Friday, July 17, 2015

Splatoon is the Hunger Games

Splatoon is The Hunger Games. And bad news: we aren't the good guys.

Splatoon is the new technicolor online arena shooter for Nintendo's Wii U video game console. It's stupidly fun and bright and family-friendly (instead of shooting each other, the goal of the game is to paint as much of the arena in your team's color ink as possible... although you can also shoot the members of the other team).

There is, however, a single player mode to the game, secondary to the main online shooter. And it's in the course of this single player mode that you can uncover the oddly disturbing history between the game's main characters, the squid-inspired Inklings, and the antagonists of single-player, the Octolings. Historical scrolls hidden away in each level reveal how the world of Splatoon came to be, and as bits and pieces of the story come together visions of Quarter Quells can easily pop into one's head.

Spoilers ahoy: here are links that detail the history of The Hunger Games and the history of Splatoon, respectively. But to sum up: The Hunger Games takes place in a post-apocalyptic future in a country called Panem that was in turn divided into 13 Districts. In an era known as the Dark Days, the citizens of the Capitol (District 1) squashed a rebellion that rose up against them from Districts 2 through 13, leaving the Capitol prosperous and the other Districts in ruin. To remember the Dark Days, the Capitol establishes the eponymous Hunger Games, an arena death match inspired by the battles of the rebellion.

Splatoon takes place in a post-apocalyptic future. In an era known as the Great Turf War, the citizens of Inkopolis (the Inklings) squashed a rebellion that rose up against them from Octo Valley, leaving Inkopolis prosperous and Octo Valley in ruins. To remember the Great Turf War, the Inklings establish their own version of Turf War, an arena match (death optional) inspired by the battles of the rebellion.

Enough from me, though. They say pictures are worth 1,000 words, so here are a couple thousand words:

The center of Splatoon's world is Inkopolis...

... while the center of Panem is the Capitol.

The citizens of Inkopolis, the Inklings, are obsessed with wildly colorful fashions...

... as are the citizens of the Capitol.

The Turf Wars are a multi-participant arena match that serves as a reminder of the Great Turf War...

... much as the Hunger Games are a multi-participant arena match that serve as a reminder of the Dark Days.

The participants of Turf War take starting positions on platforms...

... which probably looks familiar to Hunger Games fans.

There are a number of different weapons available to the participants of Turf War...

... as there are for participants of the Hunger Games.

In addition, there's ability-enhancing gear for Turf Warriors to utilize...

... and while the Hunger Games also feature ability-enhancing gear, it's much harder to come by.

The Turf War emcees are colorful hosts Callie and Marie...

... not to be confused with the colorful Hunger Games emcees, Effie Trinket and Caeser Flickerman.

Turf War is overseen by Judd the Cat...

... while the Hunger Games are overseen by the Gamesmaker.

But while the party is going on in Inkopolis, the rest of the world isn't in great shape. Take a look at the wreckage of Octo Valley...

... which doesn't look all that different from the wreckage in the Districts outside of the Capitol.

The Inklings had best watch out, though. Rebellion is afoot...

... I wonder which Octoling Jennifer Lawrence will play?

I'm going to go lie down now. You're so weird, Nintendo.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Who Ya Gonna Call?

You know, I have to admit: I am of the mind that there are parts of American culture that have become far too PC. Without getting into specifics (because that's not what this post is about), over the past three years or so I've seen raging socially progressive arguments online and offline that refuse to hear counter-arguments (an indicator of a radicalized opinion if ever there's been one) and/or which seem like a colossal waste of time and energy, in lieu of addressing real, actual world issues.

On the other hand, there's the regressive (which I assume is the opposite of the 'progressive' label) vocal minority and their reaction to this:

This is a trigger point for some, apparently: "How DARE they!" they yell, "How DARE they feminize my precious Ghostbusters!"

To which I, a big-time Ghostbusters fan growing up, reply: if you're any sort of a movie fan and you can't get excited for a reboot of THE premier sci-fi action comedy franchise starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones, then you either A.) hate fun, or B.) are an asshole.

Maybe both.

