Monday, December 5, 2011

A Scrooge about Christmas Carols?

A Scrooge about Christmas Carols?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Veterans' Day 2011 Recap

With the release of Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan earlier this year and the seventieth anniverssary of the attack on Pearl Harbor coming up, it only stood to reason that it would be a long, busy, and amazing Veterans' Day. And how!

Veterans' Day may be on November 11, but for me, it started a couple of days before. A shipment of books arrived, and the local comic book store wanted me to sign a couple of copies for their customers. My visit there was pleasant, but quite unlike what my daughter got to do that day, short and simple.

Her school hosted a luncheon for the area veterans that was capped with a school assembly. The assembly included a Boy Scout honor guard presentation, readings of award-winning essays from students, music and dance numbers, and- as the veterans from World War II all the way up to those recently returned from Iraq or Afghanistan were introduced to the school- no less than a raucous ten-minute standing ovation.

What kept my daughter busiest, however, were the interviews she conducted with some of the veterans of World War II, including a few members of the famed, "most decorated and decimated" 442nd Infantry. The perspectives of these men, many of whom went into the Army from the Japanese internment camps, can come as a shock to a generation largely unaccustomed to responding to negativity by rising above it. That's all the more reason why it's important that they be heard. At any rate, their stories and messages made a real impression upon my daughter, who came home from school with a greater understanding of what dedication and integrity really mean.

The next day, being November 10 and the birthday of the Marine Corps, proved to be another very special part of what began to feel like an extended Veterans' Day celebration. I was supposed to do a reading of "Yea, Though We Drive Through a Tier One Hot Spot" at Madison Public Library, but had to cancel for a couple of reasons. First of all, I struggled slightly with the request that the story be "clean." The little bit of profanity in there was, of course, easy to omit without sacrificing fidelity to the account as provided by SSgt. Kyle Hausmann-Stokes. But I worried that the folks at the library would take exception to a frank explanation of what the "pucker factor" is, and I was not about to leave out some of the story's best lines in case someone might find it offensive.

But the main reason I cancelled is because I would not have been able to put in a good enough appearance at the Marine Corps Ball and get to the library on time. As it was a work night for my husband, he was unable to take me there, so I asked my son if he'd like to go. His face lit up. As he had made no secret of his desire to be a Marine when he grows up, he accordingly jumped at the chance to dress up and take part in Marine tradition. He happily OOrah-ed, sang the Marine hymn with perfect gusto, and is thoroughly convinced that the coolest way to cut a birthday cake is with a sword.

I also ended up autographing a lot of books with "Oorah!" or "Semper Fi!" that night.

But that night was most notable for a couple of more solemn moments. Making an entrance that was inevitably dramatic due to its tardiness were a couple of young officers, brothers by blood as well as sweat and tears, one of whom had only relatively recently lost both legs to an IED attack. My son was very quiet for a long time after meeting them. Then, on the way home, he said he now better understood what risk and sacrifice mean. And he still wants to be a Marine.

Veterans' Day itself proved to be a relatively calm day for me. I read a remarkable account of a local soldier whose only reason for not having five Purple Hearts was because he turned down the fifth. I also attended a flag raising with one of the area VFW posts, was impressed to hear a class of fifth-graders sing three whole verses of the "Star Spangled Banner," and was touched to see due recognition given a schoolteacher whose son is currently fighting in Afghanistan. That night, a celebration of Bonneville County's centennial also included tributes to our local veterans, with the presentation of colors done by the VFW and patriotic music by the Eastern Idaho Technical College wind ensemble and the Idaho Falls Fire Department Pipes and Drums.

The next day, all the snow in the world couldn't keep me away from Pocatello, with their parade and an entire day of events to honor the veterans. I met a lot of remarkable people, from World War II veterans with stories from Okinawa or Nazi POW camps, to an extraordinary little girl who, at only four, already knows a thing or two about caring for combat-wounded family members. I told one man that this Veterans' Day had been the most amazing to me since 1989, when the Berlin Wall had fallen. He then gave me a weird little look and said, "But Veterans' Day was yesterday."

"I know," I replied, "but it didn't end yesterday." And neither did my observance end there. That night included an American Legion dinner. Then, Sunday morning, I visited a nursing home and read "Yea, Though We Drive Through a Tier One Hot Spot" to the old vets there. They laughed at the description of the pucker factor.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Smart Alex Says: TPB Thursday - Worst Case Scenario: Outbreak

Smart Alex Says: TPB Thursday - Worst Case Scenario: Outbreak: Stephen Lindsay, in the foreword to FUBAR: European Theater of the Damned ,  acerbically described zombie fiction as a "dead genre that cont...

