Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Truth About Writing Books


Work on my second full-length novel continues, slowly. With the holidays and my wife being sick, it’s been hard getting out to Starbucks and remaining there for my typical 6 hour writing sprints (6am-12noon). Yet, even if I did, I’m finding my chapter-per-weekend progress is slowing down as I begin to sort out the final plot details, make sure my climax doesn’t fall flat, and consolidate the denouement. Creating an enemy to hate, redeeming a flawed hero, and giving weight to a fictional world is a monumental task, and it’s always at the end that the gravity begins to pull you down like a rollercoaster bottoming out. That said, the second draft is always the hardest—I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before—but for some reasons you might not expect. For me, I call this stage I’m in the “Longhaul Blues.” That is, the period of disillusionment and creative depression. After looking at sprawling sections of old passages that are, at this point, almost 2-3 years, you want to give up sometimes. Note: the benefit of long term writing projects is personal growth. Then, you start looking at Chapter 1 and the writing is beyond shit and the reality settles that every moment forward will be a slog. To reform and refine what’s there, from coal to diamonds. In a way, it’s both a victory and defeat, seeing how much progress has been made.
The acts of reverse engineering that occur when implementing the notes from draft 1 constitute the bulk of the time; which, when handled by my friend Desmond, often play out like a friar’s club roast. Incidentally, the first notes I received from him for Spirit of Orn made me laugh so hard that I was crying. (That was back when I was washing dishes at Stone Brewing Company, and every lunch break was a release from the unrelenting torment of that place.) This is the best kind of feedback. Something that forces you to realize that you “ain’t shit” and that you ARE NOT the greatest writer of all time. Humility that knocks you on your ass, that grounding, helps embed you with your own characters even, drawing your perspective down to theirs. (Life isn’t fair, there is no rudder (narrator), the struggle is omnipresent, etc.)
There is a layer of fog between the work and yourself after a while. When becoming over-familiar with something, the side effect that comes is that suddenly everything looks overdone. Certain writing conventions and stylistic choices become wrote and it begins to drive you mad. In reality, readers will not catch these devices, most of the time. They key is variety. And you also underestimate the degree by which a reader will “fill in the blanks,” hold a picture in their head of how details transpire unique to themselves. The writer doesn’t see that step in the author-fan dichotomy.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Post-draft 1 research typically begins after reviewing the notes from draft 1. (Desmond initially asked me to read Notes on the Underground and Brave New World for more insight into my main character in Spirit of Orn. Another friend, Bern, told me that I should tune the narrative to fit with a specific audience, which at the time was split between a Christian and a Science Fiction/Fantasy crowd. I chose the latter.) The books that were recommended to you, the essays that corroborate the narrative, films with conceptual inspiration, all of this prepares me for the moment leading up to starting the second draft. It’s like clinging to a life raft in a storm. Oscillating unto cresting waves before crashing down into the foam. Over and over. Then you reach a point in a chapter only to find that about 45% of it will have to be rewritten? The struggle is real friends!
My process is very regimented. That’s intentional, to a degree. I think structure helps keep the momentum, to know what comes next. The Pre-Life crisis (as opposed to mid-life crisis) comes after college, not during freshman year of high school. Its easy proceeding forward knowing what comes next. Once you are done, then what? That where shit really gets tough.
But that’s a blog for another day.


Monday, December 3, 2018

The Author-Fan Agreement

We often hear the phrase “don’t patronize me,” which I, at least, interpret to mean something along the lines of this:

                Don’t assume I work for free, or will work to the specification, quality, or extent because of the preconceived notions about my trade.

