I Finished a Book: Hot Comb by Ebony Flowers

Book Cover: A young African American girl walking in between two statues of African American Women with black combs against a starry night sky.  The ground is gray and goes into the horizon.  
A drawing of the author is next to the book cover.  Black and White art of an African American woman with thick curly hair, earrings, necklace, and a dark top staring off to the side.
Image Source: https://digitaledition.chicagotribune.com/tribune/article_popover.aspx?guid=e5defb1c-adb2-4126-99af-9a74fb4bf755

So, I have trying to be more conscientious about posting here when I finish various media. My last post, I Finished a Game talked about/gave a review of a game that I recently finished and this post talks about a graphic novel that I finished. It is one that I found at the Chattanooga Public Library and thought I’d give a chance. Normally, this isn’t the type of graphic novel/genre that I read, but as Visiting Scholar of African American Literature at Jacksonville State University last year, and as a (forthcoming) scholar of African American Literature (whenever I finish my dissertation and successfully defend it), I felt that I should go ahead and expand my personal reading outside my normal tastes.

African American Women’s Hair

This is an anthology of stories about the travails of growing up with black hair. There are diverse stories, some seeming autobiographical and deal with children and young adults dealing with what it means to have black hair and all the rites, rituals, and social etiquette that goes along with it. It also has stories that deal with growing up (young adults and college age people) with some of the trials and tribulations associated with black hair, especially when dealing with attitudes of others outside of the black community. African American hair, especially for women, is particularly important at the moment. Will Smith, unfortunately, was goaded into a particularly garish moment at 2022 Oscar Award ceremony due to tactless joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s hair loss by Chris Rock. As so many online have pointed out, Jada has been upfront about her struggles with Alopecia, which has caused her to lose her hair. While I won’t way in on the debate (other than to say I think both Will and Chris were wrong and this the classic “two wrongs don’t make a right situation”), I will say that this is an important topic to discuss and I feel that the graphic novel format was pretty strong.

The Art

My major problem with the graphic novel came from the art style. I know 1) art is subjective and 2) there is a “style” of art that seems to be pretty common to graphic novel autobiographies/semi-autobiographies. I first encountered it when my medical doctor let me borrow one of his graphic novels from Harvey Pekar. I didn’t like the art style there and I can’t say that I liked it any better here. I’m just not a fan of the R. Crumb style of artwork that seems to be employed by so many. Now, I would argue that Ebony Flowers artwork isn’t nearly as complex as Pekar and Crumb and utilizes more line work than “over-inking” that I associate with those other authors, but the effect is the same. For me, artwork draws me into a story, but Flowers artwork, just like that of most modern autobiographical graphic novelists, either keeps me at arms length or actively pushes me away. I have to say, even knowing the importance of “hair” in the African American community and being African American (male) myself, this one was a bit of a slog.

Overral Rating

Rating: 3 out of 5.

This one just wasn’t my (personal) cup of tea. I would definitely assign it in a class (Contemp. African American Literature or some sort of Graphic Novel class). I also feel that it would do well in my personal classroom library as a 6th E.L.A teacher (English/Language Arts) teacher. I feel like the girls in a 6th grade class would have really gravitated to this graphic novel and it would have been highly checked out and read by the young ladies in the class.

However, for me personally, it just didn’t have the resonance that I was looking for in a graphic novel (unlike Shadow Rock by Robert Love). Now, admittedly, Shadow Rock is much more of an action adventure in the style of an African American Goonies, but still, the artwork really helped me to get invested in the characters and enjoy the story. I’m afraid that, for me, that didn’t happen with Hot Comb.

Sidney


Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




Currently Working On (August 2022):

  • The Runner (Fantasy Story–4100 words)
    2022 RevisionOut to Market.
  • Unhallowed (Weird Western Story–4100 words)
    2022 Revision: Completed; Out to Market.
  • Citizen X (Alternate History Science Fiction Story)
    Status: Drafting–1300 words (approx)

Scholarly

  • Dissertation Chapter 3 (Video Games, Empathy, Afrofuturism)
    Status: Drafting–6800 words (approx)

I Finished a Game: Outriders

image with three humans with sci-fi weapons and powers against an orange and purple background.
Image Source: https://www.fanatical.com/en/game/outriders

I’m sorry for the continued absence on the blog–there are many reasons for this, but I’m not going to go into that for now. I’m just going to write. Something that I do a ton of now, but I just keep seeming to spin my wheels and get nowhere. At least, when I finish a blog entry and post it, I get to have some satisfaction of finishing a topic and moving on to the next one, something that I don’t seem to do well with these days.

Anyway, today I just want to talk about a game I finished a couple of days ago: Outriders by the developer People Can Fly and published by Square Enix. I was drawn to this game because of its initial trailer several years ago at the Video Game Awards hosted by Geoff Keighley. I had envisioned my own (very different) project with that name, so that caught my attention. Also, from all appearances, it appeared to be a 3rd person version of Destiny, with a mystery about a mysterious force called the Anomaly. I was intrigued by this game and I made sure to try it out. Having finished it a couple of days ago, this will be both an impression of the game as well as a “review” of it.

Anomaly

I won’t go too deep into the story as it is something that you can find out just by reading any coverage on the game or watching the trailer. Basically, you play as an “Outrider” (someone who has special skills and is tasked with finding potential landing sites for colonists–think “Pathfinder” from Mass Effect Andromeda). Something goes awry (The Anomaly) and things take a turn for the worst. That’s where you come in after this initial set-up. Again, I’m skipping many things in the story, but essentially that’s the gist of it. The story, after a strong set-up for the Anomaly and all that it does, fizzles at the end. Don’t get me wrong, the set-up is great, but a lot like many stories today (Millennials/Gen Z learning “story” from Lost/JJ Abrams and company?) the set-up completely falls apart (in my opinion) in the resolution phase. I won’t go into spoilers (I really wish that WordPress had a reliable and easy *spoiler* tag), but to say there is a fair bit of Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad to the resolution of the story would not be too far from the mark. I really dislike it when creators set up this insane “mystery” and then fail to deliver on an equally insane (but totally plausible) resolution. Quick digression (/digression on): I see this is in more and more media (TV, movies, games, even some comics/graphic novels) and I have to wonder if this really is a “Lost” phenomenon. To me, there’s no point in creating an “insane” mystery if you can’t deliver on an “insane” answer because it just leads to disappointment with the ending of the story(/digression off).

