Thoughts on “The Time of the Doctor”

I really wanted to enjoy The Time of the Doctor, I did. Unfortunately, like many others, I didn’t. To be completely blunt, I found the story laborious and unsatisfying.

Now, if you haven’t seen the episode yet, I’m going to quote River Song – “Spoilers”

Here we are at Trenzalore at last, and we’ve got every single adversary the Doctor has faced. Daleks, Cybermen, Soltarans, you name it. This has the makings of an epic battle, which we’ve seen the aftermath of in an earlier episode. In that episode, the entire planet of Trenzalore was one gigantic graveyard and stood completely in ruin. In this, the episode where we’ll see how that horrific battle got underway, all the baddies are scared to make the first move.

For several hundred years.

Yes, that’s right, there’s a several hundred year standoff where the Doctor ages while his enemies orbit the planet biting their nails. We do have a handful of scenes where there are covert attacks, but the grand, Peter Jackson-scale battle never comes. At the end, Matt Smith is essentially an old man shaking his fist at the sky yelling at the Daleks to get off his lawn.

Meantime, there’s a signal that’s been broadcast from the planet which no one can translate. This signal, which all species are innately afraid of, is finally translated as “Doctor Who?” This is the question that must be answered on the fields of Trenzalore. The Doctor investigates and finds a crack in the universe, like what he encountered when traveling with Amy Pond. We’re told that the Time Lords are broadcasting the signal from the other side of that crack, and if the Doctor says his name into it, then they’ll know it’s safe for them to come through back into our universe.

So, if I’m understanding this correctly, the only way for the Time Lords, the people who invented gravity, to know that it’s safe to come back to the universe is to rely on some guy standing at the door and whispering his name. That’s weak. Essentially, we can assume that the Doctor’s name, which has been one of the great mysteries of the show since its inception, is Swordfish.

What’s even more asinine is that we’re expected to believe that the Time Lords are just sitting on the other side of that crack for hundreds of years doing nothing but asking “Doctor Who?” over and over again. I’d hate to be the Time Lord intern who got tasked with that job.

And then there’s the thirteenth regeneration issue. We know that Matt Smith is the last of the “official” regenerations. We know that it’s possible for Time Lords to be given additional lives, but it feels cheap how Smith is just given regeneration energy because his companion whispers into the crack. A companion who’s had no contact with the Time Lords, a companion who doesn’t make a particularly rousing speech, a companion with no street cred on Gallifrey basically says “Please?” and the Time Lords say “Oh, okay” and send regeneration energy into the rift, which somehow also manages to seal the rift itself and, I’m assuming, stops the signal.

This makes no sense. The Time Lords didn’t get the positive identification they were looking for (Doctor Who? was never answered), but they’ll blindly send regeneration energy into another universe? C’mon, they’re smarter than that.

So, as you can tell I’ve done a lot of thinking about this, and I’ve been trying to set things right, to justify this episode. What I finally came up with is this – this episode should’ve taken place on the other side of the rift.

Bear with me – During the final episode of David Tennantt’s arc, we see the Lord President of the Time Lords locked in combat with the Master. And from what we saw in the Day of the Doctor, those events are happening concurrently with the 13 Doctors turning Gallifrey into a planetary Polaroid shot. So let’s suppose that the Master has somehow assumed control of the Council of Time Lords and needed to ensure that the Doctor wouldn’t interfere. So he sent out that signal, knowing it would cause the Doctor to show up, but that he’d wind up in the mother of all stalemates with everyone he’d ever cheesed off. That gives the Master time to take full control of Gallifrey. And as for the regeneration energy? The Master wouldn’t want the Doctor to come to Gallifrey and mess up his fun, so let’s say he used regeneration energy to seal the rift, and if the excess wound up giving the Doctor life #13, well, that’s a small price to pay.

It’s not going to get me a job at the BBC anytime soon, but it helps me remedy what I watched the other night.

