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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.”

 

rogue1

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.

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

10


Chapter V

Nicki O’Neil smiled pleasantly as she posed for photos with the fans who had stood in line for what must have been hours just for the opportunity to meet her. She had always been grateful for her fans, even the ones who sometimes bordered on the creepy, simply because she knew that without them she would probably be stuck in some menial job with little to no prospect for advancement and slowly dying in a loveless relationship with some loser she found on an online dating website. You could say that Nicki was the most optimistic cynic you could ever hope to meet.

Her appearance at the Orlando CultureCon had been a last minute deal, struck in the hopes of recouping the loss of a booking at a local promotion that fell through. The payout was similar but Nicki hated to be advertised for a match that never happened. It was that sort of thing that was likely to lose her some fans and make it harder for her to get booked the next time around. She still had close to eight hundred thousand followers on social media, and she logged thousands of interactions and digital engagements per day. That meant that Nicki could still command a price but independent bookers were notoriously tight with their wallets so those able to pay the price were few and far between.

She had considered taking a contract in Japan like so many in her situation usually do but decided against it simply because she did not want to upend her entire life to make the journey to the land of the rising sun. She had enough saved from her time working in the IWPA that she wasn’t going to starve any time soon. She had been smart enough to realize that the IWPA was never going to last forever. Some of the other names on that roster would have done well to remember that.

Nicki’s reputation as one of the smarter women in the business was well established. Every write-up about her career seemed to touch on it in some regard. She had a master’s degree in Library Science and had been a national debate champion in high school; the logline for so many thinkpieces regarding her place in the industry utilized some variation on the phrase “her brain is the strongest muscle she has” or some other such tripe. Nicki hated it. She hated the very concept that you could not be viewed as simultaneously intelligent and physically strong, and that somehow it was all the more impressive because she was a woman.

She also hated when her success in the business was somehow attributed only to her looks. Calling Nicki O’Neil beautiful would be akin to calling the moon a slightly large rock. Her father was a Scottish immigrant from Glasgow who settled in the warm sunlight of San Fransisco, California and managed to live comfortably there despite his fair complexion. Her mother was a second generation Chinese immigrant whose charm and grace had knocked her father for a loop and ultimately resulted in a daughter who grew up to be considered one of the most beautiful women ever to step into the ring. Nobody else in the business looked like her, and while that was great for selling herself as a commodity, she never wanted to be reduced to being photogenic. There were very few people in the world of professional wrestling as proud of their physical accomplishments as Nicki O’Neil.

“You were always my favorite,” a young girl wearing a shirt with Nicki’s face said, holding a copy of a poster from an old IWPA magazine. “Nobody else came close.”

“That’s so sweet,” Nicki gushed.

“Do you ever miss it?” the girl asked. “Being on TV every week?”

“Sometimes,” Nicki admitted. “But I also like having the free time to do things like this. I have gotten to meet so many of my fans since I left.”

“It was so nice to meet you,” the girl said. “I’m never going to forget this.”

Nicki smiled. She wasn’t lying. She really did love doing things like this. Something she never truly was able to do while on tour with IWPA.

“If I ask to talk do you promise not to murder me?” a voice asked.

Nicki looked up to see Marshall Ellis standing in front of her in the autograph line, wearing a faded old “Darling Nicki” shirt and holding an 8×10 photograph. He had a sheepish grin on his face and to Nicki it appeared as if he had aged a decade since she had last seen him.

“Marshall?”

“Yeah,” he said. “But keep that to yourself, most of these people don’t recognize me.”

“I barely recognized you,” Nicki said.

“That bad, huh?”

“No,” Nicki said, trying her best not to appear flustered. “It’s just been so long. And there is something different about you.”

“It’s probably just months of living with guilt and anxiety eating away at me from the inside,” Marshall said in a way that the tone undermined the severity of the words. “Also I got a new haircut.”

“I don’t like it,” Nicki said. “It doesn’t suit you.”

“Nothing ever did,” Marshall replied.

 

An hour later Nicki and Marshall were sitting at a booth at the back of a pub near the convention center. Everything was a shade of brown or green and the air smelled like a pitcher of the darkest draught you could imagine. Marshall nursed a pint of Guiness while Nicki ordered herself a glass of iced water. There had been a time when neither of them would be open to drinking alcohol, but Marshall’s resolve had been tested and found wanting in the aftermath of the IWPA’s demise.

