LauraMangold

I happened upon a series of tweets from someone whom I do not recall earlier this week that argued Logan was a poor film because Laura’s existence only served to provide Wolverine with an arc. I do not dispute the argument regarding Laura’s purpose. I do however refute the idea that it nullifies the effectiveness of the film as a whole. I have noticed as of late that there is a growing contingent of critics who believe that if a film does not tick every box in their personal criteria it cannot be labeled a success. This zero-sum approach to media criticism is ultimately detrimental because it creates an environment in which media of value is set up to fail and perpetuates a system in which creator purpose is devalued.

I do not argue against the idea of critiquing a particular piece of media’s shortcomings. That is the bedrock of critique. When a critic says that they feel a piece of writing or a particular film lacks development of certain characters or that the story would be better serviced by an uptick in diversity, those are constructive bits of criticism that can be defended and argued in meaningful ways. What is not helpful are critics who make a declarative statement that a piece of media loses the total of its value because it doesn’t hit a benchmark set by that critic when they sit down to examine that same piece of media.

This is closely tied to my feeling that creator intent is being largely devalued in the modern age. Media must be examined on the terms set by the piece itself, not those which critics draft of their own accord. Whatever rubric that critics utilize to gauge the effectiveness of media should always include the creator’s purpose. If we take the example of Logan then; that Laura exists as a means to engender an arc in Wolverine is perhaps a worthy critique. Perhaps infusing her with a greater sense of internal motivation would enhance the overall narrative. That is indeed a possibility. However, to argue that a secondary character being utilized as a means to push forward the narrative is cause to dismiss the whole of the work is utterly absurd. In this case, the film is titled Logan. All things in the film are generally constructed to give value to his journey. While the film is filled with a cadre of characters, Logan is not necessarily what I would consider an ensemble piece. Not in the same manner that the X-Men films or the Avengers franchise are, anyway. This is not the same as arguing that Black Widow is used largely to further the arc of Bruce Banner in Avengers: Age of Ultron, as part of a team they ostensibly have equal value to the narrative. The difference between the two comes with the intent of narrative delivery. This is something critics need to be mindful of when they approach any given piece of media, lest they risk devaluing their own analysis.

I certainly understand the desire to see problematic elements of media addressed. What I simply cannot understand is casual dismissal of the whole due to a single flaw in its construction. We as consumers of media need to be mindful that authorial intent and creator purpose are still worth examining when engaging with the analysis of media.

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literature

The education world is rife with conflict and disagreement; one need only look at the furor generated by the ideas of our new secretary of education if they need an affirmation of that idea. A debate that seems to rage within the halls of the institutions that I find myself frequenting is whether high school students on their way to a higher education should be required to read classic literature. Some advocates for moving away from literature argue that the relevance of such works is long gone and that it does little to prepare them for whatever challenges university life will bring them. Such arguments find no purchase with one such as I. To the contrary, I believe that lessening the focus on literature does a terrible disservice to young students.Studying literature at the high school level engenders growth in students by pushing the limits of comprehension that otherwise lie idle in complacency and providing cultural context that cannot be gleaned through other means.

The most practical virtue of the study of literature comes from the principle that resistance builds character. High school students will struggle with literature, if well taught. A high school senior will find some difficulty in unpacking the themes and deciphering the meaning of Shakespeare and Chaucer. College students studying in the English discipline struggle with such material. By introducing students to the concept of studying long-form literature at the high school level, educators build skills in much the manner that weight-lifters make gains; by pushing limits.

The central argument that seems to be presented against the teaching of literature is that a majority of students will not continue to study literature at the university level. The belief is that most will not take many English courses beyond the initial requirement of Composition and Rhetoric and therefore there is no impetus to focus on the established canon of literature that has been the backbone of English classrooms since what seems like time immemorial. District experts, at least where I have been an educator, are moving away from literature and focusing on attempting to teach the skill of analysis through excerpts, usually under a page in length. While it is possible to analyze an excerpt, and while there is nothing wrong with this practice on the whole, it also does not address skills that are lost be removing the study of established literature over a prolonged period of time. The time spent poring over the text is, in and of itself, a skill. Remembering the chronology of events, being able to map character relation, comprehension of the progression of the narrative, etc.; these are all skills that are left underdeveloped if replaced by short-form analysis.

If the only argument against the reading of literature were simply that a majority of students will not engage in in-depth study of English at the college level, that would be well and good. The skills necessary for the students who do in fact choose a liberal arts major could, in theory, be honed and perfected through practice at the college level. That flies in the face of the mission statement of high school educators to produce college ready graduates, but if we accept the idea that the study of long-form literature is the purview of upperclassmen in the back half of their undergraduate career, then allowances can be made.

However, that argument does nothing to address the fact that literature is a whetstone on which the sword of the mind can be sharpened. Did you understand that last sentence? It is a metaphor. You likely understood it because an English teacher drilled it into your head. Probably during high school. Page long excerpts can teach the concept of literary devices and, yes, one can analyze them. But it is unlikely, in my humble opinion, that any educator worth their salt would call a one-page excerpt challenging or rigorous to the degree that a developing mind requires. The prolonged study of literature is a study skill that builds academic endurance. Attempting to replicate that skill with truncated excerpts is the same as trying to attain the build of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson using one pound barbells. It just does not work.

Another element of studying established, classic literature over a substantial period of time that cannot be discounted is the concept of cultural relevance. Advocates for moving away from the study of literature say that the window of relevance for the established canon is passed and our focus going forward should largely be repetition of basic skills utilizing shorter, targeted texts. By doing this, we do a disservice to the students by robbing them of cultural touchstones. When you feed excerpts and short-form literature to high school students what you do is devalue the content of the writing. How can a student reasonably be expected to retain the information and the meaning behind the myriad excerpts they’ve been force-fed over thirty six instructional weeks? Contrast that to teaching four major works each year, wherein they are expected to make connections between them over the course of the instructional year; teaching in this way teaches that what we engage in has value beyond the idea of simply learning a simple skill. Show a student that literature is applicable and they will reap the rewards.

