Volume 0 Author Spotlight: Philip J Reed

This week sees the release of The Lost Worlds of Power, Volume 0 as a Groupees exclusive. It contains a total of five stories, unique to this collection, and each with its own illustration. For that reason, this week will be given over to spotlighting one of the featured authors every day. Today, me. Philip J Reed, author of “Tetris.”

It's a-me.I’ve talked a bit about how much of a fast-tracked labor of love Volume 0 was for everybody involved, so while I won’t rehash it too deeply here, I do want you to keep that fact in mind, so that you’ll understand how absolutely insane I was to also write a fresh story for it.

Some background. When James Lawless (eventual co-editor) first pitched me the idea of writing Worlds of Power books, he pretty much leapt right for Marble Madness, and I just as quickly grabbed Battletoads. Then we opened the idea of a collection up to many authors…and potentially opened ourselves up to failure, as well.

I can’t speak for James, but I was worried that we might not get enough usable content to justify a book. It’s not that I thought only myself and my co-editor would be uniquely qualified to write novelizations of long-forgotten NES games…I was just slightly afraid that the folks out there who could do the best work wouldn’t even know it existed.

TetrisFortunately we ended up with a massive swirl of coverage, and great authors (with great stories) found us just fine. But I didn’t know that that would happen, so I was already formulating a plan B. Maybe, I figured, if we get a few good stories, James and I can write a few more, and then we’d have a decent-sized volume.

I didn’t want to resort to that, but if push came to shove, I’d have to do something. So I started to brainstorm ideas. Something I could write in a relatively short time (since we wouldn’t know if we had enough usable material until the submission deadline passed), and something that would also be worth reading. That’s when I got an idea for novelizing Tetris.

See, I’d just finished writing Detective Fiction around that time…a much more serious kind of comic novel than anything I would have dreamed of writing for this collection. And because that story was a bit more “grounded,” I had a lot of silly detective jokes left over. Things that I thought were funny, but that I knew didn’t belong in that particular story.

I thought I’d write “Tetris” as a detective story in which the game doesn’t figure at all; the only connection is that the detective’s last name is Tetris.

Ha ha, right?

That was pretty much the entire joke, and I’m under no illusion that it was a great one. But I figured I could write a satisfying enough mystery that people would enjoy reading it, and, hopefully, the utterly po-faced commitment to the gag would be enough to carry a lame joke further than it strictly deserved to go.

TetrisOr, I guess, the joke was that Tetris obviously had no story and no characters whatsoever, and was therefore either impossible to novelize or extremely easy to novelize…either way because you didn’t have any mandatory touchpoints guiding your hand.

Or — or! — maybe the joke was that some hack writer was commissioned to novelize Tetris, and rather than do even cursory research into the damned game he changed the name of the protagonist in some dusty manuscript of his and cashed his check.

Potentially, there could have been a few levels to the humor, but, either way, I didn’t end up writing it. And I’m glad. Glad because I didn’t really want to, and even more glad because that meant we had so many good pieces, we were worried more about trimming down than beefing up.

When Volume 0 as an idea was floated, I wondered about “Tetris.” I still didn’t want to write it, but it surfaced in my mind. A few times. And one of those times, for better or for worse, it surfaced in tandem with Flatland.

TetrisFlatland is a favorite novella of mine, and I knew James was a fan as well. It’s a philosophical / mathematical / sociological / spiritual / cautionary hallucination of a book, about a sentient shape (A. Square) in a land of sentient shapes. To say more would detract from at least some of the incredible sense of discovery that comes with reading it, but when the idea of a world of living shapes came to mind alongside my basic idea for a noir-tinged “Tetris,” things snapped into place.

A plot filled itself out. Characters introduced themselves to me. Themes came flooding in. It was no longer a stupid joke I hoped I didn’t have to tell…it was a story I genuinely, and urgently, wanted to write.

I actually told James my idea in the hopes that he’d (rightly) slap me and say we’re already short on time, and can’t afford to add more work to the pile. Instead, he insisted I do it…even though it meant he was up in the wee small hours of the morning, copy-editing the stories that I couldn’t get to because I was too busy writing.

TetrisIn the end, I’m actually very happy with it. I was building toward something, and then, for whatever reason, I ended up feeling pulled in another direction. I scrapped most of what I’d written, and started again, because the new direction was a richer one, and I wanted to do it justice. That game with no characters or story was surprising me with how actively the characters and story pulled me along.

As a writer, that’s always the most pleasant kind of surprise, and I can safely say that Tetris was the most surprising place to find it.

It’s something that I hope you enjoy. I hope you enjoy the entire book, of course, but I came out of the writing experience feeling immensely satisfied. And I hope at least a few of you will be, too.

Thanks for sticking with this, and thank you — all of you — for your support.