“I can see why this would be tempting for you,” Nicki said. “But I don’t think it is a good idea.”

“You are probably right,” Marshall said. “But Mike can’t do this without me.”

“You don’t owe him anything,” Nicki said, barely able to contain her disdain for Michael Hill’s name as she spoke. “And let’s be honest, if he wants the thing to work he’ll get the thing to work, with or without you.”

“I know that is true,” Marshall sighed. “But I don’t work without Mike.”

“That’s bullshit,” Nicki said.

“It is bullshit,” Marshall nodded. “It’s bullshit that my options for working boil down to Michael Hill or not working at all. So when it comes right down to it, I’ll choose Mike. I would choose Mike every goddamn time.”

“I’m sorry,” Nicki said. “I do have options. And going back to work for Michael Hill isn’t the best one for me. Not right now at least. I’m happy where I am.”

“I think this would be good for you,” Marshall said. “I think this could give you the cache to go anywhere you want for the rest of time. This lady, the one from the network, she asked for you by name. The network knows how valuable a commodity you are. I think you could ask for any number you wanted and you would get it.”

“What are you getting?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Marshall said.

“How much are you getting, Marshall?” Nicki pressed.

“Enough,” Marshall said. “Enough to pay off my backlog of medical expenses and move out of the apartment I’m co-renting with a hoard of large rats. Enough to make sure that when I die they don’t leave me in an unmarked ditch.”

Marshall sat back and let the air settle. He took a large swill from his beer and gazed across the table at Nicki. He hated that he had to be the one to ask her. He knew he had to be because Michael would have turned the whole ordeal into an argument before there was ever hope of a discussion but he did not want the responsibility of urging Nicki back into Michael Hill’s circus. He knew how Nicki felt. He knew the terms on which they had parted ways. While she and Marshall had always been very close, he did not like the idea of taking advantage of their relationship in order to push her into something she did not want to do.

“If you decide not to come in on this, I will understand. I really will. Everyone has their reasons for wanting you back. The network wants you because you’re the damn best female wrestler in the world and they know the publicity for snagging you will be worth whatever price tag they have to pay. Michael wants you back because he hopes that he can fix something that he damn well knows that he broke. He knows it probably will never be square between the two of you, but damned if he won’t at least try to make up for what happened.”

“Why do you want me to come?” Nicki asked.

“What?”

“What are your reasons?” Nicki clarified. “You said everyone has their reasons so what are yours? What dog do you have in this fight?”

Marshall hesitated. He took another drink and carefully considered his words.

“Because I miss you,” he said. “And because this is going to be hard. And most of the people walking around that locker room are going to look at me out of the corner of their eyes. I need a friendly face, Nicki. And yours is the friendliest I have ever known.”

Nicki took a sip of water. She had never seen Marshall Ellis the way he looked now; desperate, filled with a hope he did not fully believe in. She set down her drink and leaned back in the booth.

“Make the call.”

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

10

Chapter IV

“You looked larger on TV,” Ms Green said as she shook Marshall Ellis’ hand, maintaining the sort of unbroken eye contact that causes killers to confess to heinous crimes.

“Yeah,” Marshall said. “I haven’t exactly kept up with my regimen.”

“We’ll have to change that,” Ms. Green said. “The audience expects to see ‘Marshall the Mechanic’ in all his glory. Such as it may be.”

Michael Hill sat sipping from a mug of herbal tea on a black leather couch near the open window of Ms. Green’s office in Boston. The decor was modern and industrial and cold, the ambiance matching the aura of Green herself. She was young but had presence, an aura not dissimilar to a jungle predator or a bird of prey. Her hair was darker than obsidian and her eyes were a vibrant shade of her namesake. Michael Hill admired the steel of her resolve. Marshall found himself slightly unnerved by it.

“Marshall will be back to his prime by the time we host our first televised event,” Michael said. “His body is a machine and ‘the mechanic’ knows how to fine tune a machine.”

Marshall stifled a chuckle. Mike was always in promoter mode. He didn’t fault him for it because that was what made him so successful. If Michael Hill weren’t a consummate showman, Marshall ‘The Mechanic’ Ellis would never have been a household name. It was also that showmanship and charisma that kept Ellis out of prison when everything went to hell. Marshall knew that. He wasn’t sure if Ms. Green did.

