Category Archives: Writing

A Case of Useless

A couple of thoughts about the writer’s strike. The first is this Video that made me laugh.

Anyone who’s perused fanfiction.net can tell you that the comic embellishment here is at a minimum. These people do exist and that fact is both sad and hilarious. But after a bit of rumination, I felt that this video had some wider implications beyond brightening my coffee break.

This skit takes the producer’s optimum position to its hilarious conclusion. The ability to buy labor using non-monetary benefits. Workers who are just happy to be there! It’s manager heaven! I worked as games tester for about a year, and one thing I learned was that any passion you have for your job can be used to bend you over a barrel. My work was repetitive and there were thousands ready to take my place, so it’s no wonder I didn’t get re-hired after my second contract with the company. 10 dollars an hour and 60 hour work weeks seem like a fair price for the chance to work at a video game company. It’s same deal for the Writer’s Guild, the Director’s Guild and the Screen Actor’s guild. Without them, management could easily do whatever they wanted to workers because people would pay to do the work that they do.

The second item is this blog post by Ryan Sohmer. If there ever was a case for an internet-only entertainment universe, Sohmer would be it. His comic strip, Least I Could Do has run for over five years with four books out and an animated series deal on the way. However he may have trouble getting any help writing said animated series if he maintains his line of thinking. Sohmer believes that if the producers and guild just bucked up and compromised, everybody would get back to work. Everyone MUST get back to work, otherwise all the actors and studio janitors will go hungry, this great 70 year old infrastructure will crumble and America would no longer be the cultural epicenter it once was. Oh no! The actors will have to choose between their dignity and a little gold statue at the Oscars! If you ask me, this sounds like a good thing.

The producers are about to get hit with a terminal case of useless, a disease that few occupations recover from. Back in the days of a three channel, one newspaper, one movie screen universe, the producer’s job was much more important. Making sure that the most appealing if not best content got out there to attract the best viewers and the best advertisers was a task that required strategy and tough decision-making. When the internet came along and made sure joe nobody was as accessible as NBC, creators are now able to make money from a small audience without the interference of committee thinking. Networks and corporations simply are not able to maximize revenue from the personal, specific stories that make mass media what is today. Technology is going to replace the functions of producers until they are simply providers of production capital, and holding money is something the banks have covered pretty well. The Producers know this, and they are attempting every under-handed trick in the book to keep themselves relevant and swimming in cash, from anti-net neutrality bills to copyright extensions. Every trick that is, except serve the consumer and pay a decent price for labor.

Every day the writers remain on strike brings the entertainment industry to a more robust and equitable business model. Furthermore, it’s not like any of the workers on those shows haven’t been unemployed before. In the Vancouver where they film Battlestar Galactica, an unemployed tradesperson is pretty much an oxymoron with this job market. When you lose your job, you don’t dress up like G.I. joe and go shoot up a happy burger. You look for work, you retrain, and you adapt. It may take only a few hit shows on the internet to change the game completely. Besides, if enough actors and directors boycott the oscars, things will really start to get interesting.

Ryan Sohmer’s Strike Musings, Part Deux

Fanfic Video via Writer’s Life

Okay…

I have to say that my attempt at comment-whoring was a bit of a wash. Oh well. I guess that just means I shouldn’t be asking for money through this thing. When I attempt anything as selfish as essentially saying “shower me with your inter-tubes comments!” it’s probably a good thing that it doesn’t result in many replies. It’s also a good thing that almost all of my readers are my friends and family, meaning that I don’t have to pander to my audience.

Sure, it would be wonderful if I could sell advertising on this website and support myself with pithy witticisms about the 21st century, but that’s not what I have this blog for. After doing much research on the subject, I found that in order to make this blog profitable, I would have to make it about something like digital cameras, fill it up with photos, and clutter it to the gills with ads. I have my own ideas for such a project, but www.james-strocel.com is meant for something else.

