared with 79 percent of those older than 30” and “high school and college-aged people reported reading more than survey respondents in their late twenties.” This is encouraging, isn’t it? The idea that literacy is not dying and that in truth casual readership is on the rise? It certainly seems so.

One of the biggest questions I get asked when I’m promoting a book or talking about my experiences as a writer in general is why I self-publish. Have I tried to submit to a major publisher? If it isn’t good enough for a major publisher, why would anyone want to read it? All manner of questions that, while frustrating, are valid.

As an author, I have submitted far more pieces for publication than have seen the light of day. The world of publishing is, honestly, a relentless thunderstorm of noise and confusion. Something that I feel has value may not fit the vision of a particular publisher. A publication house has to think about their audience and their finances and the truth is even if reading as a common pass-time did drop to an all-time low,  there would be no shortage of hungry, eager writers looking to see their work published.

As of late, I have adopted a DIY attitude toward publication because as the cultural landscape changes and we see an increase in younger people reading, the importance of big publishers does seem diminished. Big publishers care about their bottom line. That means telling and selling stories that will find the broadest audience so that no money is lost. But, and I know I’m getting older and I can’t claim to be part of the “younger generation” much anymore, young readers want to read stories that are unconventional. Stories that big publishers might not want to take a risk on.

That’s why I wrote Madeline McCallister. That’s why I wrote a series about a bi-sexual female protagonist whose main ally is a black British agent who rejected his affluent upbringing to forge his own identity. That may not seem bold or groundbreaking, but it is a turnoff for some publishers. And the fact that it is even part of the conversation is why I put the work out into the world on my own, unfiltered by any mandate other than my own.

In the past, writers had to trade their vision and their control of their work in exchange for an audience. That was the power publication houses dealt in. Now, that isn’t precisely the case any longer.

For example, I have a few friends who work in the comic book industry. That world is so much bigger than Marvel and DC in terms of where stories are being told and what type of books are being produced. I look at what people like Isaiah Broussard and Jessi Jordan are doing and wonder why that same determined, boots-on-the-ground approach cannot work in the realm of literature the way that it does in comics. I understand that they are two different monsters, but in the age of social media and digital content, perhaps the differences aren’t as vast as they may once have seemed. Unfettered creative control that leads to genuine, interesting media in turn will find an audience. At least in theory.

So, in the interest of being clear, I want to assure people that I stand by the quality of my work. In fact, I would say that the DIY approach that births the projects published under my own banner allows me to take full responsibility for what I produce. That allows me to engage with my readers in a way some other writers are simply not able to. Maybe it is my affinity for the old punk rock mindset, but I take pride in my process. Does that mean I do not have designs on seeing my work distributed by a major publisher? No. I’m not against major publishers. I just want to combat the preconceived notion that self-publication should be dismissed as amateur hour.

As I gear up to begin promotional work on Too Close To Kill, part of that mission is also to educate people on the wonderful work being produced by other skilled writers like myself who are consistently producing excellent work that finds itself overlooked in the marketplace. Small and independent press are where some of the strongest and freshest literature in the modern world is being produced.

At this point, I simply want to raise enough money to convince Jeff Goldblum to record himself saying “literature finds a way.”

That would make it all worth it, don’t you think?

Too Close To Kill – Coming Soon

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Hey y’all,

I haven’t been the best at constantly updating this blog to keep everyone appraised of what’s going on but the truth is I’ve spent the better part of this year working on the sequel to One Fate for Failure and while I had hoped to get it prepped and ready for a Christmas release, it looks like I’ve fallen short of that goalpost.

But that’s okay.

Too Close To Kill is coming. It won’t be home for the holidays, but it will be around to help you ring in the new year. I really can’t wait for you to read it. When I set out to write the next chapter of the series, I was legitimately a little bit worried that I wouldn’t have the right story to tell. That turned out to be the opposite of my problem. I had the right story, the world just didn’t want me to write it. I found myself having to adapt my story and find new avenues to move the narrative forward because of our shifting cultural and political landscape.

