Friday, May 15, 2015

The Boy Who Cried 'Sentry' (This Time I'm Serious)

Last week I wrote a post that nobody saw where I pretended to have inside information that the Sentry, maybe the most hated character in the Marvel Universe, is set to debut in Guardians of the Galaxy 2.

That was made up.

Fast forward: today I was reading up on Disney Infinity 3.0. My daughter and I are big fans of Infinity, and the Star Wars-themed 3.0 is sure to eat up many of our dollars. What bugged me about 2.0 is that there were only Playsets (pre-built traditional video game campaigns) for the Marvel characters, and the Disney characters could only be used in the build-a-world Toy Box mode. There were a handful of Toy Box games in which you could use any character, but they weren't very good.

So I was reading about the new-and-improved Toy Box games for 3.0. One is called "Toy Box Takeover", and it's a dungeon crawler (like Diablo, is the comparison they made on the Game Informer site) and I noticed this unassuming line in the game's description:


Wait. What was that? "The Void"? An "unstoppable, slow-moving force" that destroys "everything in its path?"

You mean, THIS Void?

That would be the Void, the Sentry's arch-enemy, or evil alter-ego, or both. I never quite figured that out, and I'm pretty sure Marvel never did, either. (Side note: I love the idea of the Sentry as a character. I just never think he was well-executed.) The Void is described as a "black and destructive counterforce" and a dark-sided "entity". A shape-shifter alluded to at times as the Judeo-Christian Angel of Death, he has appeared as a shadow man in a trench coat, a formless black cloud, and an armored demon, to name a few of his forms. His existence, though never clearly explained, is at least in part due to the psychological instability of the Sentry and his human alter-ego, Robert Reynolds. The Sentry is all-powerful, and the Void even moreso.

And... he's in Disney Infinity 3.0? Are we really getting an Infinity figure for Sentry, the bi-polar superhero with the dark side capable of destroying the universe? For this guy?


I doubt it. Still: that's a hell of a coincidence. And I'd be first in line to buy a Sentry figure, and use him in the Toy Box kart-racing game alongside Mickey Mouse.

Why I've Decided to Self-Publish

Really, it's easy enough to explain: I'm tired of waiting for other people to tell me it's okay for me to do what I've always wanted to do.

But why oversimplify?

If you're a regular reader of my blog, and I'm not sure such a creature exists, but if you are you know that once upon a time I had an agent, until I didn't. (You can read that story here.) I lost my agent... no. My agent left me about halfway through the process of shopping my YA rom-com novel, Just Debbie, and though I then began the submissions process on JD anew, my heart wasn't in it. I had (and still have) the sneaking suspicion that being in another agent's hands has turned JD into tainted goods, and I was unsure if any new agent would be willing to pick it up for that reason. Nobody likes sloppy seconds, after all. 

So what were my options? Just Debbie felt like a non-starter to me, and Snooze, my current WIP, is nowhere near done. Besides, I broke out into hives whenever I thought about going through the process again: drafting, beta-reading, re-reading, re-writing, querying, waiting... I've been submitting my stuff for 15 years, in different mediums: theater, film, comics, prose, etc., etc. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is insanity. Like, I think that's actually the textbook definition. I could look it up, but I'm not going to.

Besides, and maybe this is just my own frustration talking, but it feels like the traditional marketplace is getting harder and harder to crack, and the responses from agents and editors are fewer and far between. I get it, to an extent: the Internet has unlocked the query process. Submissions flow, unceasing and unabated, into agent's inboxes. They're swamped. If I were an agent I'd have nightmares about my digital inbox turning tactile again, burying me alive in queries. So I get it. 

On the other hand, I got tired of having to pretend that a 3-6 month response time for a 1-page query is acceptable as a business practice.

Let me tell you a secret: about a year ago, right before I signed with my agent, I was actually preparing to self-publish. It's true. Then I got the e-mail offering representation, which was the thing I had wanted for my whole adult life, and so I put my self-publishing plans on hold to begin my adventures in Agentland. Agentland, to let you in on the secret, is a lot like Disneyland, inasmuch it involves a whole lot of waiting around doing nothing until you get to the good parts. If you know Space Mountain is going to be greeting you at the end of your wait, you can deal. But imagine getting to the front of the line and realizing you had actually been on line for It's a Small World? Yippie.