I guess the reason I’m so frustrated with this whole episode is that Matt Smith’s Doctor deserved a better send off than this. The 8th Doctor regenerated in a dramatic moment, making a decision to become a warrior. The War Doctor regenerated when his time was finally done and the need for a warrior had passed. The 9th Doctor regenerated protecting Rose, and the 10th Doctor regenerated saving Donna’s grandfather. It feels like Smith’s Doctor got cheated out of something; he deserved to go out with a bang.

Meantime, I am excited to see what Peter Capaldi brings to the role. I’m not thrilled with his first line being that he didn’t like the color of his kidneys, but I’m going to do my best to keep an open mind.

Vampires in Early New England

I recently finished reading a book called The Vampire Hunter’s Guide to New England. Now with a name like that, you’d expect sort of a Fodor’s Guide, something that would tell you which churches in Massachusetts stock the strongest holy water, what New Hampshire farms grow the best garlic and which forests in Maine you should carve your wooden stakes from. However, the title’s a bit of a misnomer. Instead, the book is actually a collection of real-world Yankee undead encounters from the 17 & 1800’s.

Title aside (and I’m not one to talk, after all, I titled one of my stories Krampusnacht – just rolls of the tongue, doesn’t it?) the book is quite good. It recounts eight cases of “vampirism” in early New England. The interesting theme is that all these “vampires” were actually cases of tuberculosis. In almost all cases, a member of the family died of TB, and then when another member of the family took ill, the father figure of the family assumed the first family member had come back and was feeding off the living.

There were a couple of things about this that struck me as strange. For starters, there was never any mention of the trademark puncture wounds on a victim’s neck. I’m not sure when that made it into mainstream vampiric lore, but apparently in the 1700’s vampires drained your energy without leaving marks. No holes in your neck, no sensitivity to sunlight; you just wasted away. The way to tell if someone had become a vampire was to dig them up and check if there was still blood in the suspect’s heart. If there was, you were supposed to burn the heart, which would kill the vampire. If there wasn’t, well, I guess you’d have a bunch of relieved townspeople.

Unless you lived in Connecticut.

There was one account from 1850 in Connecticut where a man referred to as “J.B.” died of TB and then his brothers took sick 8 years later. Apparently there’s no statute of limitations on when a family member can come back as a vamp because folks starting saying J.B. had returned and was feeding on his family. They dug him up, and discovered (to everyone’s surprise but mine) he had decomposed completely into a skeleton. This didn’t convince the townsfolk. Not having a heart to burn, the townsfolk dealt with this “vampire” by rearranging his bones so they formed a skull and crossbones pattern, which was supposed to stop J.B. from rising again.

Maybe I missed it, but I’ve never seen or heard of a vampire story where the vamp starts out as a skeleton, spontaneously regenerates his flesh, leaves the grave, feeds off his family, and then returns to his coffin and promptly withers back to skeletal form. Never let it be said that people from Connecticut are weak in their convictions, but apparently this skele-vampire can only be stopped by jumbling his bones about because obviously he’s not smart enough to rearrange them.

At any rate, I’d suggest picking up this book if you’re interested in early New England vampire stories. You can find it on Amazon really cheap here.

 

Green Lantern: Power and Detachment

Some superheroes loan themselves to what I’ll call “armchair hero-ing.” You know the feeling. You sit there and go, “Oh come on, why doesn’t Superman just fly around the world again, rewind time and stop all the crimes before they happen?” You’ll notice no one does this with Batman. No one second guesses Batman.

However, I find myself doing this a lot with Green Lantern. GL is one of my favorite heroes, and the amount of power his ring gives him loans itself to these kind of thoughts. And then I read Green Lantern #2 (part of the New 52 line) and had an epiphany. A really super-powered character is most effective when they’re detached from the situation they’re in.

Let me give some context around this issue to illustrate. The upshot is Hal Jordan (GL) is now under the tutelage of his former enemy, Sinestro. The pair come upon a collapsing bridge, complete with a car about to go over the edge and a hot girl already falling. Hal has an emotional reaction. These people are in trouble and he needs to save them. That’s Hal’s motivation – save the people. Hal jumps into action, flies down, grabs the hot girl and wills a giant magnet into being to pull the car to safety.