Game Mechanics

character item screen, showing the character, their items (guns, armors) and damage dealing capabilities.
Image Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/paultassi/2021/05/21/square-enix-says-outriders-is-a-hit-and-its-next-big-franchise/?sh=715b9529700a

For me, this was the saving grace of the game. As a 3rd person shooter, I felt it was above average in most instances. It was tight enough that I didn’t have to worry about aiming and being too inaccurate and the shooting felt good. While it advertised being available for three (3) players, I prefer solo games, and was able to do the entire game solo.

It used “difficulty tiers” so that you could customize your difficulty experience. If you wanted to make it rock hard and unforgiving (SoulsBorn people), you could, or if you wanted an easier, less demanding session, you could do that as well. I played it at a middle-ish difficulty, on the lower end and it was challenging enough there.

The secret is to choose and use the powers that match your play style (along with your Outrider’s class) and to maximize your equipment. As a 3rd person “looter-shooter,” the game forces you to constantly upgrade your gear and equip skills and powers in order to stay competitive, especially as you move to higher difficulty levels.

I’ve found I have a fondness for this, so even though the “grind” is sometimes repetitive, I personally didn’t mind as long as I was getting cool new gear. The legendary drop rate for items is probably a little too low at lower levels and even though I’ve read about Apocalypse Gear online, I’m not sure if that’s a thing because I’ve not yet gotten any even though I’ve done several Expeditions (endgame content).

Overall Rating and Conclusion (B)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This is one of those games that I ultimately liked and was glad that I played. While its story is more like Destiny, it plays more like Tom Clancy’s The Division (1 & 2), and Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon games. Unless done wrong/very badly, I tend to like those type of games (3rd person shooter, with RPG progression elements, and tons of gear/loot to change out to make your character better and more effective in combat. I had thought I’d spend more time in the endgame (Expeditions), but realized that it would just be a “time-sink” for me and that the time would be better spent playing other games on my backlog (free time). I did not get the Platinum trophy (100% of the trophies for the game). I ended up at about 56% when the credits rolled. However, they have a new endgame DLC called Worldslayer and I may revisit the game and purchase the DLC next year, when 1) I have more time (finished my dissertation), 2) the DLC is cheaper, and 3) when I’ve cleared some other games from my backlog. The only real disappointment for me about the game was the resolution of the story. The “hook” promised to be something extraordinary, but the resolution was something that was quite ordinary indeed, and really kept me from giving it five (stars) all around.

I hope you have a great day and if you’re into 3rd person looter shooters, you might want to give this one a try–as long as you’re not looking for an “amazeballs” story!

Sidney


Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




Currently Working On (June 2022):

  • The Runner (Fantasy Story–4100 words)
    2022 RevisionOut to Market.
  • Unhallowed (Weird Western Story–4100 words)
    2022 Revision: Completed; Out to Market.
  • Citizen X (Alternate History Science Fiction Story)
    Status: Drafting–1300 words (approx)

July & August 2022 Writing Update

Images and Words drawn on green "blackboard" with white chalk.  1) Images of textbooks with an apple on. top. 2) Image of a paper airplane with dash lines out of its back to denote movement. 3) Works that say, "Back to School"
Image Source: https://cjuhsd.net/apps/news/article/1255546

I know that it is almost halfway through the month, but I got a wonderful comment on one of my previous Writing Update posts that indicated that these were helpful, so I really want to get back to/keep doing these. I’m sorry that I’m so erratic with these blog posts (both updates and other posts), but I’ve learned that Covid has been awful for my 1) work/life balance and 2) production. Brandon Sanderson, currently my favorite writer, has said that stress has a positive effect on his writing life. I’ve discovered that it is totally opposite for me. I’m far better when everything is stable and I have a routine. When I have a routine, I seem to be able to source “work” at work areas/times and “recreation” at non-work areas/times. When these two areas of my life are merged, I’ve discovered that too much of one area bleeds into the other area. This works both ways–I couldn’t get to sleep on Saturday night (July 9) because I was thinking about projects that I wanted to work on, and I also almost went to bed last night (July 10) after 1am-2am last night because I wanted to get up and work on this particular blog post (knowing that it was already midnight). Before Covid, this would have never been a thing–I would have written the blog at breakfast time or when I finished my “workday” (whatever those hours were). Anyway, you’re here for the writing stats, so here we go!

Creative Writing (July/August)

Citizen X: This one is a strange project. I worked on it through June and did approximately 1000-1600 words on in it by writing new material and then integrating material from older drafts that I felt was still relevant. However, I wasn’t having any fun with this story. I dreaded working on it. It was then I realized that it was character problem. I didn’t really enjoy the character–I wasn’t interested (i.e., I was bored) with reading about the character. I wasn’t having any “fun” writing about the character because I felt, based on a critique of the story, that I needed to get rid of the alternate reality version of Langston Hughes that I envisioned for this character. The reason why is that whole “this is a work of fiction and any character you see is not based on a real person — dead or alive” for films, television, and novels. I then created a bland character with a changed name. This caused massive problems because I did not enjoy the writing process with this bland character.

I “fixed” this problem by keeping the protagonist, but completely changed the way I thought of him. Rather than someone who was self-confident and a “poet,” (like Langston Hughes was) I re-imagined him as a youngster who was only doing what he was doing because of the death of a family member. I imagined the protagonist as a “reluctant hero,” taking up the mantle, not because he wanted to, but because he felt he had to do so, and that’s made a world of difference. I started a re-write (again). Even though this is probably the 3rd or 4th rewrite of the beginning of the story, I’m 600 words in and I like where this is going. My goal is 3 sections at approximately 1000 words each for a story of 3000 words (again, all approximately). I’m on track to finish it by August.

August Update: Yeah, August may be a little ambitious. I have several other writing projects (mostly academic) that are probably going to get in the way of me finishing by the end of August. Hopefully, I will be done with the story by September (Labor Day), which would be more fitting for the story actually, but I’m in the midst of a myriad of projects and I’m not sure how much work I’m going to be able to devote to Citizen X.