If you look at the above pic and you don't recognize the comedic chops of the four women who have been chosen to strap on the Proton Packs, and instead all you see are four people who don't have testicles 'besmirching' a franchise that you perhaps don't even care much about, then you're part of the reason humanity can't have nice things.

This is a silly movie about people fighting ghosts, starring four insanely funny comedic performers. Get over yourselves, jackasses. Hashtag I can't wait.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Crossover Myth

Let me paint a scenario for you: you are a 40 year-old adult, and you have two kids, ages fifteen and eight, respectively. You take those two kids and you and see... let's say The Avengers, which is the flavor of the moment. Now: you love it, the eight year old loves it, and the fifteen year old loves it. No surprise, right? That's why big studios make movies like The Avengers, so an entire family will want to see it and each of them will buy a ticket. More people, more money, everyone wins. 

The scenario I described above is what most of the world would call a family going to see a movie designed for the whole family. No big deal. To the publishing industry, though, a family enjoying the same piece of entertainment across multiple generational lines is a mystical phenomenon with its own name: crossover appeal.
"That'll never work." - The Publishing Industry
It's absurd, of course, but in modern publishing, where books are divided by age before genre, all-ages appeal is inconceivable to plan for. Here's how the industry parses it down: you have your general fiction, which is for adults. You have your young adult fiction, which is for teenagers. And you have your middle grade fiction, which is for about ages 7 to 12. Before everything else, before genre even, every book must be categorized along those lines.


Now: the industry recently noticed there's a gray area dividing young adult and adult fiction, and twenty-somethings were gravitating towards books designated for both age groups. For you and I, this would have been a sign that dividing all stories up by age was probably too strict an idea, and crossover appeal, perhaps, was more the norm than the industry believed. 

In the world of publishing, it was taken to mean that a NEW age-based genre was needed, which they created and called NEW adult fiction. Books for twenty-somethings. Because twenty-somethings are NEW adults.

You can't make this stuff up, folks.

This is a topic near and dear to my heart, because I've been running up against it for years. To the publishing world, Race & Cookie is an enigma. Here's how the publishing industry looks at Race & Cookie

"Okay. This is a book with a decidedly middle-grade tone, but neither of the protagonists are of middle grade age."

(Oh, books aimed at an age group can only star characters of that same age group. Have I mentioned that yet? Does it make you want to give up on humanity? We had a nice run.)

Continuing: "So it can't be middle grade fiction. One of the protagonists is 15, but she's the only teenager in the book so it can't be young adult fiction; besides; there's no love triangle and not enough sexual titillation."

I remind you, these are actual things that have actually been said to me. Going on:

"Race is an adult and the other characters are adults, but without swearing, sex, and/or explicit violence, you can't call this a straight-on piece of adult fiction. It's too much of a children's book, but that brings us back to problem one: there are no children for main characters."

Still all real things.

"So unless Race and Cookie are de-aged so that they are both grade school students, this book is completely unmarketable."

Stand and make with the slow claps, people. Stupidity like this deserves to be recognized. 

Now. Here's how the rest of the world looks at Race & Cookie:

"It's an all-ages book."


Okay, then.

Hollywood puts out all-ages blockbuster ten times a year. Publishing finds one of its precious "crossover appeal" Easter eggs once every five years, BUT ONLY BECAUSE THEY REFUSE TO ACKNOWLEDGE THE ALL-AGES MARKET ACTUALLY EXISTS.

Congratulations. The next time someone tells you "print is dying," you'll understand why. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

I've Got an Amazon Author's Page

Here it is:

I'll grant you; it's a little sparse right now. But it exists, and that's the thing that matters. I wonder, though: is this the, "Look, I'm on the bookstore shelf!" for the 21st century? See, one of my dreams as a writer of books (I still can't bring myself to call... myself... a 'novelist'. I don't write what I'd consider novels. I write stories down in books)... anyhoo. One of my dreams as a book author (that's better) was to see my shiny trade paperback cover on the shelf of a Barnes & Noble or a, I don't know, a Target or something, wherever people buy books today.