Sinestro intervenes then, undoing what Hal’s done. Suddenly, the car and the girl are falling again and Sinestro tells Hal to watch and learn. Sinestro exerts his will and the bridge repairs itself,  and the car and the hot girl are teleported back onto the bridge. Injuries, property damage and everything else has been undone. Simultaneously.

So what’s the difference? Simple. Sinestro doesn’t care about the people on the bridge. All he wants to do is restore order to a chaotic situation. There’s no compassion for life in his actions, just cold calculation.

Compare these actions to a fight scene later on in the same issue, where a Yellow Lantern attacks Sinestro. Given Sinestro’s sprezzatura earlier, you think he’ll use his ring to explode the Yellow Lantern’s heart in his chest, or teleport him into the center of the sun, or a million other nasty finishing moves worth of Mortal Kombat. But that doesn’t happen. Why?

Cuz in this scene, Sinestro’s pissed off.

Gone is the cold, calculating tactician. Instead, Sinestro conjures a giant green broadsword and drives it through his enemy’s chest. This fight was personal, and Sinestro handled it in the same way Hal was going to handle the situation on the bridge – emotionally.

I think that’s part of what makes it possible to relate to GL. Without that visceral approach to hero-ing, there’d never be any tension to his stories, no nail-biting moments, nothing. In short, he’d be boring.  No one would want to read about a character like that. And while it may make us sit back and say, “well why doesn’t he just…” we love him just the same.

 

Stealing Time to Brainstorm

So in the last post I mentioned that I could bang out 1,000 words in 30 mins, but I needed to know exactly what I was going to write about. That brings me to today’s topic, Stealing Time to Brainstorm.

In perfect world, we writers would have unlimited time to invent new characters and worlds. We’d just sit back with our feet on our desks, hands laced behind our heads and invent and destroy worlds, all while wearing a Joker-esque grin. However, if you’ve got a day job and familial responsibilities, just getting that solid 30 mins to write can be a colossal effort. So how do you find time to brainstorm?

Well, you’re probably going to have to steal that time. Here are some places I’ve been able to take from:

The Commute – the drive to and from work is a great time to brainstorm. You can’t actually write, but if you’ve got a smart phone, chances are there’s a voice recorder app you can download for a couple of bucks. Myself, I use a little Sony voice recorder. Just chatter away and replay later. If you ride on a train, you can work on a notepad if you’re worried about having tech out in the open. I heard that Peter V Brett wrote the Painted Man on his smart phone while riding the train to work.

The Lunch Break – the 30 mins you get at the middle of your day is a good spot to brainstorm or jot down some ideas. Two things to remember when doing this. One, you need to work uninterrupted, so you might need to take lunch in your car or someplace your coworkers won’t find you. Two, make sure you’re back to your desk on time. You don’t want to find yourself with tons of time to write because you’re suddenly unemployed.

The Workout – exercising is another ideal time to brainstorm. Again, actually writing can be tricky, but your trusty voice recorder will do in a pinch. Keep in mind that you may sound a bit like an obscene phone call during replay, depending on the intensity of your workout.

Monotonous Tasks – dull repetitive tasks, like folding laundry, yard work, or doing dishes are ideal to mull things over. Plus, it makes for a great interview answer when you can say, “Yes, I came up with that scene while I was folding my Spider-Man boxer shorts.” Not that I have Spider-Man boxers. I don’t. Mine are Superman. Shut up.

So there you go, 4 places to steal time from so you can brainstorm ideas for your writing. Any other times you’d suggest? Sound off in the comments.

3 Tips to Maximize Writing Time

I’ve said before that I can write about 1,000 words in 30 mins. Thing is, in order to do that I have to know exactly what I want to write, and I need to be able to block out any potential distractions. Here are some tricks I’ve found help me keep on task –

 1 – Unplug from the Internet. As simple as this one sounds, it can be damned hard to do. “Hmm. I’m stuck on this scene, let me check my email real quick while I ponder…” TWO HOURS LATER… or “Gee, I need to look something up. Let me pop on Wiki…” SEVEN HOURS LATER or the deadly “You know, I think I’ll just fire up Warcraft and check on some stuff in the auction house…” THREE DAYS LATER….