Other Projects: I’ve started other projects (all ones that I envision will be lead to a graphic novel), but I’ve not made much progress. I have a graphic novel adaptation of Sister Knight (no longer in print/available on the web) that I started ages ago called KnightWatch, but I don’t think I’m going to work on that one any time soon. I thought I would work on the graphic novel adaptation of WarLight as I started it in the Spring 2022 semester, but I’ve not yet got back to it. Lastly, I have a “new” story for a project that I’ve not written as a short story that is just called “Project Ranger.” I did some pre-writing Saturday (July 9) and I’m guessing that’s the one I’m going to work on. The problem is that I don’t know whether that should be a graphic novel or a screenplay as there is a lot of “movement” going on and graphic novels are all about static images that imply movement, while screenplays are all about movement on-screen leading to an emotional journey.

August Update: I’m probably going to have to “flip a coin” and just choose one of these three projects. I will probably do all of them (including “Project Ranger”) as graphic novels just because it is easier to do a “page” per day. A “page” for me, when I write comic scripts, consists of anywhere from 3-7 panels (paragraphs laying out description of setting/action, dialogue, and panel description). While I can sometimes be pretty intricate with those, doing a page doesn’t really take all that long (30 mins to hour–sometimes less). It’s just that at 90 pages or more, you’re looking at a 3 month creation time if you stick to 1 page a day). I currently have the most written on KnightWatch (approx 8-10 comic pages), WarLight has (2-3 comic pages, but as it is a “sequel” to one of my short stories, Sister Knight, I know these characters VERY well. “Project Ranger” is the most tentative of the three stories, but it is also one of the most dynamic. I really think that I have the protagonist “dialed in” on this one.

Academic Writing

Dissertation: This is where I’ve spent the bulk of my summer (rightly so!). I’d hoped to finish before the summer ended, but I’ve gone absolutely “bananas” on Chapter 2. I’d just intended to talk about Black Panther before moving on to other Afrofuturistic works, but when I got into Black Panther, I realized there was quite a bit to analyze. I decided to analyze the movie scene-by-scene. While this initially proved fruitful, there’s just so much that I want to say and so much that I’m finding to analyze, I’ve gotten “lost” in the Black Panther forest. My Chapter 2 is currently 18k words and climbing. I was at 15k words when I realized that I had a problem and I’m still writing.

August Update: I’ve decided that I’m going to do 2 more scenes. If I manage to finish up before 20k words, then great. However, if I go over 20k words, then I’m going to find a way to gracefully end the analysis of those 2 scenes and then send it to my dissertation director. I apparently need “help” and I’m going to ask him to help me in shaping this chapter, either by trimming it down, or by letting me know specific scenes that I may have missed and scenes that I may have included that could be “cut.” This is truly the “hold-up” on my dissertation. I’ve done way more that I probably should have in this chapter, and I’m not sure where to stop.

Other Projects: I have another writing project for UNA as well. I’m not sure that I can talk about it although it was a listed as a Call For Papers (CFP) a while back. I’ll just say that it covers Star Trek and leave it at that. I’ve been working on it, but I finally had a breakthrough. I need to go back and just re-outline some of the characters that I want to include. I think that’s the real issue–I’ve not really locked down which characters are the most important to analyze and I’ve been a little scattershot and all over the place. Once I lock down who’s going in and who’s not and the rationale for each, I think I’ll have a better, more consistent “argument” and the writing will go a lot faster.

August Update: Yeah, this is true, but I forgot about classes, syllabi, and being President of TPA (TN Philological Association) this year. As well as 1st year University of North Alabama (UNA) staff member. I’ve got a lot more commitments that I would really like, so time is of the essence. I have until Aug 31 to turn in the chapter, but that’s a lot closer than it seems, so I’m going to have to try to really make sure that this chapter is both good, but manageable as I don’t have time to be “perfect,” because I cannot deliver it late. I’m going to have to find a way to write smart, but not get too precious with it, something that I struggled with on Chapter 2 of my dissertation.

Well, that’s it for now. Hopefully, this will tide you over until my September update where I can hopefully give you good news on the status of some of these (many) projects.

Sidney


Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




Currently Working On (June 2022):

  • The Runner (Fantasy Story–4100 words)
    2022 RevisionOut to Market.
  • Unhallowed (Weird Western Story–4100 words)
    2022 Revision: Completed; Out to Market.
  • Citizen X (Alternate History Science Fiction Story)
    Status: Drafting–1000 words (approx)

Watching Classic Genre Movies

100 Best Classic Movies with an image of 4 classic movies (including Lawrence of Arabia and Singing in the Rain)
Source: https://editorial.rottentomatoes.com/guide/100-best-classic-movies/5/

So, in addition to working on finishing my dissertation this summer and doing a myriad of other things as well, I have begun trying to watch older movies on streaming that I either missed for some reason or tried to watch in the past, but could never finish. I’m currently in the middle of three movies right now that I want to talk about: Platoon, Young Frankenstein, and The Fifth Element.

Platoon

Three American soldiers in a Vietnam jungle setting staring at the camera.
Source: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0091763/

Platoon is a movie that was popular when it was first released, but (unlike movies like Top Gun & Wargames), time hasn’t been kind to the movie. I feel like their were a whole genre of these movies released in the 80s and very early 90s (Apocalypse Now, Full Metal, and the like) that were critiques of the Vietnam War, but didn’t survive in the public consciousness nearly as long as other, non-war, non-Vietnam War based movies. I can’t remember this ever being a mainstay on cable channels–we had HBO and Showtime for a while (along with the Disney Channel), but all proved to be prohibitively expensive and eventually we finally just went with “extended” cable service (all the channels without the premium channels). I’ve only seen the first 40 minutes to 1 hour so far, but I’d like to finish it out. What I saw was pretty interesting and I would like to know the resolution of Charlie Sheen’s character’s arc. Unfortunately, I started it about 3 days before it left the streaming service that I was watching it on. I’ve not investigated to see if it is currently available on streaming anywhere else, so this one is currently on the back burner for now until I can find it on a service I subscribe to.