But I am proud to announce that despite all the setback the e-book version of Too Close to Kill will be available Tuesday January 2nd, 2018 with a print edition to follow shortly after. If you haven’t read the original One Fate For Failure, now would be a good time, because book number two in the Madeline McCallister series is coming and you aren’t going to want to miss it.

Wondering what book two is all about? Here’s a quick synopsis;

“Madeline McCallister left the CIA to start a new life with the person she loves but D.E.A.T.H. has not forgotten about her and they do not care about her happy little life.

When terror follows her into her new world, Maddie is drawn back into a life she thought she had managed to leave behind.

In a globetrotting race against the clock, Madeline must untangle the mystery of D.E.A.T.H. before their vicious acts of terror plunge the world into total chaos.”

Keep checking back here and follow my Twitter feed for more updates.

Cheers,

-J.

 

The Author’s Edict – 5/1/2017

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Greetings to everyone who regularly or irregularly reads this blog. As we launch into the month of May, an exciting time for me, I wanted to take the time to discuss the projects I’m working on and provide a short update on what to expect in the coming weeks.

With regard to Counted Out, the ongoing saga of Michael Hill and Marshall Ellis’ redemption in the world of professional wrestling has been a welcome change of pace. Writing it weekly has been a challenge and the format has given me avenues to write in a way that is noticeably different from my typical process.

The story will be taking a hiatus this month as I finish work on a project that I am infinitely proud of, the sequel to 2015’s One Fate for Failure.

That novel, Too Close to Kill is in the final stages of development. That means proofing, editing, revising, formatting, and designing the final print editions. I want my focus to be entirely on ensuring the success of that project, which means my other work will have to take a slight downshift in pacing. I will still be working on Counted Out, I simply will not be publishing the chapters until June rolls around. This will allow for more careful deliberation in the development of the story, hopefully resulting in a more enjoyable end product.

Expect notes and updates about Too Close to Kill to populate the blog until its eventual release this summer. You can grab a copy of One Fate For Failure now to prepare for the follow-up. The next book is bigger, bolder, and better in every regard. I can’t wait to share it.

Counted Out – Chapter Six

This is a new experiment for me. I want to write a weekly serialized fiction project. Every Friday I plan on posting a chapter of the story. I do not know how long the story will run. As I said, this is an experiment. I hope some people find it interesting.

Here is a brief synopsis of the tale about to unfold.

“Michael Hill is a showman without a show. Once the promoter of one of the most popular live television programs on the air, he is now trying to reclaim his former glory in the aftermath of a terrible on-air tragedy. Marshall Ellis was his biggest star, and the one probably most affected by the downfall of Hill’s empire. Together the two have a plan to rebuild. They want to start something new. They want to change the business forever. They are not yet Counted Out.”

TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five

10


Chapter VI

Michael Hill found himself looking at the assemblage of talent gathered in the conference room and had to push down the urge to vomit. The looks he was getting from Trent Travers and Jack Van Jones were enough to drive a murderer to confess. He had not known if Travers would have accepted his call. Of all the former guys who had worked for him, Travers had probably done the best for himself. The podcast he ran got major attention even outside of the usual professional wrestling circles. Michael Hill hoped that whatever new crossover audience his former midcard staple had been able to generate would transfer over to his new venture. He did not tell this to Trenton Travers because Travers had plenty of reasons to hate him already and he did not need to add fuel to a fire that he was hoping would eventually burn out.

Marshall sat by himself in the corner of the room, back to the wall like an old-west lawman hoping to avoid being ambushed. The others gave him a friendly nod as they entered the room but nobody approached him. They didn’t know how to talk to him. Should they act like nothing had changed? Should they tiptoe around the glass shards of the past, careful not to touch an exposed nerve? They obviously felt it was better to not speak to him at all.

The only person who had even said hello was Nicki and that had been brief and professional. She mirrored him, taking a seat at the back of the room in the opposite corner. Two loners isolating themselves and trying not to make waves.