Perhaps I am just a bitter high school teacher, but the arguments for literature far outweigh the arguments against. Those seeking to replace it from the curriculum appear to be reactionary, recoiling in fear from the rising tide of low test scores and declining graduation rates. The solution is not to cut corners. The solution is to stand firm.

 

logan

**Major spoilers for Logan are contained within. Be forewarned**

As a teacher of literature, I often preach the importance of understanding genre conventions. In trying to teach the concept of analysis, I have always found it important to build a bedrock of understanding that lies in comprehending the expectations present when examining a particular type of writing. I talk about text features, patterns, structure, etc. There are some who do not agree with this approach; that it hamstrings the person trying to formulate effective analysis because if they can’t tick a box they can’t generate a thesis, and while I feel that in some ways this is a logical argument, it can also easily be countered by taking a look at a selection that so readily establishes itself as a deconstruction of a genre itself or a commentary on the tropes and expectations contained therein.

Case in point; James Mangold’s Logan. The film, directed by Mangold based off a story he generated with a script by Scott Frank, is a direct response to the superhero genre as it has been established over the past ten years.

The “superhero genre” is one that, for a good while at least, was ill-defined at best. Many of the tropes schemes associated with the genre by the middle of the 1990s have been discarded, phased out in response to what feels like a steady rise in “focus group” or “Four Quadrant” mainstream film-making. While superhero films have been around for decades, it was the wave of films in the immediate aftermath of Bryan Singer’s X-Men in 2000 that started to form the mold that would be firmly solidified by the success of the Marvel cinematic universe in the wake of Iron Man in 2008. As a result, the expectations of the genre have, by and large, been set by Marvel Studios and Disney over the last ten years. Audiences are conditioned to look for certain elements; films that break from that mold are viewed as outliers.

What Marvel has done over the last decade is decide what tropes from published comic books they wanted to translate over to the world of film and television. It was Marvel studios that reversed the idea brought upon the cinematic landscape by X-Men in 2000 that heroes could not or should not wear their traditional costumes. There is also much to be said about the formula that they apply to their character archetypes, the structure of their narratives (Marvel never met a macguffin it didn’t like) and the congruous “house style” of their framing and color palettes.

While this has happened for films produced by Marvel’s association with the “Mouse House,” films produced by other studios have largely eschewed those conventions, either seeking to establish their own, or simply seeking to subvert them and comment on them in such a way as to stand apart from the herd. Warner Brothers attempted to sell their DC cinematic universe as “filmmaker driven,” as a dig at Marvel Studio’s perceived desire to keep their universe homogeneous to the point that, some argue, it renders the overall product increasingly bland. It is hard to see any WB/DC films, especially those under the guided hand of Zack Snyder as anything other than a direct antithesis of genre conventions established by the cultural powerhouse of Marvel Studios.

Where films like Batman v. Superman, Suicide Squad, et al. fail in that regard however is as a commentary on those conventions. The WB/DC films offer a counter-point in tone but do little to make an argument regarding that selfsame tone. What purpose does the implied darkness serve in the grander scheme of the narrative? In what way does reshaping the core fundamentals of firmly established characters shape the stories that they tell? It would appear that there is no such purpose.

Contrast that with other films that seek to deconstruct the genre; namely last year’s surprise (to some people, anyway) hit Deadpool and this year’s dark-horse candidate for comic adaptation of the year, Logan. Whereas the WB/DC films sought to provide a counter-balance to the Marvel cinematic universe in terms of tone, Deadpool and Logan seek to provide a rebuttal in terms, not only of tone, but of intent. Deadpool was a reverent, sophomoric exercise in showing that homogeneous, same-samey cinematic adaptions of popular characters could only get you so far. Trying to fit the character of Deadpool into the mold established by films like Iron Man and Thor simply would not work. Instead, they focused on subverting the genre expectations established by the films that preceded it, and utilized the character’s fourth-wall breaking tendencies to offer commentary directly to the audience. The subversion of genre tropes was both text and sub-text within the context of the film itself.

That commentary and subversion continues with Logan. It is no coincidence that Logan begins with a false-start that turns out to actually be a teaser trailer for Deadpool 2; both of these films, in their very DNA, a similarity in intent. Though the two films could not be any different if they tried, they share a connection that cannot be disputed; both films wear their R rating like badge of honor(though the reasoning and utilization of the freedom it allows are also quite disparate in nature), both scale back the drama in ways that make the narrative less about the external conflict with an ill-defined villain and more about the internal conflict with themselves, and both films seek to show that tone disparate from established genre norms requires that the intent of utilizing it also be addressed from a narrative standpoint.

Logan is an R rated film. It earns the R rating not only through a veritable overload of graphic violence but through a cavalcade of cursing that would feel right at home in a film directed by Quentin Tarantino. Both of these points seek to reinforce that Logan is, itself, a commentary on the genre itself. Hugh Jackman has played the character of Wolverine for seventeen years. To put that in perspective, if Wolverine is Jackman’s baby, that baby is now old enough to purchase a ticket to Logan without a parent or guardian present. Fans have clamored for an R rated Wolverine film for almost as long as there has been an X-Men franchise. Following the release of X2, fans lamented the bloodless nature of Wolverine’s berserker rage as it was presented on camera. In that film however, it simply would not have been appropriate with regard to the tone being established. The violence in Logan is a commentary; from the very first scene it is established that Wolverine as a character is trying to move past violence. Just as the world has moved on, so too has he. The men trying to steal Logan’s limo initiate the violence with a cursory shotgun blast to his chest. Even after taking the hit, Logan attempts to talk his way out of the situation. Once the situation reaches an apex, only then do the claws come out. Every bit of violence that follows is deliberate and meaningful. It echoes the world that surrounds it. The world has fallen into decay. Logan, too, has fallen into decay. The veil of humanity and civilization and structure and order is now simply a specter, thus allowing the levels of violence and bloodshed shown on screen to be congruous with the story being told. The reason we, as an audience, didn’t need to see people getting claws shoved through their skulls in previous X-Men films is because there was still hope in the world where the narrative was transpiring. There, Logan was making an attempt to live within the norms of society; here, that restraint is gone, and so too is any censorship of his actions.