Young Frankenstein

Source: https://filmschoolrejects.com/how-young-frankenstein-is-an-ode-to-itself/

This is one that I actually tried to watch a couple of times, but found it to be way too tedious for my tastes. I like humor, but I never really found this one funny. I would usually check out right around the “Igor” scene (where we meet Igor and the lady for the first time). I’ve made it further this time–to the part where they’ve found the “secret” lab, but I still don’t find it particularly funny. I like British humor, but I don’t often like Mel Brooks’ “on-the-nose” humor. For example, while I’ve seen Spaceballs multiple times, outside of a couple of nods to several “mainstay” sci-fi franchises, I don’t find the movie particularly funny or enjoyable. I watched it as a kid mostly because it was sci-fi and it was the only sci-fi/fantasy thing running in its particular timeslot. YF gets no such love from me. I do want to finish it, but just because I want to say that I’ve finished it and not because I think it’s a great movie. Mel Brooks’s comedy is just hit or miss with me and this one seems like it is mostly a miss, but I’ll reserve judgment until after I’ve seen it. It is currently streaming on Hulu so I hope I can finish it before it goes away.

The Fifth Element

Three main characters The Fifth Element
Source: https://filmschoolrejects.com/how-young-frankenstein-is-an-ode-to-itself/

This is a movie that I tried really hard to like. The problem is, based on my YF review above, I don’t really like absurdist movies, farces, or sci-fi fantasy comedies. Yes, the sci-fi/fantasy movies I watch can be cheesy and bad, but they need to at least take themselves seriously as “genre” experiences. That’s not what YF does and, at least early in the film that I’ve watched, that’s not always the case. I’m 40 minutes in and that’s about as far as I usually make it. I’ve seen the “Please help,” scene more times than I can count (upwards of 5-8) times. When I was a kid, I would tell myself, this will be the time I actually finish this movie and invariably I’d turn it off and do something else, like go read, go play video games, go outside, etc. I’d literally, do anything else except finish the movie. Again, I I got to the scene where they get to the priest’s house and turned it off. As long as it stays on Hulu, I’m determined to finish it, even if I have to watch it in 20-40 minute “chunks.” This movie is one of the few “mainstream” sci-fi movies that I’ve not seen, and while I like Luc Besson in his film roles, I may not just be a fan of his writing because unlike his film roles which are in the more realism mode of filmmaking, his script for this movie seems lodged firmly (at least for the 40 or so minutes I’ve seen countless times) in the realm of absurdist, comedy, and/or camp.

Hopefully, I can get a chance to see these movies through for the first time (i.e., they’ll stay on streaming services long enough for me to finish them). Barring that, I will hopefully find other movies (Hurt Locker, Looper, etc.) that I’ve not yet finished and finish them, so as to “cross them off my list” but also to add them to my repertoire of films that I’ve seen (especially genre films).

Have a great week!

Sidney


Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




Currently Working On (June 2022):

  • The Runner (Fantasy Story–4000 words)
    2022 RevisionOut to Market.
  • Unhallowed (Weird Western Story–4100 words)
    2022 Revision: Completed; Out to Market.
  • Citizen X (Alternate History Science Fiction Story)
    Status: Drafting

Say One Thing, But Do Another–The Microsoft Way

Picture of Xbox One with two people standing over it.  The text reads "Always Online #Dealwithit"
Image Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GcZD__XquCk

I apologize for not getting back to blogging now that school is out, but I’m furiously working on my dissertation (among other things) and the blog has taken a backseat to my other writing. Also, I find that I’m really not motivated to write blogs as much as I used to be as companies like Digital Trends (see my previous blog), YouTube, and Microsoft are pretty much killing my desire to really engage with technology, videos, and video games in the same way that I used to. When a company tells me that I’m the problem as to why we can’t get good movies in a franchise, or when they throw up ad after ad in a futile bid to force me to their premium (non-ad supported tier) or when a company, like Microsoft is like a cancer to the game community, it really takes all the enjoyment out of covering those areas. I find that I spend all my time being aggrieved at the corporate practices of certain companies, making it hard to enjoy the “spell” that the entertainment is supposed to weave.

Microsoft Takes the Cake (and EVERYTHING ELSE If They Can Get Away With It)

According to PushSquare, “It isn’t Microsoft’s Intent to take Games Away from the PlayStation Community” with it’s acquisition strategy. You can click the link above to read the full article or you can click here: https://www.pushsquare.com/news/2022/06/xbox-on-acquisitions-the-last-thing-we-want-to-do-is-take-games-away-from-ps5-ps4.

And yet . . .

That is EXACTLY their strategy with games like Starfield, Elder Scrolls 6, and the majority of the Bethesda game line-up appearing on Microsoft ONLY platforms. As many of the commenters on the news story rightly point out, you can’t say this and then turn around and do the opposite. However, that’s what Microsoft is often known for–using their marketing department to cajole people into buying their products/buying into their ecosystem at the cost of consumer choice. And unfortunately, people are all to often swayed Microsoft’s promises rather than compelling content. This bit people rather badly in the X-Box One era with Microsoft’s initial “Draconian policies,” but it’s been enough time that people have forgotten what Microsoft tried to get away with in terms of gaming.

Pulling the Wool Over the Eyes of Consumers

Here we go again . . .

And yet, for all of Microsoft’s protestations that they don’t want to fragment the gaming market, nor do they want to “take anything away” from gamers (particularly Sony gamers), here is this little nugget also picked up by PushSquare, but published on other video game news sites: Xbox Appeared to Embargo PS5, PS4 Versions of Some Showcase Games (https://www.pushsquare.com/news/2022/06/xbox-appeared-to-embargo-ps5-ps4-versions-of-some-showcase-games).

Essentially, standard practice is to allow 3rd party developers, those developing the games independently of the platform, to clarify what a game is coming out for immediately after release of trailer/marketing materials. Yes, Street Fighter 6 appeared during Sony State of Play, but savvy gamers know that unless it says, “exclusive” or “console exclusive,” it’s more that likely coming out for other platforms (including Microsoft’s) either the same date as Playstation’s version (called “day and date release”) or sometime thereafter with some sort of “window” of exclusivity.