“Alright,” Michael said standing at the front of the room and adjusting his tie. “Before our contact from the network arrives I would like to thank everyone for coming to this meeting. I know that some of you have ample reason to balk at ever being in the same room with me ever again. That’s fair. I acknowledge that. I want you all to know that I get it. In a lot of ways I failed the people in this room. My downfall was a result of my arrogance. And if it only affected me, it would have been fair. But everyone here ended up as collateral damage.

“Everybody in this room was in the building that last night. Everybody here saw what happened. You all noticed that Marshall is here too. If there is anybody on the planet who deserves to hate me to my core, it is Marshall Ellis. I am going to be completely honest here; if Marshall had not agreed to come, I probably would have called this whole thing off. What we are going to try to build is special. Unlike anything that has ever been done with our brand of entertainment. It doesn’t work without him. And because he is going to be such a cornerstone of this new endeavor I want to take the time to, first, thank him for being here, and, second, encourage the rest of you to remember that regardless of what may have happened between all of us, we share a story. Now comes the part where we write some new chapters together.”

Trenton Travers stood up and raised a hand in front of himself, like a cop directing traffic. “That’s great Mike,” he said. “I love the sentiment and I am actually happy to see so much of the old crew together. I think most of us here have at least tried to remain close. What I am worried about at this moment is opening a can of worms. Lord knows that Marshall and I haven’t always been the best of friends but I sure as hell respect him. And the last thing I want to see is him crucified by the media anymore than he already has been. I appreciate your dedication to your people, Mike, I really do. But you’ve gotta ask if you’re helping or hurting.”

“I appreciate your concern Trent,” Michael said. “But I have a handle on this.”

“You said the same thing two years ago,” Trent replied.

“Do you really want to go there?” Michael asked.

“It’s pertinent,” Trent said. “You wrote checks with your mouth that you didn’t have the capital to cash. Most of the people in this room walked away just fine. But your boy back there? He was the one who took the hits. Judging from the look of him, I don’t know if he can take those hits again.”

“He won’t have to,” Michael protested.

“He’s a damned lightning rod, Mike.”

“I don’t need to be coddled, Trent,” Marshall said leaping from his seat so fast it toppled the chair. “I appreciate your concern but let’s get one thing straight here; I’m here because I want to be. If I could have faded away and let the IWPA survive without me, I would have done it. But things didn’t work out that way. And after what happened, it never would have been the same anyway.”

“No disrespect Marshall but I think you’re just so eager to reclaim your glory days that you aren’t thinking about how dirty this could get.”

“This isn’t about glory, Trent,” Marshall said. “Not for me at least. Why are you here, though?”

“Gentlemen!” Michael shouted, attempting to wrest control back from the two titans dominating the room. “I know emotions are running high. But nobody is here against their will. And whatever reasons anyone has for coming are their own. What matters is that we are here. And if anyone wants out, nobody has signed anything yet and you can walk away right now. If you have reservations or concerns we can address them, but the only person who can make the decision as to whether you will stay in this room is yourself.”

“That is technically true,” a voice said from the doorway. The room collectively turned to see Ms. Green standing with an attache case in one hand and a latte in the other. “However the decisions as to whether you remain a part of this project are also made by me. For those of you who I have not had the pleasure of meeting, My name is Alexandra Green and I represent the network side of this project. I have supreme confidence in Mr. Hill to establish a compelling and engaging product. What I do not have confidence in is the ability of the personalities in this room to coexist peacefully.”

“Ms. Green is the one who ultimately gave this whole project the green light, no pun intended, and I trust her instincts. While you may be able to manipulate me because I give a damn about each and every one of you personally,” Michael explained. “She will be less inclined to be suckered in by your bullshit.”

“The people in this room are people who Michael or I believe need to be the foundation of our creative project moving forward,” Green said. “Marshall is the lynchpin, obviously. He’s the hook. Everyone in this room has a different part to play. Marshall can’t anchor the show himself. He needs a foil. He needs an antagonist, someone to fight over the sole spot at the apex of the mountain.”

“That’s going to be you Ace,” Michael said.