I first started it up so I would have web server to play with. It allowed me to have the kind of professional development a “computer guy” needs. But, as some of you know, I like to call myself a writer, and this was a robust and public space with which to publish myself. All I knew about what I wanted to write was what I didn’t want to write. I didn’t want to have a not-so-secret diary of my private life, nor did I want to rant about my work and lose my job in a high-profile fashion (I have the terms of my work contracts that take care of that for me). As I continued to publish entries and attempt to keep a schedule, I noticed that my writing started to get sharper. The prose responded in the way my mind wanted it to. Not only that, I noticed that in history, primary documents are often used to piece together a more complete picture of a period in time. Perhaps long after I’m gone, some historian will have a better idea of what life was like at the turn of the 21st century. Who knows, they even might leave a comment.

My Confession

This is probably the Nth post about Steve Irwin’s passing, but it’s something I just can’t stop thinking about. Actually, it kind of bothers me that it just leaves me so utterly bummed out. Don’t get me wrong, it is a textbook definition of “The good die young”. Even on the internet, salacious mutterings about Darwin awards and other such jokes are met with sadness and derision. For the country of Australia itself, it’s like Superman died. Never mind the work he did to preserve majestic wildlife the world over, Steve Irwin’s “Crikey!” catchphrase and Kahkis created the identity of a nation. The way he used that identity to support his conservation work is model for engineering positive human behavior.

So why has it still got me down? I never felt this bad when Jim Henson or Carl Sagan passed away. It could be that this is just the straw that broke the camels back. It’s been a terrible year in terms of mortality for my friends and family, not the least of which was my Grandfather passing away this spring. Seeing some of my favorite fictional characters in “Legend of Galactic Heroes” and “Firefly” cack this year probably didn’t help matters. However, I tend to agree with my mother (who has been a Nurse for over 30 years) that death is not necessarily bad. It is a transition to a better place, away from this world of pain and suffering. I don’t really need to feel sorry for people who in one sense are doing better for themselves. And mourning fictional characters is just bloody stupid.

But then I thought back to when I first heard the news that the Crocodile Hunter was dead. My first thought was a FedEx commercial he did a few years ago. In the ad, he had been bitten by a deadly snake, but fortunately the antivenin was coming via FedEx. When an assistant told him that the antidote was sent by another courier, he promptly keeled over, dead. It was funny at the time, but now it made me realize that I was feeling partly responsible for Steve’s death. It was like Salieri in Peter Schaffer’s “Amadeus” pushing Mozart to exhaustion. By enjoying Steve Irwin’s antics, and marveling at every attempt he made to wrestle the world’s deadliest animals, I was encouraging a lifestyle that resulted in a freak accident that claimed the world’s premier conservationist. It’s been forming a bitter little ball of self-disgust that I can’t help but lean on like a sore tooth.

Come to think of it, that probably ranks up there with the fictional character mourning. It’s not logical, but I’ll bet that nagging guilt is on the minds of more than one crocodile hunter fan. In knowing this, I’m little more content to be where I am right now. The Geographic Information System technology I’m working with right now is used in conservation efforts, and some day I may find myself working in that capacity as both atonement and tribute to a true wildlife warrior.

Fan Fiction

If you ever want to expose the inner recesses of adulation and fervor for fictional characters or settings, you need to look no futher than Fan Fiction. This would be referring to the practice of fans of a particular book, movie, or television series to start writing stories about their favorite characters and sharing them out among other fans. It started out in its current incarnation in the 1960’s with the Star Trek series, and thanks to the internet, such stories are now legion, covering properties from Seinfeld to Hellraiser, sometimes even in the same story.

In this modern age along with the internet we have copyright law, and since these stories are written without the express permission of their creators, this makes them quite illegal. Personally, I find fan fiction to be quite benign. The writer’s don’t make any money from it, and most of the pieces are so terrible that they are practically unrecognizable from the original product. In a legal sense, though, they are diluting the copyright of the writers who actually pay for groceries with the money they make writing these characters. After hearing the fan perspective on this issue for so long, I find it interesting when writers take a harsh view of this practice.

