Monday, October 31, 2016

Multiverse Writer's Manifesto

This may be a bit disjointed. Figuring out a way to put it all together in such short time is a bit challenging.

I believe in the multiverse. I believe that information is spread along the universe and can be intercepted by people with certain skills. I believe that cultures are all trying to make sense of that information through religious beliefs and folklore. I believe that each culture, at its core, conveys the same information, particularly in regard to the spirit world. I believe that writers are capable of tapping into this stream of information and present it in the guise of stories. Therefore, most stories actually exist somewhere, in some alternate universe, and we get peeks of them. And, there's a good possibility that one can step into these stories.

It happens often enough in certain fantasy stories. Someone is sent to a different time or different world and must survive and/or find his or her way back to the original world. Aside from the desire to experience the fantastical unknown, why does that idea keep cropping up? Even as far back as folktales and mythology, you see people traveling to the fairy realm or spirit realm and return many years later. They are the same age whereas everyone else had aged. Why this similarity between cultures if it isn't somehow true, somewhere?

Years ago, my best friends and I mused about a multiverse. Granted, we didn't have that term at the time. This was back in, oh... 2000 before we read a bunch of comics and the Marvel and DC universes relied heavily on the idea. And before we learned the difference between "universe" and "observable universe." We were huge fans of anime (and other nerdy things) at the time and wished that it could be true. Somewhere. And we determined that if the universe was as infinite as science claimed, then surely we couldn't be the only planet with life on it. In fact, there could be other "Earths" out there with "humans" on them, each just slightly different from our own world. It's infinite, so why not? Somewhere way, way out there... our favorite stories could exist. It was a comfort, in a way.

Cut to modern day and scientists have admitted to the existence of a multiverse. Comic book fans rejoice. In fact, in Spooky Action at a Distance by George Musser, he postulates that we just lack the perception to see each possible reality as our other selves experience it. Instead of being an untold distance away, it's right next to us, on the other side of... something. It's that close. Kinda makes you wonder about multiple personality disorder, doesn't it? Think about that for a moment. Different personalities coming forth to deal with various situations, interacting with the core personality's world. What if some of them are actually that same person but from a different reality? And they're all bleeding through into one, all aware of each other, all aware of their surroundings, all reacting to it. It makes my writer sense tingle.

And about that writer sense...

If you interview authors about the writing process, most will admit that the characters speak to them--somehow. The author doesn't have much control over the story because of this. Characters--in good stories at least--need to be able to stretch and grow and change organically. The story must change to accommodate them. Writers, then, are more like mediums. They write the story as the characters tell it to them, be it through auditory stimulation of hearing conversations or visual daydreams for watching scenes unfold. Sometimes it's just a burst of knowledge, a sudden flaring connection that tightens the story in the writer's mind, much like that burst of inspiration or enlightenment. Some authors have gone as far as admitting that they have little control over some stories. Stephen King, for instance, has said that he wrote the Dark Tower series from his navel, that it just poured out of him and he simply wrote everything down. And then there's the fact that Cujo was written while he was on pain killers and, consequently, he doesn't remember writing it. Yet there it is. Whole. Complete. Good. Other authors, like Sharon Creech, say they don't have a general outline for stories. They have an idea, sit at their computers (or notebooks) and start typing to see what emerges. (I heard her admit to this during a lecture in Pittsburgh a few years ago through the Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures Series).

Most popular authors will say that aspiring writers should write every day. It establishes a routine and habit and allows the words to flow easier as time passes. And that's probably true. But perhaps it's more than that. Perhaps the words flow easier because the writer is tapping into that stream of information passing between the multiverses. The stories carried on cosmic winds. The Jungian collective memory.

But what about editors and beta readers? So many stories reach publishing editors only to be returned with major edits and revisions, thus altering the entire story. What people may not know is that most editors start as writers. Thus they are able to tap into the same stream of knowledge, especially with a guide--a talisman, amulet, focus point--that helps to channel that specific information. They can interpret the story in a different way, they may see it clearer, and together with the author can manage to present the clearest representation of that story. Same with beta readers. That way what hits the shelves, the final product, is as close to true as possible.