Grab it while you can. I think you will like it.

The Importance of Keeping Artist and Audience Separate

Flappy Bird

Some of you might have heard about Flappy Bird, a very simple iOS game that saw an unexpected spike in popularity over the course of the past week or so. If you’re not interested in that game, don’t worry; I’m not going to talk about it, beyond using it to provide some context.

What I am going to talk about is the importance of maintaining the distance between artist and audience, and that’s something that Flappy Bird unwittingly illustrated quite well.

The simple game wasn’t exactly a critical success, but it found a large and appreciative audience all at once. To play you’d tap the screen. That was really it, but the cumbersome nature of the titular bird meant that it was downright miraculous if you made it any further than a few seconds into the game before failing. One tap equals one flap, but the physics complicated things; avoiding obstacles meant maintaining steady flight, which was quite hard to do when your bird was front-loaded and tended toward a natural face-plant.

That was the game, but that’s not why I’m talking about it. Why I’m talking about it is the fact that its developer, Dong Nguyen, has removed it as of yesterday from the App Store. His reasoning was both vague and clear; the game turned his life into a nightmare. Or, rather, those who played the game turned his life into a nightmare.

The kinds of messages Nguyen was receiving through Twitter and other media were absolutely out of line, but they were nothing compared to what happened after he announced the unavailability of his game: his life was threatened, the lives of his family and loved ones were threatened, and many in addition to that threatened to kill themselves. Whatever you might think of Nguyen’s decision to remove it from the App Store, the subsequent behavior of those who ostensibly enjoyed his game retroactively justifies his move. Why should he worry about disappointing people who would threaten homicide upon a man they’d never met?

Presumably Nguyen had fun designing the game. Presumably he also made the decision to monetize it. (It was available as a free download, but ads were shown in game.) What happened was that the fun was over, and the threats to his life and those he cared about were not worth the money. His audience, in a very direct way, killed what they loved.

This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, and the Flappy Bird debacle is just the most recent instance. While there has always been some amount of interplay between artist and audience, for the most part this flowed in entirely one direction: downhill. The artist composes upon the mountaintop, the audience waits below.

Of course there wasn’t a perfect break between them. Artists still have (and have always had) families and friends. Agents, managers, publishers. There is always somebody around who will have a chance to provide their opinions and guidance to those doing the creating. But they made up a very small portion of the audience. They were necessary exceptions.

Now with Twitter, Facebook, email, forums, Reddit and the like, artists engage with fans much more directly. Rather than a handful of close friends, artists field feedback — and demands, and threats — from hundreds, thousands, or hundreds of thousands of members of their audience constantly. It gets overwhelming, I’m positive, and when issues do arise, things are compounded by the fact that the audience member providing feedback has the option of remaining anonymous. The artist has no such luxury.

While that’s a topic worthy of discussion — it really is, though that discussion should probably be started by somebody other than myself — what really baffles me is why such a large number of people choose to employ this unprecedented level of communication for destructive purposes.

Why the threats? Why the insults? Why the demands? When artists came down from the mountaintop with their paintings, their sculptures, their novels, their poems, their double-albums in illustrated gatefolds, that’s all the audience got. They could enjoy it and appraise it at their own pace in their own way, and only in very rare exceptions would they have a one-on-one audience with the artist during which they could register their opinions.

That was a good thing, because their opinions didn’t matter. Artists unappreciated in their time have gone on to become legends, precisely because they did not take advice. They worked the way they must work; that is to say, they remained true to themselves, and to their vision. They weren’t wrong to shut out the world…they were absolutely right, because it’s very often the world that has some catching up to do.

Now very few artists could achieve any kind of following at all without some kind of public presence, and a public presence today carries with it availability. Artists shouldn’t be personal entertainers, and yet we insist that they are. We don’t want to wait, we don’t want to be teased, and we don’t want to be disappointed. We hold artists personally accountable, and when we disagree with something, we tear them to shreds. It’s still the world that has the catching up to do, but we’re quick to destroy, and by the time we do catch up, that entire universe of artistic potential has been crushed or derailed.

Even when we do like something we tend toward destruction. Quentin Tarantino recently shelved The Hateful Eight, which was to have been his next movie project, because somebody saw it fit to leak the script. Not because they hated it…but because they could. We seek, and we destroy. We take a level of direct openness and transparency with our favorite artists that fans generations ago would have killed for, and we use it to kill anyway.

I do think there’s a debate to be had upon the merits of engaging with an audience. Certainly in some cases it seems to have worked out well…the DMX / George Zimmerman fight cancellation being a recent example of public outcry seeming to have turned a despicable publicity stunt into a rare moment of humble apology. There’s also The Venture Bros., whose pair of writers not only monitor online discussion but have openly spoken about ditching plotlines and resolutions that fans saw coming. While this level of organic response frustrates me, the fact is that the show is great, and for all we know it never would have achieved the highs that it has had the writers stuck to their original (apparently easily guessable) plans. Then, of course, there’s Ezra Pound, whose edits could well be the only reason we know T.S. Eliot today.