“Some of our investors are concerned,” Ms. Green said. “That your recruitment for this new endeavor seems to skew in a particular direction.”

“What direction might that be?” Michael asked.

“Male,” Ms. Green said. “Analysis shows that the popularity of females in combat sports is at an all time high and yet there is nothing in your treatment that mentions a female contingent to your roster.”

“My focus is on telling a very particular story,” Michael said. “And so my focus has been on touching base with my guys from IWPA.”

“Are you looking for longevity here, Mr. Hill?”

“Of course,” Michael replied.

“Then let me paint a picture for you,” Ms. Green said. “Imagine the headlines the day after your first show reading ‘Michael Hill Tries To Regain Former Glory With Same Old Bag Of Tricks Semi-Colon Fails Spectacularly And Embarrasses Own Self Yet Again’ because you think that controversy will be enough to keep you on the air.”

Michael set his tea down and tented his fingers, his eyes displaying the tenacity of a cornered animal. “What I am building here,” he said. “Cannot be subject to the whim of fads, trends, focus-group second-guessing or the personal agendas of suits sitting back and collecting checks.”

“And what about the whims of a man too stubborn to let the past stay buried or too afraid to try something new?”

Hill and Green stared at each other in silence, the tension between them lingering in the air like the dying echoes of a sustained power chord. Marshall watched them the way an anthropologist might watch an unfamiliar tribe; with caution and just a modicum of suppressed excitement.

“This show will be unlike anything that has come before,” Michael said. “I know we’re talking about a damned professional wrestling program, but there are always expectations. Some people try to shake things up by using a hexagonal ring. Some people go for celebrity cameos. We are here to tell a story. The story of men, and women mind you, affected by the death of IWPA. Ultimately, this is a show about grief. About reconciling the process of mourning with personal growth. And I will not compromise that by using my time to fill a quota because the network doesn’t think I have enough female athletes.”

Ms. Green took a seat behind her desk and pulled a folder from the drawer to her left.

“Nicki O’Neil,” she said. “Why isn’t she part of your plan.”

Marshall and Michael exchanged hesitant looks.

“Nicki is a complicated matter,” Michael said.

“No she’s not,” Marshall said. “She’s just a headache.”

“A complicated headache,” Michael said.

“She was one of your top stars,” Ms. Green interjected. “Why are you so hesitant to bring her on board?”

“Because he wanted to fuck her and she shot him down,” Marshall said.

“That’s enough Marshall,” Michael snapped back.

“Would she be uncomfortable coming back?” Ms. Green asked.

“No,” Marshall said. “Because Nicki is a professional.”

“I’m a professional,” Michael protested.

“Yes,” Marshall said. “But you’re also emotionally vulnerable, no matter what sort of ‘all-business’ personal you want to adopt. Nicki isn’t like that.”

“Yeah, she’s a heartless bitch.”

“You see what I mean?”

Ms. Green threw her hands up. “Gentlemen,” she said. “I think it would be worth exploring the possibility of contacting her. I can’t help but feel that there is a hole in your narrative without her.”

“Yeah Mike,” Marshall said. “We need to fill Nicki’s hole.”

Ms. Green actually smiled. Michael didn’t see it.

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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In November of 2015 I started writing a western. The original goal was to finish it as a project for National Novel Writing Month, but my professional and family commitments forced me to take a more measured pace. So here we are some six months later and the work is finally complete and the finished product should be available in the coming weeks. I wrote in a previous post  that I had several goals for the project; write in an unfamiliar genre, write with careful attention to establishing tone, and finish on a deadline. I guess two out of three isn’t bad.

Blood at Sunrise is  the name of the book and it is not what you would consider a typical western. There are several genre tropes present but the style of the writing and the elements of greatest concern within the narrative do not seem to fit with my, admittedly somewhat limited, understanding of the literary form of the genre. If anything, it reads like a pulpier Blood Meridian. This is somewhat expected as most of my work is a pulpier version of something. In case you missed it, I tend to wear my affinity for genre fiction like a badge of honor.

The truth is that this narrative could very easily have been set in the seventies after Vietnam, or in 1991 following the first gulf war, or even in a post 9/11 world. So the question remains; why a western? I think a good deal of it has to do with the archetypes of the characters that you find in a western meshing well with the story I wanted to tell.