And what about that revision process? Surely all that information traveling between universes won't arrive perfect and clear and pure. Have you watched TV when the satellite dish wasn't pointed in the right direction? It's all garbled, isn't it? And what about talking on the phone with someone on the other side of the world (on a lan line, of course). Distant, muted, filled with static. Point is, we're probably getting whispers of the story. And anyone who's ever played Telephone knows that the message could be easily lost in translation... and transference. We're grasping at the idea, searching for other people involved, trying to work out what happens. With editors and beta readers and revision, the image is made solid and as clear as possible. It might not be completely true, but it's close to it.

And what about authors who incorporate their lives into the story? Details from their childhood, things they hear in passing at the time, their immediate surroundings, their friends or teachers or family members or coworkers... That is our brains recognizing patterns. It's making connections in order to better understand the story. And when something in our immediate reality matches with the story, our brains have an "ah-ha!" moment and latches onto it. We incorporate it, not knowing that the elements were already part of the story.

It's nice to think about, knowing that our favorite characters or favorite stories are real somewhere. There are a lot of bad stories that we'd rather not be real, but there must be that balance, the good and the bad. We don't have control over our own world and the stories it produces, except our personal ones. We have no say in what the universe produces. But we can be sure that for every bad, there is a good. For every evil entity, there is a good one fighting it. And there are thousands of stories we can embrace, knowing that they're real. Somewhere.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Interviewing Daredevil: The Hypothetical Process

I've been watching many interviews about Daredevil. I could keep tally marks of all the questions repeated across the board.
- You play a blind character. How did you prepare for that role? Was it difficult?
- You're part of the Marvel universe. Do you think you'll be part of the Avengers? Will be Avengers make appearances in your show? Who will be included in season two? What about such-and-such?
- What would you like to see happen in season two?
- (At cons mostly) What was your favorite scene to perform?
- In your opinion, who is the hottest female superhero? (don't get me started on that one)
- Did you read comics when you were growing up?
The interviewer in me wants to go "Just do your freakin' homework and don't ask the questions that have been repeated a dozen times!" But then the journalist in me really starts to think, and I realize that (like serial articles) you have to interview and write as if your audience knows nothing about the subject. So, all those basic questions will be asked as a baseline for the other questions. And, knowing that, I want to turn around and ask the interviewer: "What do you really want to ask?"

We all have those little questions that bubble inside when we watch episodes or interviews. Silly ones that never get into the actual interview, or at least never get recorded or aired. Mine, in particular for Charlie Cox/Daredevil, is: "Did you go around writing giant Zs over everything when you wore the black mask costume?"

Think about it. ;)

(Follow-up question would be: "Did you grow up with images of Zorro in the U.K., or is that just an American thing?")

But then... if you work for an entertainment medium (site, magazine, show, etc), you have to assume that your audience is somewhat knowledgeable about trends. And Daredevil should be recognizable enough that most viewers already know he's blind. And it doesn't take much thought to determine how the actors would prepare for such roles. The studio would hire a consultant who would temporarily train the actor in key points about being blind. The studio would hire a personal trainer who would kick the actors into shape (or, in Elden Henson's case, eat a bunch of doughnuts). The actors would also dive into the comics to learn as much about their characters as possible, then learn which angle (in terms of authors; Frank Miller vs. Brian Michael Bendis vs. et al) the studio is using to determine how to portray the characters properly. Knowing that should enable the interviewer to break away from the standard questions and concentrate on something different. Can you imagine how happy the actors would be to encounter something different?