Now I think about it, though, I don't know the last time I bought a physical book in a brick-and-mortar store. Even when I saw something I liked on a shelf I would, nine times out of ten, look it up on my phone and order it from Amazon where it would be A.) cheaper, and B.) in better condition.

Which is treated by many in the books world as some unforgivable sin, right? We have to support our physical stores and whatnot. Which, okay, yeah, I get it... but this is what happens, isn't it? Technology changes everything, and that change usually happens fast. Borders goes from a hot chain to dust in less than two years. Barnes and Noble begins closing the doors to superstores that made up a huge part of the neighborhood I called my high school stomping grounds. Books are bought elsewhere, and by other means.

So I'll never have a book on the shelf of a Walmart or a Wegmans. Okay. I can live with that. My book cover on an e-reader is still bright and shiny and, bonus points, backlit. And it features prominently on my equally bright and shiny new Amazon author's page.

I'll take that trade-off.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

A Published Author

Tomorrow, June 1st, 2015, the first volume of The Unlikely Adventures of Race & Cookie McCloud will go on sale, and I will be a published author.

Well... in one marketplace. In e-book form. For one device and its various applications. But still...

Race McCloud came to be in 1997, as the main detective character I played in a series of murder mystery dinner plays in college. He was named, fittingly enough, by my longtime friend Kevin Gillespie, who I met in high school back when we had nothing in common aside from the ability to make each other laugh. Kev has has since become the official artist of Race McCloud, doing publicity posters for me, and logos and symbols and backdrops and now the covers of these books that begin releasing tomorrow.

After college, I wrote Race into a screenplay. This is how Cookie came into being, designed to be the foil to her idiot uncle and initially a precocious eight-year old, not the easily-irritated fifteen-year old she is now. (She's still the foil to the idiot uncle, though.) After that? Comic book scripts, radio plays, a stage play at the New York Fringe Festival, and now, a book. A book that is going to be published, on sale tomorrow.

Saying, "and now, a book," is a little disingenuous. I wrote the book initially about six years ago, between the play's acceptance to the Fringe and the Fringe actually going up. Sure, I've worked on it, slashed at it, rewritten chunks of it, all of that... but there was a first draft finished six years ago. Which seems like a long time, until you consider that I first came up with Race McCloud nineteen years ago.

And now he's the main character of a published book that goes on sale tomorrow.

I submitted the book to agents and publishers, as the dance goes, to no success. Some encouragement, some "Why don't you turn it into a comic book?" and some, "I like this but I'm not sure how to sell it." A note on that last: Race & Cookie is an adventure comedy, featuring one teenage protagonist and one twenty-something protagonist, suitable in tone and content for kids but not necessarily a kids' book, an adventure story but too soft to be a grown-up adventure story. I've been told it skews too old to sell to children by agents who represent Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction, and I've been told it skews to young by agents who represent fiction and genre fiction. Agents and editors tell you to never write for the marketplace, which is great advice right up to the point where they turn your book down because it's not a good fit for the marketplace. The agent I ended up signing with picked me up not for Race & Cookie but for Just Debbie, which is as traditional a Young Adult book as can be.

Maybe, though, they were all being nice, and Race & Cookie just isn't any good. I don't believe that. If I believed that, I would have ditched them at some point in the last nineteen years. Maybe I'm just being stubborn. I mean, yeah, I AM being stubborn, but I'm not JUST being stubborn. I'm being stubborn with just cause. And stubborn pays off, because tomorrow, my book goes on sale.

When you've been at this for as long as I've been at it, how you get to this moment isn't important. All I know is that for the first time tomorrow, people will get to pay money for a story I wrote, if they so choose. And no matter what, that's pretty cool. Typing your name into the Amazon search box and having your book come up? That's pretty cool. So maybe this is the grace period before negative reviews come pouring in. That's okay. I've had bad reviews before and lived to tell the tale. What's most important is that those reviews would be coming from people, even if it's just a handful in the end, who have read my book and decided on its own merits if they liked it or disliked it.

Because tomorrow, my book will go on sale, and I will be a published author. And that's pretty cool.