Suddenly the room buzzed with an air of electricity as Trenton Travers once again locked eyes with Marshall Ellis. Had things escalated moments earlier they may have started trading legitimate fists, and here they were being told that they would be working a main event program together. The energy in the room had unexpectedly changed in dramatic fashion.

“I hate to be that guy,” Trent said. “But we need to talk money. If I’m going to be carrying the top of your card it means I give it one hundred percent. That means I have to cut back on my personal projects. You’re going to have to be able to cover the revenue loss and then some.”

“We have money,” Michael said.

“You will be well compensated,” Ms. Green continued. “The network understands the value of your names. That is why you are all in this room right now.”

“You’re going to anchor an entire show around three people?” Jack chimed in.

“I’m here too, by the way,” Nicki interjected.

“Right,” Jack said. “But we’re not working a program together. The ladies’ roster is a whole different thing. You know you were the only one worth a damn back in the day, don’t get it twisted. What I mean is you’re gonna elevate whoever you work with. People will buy it. Me? If we’re talking the value of a name, mine doesn’t have much to the people who watched IWPA outside of tag stuff. So if I’m one of these ‘cornerstones’ you are so big on, I don’t think you’ve thought this through.”

“There’s supposed to be one more person here,” Michael said. “I’m a little disappointed that he isn’t. But Jack I have to say that two years is a long time in our business. So much changes in twenty-four months. You’ve got indy cred now that you didn’t the last time you were on TV. I read what people say on the internet. I shouldn’t, but I do. And people want you to get your shot. That’s why we’re going to push you. We have to start thinking of what we do in terms of ‘seasons.’ That’s how we’re going to structure this whole thing. Year one, we do a slow build. Establish you as a contender. Make the fans want to see you succeed. We break their hearts when you get close but can’t seal the deal. We make that moment when you take your spot at the top mean something.”

“What if the people don’t buy into it,” Jack asked. “You can’t force things on these people. They will turn their backs on me outright if they don’t feel it.”

“We will make them feel it,” Ms. Green said. “You have the talent. You are going to carry the mid-card of this show until the time is right.”

“So who didn’t show up?” Trent asked. “And can you really trust them if they can’t make it to this meeting?”

“Sorry I’m late,” another voice called from the doorway.

“Thank you for coming Pete,” Michael said.

Pete “Painkiller” Patton tossed his gym bag at the front of the room and glided past Michael and Ms. Green to sit next to Jack Van Jones. Painkiller Pete had a reputation as one of the stiffest workers in the business. He was the elder statesman of the old IWPA locker room. A good handful of the wrestlers who had worked with him despised him. It was accepted common knowledge that Pete Patton was only ever looking out for Pete Patton and wouldn’t do anything in the ring that didn’t make him look good. If you were going over on Painkiller Pete, he wasn’t going to make it a fun experience. He also had been around the block long enough to garner the sort of clout that makes people overlook the fact that you’re an asshole. Doing business with Pete Patton was just something people had to do.

“It’s good to be back Mike,” Painkiller said. “Doing half-assed indy shit just doesn’t appeal to me. Big leagues or nothing, you know what I mean?”

“Yeah,” Jack said. “I don’t imagine you do a lot of repeat business with indy feds.”

“You know you’re right,” Pete replied. “I’m a once in a lifetime opportunity for most of those guys.”

“You are unique,” Travers said. “Nobody ever disputed that.”

“Alright guys,” Michael said. “Listen up. If you’re in this room it is because you are going to be carrying your respective divisions. While Marshall and Ace tear up the main event fighting over our brand new world heavyweight title, Jack and Pete will be carrying the mid-card and duking it out over the Television championship. It’s a new belt that we’re going to use to replace our old mid-card title. We’re going to tie it to the fact that we’re on a paid network and so it can only ever be defended on broadcast. You wanna see the TV champ, you gotta pony up the dough to watch the network.

“Nicki will be the rock we build our women’s division around. I’m putting out feelers right now for interested workers. If you know someone that I don’t, give me their number and I’ll run a try-out. When we go to production we are going to run a four week tournament for the world championship. When someone gets knocked out of contention they fill a loser’s bracket for the TV title. These stories are going to build off of each other. Nobody is going to want to miss a damn episode.”