If you’re working on a computer that’s connected to the Internet via an actual cable, unplug it. If you’re on wireless, disable your card (most systems have a hot key combination that lets you do that.) If you find you’re still giving into the temptation that is the Web, there are apps that will block you from getting online.

When I got serious about writing, I dual-booted my netbook to Windows and Linux. The Linux distro I used didn’t include drivers for my network card or wireless adapter, so it was impossible for  it to get online. Also, since I don’t know a damned thing about Linux, I couldn’t screw around with anything other than the word processing program that was on the desktop.

 2 – Block out the noise. Screaming kids, traffic, people with leaf blowers, all these sounds can knock you right out of your writing groove. Some folks listen to music while they write. If that works for you, rock on. But if you’re like me, music can be as jarring as the sounds you’re trying to shut out. Fear not, there is a solution. Get a recording of white noise (no, not the band). I have a recording of an air purifier that I listen to when I write. It’s a constant low hum that’s easy for me to mentally block out, and it covers any distracting background noise.

 3 – Write someplace you won’t be bothered. If you work in a cube farm and have ever tried to write on your lunch break, you know how well that goes. The lunch break should be sacred, where you can do whatever you want while enjoying your peanut butter and nutella sandwich. However, that one guy will always come over and interrupt you, despite the fact that your sandwich is clearly visible and broadcasting the “Fuck Off I’m Eating” sign. To combat this, I’ve found that camping out in an unused conference room or even going out to my car for the duration lets me get the words out.

So there you go, 3 tips to maximize your writing time. What other tricks do you have? Sound off in the comments.

Thoughts on Ergonomics

There aren’t many occupational hazards to being a writer. Unless you write in a treehouse, a fall from a great height while writing is unlikely. You’ll never develop black lung disease as a writer. You probably won’t drown while writing unless you’re on a defective submarine, and it’s doubtful you’ll get shot unless your name is Richard Castle.

Carpal tunnel syndrome, however, is another story. It’s something that can really mess with a writer’s livlihood. I was diagnosed with it a few years back, and it forced me to make some changes in how I work.

The biggest change I had to make was my posture. I’m a sloucher. After thirty or forty minutes at the keyboard, I’ll be half out of my chair, stretching across the table to reach the keyboard. I was never the straight-backed-fingers-held-at-perfect-home-row-position sort of typist, and that’s probably what did the most damage. I have to make a conscious effort to keep my feet planted firmly on the floor, but it helps. This site talks a lot more about the specifics of how to keep good posture, and offers some advice on how to avoid fatigue.

I also changed my writing tools. I always liked the Microsoft Natural keyboards, but the latest models are too big for my hands. I found a company called Kinesis, and their keyboards can be customized to fit your hands and preferred layout. I’m currently using a Maxim keyboard and the thing is a dream to type on.

I also changed out my mouse. I found that even if I was just surfing the web, I had a tendency to lean forward on the arm that was mousing. I couldn’t break that habit no matter how hard I tried. So instead I switched to an Evoluent mouse. This mouse has what’s called a handshake grip, which repositions your arm so the bone is against the table. Now if I lean, I’m not putting pressure on the meat of my arm. That alone went a long way to providing some much needed relief.

Any of my fellow writers deal with chronic wrist pain or carpal tunnel syndrome? Sound off in the comments with what helped you.

Thoughts on Anti-Heroes

When I was a kid, I was taught that a protagonist was the hero of the story. As I got older, I learned that the protagonist was actually the person who moved the story along – they didn’t have to be a “hero.” They could, in fact, be anti-heroes.

That distinction opens up a whole new world of literary adventures. It means you can have an undesirable as your protagonist and it’s okay. The trick is to make some part of the anti-hero relatable or likable.

Chuck Wendig’s Double Dead has a vampire named Coburn as the protagonist, and he’s pretty badass. The thing is, he’s not altruistic or noble. He’s got his own agendas and goals. So what makes him a good protagonist? Well, Coburn comes across as a total douche to pretty much everyone he meets, but he displays tenderness and compassion for a young girl that he winds up traveling with. Through their relationship you see a bit of humanity in the monster. You get bits of insight into a part of Coburn’s nature that is both human and humane, and while you know he’s not a good person, you realize he’s a good bad person.