In reality, the meaning is rooted in the interaction between two people, one speaking with veiled politeness to another, with the assumption that the former is greater than the latter. The phrase is rooted in the notion of patronage, wherein a wealthy benefactor, for the purpose of boosting their renown or prestige in society, will commission works of art that reflect in some capacity their personality, beliefs, or ideals. Today, it is my opinion that the notion of patronage still exists, though in a distributed sense. Authors, creators, makers, and developers all suckle at the teat of their “base,” and how well they perform at predicting the whims of their supporters will determine, ultimately, their earnings.
                Patronage, historically, has been of great benefit to society in the arts, despite the veiled agendas that underlie the circumstances of their creation. Plays and paintings, theater and sculpture, and many more products have endured and persisted because of motivated individuals indulging an artist’s whims. Today, not much has changed, with Patreon campaigns and Kickstarters, where the motivation of supporting a non-profit or individual (as “backers”) is rewarded by tangible and intangible gifts alike. I myself am considering a Kickstarter to print (for the first time) my third book. (Yes, you heard it here first, folks.) And while the results of these campaigns are mixed, art is still created and incentivized. What’s not to like?
                I have thought about it for a while, this idea of patronage, and how it applies to modern works of art. As both a fan and a creator, I know what I like, and I continue to learn what my fans (if any) also like. I have been frustrated by the creators in my life before. For instance, Patrick Rothfuss (of The Name of the Wind fame) is regularly ridiculed on his Facebook page regarding the unexplained delays of the third and final book of his marvelous Kingkiller Chronicles trilogy. Likewise, Gabe Newell is the butt of every joke on the internet about the permanently incomplete Half-Life 2 episodic series, which was also intended to be a trilogy, but ended with a cliffhanger finale in Half Life 2: Episode 2. Each example illustrates the ire of fandom, from innocuous barbs to toxic threats.
                My view that I formed is one that I wanted to share, if not to clarify why I make art, but also to emphasize how the model of patronage in the modern age is mutually beneficial to the creator and the fan.
                I call it (uncreatively), the Author-Fan Agreement.
                The Author-Fan Agreement (AFA), is a mutual agreement between a writer and their fans to produce content reliably and faithfully, and if (at any point) this agreement is violated then the fans have justified cause to halt patronage. I should clarify what this is not, before I explain.
                The AFA is not a fan dictating to the author, what the work should be about or what it should contain. I’ve said before that I know what I like. I don’t expect my favorite authors to write about the things that I want them to write about. Rather, there are qualities or ideas at play in these stories that draw me in. Regardless of the work, it is not the contents of it I like, but the creative personality that goes in to making the final product. Personally, when I write my books, I do not acquiesce the requests of fans, unless the project involves that. I like to write about things that impact me, challenge me. And though I myself have often lamented at the creative direction of people like Zack Synder and his baffling direction of the early DC Comics cinematic universe, I must observe his right to create art that speaks to him specifically.
                My thoughts of the AFA can be summarized in these points:
  •       An author and his/her fans have entered into a binding, unspoken agreement. We all like to see good art made. We do this every time we buy a book on Amazon or watching a movie at the theaters. We like the things we like so much that we are willing to pay for it. This incentivizes the creator to produce more work.
  •       If, at any point, the author stops producing work the agreement is terminated unless the author clearly communicates to his/her fans the extenuating circumstances for the delay. The unfortunate reality of the modern day is that branding has become so enmeshed with creative expression. If you are not nice to your fans, they will stop buying your stuff. If fans stop buying your stuff, then you no longer have the resources to produce it. It’s true that the maverick image of the author is one that is untethered to society. One who answers to no authority and creates art with unrestricted freedom. But we all aren’t benefactors of trust funds and rent free living conditions. Some of us have families we support. Some of us pay a mortgage. The maverick image is romantic, but not realistic.
  •      The above point allows me to transition into my final thought: the AFA is a two-way agreement. Authors cannot survive without fans and fans cannot be entertained without authors. The relationship is, fundamentally, mutually beneficial. Personally, I love what I do. I love that I have a great day job, but also an amazing dream job that I get to live out every weekend as I slowly craft sprawling narratives and release them to the world. I have been doing this since I was ten years old, and will continue until I die. But the patronage of the fan, the advocacy of the fan, is so important. Without it, all art ceases to be.

One of the best feelings is to talk to a fan, to know that your work made an impact, as an author. I know that feeling to be a fan, to meet Grant Morrison, to match wits with Neil Gaiman. The relationship between the two should ultimately be one of mutual respect and admiration. So, in defense of your heroes, be a good patron. In return, I promise to always try to be the best author I can be.

Love you guys!


Monday, November 12, 2018

The Funny Thing About Names

Today's blog be all like...

I will share a story that illuminates not one of my finest moments.

My wife was sharing with me one of her short stories she wrote in high school (as a part of a project or fun, I can’t quite remember). She told me that she picked out the names of the characters very purposefully throughout the creative process, cross-referencing names with meanings and origins that illuminated aspects of the plot. Truth be told, I did the same thing in high school, writing a many-part story called “Heavy Metal Dawn,” for which I labored months without any consideration for what I would do with the story at its conclusion. I think it is for this reason that I ultimately gave up on it. Anyways, I did the same thing as my wife. Taking Japanese words and appropriating them as “names” (ie. “Guita Watarimono,” or “Guitar Wanderer”), I achieved nigh epic heights of weeaboory (IPA - wiːəburē). And I think it is for this reason, now that I’m older, that I remember that moment, cringing. Names don’t mean anything. They are just things that we call ourselves, because our parents made the choice for us.