Lee Goldberg is one case in point. He is a working, Hollywood writer of such shows as “Diagnosis Murder” and “Monk” who has taken on the unenviable task of denouncing fan fiction in his blog, The Writer’s Life. Taken from his perspective, it’s easy to see why most fan fiction is such contemptible crap. So-called fans can take your work and turn it inside out and backwards, in essence creating the literary equivalent of something that slurped out of a David Cronenberg film. Techniques Slash, Mpreg, and Mary Sue Characters are used to create abattoirs of egotistical wish fulfillment so terrifying that you would flee from the keyboard before I could tell you what the hell those words mean.

Worst of all, it’s a time sink that detracts from the real writing you could be doing. At the end of her very caustic rant against fan fiction, Robin Hobb/Megan Lindholm describes, step by step, how to get your story out of the ghetto of fanzines and copyright infringement and get you back to practicing your craft. I believe that this makes fan fiction different from drawing fan art, or participating in a garage band. With a few paragraphs you can make a written story fundamentally different from the creator you so desperately want to emulate.

That being said, I should tell you all about the time I wrote someone else’s characters.

If you google my name, chances are you’ll come across the comic I wrote for a few years back called “Shifters”. It was kind of a Teen Wolf meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer series about a girl named Farrah who suddenly discovers that she’s a werewolf. It was drawn by Marie Tary, a friend who ran table top role-playing games with my friends in college. She had this comic online and was at a loss for what to write in it. So, being a bit of a scribe myself, I took up the task for a few issues, adding some new characters and helping the comic build a bit of a following. As I started getting into my upper level CIS courses, I found I no longer had the time to keep up with the comic, and so I left in 2002.

The question is, while Marie is carrying on her comics, what have I been doing? Aside from a short monologue and a blog or two, things have been rather quiet on the publishing front for me, internet or otherwise. I’ve even started drawing in the past couple of years. Looking at those essays and rants on fan fiction revealed to me something. I’m afraid I’ll write fan fiction.

I just want to go on the record saying that I don’t have a problem with fan fiction. Heck, even I tried it a couple of times. However, I never published my stories on the net because of the ugly realization that I was writing someone else’s story. The idea that I could put so much effort into crafting a story only to find out later that it’s already been done is a great fear of mine. The idea that my pet obsessions could get in the way of my story is also frightening.

Looking at these stories, I realize that their purloined trappings are but a shackle for real story inside. When I started them, I wanted to take the properties to places they had never been to, or never could go for fear of violating their series bibles. Why not just make my own? As I mentioned in other posts, much of my writer’s block stems from a lack of courage. True, I can’t go off writing 500 pages of exposition like some people, but that shouldn’t stop me from writing 250 pages of story. It might be crap, it might be something. But until it get’s on the page, who’s going to know?

While you were out

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably wondering why the last post date was May 3rd. This time there is a good reason for that. I’ve been working on a new blog that’s a little more market oriented. It’s called The First Thirty Minutes. It’s a gaming review blog with a little twist. I realized that most of the higher traffic sites out there had somehting to do with video games. So I thought to myself, why not create game review site with a little more adult slant? But then I thought, how am I going to have to time to play through all of these games? The solution was critique these games only the first thirty minutes of play.

If you’re young professional these days, chances are you’ve played some form of video game, but since you don’t have the time surplus of your average college student, the most play-time you’ll get with a game in any given day will 30 minutes. Apply that standard to console game rentals, and 30 minutes will be all that you ever experience with a game. How are you supposed to spend your money wisely under these circumstances?

And that’s where www.first-30.com comes in. There are only two reviews up on the site right now, but due to the workflow I’ve established they’ll come out at least once a week. So head on over, enjoy the reviews, and e-mail me with any comments.

Cheers!