But, overall, I find it hard to believe that it’s constructive, or conducive to creating great art. Fans don’t know what they want; fans are fickle and reactionary on the whole. For everyone who quietly appreciates, fifty loudly rage.

Why? There’s certainly an awful lot of art that I don’t enjoy, and a lot of artists I make a point of avoiding, but I wouldn’t see the benefit in attacking them, in obstructing their plans, or of vocally detracting. The world is large. The world is varied. If an artist makes a choice you don’t agree with, the odds are good that there’s another artist making the opposite choice that you do agree with. There’s enough out there. It is no artist’s responsibility to appease his or her audience, regardless of what the modern culture of constant interconnectivity seems to suggest; it’s the audience’s job to follow the artists that they enjoy.

In the past, if an artist read negative reviews of his or her work and got upset, the onus was at least partially upon the artists. After all, you don’t need to read those. You can, but you realize you’re making a choice to do so.

Now it’s different. An artist wakes up to more messages from strangers than he or she does to messages from friends. That’s a scary imbalance, and it’s something I wouldn’t know how to address. Online, accessible socialization is increasingly mandatory for up-and-comers. Without it, how could you amass a fanbase today? But with it, won’t it get pretty tiresome trying to do the art you love when thousands of people you’ve never met are insisting you’re doing it wrong?

We lost Flappy Bird. To many people, that will mean nothing, and that’s okay. But that’s only one example; there’s no telling how much else we’ve lost, are losing, and will continue to lose by insistently stifling creativity. The Hateful Eight. Fez II. Whatever phantom episodes of The Venture Bros. never made it to production. All those unmade seasons of Chappelle’s Show. All those concerts Ryan Adams walked out of rather than deal with hecklers. That inconceivably long initial draft of The Waste Land.

Art is the one thing that makes this world tolerable. Well, that and love. Some would argue — and I’d be one — that they’re very similar concepts, and they’re both easy to destroy in the same way.

Let them be. If you don’t like it, move along to something you do like. Killing it gets you nowhere, and it just leaves the quiet, contemplative fans that much poorer for the loss.

ALF Reviews: “Oh, Tannerbaum” (Season 1, Episode 12)

Merry Christmas, everyone!!!

Okay, okay, it’s a week late. I would have loved for this to run on Christmas week, but there wasn’t much I could do apart from either a) review the show out of order or b) review two episodes in a week so that this could run sooner.

In regards to A, I didn’t feel that would really be fair. I know continuity isn’t one of ALF‘s strongest points, but if I decided to jump all around and resequence the episodes, I couldn’t be sure that I wasn’t missing information that would have helped me to understand something better. ALF is a lousy show, but I want to make sure I’m appraising its actual lousiness, and not confusing myself into finding new issues that aren’t really there.

In regards to B no fucking way am I reviewing two episodes in a week.

What I decided to do, for those that missed it, is host a live stream of this episode the week of Christmas. I’m writing this review in advance of that, because I don’t want to accidentally include anything you guys might have said, or have my opinions colored by the immense outpouring of love and affection that I expect happened when we all watched this together. So, yeah. That was the best I could really do. If you don’t like it, go start your own ALF review project. And if you do, let me know, so I can stop mine.

Anyway it’s Christmas Eve in the Tanner house! Willie and Kate are laying in bed reading old Christmas cards, which shows just how desperate they are for any excuse to avoid having sex with each other. ALF comes in wearing his stocking on his head and waving a noise-maker around, announcing that he hid all the eggs.

Yes, it’s stupid. But, you know what? I’m always going on about how ALF should be getting Earth things wrong, and that’s what’s happening here. So, God help me, I actually like this. Granted, he should be misunderstanding much more than this…but while you could conceivably base an episode around ALF misunderstanding the concept of a museum, or how the bus lines work or something, Christmas is truly a goldmine.

It’s a more or less global event, after all. No matter where you are, within any culture that chooses to celebrate it, you’ll find it tangled up with all sorts of traditions and and connotations and iconography that make perfect sense to you, because you’ve lived with it all your life. To an interplanetary interloper, however, it would be absolutely baffling. And it would lead to literally countless ways for the creature to misunderstand what’s happening around him.

Birthdays, for instance, might seem a bit silly to an alien, but you could at least explain them pretty easily. “So-and-so was born on this day, however many years ago. Every time another year passes, we celebrate and give him presents.” That might sound silly to the alien, but there wouldn’t be too much room for confusion.