This is a postmodern idea, that meaning is fluid and ever changing. It is why gender, politics, race, and religion are all relative and mean nothing anymore. Naturally, then, I would scoff now at an idea like a name and a meaning behind it somehow appending certain virtues and traits. For instance, my name is “Stuart.” Stuart derives from an Old English portmanteau of stig ("house") and weard ("guard"). The later British equivalent is “Steward” and the Anglicized version is “Stuart.” My surname, “Warren,” is eponymous of (what according to Google Dictionary is) “an enclosed piece of land set aside for breeding game, especially rabbits.”

Right from the get-go I am at odds with this. Though I am trustworthy, capable of taking tasks and endeavor to please those I meet, I am not a leader. In fact, growing up I was an outcast. My name, for the most part, has hung around my neck as an albatross since my birth as a sign of my failure to live up to my name’s meaning and import. And while “Warren” maintains some regal quality to it, I hardly imagine myself to be equivalent to a labyrinthine network of burrows, or a hunting ground for rabbits in the middle ages. Patronyms also create names by just combining the name of your father and your sex (Angason for boy or Agnadóttir for girl, in Icelandic). But what if your father was an asshole? Your name is now anathema to any prospects going forward. In any case, I must hate first names because I’m salty as a motherfucker, I guess…

While a first name like “Agni” may confer the legacy of a legendary Swedish king or a Hindu fire deity, the surname was typically an embellishment of the first name. In English traditions, last names were conferred based on the profession of your father, like Smith (From Wikipedia: refers to a smith, originally deriving from smið or smiþ, the Old English term meaning one who works in metal related to the word smitan, the Old English form of smite, which also meant strike.) or Cooper (from “a repairer of wooden vessels such as barrels, tubs, buckets, casks, and vats, from Middle English couper, cowper.”). But does one want to be their father? Or take their father’s profession? That is more of a problem for today. Back then, there was no choice in the matter. A trade brought in money that paid feudal dues.

When it comes to writing, in light of the above, I take a different approach. Names aren’t as important to me as the experiential quality. Living with a character throughout a story, a name like “Roberto” will imbue whatever quality you desire. In Umberto Eco’s book The Island of the Day Before, Roberto’s character evolves over the course of the story, so any preconceptions about the name “Roberto” quickly fade away. Because of this experience I have with reading, I spend no time consulting with reference materials to find “appropriate” names for my characters. Instead, I choose names arbitrarily (most of the time). Because that is what life is like: random and chaotic. I know someone named “Tabitha,” which is a traditional name. But she exudes an eclectic style that seems in conflict with her name. Likewise, I have heard stories of POWs and veterans naming their children after their fallen brothers, as a way of immortalizing their memory, though their children will live their own lives, without the experiential import of their naming. So the use of naming, to me at least, isn’t very important.

Despite all that I’ve said, we did name our daughter “Eowyn,” which is a fictional name invented by J.R.R. Tolkien, invoking the Old English naming methodologies. Tolkien applied this name to a character in his Lord of the Rings trilogy, who stands down a demon king, fulfilling an ancient prophesy to smite evil. Do I necessarily want my daughter to challenge a demon to mortal combat? Not really. But we chose the name for her because it embodies what we wish her to be: strong, confident, and assertive. So, at the end of all this, I’m just a hypocrite. But who isn’t? The defining difference here is that the meaning of names in writing can be more effectively determined due to the innate determinism that defines writing, as opposed to real life, where meaning is in constant flux. And to reject that determinism, in my opinion, makes the work more true to life. 

Monday, October 22, 2018

What I Learned About Puberty Playing Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines

To be honest, I was shooting blanks this week. There’s a lot going on in my life right now, so it’s difficult to focus on one thing at a time. Right now I’m studying for a Networking Certification (for IT) and my daughter just got into Montessori Preschool (awesome) that will cost an additional $250 a month than what we are paying now (not awesome). But that’s an investment I’m willing to make in my daughter’s future, so whatevs’.
                But yesterday, in a moment of tongue-in-cheek amusement, it dawned on me that this one PC game I had fun playing back when I was in Middle School/High School, seemed to carry with it a deeper purpose, one that personally resonated with me. Truth be told, I am not much of a gamer anymore, unless there is a very directed and interesting story running through the game. (I’ve always believed that video games are a contemporary form of pulp fiction entertainment. Readily available and easily discarded.) For instance, The Witcher 3 is a masterclass of interactive storytelling, with a fascinating intertextual analysis of both Fantasy and Science-Fantasy genres existing in the same world. (Portals, guys!). The Stanley Parable also is an interactive discourse in determinism and the illusion of free will presented in videogames in general. (The player feels in control of their destiny, but in reality they are being tricked into running a predetermined maze built on the foundation of mathematics, code, and scripted sequences.) These two are among many examples of incredible storytelling in the gaming medium, but that’s not what this entry is about. It’s about the cartoonish and willful depictions of Vampire clans in pop-culture and roleplaying, specifically how they are rendered in the gameplay of Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodliness (a PC iteration of the world-renown tabletop RPG) and how these clans embody the fantasies of young adult society.

The following is an individual treatment of each clan, all of which I had an opportunity to play through the story of Bloodlines about 15 years ago (good god, I’m old…). The central thesis of this entry was listed above and the below serve to establish it..
From Left to Right: Two Brujah and One Malkavian

One of the easier clans to play as in Bloodlines is the Brujah, because of their favoring strength and less-than-diplomatic resolutions to puzzles and conflict. In gaming terminology, you could call this class a “tank,” meant to absorb damage and draw conflict away from more surgical players exercising specific, high power abilities with long “cool-downs” (aka, the time required to elapse before an ability can be used again). The Brujah are described in the game as anarchists, those against the system, passionate about causes that benefit the disenfranchised. I am keenly aware of the youthful rebellion associate with puberty, and the Brujah epitomize radicalization, independence, and strength. It’s the ideal class for any pasty kid with angst for days and a mom and dad hell-bent of getting them to go to church on Sunday mornings. The need to feel like you have a voice in a crowd, and be loud enough to shout them all down, is such a desire as a young kid going to high school. This game capitalizes on that fervor with profound alacrity.

A clan that I personally identified with was the Gangrel. Gangrels are loaners, wild things that like to do what they want to do and don’t care about the trappings of social commitments. They are content to run free in the forest, transforming into animals and vaping THC oil. Gangrel are depicted in Bloodlines as stoners meshed with furries out of costume. While they are more likely to embrace bestial instincts, its more because they just want to be left the hell alone. I mentioned that I personally identified with this clan, primarily because I didn’t subscribe to any institutions growing up. I didn’t play organized sports (and if I did, I never stuck with one), I didn’t participate in social clubs, and I didn’t have friends at all really. I was content in my own world, which for a lot of kids growing up, is enough. Adolescence is the critical period for finding your identity, and for some that time hasn’t arrived yet. That’s why there’s college.

The Malkavians is one of my least favorite clans in Bloodlines, despite having some of the best dialogue options in the game. This clan in essence is grounded in utter insanity, and the traits demonstrated in the game favor those with unique resolutions to quests or puzzles in general. I don’t like this clan because there’s certain people in High School that I despised that readily subscribe to the modus operandi of the Malkavians, in that they didn’t ever shut the fuck up. Giggly teens constantly talking and pretending that they (and their antics) are god’s gift to the world are incorrigible and irritating as fuck. In the game specifically, Malkavians demonstrate a certain prescience and ability to have insight into potentially ambiguous situations. I find this unendingly amusing, because anyone who is crazy believes that they are the only authority on everything. This manifests in the professional world in the form of “one-upmanship,” where you might be talking to a co-worker about how you found a really great deal on chicken breasts at Sprouts, and this motherfucker comes in and says, “oh yeah? This weekend I went to ONE THOUSAND STORES.” And you just want to punch them in the throat, but can’t because medical insurance.

From Left to Right: Malkavian, Nosferatu, and possible Kuei-Jin (Asian Vampire)
In High School, I was very sensitive. Constantly unmoored by love and it’s entanglements. I did a lot of stupid things back then because I just wanted to feel loved, by someone, anyone. In Bloodlines the Toreador clan emphasizes a lot of these romantic tendencies of young adults. If Romeo and Juliet were vampires, they would be Toreador, because they saw each other for an instant and fell apocalyptically in love with each other. Like calling your girlfriend/boyfriend on the phone and talking to them for hours about stupid shit and then having a game of chicken at the end to see who will hangup first. The Toreador clan fulfills the fantasy of passionate, sensual love to every teenager. They are obnoxious like everyone in the Twilight franchise. And they have the power to seduce and charm, a power that every awkward middle schooler wished they had the ability to exercise on command, instead of just hanging out by the snack bar on hay bales waiting for dance to be over. If the Toreador clan was a philosophical movement in history, they would be the embodiment of the Romantics, in essence.