This same lack of censorship can be applied to the linguistic aspect of the script as well, specifically the casual nature with which the central characters drop f-bomb after f-bomb. The X-Men franchise has been toying around with this for several films now, with each film utilizing their one MPAA approved, non-sexual utterance of the word to varying degrees of comedic effect. Here, however, the word is not played for laughs, aside from perhaps the first time we hear Patrick Stewart’s Xavier use it because we feel it to be so far out of the natural confines of his character. But as we move deeper into the film and we as an audience come to understand the depths of sorrow and despair that have plagued both Logan and Charles since things all went sideways, the blue nature of the dialog begins to make organic sense, as it is a distillation of their emotional turmoil and serves as a means of non-violent catharsis. Again, this is something that would have been out of place in other entries in the franchise but is tied heavily to the film’s own thematic statements that when the credits roll you would be hard pressed to find an audience member who found the dialog to be incongruous with the story being told.

The single biggest challenge to the established expectations of the superhero genre however come simply in the form of the climax and the focus of the narrative. A majority of major comic book superhero adaptations feel the need to have an exaggerated climax, usually involving an under-developed villain and their desire to control/regain/destroy some type of macguffin. This usually ends with some sort of sky-portal or something falling from the sky. The sky is almost always involved. (Avengers had a sky portal, Avengers: Age of Ultron had a country falling out of the sky, Guardians of the Galaxy had a ship falling out of the sky, Thor: The Dark World had something falling out of the sky, a pattern does seem to develop) Logan eschews this in favor of focusing the narrative around Wolverine’s internal conflict; to what degree does he owe anything to Xavier, to Laura, who comes into his life at a time that could only bring complications, to Caliban, and ultimately to himself. It is ultimately fitting that Logan does battle with himself in the literal sense when he ends up fighting X-24; a younger, more virile version of himself that represents the unsuppressed violence that he had so desperately tried to control his entire life.

Ultimately, Logan is not a film that simply has Hugh Jackman violently stabbing people and dropping f-bombs for the sake of novelty; there is purpose and intent in the film’s construction. Logan serves to show that when you work within a genre, there are boxes that the audience is expecting you to tick, and if you don’t there had better be a reason for it, otherwise why would you be working with that genre to begin with? James Mangold took superhero DNA and infused it into a western, then used it as a way to hold a mirror up to the entirety of the superhero genre and show them a reflection of their own conflict. Not every film needs to do this. In fact, Logan’s success is largely dependent on a mold being present to break free from. What remains to be seen is what, if any, lessons upcoming films will take away from Wolverine’s last ride.

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.”


10

Chapter I.

“This is going to be different.”

The executives weren’t so sure. They had heard pitches like this before. They had seen trends rise and fall, come and go, like the ebb and flow of the tide. They had been burned many times in the past by trying to find competition for a fad rather than championing the next big thing. Nobody cares about the guy trying to do “the thing” better, they care about the guy who made “the thing” a thing in the first place.

“Mr. Hill,” one of the stoic-faced suits seated in the dimly lit conference room began, following an abrupt and not altogether polite clearing of his throat. “This network has taken chances before. God knows I have signed my name to a fair share of them. I don’t even personally have a problem when they fail. I count it as a learning experience. My accountants prefer to consider them as opportunities for creative writeoffs, but I don’t want to split hairs.

“The point is, when I see a venture like yours I don’t see a risk, I see a disaster. Especially in light of past events–”

“The past is the past,” Mr. Hill interrupted, standing and pushing the lavish, ergonomic office chair back in so doing. “We all know that the demise of my previous project was an unavoidable tragedy.”

“A debateable point.” This from the suit seated directly at two o’clock from Mr. Hill, a stone-faced, and stone-hearted woman with piercing emerald colored eyes whom he had only heard referred to as “Green.” Of the three suits in the room, she was the only one to put him on edge.

“Anything,” Hill replied, “ is a debateable point if one chooses to be bull-headed about it. And if we want to get into some sort of pontification on the plausibility of infinite universes, where any and all realities are possible, then yes, Ms. Green, perhaps there is some plane of existence where what happened that night is avoidable, but in this reality, in this here and now, what happened was nothing other than an unfortunate turn of events beyond the capability of anyone to prevent.”

“That sounds like the rhetoric of a man desperately trying to avoid responsibility for something,” Ms. Green said. “Because he knows that no company in their right mind would throw their money behind a venture spearheaded by a glorified carnival barker best known for one of the most nightmarish events ever captured on live broadcast.”

Hill rapped his knuckles on the desk; eyes darting from the woman to the man seated directly across from him. His previous objections had not been as vitriolic as those put forth by Ms. Green. If he could convince this man, it was highly likely that Green could be overruled.

“Do any of you spend much time on the internet?” Hill asked.

None of the executives offered anything in reply.

“You should,” Hill continued. “It’s like peeling back the pretense of America and staring directly into it’s slithering, unfiltered id. If you want to know how responsible I feel for what happened that night, perhaps you should look at how hard I have fought to have all video evidence of what happened scrubbed  from existence. Because I don’t want what happened glorified and I don’t want anyone, myself included, to profit from that tragedy. And yet there are corners of the internet where clips of what transpired that night, both digital copies of the broadcast or footage shot from the crowd get passed around behind encrypted firewalls. It honestly makes me sick.”

Silence from the executives, a pensive glance of intrigue from Ms. Green.

“And do you know what these people say?” Hill asked. “They ask questions like ‘Did Michael Hill orchestrate this?’ or ‘Why didn’t Michael Hill prevent this? Did he care more about ratings than safety?’ and they say that no matter what I do, until the day I die, what happened that night will always be my legacy; that when my time comes, my obituary will focus on nothing more than the thirty seconds of footage that brought an end to one of the most popular programs on broadcast television and ended the life of one of the brightest young entertainers the world has ever seen. They say that when I die, nothing else I have ever done will matter and that I am equivalent only to my greatest failure.”