So Agentland was behind me. Just Debbie was old news. Snooze was nowhere near ready to go. So I've decided to do what I always do when I don't know what to do: I've turned to Race and Cookie McCloud.

On June 1st, I'm going to publish Volume 1, Book 1 of The Unlikely Adventures of Race and Cookie McCloud: Awkward Introductions. On July 1st, Book 2 (Questions and Tacos) will follow, with Book 3 (Perfectly Imperfect) arriving on August 1st. One story in three serialized parts, Race and Cookie will be available exclusively for your Kindle and Kindle App; a release on other major e-reading platforms may follow at a later date. 

Also: for the first month of each book's release, you can take advantage of the special introductory sale price of $.99, a full $2.00 off the regular list price, so make sure to jump on this deal while it's hot, mom!

(I'm kidding. My mom's not going to buy this. Race McCloud stories make her squint.)

Yes, I know, I may be committing career suicide, the traditional publishing establishment will never touch me now, I'm an outcast and a pariah, blah blah blah. To be blunt, though? I have no career to kill, the traditional publishing establishment still has no idea who I am and they weren't touching me anyway, and as for being an outcast and a pariah... well, if I can sell a few copies of Race and Cookie along the way, gain a few new fans for what I believe to be a good story with good characters, then you can go ahead and call me Old Ben Kenobi. Which, if you really did do that, would be awesome.

This is a DIY world we live in. Never before in the history of civilization have artists been able to present their work to the masses so easily. The middle-man is becoming disposable across almost every field of entertainment. The revenue an author can generate self-publishing is easily comparable to what a mid-list author in the traditional environment can pull in, and this way? I retain full creative control over what happens to Race and Cookie, which is something that appeals to me in no small way.

Also: I never want to see another Twitter pitch contest for as long as I live.

It's more than past time to put my craft to work for me. I still believe in Race and Cookie, and I still believe in myself. I've not found a home in the world of traditional publishing, so I'm going to strike out on my own and let the audience decide. I've resisted self-publishing for a long time, and I know I've gone through a lot of the reasons here why I've decided to do it now, but honestly, the only one that matters?

I'm tired of waiting for other people to tell me it's all right to do what I've always wanted to do.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Sentry to be Ret-conned into the Marvel Cinematic Universe?


It looks like the much-maligned Sentry may be making his way into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Chances are the plot of Guardians of the Galaxy 2 will focus heavily on the Guardians stumbling upon the Sentry floating in deep space, in hiding from his dark alter-ego, the Void.

This interaction could then bring the Guardians to Earth in pursuit of the truth behind the mystery of the Sentry and into contact with members of the Avengers. There, similar to the plot of the original Sentry comic book mini-series, it may be revealed that the Sentry had  been involved in key events of the MCU that had been since wiped from the heroes' memories. We may see re-worked scenes from films such as Iron Man, Thor: The Dark World, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, either re-shot or CGI'd to insert the Sentry into the action. What MCU moments do YOU think the Sentry best fits into?


Also: I made this up.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Time For a New Query Letter, Charlie Brown!


I've always felt a kinship with Charlie Brown. I devoured Peanuts books as a child, I played Charlie Brown in a totally illegal eighth grade production of A Charlie Brown Christmas, and the first play I ever directed was You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

Oh, and also? The football. I get his thing with the football.

So here's what happened, and I haven't talked much about it because it has taken awhile to process and come to terms with, but I feel like I should put it out there. Some of you may recall, and some may not, that not too long ago I signed with a literary agent, one employed at a legitimate literary agency. Not for anything Race McCloud related, but for my young adult novel Just Debbie. This was last May or so. In fact, I was actually offered representation via e-mail during the final dress rehearsal of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, during my second go-around with the musical.

In hindsight, that should have been my first clue.

My agent and her assistant and I spent much of the summer rewriting Just Debbie; or, you know, they made suggestions and I made edits. During that time, my agent (a woman about my age or a bit younger) happily informed me that she was pregnant with her second child, a detail I wouldn't bring up except, yes, it's relevant a little bit further down the blog.

Come the fall, we were ready to submit, and this, like everything in publishing, is a slow process. My agent told me that, at this point, my job was to sit back and let her do her job. That's a paraphrase, but it's an accurate one. And so I did. It was maddening, of course, but I busied myself by, you know, having a second child (well, I didn't HAVE the child, but I was nearby for it) and by tinkering on a current WIP, book although I'll be honest: most of my writing focus was on what was happening with Just Debbie.