However, according to the news story published on several sites, Microsoft, “embargoed” certain companies from issuing clarifying press releases until 48 hours after their showcase had aired. Why would a company want/need to do this? Oh, I don’t know, but perhaps to drive FOMO and FUD into the minds of consumers might be a reasonable explanation. FOMO (or Fear of Missing Out) means that if someone doesn’t see that a game they are interested is coming to a competing platform, then they may want to buy the platform it was announced on so they don’t miss out on the game. FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) works much the same way in that if you muddy/cloud the waters then the consumer will just go with the platform they saw it announced for rather that take the time to discover if it is coming to multiple venues.

In Closing–The Same Old Microsoft

This is why I’m so unmotivated to write blogs. Microsoft hasn’t changed. This is the SAME STUFF that I was writing about years ago.

Microsoft want to be #1. And they will use pretty much ANY strategy (even underhanded ones like this one) to accomplish their goals. And they don’t want to be #1 for the benefit of the gamer–no, they want to be #1 so that they can have the power of the dominant position.) Many think that Microsoft has lost its desire to have an Xbox One like structure where your games are “locked down” and you need to “phone home” to validate them.

I wouldn’t count on that.

Microsoft’s own strategy of saying one thing (we want games to exist on both platforms even though we are acquiring studios), but doing another (locking down the games they think are premier/premium experiences AND instituting non-standard embargoes as to clarifying what games are appearing where) really cast doubt as to whether this company will ever be able to be trusted by gamers.

It’s so discouraging to see gamers, consumers, and the press get dazzled by the low prices of “loss leaders” like Gamepass and the sheer hubris of a company that is FAR MORE ANTI-CONSUMER than Sony ever will be (even though Sony can’t shake that impression no matter how much it tries) because it acquires studios and then shunts the premium games off to its own platform, leaving the “crumbs” for other platforms to satisfy Anti-Trust concerns.

While both Sony and Microsoft are multi-million dollar corporations, only Microsoft is willing to consistently use its power in ways that I find, at best distasteful, and at worst, downright manipulative.

So, as I close this particular blog post (& internally vow to try turn my attention to the games that Sony has announced–even if they will also appear on the Xbox–something Microsoft, with all its millions, seemed unwilling to do for 48 hours), I note this little reminder/warning:

Don’t be too surprised if, one day in the future, maybe sooner, maybe later, on your shiny new Microsoft Xbox platform that you see all the features listed below make a (revamped) return and please remember that at least one person said, “I told you so”:

Sidney


Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




Currently Working On (June 2022):

  • The Runner (Fantasy Story–4000 words)
    2022 RevisionOut to Market.
  • Unhallowed (Weird Western Story–4100 words)
    2022 Revision: Completed; Out to Market.
  • Citizen X (Alternate History Science Fiction Story)
    Status: Drafting

The Force is NOT Strong With This One

Source: https://www.narbis.com/narbis-news/digital-trends-live-airpods-pro-google-moves-on-fitbit-and-more/

No, I’m not talking about the newest Star Wars series priemiering on Disney+ right now: Obi-Wan Kenobi. I think the Force is VERY strong with that series. Unfortunately, I’m talking about another internet pundit, who seems to think that nostalgia is the cause of the problems with Star Wars. He claims that Generation X, the people who “grew up” on the original series are to blame for the “crippling” of Star Wars in that it doesn’t let new ideas come to the fore.

The pundit in question is Michael Green, a writer for a tech website whose newsletter I subscribe to (I used to subscribe to) for Digital Trends, whose YouTube channel featuring Caleb Green is one of the best sources of tech information around. Too bad that knowledge and evenhandedness doesn’t seem to apply to much of the rest of the organization. While Green’s piece is the one I’m going take issue with the most, I’ve been less than impressed with their video game editor/writer in past as well.

Let’s let the wisdom of Yoda guide us through this

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

Here is what Michael Green has to say about Star Wars and Generation X. Here is the direct link for those who like to see where they’re being redirected:

(https://www.digitaltrends.com/movies/star-wars-generation-x/?utm_campaign=209596_Editorial_Decrypted_05302022&utm_medium=email&utm_source=dotdigital&dm_i=6MG2,4HQ4,1335D0,LPAS,1).

Not pretty is it. Even though the author classifies himself as a part of the group, he doesn’t say that he’s part of the problem (slick rhetorical move there to put himself above the issue while saying that he gets to criticize because he’s a part of the “in-group”). Not so fast there, Mr. Green. I, too, am a member of Generation X and I can tell you that it isn’t nostalgia that’s tripping up Star Wars–but rather narrative dissonance, or to put it a better way, the inability to tell good stories). There are other issues that have nothing to do with nostalgia or even poor narratives, but we’ll get to those in a moment–for now, let’s stick with narrative.

On YouTube, there is a well-known and popular video that describes how Star Wars was saved in the edit. Here it is for reference:

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFMyMxMYDNk

The original trilogy is not without its faults. However, even with its faults, it managed to come together as a satisfying “whole” that encapsulated a narrative that was infinitely watchable/rewatchable and one that led to many visualizing what a future could be (and what movies should be). And as an African American, I won’t even discuss that Lando was the only major black character in the movie, who didn’t come on board until movie #2 of the original series–although I could.

What Generation X’ers wanted from the prequel trilogy (& Disney sequels) is storytelling that matched, if not exceeded the original, which has its high points and low points in terms of dialogue, characterization, plotting, etc. However, when you give us characters like Jar Jar Binks, whose function duplicates that of C3PO and Artoo Detoo for comic relief and who’s only purpose for being in the movie is to get Queen Amidala to appeal to the Gungan army, you have a problem with characterization, with pacing, with plotting, oh, I don’t know, the ENTIRE basis of Western story development! Now, I want to be clear that I’m singling out Jar Jar Binks and not the actor Ahmed Best (who only did what Lucas told him to do), but it’s clear when a character exists as a plot device, not as a fully realized character with their own motivations, you’ve got an issue with your story and you need to go back to the drawing board.

We won’t even get into dialogue for the prequel trilogy; dialogue that is almost wince inducing to those of us who have aspirations of being storytellers. I’m going hit a sacred cow here: take Prequel dialogue and/or plotting and apply it to George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series (books, TV show)–heck, you could even do it to his newest “golden child” the Elden Ring video game, and see HOW LOUDLY FANS COMPLAIN ABOUT IT NOT BEING “AUTHENTIC” TO THE REST OF THE “EXPERIENCE.”