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Where would I be when a zombie apocalypse begins?

That was the prompt we received from Guild Works Publishing. The answers collected in the book Worst Case Scenario: Outbreak were as varied as the writers and the characters they created. A baseball game. On vacation. Fishing. At work. At a strip club. Hospitals. Trying to leave home. Trying to get home. Trying to hide some more literal skeletons in the closet. Seeking vengeance. Struggling to simply survive.

I thought I'd prefer to be on the road with the family, getting as far away from the danger as possible. But then what? Would we passively hole up in some cabin and hope the zombies don't get in a la Night of the Living Dead? Or would we come prepared to take a more active role in our survival? And would it even be feasible for us to prepare?

Yes, absolutely, and I needed to look no further for proof than my own local culture. Stockpiling nonperishable food and other essentials isn't considered the purview of religious or political fanatics, but a practice that is encouraged across religious and political lines as a proven life saver. Basic outdoor survival skills are also considered de rigeur for anyone who wants to have any real fun out here, too.

But since I knew from the outset that the title was "Worst Case Scenario," I had to think of just how things could go wrong even for those best prepared. Specifically what would this kind of worst case scenario entail? What painful choices would it necessitate? To answer those questions, I investigated the worst, most primal fears of every member of my family. My husband and I both mentioned any failure of ours causing the children harm. The kids talked about Leatherface and acromantulas, but decided the idea of being left entirely alone in an extremely dangerous world without even the family pets for company was worse.

The short story that resulted, "A Girl and Her Dog," can be described as a coming-of-age tale, but more than that it is a story of the sacrifices a family has to make when confronting those fears.

And you have to read the book to see if the dog makes it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Pirhanas, Pariahs, and Me, Oh My! Part 2

Yes, apparently there is need for a part 2.

It all began when I signed a contract to appear at what I'll call the Nowheresville Comic Festival. Before I'd done so, however, I went through the contract with a fine-toothed comb and discussed the details with a friend who'd been in the comic book industry since I was a kid. The contract met our high standards, barring a couple of typos. I also looked up the name of the organizer,a person I'll call Tripp Nolan. I was horrified by what I found on line- accusations of mistreatment and non-payment so horribly presented that my conscience constrained me to doubt. Forum threads devoted to years-old accusations- closed and started up again, and again, and again- by some of the same people made me worry a little that they might be harboring a vendetta. The persistent name-dropping of people who may have signed one letter of complaint, but who otherwise remained quiet from then out made me wonder how these people felt about being so repeatedly trotted out. And with the childish taunts, bullying tactics, even the baseless character aspersions against people I know that so heavily interspersed what passed for discussion, why should I believe anything posted by people who resort to them so frequently?

But on the other hand, what if there was something to those accusations? I didn't want to believe completely that anyone was actually lying. Perhaps there was some misunderstanding. Suppose what they were saying was true, or at least a part of the truth? Keeping all that in mind, I sought Mr. Nolan's side of the story.

It seemed benign enough. He confirmed that judgments had been issued against him for non-payment, but it was all a misunderstanding. I advised him that it would be best to either appeal the decisions or pay the judgments and get it over with. He reassured me that he would deal with it. The one thing that raised a red flag was that he made a disparaging remark about another writer I'll call Ginny Simons. She was on my FB friend list, was a willing member of a group I'd started, and expressed a willingness to work on a benefit project I was helping write. I can think of a few things I tolerate less than talking smack about people, but it's a pretty short and vile list. I told him to keep his remarks about her or anyone else civil.

It didn't even raise a red flag when he delayed booking my travel arrangements for the convention, but then, this was very early on. I tried to make things as easy as possible. Flying me anywhere from where I live can be a little difficult and quite expensive. I urged that he book my husband and me to fly out of Salt Lake City instead of our hometown airport and fly us to New York City- where we'd have to stop anyway- instead of the smaller and much more expensive airport closer to the convention. We could handle the drive and/or the train ride. I felt limousine transportation was a little much, and I refused to fly first class. The only special request I had was that I be allowed a few extra days in New York City, because I wished to meet in person some of the beneficiaries of this benefit book- some of New York's Bravest and Finest. But the one thing I stressed most was that our tickets needed to be booked soon, because fares from Utah to New York were already high and bound only to get worse. He said I would hear from a travel manager closer to the date.

I figured if the convention really wanted to and could afford to shell out as much as a couple thousand to fly a fairly new writer and her spouse across the country, that was their business. But if they didn't or couldn't, and they didn't book promptly, I wouldn't go. I most certainly would not shell out any money up front to go, since that was not in the contract, and I didn't have the means to put any money out anyway. And I did all that before anyone told me to google Tripp Nolan.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Smart Alex Says: Comics for Causes: Untold Stories from Ground Zero...