I'm starting a new paragraph here to point this out: I've been writing seriously (or what I would call seriously) for about 16 years now, and signing with an agent was... not to overstate it, but it was a huge step. It was, in a way that probably seems a little silly, reaffirming and validating, sort of a "no, you're not crazy, you can write a little bit" moment for me. It's hard to understand unless you've looked for that moment for 16 years.

Now here's the part with the football.

In December, I got an e-mail from my agent that we needed to talk on the phone. I knew this was either good news or bad news or nothing at all, so in short I had no clue what was going on. After a few minutes of chit-chat she got down to it, and it was clear that we weren't talking about good news or nothing at all.

The agency I signed with was (note the past tense) a small boutique agency, owned and run by one woman who employed (past tense again) a handful of other agents, one of whom was mine. Here's what I learned that December evening: 1.) The agency's owner was retiring. 2.) She was shutting down her agency. 3.) My agent had decided that, with the baby coming and another young son already underfoot, this would not be a good time for her to either strike out on her own or find a new job. 4.) Though she would be wrapping up the final few manuscript submissions we had made for Just Debbie (a number of editors and several very nice publishing houses had wanted to read it), she would not be submitting to any new ones and. 5.) She felt very badly about this. 

All of which, in summation meant this: 6.) I no longer had an agent.

Sort of. Because, technically, Just Debbie was still out under my former agency's banner, and my agent was going to finish up with those requests (I think we're still waiting to hear back, but... well, it's fuzzy at this point). But, no, no more agent, no offer to connect me with a new agent (as of yet), and a few loose ends that still haven't been tied up.

Now, my former agent (you notice the redaction of names here) has been busy having a baby girl, and that baby has just been born and is beautiful. Yes, I've seen pictures. Yes, I remain on good terms with my former agent. Why? Because I'm not one to burn bridges, first of all, and more importantly, there's more to her decision to leave the business than I'm telling you here, more that isn't my place to share but more that I understand completely and better justifies it.

Which doesn't change the fact that I, once again, am an unrepresented writer. Which I've been before. But having had a taste of being represented... let me just say, it's been a lot harder this time around to get back up on the horse. I'm getting there, though. Trust me. If I wasn't, this blog post wouldn't exist.

Look: life is about how you respond to setback, and I lost my agent not because I stopped writing stuff good but because of a domino effect of extenuating circumstances. Besides, of all the things that can go wrong in life, having an agent pulled out from under you isn't the worst.

Still, I can't help but feel sometimes that, of all the Tom Hoefners in the world, I'm the Charlie Browniest.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

That Dark POWER RANGERS Fan-Film (Or, "Let's All Calm Down Now")


Hey, did you see that fan-film short Power/Rangers? That fifteen minute dark-'n-gritty one starring Dawson and the blonde woman from Battlestar? No? Too bad, it's gone. Haim Saban, the owner of the Power Rangers brand, has demanded YouTube and Vimeo pull it, citing copyright infringement.

I got in under the wire, though, and was able to see it. I was, at best, a casual fan of Power Rangers back in the day, but I have kids now and I know it is still a vibrant and very much active franchise, so much so that the current show has built a legacy going back two decades in that it often references the older shows, and welcomes back as special guests members of the old casts. So, yes, if I were the producer of a hit kid's franchise and a highly publicized "dark-n'-gritty" version of said franchise hit the Internet, particularly when I was in the development stage of my own major feature film, then I, too, might set my lawyers on it.

The producer of Power/Rangers, Adi Shankar, as well as legions of Internet fans, are now yelling about free speech and copyright law and parody/satire protection and fair use and all the other stuff that often gets yelled about in moments like this. Full disclosure: I'm not a lawyer. But I'm a college professor who has designed and taught a course on sci-fi/fantasy fan culture, and in that class we spend a lot of time talking about and reading about and hearing debate about these very issues: fan-made work and copyright law and fan's rights, etc., etc. A looooot of time.