He noticed some uncomfortable shifting from Ms. Green. The passion in his voice perhaps shaking loose some heretofore undiscovered empathy from somewhere within the granite cave of her consciousness.

“What happened that night is not what I want to be remembered for,” Hill continued. “I will do whatever is necessary to build myself a new legacy. I did not come here to beg you for an outlet. I came to give you the first shot, because as a growing cable network, the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of something that is sure to grab headlines for the next six months straight should sound like an irresistible siren’s song to the bunch of you. Whether you shake my hand today and say ‘We have a deal, Mr. Hill’ when I walk out of here or not, the project will move forward. It might not be on this network, but it will go forward.”

“While your quest to redeem your name is admirable,” the center suit replied. “When I look at what you are proposing I simply do not see it being a good fit for this network. And what you say is true, for the first six months our subscriber numbers would likely blow through the roof. But the logistics of what you are proposing, coupled with the lost revenue from those who would oppose our broadcasting anything with your name tied to it; it simply does not sound, to me at least, like a viable long-term investment.”

The executive seated to the far left from Hill, who until this point has remained silent and only looked up from his tablet perhaps twice during the entire proceedings, offered his own thoughts of the matter simply by closing the case on his electronic device and casting a very deliberate gaze toward the clock above the door.

Ms. Green stood then. Commanding the room.

“What are you looking for?” she asked. “In terms of a commitment. Give me specifics.”

“Give me a year,” Hill said. “One episode per week. One pay per view special every four months. All exclusive to your network. No streaming. No syndication. People want to watch, they have to come to you.”

“How much?”

“You put up the money to lock in the contracts for my guys,” Hill said. “I stay on as executive producer. Financial burden for the events goes on me. I book the venues. I run the shows. You handle broadcast and advertising. You can decide what sort of budget you want to set aside for that. Based on how much, or little, faith you have in my ability to deliver.”

As the other suits looked on Ms. Green extended a hand across the table.

“We have a deal, Mr. Hill,” she said. “We’ll have the paperwork drawn up.”

“Send it to my office,” Mr. Hill said, shaking her hand. “I have some meetings to arrange.”

Occasionally I will try my hand at writing about my own life. I don’t ever plan on writing a memoir because a good chunk of my life is boring tripe, but there have been instances worth writing about. This is a story I wrote down as an example I utilized to show students how you can take a memory and, through authorial voice, carefully establish the whole mood of the situation being presented.

Enjoy.

-J.


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“Punch” by Stefano Carnicelli

I don’t remember getting hit. I remember hitting the ground. I remember pushing myself onto my hands and knees and being rewarded with a swift kick to the chest. The wind blew out of me like a punctured tire and again I was face down on the grass.

The thing is I had done this to myself. I had agreed to this. It was a matter of pride and honor and other sixth grade bull crap that doesn’t mean anything once you move past puberty and realize you have more important things to worry about. But at twelve years old your brain is basically just a jumbo smoothie of hormones and stupidity and the idea of agreeing to an after-school showdown because he called your pants “gay” is just the sort of thing you’re apt to do with nobody around to tell you that you’re a damned idiot for doing so.

That’s how I ended up in the back yard of my good friend Brett, who was supposed to be the neutral arbitrator of the pugilistic contest between myself and mutual acquaintance Tony who everyone just referred to as “Rocky,” a nickname that he said was due to a striking resemblance to one Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson but I maintained was more likely related to the fact that he was about as smart as a wet brick.

Granted, when he hit me it was not all dissimilar to being hit by a brick, so the nickname was appropriate regardless of the context of its origin.

Rocky, Brett and I all shared second period P.E. and in the locker room where the three of us changed from our sweaty gym uniform back into our civilian clothes for the rest of the day, Rocky wanted to look like a smart guy in front of everybody else and decided the best way to do so was to say I looked cute in my “gay ass pants.” This being 1997 when the level of LGBT acceptance had not reached the point that it is today in our post-social justice Tumblr world, I did as most twelve year olds would do and immediately went on the defensive, insinuating that I could always change my pants but he would be stuck with a face that looked like a horse’s puckered anal cavity forever.

Perhaps the words weren’t so eloquent, that’s how my brain chooses to remember it at least. Whatever it was that I was able to mutter it was enough to set Rocky off in a way I had not seen in many people before, or since for that matter.

Things escalated as things do but neither of us were willing to get in a fight right then and there because as heated as we were we knew that a throw down on campus meant principals and police and more headaches than it was worth. Instead, we agreed to settle this after school. We would meet in Brett’s back yard and settle things. Or as Rocky put it, he would rip a part of my lower anatomy off of my person, shove it repeatedly up the area where my digested food exited my body, remove it and then shove it down my throat. He said this in much more vulgar terms, but I went on to be the published writer so I get to phrase things the way I like.

Little, chubby, twelve year old me didn’t stand a chance in this fight. I knew it. Rocky knew it. I think Brett knew it. I think he volunteered to referee the bout so that there was a recognizable face ready to alert my next of kin when I was brutally murdered at 3:30 that afternoon. But I couldn’t back down. I couldn’t let anyone get away with insulting the honor of my pants. My mother had bought those for me, damnit. In a way Rocky was insulting my family honor. The blood of Irish nobility flows through these veins, and that meant that after school there was going to be one hell of a showdown.

Sure enough we showed up at Brett’s house later that afternoon, after I had been dropped off at home and I informed my parents that I was headed to a friend’s house to play video games but would be back in time for dinner. They informed me that we were having meat loaf. Suddenly the idea of getting punched repeatedly sounded more appealing.

The fight, if you can call it that, started after Brett informed us of the rules for the ensuing brawl which essentially boiled down to don’t kick anyone in the beanbag and no biting. Everything else was just gravy.