In Blood at Sunrise, we follow Jefferson Crowe, a southern soldier who ran off to enlist in the Confederate army because he felt he had something to prove, as he returns after the war looking to put violence behind him. Unfortunately for Jefferson, on his journey home violence finds him and events are set into motion that place him in a position of authority; a position that necessitates violence and the willingness to use it.

The western genre, in film at least, which is the way I always absorbed it, seems to divide its heroes into white hat, dyed in the wool good-guys or individuals who straddle a line of constant inner conflict. The classic John Wayne v. Clint Eastwood dichotomy. I had hoped to play with those archetypes a bit, in that Jefferson longs to be a John Wayne character when he has a whole lot more in common with the Eastwood types. He wants to be a good man but he knows he is so very, very good at doing bad things.

His primary antagonist, the Reverend Benjamin Bane, is an embodiment of an idea as well. An idea that devotion to principles, when pushed to an extreme, leads to dangerous places. Our villain’s motivation, in his mind, is rooted in altruism and discipline. Jefferson’s own narrative arc is centered around his adherence to an internal code. The conflict of the story is built into the characters’ DNA.

That is why it had to be a western. The western as a genre is built on archetypes. Don’t believe me? Look at some of the most well-known western films; The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time In The West, The Searchers, Unforgiven. The archetypes are right there in the titles. They are hard-wired into essence of the material. Blood at Sunrise is very much a story that plays with archetypes and convention while simultaneously subverting them for the sake of telling a different type of story than is usually found in traditional examples of the genre.

There is something largely operatic about Blood at Sunrise. While the setting is definitely a western, the spirit feels, to me at least, like something new. I truly hope that readers enjoy the experience.

View_of_Vicksburg,_Mississippi

Work is coming to a close on my latest project. It could be described as historical fiction, as the events take place in the years following the American Civil War and I have taken careful strides to ensure that much of the story is period accurate. In anticipation of what is to come, I am giving a sneak peak at the prologue of the piece, which sets the tone of the narrative to follow. I talked a little bit about why I think a prologue is an important factor in some writings and I still believe that to be true.

Expect more updates regarding the project as the release draws near.

PROLOGUE

At 4:30 in the morning on April 12th 1961, General P.G.T. Beauregard of the newly formed Confederate States of America began a heavy bombardment of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor effectively kicking off what would become known as the American Civil War. The conflict would last four years and claim over 600,000 lives.

The men who fought in this war did so for a variety of reasons. Some felt it was their duty. Others found themselves conscripted into service. Some, when asked, could give no intelligible reply. They simply went. The why was lost in the what and in the end it mattered very little anyhow. All that mattered was that it was violent. It was hell and horror. It was war.

July 4th, 1963 – Vicksburg, Mississippi

Any soldier in their right mind hates a siege. A charge is risky, a melee is frightening but a siege is an anxious pit of despair that swallows the resolve of even the fiercest, battle-hardened veteran. Ten days in and a siege becomes unbearable. Rawlins had begun his siege of Vicksburg on the 25th and since that day the bombardment had fallen down on the town like the wrath of Zeus thrown from Mount Olympus. Shock and awe, fire and smoke.

Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton had resigned himself to the siege, hoping that Confederate agents in the area could harry the Union troops on the Louisiana side of the Mississippi river and force the attackers away from the city. But word had come down that the relief efforts had been unsuccessful and the barrage of fiery death from the attackers was unlikely to cease.

The soldiers inside the city perimeter did what they could to ensure their survival. But by the end of June most had fallen to sickness. Laid low by scurvy, malnutrition or dysentery. The lack of food became an issue and as the siege wore on folks started to talk about how they didn’t see quite so many rats running around anymore. Same could be said for dogs.

On July 4th, 1963, realizing that they could no longer forestall the inevitable, Pemberton signed a conditional surrender to Ulysses S. Grant beside an old oak tree allowing for the parole of the 30,000 Confederate troops inside the city.

“This war ain’t gonna last much longer,” a corporal was overheard saying. “We can keep fightin’ all we like but it’s all gonna shake out the same.”

That was true enough. Fighting would rage on for another year still, but Vicksburg was the beginning of the end for the southern cause. It was the end of the war entirely for many of the men in Vicksburg that day. While a good number would return to the Confederate army and exchanged for Union soldiers in Mobile Harbor, Alabama on August 4th of that same year, many simply threw down their arms and began the long journey back to their home, hoping to find some remnant of their former life there. Something to believe in after the end of a long and violent campaign.