The Tremere, a clan of blood sorcerers and adept followers of magiks, I have difficulty placing into my paradigm of “clans analogous to middle school and high school experiences.” I will say that at my highschool there was a lot of people involved in new age pagan movements, such as Wicca and Asatru Paganism. (In matters of religion I am less vitriolic than I was in college.) Suffice to say, the art of divination and extispicy garners it’s coarse reputation by established religious norms, because magic (at least in Judeo-Christian religious tradition) is seen as a means of hacking reality or rigging the system. In essence, the practitioner is unhappy with the current state of reality and endeavors to change it. So, maybe the Tremere represent a sophisticated symbol of my desire to cheat on my math tests? Otherwise I think it’s safe to say that the RPG developers of Masquerade were like, “fuck! We need wizards,” and voila.

 Oh boy. The Ventrue. Those destined to be hated because they live on top of the social ladder. The Ventrue are the elite bourgeoisie of vampire culture. To be one of them, is to be adored. To not be one of them, it to jealously admire them from a distance. In High School and Middle School, everyone wants to be popular. Popularity is both a tool of power and affection. Power is an active principal, typically a force moving outward on to other people. (ie. Using your status to gain favors or influence certain social politics.) Affection is a passive principal. The adoration of those below you who desire to advance their own social position is gratifying in two ways. First, you feel like you are royalty, which implies you have a good life. Second you have the power to dictate the social hierarchy. The Ventrue idealizes a foundational desire in young adults to feel like they can move up in the social hierarchy. Moving up allows us to get better friends, or access a promotion and perks. Popularity is the ultimate distillation of the Ventrue. And the favors afforded by them are so morally compromised, you might as well sell your soul to the devil.

Last, but not least is the Nosferatu clan, who apparently live in the sewers because they are so ugly that just seeing them would expose the Vampire Illuminati. Those that feel completely isolated from society because of their looks or because of their circumstances, identify well with the Nosferatu. Their external appearance (sociological or physical) would compel these individuals to the heights of critical acclaim, like a scorned nerd in high school growing up to manage a tech empire and marry into a harem of trophy wives and extramarital partners. The Nosferatu are resourceful and adept at gathering intelligence. In other words they are indispensable lackeys. I didn’t know anyone like this in High School, truth be told. So maybe the Nosferatu is the AV Club?
So there you have it, my wild hair-brained theory. 

All in jest of course.

Friday, October 5, 2018

King of The Hill’s Legacy as THE Animated Sitcom

Earlier last year my boss gave me the first six seasons of King of the Hill as a gift, but I’ve had a longstanding admiration for the show and had seen most, if not all, of the episodes. Re-watching the show uncovered old memories and reflections that compelled me to write what you are about to read. I was exposed to the show both when I was a young kid and an adult, first watching the episodes on Fox during the celebrated Sunday night lineup, and catching re-runs on Cartoon Network’s adult programming block, Adult Swim. For those not familiar with the premise (heaven forbid it), the story is centered around the Hills, a family living in a Texan small town called Arlen, based off of other cities found in the DFW Metroplex. Even though the population is around 140,000 people, local tradition is defiantly proud, with many people out on their doorsteps supporting parades, high school football games, and patronizing local business, all centered close to the town. Outside the city limits, other small towns with their own traditions and cultures staunchly enforced, rival that of Arlen, the chief being the town of McMaynerberry. The entire show focuses on the rural life of Middle America with a comedic, astute level of detail. The show’s creator, Mike Judge, who grew up in Texas in a town very much like Arlen is privy and intimately familiar with the regional attitudes and customs.
                Of course, the show’s titular character, Hank Hill, is the star of the show, depicted as an idealistic, naive, suburbanite with unapologetic moral character. And though the first season depicted Hank as coarse and stereotypically conservative, the depth of his character comes to light in subsequent seasons, as writers of the show created the portrait of a man that is principled yet capable of easily misunderstanding the changing world around him. Hank is exposed to modern elements of the world (cosmopolitan, postmodern ideals, “liberal” ideologies, unique subcultures, and various ethnicities) throughout the show’s duration, often following a plot like the one below:
  1. ·         Hank encounters a subculture
  2. ·         Hank struggles with the values of that subculture.
  3. ·         Hank ultimately accepts or rejects the subculture (by reasoned or arbitrary means).
The tension between tradition and new thought is constant, ultimately striking a perplexingly palatable middle ground. In this regard, Hank truly is the archetypical American male acting as an ecumenical bridge between liberalism and conservatism. 
                The supporting characters in the show are varied across different socioeconomic backgrounds and ideas. Hank is supported by his wife Peggy and his son Bobby. (Their relationship I will elaborate on later.) Hank’s neighbors, all of whom are developed throughout the series, are colorfully nuanced. Dale Gribbel, Boomhauer, and Bill Dauterive serve to contrast Hank’s ideals. Dale is a conspiracy theorist, paranoid and unsettled. Opposite of Dale is Bill, a hopelessly naïve and sad individual, willing to believe anything if the result is his own gratification. Boomhauer is the least developed in the series, but strikes a moderate balance between Dale and Bill while still retaining faults and complexity.