Smart Alex Says: Comics for Causes: Untold Stories from Ground Zero...: September 11, 2001 tested American mettle like nothing since the bombing of Pearl Harbor or even since the Civil War. Everyone with a televi...

Monday, September 12, 2011

My Patriot Day Run Report

My Patriot Day Run Report

Here's a small preview of an upcoming project to benefit the 9-11 responders.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Here we were at Chicago Comic Con...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Pirhanas, Pariahs, and Me, Oh My! pt. 1

When I first got started writing comics, I held no starry-eyed illusions of fame, riches, or even a chance to make myself somehow worthy of a smidgen of the admiration I have for the likes of Larry Hama or the late, great Dave Cockrum. For one thing, I know I'm no superstar. I don't want to be a superstar. I just want to write, do some good with that, have some fun with it, and, yes, land some good paying contracts. For another, I've gone in already knowing a little too much about the industry.

I don't mind a little bit of fanfare as long as it's along the line of positive buzz. Even at that, I prefer it be about my projects and not about me at all. If there's any drama, any controversy, I prefer to just do my job and stay far away from it.

So when I signed a contract to appear at a Veterans' Day convention in upstate New York to promote Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan, that was all I wanted to do. And if anything went wrong that would preclude me from attending- as they did, I wanted to deal with that without any fuss. There are numerous reasons for that.

First of all, to paraphrase Joan Jett, I don't give a damn about anyone's bad reputation. Big names are good for marketing purposes only. While I am new to the comic book industry, I've been in long enough to know some of the human beings behind those names. Even the very best aren't perfect. And I've observed in the general population as well as within the comic book industry that the nicest people come from all over, even from among the unknowns and the pariahs. I was once myself a pariah, shunned, slandered, and mistreated by nearly all my peers. I know how easy it can be to acquire a bad reputation that is completely undeserved. So I don't mean it as a personal affront to anyone when I take any negative comment about anyone else with a grain or several of salt. I simply relate a little too well to those on the receiving end of such treatment.

I am also a freelancer,quite aware that I work in an industry rife with predators. This is why I am generally picky about the contracts I sign- and another reason why I wish to steer clear of internet feeding frenzies, as I don't see predatory behavior coming from just publishers or convention organizers, but tragically sometimes from fellow comic book creators.

And it's because of how I feel for everyone involved that I also won't take it personally if readers do not believe what I have to say about anyone. None of the grievances I'll air here are about individuals or reputations, but about behaviors.

Now I must admit to being a little naive in thinking that the comic book industry might be a haven for people who'd remember too well what it's like to be the grade school outcaste and would know better than to treat anyone like that. I was very disappointed to find out how that's not the case, and various lies circulated about me on the internet. Normally, I wouldn't dignify any of that with a response, but these run the gamut from too egregious to too silly to not address.

The silly lies are easiest to address. I was not banned from IMWAN or Byrnerobotics. I may or may not be welcome back, but leaving those sites was my idea. I requested my account be deleted at IMWAN. I think I just stopped posting at Byrnerobotics. Yet people seem to state as fact that I was banned.

I don't go crazy when people say bad things about my favorite characters. I will, however, admit to having a certain intolerance for trolling fan sites. If you don't like the X-Men, The Walking Dead, Dr. Who, Star Wars, or anything I happen to like, that's fine. Viva la difference! But if you go to a fan site clearly intending to cause trouble, don't blame anyone other than yourself when that's exactly what you get.

There's the matter of my alleged lack of empathy for freelancers. The fact that I am a freelancer was completely lost on the person making such a claim, though the truth that I'm not a superstar wasn't, as this person saw fit to repeatedly point out. The absurdity of it all would amuse me to no end if I hadn't at one point wanted to work with that person.

I was never anyone's evil sidekick. At worst, I'm a rogue-ish chaotic good. I'm ethically opposed to fraud. I'm also ethically opposed to creepy, stalkerish, bullying behavior. So when one group uses creepy, stalkerish bullying tactics in opposition to fraud, the ethical thing for me to do is to want nothing to do with either side.

Will there be a part 2 to this long and rambling rant? Only if I'm provided more material, so I hope not!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Smart Alex Says: Smart Alex On the Road: Con-flicting Schedules

Smart Alex Says: Smart Alex On the Road: Con-flicting Schedules: Since I'm running out of bad puns, perhaps it would be best to take a break from the convention circuit for a little while and rest. Nonethe...