Oh wait, Game of Thrones: Season 8

My point is that most fans are forgiving of quite a bit–until it comes to not fulfilling story expectations. That is what gets creators into hot water almost every time. Ghostbusters/Ghostbusters 2 (another 80s Gen X “joint”), I could go on and on for sequels not surpassing the original. There’s a reason why Aliens is considered a worthy successor to Alien. There’s a reason why Terminator 2 is spoke about in such reverent tones as to holding up to the original Terminator, and perhaps (potential heresy here) maybe even surpassing it. Narrative is king, but many studios want to rush out a sequel to “strike while the iron is hot” (while the property is still in the public’s mind). Not really a good strategy and one that mostly leads to diminishing returns.

“That is why you fail.”

When will movie “pundits” learn? New for the sake of newness isn’t a solution. Just because Rian Johnson wanted to do something “new” doesn’t mean he should get an automatic pass–nor should any of the Disney sequel creators. This is Star Wars–an established property–and he should follow the same “genre conventions” that he would need to for any other property. Heck, I have a LOT of NEW ideas for Game of Thrones. Here’s one for free: Bad people will stop doing bad things to good people in the GoT universe. Not very “Game of Thronesy,” is it? Most GoT readers/watchers wouldn’t like my GoT because it would look NOTHING like what GoT has been established as in the past. So why would I even write GoT? Well, two reasons: 1) it’s easy, there’s already a fan base and I don’t have risk anything to build up a new fan base and 2) it’s easy, there’s already demand there, so people will spend their (hard earned) money on something that has the words Game of Thrones in that order. So, if I wanted to take the EASY way out, I write a Game of Thrones “thing” that looks nothing like Game of Thrones and that way audience and money are there for the taking without have to RISK anything and I’ve just written something “new” and then get mad at the fans for not responding with as much money and love and adulation as I wanted, even though I got some (oh, did I mention money?).

My solution: write the “new thing” and take the risk. With great risk comes great reward (sure, that’s not always the case: I’m sure Attack of the Killer Tomatoes was a good risk on a “new thing” to someone), but I’m ALWAYS of the opinion that if you don’t want to follow genre conventions or you want to do a new thing, the PLEASE DON’T TITLE YOUR PROPERTY “GAME OF THRONES,” “STAR WARS,” OR WHATEVER THE “PROPERTY” IS AND COME UP WITH YOUR OWN NEW THING!

Knives Out, anyone? Anyone? Mr. Green?

“Pass on what you have learned.”

Example: Jordan Peele and Get Out. Jordan Peele used the conventions of the HORROR genre masterfully. Yes, he incorporated social commentary in his horror movie, but at the end of the day, it WAS STILL A HORROR/THRILLER MOVIE. He didn’t just wake up one day and say, oh, I don’t need SUSPENSE because I’m doing something “new.” Or, I don’t need a strong protagonist for the audience to root for because, I’m doing something “new.” He adhered to the conventions of the genre he was writing in and he made “newness” INSIDE the genre–that’s how you make it new and fresh and exciting for the audience, NOT “newness” for newness sake.

When you’re writing for a “property” (one that has already been established), YOU DON’T GET TO CHANGE THE RULES MID-STREAM. Yes, I know it’s unfair and I know you think that it inhibits creativity, but it actually doesn’t. That’s the reason we have referees and rulebooks for sports–it takes unfairness out of the equation and makes about the skill of the players. This is similar in that it makes it about the skill of the creators. Look at what the Russo Brothers were able to achieve with Captain American Winter Soldier/Civil War and Avengers Infinity War/Endgame. Not only do these movies adhere to the “property” elements that came before in the MCU, they expanded on them in Captain America and completely pushed them to their limits with Avengers (so much so that Phase 4 with the MCU seems to currently be having issues matching them).

That is HOW YOU WIN AT CREATING INSIDE A PROPERTY. We should getting “The Jedi Wars” where Luke and Leia have established a new Order of Jedi, but maybe “Ben” or some of the other Jedi are getting restless and looking at powers beyond their control–push past the boundaries of what’s happened before while honoring and expanding on the past. How about figuring out where and how some of the surviving Jedi from Order 66 made it through the Purge? What about a Jedi’s quest to find himself/herself by building his/her lightsaber? There are so many stories to tell that branch off from the main narrative that radical reinvention isn’t necessary (and is, as we’ve seen, detrimental to the storytelling process).

For good or worse, THERE CAN ONLY EVER BE ONE “REVOLUTION.” EVERYTHING ELSE THAT FOLLOWS IS EVOLUTION.

Why, oh why is there always someone who advocates continuous “revolution?” It can’t be done.

Well, that’s not true, it can be done, but it means creating something “new” each time. Which is exactly what creators don’t want to do–they built up their audience and now they want to keep them. They can only do that if they call the thing the same thing every time “Star Wars,” “Star Trek,” “Game of Thrones,” “The Matrix,” “Transformers,” and etc. You can’t have a “new” revolution inside an existing property unless you’re willing to alienate the fans. The better strategy is to take the risk and create something new (and call it something else entirely) if you are a “creative revolutionary” (aka Rian Johnson) or push the genre to new and different places through integration of new areas that are entirely appropriate for your genre and/or property (aka Jordan Peele, the Russo Brothers).

This, Mr. Green, is how you make sure that the property evolves with newness–not by haranguing fans about their supposed nostalgia. For me, Star Wars (the originals) had a story that was beyond compare and no story so far, by Lucas himself or the pretenders to the throne, have matched the “magic” of that storytelling experience, no matter how hard Mr Green tries to gaslight me into thinking it was all in my head.

Sidney


Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




Currently Working On (June 2022):

  • The Runner (Fantasy Story–4000 words)
    2022 RevisionOut to Market.
  • Unhallowed (Weird Western Story–4100 words)
    2022 Revision: Completed; Out to Market.
  • Citizen X (Alternate History Science Fiction Story)
    Status: Drafting

Mini-Blog: May Update

May 2022 Calendar of the month
Image Source: https://www.wiki-calendar.com/may-calendars.html

So, this is just a quick blog to let everyone know that I’m still blogging. I just found that the between commuting, writing my dissertation, grading, and general everyday living, that I couldn’t keep up with the blog with any real consistency. I’ve just “trashed” a post that I was going to write last week about my writing. It wasn’t relevant anymore as I’ve actually managed to do some slight bit of writing now that I’ve finished teaching for this semester. I’m going to update everyone on where I am for the month of May 2022 and what my goals are–and hopefully, this will become a monthly feature of the blog.