                Dale and Bill are easily my favorite characters in the show due to their co-dependency featured throughout the show’s run. Despite being characterized as a conspiracy theorist and always suspicious of the world he occupies, Dale often makes inaccurate assessments of his surroundings. And despite the trouble he gets into, Hank sees him as a friend that he can confide in, even though Hank’s father, Cotton Hill (an embittered war hero), continually presses Dale to antagonize Hank. A prominent plot point featured in the show is Dale being cuckolded by John Redcorn, an Anasazi descendent that drives an open top Jeep blasting 80s metal. Dale is entirely unaware that his son Joseph, with dark, rust colored skin, is not his biological son. Yet, despite being completely unaware of this, Dale continues to be a good father, immersed in his own male fantasy of charisma and sexual bravado.
                Dale’s opposite, Bill, I believe acts a foil. Where Dale initiates conflict, Bill participates willingly because he is so morosely depressed. Bill’s background is that of a well-to-do football athlete of rising acclaim. Once possessing the bravado and popularity as a record-holding high school senior, Bill’s strength is reduced by a manipulative woman (Lenore) who utterly ruins his life. Bill makes me laugh the hardest, as I watch this picturesque, sad individual constantly undercut himself. Bill’s character is a catharsis to his friends who have, for better or worse, moved on from their high school legacies and embraced domesticity. Bill’s talent as a barber, however, unites him with Hank, as he is the only one capable of giving Hank his signature haircut. But even before this, there is a resounding love Hank feels for his friend Bill, and he is always willing to cheer him up, if only to distract Bill from how depressing his life is.

                Cotton Hill, Hank’s father is a WWII veteran who was crippled by enemy fire in the Pacific Theater. Often prone to exaggerating his stories, Cotton hangs his suffering over the heads of all he meets, his son Hank foremost, and Peggy as well (who Cotton only refers to as “Hank’s Wife” in a chauvinistic and demeaning tone).The conflict between Hank and his father dominates the show throughout its run, ultimately ending with Cotton’s death. Mostly this is by contrasting vitality. Hank, who is getting older and struggled to conceive his son Bobby with Peggy, observes his own father (easily in his mid-seventies) impregnate a trophy wife and who then gives birth to Hank’s uncle. Hank’s insistence on “manly” activities and hobbies does not compensate for the deep unreciprocated love he feels for his father. Cotton essentially serves as Hank’s bully in the many flashbacks to Hank’s youth. Still, Cotton is outrageous and principled, nearly making up for his deficiencies as a husband and father. In one episode, Cotton is forced out of a home that he can no longer afford. After a failed attempt at rejoining society, Cotton contemplates suicide, so that his wife and newborn can benefit from a large life insurance policy. And as Hank realizes what his father is about to do, he discovers his father teaching his newborn how to shoot in the attic of the VFW. And Hank, relieved, is able to convince his father to accept financial assistance, which Cotton begrudgingly accepts. Like the entire cast of King of the Hill, Cotton is portrayed as a flawed individual with little to like about him as a person, but can be endearing for his severe independence, as appears in the following recounting of his war exploits against Imperial Japanese soldiers:
“I was fourteen, just a little older than Bobby. But I knew Uncle Sam needed me, so I lied and signed up. We had beat the Nazzys in Italy, and they shipped me to the Pacific Theater. A Tojo torpedo sent our troop ship to the bottom. I could only save three of my buddies: Fatty, Stinky, and Brooklyn. They were kind of like you fellas [to Bill, Dale, and Boomhauer], only one of them was from Brooklyn. Out of the sun came a Tojo Zero and put fitty bullets in my back. The blood attracted sharks. I had to give 'em Fatty. Then things took a turn for the worse. I made it to an island, but it was full of Tojos! They were spitting on the U.S. flag! So I rushed 'em, but it was a trap. They opened fire and blew my shins off. Last thing I remember, I beat 'em all to death with a big piece of Fatty. I woke up in a field hospital, and they were sewing my feet to my knees."
                Without any hesitation, I can say definitively that Hank and his son Bobby’s relationship is a definitive study in character development in the medium of television. What I find so charming about Bobby is how different he is from his father. While Hank is very aware of who he is and what he wants to be, Bobby continuously vacillates between hobbies, others characterized as bizarre and unconventional. Bobby’s tenure includes stand-up comedy, professional dog dancing, being a magician and ventriloquist, playing soccer, and adopting a feral raccoon. Each of these bizarre hobbies, of course, irritates Hank, yet the ultimate result is Hanks’s acceptance of his son. This constitutes a dynamic relationship underscoring Hank’s prejudice, but also his willingness to challenge his beliefs because of the love he has for his son. Oftentimes the end result is Hank “winning Bobby over” with his conservative values, but the progressive attitude of Bobby opens Hank’s mind to new experiences and beliefs, chiefly with his relationship with his neighbor Kahn Souphanousinphone’s daughter Kahn Jr. (alluding to Kahn’s own disappointment that he had a girl, instead of a boy).
                I hope I still have you with me. (I love this show!) Suffice to say, I will leave you with this final picture of how King of the Hill masterfully completed its arc in the concluding season of the show. In the final episode it is revealed that Bobby is very adept at grading butchered meat, and he takes his talent to a national competition where he ultimately wins. The closing shot of the show is Bobby and Hank grilling together (as Hank is an enthusiast of “propane and propane accessories”), finally united by a complimentary hobby. It’s a beautiful moment of unification, where opposites attract and Hank is truly, without pause, proud of his son. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