The full novel, as yet untitled, should be available this fall.

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As an English teacher I sometimes find myself compelled to complete the same writing prompts of my students. It’s finals time around my neck of the woods and an element of the final comes in the form of a timed expository response to a selected topic. The original composition was limited to twenty-six lines and this is simply a typed version of that same response, written under a forty-five minute time limit.


 

Things rise and fall in the cultural zeitgeist with the speed of a Japanese bullet train. Why would any one individual wish to conform to the mob mentality of societal pop culture instead of blazing their own trail? After all, the bullet train of pop culture has been known to fly off the rails from time to time.

Following trends does not ensure personal economic or spiritual success. The biggest success stories come about when an iconoclast, some unconventional individual who marches to the beat of his own drummer, eschews the most popular trends and forges something new and surprising. Take George Lucas for example. This is a man who crafted in Star Wars one of the largest cinematic achievements in the history of the art form. Yes, we now look at the 1977 film as a classic, comprised of elements that assure a creative and critical victory. However, at the time of its release, 20th Century Fox executives famously believed that they had invested time and money into a monumental failure and box office flop. It was too different from the popular films of the time, they argued. There was no way it would connect with movie going audiences. Time and good sense have prevailed however and we now understand that it was the very act of separating himself from the sheltered pack mentality of Hollywood that allowed for Lucas to bring his visionary space opera to the silver screen.

In the end it is the ability to reject conventional wisdom that allows an individual to have the greatest impact on society. As per the words of James F. Cooper, “the man who has no other existence than that which he partakes in common with all around him will never have any other than an existence of mediocrity.”

Selling-skills

I love being a writer. I truly do. As a teacher I attempt to center the core of my instruction around the idea of building better writers. Though I may love literature as an art form, I also understand that in the current educational climate the ability to understand the dramatic themes in The Crucible comes secondary to advanced literacy and written communication skills. I try to teach my students the intricacies of using the English language to make themselves understood and how mastery of communication is one of the single most important traits they can attain when it comes to their eventual attempts to move upward in their careers or in societal circumstances.

Nobody can ever accuse me of not having a deep appreciation for the form of writing, and I find immense satisfaction in the act itself. Writing One Fate For Failure was one of the most emotionally fulfilling endeavors I have ever engaged in. I am unimaginably proud of it as a piece of my creative output and I have loved hearing the responses to it from the meager audience it has attracted since its release. (*Side-note: The only available editions thus far are the hardcover, which I know is massively overpriced, and the Kindle edition. I am hoping to have a more affordable paperback edition out soon. I promise it is something I am working tirelessly on as we speak.) What I do not enjoy, or am at least uncomfortable doing on a large scale, is the self-promotion that comes along with the release of a creative work.

This blog is updated with no real attention to regularity. I will simply write when it strikes me as being appropriate. I also have a hard time keeping up with Twitter. Part of this is because I am not a creator with any established cultural awareness. More simply put, my creative work is not popular enough to pay the bills. As such I have a job that takes up a good deal of my time and I cannot dedicate my entire existence to selling the thing that I have spent so much time creating.

The fact of the matter is this; if you create something you want the world to see, if you intend to maintain control of that creation you must also be willing to accept responsibility for the success or failure of that creation.

Thus far, I feel like I have not been living up to the current standard necessary to get the word out for my new novel. I can’t place the fizzle of a reaction to its release to anybody but myself. I just haven’t had the time, or perhaps the drive necessary, to promote the thing 24/7.

The point of writing this isn’t to lament that the book didn’t set the world on fire however. I didn’t have any expectation of that at all. In truth, the number of people who have taken the time to download and read the book has brought a smile to my face. It is also seemingly garnering far more positive a reaction than Grave Danger ever did. No, the point of writing this is to talk about whether a creative work only has value if it has an audience.

John Steinbeck once said that the “audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person-a real person you know, or an imagined person-and write to that one.” I don’t have any true inkling of how many people will read anything I write at any given time, these little essays included. Therefore, I write using myself as an audience surrogate and, in all honesty, simply hope that somebody else enjoys it.

In my mind, the joy of writing isn’t necessarily the idea of those creations finding an audience once I’ve published them, though it is an added bonus. To me, a true creator pushes the content out of their soul because they don’t know any other way to exist. I feel like there was a time when I didn’t think of my writing in this way, but I have slowly but surely come around to this mindset after spending enough time in reflection to grasp the concept that not everything that is great ever finds an audience and sometimes things that never need to see the light of day somehow find their way into the greater consciousness of popular culture.