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Smart Alex Says: Smart Alex on the Road: For Your Con-sideration

Smart Alex Says: Smart Alex on the Road: For Your Con-sideration: "One does not need to be a comic book enthusiast or sci-fi fan to be familiar with the phenomenon that is the convention. Everyone who knows ..."

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Smart Alex Says: Positive Prose: Voices from the Storm

Smart Alex Says: Positive Prose: Voices from the Storm: "Because I am interested in far more than just reviewing and promoting comic books, I figured it's high time I paid tribute to a favorite pro..."

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Smart Alex Says: Kickstart this Comic!

Smart Alex Says: Kickstart this Comic!: "Here we go with the first of many discussions on Kickstarter projects I believe deserve the extra attention. Explosive Comics  is a new comp..."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Fog of War and Comic Book Writing

"Did you fight in the war?"

"How did you come up with these stories?"

"Did you work directly with the troops?"

Those are the three questions I hear most when I'm at a signing or an event promoting the benefit anthology Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Did I fight in the war? No, and those aware of my attempt at enlistment know it was not for lack of trying. A medical disqualification compelled me to focus on other ways to serve, among them working on this book to benefit the USO, Wounded Warrior Project, Fisher House, and Soldiers' Angels.

How did I come up with those stories? Truth be told, I didn't. Clayton Murwin, the founder of Heroes Fallen Studios, did all the hard work earning the trust of the troops and their families and playing comic book matchmaker with the various creative teams and those with stories to share. Though I tried to return the favor- getting the word out to a couple of artists and a letterer I knew that they might want to get involved- when I volunteered to help with the writing duties, Clayton put me in touch with the artists and letterers with whom I'd work... and with the troops.

As I've said before, that part meant the most to me. In order for me to do my job and faithfully adapt the two stories on which I worked, it was important that I work directly with the men who had provided their accounts and keep them involved every step of the way, from rough drafts to finished scripts, and sometimes even beyond.

Working with Kyle Hausmann-Stokes, an army staff sergeant at the time "Yea, Though We Drive Through a Tier One Hot Spot" took place, was a piece of cake. It helped a lot that he sent plenty of photographs we could use as reference. It helped me even more as a writer that, while he was over in Iraq, he sometimes posted about his experiences on a blog- which he allowed me to use as reference and even quote verbatim when appropriate. And with source material so rich in witticisms about everything from down time to the infamous "pucker factor," what writer could resist? It was also easy and delightful to convey the high regard he had for those under his command, the way they worked together, and his often biting wit. Furthermore, the events he recounted had an easy plot, conflict, and a resolution of some kind.

But not every tale from the war front makes so easy a story. Larry Hama said in the foreword that the accounts in this book are not stories "per se." To paraphrase, stories are "tidy and neatly packaged," structured and trimmed to make sense. And the more I worked with Michael "Sudsy" Sutherland on the aptly titled "When Words Fail," the more I realized how difficult it was to "neatly package" everything the former Air Force ground ordnance delivery specialist recounted while being faithful to his account.

The decision to limit my visible presence to a caption box and title and skip dialogue altogether was motivated by a number of factors. First of all, most of the communication taking place was over the radio. Since Ratelo (the procedures for military radio communications) is subject to change and always classified, my options were limited. I could try to figure out how to write the dialogue as accurately as possible, giving myself a colossal headache and possibly getting a lot of people in trouble in the process. I could fake it with a mix of jargon and phonetics that might look impressive to civilians, but hilarious to anyone who would recognize it for the nonsense it is. Or I could just leave out all of it and address the next and more important challenge.

War quite simply is not tidy, and sometimes, even with 20/20 hindsight, those who know war, having been there, can't make sense of everything it involves. Sometimes anecdotes from a war aren't simple plot-conflict-resolution stories. While the neat plot, conflict, and resolution- the fight to clear Al Qaeda from a town in Al Anbar Province- is already told in the history books, they omit the chaotic jumble of details that sear themselves into the memories of those who've actually fought there. This was all about that chaotic jumble of details that might otherwise get "trimmed." It was much more about the feelings evoked by what's seen than the narrative. What would happen if you saw all these things happening around you? You might not know what's going on and be frightened and confused. You might have an idea of what's supposed to be happening and still be frightened and confused. You might know exactly what's going on and still perceive it as utter chaos. As for me, words failed me, but the images didn't, particularly in penciller Paul Shirey's capable hands.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Some more news at last about Hero by Force!

Hero by Force will be included in an Explosive Comics anthology- that has just been approved as a Kickstarter project. Kickstarter is also raising funds for other worthwhile comic book projects. I highly recommend checking them out.