Is Captain America Back?

Each Thursday night I get the opportunity to sit down with a few friends and geek out over some of the fun, interesting, and noteworthy news stories related to pretty much anything geeky, nerdy, or the like. As I looked at my pull list for the comic book shop this week I was reminded about the culmination of the annual Marvel comic-universe altering event. This year focused on Captain America and his foray to the dark side, Hydra. As much as this turn has been a topic of conversation for more than a year I felt it necessary to catch up and finish the last issue before we went on air tonight. Over the last 2 days I caught up and completed Secret Empire.

(There will be spoilers regarding the ending of the event past this point! Read at your own risk.)

I am going to stay away from the hot button topic of Cap’s turn and other political-type issues because I want to focus on the fact that as far as Marvel’s comic events have gone over the last couple of years I felt like this one actually had a fairly satisfactory ending. I don’t feel as if Nick Spencer (the writer of the event) got to the last 2 or 3 issues and suddenly realized he’d built this too big and had to hurry to tie it all up into a neat little package. In a lot of ways, I agree with a review I read earlier today stating that the final issue was a better ending than the series deserved. The Hydra empire fell, Hydra Cap was destroyed, the timeline restored, and Steve Rogers is back (wait, what?).

The crux of the story was that Kobik (a cosmic cube) had rewritten Steve Rogers history so that he’d always been a secret Hydra agent waiting for the right time to take over the country. When Kobik saw what she had created, after having been misled by Red Skull, she ran and hid. Only when the memory of the proper Steve Rogers/Captain America find her hidden in a strange dream-like reality is she enticed to return and fix what she had led astray. The final battle of Hydra Cap versus the idealistic recreation of Captain America is odd, yet satisfying.

Is the real Steve Rogers dead? And how can this memory reincarnation of Captain America be real? I guess that’s the fun of writing and creating a story around a cosmic cube whose sole purpose is to fiddle with the universe, history, and reality.

Probably my favorite part of this event was that Secret Empire made mention of previous events. Secret Wars, Civil War, and Civil War II. Those events played a role in the characters actions and reactions throughout Secret Empire. It even gave a hint as to the current Marvel Generations comics with past and present versions of particular superheroes.

Was Secret Empire perfect? No. But at least it wasn’t the convoluted mess that was Secret Wars or the limp unsatisfying Civil War II.


Piles of Ideas

Pretty much any writer will tell you, if you sit still long enough, about the wealth of story ideas constantly running around in their brain. At any one time I have 2-5 stories (probably a modest estimate) in one state of being or another. This could be from the seedling stage all the way to final edits and I won’t even count stories that are either submitted for consideration or parked in a documents folder on my computer waiting or another chance at glory.

For everything I constantly have in progress I have a terrible habit of scrolling through emails and Facebook and stumbling across calls for submissions that get the wheels turning. As I finished up a story for submission at the end of July I had no less than 5 possibilities for anthologies that wanted stories between August 1 and September 30. It wasn’t easy, but I set 3 of those aside at the beginning of August to focus on the other 2. One I just submitted earlier tonight and another I continue to fight with.

I still have a novel that I’m trying to work through revising my first draft, but there is something about the mental exercise of taking a nugget of an idea for a story and molding and shaping it into something new, exciting, and interesting that constantly pulls me back in. (I am making some progress on the novel, by the way, but it’s rough and needs serious work.)

I know a few author’s that won’t submit to anthologies or themed magazines unless they have something already finished that fits the bill. As I continue to write I’m getting to the point where I will have a few of those to dish out, but I love the challenge of twisting a prompt or a theme into a coherent polished story.

Maybe one day I’ll go back to the list of story nuggets I have jotted down across dozens of notebooks and they’ll all get written. Or maybe I’ll continue to stretch my creative muscles by tackling new and intriguing themes and styles. For now, I’ll go back to hammering out a sci-fi/apocalyptic/western story that centers around a train heist.


Same Words, Different Book

As a sociology student in college it was engrained in our heads that who you are and how you act/react is largely a product of your upbringing and circumstances. Despite being an English major and seeing firsthand how different people discovered different truths I never truly thought to apply that to casual reading. I made that realization based on a recent read.

On a recommendation from a friend I recently loaned the ebook of Becky Chambers The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. I loved it. It was awesome. I highly recommend anyone who has ever read and enjoyed anything science fiction to pick it up. While I was reading it, we chatted about a few highlights throughout the book and I mentioned a few scenes that caught my attention. But, what really struck me was after I finished she mentioned what was what she took from the book as a whole, "it's just full of great messages about gender equality and sexual identity and consent and acceptance."

Her assessment is completely true, and an excellent lesson to take from an incredibly well written book, but it wasn't the message I took from the book. In fact, I wasn't looking for a greater overall theme or meaning. After completing the book I was in awe of Chambers ability to build the world and the characters in such a detailed manner without weighing down the book and feeling like I was reading a report of fictionalized alien races and worlds.

I'm not likely to sit and contemplate other viewpoints of future fiction I read, but the recent discussion with my friend has reminded me that while we may all read the same words we each read a different book. Something to keep in mind as I dive further into my own writing.

Do the details Matter?

A few weeks ago I stopped by my local Barnes and Noble and noticed a book I had seen in hardcover and been extremely interested in reading was now available in paperback. I made an impulse buy and brought the book home. I finished Blake Crouch's Dark Matter (almost 350 pages) in 4 days. I'm a reader of average speed, but it has been a long time since I finished a book that quickly. And normally, when someone reads a book that quickly one would assume they loved it, automatic 5 star rating. Right? Wrong.

Very early on in the book Crouch makes it clear that his story is set in Chicago (multiple parallel universe version of). I immediately thought, "Awesome! I know the city. This will be fun as to see if I catch the landmarks he points out." But then the unthinkable happened. He botched a real life location. He chose Pulaski Drive. While I never lived in the city, I had family that did and from the time I was little through high school we drove Pulaski many many times. And it's Pulaski ROAD. All it would have taken is a moment to Google the name and Crouch could have gotten it correct. I brushed it aside when I realized the author wasn't from Chicago. Still shouldn't have been wrong, but I'll let it pass. Then the story continues and he drops his version of Pulaski into an industrial neighborhood along the lake. WHAT?! It's not even close to Lake Michigan. Strike 2.

By the time all was said and done Crouch had struck out twice. I finished the book because the plot, despite the clunky mechanics of his quantum superposition description (which were the driving force behind the story). The idea was great, the execution was flawed.

I'm not saying that all the details a writer uses must be exact. In fact, I'd almost prefer that they take some liberties when using realistic settings. Give me an intersection, a neighborhood, even a building and speculate around that, but don't use a location incorrectly. If you want a road by the lake, use Google and find one. Or make one up. Don't use a real road in the wrong place. Crouch mentions a couple of fictional hospitals in Chicago. Cool, great. That's fine. But, if the details matter to the story, fact check. Please.

I have a story that I wrote taking place in Chicago. One pivotal scene takes place a specific corner overlooking a specific bridge on the Chicago River. Why? Because I know the spot and it gives a great feel and an anchor to the story. The businesses located up and down the street in my story are fictional, but those aren't the important part.

In the end, I think if a writer is going to use real life locations or roads are a great way to draw in readers, especially those who actually know the area described, but that means that the details have to be right. When you botch the details, it makes the reader question other aspects of your story, especially one about cutting edge/fictional technology.