Creative Writing

So, I’ve done very little on the creative writing front for the past 6 months (since about January) or so. That is, until the past week. I’ve done a fair bit in the past couple of days now that the stress of grading/teaching this past semester is over. One thing I have done is a fair bit of planning. I hope that all this planning will pay off over the course of this summer. I’ve also tried to come up with realistic goals/expectations. Yes, I have far more ideas than I have time, yet I want to do them all. I’m hopeful that working on 1 short story per semester will be a solid, achievable goal. Longer works may be included in the semesters that I’m “off” (summer breaks/winter breaks) and they may be worked on if I finish my story “early” (before the end of the semester), but right now, until I get some more stability (in terms of not having to commute so much), I don’t feel like I can commit to anything more and reasonably accomplish it as a goal. Some projects that I’m working towards for Summer Semester 2022:

  • Citizen X (Short Story_Alternate Timeline_Sci-Fi)
  • “Project Ranger” (Screenplay_Sci-Fi)
  • WarLight (Graphic Novel_Sci-Fi)

While there might be others, might primary goal is to finish Citizen X (1st), then WarLight (2nd), and “Project Ranger” (3rd). Most of my creative writing time this summer will go to the 1st and 2nd projects with the 3rd project only getting my time whenever I feel too emotionally drained to work on the other two. I also plan to use the Summer semester to plan for other upcoming projects that I want to work on in the future (character sketches, rough drafts, outlines, etc.–basically things that can be completed in an afternoon or two of work).

Dissertation

This is where I plan to devote the majority of my writing time this summer. While I wrote this semester, I found that the chapter that I’m working on was much longer and more complicated that I originally envisioned (it is already at 10,000 words and will probably be closer to 13-15K words when I finish it. As such, this what I will be working on for large stretches of my summer until it is finished. I’m going to be working on it as soon as I finish this blog entry, which is going to serve as a warm-up to it.

Work-Life Balance

So, my work-life balance has been out of whack for the past semester. I hope that now it will be better over the summer as I don’t have the long commute on multiple days. There are still some challenges that I have at the moment (which I’ll talk about next month–if there’s a resolution), but right now, I still don’t have my days fully back to where I can just focus on my writing (scholarly or creative). I still have some things that I need to take care of as I transition to 1) finishing out my PhD studies and 2) transitioning to my new job.

Publications

While I’ll likely do a full blog entry on this one, I wanted update readers who may not know:

The Independent is NOW published!

It is published in Mythic Magazine (February 2022). I only found about it about a week ago or I would have let everyone know sooner. I will update my “Signature line” to make it easy to find should you like to purchase a copy.

Please remember, while I don’t see any “direct” benefit from your purchase (i.e., I don’t get a royalty or anything like that), purchasing from these small presses help to keep them solvent and available to purchase and publish work from neophyte/journeyman writers like myself.

Sidney


Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




Currently Working On (April 2022):

  • The Runner (Fantasy Story–4000 words)
    2022 RevisionOut to Market.
  • Unhallowed (Weird Western Story–4100 words)
    2022 Revision: Completed; Out to Market.

Reacher: Season 1 Review

Alan Ritchson (as Reacher) wearing a black t-shirt with his arms behind his head, staring out at the camera.
Source: https://www.cinemaexpress.com/english/review/2022/feb/09/reacher-season-1-review-instantly-addictive-nostalgia-inducing-actioner-29643.html

Jack Reacher is a character that I know from the 2 movies starring Tom Cruise. While I know of the author of the series, Lee Child, from my days working at the library, I never really got into the series of books featuring Reacher (🤔 the cover design had a lot to do with that, I think–the covers were never all that impressive/expressive and I didn’t have a good idea of what Child’s books were about from the covers alone). However, while the Reacher movies weren’t the greatest, I did like them and thought that they did a good job at portraying the “anti-hero” without being too annoying.

“Tall Guy”

During my early years at MTSU, I went to school with a massive fan of Lee Child. He mentioned how he didn’t really like the Tom Cruise Reacher movies because Reacher was described in the books as a massive guy, very tall and intimidating. This was something that my colleague felt that Cruise’s movies didn’t portray–the intimidation factor of a really tall, really controlled, but really powerful guy who had both the power and skill to do whatever was necessary. So when I saw that Amazon was doing a Reacher show and that they had cast a really tall actor for this role, I was intrigued as it seemed they were really trying to lean into the authenticity of the character.

Season 1

I enjoyed this particular show. I thought that the mystery was fairly well done. While I did foresee one of the twists in the show and correctly guessed one of the twists, I didn’t see other twists that occurred and I felt like the show kept me guessing all the way through as to what the actual mystery was and who were the people involved. Depending on your level of sleuthing abilities, it may be fairly easy to figure out what’s going on, but as a person who doesn’t normally watch/read mysteries, except as a sidelight to my normal genres of Science Fiction/Fantasy, I thought that it was a pretty fun show. It is also a show with a fair amount of action. Reacher has no problem getting into fights (physical or gun fights) and his no-nonsense style leads to a lot of conflict and action. While there is a fair amount of dialogue in the show (and most of it reveals character rather than plot–although, being a mystery–there is a fair amount of exposition), the show never feels dialogue heavy and/or preachy. The dialogue is there to either reveal character or to move the story along. Violence is pretty high in the show, but not overpowering, and there is (what I feel) a gratuitous shower scene that could have been cut a little earlier as we clearly understand what happened, but otherwise, I thought the show did a fairly good job of handling the mature content.

Character, Character, Character

The show really rests on its main characters: Reacher, Roscoe, and Finlay. The supporting cast is good as well, but the show really works (for me) because of the interaction of these three wildly different characters. Each character, on their own, could probably carry a show, but together, they create a compelling dynamic and you want them together just to see how they are going to interact with each other. I think the show will “live or die” for you, the watcher, based on how much you like/dislike these characters.