Upon the last syllable of instruction falling from Brett’s mouth, Rocky’s fist crashed into mine. It was so fast and sudden that I don’t actually remember it happening. I remember hitting the ground and putting two and two together, that the sudden shocking and pulsating pain in my jaw and the fact that my face was pressed against the grass were interconnected.

I tried to get myself to my feet but Rocky pressed his advantage and kicked me in the ribs with the force of a SWAT officer attempting to break down a door. I knew right then and there that I wasn’t going to win the fight. The pride of the fighting Irish spirit was going to die a pathetic death in a Houston suburb on an otherwise uneventful Tuesday afternoon.

I figured my best option was likely to put some distance between myself and Rocky so I began a slow, prone crawl in the direction of the back fence. Rocky moved in after me like one of the velociraptors from Jurassic Park. Brett, respecting the honor of mortal combat, held him back telling him to let me get to my feet first. Rocky was having none of that, as he figured that if you’ve knocked someone down it might be a good idea to make sure they stay down.

I had reached the back fence by the time Rocky was able to advance upon my person. He said something about wanting to four-letter-word me up. He never got the opportunity however, as I had grabbed a broken fence board laying in the grass and swung it as hard as I could; the edge of the board cracking against his temple.

Rocky hit the ground and I scrambled to my feet. There was blood dripping over my swollen lip. Rocky rolled onto his side and vomited profusely.

I spit a mouthful of blood into the grass and looked at Brett. The look on his face was one of confused shock, the same look you might have on your face if you witnessed a gopher sprout wings and punch the president of the United States in the nipples.

“Guys,” I said, “Can we just go inside and play Goldeneye?”

 

The trailer for the latest entry into the saga of the xenomorph, Alien: Covenant, dropped this morning;

I have a strange personal history with the Alien franchise. I can remember being ten years old in the year of our lord 1996 and hearing the first rumblings of a fourth Alien film; this coming after the previews alone for Alien 3 kept me far and away from viewing any installment of the franchise thus far. I can vaguely recall a desire to prove my worth to my friends, all of whom had that prepubescent sense of superiority that came from watching the bloodiest, goriest, scariest films they could get their hands on. Strangely enough I decided to begin my journey with part two, James Cameron’s Aliens. As a glance at TV guide one afternoon yielded information that the local Fox affiliate would be airing a special presentation of the special edition version of the film that evening. My parents, lenient as they were with my viewing habits, would likely be perturbed by a request to rent any of the films from the local blockbuster so instead I stayed up just long enough to pop in a blank VHS tape and record the showing while I journeyed off to slumber, secure in my knowledge that the next day I would be able to sit down and watch through the whole thing, fast forwarding through any meddlesome commercial breaks.

I sat down to watch the film the next day and the sensation of anxiety in doing so was palpable. More than anything that was happening on screen, my nerves were gripped by the mystique that had been built up surrounding the mythos of the series by friends and movie magazines. (Yes, even at age ten I was a devout follower of certain periodicals that gave me all the latest movie news before the explosion of the online film community) I sat enraptured, awaiting the first appearance of the legendary creature. I knew enough about the movies from secondhand discussion or lengthy articles detailing the production of the films that the slow build of tension was practically torture.

Keep in mind, I was ten.

After the end credits rolled I had been hooked in. I needed to see the rest of the series. It was imperative. Luckily, I had a friend named Brett who lived a few blocks over whose parents were far more relaxed regarding their son’s consumption of violent media. His parents had an entire boxed set of the trilogy and that weekend I asked him if we could marathon watch them all. He seemed amicable to the idea and I wound up watching all three films over the course of a day with Brett and one other friend whose name I could not remember if you placed a loaded plasma rifle to my temple.

Even so young, I found myself intrigued by the differences between all three films. Where Aliens was dripping with a defiant, last-stand-at-the-Alamo sense of action, Ridley Scott’s original film was a quiet, creeping slow burn that honestly left me feeling underwhelmed at first. In the years since I have grown to love Alien as a true classic of dramatic and horrific tension, and I don’t view it as greater or lesser than its sequel; as they are so disparate in tone and composition that comparing the two is pointless. I even found myself enthralled by Alien 3, a position that seemed bold at the time but one that has seemingly been vindicated by the march of time.

The next year I managed to see Alien Resurrection in theaters and I believe that may be the first time I have ever been acutely aware of magic being broken. While there were certainly elements that I enjoyed in the film it felt a little too detached from the mood and tone established by the first three. I tried to convince myself that I actually liked the film, the same way I would with The Phantom Menace in ’99, but I think in my heart of hearts I knew I was lying to myself. In trying to figure out what it was that didn’t resonate with me I came to understand that there was a lack of severity to Resurrection that I did not wish to engage with. I don’t mean to say that the film didn’t have its moments of seriousness, but there was a degree of dismissive levity to the characters, which I now realize was largely the work of Joss Whedon’s writing, that seemed inappropriate for the series it was inhabiting. That same tone, so out of place in Resurrection, would work wonders for Firefly only five years down the line. But in 1997, aboard a ship crawling with one of the most iconic film monsters of all time, it felt inappropriate and jarring.

And so my love affair with the Alien franchise laid dormant. It was a major shift for me. In the time between discovering the first three films and seeing Resurrection in 1997, I tore through any and all available media I could regarding the franchise; novels, comic books, video games, the whole nine. Then it all fell by the wayside. For about seven years. Then in 2004, as a seventeen year old kid freshly graduated from high school, I found myself ready to be sucked back in by the release of Alien vs. Predator.

The Predator series never grabbed me the way that Alien did. Mostly because up until this point, there had only been two films and of those two I only held one in high regard. I can appreciate Predator 2 for what it is now, but when I was younger I found it to be lacking in most areas. My interest in AvP stemmed from the time I spent consuming all of that tertiary media in the buildup for Resurrection. The comics and novels built on the mythos of those series better than either of the films and I was hoping some of that would carry over into the film version.