So. A few observations based on some things that I've learned/taught myself over the years:

1.) Copyright law and fair use and the like all live in a grey area, and intentionally so. You've got music and film and comics and novels and TV and everything else fans love and build upon, and the intermingling of fan-made stuff and copyright holder-made stuff can be very hard to pull apart and suss out. That being said... the law allows a great deal of latitude to the legal owners of an intellectual property. Essentially (and the precedent for this has been established in the courts in a number of cases): if the copyright holders of an IP can to a reasonable degree establish that a particular fan-created work may infringe upon their ability to make a profit, WHETHER OR NOT THE CREATOR OF THE FAN WORK IS CHARGING FOR SAID WORK, then the courts will more often than not sign with the holder of the IP copyright and issue a cease-and-desist.

This, of course, is why the napkin defense doesn't work. What's the napkin defense, you ask? James Kahn, the director of Power/Rangers, made a statement on Twitter to the point that if he draws a Power Ranger on a napkin and gives it to a friend, that's not illegal, so his film being on YouTube isn't, either. It's a nice thought, but doesn't fly. That napkin given to a single friend likely would not be viewed upon by the court as infringing upon the ability of the IP owner to make a profit, but the same court is far more likely to rule that a film seen by 9 million or so people on YouTube IS infringing upon the IP owner's profit-drawing ability.

2.) Satire and parody are both protected under copyright law, and now Shankar claims that Power/Rangers is a satire, or a parody, depending on which of his interviews you're watching/reading/listening to. An aside: if it's satire, it's piss-poor satire, as the only way anyone would ever know that it's satirical in nature is by reading a column where Shankar has to flat-out say, "Hey! This is satire!" Satire needs to be obvious, or else (IMO, I suppose) it is not satire. So I'm not entirely certain a court would agree with his claims that his film was meant as a satire or a parody. Ask yourself, if you saw it: did YOU think it was a satire or parody? Be honest, now.

3.) Anyone yelling about free speech, please stop. We're a long way from this instance providing any sort of a forum to debate freedom of speech, and I suppose if it made its way deep enough into the courts it could, but "Freedom of Speech" is perhaps the most misunderstood law in America, which is ironic because it's our most important law. Our freedom of speech is simply a guarantee that the government will not persecute you for stating in public your opinion, whatever that opinion may be. The parties in the case of Power/Rangers so far are Adi Shankar, Haim Saban, YouTube, Vimeo, and that's it. This has nothing to do with the federal government; this has nothing to do with freedom of speech. Not yet, anyway. And, honestly? "Freedom of speech" wasn't put front-and-center into the Constitution so people could make shitty Power Rangers fan films.

4.) The idea that big corporations are suppressing the fan artist is laughable. (For the record, Haim Saban is the sole owner of the Power Rangers property and he's not a corporation, just a very rich guy, so this particular debate has nothing to do with corporations.) When there are LITERALLY MILLIONS of examples of fan-created work available for anyone to peruse with but a few mouse clicks or screen swipes or what-have-you, it's really hard to talk about corporate suppression of such material. Disney, Warner Bros., Viacom... name the entertainment company, and 9.999 times out of 10 they just ignore fan-made stuff. Trying to police it is a hopeless quagmire and, frankly, not worth their time. Still, let's be clear: if fan-made stuff that used someone else's IP was brought to court, THE VAST MAJORITY OF THE TIME THE COURTS WOULD SIDE WITH THE IP OWNER. Again, though, as Warner Bros. in particular found out during the initial explosion of Harry Potter fan sites, the battle to suppress fan-made work is a tar pit of bad PR and grassroots anti-establishment efforts that seem very noble but really, when it comes right down to it, are fights for the right to take someone else's property and use it as you want to.

5.) "Fan ownership" is a fallacy. Look: there comes with love of and devotion to a fictional universe a certain amount of a sense of ownership, and the real diehard fans like to say that their favorite story, whatever it is, belongs to them, the fans, and that they made it what it is.

Which is, of course, untrue.

The modern fan is passionate and loyal and creative and appreciative and all of those good things, but far too often far too many fans become entitled and self-centered to the point where their fandom becomes all about THEM and what's important to THEM, and their interest in the actual original IP wanes significantly or, in many cases, turns to genuine disdain. Adi Shankar claims to love Power Rangers, and says that's why he produced his short film. And I'm like, "Dude, for a franchise you claim to love, you sure took one hell of a dump on it."

Which brings me to my final, totally subjective thought here...