So what else would I ask?
- You are now a recognizable figure in the fandom world. How has your daily life changed because of this? For example, are you stopped more often by fans on the street? Is your daily routine interrupted often, or are you still able to go through your day without incident?
- Similarly, your promotional tours are much larger than ones from other smaller-scale productions. How much time are you able to spend at home between traveling for interviews and shooting the new seasons?
- Charlie, how did you physically prepare for such a strenuous role? What, specifically, did you do to embody Matt Murdoch? When did you begin the workout sessions after gaining the role?
- Now that you've tucked a season under your belt, what, if anything, are you looking forward to with your character in season two? Are you planning to explore or play with any aspects?
- Charlie, you were selected from the Boardwalk Empire lineup to play Daredevil. What other roles, if any, helped you to prepare for your portrayal of Daredevil?
I imagine that interviewing for something like this is a weird balance between wanting to interview the actor as a person, and the actor as a representative for the show/franchise. More often than not, the actors are answering questions on behalf of Netflix and are limited to what responses they can give. Usually, you can notice a trend of the first time an answer is given (which is full of pauses and filler utterances and stammers as the actors figure out what to say and how to say it). Over time, as the question is asked repeatedly, the actors develop a script. Then they must determine how to respond with the same answer but in different ways, as if that was the first time they answered, and as if it was the first time they happily said, "That's a good question," to the same old thing.

I want to get them away from that script. I want to get to the person under the official mask.

I wonder how to get a job in an organization that would allow the questions I want to ask...

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Kids and Possible Ghosts

My "niece" visited this morning. Laura had spent the night so we could go out to dinner last night and attend a NaNoWriMo Write-In. Her husband and daughter came to pick her up late this morning while we ate breakfast. Once here, Ava didn't want to leave our place, which she admitted freely and repeatedly. The last time she'd slept over, she spent all the next morning watching Curious George episodes and playing with our giant red exercise ball, which is just about as tall as she is.

She played with that ball while Laura and I ate at the table, then came to sit on Laura's lap. Seconds later, she stared at nothing and gave this huge smile. Laura asked, "What are you smiling at?" Ava didn't answer. So I half-jokingly said that maybe Pap-Pap was here and making faces at her. And Ava gave a quiet, "Yes."

Little kids can often see what most of us can't. Spirits and other creatures that exist on a separate plane. As we grow, most of us lose that ability. We learn that ghosts aren't real, or that spirits go up to heaven and watch from up there. I've always thought that ghosts are still around, especially after a recent death. And in order for Laura to spend the night, I moved Pap-Pap's ashes and picture from the guest room to my room, in order to remove any weird feelings from sleeping in a room with someone else's grandfather's ashes there. Laura said she wouldn't have minded, but I didn't want to take that possibility. The ashes are now inside a glass case where I'm keeping his folded army flag and other knickknacks, until Grandma moves up and claims them. It's been nice having his ashes nearby, and I'm fighting off selfish tendencies to ask Grandma for a little bit to keep. It's silly... Heat will change the composition of matter. They're his ashes, his remains, but not him. Not really. But sometimes, I press my hand against the box and wish him hello and goodnight. And sometimes I think he's watching, though there's no evidence of it.

Ava doesn't lie. She hasn't learned about it yet. She'll make up stories about people and animals in picture books (which most kids don't do until they're a couple years older, apparently), but she doesn't yet have imaginary friends or make up games with invisible beings. And she'll freely admit to things with yeses that contain inflections: quiet, loud, easy, reluctant... but they're always true. To have her say "Yes" after I mention Pap-Pap making faces at her.... Laura and I just looked at each other in this "whoa" moment and I said, "I'm okay with that! That's awesome. I'm completely okay with that."

It's a nice thought. I can imagine it, too. Big, wide-mouthed smile of joyful surprise, then squeezed up consternation. Just to make her laugh. He'd never met Ava, but considering Laura's relationship to me and the fact that Pap-Pap always welcomed Laura in the house, I think he'd have liked to see Ava at least once. Maybe he finally has.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Aurora Borealis... Kinda... Maybe... And a Meteor Shower!