Think of everything attached to Christmas, though. The birth of Christ. Who wasn’t actually born anywhere near Christmas. The co-opting of a Pagan holiday so that Christians could avoid detection. Christmas lists. Carols. TV specials. A tree that you bring inside and decorate. Stockings hanging over a fireplace. Presents sneakily dropped off in the middle of the night. Eggnog. Santa Claus. The North Pole. Flying reindeer, elfin toymakers, milk and cookies…

The list goes on. And I’m just describing the stuff that would come to mind for me. An Englishman would probably add Christmas crackers to that list. A German would shout a lot. You get the picture.

So, yeah. This is the right thing to do. Especially since the fact that during the course of the conversation ALF confuses it with Easter, New Year’s and Halloween proves that he’s trying. He’s not being a dick, for once. He’s just lost. We Earthlings have an awful lot of holidays and they each come with their attendant traditions and mores and preparations. He’s mixing them up not because he wants to ruin things, but because there’s too much for an outsider to keep straight.

This is good. This is the right way to do it. Even ALF’s inevitable fit of destruction is well-intentioned:
ALF, "Oh, Tannerbaum"

He chopped up the Christmas tree for firewood. For once, though, I’m on ALF’s side. Did Willie and Kate really wait until Christmas Eve to explain to him what the tree was for? It obviously wasn’t decorated yet, so unless somebody told him differently — and we see here that they did not — how would he know that this particular tree at this particular time of year is just supposed to sit inside covered in tinsel and baubles? He doesn’t know this shit. ALF is right and Willie and Kate are in the wrong here. If that’s not a Christmas miracle I don’t know what is.

It’s also justified by a funny exchange. (This early in the episode? Is this actually going to be a good one?)* ALF tells Willie that he has a surprise, and then Kate shouts from the next room for Willie to come quick, because ALF did something horrible to the tree. Willie asks ALF what he did, and ALF says, “I don’t want to spoil the surprise.”

See? This isn’t ground-breaking stuff, but it’s fully competent comedy. It’s really not that hard!

And look at that lighting through the window! They actually went through the trouble of making it look like that sort of dull, hazy, early-morning sunshine, and it’s even shining from a lower angle onto the set than it is normally. That’s some impressive detail for this show right there.

We’re off to a good start. Heck, by ALF standards it’s a great start. There’s enough potential absurdity in the idea of an alien celebrating his first Christmas that there really should be no problem filling out 21 minutes. Right?

…right?

…fuck you. You know that’s not right.

ALF, "Oh, Tannerbaum"

The credits are just the normal sequence…no superimposed snowflakes or sleigh-bells or anything. Once they end we see everyone dressed up for Christmas, I guess. I don’t know what ALF is wearing. It looks like red suspenders, but then later he gets up and I can’t tell if it’s really a ribbon draped over his shoulders for some reason, or if the suspenders they made for the puppet are just horribly tailored.

Also Lynn is wearing what I assume is a Christmas sweater, but it’s hard to tell because it always looks like she dressed herself right after hitting her head in a car accident. I’m not even sure if it’s supposed to be an ugly sweater. I mean, it is, but it’s no worse than anything else she wears any other day of the year so who knows.

Damn, I’m catty. I’m like Joan Rivers, but with all of my original skin.

Lynn is sitting on the couch, disentangling Christmas lights. That’s absolutely something that folks do around the holidays, and it’s a nice touch. I’m actually pretty impressed that they would bother to give her something appropriate to do rather than sit her motionless on the couch, waiting in awkward silence until it’s her turn to talk.

At the table, though, ALF and Brian seem to be sorting branches into piles. I assume they’re the branches from the tree ALF chopped up, but what are they doing? Organizing them by size for later storage? Why not throw them out? I honestly have no idea what they’re meant to be doing there.

Willie is out getting a new tree, and ALF says that he hopes he makes it home before it starts snowing. Kate explains that it doesn’t snow in their part of the state, but ALF explains that it has to snow, because it’s Christmas; that’s what he learned from all the Christmas stuff he’s been seeing on TV.

Again, this is good. I like that ALF has no actual experience of Christmas, and so needs to piece things together from what he’s told and what he sees. Again, this is evidence that he’s trying, which is a lot funnier than having him be a dick all the time. Good intentions with unfortunate outcomes fuel great comedy. Rampaging dickitude is just tiring.

It might seem a little silly that ALF would believe weather patterns were dictated by a holiday, but compared to everything else we are expected to believe around Christmas — whether it’s that the Son of God showed up and saved us all from Hell or that an old man in a flying sleigh is watching our every move — isn’t “snow is guaranteed to fall” a relatively small absurdity? It works. It’s not a stretch. It’s organic.

ALF outlines all of the things that he learned from Christmas specials, and he concludes by folding in some imagery from that old commercial where Santa Claus rides a Norelco razor through the snow. Guys, this is getting dangerously close to funny. Was the writing staff visited by three spirits in the night or something?