I recognize that the tone of this essay is a bit scattershot. Perhaps it is because my emotional attachment to my creative output leads to such peaks and valleys. What I hope the supposed audience of this writing will take away is that creativity both is and is not a commodity, and even if nobody ever reads a single line of your creative output, that does not mean it is not valid and a beautiful culmination of creative determination.

All of that said, please be sure to buy One Fate for Failure on Amazon. I think you’ll love it.

return-of-the-jedi-obi-wan

“So, what I told you was true…from a certain point of view.”

I think about those lines, spoken by Obi-Wan Kenobi in Return of the Jedi quite a bit when it comes time to start writing something new. Whose point of view am I telling the story from? Are they reliable in their narration? What is their voice? Is it the best means of transmitting the story in my head to my readers.

In One Fate for Failure, I made the decision to write in the first person. I felt like a great deal could be added to the narrative by filtering it through Maddie’s perspective. The entire tone of the story depended on her voice being an ever present force in the text. Take for example this bit of expository inner-dialog that we get from her in the first chapter;

Rick was ex-Delta and I was Naval Intelligence. We were as different as two people could be, but we had a mutual respect that made us gel in ways that lots of people wished they could. There were plenty of people in the intelligence community who didn’t care for me much at all for one reason or another. I couldn’t tell you why. Well, I could but I won’t because it’s crass and I don’t have the stomach for it. I come from a family that was always big on being proper. My parents were New England blue blood through and through. Cape Cod in the summer type of folks. They raised me to have manners and be respectful like a lady should. Then they died in a boating accident like the worst kind of east coast cliché and in my adolescence discovered a lot of things about myself while rebelling to manage my grief.

If I were to try to re-write that same excerpt of text from a different perspective, the same information would be conveyed but it is the fact that the details being relayed are being voiced by the character herself that lend it the appropriate tone. She is making these observations about herself and that somehow, to me at least, makes the whole passage more legitimate and serves the character better. While Maddie is telling us what is going on in her head, feeding us information, the fact that she is divulging this sort of backstory lets us know that she has a self-analytical mind and thus the layered distribution of information makes for a deeper reading experience.

I have only written in first person once before, in 2012’s Grave Danger. I’m not sure if a pattern is emerging or if my two recent writing exercises demanded a first person narration due to the conventions of their genre. At its heart, Grave Danger is a detective noir, albeit filled with paranormal elements, and the whole thing played out in black and white with that growly voice over narration that was ever present in those early detective films of classic Hollywood. One Fate for Failure’s first person perspective was driven by my desire to round out my central character. There was a central motivation there. It didn’t so much have to do with convention, seeing as it was a take-off of Fleming and his progeny.

So how do you make that final decision as to what perspective to write from? What is the best way to tell your story?

The truth is that it depends on authorial purpose. As a teacher I try to explain authorial purpose to my students and some of them rebel at the idea because they say “well how the hell would I know what he was thinking?” But as a writer your purpose should be clear in your head before you ever sit down to write. I knew when I began outlining One Fate for Failure that I wanted to subvert tropes found in the spy genre and make a comment on those same conventions. I knew that I would want to throw some winks at the audience and the best way to do that was to have the narrator make them for me. That only works within the context of the genre if the narration is first person. Add that to the fact that I wanted my prose to have the rich, layered delivery of information that I mentioned earlier and the choice was practically made for me.

Ask yourself why you want to write and what you are seeking to accomplish. Then you can make the decision as to what perspective to write from. If you can answer those questions, it should be a fairly easy process. If you can’t answer those questions, your story probably isn’t ready to be written yet. I’m already prepping my next project. It’s outlined and ready to go. I know that I want to tell a story that, again, subverts a particular genre, but I want to play within those conventions and as such I know that this time around I will be utilizing an omnipotent third-person narrator. My aim with this is to give the proceedings a feel akin to a folk-tale, as if the story is being related years down the line from someone who heard it from someone else.

A writer needs to be self-analytical to be worth a damn. It is a primal urge to get our stories onto the page but we also have to resist the urge to let the story control us as writers. The story works in service of your own authorial intent. Never lose sight of that.

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One Fate For Failure
Song Before Nightfall
August 2017
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