On Conspiracy Theories

“Yes, there is a conspiracy, in fact there are a great number of conspiracies that are all tripping each other up. And all of those conspiracies are run by paranoid fantasists and ham fisted clowns.” 

“The truth is, that it is not the Jewish banking conspiracy or the grey aliens or the 12 foot reptiloids from another dimension that are in control. The truth is more frightening, nobody is in control. The world is rudderless.” —Alan Moore

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the effects of fake news, howit spreads, and why we should know better than to believe it. The two above quotes by Alan Moore speak to the detrimental effects of conspiracy theories. And while fake news and conspiracy theories are two different things individually, together they supplement each other. Fake News supports conspiracies and conspiracy theories beget Fake News.
                The two quotes, read in the order presented, could very well be one statement, but I believe that they were uttered on two different occasions. The latter idea is more credible because Alan Moore, while believing in wild and esoteric things, is also strangely rooted in the traditions of Modern Skepticism. He’ll satirize power structures and lampoon the uptight, puritanical sensibilities of Jacobean England and be just as willing to promote, at length, hermetic traditions which, just like any political party or established religions authority, have their own standards and practices, orthodoxy and orthopraxy. He’s an odd bird, but very pragmatic in presenting his schismatic ideas.
                The first quote presents conspiracy theorists, very plainly, as idiots. One may only need to read the twitter feed for the Flat Earth Society to gain an appreciation for their dedication to believing lies and fables as old as recorded human history. The idea also that there are competing theories, that there are many in the running is interesting. How we see the world (aka, our worldview) defines every detail and contour of our experiences, from tactile to emotional. They mean a lot to us, and we have defended them historically, even killing other human beings to preserve the purity of our worldview. A conspiracy theory is like a worldview, except that the phrase “conspiracy theory,” without any additional context, is typically pejorative. “Conspiracy theory” could also be interpreted with a slight bias invoking edginess such as books like “The Divine Conspiracy,” by Dallas Willard which is a title that invokes how Christianity has been under-appreciated / misunderstood, and that traditional viewpoints on Orthopraxy and Orthodoxy are not what they seem. Still, Willard wants to spread the gospel and be a good servant for Jesus, which leads me to believe that he wants the exact opposite what a conspiracy theorist wants, which is mainstream acceptance. Part of what makes conspiracy theories so great (to the adherent) is that they enjoy the taboo aspects of conspiracy theories. It is the hidden knowledge that is only privy to a select few. It is the weightiness of the knowledge that, if accepted, would invert society and cause chaos. It is almost power over someone else that doesn’t know. Which brings me to my next point…
                “The world is rudderless,” in Moore’s words is the dissembling assessment for a conspiracy theorist. People desire, innately, to control others through knowledge. (I feel the same way sometimes.) But what people also desire are explanations for the things in their lives that aren’t capable of being understood. It is a psychosis that infects the mind and allows a conspiracy theorist to look into every minute detail of the world and link it to an underlying cause, sinister or otherwise. Alex Jones is a popular example of this. His positions and beliefs on certain issues are dumbfounding. And whether or not he truly believes what he says, the content he presents consistently malevolent. His opinions and positions become the salve of those who are already afraid, who now have their explanations for their inexplicable fears. That I have met people who think that JFK was ordered to be killed by the CIA (or Deep State, or whatever), that reality is a comfort to them, more so than the reality: that he was shot by a disturbed individual, or a spy for the Russian Government. That there are people who believe Barack Obama is a Muslim and from Africa, that is a better explanation to them of reality than the real one: that it is possible for an African American to rise the ranks of society to a plateau of great intellectual capacity and statesmanship. The key ingredient in conspiracy theories is fear. Everything else follows after: anger, hatred for the Other, confusion, desperation, and self-alienation.
                Now the irony is not lost on me that, after saying all these things, I would assert, still, that I am a Christian, despite that many Christians around the world are the chief offenders at succumbing to conspiracy theories, or the fears that predicate them. The best I can say is that the orthopraxy and orthodoxy of Christianity is firmly laid out in the example of Jesus, and to differ is folly. And those that would twist His words to satisfy their unjustified fears and prejudices are more willing to fabricate an accommodating false reality than adhere to the very things they claim to believe. We believe that the world is directed by the sovereignty of God and not “rudderless” as Moore asserts. However, if I’m wrong and there is no god, then the world is indeed without direction. Hopefully, however, that direction is toward progress instead of toward the erosion of everything we've achieved.