Overall Rating: A- (90)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

While not a perfect show for me, it really worked because of the interaction with the 3 main characters, the good supporting cast, and the (mostly) on point dialogue. The mystery, while fun, was just a little too pedestrian and too easy to guess (at least on one of the twists). Still, for this show, you might be “hooked” by the mystery of what’s going on, but in the end, it’s the characters and action that will ultimately keep you invested in the episodes. I’m looking forward to the upcoming Season 2.

Sidney


Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




Currently Working On (April 2022):

  • The Runner (Fantasy Story–4000 words)
    2022 RevisionOut to Market.
  • Unhallowed (Weird Western Story–4100 words)
    2022 Revision: Completed; Out to Market.
  • The Independent (Science Fiction Story–4800 words)
    2021 RevisionACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION (Mythic Magazine)

Mini-Blog: April Blog Schedule

The words: The month of April set against yellow orange background with a rising or setting sun against a seascape
Image Source: https://merrill-middle.oshkosh.k12.wi.us/news/april-2021

So this is a mini-blog to try to set a schedule and stick to it for the month of April. This month (and the first week of May) is the last month in the semester. I’m going to try to release blog posts on the days that I teach, namely Tuesdays and Thursdays. I think that this is what I should be striving for anyway, as a blogger and a writer. Teaching takes a lot of my energy, so I shouldn’t try to write blogs on those days, but rather, write them on the days that I’m not actually in the classroom.

I’m hoping two things will happen: 1) I can become more consistent at blogging and 2) use my blogging time as a “warm-up” to my creative writing. We’ll see if this happens.

Special Considerations

This week, I have a MAJOR presentation on Tuesday afternoon that I’m working towards. This has significantly cut into my creative writing time for this week. Add into that fact that I have been sick over this past Saturday, and well, I’ve not gotten in much writing at all (that hasn’t had to do with the presentation), but I’m just going to plug away. Maybe I’ll do a mini-blog for Mondays just as an update on my Writing Life, but for this week, pretty much the vast majority of my spare time is devoted to finishing/polishing/and practicing my presentation.

Have a great week!

Sidney


Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




Currently Working On (April 2022):

  • The Runner (Fantasy Story–4000 words)
    2022 RevisionOut to Market.
  • Unhallowed (Weird Western Story–4100 words)
    2022 Revision: Completed; Out to Market.
  • The Independent (Science Fiction Story–4800 words)
    2021 RevisionACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION (Mythic Magazine)

Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right: Oscars 2022

3 Oscar winners standing with their gold statues posing for the cameras.
Source: https://abc.com/shows/oscars/news/nominations/oscar-winners-2022-list

So, I just wanted to get my thoughts down in a considered way–which is why this blog entry is late. I don’t want to belabor the incident, but I do feel that it is important enough to at least remark on. Now, I will keep it brief, and hopefully, respectful, as I can be, but I do think that it is something that needs to be discussed. To quote the old cliche: Two wrongs do NOT make a right.

Chris Rock

I believe that Chris Rock was in the wrong. He made a fairly innocuous joke with Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem as to what would happen if Cruz lost and Bardem “won” for the Oscar and how that win wouldn’t have been an actual “win.” I thought that was a good joke and then I thought that Rock should have moved on and presented the award (which is why he was there). I know that being a comedian is his “thing,” but you also have to remember the purpose of why he was there–to present an award. This was his primary purpose and every thing was secondary, including his jokes. Whether or not Chris Rock knew of Jada Smith’s struggle with her hair, we are (as a society) moving past shaming people based on their looks. Yes, he’s making a comparison, but it isn’t one that’s a flattering one to Jada. Again, to bring out another cliche: “if you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all.”

Will Smith

I also believe that Will Smith was in the wrong as well. Had he responded with words, while also not great with an audience in attendance, it would have been much better for all involved. Once he moved from his seat to the stage, that crossed a line, but then he took it way too far with the actual hit on Rock. Obviously, if you need to defend yourself from an attack, then self-defense is appropriate. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened–by hitting Chris Rock (doesn’t matter if it was a punch or a slap)–Smith crossed a line in which you use physical violence in response to words you don’t like. As a writer and a scholar, I know the power of words. Words matter (which is why Chris Rock needs to understand when to say something & when not to say something), but responding to words with violence is never good. If the First Amendment works for Will Smith, then it also has to stand for Chris Rock. If Will Smith didn’t like what Chris Rock said, then he has to use words to refute/challenge what is being said. There’s Twitter, there’s YouTube (Will does have Youtube channel), there’s even the “afterparty” where he might want to discuss Chris Rock’s poor choice of words.

Summer of Soul

So, I really feel bad for Summer of Soul by Questlove. I don’t usually post to Facebook or anything like that except on the rare occasion, but I felt moved to post a clip from YouTube showing Summer of Soul winning the Oscar for Best Documentary. This was important to me as I used this film in both of my classes this semester. For Contemporary African American Writers, I used it to introduce the idea of “African American Vernacular” and how music/lyrics were an important component to African American writers and how musical forms (like Gospel, Jazz, Motown, etc.) are endemic to African Americans and their writings. For my Black Film Matters course, it served as the transition from the Civil Rights era into the more integration-minded 1970s and 1980s. So, I was really looking forward to telling my students that they had watched an Oscar nominated movie that won the Oscar over the weekend (and I will still be doing that), but the fact that the Will Smith/Chris Rock incident happened just before that category and the aftermath happened just after, it really took the wind out of the sails of the event for me and overshadowed Questlove’s achievement, which I think is a real shame.

I know it will never happen, but I really believe that both Will Smith AND Chris Rock not only owe each other an apology, but also one to Questlove as well. He deserved to have his moment and it was, in my mind, taken away from him by the incident.

Again, Rhetoric is about knowing (at minimum): audience and purpose. Of the three men at the Oscars in that “moment,” only one of them, Questlove, was there with the right purpose in mind.

YouTube

Sidney


Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




Currently Working On (March 2022):

  • The Runner (Fantasy Story–4000 words)
    2022 RevisionOut to Market.
  • Unhallowed (Weird Western Story–4100 words)
    2022 Revision: Completed; Out to Market.
  • The Independent (Science Fiction Story–4800 words)
    2021 RevisionACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION (Mythic Magazine)

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