For me, the most powerful example of anti-heroism came from Doctor Doom. Back in the early 90’s, Marvel put out a line of comics set in the year 2099. Doom was featured in his own book, shown as having time traveled from the present to the future. In that future, the country Doom ruled,  Latveria, had all but forgotten its former monarch and was ruled by a greedy cyborg named Tiger Wylde. The comics follow Doom as he tries to wrest power from Wylde. And to do that, Doom has to win over the people. So he begins providing food for the hungry and medicine for the sick. I was disturbed when I realized I was rooting for Victor Von Doom. This was the guy who tried to kill most of my heroes, after all. If Doom’d had his way, Iron Man, Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four would have been demolecularized by some hideous device a hundred times over. And yet, there I was, cheering for him.

Having a villian with a lot of history (like Doom) be the protagonist of your story can be very powerful. But compare that to when Marvel tried to spin Spidey-nemesis Venom off as a hero. The upshot was Venom realized that many people out there are innocents, like he had been before Spider-Man hurt him. (Venom had a bit of twisted perspective on reality. Spidey rejected the Venom suit before it could take over his mind. That hurt the suit’s feelings. I fall squarely in Spidey’s camp on this one, hurt feelings be damned.) So Venom decides he’s going to protect innocents (but he still hates Spider-Man). This didn’t work for me because it was a total 180 on the character’s attitude. Venom suddenly goes from being obsessed with getting revenge on Spider-Man to having an altruistic world view.

Doom, on the other hand, is  always a smug, selfish bastard. He’s only looking to restore Latveria so he can seize power. He uses people to achieve his goals, and he’s brazen about it. Still, you find yourself cheering him on because he’s fighting an even bigger evil, and you want to see that evil displaced.

So my takeaway here is this. If you want to have a good anti-hero, exagerrate their negative personality traits, and make sure they have a lot of them. But then give them one thing, whether that’s a relationship or an inner monologue, that makes them relatable, likable and human, because that’s what’s going to make readers stick with them and cheer them on.

Anything you’d like to add on anti-heroes? Sound off in the comments.

Rebooting Heroes

I’m thinking of a superhero. See if you can guess who it is.

  • He’s super strong
  • He’s nearly invulnerable
  • He has telepathic powers
  • He’s a king who renounced his throne

Did you guess yet? I mean, someone like that sounds pretty cool, and I guarantee you’ve heard of him.

Give up?

Aquaman.

Yeah, that’s right. Aquaman. Everyone knows Aquaman as the “guy who talks to fish.” Sure he can breathe  under water and that’s kind of cool, but what sort of a superpower is talking to fish? Lame. And when I was a kid, he couldn’t be out of water for more than an hour or he’d weaken. That later got amended so as long as he got a glass of water or was near a humidifier, he’d be ok. That was lame too. It seemed that Aquaman would always be the laughing stock of the Justice League.

And then I read the rebooted Aquaman #1 that DC recently put out and everything changed.

I never thought I’d say this, but Aquaman is pretty kickass. This issue highlights all his strengths; Aquaman’s super strong and durable, which makes complete sense if you think about it. In order for someone to withstand the pressure at the bottom of the ocean floor, you’d have to be tough. Within the first couple of pages, Aquaman has lifted an armored car, withstood a hail of bullets and leaped to the tops of buildings from street level.

The other thing that this issue did well was directly confronting all the Aquaman hate out there. Someone asks him about talking to fish, and he responds with the following. “Fish don’t talk. Their brains are too primitive to carry on a conversation. I reach into their midbrains and telepathically push them to help me out.”

Wow. That’s a much more scientific explanation than I would’ve expected from Aquaman, which means he’s also a lot smarter than people give him credit for. When someone else asks him what it’s like “to be no one’s favorite super-hero,” Aquaman gives a very menacing glare, brandishes his trident and then walks away. The guy who was giving Aquaman crap genuinely looks rattled.