That this is coming out on  September 11th, a day that will live in infamy, is coincidental. I'm aware of dozens of conspiracies asserting the twin towers attack was a work of mischief. All of them are bullshit. And anyone who believes them should be revoked of their citizenship. 


Monday, September 3, 2018

Why I Don’t Do Regular, Scheduled Content

Just a brief aside, something that I should really just pin somewhere, but I wanted to clarify it. I’m sure by now it’s obvious. Just looking at my previous posts, and the time that they are posted, should indicate what I’m about to admit.
I don’t practice the art of regularly scheduled content.
In 2012, I was encouraged to start a posting regimen for this blog, which used to have a long complicated name and bears not repeating. The motivation in doing so was so that I could start making a name for myself as an author, because at that time I was finishing up Spirit of Orn and getting ready to submit it to BookBaby. Between 2012 and 2014, I maintained a regular posting schedule until I had a nervous breakdown and wasn’t able to continue. (Don’t overwork yourselves kiddos’!) Being over worked isn’t my primary rationale for not posting a strict Monday-Wednesday-Friday blog at 10AM, but the stress of having to produce that much did weigh on me constantly
                Regularly scheduled content is great for illustrators and photographers, not so much for writers, that is unless their work relies/focuses on current events. This is at least what I discovered. And though the regimen of producing content at that frequency for so long actually taught me the invaluable skill of writing on command, the content was not always great. Worse, it was not always inspired, a lot of times featuring filler and redundant, petty topics.
                Most authors only have one or two good things to say. The rest is just repetitious intersection with these previous, core ideas. (ie. Stephen King with his english teachers and librarians) I’m no different, and I think that the greatest challenge when writing is to keep up the artifice of originality.
                All this to consider, I wanted to let you all know that, even though I’m not regular, I write when I feel inspired. I never like phoning it in. Typically you can expect from me a piece of content about twice per month and a book every two years. Obviously, I could—and would—love
 to write more often (1-2 books per year), and produce an income able to support myself and my family, but I also work 45-50 hours per week and have a daughter to raise. I no longer have the luxury of casting all things to the wind and writing full-time, though I wish it so. Despite all odds even, I am able to still produce content without having to be independently wealthy. Bottom line: I love what I do. My time is limited. And I love to use whatever time I have available to continue my stories. My Saturday morning writing stints at Starbucks are always productive and my books come along quickly despite everything in my life.What more could I ask for?
                Someday, maybe in 20 years I’ll make it. By then I could probably produce a book every 6-10 months (assuming I have 40 hours a week to write a good story and if I have improved). Either way, the work life balance continues. I’m sure you all can relate.

Until Next Time Folks!