While they decorate Lynn and Kate find some of the eggs that ALF hid, making for one of those very rare moments in this show where something that happens has anything to do with something else that happened.

ALF, "Oh, Tannerbaum"

Willie comes home with a fake tree in a box, and the episode is still being good. I honestly don’t know what happened, but Willie gets a nice little speech here with actual character work as its punchline. He explains that he drove all over town to find another tree, but everybody was sold out. At one lot he found a tree, but it was being auctioned off to the highest bidder. Willie says he left when the bidding reached $100, because he has his pride.

That’s funny. Not almost funny, but actually funny and it got an actual laugh out of me. He then says that the tree came with a can of simulated snow, and ALF says he should have gotten a second can so that they could build a simulated snowman.

IT IS REALLY NOT THAT HARD TO WRITE COMEDY THIS IS NOT BAD

Anyway, ALF is disappointed that this is the replacement, because he wants a real tree. This might be the first sign of real weakness in the episode — why exactly does he care when he doesn’t have any experience with either type of tree yet? — but it’s certainly not the last.

ALF, "Oh, Tannerbaum"

The family hears some carolers outside and they go to the window to watch them. I shouldn’t have been so quick to compliment the lighting crew earlier, because now for some reason it looks like they’re staring into the fiery ball of ultimate carnage that’s six seconds away from colliding with the Earth.

Kate, Lynn and Brian decide to go with the carolers, because they can see the writing on the wall and don’t want to be around when this episode inevitably falls apart.

There is one more good joke after they leave, though, when ALF says that on Melmac you would never let children go caroling. Willie asks him why, but ALF says he can’t explain, because “you’d have to know Carol.” Yeah, that’s Fozzie Bear level stuff, but there’s a reason we like Fozzie Bear. It’s not the quality of his material…it’s the charm behind it. For the first time since the Jodie episode, ALF has some charm behind it.

I know you guys don’t like it when I enjoy things, but I’ve got give credit where it’s due. Don’t worry; I start cursing later, so you can skip down to that if you want to.

ALF, "Oh, Tannerbaum"

We jump ahead a little bit in time, and we can’t see the tree until Willie steps aside to reveal it. I don’t know if this bit of blocking was done on purpose, since there’s no laughter that wells up on the soundtrack, but it is pretty funny. It’s an effectively shitty prop, and a nice example of the show’s low budget actually working in its favor and strengthening the reality.

Willie hates the tree, and he and ALF decide to go chop down a real one from the same place he and Kate used to chop down trees years ago. It’s certainly a contrived premise, but it’s at least playing out in a reasonable, rational way: it’s a holiday, something went wrong, Willie wants to fix it before the family gets back.

Again, not groundbreaking, but it’s better than, say, having it be Willie’s birthday, and so he finds out his wife slept with Joe Namath, then he decides to jump out of a plane.

Seriously dudes, that one sucked.

ALF, "Oh, Tannerbaum"

Willie and ALF sit in a fake car and pretend to drive while some stock footage of a forest plays behind them. They explain for our benefit that they can’t find the place Willie used to go to cut down trees, which I definitely buy if it’s been a long time and it’s dark out, but it is a little bit silly that he doesn’t just pull over and chop down one of the tens of millions of trees we’re watching him drive by right now.

ALF is navigating. He tells Willie to make a turn onto a road that’s not actually there, and they end up in a ditch. You know, there was a scene in the American version of The Office where Michael drove into a lake because his GPS told him to turn there.

I never had a problem with that because I thought it was a nice — though admittedly absurd — joke about the way we rely on instructions rather than trusting our common sense, but apparently a lot of people felt that that was “too stupid” for the show and were turned off by it. Maybe I just didn’t think that way because the show was already pretty fuckin’ stupid, but what do I know.

Either way, I bring that up because while it might be pretty dumb to drive into a lake because you’re used to trusting your GPS, what happens here is infinitely more moronic. Willie doesn’t see a road, but he takes ALF’s word for it that it exists…despite the fact that he can see there is not a road there and he is driving into a ditch. What’s more, ALF is an alien. He doesn’t know this area. How could he? How could he even know how to read a map properly?

Obeying a GPS makes some kind of sense because you’re deferring to what you assume is an authority on the subject. Here Willie is actively disregarding what he actually sees happening in order to defer to somebody who unquestionably knows nothing about what’s going on.

In a word, it’s bullshit.

ALF, "Oh, Tannerbaum"

Anyway the family comes home from a night of caroling, and they find the tree unfinished. They read a note that Willie left, and start to worry because he left it a while ago and he’s still not home.

Then they hear somebody else singing outside, and their door opens to reveal…

ALF, "Oh, Tannerbaum"

Mr. Ochmonek! Holy shit! We haven’t seen this guy in…ten episodes! Jesus.