So Aquaman’s really not someone you should mess with. I never considered him like that, but I certainly do now, and I’ve added this to my list of titles that I’ll pick up each month. Maybe my kids will grow up with a lot more respect for Aquaman. I can safely say that anyone who grew up with Batman: The Animated Series has a much different take on the Dark Knight than the people who grew up with Adam West’s portrayal of Batman. (Bat-Shark Repellent? Come on, people).

Have you checked out the new Aquaman or any of DC’s other New 52? Let me know in the comments.

Vote for the Next Big Creature in UF

So my previous post on vampires got me thinking about what the next big UF creature should be. The Onion claims it should  be Minotaurs. Penny Arcade says it should be mummies. I think we should give a few other critters a chance to shine. So here are a handful of creatures that I haven’t seen in urban fantasy novels. Click on the creature’s name to learn more and then vote for your fave.

  • Chupacabra – He’s a four-foot tall reptilian who sucks the blood out of goats.
  • Bigfoot/Yeti/Sasquatch – Come on, you all know this guy and he hasn’t had any love since Harry and the Hendersons
  • Jackalope –  He’s more than just a fixture at the Longhorn Steakhouse.
  • Mapinguary – He’s a bipedal giant sloth. What’s not to love?
  • Wendigo – A cannibalistic spirit who can possess humans. Don’t worry about him getting cold feet, ladies, because they’ve already frozen & fallen off.

[polldaddy poll=5412559]

 

 

The Allure of Vampires

I’ve been thinking a lot about vampires lately. It seems that nearly every urban fantasy novel out there (including my own) has them. Why is that?

Glad you asked.

Well, for starters, I think it’s because vampires blend the best out of the paranormals. Sure, shifters like werewolves can look human, but in order for a shifter to really do anything kickass, they have to use special effects. Take a bar fight, for example. In a bar fight, a vampire can use all of his powers and he still looks human. A shifter might be stronger than a normal human and have keener senses while in human form, but to really rip things up in a bar fight they have to change forms.

The vast array of powers a vampire possesses is also appealing. Let’s do a quick laundry list of vampiric abilities:

  • Super strength
  • Super speed
  • Night vision
  • The ability to crawl on walls (which also gives them the opportunity to go as a badass Spider-Man on Halloween)
  • The ability to control/become  mist
  • The ability to hypnotize/dominate humans
  • Shapeshift into bats or wolves
  • Control swarms of rats or packs of wolves
  • Accelerated healing
  • And, they’re usually damned stylish with designer clothes and a propensity to be suave and correctly pronounce words in French

What does a shifter get?

  • Strength
  • Animal form
  • Slightly better senses while in human form
  • High clothing bills because they’re always ripping/losing their clothing
  • Doggy breath
  • Fleas

It’s kind of a win/lose for the shifter on this one. Sure, you’re a force of nature while in animal form, but you also can’t talk and you lose your opposable thumbs. Vamps can feign fancy foreign accents whenever they want and I’m willing to bet that if you looked closely at a vampire’s paws while in animal form, you’d see a tiny, spiteful thumb. Additionally, you never hear about Animal Control being called on a vampire.

There are other, more genuine reasons, though. Vampires were human once. They still remember what their hopes and dreams were, and  that makes them relatable. It’s really hard to do that for other paranormal creatures.  You could try to write a paranormal romance with Bigfoot or a hard boiled chupacabra detective, but it’d be tough because their minds are too foreign to readers. You can’t do it with other kinds of undead like zombies or liches, because let’s face it, they’re gross and they’ve lost their humanity. Sure, you can do it with a shifter, but see above reasons (FLEAS) on why a vamp might be a more appealing choice.

Even a vampire’s weaknesses are cooler. Vampire – “I can’t meet you for lunch tomorrow because I’d be immolated by the sun.” (Spontaneous combustion = cool). Shifter – “I can’t meet you for lunch tomorrow because I’m having a flea and tick bath.” (Awkward hygiene = not cool)

So until we come up with another paranormal humanoid that can hand out dish after dish of supernatural smackdown and look cool while doing it, I think we’ll be seeing vampires as main characters/antagonists for a long time.