Today I learned that Pennsylvania had good viewing conditions for the northern lights. Apparently the solar storm was strong enough that it sent the lights this far south. So I spread the word, and the night just happened to coincide with stitch-n-bitch with friends and a minor meteor shower.

So, after pizza and wine, we discovered when the best viewing conditions were and piled into two cars to sneak into a nearby state park. Yup, I was a bad girl. Look at me, sneaking into a state park after hours to view cosmic events. So bad.

My friends lead us to a field where they'd watched fireworks before, and where the patrolling park rangers might be a little lenient. We crossed a road into a field and looked north, past the bright highway and toward a radio tower. The sky beyond, along the horizon, held a glow that was very similar to that of New Castle, which was much bigger to the west of our position. But that glow was so intense that it created a dome over the area, whereas this glow to the north was subdued and faded closer to the top, and it wasn't nearly as big. We kept saying that it might have had a green hue, and it might have been undulating, but really... we might have also been trying too hard. I'd seen pictures from Iowa, and those were definite, vivid green glows with some pink on the edges. This was just... a glow, a haze. A suggestion of light that could just as easily have been Slippery Rock's light pollution.

So instead, we tilted our heads back and watched the meteor shower. There were a handful of really bright, long ones. Ones that made us go, "Ooh! Over there!" and "Oh! There's one!" One even left a trail. And another faded only to appear again closer to the horizon. And where we were, it was so dark that we could actually discern the Milky Way. After a while, we walked back to the cars, where the highway's light pollution from cars wasn't nearly as bright, and the north was shielded by nearby trees. We leaned against cars and turned in slow circles in one spot, trying to look in all directions, willing something to appear in our peripheral visions to catch our attentions, so we could inform everyone early enough. Or maybe turn around and there, in the opposite direction, would be a bright one. Apparently we were only supposed to see 5-10 an hour, and we exhausted that count early.

But it was so fun just standing there, in the dark, staring at stars and the galaxy and meteorites with loved ones around me. And if the slight glow to the north was, in fact, the borealis, then the feeling that we saw it with significant others and best friends is just... fulfilling. Happy. I felt alive, even while waiting for something to happen. As if I were actually living my life instead of going through motions. And we never got caught. A car went past slowly, once, with a spot light searching the opposite side of the road, but it was down on a parallel road and nowhere near us, and no one stopped to ask us what we were doing. By the time cars went directly past us, we were leaning against our own cars and looking up.

I've never seen a meteor shower. I've never been able to. The conditions have always been overcast or I've had to work during it or early the next morning. But tonight, everything came together nicely. It might not have been one of those grand showers, but it was something to remember.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Writing Gripes: The Flash: Season 2 Episode 1

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

Disclaimer: I love The Flash. It's a great show and a wonderful foil to Arrow. That doesn't mean it doesn't have gaps in the writing.

Ok, Flash writers, so let's think about this for a moment. You have a Meta Human Task Force. Most people don't know who the Flash is. You have half of Team Flash working for or related to the police department. And you have the core members standing in the middle of a busy precinct office floor, throwing around Barry and the Flash's names in conjunction with each other. Don't you think one of the other observant officers will overhear their normal-volume conversation and realize who the Flash is? I don't care that he's about to get a key to the city. Keep that secret on lockdown. You made them careless, and an officer, mad scientist, and a journalist cannot be careless. The fact that there were no consequences to that tiny conversation shows no follow-through on your part. It's the little things, people, that help us to maintain our suspension of disbelief.

And speaking of that secret, why isn't he keeping his face and voice hidden anymore? With facial recognition software, he can't be seen around officials. Does he not care anymore, is that what you're trying to say?

Also, Ronnie and Dr. Stein. There was a great to-do about how they're connected and can sense one another. You split them in the first ten minutes of the episode and treat it like Ronnie died. And yet, you have a connection to him right there who can confirm whether he's still around, somewhere. You don't explain whether that singularity would separate that connection. And yet, if one dies, the other dies, and clearly Dr. Stein is still alive. So why are they grieving?