I was excited because I thought this meant we’d find out what happened to his wife, but…nope. We don’t even find out why he came over. It’s really bizarre.

He kisses Kate under the mistletoe, and there’s a funny enough moment when he passively demands some eggnog, but what, exactly, is the point of this scene?

When I first watched the episode I thought the payoff would be that he goes out to find Willie or something, but instead he just shows up for about a minute and we never see him again. What’s he doing on Christmas Eve without his wife? Why is he here? Nobody invited his ass.

It’s like ALF thought it would be nice for us to see a beloved character again, but that doesn’t work when we’ve only seen the guy once before, ten weeks ago, and didn’t even care about him then. “Hey, everybody! Remember your old pal Mr. Ochmonek?! No? Well, here he is! Merry Christmas!”

ALF, "Oh, Tannerbaum"

By this point the episode is almost totally off the rails. (In a very short time, it will be totally off the rails.) They sure did squander all the good-will the first act managed to build up.

ALF and Willie are still stuck in the car, which should be a promising enough situation. Especially as Willie starts to tell ALF about the Christmases he had as a kid, and the fact that they always had a real tree and so forth.

This should be nice. Maybe a bit maudlin, but so what? It’s Christmas Eve. Willie can reminisce and wish he was with his family. In fact, this moment would ideally tie right back into the first scene, with he and Kate reading the old Christmas cards. This speech should end with him realizing that somewhere along the way he lost sight of what made Christmas really great, or something, and got hung up on how things looked.

I don’t know. I’m not saying that would be good. But it would be sort of neutrally lame in a well-established way. Instead it’s Willie and ALF in a car and a story that literally gets abandoned because the writers don’t want to figure out a way to turn it into anything.

Stuff like this is why I feel as though we’re watching these characters act out the first draft of the script; they write the story up to a certain point, realize they’re no longer interested in doing what they planned to do, and then just skip over things or abandon them.

That’s okay. I’m a writer, too. Not only is it a given that you’ll end up following a different narrative path than you might have expected, but it’s a good thing as well. Your job, then, is to write this better story as it revealed itself to you, and then go back and fix things (if not completely rewrite them) so that this new story makes sense. What you don’t do is what this show does weekly: leave everything exactly as it is and hope to shit your audience isn’t paying attention.

ALF, "Oh, Tannerbaum"

As if on cue, hey look, a dream sequence. Lucky us.

Willie drifts off and dreams about his family in the living room. Nothing is different except for their clothes, which, to be honest, change every day anyway and so this is no evidence of Willie having any creativity whatsoever.

Everything is pretty much as it really is back home, except that Mr. Ochmonek isn’t drunkenly fumbling around with Kate’s tits. Willie comes home, in the dream, with the same fake tree he had before, only this time the family loves it.

He says something about how glad he is that an alien doesn’t live here, which implies that things are happier in this fantasy without ALF. I’m glad that Willie’s awareness of the fact that ALF bends his life over and fucks it every chance he gets is manifesting itself in some way…but I do wish it was manifesting itself as a brutal screwdriver attack on the alien instead.

Kate says that she thinks the tree is leaning too far to the left, so she calls the tree repairman. When he shows up, it turns out to be ALF.

ALF, "Oh, Tannerbaum"

I think it’s funny that in both of Willie’s unnecessary dream sequences so far, ALF shows up for even less necessary reasons. Did Fusco insist on being in every scene, even if his character had jack-shit to do with anything?

Willie panics because ALF is an alien or something. I don’t know. Neither do the writers; they’re just running out the clock. “Oh, Tannerbaum” started out just fine, but then nobody on the staff knew where to go from there and so we’re getting silly dream sequences with just a few minutes left in the episode because that’s easier than actually wrapping up anything that happened earlier.

Anyway ALF the tree repairman has to take the tree back to the shop to fix it, and Willie gets upset and tries to keep the tree. He and ALF tug on it for a while. I half expected the credits to come up at this point and make it abundantly clear that the people making this show literally stopped giving a shit at this precise moment.

ALF, "Oh, Tannerbaum"

Willie wakes up only to find that there is a real tree in the car with them, because ALF went out and chopped it down while he was sleeping. Willie feels bad, and there you go. That’s your Christmas moral: don’t ever dream mean things about an alien, because while you are dreaming them that same alien might be doing nice things for you.

Amen.

It starts to snow, a park ranger comes up and gets mad at Willie for cutting down the tree without a permit, ALF hides under a blanket, and he and Willie whisper “Merry Christmas” to each other. Sweet holy barf did that episode fall apart.

ALF, "Oh, Tannerbaum"

Fortunately it’s Christmas Eve, and as per tradition every adult male is allowed to commit one crime of their choice without there being any consequence, so the Tanners get to keep the tree.