Trent raised his hand like a schoolboy.

“Ace?”

“How long until we go to production?”

“Two months,” Ms. Green answered, cutting Michael off before he could reply.

Marshall and Michael locked eyes from across the room. Marshall offered a raised eyebrow which was repaid with a cursory nod.

“The locations for the first shows have already been booked,” Michael said. “When we get rolling we’re going to be playing very small venues. This is a risky venture and we want to save our production budget. We’re going to focus on the stories, not selling out arenas. The two months is so we can expand the roster, pick up some fresh blood and get you sad sons of bitches back into fighting shape.”

Painkiller Pete stood and clapped Michael on the shoulder.

“Some of us kept working, Mike,” he said. “You weren’t everybody’s only option.”

Pete walked out the door and it was as if the room itself exhaled. Marshall stood up and walked toward the front, eyes following him from the back of the room. He understood that whatever happened next would be a big risk for everyone but himself. He had the least to lose. The other wrestlers in the room had managed to salvage their reputations. Just being seen with him might be enough to ruin that. He appreciated that this many of the old guard didn’t simply hang up when Michael called.

“I want to thank you guys for not thinking this is crazy,” he said.

“It is crazy,” Trent said.

“Okay,” Marshall shrugged. “It’s crazy. But it is a good kind of crazy. Maybe we’ll do something people will never forget. Maybe we make history. Maybe we flame out and get mocked until the day we die. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t like that the longest entry on my Wikipedia page is the ‘controversy’ section.

“We can’t change the past. God knows all of us wish we could. But I want to make things perfectly clear; if I was put in the same situation all over again, I don’t think I could do anything differently. I did what I did because someone had to. I would like to think if that nutjob pulled a gun on me instead of on James, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But I hesitated and he pulled the trigger and James is gone.”

Ms. Green turned her head to look out the window, as if looking away might shield her from having to hear Marshall speak about something that he had not spoken about publicly since the night in question.

“I didn’t want anyone else to get hurt,” Marshall continued. “So I did what I had to. And you don’t get over something like that. I play a tough guy on TV but I’m not a cop. I was never in the army. I was never trained to mentally cope with the responsibility of using deadly force. I just did what I had to in order to protect myself and everyone within the range of that lunatic’s gun.

“And because of what happened our world fell apart. The media wanted to blame Mike for that asshole’s decision to come into the arena with a loaded .45. They wanted to blame me for not taking a bullet. They wanted to blame the production for not cutting the feed. They needed someone to blame. I get that. I really do.”

Heads nodded in agreement. Michael put a hand on Marshall’s shoulder.

“Let’s give them something to really talk about.”

Media Analysis Monday – Rogue One and the Evolving Star Wars Cinematic Landscape

 

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It is an odd thing to examine the landscape we find ourselves in in 2017. If you can recall what things were like before December of 2012, fans of the Star Wars series could only dream that there would be further cinematic outings featuring that universe, and if that were to come to fruition it would only ever likely come once George Lucas kicked the bucket and found himself as a means to describe a similarly dead parrot. And yet here we are five years and two cinematic entries into the series later and the landscape has decidedly changed. As fans of the Star Wars universe, we have had to twist our way of thinking and align it with the reality that whether we want them or not, we will be seeing yearly entries into the cinematic canon. How long will it be before Disney tries their luck with more than one film in a calendar year? We can’t know for sure, but having seen success with their Marvel output, I would wager a guess that it can’t be too far away.