I think most people know how that turned out.

For the second time, my hopes had been dashed upon the rocks and my desire to see a film that captured that same sense of excitement I’d had when I was ten and being brought into the warm embrace of the series for the first time was but a fleeting memory. I begrudgingly saw the follow-up film Aliens vs. Predator – Requiem in 2007 but went in with lowered expectations from the outset. I figured my relationship with the series was all but dead.

Then in 2012 Ridley Scott returned to the franchise with Prometheus, and for the first time since watching the first three on a grainy VHS tape I felt a spark in the series. I will be the first to admit that there were some parts of the film that didn’t work for me; Guy Pearce’s terrible old-man makeup, the perceived need to tip-toe around the ties to the original Alien, a general under-utilization of Idris Elba. Those minor gripes aside I found it to be a visually stunning film and one that did one thing right if it failed in any other category; it felt congruous with the universe that had been previously developed and it offered avenues for interesting storytelling opportunities.

It would appear that those avenues are being traveled with Alien: Covenant. I like the continuation of the established themes of crew as family, creeping dread, and claustrophobic terror. I appreciate that with the return to utilizing the franchise namesake in the title their fear in putting the monster on display seems to be gone.

Marketing can oftentimes be misleading, but from what is on display here, it would appear I have cause to be optimistic about the franchise again. Maybe I should pull some of those old novels out and give them a read through again. Just for old times’ sake.

mad2

2016 was a strange year in more ways than can easily be distilled into a simple blog post. For myself, it was a year of personal and professional challenges and introspection. The year began with the publication of Blood at Sunrise and somewhere along the way saw the eventual scuttling of my podcast, as my cohorts’ own personal journeys took them in directions that ran counter to recording a radio show about mediocre films. It also saw the loss of my beloved basset hound Toby and several transitions within my day-to-day life as a High School English instructor. Essentially, the year was a poorly constructed roller coaster that provided little enjoyment to anyone unfortunate enough to ride it.

As the year drew to a close I found myself lining up projects to focus on in 2017. One of those is a mammoth historical novel that has been germinating for some time. It likely will not see completion this year, but honestly that is not a goal; I am hoping only to make headway with it, as it is a passion project of mine and I don’t want to do a disservice to the material. However, I do have projects that are far enough along that I have them slated for release in 2017.

First up, a sequel to 2015’s One Fate for Failure is slated for a late spring/early summer release. It will be preceded by a collection of short stories set within that universe featuring characters introduced in the first novel. Those stories first will appear here on my official site. I do not yet know if those stories will see an official print-run or if they will be included as back-matter in the upcoming second novel. I will make that decision as the release date comes nearer.

That is the central focus of the first part of the year; publishing and promoting what, I hope, will be a truly entertaining bit of genre fiction. I hope more people can be exposed to Maddie’s world and find themselves drawn into the universe she inhabits. It is my hope that fans of One Fate will be more than satisfied with the continuation of the story. I certainly like the way things have turned out, narratively speaking, and hope readers will feel the same way.

In the meantime, it is my hope that I can provide worthwhile contributions to this blog throughout the year. So much is going on in the world at the moment that it is unlikely I won’t have a topic of interest worth discussing. We live in a truly confounding time and sometimes the best therapy is to put our thoughts into words.

I have many words to spare.

-J.

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When you sit down to write, at least in the greater world of creative fiction, you generally come to the table with at least a kernel of an idea; some inkling of the end result of your labors. As I sit down to write this I realize that I have none of that. I do not know what I hope to achieve by putting my words down, nor do I truly have any great grasp on my own understanding with regards to what I feel in the furthest reaches of my soul following the truly unspeakable events that transpired in Orlando over the weekend.

Here is what I know: on June 11th in Orlando, Florida. A man with a gun killed a 22 year old singer in an act of cold blooded murder. The following day on June 12th, a man with a gun killed fifty people and wounded fifty-three others in an act of terror in a gay nightclub in the very same city. Across the continent, in California, on the same day, a man was stopped by police on his way to the LA Pride festival carrying an assault rifle and materials used in the composition of an explosive device.

I am not a religious individual. The world saw fit to condition that particular element out of me a long time ago. But I pray for the families of the victims and those affected by these tragedies. I pray, not to any named entity or god, but to whatever power it is that holds existence together and I pray that those that lost their lives and those who have to cope with the loss of their loved ones may find some modicum of peace in these indelicate and trying times. Times where politically minded jackals and opportunistic vultures will attempt to strip-mine this tragedy for brownie points or capital in some invisible Game of Thrones skullduggery as we head into the fall elections in the United States.

The Lieutenant Governor of the state in which I reside, a spineless slug of a man named Dan Patrick, tweeted the bible verse Galatians 6:7;”Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” Walking side-show Donald Trump took time after the attack to tweet “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!”

I have had to block certain acquaintances of mine on Facebook because of the things they were putting onto my feed. Statements about how a single “good guy with a gun” could have prevented the tragedy at Pulse on Sunday morning. That fifty people lost their lives to gun violence means nothing to them. The right to bear arms is somehow more important that the right to safely assemble without the fear of gun related violence. The vitriol that some of these people have spewed forth onto the internet is astounding. This tragedy should not be a platform for anyone to endorse bigotry and hate. No man should be able to build a pedestal from the bodies of the dead and preach an agenda of fear-mongering and discrimination.

That the shooter responsible for the massacre at Pulse, now being described as the deadliest mass shooting on American soil (so far), was a reported ISIS sympathizer is shaking up a hornet’s nest of rhetoric about the dangers of radicalized Islam. And yet that somehow blinds some people to the fact that the man who killed singer Christina Grimmie and the 29 year old individual with plans to attack the LA Pride festival had no ties to Islamic terror in any way, shape, or form. While it is of course logical to focus on the incident with the highest body count, if we look at the patterns of high profile gun violence in the past few years, the majority of shooters have been domestic terrorists with no ties to fundamentalist or extremist Islamic groups. That having been said, there has been one unifying factor in every one of these massacres; the guns.