Nah, I’m being wry. Willie does say that he had to pay a fine, but honestly I’m not sure why he still gets to keep the tree. If you caught me stealing the Scales of Justice from in front of the courthouse, I’d expect to be hit with a fine or something, sure. I wouldn’t expect that after I paid the fine I’d get to keep them, though.

It’s bizarre. I don’t know. Who cares. ALF gets a ViewMaster and the episode is over.

Merry Christmas you fucks.

——
* No.

Announcement: The Lost Worlds of Power, call for submissions!

The Lost Worlds of Power

Calling all writers / humorists / parodists / gamers / whatever else you are. This is an official announcement of a one-off fiction anthology that I will be assembling, and I need your submissions!

The anthology is called The Lost Worlds of Power, and I would love to get as many submissions as possible, so please pass this on to any writers you know who might be interested in being published in a collection!

THE LOST WORLDS OF POWER

The Concept: Worlds of Power was a series of notoriously awful and totally inaccurate novels based on popular video games. What we’re doing is writing more of them! I want you to choose a video game (see the rules below) and novelize it. If you aren’t familiar with Worlds of Power, you can read a bit about the series here. You can also read my reviews of two of the books (with excerpts) here and here.

The Final Product: The Lost Worlds of Power will be an electronic, one-off fiction anthology. I will not sell it, and will make no profit off of it. In fact, I will pay out of pocket to have it professionally designed and formatted…and hopefully illustrated. I will host it here for free download, and I’d encourage anyone interested to host it and distribute it themselves as well. It should be something a lot of people can enjoy, and your submission should see a wide and appreciative audience!

The Style: You’ll be writing a “lost” installment in the Worlds of Power series! The obvious route here would be to write something intentionally bad, but that’s not the route you have to take. All styles, lengths and degrees of artistic merit are wanted. If you want to be outlandish and silly, that’s perfect. If you want to write a heart-stopping work of emotional brilliance based on T&C Surf Designs, that’s equally perfect!

The Length: There’s no hard and fast length requirement. Use as much or as little space as you like. The original Worlds of Power books were only around 100 pages long, with large type, so probably around 40 or 45 pages of traditional text. You can shoot for that, or you can let the spirit move you. Personally, I’d encourage you to do the latter.

The Rules: Read carefully, and make sure you adhere to the following rules when submitting:

– Your “novel” must be based on a game that was released on the NES. It doesn’t have to be a game exclusive to the NES, there just needs to be a version of it that existed for the NES (or Famicom). If it was something that was originally an arcade game or was later ported to the SNES or Genesis, that’s fine!

– Games that were actually adapted into Worlds of Power books are not eligible. (Remember, the idea is to write a “lost” installment in the series.) Therefore Blaster Master, Metal Gear, Ninja Gaiden, Castlevania II, Wizards and Warriors, Bionic Commando, Infiltrator, Shadowgate, Mega Man 2 and Bases Loaded 2 are all off limits. You can, however, base your submission on a different game from those series.

– Only one adaptation of any given game will be selected for inclusion. In essence, if I get five submissions based on Super Mario Bros., I will only choose one of them, even if they’re all very good. For this reason it’s probably best to either choose something relatively less popular, or make sure you’re confident that the adaptation you’re writing will be the absolute best I receive!

– Be creative! Don’t just write out the events of the game…have fun with them! Get things wrong. Grossly misunderstand your protagonist’s motives. Skip over the best fights and spend time on mundane interactions with townsfolk! The Worlds of Power books are legendarily off the mark, so warp your filter a little bit! Do your Goombas look like carrots instead of mushrooms? Is Link’s traveling companion a rapping leprechaun? Does the dog from Duck Hunt travel through time and solve mysteries? Are your ideas better than these? I hope so, and I can’t wait to find out!

– You retain the rights to your submission (barring, obviously, any trademarked characters or titles you incorporate). I will only have the rights to collect and distribute it if you are selected for inclusion.

– Multiple submissions from the same author are allowed.

– We reserve the right to edit submissions for spelling, punctuation and formatting reasons.

What if I Don’t Know Anything About Video Games? The original Worlds of Power authors didn’t either! Just use the characters, settings, and / or plots as a springboard. From there, this is your story to tell!

The Prize: There is no financial or physical prize…just inclusion in the one-off Lost Worlds of Power collection. Still, it’ll be fun, and being published in a fiction anthology, no matter how small, is something that will be a great credit toward getting your future work published elsewhere! You’ll also be eligible for the title of First Person to Ever Brag About Writing a Worlds of Power Book.

The Deadline: Januaray 31, 2014. I know. That’s soon. Believe me, that’s a good thing. The Worlds of Power books aren’t known for being particularly well thought-out.