A more interesting question going forward is whether or not future installments will branch away from what we consider to be the central narrative of the series thus far, the chronology that began with The Phantom Menace and is still directly continuing with The Last Jedi later this year. Every film thus far has been a link in a chain. Is it possible to tell a story in this universe that does not have ties to the central stories of Episodes I-VIII+? When Rogue One was released in December, it was an experiment. A Star Wars film featuring no Jedi? That would be a stretch for a good many casual fans. Indeed a good amount of chatter on the web featured confused commenters wondering why there was another death star, unaware that this was meant to serve as a prequel to A New Hope.  Given the overall box office success of the film, earning a total $1,055,724,829 worldwide based off of a reported 200 million dollar budget, it is highly likely that the takeaway Disney got from the release of Rogue One is that so long as the words “Star” and “Wars” are somewhere in proximity to the title they can expect astronomical returns on their monetary investment.

The upcoming Han Solo film directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller featuring Alden Ehrenreich in the role originated by Harrison Ford will be another major test for Disney. They want to see if audiences will allow and support the recasting of central characters for spinoff projects. When people think of Han Solo they think of Harrison Ford. It is not a James Bond situation where the name conjures multiple actors to mind depending on the personal experience of the audience in relation to the series. Han Solo and Harrison Ford are inseparable at this point. It was made the third act of The Force Awakens resonate in the manner that it did, as any attempt to have a new actor carry on the performance would have undercut the emotional reaction the audience was expected to have regarding the end of his arc in the larger narrative. Having someone play the character at a point prior to the moment we first meet him in A New Hope is not as bitter a pill to swallow in the minds of most audience members. At least this is the hope of executives planning the next several years of spinoffs and sequels bearing the Star Wars brand.

Rogue One, upon first viewing can be viewed as a bit too tethered to the original trilogy. The script uses the established saga as a crutch on which to give the story means to amble forward. Under close scrutiny, large holes appear in the narrative construction and the depth of the characters can be called into question. However, that raises the question of whether or not the film needs to divest itself of its own legacy in order to be valid. Simply because nobody in the cast is named Skywalker or carries a lightsaber does not mean that it isn’t an integral part of the greater story being told in the main saga. It is retroactively thus, and that may feel like a bit of a cheat. However, the film crafts a story that directly ties to central moments of A New Hope. I cannot speak to how well the film plays on a structural, emotional, and objective level without a prior connection to A New Hope, as I have had that film etched into the back of my brain since I was five years old. Analytically speaking, only two moments require a connection on the part of the audience;

  1. Anything involving Darth Vader
  2. CGI Princess Leia

Aside from those instances, the film’s narrative stands on its own and establishes its own internal logic and narrative force. The conflict presented within Jyn Erso as a character may not be as rich as others in the central saga, though much of that can be attributed to the logistical reality of a standalone film versus a multi-part epic. Her struggle to reconcile her feelings toward her father and his desire to undermine the Imperial war machine with her sense of self-preservation drives the central theme of the film; personal investment in societal change. The script takes strides to contrast Jyn with characters who fall on a spectrum of ideals, specifically through Chirrut’s mysticism-driven ideals that insist that what happens is the will of the universe (see force) and Cassian Andor’s deeply personalized sense of purpose in rebellion.

There is enough thematic and narrative meat to allow Rogue One to stand on its own. Ultimately its ties to the greater Star Wars canon are simply embellishments for the sake of the initiated that do little to detract from the experience for casual observers. The film could take greater pains to force an investment in the characters on the part of the audience, but the end product is ultimately serviceable in every regard. There is little here that could be critiqued to a degree as to classify Rogue One as a poor film. While some may not enjoy the film enthusiastically, from an objective point of view the film functions well in every regard; composition, editing, effects, score, etc. They all work. Where the film deserves a critical eye is in regard to the script itself, which does seem to fail to develop our central characters fully. While some might argue that this is a trapping of an ensemble production, it is clear that the film was probably another full draft away from being where it needed to be in terms of character development. It is unclear how much of this is as a result of the much ballyhooed reshoots and editing bay shenanigans, but if we take things at face value there is still enough to find issue with.

Beyond The Last Jedi and the as-yet-untitled Han Solo film, we really do not know much about the future of the franchise. What direction will they go? In what ways will they course correct from Rogue One? Do they need to course correct at all? Everything at this juncture is speculation, and however things pan out, the first steps of this marathon have worked out well for Disney and Lucasfilm.