Since 1982 there have been over 60 mass shootings in the United States. In over half of those shootings, the weapons used were legally purchased “including various semi-automatic rifles, guns with military features, and handguns using magazines with more than 10 rounds” (Aronson, Follman, Lee). The key here is that these weapons were not appropriated under the table on some indistinct black market, these firearms were obtained legally. This was also the case in the Dark Knight Rises shooting incident at a theater in Colorado where the suspect legally purchased four separate firearms at four separate locations. “Gander Mountain, which sold an AR-15 assault rifle believed to be used in the shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, said the company was in compliance with state and federal laws and that it was ‘fully cooperating with this ongoing investigation’” (Moreno). As it stands, any law abiding United States citizen over the age of twenty-one, can legally obtain firearms that are normally used in military operations. The most common argument in America used to defend the second amendment is that everyday citizens need firearms for personal protection or for the private hunting of wildlife during game season. In what conceivable way would the average citizen need access to weaponry utilized by the military for personal defense or the hunting of animals?

In 2013 following the incident in Newtown, Connecticut where twenty elementary school children and six faculty members were gunned down (Goldberg) by twenty year old Adam Lanza, legislation was drafted to once again regulate assault rifles in the United States. The bill would seek to ban “All semiautomatic rifles that can accept a detachable magazine and have at least one military feature: pistol grip; forward grip; folding, telescoping, or detachable stock; grenade launcher or rocket launcher; barrel shroud; or threaded barrel” (Feinstein). That there are groups in this country that advocate everyday citizens should have unrestricted access to the firearms that would be banned by this legislation is astounding. How could any level-headed individual argue that your average citizen needs access to a grenade launcher? The short answer is that they can’t. Despite the violent and terrible nature of these tragedies, gun ownership is still a major part of the American landscape. In 2015 following sanctions placed on Russia by the United States, the import of the famed Russian-made assault rifle the AK-47 came to a screeching halt. Demand for the weapon however meant that the company previously tasked with importing the weapon, RWC, switched over to manufacture. Spokesman for the company Thomas McCrossin stated that they had an available inventory of the previously imported Russian weapons that were legal to sell because they arrived in America prior to the Russian sanctions going into effect, “but when the inventory goes down to zero, there are no more” (Smith). So despite the frequency of assault weapon use in mass shootings and the growing discomfort that many Americans feel about the number of readily available assault weapons in the country, American companies are still dedicated to ensuring that those same weapons remain readily available.

There was a time when assault weapons of this nature were banned in the United States. However, the Federal Assault Weapon Ban of 1994 was allowed to expire on September 13th, 2004. Since that time, the number of dangerous weapons finding their way into the hands of criminals has exploded. In a research study conducted by the National Institute of Justice in March 1999, researchers concluded that the Assault Weapon Ban had positive consequences indicating “that the weapons became more available generally, but they must have become less accessible to criminals because there was at least a short-term decrease in criminal use of the banned weapons” (Travis). Compare this to the findings of the Washington Post who found that “More than 15,000 guns equipped with high-capacity magazines – defined under the lapsed federal law as holding 11 or more bullets – have been seized by Virginia police in a wide range of investigations” (Fallis, Grimaldi). Therefore, it can be concluded that since the lapse of the ban, the ready availability of these weapons has increased and the likelihood of these legally purchased firearms being used for criminal activities has increased as well. The benchmark by which we judge the usefulness of a law is an effective cost benefit analysis; if the cost of maintaining a law outweighs the benefit that it presents the people then it has to be adjusted or removed. The eighteenth amendment to the constitution banned the sale of alcohol, but when the law became untenable the twenty-first amendment was drafted to rectify the issue. The constitution of the United States is not set in stone and neither are the amendments. What may have been applicable at the time of its inception may not remain applicable in the modern world. At the time of the second amendment, firearms technology was limited to muskets and single shot rifles. An amendment that reflects the reality of modern weaponry may very well be entirely necessary.

As I sit here writing this, I realize that I am part of the problem. I am a gun owner. I am also a writer who has created fiction that, in retrospect, seems to fetishize or glorify gun violence. It is hard for me to promote something like Blood at Sunrise, where differences are settled with an exchange of bullets. I try to rationalize it by placing it within the context of the time period that the novel is set. The years following the American Civil War were categorically a violent time. The novel reflects that. But what my writing the novel reflects in the here and now is that we live in a culture where we glorify something that truly should be vilified. I actually feel a great deal of shame for my contributions to American gun culture. Those contributions may be minuscule but so long as there are people who treat gun violence with such a casual attitude, America will continue to wake up to press conferences with a somber president addressing another gun related tragedy.

I won’t apologize for the novels I have written. I stand by them as works of fiction and simply acknowledge that they have elements that are somewhat problematic. That is part of being involved in the creative arts; the ability to analyze one’s own work and grow outwardly based on what discoveries you make along the way. I specifically tailored the villains in One Fate for Failure against the grain, eschewing ties to Islamic terrorism because I do not subscribe to the idea that we should stereotype every Muslim as a radical. I stand by that decision.

And while I’m on the subject of One Fate for Failure, let me say this; Madeline McCallister is a strong and wonderful heroine who happens to be bisexual. I wanted to use that word in text because, as anyone who clamors to see bisexual representation in  media can attest, the term is often glossed over or sanitized or simply left to implication rather than made canon. Maddie is a bisexual woman. She is slowly coming to terms with what that means. The LGBTQ+ community is filled with wonderful people, many of whom I call dear friends, and they deserve representation. They deserve equal rights, equal representation, and equal respect. What happened at Pulse in Orlando was a hate crime, first and foremost. Whatever ties the gunman may have had to any extremist group, it cannot be forgotten that the victims of this tragedy were most definitely targeted because of their sexual and gender identities. They were targeted. The world needs to see these people as human, and part of that comes to how they are portrayed in the media and in places like our fiction. I hope that members of the LGBTQ+ community who have read One Fate For Failure know that the way Maddie is portrayed comes from a place of love and a desire to do right by them, and that it was not my intention to play her sexual orientation as a gimmick.