All submissions and questions should be sent to reed.philipj at gmail.com. I’m not picky about the format of your submission, as long as it’s a common file type (.doc, .rtf, .txt, etc.) and you’ve taken the time to proofread before sending it in.

Please let me know if you are interested in submitting. If enough folks are I’ll be more flexible with the deadline. The more the merrier, and I look forward to seeing your submissions!

Credit to James Lawless, die-hard Worlds of Power fan, for the idea!

On Noise to Signal

Noise to Signal

Over on his own excellent blog, John Hoare recently wrote up this piece about Noise to Signal.

I’ve alluded to Noise to Signal before, but never really spoke about it directly. There’s a reason for that, and that reason is I’m still not sure what to say.

There are things about it that I loved. Adored even. And there are things about it that frustrate me to this day. (That probably says more about me than the site, I admit, but there you go.) And so it’s difficult to just come out and say “Here’s what went down…” because…well…I’m not even sure I know.

But John’s belated farewell sort of inspired me to do one of my own. It’s not an airing of dirty laundry or anything like that…but rather a chance to look back at a site that I helped shape in some way, and that I wrote for over the course of several years, and that still feels to me like a brilliant experiment that didn’t go anywhere near where it could have gone.

It was a pop-culture website, but it was one — by design — without a particular focus. It covered music, movies, books, television, video games…is any of this sounding familiar? The fact that I carry an echo of the site in the title of my current blog wasn’t deliberate, but it might still be less than coincidental.

It was good. We had an extraordinarily talented staff. But, as John says, “the remit was just too wide, and the tone inconsistent. By trying to cover everything, we ended up covering nothing well.” (I’m excerpting there; I do encourage you to read the entire thing in context.)

And he’s right. Absolutely correct. If I take issue with anything there it’s that the remit was too wide, because I really don’t think that was the problem…it was more in how we handled (or failed to handle) that freedom. But otherwise he’s right. There was a variance in tone, simply because there were so many writers and no consistent style for which to strive. Everybody brought their own talents to the table, but there was no attempt made to join them together. I had A and John had B, and instead of figuring out how to maximize each of our skills we just stuck some A over here and some B over there. We could have done better.

And in terms of covering nothing well, he’s right about that too. Apart from my day-after reviews of The Venture Bros. season three, I don’t think I ever finished a series that I started. And while it would be bad form to mention anything another writer did or didn’t do, I’m sure you’d find that they could name plenty of big plans they never saw through as well.

That seems to be a lot of what John pulled from the experience. What I pulled from the experience, though, is the importance of having an editor.

I blame nobody for that. I was at the point in my career (ha ha!) that I would have bristled at somebody telling me I needed to be clearer, or halve my word count, or — heaven forbid — choose a subject somebody might actually want to read about.

But that was the younger me. I knew everything. And because I knew everything, and because I had a website to which I could publish everything, I ended up spinning mountains of bullshit. Well-intentioned bullshit, sure…but that’s still bullshit.

I got the job at Nintendo Life due to two articles that I wrote for Noise to Signal. I reviewed some WiiWare games and the Nintendo Life editors liked what I did, so off I went. What I found was an entirely different experience; this was a site that knew exactly what kind of content it was looking for, and it wanted writers that could produce content within those guidelines.

They hired me because they liked my writing…but I still had to play by the rules. They had certain points they wanted each review to hit. There was a format that needed to be respected. If I wanted to stick around, it was up to me to find a way that I could mix my A with their B. It took me probably a full year to finally adapt to that, and I’m amazed they stuck with me and my well-intentioned bullshit that long. But the fact was that it was a hard lesson to learn.

Having said that, it was also a tremendously valuable lesson to learn.

You don’t become a great writer by pounding out ream after ream of nonsense. That gets you nowhere. You become a great writer by pounding out a ream of nonsense, having intelligent people look it over and reveal to you how far you ended up from your intentions, and then pounding out another ream of slightly better nonsense. And you repeat that. If you really care about writing, you repeat it forever.

There were behind-the-scenes issues at play as well (which John alludes to), and the kind of drama you’d expect from getting 10 or so strong personalities together without rules and saying “Publish anything!” But, ultimately, that was my takeaway. The value of editing. If you think the stuff I post here is vague and meandering…baby, you ain’t seen nothin’.

I tried hard at Noise to Signal. We all did. And we had a great group of readers and commenters that it was really difficult to say goodbye to. (Of course some of them are here now, so…thank you.)

Ultimately, though, its formlessness meant it either had to adapt into something more solid, or dissolve totally.

It dissolved totally.

But I learned one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned as a writer: that fact that I wrote it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any good.

There’s a reason Detective Fiction is working its way through the hands of so many proofreaders / editors / critics before I’ll post even an except here. And that reason is that I finally know better.

Still though…it was a hell of a ride. RIP, NTS.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...