6.) Power/Rangers isn't really all that good. No, no, wait... TECHNICALLY it's very impressive, and it's shot well and the effects are well done and the fight choreography is... pretty good, I guess. But the writing, and the plot, and the acting, and the tone... all of that, basically, is crap, which, again, is a subjective opinion to be sure... but I can only imagine that a feature film length of this version of Power Rangers would wear out its welcome very quickly. I mean, it's trying so VERY hard to be so VERY dark-'n-gritty (oh, wait, it's "satirical", wink wink), which is certainly going to play to the people who loved Power Rangers as a kid, grew up without actually growing up, and now have decided that Power Rangers (which by the way is still an EXTREMELY popular kid's franchise) now needs to be "mature." You know, people on the Internet... who are the most likely audience to download the film from Pirate's Bay, anyway. Who would this version of a Power Rangers film NOT play to? The families with kids who love the series now, and love The Avengers, and Star Wars, and Harry Potter, and other great adventure franchises that aren't angry for anger's sake. (I'd also like to discuss the idea that infusing something with blood, sex, drugs, and curse words makes it "mature". It does not. Doing that just turns something into what a little boy's idea of mature is, but it by no means makes that thing actual real-life-grown-up mature.)

All of this, though, is much ado about nothing. Everyone involved, from Dawson to Shankar and Kahn to Haim Saban, is going to get a go-around in the 24 hour news cycle, a little boost in notoriety, maybe a phone call or an e-mail or a lunch meeting, and then that will be that. There will be no lawsuit, no heads will roll, and Shankar will probably end up being hired as a consultant on the forthcoming Power Rangers film or something, which is probably all he ever wanted in the first place.

What, you think he'd turn that offer down on principle? Who do you think he is? A fan?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Updating the Directing Bucket List

So in recent years I've directed INTO THE WOODS, RENT, the '99 version of YOU'RE A GOOD MAN CHARLIE BROWN, LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, THE 39 STEPS... I think it's time for an updated version of my directorial bucket list.

That's right. Just what you've all been waiting for.

HIGH FIDELITY

Adam Mace (@TheRealAdamMace on Twitter) and I are neck-and-neck as to who gets to this one first. One of the most underrated contemporary musical theater scores, and a great story about music and love and love of music, and figuring out how to grow up when you're already in your thirties.

CHESS

Yeah, I'm the one. I love CHESS. I love the score, I love the story, I love the characters, I love the intrigue and cloak-and-daggerness of it. It's a musical about Cold War politics and an international chess tournament, so you understand why it isn't perhaps as mainstream an ABBA musical as MAMMA MIA. But I love CHESS.

DISNEY'S BEAUTY & THE BEAST

Still haven't done it. Maybe the longest-standing show on my list.

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN

You want to direct THE PRODUCERS. I want to direct the (imminently flawed) YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. Don't judge. Actually, what I'd really like to direct is BLAZING SADDLES, but... alas.

[title of show]

No, really, that's the actual title. It's a musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical. We'll hand out aspirin at intermission. I have a hunch I'll get to this one sooner rather than later. Four actors and a piano? Sign me up!

IN THE HEIGHTS

Actually, I think I don't actually want to direct this as much as I want to play Usnavi. One tan and one goatee later, and I'm in!

SUNSET BOULEVARD

But only a low-tech version. I've got ideas.

JOSEPH & THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT

One of my first ever favorite musicals. Story theater at its finest. My version involves no Megamix, puppets, and Jawas from STAR WARS. How have I not done this already?

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR

Revelation: I apparently like Andrew Lloyd Weber a lot. I'm thinking: a presidential candidate, and YouTube. I don't know what that means, either.

THE BOOK OF MORMON

I think I might have issues with religion. This will have to do until Trey and Matt do a SOUTH PARK stage musical.

SHREK

That's who I'd be too, Shrek. That's who I'd be too.

FROZEN
It's coming. (Oh, relax. That's fan art.)

AVENUE Q

... and until FROZEN gets here, this other Bobby Lopez musical will have to do. (It's almost the same thing. Right?)

AMERICAN IDIOT

I don't think this has a plot. I don't care. Do YOU know the enemy?

I'm sure I forgot something, but this is a good start and I have clothes to go get out of the dryer. These should keep me busy for a couple of years, anyway.