I know that this has been all over the place, but I felt the need to get my feelings out somehow. This weekend was an eye-opener for me. I do not hold out hope that it will have a similar effect on the bull-headed and closed-minded, but perhaps it will. Maybe hope will win in the end.

Works Cited

“2015 Toll of Gun Violence.” Gun Violence Archive. Web. 21 Jan. 2015.

Fallis, David S., and Grimaldi James. “In Virginia, High-yield Clip Seizures Rise.”Washington Post. The Washington Post, 23 Jan. 2011. Web. 20 Jan. 2015.

Feinstein, Dianne. “United States Senator Dianne Feinstein.” Assault Weapons Ban Summary.Web. 20 Jan. 2015.

Follman, Mark, Gavin Aronsen, and Jaeah Lee. “More Than Half of Mass Shooters Used AssaultWeapons and High-Capacity Magazines.” Mother Jones. Web. 20 Jan. 2015.

Goldberg, Eleanor. “How To Honor The Legacy Of All 26 Newtown Shooting Victims.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com. Web. 20 Jan. 2015.

Moreno, Ivan. “Police: Colo. Shooting Suspect Bought Guns Legally.” ABC News. ABC NewsNetwork. Web. 20 Jan. 2015.

Smith, Aaron. “AK-47s: Soon to Be Made in USA.” CNNMoney. Cable News Network. Web. 21 Jan. 2015.

Travis, Jeremy. “Impacts of the 1994 Weapons Ban.” National Institute of Justice. 1 Mar. 1999. Web. 20 Jan. 2015. 

BloodCoverHello everybody.

I am very happy to announce that my latest project has gone to print and it is now available to read on a multitude of formats.

If you haven’t been following my ramblings lately, in November I began work on a western novel that would follow a former Confederate soldier on his way home following a particularly harrowing experience besieged at the battle of Vicksburg. My intention was to try my hand at an unfamiliar genre and try to have some fun with my own writing style at the same time. That story eventually evolved into Blood At Sunrise, and now you can read it for yourself this summer in your preferred format.

There are MULTIPLE ways you can pick it up, so I’ll try to delineate them as best as I can:

E-Book:

Buy @ Amazon

Paperback:

Buy @ Lulu* (May take longer to ship, but the best way to support the writer because the distributor percentage is minimal)

Buy @ Barnes and Noble

Buy @ Amazon

Hardcover:

Buy @ Lulu

Buy @ Barnes and Noble

Buy @ Amazon

 

When I first started publishing back in 2009, I didn’t care much for eBooks. The Kindle, the Nook, and the iPad were novelties and there wasn’t much call for eBooks because nobody was shelling out the money for tablets the way that they are now seven years later. Everybody has a tablet of some kind, and the sort of brand-specific licensing that kept me away from publishing digitally has fallen by the wayside. You don’t have to own a Kindle to buy through Amazon anymore because they have an app that you can install on just about any tablet. So no matter what your platform, you can get the book you would like.

Well today I went back and re-mastered my early catalog for release on Kindle. That means for the first time ever, my early books can be read electronically. And because I’m a reader too, I know that eBooks should be reasonably priced and as such, all of my projects are available for under six dollars.

The following books are available today!


DarkCoverA Dark Tomorrow – 2009 ~$2.99

Synopsis: The key to life is learned in death. Ashley Hammond was a simple college girl until the day a gun-toting madman made an attempt on her life. Saved by the good timing of a mysterious guardian named Gabriel, Ashley learns the truth about life after death and how the forces of good and evil are mustering for an apocalyptic war that could shatter the fabric of existence. Even more of a shock is that Ashley could very well be the one to turn the tide and ensure the survival of humanity’s very soul!

Category: Fiction, Adventure, Urban Fantasy

 

 

 


51ZuiG2wn7L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_The Song Before Nightfall – 2011 ~$5.99

Synopsis: The Kingdom of Adacia has stood as the most powerful nation in the five known kingdoms for hundreds of years. King Jordan, last of the Redwood line is fighting an insurgency within his own borders as machinations are made toward war in the neighboring Kaldorian Realms under the despotic Lord Wren. Lord Marcus Lanham, steward of the Southern region of Saxet and chief of war finds himself leading the Adacian army against a foe who wields the power of the lost magicks against him. In the darkest days of a new sort of war, can Marcus adapt to keep the Kingdom secure

Category: Fiction, Fantasy, Sword & Sorcery

 

 


GD-FrontGrave Danger – 2012 ~$3.99

Synopsis: Ian McGrath is a private detective who knows more about the supernatural underworld than anybody else in the city. When someone close to Ian turns up dead in the heart of Houston’s undead district he vows to track down the killer, but this time he may be in over his head.

For fans of detective fiction and horror stories alike, GRAVE DANGER is a blood-filled, vampire noir sure to please.

Category: Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Detective Stories, Vampires

 

 


unnamedOne Fate For Failure – 2015 ~$4.99

Synopsis: Madeline McCallister is a SAD/SOG operative for the Central Intelligence Agency. Following a controversial mission south of the border, Madeline finds herself embroiled in a massive conspiracy and must use her wits and every ounce of her training to unravel the tangled web she finds herself captured in. From the dirty streets of Juarez to London, From Boston to Paris, Madeline races to keep one step ahead of the nefarious forces close at her heels.

Category: Action, Thriller, Espionage

 

 

 


BloodCover

Blood at Sunrise – 2016 ~3.99

Synopsis: Jefferson Crowe is returning from the hell he endured while serving in the confederate army. He wants to put a past of violence behind him, but conflict finds him nonetheless. Thrust into the role of sheriff, Jefferson struggles with protecting the town that has put their trust in him and his desire to live a peaceful life and return home.

Category: Western, Action/Adventure

 

 

Buy My Books!

One Fate For Failure
Song Before Nightfall
October 2017
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