This is easy stuff to fix.

Dear Pap-Pap

Grandma says we used to stand at the top of the steps and talk late into the night. I don't remember this... How many conversations am I missing?

I told her that they were probably such a daily occurence that they never registered in my long term memory. I've since tried to recreate those missing memories. I have maybe... an inkling that it happened once, but no idea what we talked about. And I could be imagining things anyway...

What I do remember is going upstairs and hearing your small TV on, because you'd come up to bed hours beforehand. And you'd still be awake, watching whatever, or snoring through the show. A couple times, I might've snuck in to turn the TV off because it was keeping me awake. Most times, though, I could rely on you eventually waking up, realizing it was still on, and turning it off. Not as if I was going to bed at an early time anyway...

And I can remember countless late nights talking with Grandma, instead. Sitting at the kitchen table or in the living room, talking about whatever topic or that day's events... They stopped, after a while... When I was working late nights at the library or coming home to eat and immediately go upstairs for homework. And now that she's moving back up north, I wonder how many of my "Friday" nights will become late night conversations with her again, in her new, but small, living room.

I don't know if this will be better for her. I'd like to think there would be more visiting and doing stuff together. But you had that with aunt Dauna anyway. In reality, it won't be much different. Except that Grandma will know the area better. I just hope this is the right thing. It feels right. And it feels like you'd agree.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Dear Pap-Pap

I held up better than expected today. I'd forgotten how easy it was to get to the church. Turns out, Evans City was holding its Zombie Weekend and was setting up when we went through the first time. It was really busy on the way out. Seems to be something to help the shops. Also turns out that Zelie had some sort of Fall Festival. It's basically Horse Trading Days. It looks exactly the same, but in the fall. It also seems to stretch further than that one intersection by the stone church, because there were more tents set up in a parking lot a couple blocks up Main Street.

I'd forgotten what Jennifer's voice sounded like. I think you would've liked to hear her. I tried to sing for you. You always liked my voice, too, but it seems it's not what it used to be. I just can't hit those high notes anymore. And, honestly, it was difficult to sing in certain sections. Especially in Precious Lord. That was hard... People kept telling me how well I did with your eulogy. Mom and Grandma helped pare it down, admittedly, the night before. I was fine until I got to the last paragraph... And Grandma said I made her cry twice.

Having Michael sitting behind me was a godsend. And having him to go home to, and turn to for comfort... And Kelly, Damon, and Laura arrived, too. I think you would have liked knowing the levels of support from friends and family, today.

The pastor, though I still don't like the man, made me cry a little, too. For some reason, something he said in the beginning--dressed in a white robe as he was--made me think of you standing there in a glowing white robe. Watching and grinning. And it's weird... not just knowing that you like that pastor and the church (the community is nice, I admit), but also seeing those images in my mind without believing them.

I'd like to think some of it's real. It's a nice thought. It's definitely comforting, and I see why the notion is so appealing to grieving people and those who fear what comes next. Still, it's odd to have such conflicting notions.

I dreamed about you the other night. Was it you? It halfway looked like you, and half didn't... in the way of dreams. But I knew it was you. And the first thing I said, after getting over my shock, was, "I love you." And I remember trying to decide what to ask. What is it like where you are? Are you doing well, where you are now? I can't remember what I eventually said, or your answer. Nothing like those questions, I think. Might've been trivial, might not have been. I don't know. I do know that we talked a little, but just can't remember what was said.

The luncheon was good. Tasty. Lots of commingling. You'd have liked it. Even the gathering at Mom's afterward was, albeit short, nice. I'd liked to see Kay and Rich more, but alas. It's amazing how people can be so close, in the next state, but it's still rare to visit them. Same with people just a few towns away...

It's also weird to think that, technically, both grandparents are under my roof.

And Taps still gets me, every time. There's something about a finality to that song... A coming to a close... And knowing that it was for you.

And the main thought that got me was that you're not here anymore...